Briefly Reviewed: September 1983
The Trinity and the Kingdom: The Doctrine of God
By Jiirgen Moltmann
Publisher: Harper & Row
Review Author: Jeffrey Steenson
A good deal of current theological opinion, particularly in the English-speaking world, is inclined to run against the doctrine of the Trinity. Unitarianism has in effect become a respectable creed in many Trinitarian churches.
Criticism of the Trinity tends to move in two directions. One is the objection that the Trinitarian formula doesn’t make sense. The other is that it is useless, since there is nothing practical that can be derived from it to inform action in the world.
In light of this, it is of considerable interest that we should have from this Tubingen professor “the world’s premier Protestant theologian,” an attempt to restate this cardinal Christian doctrine in a positive way. Moltmann’s earlier work has shown great sympathy for liberation theology, so it is even more interesting that a theologian so deeply influenced by Marxism should turn to a “speculative” idea such as the Trinity. Moltmann sets out to prove that the doctrine of the Trinity is neither nonsensical nor useless. In this he meets with some successes, but the “doctrine” which emerges from his labors is highly idiosyncratic, far removed from its patristic foundations.
It is an essential point in the traditional Christian understanding that God and world are to be distinguished; the Trinity is not contingent upon any historical process but exists eternally in itself. Moltmann has completely broken down this distinction and has identified the life of the Trinity with the movement toward liberation in the world.
His contention, following the 12th-century Cistercian mystic Joachim of Fiore, is that the history of the world can be seen in Trinitarian terms. He in fact speaks frequently of a history of God, a history of the Trinity, and it is clear that these include the world’s history. What is necessary for this view is that God suffers. Moltmann’s God is intimately involved in the world. Moltmann is much opposed to the traditional idea of the impassibility of God, a God who does not feel, is remote in his own being, does not care about the world, is “apathetic.” He argues instead for a God who has a personal stake in what happens here, for his very being is tied up in the history of the world.
So, in important respects Moltmann’s Trinity is not the Trinity of Christian orthodoxy. His criticism of the doctrine of divine impassibility is especially open to question. The “apathetic God” is a caricature of the rich idea of divine apatheia. That God does not suffer does not mean that he doesn’t care. His impassibility is the ground for Christian hope; it is what we are saved to. Like the lifeguard who can only help the drowning man so long as he keeps his distance, retains control of the situation, and has dry land within his reach, so God’s involvement in the world must be qualified.
One also wonders about Moltmann’s Christology. Because of the intimate connection between God and world, for Moltmann the two-nature doctrine of Chalcedon has little to contribute. We find Jesus frequently called by Moltmann our firstborn brother. And although we are told that he is Son of God in a way that we who are sons and daughters of God are not, it is by no means clear exactly what this difference is.
These serious reservations aside, there are many passages of moving beauty in this meditation on the doctrine of the Trinity.
Abortion: The Silent Holocaust
By John Powell, S.J.
Publisher: Argus Communications
Review Author: Carl Horn III
Abortion is not a subject about which the average person enjoys talking or reading. The grisly details and statistics are included in this book, but the author’s personal warmth and sensitivity — his humanity — pervades the more clinical and sociological aspects of the book. This is a treatment of abortion and euthanasia that majors in both conviction and humility, an account which deals compassionately with both the unborn child and the woman who is confronted with a crisis pregnancy.
Powell’s biographical and anecdotal style, particularly in the first half of the book, quickly engages the reader’s interest. For Powell, a Jesuit who teaches at Loyola University of Chicago, the fundamental philosophical question is whether a new “quality of life ethic” will be allowed to replace the traditional “sanctity of life ethic.” To illustrate the potential horror in embracing the former, Powell takes the reader to Dachau, one of the Nazi death camps, which he visited some years ago. The description of this Third Reich “Killing Center,” and the medical community’s wholesale participation in the extermination of those thought to be “defective” (for a wide variety of reasons), is gripping indeed. The words “Never Again” are on plaques at the gates of Dachau in five languages, and it is toward this end that the camp remains open to the public. But “Yes, Again” is Powell’s melancholy reflection in light of current abortion and euthanasia statistics and trends.
