Monday, February 16, 2015

Three Recommendations

Three books have recently come my way, as books do. No particular order.

The first is by Bradley G. Green, Covenant and Commandment (IVP) . This is a study regarding the place of ‘works’, of obedience, in the Christian life. The treatment is broad, taking in themes both in biblical and systematic theology, and discussing the fundamental question of the relation between the
Old and New Testament teaching on the covenants, or covenant, particularly the question of the degree of continuity and development (of difference) between the testaments. His discussion shows wide reading and to calls various modern authors, such as Frame, Blocher, Kline, Gaffin into the witness stand whom Brad interrogates in a pertinent and intelligent way. There is no discussion of John Owen's 'minority view'. 
Chapter 4 has to do with the place of faith and works in the New Testament key, Gospel and obedience, justification and sanctification. The author summons key New Testament passages. Charles Hodge, Owen (again) on mortification, and Tom Schreiner are discussed. The next chapter is devoted to a topic much discussed at present, union with Christ. I wondered if (in general) theological discussion of such passages and themes suffers from a lack of thinking of things from the believers’ standpoint.

The final chapters have to do with ‘Justification, judgment and the future’ and ‘The reality and necessity of works, obedience and faithfulness’. I wish that he had said how the prominent NT language on the virtues or gifts or graces of the Holy fits into the ‘application’ side of things, and even explain to us why the language of virtue is not heard so much in the modern church. Nevertheless Brad has written about pretty fundamental questions, giving us a book suitable for use in a variety of contexts.

Annette G. Aubert’s The German Roots of Nineteenth-Century American Theology  (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2014) is a learned account of just that, from the pen of someone who is thoroughly conversant with the German side of things. The earlier chapters provide a clear account of German ‘mediating theology’. The names will resonate with some, if only because they appear on the spines of those usually black-bound, dusty volumes of Clark’s Theological Library. Names such as Pfleiderer, Kattenbush, Lange, Müller, Tholuck, Kähler. And many others, especially Schleiermacher. Such theologians contribute, one way and another, to the creation and development ‘mediating theology’. The impetus of such theology was to provide a Protestant response to the skeptical attitude of the Enlightenment that would uphold evangelical religion while having an unreservedly positive attitude to modern science and history. This approach stresses religion, not dogmatic theology – Schleiermacher is the key influence, but there are a number of sub-developments all with a concern to have Christianity studied ‘scientifically’ rather than confessionally. Christianity is the proclamation of the personality of Christ rather than of a Creed. ‘No creed but Christ’. Where theology was defended it was as an account of the dominant religious ideas of Christianity,  clustered around this christological  ‘central dogma’.

These ideas were imported into the United States and Canada both via emigration from Europe and visits to Germany by American theologians who sought to perfect their education by sampling the latest uropean theological ideas.

Dr Aubert then applies some of this movement in ideas to two Presbyterians, Emanuel Gerhart, a student of Rauch and Nevil at Mercersburg Semijnary and later in life Professor Systematic Theology there. The second figure is Charles Hodge of Princeton. She shows how the first was consciously influenced by ‘mediating’ ideas, in the group of thinkers such as….Hodge, however, was much more negative about Schleiermacher’s method and all that flowed from it. Nonetheless, he was personally friendly towards Tholuck and Hengstenberg, and Dr Aubert maintains that their continuing influence is to be seen in Hodge’s method in his systematic writings. On each of Gerhart and Hodge there are chapters on their theological method and on their understanding of the atonement, illustrating their attitudes to a central Christian doctrine. 

I imagine that the extent of the German influence on Hodge will be of interest to students of old Princeton. Perhaps more attention will be given to Hodge’s commentaries as evidence for influences on his theology than hitherto. Dr Aubert has pointed the way.

The book is a rewarding read for anyone interested in the history of Reformed theology in North America. Indeed, indispensable. The book arises from Dr Aubert’s Ph.D dissertation at Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia, where she is now a part-time lecturer in Church History.

The third book I touch on is a little gem, a short book on the person of Christ, both dogmatic and devotional, Mark Jones’s Jesus Christ, one in a series of pocketbooks being published by Christian Focus. Dr Jones finds neither difficulty nor embarrassment in framing his exposition from a ‘Christ from above’ perspective. That is, he starts from a full commitment to and unabashed consideration of Christ’s full deity, his godhead, his being one with the Father. Not for him an approach that builds up our understanding of  Christ’s person from his humanity. So for Mark our thought needs to be disciplined by the logical order of the Incarnation. God in the person of the Logos takes on human nature. Then follows a chapter on Christ’s manhood, and one on his redeeming work. Mark brings us to the heart of the Incarnation, and so his book is not easy reading in places. It may be that Mark is occasionally speculative in some of his suggestions. Is this a devotional book, or doctrinal? I would say that it is both. A book on the glory and mystery of Christ leading to mediation and worship.