Recent Development in Roman Catholic Thought
by Berkouwer, G.C.
Eerdmans, 1958. 81 pp. $1.50.
This booklet is a teaser. It is the product of a mature mind which has studied Home objectively for many years. and therefore has a comprehensive and clear understanding of Rome’s nature and problems. What is offered here is a few droplets of his vast reservoir of knowledge on Rome. In the nature of the case, since these Pathway booklets are brief, there are only broad hints at the problems involved. This is why the booklet is a tenser. It handles basic issues in modern Roman thought, and is bursting with suggestive statements that are evidently the result of much reading and thought, but which are very succinctly presented. It makes the reader want to go on to something much more thorough, to turn to the author’s Conflict With Rome, for example, although that is nine years old, and does not touch on some of the very recent developments in Rome. As a brief survey to be read in a couple or hours, it is very enlightening.
Essentially Berkouwer treats two phases of Rome’s thinking: the doctrine of the infallibility of the Pope and the New Theology. His treatment of the first subject is most helpful, quickly clearing the air of certain misconceptions and pointing to the true nature of papal infallibility.
The New Theology, a movement in Roman circles that began in the early forties, reveals the tensions that can develop within Rome. Basically, the New Theology is an attempt on the part of some Roman theologians to meet the world Wit1lout abandoning tho church’s fixed dogmatic position.
Both the development of non-Biblical (Rome would deny this adjective) Roman dogma and the rise of the New Theology point to a certain changeability within Rome, contrary to popular opinion. This is the main thought that is left in one’s mind, after reading this booklet.
In conclusion, it is worth noting that Berkouwer does not write from “a barren anti-papism.” This is the basic fault of POAU (Protestants and Other Americans United), whoso leaders (Blanshard, for example) merCilessly rip into Rome from a humanistic standpoint without replacing it with a positive Biblical note. Berkouwer ends his booklet on the theme of the power of the Reformation. Its strength, he says, is not in its numerical strength, nor in the nobility of its leaders, but “in the truth, in the gospel, in the Word of God, in listening anew to the voice of God in the Bible, in rendering oneself captive to the Word” (p. 68). That is why a Bible-obeying Protestant never need feel inferior to the external might of Rome.
EDWIN H . PALMER
Institutes of the Christian Religion
by John Calvin
Tr. Henry Beveridge, 1957, 2 vols. Paperback, ca. 1200 pages, $5.00.
This is the buy of the year! There is no family that cannot afford five dollars a year for books, and this is the book that ought to he purchased by every Reformed family in this Calvin Memorial Year! Pastors and teachers can be especially effective in suggesting this as a worthy addition to the home library. Why not make this It family project for Christmas! Would to God that Christians today were still hungry for the truth as they were in Calvin’s day, when he wrote this masterpiece to give “stability to wavering minds, and confidence to sinking hearts, and placed upon the lips of all a brilliant apology in the face of the calumnies of the enemies of the Reformation” (Cf. B. B. Warfield, “Literary History of Calvin’s Institutes.” Preface to 7th American Edition of Institutes.)
Calvin wrote the Institutes during his twenty-sixth year, after he had fled France and retired to Germany to find an obscure corner to enjoy study and the leisure of scholarship. “But lo!” he says, “whilst I lay hidden at Basle and known only to a few people, many faithful and holy people were burnt alive in France; and the report of these burnings having reached foreign nations, they excited the strongest disapprobation among the great part of the Germans, whose indignation was kindled against the authors of such tyranny. In order to allay this indignation, certain wicked and lying pamphlets were circulated, staling that none were treated cruelly but Anabaptists and seditious persons, who, by their perverse railings and false opinions, were overthrowing not only true religion, but also all civil order.
Observing that the object which these instruments of the court aimed at by their disguises was not only that the disgrace of shedding so much innocent blood might remain buried under the false charges and calumnies which they brought against the holy martyrs after their death, but also that afterwards they might be able to proceed to the utmost extremity in murdering the poor saints without exciting compassion towards them in the breasts of any, it appeared to me, that, unless I opposed them to the uttermost of my ability, my silence could not be vindicated from the charge of cowardice and treachery. This was the consideration which induced me to publish my Institutes of the Christian Religion. My objects were, first, to prove that the reports were false and calumnious, and thus to vindicate my brethren, whose death was so precious in the sight of the Lord; and next, that as the same cruelties might very soon after be exercised against many unhappy individuals, foreign nations might be touched with at least some compassion toward them and solicitude about them” (Institute” 7th Am. ed., vol. I. p. x iii).
In its original edition (1536, Basle), the Institute, was merely a handbook of Protestant principles, but it grew to its present. size as an incomparable systematic statement of the Reformed faith during the twenty-five years that Calvin labored at Geneva. Whereas Calvin wrote the first edition to provide elementary instruction in religion for the neglected multitudes, he later revised his purpose and sought to “prepare and train candidates in sound, theology for the reading of the divine Word that they might both have au easy introduction to it and proceed in it with un faltering step, seeing I have endeavored to give such a summary of religion in all it parts, and have digested it into such an order as to make it not difficult for an one who is rightly acquainted with it, the ascertain what he ought properly to look for in Scripture, and also to what head he ought to refer whatever is contained in it” (Ibid., xviii).
