A collection of four somewhat diverse topics is viewed in this book survey: social issues, cults, Jewish-Christian material, and the papacy. The latter two are of perennial interest, producing significant numbers of books on a regular basis. The former two are of current interest—whether passing or not remains to be seen.
Interest in matters of social concern continues to increase. It is no longer considered “social-gospeling” to look seriously at matters where faith touches life. Indeed, our very survival may depend on how seriously we take our responsibility to monitor science or how we treat our environment.
Some fine work is being done, but more is needed. It is probably true that quantity still outstrips quality here, but we are moving in the right direction.
The cults are a deep concern in the wake of the Jonestown tragedy, eliciting informed response from evangelical Christians. It is often difficult for the average lay person to keep up with what is going on because of the rapid change in this area, but also because hard data are sometimes unavailable. The books presented here have some first-rate research and should provide helpful guidance in a complex subject.
These are difficult to classify because of overlap, but the categories below will do as covering groupings.
The environment. Responsible use of our resources could emerge from the modern energy crisis if we behave Christianly. This is well outlined in Whatever Happened to Eden (Tyndale), by John R. Schaeffer and Raymond H. Brand. Let the Earth Bless the Lord (Seabury), edited by C. A. Cesaretti and Stephen Commins, is a helpful book presenting a Christian perspective on land use. Earthkeeping (Eerdmans), edited by Loren Wilkinson, is a fine collection of essays by the Fellows of the Calvin Center for Christian Scholarship concerning stewardship of natural resources. It deals with the present state of affairs as well as the history of the problem, and ends with a very useful annotated bibliography. Farming the Lord’s Land (Augsburg), edited by Charles P. Lutz, presents Christian perspectives in American agriculture.
Nonviolence. French reformed historian Jean-Michel Homus has written a scholarly but readable history of Christian nonviolence in It Is Not Lawful for Me to Fight (Herald). Notes and bibliography cover over 100 pages, making this an excellent (and perhaps definitive) textbook on the subject. Dwell in Peace (Brethren Press), by Ronald C. Arnett, is a study of how to apply the principles of nonviolence to everyday relationships in a world where “conflict is inevitable and a normal part of living that cannot and should not be eliminated.” Mennonites and Conscientious Objection in 1980 (Mennonite Central Committee, Akron, Pa.) is a collection of papers presented by the Peace Section assembly in Goshen, Indiana, 1980. They are basically practical in orientation.
Economics. Two practical books dealing with money are: How You Can Manage Your Money (Augsburg), by John Warren Johnson, and Money: How to Spend Less and Have More (Revell), by David J. Juroe. Both are helpful guides, with the former being more factual, dealing with such subjects as investments, and the latter being more theoretical, with chapters such as “So, You’re a Spendaholic.”
Dealing with larger issues are: The Christian Entrepreneur (Herald), by Carl Kreider, dealing essentially with business ethics; Economic Anxiety and Christian Faith (Augsburg), by Larry L. Rasmussen, dealing with the economic challenge of the 1980s; Where Faith and Economics Meet: A Christian Critique (Augsburg), by David M. Beckmann, which is a Christian look at economic problems on a global scale with suggested plans of action; and Faith and the Prospects of Economic Collapse (John Knox), by Robert Lee, which is a challenge to Ruff and Browne’s ego-ethics, arguing for a responsible economic and environmental ethic under the rubric of eco-ethics.
Science. Two generalized works look at the relation between science and the Christian faith. Science and God in the 80’s (Harvest House), by Harold J. Sala, is a simple statement that a high school student would appreciate, although it is a bit short on constructive suggestions. Science and Our Troubled Conscience (Fortress), by J. Robert Nelson, is a far better book, abreast of the latest research and literature, but seemingly skirting some issues where a resounding Christian affirmation would be appropriate.
An impressive book is Our Fragile Brains (InterVarsity), by D. Gareth Jones, which presents a Christian perspective on brain research in understandable terms. It is conversant with current theorizing and contains helpful chapter-by-chapter bibliographies. This is probably the best basic text on this subject from a Christian point of view.
