New International Reformed Commentary
F.W. Grosheide: COMMENTARY ONTHE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. 1953. 415 pp.$5.00
H.N. Ridderbos: THE EPISTLE OF PAUL TO THE CHURCHES OF GALATIA. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. 1953. 238 pp. $3.50.
The first volume of “The New International Commentary on the New Testament” appeared in 1951—Commentary on the Gospel of Luke, by Celdenhuys. This review introduces the next two volumes in this series.
Dr. Grosheide is Professor of New Testament at the Free University of Amsterdam since 1912, the author of several learned works including six commentaries in a fourteen volume Dutch work on the New Testament. His former student, Dr. Ridderbos, comes from a family of distinguished theologians and is rapidly gaining eminence in his own right by his scholarly works including a notable commentary on Matthew in two volumes. He is Professor of New Testament at the Kampen Theological Seminary. Both commentaries here under review are new works and have not been published in Dutch. Each book contains a brief Foreword by Dr. N. B. Stonehouse, editor of the series, and a short index of subjects and texts at the end.
The English text used is the American Standard Version, although of course, the exposition is based on the Greek text. Greek words, however, are entirely omitted from the text of both volumes, appearing only in the footnotes. This is a striking feature and adds much to their readability. Since Dr. Grosheide wrote in English (excellent style and vocabulary) he also gives the rendering of the New Standard Revised Version in many places. This helpful feature for the American student is lacking in Dr. Ridderbos since his commentary is a translation from the Dutch. Dr. Grosheide recognizes the felicity of many R.S.V. renderings. In this connection a slight inaccuracy may be mentioned: in the note on R.S.V. on page 72, “truth” should be plural “truths” and “spirit” should begin with a capital letter.
Since First Corinthians is generally accepted as an authentic Pauline letter, the commentator’s introduction is short (six pages). Date, place, circumstances, a survey of the contents, and the few problems of general criticism are dealt with briefly and to the point. The commentary proper is laid out in thirty-nine sections each headed by a title which indicates the subject of the passage, and concludes with a short summary of its teaching.
The author finds coherence between the various points about which the Apostle writes to the Corinthians: “one main line runs through the whole epistle”—an exposition of Christian Liberty which the Corinthians had abused in several spheres. Chapter thirteen which seems like a parenthesis or an excursion on Christian love is shown to fit into the main thought of the letter, the greatest and most necessary gift of the Holy Spirit for the Christian life and conduct. The author’s treatment of such passages as chap. 7 on continence and marriage, chap. 8 on the eating of meats, chap. 14 on the place of women in the church, and especially the difficult verse 29 of chap. 15 on baptism for the dead, show his careful and sane procedure.
While variant views are noted, the commentary is not burdened with lengthy quotations and footnotes. The whole work is characterized by an economy of words and readability. It is technical without the heavy technique of the older commentaries. Dr. Ridderbos’ manuscript was translated from the Dutch by Dr. Henry Zylstra of Calvin College who has given us other excellent Dutch works in English, notably the trilogy on The Suffering of Christ by K. Schilder. The problem of the location of the Galatian churches is discussed at some length in the Introduction. The author is a moderate advocate of the South Galatian view—“We conclude: a positive decision is not possible in this matter. The choice is not a simple one, especially because the authorities on the historical and archaeological particulars sometimes express differing opinions.” Paul’s relation to the Galatian churches, the occasion and purpose of the letter, its contents and character, date, and authenticity are also discussed in the Introduction.
In the exposition the Epistle is divided into three parts: I. Paul’s Defense of his Apostolic Qualifications, II. The Gospel of Justification by Faith Alone Maintained over against the Judaizer’s Challenge, III. The New Life Through the Holy Spirit. Each part in turn is divided into several sections with a title indicating the subject matter of the section. Each part is introduced with a short statement of its teaching and its connection with the preceding. The same kind of helpful summary usually appears at the beginning of the subsidiary sections. The footnotes are many and sometimes long, but as previously noted all Greek words are confined to the footnotes, hence they are useful especially to the more advanced Bible student without cluttering the main body of the book or interrupting the flow of thought. A solid background of biblical knowledge and Reformed Theology, as well as a wide acquaintance with other works on the Epistle is apparent throughout.
Both of these volumes should be well received not only by pastors and more advanced scholars, but their format and style should also commend them to the serious lay student of God’s Word.
THEODORE J. JANSMA
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J. B. Phillips, YOUR GOD IS TOO SMALL. New York: Macmillan. 1953. 140 pp. $2.00.
