Reflective Theology

I Believe in the Creator, by James M. Houston (Eerdmans, 1980, 287 pp., $4.95), is reviewed by William W. Wells, associate professor of church history and historical theology, Wheaton College Graduate School, Wheaton, Illinois.

James Houston explains in his foreword that originally he was asked to write “I Believe in Creation.” He chose instead to write a book entitled I Believe in the Creator. In so doing, he shifted the focus of our attention from discussions on how God created the world, how long ago this may have happened, and how science and religion can be reconciled, toward reflections on the God who created. The word “believe” ceased to be a confession of what is believed and became rather a statement of faith in the Creator. I applaud his shift of focus. In discussions of this topic in particular, evangelicals tend to forget that in the Protestant tradition, the primary significance of the word “believe” is “trust,” not “assent.”

Having done that, Houston proceeded to write a book that will delight some and frustrate others. First of all, he is a poet, not a logician. The book has hardly a page without some kind of literary allusion, and the author often supplies a few stanzas of poetry to illustrate his point. This literary style may make the author’s ideas more accessible to some; the poetry will intrude for others.

But the book is unusual for a second reason. Houston believes in an integrative approach to learning and teaching. As a consequence, he feels obliged to reflect not only on the doctrine of the Creator, but also on the implications of that doctrine for related doctrines. As he points out, the God who creates does so through his Word, and hence reflection on the nature of God entails Christological reflection as well. God created man, and that fact leads to a discussion of theological anthropology; we created beings find ourselves in a created world where we create culture, and that too requires some reflection. As the author says (p. 143), “Creation and redemption cannot be isolated.” In short, Houston asserts that our understanding of God the Creator and his creation affects our understanding of all of life and culture.

Because of the book’s broad theological coverage and its literary character, students will find this a hard book to master. One needs to be somewhat familiar with the doctrinal material before reading Houston’s work. It is not a textbook. It will be useful elsewhere. I suspect that most copies of the book will be read reflectively, in the morning along with the Scripture, a page or two at a time. In that way, it will teach a good deal of theology by pointing to the Creator. And that, I think, is what the author had in mind.

God And Science Reconciled

Brains, Machines and Persons, by Donald MacKay (Eerdmans, 1980, 114 pp., $4.95), is reviewed by Gord Wilson, a free-lance writer living in Bellingham, Washington.

Donald MacKay is a foremost authority in the field of cybernetics, which its founder Norbert Wiener defined as “the study of control and communication in animal and machine.” As a practicing Christian engaged in experimental brain research, MacKay is uniquely equipped to comment on the relationship between science and religion—something he has done in two previous books. Carefully distinguishing between mechanism and determinism, he found no contradiction in The Clockwork Universe between biblical faith and a mechanistic universe. Human Science and Human Dignity grew out of MacKay’s debates with behaviorist B. F. Skinner over behavior modification and covers a wealth of controversial topics that included genetic engineering, cloning, and the basis of freedom and dignity, ideas hotly disputed by behaviorists.

But MacKay is at his best in his latest offering, where he is on his home turf: brain science. Here he takes his place as a humanizer of science, translating abstract ideas at the forefront of research in an engaging, popular style with relevant, everyday examples. Each of MacKay’s books benefits from his own research, but here he includes explanatory diagrams and footnotes referencing his own technical papers and those of his colleagues. Unlike his previous works, this book does not presume a Christian audience and is thus more accessible to many readers.

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MacKay sees the Bible as authoritative and the scientific enterprise as valid; the two are complementary, not contradictory. Biblical religion occupies a unique place with regard to modern science, affirming, as it does, both an orderly, consistent universe (the basis of scientific method) as well as a whole spectrum of supernatural realities outside the scope of scientific inquiry. But MacKay’s purpose is not simply to persuade the “cultured despisers of religion”; it is also finally to settle the conflict of science versus religion, in favor of religion.

Excitement positively seethes from the book, and it must surely come as a breath of fresh air to know that biblical faith is no way damaged or debunked if the brain should be found to obey entirely physical processes. And surely it is bracing to know that no part of us need remain inexplicable to science in order to justify the biblical view of man—that we need not posit a “God of the gaps” to explain what science cannot at present, and that we need not hope and pray, like Descartes, that some organ called the “soul,” which disobeys physical laws, will be discovered.

