A Look at Books

GOD IN THE DOCK: ESSAYS ON THEOLOGY AND ETHICS by C. S. Lewis: Edited by Walter Hooper. Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, Mich., 1970. 346 pages. $6.95. Reviewed by Marianne Radius of Grand Rapids, Mich.

This volume collects together all the occasional writings of C. S. Lewis which have not been previously published in book form. This includes speeches to widely varying audiences, prefaces to other books, magazine articles, many of them replies to someone else’s articles in previous issues of the magazine, and even “Letters to the Editor,” also many of them replies to someone else’s “Letters to the Editor.” The result is a very mixed bag. Those who wish to make a detailed study of Lewis’ work will no doubt wish to read everything he wrote no matter how trivial. But as far as ordinary readers are concerned, this would have been a much better book if it had been a good deal shorter. The title essay, “God in the Dock,” seems to have been chosen more for its catchy title than for its importance. The subject it discusses is treated at much greater length in the essay “Christian Apologetics.”

Lewis writes not as a theologian but as a layman, turning the light of sanctified common sense on the Scripture text. He considers the supernatural the very heart of the gospel, and vigorously defends the miracles, and that greatest of all miracles, the Incarnation. The most interesting essays in this volume deal with this subject. He is less faithful to the Old Testament which he considers “true” in the sense that fable and myth and saga are true.

Lewis’ highly individualistic style will be recognized immediately by readers familiar with his full-length books. These essays show the same originality of mind, the same skillful use of unexpected, even startling figures, the same dazzling clarity with which he treats complicated theological subjects, the Slime Rashes of wit. Here and there the style is marred by what seems to be unconscious condescension on Lewis’ part towards less literate folk who do not use the English language as precisely as Lewis does.

The elaborate footnotes which clutter the text arc distracting rather than illuminating. To cite just one example, when Lady Macbeth is mentioned, a footnote informs us that this is a reference to a play called Macbeth, written by William Shakespeare, find in what act, scene, and line we can find the lady’s problem about getting her hands clean. Mr. Lewis’ literate prose deserves better than such pedantry.

This is a good book to give to your pastor, to lay people who like to read, and particularly to anyone who is troubled by the seeming conflict between science and Christianity.

THE NEW BIBLE COMMENTARY: Revised by: Guthrie, Motyer, Stibbs, Wiseman. Eerdmans Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Mich., 1970, pp. 1310. Price $12.95. Reviewed by Rev. John J. Byker, pastor of the Second Christian Reformed Church of Toronto, Ontario.

The first edition of this one-volume commentary on the Bible appeared in 1953 and a second in 1954. When the first edition appeared, the reviewer had occasion to use it and was pleased with that volume. Of this new, third edition it is said, “completely revised and reset 1970.”

This revised edition is described further in the Preface, “This volume contains twelve General Articles in addition to commentaries on each of the sixty-six hooks of the Bible. Five of the former and thirty-seven of the commentaries are entirely new contributions. All the other material has been revised, most of it extensively.”

No one can use this commentary and fail to benefit from the General Articles with which the book begins. These articles are not beneficial for one reading but for re-reading. These articles will be of particular benefit to those who are not regularly engaged in theological studies. Each article is on a topic which is current. Note some of the titles: “The Authority of Scripture,” “Revelation and Inspiration,” “History of the Literary Criticism of the Pentateuch,” “Between the Testaments.” There are, besides those mentioned above, seven other profitable articles. This is no doubt one of the finest features of this commentary, giving scholarly study to current topics.

Naturally, a one-volume commentary has limitations, but the approach taken in this one is valuable for it enables one to study further by suggesting good material. For instance, the question in Isaiah 7:14: “a virgin or a young woman,” directs the student to: “(for full discussion, see E. J. Young, Studies in Isaiah, 1954, pp. 143–198).” One could cite many such instances of excellent material being suggested to the reader. This comment on Genesis 3:1–7 gives a flavor of this commentary: “Unless the entire paradise-fall account is regarded as an allegory or some other non-historical form, which the rest of Scripture does not support (see introduction), there is no suggestion in the context that the serpent is not to be interpreted literally.” And the following on Reve1ation 20:1–3: “It is possible that John adopted the figure of 1000 years for the kingdom of God on earth rather to show its character as God’s rest for mankind than as determining its duration of time.” In fact one finds the study of Revelation quite fascinating in view of the revived interest in the subject of eschatology.

To review a one-volume commentary on the Bible is difficult for so much must be covered in a brief compass. This is the best one-volume commentary of recent date that I have seen, and I feel it is worthy of your serious consideration.