Are All Men Lost?

Christ in Modern Athens: The Confrontation of Christianity with Modern Culture and the Non-Christian Religions, by C. J. Bleeker (E. J. Brill [Leiden, Holland], 1965, 152 pp., 12 guilders), is reviewed by William J. Samarin, associate professor of linguistics, Hartford Seminary Foundation, Hartford, Connecticut.

The Millennium, according to this book, will be brought into the world by dialogue. The prophecy comes in the final sentence of the last chapter: “… all true believers will be able to understand and appreciate each other’s values, without having to relinquish the particular faith that is so dear to them.” By “believers” the author does not mean Christians only but all sincerely religious people.

One must not get the impression, however, that this is a tract for the Universalist Church or any other system of its type. The author makes very clear claims for the unique contribution of Christianity to the discovery of truth. He places himself unequivocally in the Christian fold. At times he is disarmingly evangelical: for example, “… there is no hope of sanctification of human life and of the world-order, unless we place our trust in the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit which emanates from God and of which Jesus Christ is the bearer” (p. 146).

How this profession is squared with Bleeker’s other views about non-Christian religions is the most interesting feature of this book. It is very clear that it is Christianity of a very special type that can harmoniously co-exist with them. (a) Christ is distinct because of his power to inspire man; “His essence is a secret which we sense, but can never wholly express in words” (p. 145). (b) As for God, we are reminded again and again that he is transcendental; but he is also “neither personal nor impersonal, but supra-personal” (p. 118), as seen in Hinduism and Christianity, whose views are “of equal value.”

It would be reprehensible, however, to give the impression that Bleeker has unburdened himself of the embarrassing claims of historic Christianity simply to make room for other faiths. Here is a man who has been grappling with the terribly knotty question of the relation between Christianity, to which he would like to remain faithful, and the other religions he has examined as professor of the history and phenomenology of religions (University of Amsterdam). This is an honest attempt to try to answer that question.

Bleeker believes that the answer must be biblically justified (p. xii), but one will find it neither in the life and ministry of Christ nor in the Pauline epistles (pp. 11–16). Rather, it is to be found in Paul’s “sermon” at Athens, for it was here that Paul had to change his missionary strategy; here was the first encounter between the Gospel and autonomous Greek culture (p. 17). For example, by his acknowledgment that “in everything that concerns religion you are uncommonly scrupulous” (Bleeker’s translation), Paul acknowledged the value of their form of religion.

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There is something patently odd about this exegesis. Unfortunately, it is never fully used in the development of a thesis. In fact, one of the weaknesses of the book is that it is poorly organized. One learns a great deal about the subject in general, but he is left with too many loose ends. Time and time again Bleeker takes up what seems to be a major point in the argument only to dispatch it in one paragraph. Again and again he tells the reader that a detailed exposition is beyond the scope of his book.

The author makes at least two other curious statements, neither of which inspires confidence in his critical use of source data. One is that “the leap forward from the primitive to the ancient stage of religion came about almost simultaneously in the fourth millennium B.C.…” (p. 137). It seems to me that there is precious little information about prehistoric “primitive religion,” but that the study of contemporary “primitive” societies reveals religious beliefs of great sophistication. The other statement is that General MacArthur resigned his commission after President Truman refused him permission to cross the Yalu River because an electronic computer had ruled that China would declare war on the United States if this step were taken!

Nonetheless, I will not demean this book. In fact, I recommend it for every library. It has something to say to students of comparative religion, Christian apologists, and everyone concerned with the mission of the Church. It can serve as an introduction to the views currently being advocated in some Protestant circles, such as those of Max Warren, John V. Taylor, Kenneth Cragg, and others, in the “Christian Presence Series” (SCM Press). Unfortunately, Bleeker makes few comparisons between his own views and those of other writers, the notable exceptions being Karl Barth and Hendrik Kraemer. The works cited are mostly in German or Dutch (with quotations from the former untranslated).

