Should We Fear The New Right?
The Moral Majority, Right or Wrong?, by Robert E. Webber (Cornerstone, 1981, 160 pp., $8.95), and The Politics of Moralism: The New Christian Right in American Life, by Erling Jorstad (Augsburg, 1981, 128 pp., $4.95), are reviewed by Richard V. Pierard, professor of history, Indiana State University, Terre Haute, Indiana.
Now that the dust is settling from the 1980 elections, evaluations of the new Christian right are rolling off the presses. Two such books, by a Wheaton College theologian and a Saint Olaf College historian, try to grapple with the phenomenon commentators agree had an impact on the campaign.
Webber seeks to bridge the gulf between the religious right and left, epitomized by the Moral Majority and the World Council of Churches, by advancing the concept of “the church of the prophetic center.” The centrists, he insists, will reject the notions that a particular economic or political system is sanctioned by biblical teaching; that America or any other nation is chosen by God to be his special people; and that God works through the revolutions of history to bring about his kingdom, affirming instead that he operates through his people, the church, to mediate his values to a fallen world.
Webber criticizes Moral Majority for propagating a moralistic, conservative secular humanism that glorifies capitalism, portrays America as a Christian nation, and draws its ethic from the American civil religion. At the same time, he faults the World Council of Churches for its views of economic socialism, America as the oppressor nation, and liberation theology as counterparts to the right’s capitalism, Americanism, and moralism. The left distorts Scripture, baptizes Marxist social theory, politicizes the gospel, and regards violence begetting goodness.
The “world view” of the centrist position includes a renewal of classical Christian theology, an emphasis upon simpler lifestyle and community, and a desire to apply one’s faith to all aspects of life. He urges right and left to move toward the center and suggests the church can function as a transforming presence in four areas that “beg for Christian responsibility”: the sanctity of human life, order of existence (family, church, state), stewardship of creation, and moral structure.
Webber’s stance is attractive, but some will undoubtedly see it as excessively idealistic. To me, a vital question is how the church can achieve a modicum of genuine social justice in a fallen world. If all our beautiful theology, gospel preaching, and changed lives of individuals do not transform an unjust social order, what then? Evangelical activists of the center must address this matter more carefully.
Further, the book’s definition of the centrist world view contains problems. A “second wave of evangelical scholars, leaders, and social workers” in the 1960s and 1970s supposedly went beyond the individualistic program of the new evangelicalism’s fathers and sought to restore a Christian faith that spoke to the public sector of life as well. But can the new breed be fitted into the mold cast for them? I am not so enamored of the churchmanship and sacramentalism exemplified in the Chicago Call of 1977, and I find the communitarianism allegedly flowing out of the Anabaptist tradition utopian and maybe even oppressive. These are not necessarily harmful, but far more diversity in lifestyle and pluralism in belief and practice exist within the amorphous entity labeled “center” than one might gather from Webber’s discussion.
Jorstad traces the emergence of the new Christian right, showing how it turned from expressing moralism through preaching and church activities to actual political involvement. The key role was played by the television preachers, commonly referred to as the “electronic church.” He devotes much of the book to a detailed analysis of the messages and actions of Pat Robertson, Jim Bakker, Jerry Falwell, and James Robison. Jorstad does this similarly to the way he handled the figures of the “old” Christian right in his competent study The Politics of Doomsday (Abingdon, 1970). After specifically focusing on the 1980 election, he presents a balance sheet on the new right and suggests ways the church through positive action can preserve the blessings of religious freedom.
His treatment of the new Christian right will alert evangelicals to the genuine threat posed by the political gospel. Nevertheless, Jorstad neglects the crucial element of civil religion in shaping rightist thinking and overlooks the Bicentennial observance that provided the occasion for an unthinking American nationalism to reseat itself in evangelicalism after the debacles of Vietnam and Watergate. Surprisingly, he says that in 1980 the new Christian right contributed the call for a “Christian America,” something that “had not been present in earlier years.” In reality, this was a hallmark of conservative evangelical preaching in 1975–76. He appears struck by the novelty of Falwell’s “theme text in 1980,” 2 Chronicles 7:14; yet five years ago it was suggested in the Reformed Journal that this passage was the “John 3:16 of the evangelical civil religion.”
