The Virtue Of Simplicity
The Simple Life, by Vernard Eller (Eerdmans, 1973, 122 pp., $2.25 pb), and Beyond the Rat Race, by Arthur G. Gish (Herald Press and Keats, 1973, 192 pp., $1.45 pb), are reviewed by David Gill, instructor in church history and ethics, California Center for Biblical Studies, Culver City.

Jacques Ellul’s lament that “there is no life-style, neither individual nor collective, which is showing forth the Christian faith” (False Presence of the Kingdom) is regrettably still applicable, at least on the whole. If Vernard Eller, Arthur Gish, and others now moved to write on the subject have their way, however, the problem may yet be solved. Eller, a religion professor at LaVerne College in California, and Gish, an itinerant preacher and member of an intentional community in Philadelphia, have in common theological education at Bethany Theological Seminary of the Church of the Brethren. Both speak from a perspective that mandates a life in the world, yet a life-style radically not of the world.

For both Eller and Gish the point of departure in developing an authentic Christian life-style is this text: “Set your mind on God’s kingdom and his justice before everything else, and all the rest will come to you as well” (Matt. 6:33, NEB). The central motif in the Christian life-style is “simplicity.” The two books make a good pair as Eller gives us the theoretical/theological constructs and Gish forges ahead with the applications.

Eller’s The Simple Life is really an extended commentary on the Matthew text quoted above. In the first half of his book Eller examines hedonism, service to the poor, ecology, asceticism, and dissociation from society as possible motivations for the simple life and finds them of value only when relativized and qualified by a higher purpose. The higher purpose that Eller adduces from the teaching of Jesus and Paul is absolute allegiance to the Kingdom of God. The Gospel brings liberation from our prior enslavement to things and to the “necessities” of life under the sun. We are brought into a dialectical relationship wherein, at one level, we place our absolute loyalty with Jesus and his kingdom and, on the other level, we develop relationships to “things.” The first relationship is absolute and normative; the second is relative and must always be conditioned by and subordinate to that prior fealty to God’s kingdom and righteousness. A second dialectic is the familiar “in the world but not of the world” of John 17.

The tension involved in these dialectical patterns is inescapable, but a solution to any specific problem of application is possible if we clearly understand and act on our priorities (His Kingdom first—the rest later) and follow the example of Jesus: loving, serving, suffering with and for others. Eller summons Kierkegaard, whom he calls “the major thinker from Christian history who has given the most (and most effective) attention to the doctrine that we have been calling ‘the simple life,’ ” for forty pages of help (annotated quotations) in understanding the Christian life-style.

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In the end, however, Eller refuses to make specific applications for us. To do so, he argues, would violate the promise of Matthew 6:33, that “all the rest” will follow in the wake of the first commitment. While his position leaves itself wide open to abuses, rationalizations, and hypocrisy on the part of Christians, specific directives about “all the rest” would undercut the whole ethic. The “all the rest” would attract primary attention, leaving “seeking the kingdom” in second place. Eller leaves us with a well-argued and illustrated understanding of the importance of elevating Jesus and the Kingdom to ab solute authority in our lives with its imperative to judge all other aspects of our life(-style) by reference to the purposes of that kingdom.

If Eller is afraid to make specific applications, Arthur Gish is emphatically not! Beyond the Rat Race is a fast-paced barrage of both criticisms of contemporary living and constructive suggestions for implementing a specifically Christian life-style whose hallmark is simplicity. Gish views his book as a sequel to his earlier The New Left and Christian Radicalism. It applies “the radical theology of revolution to the area of life-style, showing both the personal and political implications of a life lived in complete faithfulness to Jesus Christ.” The claim, rather bold, is in large measure fulfilled.

Many of Gish’s suggestions will have you nodding with approval (e.g., “Give up time consuming rituals such as … washing the car”). Neckties, soft drinks, electric can-openers, and a host of other “necessities” come in for criticism. Walking, gardens, home-made clothing, and Sassafras tea made from roots you go out and dig up are on the approved list. Those who, like C. S. Lewis, prefer their theology over “tea, tobacco, and public house ale” will be jolted by Gish’s disapproval. All his suggestions are worth serious consideration. While some make amusing reading, they all search the conscience of those taking their stewardship of creation and time seriously.

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But simplicity, for Gish, goes far beyond our relationship to things such as those mentioned above. Speech, thought, titles of distinction, recreation, relationships—these and all areas of life should be characterized by simplicity, he says. Many will find Gish’s attitude toward using titles (Dr., Professor, even Mr.!) and oath-taking a bit eccentric, but his treatment of larger issues cannot be passed over. He is a declared enemy of the whole consumer-oriented American way of life. Violence, dehumanization, evil manipulation of Consumers, and pollution are direct effects of the system.

