Take Another Look At S.K.

The Burden of Sören Kierkegaard, by Edward John Carnell (Eerdmans, 1965, 174 pp., $3.50), is reviewed by Vernon C. Grounds, president, Conservative Baptist Theological Seminary, Denver, Colorado.

The mere mention of Sören Kierkegaard stimulates the adrenalin output of many evangelicals. Usually they have no firsthand knowledge of his works; at best they have read only certain seemingly heretical passages from some of his pseudonymous books, ignoring the place such passages occupy in his total writing and therefore in his self-imposed task as a Christian witness. Evangelical critics of Kierkegaard rarely engage in that objective, protracted study that would qualify them to issue authoritative pronouncements on this profound, complex, many-faceted, and pathological genius. Instead, misunderstanding an apologist of prodigous originality and disdaining to tolerate so unconventional a disciple within the pale of orthodoxy, they consign him to the limbo of neoliberalism. After all, even a sympathetic scholar like Herbert C. Wolf, associate professor of religion at Wittenberg University, recently characterized Kierkegaard as an iconoclast, a misogynist, and a neurotic with a passion for martyrdom. Ah, yes! But Wolf also characterized him as a fool for Jesus Christ, a man who for the sake of God dared to run the risk of scandalized misunderstanding—by the very people who share his basic commitment.

At long last, however, an evangelical has arisen whose objective, protracted study of Denmark’s greatest son entitles him to make authoritative pronouncements. And Edward John Carnell, well-known for his probing scholarship, does not consign Kierkegaard to the limbo of neo-liberalism. He embraces him—rightly!—as a fellow believer and quotes approvingly Denzil G. M. Patrick’s verdict on Kierkegaard, “He was an evangelist rather than a theologian. There can be no question about his own adherence to the orthodox Christian faith of the oecumenical creeds” (p. 39). Indeed, Carnell remarks that “students of psychology, as well as students of theology and philosophy of religion, continue to pore over Kierkegaard’s works with something approaching a sense of reverence” (pp. 14, 15); and precisely that spirit stamps Carnell’s perceptive handling of these demanding works—works, he points out, that, maieutically, force the reader to struggle (p. 112).

In his highly successful simplification of a thinker famous for his frustrating complexity, Carnell adheres to a commendable methodology: “We are trying to tell what Kierkegaard said, rather than to give our own opinions” (p. 156). And what did Kierkegaard say? He said that man, a synthesis of time and eternity, is saddled inescapably with the task of becoming himself; but he can become himself only as he becomes an individual; and he can become an authentic individual only by becoming a Christian (p. 34). This, essentially, is Carnell’s simplification of the bewildering mazes of the Kierkegaardian corpus—and it is penetratingly correct. What is the nature of the eternal? Or, to use more common terminology, what is the nature of God? God is love. How do we know this? We know it through Jesus Christ, who, as the unconditional God subjecting himself to the limitations of time and space, revealed the nature of the eternal. As Carnell puts it, “Christ disclosed the essence of God by his consistent love” (p. 119). Thus Kierkegaard—and Carnell expounding Kierkegaard—holds that “love is the true point of identity between time and eternity.” “This is why,” Carnell says, continuing his exposition, “we are justified in saying that Kierkegaard’s thesis, ‘Truth is subjectivity,’ is another way of describing the substance of love. The self is not existentially at its best apart from love, for God is love” (p. 160). Furthermore, Carnell insists as he exegetes Kierkegaard, “love and true existence are the same thing, for love is the law of life” (p. 168). Thus if a man is to achieve authentic individuality, he must take the incarnate God as his model. “The ideal task is to be like Jesus Christ: to mediate eternity (self-giving love) through passionate, moment-by-moment decisions in time” (p. 134). Or, to quote Kierkegaard, “God is love, therefore we can resemble God only in loving.… When you love your neighbor, then you resemble God” (p. 118). In short, to respond in faithful obedience to God’s love disclosed in Jesus Christ is to achieve genuine individuality: “A living person cannot pass from potentiality to actuality until the specific conditions of selfhood—love’s attributes—are mediated in the instant by passionate decision” (p. 95). This likewise means that faith issues in love, the works of love: “The dialectical mediation of eternity in time may be a way of the cross, but it is also a way of virtue. Virtue is formed of acts of self-giving love, and such love is only expressed when the inner man is developed by conscientious choices of what is right” (p. 110). Is grace, then, eliminated? Quite the reverse! Grace, Kierkegaard says, is postulated: “When we existentially realize that we fall short of the duties of love, we are able to reject self-sufficiency so radically that it becomes natural to rest in God, morning, noon, and night, every day of the week. Since the duties of love are directly connected with eternity, divine grace is relevant to all stages of life’s way” (p. 167).

