Contemporary Culture

Testament of Vision, by Henry Zylstra, Eerdmans, 1958, 234 pp., $3.50.

The product of an orthodox Christian who can think and also write, this book is a pure delight. Here is writing which speaks modestly but with great sincerity and keen perception on contemporary education, literature, religion, and life generally. Are you bothered about the shortcomings of Christian fiction? The reason, says Dr. Zylstra, is that orthodoxy is at bay against modern culture and consequently this sort of writing emerges from outside, not inside, our culture and therefore is unrelated to the structure of life and reality. Genuine fiction, says he, is free from posturing, mere contrivance, and evasion. Because they show a willingness and an authenticity in exploring the fundamental issues of life, a Christian ought not to be afraid of Hardy, Kafka, Joyce, Hemingway, and Camus, because “there is more of you, after reading Hardy, to be Christian with than there was before you read him.” Christian novelists, on the other hand, are likely to substitute propaganda for witness, and in all propaganda “the soul of the free self” turns up missing.

Dr. Zylstra makes an analogous criticism of Christian education, and, in general, the orthodox way of thought. He cites Matthew Arnold’s comment on the English Nonconformists of the nineteenth century: “He has worshipped the fetish of separatism so long that he is likely to wish to remain, like Ephraim, ‘a wild ass alone by himself,’ ” and declares that as important as it is for orthodox Christians to maintain their identity through a species of isolation, they must not allow isolation to impoverish and cut them off from the resources of mankind. It is only as human beings that we are Christians ...

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