In A Dubious Direction
The Search for a Usable Future, by Martin E. Marty (Harper & Row, 1969, 157 pp., $4.95), and The Last Years of the Church, by David Poling (Doubleday, 1969, 153 pp., $4.95), are reviewed by John Snyder, acting chancellor, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana.
In the first of these two books Martin Marty (professor of modern church history at the University of Chicago Divinity School) notes the decline of traditional Christianity’s confidence accompanying the rise of secular man, the failing dream of social peace and affluence, and the oddly reasoned announcements of the death of God. Although he makes no mention (as does Poling) of the influence of McLuhan on his thought and his style, Marty seems to have adopted McLuhanese with the gusto of a desert wanderer crashing into an oasis. The result is the often turgid use of abstract notions as though they were concrete and the ability to turn quite ordinary phrases into cliches in the space of a page or two, as, for example, his frequent use of “game.”
It would be unfair, however, to be put too far off by style. Marty’s usable future comes at the end of a series of games. The Triumph-game is a hollow mockery because it is built upon (false) statistics, higher buildings, and prestige; it leads only to pretense and illusion. The Defeat-game, not to be confused with espousal of the death of God, leads only to equating the biblical God with Zeus, frozen in stone. The Retrench “scenario” (even Marty can get tired of -games) plays it safe, caters to the community, defends the old. “This hardly sounds like a futures-game at all, but it is regarded as one by its adherents and proponents.” The Adapt scenario, in its demand for relevance and plausibility, wrenches the Church into something it should not be. Reform-renew comes closer, though its adherents have “often been faulted for accepting too much from the past as being normative.” They at least have the virtue of pointing to the banality of the present.
Risk is Marty’s game. It subjects teaching and practice to the possibility of radical change, calls for pilgrims displaced, perhaps even underground. “The leadership of the Church in the Risk-script will be less conscious of the need to be relevant, adaptationist, or plausible and more aware of the need to be himself. If the leader claims to be representing the Lordship of Christ in the city of man, he should expect to be some sort of creative misfit.” Marty will know such by the company he keeps: “Pope John, Albert Schweitzer, Paul Tillich, Martin Buber, and countless other men of great and deep spirit [who] were the subjects of much curiosity, even though they moved by some mysterious and not easily appropriated urgings.”
Poling agrees that something is wrong with the Church. He is much more easily read than Marty, though he makes it clear that he too has read McLuhan. Even though he never specifies what the message of the Church ought to be, almost anyone concerned about what is happening to American Protestantism will resonate with Poling’s vast sense of being violated by what has passed for Christianity in recent years. His recipe, however, begins to sound more like Marty the further it goes: (1) Stop building church buildings and (2) get out among the people. (3) The layman must necessarily do all this. (4) He will also supply the church’s intellectual leadership, (5) in small groups and (6) in the business and professional world, because (7) Christianity and the Christian’s work will have merged (8) right in the center of human misery (wherever that is found).
But what will he say?
A Rumor of Angels: Modern Society and the Rediscovery of the Supernatural, by Peter L. Berger (Doubleday, 1969, 129 pp., $4.50), is reviewed by Boyd Hunt, professor of systematic theology, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth, Texas.
What happens when a sociologist turns theologian? When the sociologist is Peter Berger, who happens to combine expertise in empirical science with a highly creative depth-perception born of intuitive faith, the result happens to be a very significant contribution to theological prolegomena that might well point the way for American theology in the next decade.
In this latest book-Berger is interested not simply in this or that aspect of the social manifestations of religion but primarily in its truth dimension. He opens the door for theologizing in this secular age by showing that as modern historical studies relativized the past, so the sociology of knowledge has relativized the present. This “relativizing of the relativizers” has the happy result of placing the theologian on just as solid a ground in his affirmation of transcendence as the scientist-gone-secularist occupies in his denial of the supernatural.
By his own admission, this is not the same Peter Berger of The Noise of Solemn Assemblies or The Sacred Canopy. Finding that sociological questions alone fail to exhaust his interest in religion, he deliberately turns from his earlier counsel of despair to explore a more positive role for religion in the modern world.
He insists that he is not really a theologian (“I’m fully aware of my lack of expertise in theology”), though the book is dedicated to Frederick Neuman, “my first teacher in theology.” He justifies himself: “If theologizing means simply any systematic reflection about religion, then it would seem plausible to regard it as too important to leave to the theological experts.” It turns out, however, that he brings to his task not only the rich resources of his finesse as a sociologist but considerable theological learning as well. He is well informed about the older liberalism, Schleiermacher, Otto, Vatican I through Vatican II, world religions, crisis theology, secular theology, God-is-dead theology, and the like. Barth, Brunner, Bultmann, Tillich, J. A. T. Robinson, Cox, C. S. Lewis, and others are all luminously handled with ease.
