Bethlehem’S Past And Future Star

The Return of the Star of Bethlehem, by Kenneth Boa and William Proctor (Doubleday-Galilee, 1980, 176 pp., $8.95), is reviewed by Stanley Clark, pastor, Huntsville Bible Church, Huntsville, Texas.

Our generation is fascinated by the cosmic and supernatural. Boa and Proctor hitchhike on this fascination by discussing six theories for the star that led the wise men to Christ. They conclude the star was an appearance of the Shekinah glory—that visible manifestation of the presence of God—and appeared at Christ’s birth to signal that God had become incarnate.

Having argued their explanation of the star, the authors turn to the future. They recount events of the Tribulation, culminating in Armageddon and the return of Christ. Based on Revelation 19:11–18, they write, “This flashing brilliance in the heavens marks the return of the Star of Bethlehem.” The star, then, is associated with both advents. The chapter concludes with an exhortation to be ready personally for the star’s return.

That admonition is followed up in the last chapter, which sets forth the gospel and invites the reader to trust in Christ. The rest of the chapter gives basic follow-up on how to live the Christian life.

The book is written in an entertaining, lead-the-reader-on style that is free from religious jargon and exhaustive argumentation. For that reason, arguments for some of the positions it takes will not be convincing to some readers.

Besides being an excellent popular treatment of various star theories, this is a good book to put in the hands of those mildly interested in spiritual things. It will present them with the reality that history is coming to an end and they should be prepared.

Mutual Submission

Heirs Together, by Patricia Gundry (Zondervan, 1980, 192 pp., $7.95 pb), is reviewed by Anne Eggebroten, instructor of English at City College of San Francisco, California.

Questions about women’s role continue to be a major focus of debate in American society and in evangelical churches as we move through the 1980s. While issues like the Equal Rights Amendment and ordination of women are debated hotly, the discussion often boils down to a single question or two: What about the home? What about marriage?

Patricia Gundry gives us a calm, clearheaded answer in Heirs Together. First defining marriage as a relationship (not an institution) and then examining it historically and biblically, she leads us to understand that equality in marriage is God’s plan.

Gently she breaks the news that the traditional hierarchical pattern of marriage is traditional only—and largely based on Greek, Roman, and medieval traditions that Protestant Christians disagree with anyway. Over the years we have absorbed worldly, pagan ideas into our view of marriage and then given them a biblical stamp.

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In a delightfully down-to-earth analysis of the first marriage, Gundry observes the biblical emphasis on mutuality, and points out that there was no one else around to tell Adam and Eve how to relate. Gundry suggests that Christians who are in traditional hierarchical marriages and would like to improve them should examine whether equality might be biblical. Her main theme is openness to growth and change. She often reminds readers that she is not offering yet another guaranteed formula for success; instead, she offers biblical principles to be applied with wisdom and flexibility.

Ten years ago as a young woman planning marriage, I looked on every church bookshelf and in every Christian bookstore for this book, but it wasn’t there. Now that it has been written, I urge pastors and Christian leaders to make sure Heirs Together is available to those who are searching.

An Evangelical Theology Of Prayer

The Struggle of Prayer, by Donald G. Bloesch (Harper & Row, 1980, 180 pp., $9.95), is reviewed by Kent D. Maxwell, assistant professor of Christian ministries, Winebrenner Theological Seminary, Findlay, Ohio.

The Struggle of Prayer is an evangelical theology of prayer in which the author understands prayer to be “neither mystical rapture nor ritual observance nor philosophical reflection …” but “dialogue between a living God and the one who has been touched by His grace.”

Christmas Star

“I see him, but not now, I behold him, but not nigh:

A star shall come forth out of Jacob …”

Numbers 24:17

No star is visible except at night,

Until the sun goes down, no accurate north.

Day’s brightness hides what darkness shows to sight,

The hour I go to sleep the bear strides forth.

I open my eyes to the cursed but requisite dark,

The black sink that drains my cistern dry,

And see, not nigh, not now, the heavenly mark

Exploding in the quasar-messaged sky.

Out of the dark, behind my back, a sun

Launched light-years ago, completes its run;

The undeciphered skies of myth and story

Now narrate the cadenced runes of glory.

Lost pilots wait for night to plot their flight,

Just so diurnal pilgrims praise the midnight.


