Thoughtful Worship

The subtitle of James Sires’s Discipleship of the Mind (InterVarsity, $9.95) is “Learning to love God in the ways we think.” That phrase sets the tone for his exposition of the Christian mind. It begins with an attitude of awe toward God and humility toward ourselves while remaining open to new understanding from Scripture.

James Sire, an InterVarsity Christian Fellowship lecturer, devotes half the book to describing the Christian mind through a set of presuppositions we hold about the cosmos. He poses and answers seven basic world-view questions, starting with “What is really real?” moving through “What is a human being?” and “How do we know what’s right and wrong?” to “What is the meaning of human history?” Sire says the answer to the first question forms the basis for the answers to all the others.

He engages the reader by contrasting three different world views: the naturalist, who holds the cosmos itself is eternal; the pantheist, who thinks the external world illusory; and the theist, who believes the world is God’s creation over which his sovereignty extends. There are surprising and creative illustrations and ample and apt quotations from a parade of Christian thinkers, from Blaise Pascal to John Henry Cardinal Newman, as well as from secular figures, such as Carl Sagan, B. F. Skinner, and even the actress Shirley MacLaine to enliven the intellectual analysis.

Sire stresses scholarship as an act of worship. Knowledge and belief are not things apart. Both have to do with truth, and knowledge is shown as justified true belief. Neither is static, however. Each is presented as progressive with knowledge predicated on obedience to belief.

The book builds toward a final perspective that reaffirms world-view analysis of every academic theory, encouraging Christians to identify the biblical base that can undergird proper scholarship. The discipleship of the mind involves getting to know the good in a pluralistic world and doing good, too. The thinking believer avoids false loyalty to materialism and professionalism and remains obedient unto suffering. Overall, this book makes a signifiicant contribution to the evangelical community.

By John A. Baird, Jr., adviser to the president, Eastern College.

Behind The Facts

Three cheers for Baker Book House for reprinting Patterns in History: A Christian Perspective on Historical Thought ($10.95), first published in 1979. David Bebbington, senior lecturer in history at the University of Stirling in Scotland, once again sets out his clear, thorough map of major philosophies of religion, ranging from cyclical history through Jewish and Christian history, the idea of progress, historicism, and Marxism. He frames these features with concise introductions to the definition of the term history and to the issues underlying the writing of history. The book concludes with further reflections on the Christian view of history. A new afterword manifests Bebbington’s justifiable satisfaction with the first edition as he looks over scholarship of the 1980s, while he calls Christians to engage modernism more urgently than he did before.

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In an age of trivial, superspecialized scholarship, this is Christian thinking of a high, broad order. Those interested in Christian ideas in the modern world, in comparative religion, and in the study of history all ought to invest in this unusually useful handbook.

By John G. Stackhouse, Jr.

Marvin’S Gospel

The Man Who Met God in a Bar, by Robert Farrar Capon (Richelieu Court, $12.95), is an irreverent allegory that tells the story of Marvin H. Goodman, a traveling salesman and Lothario, and his life as a disciple of Jerry Horvath, a cook who claims to be God. Jerry proves his claim by turning water into champagne, feeding a crowd with a single anchovy pizza, healing the sick, and raising people from the dead. He has come, he says over drinks, to “fix the world up by dying and rising.” In the end, Jerry remains true to his word, leaving Marvin behind to spread the good news.

The dust jacket labels this book “a novel,” but don’t be misled. Little attention is paid to character development, plot, and those telling details that can make a novel come alive. In addition, Christian readers will be able to fill in the story’s blanks by recalling Jesus’ own story, but will wonder why some details were omitted.

Capon, an Episcopal priest and frequent author, is obviously after something different from the standard novel. By viewing the gospel through Marvin’s modern perspective, the author challenges readers to rediscover the mere Christianity of the New Testament, to see faith with new eyes. Although not entirely successful—Capon’s wisecracks frequently produce more smiles than insights—the story makes for a breezy book with an occasional bite.

By Robert Bittner, an editor and writer living in the Chicago area.

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The Morality Of Sex

Books about sex tend to fall into one of two categories: those that are fun to read and those that are thoughtful and thorough. Sexual Ethics: A Biblical Perspective, by Stanley Grenz (Word, $14.99), is the latter. Its virtues are several: that Grenz is a theologian who develops his ethics in a careful theological framework; that he has read very widely; and that he covers almost every important question, including such up-to-the-minute issues as artificial insemination.

