Category Archives: Book Reviews

Review: Genesis 1–11 (ACCS)

The Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture is a cross-denominational effort to compile the best passages from the first millennium of Christianity, organized canonically (verse by verse). The series was painstakingly created using digital databases of the Greek and Latin Fathers, as well as some sources in Syriac and other languages. The result is a very readable, accessible compendium of quotations from a variety of Church Fathers.

The first volume is necessarily weighted towards the creation and Paradise (Adam and Eve) narratives. In fact, half of the volume covers Genesis 1–3; the second half covers Genesis 4–11.

The Value of ACCS

I found this book extremely useful. Here is why:

Last year, I decided to read every commentary I could find on Genesis. It was easy to get around 100 in English, from after 1700. Luther was difficult to find in English; Melanchthon is out of print and only in Latin. But I could find almost nothing in English from Church Fathers before 1500. It is beyond doubt many times more difficult.

I knew (and know) very little about Church Fathers. I could not afford a seminary education. It has been very difficult to get started from scratch, as a Pentecostal—sometimes Pentecostals act like the church started at Azusa Street. The only Church Father I hear about with any frequency is Augustine.

Eventually, I found four relevant works by Augustine, three of them in Latin. I was so excited that I made it through quite a bit of his commentary. And I saw references online to Ambrose’ On Paradise, Chrysostom’s Homilies on Genesis, Basil the Great’s Hexaemeron, Gregory of Nyssa’ works on creation, Ephrem the Syrian’s commentary on Genesis, and others.

Any one of these was not available online in a citable form or a reputable translation. Altogether, I was looking at hundreds upon hundreds of dollars to collect these important works (only 10 or 12 of them!), whereas I had spent almost nothing collecting 100+ English commentaries. Ironically, the original works would be in the public domain; but translated volumes from Church Fathers are both expensive and copyrighted.

After much difficulty, I noticed the Glossia Ordinaria, from the 12th century, but it does not name its primary sources, and I did not find Nicholas of Lyra very enlightening (and the Latin was a little cumbersome!). I wanted to read what Lyra had read!

The ACCS volume on Genesis 1–11 has opened up a wealth to me. After reading the whole volume, I have a very clear direction about which Church Fathers are the most important, readable, and interesting to me.

Patristic Interpretations of Genesis 1–11

Some of the interpretations are pretty boilerplate. In quite a few places, they preserve wisdom from Jewish interpretations of Genesis. Others are fresh, Christological readings of the Old Testament that I have never heard before despite reading quite a bit on Genesis.

For instance, the story of Noah’s ark was consistently regarded as a type of Christ’s salvation, down to the smallest details of the narrative.

Other interpretations were mere speculation or tradition, but even these were still interesting as they preserve for us the Fathers’ ways of thinking. Perhaps they should be regarded as cultural imbalances more than hermeneutical failures; our own cultures have their own ideological imbalance.

I am very much looking forward to reading other volumes from the ACCS and slowly piecing together a library of favorite patristic readings of the Bible, from the best works I discover through ACCS.

Review: Evil and the Justice of God

N. T. Wright is a New Testament scholar and theologian, as well as bishop of Durham. His writings on the resurrection of Christ and Pauline theology are considered among the most influential theological writings in recent decades.

Evil and the Justice of God (2007) is a series of five lectures on the “problem of evil” that were expanded into book form. Wright is very skeptical, though, about the entire task of theodicy—that is, Christian attempts to explain the existence of evil in its relation to God’s perfection. Pitfalls abound: we either accuse ourselves, or we absolve ourselves. Teachings that over-explain suffering can lead us to the embarrassing implication that there is no such thing as evil, or that God is unconcerned. It would be better to acknowledge the reality of evil, as well as the reality of God’s thorough involvement in this world’s redemption. In Wright’s words, we must continue to acknowledge that ‘evil’ is a four-letter word.

What the Gospels offer is not a philosophical explanation of evil, what it is or why it’s there, nor a set of suggestions for how we might adjust our lifestyles so that evil will mysteriously disappear from the world, but the story of an event in which the living God deals with it.

N. T. Wright, Evil and the Justice of God, p. 93

In the first lecture, Wright re-frames numerous aspects of the discussion. At various points, he delineates what we should require from a theodicy (p. 34–39):

  • A theodicy should include a practical, Christian response—that is, it should not be an abstract or theoretical discussion.
  • A theodicy should not be blind to the political realities of injustice.
  • A theodicy should acknowledge the reality of sin and the demonic.
  • A theodicy should not trivialize sin by labeling some people “good” and other people “bad”.

