Truth And Faithfulness

I Pledge You My Troth: A Christian View of Marriage, Family, Friendship, by James H. Olthuis (Harper & Row, 1975, 148 pp. $7.95 and $3.95 pb.), is reviewed by Andre S. Bustanoby, marriage and family counselor, Bowie, Maryland.

When God made woman out of Adam’s rib, he never intended her to be a bone of contention. He had in mind an enjoyable partnership based on mutuality between man and woman.

“Troth” is an attempt to regain the concept of mutuality that has been obscured by much writing on the headship of the husband and the submission of the wife. The reader would do well to read first the appendix, “Paul on Women.” There Dr. Olthuis deals with those passages in the Pauline Epistles that are most frequently used by expositors to teach the subordination of woman to man. The author attempts to show that Paul’s intention was not to teach subordination of woman but rather to instruct domineering women not to dominate. They are to remember their call to mutuality.

Mutuality does not ignore, however, the issue of the husband’s headship. Headship is the husband’s office. He has a responsibility to take the lead in mutually examining the marriage to see if it is developing along the lines that the husband and wife have agreed on.

In this interpretive framework the author explores the idea of troth, which is pledged in the traditional marriage ceremony. He points out that “troth” is an Old English term for truth, faithfulness, loyalty, and honesty, all essential to a good marriage. Those who counsel troubled marriages are well aware that the key element lacking is a commitment in just those areas—truth, faithfulness, loyalty, and honesty.

Troth has implications not only for the husband and wife but also for the parent-child relationship. The author says that the family ought to be a community of troth. Loyalty, trust, fidelity, devotion, and reliability must exist between parents and children. Unhealthy family systems such as the authoritarian and permissive systems are seen as thwarting troth. When father always knows best, the development of trust and reliability may be stunted in the child. Quite often children in such a system grow up to think of God as a bigger version of father—stricter, less flexible, less merciful, and completely self-serving.

The permissive family is just as damaging, however. The child cannot grow up to become a member of organized society if he has been left to his own devices all his life.

The alternative to these two styles is not a blending of the two but a third: a biblical view of the family and family nurture. It is the exercising of authority in love. Parental authority is used not to serve the interest of the parents but for the welfare of the family as a whole.

The “working mother” is given deserved notice, and the author’s comments on the subject are realistic and enlightened. Looking toward the day that her on-site mothering will come to an end, the mother should be prepared to enlarge her interests. The author goes so far as to suggest that husbands-to-be should encourage their fiancees to train for a satisfying and long-term career in addition to parenting. Most revolutionary is the idea that a father or mother who wants to make the parental office his primary profession should receive a salary.

Troth offers something fresh in books on marriage with its chapter on friendship. Being good friends and companions is essential to a marriage built on the idea of mutuality and is especially important when the children are grown and gone.

Olthuis goes so far as to encourage cross-sex friendships. This assumes, however, that the marriage is marked by fidelity and trust.

This book is no palliative for the typical troubled marriage in which the husband and wife are merely surviving. Olthuis strikes deeply into the philosophy of intimacy and requires the reader to take a hard look at the underpinnings of marriage and family. For the couple who want to make a good marriage better, this discussion of Troth offers some solid guidance.

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Is The Church’S Task Political?

The Politics of Hope, by Andre Bieler (Eerdmans, 1974, 152 pp., $3.95), and Christians and Socialism, edited by John Eagelson (Orbis, 1975, 246 pp., $7.95, $4.95 pb), are reviewed by Howard Snyder, executive director, Light and Life Men, International, Winona Lake, Indiana.

In The Politics of Hope Swiss theologian Andre Bieler outlines a rationale for the Church’s socio-political role based on an analysis of three major ecumenical texts. The documents chosen are the 1967 papal encyclical Populorum progressio, the report of the Conference on World Cooperation for Development (Beirut, 1968), and the report of the 1968 Uppsala assembly of the World Council of Churches. Bieler finds enough common ground in these three documents to sketch a theology of the Church’s role in the world.

The second book, Christians and Socialism, traces the efforts of Latin American Christians in behalf of socialist revolution. It deals primarily with the work of a group of Chilean priests in support of Salvador Allende’s Marxist program in the early seventies. This collection of documents is interesting as a specific example of the kind of political involvement to which Bieler’s analysis would seem to lead, at least in Latin America.

Bieler says many things North American Christians need to hear. His insistence that the Gospel transcends all political ideology is a timely warning to both rightists and leftists, as well as to those comfortably in the middle. His analysis and condemnation of racism, the perversion of technology, the arms race, and the economic and political exploitation of the world’s poor also should be heard. These are concerns that should be more disturbing to the evangelical conscience than they seem to be.

