What Is Orthodoxy?

The Case for a New Reformation Theology, by William Hordern (Westminster Press, 1959, 173 pp., $3.50), is reviewed by Robert D. Knudsen, Instructor in Apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary.

Westminster Press is currently sponsoring an interesting discussion between what it feels are the three major options in Protestant theology. The first volume presents the orthodox position: The Case for Orthodox Theology, by E. J. Carnell. The next volume presents the liberal position: The Case for Theology in Liberal Perspective, by L. H. DeWolf. The volume before us deals with the so-called neo-orthodox or kerygmatic theology. The discussion is the more interesting because the discussants did not know each other’s identity. They were only acquainted with the general plan of the series, and they were left to develop their arguments alone.

William Hordern is well qualified to represent the kerygmatic position. Over a period of years he has been in close contact with it. He is also the author of at least one other book on contemporary theology, A Layman’s Guide to Protestant Theology.

At the center of his treatment is what he considers to be the major contribution of neo-orthodoxy, its idea of revelation. After a short review of the background of the newer theology, he proceeds to a discussion of faith and reason, of the nature of revelation, and of how we can know revelation is revelation. The second part of the book broadly treats the scope of theology under the headings of God, sin, and salvation. After a conclusion, the author presents a short bibliography of writings from the kerygmatic standpoint.

Hordern’s discussion is able. His presentation is clear, to the point, and helpful. There are many things in the book with which the orthodox Christian can agree, at least formally. He ought, for instance, to welcome the author’s emphasis upon the sovereignty of God, the idea that God’s revelation is self-authenticating, and the strong plea for the Reformation emphasis upon a theology of grace. Further, I am also ready with Hordern to ask orthodox theologians, who say that God’s revelation must pass the test at the bar of human reason, whether this demand does not set up a standard which is higher than God himself and does not injure the biblical idea of the sovereignty of God. We can also agree with Hordern that neo-orthodox theology is an attempt to pass between orthodoxy and liberalism. For an orthodox thinker, however, the question must always arise whether such a third position is really possible.

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The neo-orthodox theology claims that it is a new reformation theology. In making this claim, however, neo-orthodoxy has sought to drive a wedge between the Reformers and orthodoxy, and center its attack on the theology of the seventeenth century. The Reformers are supposed to have seen the Word of God as a living confrontation; the orthodox are supposed to have corrupted the Reformers’ view by seeing revelation as a communication of information and viewing faith as belief in doctrine. We need not deny that there is some difference between the original Reformers and their seventeenth century followers; however, one who is orthodox feels too much at home with the Reformers to accept the neo-orthodox position concerning them. Our questions increase when we discover that neo-orthodoxy finds such supposed corruption in the Bible itself. Even the late books of the New Testament are supposed to have departed from the biblical view of revelation and are supposed to have overemphasized belief in doctrine. Our misgivings increase even further when we find that this neo-orthodox distinction even invades the authority of Jesus Christ. The orthodox claim that Jesus Christ was infallible is called docetism, the heresy which does not give due place to the humanity and to the historical nature of Christ. Hordern claims that nothing in the Bible is an infallible statement, not even the proposition that God is love; because even this idea is subject to misunderstanding (p. 64).

According to neo-orthodoxy, it is useless to speak of an infallible book, the Bible, which is gradually understood more deeply. Moreover, it is useless to speak of an objective revelation—out there—apart from the one who receives it. According to neo-orthodoxy, revelation is an event, a personal encounter between God and man. It is an event that leaves no canonical teaching behind. It is characteristic of the neo-orthodox theologies that they distinguish sharply between the revelation of a person and the revelation of information. The biblical revelation is supposed to be personal revelation, while orthodoxy is supposed to have corrupted the biblical notion in thinking of revelation as the revelation of information.

Orthodoxy has never claimed that the Bible revelation is simply a revelation of information, or that faith is merely assent to this information. Undoubtedly many persons have confused mere assent to propositions taken from the Bible with true faith. But orthodoxy has always called such assent “historical faith.” This historical faith has always been sharply distinguished from saving faith. While orthodoxy says that revelation is not merely the impartation of information, it must say nevertheless that revelation involves such impartation. In this teaching orthodoxy is in line with the Reformation and with the Bible. We can note an example from the writings of the Apostle Paul, who objected strenuously to the false teachers who had said that the resurrection was past already and had overthrown the faith of some (2 Tim. 2:18). Clearly for Paul faith involved a belief in certain divinely-given information.

