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Review – Speaking the Truth in Love

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As I began to review Speaking the Truth in Love, a biography of Roger Nicole, I felt uncertain how to introduce the subject. Nicole is a theologian whose impact is felt widely in the church, and yet one whose name is largely unknown. It occurred that David Bailey, the author of the biography, must have felt the same uncertainty. Here is how he chose to introduce Nicole:

Do you know Roger Nicole? If you are a Reformed Baptist you might, though probably not. Southern Baptists, whose latter twentieth century denominational record was one of intense struggle over the nature of Scripture, owe a debt to Roger Nicole that most would not recognize. If you have ever read from the NIV Bible, you have encountered him, for he was an assistant translator for that version. He was a founding member of both the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy and the Evangelical Theological Society (of which he is a past president). His family history, academic career, and Christian statesmanship are the stuff of legend. Perhaps most lists of influential twentieth-century theologians would overlook this remarkable “man of God,” a title conferred by no less an evangelical commentator than David F. Wells…. If this oversight should occur, I am convinced it would be the result of a regrettable unawareness of the man and of his impact on Christian theology.

It does seem regrettable that a man whose influence is felt as widely as Nicole’s would be unknown to so many. And yet I’m sure he would prefer that we know and believe the theology he has impacted than be aware of his involvement in defending and formulating it. It seems that Nicole is largely content to remain behind the scenes, out of view of the public eye that extends to so many other theologians.

Bailey’s biography of Nicole is an excellent one. It aptly portrays the life of this man of God, from his birth as a Swiss citizen in Germany, to his retirement in Florida. It interacts with the theology Nicole wrestled with and helped formulate, but does not become bogged down in it. Thankfully, the book does not focus undue attention on egalitarianism, the doctrine for which Nicole may have gained the most notoriety. The book moves quickly through the 180 pages of biography which are followed by five appendices and an annotated bibliography complete with Nicole’s own notations. Because Nicole has such a wide grasp of theology, he has written about issues covering the broad span of Christian doctrine. Here are a few areas that jumped out.

Speaking of the doctrines of grace and, in particular, the doctrine of particular redemption or limited atonement:

I had not realized fully how very damaging universal atonement, in the final analysis, is to the work of Jesus, so this is one doctrine in which I “bathed myself” increasingly. And the more I bathed myself there, the more I saw the other position does not really do justice to the work of Christ. My independent study of the atonement really convinced me of its definite nature. In my opinion, the strongest point of Calvinism is that Jesus Christ died to redeem his people. The ultimate issue is the Marriage Feast of the Lamb, and that is the whole purpose of creation as I see it: from beginning to end there is one purpose for God, and in spite of the dereliction from the ideal path he has traced for us, he still carries out his purpose.

Here are two of seven conclusions he reached when considering the importance of culture after touring around the world:

First, every human culture has certain elements that are positive and helpful to those who live in it. This is due to the gift of God’s common grace in the world that restricts the development of evil. Every human culture, by virtue of the corruption of sin and the hardness of the natural human heart, also has damaging elements that the spread of the gospel should address and curb. This would not of necessity curb the good elements.

Second, it is extremely difficult for people who are steeped in one culture to achieve a level of impartiality that would entitle them to offer a proper evaluation of another culture. Obviously there are elements that are so bad that an exposure to the gospel would necessarily cancel them (e.g., offering human sacrifices or sacred prostitution). But how to remedy certain problems would surely need at least a substantial participation of those who live in that culture (e.g., the problems raised by polygamy or how the choice for a marriage partner should be determined). Regulations drafted by a mission board that is foreign to a country should probably not be put in force without an influential participation of indigenous people.

In an appendix he writes about the importance of pondering the past:

There is a biblical injunction about musing: Deuteronomy 8:2 – “Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way…” More than fifty times in Scripture, we are challenged to remember, perhaps supremely in the Lord’s Supper: “in remembrance of Me” (1 Cor. 11:24-25). Thus our knowledge of the past must serve us in our decisions in the present. Our experience in the past is an important element in our preparation for the future. It should help us to avoid repeating the mistakes that we made previously. Memory is the bond that unifies the series of experiences and decisions that constitute our life.

If you know of the contributions of Roger Nicole, you will appreciate the opportunity to reflect on the debt of gratitude we owe to him. If, like so many people, you are unaware of his contribution to contemporary Christianity, this biography will allow you the opportunity to meet a man whose influence will be felt for many years to come. To echo the endorsement of Dr. Michael Haykin, “Read this book and praise God for this extraordinary servant of the Lord Jesus.”

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