Theological Reflections

Written by Henry Stob Reviewed By Brace Demarest

Stob, Professor Emeritus of Philosophical and Moral Theology at Calvin Theological Seminary, USA, brings together in this volume twenty-nine journal articles published during the past three decades. The essays are organized under the six headings of science, philosophy, theology, revelation, church, and education.

In the lead essay ‘Christianity and the Rise of Modern Science’, Stob argues that in contrast to the adversary relation between Christian faith and empirical science that many perceive today, the latter enterprise is entirely dependent upon the former. The Reformation precipitated the birth of modern science, the author argues, for the reasons that (1) nature is a revelation of God, (2) man is summoned to control nature, and (3) nature’s behaviour is ordered by the transcendent God who created it ex nihilo. The modern scientific era thus was promoted by committed Christian researchers such as Bacon, Boyle, Newton, Davey, Faraday, and Joule.

‘Faith and Science’ probes the perennial problem of the relationship that Christian faith sustains to scientific activity. Rejecting ‘dichotomism’—the view that Christianity has no bearing on some sciences (i.e. the natural sciences)—and ‘rationalism’—the opinion that Christianity bears no relation to any of the sciences—Stob opts for the position of ‘fideism’, whereby Christian faith is said to sustain a relation to all the sciences. Thus the author argues that a person’s commitment for or against Christ inevitably shapes his presuppositions and assumptions, be they in mathematics, physics, or anthropology. All thought, even in the realm of the quantitative sciences, is said to be faith-conditioned.

Turning to the next section, the essay ‘Some Issues in Philosophy’ explores three themes of import to the Christian church: unity and diversity, idealism and materialism, and faith and reason. With regard to the last issue, Stob shows his distance from hard-core fideism by rightly insisting that ‘natural truths are known independently of faith’, i.e. by the natural reason common to all people. The reader will profit from the following essay ‘Notes on the Philosophy of St Augustine’, which brings into sharp focus several leading strands of Augustine’s often diffuse and fragmented thought. The article ‘Personality, Human and Divine’ likewise sheds light on the elusive area of the ontology of the person. Stob identifies the person as that which possesses rationality, self-consciousness, volition, self-identity, permanence, and moral capacity.

In the third section dealing with theology Stob argues the point that whereas modern secularism rejects metaphysics and theology as superstitious, Christian theology is properly a scientific enterprise. The author shows convincingly that theology satisfies the criteria for a science: an object of investigation that is real, the existence of a relation between the object of knowledge and the inquiring subject, the presence of internal consistency and external coherence, the existence of creditable procedures for validating its assertions, and findings that enhance man’s understanding of the universe. The essay ‘Prayer and Providence’ is a tightly reasoned case for the efficacy of prayer, one which also leaves the reader with fertile seed-thoughts for the preaching on the subject. ‘Christianity and Other Religions’ counters the dominant relativism and syncretism of the present age with a skilfully constructed apologetic for the uniqueness of Christ and the finality of the Christian gospel. Non-Christian religions, however, incorporate a measure of truth on the basis of the sensus divinitatis, general revelation, common grace, and borrowed special revelation. The theological student will profit from ‘A Note to Young Seminarians’, in which Stob argues that the Christian minister must be a theologian, a shepherd, a preacher, and a man of God. Since theology should always be in intimate contact with the life of the church, ‘the best theology is written in the manse’.

The fourth section, dealing with revelation examines Jesus’ relation to the Old Testament revelation and St. Paul’s explication of the doctrine of revelation. Of particular merit in this section is Stob’s study on the Logos doctrine in the Johannine literature.

This reviewer found the half-dozen articles in the section on the church less relevant and instructive than those that preceded. An exception thereto is the discussion of qualities requisite for effective leadership in the church. Moreover, the essays on education in part six focus on the Dutch Reformed conviction that to secure a world view that is truly Christian the student ought to pursue higher studies in an evangelical college or university. Quite apart from the merits of the argument, one recognizes that such a strategy is not possible in many parts of the world.

On balance, Theological Reflections skilfully treats a wide range of issues helpful to the theological student. The book ought to be read not only by the philosopher of religion and the theologian but, by virtue of the foundational issues it explores, by the biblical specialist as well.

Brace Demarest

Denver Seminary, Denver, Colorado