I read somewhere that C.S. Lewis had given up his writing on religion and was going to stick to his own specialty of English. I was sorry when I read that because I have had enormous fun and profit from his religious and moral essays, even though I could not accept him at some decisive points. But now J.B. Phillips has come along and I feel that the C.S. Lewis tradition is being continued (Dorothy Sayers’ Creed or Chaos is in the same school). And since Phillips is a clergyman (Church of England) I hope he will continue to devote his talents to his own field.
In this little book Phillips shows the same fresh and lucid style so characteristic of Lewis. He exposes the petty gods of litLie men by pinpoint word beams—for example, Conscience—“Resident Policeman,” Reasoning from earthly to heavenly Father—“Parental Hangover,” Ascetic or pietistic escapism—“Heavenly Bosom,” Smug denominational exclusivism—“God in a Box,” A god who cannot bother with details “Managing Director.” In similar fashion he exposes and sweetly lampoons a dozen gods who are too small, and in addition mentions several more “assorted” and inadequate gods.
While Phillips is very readable, witty, and lucid like his friend Lewis, he also suffers from, what seems to me, Lewis’ greatest weakness—too much rationalism, philosophy, inductive reasoning; not enough revelation, Bible, deductive reasoning. This comes to light especially in the constructive part of the book—“An Adequate God.” While he says some stimulating things about cardinal Christian truths such as the Deity of Christ, the Atonement on the cross, the bodily Resurrection, etc., yet at critical points he falls short of the biblical concepts, and in the opinion of this reviewer the ti tie of the book should be charged also against the author himself.
THEODORE J. JANSMA
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Dr. G. Brillenburg Wurth en Os. W. A. Wiersinga: HET EVANGELIE IN EEN ONKERSTENDE WERElD. Kampen, The Netherlands: J. H. Kok. 1953. 239 pp. 8090 FI.
The authors are prominent in the field of Evangelism in The Netherlands, where many thousands of people are actively engaged in one or another phase of evangelistic effort. Dr. Brillenburg Wurth is professor of evangelism at the Theological School at Kampen, and the Rev. Mr. Wiersinga is director of the evangelism center at Baarn. Their collaboration flows from their mutual experiences over a thirty-five year period during which they have come to full agreement as to the principles and practices of evangelism.
These men aspire to add the light of further study, and of practical instructions to the Handbook Van de Gereformeerde Evangelisatie, published in 1939. Reformed Evangelism compiled by our Grand Rapids Board of Evangelism in 1949 was patterned after tli.is Handbook. Both of these volumes were authored by a dozen men, which according to Wurth and Wiersinga is a rather outstanding weakness. An additional volume on evangelism seems justified to the authors because of the changing scenes of the post-war era. Particularly, the church, they feel, is challenged by the appalling dechristianization of our present world.
The book has sixteen chapters, and if the multi-authored Handbook suffers from lack of integration, this one’s malady is failure to logically order the materials. There are really only four headings: (1) “What is Evangelism?” Chapters 1–3; (2) “Unbelieving Man.” Chapters 8–10; (3) “Evangelism, Task of the Church,” Chapters 4–7; (4) “Evangelistic Method.” Chapters 11–16. Thus a discussion on “Meetings and Group-work” does not appear on a coordinate level with that on “The Deepest Background for Evangelization.”
However, this hook is a masterful treatment of the meaning, necessity, and method of the evangelistic task to be carried out on the contemporary scene. The Reformed basis. is clearly announced and brought to beat: on the many practical suggestions which the authors make. In principle many of these are relevant even to evangelism in this country; although we have an inter-racial situation unknown in The Netherlands plus a far greater physical separation of the church from its evangelistic territory, and a more deadly drift away from the church in the population shift to the suburbs.
Having defined evangelism as the work of the church to make known the gospel at the Lord’s behest, the authors urge that church to arouse the whole army of members within as workers. The expansion of the church, preserves the church. The evangelism program is motivated by a love to God first, and by a concern for the lost, but also by a love for the church, which must evangelize in order to remain healthy (pp. 28, 29). Fundamentally however, we evangelize in order that God and his message may be presented. We confront men with his wonderful love, sovereign purpose, blessed faithfulness and absolute justice. The preaching of God’s love and of his absolute claim on man must be inter-woven in every message (p. 41).