By concentrating on the spectacular TV evangelists, Jorstad misses somewhat just how deeply rightist thinking has penetrated the ranks of American evangelicalism. A perusal of the 1980 catalogue of conservative organizations, Family and Freedom Digest (Family and Freedom Foundation, Rochester, N.Y. 14619), reveals there are literally dozens of groups working to advance a wide variety of rightist causes. To his credit, I must add that he brings home forcefully how much we need more precise knowledge about the direct influence of the new Christian right in the last election.
Both volumes show signs of having been written in haste, but thoughtful readers will profit from them. Jorstad correctly exposes the shallowness of the electronic church and warns of the dangers of moralism. Webber’s call for Christians to move to the center is a welcome sound in an age of extremism.
Institute of Fools, by Victor Nekipelov (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1980, 257 pp., $15.00), is reviewed by Lloyd Billingsley, a writer living in Poway, California.
In 1937, when Victor Nekipelov was nine, Malcolm Muggeridge wrote: “Perhaps a new literature will come to pass in Russia, as one did in the darkest days of Tsarist repression. If so, it will be a literature of revolt and so anathema to the Soviet Establishment. Perhaps it is being furtively scribbled even now in concentration camps and other dark corners.”
Victor Nekipelov’s gripping Institute of Fools fulfills this prophecy. The Serbsky Institute, where he was briefly detained in 1974, is one such “dark corner.”
A pharmacologist, poet, and twice-arrested dissident, Nekipelov lucidly describes the denizens of the Serbsky Institute where what he calls psycho-fasicism is practiced, “a curious hybrid of Soviet terror and medicine.” Its narcoticized captives he sees as mainly “victims of an immoral society in which faith has been crushed, concepts of good and evil perverted, where everyone steals, conceals, slanders, schemes, informs and lies.” He describes the unforgettable women orderlies as “ignorant old girls who held our fate in their hands” who also administered hefty doses of drugs to quash any dissent. He is hardest on the “concentration-camp doctors” who “deliberately collaborate with a system of terror.” Such ones he holds “responsible for their crimes in knowingly committing sane people to psychiatric hospitals for beliefs or ways of thinking that do not conform to government formulas.”
Since the Serbsky Institute will never be probed by television’s “60 Minutes,” Institute of Fools is valuable for the rare and eloquent glimpse it offers of this squalid corner of the gulag. Equally important is its alert to the disastrous consequences of professional disciplines toadying supinely to terrorist regimes. Medical professionals will derive the most benefit from this important work, but it merits reading by all who love great writing and truth—something the dictatorship of the proletariat has been unable to extinguish.
All God Wants Us To Be
Rainbows for the Fallen World, by Calvin Seerveld (distributed by Radix Books, 1980, 254 pp., $14.95 hb, $9.95 pb), is reviewed by Douglas C. Campbell, Department of Art, Lewis and Clark College, Portland, Oregon.
Calvin Seerveld’s book is a plea for Christian openness to the beauty of God’s world and to the unfolding roles of men and women within their God-given lives. The author wants all of us to become aware of the call to live the “aesthetic life” he finds in Psalm 19 and other Scriptures.
But by “aesthetic life” he does not mean to imply that all men and women should become artists.
For Seerveld, “Christian art chartered by the Bible may bring to canvas and book and modulated tones anything afoot in the world, in a way that shall expose sin as … waste [condemned by God] and show obedient life as a joy forever, thereby building up the faithful and making strangers to the faith curious and desirous of joining in such reconciling fun in our Father’s world!” (p. 39). He proceeds to assert after this opening that an “aesthetic life” is an integral part of full obedience to God. Further, he demonstrates how this aesthetic approach can lead to fuller understanding of the Scriptures, using a segment of Proverbs as an example.