Our dignity, MacKay insists, consists not in our being made of a special substance as distinct from other animals, nor in our being inexplicable in terms of physical processes. Rather, our worth is found in our capacity for relationships with God and others and in realizing our potential capability to be what God intended each of us to be as a uniquely endowed member of his body.

MacKay is on the cutting edge of cybernetics research. His most engaging discussion concerns artificial intelligence and consciousness, in which he reaches the pitch of science fiction. Can robots be conscious? If so, would that jeopardize human significance? Would artificial intelligence undermine the biblical view of human uniqueness? MacKay’s analysis is as interesting as his sometimes startling answers, and for all that. Brains, Machines and Persons just exceeds 100 pages of snappy and informative writing. As a popularizer, MacKay girds up heart and mind, compassion and courage, disarming both the skeptical scientist and the befuddled believer in one area in which, in fact, they do not disagree.

An Errant Guide

The Authority and Interpretation of the Bible: An Historical Approach, by Jack B. Rogers and Donald K. McKim (Harper & Row, 1979, 484 pp., $20.00), is reviewed by W. Robert Godfrey, associate professor of church history, Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Jack Rogers and Donald McKim have written a book that deserves careful examination. This book is important, for it speaks to a vital issue before the church, and appears to be a careful, scholarly investigation—and it has attracted a great deal of attention.

Rogers and McKim make their goal clear in the introduction: they want to discredit the doctrine of the Bible’s inerrancy. They maintain that inerrancy is a result of rationalistic scholasticism in the history of the church and is not the historical position of the “central church tradition” (p. xxiii). It was not, they argue, the position of Origen, Chrysostom, Augustine, Bernard, Anselm, Luther, Calvin, and the Westminster divines. They contend that inerrancy was the invention of scholastics like Francis Turretin (the seventeenth-century Swiss Reformed theologian), who passed the doctrine to America through men like Archibald Alexander, Charles Hodge, and B. B. Warfield. They further charge that the doctrine of inerrancy has been very harmful to the modern church.

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The authors assert that this position recognizes that the authority of Scripture lies in its function, not its form. It is the message of salvation in Christ that is infallibly present in the Bible. The form—the words, the historical or scientific observations—of the Bible is open to scholarly investigation and may err without affecting the central message of the Scripture. Christians accept the Bible as God’s Word, not because it is inerrant, but because the Holy Spirit testifies that it is God’s Word of salvation in Christ. In speaking to man, God accommodated himself. This accommodation did not obscure the message of salvation, but it did lead to peripheral errors in the Bible, “weak and imperfect human speech” (p. 78).

Rogers and McKim support their thesis with a survey of church history, analyzing traditional attitudes toward the authority of Scripture. They argue that support for their thesis is found in the best ancient, medieval, and Reformation theologians. They trace a deviation from their position particularly in the seventeenth-century Lutheran and Reformed scholastics and in the theology of old Princeton Seminary. Their interest is focused on more recent eras of church history, with only about 70 pages on the first 1,500 years of the church, about 190 pages on the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and about 200 pages on the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The book has a scholarly appearance, with indexes, bibliographies, an appendix, and 1,977 footnotes.

On careful analysis, however, this reviewer must conclude that the book fails to prove its central thesis. Indeed, it is apparent that the course of the argument is controlled by the authors’ goal to reject inerrancy. Rogers and McKim reveal historical myopia even in the introduction. They say, for example, “In this century both fundamentalism and modernism sometimes took extreme positions regarding the Bible” (p. xxiii). Such a characterization seriously underplays the reality of the threat posed to true Christianity by modernism’s attitudes to Scripture. Their treatment of Hodge and Warfield especially shows little historical sensitivity to the destructive attacks by biblical critics that the theologians of old Princeton faced, and they undervalue the importance of Princeton’s scholarship.

