The Christian Concept of Freedom by Henry Stob
Grand Rapids International Publication, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1957. 52 pages.
This slender booklet consists of two lectures by Dr. Henry Stob, Calvin Seminary Associate Professor of Ethics and Apologetics, the first on the Liberty of Man” and the second on “The Liberty of Conscience.” The lectures are marked by a frequently facile and happy turn of expression, as witness the first two paragraphs on page 29, and such a sentence as this on page 31: “But very few men have gone as far as to deny that God exists; most men have simply fenced him in.” Stob is at his best in the well-pointed expression of such ordinarily common-place observations.
The weakness of the lectures lies in their presentation of the Christian concepts. This becomes apparent at the onset when he comments that the Christian, like the secular Liberal, “is apt to be an advocate of some form of democracy in government, of free though responsible enterprise in business, of liberty of conscience in religion, of freedom of expression in journalism, of civil liberties for men of every race and color in social polity, and of freedom of thought and inquiry in the schools.” He adds, more-over, that “the typical Protestant is…in form at least a brother to the modern Liberal” (page 14).
Tacit to the whole book is the assumption that a Christian is a liberal with faith, a Liberal who has theological foundations which the Liberal lacks and is hence weak and vulnerable. Although Stob denies that “the Christian and the modem liberal are cut from the same cloth” and insists that their definitions of freedom are “radically different” (p. 14), he fails to show adequately that such a difference exists and tends to see the Christian as the guarantor of the culture which the Liberal is unable to save. The freedoms of Western man are traced to Christianity rather than to Greek humanism, and the individual, personality, and community are products of Christian culture. Here Stob’s lectures reveal their basic weakness, a homiletical rather than analytical approach. He states, for example, that “The Calvinist is in principle committed to some form of democracy in government” (p. 22), and thus links again the Liberal and the Christian. But democracy means literally mob rule. or majority rule; it finds its creed in vox populi, vox Dei, the voice of the people is the voice of God. The Christian is committed to the Kingship of Jesus Christ, and to the rule, not of the majority or minority, but of fundamental law.
Nor, for example, is the Christian committed to freedom of worship, as Stab would have it, nor does any Liberal strictly adhere ·to such a faith. What, for example, the United States has is a toleration of all religions insofar as their practices are not offensive to common law Christianity and morality. Thus, religious polygamy, as with Mormonism, was forbidden, and cannibalism, human sacrifice, and other cult-practices, offensive to the Christian and modern secular sense, also were banned. But in so ruling the Supreme Court repudiated the right and power of religion to dictate our acts: “Can a man excuse his practices because of his religious belief? To permit this would be to make the doctrines of religion superior to the law of the land; and in effect to permit every citizen to become a law unto himself. Government could exist only in name” (United States v. Reynolds,98 United States Reports 145). As far back as 1927, a secular writer like Leon Whipple recognized the dilemma of modern man in this situation. This concept of religious liberty leaves nothing to religion except mere belief and opinion and establishes as final authority and law the wiII of the majority as expressed in the state (The Story of Civil Liberty in the United States, p. 272). The older conception of an established church, to the exclusion of all others, made an ecclesiastical institution the expression of the divine will; the modern conception of religious liberty makes the state the vehicle of truth. This is a serious problem to which the Christian thinker must address himself. But of all this, Stab is unaware as he blithely endorses the Liberal program at each point and baptizes it with Christian approval. While Stob has some pointed strictures on Liberalism, he shares fully the Liberal blindness to basic issues and has the easy assumption that Liberal axioms are unquestionable verities. It is this which is distressing in his lectures, the spiritual flabbiness which appears whenever a rigorously Reformed awareness of issues and a development of answers is called for.
There is also a carelessness in dealing with biblical and ethical issues, as witness his handling of the notion of Adiaphora. Stob comments, “There is only one limitation upon the exercise of this liberty—the law of love.” Then he adds, concerning the weak, that if his liberty tends to harm them, “then I am bound to surrender my liberty for his sake.” “There are no other limitations upon the exercise of my liberty in indifferent things. The protests and accusations of the strong, I can ignore.” For as Calvin says: “How much attention should be paid to an offense taken by Pharisees, we learn from our Lord’s injunction, Let them alone; they are blind leaders of the blind” (p. 52). It is startling, to say the least, to see the strong called both blind and Pharisees, and certainly not biblical. Is there to be no love for the strong? Did Paul’s strength make him blind, or a Pharisee? And are the weak made the determiners of Christian conduct by Paul? Stob’s lectures tell us little concerning the Christian concept of freedom; they spell out more clearly the irrelevance and impotence of Christian thinking today.