Seerveld’s definition of art posits “art as suggestion-rich knowledge” (p.78), a section that may be difficult reading for some. He applies this definition of art to teaching imaginatively in a way that creates within the student a joyful, learning attitude toward God’s world. From this he proceeds to the realm of Christian art as an alternative to mainstream culture. The poetry of Gabriela Mistral and the paintings of Henk (Senggih) Krijger are evaluated positively as models for those seeking to work within a Christian minority culture. Appendixes provide further historical examples of art that fit within the author’s definition. He has no easy, formula answer to artists.
The author’s Reformed background permeates his work. More important, his knowledge of languages and philosophy make his presentation authoritative (Seerveld is presently a senior fellow at the Institute for Christian Studies in Toronto). Since his aesthetics are not limited to the “fine arts,” this book provides thought-filled reading for a general audience, though it will be of special interest to artists and teachers. A book of this sort has long been needed by those who struggle to integrate their art and Christian faith in a society that is not often supportive or sympathetic.
What Life Is All About
Love Is Stronger Than Death (Harper & Row, 1979, 121 pp., $7.95 pb) and Heaven: The Heart’s Deepest Longing (Harper & Row, 1980, 152 pp., $8.95 pb), both by Peter J. Kreeft, are reviewed by Michael H. Macdonald, professor of German and philosophy, Seattle Pacific University, Seattle, Washington.
Love Is Stronger Than Death is in one sense a very practical book, for it treats the terminal illness we all have: death. We may have lost all our absolutes today except this one. The relevancy of the death phenomenon cannot be denied. Granted, some good books have been published lately on the medical, psychological, and sociological aspects of death, but none I am aware of comes close to penetrating the meaning of death.
In his exploration, Kreeft notes a progression in the masks of death. The first face is that of an enemy. Subsequently death can appear as stranger, friend, mother, and lover. In the beginning, one must stress death as loss, the reduction of one kind of material being to nonbeing. If there is a life after death, it is necessarily different.
Kreeft argues that life is a series of deaths. To be born, we die to the womb; to go to school, we die to the home; to marry, we die to the family we came from. Life seems to be meetings as well as partings. Therefore, he asks, isn’t it probable that this principle will hold true in our last exit, that death will be a door from one world to another? In the end, death would seem to be the fulfillment of our deepest, noblest, and purest desire, the desire for infinite joy. Paradoxically, death would seem to be the whole point of life. Was not then Augustine absolutely right to confess that we remain restless until we find our rest in God?
In Heaven: The Heart’s Deepest Longing Kreeft argues, again persuasively, that our core, our hearts, long for eternity. We may not realize that, because we keep ourselves busy 24 hours a day with scores of diversions. Yet, if we really understand ourselves, we know we want something more than time and death. Kreeft demonstrates that this desire or longing we all have also moves irrepressibly through the world’s greatest myths, religions, and philosophies.
Heaven explores the search for total joy and for the ultimate reality that grounds it. Kreeft pursues this joy in human faces, romantic love (the latter always promising more than it can possibly deliver: “it promises ecstasy; it delivers only intense pleasure”), pictures, stories, and music. In fact, “all the things that have ever deeply possessed your soul have been but hints of it—tantalizing glimpses, promises never quite fulfilled, echoes that died away just as they caught your ear.”
In a very real sense, Kreeft’s Heaven is a “Critique of Pure Heart,” after the mold of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. So far as I know, there is no book in print whose main intent is the exploration of man’s search for joy. Previous high water marks were C. S. Lewis’s “hope” chapter in Mere Christianity and his autobiography, Surprised By Joy; but these are not book-length studies.
Kreeft’s books are musts for the serious student of life and death. He has penetrated to the roots; his sensitivity and wisdom on the nature of heaven and hell are more significant than any book I have seen since Lewis’s The Great Divorce.
