Coping With An Unwanted Pregnancy
Should I Have an Abortion?, by Eldon Weisheit (Concordia, 1976, 101 pp., $1.75 pb), is reviewed by Jerry Albert, research biochemist, Mercy Hospital Research Laboratory, San Diego, California.
In this book a parish pastor and counselor takes an understanding approach to the woman who is pregnant and regrets it. Weisheit believes that the ultimate decision on abortion is the woman’s. In chapter 2 he pleads for consideration of all options, and all aspects of the problem. In chapter 3 he faces sin, guilt, and the role of sex.
Weisheit discusses the role of others in chapters 4–7: a man (4), family and friends, including counselors of various types (5), God (6), and the fetus or baby (7). In each of these he expresses concern for a higher principle of life than the requirement of civil law, and for the rights and responsibilities of all involved with the woman’s pregnancy. He stresses the importance of maintaining normal human relationships. As he opens up new ways of looking at the situation, Weisheit weaves in Christ’s Gospel of forgiveness and love.
The woman is responsible, he says, for getting the help she needs to make the decision about an abortion and to adjust to the decision later. He asks her to seek questions, not answers, from others, questions that can help her clarify her thinking about the problem. His own probing questions and keen analysis help to untangle guilt feelings from factors that should be involved in the decision. He leads the reader through pretend situations with questions to test her own feelings and help her face reality.
Weisheit discusses God’s Word and its application to abortion (pp. 68–70). He prefers a moderate position between the pro-abortion and pro-life extremes. He hopes neither side “wins” so that we have to live under either a no-abortion or an open-abortion policy. To the woman he says, “You are not standing at a crossroads, with all that is good in one direction and all that is evil in another. There will be both joy and sorrow, guilt and grace, either way you go. As sinful people we cannot always choose good and reject evil in our daily decisions. There will always be some wrong involved in our choices—either in what we choose or in our reason for making the choice. But because Christ is with us, there will also be good. Look at the love He gives you and give that love to all others affected by your decision.”
Weisheit recognizes the difficulty in calling conception the beginning of human life, for then many human beings would have been lost through natural or artificial (intrauterine devices) prevention of implantation. Weisheit weaves the concepts of “God’s continuing creation” and “human life cycle” into a view that is an alternative to pinpointing the moment of ensoulment or the beginning of human life, and he shows how this model can be used either to oppose or to support abortion in certain situations.
Weisheit includes good discussions of the alternatives of giving the child up for adoption and keeping the child. I would highly recommend this very practical book for use by any woman who has an unwanted pregnancy.
The value of the book is increased for pastoral use by its being simultaneously issued by the same publisher as part one of a hard-cover volume, Abortion? Resources For Pastoral Counseling. Part two adds sixty-eight pages of practical helps for “counseling those who are considering an abortion.” Price: $6.95.
What Does Transcendence Mean?
Historical Transcendence and the Reality of God, by Ray Sherman Anderson (Eerdmans, 1975, 354 pp., $9.95), is reviewed by Bruce Demarest, associate professor of systematic theology, Conservative Baptist Theological Seminary, Denver, Colorado.
The contemporary radical reduction of the concept of divine transcendence in Western religious thought has spawned what the author calls a “new paganism.” In this Ph.D. study prepared under T. F. Torrance at Edinburgh, Anderson undertakes a bold reassessment of the transcendence of God, particularly as it relates to the dynamic of the Incarnation.
A careful analysis of transcendence in existentialism, process theology, personalist philosophy and the “onto-theology” of Heidigger and Tillich reveals that transcendence has consistently collapsed into a radical immanence, and this has caused a lessening of the sense of the reality of God. But if modern radical reinterpretations of transcendence prove unacceptable, argues Anderson, equally invalid is the traditional Christian formulation of transcendence derived from Greek philosophy mediated through Descartes. Theology must abandon the Cartesian model whereby God is conceived of as an “existent,” i.e., an object about which man as subject rationally reflects.