The four books of the Institutes in its present form (1559 edition) treat the subject of theology under the rubrics of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and the holy, catholic Church, a division suggested by the Apostolic Creed. This is a classic division and gives the whole the appeal of a work of art. It thus represents Calvin’s life’s work, at which he labored incessantly through eight editions and twenty-five years of mature scholarship, refurbishing his arguments, supplementing his facts, and directing his keen mind to every contemporary problem in theology.
But the central message of this masterpiece of Protestant theology ever remained the slime. There is a noted perfecting of the exposition and the argument, but tile basic convictions and the basic ideas of Calvin did not change. His genius was able to grasp, at the age of twenty-six, the central truths of Scripture in their purity and cogency, and the development is only one of detail. Calvin, as some one has said, “added, developed, and defiled, but he did not retrench or retract.”
It is an interesting fact that Calvin wrote his masterpiece in Latin, the language of scholarship; but he hastened to translate it into the French (1541) so that the common people might have the benefits of his exposition. This was part of his evangelical conviction that God gives his Word to the people and saves them directly through that Word without benefit of clergy. Luther had found it necessary to translate the Bible into German, but since this had already been accomplished for the French by Calvin’s cousin, Olivetan, Calvin could give himself to the instruction of his countrymen in the principles of the faith.
Besides, the French edition of the Institutes was a literary event of the first magnitude, for it marked a forward step in the development of the French language as a literary vehicle. It also was instrumental in popularizing religious thought, which was by all odds one of the greatest achievements of the Reformation. For it fostered the study of the Word and thus implemented the conviction of tile Reformers that tIle Word itself is authoritative and sufficient and perspicuous as well as necessary unto salvation.
Perhaps it will not be amiss to quote from at least one literary critic to indicate something of the literary eminence of Calvin’s French translation of his masterpiece. Says Brunetiere (Presbyterian and Reformed Review, 1901, pp. 400ff), “Such are the contents of the Institutes, and once again we must acknowledge that we have no literary monument in French earlier than this which can be compared to it…Let us rather praise the concatenation of his ideas. It is of such a kind, so strong and so close that no matter from what passage we try to take the doctrine to expound it, it is not only always the same connection, the same logic, and the same dependence and subordination of parts. Let us praise also the language…the severity of which is not without nobility, and even the tension and the rigidity of which have their majesty…Among other gifts Calvin has that of familiar and picturesque comparison. He has rhythm, too, oratorical rhythm, sometimes slower, sometimes faster…Assuredly we have in our language no better models of the vivacity of reasoning, or rather in argumentation, or of that precision and of that propriety in the use of terms, or of that succinct and telling brevity. We have no more that art of following the thought and CJl:plaining nil or paraphrasing it without losing the point of view. Calvin’s paraphrase of the Decalogue is one of the fine things in the French language”. In summary Brunetiere goes on to say that the Institutes “was the first of books which we can call classic. It is equally so…by reason of the dignity of its plan, and the manner in which the conception of the whole determines the nature and choice of details. It is so by reason of that purpose to convince or to move which, since it is its cause, brings about its internal progress, and is the spirit of its attraction and rhetorical grace”.
Of course, no mere English translation could capture all these elements as they were molded Into a work of art by the genius of Calvin in his native tongue. However, the succinctness and decisiveness of style and thought is evident in any translation. Also the parallelisms and the contrasts, the majesty of the thought and the passion of the prose cannot be altogether hidden in translation. But apart from its literary flavor and elegance, we ought to read this classic in theology because it is part of our heritage of the Reformation. It deals with the things that are fundamental in the life of the Church in every age. Let us, then, study the Word through the eyes of one to whom God gave the insight into his truth in such a signal manner.
Jonathan Edwards on Evangelism
Edited by Carl J.C. Wolf
Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Mich. 137 pages; price $2.00
No better analysis and no better recommendation for its use could be given of this book than that written on the jacket: “A digest in Edwards’ own words of his sermons and essays which are of special value for evangelism in our time.” The great task of the church has always been to evangelize. North America has witnessed many revivals, and many excesses, as well as successes, in these revivals. Jonathan Edwards, first among the New England CalviniSts, experienced the Great Awakening first-hand over 200 years ago. With his characteristic thoroughness and penetration, he employed the Scriptures to evaluate the movement. This book is a digest of the cream of his observations on the subject. The analysis by Edwards is careful, balanced, and eminently Scriptural. There is no condemnation of a revival movement because of some excesses found in it. At the same time there is a warning against the imminent danger of setting up the excesses as normal and even the norm of what should be. There is also an honest condemnation of elements that cannot stand in the light of the Word.