In the second and third lectures, he seeks to show how God responds to evil in concrete ways, in the Old and New Testaments, respectively.

The overarching picture is of the sovereign Creator God who will continue to work within his world until blessing replaces curse, homecoming replaces exile, olive branches appear after the flood and a new family is created in which the scattered languages can be reunited. That is the narrative which forms the outer frame for the canonical Old Testament.

N. T. Wright, Evil and the Justice of God, p. 53

The third lecture includes many ideas that are core to Wright’s theology, as it relates the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus to the theological problem of evil. In Wright’s view, part of the problem with theological discussions of evil is that they treat atonement and theodicy in separate boxes; for him, they belong in the same discussion. This is much more obvious when you take a Christus Victor approach to the atonement, which Wright has a wonderful way of articulating.

The Gospels tell the story of Jesus’ death as the story of how the downward spiral of evil finally hit bottom with the violent and bloody execution of this man, this prophet who had announced God’s kingdom.

N. T. Wright, Evil and the Justice of God, p. 83

The profound fusion of these two ideas, atonement and theodicy, in the dramatic view of the atonement, brings some needed correction to impractical, abstract, and theoretical explanations of the atonement of Christ.

[Jesus’ death] wasn’t a theory, we note, but an action (a warning to all atonement theorists ever since, and perhaps an indication of why the church has never incorporated a specific defining clause about the atonement in its great creeds). Perhaps, after all, atonement is at its deepest level something that happens, so that to reduce it to a proposition to which one can give mental assent is a mistake at a deep level (for all that such propositions may be accurate signposts to the reality), something of the same kind of mistake that happens when people imagine they can solve the problem of evil. Perhaps, in fact, it is the same mistake in a different guise.

N. T. Wright, Evil and the Justice of God, p. 91–92

The fourth lecture, “Imagine There’s No Evil,” deals with how Christians can deal with evil here and now. Wright begins by linking our definitions of “evil” and our mental image of “the new heavens and new earth” to our ongoing efforts to confront evil (or our lack thereof). When we imagine God’s new creation, we must not depict ourselves as disembodied (as in a Gnostic framework, wherein evil is material). We must work toward an understanding of the “principalities and powers” that allows us to picture a new creation in which Christ is all in all.

With that in mind, he gives a few ways that we can confront evil through prayer, holiness, and action. I suspect his political musings here sound quite approriate to British believers and quite inappropriate to Americans.

The final lecture in Evil and the Justice of God deals with forgiveness as the final victoral over evil.

This book, while brief, was very helpful in reorienting the conversation around the problem of evil.

Review: The Fatherhood of God

Robert S. Candlish was a key leader in the founding the Free Church of Scotland after separating from the Church of Scotland in May 1843. In 1862, he became the principal of the New College, Edinburgh. He is famed for his excellent work on Genesis, and his theological study on the atonement.

The Fatherhood of God (1865; 3rd ed., 1867) is a series of six lectures (the Cunningham Lectures) given in Edinburgh in 1864. Candlish argues that:

  • Believers become God’s children by identification with Christ in his sonship and “participation in the sonship of the uncreated” p.255.
  • The fatherhood of God is a free benefit for believers, and is distinctive from being created in the image of God (which applies to all humanity).
  • Our “adoption” in New Testament theology does not fully take place at regeneration or justification; rather, it is “a distinct and separate benefit” (p. 247).

Believers Are God’s Children

Though Jesus readily uses the word “Father” and even teaches his disciples to pray to “our Father,” Candlish argues that Jesus does not use the word to describe all humans’ relationship to God (p. 162–166). “I find no trace whatever, in all our Lord’s teaching, of anything like a universal fatherhood.” (p. 196)

Sonship is in Christ, who calls his disciples his brothers; he becomes “the firstborn among many brethren” (Rom. 8:29) not by the fact of creation, but by the act of the Father’s adoption of believers. “Brothers” is an in-group appellation across the early church, and not without reason.

In my own opinion, the only verse that plausibly suggests that all men are children of God is found in Paul’s speech at Mars Hill:

Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are indeed his offspring.’ Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone . . .

Acts 17:27b–29

Candlish points out that Paul is quoting a Greek poet, Aratus, not an inspired source. He is using a local writer as a rhetorical device. (I would add here that the use of γένος ‘offspring’, in the aggregate singular, is less personal than the usual word, υίοι ‘children’.) If Paul meant that all people were God’s children, he would be contradicting the words of John (1 John 3:10) and Jesus (Matt. 13:38; John 8:44), as well as his own words to Elymas the sorcerer, whom Paul himself called “son of the devil” (Acts 13:10)!