Bloesch explores the differences and convergences between mysticism and biblical prayer in this book, which he describes as a continuation of discussions begun in two earlier works: The Crisis of Piety and The Ground of Certainty.

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In “The Crisis of Prayer,” Bloesch writes “… the dominant trend in modern theology is to reduce prayer to a mystical sense of the presence of God …,” seeing the growing liturgical movement as a factor.

In chapter three, biblical prayer is grounded in the fact of God and his love for mankind, in Jesus’ efficacious work of redemption and reconciliation, and in the Holy Spirit who enlivens and directs prayer. I found his discussion here on unanswered prayer the most disappointing feature of the book. Nothing new is said to help the believing saint who seemingly meets the spiritual qualifications, yet fails to see the answer to prayer for which he longs.

Bloesch believes that “… true prayer will always give rise to words,” spoken or unuttered. He is positive toward glossolalia as prayer, but rejects meditation as true prayer. While having a great appreciation for the Christian mystics throughout the church’s history, Bloesch believes they have compromised biblical, prophetic prayer. Chapter six, where he deals with prayer and mysticism, should be read by all who want to understand the essence and uniqueness of biblical prayer.

“The Goal of Prayer” concludes the book. The ultimate goal in prayer is the glory of God, but there are other legitimate goals as well—our own salvation, preservation in the world, our material needs (certainly a welcome word for those who have had guilt trips laid on them for including them), gifts of the Spirit, anointing of the Spirit for ministry, conformity to Christ, and social justice.

This book is essential reading for anyone serious about prayer, and it fills a vacuum that has long existed. In it the evangelical’s desire and need for a theology of prayer that is both solidly biblical and scholarly written will be met.

How Wives Can Help

You and Your Husband’s Mid-Life Crisis, by Sally Conway (David C. Cook, 1980, 240 pp., $4.95), is reviewed by Creath Davis, executive director, Christian Concern Foundation, Dallas, Texas.

This book is a response to the phone calls, letters, and personal dialogue with women whose husbands were going through a mid-life crisis. The questions and the pleas for help came to Jim and Sally Conway as a result of Jim’s book, Men in Mid-Life Crisis. Questions like these came from all over the country: “How can I survive during this time? I understand that I need to meet my husband’s needs, but who meets my needs? What do I tell the children? Should I force him to choose between me and his girlfriend? How can I save our marriage? How much should I change to please him?”

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Sally Conway is uniquely equipped to respond to these questions. She has survived her husband’s midlife crisis, and she and Jim came through with an even stronger marriage. This ordeal, along with many years experience as a pastor’s wife, a public school teacher, a conference speaker, an editor and writer, an effective mother of three daughters, and a deep faith in Jesus Christ, give her a rich background out of which to deal with the tough issues involved in surviving a husband’s midlife crisis.

Sally shares much of her own experience with Jim, along with insight gleaned from data collected through a nationwide survey and personal counseling. She has integrated real situations throughout the book, which lend tremendous credibility as well as aid the reader in identifying both the problems and the solutions for her own situation. I strongly recommend this book for either personal preparation for an anticipated midlife crisis, or, especially, if your husband is in his midlife crisis.

Help On Jeremiah?

The Book of Jeremiah, one in The New International Commentary on the Old Testament series, by John A. Thompson (Eerdmans, 1980, 819 pp., $22.50), is reviewed by Homer Heater, Jr., dean and professor of Old Testament, Capital Bible Seminary, Lanham, Maryland.

The Book of Jeremiah is the sixth commentary to appear in The New International Commentary on the Old Testament series. Thompson was senior lecturer in the Department of Middle Eastern Studies, University of Melbourne (Australia) until his retirement in 1978.

The commentary is divided into two main sections: an introductory section dealing with a number of topics, and the commentary proper. The introductory section contains some of the most helpful data in the book. “Jeremiah in His Historical Setting” (pp. 9–27) is an excellent presentation of the historical background. As a matter of fact, one of the better features of the book is its continuous presentation of good historical data. Much of this relies on the very important book by Wiseman, Chronicles ofChaldaean Kings (626–556 B.C.) in the British Museum. This important material is correlated with the biblical events at every turn in the road.

