Volume 7, Issue 5: Ex Libris
The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind
Mark Noll; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publ. Co, 1994
Reviewed by Douglas Wilson
The first two-thirds of this book are first-rate, chronicling the origins and
nature of the pervasive evangelical intellectual goofiness in North America.
But when Noll comes to address the subject of creation and evolution in chapter
seven, he provides a fine example of the aforementioned goofiness in action.
Following this chapter, the book regains some altitude, leveling off with an
odd call for ecumenical chattiness among scholars.
In the large part worth reading, Noll dissects what there is of intellectual
activity among evangelicals and shows how the rise of populist democracy in America
was harnessed by evangelicals for their own purposes, and to great effect. The
believing church survived in America because of this compromise (contrasted with
what happened in Europe), but the price was that the believing mind did not survive.
With the rise of Pentecostalism, the Holiness movement, and dispen-sationalism,
certain patterns of thought then became habitual with evangelicalswith the net
effect being a rampant anti-intellectualism. The average American evangelical
would be shocked to discover how provincial his faith is. But severed from
history and the life of the mind, he has no real way of finding out.
Noll does fine work in showing how evangelicals in the past have thoughtlessly
hitched the faith once delivered to the evanescent but "assured" results of contemporary
scholarship. But when it comes to his discussion of evolution, he does the same
dern thing. The evolutionary show was truly intimidating to believers while Huxley
was on the stage in Act I, but we are in Act III now. The acting is terrible,
the plot line has gotten progressively sillier, and evangelicals should be throwing
all the popcorn they can. Noll should spend less time lamenting the lack of scholarly
dialogue and join the rest of us in hooting these evo-fundamentalists off the
As Noll discusses the possibilities of an evangelical return to true scholarship,
oddly, he does not call for us to return to the place where we first lost our
way. He does not say we should walk away from modern evangelical fruitiness and
return to the rigorous piety of classical confessional Protestantism. Rather
he suggests we bring what little we have to contribute in order to interact with
scholarly big boys of the religious world, i.e. Mennonites, Catholics, Dutch
Reformed, the Orthodox, et al. Very few things could reveal the theological
bankruptcy of modern evangelicalism more than such a suggestion. In short, Noll
sees our problem clearly, and at the same time, he is very much part of it.
The book is truly valuable. We find mindless evangelicalism effectively indicted,
and more than a few pages of evidence showing the justice of the indictment.
What Makes a Man?
Bill McCartney; Colorado Springs: Navpress, 1993
Seven Promises of a Promise Keeper
Al Jansson (ed.); Colorado Springs: Focus on the Family, 1994)
The Power of a Promise Kept
Greg Lewis; Colorado Springs: Focus on the Family, 1995)
Reviewed by David Hagopian1
Nowhere is this tension between the strengths and weaknesses of contemporary
evangelicalism more evident than in three books PK has jointly ventured in the
last few years: What Makes a Man? (hereafter WMAM), Seven Promises of a Promise
Keeper ( SPPK ), and The Power of a Promise Kept (TPPK). Like the larger movement itself, these books have their strengths and weaknesses.
As just one illustration, consider the mentorship mandated in promise two of
their prominent seven promises. While Christian men certainly need the admonition
and encouragement of other Christian men, PK goes too far by mandating mentorship:
"It is impossible for men to fulfill the commands of Scripture without being in
significant relationship with other men" ( SPPK, pp. 55,61; TPPK, p. 4). Apparently
God overlooked this fact when He only made Eve to help Adam fulfill the commands entrusted to him. Contrary to God's design for intimacy in marriage, one PK author actually asks, "Do you have someone other than your wife with whom you can share your secret temptations and failure?" ( TPPK, p. 123, emphasis added). By "other than," this author clearly means someone instead of your wife, not in addition to her, since only six pages later, he commends to the reader the example of one "promise keeper" who salved his conscience by telling his soul-mate instead of his wife about some infidelity he had committed (p. 129). And at least one other PK writer actually lists factors to help husbands decide on a case-by-case basis whether they should confess infidelities to their wives ( SPPK, p.96), but then, without skipping a beat, this same author mandates that men develop bonds with a few other men with whom they can "acknowledge" their "secret sins" ( ibid. ).
Well-intentioned though this guy-friendly advice may be, it is anything but biblical. A husband who commits any kind of sexual infidelity cannot make it right with God until he first makes it right with his wife, since any such infidelity is always a covenantal sin against his wife (in PK talka broken promise). Enough of the gospel of guyhood! It's time to recover the depths of the gospel. Only then will we learn to be true men of promise.
