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Bible Doctrines for Today

av Michael C. Bere

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from their review of the book in http://www.exodusbooks.com/details.aspx?id=29294

Bible Doctrines for Today is an introduction to Christian theology for tenth graders. For the most part content is limited to universal Christian beliefs, though some concepts presented as fact are still debated among theologians. While this book could serve as a passable (though incomplete) introduction to biblical doctrine for some students, those with a more substantial background will likely find it superfluous.

While the author points out the potential value of doubt to gain assurance of salvation and emphasizes the reasonable nature of faith, the intersection of intellectualism and Christianity is treated with distrust. Of course this likely stems from a conscious desire to put no unnecessary stress on the faith of young people, but what it is more likely to accomplish is real crisis when they encounter challenges to which they have never been taught an answer.

There is only one doctrinal stance assumed throughout the book. The only alternate views mentioned are those of cults and fringe groups—legitimate divergent Christian views are not even referenced. This results in a narrowness that, if not widened or supplemented, will be damaging to a student's understanding of the breadth of Christianity and the diversity of doctrinal stances to be encountered there.

Below are some examples of these attitudes:

Page 59: In the dialog box "What Intellectuals Have Said About the Bible," Jean-Jacques Rousseau is cited in praise of the "majesty" of the Scriptures. Rousseau was the preeminent French Enlightenment philosopher and the original proponent of the noble savage ideal which inherently discounted the doctrine of original sin. While he never rejected religion outright and was connected to the Church until he died, most of Rousseau's philosophical ideas were humanistic and had no real basis in Christian belief. To quote him out of context in a way that will naturally make many unfamiliar with the man or his writings assume he was a "Christian" in the way that term is commonly understood is misleading.

Pages 71-72: The discussion of how to deal with Bible difficulties (contradictions, etc.) begins with instructions to simply "put complete confidence in the Author [God]." The text goes on to say you will never understand all of the Bible, and that problems always resolve on further, prayerful study. While all this may or may not be true, it seems dismissal due to human insufficiency is preferred to careful study. While this approach may work for somebody who already believes, a skeptic will be further hardened against a faith that simply overlooks difficulties.

Page 82: English translations of the Bible more recent than the Authorized (King James) Version are portrayed as the result of source texts selected and corrupted by liberal Bible scholars in the 19th century. Such translations are presented as unreliable and inferior to the King James Version, and would include the New American Standard Version, New International Version, etc.

Page 122: God's sovereignty is defined here: "Sovereignty is the absolute right that God has to run the universe as He wants because He created it for His own purposes and glory. Sovereignty is God's right to do what He wants with what is His." This sounds alarmingly like a contingency argument, and also misrepresents the nature of God's sovereignty through (one assumes) oversimplification. God's sovereignty has nothing to do with His rights as such, but depend entirely on His identity as God and relate not to the fact that He can rule the universe but to the fact that he does rule the universe.

Pages 151-152: These two pages contain a longish, medically specific description of the Passion sufferings of Christ. While there is nothing specifically wrong with such a description, no spiritual significance is offered and it can seem almost gratuitous.

Page 180: "Every believer has one spiritual gift." This is a fairly divisive statement, especially as a statement. Some sects believe Christians can (and should) have more than one spiritual gift; others believe a Christian's gift can change throughout his life; and others have a different view altogether. To simply make this categorical assertion and support it with only a single passage (I Cor. 12:7-11) displays a callous disregard for the traditions and doctrine of others within the Church.

Page 214: "Works cannot be a part of salvation or else they would nullify grace." This seems to controvert everything James has to say about the interplay of faith and works. The real question of course is how salvation is defined: if it is simply the result of assent to certain essential doctrines, then the statement is true. If, however, salvation is synonymous with a life bound to Christ in devotion and service, then this statement is wrong.

Page 218: The section on justification begins with a short little mantra to introduce the concept: "Just as if I'd never sinned! Just as if I had died at Calvary! Just as if I were Christ!" First of all, reducing weighty doctrines to a trite saying is bad enough, especially a doctrine that deserves our entire reverence and humility. Beyond that, justification is not an as if; it is a very real status bestowed on those who follow Christ and is predicated on His death and resurrection.

Page 221: "Lot and his family were in the world and of the world." While this is certainly true of Lot's family, II Peter 2:7 refers to Lot as a "righteous man," so including him with his family in terms of wickedness is a mistake.

Pages 246-250: The author asserts that baptism is only ever received by a believing individual who understands the importance of the act, and that its purpose is to demonstrate faith publicly. No mention is made of infant baptism, or of its spiritual significance. Similarly, the Lord's Supper is summarily de-mystified and becomes only a memorial observance, not a means or extension of grace. Also, no mention is made of the wine used in the New Testament observance, the liquid element instead made to be merely juice.

Pages 273-275, 281-327: The author's premillennial, Dispensational eschatology is presented not only as incontrovertibly true, but as the only possible option. The historically much more prominent views of amillenialism and postmillennialism are not even mentioned, much less explained. The idea of "covenant" is entirely absent. This section suffers both from insufficiency and from inaccuracy.

Pages 328-329: The book ends with a condensed version of a 19th century sermon by one T. Dewitt Talmage. He describes the employments of Christians now in heaven, presenting his speculation as obvious fact. How he could know the nature of heaven never having been there is testament either to his prodigious imaginative faculties, or to special revelation from God, or to the long line of charlatan preachers to which he well may belong.

Normally we can find something we like about a book or curriculum, but Bible Doctrines for Today is one of the few we really can't recommend. Not just because of the author's theological stance either—the information is woefully incomplete and a lot of what is stated as fact is actually contested widely within Christianity. These concerns are especially poignant since this is the first real encounter with doctrine a student proceeding through the A Beka Bible program will have.

Other books appropriate for a high school student and much better as introductions to basic Christian doctrine do exist. Essential Truths of the Christian Faith by R.C. Sproul is one, Concise Theology by J.I. Packer is another. For a more Reformed perspective, Back to Basics edited by David Hagopian is a good overview. For students ready for something deeper, Trinity & Reality by R.A. Smith bridges the gap between theology and overall worldview.
  JohnPesebre | Nov 28, 2010 |
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