The Hartford Affirmations

Against the World For the World: The Hartford Appeal and the Future of American Religion, edited by Peter L. Berger and Richard John Neuhaus (Seabury, 1976, 164 pp., $8.95), is reviewed by Bruce Demarest, associate professor of systematic theology, Conservative Baptist Theological Seminary, Denver, Colorado.

In January, 1975, eighteen spokesmen from Protestant, Orthodox, and Roman Catholic communions issued the now famous Hartford Appeal for Theological Affirmation, in which thirteen “false and debilitating” theses characteristic of the radical religious establishment were forthrightly challenged (see Christianity Today, February 14, 1975, pp. 53–55). Hartford focused attention on the demise of transcendence, with obvious reference to the popular theologies of secularism, existentialism, process thought, and liberation. The initial Hartford consultation, which was regarded as an experiment in ecumenical theology, registered a significant protest against the captivity of the Christian faith to what it called “the primacy of modern thought,” which seriously undermines the Church’s ability to carry out its God-given task in the world.

In this volume eight signers of the Hartford Appeal explore in greater detail the concerns unfolded in it. The central theme of the contemporary loss of transcendence is given considerable attention. Although evangelicals tend to view the Hartford Appeal as a protest against the theological left, more than one essayist points out that not only the radical community in Berkeley but also the typical conservative church on Main Street, U.S.A., holds a theology in which transcendence is seriously compromised. Neuhaus typically argues in his essay that insofar as conservative Christianity uncritically assimilates the values of the surrounding culture (e.g., American civil religion), it permits a secular ideology to dictate the terms of its conviction, thus diminishing its awareness of the transcendent reality. Quite boldly and unfairly Neuhaus comments: “Culture religion of the right is uninhibited in its use of metaphors of transcendence, of God, of judgment, of life everlasting. But they are captive metaphors, neatly dovetailed with an agenda set by the world.… It is insidious. It is demonic.”

Peter Berger receptively outlines the usual process by which the Church’s concept of transcendence is compromised. First, a secular definition of reality (e.g., evolutionism) gains increasing acceptance in society. Unconsciously the Church redefines its faith in terms of the current ideological fashion. Finally, the Church reorients its mission to achieve the newly adopted set of goals. The result is an increasing tendency to explain the world “in terms devoid of transcendent referents.” Belief has capitulated to unbelief. In view of such widespread trends Hartford prophetically summons the Church to return to the authentic transcendent core of the faith, which alone makes the theological enterprise possible.

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Hartford’s heavy weapons are trained primarily on the theological left. The fatal error of the secularist theologies, according to Neuhaus, is their belief that salvation can be effected by a course of political action independent of an authentically Christian world view. This perspective is radically opposed by Hartford’s affirmation that “salvation cannot be found apart from God” (Theme 6). All too often on the radical left Christian identity has been abandoned and secular ideologies so accommodated that the way back to the fold has been lost. Whereas young evangelicals are engaged in a serious reappraisal of their social responsibility, the secular Christian, for his part, shows no inclination to rethink the meaning of evangelism.

Several essayists voice concern over the capitulation of the World Council of Churches to foreign agendas. Avery Dulles observes that theological ecumenism has largely abandoned the task of confronting the new paganism. The conciliar movement shows no indication of “addressing itself to the massive problem posed for all the churches by the rampant immanentism, humanism, secularism, psychologism, sociologism of our age,” which concertedly compromise belief in the transcendence of God. The mission of Hartford, simply stated, is “to unmask the secret infidelity at work in both our popular and academic culture.”

Any comfort the conservative Christian might draw from barrages directed against the radical left is vitiated by crossfire against his own position. Judgments expressed about the theological right, such as that it is blindly captive to culture, or that it insists on the “fundamentals” of the faith while being obsessed with “legalistic and literalistic controversies,” doubtless are true of the fundamentalist wing of evangelicalism. However, one is concerned about Hartford’s skepticism of conservative Christianity as a whole.

