Theology and Preaching, by Heinrich Ott, translated by Harold Knight (Westminster, 1965, 157 pp., $4.50), is reviewed by James Daane, assistant editor, CHRISTIANITY TODAY.
To what low estate has dogmatic theology fallen in the Anglo-Saxon world! The original German title, Dogmatik und Verkündigung, was changed in the English translation, the translator explains, because neither the term “dogmatics” nor the term “proclamation” “is at once familiar to the Anglo-Saxon reader.” If this is so—and I think it is—it only points up how badly the English-speaking sector of the Church needs the main emphasis of this book.
Heinrich Ott, former pastor of a large congregation in Basel, is Karl Barth’s successor at the University of Basel. The purpose of his book is to present “a programme of work in dogmatics, arranged with reference to Questions 1–11 of the Heidelberg Catechism.” Lest the man who regards himself as only a preacher lose interest, let it be said immediately that Ott’s basic contention is that preaching and dogmatic (systematic) theological activity are only variant aspects of a single task. “Dogmatics and preaching flow into each other.” Therefore, “in order to be able to preach at all well, the preacher must engage in dogmatic reflection … while the dogmatic theologian, in order to teach dogma well and truly … must constantly bear in mind the mission of preaching.” Ott declares, “That preacher who purposed to be nothing other than a preacher … would be a bad preacher, a preacher without heart and conscience. And the dogmatist who proposed to be nothing other than a dogmatist and to leave to the pastor the concern with the practical task of church preaching would be a bad church teacher.” He continues, “The separation between the duties of preaching and theological teaching is a purely practical technical division of labour.” And “dogmatics then may not desire to be anything other than a kind of norm for preaching.” Dogmatics exists for “the sake of preaching”; it is a “reflective function of preaching itself”; it is a “preaching to preachers.” And finally: “Hence, dogmatic teaching would be disclosed as bad dogmatic teaching, if it is shown to be inadequate to the mission of preaching.” Therefore, although dogmatic pursuits and the proclamation of the Word of God are not identical, there is a direct continuity between them; they are but two reflections of the Church’s single task of understanding and proclaiming the one Word of God.
Ott here points to one of the great weaknesses in modern preaching, both evangelical and liberal. Even evangelical sermons often lack that resonance and that timbre which a sermon can possess only when it comes out of a large, rich background of a consciously held theology. Sermons without such a background—however orthodox and pious—run shallow and thin, tending to proclaim human moralisms rather than the Word of God himself. Even orthodox sermons that lack the resonance of the Eternal are flat and unmoving.
To illustrate that “preaching and dogmatics are in the last resort a single activity of the Church, two aspects of one and the same thing,” Ott turns to the Heidelberg Catechism. In its first question, “What is your only comfort in life and death?,” and its answer in nuce, “I belong to Jesus Christ,” Ott finds the whole truth that must be preached and the whole truth of dogmatics. The preacher need not preach about everything in every sermon, for if he explains his selected biblical text rightly, the whole Word of God is expressed. For each biblical fact and truth presents God himself. Thus Ott sees the entire catechism as but an unfolding of this one fundamental truth about God.
Ott, like Karl Barth, finds the Heidelberg Catechism especially congenial because its presentation of Christian truth is not objective and impersonal. On the contrary, the form of presentation is that of the Christian speaking out of his faith. The catechism is not speech about faith; it is faith, speaking out of itself, about itself—or, more fully, about the God in whom it believes.
The Heidelberg Catechism thus lends itself to that kind of Christian existentialism which contends that dogmatics can only be the more reflective, systematic expression of what can be, and is, both preached and believed. From this point Ott moves on—and in my judgment without warrant—to the position that only that which can be experienced can be preached, believed, and properly included in dogmatics. Therefore, he urges that the Fall of Man, with its original guilt, did not take place in the history of man, for man has no experience of the Fall or of an original state of rectitude. These are rather “transcendental events,” events that indeed happened but that, because they are transcendent, can be experienced by man in any age. In this view, says Ott, and not in the traditional ones (including that of the Heidelberg Catechism), man’s fall into sin can be preached and believed, and can be the content of a dogmatics that is in continuity with preaching. Thus Ott turns the Fall and the saving facts of history into transcendent events in order to define them as events that can be empirically experienced. How else, he asks, could a preacher assume the responsibility of preaching, and how else could a man believe that man by nature hates God and his neighbor and is personally responsible for the sin of Adam?