Anderson’s general Barthian orientation is highlighted by such statements as, “Given these metaphysical presuppositions, talk of God as Wholly Other is condemned to failure by the very nature of the reality by which we seek to designate God.” Anderson concurs with H. Ott, Barth’s successor at Basel, who insists that “God, as … the ‘Wholly Other,’ can never be an object. No objective assertions may be made about him, such as are made about objects which we find in the world.” That is, along with Barth, Bultmann, Niebuhr, and many other moderns, Anderson considers God to be “Wholly Other” and therefore both unthinkable and unknowable by the creature as thinking subject. On the basis of this axiom, Anderson insists that transcendence must be redefined so that knowledge is posited in the realm of the practical and concrete rather than in a theoretical framework. That is, following Brunner, truth is embedded not in an abstract idea or doctrine (which is Greek and therefore unbiblical) but in the existential reality of personal encounter.
Having thus dismissed the traditional Christian concept of transcendence based on ontological knowledge of God, the author advances the alternative idea of “historical transcendence”—a concept rooted in the seminal thought of Bonhoeffer, who defined “transcendence as historical experience,” and indebted to Barth’s assertion that “the being of a person is being-in-act.” But Anderson’s development of historical transcendence is primarily based upon R. G. Smith’s theology of “this-worldly transcendence,” which the late Glasgow theologian summarized in this way: “The eternal spirit … is the life of the eternal person in act.” Postulating the primacy of action over being, Anderson explains transcendence “in terms of the act by which a personal agent moves beyond his own self-existence to confront and interact with an ‘Other.’ ” Moreover, this action whereby God concretizes himself as Spirit in human existence “has an ‘intelligible rationale’ intrinsically contained in the interaction, which is the problematic of historical transcendence.” The non-specialist reader will find it hard to understand the language in which the author expresses abstract philosophical and theological concepts. “Problematic,” in distinction from paradox, is defined as “a correspondence which has an intrinsic rationality which is given to the relation by a reality not inferred from the relation itself.”
Proceeding further, Anderson says that the concretization of the transcendence of God as Spirit-act constitutes the Incarnation. This conception of the Incarnation in terms of the eternal Spirit who acts by entering the existence-form of the creature in “I-thou” relation permits us to comprehend the transcendence of God in Christ “without coming to grief over the metaphysical problems of the relation of the divine nature to human nature,” says Anderson. It follows, he says, that traditional kenotic Christologies (and the non-kenotic commonly received Christology) that define the nature of the Logos in static, substantialistic categories radically distort the divine transcendence. Kenosis, the act whereby God transcends his own immanent existence and becomes man, is thus fundamentally a celebration of divine transcendence rather than a reduction of it.
Anderson’s rejection of the traditional formulation of transcendence and immanence fails to satisfy on several counts. First is the untenability of his assertion that God, the “Wholly Other,” is unknown and unknowable in himself, and that consequently transcendence is falsely regarded as an ontological perfection. The biblical perspective in no wise limits knowledge of God to his actions in the world. Indeed, one of God’s greatest acts is his act of self-disclosure through objective supernatural revelation so that He who is subject can also be known as object. The either-or bifurcation of God as subject-object is thus without warrant. God as he has revealed himself and as he enters into concrete relation with man through the Spirit is subject and object.
In this regard, biblical faith poses further questions. What is the Spirit, the Otherness which acts in history? If, as is argued, Spirit cannot be spoken of as the personal, self-existent, omniscient God who thinks and wills, then Spirit-act is a mere existential concept. Anderson’s reconstruction has dissolved the attributes of God in the flow of history. Everything is reduced to a vague problematic.
An unfortunate antithesis likewise is established between God as a personal being above and beyond the world and God defined as action. The traditional concept of God is dismissed on the grounds of its alleged captivity to classical Greek philosophy. But the God of the Bible (and of Augustine, Aquinas, and Calvin) is not the static, inactive Principle of the Greeks. The tri-personal God who through propositional revelation has disclosed himself is both living and active in relation to the world. Hence Anderson’s separation of being and action, with the latter identified as the primary element in the structure of reality, is fundamentally a false antithesis.
