The Multifaceted Greeley

The Best of Times, The Worst of Times by John N. Kotre (Nelson-Hall, 275 pp., $6.95), is reviewed by Harold B. Kuhn, professor of philosophy of religion, Asbury Theological Seminary, Wilmore, Kentucky.

This volume, which surveys the brilliant career of one of Roman Catholicism’s contemporary literary figures, concerns itself with the manner in which Father Andrew Greeley coped with the kaleidoscopic changes in the religious and social climate in America between 1950 and 1975. It takes for granted the famous priest’s early relationships to the priesthood—to Christ the King parish and the conditions in the life of the church of which he became aware there and in which he found himself involved.

Father Greeley appears to have found his first major challenge in his relation to the so-called New Breed of priests, emerging in the 1950s and being lifted into prominence by the events in the world of academe in the 1960s. In relation to this group, Andrew Greeley made a sort of “trial run,” one which would become typical of his relation to public movements in subsequent years. This involved a fairly regular sequence: attraction, acceptance, and gradual disillusionment.

This pattern occurred again and again, and reveals to us several qualities in his character. He was a priest who constantly manifested a growing edge; he sought always to be innovative; he identified himself with what seemed to be best at the time, and he possessed a fierce personal honesty. He rested great hopes in the outcome(s) of Vatican II, and when many of these hopes came to be ephemeral, he refused to resign himself to cynicism.

Father Greeley never escaped his Chicago background. He sought in a variety of ways to operate creatively and redemptively within its politics and somehow found more in Mayor Daley than he could find in the Berrigans. As in his relation to the church, he sought also to plumb the dilemmas facing public life and public figures. He showed here his fantastic ability to absorb reverses and disappointments without falling into despair.

His lifelong ambition to receive a tenured position on the faculty of the University of Chicago met frustration after frustration. John Kotre’s volume reveals here the dimensions of the famous priest. It would be impossible in a review of moderate length to survey the several yardsticks by which Greeley is measured—by his relation to human sexuality, his mode of Christian apologetics, or his attitude toward conventional Catholicism with its emphases upon celibacy of the priesthood. These should tempt the reader to make his way through some rather pedestrian pages and to savor the sections that offer us a portrait of the lonely priest whose figure still stands out tall against the sky.

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Concerning the title of the volume, The Best of Times, The Worst of Times, we are never certain whether it is the times that are under study, or the character of Father Greeley. Certainly he was—and is—a man of great contrasts. In his relation to the church, which he finds to be in a state of emotional exhaustion, he stands as a beacon of hope, perhaps as an embodiment of that hope.

The man himself embodies the conflicting elements of pessimism and optimism. Perhaps the biography John Kotre is giving us, under the veiled theme of “times,” is an insight into the central and sometimes perplexing mysteries lying at the center of Father Greeley’s person. If this is the case, the task is well done, and the book well worth reading.

A Plea For Prison Reform

Life Sentence, by Charles Colson (Chosen Books, 1979,304 pp., $9.95) is reviewed by Carl F. H. Henry, lecturer at large for World Vision International, Arlington, Virginia.

Chuck Colson’s Life Sentence belongs on the reading list of every pastor and churchgoer. The reasons are three. It carries us beyond Born Again into the sphere of Christian service as a vital reminder that the Christian life begins—not ends—with regeneration. It opens a wide picture window on imprisoned legions that evangelical compassion should encompass, and exemplifies what concerned Christians can do. Finally, it mirrors the inner spiritual struggle of one-time Watergate convict #23226 that yielded a national witness for Christ instead of a life of private isolation.

Colson’s book hopefully will stimulate both evangelical devotion to prison reform and evangelistic mission to prisoners in a day when the national crime rate nears a record high, and when the imprisoned masses lack moral vision and hope. Prisons don’t rehabilitate (more than half the ex-prisoners are repeaters) but Christ can and does liberate—that is Colson’s own story.

I thought Colson should not write a second book so soon, and told him so. But I was wrong. For he has—as I hoped he would, and feared he might not—spoken to national conscience, on at least one level where evangelical sensitivities need also to be pricked: the plight of prisoners in their squalid environs. Many churchgoers have been more dedicated to stiffer sentences than to spiritual outreach; Colson’s Prison Fellowship seeks to temper justice with mercy, but through spirituality rather than sentimentality.

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The book artfully combines past political perspectives with the altered attitudes of a man twice-born. Colson’s political boldness has been turned to boldness for Christ. His comments are candid, sometimes blunt; some judgments may well be tempered in another decade. Not only does he have a critical eye for the world’s failings, but for evangelical self-interest and evangelistic huckstering as well, and additionally for his own weaknesses.