Adam is called a “son of God” in Luke 3:38, but this is used to speak of his immediate creation by God. It should not be equated with the New Testament doctrine of adoption/sonship. Candlish even points out (p. 56) that “the old and sound British divines” sometimes speak of a general fatherhood of God; but Candlish believes that these usages (along with Acts 17:27) should be taken as figurative usages referring to our status as God’s creatures and subjects.

Candlish extends this argument in the 129-page preliminary essay which was added to the third edition.

What Is Adoption in the New Testament?

“Adoption” (υἱοθεσία) is only mentioned by name in five New Testament verses, all of them in Paul’s epistles: Romans 8:15, 8:23, 9:4, Galatians 4:5, and Ephesians 1:5. For this reason, it seldom receives specific attention in Christian theology, from the Fathers forward.

That makes sonship not merely a relation of adoption, but in a real and important sense a natural relation also. . . . The regeneration is a real communication to us on his part of ‘his seed,’ of what makes our moral and spiritual nature the same in character as his; perfectly so at last, and imperfectly yet as far as it prevails, truly so, even now.

Robert S. Candlish, The Fatherhood of God, 3rd ed., p. 233

John 1:12–13 and 1 John 2:29–3:1 link adoption to regeneration (p. 229–233; 2 Peter 1:4). Adoption is intimately connected with regeneration (being “born again”) whereby “God’s seed abides” in us (1 John 3:9). At the same time, adoption should not be confounded with justification (p. 237). “Neither our regeneration nor our justification constitutes our sonship.” (p. 228)

For Candlish, sonship has two distinctive characteristics: liberty (p. 261) and permanence of position (p. 262–265; see John 8:35–36). Thus, Paul frequently opposes sonship to slavery.

A New Testament Revelation

In the third lecture, Candlish points out that God’s fatherhood and the sonship of believers are part of the New Covenant. The fatherhood of God in the Old Testament is exhibited as his relation toward Israel (Ex. 4:22; Deut. 14:1; Hos. 11:1; cf. Rom. 9:4), Israel’s king (2 Sam. 7:14; 1 Chron. 17:13, 28:6; Ps. 2:7, 89:26–27), and toward the Messiah (Dan. 3:25), but not toward all mankind or even all believers. At best, a fatherhood of God toward all believers only appears in the Old Testament as an analogy.

For the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.

Prov. 3:12, ESV

Are Angels ‘God’s Children’?

One interpretation that I disagreed with was Candlish’s literal understanding of “sons of God” in reference to angels in the Hebrew Bible. This is found in Job 1:6, 2:1, and 38:7; Candlish takes the other three instances as referring to the righteous. For Candlish, angels are sons of God, and this has some bearing on our own sonship, and that of Christ; in my opinion, this is just a Hebrew idiom, mostly irrelevant to the discussion of the proper sonship of believers.

Is It ‘Adoption,’ a Process—or ‘Sonship,’ a Status?

While I greatly enjoyed the book, I felt that Candlish’s definition of sonship could have been clearer. First, it entails liberty and permanence of position. But there is more that may be stated from the text.

First, as Candlish implies in a few places, ‘adoption’ is both a status and the process of receiving that status in Paul’s epistles. It is a status in:

  • Romans 8:15: “… you have received the Spirit of adoption …”
  • Romans 9:4: “… to them belong the adoption …”

It is a process in:

  • Romans 8:23: “… we … groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”
  • Galatians 4:5: “… to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption …”
  • Ephesians 1:5: “… he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ …”

In English, the word ‘adoption’ only denotes a process, and is therefore an inadequate translation. George MacDonald—who was influenced by F. D. Maurice, one of Candlish’s theological opponents—has argued in his Unspoken Sermons, that the Greek word Paul uses for “adoption” would be better translated “sonship”, which is equivalent to how Luther translated it. But this may fall into the opposite error, by meaning a state but not a process.

Second, Candlish does not adequately connect New Testament adoption to inheritance. Paul speaks frequently in the same breath of “sonship” and inheritance. He speaks of us coming into our full status and inheritance as God’s children (Eph. 1:11) and of us becoming heirs because we are sons (Gal. 4:7). Sonship, then, does not mean mere childhood. It is also an adult status of eligibility for inheritance; this much is obvious from New Testament usage, but is rarely elucidated.