In his discussion of the Law of God, Ott seems willing to regard “man under Law” as historical man, that is, man in his historical situations and responsibilities. In this way the Law of God is indeed brought within the realm of the empirical experience of every man, even though he has no experience of its giving on Sinai. Yet Ott here departs from one of the Heidelberg Catechism’s fundamental teachings: that the source of man’s knowledge of his sin and misery is out of the Law of God, i.e., is not learned from experience but is learned from its disclosure in divine revelation.
But apart from these criticisms—and other points might be criticized, such as Ott’s manner of relating divine love and wrath—this book can render the much needed service of showing the necessary interrelatedness of dogmatics and preaching. For in this Ott is surely correct, even though the theology by which he illustrates it is something less than wholly acceptable.
In Modern Dress
As Matthew Saw the Master, by William P. Barker (Revell, 1964, 154 pp., $2.95), is reviewed by Louis H. Benes, editor, The Church Herald, Grand Rapids, Michigan.
This book is a very readable exposition of the more important passages in the Gospel according to St. Matthew. Beginning each time with Matthew’s description of events in the life of our Lord, the author quickly puts the ancient stories into contemporary language and settings. This attempt to get the biblical characters into modern dress and situations helps the reader to see himself and his friends among them, thus making the biblical scenes more vivid and realistic. The jacket describes this book as a commentary, but it is really an illustrative exposition concentrating on selected passages of this Gospel.
Written for everyman rather than for the specialist, this treatment of the Gospel is popular rather than profound, with innumerable illustrations (some of which have been published before) that both illuminate the record and inspire the heart. Mr. Barker, it is quite evident, believes the gospel record, and is concerned that others also shall discover its reality, understand it, and believe it for their own salvation.
LOUSIS H. BENES
Poems, by C. S. Lewis (Harcourt, Brace and World, 1965, 142 pp., $4.50), is reviewed by Thomas H. Howard, graduate assistant in English, University of Illinois, Urbana.
This is the best—the glorious best—of Lewis. For here, with the gemlike beauty and hardness that poetry alone can achieve, are his ideas about the nature of things that lay behind all of his writings. One passes from poem to poem, thunderstruck with beauty, wanting to shout, “Oh this is true, this is a thousand times true, this is Truth.”
The volume is divided into five sections that are topical rather than chronological. The poems range from the unabashedly mythological “Narnian Suite” (“With plucking pizzicato and the prattle of kettledrum …”), to sophisticated experiments in prosody with sonnets and Pindaric odes, to personal prayers that recall Donne and Herbert.
One never has the feeling that Lewis is being merely arcane in the allusions to classical and Norse mythology with which these poems are fraught. There is, rather, the breezy, liberating sense of an enormous affirmation of all human experience. One sees here a man whose knowledge of God and the world had set him free from fear. He can talk of Pan and Aphrodite and dryads and “full-bellied tankards foamy-topped” and nuptial beds and godlike bodies with the same joy and acceptance that he brings to the chalice and Host.
Lewis is never afraid of the naive, the moving, or the lyric, but he severely avoids the treacly and bathetic. He writes simply and clearly of anguish, grief, and disenchantment that one knows full well were personal, but there is never the shadow of self-pity or sentimentalism. He was his own most ruthless inquisitor.
On the dust jacket of the book there is the remark that Lewis fell his verse was “rather out of the main stream” of modern poetry. He was right. This will mean to some, of course, that it is not worth reading. One can only say that these poems are as worth reading as those of Donne and Keats, whose poetry had to wait. We will be the losers if we leave it to our grandchildren to discover this volume of genuine poetry.
