December 9, 2008

Dictionary of Biblical Prophecy and End Times

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Hays, J. Daniel, J. Scott Duvall and C. Marvin Pate ). Dictionary of Biblical Prophecy and End Times. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007. Cloth, 512pp, $35.99.

The world of Biblical and Theological reference works has for some time needed a new updated reference source in the area of Biblical Prophecy. J. Barton Payne’s excellent Encyclopedia of Biblical Prophecy (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1973), is now severely dated and not formatted to deal with terms but rather prophecy by prophecy in the text. John Walvoord’s Every Prophecy in the Bible (Colorado Springs, CO: Victor Books, 1999), was much along the same line, but was a decidedly disappointing production.

This current volume is arranged along the lines of a normal reference work, dealing with terminology (both Biblical and theological), prophecy within individual books of the Bible, and concepts. The authors have presented this work as “conceived with the purpose of helping laypeople in the church study and understand biblical prophecy” (7). They further state that they have, “no theological agenda to push or prophetic viewpoint to champion, other than a strong commitment to the Scriptures and a passion to interpret the biblical texts in accordance with the intention of the biblical writers” (ibid). The phrase “strong commitment to Scripture” as opposed to inerrancy strikes this reviewer an interesting choice of words.

As laudable as the authors’ intentions were for this volume, the end product presented in this work is simply a disaster. The individual article headings are a mish-mash that obviously had no input from any editorial hand experienced in reference subject headings. For instance, instead of listing all of the views of the Rapture under a standard and easily understood heading such as: “Rapture, Views of” (with individual “see” listings for the names of each view placed alphabetically; for example: “Mid-Tribulational Rapture: See Rapture, Views of” pointing to the single main article) each view of the rapture is given a separate entry. The problem is that the entries for the Pretribulational Rapture (348-51) and Prewrath Rapture (351-52) follow each other with no break. This gives the appearance, particularly it would seem to the target audience, that these are the only two rapture views. The Midtribulational Rapture (284-86) and Posttribulational Rapture (337-40) entries simply are lost. Even more oddly there is an actual entry for “Rapture” (362-64) where much of the material in the scattered articles is simply repeated. The same problem plagues several subjects such as those related to the Millennium and the Book of Revelation (where articles related to the interpretive options of Revelation are scattered throughout the volume). There is a lengthy article with charts for the “Seven Churches of Revelation” (416-24) but then there are individual articles for each of the seven cities. The “see” references that are used at the end of the articles are not set off adequately in terms of type font or style to catch the eye. The authors also either decided not to use “see also” references, simply using “see” apparently either not knowing the difference or being unaware of standard reference work formatting.

While choices for actual entries is also a question for any reference work some of the omissions are simply egregious. While entries exist for the Abrahamic, the Davidic, and the New Covenants, there are no entries or even references for the other Biblical Covenants (e.g., Noahic, Palestinian, Mosaic, and Priestly). By comparison there is an entry for the entirely insignificant and obscure individual named Noadiah in the Old Testament (314). Some of the “see” entries are simply distracting. On page 416 there is an entry for “Servant of the Lord” with the line, “See Servant Songs.” That see line is followed immediately with the entry for “Servant Songs” making the “see” entry rather pointless. Actually, the first entry “Servant of the Lord” would have been the stronger and more logical heading for the entry. While there is an entry for “Heaven” (200-201), there is none for “Hell,” or even “Eternal Punishment” (not even a “see” reference that would point the reader to the inadequate entry for “Lake of Fire,” (246). There is another one paragraph entry for “Second Advent” (409) followed immediately by a lengthy entry for “Second Coming” clearly rendering the previous entry superfluous as it presented no meaningful distinction between the two terms.

Another confusing choice was listing Matthew, Mark, Luke and John as “Book of” instead of “Gospel of.” This is most problematic with the Gospel of John. Under the heading of “Book of John” (231-32) one is left wondering what is exactly meant, the Gospel account or one of the three epistles. In fact, it isn’t until the second paragraph of the entry before the reader is informed that the Gospel account is being discussed and as one progresses through the article one may rightly wonder if the epistles will also be discussed at all; they aren’t. Some Biblical books, despite their obvious importance in Biblical prophecy (e.g. The Book of Romans, esp., Chapter 9-11) are left without entry. The labeling of the entries with “Book(s) of” is inconsistent; sometimes used and sometimes (e.g. 1 & 2 Thessalonians) not.

