Useful Collection

The Ministry in Historical Perspectives, edited by H. Richard Niebuhr and Daniel D. Williams. Harper, New York, 1956. $5.00.

Making surveys is one of the most popular scholarly occupations of our day. It is a relatively painless way of educating not only the surveyed but the surveyor. Sometimes it is pointed at one, sometimes at the other, but usually both benefit if there is any organization at all in the undertaking.

The theological seminaries of the United States and Canada have recently been undergoing such a survey. It has been under the direction of the two editors of this present book and of James M. Gustafson. Some preliminary results appeared in a series of mimeographed bulletins and the final statements are now appearing in three books. The volume under review is the second of the three to appear. It has less to do directly with the survey than either of the other two but may prove, in the long run, to be the most useful of all. Judgment on that point must be reserved until the third appears and time has passed to note the effects. In any case, this volume is a real bonanza for anyone interested in the ministry and how it has reached its present state.

The editors of the volume are not among the contributors, most of whom are professors of church history in American theological schools. They include, in order, John Knox who deals with the ministry in the primitive church, George H. Williams who covers the ante-nicene and patristic periods, Roland H. Bainton for the middle ages and Wilhelm Pauck for the Reformation. Edward R. Hardy deals with modern priestly ministries, Winthrop S. Hudson with the Puritans and Sidney E. Mead and Robert Michaelsen with the American scene.

The post-apostolic age always leads to speculation on the actual course of events, since our sources of information are very limited and do not provide all the desired answers. Knox is a little bolder and more radical in this speculation than is necessary or, in fact, than is likely, in the light of what we do know, to represent the real state of affairs. For example, by considering the Pastoral epistles as non-Pauline and by holding the book of Acts to be “considerably later than Paul” (p. 20), he is able to discuss the offices of bishop, deacon and others at considerable length without introducing the subject of the presbyter or elder. The treatment of the latter follows in a separate section. This results in what seems to me to be a distortion of the picture. There are, however, great excellencies in the clarity of presentation and the use that is made of many of the sources.

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The other periods are better provided with source material and the authors, therefore, are able to walk on surer ground. The attractiveness and vivid character of the style varies from contribution to contribution but taken as a whole they are a brilliant and most useful coliection. There is nothing else just like this and nothing as good as this at present available. Williams handles his material in masterly fashion. Bainton is not as technical but is marvellously evocative of the medieval situation. Pauck supplies much information not otherwise generally available concerning conditions at the time of the Reformation. Hardy is concerned to present the ideal as well as the actual. I am not sure that Hudson is quite up to his usual level though he gives a competent review of the Puritan period in England, but Mead has a splendid analysis of the distinctive American scene. It does not push the evidence too far, as Mead has sometimes done. Michaelsen’s characterization of the fundamentalist minister, unfortunately, is on the cheap side (pp. 258 f.).

Almost every institution and office can only be understood if its history is known. The contemporary ministry is no exception to this rule. This book could make some ministers twice as effective.


Facing Decay

The American Sex Revolution, by Pitirim A. Sorokin. Porter Sargent, Boston. $3.50.

Dr. Pitirim A. Sorokin is Chairman of the Department of Sociology of Harvard University and former President of the International Institute of Sociology. He is the author of some thirty books on sociology and is a recognized authority in his field. Thus speaks one who knows.

The thesis of The American Sex Revolution is so challenging and startling that it is well to know it is advanced by a capable authority and not by a religious reformer. Dr. Sorokin claims that the conclusions which he reaches in his American Sex Revolution are reinforced by his many works in sociology, to various ones of which he refers for the evidence to support different declarations. The deterioration of sex attitudes and mores in American life is another proof we are in the sensate state of culture, in a downward process that must be arrested by the sane leadership of this nation or our culture will go the way of that of ancient Egypt, of Greece and of Rome. The student who is familiar with Sorokin’s The Crisis of Our Age will follow the application of Sorokin’s cyclical view of history to morals in the American cultural pattern.

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Birth, marriage and death are declared to be the most important events of an individual life and, as viewed by society, of more importance than other events because of the way they are hedged in by laws, mores and traditions. Of these three, marriage is by far the most important because it is the transition from the child to the wife-mother or to the husband-father. The family becomes the most important school for the child, it fulfills the creative urge in humanity, it secures immortality for the individual and the race and it satisfies the demand for fellowship. No illicit sexual relationship can do what the family relationship can do. Sex viewed in the responsible relationship of the family is a healthy and helpful experience, ennobled and beautified in the language of Sociologist Sorokin; but sex in extra-marital relationships or pre-marital relationships or without discipline and control is viewed as a crime, a sin and a symptom of degeneration. Recognizing this, Sorokin declares that a revolution is taking place in the American way of life pertaining to sex. He gives the evidence in the preponderant practice of pre-marital sex relationships and the increasing number of extra-marital sex relations that are resulting in divorce, desertion, orphanaging of millions of children, illegitimate children, abortions, the skyrocketing of the sale of contraceptives and the resultant physical and mental diseases. The statistics presented by Professor Sorokin are impressive. It is his belief that sex promiscuity leads to sex addiction, that such addiction is encouraged by sex reaching its saturation point in pulp magazines, in realistic novels, in the entertainment field of the legitimate stage, the movies and television, in newspapers, in bathing beauty contests, in advertising of every article of life, in present legal practices and enactments and even in science. This, joined with the weakening of taboos on promiscuity in sex by religious, legal and social authorities, has resulted in the present revolution.