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In this regard, George Lindbeck concludes that theology is in the midst of a shift away from historic, conservative models to new forms as yet undetermined. The time-honored traditional formulations Lindbeck boldly characterizes as “old paradigms … faltering under an accumulating weight of anomalies.” Apparently the theological models propounded by Paul, Augustine, or Luther—conditioned as they were by historical and cultural circumstances—are regarded as non-normative for modern, scientific man. Lindbeck’s latitudinarianism is unmasked by his exhortation that a responsible theological stance—i.e., one radically opposed to both left and right—must “resist the inclination to suppose that there is anything intrinsically good or bad” in one expression of the faith versus another. While granting the misjudgments and anomalies on the part of the far right, the Christian concerned for “the faith … once delivered to the saints” must manifest concern at any reduction of historic Christianity.

Richard Mouw’s essay, “New Alignments,” is the sole evangelical contribution to the volume. Mouw argues that the Hartford project is a significant step toward the creation of an environment in which more responsible theological discussions can take place. Mouw’s optimism centers on Hartford’s clear affirmation of what Machen called “the aweful transcendence of God,” which puts Hartford far nearer to evangelical belief than to the secularist left. In terms of evangelicalism’s response to Hartford, Mouw divides the evangelical community into five groups: fundamentalists, conservative and progressive evangelicals, and conservative and progressive confessionalists. Of these, only the progressive evangelicals and progressive confessionalists (where Mouw places himself) can be expected to respond favorably to the Hartford Appeal.

The Hartford Appeal for Theological Affirmation, as amplified in the present volume, is more a negation than a constructive affirmation. With courage and conviction it pronounces the reductio ad absurdum of modern theological movements that exchange the roles of God and man. In the words of Lindbeck, “the Hartford Appeal … battles for the possibility of theology rather than itself proposing a theology.” In this respect both the Appeal and this collection of essays are to be heartily applauded.

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Nevertheless, from its broadly based confessional stance, rid of what it regards as the extremes of right and left, Hartford clearly proceeds no further than the stage of prolegomena. Hartford has demolished the old structures but is uncertain how to proceed with a program of reconstruction. From its own perspective an alternative theology has not been proposed, for “in the present circumstances, that would be divisive.”

The crucial point clearly is whether the present theological latitude of Hartford, which embraces Tillichians, Rahnerians, Barthians, Whiteheadians, et al., will in due course give birth to a theological affirmation with specific content that is both relevant to the world and true to the Word. While evangelicalism awaits the outcome of the Hartford experiment, it would do well to re-examine its own commitment and priorities in the light of the searching criticisms articulated in the Appeal and in these valuable essays.

An Evangelical Social Reformer

Shaftesbury: The Great Reformer 1801–1885, by Georgina Battiscombe (Houghton Mifflin, 1975, 365 pp., $15), and The Seventh Earl: A Dramatized Biography, by Grace Irwin (Eerdmans, 1976, 295 pp., $7.95), are reviewed by Richard V. Pierard, professor of history, Indiana State University, Terre Haute.

Charles Spurgeon, David Livingstone, Charles Finney, and D. L. Moody are nineteenth-century giants of the faith whose names are household words in evangelical Christian circles. However, the subject of these two books, Anthony Ashley Cooper, the Seventh Earl of Shaftesbury (1801–1885), though lesser known, particularly on this side of the Atlantic, probably has had just as much impact as any of these contemporaries.

Lord Ashley’s indefatigable labors on behalf of the poor and oppressed in Britain constitute one of the great epics of Christian history. Of aristocratic background, he entered Parliament in 1826 and served six decades except for a short break in 1846–47. He succeeded his father as Earl of Shaftesbury in 1851 and is generally known by that name. Though he was a Tory, his concern with social issues moved him increasingly closer to an independent stance. Among his accomplishments were reforming the treatment of the mentally ill, restricting female and child labor and working hours in the factories and coal mines, outlawing the use of “climbing boys” as chimney sweeps, initiating rudimentary education for slum children (“Ragged Schools”), creating better housing for urban workers, and fostering public health in London. He backed Florence Nightingale’s program to revamp military hospitals during the Crimean War and supported the abolition of slavery in the United States.

