Biblical Renewal

Sharpening the Focus of the Church, by Gene Getz (Moody, 1974, 320 pp., $5.95), is reviewed by Kenneth Gangel, president, Miami Christian College, Miami, Florida

It is disturbingly axiomatic in evangelical Christianity that some who talk most loudly about the primacy of the local church are most unaware of the biblical information concerning its life and ministry. And though my idealism stops short of confidence that they will take this volume seriously, it is for them.

Backed by adequate credentials of academic preparation and experience in the trenches, Getz develops a provocative and penetrating analysis of the Church’s ectoplasmic crust formed over almost twenty centuries. The book is a welcome addition to the literature on the resurrection of the Church from the tomb of the late sixties. And it may well be the most biblical “renewal” book yet published in this decade.

The author argues for balance in the Church between evangelism and edification. And although his definition of the Church will be considered marginal by some, the first section, “The Lens of Scripture,” which occupies more than half of the pages, is logical, progressive, and well presented. Helpful charts and illustrations support an already strong organizational pattern. Concise summaries appear at the end of each of the twenty-one chapters.

Although I am firmly positive about the book, I did find a few weaknesses, such as the failure to establish thoroughly the plurality of eldership (two pages); a less than adequate treatment of the issue of spiritual gifts (six pages); and a “slow” conclusion, the practicality of which does not complement the strength of the theological sections. To be sure, one cannot say everything in one book, but these areas seem highly germane to the subject.

I also found the bibliography disappointing. In listing a dozen titles, Getz avoids the chaff but also allows some wheat to slip through his fingers. Mac-Arthur’s The Church—The Body of Christ, Hoffmann’s God’s Joyful People, and Saucy’s The Church in God’s Program certainly speak to the matter under discussion.

A few minor slips of expression such as “all of these New Testament pioneers were frequently multi-gifted men” and “they could care less about ever going to church (pp. 97, 255; italics mine) can be forgiven.

These criticisms are minor in view of the sterling quality of this volume. It deserves careful reading by pastors, church educators, and theological students everywhere and will stimulate classroom and seminar discussions for the next several years.

Article continues below

One thing more. Although Getz is not at heart disputatious, the book is bound to polarize further the “large church—busing—evangelism” team and the “family center—body life—edification crew.” Lines like. “Unfortunately some ministers—particularly of large churches, run them like a business operation” and “Perhaps the most tragic thing that can happen is when highly gifted men attempt to train ordinary men to be like themselves” will call forth excoriation in some quarters.

But it need not be so. Getz has painstakingly avoided the franchising syndrome (“This is the way we did it”) and clings courageously to biblical and historical principles. That pattern alone is a refreshing new look in an evangelical culture seemingly captivated by the golden-arches approach to success.

Faith Is Reasonable

The Justification of Religious Belief, by Basil Mitchell (Seabury, 1973, 180 pp., $8.95), is reviewed by Walter R. Hearn, editor, “American Scientific Affiliation News,” Berkeley, California.

Does religious belief require or admit of rational support? If so, of what sort and to what extent? Mitchell, who is a professor at Oxford, gives an answer that tries to do justice to the way religious questions are actually debated, and to the role of reason in the believer’s life. He takes “traditional Christian theism” as his example of religion throughout, because “it has been subjected to closer analysis and been more carefully elucidated than any other system of religious belief and it is still what the ordinary educated man understands by Christianity, what he accepts if he calls himself a Christian or rejects if he calls himself an atheist.”

Two introductory chapters outline the classical logical arguments for and against the existence of God. Convinced that such arguments can never be satisfying to either the serious believer or the serious unbeliever, Mitchell presents them sketchily. He expects most readers to be ready to go beyond the classical arguments.

If attempts to establish belief or unbelief on ordinary logical grounds are doomed to failure, is the only choice left the famous “leap of faith”? Mitchell says no. It is indeed possible to make a rational case for and against Christian theism, but the arguments are more complex than the usual patterns of deductive or inductive reasoning. The case to be made is what Mitchell calls a “cumulative case,” in which the net effect of a number of inconclusive arguments becomes, if not compelling, at least powerfully supportive.

