Jacob’s Ladder: Theology and Spirituality in the Thought of Austin Farrer, by Charles C. Hefling, Jr. (Cowley Publications, 1979, 132 pp., $3.95), is reviewed by Bruce Demarest, professor of systematic theology, Conservative Baptist Theological Seminary, Denver, Colorado.
The name of Austin Farrer will likely be unfamiliar to most North American readers. For many years an Oxford don and colleague of C. S, Lewis, Farrer, who died in 1968, was an influential British philosophical theologian, biblical scholar, and preacher. The Anglo-Catholic churchman was a man of powerful intellect, fertile imagination, and exceptional oratorical skills, while his writings reflect an elegant style and incandescent imagery.
As is often the case with British Anglo-Catholic scholars, Farrer resists being tagged with a specific theological label. He has been described as an evangelical-modernist, although to this reviewer he inclines more to the evangelical than to the modernist position. Farrer’s conservatism is reflected in his belief in the self-existent, personal God of classical theism, and in the living Christ who is both divine and human. Salvation is bound up with the good news of God’s work in Christ, and the Christian faith is distinctive vis-à-vis other world religions. On the other hand, Farrer’s liberal tendencies emerge in his definition of revelation as the interplay of events and image, the meaning of which is deciphered by human imagination. In fact, Farrer equates the exercise of the biblical writers’ imagination with the process of divine inspiration. In addition, he treats the great moments of the Christian faith, such as Incarnation, Cross, and Resurrection, under the rubric of paradox. In this regard Farrer minimizes the objective content given to these concepts by Scripture, choosing rather to view them as images whose significance is unfolded by divinely assisted imagination.
Notwithstanding certain obvious doctrinal deficiencies, Farrer has much to teach Christian people; in particular, that theology and spirituality constitute a single seamless garment. The evangelical community in North America yet needs to learn that theology profoundly illumines and informs the Christian life. As Farrer put it, Christianity “is a matter of putting heart into a rational conviction, and bringing mind into the heart’s devotion.”
In Jacob’s Ladder, Hefling skillfully and lucidly unfolds Farrer’s thought in three main sections. First he deals with Farrer’s natural or rational theology, which constitutes the preamble of faith. To the a prioristic Augustinian scheme of effable intuition, Farrer wedded several a posteriori arguments by which he sought to point the inquirer in the direction of biblical theism. Rightly, Farrer judges that a solid rational basis exists for belief in the God of the Bible. The ultimate proof for God, however, is not formal, but resides in the religious experience of those who have committed themselves in faith to the God who is.
Passing from the way of rational ascent to the way of revelational descent, Hefling expounds Farrer’s scheme of “scriptural divinity,” which concerns what can be known of God from revelation, namely from the interplay of event and mental image. Historical events plus interpretive images form a pattern through which the saving mystery is grasped.
The third and final section of the book examines Farrer’s synthesis of the natural and revealed knowledge of God. Rational theology and revealed theology link up as two sections of a ladder. A person ascends to heaven, as the angels did on Jacob’s ladder, by moving through natural knowledge to supernatural knowledge of God. In his modified Thomistic scheme, no alternative route exists to the presence of God.
In his readable and refreshing essay, Hefling offers an inviting entrée to the thought and spirituality of Austin Farrer. Perhaps Jacob’s Ladder will motivate others, as it has this reader, to explore further the world of Farrer to the profit of both mind and soul.
He Is Risen Indeed
The Formation of the Resurrection Narratives, by Reginald H. Fuller (Fortress Press, 1980, 225 pp., $5.95), is reviewed by Andrew Bandstra, professor of New Testament, Calvin Theological Seminary, Grand Rapids, Michigan.
The first edition of this book appeared in 1971 (reviewed April 14, 1972). Fuller’s revised edition is substantially the same as the first, though in four pages of a new preface the author describes his stance over against much of the research that has been published since the first edition appeared. Other than the correction of some printing errors, the text of the book remains unaltered.
This book deserves another edition since it is an outstanding model of a study of the resurrection narratives from the perspectives of form and tradition criticism as well as redaction criticism. Fuller’s purpose is “to reconstruct the history of the tradition from its earliest recoverable form in allegedly factual reports” and in the process “to lay bare the motivations behind the developments and shaping of the narratives into their final form.” He pursues this purpose with great ability, stating his positions with unusual clarity and delineating carefully the reasons for his choices.
1 Corinthians 15:3–8 is recognized as giving the earliest Easter traditions. Because Paul here is reporting a tradition (or traditions) that he “received” and “passed on” to the Corinthians, he is giving that which was very early (within five years of the event, in Fuller’s judgment) an accepted part of the preaching.
