A Look at Books

WIJSBECEERTE; Dr. H. Van Riessen. Kok, Kampen; 1970. 224 pp., paperback. Reviewed by Rev, Lambertus Mulder.

This little booklet is a reprint of a previous edition which came under the title: Along Philosophical Room, published in the late 60’s.

Van Riessen is a representative of the Law as promoted and developed by Dooyeweerd and Vollenhoven, but he is not a mere parrot. While deeply impressed by his former tutor, he must also bring some corrections in the master’s viewpoint of transcendental critique. Throughout this rather technical booklet it is evident that the author seeks ardently for a total Christian approach in philosophy.

While it is true that Van Riessen could be considered a defender of tlle Sovereignty of the Spheres concept, he has not gone down that road as far as many of the AACS philosophers have. Nowhere docs Van Riessen refer to that strange trilogy of The Word nor is his view of the Kingdom comparable to that of the AACS.

If you want to get to the bottom of matters pertaining to Reformed philosophy, by all means get this booklet. A solid background and training ill philosophy will be required if you decide to embark on that journey and get full satisfaction from this paperback.

THE GROUNDWORK OF CHRISTIAN ETHICS, N. H. G. Robinson , William B. Eerdmanns, Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan. 336 pp., $7.95 (hard cover). Reviewed by Rev. John Geels (emeritus), Pella, Ia.

The author of this volume is Professor of Divinity and Systematic Theology at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. He is also author of an earlier work on Christian Ethics, Christ, and Conscience.

In the Preface the author states, “What is aimed at here is the articulation of the understanding of the moral life itself intrinsic to Christian faith.” He holds to a close relationship between dogmatics and ethics. Moral consciousness, he says, is distinctive of human life and is the presupposition of the gospel.

Robinson argues that, contrary to Brunner and Barth, general ethics is valid. Christian ethics simply cannot ignore natural morality, for the revelation of God in Christ addresses men as moral beings. However, natural morality is divorced from its origin in God and is man-centered. This is its basic and all-pervading defect.

Christian ethics, according to the author, is the systematic study of human life and conduct as given over in faith to the rule and overlordship of Christ as containing within Himself the whole duty of man.

Although Christian and general ethics cover the same ground, Christian ethics is not a part of or a branch of general ethics. Rather, Christian ethics is a part of Christian dogmatics, distinguishable but not separable from dogmatics. The fundamentally distinctive quality of the Christian ethic is that it is God who works in the Christian both to will and to do of his good pleasure.

The position that morality exists independent of Christianity and that there is indeed an objective moral code is certainly well taken.

The author refers in rather great detail to various ethical thinkers, philosophers and philosophic systems. The volume is certainly not easy reading and this reviewer readily admits that a great deal of the rather close reasoning with respect to various ethical theories went over his head. Hence, this is not a book for average readers, hut students of ethics and ethical theories will find here a volume to reckon with, challenging, and requiring close study.

The book contains ample footnotes to each chapter and contains two appendices, the first dealing with the ethical thought of Paul Tillich and the second dealing at some length with the ethical implications of Agape, Eros, and Nomos. There is also a four page serviceable index to the volume.


THE COVENANTAL SABBATH, by Francis Nigel Lee. The Lord‘s Day Observance Society, London. 343 pages. 82.00. Reviewed by Rev. Peter Vander Weide, pastor of the First Christian Reformed Church of Jenison, Michigan.

This is not the kind of book one reads for relaxation, or with a tired mind. The reasoning at times is close, and the facts and figures come in such profuse measure, that the reader has to be fully alert to be able to comprehend what he reads. The footnotes alone cover over 100 pages of the book.

The author traces the idea of the sabbath from the beginning of history to the present time, emphasizing that the sabbath was the symbol of God’s covenant relationship with His people . This thesis is mainly stated on page 22, where we read, “Summarizing, it was seen above that the sabbath day was the sign of God’s covenant with the first Adam . . . The conclusion, then, is that Sunday is the sign of the New Covenant, and further, that, at the Lord’s resurrection, Sunday replaced Saturday, and was henceforth to be kept as the new day of rest.” And again, “For this reason the sabbath alone can be regarded as the only enduring sign of God’s covenant with man(p. 33). The sabbath day, once every seven days, was a microcosmic celebration of God’s macrocosmic day of rest: “Hence, right now, it is God’s Eighth Day for the believer in principle every day, and a little bit of God’s Eighth Day in actuality every week on the Christian sabbath” (p. 31).