G.K. Chesterton once quipped that, “What ruins mankind is the ignorance of the expert.” Perhaps the greatest strength of this book is that the reader is introduced to a number of scientists, doctors, and other “expert” commentators who provide, sadly, abundant supporting evidence for Chesterton’s thesis. Consider, for example, some of the experts cited by Powell:
In May 1973 Dr. James D. Watson, a Nobel Prize Laureate, granted an interview to Prism magazine, at that time a publication of the American Medical Association, where he said: “If a child were not declared alive until three days after birth, then all parents could be allowed the choice that only a few are given under the present system. The doctor could allow the child to die if the parents so chose and save a lot of misery and suffering.”
Another Nobel Laureate, Dr. Francis Crick said: “No newborn infant should be declared human until it has passed certain tests regarding its genetic endowment and that if it fails these tests it forfeits the right to live.” (Crick has also proposed compulsory death for everyone at age 80.)
Dr. William Gaylin, a professor of psychiatry and law at Columbia University said: “It used to be easy to know what we wanted for our children, and now the best for our children might mean deciding which ones to kill. We’ve always wanted the best for our grandparents and now that might mean killing them.”
What makes this “the book” to give someone wrestling with the abortion issue is that it combines profound analysis of the bigger picture with basic information about abortion and related issues — and in a highly readable style. There are facts and figures, a lucid analysis of the 1973 Supreme Court decision constitutionalizing abortion, key questions and suggested responses, and recommendations for effective involvement in pro-life action.
Women & Church Leadership
By Margaret Howe
Review Author: Michael Anderson
Yet another volume has appeared in the guerre de plume over the ordination of women. Margaret Howe’s position (strongly in favor) represents that arm of evangelical Protestantism which is liberal on many social issues while remaining generally conservative in theology. A British citizen, Howe teaches Patristics and New Testament at Western Kentucky University.
This book is riddled by one of the characteristic deficiencies of the modern evangelical movement: the lack of consistent methodology by which to establish and test doctrine.
For Howe, the Bible is seemingly the supreme authority. The tradition of the church is “nothing more than a record of the church’s efforts to preserve and communicate its treasured message and experience in the most effective way possible.” Howe rightly decries that use of tradition that enshrines the past just because it is the past and then makes of that shrine a rubber stamp for the status quo. But surely tradition is more than the church’s diary. Does not the witness of the Fathers, the councils, and the creeds have some normative status in the definition of its doctrine and life?
Howe seems untouched by this witness. She rarely cites any authority earlier than Calvin, except in a discrediting context. From a professor of Patristics this is somewhat curious.
On the other hand, it is not curious at all. Tradition simply does not corroborate her position. There is a certain arrogance in her slighting of the ancient witness. Nor does she deal with the arguments advanced by modern adversaries of her position. One thinks especially of the contributions of Louis Bouyer and the late Jean Danielou.
But if she ignores the bulk of tradition, she shows that she can use those parts of it that can be made to serve her purpose. She presents us with the obscurest data — a fifth-century mosaic of a woman bishop (maybe) named Theodora (possibly), along with a smattering of similarly dubious evidence — to support her thesis that women originally held leadership positions in the church, but were systematically elbowed out by “circumstances which do not necessarily bear the mark of divine approval.” This sort of meretricious reasoning — one is supposed to catch the odor of conspiracy — is an unfortunate aspect of this book.
If her treatment of tradition is perplexing, her use of Scripture is also troubling in at least three respects.
First, Howe nowhere deals with the relationship between Scripture and tradition. She gives us no reason why Scripture should be preferred above, let alone to the exclusion of, that tradition of which it is a part.
Secondly, dealing with the difficult passages in 1 Corinthians 11 and 14, Howe overturns centuries of interpretative tradition with the incredible conclusion that “Paul affirmed the leadership role assumed by women” in the public worship of Corinth. Her treatment of Galatians 3:28 (“There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, there is neither male nor female…”) is most disappointing. After calling this “probably the most profound New Testament insight regarding the respective status of men and women in the Christian community,” Howe proceeds to discuss it in one paragraph! She doesn’t exegete it; she assumes that her readers share her conviction that this passage is something like the Christian woman’s Bill of Rights, the obvious implication of which is the right to ordination.