One can certainly appreciate Bieler’s criticisms, however, without necessarily arriving at his conclusions. The danger is that evangelical readers will use his questionable theological premises as reason to reject his legitimate criticisms as well.

The key concept in Bieler’s “politics of hope” seems to be “development.” He speaks of the “unity, solidarity, and development of humanity,” of “the liberation, promotion and development of man.” God’s goal for his creation is “the true development of man.” This includes, but also transcends, economic and social development and can’t be equated with any existing political system or theory.

Christians may well agree that development is a worthy goal; the question is whether it can be made the key to the gospel message. Bieler seems to make it this. While he occasionally speaks of “new creation” and “of resurrection,” the words “reconciliation” and “redemption” are nearly absent. In their place stands “development.” Bieler’s analysis does, in fact, seem to presuppose a pretty thorough reinterpretation of historic Christian concepts. Conversion comes to mean “a repudiation of all forms of human degradation” and “a critical attitude toward local conformity be it social or political.” The Church’s mission is seen as “perpetually to present to the world the goals of peace, non-violence, liberty, solidarity, disarmament, classless society, global society, etc., and to work for their political realization.”

Does this mean the Church should abandon its historic goals of eternal salvation and reconciliation and work only to achieve this-worldly political goals? Bieler says:

Only concrete secular objectives—political objectives—that conform to the Church’s distant spiritual or theological goals may be validly proposed to non-Christians. In other words, temporal goals must be gauged by criteria of the Kingdom, but they must always be translated into terms of political, secular goals, and must be understood as temporal goals.
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Bieler has a point here—if he means simply that Christians should work to attain political objectives that are compatible with the Gospel. But if he means that the Gospel must be wholly translated into political terms and the Church’s mission seen as an essentially political endeavor, then his argument must be rejected as a false interpretation of Scripture. And the latter seems to be where Bieler is leading.

The question is whether “the politics of hope” is seen simply as a theology of the Church’s involvement in the political sphere or whether it is rather a wholesale recasting of the Gospel in political terms. As a manual for the Church’s role in politics the book might have some utility, at least if it is understood in the broader context of the biblical meaning of salvation. But as an exposition of the total or central task of the Church it is inadequate and misleading.

Is the Church’s task political? The answer depends on the meaning of “political.” On the one hand, Bieler’s analysis seems to succumb to what Jacques Ellul calls “the political illusion”—the idea that every question is political in nature and must be dealt with by political means. This is an illusion that misunderstands the true nature of the world and of the Church.

On the other hand, taking “political” in its broader sense, the very existence of the Church is political, and true discipleship cannot fail to have political impact. At this point John Howard Yoder’s analysis in The Politics of Jesus is much more biblical than is Bieler’s. Yoder points out that the Church is “a new social reality” whose social-communal nature is unavoidably political. The Church’s most powerful political impact is often precisely its refusal to reduce everything to politics and its fidelity to the example of Jesus Christ. In contrast, Bieler sees Christ more vaguely and impersonally as “the motivating factor behind societal development toward an increasingly refined and well-integrated complexity.” Christ becomes a force behind an evolutionary universal human development rather than the Savior who calls men first of all to himself and in whose person alone there is hope for “the reconciliation of all things.”

Christians and Socialism documents the Christians for Socialism Movement in Latin America during and following the days of Chile’s Salvador Allende. The views advocated are basically those of the “theology of liberation” recently discussed in CHRISTIANITY TODAY (Aug. 16 and Jan. 8). The book is valuable both as a demonstration of how the “theology of liberation” works out in practice and as a discussion of some of the basic questions raised by such an interpretation of the Gospel, for it contains documents both pro and con. One of the most significant entries is a long declaration (fifty pages) by the Roman Catholic bishops of Chile that was prepared before and issued just after the fall of Allende. This document identifies and analyzes many of the key questions that Christian commitment to Marxism would raise for orthodox Christanity.

Fundamentally, both these books raise the same question: What is the central mission of the Church, the primary purpose of the Gospel? Is it this-worldly political and social liberation, or is it a broader spiritual reconciliation that transcends space and time? Biblically we must say it is the latter, but it does not ignore the former. The Gospel brings social and political liberation, but precisely because it operates on a more transcendent frequency and refuses to reduce the Good News to political ideology or endeavor.

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Is God Lost?

The Search For God, by Hans Schwartz (Augsburg, 1975, 288 pp., $7.95), is reviewed by David Beck, graduate student, Department of Philosophy, Boston University, Boston, Massachusetts.

