Is it Worth Reading?

The Messianic Prophecies of Daniel


(William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Mich., 1954 pp. 88, $1.50)

Professor E. J. Young’s The Messianic Prophecies of Daniel might well have been subtitled “An Antidote to Dispensationalism.” Prof. Young considers these great Messianic passages of Daniel not only from the dispensational interpretation but also from the higher critical point of view, and with his customary incisive scholarship sets to naught both schools of interpretation.

The book’s chief fault is that its style will almost preclude the possibility of its being read by the people who need it most. The contents ought to be streamlined, printed in leaflet form, and dropped from airplanes all over the country. Prof. Young ought also to work on a chart for Daniel As we all know, little progress can very well be expected toward gaining a hearing for the Reformed interpretation of the millennium until it can be presented complete with charts and diagrams.

The Reformed laymen as well as minister could profit greatly from a studious reading of this scholarly and thoroughly orthodox little volume.

– Earl E. Zetterholm, Muskegon, Michigan



The Doctrine of Justification

JAMES BUCHANAN (Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Mich., 1955, pp. 514 $6.75)

It is almost a century (1866) since Dr. Buchanan gave this series of Cunningham Lectures in New College, Edinburgh, Scotland. It is extremely doubtful if in that time there has appeared a work on the doctrine of Justification so scholarly, so orthodox, so lucid or so beautifully written. Aside from its theological excellence, it is a masterpiece of English prose that any clergyman could profitably read from the stylistic standpoint alone.

Dr. Buchanan was one of that group of 19th Century Scottish divines—along with Crawford, Candlish, Cunningham, Chalmers, Fairbairn, Bannerman, Symington, Smeaton—who gave to the Christian Church a rare treasure of rich, warm, stimulating theological literature. The fifty-year period, 1825–1875, in Scotland can probably and no equal in all the post-apostolic history of the Church for production of sound Reformed literature. It is a subject worthy of no little thanksgiving that we today, by way of these theological reprints offered by Baker Book House and others, are able once again to profit from this wealth of theological scholarship.

The work itself is divided into two main sections: The History of the Doctrine in the Church, and Its Exposition from Scripture. In both sections the reader recognizes that he sits at the feet of a great scholar who is well informed at every point. One finds him equally “at home” as a doctrinal historian and as an exegete.

This work is heartily recommended to ministers of every theological stamp. It will influence the preaching of any minister who reads it.

– Earl E. Zetterholm, Muskegon, Michigan

History and God, Clues to His Purpose

ARTHUR W. MUNK, B.D., Ph. D. (The Ronald Press Co., New York, pps. 310, $3.75)

In the present world situation, men are seeking for guide posts which will point them in the direction of safety. During the past century and a half the theory of evolution which promised ultimate perfection and salvation by means of the historical process, became the universal solvent for all problems. Now, however, men are beginning to doubt this rather optimistic faith. Mechanical biological evolution seems to have brought only wars and depressions, despite all our advances in techniques of production, communication and distribution. History is tending to become man’s enemy and grave rather than his savior. It is in the hope of dealing with this problem, and of restoring something of man’s hope in the historical process that Professor Munk has written this book.

It is an interesting book in many ways, for it is a self-conscious effort to discover by means of a rational-empirical investigation history’s meaning. The author has attempted to make all the latest and best in human thought aid him in his investigation, believing that the human mind can go a very long way to finding ultimate truth. He feels that a study of history in this way will show one the actual meaning of the idea behind history. He is not prepared to say that man is limited by the mundane facts of history, but is very insistent that a study will reveal its ultimate interpretation. In other words, he is an Hegelian in philosophy—a fact which shows itself in many different ways.

In passing, one might also add that he will have nothing to do with any concept of “special revelation,” to men. His Bible is the Bible of the Higher Critics throughout. Even the Barthian concept of Jesus Christ being the only “Word of God,” is unacceptable, for human reason is to be the sale arbiter. The reason for this becomes increasingly clear as one reads on through the work. Seven clues are adduced to demonstrate the nature of the historical process and its ultimate purpose and goal.

In dealing with his clues, Professor Munk breaks them down into two sections. The first one deals with five empirical clues, while the latter with the two “ultimate” clues indicated by the “five.” In dealing with the first five he sets forth very logically a system which points out that certain things are probably true. For one thing, history seems to be a manifestation of the ultimate, since in it there seems to be purpose despite the continual change of time. Then there is the question of man, who is hardly explicable on the basis of pure chance and nothing else. Man has a higher nature, and despite his brutality and irrationality he does reach a very high ethical level at times. This also would seem to point to a purpose behind his gradual evolution. The author then goes on to stress the indications of purpose in history, citing the success of idealists, the increased emphasis upon human unity, “the fact that these clues can be seen only if we are prepared to look at history as a whole, with perspective, When we do this we are forced on to further clues and conclusions.