Lastly, I felt that Candlish overemphasized the legal aspects of atonement and sonship. One cannot read passages like 1 John 3 without noticing that there is clear affectionate language! This brings me to another point, which bears on how we represent adoption in our preaching and teaching.

Western Child Adoption Falls Short

As an aside, I merely point out here the difficulties of comparing biblical adoption to modern, American adoption of children. If God’s seed (roughly, his DNA!) abides in us, this is a point of difference—one of several—between biblical adoption and Western child adoption. Western child adoption also does not convey any freedom as a counterpoint with slavery, but Paul frequently places the two side by side. Western child adoption may imply permanence, but it does not in any way imply inheritance. (On this see my own definition of adoption further down in this review.) In all these ways, New Testament adoption is pretty distant from an American adopting a child; it retains primarily the affectionate and caring aspects, but lacks other specific aspects.

Responses Contemporary with Candlish

As you might imagine, the statement that only believers are God’s children creates some contention. The first edition of this book occasioned a lengthy response from Thomas J. Crawford, who wrote his own book The Fatherhood of God: Considered in Its General and Special Aspectswith a Review of Recent Speculations (1866). Crawford defends the idea that all people are God’s children in one (general) sense, but believers are God’s children in another (special) sense. For Crawford, the sonship of believers is also distinct from Christ’s sonship. Sin is also essentially filial and personal for Crawford.

In the third edition of his book, Candlish included a 129-page rebuttal of Crawford’s arguments. Many readers will skip this; if you are interested in whether God’s fatherhood is universal or not, it will likely interest you.

Candlish writes that the watering down of the fatherhood of God has made it, for some preachers, into practically his only attribute—at the expense of any legal mode of speaking of God. This is never more true than today. God’s fatherhood and our placement as his children are precious theological truth, worthy of disentangling from American assumptions about adoption.

It is pleaded that God must be held to act in this or that particular way towards men, because he is their Father; or otherwise, that he cannot be imagined to adopt such or such a course, inasmuch as it would be inconsistent with his Fatherhood.

Robert S. Candlish, The Fatherhood of God, p. 9

In a chapter of The Mind of the Master (1896), which does not name Candlish, John Watson (pen name Ian Maclaren) wrote the following:

People with dogmatic ends to serve have striven to believe that Jesus reserved Father for His disciples; but an ingenuous person could hardly make the discovery in the Gospels. One searches in vain to find that Jesus bad an esoteric word for His intimates, and an exoteric for the people, saying Father to Jobn and Judge to the publicans. It had been amazing if Jesus were able to employ alternatively two views of God according to His audience, speaking now as an Old Testament Prophet, now as the Son of God. It is recorded in the Gospels, “Then spake Jesus to the multitude and His disciples, saying, . one is your Father, which is in heaven” (St. Matt. xxiii. 1, 9). This attempt to restrict the intention of Jesus is not of yesterday; it was the invention of the Pharisees. They detected the universal note in Jesus’ teaching; they resented His unguarded charity.

John Watson

Watson’s language is forceful and persuasive, and his criticisms are well founded. On Jesus’ address in Matthew 23, I would be curious how he relates its “woes” to its Fatherhood. Candlish is far too concerned with the legal mode of speaking of God, as if Scripture sets up legal metaphors as the superior mode of speaking of God. On the other hand, Watson makes familial metaphors the supreme way of speaking of God. Ironically, Watson’s chapter ends with a sort of postmillennial vision of all the earth coexisting under God’s benevolent fatherhood, which clearly shows the eschatological problem of any universal fatherhood. Much of Western culture—or, at least what I call “Hollywood theology”—has spoken of a universal fatherhood of God for many decades, and it has not tended toward Watson’s vision.

Review: Deliverance to the Captives

Karl Barth (1886–1968) was a Swiss Protestant theologian, known for his involvement in the Confessing Church in Nazi Germany, as well as his commentary on Romans and his multi-volume work of systematic theology, Church Dogmatics.

Deliverance to the Captives (1959; Eng. tr., 1978) is a collection of sermons preached at Basel Prison in Barth’s later life. It is one of several small collections of spoken addresses and prayers by a man much better-known for his theological writings. Though Barth mostly wrote, preaching was no small part of his life-work. Those of his spoken addresses that I can find in English are the following:

  • A Unique Time of God: Karl Barth’s WWI Sermons (2016; sermons preached in 1914)
  • The Early Preaching of Karl Barth (2009; preached 1917–1920)
  • Come Holy Spirit (1933; preached 1920–1924)
  • The Word of God and the Word of Man (1928; lectures given c. 1922)
  • The Word in This World (2019; preached in 1934)
  • Prayer and Preaching (1952; seminars given 1947–1949)
  • Deliverance to the Captives (1978; sermons preached 1954–1959)
  • Call for God: New Sermons from Basel Prison (1967; preached 1959–1964)

Of these, two slender volumes contain Barth’s preaching to the prisoners at Basel Prison from 1954 to 1964: Deliverance to the Captives (German, Den Gefangenen Befreiung) and Call for God (German, Rufe Mich An = Call on Me).