Beyond these problems of perspective are problems with the method Rogers and McKim use to define their thesis. They never grapple significantly with the problem of how function or message is to be separated from the form or words of Scripture. For example, they do not analyze the nineteenth-century developments that led many who criticized the form of Scripture ultimately to deviate from its message and to adopt another gospel. Further, the authors neither examine nor demonstrate their assertion that God’s accommodation to man in Scripture must involve error. Nor do they distinguish between the doctrine of inerrancy and the arguments for holding to that doctrine. They proceed as if all inerrantists were committed to a Thomistic methodology, ignoring non-Thomists like Cornelius Van Til.

Rogers and McKim might be forgiven for a lack of theological clarity if their historical survey were convincing. But it is not. They present arguments that are really non sequiturs and seriously misuse evidence both in presenting representatives of their “central church tradition” like Luther, Calvin, Abraham Kuyper, and Herman Bavinck, and in presenting their key representative of scholasticism, Turretin. There is no space to document this charge fully, but some instances can demonstrate the weakness of their method.

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Contrary to these authors, Luther did say that the Scriptures are inerrant: “… Scripture, which has never erred” (cited by Paul Althaus, The Theology of Martin Luther, p. 6). Their examples of Luther attributing errors to Scripture (pp. 78, 87) are inaccurate. Luther says Scripture lacks Ciceronian eloquence in its style and that there are difficulties in harmonizing aspects of gospel accounts, but that is not a recognition of error in the Bible.

Calvin also recognizes the inerrancy of the Bible: “Let us, then, be assured that an unerring light is to be found there” (commentary on Ps. 119:105). He acknowledges that biblical writers paraphrase Old Testament verses, and wrote as theologians, not as scientists. But for Calvin, a paraphrase is not an error, and popular, nonscientific descriptions of natural phenomena are not errors. Indeed, in presenting Calvin, Rogers and McKim have made a serious error of their own. They state, “In his commentary on Acts 7:16, Calvin declared that Luke had ‘made a manifest error’ …” (p. 110). But Calvin does not say Luke erred. Calvin says “it is obvious that an error has been made.…” In context, Calvin is ascribing the error to a copyist in transmitting the text, not to the gospel writer.

The authors also see Kuyper and Bavinck as representatives of the central church tradition, presenting them as theologians who do not hold to inerrancy. But none of their evidence demonstrates that Kuyper or Bavinck ever identified errors in the Bible.

For Rogers and McKim, Turretin is the representative scholastic who developed a doctrine of inerrancy because of excessive concern for the form of the Bible. They present Turretin from the first sentence of the introduction as the key influence inspiring American inerrantists. They argue that Turretin loses sight of the central saving message of Scripture, along with the Reformers’ stress upon the role of the Spirit. They repeatedly insist that the idea of accommodation “was entirely absent from Turretin” (p. 177). But Rogers and McKim show no firsthand study of Turretin. They do not quote him directly, but appear to depend entirely on a Th.M. thesis from Princeton Seminary.

A cursory reading of Turretin, however, reveals quite a different picture from the one Rogers and McKim draw. For example, with respect to accommodation, Turretin said. “When he [God] speaks, he speaks not to himself, but to us, i.e., in accommodation to our capacity …” (Institutes, II, 19, 8). He taught that “the Spirit is the Teacher, Scripture is the doctrine which he teaches” (Institutes, II, 2, 9). His concern for the inerrant form of the Bible does not undermine his clear presentation of its saving message.

In their final chapter, “Recent Efforts to Recover the Reformed Tradition,” the authors reassert their thesis that there is a third alternative to dead conservatism and liberalism. They offer three recent examples of this alternative: Karl Barth, the Dutch theologian G. C. Berkouwer, and the Confession of 1967 of the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. Rogers and McKim seem uncritically favorable to these efforts to restore the true tradition of the church. Yet they do not examine the impact of these efforts. They do not look at the theology of the disciples of Karl Barth or the deteriorating state of theology in the Reformed churches in the Netherlands or in the UPCUSA.

Rogers and McKim’s book contains some interesting information, but its misinformation makes it unreliable as a whole. Beyond too many errors of fact, the book fails to be a trustworthy analysis of either the theology or the history of the doctrine of the Bible’s authority. Not only does it fail to recognize that a properly safeguarded doctrine of inerrancy is the historic position of the church, but neither does it show how the church can long maintain the message of salvation in Christ apart from confidence in the inerrant Word of God.

