What God Loves Most In Things

Religious Art in the Twentieth Century, by P. R. Régamey (Herder and Herder, 1963, 256 pp., $4.95), is reviewed by Calvin Seerveld, associate professor of philosophy, Trinity Christian College, Palos Heights, Illinois.

This recent translation of the French book, Art sacré au XXe siècle? (1952), is a disarming, sane apologetic for art that is contemporary, an exhortation for both the clergy and “the faithful” to bring their view of church art up to date. It is not so much a treatise on art as a devotional preamble for educating Christians to let art flourish. Its polemic is pastoral, charitable in tone; yet Régamey frequently calls a spade a spade:

Whether they be pseudo-Gothic (One could add, “pseudo-Colonial”) or pretentiously “modern,” in all cases these churches seem self-conscious and pathetic, like the pious mannerisms of the over-devout and the unctious tone of voice adopted by some preachers [p. 23].

The typical Romanish excrescence of adoring Mary as a guide for artists (pp. 74–77) is balanced by occasional frank self-criticism:

Protestants accuse us of idolatry, which is probably an exaggeration, but may not be so in every case. Any excessive attachment to devotional pictures and statues demands rectification [p. 41].

The overall point of the book is to show how art should be and can be, in the twentieth century, a “noble handmaid” in the service of divine worship (liturgy).

Specifically, Christian art is said to be art that with childlike earnestness lays hold upon what God loves most in things. Further, such art will “reveal the spiritual, the divine, by using the appearances of ‘carnal’ nature and things of the perceptible order” (p. 56), just as the Word revealed itself in carne. This plea for “realistic” art that corresponds to the order of the Incarnation (“mystical naturalism,” he calls it) leads the author to posit as most serviceable to the church art offering something familiar and recognizable. “Nonrepresentational art could not be a means for any large-scale communion between men” (p. 209).

Yet Régamey argues that nonrepresentational art, which is simply flesh of modern flesh, can indeed “create an atmosphere conducive to contemplation [in churches], and by doing this it will help remedy the great danger of representational art, which may make us stop short at the mere external appearance involved in the [Christian] mysteries …” (p. 220). He faults clergy and the run-of-the-mill public for staying stuck in the Renaissance and academic imitative art forms of yesteryear and for distrusting artistry that demands more response than mawkish devotion.

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Much is made of art’s being a “free” language in which the artist to his own “inner voice” must be true. How then can sacred art, committed to function within a specific, dogmatically religious framework, ever be vital art? Art pressured by an external totalitarian control will be dead, suggests Régamey.

Nazi art, the Socialist realism of the U. S. S. R., and the art that we normally find in churches are the three most dreadful manifestations of art that our century has witnessed [p. 168].

And so far he is right. Only when that “dogmatic commitment” flows naturally into the art will it be living art.

But Roman Catholic Régamey trusts this free-flowing artistic intuition of everyman too much. “All art is fundamentally sacred …” (p. 96); all genuine artistic creations are naturally “religious” (English adaptation for sacré) in a good sort of way, he says, although they need corrective, supernatural informing to be truly Christian (p. 97). This is why non-Christian artists can be accommodated in the church: unbelievers can produce sacred art since “spiritual sensitivity more than faith” determines artistic expression (p. 188).

This tack, it seems to me, does not take seriously enough the effect sin has upon the unregenerated heart; it makes the line between faith in Christ and non-faith in Christ a dotted one; further, the scriptural, diametrical opposition of sin and grace is replaced with the theoretical opposition of nature and grace. Also, Régamey’s hope to revive Christian art in the twentieth century by appealing to the sensitivity of great artists estranged from the church, while attractive, seems to me misconceived. You may get famous artists under the church roof, but the flowering of Christian art can come only from a communion of saints who are also competent artists. Let us rather train and encourage sons of the church.

Maritain’s inspiration seems to underlie the general set to Régamey’s reflections; a lambent mystique runs through the book—there is talk about art as “transfiguring” and “transcending” the human rational situation. But evangelicals in America might learn from this Frenchman’s words:

… a Christian community is only ready for mature and living works of art, of course, when the priest has disbanded that little circle of right-minded people who always think they know simply because they happen to have one or two unshakable theories [p. 249].
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Conservative Protestants may not proscribe too quickly what is novel in art, and orthodox theologians should not prescribe for art before they know what art is about: such constriction is like muzzling the ox while he treads out the corn. Even more than Régamey asks could be argued for in terms of Reformational Christianity and should be gently fostered: art’s fulfillment is not as an auxiliary to church liturgy; art itself is terrain for full-fledged witness to the glory of God.