Fuller then considers Mark’s narrative (16:1–8), arguing for the historicity of the core of the empty tomb account. He treats successively the Matthean, Lucan, and Johannine accounts of the Resurrection, arguing that the variations and discrepancies in these narratives represent varying attempts to give expression to resurrection faith. Much in these accounts is regarded as not being historical (i.e., not giving us what actually happened) but as attempts to meet new problems in terms of the resurrection faith.
There are those who hold the emerging of Easter faith was something that happened only in or to the disciples and that the resurrection stories are really only a product of their faith. Without denying that these things happened, Fuller continues to affirm that such interpretations confuse cause and effect and that one must affirm that something “happened” to “account for the complete changes in the behaviour of the disciples” and thus that “something happened between God and Jesus on Easter Day, and not only between God and the disciples” (i.e., the production of their faith).
Perhaps the point that most needs discussion, in light of Fuller’s conclusions, is the relationship between eschatology and history. Fuller correctly calls the resurrection of Jesus a translation into a new eschatological mode of existence. That is why the resurrection event itself was not observed (or observable) and why the Resurrection itself was not narrated but proclaimed. For Fuller this means “not that his body was resuscitated, but that his whole self in his entire psychosomatic existence was transformed and entered thereby into the eschatological existence” (p. 18).
What Fuller affirms in this regard is, in this reviewer’s judgment, essentially correct, true to the Pauline (and biblical) witness. But what Fuller sees to be entailed in that affirmation is that the resurrection of Jesus should not be called a “ ‘historical’ but an eschatological and meta-historical event, occurring precisely at the point where history ends, but leaving its mark on history negatively in the empty tomb (‘He is not here’) and positively in the appearances” (p. 48).
It is possible, however, that we need the word “historical” alongside of the word “eschatological” in order adequately to describe Jesus’ resurrection. We may need the word “historical” to safeguard the point of “continuity” between the earthly Jesus and his existence in the new order—a point Fuller also wishes to preserve.
Another controversial point is the manner in which the techniques of tradition and redaction criticism are pursued by Fuller. These techniques are appreciated and pursued in conservative evangelical circles, although the presuppositions behind them are carefully scrutinized. Conservatives might operate with a similar “critical” method, but they will not necessarily come to the same conclusions in regard to the narratives, due in part to differing presuppositions underlying their respective critical methods.
Fuller’s book will make a helpful contribution to people who use it intelligently and critically as they pursue the study of the historical foundation and meaning of the New Testament narratives that proclaim: “The Lord is risen indeed.”
The Polemical Book Of Mark
Mark-Traditions in Conflict, by Theodore J. Weeden, Sr. (Fortress, 1979, 182 pp., $5.95 pb), is reviewed by J. C. De Young, professor of New Testament, Reformed Theological Seminary, Jackson, Mississippi.
This book contributes to the growing body of literature on the theology of the Gospels. It is an attempt to define Mark’s theology and the purpose of his Gospel as a polemic against the theios-aner (divine-man) Christological heresy that plagued his Christian community around A.D. 80. To accomplish this task Mark used key characters—the religious leaders, the crowds, the disciples, and Jesus—to get his point across.
Mark’s portrayal of the disciples is crucial for Weeden’s construction of the Marcan Sitz-im-Leben. He believes Mark presented the disciples in a progressively negative role over against their Master. They are first portrayed as unperceptive (p. 26ff.), then as harboring misconceptions (p. 32ff.), and finally they move to outright rejection as shown by Judas’s betrayal, Peter’s denial, and the total defection of all the disciples in Gethsemane (p. 38ff.). Hence, Mark records “the complete and utter rejection of Jesus and his messiahship by the disciples” (p. 38).
The reason for Mark’s negative portrayal of the Twelve is a Christological one. Mark’s own Christology is that Jesus is God’s Son and the Messiah “by virtue of his suffering and death” (p. 54). But his portrayal of the disciples as having a Hellenistic theios-aner Christology effects the clash. This was Mark’s way of opposing the theios-aner heresy that threatened his Christian community. By portraying the Twelve as “unconverted theios-aner theologians,” he effectively refuted that heresy in the church of his own time and place.
Weeden’s very modern thesis is interesting, developed on the background of contemporary scholarly research, but difficult to accept. His treatment of the disciples seems seriously overdone (see 14:47; 72; 16:7 for favorable reports on the disciples); it makes Mark a rather dishonest historian who makes “the disciples seem as surrogates of the Markan opponents” (p. 148). To place the disciples so wrongheadedly against their Master asks too much of the reader.
Teaching Morality To The Young
The Domain of Moral Education, edited by Donald B. Cochrane, Cornel M. Hamm, and Anastasios C. Kazepides (Paulist Press, 1979, 301 pp., $9.95), is reviewed by James H. Olthuis, senior member in philosophical theology, Institute for Christian Studies, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Moral education is in. Alarmed by drug abuse, vandalism, violence, and corruption, as well as by the breakdown within existing institutions, educators, with support of parents and other citizens, have taken more seriously the moral upbringing of their young. This book, with its philosophic cast and tone, presents an academic survey of the parameters of the moral domain.
