Issues And Answers

Religious Issues in American History, edited by Edwin Scott Gaustad (Harper & Row, 1968, 294 pp., $3.50) is reviewed by Robert G. Torbet, executive director, Division of Cooperative Christianity, American Baptist Convention, Valley Forge, Pa.

This volume in the Harper “Forum Books” series is intended to provide a new generation of students with source materials that confront them with the religious roots of American culture and with the relation between beliefs and various areas of life. Dr. Martin E. Marty, of the University of Chicago Divinity School, is general editor of the series, and Edwin Scott Gaustad of the Department of History at the University of California, Riverside, edited this volume. Gaustad’s selection of source materials and his introductory essays to each show the care and judgment of a competent historian and literary analyst. He also brings the insights of a Christian.

In eighteen sets of paired selections, the story of religious conflict in American life is highlighted with sensitivity and historical insight. Gaustad probes into and illustrates the issues that lie behind the clashes and confrontations in America’s religious history. From the traditional review of denominational triumphs and rivalries the reader is led to examine the nature of American religion—its pluralism, its acculturation, its struggle to survive.

Many of the issues have not been fully resolved and continue to demand attention: Was William Penn right in seeking diversity within unity? Or was Thomas Barton correct in warning that religious toleration only breeds “a swarm of sectaries” that threaten an orderly society? In a time of renewal of the church, as the Great Awakening certainly was, Gilbert Tennent’s stress upon a truly converted ministry clashed with John Hancock’s warning not to minimize an educationally qualified ministry. Episcopacy or liberty was an issue that seemed to be purely religious but actually had disturbing implications, since bishops often wielded political powers on behalf of a group that threatened the freedom of other groups in society. The proposal to subsidize the Christian religion so that all denominations could share alike was opposed by James Madison on the grounds that the only way to safeguard freedom of conscience is by separation of church and state. The contrary viewpoints of Thomas Paine, advocate of the supremacy of human reason, and Timothy Dwight, defender of the Word of God against all attacks from the rationalists, remind the reader that history repeats itself. The debate over how to promote revivals by Charles G. Finney and John W. Nevin, the Lutheran theologian who feared the substitution of “feelings” for true “faith,” is echoed today in many circles. The issue of nature or supernature is illustrated by Ralph Waldo Emerson and Horace Bushnell.

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The most disturbing issue of all in American history is seen in William Ellery Channing’s attack upon human slavery and James Henley Thornwell’s defense of slavery as a system of labor supply that might be justified by the Christian conscience. Reading these documents forcibly reminds one that the old rationalizations are not all dead.

Other issues include the conflict between science and religion, the question whether souls or systems in society are to be redeemed, and the anti-Catholic fear of Protestants expressed by Josiah Strong and countered by James Cardinal Gibbons’s defense of the rights of Roman Catholic citizens. The book concludes with a number of contemporary topics that reflect the challenge of secularism to Christianity. Among these are the waning of missionary zeal in the churches, the debate over the place of religion in education, and the question whether man has really come of age and can live without religion or belief in God.

For those for whom the discussion of religion must today be oblique rather than direct, this book will provide a helpful approach. The introductory essays are stimulating enough to suggest even to the skeptical reader the values of religion. For those who are convinced Christians, Gaustad’s approach will prove to be a provocative way of looking at complex issues that the churches often tend to over-simplify in our rapidly changing society.

God As Chaos-Order

The Divine Destroyer: A Theology of Good and Evil, by Walter E. Stuermann (Westminster, 1967, 187 pp., $5), is reviewed by Ellis W. Hollon, Jr., associate professor of philosophy, Middle Tennessee State University, Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

Walter Stuermann was convinced that “Nature is a Penelopean Web—at times woven in beautiful and orderly designs, but at other times unraveled in ugliness and chaos.” His own tragic death seemed to validate that interpretation: a philosophy teacher who was trained in electrical engineering, he was accidentally killed while working on his radio transmitter a short time after finishing The Divine Destroyer. Ironically, his book is full of equally tragic vignettes—the bursting of the nuclear submarine “Thresher,” the breaking of the Vaiont Dam, the Nazi obliteration of Lidice, and the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Thus it was at the beginning. Stuermann felt, for “Creation is the birth of degrees of Order from the womb of Chaos.”