ROUSAS J. RUSHDOONY
The Gamblers at Golgotha by G. Hall Todd
Baker Book House, 1957, 151 pages. Price $2.75.
Galbraith Hall Todd is the minister of the Arch Street Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, the successor of Dr. Clarence Macartney. At the present time he is lecturer in homiletics at the Reformed Episcopal Seminary in the same city.
In this, his latest book, Dr. Todd has published fourteen Lenten sermons. It is obvious from his writings that Dr. Todd believes in the infallibility of the Scriptures and in Jesus Christ of whom they testify. He lashes out at those who deny the deity of Christ and his Messianic office. To be sure, this book provides for interesting reading material of a devotional nature.
On the other hand, these essays are published and advertised as sermons. On that score we would like to voice some disagreements. The major part of the book is filled with references to people and situations that have hardly any bearing upon the exegesis of the text. Dr. Todd shows himself unquestionably as a very erudite person who speaks with authority about a wide variety of historical characters. The reader is introduced to such dimly known characters as Theodoric the Goth and the Rev. Elisha Fiske, a 19th century congregational minister in New England. Abe Lincoln, George Washington, and the manager of the Algonquin Hotel in New York also pass the revue. All this makes for interesting reading no doubt, but actually the person of Jesus Christ is buried in these sermons under an avalanche of illustrations. There is very little exegesis of the text and just a passing reference to the fulfillment of the prophecy of Psalm 22 or Zechariah 9:9. There is a tendency in all of these sermons to use the text as a coat-hanger and as a result the true application of the text is missing.
This is all the more strange if we take into consideration that Dr. Todd is lecturer in homiletics. His students will be required to read a tremendous amount of historical books in order to come close to their teacher’s level of sermonizing. It would seem that the study of the sacred text is of secondary importance.
No doubt, Dr. Todd would vehemently deny this allegation and we are thankful for it. Yet his writings on the passion of Christ indicate an underestimation of Biblical theological exegesis. The simple listener will be unable to see the woods because of the trees. But as essayist Dr. Todd has done an admirable piece of work.
Judas the Betrayer by Albert Nicole
Baker Book House. $1.50.
The author is a minister of the Free Church of Canton de Vaud, Switzerland. He has given us in this book a psychological study of Judas Iscariot.
It is always dangerous to write a psychological study on some persons in the Bible. We believe that the Bible intends to give testimony to our Savior and does not present us with a gallery of characters to be studied for the sake of psychology. Judas is important only in so far as he sheds light on the sufferings of the Savior. These things, says Christ, must be that it may be fulfilled which was written…Rev. Nicole fortunately has to a great extent escaped the pitfall to place Judas in the center of attention and make Jesus Christ his satellite. The author has gathered all the Biblical data on Judas and follows the development of his aversion to Christ step by step, but always so that the sufferings of Christ come into clearer focus.
At times the author indulges in some speculation in order to fill in some details on the attitude of Judas, which he feels should be presented in a logical sequence. Nicole reads the text in John 13:18 in the following manner: I speak not of you all: I know whom I have chosen, and one of you is a devil, but that the scripture may be fulfilled etc. The words in italics have been spoken in a whisper by Christ, according to the author. He says: The words of Jesus are incomprehensible if one does not suppose an interruption after the words! I know whom I have chosen. “There must be a silence with a whispered word which can not have been understood but by one alone (Judas).” Such exegesis is rather speculative to say the least.
On the other hand, the writer shows a marvelous understanding of the events which took place at the last supper. He shows conclusively that Jesus was flanked. by John and Judas. He does a fine piece of work in showing from the Scriptures that Christ is working with Judas to the last moment in order to recall him from his pernicious plans. He also comparesJudas with Ahithophel who suffered the same fate in the end and thus shows Psalm 41:10 to have received. its true fulfillment.
All in all, a wonderful little book to have and to study. The publishers have published it very attractively at low cost.
Christian Commitment, An Apologetic by Edward J. Carnell
Macmillan, N.Y., 1957, 314 pages.
This is an amazing and ambitious work by the Professor of Apologetics at Fuller Theological Seminary, ambitious in that it seeks to establish a third method of knowing, and amazing in that Carnell not only admits an indebtedness to Kierkegaard and a liking for Descartes and Kant but seeks to establish theology on the basis of ethics rather than to derive ethics from theology. It is an attempt to establish an orthodox Christian theology and apologetic on existentialist grounds.
