Several books by evangelicals appeared last year that every Christian leader should seriously consider owning. These books should also be in all Bible-college and seminary libraries, and evangelicals should try to get public and college libraries to acquire them as well. They exemplify the best of Bible-believing scholarship, which is woefully underrepresented (when not entirely missing) in secular libraries.

The most comprehensive is The Minister’s Library by Cyril J. Barker (Baker). With an emphasis on expository preaching and teaching as well as other functions of the ministry, Barber classifies and briefly annotates thousands of books.

The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church edited by J. D. Douglas (Zondervan) briefly defines or describes thousands of topics, persons, places, and movements throughout the scope of Christian history. It is a good example of the maturity of evangelical historical scholarship.

Let the Earth Hear His Voice edited by J. D. Douglas (World Wide) contains the papers, responses, and reports of the International Congress on World Evangelization, held in Switzerland last summer. It is a tremendous asset for informing and challenging Christians about one of their most important tasks. Of related interest are the addresses to the 14,000 students at the triennial Inter-Varsity Missionary Convention in Urbana, Illinois, at the close of 1973. They were published as Jesus Christ: Lord of the Universe, Hope of the World, edited by David M. Howard (InterVarsity). The “world” includes not only distant lands but the hearts of our cities as well. The Urban Mission edited by Craig Ellison (Eerdmans) is a collection of very helpful essays mostly by men and women with extensive practical involvement in urban ministry.

In the area of biblical studies a first-rate book is The Literature of the Bible by Leland Ryken (Zondervan). After reading this, no one could think that studying the Bible as literature is a substitute for being confronted by the Bible as divine revelation. A Theology of the New Testament by George Eldon Ladd (Eerdmans) is a long awaited thematic study of the various groups of New Testament writings. The Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, a set of twenty volumes begun nearly two decades ago and edited by R. V. G. Tasker, is now complete with the publication of the commentary on Luke by Leon Morris (Eerdmans). The evenness of quality in this series is remarkable. Commentary on the Gospel of Mark by William L. Lane (Eerdmans) is a major addition to the still incomplete New International Commentary series. Twenty-four specialized essays representing the best in evangelical scholarship were published as New Dimensions in New Testament Study edited by Richard N. Longnecker and Merrill C. Tenney (Zondervan).

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Finally, we wish to call attention to several books seeking to defend Christian truth, or key aspects of it, against attacks of one sort or another. Philosophy of Religion by Norman L. Geisler (Zondervan) is a study of four recurring issues: the nature of religious experience, the “proofs” of God’s existence, the problem of religious language, and the problem of evil. God’s Inerrant Word edited by J. W. Montgomery (Bethany Fellowship) contains a dozen papers by seven evangelical defenders of inerrancy. Reason to Believe by Richard L. Purtill (Eerdmans) covers more briefly much the same ground as Geisler. He demonstrates that it is the non-Christians who are being irrational in rejecting divine revelation. The Goodness of God by John W. Wenham (InterVarsity) focuses on the problem of evil. He gives no easy answers but does present biblical ones. Faith, Facts, History, Science, and How They Fit Together by Rheinallt Nantlais Williams (Tyndale) describes its purpose in its title. God’s Strategy in Human History by Roger T. Forster and V. Paul Marston (Tyndale) is largely an exegetical study of one of the crucial areas of difference within Christianity, but it also touches on many non-Christian objections, mainly in the area of predestination, election, foreknowledge, and their relation to human responsibility and freedom.

The Problem With People Is.…

Back in the days before cars were air conditioned, bees and wasps often flew in through open car windows, creating panic among the occupants and occasionally causing accidents. Dr. Claude A. Frazier, a noted allergist who is a Christian, turned an incident like this into a modern parable that appeared in The Upper Room. The characters were a boy and his father, and the boy was one of those people who have violent reactions to bee stings. He had gone into convulsions previously. The next sting could kill him.

