November 1988

Socrates Meets Jesus.  By Peter Kreeft. Inter Varsity. 182 pages. $6.95.

A Turn of the Clock.  By Peter Kreeft. Ignatius. 81 pages. $5.95.

In a time when classifica­tions are mandatory, one fears that Peter Kreeft’s sparkling dia­logues — wherein “History’s Great Questioner Confronts the Claims of Christ” — might be shelved away under apologetics. But this gem deserves better.

Imagine Socrates, alive again, at Have It Divinity School. What would he make of the Jew­ish and Christian Scriptures? Suppose he enrolled in Funda­mentals of Demythologizing, Sci­ence and Religion, and Christology. Then, for good measure, in­troduce him to such familiar characters as Bertha Broadmind, Thomas Keptic, Molly Mooney, and Ahmen Ali Louiea. Kreeft’s narrative involves all of the above, and the results are both engaging and instructive.

Socrates himself is unchang­ed by his new environment, and he artfully recapitulates for us his classic themes: the doctrine of anamnesis, the claim that no evil befalls the good man, and the insight that wisdom begins with seeing how little we know. But while we recognize Socrates’ philosophy, he is dismayed to find our philosophers safely con­fined in their academic depart­ments!

The theology curriculum he follows soon poses its own puz­zles. What he encounters (having first read through the Bible on his own) is bewildering. For a start, there’s the question of myth. Sometimes myth turns out to be whatever one wants to dis­count in Scripture. Alternatively, it can refer to something “deep­er” than history. An enemy of neither history nor myth, Socra­tes wonders why, say, the Resur­rection is not at once historical and prefigured in myth.

Socrates is most alarmed, though, by how his Christology professor dodges the central question: Are Christ’s claims true? It is fine to be open-mind­ed, but the point of being so is to reach the truth. Thus Socrates finds himself wrestling with the doctrine of the Incarnation. And he will not be put off by learned patter about the Resurrection as (only) an archetype. Either Christ rose from the dead or not: which is it?

Yet Socrates’s interest in truth is not just speculative. If it is true that Christ lives, then it is true that we can share in his life. And it can even be true that the Church is his body. Ever logical, Socrates asks us how our lives could “be so…so bland, if this incredible thing is true?” Do we have an answer?

Dialogues are a classic med­ium for the philosopher. The proverb is a tool of the sage — and of sober commonsense. Kreeft’s slim volume, A Turn of the Clock, shows him at home with both genres. Ours, he notes, is “the first society in history that educates its young without proverbs,” and this is worrisome. At the very least it suggests a fail­ure of intellectual nerve.

One motif in Kreeft’s effort to restore our confidence (which Socrates, for all his questions, never lost!) is a refusal to bow to the gods of progress. Here we re­call C.S. Lewis’s disdain for “chronological snobbery.” Kreeft puts it this way: “When the clock starts keeping crazy time, the sensible and progressive thing to do is to turn it back.”

Gentle reader, read on!

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Studies and Commentaries III (1987).  Edited by Walter E. Frieman Jr. American Region of the Society of Mary. 31 pages. $3.

Many American Christians will be surprised to learn that Marian devotion can be found in the Anglican Communion, com­monly understood to be the heir to the English Reformation. This booklet, the third in a series re­leased by U.S. Episcopalians with a special attachment to Mary, contains two articles, two ser­mons, one quiet day address, and one poem (by John Donne) ded­icated to the subject of Mary.

The Earl of Lauderdale’s ar­ticle reports on the recently re­stored Shrine of Our Lady of Haddington in Scotland, jointly overseen by Anglicans, Presbyter­ians, and Roman Catholics, where many healings are currently oc­curring.

Fr. David M. Allen’s article notes that the 1979 revision of the U.S. Episcopal Church’s Book of Common Prayer marks what is probably the first time the ancient title for Mary, Theotokos, has appeared in an Ameri­can or English version of the BCP. Unfortunately, however, the Episcopalians fudged — by trans­lating the term as “God-bearer.” Allen argues for the more tradi­tional translation, “Mother of God,” contending that it is “in­tended to stress [Mary’s] mater­nity in order to state in an em­phatic and perhaps shocking fash­ion the reality of the Incarnation.”