THOMAS H. HOWARD
Hit By The Word
The Relevance of Science: Creation and Cosmogony, by C. F. von Weizsacker (Harper and Row, 1964, 192 pp., $5), is reviewed by Howard A. Redmond, associate professor of religion and philosophy. Whitworth College, Spokane. Washington.
Some books are full of surprises. One would hardly expect that lectures on science given by a German physicist in the English-speaking world’s most prestigious lectureship would be clear and uncomplicated. And one would not assume a technical knowledge of the Bible and theology in one whose major training was in science. But Von Weizsacker, in these Gifford Lectures for 1959–1960, shows a knowledge of both historical and contemporary theological positions that at times would do credit to a specialist in religious studies. The book is interesting and readable and shows the author’s versatility.
Its thesis can be stated simply. Science—or more accurately scientism, which is faith in science—has become the religion of the modern world. This process is described as secularization, in which a non-religious concept or system takes the place of the religious. A scientific illustration of the process is the fact that whereas God formerly was held to be infinite and the world finite, now the world assumes this divine attribute, and infinity is secularized. The same movement is seen in the social sciences, in which the chiliasm (millennialism) of early Christianity is taken over by a secular and even anti-Christian movement such as Marxism. Christianity, with its faith in an orderly God and hence an ordered world, had much to do with the development of science, which is in fact “the gift of Christianity to the modern mind.” But this stepchild of Christianity turned and slew its parent with the weapon inherited from him. The result is a secularized civilization, a society living on the fruits of Christianity but cut off from its roots.
The thesis of secularization, in which the place of God is taken by that which is less than God, is by no means a new one. Tillich meant much the same thing by his concept of the demonic. And former students of John Mackay will remember his detailed analysis of the process by which the German state under Hitler became a church-state with messiah, holy book, and code of living. The author is to, be commended for extending this analysis to the realm of science. His general thesis, that faith in science has become the religion of our time, is indeed convincing. But some of the specifics seem strained and artificial. Is it really true, for example, that belief in an infinite God has been replaced by belief in an infinite universe? For one thing, it is questionable whether the concept of infinity, which is primarily a mathematical idea, is of the essence of religious thought or feeling (though I would vigorously dissent from Brightman and others who argue for God’s finitude); and furthermore, many scientists now say, as did Einstein, that the universe is finite. But a weak strain of argument here or there does not take away from the basic soundness of his thesis.
Some readers may find the book’s greatest interest to lie not in the main line of the argument but in some of the bypaths. There are many interesting facts about the history of science, in the discussion of which the author rightly debunks such commonly held misconceptions as that Copernicus was the first to propose a heliocentric astronomy, that Galileo was a martyr or near-martyr, and that medieval thought was sterile and of little value. He even speaks a good word for the Church’s intention in the trials of Galileo—an unusual gesture for a historian of science! Occasional obiter dicta in non-scientific fields, such as the comment that the Gospel of John was “not far from a gnostic one,” will irritate those whose scholarship in these areas is greater than the author’s. But the net effect is positive; the book is both helpful and interesting. It is a particularly pleasant surprise to hear a first-rate scientist, in a famous lectureship, confess his faith by declaring, even while apologizing for the awkwardness of the English phrase, that he has “been hit by the word of Christ.” A book that combines high scholarship with such faith is surely worth looking into.
HOWARD A. REDMOND
A View Of History
The Method and Message of Jewish Apocalyptic, by D. S. Russell (Westminster, 1964, 464 pp., $7.50), is reviewed by James P. Martin, associate professor of New Testament, Union Theological Seminary in Virginia, Richmond.
This excellent volume in the “Old Testament Library” series provides invaluable knowledge of both the inter-testamental period and the background of the eschatological and apocalyptic thought of the New Testament. Jewish apocalyptic cannot be adjudged to be a private interest of overspecialized scholars. The debate concerning New Testament eschatology cannot be intelligently furthered without considering the historical origins of many of its important and leading theological motifs within the apocalyptic thought of late Judaism. Modern history, too, is frequently denoted “apocalyptic,” but such a denotation carries little intelligible meaning unless one has learned something of the character of the apocalyptic consciousness and historical methodology. This book will guide the interested reader to a knowledge of the subject which will transcend the common clichés about the pessimism of apocalyptic thought and its supposed lack of historical sense.