Barth preached at Basel Prison 27 times, usually on holidays such as Christmas or Easter. Those who knew him wrote that he relished these opportunities, and that the prisoners listened with gratitude. He was in his seventies when most of these were preached.

The sermons savor less of academia than many that I have heard on a Sunday. They are fresh and encouraging in their outlook, and they display what Barth himself called his “solidarity” with these prisoners. The sermons are evangelical in tenor and frequently include invitations to trust in Christ.

Themes prominent in his theology come out in the sermons from time to time, but he does not have many theological axes to grind.

The sermon “God’s Good Creation” gives us a brief look at Barth’s theology of creation, based on James 1:17.

“Teach Us To Number Our Days” was the most interesting with respect to theology. It outlines his explanation of the work of the atonement as God’s No to sin and death and God’s Yes to life.

What happened in the death of Jesus did not happen against us, but for us. What took place was not an act of God’s wrath against man. Quite the opposite holds true. Because in the one Jesus God so loved us from all eternity—truly all of us—because he has elected himself to be our dear Father and has elected us to become his dear children whom he wants to save and to draw unto him, therefore he has in the one Jesus written off, rejected, nailed to a cross and killed our old man who, as impressively as he may dwell and spook about in us, is not our true self. God so acted for our own sake. In the death of Jesus he has cleared away, swept out and let go up in flames, smoke and ashes the old man in us, that we may live a life of freedom. That he may himself say to us his divine ‘yes’, valid once for all and unconditionally, to this old companion who has no traffic with our true self, to our old ways and byways, and he did say ‘no’, unmistakably, in the death of Jesus as the substitute for us.

Karl Barth, Deliverance to the Captives, p. 122–123

Review: Always Enough

Author: Rolland and Heidi Baker are missionaries and itinerant speakers. They have planted churches in the United Kingdom and Mozambique. Heidi is also the CEO of Iris Global, a humanitarian organization they founded for work in developing countries.

Full Title: Always Enough: God’s Miraculous Provision among the Poorest Children on Earth

Overview:

Always Enough (2003) is the story of Rolland and Heidi Baker, focusing on their experiences in Mozambique as missionaries.

In Africa they experienced not only disaster and poverty on a national level, but national repentance and revival as Mozambicans responded to God. Miracles attended their message and are a major part of their story—especially healing and miraculous provision.

Through the Bakers’ delegation of responsibility and leadership, at least five thousand churches were started in Africa in less than a decade. I thoroughly enjoyed this inspirational book and recommend it highly.

Review: Ventures among the Arabs

Ventures among the Arabs recounts the adventures of Archibald Forder, a missionary who worked among Arabs. Forder worked primarily in the lands we know as Jordan, Israel, and Palestine, but also travelled in many other areas, especially where Bedouins are found. He and his wife first went to Kerak, Moab (present-day Jordan) to fill a gap for William and Jane Lethaby while they travelled elsewhere.

Forder travelled alone into northern Najd, an area that was almost wholly untouched by Europeans. Alois Musil is perhaps the only explorer who overlapped closely with Forder in place and time, and they interacted with the same tribes.

Forder is known—like Musil—for adopting native language, dress, and lifestyle as much as possible. He lacked institutional backing and was forced by the Church of England to become independent, but he did not forsake his missionary outpost. He is refreshing for his lack of worldly prestige or ambition; he is simply a man with a message.

He pioneered among the Bedouin in present-day Jordan, and made visits to rural areas all over the northern Arabian Peninsula. Little or no missionary work was being done in most of the areas he visited, so that his accounts and his depictions, for the time in which they were written, were almost wholly unique.
In terms of day-to-day life, Forder did medical work, often aiding wounded Bedouin after tribal skirmishes. He also distributed Scriptures as a colporteur.

In his lifetime, readers of Forder’s books complained that he didn’t supply any personal details about his life, and he tried to remedy this in 1919 when he published In Brigands’ Hands and Turkish Prisons. Later books show how he pioneered a new mission among Palestine’s Bedouin (based in Jerusalem).