Christ in Modern Athens reminds us that there are many terrible problems to wrestle with. “Are all men lost?” is one of them. It is a profound question that deserves better answers than it gets from the average missionary. The sympathetic and serious “Paul of the twentieth century” very often discovers that he never really had answers to begin with. When confronted with the competitive alternatives of Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism, many have “gone to pieces,” as one missionary to India reported to me. Or if they maintain their equilibrium after having honestly tried to understand the non-Christian religions, it is because they have relinquished all judgment to God: “We work in the light we have; God must decide who are His.” When compared with Bleeker’s solution to the problem, this one is no answer at all. He would insist that Christianity makes a unique contribution, one that complements the truth in other religions: i.e., God is love.

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Family Renewal

The Church Looks at Family Life, by Evelyn Millis Duvall, David R. Mace, and Paul Popenoe (Broadman, 1964, 167 pp., $3.75), is reviewed by Gerald P. Hubers, pastor, Riverside Christian Reformed Church, Riverside, California.

The twelve chapters of this very helpful and timely book were delivered as lectures at a recent Southern Baptist conference on family life. In a time when the dissolution of the American home is becoming altogether too common, it is very appropriate that the Church take a searching look at its role in confronting this blight on our society.

The lectures were presented by three nationally recognized authorities on family life, and two characteristics are especially striking in the work of all three. The first is the excellent documentation in sociological studies; the authors are not content with hearsay. The second is the concern that Christianity must permeate all our relationships, and especially that most personal and intimate one, marriage. In their concern, the authors do not fear to rest on the authority of the Word of God, which has something to say to our contemporary problems.

The burden of the book is that the Church has a vital duty in the area of family life. Popenoe points out that this has always been a function of the Church but that during the last generation intruders have sought to push the ministry of the Church away from this concern.

The authors are helpful in stimulating one’s thought on the proper role of the Church in family life. The book is not exhaustive, and is not intended to be so; but it is an excellent survey, in readily readable form, that should serve to alert the Church of the problems and point toward solutions.

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Job Still Suffers

The Anchor Bible, Volume 15: Job, translation and notes by Marvin H. Pope (Doubleday, 1965, 295 pp., $6), is reviewed by Carl E. DeVries, research associate, The Oriental Institute, University of Chicago, Luxor, United Arab Republic.

This is another volume of the Anchor Bible, a new Bible translation complete with introduction and notes. Widely advertised as “ecumenical,” the Anchor Bible is in effect a sort of conglomerate, for the various volumes are done by scholars of diverse theological positions.

Those who appreciate a philological commentary will enjoy this book. The author’s far-ranging knowledge and thorough acquaintance with the sources make his work an excellent tool for getting at the meaning of the Hebrew text. This reviewer found reading the commentary notes to be a stimulating, almost exciting experience, though he did not always agree with the commentator.

The introduction is the least happy section of Professor Pope’s volume, though it contains useful material, including a bibliography. The author’s views on biblical criticism reflect an essentially liberal position, but he aims at a middle ground on textual problems. The text of Job is admittedly difficult; many scholars are reluctant to come to grips with it. Though Pope concludes that the date of the book is unknown, he leans toward the seventh century, while suggesting that certain parts may be much older.

Pope’s summary of the content of Job and his approach to various related difficulties are based on an artificial interpretation not sustained by the text; as one result, the literary integrity of Job suffers. He has overplayed the theological differences between Job and his comforters; he does not acknowledge that an essential agreement of their views runs through the book. The main difference between Job and his friends was not one of belief but one of judgment of Job’s personal experience: to Job, his testing was an enigma; to his friends, it became a stumbling block.

The translation of Job is generally excellent, though not, of course, above criticism. It is fairly literal, avoiding the often loose paraphrastic turn currently popular. Often the translator’s knowledge of Ugaritic and related materials has enabled him to recognize the correct meaning of a word whose rare use in Hebrew had left it incorrectly understood.

Specialized learning has its limitations for the interpreter; Professor Pope’s familiarity with the mythologies of the Near East, particularly of Ugarit, has led him to see many mythological allusions in the text (though he does reject more extreme mythological references suggested by other commentators). His interpretation of Behemoth and Leviathan is especially unconvincing.