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But it is one thing to say that Nature is divided against itself; it is quite another thing to project this division onto God himself and to say that “the ground of being is similarly divided against itself.” Stuermann believed that “God is both Chaos and Order” and that “Chaos and Order are coeternal complements in deity.” To him the classical “Theology of the Crystal Cage” has wrongly confined God within the circle of the “perfectly rational, purely good, and everlastingly immutable.” Such a God is only a half-God; if the Incarnation means anything at all, it means that Order is perpetually crucified by Chaos.

“Deity is Chaos-Order, natura crescens et delens,” he writes. Thus, the problem of evil as classically formulated is solved, according to Stuermann. Traditionally, the problem was seen as an attempt to explain the presence of evil in the world in the face of a God who was infinitely powerful and perfectly good. But under the hypothesis of a “whole god advanced by way of limitation,” the problem is different. God is now simply “amoral Chaos-Order”; all events and modes of being in nature are the works of deity since all express its encompassing being and redemptive development.

The problem with Stuermann’s hypothesis is both linguistic and metaphysical. Does it mean anything to say that “God is Chaos-Order”? What is the linguistic verification for this proposition? Nature itself? Then in what way is this different from saying that “Nature is Chaos-Order”? If our observation of tragic events in Nature is our only verification, then what need is there of the God-hypothesis? Stuermann criticizes the “Theology of the Crystal Cage” for its anthropomorphism, but are not anthropomorphic presuppositions lurking behind his own assertion that “God is Chaos-Order”? For example, he says that “all persons are called to creativity by the ground of their being”; but how can the ground of being “call” anyone unless it has personal characteristics? Why take the primacy of personality seriously only for men? And if our verification for this proposition (that “God is Chaos-Order”) is anthropomorphic, then we can claim with some validity that the empirically observable human longing for completeness and perfection at least suggests the possibility that polarity may not be the ultimate criterion for interpreting either man or God.

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In the realm of metaphysics, Stuermann’s panentheism faces the same problem that the personalistic advocates of a finite God must face, namely, the possibility of God’s lapse (and therefore of the universe’s lapse) into nothingness. What is to prevent a finite but growing God from dying? Our observation of all finite, growing things (including the universe itself) is that they die; then why not God? Does “God” deserve the name if there is a real possibility that he might someday die? If our guarantee that Order will ultimately triumph over Chaos—or that the two poles will eternally remain in tension—only our empirical assumption that Nature is always in tension? If so, this is little solace, for the more accurate description of Nature is that of Schopenhauer and Nietzsche: “Nature is red in tooth and claw.” Better the Heavenly Father of Jesus Christ than the nebulous God of Chaos-Order!

The Basic Thrust

The Pattern of New Testament Truth, by George Eldon Ladd (Eerdmans, 1968, 119 pp., $3.75), is reviewed by Andrew J. Bandstra, associate professor of New Testament, Calvin Theological Seminary, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Happy is the reviewer whose author succinctly states the central thesis of his book! Professor Ladd says: “Our thesis is that the unity of New Testament theology is found in the fact that the several strata share a common view of God, who visits man in history to effect the salvation of both man, the world, and history; and that diversity exists in the several interpretations of this one redemptive event. In all of the strata of the New Testament this redemptive event is both historical and eschatological in character, and stands in sharp contrast to the Greek dualistic view of man and the world.”

Ladd, professor of New Testament exegesis and theology at Fuller Seminary, emphatically and continuously maintains that the New Testament view of redemption is both historical and eschatological in character and has its roots in the Old Testament (and Jewish) view of redemption. This view of salvation history (or Heilsgeschichte) the author holds to be in sharp contrast to what he calls the Greek view of redemption, characterized by a cosmological and anthropological dualism. Therefore, for the Greeks, redemption was primarily viewed as being saved out of the world, history, and even the body, whereas in the biblical view, man, both body and soul, is saved in history and the world itself is redeemed. Ladd admits there is diversity of interpretation of this redemptive event among the human authors of the New Testament. But precisely within this diversity, the basic unity is seen in the common contention that there is the promise of redemption given in the Old Testament, the (provisional) fulfillment in the person and work of Jesus Christ in history, and the hope of the consummation of the promise at the end of history.