Efforts to define and distinguish moral education from other forms of education make the first part of the book interesting and valuable. There is an especially provocative debate between C. M. Hamm and M. Elliot on the relationship between moral and religious education. Hamm argues that it is a logical error to base morals on religion. Elliot demurs—convincingly, I think.
The second section deals with the nature of moral education: the place of moral language, rules and principles, the idea of moral motivation, and the cultivation of moral sensibilities receive attention.
The intriguing question of whether we should teach specific moral content to the young or only transmit procedures for moral thinking is explored in a following section. The book concludes with a spirited debate of Kohlberg’s developmental theory of moral judgment. For example, in a helpful essay, B. Crittenden suggests that Kohlberg’s focus on justice as central to morality is misplaced.
I feel the collection would have been improved through explicit consideration of the popular Values Clarification approach. And certainly the place and role of emotions in the moral life deserves attention. Perusing these essays will introduce one to the ongoing debate in moral education—one that Christian philosophers and educators must be abreast of in order to be able to develop an authentically Christian theory of moral education.
A Homogeneous Church In A Pluralistic Society?
Our Kind of People, by C. Peter Wagner (John Knox Press, 1979, 163 pp., $8.95), is reviewed by Marvin A. McMickle, pastor, Saint Paul Baptist Church, Montclair, New Jersey.
Can a culturally homogeneous church be justified in a pluralistic society? One might think the full weight of Christian theology and church history would answer that question with a resounding no. However, in this provocative and well-documented book, C. Peter Wagner argues that ethnically and culturally homogeneous local church congregations have both a place and a purpose in the life of the church universal.
Wagner marshals a convincing argument in showing that American society has not warmed to the idea of ethnic and cultural diversity. He examines the idea that America is the great melting pot and shows that the result of immigration was not intermingling, but molding. He then points to the need for a shift in the American attitude toward ethnic diversity. Instead of being a melting pot, where all differences are lost, Wagner borrows a term from Andrew Greeley, who calls for America to become the “stewpot.” There, each ingredient adds its characteristic flavor to every other ingredient, but each maintains its own identity and integrity.
This argument becomes the model for the legitimacy of ethnically and culturally homogeneous local churches operating under the banner of the church universal. Wagner bases this argument upon a statement from Donald McGavran: “Men like to become Christians without crossing racial, linguistic, or class barriers.” That statement reflects the experience of missionaries who discovered that churches took root more quickly in those mission areas where the indigenous culture, language, and leadership were used to clothe and communicate the faith.
Wagner acknowledges the charge that 11 o’clock Sunday morning is the most segregated hour of the week in America, but he challenges whether or not that is unchristian. He contends that integrated worship seldom moved beyond sitting together in the same church.
Wagner points out the importance of contact among homogeneous congregational groups at the denominational and intercongregational level. He carries the principle of unity and diversity all the way from national political philosophy to the style and structure of the American church. Given the upswing in ethnic and cultural awareness over the last 10 years, church growth favors those congregations organized around the homogeneous unit principle.
If there is a weakness in this book, it is that the author pulled together such an exhaustive scholarly argument to defend his thesis, that many of his own ideas and analyses seem shallow by comparison. That aside, however, this is a book that deserves reading as the clearest statement yet concerning the homogeneous unit principle.
Growing Old In Christ: A Survey Of Books On Aging—Part Ii
Books on Aging are reviewed by David O. Moberg, professor of sociology, Marquette University, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Along with the increasing number of courses in gerontology, the study of aging, has come a variety of textbooks that provide the best compendia of information on the subject.
Textbooks. Possibly the three best textbooks are Sociology of Aging (Houghton Mifflin), by Diana K. Harris and William E. Cole, Introduction to Gerontology (Holt, Rinehart and Winston), by Arthur N. Schwartz and James A. Peterson, and The Social Forces in Later Life (Wadsworth), by Robert C. Atchley. Aging and Society (Holt, Rinehart and Winston), by John B. Williamson and others, is marred by its weak and biased treatment of religion and aging, as is Growing Old: The Social Problems of Aging (Holt, Rinehart and Winston), by Elizabeth S. Johnson and John B. Williamson.
In Aging and Health: Biologic and Social Perspectives (Addison-Wesley), Gary S. Kart, Eileen S. Metress, and James F. Metress survey the biological and social dimensions and interrelationships of health and geriatric care. Adult Development: The Differentiation of Experience (Holt, Rinehart and Winston), by Susan Krauss Whitbourne and Comilda S. Weinstock, surveys the integrative, dynamic, and continuous process of growth in adulthood. Except for its failure to recognize the role of religion, it is an excellent study.
