Election As Gospel -- By: Norman Shepherd

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 36:3 (Spring 1974)
Article: Election As Gospel
Author: Norman Shepherd

Election As Gospel

Norman Shepherd

A Review Article

Ames Daane: The Freedom o f God. A Study of Election and Pulpit. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1973. 208. $5.95.

The question which prompts James Daane to write is one which must be faced by the Reformed community. The doctrine of election is a central and indispensable element of the Reformed faith; yet, as Daane observes, the doctrine is not being preached from Reformed pulpits. Daane offers no statistical evidence to demonstrate the validity of his observation, but this reviewer’s visceral reaction was one of agreement. There does seem to be a disproportion between the vigor with which the doctrine is stated in the confessional documents, particularly the Canons of Dort, and the infrequent attention accorded to it in the pulpit and on less formal occasions of Bible and doctrinal instruction. As long as the doctrine is not being attacked, it will naturally not receive any special accent. At the same time, the doctrine may be free from attack just because it is not being enthusiastically preached. Various reasons may be advanced to account for the neglect, or even the suppression of the doctrine, and among these we may not discount the possibility that the doctrine simply is not believed, or if believed, that it does not function in any significant way in a pastor’s working theology.

The reason for the silence according to James Daane is simply that the doctrine of election as traditionally formulated and understood cannot be preached. Daane deplores the silence, but even more so, he deplores the traditional doctrine itself. In a brief opening chapter he suggests that the shape of a doctrine of election which can be preached will be after a neo-orthodox pattern: “Karl Barth was correct when he said that election is the sum and substance of the gospel, and that at the heart of the gospel stands Jesus as God’s elect” (p. 13).

In general the first half of this 200-page book elaborates what the

author means by the deficiencies and untenability of the traditional doctrine, and the latter half develops his positive understanding. These themes are, however, intertwined throughout and each chapter has elements of both. There is a considerable amount of repetition which, coupled with rhetorical flourishes in modern “ecclesian,” has its own persuasive effect in supplementing what is lacking in thoroughness of research and dispassionate use of sources. The minimal scholarly apparatus and indexing, as well as the absence of bibliography, confirms the impression that Daane’s book can best be described as a tract designed to g...

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