Finally, Howe concludes that although the Bible is extremely important to the church, it is, after all, not very useful in deciding questions pertaining to her polity. On the one hand she declares that there is something like an “original constitution” of the church to which we must return. But we never discover even the outline of this constitution. After three chapters dealing with the pertinent biblical material, Howe arrives at some pretty lame conclusions. The New Testament position on women in the church is ambiguous, and on questions of polity it is “curiously silent” and of “no clear pattern.” The one clear thing we learn from the New Testament, according to Howe, is that the church adapted creatively to changing circumstances and demands. The church today should also feel free to exercise “the same creative influence.”
What does this really mean? Since she regards tradition as irrelevant, and Scripture as inconclusive, human reason is left to decide the issue. What results is a system of church governance in which, apparently, those “creative influences” which happen to be in vogue will win the day.
The Homosexual Network: Private Lives and Public Policy
By Enrique T. Rueda
Publisher: Devin Adair
Review Author: Christopher DeSales
To the embarrassment of most blacks, homosexualists claim analogies between the sons of Africa and the sons of Sodom.
That the analogy is false is demonstrated by statistics compiled from a professional survey commissioned by homosexuals themselves. Paid for by the leading porno sheet, The Advocate, and by the National Gay Task Force (21 percent of whose 95 percent white membership make over $30,000 annually), the survey of 73,000 “gays” revealed that a whopping 97 percent are employed, 68 percent of those as professionals and/or managers. Seventy percent are college graduates, and 28 percent have completed graduate school. The annual income for a homosexual in general (as opposed to an NGTF member) is $23,600 or one and a half times more than the average American, not to say the average black American.
(Still, one analogy does come to mind, namely, the naïveté of the American media when considering the matter of “rights.” You may recall the widespread belief in the 1960s and 1970s that any crime committed by a black was never the particular black’s fault, but rather that of society. A result of this attitude was an increase in crime perpetrated by the black community upon itself. In like manner, our “sympathetic” public discussion of homosexual rights has led to a situation as destructive to the homosexual as to society at large — via AIDS, a fatal disease no longer limited to the homosexual population.)
For those willing to learn how the average homosexual holds a privileged position in our society, one need only dip into this exhaustive, carefully documented, and unpolemical study by Fr. Enrique Rueda.
Not counting the literally billions of dollars made by gay businesses, Rueda points out that there are over 394 nonprofit gay organizations listed in the Gayellow Pages, of which the average budget is $81,875, for a total of a quarter billion dollars. The main source of funding for this is the American taxpayer. “The federal government provides 18.43% of the funding and the state and local governments 27.20%,” or “45.63% of the total income of homosexual nonprofit organizations.”
Moreover, as homosexually pornographic magazines now advertise in virtually every daily newspaper, so do the banks, the alcohol industry, real estate concerns, and the general business community advertise in homosexualist publications — right next to the “personals” looking for “slaves to be beaten,” and other sad pursuits. When Senator Paul Tsongas introduced a homosexualist bill into the U.S. Senate, he read “letters of support” from the Bank of America, American Telephone & Telegraph, Columbia Broadcasting System, Merck, DuPont, Levi Strauss, Weyerhauser, Western Electric, Warner Communications, General Foods, General Electric, and Mobil Oil.
The ominous direction all this has taken is revealed by the growth of the child-prostitution industry, and organizations such as the North American Man-Boy Love Association. These are not, mind you, just quirky offshoots, for the National Coalition of Gay Organizations has officially endorsed the NAMBLA agenda, namely, the “repeal of all laws governing the age of sexual consent.”
But my principle criticism of Rueda’s book is that it begs the fundamental question at hand. For all Rueda’s frequent invocation of “traditional morality,” and his proper identification of Roman Catholic teaching against homosexual practice, he avoids the reasons behind the teaching. The Church does indeed condemn homosexual activity, but it does so because it understands that any act of sexual intimacy not open to the creative glory of life itself is a perversion of both life and sex. That is to say, opposition to homosexuality is essentially bigoted unless one is also opposed to artificial contraception, since one fundamental reason homosexuality is wrong is that it denies the procreate aspect of sex.
Such a denial has become, alas, as American as apple pie, which is why all those corporations are “coming out” for sodomy.
By Graham Greene
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Review Author: James J. Thompson Jr.
What is one to make of this, Graham Greene’s 22nd novel? Is it a thinly veiled tract aimed at assailing the continued puissance of Francoism in Spain and/or pommeling the Spanish Church for its rigidity? Is Monsignor Quixote a plea for blending Marxism and Christianity into an ideology to which men of good will on both sides could rally? Is it instead a call to go beyond ideology, to replace warring faiths with the irenic bonds of friendship? Or, finally, is the book a mere bagatelle, an old man’s playful retelling in a modern setting of Cervantes’s picaresque tale?