Grenz comes out with conservative evangelical positions, and he does so with tact and careful analysis, demonstrating that he understands what more liberal ethicists are saying, and answering them cogently. In many ways, this book reminds me of an earlier volume that has had a long and useful life for just these reasons: Helmut Thielicke’s The Ethics of Sex, now available as volume 3 in his Theological Ethics. (Grenz is more conservative than Thielicke, notably in his evaluation of homosexual relationships.)

Grenz, unfortunately, is not an enjoyable read. He is always clear, but rarely lively or imaginative. Only those who have a professional interest in this book will plow through it, I fear. That is unfortunate, because Grenz’s understanding of sexuality is humane and helpful. He sees it as reflecting God’s image in us “as it forms the basis for the drive toward bonding that leads to community.”

This urge toward community has its fulfillment both in married and single sexuality. From this basis, Grenz is able to argue graciously for traditional Christian moral positions and elaborate those positions in new situations, where technology and a changed society have altered our situation. His point of view is positive, not fearful, and he makes one feel that Christian ethics offer something genuinely hopeful to a chaotic world.

By Tim Stafford.

A Pervasive Aroma

Hoping to put a painful divorce behind-him, Paul leaves Vancouver for his father’s farm in Ontario. His father, Geritt, had long ago left the Netherlands for Ontario, thinking to keep a dreadful secret buried in the old country. What each discovers about the other is worth exposing to the light in The Homecoming Man (Mosaic Press, $12.95), a novel by Hugh Cook.

Paul, who spends his days translating a Dutch poet’s account of a concentration camp, discovers a locked door in the basement. Geritt tries to keep the door closed as hard as Paul tries to open it. The door comes to represent the emotional block that keeps the men from voicing either their mutual love or their old griefs.

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Hugh Cook, author of Cracked Wheat (a collection of fine short stories of Dutch immigrants in Canada), is a Dutch Canadian himself. He knows how to quietly show the sacredness of daily life.

In Homecoming Man, Cook shuttles between the viewpoints of son and father. Paul lives and writes upstairs while Geritt, an old man by now, lives downstairs and goes about his seasonal farm chores.

At the beginning, the story’s details may seem too finely wrought, but both Paul and Geritt are sticklers for detail, and Cook sees well from both viewpoints.

Paul, raised in Canada and schooled as a writer, thinks in images: “Most of the blossoms had already begun to fall on the dandelion-spotted grass so that it looked littered with white and yellow confetti as at a wedding.” But in the chapters where Geritt is speaking to himself, the narrative switches to aphoristic Dutch idiom: “Well, there was no pot so crooked but some lid would fit it.”

It is hard to point out exactly what makes the novel’s tone seem so sacred, so Old Testament-like. Perhaps it is because there is nothing to point to, really. There is only a pervasive aroma of God in it.

By Margaret D. Smith, a writer living in New York City.

The Myth of Mindless Zombies

If there are a million approaches one can take on the subject of rock music, Al Menconi has probably tried them all: from rock fiend to rock-record burner, from Christian rock opponent to defender. And in Today’s Music: A Window to Your Child’s Soul (David C. Cook, $12.95), we all reap the benefits of Menconi’s years of wrestling through the subject.
Written with Dave Hart, the book shows parents “how to better understand your child’s spiritual needs by paying attention to the music he listens to.” Menconi covers the history of rock; he attacks the rumor mill, which works overtime to keep Christian books on rock music full of juicy—but erroneous—tidbits; he explores rock’s flirtation with Satanism; and he destroys the arguments of those who say, “The music doesn’t affect me.”
He encourages parents to use love and understanding as they utilize his many practical tips on establishing family-wide entertainment guidelines. Asking parents to examine their own entertainment diets, Menconi explores the biblical teaching on what Christian music is supposed to be and then provides a strong defense for contemporary Christian music as an effective way to communicate spiritual values to children.
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The book’s greatest service is to make us see the role music plays in our children’s spiritual development. “Music isn’t hypnotizing our children into thinking and behaving in ways that go against their wills,” he writes. “It is not making mindless zombies out of them. Rather, they are embracing the music because someone is saying something they can identify with.”
Perhaps the book ignores some of rock’s finer points. And Menconi’s rush-through the history of rock is simplistic at best. But the book provides parents, pastors, and teachers with plenty of reliable information and sound advice for helping young people honor God through their music choices.

By Steve Rabey, a writer living in Colorado Springs.

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