Colson’s next book, the reviewer hopes, will give more attention to the ideas and ideals that a one-time Watergate organization man now thinks could restore a vacillating nation to true world greatness. In this volume Colson effectively scores the important preliminary point, that a gospel with power to change the worst of humans has all the necessary potency for social renewal.

An Evangelical Pacesetter

Edward John Carnell: Defender of the Faith, by John A. Sims (University Press of America, 1979, 175 pp., $8.95 pb), is reviewed by Ronald Nash, head, department of philosophy and religion, Western Kentucky University, Bowling Green, Kentucky.

Edward John Carnell was one of the pacesetters of the renaissance of evangelical scholarship during the years immediately following World War II. He gained widespread recognition and respect in 1948 with the publication of his first book, An Introduction to Christian Apologetics. When he died in 1967 at the age of only 47, he left behind a rather remarkable legacy. He had authored eight books and many major articles; he had taught at Fuller Seminary for 19 years and been its president for 5. What commended Carnell to so many was his burning conviction that conservative Christians did not have to be ashamed of their commitment to Scripture and their fidelity to historic, orthodox theology. The fact that this issue is so much less a problem today is due in no small measure to the influence of Carnell and the other elder statesmen of contemporary evangelicalism like Gordon Clark and Carl F.H. Henry. Research into Carnell’s life and thought is also important because of the changes that occurred in his thinking. Carnell was honest enough to admit when he was wrong. He was responsible enough to change his views when they were no longer adequate. But none of those changes ever affected the heart of his evangelical commitment. He retained his allegiance to a high view of Scripture.

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Sims, a professor at Lee College in Tennessee and holder of the Ph.D. from Florida State University, has attempted to do justice to the full range of Carnell’s writings. He succeeds in presenting what is generally a clear and sympathetic account of Carnell’s intellectual odyssey. While Carnell moved away from the rather chilly rationalism of his first book, while he came to stress the role of commitment and subjectivity in his later writings, he never did so at the expense of objective truth or the canons of logic. In Carnell’s view, Christianity commends itself to the wise man because it meets the needs of the whole man, including his reason, values, and emotions. Carnell refused to get bogged down in the morass of a neoorthodox or fundamentalist fideism in which faith is divorced from knowledge and isolated from either evidence or logic.

The fickleness of a new generation of students and teachers along with changing tastes in apologetic style are already pushing Carnell’s contributions to the background of contemporary discussion. Contemporary apologetics and philosophy of religion as exhibited in the work of evangelical philosophers like Alvin Plantinga and George Mavrodes are technically more sophisticated and intellectually more satisfying. But in spite of this, it would be regrettable if Carnell’s work is forgotten too quickly. It is therefore encouraging to note the appearance of this first book-length study of Carnell’s thought. One can only hope it will receive the wide and sympathetic audience it deserves.

Toward A Rational Faith

Religious Reason: The Rational and Moral Basis of Religious Belief, by Ronald Green (Oxford, 1978, 303 pp., $12.00, $4.00 pb), is reviewed by Clark H. Pinnock, professor of Christian theology, McMaster Divinity College, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.

The aim of this book is to offer a clearly reasoned alternative to the widespread attempt to distance religion from reason. Green is convinced that religion is a fully rational activity, and he seeks to prove his conviction in the realm of moral discourse. People who are serious about morality are compelled to engage in religious reflection and will come eventually to hold religious beliefs. Unlike H. P. Owen, he is not arguing for Christian theism in this book, but rather for the moral wisdom of several religions (he discusses Judaism, Christianity, and Hinduism).

Green is aware of Kant’s groundbreaking work along these lines two centuries ago, but feels that Kant’s thought has been little understood or appreciated. We are in a better position today to reconstruct and appreciate Kant’s thinking on religion and morality, Green argues, and he offers to lead us in such an investigation. On the other hand, this is not a work in Kant-scholarship per se, but an independent argument in the Kantian tradition.

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The book falls into two parts. Part one is an attempt to penetrate and lay bare the universal structure of reason that underlies religion, while part two proceeds to see whether actual religious systems display an adherence to that structure. The reader should not jump to the conclusion, however, that Green wishes to reduce religion to morality after the fashion of earlier rationalistic views, as though religion were “morality touched by emotion” (Arnold). His aim is entirely positive, to uncover the religious dimension basic to moral reasoning, and thus to prove religion rational. The argument Green uses could be related to the simpler argument of C. S. Lewis in Mere Christianity, which has struck large numbers of readers as plausible and helpful.

The constructive argument is centered on the question, “Why should I be moral?” Green contends it cannot be rational to choose against one’s own self-interest in a moral decision unless there is truth in religion. He wishes to argue that a rationally constituted morality will be compelled to resort to one form or another of religious belief in order to render its dictates coherent. I think he is right; I appreciate such a full exposition of this line of evidence on behalf of religion.