In contrast to this Babylon doomed to failure, Gish proposes radical discipleship to Jesus Christ. Discipleship must be thoroughgoing in each of our lives, and we must build communities in (not separate from) the world. The advantage of community is great, not least in better discerning the leadership of God’s Spirit. A caring, sharing community recognizing only Jesus as President, living in the spirit of the coming Kingdom, does present a viable alternative to a frenetic, despairing world.

Gish devotes the last quarter of his book to the specific biblical basis of his plan for the simple life. Beginning with the same text as Eller, he branches out to a discussion of economics, property, poverty, and faith as understood in the Scriptures. In conclusion, Gish (fortunately) admits that his specific suggestions are not necessarily the only options for everyone: “One cannot divorce Christian faith from its concrete expression even though it can never be identified with that expression. No one cultural form can be called the Christian life-style, but there are many life-styles that are definitely not Christian.” One suspects it would be hard to convince Gish that God could be pleased with any wealthy Christian. There are very compelling elements both theologically and practically in Gish, but it is wise to recall Eller’s caution and leave God room for a certain diversity among the citizens of his Kingdom.


God’s Forever Family, by Jack Sparks (Zondervan, 287 pp., $1.95 pb). Story of the Christian World Liberation Front and related ministries to students and others, based in Berkeley, California. Honest sharing of trials and triumphs. Challenging examples for Christians who want to introduce Christ to others.

A Guide to the Study of the Holiness Movement, by Charles Edwin Jones (Scarecrow, 946 pp., $27.50). An indispensable guide to the scores of denominations, periodicals, and schools in the holiness movement, which began last Century to preserve and restore original Wesleyanism and from which much of Pentecostalism emerged. Identities some 2,000 leaders. Also includes extensive bibliography and information on the principal trans-denominational bodies. Indexed.

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A Lawyer Among the Theologians, by Norman Anderson (Eerdmans, 240 pp., $3.95 pb). An evangelical law professor finds prevailing academic theology and biblical study wanting in light of “rules of evidence.” By the same Standards he finds the testimony of Scripture reliable.

Foul-up or Follow-up, by Lloyd Mattson (Victor, 48 pp., $.95 pb). Creative, practical, and much needed guide to following up decisions for Christ made at summer camps.

Yale: A History, by Brooks Mather Kelley (Yale, 588 pp., $17.50). Founded in 1701 with the intention of preserving pure doctrine, in distinction from the drift at Harvard, Yale became more influential in shaping and studying the course of American religious history than any other university. Although its character is now secular, for much of its history Yale demonstrated that high standards of orthodoxy, piety, and scholarship are compatible.

The Future of the American Past: A Study Course on American Values, by Earl Brill (Seabury, 96 pp., $2.95 pb), and Defining America: A Christian Critique of the American Dream, by Robert Benne and Philip Hefner (Fortress, 150 pp., $2.75 pb). Two brief, helpful studies on the inevitable interrelations between American civil religion and historic Christianity.

Rome Before Avignon, by Robert Brentano (Basic Books, 340 pp., $15). History of the social structure of Rome in the thirteenth century. Deals with physical features, papal influence, and family life and reveals interesting parallels with aspects of modern life.

Churches and Church Membership in the United States: 1971, by Douglas Johnson, Paul Picard, and Bernard Quinn (Glenmary Research Center [4606 East-West Highway, Washington, D. C. 20014], 237 pp., $15 pb). Fifty-three denominations, comprising about 80 per cent of all church membership, have their statistical data of three years ago compiled in this convenient volume. Data are recorded by state and then by county. A full-color fold-out map (available separately for $3) shows the dominant denominations for each county. For various reasons omits several large denominations (such as the Eastem Orthodox, black denominations, Churches of Christ (non-instrumental), Assemblies of God, Jehovah’s Witnesses, American Baptist Association, and Baptist Bible Fellowship). Nevertheless this is a valuable guide to the denominational make-up of the country and belongs in all theological and reference libraries.

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Render Unto God, by Thomas A. Shannon (Paulist, 180 pp., $4.50 pb). A theological underpinning within a Catholic context for selective obedience to civil authorities. Originated as a doctoral dissertation.

Forgiveness in Action, by Helen Kooiman (Hawthorn, 144 pp., $5.95, $2.50 pb). An insightful study of forgiveness. Biblically based and applicable to everyday life.

The Goodness of God, by John W. Wenham (InterVarsity, 223 pp., $2.95 pb). An in-depth study of God’s goodness in light of the evil seen in Bible times and in the world today. The author deals with the difficult questions of cruelty, suffering, war, famine, and hell. A sequel to Christ and the Bible.

