Study Of Prophetism

Vision and Prophecy in Amos, by John D. Watts (Eerdmans, 1958, 89 pp., $3), is reviewed by Edward J. Young, Professor of Old Testament, Westminster Theological Seminary.

Who were the prophets? What manner of men were they, and whence did they derive their messages? The present volume considers Amos as a prophet, and deals with his background, religious experience, prophetic functions, and relation to the cult and message. It consists of scholarly lectures delivered in 1955 at the Swiss Baptist Theological Seminary.

The author thinks that the prophets themselves were practically ignored until the eighteenth century brought them to light. Previously, the Church had been interested mainly in Messianic references. Like most generalizations, however, this one cannot be pressed too far. It might surprise some modern scholars, who are eager to keep up with “the latest,” to discover how much interest was devoted to the prophets as men before the eighteenth century.

According to Watts, prophetic study has come into its own in the twentieth century (p. 2). But nothing written in this century, to the knowledge of this reviewer, can compare with the profound studies of Isaiah, for example, made by Drechsler, Delitzsch, Alexander, or even Gesenius. Because of its absolute refusal to come to grips with the question of special revelation (and the present book is no exception), twentieth century study of prophetism has not really brought us closer to understanding the prophets than did Luther and Calvin. In fact, the Reformers seemed to have a deeper insight into the messages of the prophets than much of the writing of this century.

Amos, we are told, was more than a shepherd. He probably “owned, raised, cared for, and dealt in sheep” (p. 7), and was also one who had to do with “sycamore figs” (p. 8). His basic character and religious outlook were shaped by Tekoa, a “rural Judean village” and by the “broadening influence of travel” (p. 8). He had certain convictions: Jahweh was Lord and Master of all. Jahweh had elected Israel, but this election was “ethically conditioned”.

Amos was conscious of being directed by a higher will, and felt himself “possessed” (p. 10). His reply to Amaziah should be translated, “No prophet did I choose to be! (I did not choose or seek the status of nabi [sic!]. Nor did I seek to become one of the prophetic guild. For I (had chosen to be) a herdsman and a tender of sycamores, when Jahweh took me from following the flock (the place of my choice). But it is Jahweh who said to me, Go! Be a prophet to my people Israel!” (p. 12). An interesting translation indeed! Whether it is an accurate rendering of the Hebrew is another question.

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Amos was God’s messenger, speaking His words to Israel, words which were proclaimed at the New Year’s Festival in one of the great sanctuaries (p. 14). But Amos also had great experiences with God which he presents in visions and formative experiences. And Amos was a cultic prophet.

Watts is at his best in his analysis of Amos’ visions, and what he writes will repay careful study. He tells us that these visions of the last three chapters were gathered at some southern sanctuary, whereas the “words” of the first six chapters were copied down in the north. There were thus two books of Amos. But why may not Amos himself have written down all his messages?

Interesting is the chapter which deals with the preservation of three fragments of an old hymn, namely Amos 4:13; 5:8 and 9:5–6. But the author is too free with textual emendations, and we cannot accept the conclusion which Watts says is “impossible to escape” that “their (i.e., the hymn fragments) preservation was determined at the time that the speeches of Amos were being collected to put in a fixed form either oral or written” (p. 67).

A concluding chapter deals seriously with the question of the Day of the Lord. “The Day of Jahweh was to be the time when that which the cult pictured would find realization or fulfillment in historical reality” (p. 83). It was to be the end of the northern kingdom’s claim to the Covenant, and the coming of Jahweh to remove all that obstructed the accomplishment of his purposes.

Recently von Rad has sought to account for the origin of the concept of the Day of the Lord in the old wars of Jehovah. Serious attempts to account for the origin of such an idea will always be welcomed, but no serious attempt will be satisfied if we regard such a concept as only a stage in the unaided development of a prophet’s thought. If we are to omit all reference to special revelation, we shall not arrive at the truth.

And that brings us to the heart of the matter. The present book tries to do the impossible; it seeks to explain Amos and his work apart from special revelation. There is much in the book that is good, particularly the refutation of some of Mowinckel’s ideas, but on the whole the book presents us with a picture of Amos that must be rejected. The author is widely read in modern literature, but the giants of yesterday are not mentioned.