The professor of systematic theology at Evangelical Lutheran Theological Seminary, Columbus, Ohio, offers a text that will serve well as a survey of recent non-evangelical theologies. Many helpful summaries are provided of thinkers from a variety of persuasions: Marxist, secularist, process, neo-orthodox, new Catholic; from Barth and Tillich right up to Pannenberg, Rahner, Bloch, and Ogden. Many who are less well known on the American scene are also represented here.

Despite its wide range, the book is nevertheless molded around a single argument-line that begins with the challenge of secularistic atheism and ends with a reaffirmation of the self-revealing God of our history. Schwarz sees the internalization of the absolute in Feuerbach and Marx as the origin of contemporary atheism and then describes the efforts to construct a godless “theology” that culminate in van Buren.

Finding these to be unacceptable, Schwarz examines various paths to faith. One chapter is spent on the method of rational argument, but Kant’s critique is held to be final; recent rebuttals and revisions are largely ignored.

At this point Schwarz begins to construct the positive argument. After demonstrating a broad consensus on the existence of an ultimate “something” beyond man (in a section that is curiously reminiscent of the cosmological argument) Schwarz presents various theories concerning this ultimacy. Finally, by a crucial but in my opinion very vague historico-comparative argument, Schwarz attempts to conclude that Christianity is the highest form of divine revelation. The crux of the argument is the premise (for which he provides little evidence) that Christianity alone has the potential to survive the current attack on the reality of God as well as on the dignity of man by secularistic, technological society.

In the concluding chapters, Schwarz describes the evolution of the Judeo-Christian God-concept from the various anthropomorphic numina of Genesis to the spiritualized self-revealing Father of the Gospels in a discussion that leans heavily on Alt’s God of the Fathers (1929) and similar theories.

Does Schwarz succeed in finding God? I think not. The first problem one encounters with his argument-line is that no connection is supplied between “salvation-history” and the Word. Does the fact that to our twentieth-century Western minds Judeo-Christian Scripture describes a superior self-revelation of God, the culminating salvation-event, actually validate it as the true source? Why can we assume that we have reached the pinnacle in the development of religion? Not only are we not sure that it is in Scripture that we find the ultimate revelation, we are also given no reason to believe that Scripture is in any way accurate in its description of revelational history. Schwarz convinces us neither that God was truly in Christ, nor that Christ in fact returned from the dead. “Ultimately the exclusiveness of God’s self-disclosure in Jesus Christ is as little demonstrable as the fact that such self-disclosure occurred at all,” he says.

All this, however, leads us to the crucial problem with Schwarz’s argument: faith is seen as the result of divinely given experience. It is not open to rational demonstration, or empirical investigation, and yet it is defined as a new understanding, a new way of seeing the divine perspective. The man of “faith” sees history as God’s self-disclosure.

None of this, of course, is new. It is just one more attempt at “blik” Christianity: the total divorce of faith from reason and ordinary experience by which God became “lost” to begin with. Apparently we need to reaffirm that this will not do as an apologetic. Christian faith is not a vague disposition to view the world in a certain way. It is the God-given ability to commit oneself as a total person to another person, having been driven by hard facts derived by the standard rational and empirical investigative methods to which human beings are accustomed.

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The result of this distorted view of faith is inevitable, and Schwarz provides a good example. Salvation is no longer a question of guilt and broken relationship but of attitude and outlook. Christ’s work is purely revelational, not redemptive (note especially page 178).

Schwarz’s book, then, will be helpful to evangelicals who are looking for an overview of the distinctive views of recent and contemporary systematic and philosophical theologians. It does not present what most of them would regard as a viable or convincing apologetic.

The Context Of Exodus

The Book of Exodus: A Critical, Theological Commentary, by Brevard S. Childs (Westminster, 1974, 659 pp., $15) is reviewed by Carl Edwin Armerding, associate professor of Old Testament, Regent College, Vancouver, British Columbia.

New full-length commentaries on the book of Exodus have not been wanting in recent years (e.g., major works by Cassuto, Noth, and Hyatt), and there are some still in process, such as the one I am preparing for the New International Commentary. Of all the recent books, Childs’s is the best. The Yale professor has finally applied his much discussed “canon criticism” to the field of exegesis, and the result is eminently satisfying.

