A Systematic Theology of Biblical Christianity: Volume Two: The Doctrines of Man, Sin, Christ, and the Holy Spirit

By Rolland McCune
Detroit : Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary (2009). 403 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. Trevor Craigen
21.2 (Fall 2010) : 250-252

After twenty-eight years of teaching theology at Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary, Rolland McCune published his theology notes, leaving behind a legacy of concise and instructive comments. This second volume covers Parts 5-8, i.e. “The Doctrine of Man,” “The Doctrine of Sin,” The Doctrine of Christ,” and “The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit.” The author presents the origin of man without entering into extensive arguments of science and paleontology. No fuss, no bother, not a wasted word! He takes the biblical text at face value and teaches what it says. The imago dei is presented under Man’s personal, spiritual, moral, and physical (?) resemblance to God (26-28). Note the author’s question mark. Although he does not mention it specifically, McCune is obviously aware that the two terms, tselem and demuth, do point to an exact replica. In fact, a word study bears this out. However, that does not make it easier to explain. Hence the question mark.

He introduces the important consideration of Christ being the archetypical form God had in mind when He made man. The dots connect when it is remembered that Christ would need a body for the incarnation. An excursus in the book is on whether or not the image was lost in the Fall (29-30), but one wonders if this was so debatable that it warranted a special note. It is the author’s judgment call. McCune dealt with it succinctly with three footnotes showing his awareness of what several other writers had concluded.

Chapter 14, “The Original State of Man,” is just over four pages, with the material grouped under four categories, namely “Man’s Moral Nature, Man’s Mental Endowment, Man’s Dominion Over Creation, and Man’s Original Diet.” If there was to be excursus which would treat critically and biblically an area of knowledge which has become blurred today, that would be the arguments over theistic evolution and Fiat Creationism. Considering that fact that McCune is obviously a six-day young-earth creationist, he was obligated to react at the very least with those conservative evangelicals who have capitulated to science and have allowed it to change their interpretation of Scripture. The author in writing so succinctly and concisely and with clarity displays a mastery in summarization and in choosing what to focus on in place of lengthy arguments for and against the young earth as opposed to an old earth (3-10).

McCune opts in favor of traducianism over creationism and Federal Headship over against Seminalism. He presents arguments for and against each view, although he bills Federalism as being endorsed by all the arguments against the other views. He finds it problematical that Seminalism has to propose the “unindividualized” humankind all being in Adam. Unfortunately, David Turner’s doctoral dissertation (Grace Theological Seminary, 1982) has been overlooked. It would be interesting to see what McCune’s reaction might be, especially on the gnomic aorist in the final clause of Rom 5:12.

Twenty short, one-sentence descriptions of the incarnation lay bare just how much material is available for study. Other than a footnote affirming that Jesus Christ was a genuine human and that He had come not in sinful flesh but rather in the likeness of ordinary, sinful humanity (102 n. 3), in appearance as a man, no systematic discussion follows up any one of these description. What follows is “An Exegetical Sketch of Philippians 2:5-8,” in which different explanations of the “self-emptying” are briefly noted. The preferred definition is that He voluntarily set aside the unqualified exercise of His attributes and took the form of a servant. McCune qualified the relinquishing of His attributes by noting that He made use of His attributes during His life, His act was voluntary, and He was perfectly cognizant of His pre-incarnate state (107-9). Actually, the author adds one more which is that Christ depended on the power of the Holy Spirit during the kenosis period.

Nothing startling or that different occurs in the chapters on the virgin birth, the deity of Christ, and the humanity of Christ (115-38). It is standard fare and perfectly acceptable for the Bible student who avoids following a scholar with a reputation for re-doing and re-formatting everything. The brief discussion on the the anthropic person of Christ and the hypostatic union passes muster. The notes on impeccability brushed aside Canham’s thought-provoking article in TMSJ 11 (2000), after citing only one part of his conclusions. It is worthy of more examination than it received (149). Canham’s arguments treat peccability in the context of the decrees of God, the four kinds of humanity, and the kenosis, as well as carefully defining various terms, e.g., “ability.”… Christ voluntarily set aside the unqualified exercise of His attributes and took the status of a slave.

McCune covers all the essentials in two chapters on the death of Christ and the meaning of His death. The particular vocabulary of redemption, propitiation, and reconciliation which goes with the atonement receives attention, as does the extent of the atonement. The entire obedience of Christ, both active and passive, are important aspects of His one indivisible life of obedience (199-204). Universality and limitation are two aspects in the atonement, which “being infinite, . . . made an actual (author’s emphasis) provision for all and not just a hypothetical provision” (205). Charles Hodge and John Owen both provide statements in favor of a universal dimension because of the infinite value of Christ’s sacrifice. It is fully sufficient for all the effects or all human beings (207), but then it is also clear that God’s intent was to limit the strictly redemptive provisions to certain ones, the elect, those whom He enables to exercise faith. He comments upon the effectual call and the gifts of faith and repentance. Something obtains for the believer that does not obtain for the unbeliever, the application of the atonement’s accomplishments and benefits (214). His reference to election and the effectual call is obviously very much involved in the application. If the application of the atonement is correlative with its accomplishments and provisions, and it is, then these entail both salvatory (sic) and non-salvatory factors, i.e., the restraining of sin and the general distribution of God’s benevolence. Before noting this, McCune had sketched out the universals to be reckoned with, namely the language of invitation, the love of God, the mandate to evangelize, the gospel message, objects of prayer, and [final] sanctification. Mark well that the author does not propose universal salvation. Far from it! This chapter on the atonement leaves the reader with no doubt that McCune has thought through the biblical statements of Scripture and sought to explain them without special pleading to make verses say what they do not say. The chapter closes with a very good précis of the atonement and the divine decrees (218-19). The reader will probably wish to review the material again thoughtfully.

The chapter on the resurrection of Christ and His ascension are standard fare, containing nothing provocative, unusual, or creative. Against those who propose a spiritual resurrection only, the bodily return of Christ is asserted.

The doctrine of the Holy Spirit takes up eight chapters, the last one of which overlaps with eschatology—with what small amount of prophecy could be incorporated in just seven pages. Scanning the pages on the doctrine of the Spirit will reveal that the essentials have been summarized adequately. The author holds to the indwelling of OT saints, but rightly retains baptism of the Spirit for NT church-age saints. In so doing, he gives Pentecost its significance in relation to the beginning of the church. He also makes a point of the Spirit and His activity under the dispensation of Conscience, describing it as the articulation of the Spirit with the conscience of man, an arrangement which would come to an end with the Flood (287). It is a pity that McCune could not have gone further and provided some material on the Spirit in relation to the other dispensations—a table would have been more than adequate. In this day and age when dispensationalism is not receiving the respect it deserves, some extra information is almost obligatory. A cross-reference to literature treating the dispensations exegetically would have been a nice touch, and who knows but that it might pull some earnest young student away from classic Reformed non-dispensational amillennialism. McCune chooses only to mention briefly the Spirit in the Tribulation Period and during the Messianic Kingdom.

All in all, this book deserves mention as a good introductory survey of Systematic Theology or as a primer on Christian doctrine. No reason rules out its being used as the foundation of mentoring in theology or in a discipleship setting. Now that the skeleton has been provided, let the erstwhile student “put on the flesh” from a deeper study of Scripture. That would be quite an exercise in learning.