“Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh,” observed Solomon, the inspired author of Ecclesiastes. If that was true in Solomon’s day, how much more so today. The task of book editor is, in a measure, to eliminate the wearisome necessity of examining the many books being published. It has been our policy in the past to take some significant or timely publication and give it a good deal of prominence by way of review. We shall continue this policy. But there are many other worth-while books appearing from time to time, which are worthy of mention, though time and space might nat permit extensive treatment. We cannot mention all the books that come to our desk, but a number of them can be scanned and recommended for serious study. With that in mind we are setting up this little “book nook” feature in our magazine.
If the Reformed community in America is to make an effective witness it must return to the good oId habit of reading–not merely for pleasure, but far information and instruction. For “reading maketh a full man” as Bacon reminds us, and without having imbibed the Reformed tradition how shall we be able to impart it to others? Reading is the royal road to learning in spiritual matters as well as natural. But, alas, it appears as if the world of sport and amusement is too much with us! During the summer months especially we Americans seem in many instances to close our minds to knowledge, and to the extent that we still read at all it is merely far entertainment. Ours is an anti-intellectual age, and we Christians ought to testify against the spirit of our age at this point also.
If Calvinism in America is going to survive we must nurture a generation that is willing to spend its time and energy as well as money for good reading. Far the heritage of the fathers does not became ours by a process of osmosis or by some mystical union with the spirit of the fathers; it must be gained and secured by hard intellectual effort. It is a matter of painstaking spiritual effort and mental exertion. Far the heritage of the Reformed Faith is a deposit that we must make our own, that must be accepted with mind and heart if it is to become the joy of our lives. – Henry Van Til
Patrick Fairbairn. THE TYPOLOGY OF SCRIPTURE. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House. 1953 (reprint) 904 pp. complete and unabridged) $6.95.
This unquestionably to be regarded a standard reference work for ministers and Sunday school teachers. Indeed it is profitable reading for all Bible students. Originally published in two volumes, it now appears in a convenient one-volume edition with a helpful index of subjects and texts.
To say that it is a profound and scholarly work does nat mean that it is difficult reading. The author knew how to discuss deep and important biblical matters in clear, simple English. We heartily recommend this book to all lovers of Holy Writ, and we thank the publishers for making it available again. – Leonard Greenway
Alexander Whyte, BIBLE CHARACTERS. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House. 1953 (reprint). 2 vols. $12.50.
The author of these excellent devotional studies of biblical characters was himself an unusual character. Born in 1836, his career covered much of the nineteenth century. He died in 1921. His life experiences ranged from employment as a lad an a farm to the presidency of a theological school in Scotland.
A “multitudinousness of distinction” marked this man who knew the tending of cattle, the shoemakers trade, the teachers desk in a village school, university study at Aberdeen and Edinburgh, and the pastorate of St. George’s Free Church in Edinburgh.
The breadth of such a remarkable life and career is reflected in his treatment of the biblical characters. He knew life on different levels and in different spheres. Six series of studies fill these two volumes with their 159 chapters.
No pastor’s library is complete if one may ever speak of completeness here—without these studies. But our recommendation should not be restricted to pastors. We urge Sunday School teachers, Christian School teachers, mission workers and church librarians to invest in this rich mine of biographical literature. – LEONARD GREENWAY
Studies in Dogmatics
G. DeGraaf, HOOFDLIJNEN IN DE DOGMATIEK. Kampen: J.H. Kok N.V. 1950 (2nd edit.).
This little handbook of ninety-six pages is truly a gem of concise and pithy doctrinal statement. This “little dogmatics” was written for those who must teach Bible and Reformed truth in secondary schools, which occupied the writer for some time as he taught in the Gymnasium at Amsterdam. But any ordinary layman that still has command of the language of The Netherlands can read this volume with profit.
One of the interesting features of this little book is the discussion in the introduction on the meaning and authority of dogma. An ecclesiastical dogma is a truth, thus the author, “which God has revealed concerning himself and his creatures and their mutual relationship, and which is professed by the church on the authority of the Word.” Although the authority of dogma is ecclesiastical, the certainty of dogma does not rest in the church (contra Rome) nor in subjective experience (contra subjectivists of various denominations), but the ground of its certainty is found in the Word of God. Undoubtedly the church has often erred in establishing dogma, but the Word is living and powerful and has corrected the errors of the past” and forced the church to reformation. Biblicism denies the necessity and the right of the church to speak dogmatically, but without good cause. For the Bible is not a book of rules and its inner coherence must be seen and confessed by the church. This cannot be done by individuals for the Bible does not speak to individuals but to the church, and to the church the guidance of the Spirit has been promised. The church, moreover, is the pillar and ground of the truth. This does not mean that the truth as such is founded upon the church, for the truth as the sure foundation rests in God; but in this world the truth finds in the church the communion in which she is carried forth and maintained.
Theology as a science must be distinguished from dogma. The latter is the result of the non-theoretic, nonscientific thought of the church concerning the truth of God. But theological science studies the relation between God and all of creation. However the results of theological discovery as such are not authoritative in the church. There are four main divisions of theological science. The first concerns itself with the Bible, as canon, in its translations, manuscripts and exegesis. The second is concerned with the church to which the Word was gIven. In the third place, the church expressed herself about the Word in her confessions and creeds, hence the dogmatical branches. And finally, the church must proclaim the truth of God in the world by means of the offices, hence we have homiletics, catechetics, and missions. The rest of the book sets forth the main ideas of a Reformed Dogmatics. For those who. have made an acquaintance with De Graaf through his Veruondsgeschiedenis, which is a history of revelation from the point of view of the covenant, this little volume will come as a welcome stimulation. – HENRY R. VAN TIL
J.G. Feenstra, RET EIGENDOM DES HEEREN. Kampen: J.H. Kok N.V. 1952. 244 pp. Fl. $5.95.