The creative heart of the book is the third chapter, where Berger outlines with compelling freshness five “signals” of transcendence, i.e., five hints drawn from ordinary daily experience that point beyond the merely human to a larger dimension of existence. These signals are the experiences of ordering (man’s propensity to make sense of his environment), play, hope, damnation (man’s outrage over the monstrous evil of certain human deeds), and humor. In the midst of such everyday dramas of life “some have entertained angels unawares” (Heb. 13:2). Hence the volume’s title.
Throughout his discussion Berger deplores the shrinkage in the scope of human experience in modern secularisms: “One must have experienced the grim humorlessness of contemporary revolutionary ideologies to appreciate fully the humanizing power of the religious perspective.”
The book is so timely that I have little heart at the moment for negative comment. Berger is, of course, subject to the familiar limitations of any gifted advocate of a new way: he gets excited and overstates; there are the inevitable peculiarities of any individual perspective; the more theoretical the opinion being expressed, the less convincing it may prove to be to the informed reader.
The author hopes he might have a word for theologians. What theologian wouldn’t wish he had written this book!
Asserts Biblical Authority
Why I Preach That the Bible Is Literally True, by W. A. Criswell (Broadman, 1969, 160 pp., $3.50), is reviewed by Richard Alien Bodey, professor of pastoral theology, Reformed Theological Seminary, Jackson, Mississippi.
A look of impassioned earnestness chiseled on his face, an open Bible in his hand, standing in his pulpit erect and poised with the assurance that he speaks with the authority of the living God—so does the cover photo of this celebrated preacher capture the spirit of his latest book.
The thesis is not new, the argument not novel. Dr. Criswell does not pretend to strike a thunderbolt of fresh discovery. He aptly describes his book as a personal testimony, an urgent appeal “from the top of my head and from the bottom of my heart … with the earnest and prayerful hope that it might encourage other ministers to preach the Bible as the literal, inspired, God-breathed truth of heaven.”
Scorning the bogus stigma of bibliolatry, Criswell marshals the time-tested reasons favoring the verbal inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible. He faces honestly the main varieties of objections to the doctrine, and answers them well. As the title suggests, he insists, in the tradition of Luther and Calvin, that the Bible be interpreted in its natural and obvious sense wherever the language and context will allow.
Occasionally, Criswell overstates his case. Even some Bible-believing archaeologists would hesitate to say that “every stone that has been turned and every spade of dirt that has been lifted has been in confirmation of the truth of the Word of God.” Not every textual critic would agree that comparative manuscript studies provide “a certain and final answer regarding the original and ultimate text.” And can we “reasonably explain” every biblical discrepancy? Confusion also arises when he once affirms that each sentence of the Bible “was dictated by God’s Holy Spirit,” a mechanical view of inspiration he elsewhere does not seem to endorse. But these slips do no serious damage.
In a day when the forces of humanism and scientific rationalism, achieving their proudest triumph, have driven from Christian pulpits everywhere the prophetic consciousness of the authority of the Word, it is refreshing to find a preacher with a Ph.D. who still believes the Book and boldly proclaims its message as the revealed and eternal truth of God. And, by the way, after twenty-five years capacity crowds still fill the spacious sanctuary of the 13,000-member First Baptist Church of Dallas three times each Lord’s Day to hear this preacher.
Read this book, preacher, whoever you are, and clothe yourself anew with the power of the Word, which lives and abides forever.
Contemporary And Christian
Why Be a Christian? By Rosemary Haughton (Lippincott, 1968, 141 pp., $3.95), is reviewed by Thomas Howard, teacher of English, St. Bernard’s School, New York City.
This is the sort of book one finds himself wishing for. That is, of the cataract of books on religious matters rushing into print, most seem to fall more or less into one of two categories: either they address themselves to a specific audience (such as pastors, theologians, Anglicans, or evangelicals), or they are popular—supposed to be read by everybody—in which case they usually fall all over themselves in their eagerness to show how “with it” or secularist or avant-garde or heterodox they can be. The image of Christianity that non-Christians are getting in this decade must be not unlike what we would get if we heard the vegetarians shouting at each other and at us that for heaven’s sake who ever said that meat wasn’t perfectly O.K. to eat; or the Marxists declaring Marxism sans Marx.