ThePauline Doctrine of Male Headship: The Apostle Versus Biblical Feminists
James Bordwine; Vancouver, WA: Westminster Institute, 1995
Reviewed by Stephen Thomas
The traditional view that men are to function as governmental authorities in
the family, church, and, consequently generally in society, has come under attack
from many within evangelical ranks. In this work, we have another fine defense
for the Apostle Paul's grounding of male-female relationships on the creation
paradigm, and, therefore, that superiority of authority and function does not
imply superiority of worth before God. In the main, evangelical egalitarians
oppose this perspective as sexist, imperialistic, and repressive. Some are just
sexually confused and hate men. Regardless, their objective is to level the vestiges
of Christian culture. But the war is not over, and James Bordwine enters the
The author, pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church, Vancouver, Washington,
is a theologian in the conservative, Reformed tradition. His style is not that
of an essayist but of the elenctic exegete with a penchant for detailed exposition
of the text. The reader will be dissatisfied if he is expecting a popular read
or an exhaustive treatment of federal theology. And, because Bordwine is a Christian
gentleman and scholar, he is not given to ugly polemical vitriol.
The chapters are divided into the main texts that "biblical feminists" employ
in their cause (1 Cor. 11:3; 11:4-16; 14:33b-35; Eph. 5:22-23; 1 Tim. 2:8-15).
In the conclusion which follows, he criticizes John Bristow's What Paul Really
Said About Women (a work typical of his opposition) and ends by answering a
few of the most commonly asked questions about the practical implications of
this biblical teaching. Of special note is his examination of Galatians 3:28
("there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus") which
feminists contend is a "governing" passage when approaching the restrictive teachings
of Paul in other texts. Also, hermeneutic problems in the feminist camp are legion,
and he soundly foils them at every turn, especially the cultural relativists.
Bordwine understands his opposition's positions well. His footnotes are extensive,
but his words are best measured in weight not volume.
Evangelical feminists are not the only ones who will take issue with Bordwine's
thesis. Reformed folks who have covenantal (headship) assumptions but whose walk
is leavened by the spirit of the age will sense the tension. This is not to say
that all the godly will agree with Bordwine's conclusions in toto. It is to
say that they will be better armed because Bordwine's work is a superior, offensive
Directed by Mel Gibson
Reviewed by Nathan & Douglas Wilson
Braveheart is a well-made rendering of the life of William Wallace, one of the
greatest men Scotland has produced. The film, like Scotland, was full of honor,
faith, treachery and grime. As a child, Wallace was first introduced to the
tyranny of the English when he came across the bodies of rebellious Scottish
chiefs and their pages who had been murdered at a parley under a flag of truce.
The remaining chiefs revolted at this outrage and were slaughtered on the field
during their meager attempts at independence.
We next see Wallace as a grown man returning to his homeland, with the intent
of marrying and raising a family. In Wallace's absence, the tyrant, Edward Longshanks,
had reestablished the law of prima nocte, giving the local noble the right
of the first night with all the new brides in his jurisdiction. Wallace, being
a true peace-lover and wanting to be his wife's only lover, marries in secret.
Shortly after his marriage, Wallace finds a soldier attempting to rape his wife,
and he pounds him. When the soldiers come after Wallace, he puts his wife on
a horse and tells her to meet him in the forest. Wallace escaped, but his wife
did not. Wallace reenters the town, and with the aid of the rest of the village,
he sacks the garrison and kills the magistrate.
His only defeat came from treachery, and his army was wiped out. Wallace begins
to assassinate the chiefs who were bought off by the English, and rebuilds his
army. When he is at a meeting with Robert Bruce, one of the treacherous allies,
he is turned over to the English and is publicly tortured to death. The torture
scene provides an excellent portrayal of Wallace's faith and strength as a man
of God. The scene is not graphic, but it is powerful. Bruce, repentant of his
treachery, takes over Wallace's rebuilt army and leads them to victory.
The film was well done, and, for the most part, accurate. The most exasperating
fault in the movie is Wallace's affair with the English princess, which was both
contrary to Wallace's faith as shown in the movie, and to the facts of history.
The first battle scene was incredible, and consequently there may be those who
claim the movie was too bloody. Violent it was, but not gratuitous. And we are
all grateful that the battles were not shown as they truly were when unarmored
men went into battle bearing broadswords and battleaxes.
The most serious problem associated with the movie can best be described as
a Hollywood version of neo-orthodoxy. When people have tired of overt expressions
of unbelief, they become susceptible to subtler unbelief dressed up in ringing
declarations of faith. In the modern entertainment industry, no foundation exists
for Christian honor, and yet men are tired of living as swine. The temptation
is to use all the right words and to tell stories of a time when they did mean
something. While movies like Braveheart provide some relief from our cultural
squalor, they do not indicate repentance at all.
Christ'sSecond Coming: Will It Be Premillennial?