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Recent Books On Church Ministry, Part Ii

The minister and his task continue to occupy the interest of publishers. In the last issue we looked at four categories of books relating to the ministry. Six additional categories that are ministry related are treated in this survey.

The Minister. Three new books are basically minister’s handbooks that cover task and relationships: Pastoring the Smaller Church, new printing (Zondervan), by John C. Thiessen; The Christian Minister: A Practical Approach to the Preaching Ministry (Standard), by Sam Stone; and A Minister’s Opportunities (Baker), by Ralph G. Turnbull. All are readable and helpful. There are some specialized works as well. Too Many Pastors? (Pilgrim), by Jackson Carroll and Robert Wilson, is a study of 12 denominations where there is an oversupply of pastors. Can I Make It One More Year? (John Knox), by Edgar M. Grider, offers advice on how to overcome the hazards of the ministry.

The Minister’s Wife.Who Is the Minister’s Wife? (Westminster), by Charlotte Ross, and What’s Happening to Clergy Marriages? (Abingdon), by David and Vera Mace, can be discussed together. Those two books represent a healthy new trend in Christian publishing: responsible treatment of the wife’s role in ministry. In the past it was easy simply to ignore the marital stress that a minister and his wife face, or even to glamorize the role of the wife. These books both remove the façade that those in the ministry know only too well hide some serious problems. The value of the books is not that they take away the illusions; it is rather in that they offer helpful observations, drawn from the practical experience of those who struggle and care. Hope is to be found here, which is what really matters in such sensitive areas of concern.

Leadership. Lawrence Richards and Clyde Hoeldtke have written a perceptive and practical textbook in A Theology of Church Leadership (Zondervan). Wheel Within the Wheel; Confronting the Management Crisis of the Pluralistic Church (John Knox), by Richard G. Hutcheson, Jr., is a challenging and powerful book that looks at management techniques and the Holy Spirit as solutions. Robert E. Bingham writes of Traps to Avoid in Good Administration (Broadman).

Pastoral Care. Well over a hundred books have appeared in this general category. All cannot be mentioned here; those that deal with the basic issues from a pastor’s point of view are listed. Four books have appeared under the rubric of healing. Blessed to Be a Blessing (Upper Room), by James K. Wagner, shows how to have an intentional healing ministry in the church. Christian Healing Rediscovered (Inter Varsity), by Roy Lawrence, is a guide to spiritual, mental, and physical wholeness. Whole Person Medicine (InterVarsity), edited by David E. Allen, Lewis P. Bird, and Robert Herrmann, is an excellent series of papers that looks at healing and the whole person. Howard W. Stone examines Using Behavioral Methods in Pastoral Counseling (Fortress), and Douglas A. Anderson looks at New Approaches to Family Pastoral Care (Fortress). Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work (John Knox), by Eugene H. Peterson, draws on the Old Testament to meet counseling needs and develop pastoral effectiveness. Pastoral Counseling and Preaching (Westminster), by Donald Capps, is a theological quest for an integrated ministry. On a specific and neglected topic, Harold H. Wilke offers some guidelines for ministering to the handicapped in Creating the Caring Congregation (Abingdon). Westminster Press has continued its valuable “Christian Care Books” series with volumes 7 to 12 covering these topics: Mid-Life Crises, by William E. Hulme; Understanding Aging Parents, by Andrew and Judith Lester; For Grandparents: Wonders and Worries, by Myron and Mary Ben Madden; Coping with Abuse in the Family, by Wesley Monfalcone; Parents of the Homosexual, by David and Shirley Switzer; and Parents and Discipline, by Herbert Wagemaker. Wayne Oates has written a handbook to cover this set, titled simply Pastor’s Handbook, Vol. II (Westminster). Not everything is equally helpful, but that the subjects are dealt with is itself beneficial.