St. Caesarius of Arles: Sermons, Volume 3 (Consortium Press [821 15th St. N.W., Washington, D. C. 20005], 303 pp., $14.95). Caesarius was bishop of Arles in what is now France from 502 to 542. His influence was especially wide because he had his sermons distributed far beyond his own diocese. The fifty sermons making up this volume are published in a fresh translation as volume 66 in “The Fathers of the Church,” a series begun in 1947 that is to be completed in some 100 volumes at the hoped-for rate of about three a year. All theological libraries should have this series.

The Sexual Revolution, by J. Rinzema (Eerdmans, 107 pp., $2.35 pb). Useful overview of the roots and manifestations of the rapid change in sexual mores, written in a European context by a Protestant pastor. His points are thought-provoking even when one disagrees.

Call the Witnesses, edited by Paul M. Robinson (Brethren Press [1451 Dundee Ave., Eigin, 111., 60120], 144 pp., $2.95 pb). Thirteen leaders of the Church of the Brethren write on evangelism. Much is applicable to all evangelistically minded Christians.

Pro-existence, by Udo Middelmann (InterVarsity, 126 pp., $1.95 pb). An associate of Francis Schaeffer deals with creativity, work, property, selfishness, and Christ’s retum in an eloquent plea for Christians to recognize the significance of their lives.

Free the Child in You, by John K. Bontrager (Pilgrim, 192 pp., $5.95), The Gospel of Liberation, by Jurgen Moltmann (Word, 136 pp., $5.95), and Guilt and Freedom, by Bruce Narramore and Bill Counts (Vision, 159 pp., $4.95). Three practical treatments of a subject of great contemporary interest. Bontrager makes a direct application of the theory of transactional analysis to the Christian life and faith. Moltmann’s book is a collection of speeches and sermons that apply the principles of the Gospel to basic practical situations in life. Narramore and Counts are counselors who use case studies to illustrate the guilt often suffered by Christians and biblical psychological principles to show how to gain freedom.

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The House of David, by Jerry M. Landry (Saturday Review Press, 272 pp., $14.95). A journalist presents a lively narrative of Saul, David, and Solomon. Descriptions are embellished imaginatively to amplify the biblical record without contradicting it. Lavishly illustrated.

Boasting in the Lord, by David M. Stanley (Paulist, 192 pp., $2.95 pb). A thorough study of the practice and precepts of prayer as revealed in Paul’s letters.

Confrontation at Worms, by DeLamar Jensen (Brigham Young University, 112 pp., $10.50). A concise history of the struggles of Martin Luther, strikingly illustrated with prints of woodcuts, paintings, and publications from the period. Contains text and translation of the edict.

Christianity Confronts Culture, by Marvin K. Mayers (Zondervan, 384 pp., $5.95 pb). Using models, case studies, group activities, and questions for discussion, a former missionary who now teaches anthropology at Wheaton tries to sensitize readers to the procedures of cross-cultural evangelism. Useful not only for missionaries but also for those ministering in such a multi-cultural land as the United States.

Finally, both Eller and Gish use the concept of the Kingdom of God and our citizenship in it as a basis for their articulation of the simple Christian life-style. Gish does this quite well, it seems to me, but makes an unfortunate omission: the Kingdom is not only now but also coming in its fullness with the retum of Jesus Christ. Our efforts to live as faithful citizens of the Kingdom now are exceedingly important but nevertheless relative in view of the Second Coming. This double aspect of the coming of the Kingdom is noted by Eller but ignored by Gish. A greater realization of the Second Coming would give us greater hope and a stronger ethical imperative, and place our efforts to live in anticipation of that Kingdom in proper perspective.

A Skeptic’S Look

Back to Jesus, by Peter Michelmore (Fawcett, 1973, 192 pp., $.95 pb), is reviewed by Russ Pulliam, reporter, Associated Press, New York City.

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It’s always hard for a Christian to write fairly and objectively about other Christians and their ministries. The easy approach is to write up their good side, to show how God is using them, and to refrain from searching for weaknesses. So it’s good that this report on the Jesus movement was written by a skeptic rather than by some enthusiastic Cheerleader who never would raise critical questions about the rediscovery of Christ among young people.

Michelmore is not an atheist or a humanist, but he has not found Christ as the answer to everything. He struggles with his own faith and cannot adhere to all the common evangelical beliefs. Above all, he is a reporter who strives to be objective and truthful, so the book has a critical and balanced perspective that is so often lacking in autobiographies written by evangelists.

His reporting takes him all over the country, and he teils about Jesus people at the 1972 Democratic National Convention in Miami, the Children of God in Texas, various West Coast groups, and Jews for Jesus in New York.