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At the same time, he was a man of deep Christian convictions. He identified with the evangelical wing of the Anglican church and had an unshakable faith in Scripture, prayer, and the second coming of Christ. He firmly opposed the inroads of ritualism and rationalism in the church and used his political influence to secure the appointment of evangelicals to church posts. He never made any qualitative distinctions among political, philanthropic, and religious endeavors—they were all part of the totality of his life. Because he wanted to see Britain forged by an evangelical faith into an instrument for God’s use, all his concerns were religious. He rose from prayer or Bible study ready to serve the Lord, whether by local charity or by imperial politics.

Until the recent surge of interest in social and urban history, his work as a humanitarian reformer attracted only passing attention. The three-volume official biography by Edwin Hodder, The Life and Work of the Seventh Earl of Shaftesbury (1886), which consisted of lengthy extracts from his diaries interwoven with copious praise for his great deeds, had long been out of print. The same was true with the major early-twentieth-century studies. John L. and Barbara Hammond, socialists who viewed religion as a means used by the patriarchal governing classes to help preserve the status quo, portrayed him in their book Lord Shaftesbury (1923) as a narrow, egotistical evangelical who abandoned the struggle for political reform and public education. To refute their contentions, J. Wesley Bready in Lord Shaftesbury and Social and Industrial Progress (1926) painted an effusive portrait of the earl as a practical saint and colaborer with God.

Since the 1960s he has once again drawn the attention of historians, as indicated by the reprinting of the Hodder and Hammond volumes in 1971 and the publication in 1964 of a new biography by G. F. A. Best, a scholar of British social and economic history. This brief but well-balanced work concentrated on his political and personal efforts on behalf of the needy and vividly depicted Shaftesbury at war with the evils of the city. Best pointed out that in his later years the earl shifted his attention from the conditions of employment to the human problems of the “poorest” poor. Unmoved by the contemporary obsession with the religious and moral aspects of poverty, he clearly understood that environmental factors were the prime culprit.

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The two books under review here are the latest additions to this growing body of Shaftesbury literature. Both are by women who have written other books about nineteenth-century personages, both draw extensively upon unpublished diaries and letters, and both show a deep appreciation for their subject. Here the similarity stops, since the Battiscombe volume is a serious historical study while Irwin’s is a biographical novel, or to use her term, a “dramatized biography.”

Battiscombe’s work is a well-written, full-scale chronological treatment of Shaftesbury, but some will find the social and political background somewhat thin and others may disagree with her acceptance of the traditional view that the masses in early Victorian England lived in appalling poverty. Although she deals extensively with his political activities, there are spots where the narrative is fuzzy. An important contribution is her discussion of the millennial (always misspelled) element in Shaftesbury’s thought and how it impelled him repeatedly into reform activities.

The Irwin biography is more difficult to assess. The author says she doubts that she has “put a dozen sentences into my hero’s mouth which he did not say or write,” but the manner in which this is done makes the work unacceptable as historical scholarship. She focuses primarily on the earl’s personal and family life and provides numerous insights into his joys and heartaches, even to the point of becoming melodramatic. Much less attention is paid to his achievements as such or the ideas underlying his actions. In fact, unless one is already familiar with the details of Shaftesbury’s life and nineteenth-century politics and culture, the story is difficult to follow. She jumps from one incident to another without adequate transitions and repeatedly drops in references to contemporary happenings that will confuse the uninitiated reader.

As a device to comprehend the past, the historical novel has considerable merit, since the author can recreate moods and thought patterns not readily apparent in the available documents. But, other than portraying the experiences of one aristocratic family, Irwin does not really capture the essence of life in Victorian England, except perhaps in her description of the occasion in 1848 when Lord Ashley met with the London thieves. This is undoubtedly the most moving passage in the book, and readers who see Christianity as a purely spiritual religion that has no ministry to the physical needs of people will be challenged to rethink their conception of the faith.