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Numerous details invite extensive discussion. One can but summarize by stating that Pope has given us a challenging and helpful work on the age-old questions of Job, though he, like most of his predecessors, does not probe deeply the central theme of suffering and the divine will.


One-Way Dialogue

Belief and Unbelief: A Philosophy of Self-Knowledge, by Michael Novak (Macmillan, 1965, 223 pp., $4.95), is reviewed by Carl F. H. Henry, editor, CHRISTIANITY TODAY.

While this book at times provides interesting reading, it is on the whole an airing of doubts that reaches no secure faith. Novak, assistant professor in humanities at Stanford, concludes that belief and unbelief are “rival conceptualizations of human intentionality,” but that nonbeliever and believer share a spiritual unity at a deeper than conceptual level.

The author pictures the modern intellectual world as largely unbelieving and the world of believers as largely unreflective. The contrast is overdrawn. Yet he is surely on firm ground in noting that the bias of the universities is against faith in the supernatural. He roots the case for faith in “intelligent subjectivity,” a refinement of existential encounter that he distinguishes—in theory at least—from subjectivism. Belief and unbelief offer alternative affirmations of one’s own identity.

The God of redemptive revelation nowhere speaks for himself in this dialogue; it is remarkable that Jesus Christ can be considered as irrelevant to the case for theism as he is in this volume. One is not surprised, therefore, that in this confused search the author seeks to understand God by understanding himself—and fails for that very reason.


Land And Religious Freedom

Public Regulation of the Religious Use of Land, by James E. Curry (The Michie Company, 1964, 429 pp., $12.50), is reviewed by Thomas S. Bunn, lawyer, La Canada, California.

This book will intrigue those who believe there is an effective movement to interfere with Protestant church expansion through municipal regulations called “zone variances.” The author redefines the relative rights of churches and municipalities in this matter. He speaks of the possible abuses of regulatory power and our obligation to be alert to such dangers; but he shows that urbanization requires restraints against the former almost complete freedom of religious groups to build churches and schools where they pleased. He further shows that our courts are generally fair to all religious groups that are themselves fair to others.

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Included is an exhaustive case history of the judicial development of the principles on which zone variances are granted or denied. The author makes clear the necessity and absolute fairness of abandoning the old rule in the light of modern traffic patterns, parking problems, and the present “big business” of church construction. In granting or denying permits for the location and use of property for religious purposes, municipalities should, says Curry, give full consideration to the general welfare of the areas affected as well as to freedom of religion and worship. He shows that much of the publicity given decisions adverse to church applications was deceptive in that rulings actually based on proper municipal requirements for variances were misinterpreted as denials of religious rights.

The book is excellently organized and indexed. Its greatest value lies in what lawyers would call its comprehensive “brief” on the title subject; each major judicial decision is appropriately treated. Every person whose duty it is to counsel or decide on matters in this area should have a copy of this book at his elbow.



Contemporary Theatre and the Christian Faith, by Kay M. Baxter (Abingdon, 1965, 112 pp., $2.75), is reviewed by Calvin D. Linton, professor of English literature and dean of arts and sciences, George Washington University, Washington, D. C.

Western literature has had no broadly adequate frame of reference since the disintegration in public belief of that great scheme of divine order usefully called, in the Renaissance, “Christian humanism,” a fusion of Judeo-Christian and Platonic traditions. It is possible to say with some reason that Milton’s are the last major works in English to express a self-consciously complete cosmic orderliness. Surely from the early nineteenth-century Romantics on, modern literature has increasingly reflected the gradual fragmentation of philosophical patterns and the “dissociation of sensibility” of which Eliot speaks. No modern frame of reference has begun to replace the old in scope, in artistic relevance, or in validity—not Freudianism, Jungianism, Communism, Statism, scientism, behaviorism, or whatever the current fad may be. As Stephen Spender has pointed out, no modern writer is “modern” for more than a decade. One may almost go further: if he’s published, he’s obsolete.