But here is a book that is at once fully contemporary and fully Christian. That is to say, there is on the one hand no nostalgia for a former epoch in which it was more plausible to be a Christian, nor any of the fear and hostility toward the modern world that occasionally plagues us who wish Christ were rather more widely acknowledged in this saeculum. But on the other hand, there is none of the breathless reductionism that marks the writings of many who want to show that Christianity is the most modern thing you can imagine.
Mrs. Haughton gives us here a lucid, thoughtful, wide-ranging discussion of exactly what is involved in becoming and being a Christian. She begins by looking at the sort of question that contemporary man asks himself about human existence, and about the whole business of being alive. She quotes St. Paul in this connection: “ ‘Now I know in part, but then I shall know as I am known.’ It’s the difference between ‘living’ and ‘partly living.’ And one can see from the way St. Paul uses the word ‘then’ that he confidently expects this ‘partly living’ in the flesh to give way to a different kind of awareness that is fully ‘living.’ Christianity is about how this can happen.”
Then, taking the Scriptures, she recounts for us the story of salvation from the beginning, in a prose that often reminds one of C. S. Lewis or Charles Williams in its uncluttered simplicity. Here is an example: “And in the obscure but troublesome province of Judea, a boy was born to a respectable peasant couple. His name was Yeshua-bar-Yoseph. We call him Jesus Christ.”
It would not be entirely candid to neglect to mention in this review that Mrs. Haughton, who is an adult convert to Christianity, speaks from the Catholic viewpoint. To some, this will not matter. To those to whom it does matter, I can only say, “Read it.” Its clear, biblical, and unapoiogetic affirmation of a robust Christian faith might make Protestants slightly ashamed of the mollycoddle versions of the Gospel pouring from their church presses. I, for one, know of no book in print I would rather read myself, or give to a non-Christian, on the subject of why a man might want to be a Christian.
Love—The Prophets’ Theme
The Prophets Speak, by Samuel J. Schultz (Harper & Row, 1968, 159 pp., $5), is reviewed by Gleason L. Archer, professor of Old Testament, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, Illinois.
Few volumes produced by this publisher in recent years have maintained as forthrightly conservative a view of the Scriptures as that found in this attractive work by a distinguished teacher at the Wheaton Graduate School. In a day when it has become fashionable to debunk the Bible’s own claim to divine authority, it is refreshing to find an author who firmly and without apology holds to the validity and authenticity of the thirty-nine books of the Old Testament, according to the conviction of the historic Christian Church. In his foreword he states:
The author is keenly aware of the efforts of some nineteenth- and twentieth-century scholars to reconstruct the biblical text. The modern theories on which their reconstruction efforts are based are not necessarily true simply because they are widely accepted. It is reasonably well established that the Old Testament text in its unreconstructed form is the text upon which Jesus and His generation based their discussions.
In a clear-cut rejection of the dogmatic antisupernaturalism that has dominated so much of modern scholarship, he affirms: “The biblical approach to the prophets and their message considers supernatural as well as natural elements as essential for a comprehensive analysis.”
In line with his evangelical stance Dr. Schultz supports the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch by appealing to the striking conformity of Exodus 20–31 and Deuteronomy 1–32 to the six-part form of the Second Millennium suzerainty treaties (as analyzed by George Mendenhall and Meredith Kline): preamble, historical prologue (an element lacking in First Millennium treaties), stipulations, provision of a written copy for public reading, confirmation by witnesses, with a final series of blessings and curses. Treaties composed after 1000 B.C. lack the insertion of witnesses between the stipulations and the curses, as Kenneth Kitchen points out, and do not include a historical prologue.
As for the unity of the book of Isaiah as the production of the prophet Isaiah himself, Schultz assumes the authenticity of all sixty-six chapters, with the understanding that the theory of two or three Isaiahs is ultimately based upon an antisupernaturalistic bias. As for Obadiah, he dates this work in the 840’s (the reign of Jehoram ben Jehoshaphat); Jonah is doubtless the work of the early eighth-century prophet; Daniel comes from the pen of the sixth-century statesman by whom it purports to have been written.
The author’s announced purpose is to show the law of love as the dominating theme throughout the Old Testament prophets; even in the Pentateuch he finds a personal relationship of loving commitment to Yahweh to be the central and controlling theme. Schultz does not undertake a comprehensive treatment of all prohetic teaching—an impossible task in so slender a volume—but highlights the main motifs in each so as to show the consistency with which their message revolved around this grand and central theme. “A wholehearted, unfeigned love for God by Israel—this was the concern permeating Moses’ appeal to the Israelites. A genuine response to God’s love expressed a sincere reverence and respect for Him in word as well as in the total pattern of daily living.”
