To Deepen Understanding
Concepts of God in Africa, by John S. Mbiti (Praeger, 1970, 348 pp., $9), and Religions of Africa, by Noel Q. King (Harper and Row, 1970, 116 pp., $4.50), are reviewed by Odhiambo W. Okite, journalist, Nairobi, Kenya.
African traditional religions have become the subject of intense, excited discussion among scholars and churchmen both in Africa and outside. But there is still quite a diversity of opinion as to what these religions really are, and what usefulness they have at a time when Africa is secularizing and modernizing at a breakneck speed.
Some scholars still see them as primitive, animistic religions, the very childhood of man’s religious instincts. Others regard them as the intricate thought and life patterns that made it possible for the African to laugh and dance in one of nature’s most oppressive corners of the earth. Some churchmen look upon these religions as abominations to the Christian mind and spirit, the powers of evil and darkness from which Christ has come to save Africa. Others call them the preparatio evangelica, the primal vision, the presence of God in pre-Christian Africa.
The discussion is being carried out at various levels. At the most elementary, it is bringing to the surface certain myths, proverbs, and legends that are helping to explain some Christian concepts and practices in a language Africans easily understand.
At another level it is revealing the basic points of conflict between Christianity and traditional concepts and practices. Such conflicts have hitherto been neglected, with the result that Christianity found it difficult to claim the whole man in Africa; African Christians found it far too easy to revert to traditional ways at times of crisis, when the Christianity of Western missionaries failed to explain their problems. It is hoped that these studies in traditional religions will make it possible for African Christians to place Christ in every aspect of their lives.
At the academic level the studies are yielding invaluable information on the rich religio-cultural heritage, from which national and church leaders of Africa can draw as they seek to africanize the institutions and structures of the churches and the nations. This africanization is necessary if Africans are to be made to feel at home in their churches and their nations.
Dr. Mbiti, who is professor of philosophy and religious studies at Makerere University, is certainly the leader of the academic school. The school is very young indeed, especially in its new form. It still uses Western terminology, and Dr. Mbiti’s Concepts of God in Africa reads like a massive research project of St. Anselm’s, intended to prove that even for Africa, God is “that than which nothing greater can be conceived.”
In his far better work, African Traditional Religions and Philosophy, Professor Mbiti brought up some original and exciting ideas, such as the African concept of time and the African value system. In Concepts of God, he succeeds magnificently in translating a mass of anthropological information on 300 African tribes into theological terms. A poet of considerable accomplishment, Professor Mbiti has created an absorbing picture of the traditional African mind. It is entertaining, enjoyable reading, composed with the Western man in mind.
If Dr. Mbiti’s book gives only a panoramic view of African religions, Professor King’s Religions of Africa gives the closeups; and if Mbiti writes with the carefree attitude of a man who knows he belongs to Africa and can’t go wrong in attempting to interpret the African mind, Professor King writes with the caution of a detached scholar whose duty is only to report what he has seen or has been told. To a casual African reader, his book would be too detailed, except for those rare and surprising portions when he ventures to compare the African to the Western man, when the Western man inevitably turns out to be a freak, “helpless either to live or explain himself without equipment.”
The central weakness of Professor King’s book is its total lack of theology. His “religions” don’t even remotely point toward God. His “religious people” are basically sinless. In his “inconclusive conclusion”—as he entitles his last chapter—he talks of a religion that is “harmonious, whole and integrated; it lacks unresolved conflicts; it expresses a life which has balance, meaning, and roundness”—which all sounds quite funny to an African ear!
However, Professor King’s deep love for the people he studied is apparent, and his sincerity is moving. He creates an image for the African that is different—to say the least—from what Americans are used to. His vivid, compelling style of writing, his capacity for giving concrete shapes to abstract notions, and his apparent acquaintance with various disciplines have combined to create a book that will help to erase many centuries of misunderstanding.
East, West, And ‘Openness’
Encounter with World Religions, by Robert D. Young (Westminster, 1970, 223 pp., $7.50), is reviewed by Frederick R. Struckmeyer, associate professor of philosophy, West Chester State College, West Chester, Pennsylvania.