Historical Transcendence and the Reality of God clearly reflects a high degree of creativity and a mastery of the vast field of literature on the subject. The section dealing with the evangelical Christian’s living in solidarity with the world (on the basis of the Incarnation), yet displaying a difference from the world through the reality of the Spirit, is a needed emphasis today.
Yet fundamentally I doubt whether the affirmation can responsibly be made that God is what God does. Hence the reinterpretation of transcendence and the Incarnation based on the seminal concepts of Bonhoeffer and R. G. Smith fails to mark an advance on the traditional Christian explication of the theme. One suspects that operating within the post-Kantian tradition of skepticism in relation to objective knowledge of the absolute God, the author himself has appropriated a philosophical scheme essentially alien to the thought world of Scripture.
Because the knowledge of God and his relation to humankind are of first importance in the Christian faith, the discussion stimulated by this book will warrant careful attention.
Adams On Management
Pastoral Leadership, by Jay Adams (Baker, 1976, 199 pp., $3.75 pb), is reviewed by Donald Gerig, senior pastor, Calvary Memorial Church, Oak Park, Illinois.
Having once researched the field of textbooks in pastoral administration only to meet many copyright dates of ten years ago or earlier, I looked forward to Jay Adams’s most recent contribution of his Shepherding God’s Flock series. Unfortunately, Pastoral Leadership promises more than it produces.
I applaud Adams’s goal of speaking scripturally about the matter of “good leadership, planning, and management in the church of Christ.” However, I was troubled by his either/or approach of pitting scriptural teaching against what can be learned from the business world. The matter seems overstated when Adams says that “the greatest danger [italics mine] for preachers who are discouraged over the growth of their congregations is to walk wide-eyed into the conferences held by well-meaning Christian businessmen, and buy the tempting wares that they find displayed on every shelf.” I think the average pastor would do well to learn some basic management skills from those Christian businessmen. Of course management skills can be learned from the ministries of Nehemiah, Moses, and Paul, but we can have that teaching complemented even by the American Management Association without threatening our basic biblical objectives.
Even this emphasis could be forgiven if Adams would at least come up with the scriptural leadership lessons he promises. But in his attempt to milk Scripture for these lessons he tends toward generalizations too much of the time. Often those generalizations say, in effect, that pastors must do something about leading the church in developing its programs. The catch is how to do it! At that point one is often left with a blank page at the end of the chapter to “develop a truly significant program as soon as possible.”
Helpful chapters could have been enhanced by better arrangement. It seemed strange, for instance, that chapters on “Delegation and Sharing” and “Enlisting and Training” (which really are connected ideas) were separated by five unrelated chapters. And some topics that any pastor knows are key parts of management problems were covered in a most cursory way (e.g., finances in three paragraphs).
Several chapters of the book have real value. Adams’s ideas about delegating tasks to persons rather than committees has merit and could be a positive solution to leadership problems in many churches.
I was also intrigued by his suggestions for the adult Sunday school; using a “two period” teaching schedule with a course-type curriculum is a novel approach to what has become a problem hour.
I am at least glad that Adams has opened up the area of pastoral administration to further discussion. It is good that he has focused directly on the needs of the local church. It is also good that he worked from the basis of principles to be learned rather than success stories to be told (which so often do not really fit other situations). As a pastor, though, I hope others will improve on the idea.
On Guilt And Shame
Naked and Not Ashamed, by Lowell Noble (available from the author [141 W. Addison, Jackson, Mich. 49203], 1975, 142 pp., $2.50 pb), is reviewed by Kenneth Pike, professor of linguistics, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.