Devotion to Mary, properly understood and practiced, high­lights rather than distracts from the divinity and uniqueness of Jesus Christ. Mary ultimately al­ways points to her Son, never to herself; as Pope John XXIII put it: “The Madonna is not pleased when she is put above her Son.” Marian devotion can also enhance the social dimension of the Gos­pel, for, as Bishop Robert W.S. Mercer piquantly observes here, “Socialists love [Mary] because of the verse of [the] Magnificat, ‘He hath put down the mighty from their seat, and hath exalted the humble and meek’ (Lk. 1:52).”

For those Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox who see Marianism as shopworn, this An­glican window on St. Mary may revive a dormant aspect of their faith. For Protestants who are curious about Mary’s place in the drama of our salvation, but who recoil from plunging head-first into such deep waters, this invit­ing booklet, plus its two prede­cessors, can provide a pleasant way for them to get their feet wet.

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No One Could Have Known, An Autobiography: The Early Years, 1904-1945.  By Josef Pieper. Ignatius. 227 pages. $9.95.

One expects a German phi­losopher to be stodgy and pon­derous, with a predilection for clotted prose that clumps across the page with all the liveliness of a decrepit mule traipsing down a cotton row on a sizzling Mississippi day. Josef Pieper exhibits a rare quality among Teutonic phi­losophers: a light touch — but no less profound for its lightness. His account of his youthful dis­covery of St. Thomas crackles with the exhilaration of the seek­er who finds the truth. He evinc­es none of the somberness and ri­gidity one associates with Ger­manic intellectual discourse; he infuses the realm of ideas with Catholic Gemütlichkeit. Even his war experiences did not deaden his spirit, for amidst the malefi­cence of Nazism he managed to hold on to his humanity by serv­ing as a psychological counselor in the rehabilitation of severely wounded soldiers.

Given the joy in the good­ness of creation that informs these pages, it is easy to under­stand how Pieper could have writ­ten such sparkling books as Lei­sure, In Tune with the World, and On Hope.

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Reforming Fundamentalism: Fuller Seminary and the New Evangelicalism.  Edited by George M. Marsden. Eerdmans. 319 pages. $19.95.

A cynic might be tempted to dub this book “How to Win Respectability in the Eyes of the Cultural Despisers.” In part, that tells the story of Fuller Seminary: A PR gambit to banish the repel­lent image of fundamentalism by pouring old wine into new bot­tles labeled “the new evangelical­ism.” But more than appearances was at stake, for the men who founded Fuller in 1947 sought nothing less man to re-establish the cultural centrality that evan­gelical Protestantism had enjoy­ed in the 19th century. Beyond this, they longed to recapture the Puritans’ energizing sense of mis­sion and to revivify Protestantism with the urgent call to save West­ern civilization by transforming America into a godly common­wealth.

The task was arduous. It meant, on the one hand, repudi­ating premillennial apocalypti­cism and fundamentalism’s carp­ing, self-pitying negativism, with­out, at the same time, compro­mising the faith and falling prey to the vitiated teachings of liber­al Protestantism. The success of this strategy can be measured, in typical Protestant fashion, in numbers: the folks at Fuller to­day pride themselves on belong­ing to the “largest independent, regularly accredited theological seminary in the world.”

One suspects that Fullerites prefer to forget two elements that contributed to the seminary’s early success: anti-Catholicism and right-wing politics. The anti-communism expounded by the faculty enabled the institution to attract conservative money; this, in turn, gave Fuller the financial freedom it needed to pursue its independent course. The school’s anti-Catholicism reassured the faithful that Fuller was standing firm in the age-old war with Rome. For Harold Lindsell, one of the early stars at Fuller, com­munism and Catholicism formed part of the “massive world forces threatening Christianity.” Stu­dents who wished to learn more about the iniquitous Roman Church could do so in Lindsell’s course on “Modern Cults,” in which the professor would open his lectures on Catholicism with the comment: “It had Christian beginnings.”