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To support the neo-orthodox view of the Bible, Hordern uses the illustration of the telescope (p. 70). When one uses a telescope, his attention is not on the telescope itself. The telescope is to see through. Likewise the Bible is to see through, to the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. Yet, what Hordern is asking us to do is to see the image of God clearly through a telescope with a cracked lens. Perhaps this is not even strong enough. Hordern quotes Barth, that the biblical writers have been at fault in every word (p. 67). The miracle of revelation is that God is able to use the human, incorrect statements of the Bible as a medium of his revelation. Perhaps it would be even truer to say that Hordern expects us to see the image of God clearly through a telescope with no lens at all!

As in his former book, A Layman’s Guide to Protestant Theology, Hordern shows an openness. Even though he rejects orthodoxy, it is for him a live option. Nevertheless, he sees the issue sharply. For him the opposition between neo-orthodoxy and orthodoxy is not a minor one; it is a strife between two basically antagonistic positions. It is not surprising, therefore, that the conservative Christian must with regret set himself against neo-orthodoxy as well as the old modernism. For him neo-orthodoxy appears as a new form of modernism and not as a faithful interpretation of the Reformation theology.

That the conservative must take such a basic stand against neo-orthodoxy does not mean that he cannot benefit from reading such a volume as Hordern has written. Here in a short compass he can gain a clear and fresh insight into this new theology, presented by one who is fully abreast of the current discussions.


Anabaptism Evaluated

The Free Church, by Franklin Hamlin Littell (Starr King Press, Boston, 1957, 171 pp., $6), is reviewed by Andrew K. Rule of the department of Church History and Apologetics, Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary.

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This book is a vigorous, often impassioned, plea for the “restitution” to the Church of the “practice of Christian Community,” which is defined as the practice of arriving at “consensus” within the Christian community by recognizing the freedom of all members to participate in discussion, and their obligation to be guided by the result. This, the author maintains, was the basic characteristic of “the Free Church” of Reformation times, which he seems to identify closely, if not exclusively, with the Anabaptist Mennonite movement. The theme and the plea are timely both in view of the recent re-evaluation of Anabaptism and in view of the contemporary stirring among “the laity” in various denominations.

The modern re-evaluation of Anabaptism here finds expression in the separation of “the radicals” and “the spiritualizers” from the main body of left-wing sixteenth century Protestantism, and the identification of Anabaptism with the latter. When this is done, the Anabaptists receive a much more favorable evaluation than was formally characteristic; and this happens with scholars who are not, like the author of this book, crusading Methodists addressing a Mennonite audience. Such a re-evaluation of them is probably just; but care must be taken in the process—and such care is not always taken—to be just to the major Reformers, the Roman Catholic leaders, and the secular rulers of the sixteenth century who saw Anabaptism in a very different light and treated it accordingly. The fact that it has since proved possible, step by step, to grant all the demands of the Anabaptists, without any dire consequences, does not prove that their advocacy of them as “a package deal” was not socially dangerous at that time. Dr. Littell has not sufficiently guarded himself from this historical injustice; and in particular, by lumping Calvin so consistently with the other Reformers, he has failed to discover, in that expression of the Reformation, the highly successful embodiment of free church principles for which he looks, with less success, to the Mennonites.

It is difficult also to find in this book any clear and consistently applied definition, connotative or denotative, of a “Free Church.” One finds it distinguished from the “territorial” church, the “established” church, the “clergy-centered establishments,” from the church of the Reformers, and from “American religion,” but no one of these terms is clearly defined nor are distinctions within them recognized. The thinking here is too much like the pinning on of labels, and some of it sounds like “ranting.” This is a shame, for the author in each case has a good cause and is obviously capable of more factually restrained judgments.

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In spite of these criticisms, the reviewer regards this as a useful book. The very points of criticism are useful in stimulating thinking; and the main theme of the book is a challenge to a re-evaluation of the church—something that is vitally necessary in regard to the ecumenical movement.


Contemporary Faith

Know Your Faith Series: I Believe in Immortality, by John Sutherland Bonnell (Abingdon, 1958, 83 pp., $1.25), Invitation to Commune, by Charles Ray Goff (88 pp., $1.75), and I Believe in Jesus Christ, by Walter Russell Bowie (69 pp., $1.25), are reviewed by Robert B. Dempsey, Minister of the Congregational Church of Carlisle, Massachusetts.

The first book is excellent and worth its price. Its appealing style will keep one reading to the end.