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Here, then, is the heart of Kierkegaard’s dialectic. It turns out to be a dialectic of love rooted in the New Testament, a dialectic which argues that no man is authentically man unless he is a man in Christ, living ethically, inwardly, passionately, believingly, thankfully, and lovingly. But here, simultaneously, Carnell suspects, is the nub of a common difficulty in understanding Kierkegaard. To be an authentic individual, mediating the love of eternity in space-time existence, is to be like Jesus Christ. Who, though, is really like him? “Judged by spiritual and existential criteria, every living Christian is at best only partly a real individual.… Jesus Christ is the only complete individual. Viewed from eternity, of course, all who repent of their sins, and who strive to love as they should, are complete individuals. But under the conditions of sin and time, no one but Jesus Christ is a complete individual; for He alone, of all the men who walked this pilgrim path, met the absolute terms of the law of love at every moment in his life” (pp. 158, 159).

With amplest justification, therefore, Carnell concludes: “Kierkegaard developed the meaning of Christian love with a profundity, thoroughness, and biblical accuracy which, it is no exaggeration to say, surpassed all previous efforts” (p. 166).

Though love is certainly Kierkegaard’s Archimedean point, Carnell’s competent study includes much more that is important for a proper interpretation of this iconoclastic apologist. In fact, everything essential is dealt with—Kierkegaard’s attack on reason, his disparagement of traditional evidences, his criticism of Hegelianism, his views on paradox and faith, his denunciation of complacent orthodoxy, his extreme notions about women, marriage, and celibacy. All of this is here ably and quite adequately treated.

The great value of Carnell’s book, however, is that it corrects the view of Kierkegaard that has prevailed too long and too widely among evangelicals. To be sure, criticism is required, and Carnell engages in sharp criticism whenever necessary. Yet as one reads this study, one feels as though he is watching the restoration of a portrait that has been so painted over that it is finally only an ugly caricature. Carnell skillfully peels off the distorting layers of misinterpretation until one sees Kierkegaard as he really was—a passionate disciple of Jesus Christ, clinging in faith to the wonder of divine love.

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Out Of The Seventeenth Century

Reformed Dogmatics, edited and translated by John W. Beardslee, III (Oxford, 1965, 471 pp., $7.50), is reviewed by James Daane, assistant editor, CHRISTIANITY TODAY.

The “Library of Protestant Thought” presents collections of writings that reflect the history of the Christian faith in its Protestant expression. This particular volume contains writings of three seventeenth-century Reformed theologians. The first is Johannes Wollebius, chosen because his works represent the best brief summary of Reformed dogmatics in the first quarter of the seventeenth century. The second theologian is Gisbertus Voetius, chosen because his theology of the second quarter of the century reflects the attempt of a scholastic Reformed theology to achieve ethical relevance; and the third is Francis Turrentin, chosen because his Institutio Theologicae Elencticae, belonging to the third quarter of the seventeenth century, presents the Scholastic Reformed theology of the seventeenth century as systematized and clarified after the appearance of Descartes, and after the rise and fall of Arminianism at the Synod of Dort (1618).

The theological method of seventeenth-century theology differed little from that of Scholasticism as informed by the Aristotle of the late Middle Ages. For this reason, and for the reason that Turrentin’s work in particular, republished in 1847, played a role in the theological thought of American Presbyterianism and was the background of the Princeton theology of Charles Hodge, the study of this volume is of value for any adherent of the Reformed faith who desires to see how this faith developed.