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Some strange statements are made about Hebrew syntax (p. 58). The Bible should not be emended on the basis of a misunderstanding of Hebrew. And the transliteration of Hebrew words is frightening. On page 6, for example, we have noqdim. This should certainly be corrected for a subsequent edition.

While we are grateful for what is good in this book, we feel that true progress in prophetic study will be made only when we consider the prophetical writings as the holy Word of God and the prophets themselves as men who received a message from God and faithfully delivered that message.



Darius the Mede, by John C. Whitcomb, Jr. (Eerdmans, 1959, 84 pp., $2.75), is reviewed by R. K. Harrison, Hellmuth Professor of Old Testament at Huron College, London, Ontario.

This scholarly monograph investigates the problems associated with the identity of Darius the Mede both from the standpoint of the book of Daniel and that of critical scholarship generally. The author marshals his evidence for the contention that Darius the Mede is to be identified with Gubaru, the governor of Babylon under Cyrus. During his discussion he examines the view, recently propounded by Dr. Wiseman of the British Museum, that Darius the Mede was merely an alternative name for Cyrus the Persian.

In identifying Darius with Gubaru, Dr. Whitcomb takes vigorous issue with the views of H. H. Rowley and demonstrates convincingly that the latter thought of Darius in terms of a confusion of conflated traditions. He adduces cuneiform evidence to show that the Nabonidus Chronicle speaks of two distinct personages, Ugbaru and Gubaru, whereas most scholars have failed to make this distinction in their discussions of the identity of Darius the Mede.

The monograph, a publication of the Evangelical Theological Society, is a careful study, erudite and objective. The fair-minded reader will find it difficult to resist the conclusion that new light has been thrown on this difficult problem, and that the historicity of Darius can be postulated seriously once again.


Ecclesiastical Freedom

The Free Church Through the Ages, by Gunnar Westin, translated by Virgil A. Olsen (Boardman Press, Nashville, 1958, 380 pp., $4.75), is reviewed by Andrew K. Rule of the department of Church History and Apologetics, Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary.

The author of this book is the great Swedish Baptist historian. His competence is evidenced in the book’s comprehensiveness, the amazingly detailed research that shows through every page, and the scholarly restraint that refuses to claim more than evidence will justify. The study begins in dealing with eight pre-Reformation movements of the free church type; but, while the possibility of some continuity between them and later developments of a similar kind, is intriguing, the author clearly recognizes that no sufficient evidence is now available to support such a contention.

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There follows a full account of the rise and spread of Anabaptism in and around Zurich. The author’s sympathies are quite obviously with these people, both because they were champions of a “free” church and because they were cruelly persecuted. But that does not prevent him, both as historian and Baptist, from frankly acknowledging the weaknesses of the movement at this stage, and that the fear which was engendered in the hearts of the Reformers and of the civil authorities had some justification. The reviewer would suggest that such fear had an even stronger justification than the author allows. When it is noticed, as the author does, that such gentle and concessive people as Melanchthon, Bucer, and Philip of Hesse, and such a broad-minded statesman as Calvin shared that fear and were driven to active resistance, it should be realized that under the social conditions then obtaining even the more sober expression of Anabaptism was a definite threat to social stability.

The author’s account makes clear that it was everywhere taken for granted, except by the Anabaptists, that the civil government had responsibility for and perhaps control over the activities carried on in the name of religion. But while he approves a “positive” attitude towards government and towards social and cultural affairs as against the “negative” attitude of most of the Anabaptists, he seems to assume that a church cannot be really free if it accepts any formal establishment by the state. Perhaps this is the main reason why, in recounting the sixteenth century struggle for a free church, he fails to take account of Calvin’s long and almost completely successful struggle for ecclesiastical freedom as against the effort of the Genevan councils to impose Bernese customs. The reviewer cannot accept this assumption. He would maintain that the present situation of the Church of Scotland assures it of all the freedom that a church can use while still recognizing a legitimate legal relation to the State.

The author then gives an excellent account of the more successful struggle for ecclesiastical freedom, mainly in the English-speaking world, first in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and finally in the last century and a half.

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On the whole this is a competent account of a thrilling struggle. It is a challenging contribution to the contemporary ecumenical discussion of the nature of the Church and of the perennial problem of the relations of Church and State. An evangelical cannot but feel sympathy with the basic effort here of submitting to the authority of Scripture; though he may judge, as I do, that in this case it took the form of an effort to confine the Church to the pattern of its embryonic state.