Chapter two, “Thoughts On The Revival of Religion” and chapter three, “A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections,” are classics. John Wesley, the Methodist revivalist, valued the latter so highly, that he had an abridgment made of it. One will be hard put to find a comparable analysis of revivals and religious affections, even though these were written over 200 years ago.
Reading these digests may so whet one’s appetite for Edwards, that he dusts off the heavy tomes of Edwards’ complete works. He will find the effort well spent. For although Edwards may be somewhat verbose according to modem standards, the reader will find no paucity of ideas. He will find a positive and thorough Scriptural orientation, and the end result presented with penetrating clarity.
T. C. VAN KOOTEN
Gezicht op de Zending (Zendings-vraagstuk in kort bestek)
by Dr. J.G. Gilhuis
Published by J.H. Kok, Kampen, 1957. 138 pages. Price fl. 4.90.
This book brings the problems of missionary work to the attention of the ordinary church member. It provides a real insight into the difficulties and dangers faced by our missionaries today. In particular it deals with the Indonesian field, which provides a total picture of the Asian-African diversity of religions from Animism to Islamism.
The book treats the work of missions in five chapters: Biblical foundation, history, modern methods, opposition of Paganism, and the eroding effects of modem secularism. The latter is seen as the curse of Western civilization, with its doctrine of separation of church and state, which has in effect divorced religion from politics, economics, and culture in general.
A book like this gives one the feeling that we have entered upon the last stage of the autarchic, secularized culture in North America. Since the American mind lacks the background of Western Europe, it is farther removed from the basic problems of the East.
The only way to equip the missionary properly for his task is to give him a profoundly Calvinistic training so that he sees life whole, since the Asian and African cultures do not see religion as a thing apart from life. Happily, the comprehensive approach is usually continued even after the new church begins to take shape. It is of the highest importance that indigenous churches become self-supporting us soon as possible. In spite of our commitment to tills principle we hesitate too much in declaring the young church’s Independence.
This reviewer sees one danger, however, which does not seem to be shared by the author. The application of the comprehensive approach as originally started by W. Carey, has led to an over-stressing of the “christianization” of the whole life of the nation, especially in certain circles of the World Council of Christian Churches. It is true that the Christian Church in every land must seek to be a leaven, must seek to permeate all levels of life and all spheres of activity. But we must never forget that it is the missionary’s task to gather the elect from all the nations into the Church of Jesus Christ. Also the “young” churches must realize that the Church of Christ will always be a minority. But it seems that many a mission worker has what might be called “the Stanley Jones approach”—namely, that Christianity is the great antidote for Communism, so that saving the nation here and now becomes more important than the eternal salvation of men through Jesus Christ. Thus the church becomes little more than an essential means of progress towards national redemption.
The reviewer does not want to suggest that Dr. Gilhuis is promoting this type of modernistic missionary endeavor, yet he fails to find any critical note about these besetting dangers in the volume under discussion. Nevertheless, this book is heartily recommended since it makes us realize that missions is the task of every man in the church and of the whole church for the whole world. Drayton, Ontario
AL. J. VANDEN POL
by Dr. H. Bergema
Published by J.H. Kok, Kampen. 1957. 59 pages. Price, fl. 1.95.
The author of this pamphlet is professor of Missions at the Kampen Theological Seminary of the Gereformeerde Kerken of the Netherlands. Prior to this he was missionary to Indonesia for twenty-five years, part of which time he also served as director of the Theological School at Makassar, Celebes. The present publication is the result of a trip to Israel and Jordan at the request of the Jewish Mission of the Gereformcerde Kerken, in view of his great experience in the Moslem world.
In analyzing the complexity of the Israel-Arab tension in the Middle East crisis, Dr. Bergema sees the heart of the trouble in the religious haired of the Moslem Arabs against the Jahwist Israelis, on the one hand; and, on the other, the absolute unwillingness of the Israelis to consider their enemies as human beings entitled to the same rights which they have. And, although he suggests an economic political solution, he believes the only real solution is the conversion of both parties to Jesus the Christ.
The author admits that mission work among the Israelis and Moslems is most difficult, but he is not pessimistic about its results because he believes that God has a special plan with the people of Israel in the future. He is very careful not to relate the recent events of Middle Eastern history to the Old Testament prophecies concerning the restoration of Israel. However, he allows that God may have his intentions with these events in spite of and contrary to the plans of modern Israel. For he sees three “mysteries in the modern history of Israel”, namely, that they received a national home in Palestine in 1917, that they maintained their place in 1948, and that they defeated the combined Arab powers in 1956.
This reviewer does not believe that these events prove anything, although Israel may be called “a mystery.” There can be no doubt that the place of Israel in the history of God’s plan of salvation today needs renewed, careful study and permanent attention.
From the formal point of view, the booklet would have been easier reading if it had been divided into chapters. There is a fine bibliography at the end, which will be very helpful for further study. All in all, this booklet is enlightening for those who seek to understand the Middle East situation, and it calls us to earnest reflection upon our attitude towards the mystery called “Israel”.
Drayton, Ontario AL.J. VANDEN POL