Updating Easter

The Easter Message Today, by Leonhard Coppell, Helmut Thielicke, and Hans-Rudolf Mueller-Schwefe (Nelson, 1964, 156 pp., $2.95), is reviewed by David H. Wallace, professor of biblical theology, California Baptist Theological Seminary, Covina, California.

The authors of this book have assayed to restate the New Testament case for the Resurrection in three stages. Professor Goppelt reviews “The Easter Kerygma in the New Testament” in a learned discussion that is heavily weighted against Bultmann and his disciples. He rightly affirms that a severe injustice to the New Testament witness to the Resurrection is done in “demythologizing” the event and subjecting it to an existentialist reinterpretation. His conclusion of a lengthy discourse on the development of the kerygma is that the Resurrection is central to our faith in God, that it is neither marginal nor optional to faith, for the fact of the Resurrection in history is cognate with our salvation.

Next, Professor Thielicke, whose fame in this country rests chiefly upon his power as a preacher, scrutinizes the Resurrection kerygma through the glasses of the systematic theologian, the discipline in which he has earned his reputation in Germany. He is concerned for the factuality of the Resurrection in history, and, like Goppelt, he directs his fire against the existentialist theologians who dissolve the historical character of the Resurrection in the interest of self-understanding, against the rejection of the subject-object relation in historical research, and against the denial that faith owes anything to purely critical history. He consents to Martin Kaehler’s conclusion that history does not produce faith but that faith cannot ignore history.

Last. Professor Mueller-Schwefe considers the Easter sermon; i.e., how the findings of the technical New Testament scholar and the systematician undergo a “translation” into terms that are ethically and culturally meaningful to a congregation. The Resurrection is not a matter of pure objectivity, but it is to be expressed in terms of faith, which is its sole proper theological context of understanding, The Resurrection is best grasped as an eschatological sign of the free and sovereign act of God in Christ. The book closes with a cursory review of Easter sermons preached since 1918, when the demise of classical liberalism was felt.

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How well have the authors achieved their goal of making the Resurrection credible to faith today? The answer can be made only in terms of the theological sophistication of the reader. The cogency of the argument is attenuated by at least three serious limitations. First, the theological sweep of the book is too narrow. Almost no English-language theologians are consulted (there is an understandable confusion on the Niebuhrs on p. 56, n. 1) on this crucial issue about which much has been written. Second, the reviewer confesses to a vague pettishness because Bultmann is the opponent in so much of the argument of the book. Admittedly he is at the epicenter of much contemporary theological earthquaking, but there are other issues and other theologians who also merit attention. Last, the volume is crippled by its ponderously Germanic style, which unfortunately persists in translation. Clarity, simplicity, and terseness fell hapless victims in the first paragraph. One sentence (p. 128) will illustrate: “And if the idealistic schema is correct, namely, that the subject-aspect is the authentic reality and the object-aspect is secondary, it necessarily follows: the essence of faith, of exceptional subjectivity, can emerge only at the very site where the external reality, reality as object, shatters.” By this time the reader’s patience is also shattered.



The Patriarchs of Israel, by John Marshall Holt (Vanderbilt University, 1964, 239 pp., $5.95), is reviewed by Meredith G. Kline, professor of Old Testament language and literature, Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Not myth, not history, but legend—such is Holt’s basic estimate of the patriarchal narratives. Although he feels that the radically negative Martin Noth is overcautious when it comes to recognizing genuine historical reminiscences in these narratives, Holt’s own assessment of Genesis 12–50 is essentially closer to that of Noth than it is to the more positive verdict of the Albright school. In identifying the patriarchal accounts as legend, Holt means that they have “a certain degree of historical verisimilitude … at least that amount of historicity allowed historical fiction in general” (p. 206). As an irreducible minimum he magnanimously insists that the general schematism of the lives of the patriarchs must correspond to the wanderings of the tribes that they personify. Perhaps then a better title for this book would be “Legends about Early Hebrews.”