Solving A Social Problem

Understanding and Preventing Juvenile Delinquency, by Haskell M. Miller (Abingdon, 1958, 191 pp., $1.25), is reviewed by Charles Craig, social worker, Nutley, N. J.

In his Understanding and Preventing Juvenile Delinquency, Haskell M. Miller, head of the Department of Social Ethics at Wesley Theological Seminary (Washington, D. C.), has compiled an informative and practical weapon against one of the foremost problems of our generation. Although the book is indicative of professional competence in the field, the author writes in nontechnical language which the layman can understand. It is a comprehensive study which not only deals with the nature of delinquents and their delinquencies, but also outlines preventive and corrective treatment. Special attention is given to proper Christian attitudes and to what Christians and their churches can and should do in this connection. “Questions for Discussion” and “Project Suggestions” comprise a feature of the book which increases its value for discussion groups and church committees attempting to deal with the problem. These are found at the end of each chapter.

From the evangelical standpoint the author’s analysis of and remedies for juvenile delinquency will fall short of being genuinely helpful since the role of original sin is neglected. Nor is there any adequate notice of the facts which make the Christian ethic meaningful and logical. In other words, the role of the Church, effecting spiritual regeneration through the work of the Holy Spirit, is ignored. However, the book abounds with many practical suggestions as to how churches and their members may better fulfill their role of Good Samaritans in recognition of the biblical teaching that all men are our neighbors.


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Reaching The Unsaved

Group Dynamics in Evangelism, by Paul M. Miller (Herald Press, 1958, 202 pp., $3.50), is reviewed by Faris D. Whitesell, Professor of Practical Theology, Northern Baptist Theological Seminary.

The professor of practical theology at Goshen Biblical Seminary has given us a needed study. His book is well Written and thoroughly evangelical. He has mastered the popular subject of group dynamics and has applied it practically to the field of evangelism. While concentrating on this particular approach to evangelism, he has not discredited or cast out other methods of evangelism.

A group is a number of persons communicating “with one another over a span of time, and who are few enough so that each person is able to communicate with all the others, not at second hand nor through other people, but face to face” (p. 53). For best results groups should not run over 12 people and should have a resourceful and respected leader.

Group dynamics evangelism “means throwing Christian friendship and fellowship around unchurched people through the group life of the church, believing that every man is basically lonely and longing for the realities which the Christian group embodies and has to offer” (p. 176). It “offers a way by which all members can share in soul-winning. Many Christians are too timid ever to engage in ‘salesman evangelism,’ but all who are sincere can join in a group deliberately setting out to love unsaved persons into the Kingdom. The approach to the unsaved person is not as frontal or as intense in its demands as is the case in ‘salesman evangelism’ or ‘visitation evangelism.’ A timid Christian should certainly be able to give a warm invitation to attend his group meeting, even though he may not be able to confront an unsaved person with Christ’s immediate call to decision or lead the person into a meaningful act of commitment” (p. 179).

Pastors, church groups, and theological students should study Dr. Miller’s book, for it will lead them into an area of evangelism not too well known or too much used. It pioneers in a new field.

One weakness is that the author fails to give enough examples of this method in operation. He presents it too idealistically, not telling exactly how to implement this evangelism, or how to keep from interfering with groups for other purposes, or how to get the unsaved into the group dynamics situation.


Practical Devotions

New Frontiers for Spiritual Living, by Charles A. Behnke (Concordia, 1959, 120 pp., $2), is reviewed by the Rev. E. P. Schulze, Minister of the Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Peekskill, New York.

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This is a volume of Christian devotions for “people who are growing spiritually with the years. It contains more than 40 devotional readings, each based upon a text of Scripture and accompanied by references for collateral Bible reading and concluded with a brief prayer. In addition there are prayers for every morning and evening of the week, half a dozen prayers for special contingencies in the life of a Christian, and ten “hymns that never grow old.”

The author, a clergyman of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, is pastor of a congregation in Rochester, New York. His excellent and practical devotions are evidently born of a consecrated spirit that has been richly nurtured by the Word and cultivated by many years of personal and ministerial experience. Although easy to read, these devotions are deep in thought.


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