Article continues below

Mitchell’s central theme is that this pattern of argument is characteristic of many fields of rational thought, not merely of religion. He cites examples from literary criticism, the study of history, and political theory. He shows that a Marxist and a liberal democrat are not being irrational when each clings to his view despite the other’s negative critical assessment. Neither politics nor religion is merely a matter of opinion. Commitment to a particular position does not preclude rationality.

Even in the natural sciences, at least since T. S. Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, it has been recognized that at certain “revolutionary” periods, the best informed and most rational thinkers are swayed not by specific logical arguments but by bit-by-bit cumulation of evidence. In these periods of uncertainty over basic “paradigms” to which groups of scientists are committed, the criteria for evidence that would necessitate a shift in perspective cannot be specified in advance. The weighting of evidence is itself paradigm-dependent. A physicist may be completely open-minded about a particular hypothesis, but in general he cannot have a “take it or leave it” attitude toward a highly ramified area of his study, e.g., toward physics itself.

The logical situation characteristic of highly ramified elds in the humanities, religion, and so on is analogous to the situation in the natural sciences when paradigms are being questioned. “The review section of any learned journal provides ample evidence of the difficulty scholars often have in understanding one another and their impatience with what they are inclined to regard as the perversity of their opponents.” A Marxist’s commitment, for example, forces him to see the law courts in capitalistic countries as devices for maintaining the power of the bourgeoisie. His view of the courts might change through his witnessing a dramatic trial or through the cumulative effect of reading works on jurisprudence in a new light. “Conversion” to a democratic commitment would eventually involve a large-scale restructuring of his system of beliefs.

Working through Mitchell’s arguments is worth the effort, but many complex sentences require repeated reading to be sure that reader and author are still on the same course. One passage that is beautifully clear is a parable about a ship navigating in stormy weather. The officer of the watch is convinced by the navigating officer that he cannot have seen a lighthouse. The navigator’s reckoning puts them a hundred miles from land. But then the lookout sees land—or is it a cloud that looks like land? When the navigator finally “shifts his paradigm” (perhaps he did, after all, underestimate the current), it becomes clear that the lighthouse was not merely an inferred entity but an experienced reality.

Article continues below

Basil Mitchell seems to be gifted at parables. It was he who in a famous 1955 debate offered the parable of the partisan (who meets a stranger and trusts him in spite of questionable appearances) in answer to John Wisdom’s parable of the invisible gardener. Antony Flew had used Wisdom’s parable to batter theists with an insistence on falsifiability as a necessary criterion for meaningful statements about God. In The Justification of Religious Belief, Mitchell takes Wisdom’s parable a step further. What if the believer claims to be vividly aware of the invisible gardener’s presence, and to hear an inner voice explaining what he is trying to do with the garden? If he cannot find a better explanation for his “religious experience” or “revelation,” he is entitled to believe that the gardener really exists. The unbeliever may discount the believer’s testimony in his own frame of reference (by considering it due to a psychological derangement, perhaps). At issue then are rival frames of reference (paradigms), each attempting to account for the totality of experience. The believer’s frame of reference is defensible on rational grounds, and so is the unbeliever’s.

Mitchell concludes with a look at the logical status of divine revelation. From experience with communication on the human level it is clear that both faith (trust) and reason (critical judgment) are appropriate responses to putative revelation. It makes sense to settle any doubts about the trustworthiness of a person purporting to communicate something important to us. Yet, however careful our scrutiny, we cannot thereby discover something that he alone is able to tell us. Mitchell outlines logical steps opening the way “to a fully dogmatic theology in which the Bible is treated as authoritative.” Nevertheless, understanding divine revelation can be expected to be even more demanding of our critical faculties and even more “impossible of final completion” than the task of interpreting a human author.

What God Is Like

The Goodness of God, by John Wenham (InterVarsity, 1974, 223 pp., $2.95 pb), is reviewed by Streeter Stuart, pastor, First Church of God, Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Article continues below

The author has previously given us Part I (Christ and the Bible) of a multivolume approach to apologetics. His two volumes now before us represent an innovative and refreshing defense of the Christian revelation. By Wenham’s own admission, this volume is “concerned mainly with phenomena in the Bible and only incidentally with modern currents of thought.” I wish he hadn’t said it quite that way since the principal shortcoming of the book, in contrast with Christ and the Bible, is the failure to really come to grips with biblical texts, which are frequently indicated in footnotes or subsumed under more general discussions involving those “modern currents of thought.”

