What We Believe

The Good, the True, the Beautiful: A Multidisciplinary Tribute to Dr. David K. Naugle, eds. Mark J. Boone, Rose M. Cothren, Kevin C. Neece, Jaclyn S. Parrish. Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 2021, $41.00.

I had the pleasure of spending a few days with Dr. Naugle a few years ago at Dallas Baptist University. It was immediately apparent how much he loved the students and how much they loved him. His colleagues placed him in high regard. His book Worldview: The History of a Concept[1] had been required reading for my courses at seminary. It is fitting that this tribute volume, The Good, the True, the Beautiful, be composed of appreciative essays from Naugle’s students, friends, and colleagues.

There can be no more meaningful experience in the professor’s life than to see his students carrying the ball down the field and developing their own voices. David Naugle can only be proud of his extraordinary legacy. Knowing him, it is not an unhealthy pride but a sense of satisfaction. His view of vocation, at the center of his teaching, affirms that it is God who calls, and we are mere agents, “ambassadors” of his plan to bring the kingdom forward to this world.

The book is a feast. As one commentator put it, “It’s a book about everything.” That is about right. Subjects include apologetics, Russia, contemporary Christian music, Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, Wilberforce, and much more. The obvious strength of the volume is its comprehensive scope. Though in Worldview we have a primarily philosophical etymology, with due deference to Augustine, Calvin, Kuyper, Husserl, Jaspers, and a host of other philosophers, here we have the wide variety of subjects we might expect from such an eclectic collection of scholars. The legitimate fear of too much variety, often characteristic of a festschrift without a unifying theme, is offset by the surprising depth of each chapter.

We don’t have the space to review every chapter. So, here are three, one from each section, for the sake of sampling. First, from “Part I: The Good,” “An Exploration of Calling: William Wilberforce. Julia Sass and Me,” by Hannah Briscoe (MLitt from the University of St Andrews). Calling is central to David Naugle’s concerns, which has perceptively influenced Miss Briscoe. She pays homage to Os Guinness’s powerful book, The Call.[2] William Wilberforce is an obvious choice of a model. Less obviously, Julia Sass, missionary to Sierra Leon, receives the bulk of Brisoe’s attention. The parallels as well as the contrasts are poignant. They both keenly felt the compelling voice of God’s calling. Wilberforce was well-connected and served in public life. Together with influential colleagues and especially with the Clapham group, he pressed for the end of slavery and the “reformation of morals” in the British Empire. By contrast, Sass had a strongly independent spirit and often fought alone. She created a girls’ school and was a strong advocate for women’s education as well as for women’s roles in missions. The story is moving. With some hesitation Sass became a missionary over the objections of her mother. She battled all kinds of obstacles, including bad health, on the way to success. Though she occasionally dipped into class prejudice, this was not uncommon for the times.

Briscoe credits Wilberforce and his mentor John Newton with the founding of the Christian Missionary Society (originally called The Society for Missions to Africa and the East). Sass and Wilberforce were personally connected through John Venn one of the founders of the CMS. Much of this article is based on Sass’s correspondence with John’s son, Henry Venn, to whom she bared her soul. Briscoe reverently draws on this correspondence which reveals a determined woman, who nevertheless has severe illnesses and much psychological anguish. Far from a historical study with a cold recital of facts, Briscoe inspiringly describes her own journey in the light of Sass’s.

Second, “Part II: The True,” by Scott Shiffer (Criswell College), “An Alternative to Plantinga’s Free Will Defense.” There is no doubt that Alvin Plantinga changed the face of philosophy in the West. In his famous response to John Mackie’s works, which argued that there was a fundamental contradiction between an all-powerful and good God and the existence of evil, Plantinga painstakingly showed that this is only true if Mackie’s premises are right. And they could be challenged. Plantinga’s arguments closely resemble the older concept of middle knowledge. Though God knows all things he does not determine human choice. His plan includes the reality of human choice but does not obviate it. So, in one sense he must create a world where sin is a part.

Shiffer argues that this view softens God’s sovereignty as well as his goodness. Using numerous Scriptural proof texts, he affirms an immutable, holy, and truthful God, but also one who is incapable of compromising with sin. Though he does not use it, his view accords with the Westminster Confession of Faith’s affirmation that God ordains all things yet without being the author of sin (WCF 3.1). He rightly ponders why God created a world in which evil could exist. But he speculatively (in my view) proposes that this situation better opens the way to redemption. Thus, while Shiffer’s approach is an improvement over Plantinga’s, he never quite recognizes that God’s reasons for allowing the fall must remain inscrutable.

Third, “Part 3: The Beautiful,” by Episcopal priest David Dallas Miller, “Evangelism Through Beauty.” This intriguing essay argues that by emphasizing the good and the true evangelists have missed the most compelling reason to embrace the gospel: its beauty. He defends this view mostly by citing testimonies of those who came to the gospel through beauty. They include Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, a Jew who was converted to the Christian faith not so much through the Word but because of the beauty of Notre Dame Cathedral. He includes C. S. Lewis, who came to faith through the experience of joy, but not so much through intellectual persuasion nor the moral argument. Miller ventures into the New Testament and contends that Jesus won people over by beauty more than logic. He contrasts the beauty of the raging sea with the greater beauty of the Lord rising to calm the waves. Even the cross becomes a beautiful thing.

As a complement or even a corrective to imbalance, Miller’s view has a certain appeal. Protestants in particular, by stressing the ideational, have downplayed the aesthetic. But as a complete thesis, I find his emphasis lacks equilibrium. And I find some of his evidence disputable. John Frame once wisely said the two happiest words in theology are “not only.” If Miller were saying not only goodness and truth but also beauty, we would listen more closely to him. He is aware of the possible imbalance, but slouches into excess. If one looks closely at C. S. Lewis’s story it is impossible to miss the intellectual component and the power of the moral argument. And the New Testament is replete with claims of the truth. John 17:17 is resolute: “Your Word is truth.”

The other issue I have with this essay is that the author never actually defines beauty. Of course, the word is famously elusive. But many have taken a stab at it and often convincingly. And Miller seems unaware of Calvin Seerveld’s critique of the carelessness with which the term is thrown around, often sounding more like Plato than the Bible.

Having said all of that, the great virtue of this and all the other chapters in the book is that they exist. I do not mean to sound supercilious. I sincerely applaud the wide range of these essays, all of them inspired by the central notion of calling, which David Naugle has so masterfully imparted to his students and friends.


[1] David K. Naugle, Worldview: The History of a Concept (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002).

[2] Os Guinness, The Call: Finding and Fulfilling God's Purpose for Your Life (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1998).

William Edgar is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and serves as professor of apologetics and ethics Westminster Theological Seminary, Glenside, Pennsylvania. Ordained Servant Online, August–September 2021.

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Ordained Servant: August 2021

Our Adult Children

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