The author points out that a true prophet had to be called by God; he could not choose this office as a personal vocation. Likewise his message had to be initiated by God himself, rather than being the product of personal insight or even any artificially induced revelational contact. Adopting a comprehensive definition of “prophet,” Schultz devotes much space to the prophetic ministry of Moses, and even to David. But this attempt to discuss all the prophetic figures in the Old Testament has the unfortunate consequence of restricting his discussion of some of the shorter prophetic writings that most require explanation and development if they are to be properly appreciated by the lay reader. Jonah receives less than a page of discussion, Nahum a little over half a page, Zephaniah one page, and Haggai half a page. Even a major prophet like Ezekiel gets only a little over three pages, without any discussion at all of the latter-day temple and Israelite kingdom in Chapters 40–48. One gets the impression that toward the close of his book the author felt increasingly cramped by the limitations of space and that his treatment therefore became more perfunctory than he at first intended. Yet even this restriction does not prevent him from closing quite surprisingly with a full, well-written chapter on the prophetic ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ, showing how he brought to perfection the motif of love and personal relationship to God that underlay all Old Testament revelation.
Boning Up On Peter
Peter in Rome: The Literary, Liturgical and Archeological Evidence, by Daniel William O’Connor (Columbia University, 1969, 242 pp. $20), is reviewed by William W. Buehler, associate professor of biblical studies, Barrington College, Barrington, Rhode Island.
Even in a day of $5 paperbacks, $20 for a book of 242 pages seems a little extreme, but in this case appearances are deceiving. First, the pages measure 8½″ by 11″, almost twice the usual size. Second, the footnotes are copious and detailed, incorporating much foreign-language material. Third, there are forty-four plates, dealing mainly with the sites, tombs, and excavations under discussion. When to this is added a complete index (sixteen pages), a bibliography of more than 525 titles, and a chronological chart that lists and evaluates the evidence, one is forced to the happy conclusion that this is a most unusual book.
Dr. O’Connor, professor of religion of St. Laurence University, deals separately with three different aspects of the Peter tradition: his residence in Rome, martyrdom, and place of burial.
He begins by discussing the silence of Paul’s letters and the Book of Acts, treats at length Karl Heussi’s argument that Galatians 2:6 gives vital information concerning Peter’s death (i.e., that he was dead when Galatians was written; this in one stroke undermines the whole Roman tradition concerning Peter), and then takes up the positive literary evidence, beginning with the oldest (I Peter) down to the papal list of Epiphanius (c. 380).
More than half the book deals with the evidence for the tradition of Roman burial, and here the work is especially interesting and valuable. Since 1963 there has been public discussion of the location of the tomb and the possibility that the Church was in possession of Peter’s bones. The evidence—almost all in scholarly journals and mostly in Italian—is examined in great detail and carefully compared and evaluated. In no other single book can one avail himself of this mass of material.
O’Connor concludes that it is more plausible than not that Peter resided in Rome at some time and was martyred there, but that his body was never recovered for burial. Later the Church came to believe that a simple monument erected in the general area of his death marked the precise place of burial.
A Gripping Christian Novel
Love Is Like an Acorn, by Matsu Crawford (Zondervan, 1969, 151 pp., $2.95), is reviewed by L. Nelson Bell, executive editor,
Perhaps the best commendation I can give this fine Christian novel is to say that after I had read it I immediately ordered ten copies to give friends. The story is absorbing from beginning to end. Of the author’s three novels (the others are For Every Red Sea and To Make the Wounded Whole), this is perhaps the best.
Minoru Tada—son of a modern Madame Butterfly and an American doctor who does not know of the boy’s existence—determined to come to America to avenge his mother, who had died of a broken heart. He was a brilliant student and went on to study medicine, and in time he was awarded a graduate scholarship in a famous American clinic where his own father was chief of surgery.
Dr. Tada became a devoted Christian. Because of his professional skill he was thrown into close association with his father, who had no idea who he was. Tragedy in his father’s home proved the eventual means of Minoru’s winning him to the Lord, and after that came the disclosure of the father-son relationship.
It is a gripping story, beautifully told. The author’s intimate knowledge of Japan enhances a skillfully developed plot that holds the reader to the last page.