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In the first of the four chapters—originally lectures given at North Park Seminary in Chicago—Ladd sets up this basic contrast between the Jewish and Greek views and then works out the unity and diversity of the message found in the Synoptics, in John, and in Paul. Happily this nicely published book is complete with helpful indices.

Two problem areas should be pointed out. In this day when so many scholars speak of the “early Catholicism” of Luke as compared to Matthew and Mark, would it not have been appropriate to say a few words on that subject, even if in a footnote, instead of simply assuming the unity of the Synoptic viewpoint? Second, the antithesis of the Greek and Jewish views (assuming one may properly speak of the Greek view) of redemption, though it provides a fine organizing principle for the lectures, also leads to a “playing down” of what one might call the “spatial” dimensions of salvation history. The “dualism” between God in heaven and the sinner on earth is admitted to be more basic in the Synoptics than even the dualism of present and future, but the importance of “heaven” or “the above” or “the unseen” in Paul does not receive adequate expression. The author could have shown the basic unity of the future salvation and the present “heavenly” life of the Christian more adequately by indicating that the risen and ascended Christ has already realized in himself the powers of the age to come. Explication of the unity between “future” and “heaven above” becomes even more important in presenting the message of the epistle to the Hebrews, a book the author could not deal with in this brief treatment, unfortunately.

All in all, this is a fine little book. It orients the reader toward what the author correctly sees as the basic thrust of the New Testament proclamation.

Expressing The Atonement

The Christian Understanding of Atonement, by F. W. Dillistone (Westminster, 1968, 436 pp., $7.95), is reviewed by Herschel H. Hobbs, pastor of the First Baptist Church, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

The author’s stated thesis for this volume is “that there are numerous ranges of comparison by which the meaning of the Death of Christ may be presented to men.” He recognizes that reconciliation can be accomplished only through the Cross of Christ. His aim here is to show how this reconciliation has been expressed through worship, art, and sacrificial living, as well as through sermons and theological works.

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Dillistone examines philosophy, history, social customs, myths and legends of ancient peoples, theology, art and music, and the various religions of the world, and attempts to relate these matters to the redemptive purpose of God as seen in the Bible, especially in the New Testament.

This volume is rather heavy reading. Comparisons with primitive pagan religions are sometimes forced. However, it is thorough, its style is clear, and it will prove rewarding to one who reads with discernment. There is no question in the author’s mind that the yearning for reconciliation that is inherent in the heart of man finds its fulfillment in the revelation of God in Jesus Christ.

Israel’S Rebirth

The Resurrection of Israel, by Anny Latour (World, 1968, 404 pp., $7.95), is reviewed by Belden Menkus, editor, author, and management consultant, Bergenfield, New Jersey.

Lots of people won’t like this book. People who believe rather self-righteously that God will punish the Jews eternally. People who believe that all reports of anti-Semitism or persecution of Jews are Communist fabrications. People who care more about the course of prophecy than about the needs of people. People who believe that it is more important to protect Middle East mission institutions than to meet the demands of Christian conscience.

Lots of other people will find this book a strong emotional and spiritual experience. The author does not engage in polemics; her understated approach makes the book even more powerful.

Anny Latour is a social worker and historian. She has written a strikingly lively and authoritative history of the Zionist movement and the establishment of the State of Israel. The book shows how television has affected the historian’s craft. Using a minimum of narration, she lets the participants and commentators speak in their own words (by no means are all those quoted pro-Zionist or pro-Israel) and moves abruptly from one view to another in much the manner of the television news documentary. The result is academic professionalism of the highest order that adroitly avoids pedantry.

First, she briefly covers the period from Abraham to the middle of the nineteenth century. She amply shows that Jews never fully left the Land; colonies of the pious remained during the entire period. (I thought I knew the basic subject fairly well, but Dr. Latour has developed much that is new to me. For instance, she presents a segment of Bonaparte’s 1799 call to Jews to resettle the Land.)