Although the president of Fuller commissioned Reforming Fundamentalism as part of the seminary’s 40th-anniversary celebration, the volume is no piece of puffery. George Marsden ranks among the most talented historians now working the field of American religious history. This book shows that his reputation is richly deserved.

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Episcopal Vision/American Real­ity: High Church Theology and Social Thought in Evangelical America.  By Robert Bruce Mullin. Yale University Press. 247 pages. $20.

In recent decades the Epis­copal Church has transformed itself from the Republican Party at prayer into…what? It defies description, but for certain it in­volves whatever loopiness is currently addling the clerical brain. Professor Mullin’s Episcopal Vision/American Reality reveals an older and more admirable Episcopalianism, one that resisted the siren song of the Zeitgeist. Ante­bellum high-church Episcopalians rejected the evangelical consen­sus that dominated the era. Evan­gelicals proclaimed America the “new Israel,” God’s chosen na­tion in which the New Jerusalem was fast abuilding. High-church Episcopalians scorned this bal­derdash, promulgating instead a vision based on the “normative importance of the primitive church.” In the spirit of Tertullian, they asked: “What has Washington, D.C., to do with Jerusalem?” To their chagrin, the high-churchmen discovered that Washington has more clout; they could not withstand the pull of patriotic conformity. Although Mullin focuses narrowly, his book illuminates the age-old de­bate between H. Richard Niebuhr’s “Christ and Culture.” It is an elegant and insightful piece of scholarship.

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Born Brothers.  By Larry Woiwode. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 611 pages. $19.95.

Larry Woiwode engages in a searching meditation upon the biblical text that furnishes both the title and the epigraph for his novel: “A friend loveth at all times, and a brother is born for adversity” (Prov. 17:17). Ad­versity aplenty dogs Jerome and Charles Neumiller, born a year apart in the early 1940s in a small town in North Dakota. Charles, the narrator, renders the tale through a dazzling play of mem­ory over the events from child­hood into middle age. “Our memories and words and acts are linked like cells to others, so that no single version is right, and our earliest memories gather in a pat­tern that informs any other pat­tern that arrives, adding further density to the original, and that is about all we know.” In inter­weaving past and present, Woi­wode achieves a virtuosity that elevates him into the ranks of contemporary America’s premier novelists.

Beneath the surface of Charles’s sometimes grim, some­times funny — and always hap­hazard — life runs the stream of faith in God, a current that grad­ually slows to a trickle and then dies. From the insular Catholi­cism of a tightly knit German-American community, he moves to adulthood and the conviction that “there were no absolutes, at least not for me.” Charles finds no peace in unbelief. A “pain like a hole in my heart” will not vanish. After years of shambling through an existence bereft of meaning, he stumbles upon a Bible-believing Presbyterian preacher in Chicago. Evangelical Protestantism turns him once more into “a believer, a fool for him,” he remarks in wonderment. Woiwode handles this spiritual journey with such sensitivity and artistic integrity that even a staunch Catholic can rejoice in its denouement.

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Search for Nothing: The Life of John of the Cross.  By Richard P. Hardy. Crossroad. 148 pages. $8.95.

Scorned, reviled, imprison­ed, forced to endure a horribly painful death: St. John of the Cross might have been in Georges Bernanos’s mind when he wrote: “The saint is always alone, at the foot of the cross. No other friend.” Yet, as Richard Hardy points out in this graceful (and grace-filled) biography, the little Spaniard loved life and God’s creation. “Through God he loved it all,” Hardy writes, “which meant he truly saw that it was good.” His life stands as both rebuke and in­vitation to our era: rebuke, be­cause he embraced the suffering for Christ that we seek to avoid; invitation, because he illumines the way of the cross and the path to holiness. If it is an invitation too frightening to accept, it is al­so one too momentous to reject.

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