There is a rather glaring omission of any bibliographic entries (or even a separate bibliography listing) for the articles. There are 122 endnotes (483-87), a decidedly poor practice in a “dictionary;” however, in looking at the notes, the authors gave no indication as to which article a particular note was in attached (and the formatting of the superscript numbers renders them difficult to catch). The only index is a Scripture Index “with Apocrypha.” However, the Apocryphal Books are not in their standard location (between the Old and New Testament) and they are not categorically labeled, but rather simply listed after Revelation. Some salvaging of this work might have been accomplished with a simple index listing of all the articles, but this was not done either. A index of people named would have been an easy and useful addition. There are multiple typographical errors and several misplaced or misleading “header labels” (see the top of pages 342, 343, 344, 345 and 346 for examples).

This volume gives every appearance of being rushed through production without careful editorial examination and no regard for the use of standard subject headings or standard reference work formatting. The good material that does appear (and there are some well written, albeit unremarkable, portions in this volume) is hopelessly lost in the confusing maze that is this “dictionary.”

This work cannot be recommended at any level; for what is obtained it is over-priced, poorly executed, and incomplete.

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Dictionary of Major Biblical Interpreters

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McKim, Donald K. (ed). ). Dictionary of Major Biblical Interpreters. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2007. Cloth, xxvii+ 1107 pp. ($45.00)

In 1998 InterVarsity Press released the Historical Handbook of Major Biblical Interpreters also edited by Donald. K. McKim, a rather disappointing production. The publicity releases for this new volume announce it as a “revised and vastly expanded edition” of that work. The statement however on the verso that, “some material previously appeared” in the Historical Handbook is a much more accurate reflection of the reality of this much improved and valuable work. While the publisher treats this as a true “second edition” (which is technically true) carrying the former works preface as well as a new preface; the fact that a new title was created demonstrates the publishers desire for this to be seen as an entirely new work.

McKim, formerly the Academic Dean of Professor of Theology at Memphis Theological Seminary and currently the Reference Editor for Westminster John Knox Publishing, has clearly grown in his craft. Some of his early editorial efforts were often heavy handed and reflected his own theological biases rather than the impartial and thorough work one expects in standard references works. He clearly assembled a fine staff of assistants and well as a first rate group of contributors. McKim himself did contribute one full article (William Perkins, 815-19). The scope of the essays has a largely Western orientation reflecting interpreters from Europe and North America as McKim admits. He states in his new preface that in this work, “there is a lack of sufficient entries on women biblical interpreters and on those from outside the predominant areas of Western Europe and the United States” (xii). This seems an odd complaint from the editor, who seems to be criticizing his own editorial decisions (he stated one paragraph earlier, “the list of those to be included in such a volume has been my decision, in consultation with others”). Interestingly, the two women for whom there are entries (Fiorenza Elisabeth Schussler, 895-99; and Phyllis Trible, 989-92) also represent two of the five articles for living individual, and two of the three for those who would be considered currently active scholars.

The first part of this volume consists of six introductory essays presenting a survey of “Biblical Interpretation Through the Centuries.” The periods are covered by different contributors and include The Early Church (1-14); The Middle Ages (14-121); The Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries (22-44); The Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries (45-66); Europe in the Twentieth Century (67-87); and North American in the Twentieth Century (88-102). Like the individual article each section contains a useful introductory bibliography. The essays are well done, clearly written and logically presented; particularly in the more complex later essays. Also included is a useful indexes of Persons, Subjects and an alphabetical listing of the individual articles.

The selection of individuals for articles in a work like this is almost certain to solicit discussion on inclusions and exclusions. However, by and large there are really few disagreements this reviewer has with the selection. One could argue that the omission of Samuel Prideaux Tregelles (1813-75) is a decided lack. Most certainly the omission of I. Howard Marshall (b. 1934) is significant, considering the fact that another living scholar of the same era (Walter Brueggeman, b. 1932) along with the aforementioned Schussler and Trible were included. Marshall’s influence among evangelicals in Biblical Interpretation is considerable. Of those included, the oddest entry is perhaps for John Locke (668-70); who while possessing a Biblically derived foundation for his theories of politics and economics his works on Biblical studies themselves were not unique and really made no lasting contribution in the field.

The selections for the articles was, however, largely even-handed and represents early Catholic, Reformed, Evangelical and even Dispensational contributors. Those of varying denominational affiliations are also represented. All of the articles are generally two pages or more and contain significant bibliographies. The articles are all exceptionally thorough and do not shy away from pointing out negative aspects of their lives, such as the Nazi affiliations of Gerhard Kittel (614-18), or theology controversy, such as the significant errors of William Barclay (144-46). In a couple of the entries, two individuals are listed together because of fact that their work is more often considered in a united rather than an individual manner (Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsch, 606-608; and B. F. Westcott and F. J. A. Hort, 1038-43).

This work represents a major and welcome addition to the world of reference works in Biblical and Theological studies. It will be an excellent jumping off point for students beginning their research and will be exceptionally useful for pastors who would like a little background on various commentators and scholars whom they encounter in their studies but know little about.