Turrentin’s Locus IV, which deals with predestination, is here published in English for the first time. Beardslee justifies the selection of this detailed treatment of predestination by asserting that while this doctrine is not lacking in Roman Catholicism, it is “not only an historic peculiarity of Protestantism, but also a special problem for Reformed theology.” And he adds, “Among the questions that agitated Reformed theologians during the period between the rise of Arminianism and the Helvetic Consensus Formula—the inspiration of Scripture, the imputation of sin and guilt, justification by the active righteousness of Christ—none was more troublesome than that of predestination, nor has any continued to hold a greater interest in later centuries.”

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In a significant introductory essay, Beardslee shows how Calvin’s original understanding of predestination within the framework of the soteriological developed into an expression of God’s all-encompassing doctrine of decrees; thus he shows how what was an expression of grace became in time a logical principle, a formal idea, in terms of which all of God’s works were to be seen.

I should like to say a word for the publishers. They are to be commended for making such material as this readily available, with the kind of introductions that tempt the reader to study the developments that shaped Protestant faith.



Minister’s Shop-Talk, by James W. Kennedy (Harper and Row, 1965, 211 pp., $3.95), is reviewed by John H. Piet, professor of English Bible and missions, Western Theological Seminary, Holland, Michigan.

“We often judge the value of a book by our faith in the reviewer, who is ‘almighty’ and can ‘make’ or ‘break’ a new book.… I will always believe a reviewer of one of my earliest books killed it as a successful confirmation manual by thoroughly misunderstanding one chapter …” (p. 149). This formidable statement of Kennedy’s rises to challenge any reviewer. The claim is all the more awesome in that Kennedy himself is deeply committed to his calling as a minister and regards a clergyman as the one in whom there are signs of “God let loose in the world.”

He has served with distinction in several significant parishes. In this book, he shares insights that have come to him over many years, addressing himself particularly to clergymen. After confessing that insights from both Henry Drummond and the Oxford Group Movement enriched his life, he explains how through maturing he transcended what each of these had to offer.

The book covers twelve areas: the clergyman’s world, church, parish, life, words, works, ways, prayer life, reading, calling, playing, and future. The author appends six pages of prayers that appeared in a syndicated series in daily newspapers.

Since the content of this book is personal and hence subjective, one’s criteria for evaluation are limited. The author writes dearly, informatively, and with candor. Older ministers will find their experiences reflected in these pages. Younger ones may find encouragement and direction. Kennedy is convinced of the value of the ministry. This in itself is heartening at a time when so many have prepared palls to drape across parsonages. Here is an older man fresh each day to God and the world, and ready to place an experienced hand on another minister’s shoulder to testify what life in God through the Church can teach if one is obedient, pliable, and responsive.

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There are several places where Kennedy could improve his material. On page 125, for instance, he wonders whether he should comment on clerical vagaries, mentions two, then says, “But I won’t …,” forgetting he already has. He quotes a text or two out of context. And he makes life difficult for professors of biblical languages in a paragraph on the availability of modern translations. “With such excellent translations at hand,” he says, “I find it less and less necessary to consult my Greek New Testament. This may seem a pity to many, for the minister has always been fluent—at least so people have imagined—in Greek, Hebrew, and Latin, and at home in the classics” (p. 152). This may limit the sale of Kennedy’s book in theological schools, although even here the ban may be removed because of the author’s clear conviction that “the primary task of the minister is to communicate relevantly the Christian meaning of existence” (p. 7). This Kennedy himself does.


Jonah And You

Adventures of a Deserter, by Jan Overduin (Eerdmans, 1965, 153 pp., $3.50), is reviewed by Paul C. Zylstra, pastor, San Diego Christian Reformed Church, San Diego, California.

This psychological study of the Book of Jonah by an outstanding Dutch pulpiteer is like a long sermon that never runs dry. The pastor has squeezed the last drop of the oil of application from the adventures. The style may remind the reader of Donald Grey Barnhouse (bushels of examples for each point) or of Klaas Schilder (out on a limb risking the charge of speculation).