In his attempt to salvage a good God from some obviously difficult material, Wenham includes chapters on “Hell,” “Sub-standard Saints and Imperfect Laws?,” “The Abominations of the Heathen,” and “Cursings.” He begins where he finished in Christ and the Bible by reasserting a consistent Old Testament—New Testament picture of a God who is both good and severe. The chapter on “Hell” reveals the author’s failure to be consistent with his stated goal. The first section (“Biblical Imagery”) of this chapter contains three short paragraphs with no specific biblical references, and this conclusion:

Unfortunately the subject is so vast that it will not be possible even to summarize the discussion in such a way that the reader can come to a considered judgment on it. The most that can be done is to outline the alternatives and to give references to books where the matter is more fully discussed [p. 28].

Those alternatives are: traditional orthodoxy, Augustine and Aquinas, modern writers, universalism, and conditional immortality. So Wenham acknowledges the need for fresh study of the subject and concludes: “Our summary of the debate in this brief compass (with none of the detail argued out) provides no basis for decision on so grave and complex an issue.” We are left then to read on to chapter six (“Apparent Evils, Real Blessings”) to see Wenham’s own position on hell:

For those who have rejected the love of God there will be after the last judgment just retribution varying in severity according to individual desert, but (in my view) the suffering will end speedily and mercifully in the second death [p. 77].

But Wenham is not done with hell. In chapter 8, discussing the severity of God’s judgment in the Old Testament, he says:

But as far as the Jesus of the Gospels is concerned, there is an inescapable and indeed a fearful consistency between them [between the pronouncements of judgment by Jesus and God’s acts of judgment in the O.T.], for (as we have seen) the judgments of hell as portrayed by Jesus are more terrible even than the judgments of Deuteronomy [p. 140].
Article continues below

And in the first of two well done additional studies entitled “The Doctrine of the Good God” and “Evil in the World of Nature,” he adds: “Therefore Christians have been tempted to soft-pedal the theme of judgment. The theme of hell has been quietly omitted, and the wrath of God has been de-personalized.” All of this leaves us with a somewhat confused understanding of hell as either Wenham or the biblical writers view it. Is our only recourse now to go to those other “books where the matter is more fully discussed,” or could it be that we can still come to a satisfactory personal answer from Scripture itself?

Chapter five, focusing on “Beneficent Retribution,” is really a series of quotations from R. C. Mortimer and C. S. Lewis, combined with the comments of Wenham. In chapters six and seven we are introduced to problems of Old Testament law as they impinge on the notion of the goodness of God. Here again, the lack of attention to specific texts is somewhat frustrating, and we get the feeling that it is really the Old Testament that is Wenham’s springboard for understanding the goodness of God. But what is the law in regard to “homosexual practices” (p. 111 ff.)? Certainly some discussion of a specific text would have helped this statement:

Judged by the amount of suffering endured by many homosexuals, it could be argued that the occasional execution of a compulsive homosexual in Old Testament times, however tragic it might be, would have been merciful even to the man concerned.

Or in his discussion of the “death penalty for juvenile delinquency,” based on Deuteronomy 21:18–21, does either the text of a New Testament ethic lead to this:

In such desperate cases as are here envisaged it was not likely to make for the poor lad’s happiness (or for the happiness of those about him) that he should continue to live and perhaps propagate his kind. The wisdom of the ages is inclined to say, “Whom the gods love die young.” Certainly in such a case as this, if death were to come “naturally” we should all regard it as a merciful release. It is strange, and surely hardly I logical, to regard it as inhumane when merciful release comes through the workings of a social code [p. 113].
Article continues below

Also, note the rather strange combination of subjects in the heading “Marriage, divorce, and prisoners of war.”

Chapters eight and nine are the strongest of the book as Wenham deals more systematically with heathen abominations and cursings.