David Brown; Edmonton, AB: Still Waters Revival, 1990
Reviewed by Chris Schlect
2 Thessalonians and Revelation contain much that is enigmatic to me. But certain
passages of Scripture are much plainer that those I might call enigmatic. Responsible
exegetes will interpret the difficult passages in light of the plainer ones.
I have always been suspicious of prophecy studies that plunge into the deep waters
first, submerged in end-times charting and expending valuable oxygen on Magog
searches in the six o'clock news. Many tangle with giant squid, while others drown
somewhere far beyond the continental shelf. Why not first poke our toes in at
the shallows, say at 1 Corinthians 15:20-28, and slowly wade in through Hebrews
2:5ff and Romans 4:13ff? Prophetic study should begin at plainer passages such
David Brown is no Captain Nemo. He carefully exegetes plainer passages, and
from them he sets forth a compelling case for postmillennialism. His methodology
is responsible, quite refreshing to those familiar with more speculative contemporary
works. But being a contemporary of Jules Verne, David Brown never witnessed the
inventions of later Nautilus captains like Chafer, Pentecost, and Walvoord,
so some of his polemic is a bit dated. Yet his example of how to approach eschatology
is as timely as ever; those who learn from his wade-from-the shallows method
will never tangle with giant squid when they come to deeper waters.
Since the 1970's, the Christian reconstructionist crowd has helped in the resurgence
of postmillennial eschatology and has won many converts even among those who
reject other parts of the reconstructionist program. The published work of David
Chilton and especially Ken Gentry have been particularly influential. Those who
follow eschatological currents are familiar with this retooled postmillennial
fleet and will know preterism as its distinctive hermeneutic. Brown is not a
preterist. For this reason, convinced preterists should read him, and while disagreeing
with him on this matter, they will be reminded of what the more important issue
is. This nineteenth-century reprint is a welcome classic.
A Presbyterian Political Manifesto: Presbyterianism and Civil Government
Michael Wagner; Edmonton: Stillwater Revival Books, 1995
Reviewed by Douglas Wilson
In centuries past, presbyterianism used to be an ecclesiastical junkyard dog,
formidable and ready for a fight. It presented quite a pesky political problem
for the assorted wafflers, noodlers, and backfillers who usually run the political
show of every generation. But modern presbyterianism is a coifed yippydog, adorned
with a blue ribbon and fed out of a can. Its bark is worse than its bite, and
both are really pretty humorous: "We hereby call upon the President, the Congress,
and the Supreme Court to please listen to us. No, wait. . . ." No one pays attention
to such squeakiness anymore, but this was not always the case. For several centuries
the history of presbyterianism was the history of godly battle. And central to
these older church/state battles was the issue of church establishmentwhat was
to be the religion of the realm and according to whom?
This small booklet (spiral bound) provides a brief introduction to the subject
of such ecclesiastical establishments. Do nations have an obligation to acknowledge
formally the Lordship of Jesus Christ? Despite the size of the book, Mr. Wagner
does a good job of bringing together a number of the writers who have contributed
substantively to the discussion and debate surrounding this issue. He shows how
disestablishment of religion is an impossibility (not whether, but which). He
clearly makes the point that a refusal to establish Christianity is not a neutral
actionit is the establishment of false religion. At the same time, reasonable
questions must arise concerning how this is to be done. Wagner therefore addresses
the questions about liberty of conscience which naturally crowd to the front
of all such discussions. His treatment is quite helpful.
Fit Bodies; Fat Minds: Why Evangelicals Don't Think and What to do About It
Os Guinness; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1995
Reviewed by Douglas Jones
To be honest, I didn't start reading this Guinness offering with high expectations,
but it turned out to be quite a powerful tract. Instead of defending just a broad
evangelicalism, Guinness unashamedly points to evangelicalism's defection from
Puritan and Reformed thinking as the principal cause of its present mess.
The book handily gathers criticisms of contemporary evangelicalism, which have
floated about unsummarized in one place. The work is divided into two main parts,
the first of which charts the causes of the defection from the Puritan highpoint
by means of eight negative influences: polarization between heart and mind, false
pietism, anti-historical primitivism, populism, pluralism, pragmatism, Philistinism,
The second part of the book sketches eight modern social pressures working against
Christian thinking: television culture, advertising, style, tabloid truth, generation-centrism,
virtual reality, and postmodernism. Guinness discusses each in a fresh, mature,
engagingly-written manner, full of interesting twists and details. It closes
with a call for good, Christian antithetical thinking, a call to loving God with
all one's mind, the principal theme of this work.
This "slim volume," as Guinness notes, is not intended as anything exhaustive
but only a provocative start. Read it yourself, then get it into the hands of
every evangelical student and pastor you know.
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