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In his attempt to develop the historical significance of the Genesis narratives more precisely, Holt assigns considerable importance to the Habiru, who appear in so many ancient texts. He adopts the theory that the Hebrews were a segment of the Habiru and concludes that the story of the journeying of the Hebrew patriarchs (dated somewhere between 1900 and 1400 B.C.) is a miniature of the history of the Habiru. This whole thesis is unfounded. But quite apart from that, it is unfortunate that Holt’s extensive reconstruction of the matter relies on the older notion of the Habiru as some sort of inferior social class, whereas the more recent investigations recognize them as a professional group, whether militarists or merchants.

As for patriarchal religion, Holt finds that its uniqueness was nothing but that of potential, discernible only to the eye of evolutionary faith. In fact, he feels that “the practical polytheism” of the patriarchal Hebrews lagged behind the general monotheistic trend in the Near East.

The book includes chapters on the ethnic background of the patriarchal narratives, on patriarchal family life and religion, and on the patriarchs in Egypt. The presentation is on the whole characterized by a certain immaturity. Scholarly respectability is anxiously protected by repetitious denunciations of the orthodox doctrine of Scripture and by a hauteur of pronunciamento well in advance of the author’s control of his primary sources.


How The Problem Changed

The Problem of God, by John Courtney Murray, S. J. (Yale University, 1964, 121 pp., $4.50), is reviewed by Dirk Jellema, professor of history, Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

This slim volume by an eminent Jesuit theologian whose contributions to contemporary church-state theory earned him a cover story in Time should be read and discussed by evangelicals. Murray’s argument, originally given as a series of lectures at Yale, is that the “problem of God” appears in different forms and contexts in different eras, and that in our contemporary era it is appearing in a new context.

For the Hebrews, the problem was cast in existential fashion. There is God: how then is he with us day by day, existentially, in our life as individuals and as community? The final answer to this statement of the problem comes with Christ. For the early Church, in the patristic period (that “brilliant epoch”), the context is thus different, and the formulation of the problem changes. There is God: how are we to express our knowledge of God, our “theology”? For the “modern” era (roughly 1600–1900), with its “will to atheism,” the problem is still intellectual. There is no God: how then are we to understand the cosmos through Reason? (Most Christian apologetic is still directed against that context of ideas). For the contemporary era, the “post-modern” era, the formulation once more becomes existential. God is “dead” (irrelevant): how then must we act to build our individuality and our society?

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While the book is full of thought-provoking observations, the early sections might be especially noted. The presentation of Hebraic thought as basically existential in concern (and thus “contemporary”) is provocative, and the attempt to make the patristic development of orthodox theology meaningful and even exciting is largely successful. Some points in the argument might be questioned (for a somewhat different view of the “post-modern mind,” see our remarks here. May and June, 1961), but the general thesis is convincing. If the thesis is true, it implies that evangelical apologetic—developed for a context of ideas now gone—needs drastic revision.

A final note: Murray is concerned about Protestant-Catholic dialogue and gives an able presentation of the argument (common among sophisticated Catholics since Newman) that accepting Trinitarianism logically implies accepting the development of doctrine, and thus Tradition, and thus Cathloicism. He sees the Eusebian anti-Nicene theologians as “fundamentalists” and biblicists, and the orthodox theologians as Catholic in approach. An article in CHRISTIANITY TODAY on this specific argument would be a contribution to dialogue.


To Tap A Heritage

A History of Christianity, Vol. II: Readings in the History of the Church from the Reformation to the Present, by Clyde L. Manschreck (Prentice-Hall, 1964, 564 pp., $13.25), is reviewed by Frank Farrell, assistant editor, CHRISTIANITY TODAY.

In portraying the history of the Church down to the present day, this volume completes the story begun by a 1962 book, edited by Ray C. Petry, that covered the early and medieval periods. The two-volume set makes a substantial contribution to the churchman interested in benefiting from his rich heritage. Professor Manschreck has served us well not only in compiling the readings but also in supplying competent introductions to the various historical developments, thus setting the readings within meaningful context.