In an interesting historical analysis, he cites David Wilkerson as a catalyst for the Jesus movement of the late sixties and early seventies. Through his Teen Challenge Street ministry in New York City and his book, The Cross and the Switchblade, Wilkerson provided an example of what the Holy Spirit could do in the life of a person who puts his whole trust in Christ.

But Michelmore also is critical of Wilkerson for leaving the inner-city ministry for a home in Dallas, Texas. He finds this turning away from the inner-city ghettoes all too common among the Jesus people. Sometimes it’s part of a general tendency to turn away from worldly concerns, or social action, in favor of the spiritual side of a new life in Christ. But also “it must be the old success ethic. White evangelists find more receptive, and generous, audiences in the suburbs. Black evangelists also strive for pastures far greener than rowdy street-corner meetings.”

He also is critical of Hal Lindsey and others who prophesy that the end is near, and finds that the love and grace of Christ are “too often hidden in the thicket of dire prophecies by the men who are rooting for the apocalypse.”

Michelmore also gives the good side. For someone who has not personally experienced the moving of the Holy Spirit, he picks an unusual theme: that the Holy Spirit, the same Spirit described by Luke in Acts, is the prime force behind the Jesus movement.

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The book covers more than charismatics or Pentecostals. He bridges over the split between Pentecostals and evangelicals who do not see tongues as necessary evidence of the Holy Spirit. Rather than taking sides, he looks at all the new Jesus people who are experiencing dramatic and undeniable changes in their own lives. The common denominator is a total commitment to Christ, an openness to the Spirit.

Pointers To Transcendence

The Analogy of Experience: An Approach to Understanding Religious Truth, by John E. Smith (Harper & Row, 1973, 140 pp., $6.95), is reviewed by Paul Gooch, associate professor of philosophy, Scarborough College, University of Toronto, West Hill, Ontario.

In this book John E. Smith, Clark Professor of Philosophy at Yale University, presents the substance of his 1970 Warfield Lectures at Princeton Seminary. The result is a philosophically perceptive statement of the centrality of experience for the understanding of Christian faith.

Smith begins with the classical theme of faith seeking understanding. Though he places himself in the Augustinian-Anselmian tradition, holding in tension rationalist and fideist approaches, Smith advances this tradition by arguing that we must not only clarify the content of faith but also relate it to the matrix of human experience. Since experience must be seen as dynamic, changing throughout history, theology becomes an ongoing enterprise, and the theologian must know the experience of contemporary man if he is to communicate with him.

But it is not for some watery notion of “relevance” that Smith argues: he is after instead an elucidation of the very structure of human experience, that structure which persists through change and development. He suggests that much of our present theological and philosophical thinking about experience has been infected by the views of the British empiricists: that experience is private and subjective, Standing between us and the world. Smith rather argues that experience should be seen to have a shared, inter-subjective character; it is a reliable discloser of the nature of reality. Further, when the structure of experience is properly understood it can be seen to contain analogues that point to the transcendent reality of God.

It is through analogy that we come to understand God and religious truth. Smith sketches in chapters IV through VII some outlines for a theology based on the analogy of experience. He begins with human experience as it is: flawed by man’s fundamental self-assertiveness, our own responsibility but beyond our remedy. We are caught in a “circular predicament.” Nevertheless, we can still understand something of God; he is not so wholly other that we cannot know him analogically in the experience of selfhood as a center of intentional action and overarching purpose. God is thus the transcending center of intention. And Jesus is the concrete manifestation of that center; in the fully human experience of a selfless love for God he is able to break through our predicament. He establishes a new reality in history, the “spiritual body” of the Beloved Community, through which men may now realize in their own experience God’s intention to save us.

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Though philosophically perceptive, the book does not set out to be a piece of philosophy in the technical sense. Smith does not attempt to provide philosophical justification for many of his Claims: he does not explain on what basis we can decide which aspects of experience are proper analogues for our understanding of God, nor does he answer the problems philosophers have uncovered in the verification of analogical language about God simply by focusing attention on the analogy of experience. His approach also raises provocative questions for biblical interpretation. He introduces a distinction between analogues of experience (which point to a transcendent reality) and counterparts to experience (which function as bridges across the experiences of different persons), which distinction then seems to disappear: one wonders how these may come together in the life and experience of Jesus.

Smith shows considerable skill in the delicate task of interpreting Christian faith in experiential terms without sacrificing the full content of faith. There will be differences about the degree of his success, but The Analogy of Experience should be read by anyone who assumes that such interpretation is unnecessary or optional; and it will be read with great profit by the reflective Christian seeking a comprehensive framework for understanding and communicating his faith.

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