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The real story of the rebirth of Israel began in 1869, when land for the first agricultural school was purchased in Israel. The first major wave of immigrants came after additional land was acquired in 1882. By 1884, Arabs who had been paid inflated prices for what had been worthless land were attempting to murder the new owners and steal back what they had sold.

This is a rich and complex story. Documentation comes from such varied sources as French Catholic priests and official British records. The author includes excerpts from her 1926 diary of a school-girl walking trip through the Jewish agricultural settlements.

There is so much that evangelicals have ignored or forgotten. Christian Arabs have taken an active part in murder and theft for some fifty years. Arab merchants sold fingers cut from slain Jewish soldiers. Arab leaders supported Germany in two world wars. Arab leaders played an active role in the slaughter of six million Jews by the Nazis. Jewish units fought bravely in both world wars, over stiff British opposition. Ex-Nazis fought in Arab forces in the 1948 War. Arabs burned seventy-seven doctors and nurses alive. So much ignored or forgotten. And we wonder why American Jews are so bitter, why Israelis are so willing to fight.

Reading this book will be a revelation for those who really care. Unfortunately the supply of Good Samaritans is terribly short.

Book Briefs

Then Sings My Soul, by George Beverly Shea (Revell, 1968, 176 pp., $3.95). A delightful glimpse into the life of the very warm and humble man whose rich voice has blessed the hearts of millions—truly the world’s beloved gospel singer.

The Progress of the Soul, by Richard E. Hughes (Morrow, 1968, 328 pp., $7.95). A thorough study of the life and writings of John Donne that relates his developing mind and art both to his own day and to the present.

Romans, by Martin H. Franzmann, I and II Samuel, by Ralph D. Gehrke, and Jeremiah, Lamentations, by Norman C. Habel (Concordia, 1968, 289, 397, and 415 pp., $4 each). These three titles introduce “The Concordia Commentary,” a series based on the Revised Standard Version text and directed at the non-specialist.

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A Manual of Worship, by John E. Skoglund (Judson, 1968, 315 pp., $3.95). Contains a variety of materials suitable for use in public worship.

Broadman Comments, by Hugh R. Peterson, M. Ray McKay, and others (Broadman, 1968, 410 pp., $3.25). International Sunday School Lessons 1969.

Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Volume V, edited by Gerhard Kittel, translated by Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Eerdmans, 1968, 1,031 pp., $22.50). An eagerly awaited addition to the English translation of this monumental work in New Testament scholarship, covering the words xenos through pachunō.

The Wesleyan Bible Commentary, Volume II: Job through Song of Solomon, by Charles W. Carter and others (Eerdmans, 1968, 659 pp., $8.95). Another in the series of commentaries on the Bible by various Wesleyan scholars.

Messengers of the King, by David C. Hill (Augsburg, 1968, 167 pp., $3.95). Biographical sketches of twenty Christian personalities covering a range of eight centuries.


God, Sex and Youth, by William E. Hulme (Concordia, 1968, 184 pp., $1.75). An experienced and perceptive Christian counselor presents a frank, reverent, and mature discussion of moral decisions in the young person’s life. He points out that God’s structure for man’s life is “the way to real freedom.”

The Heritage of the Reformation, by Wilhelm Pauck (Oxford, 1968, 399 pp., $2.75). A valuable study of the bearing of Reformation thought upon the problems of modern Protestantism. Originally published in 1950 and revised in 1961.

The Christian Witness in a Secular Age, by Donald G. Bloesch (Augsburg, 1968, 160 pp., $2.95). A critical examination of the thought of several important contemporary theologians, including Tillich, Bonhoeffer, Cox, and Altizer. The closing chapter considers the mission of the Church from a biblical point of view.

How to Be Happy Though Married, by Tim LaHaye (Tyndale, 1968, 160 pp., $1.95). Helpful mixture of the practical and the spiritual.

Riots in the Streets, by Richard Wolff (Tyndale, 1968, 156 pp., $1.45). A perceptive analysis of the causes of violence and disorder in American society. Considers both spiritual and material factors and challenges Christians to develop a sense of personal responsibility.

The Preacher’s Heritage, Task, and Resources, by Ralph G. Turnbull (Baker, 1968, 178 pp., $2.95). For preachers by a preacher. A useful volume discussing the task of today’s preacher and suggesting available resources.

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