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Church School. Three interesting historical books are now available: The Big Little School (Abingdon), by Robert W. Lynn and Elliott Wright; 200 Years—and Still Counting (Victor), by Wesley R. Willis; and B. W. Spilman: The Sunday School Man (Broadman), by C. Sylvester Green. Church growth methodology has reached the church school in Growth: A New Vision for the Sunday School (Church Growth Press, 150 S. Los Robles #600, Pasadena, Calif.), by Charles Arn, Donald McGavran, and Win Arn. The Super Superintendent (Accent), by Harold S. Westing, is a very fine book on church school management.

Career Opportunities. An excellent book listing many hundreds of job opportunities, complete with addresses and advice, is Career Opportunities in Religion (Hawthorn) by William Gentz.


Critiques of Secularism. Malcolm Muggeridge writes in his own inimitable way of The End of Christendom (Eerdmans). Ernest Gordon’s Me, Myself and Who? (Logos) is a vigorous attack on humanism. Illusions of Faith (Kendall/Hunt, Dubuque, Iowa), by Carlos G. Prado, is a critique of noncreedal religion. The Secularist Heresy (Servant) and Where Do We Stand? (Servant), both by Harry Blamires, are excellent reading. If you haven’t discovered Blamires yet, do yourself a favor and read these books. Ronald B. Mayers tries to defend Religious Ministry in a Transcendentless Culture (Univ. Press of America), but he appears to have sold out (or almost) too soon. Still, there are some good things here. Sacred Cows (Zondervan), by J. A. Walter, is a trenchant attack on contemporary idolatry that compels one to look again to the Christian alternative. Saint Hereticus is present again in The Hereticus Papers, Volume II (Westminster), edited by Robert McAfee Brown, who is to be thanked for keeping such treasures from oblivion.

Baptism. In Baptizo-Dip-Only (distributed by Primitive Baptist Library), W. A. Jarrel argues strongly that—naturally—baptizo means dip only. Klock & Klock has reprinted Johannes Warns’s excellent Baptism, which is a doctrinal and historical defense of believer’s baptism. Both Edmund Fairfield, Letters on Baptism (American Presbyterian Press, Columbus, N.J.), and W. A. Mackay, Immersion and Immersionists: A Refutation (American Presbyterian Press), disagree. These two reprints defend the pedobaptist position.

Theology. Lutheran:We Believe and Teach (Fortress), by Martin J. Heinecken; Presbyterian:The Westminster Confession for Today (John Knox), by George S. Hendry, and Our Presbyterian Belief (John Knox), by Felix B. Gear; Pentecostal Free Will Baptist:Pentecostal Doctrines, a Wesleyan Approach, Vol. I (The Heritage Press), by Ned D. Sauls; Methodist:Essentials of Wesleyan Theology (Zondervan), by Paul A. Mickey; Anabaptist/Mennonite:A Third Way (Herald Press), by Paul Lederach; and Roman Catholic:The Credo of the People of God (Franciscan Herald), by Candido Pozo. All of these books are well done and worth reading.

Revisions and reprints have also appeared. Henry C. Thiessen’s perennial favorite, Lectures in Systematic Theology (Eerdmans), has been neatly revised by V. D. Doerksen. Klock & Klock has published W. G. T. Shedd’s 1889 Dogmatic Theology in four volumes. Thomas Nelson has also made it available, but in three beautiful volumes. Shedd’s standard work, History of Christian Doctrine, two volumes, is available from Klock & Klock.

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The Word of Truth (Eerdmans), by Southern Baptist Dale Moody, is a very fine summary of Christian doctrine. It shows thorough acquaintance with modern thinking and is biblical rather than dogmatic in focus. Ingredients of the Christian Faith (Tyndale), by Keith Hardman, is a layman’s guide to Christian doctrine. It is clearly written and free from denominational bias, a very good introduction for someone who knows little about the faith. John Carmody in Theology for the 1980s (Westminster) looks at a series of topics (nature, society, church, self, God, Christ) primarily as they were discussed during the 1970s and projects where the discussion will lead in the 1980s. This is a helpful survey. The Seed of the Woman (Doorway Publications), by Arthur C. Custance, is a detailed theological statement arguing for the necessity and unity of fundamental (and conservative) theological principles. Asian Christian Theology (Westminster), edited by Douglas J. Elwood, looks at theology as practiced by Eastern believers. The creativity and ingenuity of some of the thinking is challenging, and this is a fine survey.

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