Master Craftsman At Work
More New Testament Studies, by C. H. Dodd (Eerdmans, 1968, 157 pp., $5.95), is reviewed by Robert H. Mounce, professor of religious studies, Western Kentucky University, Bowling Green, Kentucky.
When certain people speak, others pause to listen. C. H. Dodd, professor emeritus in the University of Cambridge, is such a person. More New Testament Studies is a “batch of papers” (nine) produced, with one exception, since publication of an earlier collection in 1953. In them you see the master craftsman at work. The fledgling Neutestamentler could involve himself in few exercises more profitable than a careful analysis of Dodd’s methodology in New Testament research.
Broadly speaking, the essays demonstrate the application of form-critical methods to problems of gospel criticism. There is a constant movement back through the text to older tradition embodied in the Gospel. We learn, for instance, that the Beatitudes in Matthew and Luke are two diverse forms of an earlier tradition, that the “primitive catechism” did not exert an undue influence upon the Gospels, that the dramatic dialogue in the Fourth Gospel bypasses the theological development associated with the name of Paul and relates to ideas belonging to the earliest strata of tradition. Other essays treat such subjects as the prophecy of Caiaphas, the difference between “concise” and “circumstantial” narratives in relation to the appearances of the risen Christ, and hints as to the content of ennomos christou.
You may not agree with all of Dodd’s conclusions—and these are usually framed in a tentative manner—but to disagree intelligently will involve you in considerable homework.
Hammered as Gold, by David M. Howard (Harper & Row, 1969, 182 pp., $4.95). A moving account of the tribulations and triumphs experienced by the evangelical Christians in northern Colombia.
Still Hungry in America, by Robert Coles and Al Clayton (World, 1969, 115 pp., paperback, $2.95). A disturbing account—both in text and in photographs—of those in our prosperous land who go hungry.
Communism Versus Creation, by Francis Nigel Lee (Craig, 1969, 252 pp., paperback, $3.95). Studies the background and origin of Communism and investigates the Communist doctrines regarding God, matter, the universe, life, man, labor, society, and knowledge. Presents a critical analysis of these doctrines and contrasts them with the Christian view.
Attitudes Toward Other Religions, edited by Owen C. Thomas (Harper & Row, 1969, 236 pp., paperback, $3.50). Sees religious diversity or pluralism as one of the fundamental issues in the quest for world community and presents a variety of ways in which “Christianity” has understood other religions. Interesting for survey purposes, but generally ignores the biblical view and implies the validity of a more syncretistic approach.
Tomorrow’s Christian, by Ed Marciniak (Pflaum, 1969, 189 pp., $5.95). Questions the effectiveness of the institutional church and the clergyman activist (an amateur outsider to the world) in social action and advocates a greater role for the Christian “insider” (e.g., let the Christian legislator rather than the bishop speak in matters of legislation).
An Exodus Theology, by Gustaf Wingren (Fortress, 1969, 181 pp., $4.75). An introduction to the life and thought of Swedish theologian Einar Billing.
Sermons for Today, edited by A. H. Chapple (Revell, 1969, 128 pp., $4.95). Sermons by widely known evangelicals—both ministers and laymen.
Communism and the Reality of Moral Law, by James D. Bales (Craig, 1969, 201 pp., paperback, $3.75). Exposes the dangers and weaknesses of the moral relativism espoused by Communism.
Religion, the State and the Schools, by John M. Swomley, Jr. (Pegasus, 1968, 220 pp., paperback, $1.95). Argues that the government should neither aid nor inhibit religion in education and contends that the Church must bear sole responsibility for its institutions if its liberty and prophetic voice are to be maintained.
The Foundations of Belief, by Leslie Dewart (Herder and Herder, 1969, 526 pp., $9.50). Fleshes out the skeleton theology presented in the Future of Belief with its rejection of the traditional foundations of Christian belief.
College Ruined Our Daughter, by Wesley Shrader (Harper & Row, 1969, 156 pp., $4.95). In the form of letters written to parents about situations involving college students, Wesley Shrader reveals what is happening on the college campus and offers helpful insights concerning the “generation gap.”
United Methodist Primer, by Paul Washburn (Tidings, 1969, 108 pp., paperback, $1). The bishop of the Minnesota area introduces former Methodists and Evangelical United Brethren to the new United Methodist Church.
The Church in the Theology of Karl Barth, by Colm O’Grady (Corpus, 1969, 366 pp., $10). A Roman Catholic presents a thorough study of Barth’s doctrine of the Church.
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