Christian Perspectives Series 1963: Facts and Values, A Christian Approach to Sociology, by R. KOOISTRA. A Christian Critique of Art, by C. SEERVELD The University and Its Basis, by H. VAN RIESSEN
The Association for Reformed Scientific Studies displays II vitality and Biblically orientated accent which no reputable scholar should ignore. The lectures contained in these three paperbacks were sponsored by this organization and were delivered on August 28, 29 and 30, 1962. These books were printed by the Guardian Publishing Co., Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, and can be purchased for $1.00 each.
Rev. Dr. R. Kooistra’s lectures, like those of Professors Seerveld and Van Riessen, are not easy reading, nor should they be since they were given for an academic community. Kooistra’s basic position is expressed like this: “Without God’s revelation we cannot safeguard our values. The validity of our evaluation of values—a task which. as we shall sec in our third lecture, man cannot escape—depeoos on our understanding of God’s Revelation. The alternative to this position and choice of position apparently leads to the assumption that only man himself in one way or another can be the measure of man’s values.” p. 14. Kooistra examines the basic positions of such sociologists as Weber, Durkheim, Dilthey, 1. Dewey, De Witt H. Parker and others. He clearly demonstrates that a proper understanding of the relationship between fact and value depends upon the religious faith of the scholar. The basic thrust of his position can be discovered on pages 52ff. where the author argues that facts are values. As a naive layman in this area of sociology, this reviewer hopes that competent sociologists will give careful attention to Kooistra’s contribution.
Prof. Dr. C. Seerveld gives his readers a uniquely Christian insight in the area of Christian artistic and literary activity. He writes with clarity, originality and incisive insight into the Christian’s blessed position in God’s world. A few quotes from this excellent contribution should whet the appetite of the readers of this notice.
“And nothing could consciously open us up more Biblically to enjoyment of the universe unconsciously lost to us because of the pietism and syntheticism which has crept into our American Reformed tradition than this theory, this vision of a cosmonomic theatre which harks back to the earthy richness of the Old Testament Psalms and proclaims that the whole creation itself is a gracious handiwork of God in which all aspects of reality are equally pungent with meaning, that all is precious to the Lord God, from subtle acts of love and fine thoughts down to the rhythmic movement of the human body, the work of slaving ants, and the colors of lilies in the valley. This Christian cosmological theory can reinvigorate us to a living awareness of God’s glory round-about so intense that it is usually ascribed only to intoxicated pantheists. Can you see what this will do for the rationale of art and literature?” p. 22.
“The complication or Common Grace must not coax us into desiring synthesis. But God’s Word must drive us to the task of building up a generation with an aggressive immunity to the appeal of synthesis.On1y then can the flowering of a Reformational Christian culture begin to come.” p.28.
“Maybe it bas been the Christian’s thinking about art within the framework or these Platonizing and Aristotelian traditions into whim they had uncritically grafted themselves which has stymied our getting on with a Christian aesthetics. Art is a much less baffling maHer than it b often made out to be. To me art means style. Art is the symbolical objectification of certain meaning aspects of a thing, subject to the law of coherence.” p. 39.
“Biblically true art will rather show the hurt and laughter, the thoroughgoing chiaroscuro to Bowers and desires and prayers alike; it will let a childlike gladness of hope well up through the total groaning of all creation for the Great Day still to come (Romans 8;22–24)…My point then is that Christian art will not be and never has been pretty, thAt its unmistakable frolic is apocalyptic—The Lord is at hand! All things will be for us a footstool! Christian art docs not try to build a heaven on earth allCad of time; Christian art will plumb especially the meaning of sin (instead of staying as far away from it as possible), will express the holy passion of the artist anticipating the completion of what is already fulfilled (neither homeless nor entirely at home in our present world), and will be rigorously trained and most open to a straight-forward, rugged, translucent style (instead of striving for a transcendent perfection).” p. 57.
Seerveld’s contribution must be read, chewed over, re-read, and then its happy Biblical character will begin to rob off on the person who wants all art to be religion in action. The spirit of these lectures will escape the gray-green covers of tho paperback, and if it does, Christian art will begin to grow in the Christian community.
Prof. Dr. Van Riessen talks about the university. God give us one! He articulates what a university ought to be, gives a short history of the university ideal and Idea in western civilization. Agreeing with the author that our age is the crisis of humanism, and that serious and devastating spiritual disintegration has set into the cowse of modern history, every Christian lauds the Idea of a Christian university which will train wise men of culture. capable of using the tools of genuine science. It is good to read the following quotation of the late Dr. H. Bavinck: “We must set against unbelieving science the science of faith, a believing scientific system incorporated in a university…The schools of unbelief have deprived us of our sons and deliver them over to our adversaries. A Christian science alone can hew us; A Reformed army; that army, however, needs officers.” A Christian university would provide such officers, and this means religion in Action. With keen analysis Van Riessen urges his readers forward, hopeful, not of success first of all, but of genuine obedience to the King of our world.
This reviewer hopes that many will take up these lectures and read. They are positive contributions which help the Christian community articulate its witness to our world. The Christian Perspective Series 1963 continues the Roe tradition of 1960, ‘61 and ‘62. These paperbacks ought to be found on the shelves of all those homes who still hold dear the fact of a Christian world and life view, and better yet, their content ought to fire the hearts of the whole Christian community.
ALEXANDER C. DE JONG
Idelette by EDNA GERSTNER, Zondervan Publishing House, 1963. Grand Rapids, Mich. 160 pages. Price $2.50.