Bonnell presents the case for immortality convincingly and rightly distinguishes vague ideas about endless existence from the Bible’s rich concept of eternal life. The skeptic is viewed as one whose bleak life has no real anchor in the face of death.

For Bonnell, man has a soul which is incomplete without a body. When this house of clay is laid aside, there is a body waiting for us in a heaven that is nearby and not in distant spaces.

Evangelicals will agree with his presentation of the bodily resurrection of Christ and its meaning for triumphant living.

There are three weaknesses in the book. The author is explicit about Christ’s resurrection but leaves unanswered the question of the believer’s resurrection. Once he hints that the Christ of faith is not the Jesus of history, and thus much of what he says is negated. The greatest weakness is his failure to link significantly eternal life with the Atonement.

The second book is a devotional study on the Methodist communion liturgy and proper attitudes for a profitable participation in the Lord’s Supper. All will agree with the author that certain attitudes are essential. Two of these are provocatively expressed. Goff is best in his chapters on repentance and comfort. Those on love, faith, consecration, and confession are less effective. The chapter on reconciliation is undercut by the assumption of universalism that appears in the book.

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Although he seeks to avoid the weaknesses of liberalism, Goff does not escape one of the most serious of these. His approach to communion is subjectivistic, with ultimately no right and wrong in its observance. It is repeatedly called the Way of Wonder, and its mystical qualities are emphasized. The worship aspects are completely in the realm of emotion and lacking in necessary doctrinal content. References to such topics as the Atonement and propitiation are unsatisfactory.

Of the three books, this last is the least rewarding. Bowie rightly presents a Christ whose life and principles possessed a certain sternness, but who was nonetheless gentle. While his insights into the humanity of Jesus present him as a figure of virility and strength with a zest for life and nature, there is little appreciation for the person and work of Christ. Death for his teachings was merely something he suspected would happen early in his ministry. However, he faced the tragedy bravely, and died the martyr’s death.

Bowie seeks to raise the Cross above meaninglessness, but does not succeed. A sense of sin comes not from the Substitute under the judgment of God but from the wickedness of His slayers. Love is not in the reconciliation through the blood but in the willingness of Christ to die so that men might have an ideal. The victory of the Cross was not over death but in “the great moral triumph of the great soul which had gone straight into the darkness of death without surrendering” (p. 53).

The author’s treatment of Christ’s resurrection and deity leave a great deal to be desired.


Courage Of Conviction

Thomas Ken: Bishop and Non-Juror, by H. A. L. Rice (Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge, London, 230 pp., 25s), is reviewed by G. C. B. Davies, Professor of Ecclesiastical History, Trinity College, Dublin.

Few occupants of the English episcopal bench are more worthy of the adjective “saintly” than the subject of this book, Thomas Ken, Bishop of Bath and Wells. Though the troublous times in which Ken lived form a necessary background to his life and work, we scarcely ever find them ruffling the serenity of his mind, so clear was his vision of the things unseen and eternal.

Yet we are not to imagine that Ken was spared personal concern with the trials which oppressed England during the last quarter of the seventeenth century. Chaplain to the Princess Anne at the Hague, to King Charles II, and to the naval expedition of 1683 concerned with the demolition of Tangier; on the scaffold with Monmouth; making efforts to better the lot of the wretched rebels suffering under the ruthless Kirke and Jeffreys; one of the seven bishops in the Tower—Ken spent himself in the conscientious discharge of his priestly and episcopal duties. But with the arrival of “Dutch Williams” (to whom the author is scarcely fair), Ken’s implacable conscience forbad him to take an oath of allegiance to a de facto sovereign in the lifetime of another to whom he had previously sworn fealty in virtually the same words. On this point Ken was quite clear, despite the urgent persuasions of some of his friends.

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In 1691 he was deprived of his bishopric, together with eight other bishops, all convinced of the same moral duty. Because of this, a great spiritual force departed from the church leaving open the field to those Latitudinarian influences which so sorely weakened her moral prestige in the ensuing century. For the last 20 years of his life, Ken found sanctuary at Longleat, the magnificent mansion between Frome and Warminster, home of his friend Lord Weymouth, and now the residence of the Marquess of Bath. To occupy his mind in retirement, he wrote verse of no outstanding merit, though his morning and evening hymns are familiar to many. Shortly before his death he ceded his bishopric to his friend of university days, George Hooper, in whose safe hands he was confident to leave his beloved flock.