Thompson provides a very helpful overview of the debate on the composition of the Book of Jeremiah. This vexing problem has been approached in so many ways as to lead Thompson to conclude “there is very little unanimity among the scholars who have occupied themselves with trying to elucidate the book of Jeremiah …” (p. 46). He presents John Bright’s thesis with sympathy that “the prose sermons of Jeremiah may [emphasis mine] have owed a great deal more to his inspiration than has been acknowledged by many of the scholars” (p. 49). Thompson leans very heavily on Bright throughout. Most critical scholars reject the prose sections as Jeremianic, and Thompson agonizes through each such passage with many qualifications such as “there is nothing to say Jeremiah could not have written this” (cf. pp. 188, 308, 342, 463, 593, 687). Both Bright’s and Thompson’s views are more conservative than most critical scholars would hold, but for an evangelical commentary, it shows entirely too much dependence on the “Deuteronomistic” theory of the compilation of the Old Testament. That the Book of Jeremiah was compiled from messages collected is obvious, but the Deuteronomistic theory holds that much of the book was written by later hands and placed in the mouth of Jeremiah.

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The section on the covenant concept is completely occupied with the issue of Near Eastern covenant formulas, with no mention whatever of the “new” covenant. On turning to chapter 31 of the commentary, the reader finds a brief two pages discussing what the author admits to “represent one of the deepest insights in the whole Old Testament” (p. 580). Its fulfillment, says Thompson, was held by the Qumran sect to be themselves and by the Christians to be the members of the emerging Christian church. One would expect a little more enthusiasm in defense of the latter and rejection of the former on the basis of the inspiration of the New Testament, but one looks for it in vain. We are not told when or how this new covenant will ultimately be fulfilled.

The survey on the issue of the Masoretic Text (MT; Hebrew text) as opposed to the Septuagint (Greek text) concludes in support of Janzen’s view that the shorter Septuagint text is generally to be preferred. This is reflected in several places in his translation. I, for one, am not willing to generalize from the Qumran fragment to a Hebrew Vorlage at Qumran based on the Jeremiah fragment because (1) the material has only been presented in a preliminary way (after almost 30 years!), and (2) the reconstruction of the fragment has a number of problems. Thompson does a considerable amount of emendation throughout the commentary, often following the Septuagint.

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The commentary section (c. 650 pages) is, for the most part, very helpful. The translation is very readable without being paraphrastic, and any deviation from the MT is adequately footnoted. The reader will find much that is helpful throughout.

Two areas, however, concern me greatly in view of the fact that this series is purported to be evangelical and for that evangelical community. The first I have already touched on. The form-critical approach of Thompson makes this commentary radically different from E.J. Young’s three volumes on Isaiah, which were the first in this series. Young represented the standard conservative approach to the study of the Old Testament text. I have noted dozens of times in which Thompson speaks of the editorial activity in such a way that one cannot be sure whether Jeremiah was speaking or some later “historian” speaking in Jeremiah’s name. This certainly does not do much for the authoritative statements of Jeremiah that God spoke to him.

The second area is somewhat difficult to pin down because Thompson phrases his point of view so carefully that it is not always easy to discern his perspective. On occasion, Thompson speaks of Jeremiah standing in the council of the Lord, and therefore, speaking not politically, but from the mind of God (p. 534). There are too many times, on the other hand, when the reader is left to wonder whether Jeremiah was truly representing God or only had some inner impression that God was speaking through him (pp. 8, 9, 93, 167, 588, 622). I would like to hear a commentator committed to the Bible as the Word of God speak with a little more assurance on some of these issues. There is very little discussion of predictive prophecy in this commentary.

All of which leads me to ask why the evangelical community cannot come up with a commentary series representing a high level of scholarship and maintaining a commitment to the Scripture, a happy combination in such men as C. F. Keil of another day. This is a helpful commentary in many ways, but it does not represent the conservative position of most of the evangelical community today.

The Real Battle

Theology Encounters Revolution, by J. Andrew Kirk (IVP, 1980, 188 pp., $4.95), is reviewed by Douglas D. Webster, registrar and teacher, Ontario Theological Seminary, Toronto, Canada.

Theology Encounters Revolution is more than a title: it is a reality. Daily news reports from El Salvador, Iran, and Poland confirm J. Andrew Kirk’s conviction that “revolutionary change is likely to be an increasing part of the experience of Christians everywhere” (p. 163). A 10-year teaching ministry in Argentina sensitized Kirk to the crucial importance of fashioning a biblically grounded political consciousness.