Scoundrel Jonah gets thrown hard for a loss. His human realism warns people who like to pat underdogs that they usually have sharp teeth. The book radiates honesty and openness, and authentic Christian experience (“You are Jonah”). It is a rock thrown through the windows of our soul, hitting the undeniable sins and stupidities of church and individual, then showing how God’s grace and patience and power are greater than our pride and self-conceit and faithlessness. Unless we’re incorrigible! Then we get a one-way ticket into the fish’s belly.

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Theologically conservative Overduin (the fish’s swallowing Jonah is reliable history) keeps us in the biblical atmosphere and tells where and how one gets stamina to meet the great moral dilemmas he finds even in the small things. He makes it clear, too, that faith and unbelief are conditioned not so much by rational arguments as by the disposition of the heart toward God.

Some may feel that the psychological aspects of the Christian faith are overdone by Overduin. What seems an imprecise statement here and there may be due to the translation from the Dutch. But the book is rich with imaginative insights, scintillating word-pictures, and exegesis of scattered Scriptures (although you will not always agree).

Each of the book’s five chapters of preach-able topics underscores God’s missionary concern for all people and his use of nobodies—even a personality like Jonah—to satisfy that concern and produce faith and conversion. Christ, Jonah’s antitype, is highly exalted at the close.

The entire book admirably demonstrates what it means to be concrete in the pulpit, and to preach from the heart. The result is a thoroughgoing work that penetrates the world beneath Jonah’s surface. On the dark recesses of the heart, Adventures of a Deserter plays a light that clearly illuminates the rebellion.


Boring From Within

Your Church—Their Target, a symposium compiled by Kenneth W. Ingwalson (Better Books, 1966, 288 pp., $4.50), is reviewed by L. Nelson Bell, executive editor, CHRISTIANITY TODAY.

This book will irritate most of the people who read it. The organizations and individuals singled out as examples of those who are determined to make of the Church a socio-political organization will label the writers “right-wing extremists” (a favorite term to discredit any who stand for the values of a past generation). And the constant hammering on the theme that something radical is taking place in the Church that is turning it toward being a secular rather than a spiritual organization will anger some and frighten others.

The book has the weakness of being a compilation of writings by thirteen persons; there is a lack of a desirable continuity and some repetition. It also has the advantage of giving the divergent reactions and viewpoints of persons representing a number of the major denominations.

Several chapters are particularly revealing, among them T. Robert Ingram’s “Socialism in the Sanctuary” and Herbert Philbrick’s essay on the use of some folk music and folk singers for subversive purposes (“It is well known that music can be used to charm snakes. Not so well known: music can be used by snakes to charm people”). G. Aiken Taylor’s chapter on “Power Blocs, Power Politics and the National Council of Churches” is worth the price of the book.

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By and large, the positions of the writers are well documented. This reviewer thinks that in a few instances unwarranted deductions may have been made from isolated quotations. And in the depths of their convictions and enthusiasm some of the writers have overstated their case. At times the language is more extreme than is justified.

But here within one cover there is incontrovertible proof that within the Church there are those who regard its nature, mission, and message as being more secular than spiritual, and who not only are working for a gigantic ecclesiastical organization with its accompanying power for individuals at the top but also do not hesitate to join forces with the secular government to accomplish its social and socialistic aims.

The compiler of this book, publisher of Human Events, says in his foreword: “To each of these writers every Christian who reads this book owes a debt of gratitude. For each in his own way has highlighted the problems at hand in a constructive and responsible manner. They have not been paid to write their chapters. Each has expressed his convictions in the hope that his contribution would aid in the salvation of the Protestant ethic. These men may not always agree with each other in details. Neither will you agree with all they say. But the problem and challenge for laymen and clergymen has been made crystal clear.”