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Both books may be read with profit, although Battiscombe’s is the better one. They show that the incessant labor of this godly man on behalf of others was truly astounding, not only in the political realm but in the personal as well. He served on innumerable boards and commissions of charitable organizations, regularly visited factories and slums areas to observe conditions first-hand, and repeatedly gave money to needy persons and charities.

For evangelicals who are active in public life, his career takes on special significance. In a day when some socially concerned Christians urge us to reject voting as a “liberal cop-out” and condemn participation in political affairs as “selling out to the system,” it is well for us to consider how much this one person, whose conscience was sensitized by the Word of God and the Holy Spirit, was able to accomplish in the struggle with the entrenched forces of evil and injustice. We may not agree (I certainly do not) with all of Shaftesbury’s methods or political views, but we must not forget that God does work through dedicated persons to achieve his purposes in the world. We should, therefore, encourage and support those faithful Christians in governmental positions who have committed themselves to combat oppression and secure justice for all people, recognizing, as Shaftesbury so clearly did, that the final alleviation of the world’s collective misery will take place in the restoration of the creation at Christ’s return.

Christian Humanism

On Being a Christian, by Hans Küng (Doubleday, 1976, 720 pp., $12.95), is reviewed by Donald G. Bloesch, professor of theology. Dubuque Theological School, Dubuque, Iowa.

This is a book of ecumenical significance, for it shows how far a Catholic theologian is willing to go to bring the faith into dialogue with the modern world. Küng abandons his earlier kerygmatic stance, where Karl Barth’s influence was more noticeable, and attempts to make the Christian message credible and intelligible to those who no longer believe or who have doubts concerning the faith. He is quite emphatic that one must be rationally convinced before one will consider the venture of faith. Yet he recognizes that true and lasting certainty is provided not by rational arguments but only by God himself in the commitment of faith. Küng sees his position as a middle way between the authoritative proclamation of dialectical theology and the purely rational proofs for God’s existence of natural theology.

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Küng propounds a “social-critical theology” that engages man at the deepest levels of his existence but that also calls into question the values of the religio-cultural establishment. He sees Christianity as a “radical humanism” and salvation primarily as humanization. The reason for the Incarnation is that man may learn to accept and bear his humanity. Küng is highly critical of the satisfaction theory of the Atonement as enunciated by Anselm and instead sees the cross of Christ in terms of the vicarious identification of God with fallen humanity. He advocates “a Christology from below” in which Jesus becomes the model of true humanity rather than a divine being in human garb. He contends for a functional as over against an “essence” Christology. In his reconstruction of theology he jettisons belief in the Virgin Birth as a biological-historical fact, the preexistence of Jesus Christ, which he regards as mythology, and the empty tomb, whose historicity he considers dubious. He also rejects the miracles of the Bible understood as the evidence of supernatural intervention. Not surprisingly, he likewise calls into question such traditional Roman Catholic dogmas as the immaculate conception and the assumption of Mary and Mary as the mother of God.

In setting forth his social-critical theology, he is insistent that liberation from economic and political oppression, which is man’s self-liberation, must never be confused with redemption from inward sin, which is given only by God. On the other hand, those who claim personal redemption in Christ are not heeding the call of their Lord unless they go on to seek the social emanicipation of their brothers in need. He takes issue with some modern-day prophets who practically equate Christianity and socialism. In his view, an informed Christian should be free to criticize socialism as well as support it. But any program of social reform must be sharply distinguished from the kingdom of God, which only God can establish.

Küng’s section on world religions is especially enlightening, though it will not be satisfactory to those of an evangelical persuasion. He is adamant that Christianity must not be amalgamated with the insights and values of other religions, since this denies the real differences between faiths. He calls for dialogue but not syncretism. At the same time he is willing to see other world religions as ways to salvation, though he insists that the biblical witness to truth is unique. Evangelical Christians especially will take issue with him when he contends that a faithful Muslim who lives up to the precepts of the Koran can thereby be saved.