When he saw the bee in the car, the boy became hysterical. His father spoke reassuring words, pulled over to the side of the road, and caught the bee in his hand. A moment later he released it, and the boy became frantic again. The father, turning his palm toward the lad, said, “Son, you don’t need to be afraid. See, the barb of the stinger is imbedded here in the palm. I have taken the sting out of that insect, and it can’t harm you.”

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Christ’s atonement involved a lot more, of course, than a single simple story can illustrate. The basic principle that does come through is that one person’s hurt saves another. The wages of sin is death, but “God commended his love to us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” And like the father in Frazier’s parable, Jesus after his resurrection allowed doubting Thomas to see the evidences that the substitutionary suffering had indeed been endured. Death, like the bee, still exists, but it no longer brings judgment to those who trust the Saviour. Its sting is gone.

The view of the Atonement that has for ages been regarded as the orthodox doctrine, in its essential features common to the Latin, Lutheran, and Reformed churches, is that which evangelicals proclaim today. The great Presbyterian theologian Charles Hodge describes it this way in his Systematic Theology:

According to this doctrine the work of Christ is a real satisfaction, of infinite inherent merit, to the vindicatory justice of God; so that He saves his people by doing for them, and in their stead, what they were unable to do for themselves, satisfying the demands of the law in their behalf, and bearing its penalty in their stead; whereby they are reconciled to God, receive the Holy Ghost, and are made partakers of the life of Christ to their present sanctification and eternal salvation.

A contrasting view espoused by some of the church fathers held that the Atonement accomplished only our deliverance from the power of Satan, and did not remove guilt or restore divine life. Also prevalent in the past have been the moral and mystical theories of the Atonement according to which Christ’s work was intended to produce a subjective effect for good in the sinner. The governmental theory held that the suffering and death of Christ were designed as an exhibition of God’s displeasure against sin. Proponents of these various views appealed to special interpretations of the Bible to support their case.

The great tragedy of modern theology is not that it has an unscriptural view of the Atonement but that all too often it shies away from any concept of the Atonement. Many theologians and exegetes in good standing in so-called Christian institutions have abandoned the doctrine altogether. And so a highly respected form critic, Martin Dibelius, could write a 160-page book entitled Jesus, now considered a standard work (and published by the United Presbyterian-owned Westminster Press), without giving any hint as to God’s purpose in sending his son to the cross, or even a suggestion that sinful people would have been hopelessly doomed had Christ not given his life as a ransom for them.

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The Hammer Of A Genius

Michelangelo lived the words of J. R. R. Tolkien, written centuries later: “We make still by the law in which we’re made.”

This month we celebrate the five-hundredth anniversary of the birth of the great artist, whose work includes sculpture, such as the Pieta, of St. Peter’s Basilica, the David that marks the entrance to Florence’s city hall, and the Moses on the tomb of Pope Julius II in Rome, the frescoes of the Sistine Chapel, and some of the finest Renaissance poetry. As most commentators on Michelangelo’s life note, the artist lived tormented, torn between the ache for perfection and the despair of failure. In this agony we see his dependence on the Creator. A sonnet written about 1528 by Michelangelo says it well:

If my rude hammer forms the hard stones

Into human semblance, now this shape, now that,

And taking its motion from the minister who guides, watches, and holds it,

Follows the movements of another,

That divine hammer which in Heaven lodges and stays,

Others, and especially itself, with its own motion makes beautiful;

And if one can make no hammer without a hammer

From that living one every other is made;

And since the blow is the more full of strength

The more it lifts itself above the forge,

Above mine, that to heaven has taken flight;

So my unfinished work will fall short

If now the divine workshop does not give me

That help to make it which is alone in this world.

Fetal Fate

A resolution now before the U. S. House of Representatives calls for the creation of a select committee to study the constitutional basis of the Supreme Court decision that struck down anti-abortion statutes. The author of the resolution, Congressman Paul Findley of Illinois, wants to determine “what course is most desirable from the standpoint of the moral issues involved, as well as from the standpoint of public convictions.” Such an investigation seems necessary in the light of the manslaughter conviction of Dr. Kenneth C. Edelin. His trial laid bare the current ambiguity over the steps of fetal development at which an abortion becomes illegal.