We are indebted to the author for this finely written study which was obviously a labor of love. Mr. Rice at times makes little secret of his own sympathies. When pointing a moral from the days of Ken to our own times, he castigates the “pale pink intellectuals of a State-pampered age,” and ruefully comments that today Sabbath worship is “a mild and comparatively rare eccentricity.” Though bringing to light no new material, Mr. Rice has done well to set once more before us a figure to whom principle was all and expediency nothing. His verdict on Ken and the Non-Jurors carries a lesson of lasting significance. “However mistaken the twentieth century may adjudge to be the motives which led the Non-Jurors into the wilderness of privation, obscurity and neglect, it may well pay the passing tribute of a sigh in deference to men who had the courage of their own convictions and who were prepared to face whatever came their way of hardship, suspicion, and material loss.”


Twice-Born Men

Crusade at the Golden Gate, by Sherwood Eliot Wirt (Harper, 1959, 176 pp., $2.75), is reviewed by Harold Lindsell, Dean of Faculty, Fuller Theological Seminary.

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Crusade at the Golden Gate is a fascinating book. One cannot remain untouched as he reads the stirring story of Billy Graham’s Cow Palace Crusade in San Francisco. The spiritual diaries of men and women whose lives were changed reminds one of Twice-Born Men.

The author stands midway between antipodal poles—between those who can see no wrong in Billy Graham and those who can see no good. He realistically evaluates the Cow Palace campaign, and does so against the backdrop of San Francisco’s peculiar inheritance. No wild claims are advanced, no superlatives carelessly dropped. In measured yet moving terms he balances the benefits of the campaign over against the anticipated but unachieved results.

This is undoubtedly the best account of any of the Graham campaigns. Whatever be one’s personal viewpoint, he will not put this book down until he has read the last page. Nor can anyone help but be blessed if he comes to it with an open mind. For it is not really the story of Billy Graham, but of God working through Mr. Graham.


Itinerant Preacher

Seventy Years a Preacher, the Life Story of the Rev. William H. Moser, Ph.D., Militant Methodist Preacher, as told to Chester A. Smith (The Historical Society of the New York Annual Conference of the Methodist Church, Peekskill, N. Y., 1959, 110 pp., published by subscription), is reviewed by E. P. Schulze, Minister of the Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Peekskill, New York.

Books about preachers have a fascination for other preachers. This one, told briefly and well, is the story of a parson who itinerated a good deal, as Methodist ministers used to do. His duties were mainly in the Hudson valley, and everywhere he went he seems to have made an influence. President Eisenhower, as the title page of this book points out, said, “I like to see militant preachers.” Likely enough, Moser is a man whom Eisenhower would have admired. Interested in social reform, he fought the liquor traffic and Sunday moving pictures. Of a practical turn of mind, he gave some of his attention successfully to debt reduction and fund raising for church improvement. He saved some of his poorer congregations considerable sums by repairing their pipe organs for them. In one community he paved the way for municipal street lighting by installing lights on poles from the downtown area to his church.

Deeply spiritual, Moser conducted numerous revivals, held Wednesday evening prayer meetings, taught indoctrination courses, and led Bible classes. He visited his members faithfully, read the Bible to them, and prayed with them. He preached the Christian faith and life without manuscript and with power. Now, at 89 years of age, he is living in retirement with his wife and son at Ridgewood, New Jersey.

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The volume abounds with anecdotes. Once his son, then not yet five years old, insisted on speaking at a prayer meeting. When given permission, he said (for he had listened well): “I have served the Lord for 40 years. Please pray for me that I may be faithful to the end.” One Christmas eve, in the early days of radio, his boys put the earphones of a primitive battery set on his head as he lay in bed. Broadcasting was sporadic in those days; the radio was silent, and Moser fell asleep. Suddenly he awoke in the dark room to hear the thrilling strains of “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing.” The incident made a deep impression on him, and in time, he says, it became more than an impression. “It became a prophecy of the time when I shall fall asleep on earth for the last time, to be awakened by the angel choir in heaven.”

The contents of this book were related to Chester A. Smith, a well-known Methodist layman, himself a preacher and author.

The present volume is commended to all who wish to learn what it was like to be a Methodist pastor in the days of itinerancy, and to all who enjoy perusing the biographies of clergymen.



I Believe in Man, by Frederick Keller Stamm (Abingdon, 1959, 77 pp., $1.50), and I Believe in the Church, by Elmer G. Homrighausen (Abingdon, 1959, 108 pp., $1.50), are reviewed by G. Aiken Taylor, Minister of First Presbyterian Church, Alexandria, Louisiana.