Henry M. Morris’s King of Creation (CLP) contains his rigorous defense of creationism, arguing that there is undeniable scientific evidence for special creation and the Flood, against evolution, and for the Christian faith. John Morris, in Tracking Those Incredible Dinosaurs and the People Who Knew Them (CLP), writes in detective-story style about the famous footprints in Glen Rose, Texas. Nicely illustrated, this book is fascinating reading, even if one does not choose to go as far as Morris does in his conclusions.
Ethics. For nurses, InterVarsity Press has made available Dilemma, billed as a nurse’s guide for making ethical decisions, and thoughtfully written by Judith Allen Shelly. It should prove to be very useful, providing help in an area where not much exists. A strongly written overview is The Main Issues in Bioethics (Paulist), by Andrew C. Varga. He is articulate, well informed, and willing to defend the Christian point of view, even if it is unpopular in some scientific circles.
Three very helpful books all deal with the theory of ethics from a Christian perspective. Morality: Religious and Secular (Oxford Univ.), by Basil Mitchell, is a learned treatise arguing that fundamental mortality cannot be defended in terms of an entirely secular world view; Thinking about Morality (Univ. of Mich.), by William K. Frankena, argues eloquently that morality makes sense because absolutes exist; and Educating for Responsible Action (Eerdmans), by Nicholas Wolterstorff, is a thoroughly Christian analysis of how people learn to make moral decisions and what those decisions are, and it is an excellent and well-informed book.
Politics. Edward Norman’s Christianity and the World Order (Oxford Univ.) is a fine book. After reviewing the present situation, he argues cogently that associating Christianity with any particular set of political values is a mistake. An interesting proposal for international justice is International Norms and National Policy (Eerdmans), by Frederick O. Bonkovsky. If all nations were rational, bis ideas might work. Freedom, Justice and the State (Univ. Press of America), by Ronald H. Nash, analyzes the nature of the state and the market place, concluding that “the case against capitalism made on moral or rational grounds certainly appears less than overwhelming.”
The Association for Public Justice Education Fund (Box 5769, Washington, D.C.) has published a handbook on Christian political responsibility by James W. Skillen, entitled Christians Organizing for Political Service. It should prove useful for those wishing to organize. A very helpful collection of essays on roughly the same topic from deeply involved participants is Christian Political Options (A.R.P., Dr. Kuyperstraat 3, The Hague, Netherlands), edited by C. den Hollander. Christians with Secular Power (Fortress), by Mark Gibbs, offers generalized guidance for those in positions of power.
In the light of current flagrant violations of basic human rights around the world, it is heartening to see the subject probed with deep concern in The Philosophy of Human Rights: International Perspectives (Greenwood), edited by Alan S. Rosenbaum. The World Council of Churches makes its point on human rights in Race: No Peace without Justice (WCC), by Barbara Rogers, arguing that fascism and resurgent naziism are the real culprits in the world. Andre Glucksmann would tear his hair out if he read Rogers’s book arguing, in The Master Thinkers (Harper & Row), that totalitarianism is all one—whether Fascist or Marxist—and specifically that the Marxists should not be portrayed as friends of the oppressed, no matter what the ill-advised religious defenders of it might say. Klaus Bockmuehl writes a Christian response to Marxism in The Challenge of Marxism (InterVarsity), which is readable and accurate.
Various topics. Poverty is discussed by J. Kreitmann in Bread, Peace and Liberty (Craig), and by Ronald J. Sider in Cry Justice (InterVarsity). The former is a compassionate appeal for redress of wrong, and the latter is a collection of Bible readings on the subjects of hunger and poverty. John H. Court has written an excellent study in Pornography: A Christian Critique (InterVarsity). Cloning: Miracle or Menace? (Tyndale), by Lane P. Lester, argues emphatically that this is a menace. The Total Image (Eerdmans), by Virginia Stem Owens, is a stem indictment of the mass media wherein Christians have entered into the junk-food market of “media hype” in the name of Christ.
