A Look at Books

HOW JESUS WON MEN by L. R. Scarborough; 290 pp.; $2.95; Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Mich. Reviewed by Rev. Harold Bossenbrock.

The author was president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and also the professor of Evangelism. He has written other books on soul-winning such as With Christ After the Lost, A Search for Souls and others. The purpose of the author in this book is somewhat different. He seeks in book form to study Jesus and His public ministry from the point of view of Jesus as a winner, His method, His spirit, the doctrines He used and the great uses He made of other soul-winning agencies. Christ is held up as the great model, standard, and example in this the finest of the fine arts. If the church would increasingly come under the spell of Christ as soul-winner there would be more of an evangelical thrust in the church. One wonders somewhat about the fact that the times of great increase in the church were times of great preaching on the theme that Christ gave Himself as a ransom for many.

In 38 chapters the theme is developed and we believe rather adequately. The first chapter deals with the author’s creed concerning Christ and the last chapter tells us of the joy Jesus found in reaching out for others in His ministry. In the pursuance of this thesis the author at times lets his theme press the exegesis of a passage too much and fails to do justice to the ted or passage in its own context.

This is an interesting and worthwhile book to own and use.

REALITY AND PRAYER by John B. Maggee; Harper and Brothers, New York; $3.50. Reviewed by Rev. Clarence DeHaan (retired CRC minister) of Grand Rapids, Mich.

Leslie O. Weatherhead writes in the Foreword, “No reader should delude himself by supporting that this is merely another of the thousand books on prayer. This book is different.”

From this reviewer’s viewpoint an Amen can be said to the claim, “This book is different,” and that for two reasons. First, this book is a strongly philosophical and psychological approach to  the subject of prayer. This is understandable in that the author is professor of philosophy and religion at the college of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington, and much that is written is the result of conversation and discussion in the academic circle. At the same time it must be noted that the reader, not at home in these fields of thought, will find this book difficult reading and certainly not a book for devotional use.

Secondly, in as far as the treatment of the subject of prayer is theological in character, it is from the viewpoint of contemporary theology with its emphasis upon existentialism. A reading of Magee’s book, Religion and The Modern Man, will give the reader a clearer understanding of the author’s religious tenets.

Of chief concern to us now is the view of Scripture held by the author. How one conceives of prayer is dependent first of all upon one’s concept of Scripture. This becomes so evident in the book under review. The orthodox Christian views Scripture as the objective, verbally and infallibly inspired Word of God. He seeks to understand prayer in the light of that Word. Thus a question as “who can pray?” is considered in the light of the biblical teaching of the fall of man, his depraved nature, his natural enmity to God, the need of regeneration, etc.

The author does not accept that Scripture is: 1. The objective revelation of God which is such whether man accepts it or not. He says, “The revelation of God involves a double self-revelation; God to us and we to him. Without response there is no revelation.” Thus prayer, which he contends is the heart of response, becomes the revelation of God. How can one go back to the Scriptures with such a view and let the Scriptures speak on the subject of prayer or any other Christian subject in terms of “Thus saith the Lord”? 2. The infallibly, verbally inspired Word of God. He maintains that Scripture is the result of the faith of the church, what the church believed concerning God’s acts. But not what God has infallibly given to us.

It is not surprising, therefore, that one looks in vain for a treatment of the subject of prayer rooted in the Scriptures. It is true that certain texts arc quoted, but it is also true that the author in almost the same breath is drawing upon the thought of Buddha, Darwin, Dewey, and many other non-Christian thinkers leaving the reader with the impression tllat the author was serious when he wrote, “Reconciliation requires, furthermore, the ability to appreciate truth in many diverse forms and to see and affirm the underlying unity of humanity in God.”

Again, we note that the author employs terms in discussing prayer which strike a responsive chord in the orthodox Christian. He entitles the fifth chapter, “The Starting Point: God is God.” But, is he ready to accept God as He has revealed Himself in Scripture? One looks in vain for any adequate picture of God as Judge. In chapter 7, under the heading “The method of confession,” the author states “We must not judge ourselves, or think of God as judge, for this would hinder self-revelation and our chance to move beyond such negativity.” So too, terms used by the author such as confession, sin, grace, guilt, and many more become suspect to the reader as he asks, “what does the author mean by these?”

THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GRACE by Dr. C. Van Til, Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., Nutley, N.J., 110 pages, 1969, $1.50 U.S. Reviewed by Rev. R, O. Zorn, pastor of Reformed Church, Sydney, Australia.

This book, though small in size, is an important book. For in it Dr, C. Van Til, Professor of Apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, for over forty years, defends the doctrines of Election and Reprobation as set forth in the Canons of Dordt. Such a defense has become necessary because of a changed attitude toward the Canons which has appeared of late in some Reformed circles.

In their battle against Arminianism—which denied the total depravity of man, his unconditional election by God in Christ unto salvation, Christ’s particular atonement for His people, the irresistibility of God’s grace, and the perseverance of the saints unto final salvation the Fathers of Dordt reaffirmed these doctrines as the teaching of Scripture, and thereby they unequivocally stated that man’s salvation is of the Lord. Or as Chapter I, Article 6 puts it, “That some receive the gift of faith from God, and others do not receive it, proceeds from God’s eternal decree. ‘For known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world (Acts 15:18, A.V.). Who worketh all things after the counsel of his will’ (Eph. 1:11 ). According to which decree He graciously softens the hearts of the elect, however obstinate, and inclincs them to believe; while He leaves the non-elect in His just judgment to their own wickedness and obduracy . . . .”

