Book Reviews

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Paul R. Williamson, Sealed with an Oath—Covenant in God’s Unfolding Purpose (Downers Grove: Apollos division of Inter Varsity Press, 2007), 242 pages. Reviewed by Dr. Fred Moritz.

 

If the reader plans to study issues related to dispensationalism and biblical covenants, he will want to consult this book. It is a treasure store of exegetical work on a broad range of biblical subjects and passages. It is a heavy, but worthwhile, book. There are 527 footnotes in 208 pages of text. The Bibliography is twenty-five pages, and the Index of Scripture references is thirteen pages, with three columns per page. In short, Williamson has done his homework.

This is a book about biblical theology. Williamson states, “Biblical theology is arguably best thought of as a holistic enterprise tracing unfolding theological trajectories throughout Scripture and exploring no biblical concept, theme or book in isolation from the whole. Rather, each concept, theme or book is considered ultimately in terms of how it contributes to and advances the Bible’s meta-narrative, typically understood in terms of a salvation history that progresses towards and culminates in Jesus Christ” (17).

In this volume the author traces the trajectory of Old Testament covenants from the covenant with Noah through those with Abraham, Israel at Sinai, David, and the New Covenant in Jeremiah 31 and other places. He traces them relative to the preceding ones to their fulfillment in Christ and ultimately to Christ in the eternal kingdom.

Williamson does not directly state if he is reformed in his theology or if he is a dispensationalist. Hints in a few footnotes indicate that he may be reformed. He devotes four pages in two chapters (19, 30, 52–55), however, to deny the existence of the reformed suppositions of a covenant of works and a covenant of grace. He claims they have no basis in Scripture, and he is correct in this assertion. Williamson also anticipates a literal return of Christ and his literal reign on David’s throne. Whether or not he is a dispensationalist, his theology, developed rigorously and thoroughly from Scripture, is certainly compatible with biblical dispensationalism.

Chapter one is introductory and deals with “Biblical Theology and the Covenant Concept.” Chapter two, “Covenant and God’s Universal Purpose,” discusses the nature of a covenant in Scripture. Chapters three through eight deal with God’s covenants with Noah, the patriarchs, Israel, David, and the New Covenant as the prophets described it, as inaugurated in Christ, and as consummated in the eschatological kingdom. The author shows the relationship between God’s covenant with Noah and the covenant with Abraham and the patriarchs. He then explains the biblical development of the succeeding covenants and how the preceding ones relate to the succeeding ones.

The first strength of the book is the clarity with which Williamson puts the scriptural covenants in perspective. He describes God’s revelation as an arc, with each covenant taking revelation closer to its culmination in Christ and his kingdom.

The second strength of the work is the detailed exegesis of many passages. His treatment of each of the covenant passages (Gen 6, 12, 15, 22, 26, 28; Exod 19, 20; 2 Sam 7; Jer 31; Heb 8–10) is outstanding. There is great commen­tary on many other passages like Isaiah 53, Romans 3, and others too numerous to mention. One may not agree with all of his conclusions, but one should respect, appreciate, use, and profit from the exegetical work that produces those conclusions. The dispensational reader will find himself agreeing with most of his conclusions, because they are grounded in Scripture!

Not everyone will want this book, and not everyone would profit from it. Anyone engaging in serious biblical and theological study, preparation, and education, however, will want this volume. The reader will be stimulated by it and receive a blessing from it.

 

Andrew Himes. The Sword of the Lord: The Roots of Fundamentalism in an American Family. Seattle: Createspace, 2011. 368 pages. Reviewed by Jonathan Rehfeldt.

 

Andrew Himes is the first grandson of the man who has been dubbed “the mightiest pen of the 20th century,” John R. Rice. Born of Rice’s eldest daughter Mary Lloys, Himes was seventeen when he left fundamentalism for the communistic ideals of Karl Marx and Mao Zedong. Himes felt disillusioned with God, because he viewed God as “an elderly white male who lived in a golden city beyond the sky, who apparently liked white people better than black people, who ordered women to be subservient to men, who supported the war aims of the United States in Vietnam,” and who sent most people to a literal lake of fire (276). Forty-four years after this decision, Himes has seen the emptiness of communism and has learned to appreciate his fundamentalist heritage. This appreciation is what drives this new 316-page book.

The book is divided into five parts. The first is entitled “Why We Care About Fundamentalism?” and relates the author’s experience of his grandfather’s funeral and suggests how fundamentalism may become relevant or irrelevant in the days ahead. The second is called “Revolution, Slavery, and War,” where the author describes the socio-cultural and theological background of southern fundamentalism. Here especially, the author takes pains to show how southern racial tensions and their “theological” justification were the sad result of America’s abuse of slavery. The third and fourth parts rehearse familiar fundamentalist history (i.e., chapters about Billy Sunday, “The Fundamentals,” and the struggle against Modernism) and are basically a family “insider’s” take on the development, growth, and later “uneasy conscience” (to use one of the chapter titles) of the movement in thetwentieth century. The author’s last section is called “Revisiting the Fundamentals.”

This book should be considered valuable for a number of reasons. First, the author takes an honest look at the racism that sometimes characterized certain expressions of fundamentalism. He argues that such expressions still exist in some quarters of fundamentalism, and he provides helpful reflection for those who would distance themselves from it.

Second, he describes the national disenchantment with fundamentalism which followed a period of its development and growth at the turn of the 20th century. Understanding this phase of fundamentalist history is especially important in understanding “the uneasy conscience” that has sometimes described the movement; the impulse of a “Christian America,” if it ever existed, was starkly challenged by the rise of modernism and evolution.

Third, Himes provides a detailed account of the rise of John R. Rice as a prominent pastor, evangelist, and writer. The reader learns of key relationships being forged and lost, mostly over the issue of separation, but sometimes over unfortunate racial issues. Himes is knowledgeable (both by experience and research—there is a wealth of resources and notes listed in the back), articulate, passionate, and easy to read.

Although readers may question some of Himes’ theological propositions, particularly those made in the last few chapters (i.e., Himes prefers to call the “Kingdom” the “Kindom,” p. 282), few will doubt the valuable contribution this book makes to understanding what the subtitle suggests: “The Roots of Fundamentalism in an American Family.”

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