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The selected materials are as broad in scope as church history itself, ranging from Luther’s Ninety-five Theses to documents of the liberal-fundamentalist clash and of the ecumenical movement. Also included, for example, are: excerpts from Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises, Milton’s poem on the Piedmont massacre of the Waldenses, the Scottish National Covenant of 1580, and selections from William Law’s A Serious Call to a Devout and, Holy Life.

Adding to the marked value of the volume are chronologies (events, rulers, popes), lists of suggested readings, and apt and vivid illustrations.


Heady Fare

Three Philosophical Novelists, by Joseph Gerard Brennan (Macmillan, 1964, 210 pp., $6.60), is reviewed by Henry ten Hoor, professor of English, Hope College, Holland, Michigan.

Professor Brennan, chairman of the Department of Philosophy at Barnard College, gives us in this book an excellent example of the enlightenment to be gained from interdisciplinary endeavor. The book takes its cue from Santayana’s work entitled Three Philosophical Poets, which discusses Lucretius, Dante, and Goethe. Professor Brennan’s starting point is his assumption of certain similarities between Lucretius and Gide as naturalists, between Dante and Joyce as logicians, and between Goethe and Mann as metaphysicians. However valid such comparisons may be, there is still the question, as the author concedes, whether his three subjects can accurately be thought of as philosophical novelists at all, or in the same way that we think, for instance, of Jean Paul Sartre.

The book becomes, then, not so much an exposition of the philosophical position of the three authors as a discussion of the intellectual influences evident in their work.

Joyce, who envisions the novelist as creator, appropriates ideas and attitudes from sources as widely scattered as Aristotle, Aquinas, Berkeley, Plato, Dante, Schopenhauer, Jung, Freud, and the Catholic Church. Joyce has, as the author comments, little philosophy in his base but a great deal in his superstructure. Even this philosophy, however, is the kind that observes and records rather than the kind that asks the basic question, “Is it true?” Joyce does not necessarily believe; he uses whatever suits his purpose.

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Gide, besides being a “non-philosophic” writer, may not, by his own definition, even qualify as a novelist since none of his books except The Counterfeiters has the length and complexity that he believed the novel should have. Gide’s interest lies in the tension he evidences between the spirit and the flesh; between commitment as he understands it from the Bible, the Catholic Church, and Dostoevski, and mobility as he understands it from Bergson and the Nietzschean doctrine of strength and right.

Mann is perhaps the most genuinely philosophical of the trio. In almost all of his work, Schopenhauer’s Will-Idea dualism is made artistically functional. In fact, Art for Mann becomes the mediator between the will and the idea. He uses also a concept of time similar to Bergson’s and the idea of the emergent God of Whitehead and William James.

The author says the book was written with his undergraduate students in mind. The orderly development of his ideas is nicely suited to this audience, but one cannot suppress the suspicion that if this book is typical undergraduate fare at Barnard, then that school’s undergraduates are far and away superior to those in other colleges of the nation.


Fills The Gap

The Westminster Dictionary of Christian Education, edited by Kendig Brubaker Cully (Westminster, 1963, 812 pp., $6), is reviewed by Robert K. Bower, professor of Christian education, Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, California.

Although this volume is called a dictionary, it is really a combination dictionary and encyclopedia. It contains material unique to Christian education and also much that is derived from psychology, sociology, philosophy, and public school education.

The wide array of scholars (more than 390) contributing to the book, representing as they do a variety of denominations, seminaries, and countries, is most impressive. A worthwhile feature of the book one might not expect in a dictionary is the extensive bibliography, with 1,277 entries arranged according to subject areas for convenient use. This item alone makes the book a valuable one.

In the opinion of the reviewer, this volume fills a long-existing gap in the armamentarium of Christian educators, ministers, and church leaders. It is accurate, contemporary, and both national and international in outlook. Its comprehensiveness is shown, for example, by a range of subjects from the National Association of Evangelicals, the Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship, and the National Sunday School Association, to the National Council of Churches, the Religious Education Association, and the Student Christian Movement (SCM).

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Missionaries involved in educational work will find this book of considerable help because of articles on such subjects as: Christian education in Africa and in Latin America (3½ and 2½ pages, respectively); the International Missionary Council; Buddhism, Confucianism, Hinduism, Islam, and Shintoism. There are also articles on the Roman Catholic Church, Seventh-day Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the Latter-day Saints (Mormons).