What we have here, then, is some very provocative material, and Wenham is to be congratulated for even raising (with a scholar’s pen) some problems that are very real to many Christians and non-Christians alike. A well known female atheist recently belittled the concept of a God who would destroy the world by a flood or whose Son would curse a fig tree. Although we may have difficulty finding in the Scriptures a God who is good according to our own definitions of goodness, Wenham does much to get us on the track of accepting the God who is really there as he really is.

A Lucid Overview

The Gospel of Moses, by Samuel J. Schultz (Harper & Row, 1974, 165 pp., $5.95), is reviewed by Clark H. Pinnock, associate professor of theology, Regent College, Vancouver, Canada.

Professor Schultz is an experienced teacher of the Old Testament and the author of a widely read book, The Old Testament Speaks. In the earlier book he traced the history and religion of Israel from the very beginning until the latest pre-Christian times. In this present book he surveys the message of the Old Testament in a shorter space and according to a different plan. The material is familiar—he tells the story skillfully as it unfolds in the Old Testament—but the format is not. Rather than beginning at the first with the creation of the world, the call of Abraham, and so forth, Schultz chose to start with the book of Deuteronomy, which he considers the most important book in the Old Testament. In this book, cited so generously by our Lord himself, we discover the two fundamental principles that ought to condition the relation between man and God: love for God and love for man. This twofold truth lies at the heart of the entire biblical message, Old Testament and New.

Because Schultz begins his survey of the Old Testament with Deuteronomy rather than Genesis, the shape of the book is distinctive. The three chapters that follow his summary of the message of Deuteronomy reach back in the chronology of the Old Testament narrative until all the earlier material is discussed. At this point we are given a scholarly interlude in which the writer defends the Mosaic origin of the Pentateuch against the prevailing documentary view of it. The only bibliography in the book accompanies this chapter. Following on from the five books of Moses, Schultz presses forward into the period of the judges, of the kings, and of the prophets, summarizing with great clarity the significance of these events and the burden of each of the prophetic Scriptures. In the final chapter we are taken into the New Testament itself, where Jesus is presented as the anointed of God in whom the message and promises of the Old Testament are perfectly fulfilled.

Article continues below

Schultz is perhaps bold in speaking of the “gospel of Moses,” when the Fourth Gospel differentiates the message of Moses and that of Jesus by a contrast, “law” and “grace” (1:17). What he means by this expression, “gospel of Moses,” is the bipolar truth already referred to, love for God that issues in wholehearted obedience and love for fellow men. It would be more correct theologically to refer to this human activity as the appropriate response to the Gospel rather than as the Gospel itself. “Gospel” describes the decree and action of God in which he extends his grace to us; love for God and man constitutes the proper human response to his Gospel. Nevertheless, the book, which is a survey of the Old Testament message, is lucid and otherwise accurate, and can be recommended.


Psychic Healers, by David St. Clair (Doubleday, 328 pp., $8.95), The Mystic Healers, by Paris Flammonde (Stein and Day, 252 pp., $8.95), Healing and Religious Faith, edited by Claude Frazier (Pilgrim, 190 pp., $7.50), Healing: A Spiritual Adventure, by Mary Peterman (Fortress, 94 pp., $2.95 pb), and Other Healers, Other Cures, by Helen Kruger (Bobbs Merill, 403 pp., $8.95). Non-medical healing can be one way to beat inflation! The first two books examine the claims and deeds of specific faith healers, only some of whom credit Christ with their power. The third has nineteen essays on the relation between healing and faith by nurses, physicians, and chaplains. The fourth is a personal account of a healing ministry associated with a New Jersey Lutheran church. The last also surveys such other alternatives to medicine as acupuncture and manipulation.

Where on Earth Is Heaven?, by Arthur Travis (Broadman, 158 pp., $4.95). Helpful comments, based on the Bible, suggesting what we can know and infer about the life to come.