Conscience, it seems to me, has been but little studied in anthropological literature; shame has been more widely treated. Guilt seems easily related to our need for redemption from specific acts of mess, but shame seems so vague that it less often gets theologized in witness or in a book on redemption. But in Naked and Not Ashamed Lowell Noble points out that in sheer number of scriptural references (KJV) the words shame, ashamed, and derivatives far outdo guilt and guilty: the former are mentioned 224 times in the Bible (39 times in the New Testament) and the latter only 23 times in the Bible (6 in the New Testament). This is indeed a startling fact, in view of the normal sermon focus. And Noble’s bibliography documents with extensive discussion the differential treatment in academic works.
Coupled with this (merely?) curious fact is a puzzler: how do we account for the claim by anthropologist and missionary that some cultures have so small a sense of guilt, as ordinarily defined, that it takes deep search to find it? And how is the Scripture to appeal directly and immediately to such a culture? Noble’s answer: “Shame, while obviously social in nature was, in addition, a deeper and more personal concept than was guilt.” In his treatment, “shame is the loss of honor,” related to failure to achieve, to measure up to a standard—with or without moral failure. And for this the shamed person needs a covering (shades of Eden!)—or a psychological “mask”: “In a state of shame you cover what you are.” When a person lies and is caught, he feels shame because it has been revealed that he has failed to live up to what is right. This threatens the person’s pride, and even his search for identity. But such problems, Noble affirms, are a universal—even where an acknowledged inner feeling of guilt for doing a forbidden but undiscovered act may be hard to prove.
And the Scripture? Lots of it, to show that in past ages God’s direct appeal was often to people to come to him for relief of shame—now, and forever: “They shall be turned back and utterly be put to shame who trust in graven images” (Isa. 42:17). “As a thief is ashamed when caught …” (Jer. 2:26). “O my God. I am ashamed and blush to lift my face to thee, my God: for our inquities have risen higher than our heads and our guilt has mounted up to the heavens …” (Ezra 9:6, 7). “No one who believes in him will be put to shame” (Rom. 10:11).
Today, then, when it is so hard to get people to realize that they are in fact sinners, what can we try in order to open their ears? We may discuss shame as the irrevocable ultimate exposure of what a person is. Or we may take the advice of C. S. Lewis: “My own experience suggests that if we can awaken the conscience of our hearers at all, we must do so in quite different directions. We must talk of conceit, spite, jealousy, cowardice, meanness, etc.” (God in the Dock, Eerdmans, 1973, p. 244). And we may choose to talk of these. Noble would imply, in terms of the shame we will feel when they are open for all to see.
The recent American scene should make it clear, I would add, that wide-spread perversion is little condemned—but that shame opens the way for dismissal even from high office. (Shades of the Watergate exit from our political Eden, with a flaming judicial sword preventing a return even to Washington!) This, in turn, allows for more open discussion about the moral will of God and his penalties—in the form of shame—for despising it.
The Roots Of Commitment
The Unconscious God, by Victor Frankl (Simon and Schuster, 1975, 161 pp., $6.95), is reviewed by Michael Macdonald, associate professor of German and philosophy, Seattle Pacific College, Seattle, Washington.
In Man’s Search For Meaning Victor Frankl related his own search for meaning amid the horrors of Nazi Germany. The book sold more than a million and a half copies and has had a profound influence on modern psychology and psychiatry. Frankl is the originator of the third Viennese school of psychotherapy, the school of logotherapy. His impact has perhaps been the greatest since Freud, Jung, and Adler.
Much of the material in The Unconscious God is taken from a lecture Frankl gave shortly after World War 11 and published in 1947 in German as a book. The original is short (seven chapters, seventy-six pages) but meaty. The postscript adds some of Frankl’s more recent ideas. The book concludes with an excellent bibliography and an index.
Frankl describes this as the “most organized and systematized” of his twenty books. In it he breaks down the barriers between religion and psychiatry. He distinguishes sharply between the spiritual and the instinctual; he has discovered with Jaspers and Heidegger that “being human is being responsible—existentially responsible, responsible for one’s own existence.” Man exists authentically when he is deciding, not when he is being driven. Man is the responsible creature, and his response must be through action in a concrete situation.