In the fields of theology and philosophy, articles deal with all major schools of thought, from idealism to pragmatism, and from liberalism to fundamentalism. In psychology and sociology, the descriptions of theories of learning, theories of personality, counseling, role-playing, psychodrama, and psychological testing procedures will be very useful for one who has only limited knowledge in these fields.

In the area of church education, the material on the responsibilities of the general superintendent, the junior high and senior high school departments, adult education, workers’ conferences, lesson planning, and vacation church schools will provide orientation for both the new and the experienced worker seeking brief and to-the-point information.

Everyone engaged in the work of the church, whether he be an ordinary church worker or a paid church staff member, will find this volume a handy and dependable reference work.


A Look At Baptists

A Way Home, edited by James Saxon Childers (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1964, 235 pp., $3.95), is reviewed by W. Nigel Kerr, professor of church history, Gordon Divinity School, Wenham, Massachusetts.

The intent of this book is to introduce the Baptists by giving “something of their history, about what they do in community service, and about what they believe.”

The history of the Baptists up to 1845 is told in a lively manner by R. A. Baker and R. G. Torbet. This presentation of the Baptist story will undoubtedly create a desire for further exploration in this area. To satisfy this desire, a short bibliography is provided (pp. 233–35). In the chapter “1845: The Division,” the authors assert that pre-Civil War sectionalism was the root of denominational bifurcation and that slavery played only a small part.

The remainder of the book is a sample of Baptist opinion and practice. It does not by any means fulfill the ambition of the cover advertisement: “Readers … will gain a full knowledge of the denomination and an understanding of what Baptists believe.” The article, “Their Home Missions,” by Courts Redford, pictures only the Southern Baptist work, while the excellent study, “Their Foreign Missions,” by John E. Skoglund, is limited largely to the American Baptist effort. The extensive Southern Baptist foreign missionary work receives no treatment at all. This imbalance is evident throughout the sixteen chapters on such subjects as “The Training of Their Ministers” (Southwestern Seminary), “The Christian Campus” (Ottawa University), “They Tend the Sick” (Southern Baptist Hospital Board), and “Their Publications” (American Baptist Publication Society). Each of the sixteen authors reflects well the particular viewpoint that he represents, and someone well acquainted with Baptists in America could exercise his insight to garner some interesting data from these “case studies”; but it is doubtful whether a casual reader could draw a true picture of the several strands of Baptist tradition.

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One would not expect a profound theological analysis of what Baptists believe in a book for the layman, but perhaps this effort bends to the other extreme. A layman writes “On My Baptist Faith” (pp. 160–64), and the non-Baptist reader might wonder what distinguishes Baptists from humanists. The treatment of polity, “Inside a Baptist Church,” is well-written but quite unbiblical in its approach. There is a refreshing Christological flavor to “What Makes a Baptist a Baptist?,” but the evangelical of any American denomination could wholeheartedly concur in four out of five characteristics, taking exception only to “baptism upon profession of faith.” In a number of the presentations there is the usual American Baptistic overemphasis on individualism and local independence as against the biblical emphasis on corporate unity in Christ. The ever-present Baptist battle cry against creeds is present with its diminishing of the importance of Baptist confessions of faith, but unfortunately that prime Baptist distinctive, “the New Testament is our only rule of faith and practice,” gets little space.

The work has an attractive format and is handily arranged. The material in the appendix should be very useful to the lay leader and teacher.

There seems to be a wistful longing in the volume for a more ecumenical spirit among Baptists. If any hope for Baptist unity is found here, it is expressed by Baker and Torbet, who see the several branches of the Baptists united in “the basic purpose and prayer that every man should come to a personal acknowledgment of Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, that every man through grace, shall find a ‘way home.’ ”

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Book Briefs

Apologia pro Vita Sua: Being the History of His Religious Opinions, by John Henry Cardinal Newman (Oxford, 1964, 439 pp., $3). Newman’s own story of his spiritual pilgrimage, which led him back to Rome. One of the truly significant books of the nineteenth century.

Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries: The Second Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians, and the Epistles to Timothy, Titus and Philemon, translated by T. A. Smail (Eerdmans, 1964, 410 pp., $6). Volume X in a completely new translation of Calvin’s commentaries. A good translation, attractively bound.

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