The Biblical Doctrine of Regeneration

Written by Helmut Burkhardt Reviewed By Derek J. Tidball

These two essays are the first contributions to a new series launched by the World Evangelical Fellowship Theological Commission. Burkhardt’s thesis is that the doctrine of Regeneration is an almost forgotten doctrine. Despite it once having been central to Pietism and matching man’s unfulfilled hopes for the future. But contemporary theology is embarrassed by it. Modern theologians are afraid it would lead to phariseeism, stress human development rather than a radical new beginning or believe that man’s hope lies in the future at the expense of the present. Burkhardt admits that there are few direct references to it in the Bible and yet it is thoroughly Biblical stressing as it does a once for all radical change in a person’s relationship with God which has taken place unilaterally at God’s initiative and working itself out in everyday experience in the present life. The doctrine is admirably explained and the question of how a ‘regenerate’ person can be recognised without falling into the trap of Phariseeism is clearly out. The author’s plea that this doctrine should be rehabilitated and take its uninhibited stand alongside the more talked-of doctrine of conversion is refreshing.

Waldron Scott’s contribution to the series is necessarily a sharper work of critique on Barth’s theology of mission. Barth wrote on overseas missions in no more than four and one half pages of Church Dogmatics although the whole of his fourth volume (Part 3) is in view. Barth’s views are first fairly represented and then subjected to criticism. His stress on the need for the church to obey the call to mission is welcomed. Barth believed that it failed to be a true church if it failed to engage in mission. But his views concerning missions to the Jews and the motivation for missionary activity are considered inadequate; as also is his attitude to other missions. Scott also challenges Barth’s Universalist tendencies. Many favourable lessons are also drawn from Barth’s writing. In particular there is a timely challenge to the contemporary church growth school. There is also an unusual welcome for the plurality of mission structures and the firm emphasis that Third World churches must be trained to be missionary churches themselves if the true task of the mission is to be completed.

Both these essays are well-timed and stimulating for a thinking evangelical.

Derek J. Tidball