Though this Article does not nullify man‘s responsibility and clearly leaves the onus of the nonelect for their lostness upon themselves since it plainly states that they are left to God‘s just judgment because of their own wickedness and abduracy; some modem Reformed theologians it seems are now willing to side with the old Remonstrants in their charge that the Canons are nevertheless determinism. That is to say, these theologians would maintain (as did the Remonstrants at the time of Dordt) that the Canons leach a determinism of God which, since He has decreed all things that come to pass, makes Him also the author of sin. And therefore, under this view, man cannot be held accountable for his lostness.

Prof. C. C. Berkouwer, who in his earlier writings defended Dordt (cf. his Faith and Justification, published in 1949), has more recently sided with those who criticize Dordt for its “deterministic” tendencies (cf. “Vregen Rondom de Delijdenis,” Gereformeerd Theologisch Tijdschrift, Vol. 63, 1963, pp 1–41). Remarking on the “time-conditionedness” of the Confessions, Dr. Berkouwer sees some of the statements of Dordt as falling into incorrect causal categories. “The real intention of the Canons of Dordt, no one doubts, is to express the unmerited grace of God in the way of salvation, election as the fountain of salvation” (p. 34). Unfortunately, according to Dr. Berkouwer, the Canons do not restrict themselves to this ground-motive, but go on to present us with an “objective distinction” to the effect that God has in time given some men faith and withheld it from others. “The sixth section of the first canon, accordingly, docs not present teaching directly drawn from Scripture. On the contrary it draws ‘a conclusion which is connected with a vision of God as causing all things.’ It is no wonder that men have therefore charged Dordt with holding to a determinist view of reality and, in particular, with the idea that that unbelief of men has back of it the allcausing God” (p. 34).

Professor Berkouwer‘s proposed solution to this alleged dilemma of the Canons is to change the casual thought patterns of the Canons (which reflect the limitations of 17th century Scholastic theology) by substituting a new framework “that does justice to the doxological intent of the canons” (p. 35). This doxological intent, Prof. Berkouwer maintains, can already be seen in the Canons themselves. For in Article 18 of the first chapter of the Canons, “the static objectivising of two dosed groups of men is crossed with a kerygmatic-pastoral testimony in an open situation full of responsibility in which much, in which all things may happen . . . in connection with God’s judgment” (p. 35).

Professor Bcrkouwer claims to find this new approach—which stresses tile more activistic “kerygmaticpastoral” aspect of the Scripture as it is addressed to men in the active preaching of the Gospel, while minimizing (if not doing away with) the historical aspect which leads to “causal and deterministic categories”—by taking a fresh look at the Scriptures. One such obvious place for him is Romans 9–11. According to Berkouwer’s new exegesis, “The narrative of Jacob’s election and of Esaus rejection does not, it is now Quite generally agreed, indicate that God has determined everything: from eternity with respect to the eventual salvation of these men. The narrative indicates, rather, the nature of election, namely, that it is of grace and not of works. Always and without exception the true significance of the ekloge (election) is manifest as that which is wholly without caprice” (p. 38). In other words, according to Professor Berkouwer, the reader of this passage is not to think that it is teaching a casual, deterministic decree of God that expressed itself in the actual historical situation of Jacob‘s election and Esau‘s rejection. Rather, the reader of this passage should see in it the fact that God’s way is the way of grace and not that of works; and, of course, he is to apply this truth to his own life accordingly.

In the Festschrift, Jerusalem and Athens, a book of critical essays dedicated to Dr. Van Til on the occasion of his 75th birthday and the 40th anniversary as Professor of Apologetics at Westminster Seminary, Professor Berkouwer has written an article in which he takes Van Til to task for not making the “exegesis of Holy Scripture play the decisive role” in his critique of Berkouwer in the book under review (p. 200). In his reply, Dr. Van Til, while not excusing this alleged deficiency of his book, states that he “should have compare your own (i.e. B’s) exegesis with that of Professor Murray. I agree basically with Murray” (p. 203).

Let us therefore look at Professor J. Murray’s exegesis of the Scriptural passage in question and see wherein he differs with the exegesis of the verses in Romans 9 to which Berkouwer specifically refers (vss. 10–13), takes up some thirteen pages in his commentary (The New Intemotional Commentary on the New Testament, Eerdmans, 1965). We can only quote Murray’s conclusion here. “In accord with what we have found above, however, respecting biblical usage it (i.e., the biblical statement of God, ‘Esau have I hated’) must be interpreted as hate with the positive character which usage indicates, a hate as determinative as the unfailing purpose in terms of which the discrimination between Jacob and Esau took place. In view of what Paul teaches elsewhere respecting the ultimacy of the counsel of God’s will, it would not he proper to say that the ultimate destinies of Jacob and Esau were outside His purview. Besides, in this passage (vss. 8–13) the apostle is making the distinction between the true Israel and Israel after the flesh, between the true children lInd the children by descent, between the true seed and the natural seed. He is doing this to show that the covenant promise of God has not failed. The promise comes to fruition in the true Israel, in the remnant according to the election of grace” (pp. 23–24). Murray, therefore, not only disagrees with the new exegesis of Berkouwer, but in Murray’s exegesis we see a reaffirmation of the teaching of the Canons on Predestination und Reprobation as being fully biblical. This is also Van Til’s intention in this little book.

Professor Van Til’s book is well worth reading, for it exposes what Professor Berkouwer and other Reformed theologians who have adopted the approach of the new theology seem to have forgotten, namely, that one’s presuppositions concerning the Scriptures (and Confessions) inevitably determine the nature of one’s exegesis as well. If one departs from the historic Reformed position in favor of the Neo-Orthodox approach which, for example, regards the history of Scripture as unreliable and the decrees of God as deterministic, then these extra-biblical presuppositions are bound to show their effects in one’s approach to and exegesis of Holy Scripture. Van Til should be read carefully. He has a needed message for our time that we cannot afford to ignore.