Carnell distinguishes between three kinds of truths. the first two ontological truth and propositional truth. to which he adds his third method of knowing. “What if there were a kind of truth which, in Kierkegaard’s words, ‘comes into being only as one is transformed by ethical decision?…By the term’ ‘third kind of truth’ I mean truth as personal rectitude…Essence and existence are united by right moral decision” (p. 16). For Carnell, therefore, man and not God becomes the starting point for apologetics, and neither Scripture nor revelation have any place therein as a means of knowledge or sources of moral value. Carnell’s apologetics is thus concerned, with discerning or discovering God, who is essentially passive while man is active. God thus must be uncovered rather than expected to reveal himself. Moreover, since essence and existence are united by right moral decision, salvation is made metaphysical rather than ethical.
Man is committed to duties by existence itself. Man’s moral difficulty is simply “lack of moral courage to act on the knowledge he already has” (p. 27). “Moral self-acceptance is assuredly the third method of knowing” (p. 32). This starting point, he believes, “is of unique significance” (p. 38). Basic to this method of knowing and its ethics is acceptance of the dignity of our person, the dignity of other persons, and the requirement that they respect our dignity. “Whenever others offend my dignity, I judge them guilty” (p. 85). God is “that person to whom violators of our dignity must give an account” (p. 108). God is thus the guarantor of personal dignity and the ethics based thereon and the source of ethics is in human dignity rather than the will of God. “Although we speak of God as personal: William James would be quick to point out that, functionally and pragmatically, we mean the same thing that Aristotle meant by the unmoved mover. God is an ultimacy who explains areas in our life that we happen to call important. We postulate God to explain our participation in the moral and spiritual environment, while Aristotle postulated God to explain motion and Test in nature” (p. 130). Carnell hopes to know God as more than this, of course. But his God in essence is “perfect rectitude” rather than uncreated being. And God must respect the dignity of our persons if there is to be fellowship.
Whenever a person enters the circle of nearness—be he God or man—we cannot extend fellowship until he shows signs of receiving the dignity of our person” (p. 132). Instead of God being the Creator of man and of man’s environment, “God and an upright man share the same moral and spiritual environment,” although Carnell adds quickly that his position does not imply pantheism, since “we speak only of a common environment, not a common essence” (p. 138). Yet Carnell speaks of a “univocal point of identity between time and eternity” (p. 135), and makes analogical predications about God from man rather than vice versa (p. 139) I This is existentialism with a vengeance. Instead of saying. “In thy light shall we see light” (Ps. 36:9), Carnell wants to see God’s light in man’s light.
Moreover, God is placed under obligation to man and necessity outlaws grace. “The minimal elements in fellowship oblige us to believe that God is under the same necessity to extend his life to the humble as he is to withhold it from the proud” (p. 151), God, like man, is under moral necessity to honor the upright man. In defining “the law of consideration,” Carnell further emphasizes this dignity of man which God and man must honor, apparently heedless of God’s loving designation of his chosen as “thou worm, Jacob” (Isaiah 41:14). While Christian ethics are based on God’s revelation, Carnell’s ethics require self-revelation; Schweitzer’s ethics of reverence for life is more openly humanist and better worked out. Carnell presents with a vengeance a God of immanence. In answer to the natural question, in view of this source of truth as to the truth of other religions, Carnell like Thomas Aquinas denies that the Christian has a monopoly on truth. “The Christian forthrightly denies that he enjoys exclusive access to the Logos of God, for God is revealed in nature as well as in Scripture. There are partial truths in every religion and philosophic tradition, truths that Christianity conserves rather than negates” (p. 293). The difference is that Christianity has Christ. who alone can save men.
Carnell attempts to join to this existentialist approach an orthodox theology, but the union fails completely. In dealing with theology he presupposes what his apologetics never gives evidence for. He assumes the truths of doctrines which his man-centered approach can never establish.
It would be easy to call attention to the unconscious humor of Carnell’s illustrations (“What realities hold me when I have chicken for dinner?” p. 63), the triteness of his language, and the thorough-going pharisaism of the ethics he develops. The unconscious humor is certainly there. But much more compelling is the reader’s wretched realization that this is the earnest offering of a professor of apologetics in an ostensible bastion of evangelical faith. It points to the radical sickness of current theology. When apologetics by-passes the infallible Scriptures and the self-contained God, it has little left to defend but human dignity, and this Carnell defends, what there is then left of it.
Rousas J. Rushdoony
The United States and Canada in the Christian Reformed Church by Revs Francois Guillaume and Henry A. Venema
Published by the Pro Rege Publishing Company, Toronto, Canada, 1955.