At bottom, however, Monsignor Quixote is considerably more than any of these views would suggest; it is in short a tribute to despair and incertitude. Despite Greene’s obvious debt to Cervantes, the spirit that reigns over this book is that of Miguel de Unamuno, who, not incidentally, venerated Cervantes, whom he thought had captured the quintessence of the Spanish soul in The Adventures of Don Quixote. In such works as Tragic Sense of Life and Saint Emmanuel the Good, Martyr (both of which Greene surely has read), Unamuno examined with a lyrical passion the excruciating dilemma of many 20th-century Christians: hope or despair? For Unamuno, only the latter can make the former possible; as he wrote: “It is despair and despair alone that begets heroic hope, absurd hope, mad hope.”
In the midst of his journeys across Spain with his faithful Sancho (Enrique Zancas, a communist and former mayor of El Toboso), Monsignor Quixote has a dream that forms the dramatic centerpiece of the novel. In this dream the Monsignor is present at the crucifixion of Christ. As the Savior hangs from a cross a legion of angels suddenly appears; they take him from the cross and proclaim him as the Son of God. The Roman soldiers, the handful of Christ’s followers, and the members of the mob that had clamored for his death fall to their knees to worship the Messiah. “There was no ambiguity, no room for doubt and no room for faith at all. The whole world knew with certainty that Christ was the Son of God.” What a marvelous dream, the fulfillment of every Christian’s deepest desire! But Monsignor Quixote awakens in the grip of despair: He “had felt on waking the chill of despair felt by a man who realizes suddenly that he…must continue to live in a kind of Saharan desert without doubt or faith, where everyone [else] is certain that the same belief is true. He had found himself whispering, ‘God save me from such a belief.’”
This may be heresy (I leave that to the theologians to determine), but whatever its deviation from orthodoxy, it certainly bears a strong kinship to the ponderings of Unamuno.
Is certitude — absolute, unwavering belief — possible for all Christians? Indeed, cannot doubt honestly admitted and despair courageously faced be the only means through which some men can believe? Christianity has never spared its followers the pain of paradox. And given the intellectual developments of the last 100 years — Darwinism, Marxism, Freudianism, and the anti-Christian sentiment they have spawned — does not the Christian of today face an ever more difficult task in attaining certitude?
What distressed Unamuno most (and, I think, equally dismays Greene) is Christian complacency and smugness that parade in the livery of assurance and certitude. Perhaps Unamuno phrased it best in Tragic Sense of Life: “Those who believe that they believe in God, but without any passion in their heart, without anguish of mind, without uncertainty…without an element of despair even in their consolation, believe only in the God-Idea, not in God Himself.” Neither Unamuno nor Greene is an unerring guide in matters of the Faith, but in probing the relationship between doubt and certitude, between hope and despair, both speak to that man with passion in his heart and anguish in his mind, a man whom God loves as surely as he does those of childlike faith.
Christianity and the Age of the Earth
By Davis A. Young
Price: No price given
Review Author: Frederick Butzen
Recent years have seen great growth in the creationist movement. The term “creationism” describes a spectrum of thought, but in particular means the theory that the earth is only a few thousand years old, and was created in more or less its present form. Creationists assert that their theory not only satisfies biblical chronology, but best explains geologic phenomena — in other words, is scientific.
In Christianity and the Age of the Earth, Davis A. Young, professor of geology at Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan, challenges creationists. Although he is a firmly orthodox Christian, Young believes that creationists adhere to an overly rigid exegesis of the biblical account of creation and are selective about what geologic data they recognize. Creationism, he holds, is questionable theology and bad science, and represents more of a stumbling-block than an aid to witnessing the message of Christianity.
The first part of the book describes the history of thought on the age of the earth. The Church Fathers recognized the difficulties involved in interpreting Genesis, and were by no means uniform in holding that a “day” of creation meant 24 hours. St. Augustine, for instance, held that the first three days of creation, not being marked by the passage of the sun, were not ordinary days and could be of indeterminate length. From about 1700 on, investigators gradually began to believe that the earth is immensely old. These early geologists were not attempting to overturn Christianity; many were devout Christians who wished simply to describe the facts of creation as best they knew how.
