Beyond Belief: The Christian Encounter With God
Richard Hottoway, Eerdmans, 1981, 168 pages, $8.95. Reviewed by Gerald Wheeler, associate book editor, Review and Herald Publishing Association.
Holloway feels that too many theologians have reduced God from a living Person, who is active in history and longs to meet mankind through Christ, to something little more than a concept or abstraction.
Religious man wants nice, sure, absolute statements about God. How we say things about God can become more important than God Himself, as we have repeatedly observed in the heated theological controversies that have torn the Christian church apart. This can lead to mental games and other dangers, including unbelief and even subtle manipulation of God Himself.
At the same time, our religious formulas seek to control or manipulate God. "We don't want him interrupting our theories. We don't want our assumptions disturbed. We want to remain in control of the action. That's why we like words about God. Them we can manipulate and rearrange and play games with. We can't do that with God. That's why we prefer a theory about God to God himself."
To avoid these dangers, we must ever remember that "God is not a topic to be discussed but a reality whom we must encounter." Holloway takes us through Scripture to see those "puzzling reflections in a mirror" that hint to us of the face of God.
Has our preaching and teaching presented a cardboard caricature of what God is like? Then, according to Holloway, we must go to Scripture, which speaks of a God more mysterious and wonderful than we have realized. The gospel may be simple, but God is not, and every Christian must accept this fact before he can reverently kneel before his Creator and Redeemer or preach Him to others. Every minister or teacher should read this book to be reminded that God is not an intellectual argument, but a living, loving Person who must ever transcend our human understanding.
The Psalms: Structure, Content, and Message
Claus Westermann. Translated (from Ger man) by Ralph D. Gehrke. Augsburg Publishing House, Minneapolis, 1980, 136 pages, $4.95, paper. Reviewed by Siegfried H. Horn, Professor Emeritus, Andrews University.
The author, a distinguished former professor of Old Testament at Heidelberg, known from several other helpful books on Biblical subjects, in this book carefully charts the different categories and types of psalms and explains their original settings in daily life. It is helpful to find the various types of psalms discussed separately, such as the community or individual psalms of Lament, community or individual psalms of narrative praise, Creation psalms, liturgical psalms, wisdom psalms, and the few others that belong to other categories. By means of key examples the author guides the reader to understand the different patterns of Old Testament prayer and worship so that he can appreciate the psalms' powerful and timeless message.
This reviewer agrees with the author in most of his exegetical views and believes that careful readers of this book can obtain new insights into the Psalter. However, as a conservative Old Testament scholar, this reviewer parts ways with Professor Westermann who, together with many liberal scholars, believes that most psalms originated in the late periods of Hebrew history and does not accept the authorship of many psalms attributed by their introductions to early Biblical personages such as David, Solomon, Asaph, and others.
Toward an Exegetical Theology
Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1981, 268 pages, $9.95. Reviewed by E. Edward Zinke, associate director, General Conference Biblical Research Institute.
Many books have been written on exegetical method, and many others have dealt with homiletics, but few, it is claimed, have considered the relationship of exegesis to proclamation. Kaiser purposes to aid the pastor in his task of moving from what was said and meant by the Biblical author in his setting to what the text means to us today for preaching. This task is not to be accomplished by removing the text from its historical background and significance by placing it in a contemporary existential setting. Even exegesis, which is essential to the task, is not within itself sufficient. Rather, it is necessary to come to terms with the meaning and intention of the Biblical author if we are to hear what God intended to convey through that author. This requires grammatical-contextual-historical-syntactical theological-cultural exegesis, which is called in short the syntactical-theological method of exegesis. The pastor must give consideration not only to grammatical relationships but also to relations within sentences and paragraphs as they support the central message of the book. Only thus is it possible to hear God's message for us today. The pastor will find this volume a useful guide to the necessary task of exegesis as a basis for preaching.
The Christian World Mission: Today and Tomorrow
J. Herbert Kane, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1981, 294pages, $13.95. Reviewed by Jan Paulsen, secretary, Northern European Division.
Every Christian who is conscious of his name cannot avoid asking questions about his personal role and about the role and function of his church. What is the church's mission? What is mission? Whose mission?
For centuries the church felt quite secure and sure about what her mission was: she believed she was God's special instrument to proclaim salvation by faith in Jesus Christ and to gather together those who thus believed into a community of discipleship.
Lately this fundamental understanding has been widely challenged. And the loudest voices have come from within the church itself.
Dr. Kane is one of a number of evangelical voices who are answering the challenge and standing up in defense of the church's traditional, Biblical understanding of mission. In the "Today" section of his book Dr. Kane deals with the Biblical basis and the global dimensions of missions, giving his fundamental rationale for the continuation of a global mission program.
The second part of his book, "Tomorrow," is perhaps the one which the reader will find most stimulating and helpful. Under the heading "Crucial Issues" he seeks specifically to answer challenges to mission conveyed by mission theological nomenclature of recent years, e.g., "Humanization," "Shalom," "Moratorium," "Contextualization," et cetera. The minister who has not read Kane's previous books will find this one a useful addition to his library.