This brochure is, according to its authors, a “Canadian contribution to the Centennial Celebration of the Christian Reformed Church.” The purpose of this writing is to promote a better understanding between the two segments of our Church. Canada and the United States. The authors assume that tensions exist and that these are primarily due to misunderstanding. They believe that a frank discussion will serve to remove many, if not all, of these tensions, but that this will require give and take on the part of both segments. The authors are also convinced that the Canadian segment must be left to solve its own peculiar Canadian problems and be given the freedom to speak as a distinct Canadian Christian Reformed Church within its environment.
That the authors have addressed themselves to a vitally significant subject is evident from the importance attributed to the panel held at our Christian Reformed Ministers’ Institute in Grand Rapids last June. That panel dealt with the same subject as this brochure. All who love our Christian Reformed Church and desire to preserve its peace and unity will want to read this pamphlet, so that our differences may be understood. our feelings tempered, and the tensions lessened or removed.
Although we are happy with this brochure we are also disappOinted with it. There are weaknesses in it that undoubtedly impair its effectiveness. The English in it is unacceptable almost throughout and at times very poor. Some arguments are too vague and some are too weak because they are too brief. And in a few instances arguments are wanting. There seems to be a certain hesitancy to say what must be said and this, no doubt, has occasioned some vagueness. If we wish to remove tensions we must speak clearly and openly. The U.S.A. segment must know just why the Dutch immigrants feel and react as they do. This is possible only when the Canadians say just what they think and why.
Now that the ice is broken. what next? Possibly the best solution is verbal discussion in panels, etc. We sincerely hope this pamphlet will be more than an ice-breaker but that it will accomplish its very worthy goal.
CECIL W. TUININGA, Williamsburg, Ont.
A Goodly Heritage by Marian M. Schoolland
Published by Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1957. Grand Rapids, Michigan. $2.00. 97 pages.
This book constitutes the homage of an appreciative, loving daughter to the memory of Professor Klaas Schoolland, like the book of Job, this is a spiritual biography rather than a record of events and people. It is the story of the seeking soul and the inquisitive mind of a man who did not find his proper niche in life, either matrimonially or professionally, until he was past the ripe age of Plato’s philosopher-king. The experience for which his young heart had longed, in the great days of the church reformation during his boyhood, finally carne when he was seventy-four years old, according to an entry in his diary of March 11, 1926: “In my eleven o’clock morning prayer I had a spiritual experience today such as I have never had before. “For quite a while my heart has daily—I may say continually yearned for special, personal communion with Christ as my Savior through the indwelling operation of the Holy Spirit. This morning when I bent my knee at my chair, I instantly felt an unusual tenderness for Jesus in my heart, even without any special thought or preparation. That wonderful feeling of love to Jesus grew stronger while I engaged. in my daily intercession for the children one by one, and for myself, and for the dear relatives in the Old Country. Soon it filled my whole heart and pressed tears from my eyes. It burst forth in utterances such as ‘O Jesus, my Savior, I love Thee! Let my whole life be given to Thee more than ever before, and my closing days on earth. be consecrated. to Thee in more perfect love. with more entire devotion!’”
This testimony was written especially for the children and grandchildren, so that they could see the fruit of faith and obedience in the life of their father and take courage,
Enough has been said to indicate the brand of Reformed piety found in this Professor of Greek, who was one of the pioneers in the faculty of Calvin College. Would to God that we could continue to nurture that kind of godliness in our generation!
As a child in Ureterp, which had once belonged to the diocese of the Bishop of Utrecht, Klaas Schoolland experienced first-hand the tremendous religious revival that was going on in the Netherlands as the result of the Afscheiding in 1834. His father was the leader of a small group that left the apostate Established Church and organized anew on the basis of the historic creeds of the Reformation and the Scriptures. To follow this child in his later years, when he became a student at Kampen and later at the University of Groningen, to share his religious concern and his spiritual quest is to understand the goodly heritage that we as Calvinists have received from tho Lord. A striking example of this heritage is the admonition of Klaas’ mother upon her son’s departure to Kampen: “Psalm.sjonge net forfitte, jonge!” (Don’t forget to keep singing the Psalms!) The power of the Word as mediated through the old Dutch Psalter is attested in the life of this saintly pioneer professor.
I heartily recommend this book to all those who are interested in the historical rootage of the Christian Reformed Church and to every seeking soul that longs to grow in grace and godliness!
H.R. VAN TIL