Young also discusses the integration of science and religion. His solution to this problem is, in this day and age, an amazing one: faith. All human understanding is imperfect; our study of creation through scientific inquiry is riddled with apparent contradictions, as is our understanding of Scripture. That the Bible and science seem to contradict each other on some points should therefore not be surprising or alarming. We should have faith that eventually God will enlighten us and resolve all contradictions. Young points out that, like Scripture, creation bears the mark of the Creator. Each should be studied with reverence, as indicative of God’s truth. Science, then, can be a revelation — although of a different type than Scripture. As “truth cannot contradict truth,” Christians have nothing to fear from science. Unfortunately, some persons seem to hold that Scripture and science are incompatible; they hold a rigid view of one and torture the other into subservience.
Young writes for an audience of evangelicals, whose views on Scripture make them susceptible to creation ism; however, all readers who value theological orthodoxy will find his book refreshing and helpful.
Studies and Commentaries
By Edited by Richard Cornish Martin
Publisher: American Region of the Society of Mary
Review Author: Donald Charles Lacy
This delightful little book is the first in a series from the American Region of the Society of Mary. Its basic thrust is that much teaching is still needed both theologically and devotionally about the Mother of our Lord. Its stated purpose is to contribute to ecumenical dialogue from an Anglican viewpoint.
John Milburn’s “A Sermon Preached in Washington Cathedral” presents the aims of the Society. The first is “to love and honour Mary.” The second is “to make an act of reparation” in regard to the ignoring of her rightful place in the plan of salvation. The third is “to take her as a model in purity, personal relationships, and family life.”
The “Glorious Assumption” by John Macquarrie maintains that the idea of assumption was already present in Jewish tradition before Mary; Enoch and Elijah are mentioned. Certainly a key differentiation is given to us when Macquarrie notes that “assumption” entails a passive role; but “ascension” an active one; only Jesus ascended.
Other contributions are by David M. Baumann, Reginald H. Fuller, and Walter E. Frieman.
This slim volume is excellent — and successful in achieving its stated purpose.
The Call to Conversion
By Jim Wallis
Publisher: Harper & Row
Review Author: Peter T. Means
The Call to Conversion takes a hard look at the current understanding of Christian conversion. By examining its historic meaning and practice and then comparing this with today’s example in the church, Jim Wallis makes a strong case that conversion today is a mere caricature of its original.
Instead of conversion changing the person and society, Wallis argues, our narcissistic society has changed the meaning of conversion. Conversion today usually means “What can Jesus do for me?” rather than “How can I serve the Kingdom?” Modern-day conversion has become one of many possible therapeutic placebos — helping miserable people feel good — as well as a highly marketable technique for making people more successful. (Recently, a nationally known Christian psychologist told a group of businessmen in Washington, D.C., that knowing Jesus would not only help them make more money, but would greatly improve their sex lives…and if Jesus didn’t, this man’s expensive seminars would.)
Wallis does not retreat from the personal implications of conversion. Indeed, he forcefully argues for conversion which consists of two elements: repentance — the turning away from our sin and darkness; and faith — turning toward trust in the Messiah, Jesus Christ. He writes that conversion means surrendering ourselves to God “in every sphere of human existence: the personal and social, the spiritual and economic, the psychological and political…. It works nothing less than the ending of the old and the emergence of the new.”
The Call to Conversion is also a warning to the church that it stands at a critical juncture in its existence. As we witness the re-entry of Protestant evangelicals into the wider culture, but without an orthodoxy or orthopraxis regarding conversion, there is a propensity to be overcome by the idols, techniques, and ideologies of a fallen culture. Wallis rightly stresses that “to the guardians of the social order, genuine Biblical conversion will seem dangerous…. Our contemporary idols are not so different from those of Biblical time: wealth, power, pride of self, pride of nation, sex, race, military might, etc. Conversion [in the early Church] meant a turning away from the reigning idolatries and a turning back to the true worship of the living God.”
Our whole way of life, not just our personal morality, must be affected by our conversion. It is with a wealth of personal experience that Jim Wallis can speak on this issue. As a member of Sojourners in Washington, D.C., an inner-city Christian community, he has actively wrestled with the social dimension of personal salvation.
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