In chapter 12 there are copious quotations from books and articles by the Rev. Charles Ferguson, a minister, lawyer, and prolific writer before and during World War I. His call for a secularized church coincides with this movement today, and his insistence that man rather than God is sovereign is today bearing fruit in the Church. No one can read this book without realizing that working within the Church there are forces that, if successful, would change the entire structure and emphasis of Protestantism.

The greatest weakness of the book is its failure to present adequately a spiritual alternative to the secularistic pressures. It is as if a physician were to diagnose a disease without suggesting a cure.


How Do We Know?

A Christian Perspective of Knowing, by Earl E. Barrett (Beacon Hill, 1965, 224 pp., $4.95), is reviewed by Harold B. Kuhn, chairman of the Division of Doctrine and the Philosophy of Religion, Asbury Theological Seminary, Wilmore, Kentucky.

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One must admire the courage of anyone who attempts to write a volume on epistemology in these times. The venture is all the more admirable when attempted from the evangelical point of view, since the author then has few contemporary models. Professor Barrett, of Olivet Nazarene College, surveys the field of knowledge-theory in terms of seven recognizable types of epistemology: authoritarianism, rationalism, empiricism, religious empiricism, intuitionism, mysticism, and Christian mysticism.

The author is without doubt aware that in dealing with the first type, authoritarianism, he faces an initial handicap in his choice of a title. In chapter 2, which investigates the claim of biblical authority upon the human person, he sees clearly that the question is twofold: What (or who) is the source of authority?, and, In what terms is the “word of authority” communicated to man? In brief, he notes that authority derives from truth, and truth from the God of truth. To the second question, he replies (correctly, we believe) that the authoritative Word involves the communication of propositional and valid information about God, God’s purposes, God’s demands upon man, and God’s ultimate recapitulation of all things in Christ. If some object to the demand of faith, our author will reply that faith is by no means confined in its sphere to religious concerns.

The six chapters dealing with the other forms of knowing-theory present each of these forms as embodying a partial insight. Rationalism insists upon the element of formal structuring of truth; its strength lies in the dignity it lends to the exercise of the human mind. Its weakness lies in its exaggerated claim to universality, and its tendency to absolutize its findings.

Empiricism seeks to do justice to man’s capacities as a curious and questing being. Its immanent peril is that of supposing that its most obvious form (i.e., sensory experience) is sufficiently inclusive to cope with the whole of human existence. Religious empiricism, admiring the empirical method but specializing in the processing of religious data, seeks for certainty in terms of man’s personal relationship to God; our author confirms the truth-values of Christianity in those terms. Professor Barrett is impressed by the vigor of the moral argument as a hypothesis capable of verification, in essential part at least, in terms of the experience-types systematized in Wesleyan theology.

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The chapters dealing with intuitionism and mysticism overlap. The author is partial to ethical intuitionism as a source of certainty and sees the central quality of intuitive knowing to be non-inference. His treatment of mysticism’s claim to be a means to the communication of truth centers in the belief that immediate experience is likely to be more reliable than inference. In his specialized discussion of Christian mysticism, he uses the category of “mediated-immediacy” and seems, on the one hand, to credit Hegel with too much and, on the other hand, to have overlooked for the moment the role of the “one mediator between God and men.”

Some will, because of their own denominational tradition, agree heartily with his idea that the crises of conversion and of the believer’s being imbued with the Holy Spirit conform in general to the norms of mysticism. Others will, on theological or traditional grounds, take exception.

In the Conclusion (chapter 9), our author seeks to combine into one picture the sketches he has drawn. His aim is to synthesize the entire range of human experience that the several approaches use. His summation (p. 215) seems to relate what he terms “coherence” to this synthesis.

This reviewer could wish that Dr. Barrett had given, earlier in the work, his definition of the coherence-theory of truth. His use of the term here is not easy to square with the definition of “coherence” as given, for example, by Brand Blanshard.

The positive merits of this volume are many. It brings within one work a considerable range of research. It is thoroughly loyal to the principles of the historic Christian faith, specifically, to a high view of the inspiration and authority of Scripture. Some may feel that he leans more heavily upon Kant, especially upon the Second Critique, than is warranted. Perhaps this is balanced by his recurring references to major Christian personages, notably the Reformers. The reader sensitive to accuracy will hope that a second edition will correct minor typographical defects.


