Love God With All Your Mind
Developing a Christian Mind by Nancy Barcus (InterVarsity, 1977, 103 pp., $2.95 pb), All Truth Is God’s Truth by Arthur Holmes(Eerdmans, 1977, 145 pp., $3.95 pb), and Preserving the Person by C. Stephen Evans (InterVarsity, 1977, 177 pp., $4.95 pb), are reviewed by Ronald Nash, head, department of philosophy and religion, Western Kentucky University, Bowling Green, Kentucky.
Most Christians preach and practice a truncated gospel. Although the first and great commandment obliges us to love God with all our minds, the church continues to be afflicted with an unbiblical disparagement of the intellect accompanied by an unhealthy emphasis on emotionalism. I regret that Christian publishers more often than not pander to this deplorable state with light-weight testimonies of famous sinners or assorted prescriptions for curing sexual maladjustment. Three recent books stand out as exceptions to the prevailing antiintellectualism among evangelicals.
Nancy Barcus pleads with Christians to develop a Christian mind. What is needed, she urges, is a “renewal of the Christian mind.” Knowledge, she states, “is not an isolated or an unchristian part of the world. It is part of the very fabric of what it means to be a Christian.” Arthur Holmes believes that the recognition that God is the ground of all truth should undercut the wide-spread depreciation of so-called secular learning among evangelicals. The common Christian practice of compartmentalizing knowledge into sacred and secular branches is unbiblical and leads to the mischievous notion that secular knowledge is in some way less important and worldly, unfit for the “spiritual” Christian. Although the truth revealed in Scripture is sufficient for faith and conduct, it is not exhaustive. The truth to be mastered outside of Scripture is every bit as much the truth of God. Even revealed truth requires study and interpretation, tasks that can be aided by an education in such “secular” subjects as philosophy and history. Holmes warns against the erroneous belief that faith provides the Christian with a short-cut to the truth that eliminates any need for a grounding in secular areas of learning. Especially dangerous is the practice of many charismatics of elevating their own religious experiences above revealed truth. In such hands, the experiences of some individual or group become a pattern into which the truth of the Word of God must be squeezed. Holmes counters that experience should be tested by truth; Scripture should not be subordinated to our experiences.
Stephen Evans focuses on the arena of the social sciences, where an intellectual battle over the nature of man is raging. Christian theology has an obvious stake in the view of man as a self-conscious, responsible agent who makes choices and who has purposes and reasons for his actions. But the very view of man as a person is the subject of attacks emanating from the social and behavioral sciences. These disciplines have been captured by a positivistic mind-set that emphasizes causal explanations that are mechanical, impersonal, and nonteleological. A key question for our time then is: Are the scientific and personalistic views of man compatible? If not, must the presuppositions of a scientific method that depersonalizes man be modified, or must major alterations be made in the view of man as a person? Evans carefully notes that the real source of the trouble is not the social sciences per se. Rather, the problem results from social scientists opting for a particular philosophy of social science (positivism), by which Evans means “the tendency to make scientific procedures and theories the ultimate source of truth and the ultimate account of the nature of reality.”
Evans questions whether the advocate of a mechanistic view of man can avoid a self-stultifying view of knowledge. That is, does the behaviorist view of man hold consequences that make knowledge, including the “knowledge” of the behaviorist, impossible? Doesn’t the very possibility of knowledge require that the knower be a person (as opposed to a machine)? Does the mechanist’s view of man undercut his own claims to knowledge? Advocates of a mechanistic view of man also make value judgments. Does their mechanism also undermine this process? The implications of the behavioral view of man are especially disconcerting in the political arena. The position not only suggests the possibility of unlimited control over and manipulation of human beings; it leaves a liberal society without any objective ideals that would effectively limit such manipulation. Evans’s major contribution is a lengthy discussion of a number of possible routes to resolving the conflict between the personalistic and mechanistic views of man. Some people prefer to resolve the tension by limiting science either by arguing that there are areas of knowledge off-limits to the scientific method or by rejecting the ultimacy of truth provided by the scientific method. Other approaches surrender to positivism and attempt to reinterpret the notion of man so as to make it more compatible with present trends in the behavioral sciences. Others seek resolution of the conflict by attempting to humanize science, by replacing the antipersonalistic philosophy of science that grounds so much contemporary social science. As Evans sets out ways in which a Christian might relate each of these options to a biblical view of man, he makes some points that will surprise readers uninformed about recent discussions. For example, he concedes that a dualistic view of man may not be essential to Christian theology. I think Evans is wise in not restricting the Christian scientist’s options too drastically. His taxonomy of available options is helpful and should generate some worthwhile discussion among Christian philosophers, theologians, and social scientists.