Russell provides a thorough analysis of Jewish apocalyptic in the period between 200 B.C. and A.D. 100. His major divisions of discussion are: The Nature and Identity of Jewish Apocalyptic, The Method of Jewish Apocalyptic, and The Message of Jewish Apocalyptic. The table of contents is a thorough guide to the materials of these divisions. The important matters discussed under “method” include the relation of apocalyptic and prophecy, and the nature of the apocalyptic consciousness and inspiration. While Daniel may be the first and the greatest of all Jewish apocalyptic writings, apocalyptic itself originated in a much earlier period. Its taproot went deep into the prophets, particularly the post-exilic prophets. Although apocalyptic is concerned about the fulfillment of prophecy, it is not merely imitative but is “prophecy in a new idiom.” It is concerned about the future Day of the Lord and the era beyond it that comprises a hope bounded by time. Both prophecy and apocalyptic combine forthtelling and foretelling. Although concern for the fast-approaching End made eschatology and not ethics the dominating interest of the apocalyptists, it Would be wrong to imagine that they had no concern for ethics. Behind the eschatological hopes of the apocalyptist was the deep conviction that the righteousness of God would at last be vindicated (p. 101). Apocalyptic was not an escape mechanism. The stories of Daniel prove the opposite. Furthermore, the doctrine of the last judgment is the most characteristic doctrine of Jewish apocalyptic. It is the great event toward which the whole universe is moving, and this event will vindicate once and for all God’s righteous purpose (p. 380).
Russell rejects some common explanations for the pseudonymous character of apocalyptic writings. We cannot agree with Charles’s conclusions drawn from an alleged autocracy of the Law (p. 131), nor with the theory of literary convention. Rather, the practice is based on certain factors in Hebrew psychology for which there is no exact parallel in modern thought. These are the idea of corporate personality, the peculiar time-consciousness of the Hebrews, and the significance of the proper name in Hebrew thought. Biblical psychology is further elaborated in a chapter on apocalyptic consciousness in which Russell describes the various meanings of such terms as soul and spirit, and the influences of Greek and Hebrew patterns of thinking on the unity of personality and the nature of man.
The apocalyptists believed they had been given a message from God but were not interested in supplying data to substantiate any particular theory of inspiration. Our literary categories and analyses, our distinctions between the subjective and the objective, do not solve our problems of understanding the apocalyptist. The evidence which exists for genuine psychic experience behind reported dreams and visions (pp. 164 ff.) opens up new possibilities for understanding these writers on their terms. This evidence would also suggest that a purely literary approach to apocalyptic is insufficient to disclose the kind of activity carried on by apocalyptists.
The first aspect of the message of Jewish apocalyptic discussed is the idea of human history and divine control. Here we are introduced to the modern scholarly contribution to the biblical understanding of time (Barr, Eichrodt, Cullmann). The use of chronology in the Old Testament and the distinctive conception of “filled” or qualitative time are brought to bear upon such matters as contemporaneity, eternity, and the cyclic theory of the ages. This leads to a consideration of the question of the unity of history. R. H. Charles had argued that the idea of the unity of history originated with the apocalyptists. Russell thinks that the apocalyptists were not pioneers but middlemen in this regard, and that the origin of the concept of unity of history goes back to the prophets (p. 219). This concept is, of course, a corollary of the unity of God, and is inseparable from the sense of divine purpose. Because of their sense of the divine purpose, it is only half true to accuse the apocalyptists of holding to a pessimistic view of history. They did not give up to despair; “they were men of faith who could see within history, through history and beyond history the working out of God’s triumphant purpose” (p. 220). Other features of the apocalyptic understanding of history treated at some length are the systematic arrangement of history (pp. 224 f.) and the predetermination of history (pp. 230 f.).