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Küng’s work should be seen as anthropology more than theology, since he takes for his point of departure contemporary human experience. Belief in God, he says, is based on the experience of being accepted by man. He contends that we can speak meaningfully of God only in terms of our concrete experience of reality. In this view, the only absolute that we can know is the absolute in the relative, the infinite in the finite. God is the most enduring reality “in man and in man’s history.” Yet Küng is careful not to equate God with the natural ground of the world or with an impersonal world force. True love, he insists, is genuinely human love, and it is through such love that we can understand God’s love for us in Christ. He regards the biblical texts as fundamentally an expression of man’s faith, not as God’s self-witness in biblical history.

One can discern in Küng’s work the imprint of historical positivism, the pseudo-scientific view that history is a closed continuum of cause and effect and that therefore explanation must take place in terms of modern ideas of causation. On this basis he rules out any supernatural intervention into nature and history, for this “would contradict all scientific thinking.” With Bultmann and Käsemann he calls for demythologizing the Bible, which means reinterpreting the “myths” as existential truths.

This book is provocative and challenging, but it is also disconcerting, for it indicates that through an apologetic concern Küng is moving toward the left and away from biblical moorings. Some of us who seek and pray for church unity had hoped that Catholic renewal would mean something more profound than accommodation to modern humanism. Küng does not fully accommodate, since he always points to the abiding truth in the biblical witness, which he sets off from the truths of modern philosophy and the other world religions. I can identify with him in his opposition to a syncretistic indifferentism and the idea of the “anonymous Christian,” which he thinks virtually equates the Church with the world. Yet I believe that in starting from what can be rationally verified in human experience rather than from an authoritative divine revelation in history, Küng has been led to propose a Christianity separated from its biblical metaphysic. And he has thereby reduced the Gospel to moral and spiritual values in a manner similar to that of the culture-Protestantism against which Barth protested.

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Briefly Noted

Friends need to spend time together. Sharing life with someone in an unstifled relationship is more than the sum total of two individuals—this is The Heart of Friendship by Muriel James and Louis M. Savary (Harper & Row, 205 pp., $6.95). A combination of timeless quotes and psychological insights portrays the process of friendship with its stresses and joys.

An autobiographical account that may be a source of encouragement and inspiration is Defeating Despair and Depression by Matilda Nordtvedt (Moody, 128 pp., $1.25 pb). The biggest hurdle is in answering the question, “Do I want to be the most I can be?” If so, “Am I willing to take the necessary steps to become that person?,” an essential question because “there are many comforts and advantages to being an ‘unwell’ person.” In Courage to Live (Judson, 127 pp., $3.95 pb) John Bishop combines his forty-two years of experience as a minister with related Bible stories to present ways of helping with life’s problems.

“The agony of church restructure” is the apt subtitle for a critical study by two Duke Divinity School professors, Paul Mickey and Robert Wilson, of the recent bureaucratic realignments within the American Baptists, Episcopalians, United Presbyterians, Southern Presbyterians, and United Methodists. What New Creation? (Abingdon, 192 pp., $5.95 pb) is highly recommended not only for active members of the five studied denominations but for those in other groups undergoing or considering restructure.

Thank God I’m O.K.: The Gospel According to T.A. by Richard Batey (Abingdon, 112 pp., $2.95 pb) is a serious attempt to express biblical principles in a contemporary form, specifically the concepts of “transactional analysis.” The author sees Jesus Christ as the “central historical example of I’m O.K.—you’re O.K.” and original sin as “universal not O.K.ness.” But to keep from taking yourself or any psychological system too seriously, read I’m O.K., You’re a Pain in the Neck by Albert Vorspan (Doubleday, 131 pp., $2.95 pb). After studying endless self-help systems from T.A. to T.M., the author has constructed a tongue-in-cheek guide to help you “really” understand yourself. Caution: the sarcastic language is not for those who dislike cynical humor.