Technology and the Future: A Philosophical Challenge (Wedge), by Egbert Shuurman, is a profound and highly technical treatise on how it is possible from a Christian point of view to redeem technology. Abortion is treated by two new books: Slaughter of the Innocents (Cornerstone), by John Warwick Montgomery, a blistering attack on the evil of abortion, and Abortion, the Bible and the Church (Hawaii Right to Life, Box 10129, Honolulu), by Tj Bosgra, a survey of 150 denominational views. This is an especially helpful collection of information.
A cry for improvement in a difficult area is Portrait of Inequality: Black and White Children in America (C.D.F., 1520 New Hampshire N.W., Washington, D.C.), by Marian Wright Edelman. It’s hard to sleep after reading this. Crime and the Responsible Community (Eerdmans), edited by John Stott and Nick Miller, is an excellent collection of essays on crime, punishment, delinquency, and prison.
Two interesting collections of essays on work are: Labour of Love (Wedge), by Paul Marshall, et al., and Work and Religion (Seabury), which was edited by Gregory Baum.
Interest in the occult continues unabated among the neopagans of our day, but increasingly informed Christians are stepping in to correct the situation. There are several good general introductions to the subject. The Anatomy of Evil (Revell), by Charles W. Conn, looks at the chaos produced by the powers of darkness, including the cults, but also at the authority of Jesus over them. Encounter with Darkness (Christian Publications), by John A. MacMillan, is essentially about demon possession, but it contains wise counsel on the occult as well. The Cult Explosion (Harvest House), by Dave Hunt, is rather strident at times and a bit disorganized, but the material is there and it is helpful. It comes with a handy study guide.
Prison or Paradise: The New Religious Cults (Fortress), by James and Marcia Rudin, is more objective in its appraisal of the problem, but no less critical. Ten major cults are treated. Walter Martin has put together The New Cults (Vision House), dealing with a similar group of cults, but in more detail. It is a very worthwhile book and highly recommended. Scripture Twisting (InterVarsity), by James W. Sire, looks at 20 ways the cults misread the Bible.
The Challenge of the Cults (InterVarsity, 38 De Montfort St., Leicester, LE1 7GP, England) looks at seven major cults, showing point by point the unscriptural nature of each. Kurt Koch’s Occult ABC, is a new edition (formerly called Satan’s Devices, distributed by Kregel Publications), covering 71 occult items such as ghosts and spiritism, and it includes methods of deliverance. It is helpful, but not all will agree with Koch’s analyses. The Fakers (Baker), by Danny Korem and Paul Meier, looks at the bogus elements in the occult world. Although short, Strange Gods: Contemporary Religious Cults in America (Our Sunday Visitor), by William J. Whalen, is packed with helpful facts and insights. It would be an excellent first reader in the subject.
Specific groups are discussed in the following: The New Phariseeism (American Presbyterian Press), by Louis F. DeBoer, looks at British Israelitism; Not for a Million Dollars (Impact), by Una McManus, looks at the Children of God; and The God-Men (InterVarsity), by Neil T. Duddy and the SCP (Spiritual Counterfeits Project), look at Witness Lee and the “local church,” although technically this might not be called a cult.
General. For someone interested in understanding Judaism, a good treatment is the topically arranged Introduction to Judaism (Univ. Press of America), by Joseph Kalir. A more detailed but slightly less exhaustive work is The Complete Book of Jewish Observance (Berhman House/Summit) by Leo Trepp, which is designed to be a guide to the ceremonies and practices of Judaism.
An excellent one-volume history of the Jewish people is Jewish People, Jewish Thought: The Jewish Experience in History (MacMillan), by Robert M. Seltzer. It could be the one work a person might want to own on this subject. More restricted, but still valuable, are overviews of the American Jewish Yearbook: 1981 (The American Jewish Committee/The Jewish Publication Society of America), edited by Milton Himmelfarb and David Singer, and The Jewish Almanac (Bantam), edited by Richard Siegel and Carl Rheins. Both will be widely used. Israel: The Promised Land, by Bill Harris (Mayflower), is a sumptuously illustrated history of the modern State of Israel. It is a pleasure to read through and, if done slowly, to savor the illustrations.