Canon criticism, as it has emerged through several rescensions, departs from a merely historical-critical background study to study the text in the totality of its canonical shape. This move will be welcomed by evangelicals, for whom the unity of Scripture has always been a given, though the kind of sometimes superficial unity imposed on Scripture by conservative Christians (be they Protestant or Roman Catholic) is clearly not what Childs has in mind. His unity comes from an overall conviction that the text is part of an inspired whole, looked at from the perspective of the New Testament Christian, but that unity allows for the full range of diversity affirmed by all true biblical theologians in the present debate. The Old Testament witness is incomplete in itself; the New Covenant witness, often building on a variety of foundations, picks up, amplifies, and sometimes reinterprets the older text to bring out the theological point consistent with Christian proclamation.

Childs, if not all his critics, disavows the charge of doing theology or exegesis merely by the proof-text method, and a close look at his work will show that he does not, in fact, submerge the Old Testament in a sea of Christian dogmatic theology. Each passage in the Old Testament is taken first at its face value; only then does its role in the ongoing progress of revelation find expression.

The method is outlined in an extensive introduction. Basically the commentary falls into six sections (repeated for each part of Exodus covered), each of which I will treat in turn.

First comes a new translation, but prefaced to that is an extensive bibliography of articles and books dealing with major issues in the section at hand. German works, in particular, are fully covered, and for the student wishing to do further research this will be a valuable part of the commentary. But back to the translation. I found no great surprises here, and with the spate of translations and commentaries now available a fresh rendering serves mostly as a basis for the textual and philological notes that follow. These notes, like everything else in the book, are transliterated for the non-specialist, but because of the nature of the material this is the part of the commentary least useful to the pastor who has forgotten his Hebrew.

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Section two is entitled “Literary and Form-Critical Analysis.” Whereas other scholars (even many contemporaries) have spent most of their time working with literary sources, Childs’s work seems, at this point, slightly perfunctory, at least contrasted to the more important job of considering the forms. That is not to say that he is not thorough: such a charge will not be leveled at any part of the commentary. Rather, one is left with the impression that he feels much of traditional literary criticism has not done the real task of exegesis, and in his own work there is little dependence on literary critical results. The form-critical studies are both sane and sensitive to the essentially Israelite and non-mythological provenance of the bulk of the material, thus avoiding the speculative excesses so often found in discussions of early Israelite narrative. A final subsection attempts stylistic and thematic analysis, and, while not quite so creative as Cassuto, Childs has given us some of his best work at this point.

The next part, entitled “Old Testament Context,” is called “the first major section” and “the heart of the commentary.” It is here that Childs, building on what has already been established, masterfully brings out the unit of the passage. These lines hold much theological reflection, and no preacher of Exodus can afford to ignore them. The conviction that the text means something, that it was put together by an intelligent individual or community, and that there is a theological direction implicit in the material provides a most fruitful starting-point, one that subsequent commentators might well emulate.

In section four, “New Testament Context,” Childs makes a radical break with what has been current for almost a century. The business of the Old Testament scholar, so it is stated, is the scientific study of the Old Testament. If there is to be any examination of how the New Testament makes use of the material, it had best be left to New Testament scholarship or the history of exegesis. Childs’s rationale is as follows:

The section … is a conscious attempt to take seriously the church’s confession that her sacred scripture consists of an Old and a New Testament. The New Testament’s reading of the Old is therefore not just included within the section on history of interpretation, but functions as the voice of the apostles which the church hears along with that of the prophets [p. xv].

The material itself is clear and concise, and shows the writer’s familiarity with both Jewish thought and New Testament scholarship. Taken together with the preceding section, it contains a wealth of theological and homiletical detail.

A fifth section, “History of Exegesis,” is seen as “an analogy to the section on the pre-history of the text.” Childs sees both the pre-history and post-history of the text as important for the illumination of the canonical text, but the arrangement of material in this commentary makes it clear that for him there is a qualitative distinction between the canonical text and its history. (Note: it was at this very point that most of the criticism was leveled in a recent professional society to which Professor Childs spoke.) This, for the Christian interpreter, should restore some sense of authority to the sources, while illuminating those sources by looking at how they have been understood. Also welcome is the author’s willingness to look at classical Jewish commentators (Maimonides, Rashi, et al.) and older Christian exegetes (especially Calvin and Luther) instead of simply rehashing the issues of a recent generation of scholars.

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Finally, the selection entitled “Theological Reflection” attempts to “present a model of how the Christian seeks to understand the testimony of the prophets and apostles in his own time and situation.” That it successfully avoids becoming “simply random homiletical ruminations” is evident by the main criticism I have of it: that it is often merely a restatement and summary of the preceding theological-exegetical materials.