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A History of Evangelicalism Volumes Two and Three

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Wolffe, John. . The Expansion of Evangelicalism: The Age of Wilberforce, More, Chalmers and Finney. A History of Evangelicalism: People Movements, and Ideas in the English-Speaking World Volume 2. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2007. Cloth, 280pp., $23.00.

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Bebbington, David W. The Dominance of Evangelicalism: The Age of Spurgeon and Moody. A History of Evangelicalism: People Movements, and Ideas in the English-Speaking World Volume 3. Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005. Cloth, 288pp., $23.00.

In 2001 the annual meeting of The Evangelical Theological Society had as its’ theme: “Defining Evangelicalism’s Boundaries,” apparently driven by the problem of defining exactly how the term was to be understood. In the revised article on “Evangelicalism” in the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Baker Books, 2001), the author stated, “The very nature of Evangelicalism never was a unified movement but a collection of emphases based on a common core of belief –a core that itself is now under discussion” (409).

The nature and definition of evangelicalism is certainly no clearer seven years later and is perhaps more muddled than ever. The emergence of the new “Evangelical Left,” the recent “Evangelical Climate Initiative” to combat so-called global warming; Rick Warren, a leading pastor normally identified as an evangelical, moderating a forum for the current presidential candidates at his church; the embracing of Open Theism, New Perspective on Paul, and Federal Vision theology (among other sub-biblical systems), by evangelicals leaves one wondering how the Evangelical movement has reached a point where it is weaving down the road seemingly searching for the nearest ditch to crash into.

The best way to find out how a movement has reached a certain point is, of course, to study its’ history; the path it has taken over the years. To that end, this review of a new series of books, The History of Evangelicalism, under the editorial direction of David W. Bebbington and Mark A. Noll, (being produced in five volumes) is undertaken. The first volume, The Rise of Evangelicalism: The Age of Edwards, Whitefield, and the Wesleys, by Mark Noll (InterVarsity Press, 2003) has already been released and a fourth and fifth volumes are planned for the future. This review will deal with the second and third volumes in the series.

In his volume, Wolffe, Professor of Religious History at the Open University in England, notes that all of the authors in the series, “take[s] as its starting point David Bebbington’s definition of evangelicalism in terms of four ‘special marks’” (19). These defining marks are:

  • Conversionism, the belief that lives need to be changed;
  • Activism, the expression of the gospel in effort;
  • Biblicism, a particular regard for the Bible;
  • Crucicentrism, a stress on the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. (19-20)
While not an inaccurate definition of evangelicalism, one might argue that it is perhaps somewhat incomplete, representing a historical definition without a sufficient emphasis on the theological definition. The authors in this series face the rather daunting task of creating a narrative that is continually crisscrossing the Atlantic between Great Britain and the United States while enabling the reader to keep the people, places, and events together in a coherent whole. In this aspect of the task Wolffe achieves the goal with great skill. His writing style is clear, concise, and he is able to strike a balance between listing the necessary facts and figures without losing excellent prose in the process.

The author lists an impressive and highly useful bibliography of primary and secondary sources. There is, however, a notable absence of any reference to the works of Iain Murray, particularly his Revival and Revivalism (Banner of Truth, 1994), even though Wolffe’s chapter two utilizes the same name; and A Scottish Christian Heritage (Banner of Truth, 2006), where Murray has a long and well written section on Thomas Chalmers. Within the text of the book there is also a complete absence of any discussion Archibald Alexander (1772-1851), who was a notable figure in Calvinistic revivalism as well as the first professor at the new Princeton Theological Seminary, one of the most important evangelical institutions in 19th Century America. This general apathy or even antipathy towards Calvinism and the contributions of Calvinistic evangelicals on the part of the author is a decided lack in this work.

There is also a somewhat useful, if incomplete, index of subjects and persons. Although it is not stated or indicated, the index is clearly not meant to be exhaustive. For instance there are only nine page references for Charles G. Finney, when he is mentioned in at least triple that number of pages.

The author’s handling of Finney is rather uncritically favorable. While the initial controversies about Finney’s methods are discussed, he concludes that between Finney and his opponents (who met at New Lebanon in July 1827), “it was indeed apparent that they theological differences were not substantial” (74). This conclusion is a fairly simplistic one and again the author never really details Finney’s theology or even that of the opposing Calvinistic revivalists, talking instead about methods and techniques. He states at one point that the rising dominance of Finney and his methods meant, “the real loser in the process was Asahel Nettleton, whose conservative Calvinism and particularly low-key approach to revivalism were now decidedly out of fashion” (ibid).