Ventures among the Arabs is a fascinating little collection of stories about Forder’s beginnings in his Arabian mission. I highly recommend all of his books for those interested in the history of missions among Arabs.

Review: The Mystery of Suffering

Rating: ★★★★

Author: Hugh Evan Hopkins (1907-1994) was an English preacher, missionary and the author of several books. He was educated at Cambridge and became a member of the Dohnavur Fellowship founded by Amy Carmichael. After six years in India (1931 to 1937), he was sent home for health reasons. He served Inter-Varsity Fellowship, and later went overseas to Kenya (1947 to 1955). He was awarded OBE in 1955 and had a very long and active writing and preaching career before and after his retirement.

Hopkins’ books are listed here because it was difficult to obtain information about them:

  • Henceforth: The Meaning of Christian Discipleship (1942),
  • The Inadequacy of Non-Christian Religion (1944)
  • The Mystery of Suffering (1959)
  • Morning and Evening Prayer (1963)
  • Charles Simeon of Cambridge (1977)
  • Understanding Ourselves: Some Personal Christian Insights into Temperament, Depression, Fear, Inability to Believe and the Mystery of Suffering (1983)
  • Sublime Vagabond: The Life of Joseph Wolff, Missionary Extraordinary (1984)
  • A History of the Church of St. Edward, King & Martyr, Cambridge (1989)

Overview

Hopkins begins by discussing how different world religions have different answers to suffering, and why the Christian answer is the best. This was a unique approach. In looking at this, Hopkins is trying to explain the “link between the sins and the sufferings of the world”. Sin is a general explanation for suffering, but may not always be the personalized explanation (as in a system of karma).

When he moves into the Christian answer, Hopkins seeks to do so in a way that continues to acknowledge that evil is not easily explained away. In the words of N. T. Wright, “Evil is still a four-letter word.” In fact, Hopkins strikes a chord that resonates with N. T. Wright’s Evil and the Justice of God. Both write that we should not treat human suffering as only an intellectual knot to be untied.

We must beware lest familiarity with the existence of suffering in our present age make us insensitive and merely curious.

Hopkins seeks a balance between the fatalistic pat answer that “everything happens for a reason” and the sometimes man-centered answer that says we can “pray ourselves up by our bootstraps” (my idiom, not his). On the fatalistic answer, Hopkins writes that it is common enough to speak of our sufferings as a God-ordained “cross to bear”, but “there is actually nothing in the Bible to suggest that God works in this way” (p. 54).

Hopkins writes that “taking up your cross” means discipleship, not suffering:

Firstly, the cross [Jesus] was speaking about was something to be voluntarily undertaken, and secondly it is an essential part of our Christian discipleship. There is nothing arbitrary about bearing a cross. God does not lay it on one and not on another. Every true Christian should be bearing his cross every day, and doing so by choice and gladly as a sign of his devotion to his Lord. (p. 54)

This does not mean, though, that Christians never suffer, as some have it. Though an Anglican in the 1950s, Hopkins has some awareness of Charismatic healing literature and the idea that God wants to heal all diseases. He tries to explain these in context with other prayers that go unanswered. He concludes that “it is not possible to say that God always wants his children to be insulated from suffering” (p. 75). We should learn this much from Gethsemane: Sometimes suffering is God’s will.

A quotation from P. T. Forsyth is a great explanation of Hopkins’ point in juxtaposing sin and suffering:

The cross of Christ can submerge suffering, and make it a means of salvation, but with sin it can make neither use nor terms; it can only make an end of it. God in Christ is capable of suffering and of transmuting sorrow; but of sin he is incapable [of transforming], and his work is to destroy it. (cited as The Justification of God, p. 138; qtd, on p. 63)

He gives Amy Carmichael, who he worked with, as an example of the right attitude in suffering. Carmichael had lifelong bouts of neuralgia that sometimes left her bed-ridden for long stretches. Hopkins writes that she hated to be referred to as “removed from combat”; rather, she was still in combat in her sick-bed. “Much of the suffering we endure is surely permitted in order to be attacked and overcome.” (p. 57) (Carmichael herself wrote a book on suffering, Rose from Brier.)

In the chapter, “How Can Pain Glorify God?”, Hopkins evinces the choice of Dietrich Bonhoeffer to stay in America as an example of a God-glorifying choice to suffer (p. 106). God invites us to enter the kingdom through many tribulations. and to endure suffering as a soldier. For Hopkins, this is part and parcel of discipleship and mission, and that in itself is part of the explanation of suffering.