Through the study of the use of numbers in the Old Testament, and the arrangement of various feast days in connection with Israel’s religious celebrations, the author demonstrates that already in the Old Testament there were overtones which pointed to a time when the first day of the week would be the day on which man would exercise his memorial of God’s covenant. The eighth day and the fifteenth day, for example. refer to the next day beyond a series of seven days, or a !lumber of such series. This is so patent in the record of Scripture that one should not even have to expect a special command from God to change from the seventh to the first day. Because of this basic assumption, the author can challenge the Seventh Day Adventists, “. . . who reject Sunday worship on account of the lack of a record of its specific promulgatory institution [and], should realize that tile same applies in respect of the Edenic sabbath” (p. 63).

This reviewer feels that the author strains a point or two to emphasize the keeping of the sabbath throughout biblical history. He gratuitously assumes that the first major event in Noahs life fell on a sabbath, and therefore all the others did too. He docs the same with some of the events connected with the wanderings in the wilderness. In this connection we find a good bit of allegorizing by the author in footnotes 12 and 19 on pages 120 and 121. On the other hand, we find a solid interpretation of Romans 14:5, 6 (pp. 218 ff.).

The author makes a strong case for the first day of the week as a day of rest and worship, not only on the basis of New Testament evidence (p. 208), an early church history (p. 240), but also on the basis of the Old Testament concept of the covenantal sabbath with its pointing to the first day memorial sometime in the future. I am sure, however, that the author could have done so with a great deal less material, and that his conclusion, “Religion was to keep alive their national consciousness, and the sabbath was to keep alive their religion” (p. 177), would have made just as much sense.

The book is a challenge to the stouthearted, but to those who do venture it, the conclusion drawn (p. 327) is well worth it: “For the change was prophesied in the Old Testament, recorded in the New Testament, enforced in the early church, recognized and observed by mainstream Christianity throughout all subsequent centuries, and is in fact demanded by the doctrine of the covenant.

This book is historically oriented and attempts to show how Reformation ideas had a thoroughly reforming effect upon men’s views of not only the home and family but also of marriage itself, the way in which women were treated, the way in which children were accepted and trained, etc. And, in the opinion of this reviewer, it is now the underlying contention of the author that history has again devolved to the point where a reassertion of Reformation principles is necessary for the genuinely Christian home, marriage, and family to survive and thrive. History does repeat itself.

This work is not a Scriptural study in the sense of being exegetical in content, it is an historical treatment based upon Biblical principle. The Dooyeweerdian philosophy is very prominent on its pages, especially so in several specific sections. But whatever one may think of that particular philosophy, the study as a whole is rewarding and thought provoking.

Especially noteworthy are chapters on “The Reformational View of Marriage” and on “The Problem of Divorce.” Taylor here attempts to characterize the sanctity and the importance of the marriage vow for both the survival of the home and of society itself. “The essence of marriage is the exchange of vows on the part of husband and wife to be faithful to each other ‘until death us do part.’ Such solemn vows are the foundations of society. Once the marriage vow can be broken with impunity then all other promises, pledges, and loyalties will also soon go by the board” (p. 37). In other words, this matter has more far reaching practical implications even than our “easy divorce” age realizes.

The currently prominent subject of abortion is discussed in a sound way in a chapter which can perhaps be summarized with this quotation from it: “Whatever these ‘reformers’ in America and Britain may believe to the contrary, abortion for social rather than medical reason is murder” (p. 47).

Also dealt with is “The Family and The Day School,” in a reasonable discussion of a thorny practical problem occasioned by the fact that “There is evidence for supposing that the proportion of practising Christians on school staffs may not be over thirty per cent in these days, fifty per cent to sixty per cent being humanists or what may be called ‘residual Christians’” (p. 75); (the reference here being to the public schools). The emphasis in this chapter is quill’ correctly placed upon families as being responsible for the training of children (thats why God has caused children to be born into families), which makes the problems of the day school to be family problems.

The book is relatively brief and to the point. Not a lot of time is consumed in reading this little book which will set one thinking about matters of prime importance concerning the Christian family and marriage.