This is a well-documented, sure-footed treatment of a plank in traditional apologetics. Because it is philosophically mature it should gain a hearing in professional circles, and because it is clearly written it will be useful to many more who seek to give a reason for the hope that is in them.

A Tale Of Lore

The Portent: a story of the inner vision of the highlanders commonly called the second sight, by George MacDonald (Harper and Row, 1979, 160 pp., $8.95).

When George MacDonald died in 1905 G. K. Chesterton said of him, “If we test the matter by originality of attitude, George MacDonald was one of the three or four greatest men of the nineteenth century.” However, in 1924 when the centennial of MacDonald’s birth was celebrated, the Times Literary Supplement lamented that although he was a good novelist, a true poet, in some respects a genius, and one who wrote fantasy better than anyone else had ever done, MacDonald had not yet received the recognition he deserved. True enough. For years his influence was subterranean, surfacing mostly as an influence on others, such as W. H. Auden, C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Charles Williams.

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The last two decades have seen a change in all that. New editions of MacDonald’s works are slowly appearing in greater numbers, promising—let us hope—a MacDonald revival. A token of this is The Portent, which has been unavailable for over 50 years. It is a preternatural love story, primly Victorian, yet chillingly compelling. It draws one on like an airy wraith through its moon-washed heather, dark-oaked chambers, and the smell of peat fire, to haunted lovers’ meetings. It is the story of Duncan Capbell, possessed of an ancestral second sight and strange power of love that commands the actions of others. The family curse naturally went along with it, as you would expect, in this supernatural classic of good versus evil. So just when Duncan and Lady Alice are making their plans, the sinister hoofbeats are heard thundering toward them once more and … well, you read the story for yourself.

For those who care about such things, it also shows the influence of German idealism of a Kantian sort beginning to make itself felt in British thought. It came through Scotland via the Caird brothers, but also by MacDonald himself. There are also a large number of semi-autobiographical passages that shed important light on the author’s past. There’s something here for everybody. Harper and Row say it could be the first of a series of special MacDonald editions. Let’s hope that’s true.


Nehemiah For Today

Hand Me Another Brick: Building Character in Yourself and Others, by Charles R. Swindoll (Nelson, 1978, 207 pp., $7.95), is reviewed by Joel MacCollam, associate rector of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Glendale, California.

This book’s subtitle is almost misleading. What sounds like just another “self-help” book is really an interesting expository study of the Book of Nehemiah.

The twentieth century “Everyman” and his friends will appreciate the direction and encouragement Swindoll offers. Preachers who lack big smiles, stained-glass voices in the pulpit, and choirs of 200 for back-up will be reassured that leadership abilities are not always measured by the self-confidence of high-powered personalities. Lay people will be encouraged by Nehemiah: the man with a boss who will not cooperate, the man who is criticized and discouraged, who faces financial hardship, who must resolve strained relationships, who must persevere toward important goals, and who emerges on top of it all!

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Part of Swindoll’s strength is his inclusion of some charitable and pointed observations about church leadership today. “Many people in God’s work are short-sighted.… Many leaders no longer admit their human weakness.” The author has laid a good foundation for a future work that will deal specifically with the problems he senses in churches as well as in secular leadership today.

Swindoll’s greatest weakness is an occasional lapse in style. What proceeds as smooth reading will often break down in a manner that suggests that earlier versions of the work come from sermon transcriptions. If anything, these slips may prove the author himself to be a Nehemiah-figure, like Teddy Roosevelt, the Rough Rider, who saw himself as “simply a plain, ordinary man—highly motivated.”

Far from offering cheap solutions to problems, Hand Me Another Brick gives a fresh and powerful presentation of the biblical basis for human character.


Keeping Your Personal Journal byGeorge F. Simons (Paulist, 144 pp., $4.95 pb) is reviewed by Joel A. MacCollam, associate rector, St. Mark’s Church, Glendale, California.

The importance of this book will be undervalued by many who have never considered journal keeping as a viable form of self-discovery. The whole idea of keeping a journal will be quickly turned aside by escapists who would rather turn to television or recreation for their reality instead of looking inward.

George Simons is not deterred by people who view his art form as extra baggage for life; journal keeping is represented as a means of staying honest with oneself, avoiding boredom or disillusionment, and maintaining realistic perspective.

In spite of numerous groups that encourage different types of journal keeping, such as Marriage Encounter, the fact remains that few people preserve such observations on their lives, more from a lack of discipline or escapism than any fears of invasion of privacy. Simons would have helped his own cause if he could have included a wider variety of first-person accounts; the importance of journal keeping is discussed in such a low-key manner that few people will be tempted to adopt serious discipline.

There are great strengths in this book, including sections on the use of journals for inner healing and the creative use of photojournalism. Also included are numerous exercises that would be effective for individual consideration or adaptation to a group setting.

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