The section on “Unbelieving Man” (Chapters 8–10) is a good treatment of the basic causes of unbelief summed up in the term: “offense,” according to which the natural man runs counter to God and his truth (p. 103). A further history of the development of modern unbelief is given. The dechristianization of the modern world can be ascribed to seven factors: The Aufklarung, German idealism, modernism, open repudiation of Christianity under influence of Nietzche, secularization by way of the industrial revolution, the nihilism of Sartre and its loss of the individual in the mass, and substitute religions either spiritistic, syncretistic or political. Today’s evangelism must take into account types of unbelief: (1) Those who have fallen away, who have a chip on their shoulder against traditional Christians, etc.; (2) The disappointed, who feel they have suffered mistreatment at the hand of the church and Christians; (3) The “Demas type;” torn away by love for the world; (4) The relativist, who cannot see “Christian finality”; (5) The seeker; (6) The indifferent, already past the stage of open defiance against Christianity; (7) The sect-people.
The challenge to evangelize in such a world with many types of unbelief should lay heavily upon the church, the whole church. The authors present (chapters 4–7) the qualifications for workers, and hints on activating the local congregation for the task. The work should be under direction of the consistory (session) which must seek out persons truly converted, in possession of gifts of love, faith, humility, and patience. Besides, they must be human, understanding, and open in approach to people. Stimulation to the work of evangelism must come from the pulpit, family visiting, the catechism class, and by specific field training of young people (p. 86).
The last six chapters abound in practical counsel as to the methods of Reformed evangelization. Most excellent is the chapter on men “meeting” Jesus Christ through our evangelistic efforts. The Gospel is for humans, but it is not humanistic. It must ever be borne in mind that humanity comes to its own only as men come into fellowship with Christ (p. 149). Evangelistic preach ing must be rich in illustrations, and must attempt to deal plainly with the real problems of unbelief. It must testify of Jesus rather than one’s own personal con version (p. 161). When and how to listen, to keep silent, and to interrogate, are the keys to effective personal work (pp. 162ff.). Admitting the value of physical rehabilitation, the authors rightly maintain that the proclamation of the Word must remain central in sharp opposition to the methods of the “comprehensive approach” (p. 169). They believe Reformed churches should intensify “youth work” and “family-visiting” as means of evangelization. They should also offer more lectureships and courses to the public in which “Life-Questions” are discussed for the more cultured class (p. 226). Every evangelistic effort should steer people into the church. A mission station is, and should remain a doorgangshuis (a temporary shelter, not a permanent home).
Every evangelistic worker, if he can read the Dutch, will gain immensely as he draws from the wealth of this book.
R.O. DE GROOT
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Robert Menzies: FIGHT THE GOOD FIGHT. New York: Abingdon-Cokesbury Press. 1953. 173 pp. $2.00.
British and Scottish preachers of whom we have had opportunity to take note speak and write interestingly. Most of them appear to be masters in the strategy of avoiding dullness. And that is good strategy for preachers! One gets the impression that in their academic preparation for the pulpit they were carefully taught how to catch precious insights from a wide range of poetry and prose.
Dr. Menzies is no exception. He has a simple and direct style that evidences a fine mind vibrant with imagination. Every page contains at least one gem that continues to sparkle in the reader’s memory after he has closed the book. The same can be said of his earlier volume, The Magnet of the Heart.
But these chapters are not sermons in the proper sense of the term. The jacket so designates them, yet the author on his page of acknowledgments calls them “addresses.” There is a text at the head of each chapter, and an attempt is made to relate some of the material to the quoted Scripture. No effort is made, however, to exegete the text. The typically modern homiletic style in Britain and in Scotland, as in America, seems to be an exercise in bringing ideas to a text for general corroboration. Scripture serves as a recourse rather than a resource.
Dr. Menzies’ doctrine is not consistently orthodox. On page 9 Jesus and Paul are made correlatives in the following: “One of the great watchwords of the Bible is the word ‘faith’…It was the key word on Jesus’ lips…For Paul also it possessed an equal worth.” Jesus becomes a discoverer on page 90: “That faith heightens the powers and discharges spiritual energy is not, of course, the discovery of Jesus alone.” In the last line on page 96 faith is presented as a human production.
A neat statement of the “antithesis” appears on page 12: “The world being what it is and the principles of the gospel being what they are, mutually exclusive opposites, they are bound to come into violent conflict. There is no ground between right and wrong, except battle-ground.” The essence of Christian worship is rightly described as “adoration” based upon God’s self-revelation (p. 99).