Protesters following the trial chanted, “Not the church, not the state, women must decide their fate.” But the woman’s right to decide the fate of the fetus was not infringed in this particular case. The real issue was, When does a fetus become a person under the law, with the consequent right to protection by the state?

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When The Buddhist Prays

The religious diversity of the United States was highlighted recently when a Buddhist was appointed chaplain of the California senate. The consequent uproar could be heard all over the country. Chaplaincies, at least in the nation’s capital, have always gone to Protestant ministers. California in 1971 had a Reform Jewish rabbi as chaplain but this appointment from a religion within the Judeo-Christian heritage did not cause the flap that the appointment of a Buddhist did. In any event we suspect that the California senate chambers, if they are like others, are pretty empty when the chaplain prays anyway.

The presence of this Buddhist as a chaplain should help to disabuse those who still think that the United States is a Christian nation. Today it is a secular nation, despite the assertion on our coins that “In God We Trust.” We live in a pluralistic society in which freedom of religion is guaranteed and church and state are separate. No particular religion, Christian or non-Christian, is to be singled out as normative or given support by the state.

What is distressing to the Christian in this pluralistic climate is the idea it fosters that it makes little difference what religion one chooses. Christians believe that the Christian faith is not on the same level as other religions, that it is unique, the only true religion. However, this is a far cry from saying that only those in the Christian tradition can be considered for appointment as chaplains. That policy would be in violation of the Constitution, though it would probably be a fair reflection of what prevailed in the colonial period of American history.

No convinced Christian will join in a Buddhist prayer; he could not do so without profaning his own faith. And no legislator in California need do so either. A senator can stay out of the Senate chamber when the Buddhist chaplain offers his prayer, or he can be present in body without joining in the prayer. It would seem that not a lot of them will have a problem in this area, or else the nomination of the Buddhist would not have been approved.

The true Christian will carry his Christian convictions with him into his work. Christians in California who are distressed by the selection of the Buddhist—and Christians elsewhere who fear the precedent—should remember this when they go to the polls. If they think that the chaplaincy should go to Christians, they should vote for legislators who, besides attending to their major duties of responsible lawmaking, would choose Christian chaplains.

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Blank Pages

No matter how ardently we profess to believe that the Bible is the Word of God and truthful in its entirety, most of us have great lapses in the way we act upon this truth in our day-to-day Christian walk.

In First Thessalonians 5:16 the Apostle Paul says: “Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” How many of us do these three things regularly? Who can thank God in all the adverse circumstances of life? Is it not abnormal to expect a bereaved husband or wife to thank God in the midst of bereavement? Is it really possible to thank God when a much beloved child has succumbed to leukemia? Can we thank God when a life-loving teen-ager is cut down on the highway by a drunken driver? Can we thank God in the midst of the recession that grips most of the world?

Praying, on the other hand, comes easier under rough circumstances. How easy it is to stop praying when we feel good, the sun is shining, and the larder is full. Yet Paul says we are to pray constantly. Constant prayer is an imperative, not an option, in the Christian’s life.

The hardest part of Paul’s three-part prescription is probably the first: “Rejoice always.” It is possible to thank God in hard circumstances in a forced manner or grudgingly, and with a hardened or hurt heart. But here we are told to rejoice always. Grudging obedience is not enough.

Rejoicing in the midst of the bad times is not something we can do by dint of sheer will. We can hardly say that to do what God commands is abnormal, but maybe we ought to say that this rejoicing is supernormal. The only way can can do it is to allow the Holy Spirit to work in our hearts and supply us with the grace that makes rejoicing possible.

God never asks the impossible, and so we know that it is possible to rejoice always, to pray constantly, and to give thanks in all circumstances. If we do not feel constrained to do these things, we might as well have a blank page in our Bibles. Those of us who claim that the whole Bible is the Word of the living God do not have the option of being selective in obeying it.

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