The Divorce Myth
J. Carl Laney, Bethany House Publishers, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1981, 160 pages, $7. 95. Reviewed by Roger H. Ferris, pastor, Seattle, Washington.
"According to the position set forth in this book, divorce and remarriage constitutes a sin against God and is a manifestation of disobedience to His Word," Laney writes. In a systematic way, this position is both developed and defended from Scripture, beginning with the Genesis record of the institution of marriage and progressing through the teachings of Moses, Ezra, Malachi, Jesus, and Paul.
Unlike many ultraconservatives, Laney carefully develops and defends his position with scholarship rather than invective. Reading the book was a stimulating experience.
How to Help Your Church Grow
George E. Knowles, Review and Herald, 1981, 172 pages, $6.95, paper. Reviewed by John W. McGraw, pastor, Wheaton, Maryland.
The church has come up with many new witnessing plans through the years. Some have proved successful, while others have flourished for a time and then faded away. How to Help Your Church Grow presents the plans that have proved successful. The fourteen chapters include real-life success stories of growing churches.
At the end of each chapter there are questions for discussion, making it useful for training classes. This book would be a good companion for the recently published Witnessing for Christ.
Dramatic Narrative in Preaching
David M. Brown, Judson Press, 1981, 96 pages, $4.95, paper. Reviewed by Willard D. James, pastor, Moab, Utah.
A sermon, says the author, is a call to action on some point of the Biblical message. From this definition he concludes: (1) a sermon finds its foundation in the Biblical story; (2) a sermon is a call to action. Any preacher who accepts this as a valid definition of a sermon will find the book a gold mine of useful information.
This is not just another book on the different theories of sermon preparation. Rather it deals with a style distinctively its own. The author has done a masterful job of carrying the reader step by step through the preparation and delivery of the narrative (story type) sermon. It is written in a style that even the lay person can easily follow and enjoy. The book contains a useful annotated bibliography noting many useful sources of background material for sermon preparation. In addition, the author has included several of his sermons as samples of the narrative sermon.
Beyond the Barriers: A Study of Reconciliation for the Contemporary Church
William E. Hull, Broadman Press, 1981, 143 pages, $4-95. Reviewed by William G. Johnsson, associate editor, Adventist Review.
Dr. Hull sets out to show the current significance for Christian personal and social life of Ephesians 2:11-22, particularly verse 14 "[Christ] hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us." With opening ("The Wall Breaker") and closing ("The Wall Builder") chapters forming the frame, he develops his thesis in four parallel chapters that form the main thrust of the work "Beyond the Social Barrier," "Beyond the Sexual Barrier," "Beyond the Sacral Barrier," and "Beyond the Spiritual Barrier."
The author ingeniously constructs these chapters around the plan of the second Temple and the second mount. Thus, the four chapters in turn commence with descriptions of the four areas of access in the ancient Jewish complex, each closer to the manifest presence of God than the previous one: the Temple Mount, the limit of the Gentiles' approach; the women's court, the Holy Place, and the Most Holy Place. Dr. Hull then shows in each chapter how Christ and the apostles worked for the removal of these barriers in the Christian church, as Gentile believers and women were given full status, priestly distinctions were obliterated, and God was made personally accessible to all. Finally, he shows what removal of those barriers means in the life of the church today.
Evangelism as a Life Style
Jim Petersen, NavPress, 1980, 144 pages, $3.95, paper. Reviewed by Rudolf E. Klimes, associate director, General Conference Health and Temperance Department.
The reader may expect a practical guide in soul winning, but this is not a how-to book. Petersen, who serves with the Navigators, proposes "affirmation evangelism," the process of modeling and explaining the Christian message, which is different from the normal proclamation of the gospel, through which non-Christians receive clear statements of the main salvation message. Petersen states that planning, watering, and cultivating are also parts of evangelism. These he calls affirmation evangelism. "His people incarnate his character; they audio-visualize the nature of his eternal reign."
Petersen suggests that the witness is first to adjust to those he evangelizes; the evangelized are not to adjust to the evangelist. The evangelist is to participate first in the lives of others, to be a prototype of Christ's incarnation. In the last six pages, Petersen presents some practical ways for evangelism. The reader will find that this thought-provoking little paper back will help him rethink his approach to evangelism
Building Sermons to Meet People's Needs
Harold T. Bryson and James C. Taylor, Broadman Press, 1980, 139 pages, $5.95. Reviewed by Patrick Boyle, pastor, Watford, Herts., England.
A careful reading of this book will refresh preachers at all levels of experience, although much will be familiar to students of homiletics. The authors believe that most preachers try to present too many ideas. The result is often confusion and ineffective preaching. Their emphasis upon the need to take one idea and develop and present it is not only a corrective but a positive contribution to counteract ineffectiveness in preaching.
This book is a rebuke to all who place their own pet theories and burdens upon a suffering congregation. The preacher is not only the servant of God and His Word but also servant to God's people. A note of caution, fully recognized by the authors, is that without due care preachers who follow their counsel might through overstructuring become wooden in their preaching.