Professor Sorokin boldly proclaims that this revolution is having its effect upon the deterioration of physical health of our nation, the increase of mental tensions and derangements, the reduction of creativity, the interference with longevity, the breakup of integrity and the destruction of happiness. He shows that mental illnesses increase proportionately with the sex freedoms. This sex freedom produces tension in the life of the individual in his relationship to his spouse, or to the relatives of the person with whom he has had relations, and with society. These tensions tend to increase and have a disintegrating effect upon society itself.

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Out of his vast knowledge of and familiarity with the history of past civilizations, Professor Sorokin demonstrates that the same process took place in the old kingdom and middle kingdom of Egypt, in the change from a strict and puritanical family life to one of freedom, to one of license. He believes that the rigorous restraints upon sex in the family life of the puritanical period result in a creative burst of life. Simultaneous with the creative burst of life the restraints are released, then within two generations they become license, and the culture begins to deteriorate. Proof is also adduced from the history of Greece, of Rome, of Italy and of modern Europe. Sorokin believes that America has passed through this cycle of continence, of creativity, of freedom, of looseness and is now facing decay. He believes that inevitable doom awaits this nation without a moral regeneration in the form of sex continence. To assist the transition from sex anarchy to sex order, he advocates the practice of total love, in pre-marital relations, in courtship and in marriage. Sex-love is only a small part of the total love of human beings. Sorokin challenges present leadership to change society by changing persons, changing practices of our culture and changing institutions.

Here is a magnificent negative preparation for the Christian Gospel standard of morals, teaching on sex and transformation by the power of God. Professor Sorokin has done America a great service to analyze the trend of our present society, to raise warning signals and to summon the nation back to standards of purity. Christians will rejoice in the thesis of the book and will agree, at least 95%, with the book which is not particularly written from a Christian standpoint.


Social Implications

All Ye That Labor, by Lester De Koster. Eerdmans, Grand Rapids. $1.50.

This book, which bears the subtitle, “An Essay on Christianity, Communism and the Problem of Evil,” contrasts the approach of Christianity with that of communism, as religions, to the problem of social evil. It compares in a delightfully effective way the explanations these two systems offer to the existence of an imperfect world, effectively criticizing the explanation of Communism.

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All Ye That Labor is the first of a series of monographs, called Pathway Books, which Eerdmans intends to issue on important subjects within the general province of the Christian faith. From Authority to Archaeology, the Pathway series will offer the best available evangelical thought on questions of current religious interest. If the others compare favorably with this first volume, the series will be a valuable one.

The author takes his departure from the assumption that Western man has surrendered his dreams of utopia and is once again engaged in a quest for an explanation of the malignancy he recognizes in society. Point by point he contrasts Communism’s affirmation that man will inevitably save himself with Christianity’s supreme affirmation that God can save man. He finds that Marx’s insights (for instance, that society is sick, a conclusion reached during a period of universal optimism) do not necessarily validate the conclusions drawn therefrom. He establishes, in telling fashion, that man, nature and God are not what Marx thought them to be and that evil is not simply the result of ignorance and of ancestry, inevitably destined to disappear in a classless society.

The author defends but does not worship Capitalism. He acknowledges that Capitalism produces social evil, but he insists that the source of the evil is not in the system but in human sin. This is a profound insight frequently missed by critics who assume that the problem may always he found in the system itself and who look for the evils of Capitalism in its premises rather than in man. On the other hand, argues the author. Communism is wrong as a system, and in the hands of sinful man the evil is compounded. Capitalism is based upon premises that are essentially good and benevolent. It produces evil only as human greed and selfishness add their corrupting influence to a philosophy which otherwise would offer freedom and defend the individual without destroying natural differences.

This book, despite its economic theme, is a masterful apology for the Christian view of man, sin and salvation. It also constitutes a strong argument for the fact that Christianity has social implications. The author’s insights are frequently profound. They are generally phrased in simple and delightful language.

Untreated, however, are at least two important considerations. The first, how human greed and selfishness form the dynamic of Communism instead of an impersonal dialectical materialism. The author declares that Communism’s dynamic is demonic, but he doesn’t point out how this dynamic is, in action, man’s selfish search to improve himself at the expense of those who allegedly exploit him. Secondly, the book says nothing of the relation (if any) of Democracy to either of the systems discussed. Most Americans, at any rate, assume that some form of Democracy inevitably complements Capitalism. At least a statement affirming or denying this assumption would have been helpful.