Gershom Scholem is well known as a scholar, so it is helpful to have his autobiographical reflections in From Berlin to Jerusalem (Schocken). There is a haunting quality to this work that stirs some hard-to-locate feelings. Decoding the Rabbis (Harvard Univ.), by Marc Saperstein, is about a thirteenth-century rabbi named Isaac ben Yedaiah and his interpretation of the Aggadah. It is highly instructive.
A welcome volume for scholars is Martin Buber: A Bibliography of His Writings, 1897–1978 (K. G. Saur Verlag/Gale Research), compiled by Margot Cohn and Raphael Buber, which contains over 1,400 entries.
The Holocaust. It is always difficult to read this sort of material—but that makes it all the more imperative to do so. Gizelle, Save the Children (Everest House), by Gizelle Hersh and Peggy Mann, relives those awful days through the eyes of a teen-ager. Witness to the Holocaust (Pilgrim Press), by Azriel Eisenberg, brings together over a hundred eyewitness accounts that are numbing in their effect. Robert W. Ross examines the relation of the American Protestant press to the Nazi persecutions in So It Was True (Univ. of Minnesota), and John F. Morley looks at Vatican Diplomacy and the Jews During the Holocaust, 1939–1943 (KTAV), in which he charges that the Vatican knew, but preferred to preserve diplomatic relations rather than act.
Jewish/Christian. Arthur W. Kac has edited a collection of essays entitled The Messiahship of Jesus: What Jews and Jewish Christians Say (Moody). Jewish Monotheism and Christian Trinitarian Doctrine (Fortress) is an informed dialogue by Pinchas Lapide and Jürgen Moltmann.
Two surveys of anti-Semitism are: A Historical Survey of Anti-Semitism (Baker), by Richard E. Gade, and Anti-Semitism and Jewish Nationalism (Donning), edited by Jay Pilzer. Jew and Gentile: The Philo-Semitic Aspect (Philosophical Library), by Solomon Rappaport, is the other side of anti-Semitism, examining the history of good will and tolerance exhibited toward Jews throughout history. Time of Storm (Christian Herald), by Marianne Fischer, is the ripping story of a Jewish Christian woman in Hungary during World War II. It is an extraordinary tale of God’s grace.
An Illustrated History of the Pope: Saint Peter to John Paul II (St. Martins), by Michael Walsh, is a nicely produced piece, bland enough not to offend anyone. Two somewhat differing analyses of the papacy and politics are The Papacy Today (MacMillan), by Frances X. Murphy, which looks at the last 80 years rather critically but sympathetically, and Papal Power: A Study of Vatican Control over Lay Catholic Elites (Univ. of Calif.), by Jean-Guy Vaillancourt, who is also critical, but not too sympathetic.
An important autobiographical document, Journey of a Soul (Image/Double-day), by Pope John XXIII, is now in paperback. Of it he said, “My soul is in these pages.”
The current Pope, John Paul II, is the subject of much discussion. The Singing Pope (Seabury), by Rinna Wolfe, is a biography for young people, suitably innocuous. In the Footsteps of Pope John Paul II (Prentice-Hall), by John M. Szostak, is billed as an intimate personal portrait, and it is, in a way, even including details of what the Pope eats for supper when traveling. For the most part, however, it reads like a P. R. piece. Two assessments of John Paul II, well worth reading, are The Man Who Leads the Church (Harper & Row), edited by John Whale, and The Mind of John Paul II (Seabury), by George Huntston Williams. Williams’s book is the more comprehensive, and I found it to be very helpful, especially regarding the development of John Paul II’s thought.
John Paul II has recorded his own reflections in a significant statement, Sources of Renewal: The Implementation of Vatican II (Harper & Row). He goes through the theological statements item by item, clarifying what he thinks about the role of the church.
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