These two books finish up the “Know Your Faith” series to which Gerald Kennedy, Joseph R. Sizoo and others have contributed. I Believe in Man is an affirmation of man’s innate capacity for good. The author writes of Creation: “… (God) made man well and he endowed him with basic goodness.” To have endowed man with an evil nature, believes Dr. Stamm, would have been to create evil. In other words, if there was a Fall, the author never heard of it. And if he ever read Niebuhr, it was evidently with disapproval. As the dust jacket confides, “Dr. Stamm’s view of man is an optimistic one.” Add to this optimistic view a liberal view of Christ and a psychologist’s view of religious experience and you have this book. The viewpoint is one that died of old age and was given a decent burial long ago.

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I Believe in the Church covers a less controversial subject. Very few people of whatever persuasion would find fault as the author argues that Christianity is not a solitary experience; that the Church, the body of Christ, exhibits God’s purpose for man and for history; that the Church is “necessary and integral (?) to God, to the Christian, and to the world.” Dr. Homrighausen writes warmly of these things and of the Holy Spirit who brings to believers the “inner quality” of Pentecost, thus uniting them to Christ and to his community, the Church, until Christ comes again. This book is a refreshing antidote to the other.


Stimulative And Suggestive

Sermon Substance, by Ralph G. Turnbull (Baker Book House, 1958, 224 pp., $3.50), is reviewed by H. C. Brown, Jr., Professor of Preaching, Southwestern Seminary, Fort Worth, Texas.

Sermon Substance, by the author of Jonathan Edwards the Preacher and other books, deals suggestively and creatively with 100 ideas for a year’s preaching ministry.

In his introduction the author gives the clue to the purpose for his book: “The task of sermon preparation is a delight when the busy pastor knows what to prepare. But there are days when there is no stirring of the wind, and he feels like a ship becalmed. What then? Is it a denial of faith to lift a top sail in the hope and expectation that the wind will blow again? Here it is that sermon substance has a place of stimulus and suggestion [italics added].”

In the event that the author’s purpose is properly understood and correctly carried out, this book has value. But in the event that the author’s purpose is perverted by “too” busy preachers using the potentially useful substance as a “crutch,” then the book renders a disservice to the ministry. It is hoped that all who read will profit by the author’s lucid thoughts, ideas, illustrations, arrangements, and analyses of Scripture without one preacher resorting to the use of these materials as a substitute for prayer, meditation, study, exegesis, and hard sermonic labors. Let the volume be used to stimulate and to suggest meaningful messages to your mind.


Nature’S Lessons

Thoughts Afield, by Harold E. Kohn (Eerdmans, 1959, 171 pages, 63 drawings, $3.75), is reviewed by Clyde S. Kilby, Chairman, Department of English, Wheaton College.

I usually mark up rather badly the books which I review, but in this instance I refrained. The book is too lovely. It is hard for me to know which I like best—the charming pen-and-ink drawings, the essays themselves, or the fine general layout of the book.

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The author’s method is to describe some colorful aspect of natural life in the woods of northern Michigan and then suggest its moral and spiritual implications. Because he loves nature and really knows valuable things about it, his depiction of it does not become a mere crutch to sermonizing. He is interested in the giant trees of the forest but equally excited about the trillium or even an almost microscopic particle of green called the duckweed. It is interesting to notice that he thinks nature is benevolent and that the preying of one animal on another is wholly free from hatred and therefore without the ferocity which human beings sometimes ascribe to it.

The book is lavish in anecdotes and the sort of remarks one likes to quote. “Take any shadow you please and trace it far enough and you will see that it is the dark side of a bright object, pain being the shadow of our wondrous capacity to feel, mistakes being the dark side of our glorious freedom to make choices.” “Selfishness that is blessed with the name of religion is selfishness still.” “The perfectionist can never enjoy anything on earth completely because the things of earth come with built-in blemishes.” To some people “prayer is a matter of mastering the right vocabulary, learning the magical formula that will assault God at His weakest points and make Him give in to their whims.… Prayer is resting for awhile in God’s greatness.” “Nothing in human experience is more attractive and winsome than a noble thought or emotion in the process of becoming a deed.” “One of the most pitiable sights on the face of the earth is lopsided virtue.” “No king ever made a man a knight. The best a king could do was to recognize the knighthood already present in the man.” There are many other such remarks.

The author is preacher, writer, and artist, and in each capacity does a worthy piece of work.


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