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“God chose the Israelites so that they might make known to the rest of the nations his truth and his justice.” A balanced perspective on the “election” of the Jewish people is contained in Israel, A Biblical View by William Sanford LaSor (Eerdmans, 108 pp., $2.45 pb). The strength of the book lies in its summary of biblical events concerning Israel and their spiritual ramifications. God’s purpose in history is in uniting his people. Especially interesting is the final chapter on the Church as Israel and Israel’s role in prophecy as found in the Book of Revelation.

A call away from isolation and toward interaction with others forms the basis of both Open Heart, Open Home by Karen Burton Mains (David C. Cook, 199 pp., $5.95) and Deliver Us From Fear by Eileen Guder (Word, 117 pp., $5.95). Mains deals very practically with involvement in the world through a ministry of hospitality. Guder wants us to be less fearful so that we can be more involved. Personal illustrations abound in both books.

Did you think post-millennialism was all but dead? That symposium compilers were having difficulty finding someone to uphold the “post” view among “pre” and “a” advocates? Well, see The Journal of Christian Reconstruction, Volume 3, Number 2 (Winter, 1976–77) for a 128-page collection of articles by five living post-mils. There are also more than sixty pages of other articles and reviews in this issue of the semi-annual publication (P.O. Box 158, Vallecito, California 95251; $7/year; $4/issue).

ROMAN CATHOLICISM, it should be clear to everyone by now, is so internally divided that one wonders how it could ever have been otherwise. Actually it never was the monolith that outsiders thought, though the range and pace of diversity has increased of late. Paul Witte stresses the similarities he perceives between Protestant and Catholic evangelicals in On Common Ground (Word, 135 pp., $4.95), a simply written book. Journalist Marcelle Bernstein gives a worldwide overview of The Nuns (Lippincott, 326 pp., $9.95), most of whom are Catholic. Prolific writer Andrew Greeley celebrates The Communal Catholic (Seabury, 198 pp., $8.95) as over against “ecclesial” Catholics, both clerical and lay. By contrast, George A. Kelly asks Who Should Run the Catholic Church? Social Scientists, Theologians or Bishops? (Our Sunday Visitor, 224 pp., $8.95). He clearly opts for the latter. Greeley joins two fellow sociologists, William McCready and Kathleen McCourt, to present the results of a major study in Catholic Schools in a Declining Church (Sheed, Andrews, and McMeel, 484 pp., $15). They put the blame squarely on the Pope’s reaffirmation of opposition to contraception in 1968. The same publisher has presented an equally controversial book, The Church and the Homosexual (212 pp., $10) by John J. McNeill, which calls for endorsement of homosexual practice. The book was delayed two years while the Jesuit order was deciding to permit its publication. John Courtney Murray: Theologian in Conflict is a sympathetic ideological and biographical study of a liberal (for his time—1904–67) Catholic by Donald Pelotte (Paulist, 210 pp., $9.95). The impact of personal experience on religious thought is set forth more briefly by ten generally left-wing Catholics in Journeys, edited by Gregory Baum (Paulist, 271 pp., $6.95 pb). Finally, The Eucharist in Ecumenical Dialogue edited by Leonard Swidler (Paulist, 154 pp., $2.95 pb) has essays constrasting Catholic views with those of seven other groups, including Anglicans, Baptists, and even Jews.

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New Periodical

A well-known writer in a number of practical-theology fields, Jay Adams, is the editor-in-chief of The Journal of Pastoral Practice. The first issue (Winter, 1977) has numerous articles on such topics as “counseling the decision-makers,” “how to handle a financial request,” and “preaching with a purpose.” Eventually it is to be issued regularly, but for now each issue is sold separately by the publisher ($3.50 for the first issue; Presbyterian and Reformed, Box 185, Nutley, N.J. 07110).

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