Book Briefs

The Mind of Christ: A Personal Pilgrimage of Discovery with the Disciples, by Harold A. Bosley (Abingdon, 1966, 143 pp., $2.75). A colorful preacher and exciting writer gives a not overly orthodox description of the mind of Christ.

The Apostolic Fathers: A New Translation and Commentary, Volume III: The Didache and Barnabas, by Robert A. Kraft (Nelson, 1965,188 pp., $5). A modern translation and commentary of important source material.

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A Theology of Evangelism, by C. E. Autrey (Broadman, 1966, 119 pp., $2.75). A consideration of the theological basis of evangelism by an author who recognizes that Christian social action and gospel proclamation are not wholly identical.

The Gift of Healing: A Personal Story of Spiritual Therapy, by Ambrose A. Worrall with Olga N. Worrall (Harper and Row, 1965, 220 pp., $3.95). The pilgrimage of two people with extra-sensory perception engaged in a ministry of healing in and out of the Church. No adequate theological foundation is laid. The book is full of material on seances, poltergeists, psychic phenomena, disembodiment, contact with the spirits of the dead, and many cases of physical healing. According to one electronic scientist, a force radiates from the hands of these spiritual healers and has registered on X-ray film attached by adhesive tape to their palms. The book closes with a copy of a letter sent to hundreds of people who asked for healing help: “We seek only to give them confidence in the Divine Power that … is capable of restoring health, and improving conditions relative to peace and prosperity.… This power is able to operate at a distance … but we can and will join with all who desire in five minutes of spiritual communion with the Divine Presence, from 9 P.M. to 9:05 P.M. every night on Eastern Standard Time (or Daylight Saving Time when in effect).” All one needs to do is tune in.

Concilium, Volume IX: Spirituality in Church and World, edited by Christian Duquoc, O. P. (Paulist Press, 1965, 166 pp., $4.50). Essays on Christian involvement in the modern world. Can a Christian be both spiritual and world-involved?

Is the Bible True?, by Allen Bowman (Revell, 1965, 189 pp., $3.95). Solutions—sometimes too simple—to biblical problems.

A Manual for Biblical Preaching, by Lloyd Merle Perry (Baker, 1965, 218 pp., $4.95). A book on preaching that may drive the would-be preacher to a juniper tree. Five pages are devoted to the “philosophy of biblical preaching,” almost sixty pages to “discovering biblical preaching material,” fifty to special sermons, and three to “planning a biblical preaching program.” About thirty-five pages deal with organizing seven types of sermons; here the material would lose little if it were shuffled. A tremendous piece of work that lacks principle and bogs down in detail.


Varieties of Unbelief, by Martin E. Marty (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1966, 222 pp., $1.25). A description and discussion of the types and varied forms of unbelief. First published in 1964.

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The Reformation of Our Worship, by Stephen F. Winward (John Knox, 1965, 126 pp., $1.75). An English Baptist author draws freely on the history of the Church in a discussion of many facets of Christian worship.

United States Government Diet Book, by the United States Department of Agriculture (Pocket Books, 1965, 63 pp., $1). Government aid to gluttons.

Preaching on Pentecost and Christian Unity, edited by Alton M. Motter (Fortress, 1965, 248 pp., $2.45). Many sermons on Pentecost by such men as M. E. Marty, C. Northcott, D. H. C. Read, R. W. Sockman, K. R. Bridston, and M. Barth.

The Protestant Pulpit, by Andrew W. Blackwood (Abingdon, 1965, 318 pp., $1.95). First published in 1947. Valuable.

Christian Attitudes Toward War and Peace: A Historical Survey and Critical Re-evaluation, by Roland H. Bainton (Abingdon, 1966, 299 pp., $2.25). First published in 1960.


Science in History, by J. D. Bernal (Hawthorn, 1965, 1,039 pp., $12.95). A book that shows what science over the centuries has done to history. First published in 1954.

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