Closely related to the apocalyptic understanding of history is the expectancy of the End. The differences of the apocalyptists’ eschatology from that of the prophetic writings are set forth in order to show that apocalyptic developed a new eschatology, which, as Mowinckel styled it, is at once “dualistic, cosmic, universalistic, transcendental and individualistic” (p. 269). The new interpretation of God’s purpose is reflected in the tension between the Messiah and Son of Man concepts. Within the structure of apocalyptic eschatology, several themes may be traced, such as signs of the End, Antichrist, creation and re-creation, and the relation of beginning to End. Russell points out in his chapter on the messianic kingdom that the common New Testament term, Kingdom of God (heaven), is not to be found anywhere in the Old Testament or in the apocalyptic writings, but that nevertheless the idea of the Kingdom is basic to both bodies of literature.
Of particular importance is the material on the enigmatic figure of the Son of Man. It is certainly significant to know that the ideas of Son of Man and the Messiah not only are different in their origins but also represent two separate strands of eschatological expectation and indicate two distinct emphases of “messianic” hope (p. 331). Could it be that the restriction of ideas about the Son of Man to a relatively small group of Jews would help explain why the early Church made so little use of them in their preaching to Diaspora Judaism, and would tend to support the argument that the complex Son of Man sayings in the gospel tradition reflect historical material transmitted by the Church rather than material created by the primitive Church for preaching purposes? It may well be that the Church transmitted the Son of Man sayings as it received them not only because there was little historical cause for changing them but also because the Church itself did not fully understand them and so recorded them largely “as is.”
Other chapters in this illuminating and helpful book examine the subjects of angels and demons and life after death. On the latter Russell observes that, “not the immortality of the soul, but the resurrection of the body is the key to the apocalyptic interpretation of the life beyond death” (p. 373). This is one more indication that New Testament ideas are related to, or dependent upon, Jewish apocalyptic, and it is one of the most important indications. Russell argues that Daniel 12:2, 3 is of the utmost significance for the development of the resurrection belief. This passage reappears in Jesus’ discourse in John 5:28 in Which the resurrection of, the last day is the goal to which the world proceeds in its history, and the destiny of man depends on his response to the word of the Son of God who has already the power to give life because he alone has life in himself. In John, as in the rest of the New Testament, the resurrection of the dead is not only the goal of history; it is also “Christo-centric.” That is, the New Testament does not merely say that there will be a resurrection—it rather proclaims Jesus, who was raised from the dead by God, the first-fruits of the resurrection of the dead, and who is himself the resurrection and the life.
JAMES P. MARTIN
The Problem of God in Philosophy of Religion, by Henry Duméry (Northwestern University, 1964, 189 pp., $4.95), is reviewed by Carl F. H. Henry, editor, CHRISTIANITY TODAY.
The French Catholic philosopher Henry Duméry declares that “the God of philosophers is from the start a theft and a blunder,” on the ground that religion worships the one God that philosophical inquiry must evaluate. But in his philosophy of religion, he proposes to shun religious evidence in arriving at the religious object. He rejects the Thomistic proof from causality and invokes the radical transcendence of God in the interest of a phenomenological and dialectical approach to metaphysics. Yet consciousness is viewed as the creator of all signification, including the meaning of being. But he moves beyond any reduction of reality to the sensible, rational, and transcendental, to affirm the Absolute or God.
Duméry is half Thomist, half contemporary, and his resultant metaphysics not only lacks a sure ground in revealed truth but also does not clearly issue as a self-evident deduction from his principles. He recognizes that religion demands a metaphysics of the One if it is to be significant but arrives at a trans-determinate God. This reviewer tends to agree with critics who find here a Gnostic religion of sorts, a speculative blend of religion and philosophy. Duméry minimizes both the noetic predicament of the sinner and the consequent indispensability of special divine disclosure in arriving at an adequate and authentic metaphysics. The antithesis of the god of philosophers and the god of tradition is to be overcome, not by a secular half-way house, but by comprehension of the whole of reality and life through the revelation of the self-revealed God.
