Archive: Books to Help You

Conducted by Associate Editor Michael Walker, Associate Pastor, Walnut Hill Methodist Church, Dallas, Texas

  • Evangelicals at the Brink of Crisis, by Carl F. H. Henry (Word Books, Waco, Texas, 1967, 120 pp., $1.75). Reviewed by Frank Bateman Stanger, Presi­dent, Asbury Theological Semi­ nary, Wilmore, Kentucky.

This book was written to portray the significance of the World Congress on Evangelism held in Berlin in 1966. Participants from 100 nations, from 76 church bodies, both inside and outside the World Council of Churches, met in a spectacular display of evangelical unity on the basis of Biblical theology and evangelism.

Dr. Henry shows the significance of the World Congress in terms of how evangelical Christianity is meeting the major theological and spiritual crises in our contemporary world. The author warns of a three-fold approaching crisis: (1) the world political crisis (2) Christendom’s multiple crisis in theology, evangelism, socio-politics, and ecumenics (3) dangers threatening evangelical Christianity from within.

In the theological crisis, the issues are clear between evangelical Christianity and liberal neo­-Protestantism. Modern theology has one decisive and controlling premise: that man does not and cannot have cognitive knowledge of God. This premise is repudiated by evangelical Christianity which regards it as (1) inexcusably destructive of genuine faith and (2) antithetical to the Scriptural view of revelation. Evangelicals affirm the integrity and authority of the Bible. This leads them to repudiate the attacks which modern scientism makes upon supernaturalism (that is, the miracles of the Bible). Evangelicals also advocate the Biblical, theological basis for evangelism as opposed to the existential distortions of modern theology.

But the theological crisis facing evangelicals is not merely the conflict with non-evangelical views. At its deepest level, the theological crisis is internal to the evangelical movement. If evangelical Christianity is to become a strong intellectual force, it must aspire to theological renewal. It must bring itself effectively under the Word of God, correlating Christian conviction with all the currents of modern learning.

Another crisis is evident in the tragic absence of New Testament evangelism in the contemporary world. Evangelicals complain that the “new evangelism” abridges or deletes the Evangel-the good news of God’s offer of personal salvation and new life in Christ, on the ground of the Redeemer’s meditorial death and bodily resurrection.

Today, there is a tragic departure from Biblical evangelism. Now under attack are both the New Testament form of evangelism and even the basic New Testament principle of evangelism’s unavoidable necessity. The urgency for evangelism is denied and the nature of evangelism is misunderstood.

Today there is a tremendous need for evangelism – among city dwellers, students, the illiterates, and the newly-literates. Therefore, evangelicals must take ad­vantage of every method and recognize that every Christian believer has the inescapable task of evangelism.

There is an immediate conflict between evangelical Christianity and liberal neo-Protestantism in relation to the social order. Liberal neo-Protestantism insists that the conversion of social structures is more important than converting individuals. It also tends to endorse socialism in the name of Christian economics. The more radical liberal is not saying that socio-political engagement by the institutional church is more important than evangelism; instead, he insists that socio-political engagement is evangelism.

Evangelical Christianity holds that the Biblical demand for regeneration strikes deeper than rival demands for social revolution. Evangelical Christianity indicts the social sphere as an arena of rampant injustice and unrighteousness, being fallen from God’s holy intention, and therefore under His condemnation.

Evangelicals do not dispute the fact of God’s requirement of social justice and his condemnation of social injustices … or that his redemptive purpose has sweeping cosmic implications … or that He deals with mankind on a racial as well as individual basis … or that regenerate Christians must give evidence of salvation by lives of good works.

What the evangelical does dispute is the activistic redefinition which transforms evangelism into social reform – which replaces the supernatural with what is secular and sociological. Also, evangelicals refuse to endorse the unscriptural idea of universal salvation and the loss of emphasis on the necessity for each person’s faith in the redemptive work of Christ as the sole means by which sinners are delivered from the wrath of God.

Evangelicals, however, dare not withdraw from the world into a ghetto-Christianity, shunning the social implications of the Gospel. The will of God has implications for the social order as well as for the individual. In the crisis of our times, the truth and duty of evangelical Christians is to proclaim to men everywhere what the God of Justice – and of justification – demands.

Evangelicals also find themselves confronted with the ecumenical crisis. In its beginnings, ecumenism was a cooperative movement of evangelical Protestant bodies seeking to advance the common cause of evangelism and missions. Modern or conciliar ecumenism, in conspicuous contrast, lacks any driving commitment to evangelical theology. Nor has it been able to reach an agreed definition of evangelism and mission, as it seeks to overcome the previous separation of Protestantism from the Roman Catholic Church and from Eastern Orthodoxy.

On the other hand, there is an evangelical ecumenism. Although no formal organization shelters this emerging evangelical spirit of unity, it nonetheless has a conscious identity. The Bible is its formal principle of authority; spiritual regeneration is its indispensable requirement for Christian life and progress; and the evangelization of mankind is its primary role for the Church. Whether evangelical ecumenism will acquire structural and organizational forms now depends largely upon the extent to which consiliar ecumenism continues to repress, retard, and reconstruct evangelical principles and priorities.

  • Who Speaks for the Church? by Paul Ramsey (Abingdon Press, 1967, $2.45). Reviewed by Associate Editor Michael Walker.

For those who have often despaired at the frequent socio-political pronouncements made by church bodies, “Who Speaks for the Church?” comes as a breath of fresh air. It is a powerful critique (and a partial one, Ramsey insists) of the present practice of ecumenical bodies making specific policy directives to governments. His purpose is not to criticize the conclusions reached and pronounced, but rather to call into question the right of delegate assemblies to issue such specific policy directives at all. Ramsey’s critique focuses on the 1966 Geneva Conference on Church and Society of the World Council of Churches, which he attended as a non-voting participant. Ramsey notes that such councils do not have the fact gathering machinery necessary to make responsible policy recommendations. “For ecumenical councils on Church and Society responsibly to proffer specific advice would require that the church have the services of an entire state department.”

The author points to the dissension which the present rash of socio-political statements is creating in the church. No matter how careful the council is to state that it is speaking only for itself the impression is given to the world that these statements represent the only really Christian view and are the collective opinion of the whole church.

Ramsey suggests what he calls “directions for action” rather than “directives for policy.” As a model, he points to some of the recent statements of the Roman Catholic Church.

“Who Speaks for the Church?” is not a very readable book. But it needs to be read – especially by those concerned that the church honestly fulfill its prophetic role in our society and world.

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