No doubt most of the ministers who are called to preach on the Heidelberg Catechism, as is the custom in the Christian Reformed Churches of North America and the Gereformeerde Kerken of The Netherlands, have worked through A. Kuyper’s massive E Voto Dordraceno, the classic commentary on that Reformed symbol of a former age. But it seems that I have heard some whispers in certain quarters that for the preacher today Kuyper’s detailed treatment requires too much time. Others find him lacking on the score of contemporaneity. Hence a stimulating but brief treatise on the Heidelberg Catechism requires no rhetorical recommendation or loud acclaim to find its way into the minister’s study. The fact that Feenstra’s nimble, pithy treatment called for a second edition speaks for itself. I have read the exposition of the first twelve Lord’s Days with pleasure, and can recommend it as a fresh approach to the old, old story of Jesus and his love. The author emphasizes salvation as a work of the triune God. The simplicity of his language is charming and effective. Anyone who has the slightest acquaintance with the Dutch language ought to be able to read this thought-provoking book with delight. – HENRY R. VAN TIL
William G.T. Shedd, DOGMATIC THEOLOGY. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House. 1953 (reprint). 1875 pp. $14.85.
The introduction to this complete and unabridged reprint of Dr. Shedd’s significant, literary treatise on Christian Doctrine is furnished by Dr. M. Eugene Oosterhaven of Western Seminary. He tells us, among other things, that Dr. Shedd was beyond question one of the most eminent theological scholars of his day who never wearied of telling his students that the minister of the Gospel may not be content with ordinary piety. His calling is rather to develop a superior piety and a superior intellectual character. This is to be achieved, according to Shedd, by an everlasting study of standard authors. Further, Dr. Shedd is characterized as a “synthetic and literary author.” He is more speculative than polemical, and he was called by Dr. John De Witt, in a biographical sketch, “by far the most speculative Calvinistic theologian the American Church has produced” (quoted on p. 5 of the introduction). This means that Dr. Shedd “discusses each doctrine with reference to its philosophical presuppositions” (p. 5), a method also more or less that of Dr. H. Bavinck in his four-volume work on theology. However, it is right at this point that the danger zone is found for the dogmatic theologian. Unless he rigidly adheres to the Scriptures—to that which is written—as did John Calvin, he is in danger of going off the deep end. A case in point, to my mind, is to be found in Shedd himself when he denies limited atonement, speculating until he has come to a limited redemption, which, of course, the Arminian does not object to at all (pp. 469 ff., Vol. II).
I hasten to add after this stricture that I am not lacking in appreciation for the great work of Dr. Shedd as far as I have read him (it stands to reason that one does not read 1875 pages for a review unless that matter is new and of grave importance) but I do not think it is wise to recommend a man simply for his erudition and literary style, in which Dr. Shedd does indeed excel. Of course, as other reviewers have pointed out (See Banner, June 19, 1953, p. 787 and Calvinist-Contact, May 15, 1953, p. 9) Dr. Shedd stands in the Puritan and Presbyterian tradition, but that in itself is no guarantee that he is Scriptural in every detail of his dogmatical elaboration, or that we should read him uncritically.
I agree with the other reviewers that the literary style of the author makes it a delight to read Shedd and in h is third volume he has indeed gathered together much material which is inaccessible to the ordinary minister of the ‘Word, hence its great value as a further elaboration of the previous treatment which the author gave in volumes I and II. As a Calvinist Dr. Shedd maintains unconditional election, total depravity and irresistible grace, but I looked in vain under the caption of soteriology for a treatment of the preservation of the saints. Instead, the means of grace are treated under Soteriology and the doctrine of the Church is omitted. Which indicates, what others have already observed, that though in some cases Dr. Shedd is very exacting regarding details, at other times he passes over and disregards entire subjects altogether or gives them scant treatment. Interestingly enough, in the section on Eschatology we find no treatment of Chiliasm. And while there are but two and a half pages on the doctrine of heaven, there are fifty pages on the intermediate state and nearly ninety on the subject of hell. Further, a good Reformed emphasis is found on justification by faith, but I fail to find any treatment of the subject of Christian liberty. Which suggests the thought that the reprint could have been much improved by a good usable index. For the rest, congratulations to Zondervans for their choice of this classic work. I recommend it to the ministry for critical study. – HENRY R. VAN TIL
Arthur W. Pink, Exposition of the Gospel of John. 3 vols. Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids.
K. Dyk, Over de Laatste Dingen. J.H. Kok, Kampen.
G.C. Berkouwer, Het Werk van Christus. J.H. Kok, Kampen.
F.W . Grosheide, Commentary on the First Epistle of the Corinthians. The New International Commentary on the New Testament series, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids.
Herman N. Ridderbos, The Epistle of Paul to the Churches of Galatia. The New International Commentary on the New Testament series. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids.
Edward J. Young, My Servants the Prophets. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids.
Ir. H . van Riessen, De Maatschappij der Tockomst. T. Wever, Franeker.
Al Bryant, Stories to Tell Boys and Girls. Zonldervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids.
Robert Menzies, Fight the Good Fight. Abingdon-Cokesbury Press, New York.