The last two clues which are offered for the reader’s consideration are: a) that there is a limited God; and b ) that the ultimate goal of history is human immortality, Professor Munk is very definite that the God who is the God of history is limited. He clearly rejects the position of Calvin, insisting that God is not omnipotent. “He encounters opposition, hindrances, resistance, so that his work is never perfect, within time at least, but more or less thwarted and twisted, Thus God must work wisely, patiently, to weave his patterns on the loom of time. The details, especially seem to give him infinite trouble” (p. 226). “There is a dualism within God, just as there is within man. God always wills the rational and the good, but he is not always able to perform perfectly or immediately that which he wills, since within God’s experience there exists the Given which he neither willed nor created but which confronts him at every instance and serves to obstruct and mar his creative acts” (p. 231).

It is on the basis of this pre-supposed limited God, that the author then deduces that this life cannot end all, but must really point to another in which the “totality of value” may be attained by both God and man. This is the hope which Professor Munk offers to the war-torn world in which we live.

There are a number of criticisms which one could level against this work, but there is not the space to deal with the matter in detail. Therefore, one must deal with the major points only. However, it must be pointed out right here that Professor Munk by no means understands the Calvinistic position, nor that of Karl Barth. He not only misconceives some points of Calvinism, but also tends to equate it with Barthianism which would seem to indicate that he does not really grasp the meaning of Barth either.

One very important point which must be emphaSized is that the author is not prepared to accept the fact that it is necessary to come to a knowledge of the meaning of history on the basis of faith. He is outspoken in his criticism of Niebuhr and others for holding this position, insisting that man must gain an understanding of history by reason alone, for faith is not scientific. Man must be able to explain history completely rationally. Yet ultimately even Professor Munk seems to walk by faith, for all his arguments are only probable, and seven probabilities do not make a certainty. “As history does not seem to make sense without the sixth clue, the limited God as ultimate Cause, so, likewise, it does not seem to make sense without the seventh clue, immortality as the ultimate goal” (p. 257, italics added).

This believing character of Professor Munk’s thesis comes out clearly when he deals with the question of his limited God. First of all God is to be limited because the author cannot quite figure out why an absolute God would allow certain evil things to come to pass. Here is a great faith in the absoluteness of man! However, he is on the other hand quite prepared to acknowledge that while God is limited in power, he is not limited in benevolence, a point which seems to be hardly capable of purely rational proof. This again would seem to be the result of faith. But the greatest act of faith is that the author believes that this limited God is going ultimately to come out victorious over the equally ultimate irrationality in the universe. One is completely dumbfounded with such a faith which is based neither on revelation nor reason, but solely on what appears to be a desperate hope.

For this reason the faith in immortality seems to be nothing more than a guess. Immortality is based upon the idea that God is ultimately going to bring all things to completion and perfection. But what chance is there of this since he is limited? True, Professor Munk asserts that he is more powerful than anything else in the universe, but we are still not given any reason to believe that God will be victorious rather than the Given within himself for which he is in no way responsible. How do we know that everything will not ultimately blow up? Only by a faith which, on his own showing, seems completely unfounded.

Thus there would seem to be a fundamental and basic contradiction in History and God. Irrationality would seem to be as ultimate as God, yet despite this, in the dialectic of history this God would seem to be assured of victory. His victory, however, is to be achieved only by the aid of man, the puny irrational mixed up creature of which Professor Munk has been speaking. Irrationality is eventually to be made rational by the action of God and men in both of whom the irrational has about the same power as the rational. This would seem to wreck all hope and aU expectation of meaning or purpose in history.

The reviewer cannot but feel that this work is a typical product of modern humanistic thinking. Irrationality must be the ultimate conclusion of thinking which makes time-space conditioned man the ultimate interpreter of history. The only sure interpretation must come from beyond history, and it is found in the self-revelation of the Sovereign, Triune God who first spoke unto man by the prophets and then by his Son, Jesus Christ. It is the consistently Calvinistic position alone which makes sense out of history, for it is the Calvinistic position only which takes God’s revelation concerning history at its full value.

– W . Standford Reid, Montreal, Quebec

A Message from God (Lutheran Hour Sermons)


(Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis, Missouri, pps. 147)

A Message from God is a collection of sermons preached by the Rev. Armin C. Oldsen during the nineteenth year of the Lutheran Hour broadcasts. The twenty-one sermons printed here are those which were most frequently requested by the radio audience. It is difficult to say whether this is a sad commentary on the radio audience or on the sermons.

