Book Review: The Fear of God, by Arnold L. Frank
The subtitle to Arnold Frank's comprehensive study on the fear of God says all that is necessary to commend its subject matter to today's Church: â€œA Forgotten Doctrineâ€. If there was ever a major doctrinal understanding, suffused throughout the scriptures from Genesis to Revelation, that a notable segment of the historical Church entirely overlooked, then it is the doctrine of the fear of God, which the vast bulk of contemporary Evangelicalism has blithely, carelessly, and altogether shockingly ignored. The Fear of God is a timely and potent cordial for a very widespread and malignant disease.
The stark incongruity of much of modern Evangelicalism's flippant attitude toward piety appears with a startling clarity when juxtaposed with two contrary foils: the nature of true religion as seen in the bible (both in the Old Testament and the New); and the religious life of the Puritans, who were shaped in their devotion more, perhaps, by a biblical fear of God than by any other sentiment. Both of these examples are given full expression in Frank's book: the fear of God is proved to be an eminently scriptural and necessary doctrine, characterizing the worship of God's people throughout biblical history; and the doctrine is likewise laid out in great measure from the pens of the Puritans, whom Frank quotes from freely, and by whose capable and systematic treatments of the topic he has derived a principle of organization for the whole book. Against these two exemplars of biblical worship and the devotions of the Puritans, the irreverence and nonchalance of American Evangelicalism is striking and sobering.
After diagnosing the problem and supporting his thesis that the fear of God is a doctrine of immense biblical importance, not just in the Old Testament but equally in the New, Frank delves into the heart of the book, which categorizes and describes the various sorts of fear that may be discovered in the bible, both good and bad, and shows how to put the good to a proper use while avoiding the wrong sorts of fears that so quickly arise in the hearts of all men. There are many ungodly fears â€“ fear of man, a fear that needs to supplement the perfect work of Christ, a fear that drives one away from God in terror â€“ and even in the genuine believer there often arise many fears that question God's wisdom and mercy, and shrink away from his presence; but contrary to what one might expect, the only sure way to overcome all these evil fears is to grow in the reverent and worshipful fear of God, that he enjoins upon all his people everywhere.
Frank has much to say on the doctrine of the fear of God as it relates to the ordo salutis: in typical conversions, the sinner is overwhelmed by a provisionally godly fear, when he realizes the immense perfection of God's holy Law, and the depths of his own sin; this fear drives some away in anger and dread, but in others it has the godly effect of preparing them for Christ's free and sufficient grace. In those who have known this fear, and the resultant mercy of Christ, the Holy Spirit will never again bring the fear of bondage to the Law (although the devil may well attempt to do so); but nevertheless, the rest of his life thereafter he will grow in grace largely in proportion as he develops a filial fear and reverence for the God of his salvation. This sort of fear, which is â€œthe other side of the coinâ€ in relation to a true and biblical love of God, is what so prominently characterized all of God's saints in biblical history.
Throughout the book, Frank is very skillful and incisive to sort out and describe the various fears that attack the godly, driving them to despair, and the solutions to those fears that the Word of God holds forth. In my own experience, his chapter on â€œPeculiarly Afflicting Fearâ€ was one of the most helpful and practical of the book; but the following chapter on â€œWorship-Inclining Fear was also full of intensely practical information. Finally, the last chapter entitled â€œHow Shall We Then Preach?â€ should be required reading for every preacher in the ministry today.
Available for purchase at MonergismBooks