To suffer as a Christian means always willing the best for your persecutors. The author remembers kneeling with three Kikuyu men in Kenya and praying for their persecutors, following the examples of Jesus and Stephen. This is another way suffering glorifies God.

Hopkin concludes by contemplating the cross of Jesus Christ. “The Bible makes it clear that the problem of man’s sin, and therefore of his sufferings too, was dealt with on the cross.” (p. 109) If Christ’s suffering can glorify God, so can mine. We don’t explain suffering; we use it as an opportunity to glorify God, and in doing so, we transform it.

Hugh Evan Hopkins is an able and balanced writer with a wealth of experience. I highly recommend this book and look forward to reading others from him.

Review: A Swiftly Tilting Planet

Author: Madeline L’Engle is an award-winning novelist whose fiction reflects both her Christian commitment and her love of science. She is usually thought of as continuing a tradition of faith-informed fantasy fiction that begin with George MacDonald and C. S. Lewis.

Overview:

A Swiftly Tilting Planet (1978) is the third installment of the Time Quintet, an award-winning fantasy fiction series for young adults. The series began with A Wrinkle in Time (1962), which won a Newbery Medal and other awards. (It is also sometimes just known as the Wrinkle in Time series.)

This book was a patchwork of overtly parallel subplots unrelated to the main characters, loosely tied by a poorly applied frame narrative. It was very difficult to extract one overarching theme (as could be done with Wrinkle or Wind in the Door).

I was also put off by the use of plot elements that resonated with reincarnation, possession, and telepathy. These elements are crucial to the narrative, and just get weirder and weirder as the story goes on. In my opinion, these are much cheaper than the refined, spiritually anchored sorts of magic-science present in Wrinkle.

After Charles Wallace “went Within” (possessed?!) a character from a thousand years before, the book lost me, and since it continued along that line for 80% of the book, I never really re-engaged with the plot. This was a confusing plot device which inexplicably destroys a sense of either volition (who is making the choices?) or continuity (what century are the choices being made in?).

In spite of all my pooh-poohing this novel, I do expect to attempt more of L’Engle’s books in the future. If you think I have missed something profound about A Swiftly Tilting Planet, please let me know in the comments!

Review: The Light in the Prison Window

The Light in the Prison-Window: The Life Story of Hans Nielsen Hauge (1926) by Wilhelm Pettersen is a biography of Hans Nielsen Hauge, a Norwegian evangelist and social reformer who had a tremendous impact on the Scandinavian religious landscape.

In the late 1700s, as described by Pettersen, Norway was Protestant (Lutheran) in name, but steeped in cold scholasticism and hypocrisy. The Bible was treated as a mythology or a mere handbook for tradition. Pettersen names several priests and bishops of the time that had no concern for Christian piety, and some influential leaders did not even believe basic Christian doctrines like the bodily resurrection of Christ. In churches one might hear lectures on Greek classics instead of the Bible.

At the age of 25, Hans Nielsen Hauge had a lone conversion experience in an open field—a moment he described as his “spiritual baptism”. Though Hauge was definitely evangelical, much of the language he used has even pentecostal overtones.

Hauge in time became a force in evangelizing Norway’s villages, and many joined him in his task, including many young women, who preached and evangelized.

Not content with an inward renewal alone, Hans Nielsen Hauge also sought social reform and worked as an entrepreneur. He is generally regarded to have had a tremendous impact on both religious and secular life in Norway.

Hauge did not reject Lutheran doctrines; rather, he sought to apply them where they had become merely the traditional intellectual background to their religion. As some tell the story, Scandinavia had joined the Protestant Reformation in name in the 1530s, but it had not yet reckoned with justification by faith. This living faith was renewed with the Haugean movement.

Hauge was imprisoned many times for lay preaching under the Conventicle Act. A “conventicle” was an unauthorized religious meeting, such as a house church, and Scandinavian countries, until long into the 1800s, were cracking down hard on unauthorized meetings. It would be many decades before such meetings were legitimized, and even longer before they were able to perform marriages and burials recognized by the government. (Since 2000, Sweden and Norway have both legislated for a separation of church and state—perhaps the final chain in a long history of decline in the state churches, growth in the free churches, and growth in the non-religious.)

On the European landscape, the scene had been set for all this change by groups like the Methodists and the Moravians. The Moravian revival had started in 1727, and the Methodists had begun to organize in the 1740s. Like Hauge, these groups appealed to lower classes, partially by having either looser hierarchies, or no hierarchy, compared to the corrupt priesthood they were accustomed to. The keynote, though, was individual conversions.