Understanding Christian Missions, by J. Herbert Kane (Baker, 452 pp., $9.95), Who Cares About the Missionary?, by Marjorie Collins (Moody, 140 pp., $2.50 pb), The Church and Its Mission: A Shattering Critique From the Third World, by Orlando Costas (Tyndale, 313 pp., $3.95 pb), The Clash Between Christianity and Cultures, by Donald McGavran (Canon, 84 pp., $1.75 pb), World Evangelism and the Word of God, by Arthur Johnston (Bethany Fellowship, 301 pp., $3.95 pb), Bangkok ’73: The Beginning or End of World Mission?, by Peter Beyerhaus (Zondervan, 192 pp., $3.95 pb), and Reaching the World, by Edward Pentecost (William Carey, 149 pp., $5.95, $3.95 pb). Varying appraisals by evangelicals of the global outreach of the Church. The first is a comprehensive survey and can function admirably as an introductory text. The second is a needed how-to-treat-a-missionary manual. Costas and McGavran provide constructive comments on cultural involvement of missionaries. Johnston presents a critical, well-documented history of World Council missions concerns. Beyerhaus evaluates the latest major World Council missions meeting. Pentecost gives a brief, practical manual on developing strategy for approaching the unevangelized.

Article continues below

Competent to Lead, by Kenneth Gangel (Moody, 144 pp., $4.95), and Tools for Time Management, by Edward Dayton (Zondervan, 192 pp., $4.95). Two varied approaches to personal management that provide significant aids. The first lays the theoretical framework for a Christian perspective on leadership and management. The second alphabetically sets forth the mechanics of time management that contribute to good leadership such as “alertness,” “mail,” and “trips.” The first is a “why,” the second a “how-to.”

The Christian Calendar, by L. W. Cowie and John Gummer (Marrion-Webster, 256 pp., $15). The first half depicts Jesus’ life as traditionally observed in the “Christian year.” The second half lists “saints” assigned to each day of the year, giving brief biographies of some of them and of other historic events and persons. Illustrated by famous works of art.

The Anchor Atlas of World History, by Hermann Kinder and Werner Hilgemann (Anchor, 299 pp., $4.95 pb). Small-size pages with more than 270 color maps and charts, packed with clearly presented facts from all areas of human endeavor. The scope is global from earliest times to 1800. Very useful adjunct to study of the histories of Israel and the Church.

God in Public, by William Coats (Eerdmans, 215 pp., $7.95), The Alternative Future: A Vision of Christian Marxism, by Roger Garandy (Simon and Schuster, 192 pp., $6.95), A New Moral Order: Development Ethics and Liberation Theology, by Dennis Goulet (Orbis, 142 pp., $3.95 pb), Sinful Social Structures, by Patrick Kearns (Paulist, 113 pp., $1.45 pb), The Promise and Pitfalls of Revolution, by Sidney Lens (Pilgrim, 287 pp., $7.95), Marx and the Bible: A Critique of the Philosophy of Oppression, by Jose Miranda (Orbis, 338 pp., $8.95, $4.95 pb), and From Hope to Liberation: Towards a New Marxist-Christian Dialogue, edited by Nicholas Piediscalzi and Robert Thobaben (Fortress, 114 pp., $3.25 pb). Various attempts to show that biblical and theological reflection in the light of modern economic conditions requires or at least points toward, some kind of non-totalitarian Marxist or socialist orientation in order to be consistently Christian. Needless to say, such conclusions can and ought to be challenged with an equal or superior level of competence and concern.

Article continues below


Most of the newer translations of the New Testament or the whole Bible are available principally from one or two publishers. For example, Living comes from Tyndale and Doubleday; New International, Modern Language, and Amplified from Zondervan; Today’s English from American Bible Society and Nelson; New English from Cambridge and Oxford; Phillips from Macmillan; and Jerusalem from Doubleday. The three exceptions—versions available in numerous editions from several publishers—are the Roman Catholic sponsored New American, the Revised Standard, and the New American Standard. The Lockman Foundation sponsored the NASV and allowed Creation House to launch it but subsequently has granted publishing privileges at least to Moody, Regal, Collins-World, Harvest House, and Holman. The would-be Bible buyer should know of this opportunity to shop around and compare. Most NAVSs, for example, are somewhat large, but Holman has an edition (minus the cross-references and with two columns) in three differently priced bindings, starting at $4.50.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.