One thing we may say is that these messages are intensely practical. It is distinctly possible that they are even too practical. By that is simply meant that most of the “sermons” are simply a series of anecdotes and illustrations applied to some life situation. One feels that the Bible and its truths are brought in rather incidentally. This is not preaching in the real sense of the word. These are not sermons, but rather informal practical discourses on various human problems and situations. The messages are not expositions of Scripture. All too frequently the text is used as a mere motto with no concern to examine the real mean· ing of what God’s Word has said. Not one single message has been developed according to the grammatico-historico-theological method. It is non-doctrinal in the extreme.

We may cite two outstanding examples of the kind of thing that is meant. In the introductory sermon we find these words: “In searching for a Bible passage that might serve as a text for this sermon and that would be suitable as a kind of special motto for the broadcasts that are to follow, I found exactly what I wanted in the third chapter of the book of Judges in the twentieth verse….The story itself does not concern us at the moment. It’s the sentence that Ehud spoke, ‘I have a message from God for thee.’” Here is a frank confession that there is no intention of handling the Word of God aright.

Again, in using the text, Philippians 3:13, “This one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind,” the Rev. Oldsen chooses for his theme, “Christ helps you forget.” He develops his sermon in the direction that Christ helps us to forget our past sins, whereas even the simplest study of the text indicates that Paul is speaking not of past sins but rather past attainments and achievements in the Christian life. Thus the whole point of the passage is not only completely missed, but actually perverted.

As a former confirmed member of the Missouri Synod Lutheran Church and a devoted admirer of Dr. Walter Maier, this reviewer is disposed to express very great concern over the spiritual state of a denomination in which preaching of this calibre is given a place of honor. It is one thing to “adapt” one’s preaching to one’s hearers, but is quite another thing to forsake the kind of preaching which is Scriptural and which has in so large a measure been responsible for the strength of this denomination in times past. The first step of apostasy is neglect of doctrine; and this volume displays a most profound neglect of doctrine. It is to be admitted that these sermons represent the choice of the listening public, and that the whole series of broadcasts might have been of an over-all higher character. We can only hope so. But even if they were, one is doubtful. about the propriety of publishing a series of sermons so utterly devoid of doctrinal content as are contained in A Message From God.

It is genuinely hoped that these remarks will be received as coming from a brother in Christ who desires only the continued strengthening of a church that has in past time labored so diligently and defended the faith so valiantly, and not as more harsh and prejudicial criticism.

– Earl E. Zetterholm, Muskegon, Michigan

Farther Into the Night


(Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan pps. 247)

Farther Into the Night by Mrs. Gordon

M. Smith is a story of current missionary endeavors in faraway Indo-China. Because of its locale and interesting style the book ought to sell quite well. It is a good story of how modern missionary methods are combined with the old missionary message to bring hope to this land of benighted paganism.

The book might weIl prove interesting Sabbath afternoon or evening reading for our families. Parents would do well to read the story to their children so that some of the minor theological aberrations which occur from time to time might be adequately explained to them. Older young people who have learned to read with discernment will find this book entertaining and inspiring.

– Earl E. Zetterholm, Muskegon, Michigan

Pathways to Power


(Zondervon Publishing House. Grand Rapids, Michigan. pps. 160, $2.00)

Pathways to Power is a new volume by Dallas Theological Seminary’s Merril Unger. A publisher’s blurb on the jacket calls it a “once in a lifetime” book. This is almost too much to hope for. As a matter of fact, it isn’t true at all because Pathways to Power is quite typical of much of Fundamentalist devotional literature of past and present. The little volume has a number of things to commend it. The five chapter titles indicate the five pathways to power: Prayer, Knowledge, Faith, Consecration, and Service. And in each of the chapters there is much that we of Reformed persuasion might do well to take to heart. Certainly our prayer lives need to be strengthened; certainly Our knowledge of the Word needs to be increased; certainly we need to exercise greater faith; and certainly we need to consecrate ourselves to the service of God. But if we were to do all this in the way that Dr. Unger suggests, I am not sure what might be the final result.

Dr. Unger writes in a pious devotional style that is quite convincing. But, unfortunately, he labors under an awful burden of doctrinal confusion. Justification, sanctification, regeneration are hopelessly mixed up and all thoroughly saturated with an unhealthy mysticism that in all probability will result in severe frustration for anyone who takes this book seriously. Unfortunately, Dr. Unger is not a lone voice crying in the night, but a leading spokesman and recognized leader of Fundamentalism. He is giving expression to the very quintessence of Fundamentalism. All of which is precisely why we heartily recommend this volume to every Reformed minister and elder, as well as to our men’s societies. Let it be studied carefully by us all, in order that we may be dissuaded from playing around in Fundamentalism’s back yard as some Reformed people seem to want to do.

– Earl E. Zetterholm, Muskegon, Michigan