Frankl’s logotherapy is intended to bring man in general and the neurotic in particular to an awareness of responsibleness. Logotherapy does not answer any questions, for meaning must ultimately be found, not given. Each person must decide what is good and meaningful and what is not. Logotherapy can only heighten the innate awareness of responsibility. Thus Frankl preaches a kind of self-actualization obtained through a fulfillment of meaning. Moreover he defies the modern taboo by talking about life as if it had ultimate meaning.
According to Frankl, it is conscience that discloses to man the “unique possibility a concrete person has to actualize in a specific situation.” Therefore conscience reveals each person’s unique potential. But conscience is not the ultimate. If we stop there we have not reached the higher ontological level. However, we may have to respect the decision of our fellow man not to reach out and touch this higher peak. “After all,” writes Adler, “it is precisely the religious man who should respect the freedom of such a choice, because he is the one who believes man to be created free. And this freedom includes the possibility of saying no, for instance, by deliberately refusing to accept any religious Weltanschauung.”
Penetrating to the roots of commitment, Frankl reaches the transcendent quality of conscience. He concludes that it is impossible to explain man’s responsibilities without reaching this point. Conscience both refers to and originates in transcendence. Frankl contends that “man has always stood in an intentional relation to transcendence, even if only on an unconscious level.” Thus we arrive at The Unconscious God.
Frankl’s concern is more anthropological than theological. He only infrequently comes close to a characterization of The God Who Is There. Yet when he does, he comes intriguingly close to the Judeo-Christian tradition, as when he refers to God’s necessarily “personal nature,” and man as the “image of a ‘transpersonal agent.’ ”
Certainly a Christian would want to point to the significance of the power of prayer and the leading of the Holy Spirit for the decision-making process. Yet Frankl’s purpose is not the integration of psychology with the evangelical Christian tradition, even though much of what he writes is consistent with biblical revelation (that, for example, man stands unique among God’s creatures as a responsible being). On the other hand, to support Frankl’s thesis that “everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life” does not mean that we must endorse his opinion that we “should not search for an abstract meaning of life.”
Followers of Frankl believe he has moved considerably beyond Freud’s “future of an illusion” and Jung’s religious archetypes. Jung should be credited with a discovery of distinctly religious elements within the unconscious; yet Jung pointed to God as an impersonal force operating in man. By contrast, Frankl’s emphasis is on the personal dimension.
Also refreshing is the view that psychiatrists do not have all the answers. “We psychiatrists are neither omniscient nor omnipotent—we are only omnipresent: we are present at all symposia, and mingling in all discussions.” If wisdom has anything to do with “knowledge plus: knowledge—and the knowledge of its own limits,” then Frankl passes with distinction.
What To Do With The Kids
Mom, Take Time, by Pat Baker (Baker, 1976, 114 pp., $2.95), is reviewed by Elaine Mathiasen, Boise, Idaho.
Pat Baker found a congenial publisher—Baker—for this small book brimming with ideas for both new and experienced mothers. Never have I seen a more concisely written variety of practical suggestions for parent-child activities.
The book is divided into sections following the biblical description of Jesus’ development (Luke 2:52): how to help children develop wisdom, stature, favor with God, and favor with man. Within each of these chapters there are ideas for use with children in four stages: infancy, pre-school, elementary, and high school. Besides activity suggestions, the sections contain information on the needs and characteristics of each age group.
Activities described range from simple ones that require little time and no equipment to more elaborate ones. A few possibilities mentioned are colored flash cards, a leaf house, daily prayer with each child, and parent-child “dates.”
Baker also recognizes that a mother must take time to be alone and suggests ways to find and use that time. In another chapter she stresses the importance of time for the parents to spend together in activities, communication, and prayer.
Subscribe to Christianity Today and get access to this article plus 60+ years of archives.
- Home delivery of CT magazine
- Complete access to articles on ChristianityToday.com
- Over 120 years of magazine archives plus full access to all of CT’s online archives
- Learn more