The problems connected with aging and dying are rooted in the need to construct meaning in a continually changing world in Last Chapters: A Sociology of Aging and Dying (Brooks/Cole Div. of Wadsworth), by Victor W. Marshall. Aging Is a Family Affair (Crowell) is by two social workers, Victoria E. Bumagin and Kathryn F. Hirn, and is an excellent text on the varieties of behavior among senior citizens, though it is marred by a few statements supporting moral positions that are inconsistent with evangelical Christianity.
Resources for Lay and Professional Leaders. A theological foundation is developed in three booklets. Earl C. Dahlstrom’s Toward a Theology of Aging (The Evangelical Covenant Church of America) moves through the implications of six central areas of theological concern with aging: time, creation, man, vocation, salvation, and hope. Aging: A Theological Perspective (Presbyterian Senior Services, 2095 Broadway, Room 302, New York, N.Y. 10023), by an interdenominational task force on aging, indicates with help of a Bible study guide that the church must keep God’s love at the center of its theology as it declares the worth of every person, reaffirms the significance of God’s calling, proclaims the biblical doctrine of time, responds to feelings of loss while rejoicing in those of gain, and fulfills its role as the household of God. Biblical Perspectives on Aging (National Interfaith Coalition on Aging), by Frank Staff, weaves together in narrative style the Bible’s teachings on such topics as the wisdom of the aged, the length and quality of life. Any of these three booklets can serve as a stepping-off point for a series of sermons or adult Bible classes on aging.
The growing awareness of the need for explicit preparation of the clergy for work with senior citizens is reflected in Education for Ministry in Aging: Gerontology in Seminary Training (National Interfaith Coalition on Aging, P.O. Box 1924, Athens, Ga. 30603, and Association of Theological Schools), a special issue of Theological Education. With a central emphasis upon cultivating spiritual well-being, the 28 articles and 51 project abstracts provide a rich compendium of guidelines for competency objectives, interdisciplinary strategies, curricular models, and explicit service programs. Changing Aging (American Lutheran Church), by Corinne Bruning and Wayne Paulson, lays out 23 explicit steps in organizing, planning, conducting, and following up on a workshop.
Four booklets by the Interfaith Commission on Aging of the Missouri Council of Churches are very useful. Warren B. Scott’s Strategic Planning for Your Later Years is a manual to assist clergy in planning a course of study leading to action. It is an excellent complement to the very practical Programs with the Aging: Community-Social-Religious, which aims to stimulate the formation of cooperative interfaith councils on aging in each community; it has a wealth of other useful materials as well. Two pamphlets are congregation oriented: Evaluating Your Ministry to, for and with Older Persons, by Bruce W. Berry, and Manual to Assist Congregations in Ministering to Their Elderly Members, by Henry Duhan.
Dimensions of Loss and Death Education (EDU-PAC Publishing Co., Box 27101, Dept. CTWB, Minneapolis, Minn. 55427), by Patricia Weller Zalaznik, is an expensive loose-leaf resource and curriculum guide for an extended course on the subject in high school, college, or adult education. Dealing with loss experiences of many kinds, including those associated with aging, it provides an excellent outline, numerous lists of resources and references, suggested discussion assignments, and a student activity workbook.
So Teach Us to Number Our Days (Union of American Hebrew Congregations), by Rabbi Sanford Seltzer, is a manual on aging developed for synagogue use that can be very helpful in Christian congregations as well. It includes many practical suggestions and resources for further study. Life Enrichment for the Elderly (Lutheran Brotherhood) is a resource for congregations, sensitizing them to the special needs and talents of the elderly, stimulating action to help meet their needs, providing guidelines for successful programs, warning of pitfalls to avoid, and identifying available resources.
Wise counsel to ministers and other church leaders for “aging creatively in Christian community” is provided by Harvey Kline and Warren Eshbach: A Future with Hope (Brethren Press). Catharine Brandt’s Forgotten People (Moody Press) gives wise, practical counsel for volunteers working with elderly people. An orientation to aging and a call to action, particularly by Catholics, is extended by Bartholomew J. Laurello in Ministering to the Aging: Every Christian’s Call (Paulist).
Spiritual Health. Scientific evidence that spiritual health is the crux of wholistic well-being throughout the aging process has gradually begun to infiltrate gerontology. It is likely that Spiritual Well-Being of the Elderly (Charles C. Thomas), edited by James A. Thorson and Thomas C. Cook, Jr., will make a significant impact. Its 30 chapters include useful theoretical, scientific, biblical, pastoral, and experimental studies.
The recent incorporation of various subcategories of “spiritual distress” into the clinical diagnostic classification used by the nursing profession also will increase attention to it in the care of elderly patients. Spiritual Care: The Nurse’s Role (InterVarsity Press), by Sharon Fish and Judith Allen Shelley, is an outstanding study of how to identify the spiritual needs of patients and minister to them.
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