When Martin Bucer, the self-appointed Eliezer of the year 1540, approached Idelette de Bure with the suggestion that she become the wife of John Calvin to dispense “comforting care” and to protect his frail health, Bucer was met by serenity and a certain almost disquieting blankness toward his proposal. Following a brief period of contemplation, the young widow acceded to Bucer’s request, unconsciously guided by the very training Pastor Calvin had given her as a member of his St. Nicholas (Strasbourg) flock: “Pious people should fed tranquility and patience; the same state of mind ought to be extended to all the events to which the present life is exposed. Therefore no man has rightly renounced himself. but he who has wholly resigned himself to the Lord, so as to leave all the parts of his life to be governed by His will.”
This spirit of quiet resignation characterized her entire life with John Calvin. Their return to Geneva in 1541 marked the loss by her own decision of her son Charles who remained with her brother Antoine in Strasbourg. The death of their infant son, the alienation of her daughter Judith’s affections by frivolous Ann Calvin, repeated plaguing illnesses, growing resentment by the Libertine faction in the city and disloyalties in Calvin’s own family—all these wounded the tender spirit of this young wife but she bore them with fortitude. In addition this self-effacing woman took over the entire burden of Calvin’s household with its constant stream of students, relatives and guests circling about her famous husband. If Idelette at times felt excluded. living on the fringe of Calvin’s life, she can well offer counsel to those women of today who must relinquish their husbands to long hours of study and work away from home. By her failure to reproach her husband or resent his preoccupation with work, she was a part of his great work.
Mrs. Gerstner’s thorough research and imaginative writing have produced a warm, intimate picture of the Calvin home. This home was distinguished by order, piety and peace. The noble precepts of the great reformer were practiced by his pupil Idelette who, at her final illness, could pray “that we may make no complaint. may not be carried away by our affections, but that we may with a ready courage go through everything to which He calls us.”
THELMA VANDER HOVEN
Guilt, Grace, Gratitude: A Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism, Edited by DONALD J. BRUGGINK, Half Moon Press. 226 pages. Price $3.50.
“This dynamic new book is designed to give living expression and tribute to the famed Heidelberg Catechism that was written in 1563”. The rephrasing of the more familiar sin, salvation and thankfulness into the three terms of the title is symbolic of the fresh approach found here in combination with generally prevailing faithfulness to the historic message of the Catechism. As the editor tells us in his preface, this symposium was written in fulfillment of a mandate of the Genera1 Synod of the Reformed Church in America to its Theological Commission seeking appropriate commemoration of the 400th anniversary of the Catechism. This work is indeed a worthy tribute and those responsible for it are to be congratulated.
The contributors are; Howard G. Hageman, D.O., on Guilt, Grace and Gratitude; Jerome B. De Jong, Ph.D., on The Misery of Man; M. Eugene Osterhaven, Th.D., on Man’s Deliverance; Winfield Butggraaff, ThO., on God, the Father; Elton M. Eenigenburg, Ph.D., on God the Son; Eugene P. Heideman, Th.D., on God the Holy Spirit; Donald J. Bruggmk on The Holy Sacraments; I. John Hesselink, Th.D., on The Law of God; James I. Cook, Th .D candidate. on Prayer. There is an interesting balance in that some of these men are professors, others ministers in congregations and two missionaries on the foreign field. All give evidence of sound scholarship, combined with ability to communicate to the average reader. As is inevitable in a symposium, there is unevenness of quality and difference of approach. There is also considerable difference in the amount of material assigned to each author so that some had to be much more abbreviated than others.
The text of the Catechism used is the new translation made for the 400th anniversary under auspices of the North American Area of tile World Alliance of Reformed and Presbyterian Churches, published by the United Church Press. Although the lack of “proof texts” is compensated for in several of the chapters by many references to Scripture, this is not the case in others. This omission might well be corrected in later printings. The insertion of the headings used by Andre Pery in his commentary does not strike me as very helpful.
There is much interesting and enlightening information not only about the doctrine of the Catechism, but also about its history. The authors are not all equally sympathetic to the method and intent of the Catechism. A real effort is made to make the teachings of our venerable guide relevant to the needs of modern man. Most of the writers cited in the footnotes are modem authors, but the man whose name occurs most often is John Calvin. This is as it should be, since his Institutes and other works are echoed again and again by the Heidelberger. Barth and Brunner are quoted by some contributors with frequency and approval.
As is pointed out in the text. the Heidelberg Catechism was originally written to unite Christians. In keeping with this spirit, and also with the prevailing theological temper of our day, this book is not polemical in spirit. In a few cases this has perhaps been a loss. We would mention two very important areas by way of example. There is no warning against attacks on the infallibility of Scripture, 01′ any emphasis on the nature of inspiration, an issue of such critical importance today. In the discussion of Christ’s second coming there is no mention of the errors of dispensntionalism. In many cases, of course, the necessary brevity of treatment precluded discussion of such matters.
The contribution of Dr. Heidman on God the Holy Spirit is the most critical of the 16th century theology and emphasis of the Catechism. This section includes also discussion of justification by faith. There is in my judgment a decidedly “neo-ortbodox” flavor or atmosphere in this chapter. and a certain vagueness which is disappointing in connection with the purpose of the book.
One can only regret that the section on 1be UJw of God had to be SO short. The comments in defence and definition of the Calvinistic understanding of the Law as rule of gratitude are excellent, but there is no detailed study of the several commandments. n tis will make the book less useful for ministers who are preaching on the Catechism. The discussion of the sacraments is very good, especially the material on the baptism of infants. This is the more welcome since Barth has called it into Question, and the commentary of Rev. Pery takes a very equivocal position on this doctrine.
We rejoice that the Reformed Church in America has sent out this good testimony to its love for and loyalty to the Heidelberg Catechism. As a minister in the Christian Reformed Church I can only regret that our commemoration as denomination, excellent though it was in many ways, did not produce a similarly substantial volume. A stimulating and challenging book!
ELCO H. OOSTENDORP