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Strong Meat

Red Dragon Over China, by Harold H. Martinson. Augsburg, Minneapolis, 1956. $3.50.

This is a book which should not be read by those who would like to ignore or forget the political ineptness or worse, that permitted China to fall into the Communist Camp. Nor should it be read by those who contend that the unrepentance of sins and atrocities of communism should be overlooked. This book is strong meat. It revolts because it is true. It depresses because it gives the downward course of a great and once friendly nation and tells of the agonies of her people after their “liberation.”

The author was born in China and after receiving his education in America returned to the land of his birth as a Christian missionary. He is not a fanatic but an honest reporter of facts. He does not write of his opinions but of tragic happenings. He writes with care and documents his statements with a generous bibliography.

Mr. Martensen states in his preface: “This book is presented to the public more from a sense of duty than from a sense of choice. Having witnessed at close hand the workings of communism, I feel constrained as a Christian to inform, to warn, to arouse as many as possible against this terrifying blight.”

“In all my research I have not come across a single satisfactory survey of the rise of communism in China.”

With a thoroughness and a clarity that satisfies even though the details are so utterly depressing, the author proceeds to give a running account of communism’s take-over of China. After the establishing of the red regime he proceeds to give case histories in a chronological order of repressions, brain washings and wholesale murder.

One pathetic illustration is an actual photograph of a great throng of people kneeling just prior to their execution. Their one crime was that they had owned a little land.

Here in the peace and quiet of America there is danger of being lulled into a feeling of security, or of feeling that the evil days and ways of the communists have passed. That we have been spared the horrors of war and wholesale atrocities is soon forgotten.

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Red Dragon Over China brings one back with a jerk. We see communism for what it was when China was lost to the free world. We see it as it is today. This book should be read by politicians, by church leaders and by any misguided Americans who feel that one can do business with either the system or the adherents of communism.


Enough Of Barth

Christ and the Conscience, by N. H. G. Robinson, D.Litt., Professor of Systematic Theology, University of St. Andrews, Nisbet & Co. London.

The purpose of this book is difficult to define. The author has quite clear views of his own, and it would have been most welcome to his readers if he had expounded these positively and constructively. Instead of this valuable exposition the reader is supplied with yet another book on Barth. Interesting and stimulating though Barth is, have we not enough of him? The present reviewer would much rather be reading Dr. Robinson in Dr. Robinson’s book. Barth, Brunner and Niebuhr are all weighed in the balances by our author and found wanting! Dr. P. T. Forsyth is shown on this occasion, as on many others, to have been a fore-runner of Barth’s spiritual emphasis but at the same time to have been far more scriptural and certainly far less paradoxical.

The author’s main concern is to draw attention to the absence of the truly ethical element in Barthianism. He contends that theology must take within its sphere not only the setting forth of the truth about the Divine communication of revelation, but also those truths which belong to man’s reception of that revelation. “Theology cannot escape the responsibility of considering the response to revelation as well as the revelation itself.”

Dr. Robinson does not like Barth’s contention that “the response of faith is utterly given” as a kind of creatio ex nihilo. Dr. Robinson argues rightly that Barthianism is evangelically deficient in that it either pays no heed to the realm of man’s moral action or even violates its sanctity. He writes, “Underlying the movement way from Barth by those closest to him there is at bottom … a desire and a search for a more ethical evangelical theology, and theological presentation of the Gospel which does not violate, not indeed the moral realm to which the Gospel is sent, but the larger moral realm to which it belongs, the realm of God’s grace summoning man to salvation.”

Dr. Robinson’s work is valuable in its avowed “preliminary but indispensable task” of defining and defending the standpoint of ethico-evangelical theology. May it be hoped that, the preliminaries being completed, the author will proceed with the development of his own contribution.

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The Good Life

Christian Personal Ethics, by Carl F. H. Henry. Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1957. $6.95.

This book is an important contribution to the literature of moral philosophy, and especially to formulations from the point of view of religious faith as it is affirmed in the Bible. It includes an extensive and thorough exposition of systems of speculative moral philosophies together with a penetrating evaluation of their merits and their inadequacies. It argues that “the impotence and sterility of speculative ethics derive largely from a self-enforced segregation from the ethics of revelation.”

The fairness with which the author states philosophies is one of the praiseworthy features of this fine book. Another such feature is the clarity of its style and the consistency of its thesis that “ethical ideas underlie the whole” of the Bible and “are capable of systematic presentation.” The author of this book has indeed achieved such a systematization in an admirable and convincing manner.

This book is a scholarly, yet easily understood argument in support of the conviction that “Christian ethics is the ethics of … redemptive religion.” It should be included in the small but indispensable library of ministers, theological students and college students who are interested in studies of religion and in philosophies of religion. This book is strongly recommended for courses in Christian ethics.


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