Integrative Theology, Volume 2: Our Primary Need: Christ’s Atoning Provisions, by Gordon R. Lewis and Bruce A. Demarest (Zondervan, 574 pp.; $22.95, hardcover). Reviewed by John G. Stackhouse, Jr., who teaches in the Department of Religion, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Canada.

In this middle installment of their projected three-volume theology, Professors Lewis and Demarest of Denver Seminary discuss human beings and Christ, and the providential plan of salvation that brings them together. The work follows the scheme established in the first volume: The authors define a problem; they survey alternative approaches from the history of theology; they summarize the biblical materials; they formulate a systematic doctrine; they defend this statement against alternative positions, Christian and otherwise; and they apply the teaching to life.

Evangelicals might be especially interested in two issues they tackle. The first is the origin of the world and humanity. The authors defend a “progressive creation” position: God progressively created different parts of the natural order at different times. Against the “scientific creationists,” they maintain that the periods of Creation were probably longer than six 24-hour days so that the cosmos really is old, rather than just appearing to be so. Against evolutionists, “theistic” or not, they maintain that Creation involved several direct actions by God that mark off spheres of nature, rather than one initial Creation out of which all things then evolved.

The second issue is providence, and again Lewis and Demarest do not shirk from stating a clear conclusion. Eschewing the refuge others have found in “mystery,” “paradox,” or “antinomy,” these theologians boldly attempt to clear up most of the confusion in a “moderately Reformed” view of God’s direct will in regard to salvation and judgment and his indirect, or permissive, will in regard to sin and evil.

Generally, the authors reach defensible conclusions, and readers will profit from seeing them work their way toward articulating and defending them. Lewis and Demarest exhibit prudence and charity as they encourage Christians not to break off fellowship with each other over fine points of exegesis but to acknowledge the limits of all our knowledge.

Some readers will be put off by a frequently pugnacious tone. The authors’ laudable concern to contend for the truth does not make up for a consistently hostile and unappreciative tone toward virtually every viewpoint outside the orthodox Protestant traditions. How seriously can one take the authors’ declared intent to test various alternatives when those outside the broadly evangelical stream are given such short and unsympathetic shrift? Furthermore, intended primarily as a textbook, it tends to talk down to its audience in a cool, professorial manner.

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Despite these flaws, Lewis and Demarest are up to something important here. They are trying to salvage and even celebrate truth in an age that either cleverly smirks at the very suggestion or turns away bored to watch another ball game or MTV. They are trying to open up theology to a method that will allow some fresh breezes into the confessional enclaves. They are trying to apply theology to life, rather than leave it in the study or seminar room. And they are trying to do all this for evangelicals typically too busy praying or saving souls to think hard about theology (although nowadays not many evangelicals have these preoccupations, either).

One might hope, then, that volume three will be more conversational, more engaging in the best sense of the word. Meanwhile, this volume (and the one before it) provides considerable resources for skillful teachers who can help a class make the most of them.

Outlines of Romantic Theology, by Charles Williams, edited and introduced by Alice Mary Hadfield (Eerdmans, 113 pp.; $14.95, hardcover). Reviewed by Larry McKaughan, a writer and salmon fisher in Eugene, Oregon.

Charles Williams set out to formulate a theology of romantic love in the two essays of Outlines of Romantic Theology. This is the first publication of the title essay written in 1924. C. W., as he was known to his friends, was a member of the Inklings with C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien. The two essays together provide an integrative perspective on Williams’s poetry, drama, and fiction. Do they also suggest an approach worthy of theology?

Falling in love is a starting point for Williams’s thought. He describes the lover as one possessed by a new consciousness, a pure “delight of contemplation.” Since this intense experience is not confined to marriage, Williams applies “falling in love” to other human loves as well, to the love of family, of friends, and even the love of nature.

The second starting point is marriage, “romantic love; that is, sexual love between a man and a woman, freely given, freely accepted, and appearing to its partakers one of the most important experiences in life—a love which demands the attention of the intellect and the spirit for its understanding and its service.”

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The principles of romantic theology, C. W. tells us, “can be reduced to a single formula: which is, the identification of love with Jesus Christ, and a marriage with His life.” This formula in turn is reduced to a single word, “Immanuel,” God with us. It is a stimulating formula poetically expressed.

The way Williams pursues this identification, however, is unusual. He takes broad segments of Jesus’ life and identifies each with points in the development of a couple’s experience. I understand his point better when he puts it in more traditional terms. The challenge is for a couple to grow into “the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13), an open-ended task in which Christ provides the light that draws the couple toward him.

It is characteristic of Williams to force us to think about these matters in nontraditional ways, yet he insists that he speaks as an orthodox Christian of the Church of England. It is clear that he has set about to lift the commonplace experience of love to give it an uncommon significance. His role is to encourage others along that path; his approach is to entice with what is good.

The second essay, “Religion and Love in Dante,” first published in 1941, became the study for his best work in literary criticism, The Figure of Beatrice. Williams first examines the encounter with Beatrice that led Dante to seek to become worthy of the love awakened in him. C. W. then gives a tour of the Divine Comedy from the vantage of the love theme that pervades that great poem. A middle-aged Dante travels through hell. At each of nine deepening circles of hell, one of love’s virtues is cast off to contrast love with the full range of human passion and sin. At the Earthly Paradise we come to Dante’s state of mind in Florence, with this difference: the pair is now “adult in love.” Beatrice preceded him to paradise and has been the force that drew him here. She is committed to blessing Dante while she worships God.

Although his formulation is not the last word on the subject, Williams provides a stimulating place to begin. His theology explores love’s great promise before a loving God. The second essay hints of its potential in a continuing dialogue between literature and theology. The Divine Comedy lets Williams tie his theology into a concrete account of the human condition. Specific contrasts clarify the nature of love, and we see before us the manner in which the haunting eyes of the Florentine girl may draw us to a higher state of being.

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