CARL F. H. HENRY
The Modern Tradition: Background of Modern Literature, edited by Richard Ellmann and Charles Feidelson (Oxford, 1965, 953 pp., $13.75). An anthology of modern literature selected to reflect the complex of views and beliefs of what is called the “modern tradition.” If read critically, the book provides a profound insight into the making of the modern mind. To attain such a profound insight, however, the reader must take recourse to his own mental devices, for he must cope not only with the selected literature but also with the question of the validity of the editors’ interpretative arrangement of material, and with their uncertainty as to whether modern literature is the background or the constitutive element of “modern tradition.” Even the jacket cover suggests the uncertainty concerning the nature of the source.
Distilled Wisdom, edited by Alfred Armand Montapert (Prentice-Hall, 1964, 355 pp., $5.95). A successful businessman presents gathered words of wisdom under alphabetically arranged subjects.
Luther’s Works, Volume IV: Lectures on Genesis, Chapters 21–25, edited by Jaroslav Pelikan (Concordia, 1964, 443 pp., $6). Luther’s simple, colorful interpretation.
Introduction to Hebrew, by Moshe Greenberg (Prentice-Hall, 1965, 214 pp., $7.95). A grammar with graduated readings oriented around the story of Joseph.
The Anchor Bible, Volume 21: Jeremiah, introduction, translation, and notes by John Bright (Doubleday, 1964, 372 pp., $7). Not a commentary but a fresh translation with ample introduction and comment to make the book living and intelligible. High scholarship achieves a recapture of the stylistic techniques of the original Hebrew.
The Composition and Order of the Fourth Gospel: Bultmann’s Literary Theory, by Dwight Moody Smith, Jr. (Yale University, 1965, 272 pp., $10). A dissertation that shows how Bultmann arranges the material of John’s Gospel.
The Book of the Revelation, by Lehman Strauss (Loizeaux, 1964, 381 pp., $4.50). A popular, extensive, evangelical commentary.
The Promise and the Presence, by Harry N. Huxhold (Concordia, 1965, 252 pp., $4.50). A collection of sermons, mostly expository, on the Old Testament by a preacher who believes the Old Testament is indispensable.
A Beginner’s Reader-Grammar for New Testament Greek, by Ernest Cadman Colwell in collaboration with Ernest W. Tune (Harper and Row, 1965, 111 pp., $3.75). A text that follows the method of moving from reading to grammar rather than vice versa.
A Thousand Months to Remember, autobiography of Joseph Martin Dawson (Baylor University, 1964, 280 pp., $4.95). The life story of an interesting and influential Baptist who long advocated separation of church and state and the absolute freedom of press and the pulpit.
God’s Time and Ours, by Leonard Griffith (Abingdon, 1964, 212 pp., $3). Sermons for festivals and seasons of the Christian year.
Theology of Worship in 17th-Century Lutheranism, by Friedrich Kalb, translated by Henry P. A. Hamann (Concordia, 1965, 192 pp., $3.95). An examination of seventeenth-century Lutheranism to discover what it did to impoverish liturgical life in the Lutheran churches.
Pictorial Biblical Encyclopedia, edited by Gaalyahu Cornfield (Macmillan, 1964, 720 pp., $17.50). Excellent pictures and maps and an extensive commentary on selected subjects, with a Jewish interpretation.
Ultimate Questions: An Anthology of Modern Russian Religious Thought, edited by Alexander Schememann (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1965, 311 pp., $6.95). In the rich tradition of Berdyaev and Dostoevsky, this anthology of Russian religious reflections will appeal to readers of Kierkegaard, Camus, and Buber who are interested in the theological and cultural renaissance that marked Russia early in this century.
The World of Josephus, by G. A. Williamson (Little, Brown, 1964, 318 pp., $6). A very readable account.
Understanding and Helping the Narcotic Addict, by Tommie L. Duncan (Prentice-Hall, 1965, 143 pp., $2.95). Answers questions ministers ask about narcotic addiction.
George of Bohemia: King of Heretics, by Frederick G. Heymann (Princeton University, 1965, 671 pp., $15). Scholarly and detailed study of the young fifteenth-century Czech king who led the Utraquist Party (of Hussite stock), and whom the Roman Catholics named “king of the heretics.” The author shows that the Czech Reformation survived and persisted in the development of later reform ideas in Germany and Switzerland.
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