The author, professor of philosophy at Boston College, is a careful scholar who has read many of the great books of philosophy, theology, and literature and gotten the right things from them. He is many times challenging, often clever and comprehensive, even comforting. But something more lasting and rarer is also found in his books—truth. And they are short. Kreeft’s advice to his reader is also mine: “Don’t rush; relish, savor, pause, explore, poke around. Enjoy.”
The Day Of Rest And Gladness
Divine Rest for Human Restlessness, by Samuele Bacchiocchi (Pontifical Gregorian University Press, Rome, 1980, 319 pp., $8.95), is reviewed by Joseph M. Hopkins, professor of religion, Westminster College, New Wilmington, Pennsylvania.
The author, a Seventh-day Adventist, teaches theology and church history at SDA-affiliated Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan. The first non-Catholic to graduate (summa cum laude) from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, his published dissertation, From Sabbath to Sunday (1977), has sold 70,000 copies and enjoyed favorable reviews by Protestant and Catholic, as well as SDA, scholars.
This latest work, which continues the earlier theme, is comprehensive (319 oversized pages) and fully documented with interior Scriptures and 57 crowded pages (in small print) of notes. Hardly a volume for the “average layman,” it is recommended for pastors and religiously oriented libraries as a definitive treatment of Christendom’s most-neglected commandment, even if one does not agree with Bacchiocchi’s point of view. Its value lies in the research that was done.
Bacchiocchi defends the view that Saturday is the Sabbath. Patristic testimony affirming the early substitution of first-day for seventh-day worship is dismissed as resting “more on fantasies than on facts.” The difference between Sunday and Sabbath, he asserts, “is the difference between a man-made holiday and God’s established Holy Day.” But this Sabbatarian bias is offset by much solid Scriptural exegesis and extensive extrabiblical documentation setting forth the historical, theological, and practical significance of the Christian Sabbath.
Beginning with its origin (creation in six literal 24-hour days is seen as essential to the seventh-day doctrine), the author develops the meaning, purpose, and value of the Sabbath in Christian thought and practice throughout church history. Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, Barth, and Bonhoeffer are cited, as well as SDA “prophetess” Ellen G. White. The SDA teaching that “the Sabbath is designated as ‘a perpetual covenant’ or a ‘sign’ between Yahweh and His people” is articulated, but non-SDA readers are spared the corollary that seventh-day observance is a hallmark of the remnant (i.e., SDA) church—and that Sunday worship is the mark of the Beast by which apostate church bodies are identified.
Bacchiocchi defines the Sabbath as “Good News of … human roots … perfect creation … God’s care … divine-human belonging … redemption … service … [and] divine rest for human restlessness.” A chapter is devoted to each of these themes. Perhaps inevitably, there is redundancy and belaboring of points of emphasis. Nevertheless, there are many helpful insights: for example, “By enabling us to detach ourselves from our daily tasks, the Sabbath gives a sense of completion to the work of the previous six days and to life itself.” And, “What an amazing divine concern the Sabbath rest reveals! It epitomizes God’s care and plan for human freedom: freedom from the tyranny of work; freedom from pitiless human exploitation; freedom from over-attachment to things and people; freedom from insatiable greediness; freedom to enjoy God’s blessings on the Sabbath in order to be sent forth into a new week with renewed zest and strength.”
Although (to nonmembers) SDA Sabbath keeping appears legalistic, the author eschews Pharisaism for a positive, New Testament approach that stresses spirit instead of letter. The Christ ideal of service is also emphasized: “Inner peace and rest are to be found not in egocentric (selfish) relaxation but rather in heterocentric (unselfish) service.”
Bibles and books directly related to the Bible are considered.
Bible Versions. Seabury offers The Vineyard Bible. It consists of the central narrative (select portions or condensations) plus a gazetteer and key word index. May Your Name Be Inscribed in the Book of Life (Messianic Vision, Box 34462, Washington, D.C.) is a Jewish New Testament with Jewish words, keys to O.T. prophecy, and footnotes by Jewish-Christian scholars. Kregel has reprinted Arthur S. Way’s older work along with Psalms (for the first time in an American edition) in Letters of Paul and Hebrews and the Book of Psalms. The Four Gospels and the Revelation is newly translated by Richmond Lattimore, available in hardback from Farrar, Straus & Giroux and in paperback from Washington Square Press. George Barker Stevens’s well-done but well-nigh forgotten The Epistle of Paul and Hebrews: Paraphrased is available again from Verploegh Editions, Box 984, Wheaton, IL.