This book, a United Presbyterian minister’s reworked doctoral dissertation, sets itself the thesis that “the only way to do justice to both a uniqueness that can breed intolerance and a universalism that can degenerate into relativism is by reconsidering some form of logos Christology.” The author tries to show that “theological exclusivism”—the view that so emphasizes Jesus Christ as the “only way” to salvation that it rules out in advance the possibility of finding truth (and perhaps even an “unconscious” knowledge of Christ) in other religions—will not withstand criticism. He examines and rejects Hendrik Kraemer’s “exclusivist” approach, and feels that Tillich’s philosophical theology provides a more viable way of preparing for the inevitable “religious encounter” between West and East.
The author is not completely smitten by Tillich: while attracted to Tillich’s explication of religious experience and his reminders of what Young calls the “depths of God,” he realizes that Tillich’s Christology, among other things, is deficient. Despite these concessions, however, it would seem that H. D. Lewis is nearer the truth when he suggests, in his Study of Religions (written with Robert Lawson Slater), that Tillichian theology in fact constitutes no viable basis for interfaith dialogue—at least not from the orthodox Christian perspective, and possibly from no theistic perspective whatsoever (though Lewis, unlike some other critics, does not actually accuse Tillich of atheism).
Encounter with World Religions is a commendable, if only partially successful, attempt to show that conversion, the traditional goal of the missionary, is an objective that is “consistent with theological openness.” We may disagree with the author about the degree of openness that is desirable, while agreeing with his view that some earlier Christian attitudes toward non-Christian religions have been excessively judgmental.
To Become A Classic
The Book of Isaiah, Volume 2, by Edward J. Young (Eerdmans, 1969, 604 pp., $7.95), is reviewed by Meredith G. Kline, professor of Old Testament, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Hamilton, Massachusetts.
Since Young’s three-volume work on Isaiah launches “The New International Commentary on the Old Testament” and volume 1 (1965) was not reviewed in these pages, an introduction to the series is in order. In general conception and format it follows its New Testament counterpart. The aim is interpretation that wholeheartedly acknowledges the divine authority of Scripture and fully appropriates the contributions of scholarship, ancient and most recent. One notable difference in the Old Testament series is that the English text presented is the author’s own translation rather than the American Standard Version.
Dr. Young was general editor of the Old Testament series until his death in 1968. Young saw only the first of the projected thirty-two Old Testament volumes. His editing responsibilities have now been assumed by R. K. Harrison.
It was given to Dr. Young, however, to finish in manuscript his own commentary on Isaiah, a lifetime work to which he devoted the main thrust of his massive biblical scholarship. Worlds removed from the tone of critical arrogance that blights so much literature on the Word of God, Young’s commentary breathes a spirit of humble adoration of the Holy One of Israel.
Volume 2 covers chapters 19–39. In the introduction in volume 1, Young indicated that the defense of the unity of all sixty-six chapters as the work of Isaiah, son of Amoz, would await the completion of the commentary, but his concern with the lines of continuity between chapters 1–39 and 40–66 comes to expression repeatedly in volumes 1 and 2.
Although untranslated quotations from a prodigious range of foreign literature are sprinkled about generously, the otherwise extremely simple style of the verse-by-verse exposition makes easy going for all. Questions of text and grammar are relegated to footnotes, along with the use of Hebrew type, and other technical matters are treated in special notes and appendixes (which in volume 2 constitute a tenth of the whole). The quite literal translation should succeed in putting those unacquainted with Hebrew in closer touch with the force of the original.
Strengths and weaknesses of the work are related. Solid, reliable, thorough in its soundly Reformed exegesis, the exposition lacks imagination and excitement. The reader, well satisfied with the careful investigation of inner-verse elements, is not carried along on the crest of the movement of the longer passage. But whatever its shortcomings, its strengths are such that Young on Isaiah may well prove to be the outstanding conservative Old Testament commentary of this century.