More Christians need to read books like these; more Christians need to be writing books like these. Will Christian publishers help make such books available? Let’s hope so.
A Classic Study Of Pain
Where Is God When It Hurts?, by Philip Yancey (Zondervan, 1977, 187 pp., $3.95), is reviewed by James A. Zitzman, Jr., promotion manager, CHRISTIANITY TODAY.
Where is God when it hurts? Why does he feel so close in our time of joy, yet so distant in time of sorrow? Why does he allow us to suffer at all?
American Christians avoid such questions, fearing the mysteries of the problem of pain. When the specter of pain forces us to react, we respond weakly, defensively. Maybe we don’t have “enough faith.” Or we have some hidden sin. Or we attempt to deaden the suffering with injections of goodwill and cheer.
In the first chapter of his book, Yancey tells of a young bride battling Hodgkin’s disease. The girl and her husband, when told she has only a 50 per cent chance to live, react with anger against the God who seems to have turned on them. Christian visitors, seeking to console the couple, only confuse them with different interpretations and approaches to their questions.
The suffering of his friends started Yancey searching for “a message Christians can give to those who suffer.” His quest lasted five years and resulted in this book.
When I first heard that Yancey was working on a book about pain, I assumed that essentially he would paraphrase C.S. Lewis’s Problem of Pain. I have always thought that Lewis’s classic apologetic could not speak to the average Christian. I welcomed a paraphrase. Yancey, however, chose to write his own book—with powerful results.
Yancey guides the reader through the book, mapping every section in advance. He uses a conversational style that questions, informs, perhaps concludes, then illustrates. His approach allows him to treat complex questions without losing either the layman or the theologian.
The book has three sections. The first probes the biological and theological purposes of pain. The second reports on how some Christians have dealt with extreme pain, notably Joni Eareckson and Brian Sternberg. In the final section, Yancey searches for ways to deal with pain when it does come. The logical pattern followed within each section (raising a question, reporting on theological and scientific evidence, presenting examples of people dealing with the question, discussing Christian responses) also forms the introduction and three sections into the book.
After presenting in his introduction the intellectual and emotional questions aroused by pain, Yancey surveys the intellectual, emotional, and biological purposes of pain. He rounds out his reasoning with examples and explains the remarkable functioning of the nervous system. He reports on the horror of lepers, people without pain. He notes that the ability to feel pain is not only necessary for survival, but is often required for pleasure and fulfillment.
Yancey then says that “though pain may have been intended as a smooth, efficient warning system, suffering is raging out of control.” Like Lewis, Yancey points to man’s misuse of freedom as the source of his agony. “Suffering,” he says, “is consistent with the Christian view of the universe that reveals our home as a stained planet.”
All of us would agree that pain has value in protecting our bodies. Most Christians would agree that pain has value as a reminder of this “bent” world. But Yancey observes that all this reasoning only deals with pain in the abstract. People don’t experience pain that way, he says, but in “piercing, specific jolts.”
These specific jolts transform the intellectual answers into “sounding brass and clanging cymbals.” Throughout the remaining two sections of the book, Yancey searches for a more adequate response.
He begins by recording and comparing the responses of several of God’s children inflicted with pain: the sufferings of Job, the struggles of Joni Eareckson, the frustrations of Brian Sternberg, and the tortures of a minister in Dachau. He analyzes the attitudes of each person and then attempts to distill them into basic, universal principles. After all that, Yancey approaches in the third section the fundamental question: How can we cope with pain?
We can cope, the author says, if we remember our suffering Lord. Here is a Christian’s unique contribution to the discussion of pain: We believe that God himself has borne all the sorrows and pains of the world he created. God designed the complex system of nerves that provides the mechanism for suffering. God allowed man’s misused freedom to twist and distort his creation. And he emptied himself to experience poverty, starvation, loneliness, fatigue, scourging, humiliation, crucifixion, and death. Finally, he promised to set aright what man despoiled.
Despite all of the interviews, reading, hours at hospital bedsides, and prayerful study of God’s Word, Yancey admits that he cannot provide adequate answers for all the questions he has raised. The problem of pain remains an enigma. However, his study melted his anger toward pain and left him “with a solid faith in a Person which no amount of pain can erode.” Because of the personal style of the book, he shares this maturing process with the reader. He partially illumines the mystery and—more importantly—teaches the reader to approach that mystery correctly. His sensitive questioning and honest approach result in a helpful book that could become a classic.