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The value of Kirk’s work is threefold. He offers a fresh survey of the forerunners of revolutionary theology, such as Rauschenbusch, Niebuhr, Barth, and Bonhoeffer, capturing the vital concerns evangelicals need to hear but often neglect because of their rightful classification of these theologians as liberal or neo-orthodox.

Second, his broad sweep of contemporary theological reflection acquaints the reader with the remarkable spectrum of theological method and persuasion when it comes to social and political concerns. Kirk’s awareness of the importance of historical circumstances and cultural context is evident in the arrangement of part two according to geographic regions. He does a good job in selecting key representative theologians and then synthesizing their perspectives in a manner that is specific but not overly detailed. In the space of 70 pages he takes the reader on a journey through six political spheres that span the globe (Eastern and Western Europe, white North America, black North America, black South Africa, and Latin America).

A drawback to the work may be that the average evangelical reader may not be aware of the theological presuppositions of men like Jürgen Moltmann or Jean Segundo. Although these theologians retain the language of Christian theology, their post-Enlightenment philosophical orientation tends to subtract biblical content and perspective from their political theologies. Not all the theologians surveyed by Kirk believe that the key to an authentic Christian theology is a relevant biblical hermeneutic (p. 182). According to their theological presuppositions, they may espouse a contemporary hermeneutic but not necessarily a biblical hermeneutic.

The third and most valuable contribution Andrew Kirk makes is his stress on the authority of God’s Word in shaping a Christian’s political perspective. He is aware of the dangers of enculturation and the tendency to substitute loyalty to a particular confession at the expense of a creative study and application of the Scriptures. In the concluding section, Kirk outlines effectively a broad biblical framework for an authentic evangelical theology, one sensitive to social and political concerns. He holds no illusions about the nature of man, but neither does he retreat from “the human challenge implicit in revolutionary thinking.” Kirk writes with a reserve and humility characteristic of his conviction that “at present there is no single orthodox understanding of how biblical truth relates to political and social revolution” (p. 164). However, when he moves from his very fair, if overly cautious, assessment of political theologians and the World Council of Churches to his own insights into such matters as violence and the Christian’s revolutionary expectation, he reveals a very perceptive and discerning mind. In a world rocked by revolution and counter-revolution, Theology Encounters Revolution deserves to be read by anyone serious about fulfilling the mission Jesus Christ has sent us to accomplish.

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Following is a collection of commentaries on the Gospels. Some are new; some are reprints. All are of help to the pastor or exegete.

Matthew. Broadman Press continues its simple Layman’s Bible Book Commentary series with Matthew, by Clair M. Crissey. The New Century Bible Commentary is being made available in paperback, with Matthew (Eerdmans), by David Hill. Robert G. Bratcher has prepared A Translator’s Guide to the Gospel of Matthew (United Bible Societies).

Mark. George T. Montague writes Mark: Good News for Hard Times (Servant), which contains many helpful insights. Hugh Anderson’s Mark (Eerdmans), of The New Century Bible Commentary, is available in paperback. It represents a single-minded redactional look at the Gospel. Robert G. Bratcher offers A Translator’s Guide to the Gospel of Mark (United Bible Societies), to go along with that of Matthew.

Luke. Kregel has reprinted the hefty expository and homiletical Gospel of Luke by W. H. Van Doren. It is over 1,000 pages long and contains sound comments, if not critical help. What is certain to be a standard when finished is the Anchor Bible’s The Gospel According to Luke 1–9 (Doubleday), by Joseph A. Fitzmyer. E. Earle Ellis’s very well done The Gospel of Luke (Eerdmans) is in paperback along with the other New Century Bible Commentaries.

John. Baker has put B. F. Westcott’s two volumes on the Greek text into one paperback masterpiece in The Gospel According to St. John. Robert E. Obach and Albert Kirk have written a devotional work in A Commentary on the Gospel of John (Paulist). W. H. Van Doren’s massive (over 1,400 pages) The Gospel of John: Expository and Homiletical has been reprinted by Kregel. Joseph Blank’s three-volume The Gospel According to St. John (Crossroads) is designed as a commentary for spiritual reading, and quite well done. Barnabas Lindars’s Gospel of John (Eerdmans) is The New Century Bible Commentary in paperback. It usually hits the center of the target theologically, even if Lindars is quite skeptical as to the historical value of the material. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Zondervan), edited by Frank E. Gaebelein, continues with volume 9: John by Merrill C. Tenney, and Acts by Richard N. Longenecker. It is well done, with Acts being especially helpful.

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