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It is not surprising, therefore, to find much modern literature reflecting—often unconsciously, usually brokenly, unbelievingly, and sometimes grudgingly—fragments of the old patterns of the Christian world view and its interpretation of man. Sometimes, since it is impossible to create (in the really primary sense) a totally different kind of reality from the one our heritage gives us, originality consists chiefly of inverting the old one—as Joyce does in his later works. A kind of Mass said backwards.

It is possible, therefore, if one views certain modern literary works from far enough away, to see, as one in an airplane sees the dim outlines on the earth of ancient roads or cities, the faint patterns of ancient and abandoned beliefs and creeds. It is dangerous, of course, to assume that every cryptic or obscure passage in modern drama is a hidden foundation stone laid by the Judeo-Christian tradition; but it is foolish to neglect the fairly obvious outlines of old beliefs when they appear, even when they are deliberately obscured and perverted.

Mrs. Baxter, former head of the Religious Drama Society of Great Britain and presently a Fellow at Newnham College, Cambridge, examines in this volume ten dramas by ten modern authors, including. Samuel Beckett, Graham Greene, Albert Camus, John Osborne, Christopher Fry, Tennessee Williams, and others. Her stated purpose is “to see points at which the ‘new’ theatre illuminates problems Christians face in understanding and communicating their faith.”

One of the most useful things she does is to remind our forgetful or careless age of some of the basic themes and types of the Christian belief itself. She quite validly, for example, sees Beckett as showing forth the Suffering Servant role of Messiah in the character of Lucky in Waiting for Godot, and in doing so not only illuminates a particular play but perhaps introduces many readers to this aspect of prophetic literature. On the other hand, she helpfully reminds the reader who is theologically learned but not familiar with contemporary modes in the arts that it is as futile to interpret Christian pockets of meaning in Camus, Anouilh, or Osborne in terms of traditional creeds as it is to interpret Dante or Spenser existentially or in terms of Freud. (And the latter tendency, I think, is more destructive to critical sense in our day than the former.) In the modern drama she treats of, the great quests are for identity and communication. The search may be almost invisible beneath the surface sensationalism of a Williams, for example, or in the chalk-screeching self-psychoanalysis of Osborne’s soliloquies; but to the careful ear the notes of plainsong may be occasionally detected, just as the eye, viewing a heap of rubble, may see a few foundation stones of what once was a cathedral.

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Mrs. Baxter’s knowledge, sensitivity, insight, and prose style all combine to make this book greatly useful to anyone interested in contemporary drama.


Theology Before Need

The Church Reclaims the City, by Paul Moore, Jr. (Seabury, 1964, 241 pp., $4.95), is reviewed by Melvin D. Hugen, pastor, Eastern Avenue Christian Reformed Church, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Truman Douglas has said, “In almost direct proportion to the increasing importance of the city in American culture has been the withdrawal—both physical and spiritual—of the Protestant Church. If Protestantism gives up the city, it virtually gives up America. Yet that is precisely what it has been doing” (quoted on p. 27).

Many books analyze the problems of an urban ministry, but few suggest solutions. Analysis is not absent from this book, but the author goes beyond it to proposals. Paul Moore, a bishop in the Episcopal Church, has written a practical handbook for laymen and clergy. He concentrates on the historic parish church and what it can do in its community, whether downtown, in the inner-city slum, or in a transitional, blighted area. He begins from the thesis that the parish is still a viable institution even though it has many specific weaknesses (pp. 84–91).

The major part of this book is devoted to specific suggestions for the parish church in beginning and expanding an urban ministry. Moore avoids methodism. He gives suggestions, alternatives, and possible answers to specific problems without rigidity.

One strength of this book is that it approaches the evangelistic ministry of the church, not as another program added to the educational work and the worship services, but as an aspect of each part of the total ministry.

Although the emphasis is on how the urban church can minister to its community, Moore clearly sees that the “failure of the Church in the city has been a failure, not of technique, but of theology” (p. 43). The usual approach to a theology of urban work has been an “attempt to discover the seeming needs of the people of the city” and apply “the appropriate theological poultice.” Moore begins his theological basis for urban work with the premise, “man’s needs cannot determine theological principle” (pp. 44, 45).