Creative Bible Teaching, by Lawrence O. Richards (Moody, 1970, 288 pp., $4.95), and Leadership for Church Education, by Kenneth O. Gangel (Moody, 1970, 392 pp., $5.95), are reviewed by Lois LeBar, chairman, Department of Graduate Christian Education, Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois.
Educational leadership and effective Bible teaching have long been major problems of the local church. These books present satisfying answers to many questions that churches are struggling with. Both volumes have a dual purpose: guidance for lay workers as well as for students in academic courses.
Creative Bible Teaching has both a bibliography and an appendix that suggests ways to develop the content into curriculum units. Each chapter concludes with a research-and-assignment section for the student and exploration or experimentation for the lay teacher. Gangel’s book offers a bibliography for further reading with each chapter.
Both authors hold a high view of Scripture, integrate scriptural principles and practical know-how, and feature the essential work of the Holy Spirit in the educational process. The two books contrast in tone and temper, however. Gangel uses a conventional “these-are-the-facts” style, Richards a conversational “let’s-get-going” style. Gangel has collected an extensive storehouse of information and quotations from many sources, giving a comprehensive survey on the subject. Richards shows how to gain insight into Bible teaching that will change lives.
Gangel conducted a survey of the needs of church leadership and reports the findings of studies in business management. He lays the foundations for educational programming in the church by describing the nature of the church and outlining a biblical philosophy of education and a balanced program. Church leaders will gain new vision from his sections on educational administration, the nature of leadership, responsibilities of leaders, and human relations. The leader is seen as administrator, organizer, board chairman, and counselor. Topics seldom treated in other evangelical sources—the contemporary sociological context of leadership, the process of decision-making, the process of change, communication with people—are found here.
His key section on leadership training programs might well have been expanded. Instructors of training classes need as much guidance as do their trainees.
Richards begins by asking his readers, “How is it that a book, given by God to transform, seems so unproductive when taught in the very churches where it is most honored and best known?” In section one he looks at the theology of Bible teaching—the “contemporary encounter” view contrasted with an evangelical position that teaches the Bible but goes beyond information. In section two he develops an approach to Bible teaching consistent with the purpose of revelation, the how as well as the why of teaching that leads to spiritual growth. Creative teaching is defined as that which “consciously and effectively focuses on activities which raise the student’s level of learning.” The productive pattern is found in Colossians 1:9b–11 and is worked out in terms of aim, student goal, Bible content, personal implications, and active response. Not only are the principles described in relation to life situations, but section three illustrates these principles concretely on all levels (preschool, nursery, kindergarten, children of middle years, youth, and adults). Several possible approaches to each lesson are given to help teachers help students become aware of personal need for the truth and to develop skill in planning learning activities. This book practices its principles!
Pot and Those Other Things, by John Huffman, Jr. (Creation House, 1970, $3.95). Fourteen sermons by the young pastor of the Key Biscayne (Florida) Presbyterian Church demonstrate that the old doctrines can be presented in modern idiom, more or less.
The Turn Right, by John Charles Cooper (Westminster, 1970, 190 pp., paperback, $2.65), and The Unequal Yoke, by Richard V. Pierard (Lippincott, 1970, $5.95). Cooper, a radical theologian, deplores the recent drift by Americans of various religious persuasions to the moderate and extreme right-wing political views. Pierard, an evangelical, regrets the identification of many of his brethren with political ultra-conservatism and offers biblical reasons why this should not be so.
Promises to Peter: Building a Bridge from Parent to Child, by Charlie W. Shedd (Word, 1970, 147 pp., $3.95). Entertaining to read, with many sensible suggestions. Those who liked Shedd’s Letters to Karen and Letters to Philip will also like this one.
Revolt Against the Faithful: A Biblical Case for Inspiration as Encounter, by Robert S. Alley (Lippincott, 1970, 192 pp., $4.95). A Southern Baptist blasts many weaker (from his viewpoint) brethren. But apparently he feels his case is so weak that he must misrepresent that which he opposes. Alley’s idea of God is so small that the only way He could have guided the writing of the Bible was to dictate it. But who is saying that it doesn’t matter that it was Paul who wrote Romans, since a teenage pagan secretary could have done it just the same? Alley attributes inconsistency or dishonesty to those who believe God inspired the Bible but don’t believe that the disciples really were salt! On the other hand, he himself believes that Jesus was resurrected even though his body is in some grave.