Hauge didn’t teach major doctrinal shifts from Lutheranism; but he invited his countrymen to a living and personal faith.

In a way, Hauge represents in his person the evangelical renewal of Norway. But there were many who joined his work, and likewise faced arrest and imprisonment for leaving the established churches.

One downside to The Light in the Prison Window was the very long roll call of Norwegian evangelicalism. It felt like being at a family reunion, but I didn’t know anyone. The sheer number of obscure Norwegian theologians and clerics mentioned boggles the mind. It is understandable, though, that the author wants us to acknowledge how many souls assisted and followed Hauge in the renewal of Norway.

Note: It is rather difficult to find biographies of Hans Nielsen Hauge. The Light in the Prison-Window is quite brief, and the only other biography I could find is Joseph Shaw’s Pulpit under the Sky (1955), which is quite rare. If you know of a substantial biography of Hauge, please share it in the comments!

Review: The Virgin Birth and the Incarnation

Author: Arthur C. Custance was a research scientist with an overflowing interest in anthropology, biology, theology, and biblical languages. He obtained his M.A. in Middle Eastern Languages in 1941, and completed his Ph.D. in Anthropology in 1954, though his degree was delayed five years by prejudice against Custance caused by his literal understanding of biblical creation. He conducted research in physiology for Canada’s Defence Research Board and wrote sixteen unique books, mainly on the intersection of biblical theology and modern science.

The Virgin Birth and the Incarnation (1976) is Book 5 of 10 in The Doorway Papers, a series of studies fusing biblical study with scientific research. Much of the series explores aspects of the Creation, Fall, and Flood in Genesis, but many other themes are included.

It is divided into essays, so the topics are related but you can easily read and enjoy any essay without the others. The individual essays are themselves divided into chapters, and some of them are quite long.

The essays in this volume are:

  • Longevity in Antiquity and its Bearing on Chronology: This is a great study of the genealogy of Genesis 5, with statistical and historical data to back up the claims of human longevity. While many claim that there is some numerical or scribal anomaly in the years of Genesis 5, Custance supports a literal reading.
  • The Nature of the Forbidden Fruit: It was probably not an apple—so what was the forbidden fruit? And how did it affect Adam and Eve when they ate it? Custance shows the effects that certain foods can have on humans.
  • If Adam Had Not Died: This essay reviews scientific concepts connected to the Incarnation of Christ. Included here are several intriguing and strange ideas about the physiology of Adam himself. Custance is looking at the immortal physiology of Adam as a precursor of the immortal life of Christ.
  • The Virgin Birth and the Incarnation: The titular essay connects the concepts of “the seed of the woman” in Genesis 3, the virgin conception of Christ, and the immortality found in Christ. This is one of the most important of the entire Doorway Papers series as it presents ideas related to core Christian doctrines (as opposed to, for instance, whether the flood was local or global).
  • The Trinity in the Old Testament: This is probably the best thing I’ve read on the Trinity. Custance shows that it was not a new idea to God, although maybe it was to man. Many great Bible references will show you that the Trinity is not a foreign concept to the Old Testament.
  • A Fresh Look at the Meaning of the
    Word ‘Soul’
    : Body, soul, spirit? It is not always clear in modern thought whether there is a difference between soul and spirit, but in the Old Testament there is a clear distinction. Custance offers a solid biblical study of how these terms are connected with bearings on the creation of Adam and the death of Christ. I don’t believe that Custance’s explanation differs too far from the detailed explanations offered, for instance, by Watchman Nee. For an interesting perspective from the Old Testament, look into the work of Robert Alter on this.
  • How Did Jesus Die?: This essay is a study of the physical causes of the death of Christ, centering on the possibility that Jesus died of a burst heart, an idea promulgated in 1871 by William Stroud. (Pioneer Library published Stroud’s book as an ebook.)
  • The Resurrection of Jesus Christ: In three chapters, Custance treats the “historical”, “theological”, and “experiential” aspects of the bodily Resurrection of Christ. This study is mainly theological.
  • The Unique Relationship between the First and Last Adam: This essay continues to develop some themes from the titular essay about Adam and Christ.

The Virgin Birth and the Incarnation is an important volume within The Doorway Papers, and in many ways it is a predecessor to Custance’s magnum opus, The Seed of the Woman.

Read: You can read The Virgin Birth and the Incarnation and Arthur Custance’s other works for free over at custance.org.

I read this book in 2006 and finished this review in 2021. I guess that tells you how memorable and unique the book was.