Variety In Earliest Christianity
Unity and Diversity in the New Testament, by James D. G. Dunn (Westminster, 1977, 480 pp., $19.50), is reviewed by Charles Wanamaker, graduate student, University of Durham, Durham, England.
Every serious reader of the New Testament will have noticed that certain theological features are characteristic of particular writers. John, for example, is unique in his “Word” Christology, and only Hebrews portrays Christ as the heavenly High Priest. Such differences form the starting point for this book. According to Dunn, the research into the history of religions in general and the study of early Christian traditions in particular have made it impossible “to conceive of first-century Christianity as a clearly defined entity, easily extractable from its historical context.” Earliest Christianity was characterized by immense diversity of thought and practice; despite this, it developed as an identifiable movement. Dunn explores both aspects.
Dunn looks for the unifying strand of earliest Christianity. In New Testament preaching, he finds great diversity, but he also perceives a central core, the proclamation of the resurrected and exalted Jesus. He explores other features of earliest Christianity, including primitive confessions, the role of tradition, the use of the Old Testament, the concept of ministry, patterns of worship, the sacraments, and the role of the Holy Spirit (the subject of Dunn’s two previous books).
Dunn raises a crucial christological question: Was the continuity justified between the historical Jesus and the exalted Christ that Christians preached? Dunn attempts to connect this question to the unity and diversity of belief found in the New Testament. The problem, however, is a modern one. The early disciples’ experience of the resurrected Jesus provided all the continuity they needed for proclaiming him as the resurrected and exalted Christ. Nevertheless, Dunn presents several historical reasons for connecting the historical Jesus with the Christ of faith. The only one not found in his earlier book, Jesus and the Spirit, is his argument that Jesus foresaw his death as vicarious suffering and expected divine vindication.
The second section of the book concentrates on the supposed diversity of earliest Christianity. In successive chapters, Dunn examines Jewish Christianity, Hellenistic Christianity, apocalyptic Christianity, and early Catholicism. Unfortunately, he glosses over the problems created by such categories. Apocalyptic Christianity, for example, did not exist as a separate movement, and the boundaries between Jewish and Hellenistic Christianity are notoriously difficult to delimit. Because of the categories he uses and the way in which he points forward to later developments such as the Ebionite, Gnostic, and Montanist heresies, he produces a misleading and one-sided emphasis on diversity. He does, however, find two unifying elements common to both Jewish and Hellenistic Christianity. They both sought to maintain the unity between the earthly Jesus and the exalted Christ, and they both insisted on the importance of love. Dunn argues that because Jewish Ebionites and Hellenistic Gnostics violated these principles they fell outside the acceptable limits of Christianity.
The conclusion of the book struggles with the nature and function of the New Testament canon. This question is becoming increasingly important among biblical scholars who maintain a personal Christian commitment. Dunn’s answer is certainly not the final one, though it is an important statement. He sees the abiding value of the canon in the very unity and diversity it preserves. The canon illustrates the acceptable variety that is permissible within Christianity and provides a “norm” for its development. The canon is of further value because it reports the events that determined the Christian religion and because it has an irenic function when divergent forms of Christianity encounter one another.
Dunn has written an important book, one of the first to deal exclusively with the complex problems of unity and diversity in the New Testament. It also raises the question of what orthodoxy was and is. Students should find it valuable. Nevertheless, I have several reservations. Does Hebrews, for example, really preserve an adoptionist Christology? Does the prologue of John in fact give evidence of an earlier stage of theological reflection than is found in the rest of the Gospel? How much is really known about the Lucan or Johannine communities, or earliest Palestinian Christianity? Has Dunn sufficiently recognized the limited nature of the evidence?
I think that the fundamental weakness of the book is its overemphasis on diversity. That the New Testament reveals differences in earliest Christianity is indisputable. But the variety exists primarily in the particulars, not in the universals. Dunn limits the unity of the New Testament to the belief that the earthly Jesus became the exalted Lord. In reality, the overarching unity extends to such features as a common Scripture (the Old Testament), a common Gospel, a common faith, common sacraments, and common ethical concerns. This book deserves to be read and discussed not so much for the answers Dunn offers, but for the questions he raises. As the author states in the introduction, he wishes to provoke rather than define. In this he succeeds.
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