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As one who ministers in a parish in a transitional area, I found his description of the spiritual trauma experienced by the established congregation beginning an urban ministry to have hairline accuracy (pp. 131–34), and his insights and proposals to have immediate value.


Book Briefs

The World’s Christmas: Stories from Many Lands, by Olive Wyon (Fortress, 1965, 184 pp., $2.95). Christmas stories more for adults than children, and for such recommended.

The True Wilderness, by H. A. Williams (Lippincott, 1965, 168 pp., $2.95). The title could be a symbol of the author’s theology.

Understanding Your Teen-Agers, by Ray F. Koonce (Broadman, 1965, 141 pp., $2.95). A book parents and ministers will read with profit.

Descent into Darkness: The Destruction of the Roman Catholic Church in Russia, 1917–1923, by James J. Zatko (University of Notre Dame, 1965, 232 pp., $6.95).

Bible Key Words, Volume V: Hope, Life and Death, by Rudolf Bultmann and Karl Heinrich Rengstorf (Harper and Row, 1965, 125 pp., $4.50). The concepts “hope” and “life and death” as treated chiefly by R. Bultmann in Kittel’s theological wordbook of the New Testament.

Himalayan Heartbeat, by Ken Anderson (Word Books, 1965, 198 pp., $3.75). The story of a doctor practicing first-century Christianity in twentieth-century dimensions.

Secrets, by Paul Tournier, translated by Joe Embry (John Knox, 1965, 63 pp., $2). Tournier discusses the religious and psychological aspects of the right to have secrets.

Billy Sunday, by D. Bruce Lockerbie (Word Books, 1965, 64 pp., $3.50). The spectacular story of his life, two of his colorful sermons word for word, plus more than 100 photographs of the man and his ministry.

Bed and Board: Plain Talk about Marriage, by Robert Farrar Capon (Simon and Schuster, 1965, 173 pp., $3.95). A bread-and-butter talk about marriage and family living, with just the right combinations of yeast and salt.

Counseling with Teen-Agers, by Robert A. Bless and the staff of First Community Church, Columbus, Ohio (Prentice-Hall, 1965, 144 pp., $2.95). The product of a team of seven ministers who worked together in one church.

The New Testament, Revised Standard Version: Catholic Edition (Nelson, 1965, 250 pp., $3.50). The Protestant Revised Standard Version as edited by Roman Catholics for Roman Catholics. An appendix lists all changes made in text and notes. The list is short.

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Christ on Campus: Meditations for College Life, by Donald L. Deffner (Concordia, 1965, 156 pp., $2.75). This book of devotions may drive some college students back to God.

Westminster Study Bible, Revised Standard Version (William Collins, 1965, 1,775 pp., $8.95). The Westminster Study Bible, this time based on the Revised Standard Version; hence all footnotes, the introduction, and other articles have been revised accordingly.

The Prophets for Today: Devotional Meditations, by Thomas Coates (Concordia, 1965,115 pp., $2). A very good book of brief devotionals.


Christmas: An American Annual of Christmas Literature and Art, edited by Randolph E. Haugan (Augsburg, 1965, 68 pp., $1.50). The thirty-fifth anniversary edition reflects the joy and reverence of Christmas in art, literature, stamps, poetry, and music.

The Comfortable Pew, by Pierre Berton (J. B. Lippincott, 1965, 137 pp., $1.95). A critical tract that is not, says the author, for Roman Catholics, or for hard-core fundamentalist and evangelical churches. The author, a one-time Anglican, now attends no church at all but writes nonetheless about the comfortable pew.

Minimal Religion, by Frederick Nymeyer (Libertarian Press, 1964, 384 pp., $3). The author comes out strongly against Marxistic and socialistic economic interpretations in the name of his own economic interpretation of Christianity: Adam was created ignorant of the complexities of social life and with only a potentiality for true “knowledge, righteousness, and holiness”; the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is the symbol of private property; original sin is theft; the “cause” of sin lies in the limited character of creation, i.e., the amount of material things is limited (“if there were no welfare shortage there would be no motivation to sin”). On such a basis he proceeds to the minimal essence of Christianity and its meaning for socio-economic life.

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