The Washburn College Bible (Oxford Univ.) is something of a tour de force. Massive and magnificent, weighing over 10 pounds, it is the KJV, newly phrased, with masterpieces of religious art, gold stamping, and special prints. It is a beautiful family Bible.
Picture Bibles.Bible Stories for Children (Macmillan or Benziger) contains select stories retold by Geoffrey Harnard and Arthur Cavanaugh, with beautiful illustrations by Arvis Stewart. The Living Bible Story Book (Tyndale) is selections from the Living Bible, illustrated by Richard and Francis Hook. Stories from the Bible (Eerdmans) are newly retold by Sipke van der Land; illustrations are by Bert Bouman, not all in color.
Three works with comic-book style illustrations are: Picture Stories from the Bible (Scarf Press); Pictorial New Testament: The Acts of the Apostles: NIV Version (College Press, Joplin, Mo.); and The Living Picture Bible (David C. Cook).
Concordances. Zondervan makes available The NIV Complete Concordance, with over a quarter-million references in 1,039 pages. It should prove to be a great help in Bible study for NIV users. For NASB users, Holman has produced the New American Standard Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, with over 400,000 entries. It contains a separate concordance of numbers as well as a Hebrew/Aramaic and Greek dictionary to which all the words of the NASB are keyed.
For students of the New Testament, the long-awaited Computer Konkordanz Zum Novum Testamentum Graece (deGruyter), based on the twenty-sixth edition of the Nestle-Aland text and the third edition of The Greek New Testament, has appeared. Beautifully done, it will no doubt become the standard reference work for the next generation of scholars.
Two smaller works are also available. New Testament Pocket Concordance (Nelson), by Charles J. Hazelton, crams 27,000 references into 640 pages only a half-inch thick. The Bible Index Pocket Book (Harold Shaw) has a thousand carefully chosen topics, subdivided into helpful categories, in 192 pages. All the important ideas seem to be present.
Study Bibles/Reference. The NASB Cambridge Study Edition (Cambridge Univ.) has study helps that include a concise dictionary, concordance, gazetteer, and maps. The Worrell New Testament (Gospel Publishing House) is available again. Originally written in 1904, this KJV-based edition contains Worrell’s introductory comments and notes, and is dispensational, pretribulational in focus. Bethany Fellowship offers a new printing of The Reese Chronological Bible, also KJV-based. The text is arranged with dates in the supposed order of occurrence, and it advocates a “recent earth” theory that puts creation on Sunday, March 27, 3976 B.C. The Lindsell Study Bible (Tyndale) contains helpful introductions, notes, headings, and indexes based on the Living Bible text. It is nondispensational and open on the question of the Rapture of the church. The NIV Pictorial Bible (Zondervan) is a beautifully done study Bible with more than 500 full-color features, and helpful notes.
The NIV Interlinear Hebrew-English Old Testament (Zondervan), edited by John R. Kohlenberger III, continues with volume 2, Joshua—II Kings. Volume 3 is expected later this year.
Here’s Life Publishers has two “Four Spiritual Laws” editions available: the Here’s Life New American Standard New Testament and the Here’s Life Living New Testament. Both are pocket-sized with an introduction to the Christian life.
The Bible Prayer Book (Ave Maria), edited by Eugene S. Geissler, contains all the prayers, songs, hymns, canticles, psalms, and blessings in the Bible, neatly arranged for handy reference. The Apocrypha is included.
The Victor Handbook of Bible Knowledge (Victor), by V. Gilbert Beers, is a very well-done run through the Bible, section by section, with over 1,300 illustrations and valuable comments. It is an excellent study tool.
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