Volume > Issue > Briefly Reviewed: April 1985

Briefly Reviewed: April 1985

They Saw the Lord

By Bonnell Spencer, O.H.M

Publisher: Morehouse-Barlow

Pages: 225

Price: $8.95

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

Pages: 500

Price: $19.95

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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