The author himself turns our attention to the sections on Old Testament context, New Testament context, and theological reflection as the heart of the commentary. These are directed to both the technical and non-professional reader, and certainly most of the readers of this review would benefit greatly from these three sections.

How well does the commentary accomplish its goal? Let me give an illustration of the method, and the reader can judge for himself. In Exodus 2:11–25, Moses is reported as having slain an Egyptian, attempted to reconcile two quarreling Hebrews, fled in fear to Midian, and settled in as an alien shepherd tending flocks. Leaving aside the technical notes, we find that the “common motif of the hero’s withdrawal … before his return” is basic to the narrative. Examples of stylistic features include a skillful blending of several motifs with unifying elements such as the repeated use of certain verbs. In the Old Testament context, two themes are seen interwoven in verses 11–15, that of active sympathy and required secrecy. The narrative leads us to the heart of the matter: Moses must act in secrecy because he has no authority. His failure, then, is one of rejection of his authority, together with his demand for justice.

In the latter part of the account (verses 16–22), Moses, the Hebrew, flees from an Egyptian king over the question of injustice, only to be taken as a wandering Egyptian who establishes justice between two non-Hebrew peoples. In becoming an exile from Egypt (as well as from Goshen) he finds a home among nomads and exiles. The delicate counterpoint is beautifully brought out in the commentary.

Turning to the New Testament, Childs finds in Acts 7:23–29, 35 an apologetic use of Exodus to establish the pattern of disobedience in Israel’s history, which culminated in the rejection of Jesus. By contrast, Hebrews 11:24–28 pictures Moses as a typical martyr whose rejection of the Egyptian court is considered “abuse suffered for Christ,” a model of faith for the Christian in light of the “invisible” presence of Christ. In the theological reflection, the two portrayals are drawn together as both representing faith: in the one case faith requiring a recognition of God’s legitimate revelation either in Moses or Jesus and in the other a faith directed to the eschatological future in which the promises of the past are fulfilled in the completeness of the new age.

In any book there must be weaknesses. One is immediately evident from the format: the casual reader will have great difficulty finding material on any given verse. It is not enough to read the Old Testament context or the theological reflection. The presentation in sections three through six is enough of a piece that you can hardly take one without the others.

Other criticisms fall into the realm of agreement or disagreement with the author’s thesis of canon criticism and its implications. As a system of hermeneutics, it will certainly not be judged flawless when all the votes are in, but it is, in my opinion, the most creative and substantial new direction in Old Testament scholarship in many a year. Detailed criticisms have already been given by members of the scholarly community. In the meantime, we are all very much in Professor Childs’s debt for what is not only a magnificent example of the methodological theorist illustrating his approach but also (and more important) a significant tool for illuminating a major portion of the Word of God.

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Lewis For Children And Others

The Secret Country of C. S. Lewis, by Anne Arnott (Eerdmans, 127 pp., $4.95), is reviewed by Cheryl Forbes, assistant editor, CHRISTIANITY TODAY.

Many Lewis lovers and Lewis critics claim that his Narnia chronicles will be the best known and most widely read of all his books. They are already well on their way to becoming classics in children’s literature.

Now Anne Arnott has written a biography of Lewis aimed at children. In her prologue she tries to capture her small readers’ imagination: “The only sound is the comfortable crackling of the coal fire, and the slight scratch of the pen passing quickly across the sheets of paper.” Although in some places she writes down to her readers, that passage shows a good grasp of her craft. And there are other fine passages throughout the book. Lewis knew exactly how to write for children (and the child-like), and it would be unfortunate if someone writing his biography for children couldn’t at least approach his success.

But this book shouldn’t be read to and by children alone. There are some interesting facts not to be found in other books about Lewis, and the simple, homely style make it more appealing than the Hooper/Green biography. And, except near the end of the book, she avoids quoting heavily from Lewis!

NEW PERIODICALS

The first issue of Talk ‘n’ Thought, a quarterly for the wives of clergymen, appeared in September, 1975. Worth considering as a gift for your pastor’s wife. $5/year. 901 West 24th Street, Austin, Texas 78705.

Trinity World Forum began Fall, 1975, and is to appear thrice yearly as a newsletter for those with a serious interest in missions. For a free sample write the School of World Mission, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, Illinois 60015.

Bible college and seminary libraries will want to subscribe to the TRACI/ETS Journal issued by the Theological Research and Communication Institute and the Evangelical Theological Society, both of India. $2/year ($5 airmail). U.S. representative: T. E. Koshy, 860 Ostrom Ave., Syracuse, N.Y. 13210.

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