Wolffe’s strength, is his handling of evangelicalism in Great Britain and his emphasis on the social action of Wilberforce and others. Of particularly note is the section on “Politics: Freeing Slaves, Saving Nations” and the roll that evangelicals and their influence had on ending the slave trade in England and ultimately in the United States. However, even here, Wolffe’s emphasis is on a sociological, political, and cultural impact without really discussing the underlying theological distinctive features of evangelicalism.

In Bebbington’s volume, The Dominance of Evangelicalism, the story of evangelicalism moves in something of a chronological manner. One problem in this series is that the works center of somewhat nebulous “ages” rather than distinct chronological breakdowns. Thus, particularly between these two volumes, some important events seem to fall through the cracks. One important omission is any discussion of the Layman’s Prayer Revival of 1858, except for a mention of its’ existence (194) where he refers to it by the lesser known title of “Businessman’s Revival. This was a revival that even Charles Finney admitted, “put him in the shadows.” This evangelical revival was one of the most unique and perhaps long lasting of the notable revivals.

Bebbington, professor of history at the University of Sterling in Scotland, has written extensively on evangelicalism, mainly in Great Britain. His writing style is, like Wolffe’s, quite readable and engaging. He has included an extensive bibliography and useful subject-person index (as with the previous volume it is apparently not designed to be complete). Here the author expands the discussion of his four “special marks” of an evangelical that Wolfee noted were the guiding definitions for the series.

In discussion the first point, The Bible, he rightly notes that “allegiance to the Bible was one of the deepest convictions of evangelical Christians of all stripes” (26). However, he also stated that the consequences of their position on the Bible, “could be intellectually restrictive” (23). This author does make an attempt to discuss the theological issues at stake, but clearly is prejudice towards a non-inerrantist view of the Bible. In his discussion of the theological controversies of the late 19th century he gives a great space to the leading non-inerrantists and their views and then essentially dismisses the extensive intellectual and literary efforts of A. A. Hodge and B. B. Warfield in defending the traditional inerrantist view by simply stating that they, “produced a reasoned critique of the critical enterprise” (177).

As the sub-title notes, Bebbington’s main examples of evangelicalism are Charles H. Spurgeon in Great Britain and D. L. Moody in the United States. He has excellent overviews of both (Spurgeon, 40-45 and Moody, 45-51) and their influence both during and after their lives. One significant critique would be in the author’s presentation and interpretation of the Downgrade Controversy of Spurgeon (1887-94). The facts that the author presents in his summation of the controversy (260-61) are simply incorrect or misleading at several important points (see this reviewer’s “The Down Grade Controversy and Evangelical Boundaries,” Faith and Mission 20:2 [Spring 2003], 16-40, for a detailed review and analysis of the facts of the controversy and their effect on evangelicalism). And his conclusion that Spurgeon’s views led to the emergence of a narrow fundamentalism is dubious at best.

Bebbington does have some excellent sections, including the chapter “Conservative Theological Trends” (184ff), where he particularly details the resurgence of premillennialism within evangelicalism. Although, even here, he neglects some important personalities, such as the Presbyterian Nathaniel West (1826-1906). He does have a good overview of the Keswick Movement, viewing it, along with Wesleyan Holiness as a lead into the emerging Pentecostal Movement (207ff).

Like Wolffe, Bebbington spends much of his time discussing the fourth of his “Special Marks” of evangelicalism, Activism. Here the author contributes an excellent section on “Race Relations” (227-33) and evangelicals during this time. He is caught seemingly in a conflict though as he speaks more or less favorably of Darwin’s view of evolution and the evangelicals who embraced it; but finds exceptionally problematic the concomitant “Social Dawinism,” which some evangelicals also embraced, and its effect on both race relations and other social and economic issues.

While many of the omissions of individuals and events in these volumes can be accounted for by editorial constraints in terms of space (the volumes are all uniformly about 280 pages), like the initial volume by Mark Noll, this series thusfar demonstrates a tendency to redefine evangelicalism more or less in terms of activism, and in that social activism, rather than a theological movement.

The aforementioned article in the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology states that, “Theologically it [evangelicalism] begins with a stress on the sovereignty of God, the transcendent, persona, infinite Being who created and rules over heaven and earth” (406). Bebbington’s “Special Marks” make no mention of any aspect of this point at all. While the author’s in this series may not agree with this position, the only intellectually honest manner to deal with it is to prove why this definition is incorrect or inconsequential. Neither volume does this (nor does Noll’s); instead the sovereignty of God and the resulting features as defining features of evangelicalism is simply ignored.

Why and how evangelicalism is in the condition it currently finds itself is perhaps seen as much in what these volumes neglect as what they present. They are certainly important contributions to the literature, but they are rather marked by their omissions as much as their presentation.

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