Briefly Reviewed: April 1985
They Saw the Lord
By Bonnell Spencer, O.H.M
Review Author: Kathryn Denny
During this Easter season, Christians recall the central datum of Christianity: that Jesus was seen alive by several of his closest disciples after His death. Without the Resurrection, Christians merely follow a set of rules telling people how best to get along. With it, we have good reason truly to rejoice.
In this book, originally published in 1947 and recently republished, Bonnell Spencer studies the New Testament descriptions of the risen Christ in an attempt to give the Resurrection accounts richer meaning and greater emphasis.
They Saw the Lord traces several stages of Christian growth through the lives of those who witnessed the Resurrection: Mary Magdalene the repentant sinner; Peter the independent one who tries to serve Jesus by his own efforts but fails until he learns he must depend on Christ alone; Thomas the honest doubter who nevertheless continues in fellowship with his trusted friends until he too is able to believe. Spencer offers moving inspiration from the lives of the disciples, and enlightening insights for the Christian life today.
At the time of the original writing, Spencer says in his new Preface, he felt compelled to show the Resurrection as historical. He tries to reconcile the logistical details of the different accounts, such as whether Mary Magdalene was alone or with two other women when she finds the empty tomb, or whether Jesus originally appeared in Jerusalem or Galilee. While some of these explanations sound contrived and unnecessary, other attempts at explaining who was where when lead Spencer to interesting insights. For example, in discussing why Thomas was not with the other disciples when Christ appeared to them, Spencer suggests he could have been ashamed of his denial of Jesus during the crucifixion. He may have been despondent — now that Jesus was dead, there was no need to gather. Or maybe he thought he could reach God better alone that night than with the community. Or perhaps outside circumstances kept him away, and God allowed his faith to be tested for a week before he saw for himself that Jesus lived.
Spencer uses these choices of Thomas, and similar explications of the circumstances faced by the other disciples, as the springboard for solid inspirational advice for Christians today. In describing Mary Magdalene’s growth, the similarities and contrasts between Peter and Judas, and the obstacles the disciples in Galilee needed to overcome before seeing the risen Lord, Spencer is at his best. He draws readers into the story and gives them cause to rejoice as their own faith is renewed. The republication of this book is a blessing indeed.
The Fire that Consumes
By Edward William Fudge
Publisher: Providential Press
Review Author: Carl R. Schmahl
Edward William Fudge here re-examines the Christian understanding of final punishment and concludes that over the last 1900 years Christians have usually gotten it wrong.
The prevalent view of final punishment goes something like this: Man is a creature made up of two parts, body and soul. The body, being mortal, is subject to death and decay, while the soul will live forever.
According to Fudge, the problem with this view is that it is rooted in an understanding of man that comes from Plato: “In Plato’s thinking, the soul (or psyche) was self-moving and indivisible or ‘simple.’ Ungenerated and eternal, it existed before the body it inhabited, and it would survive the body as well. To be apart from the body was the soul’s natural and proper state; to be imprisoned in a body was its punishment for faults committed during a previous incarnation.”
Certain Christian writers borrowed the Platonic conception of the soul and modified it to suit their purposes during their disputes with their pagan neighbors, but the main lines of Platonic thought — the soul’s immortality set against the body’s mortality — remained. To this day the influence of Greek philosophy colors our interpretation of Scripture and final punishment. Fudge believes the doctrine of Hell is an important one that can be restored to its proper place in Christian preaching if we strip away the incrustations of Greek philosophy.
The biblical teaching, Fudge says, is actually quite clear. In both the Old and New Testaments man “is a single, wholistic being.… He is totally creature and therefore inherently mortal and entirely dependent on his Creator for everything, including existence itself.” If Fudge is correct this means two things: First, the Bible differs from Greek philosophy by asserting that man is a single creature. There is no division between a mortal body subject to death, and an immortal soul. Secondly, since we are totally dependent upon God for our existence, there can be no such thing as a soul that is inherently immortal. Our real hope rests in the Resurrection of the dead.
This brings us to Fudge’s thought on the matter of final punishment: “Does Scripture teach that the wicked will be made immortal for the purpose of suffering endless pain: or does it teach that the wicked, following whatever degree and duration of pain God may justly inflict, will finally and truly die, perish and become extinct forever and ever?” (emphasis mine). Fudge believes the answer is extinction “forever and ever.”
When I picked this book up for the first time I was uncertain; after all, Hell is a long way down on my denomination’s (United Presbyterian) list of interests. But Fudge writes well, his discussion is forceful and to the point, he covers the ground from the Greeks through the Bible and the Fathers down to the Reformation in an exceptionally evenhanded manner. You may not agree with every position taken by Fudge, but he will give you something to think about.
©1985 New Oxford Review. All Rights Reserved.
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