The Early Christians, by Eberhard Arnold (Plough, 1970, 469 pp., $10). Excerpts (originally published in German in 1926) from a wide variety of sub-apostolic writings intended to illustrate early Christian life. The compiler founded the non-denominational commune that publishes the work.
The Mission of the Church and the Propagation of the Faith, edited by G. J. Cuming (Cambridge, 1970, 170 pp., $9.50). Ten papers, mostly by Britishers, on specific topics in the expansion of Christianity from the ninth to nineteenth centuries, plus a magnificent paper by Stephen Neill on writing missions history.
The Trial of Jesus, edited by Ernst Bammel (Allenson, 1970, 177 pp., paperback, $5.45). Essays by Cambridge scholars in which each gives a critical account of several aspects of Christ’s arrest and subsequent crucifixion.
When the Minister Is a Woman, by Elsie Gibson (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1970, 174 pp., $4.95). Beginning with a short history of women in the Church (from the New Testament on), the author discusses—without the rancor of many Women’s Liberation advocates—the problems facing ordained women. There is heavy reliance on anecdotes of many female ministers.
A Source Book of the Bible for Teachers, edited by Robert C. Walton (Nelson, 1970, 394 pp., $7.95). Twenty-three Britishers follow the main stream of contemporary academic Bible study in preparing a guide for teachers of children and youth. Unsatisfactory for those who believe that, for example, Isaac was the son of Abraham, or that Jesus returned bodily from the tomb.
Baptism in the Holy Spirit, by James D. G. Dunn (Allenson, 1970, 248 pp., paperback, $5.75). This young theologian, who studied at Clare College, Cambridge, presents a revision of his Ph.D. thesis. In it he examines the three major approaches to baptism of the Holy Spirit—Catholic, Protestant, and Pentecostal—with a view to discovering the “rightness” or “wrongness” of the latter’s teaching. He praises Pentecostalists for their attempt to restore a New Testament emphasis but finds fault with them for separating “Spirit-baptism” from “conversion-initiation” (the Catholic error), and for separating “faith” from “water-baptism” (the Protestant error).
The Bible, Natural Science, and Evolution, by Russell W. Maatman (Reformed Fellowship, 1970, 165 pp., paperback, $3.50). The author discusses evolutionary theories in relation to the Bible and calmly but firmly disapproves of them.
“For All the Crying Children …,” by Lloyd Armour (Broadman, 1970, 143 pp., $3.95). For those who really want to do something about today’s problems (but say “I’m only one person”), this book tells what can be done—and what is being done.
Choice Points: Essays on the Emotional Problems of Living with People, by John C. Glidewell (MIT, 1970, 144 pp., $5.95). Essays analyzing crucial decisions that shape a person’s emotional and spiritual life, illustrated through the author’s own experiences. No solutions are offered to the problems; “to resolve them is too much for me,” the author says.
Ethics and the New Medicine, by Harmon L. Smith (Abingdon, 1970, 174 pp., paperback, $2.95). A broad discussion of the morality of abortion, contraception, and organ transplantation. The ethics referred to are not as much Christian as Western.
The Church as Moral Decision-Maker, by James M. Gustafson (Pilgrim, 1970, 163 pp., $5.95). Collects nine previously published essays by one of the foremost Christian ethicists. The book “seeks not to give the answer to pressing moral questions, but rather … to suggest ways in which answers can be responsibly found.”
Facing Today’s Problems, edited by Henry Jacobsen (Scripture Press, 1970, 192 pp., paperback, $1.25). The editor states that this book does not purport to contain “answers”: it is merely a discussion-stimulator. However, most of the chapters do contain specific solutions, too often simplistic.
Some of the above books will later be reviewed at greater length.
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