Briefly Reviewed: September 1984
Common Sense Christian Living
By Edith Schaeffer
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Review Author: Connaught Marshner
This is not a book about strategies for converting the world, or for constructing a Christian universe. It is a book about tactics — tactics of everyday Christian life, which the author calls common sense Christian living. Not surprisingly, much of it focuses on common sense human relations. And there’s a fair amount of common sense spirituality too. It’s all grounded in the practical understanding of life that, only one who has managed a household could infuse — in the midst of a paean to the theological virtue of service is the very down-to-earth reflection that a low blood sugar needs reviving.
Growing up in Roman Catholic schools in the “good old days,” I remember a nun somewhere along the line trying to teach our elementary school class about serving others joyfully. “If someone really ugly and dirty came up to you and asked for some water, you must give it, because that might be Christ Himself asking,” she said, and she gave more examples of serving others despite impulses to protect ourselves from discomfort.
That lesson was imparted perhaps a quarter of a century ago, and until reading Common Sense Christian Living, I did not encounter it again within popular reach. When Edith Schaeffer, a Protestant, begins to describe her attitude about running upstairs with a tea tray for her ailing husband, she hits the exact same theme: “First I say silently to the Lord, perhaps not always, but really almost every time: ‘Thank You that there is a practical way to serve You tea…. There would be no other way of bringing You food, or doing some special thing for You. Thank You for making it so clear that as we do things that are truly in the realm of giving of ourselves in service to others, we are really doing it for You.’” Reading this is like watching a light coming through a hiatus in the fog.
If I have a bone to pick, it is probably that her excessively conversational style presents a problem. Busy people will not read the book — it just moves too slowly and the gems are too dispersed. That is tantamount to saying men will not read the book, but one gets the sense that Schaeffer considers her audience to be women anyway, and women who are not committed to careers outside the home at that. For such an audience, this book is perfect: it takes their concerns and interests, and infuses them with scriptural perspectives, and draws from them insights of traditional spirituality.
Christian Classics Revisited
By James J. Thompson Jr.
Review Author: Maclin Horton
What good, after all, are books to a Christian? Reading is no sacrament. Books in themselves can’t save your soul. Grace is as freely available to the illiterate as to the educated. Wouldn’t it be better to spend one’s time in prayer and good works, confining our reading to the Bible and lives of the saints?
This attitude, representative of an anti-intellectual extreme that crops up in Christianity from time to time, will probably strike most New Oxford Review readers as unbalanced, if not bizarre. We are perhaps more likely to suffer from the opposite tendency: that of over-valuing human intellect, knowledge, and culture. But sometimes, in listening to Christians who value tradition, one suspects that it is not the salvation of persons that is uppermost in their minds but the preservation of the Western cultural tradition.
Secular intellectuals, of course, often go to the extreme of making brute intellectual power a virtue — a preposterous error which they would never make in regard to physical strength. And then, there is that odd sort of mind that thinks reading is good independent of what is read, the sort of person who digests several newspapers a day, a dozen magazines a week, and very little that isn’t ephemeral.
Where, then, lies the proper balance between these extremes? Read James J. Thompson’s new book, a compilation of his NOR columns of the same name, for an excellent example of it. What we have here is a series of meetings between Thompson, himself the possessor of a first-rate mind, and a series of other minds, all interesting, some great. Most of them come from the ranks of the rather eccentric crop of Christian writers our own time has produced: hearty Englishmen like Chesterton and Lewis, melancholy Frenchmen like Peguy and Bernanos, and of course that melancholy Englishman Graham Greene.
We visit, through Thompson’s mediation, some very wise souls and it is not only what he tells us them that makes the book interesting: it is also his own encounter with them. He struggles with the challenge of Dorothy Day’s radical commitment to voluntary poverty and the poor, with Georges Bernanos’s close encounter with despair. He brings us an introduction to what these writers have to say, and more: an indication of the effect each writer may have on the spiritual development of the reader.
The Bishops and the Bomb: Waging Peace in a Nuclear Age
By Jim Castelli
Publisher: Doubleday Image
Review Author: John R. Popiden
The Roman Catholic bishops of the United States, in issuing their 1983 pastoral letter, “The Challenge of Peace: God’s Promise and Our Response,” addressed forthrightly the complex moral concerns of nuclear war and American strategy.
In a remarkable move, the bishops’ committee charged with drafting that pastoral opened itself and the records of the drafting committee to the investigations of a journalist, Jim Castelli. The Bishops and the Bomb, then, is a journalistic account of the process that resulted in the pastoral. It is a story well worth the telling.
Castelli shows that the bishops constituting the committee, together with their exceedingly important staff, engaged in a very open consultative process that may become the model for future pastoral letters on social questions. Not only were they sensitive to the views of any bishop, including the auxiliaries, who made his views known to them, but they also sought the testimony of specialists representing all viewpoints on the issue. But Castelli also makes clear that the bishops did not cave into any pressure from non-theological circles.
The pastoral represents the thinking of the bishops and is a distinctively Catholic, magisterial document in line with traditional just war criteria and the most recent statements of the Church.
The bishops, by a vote of 238 to 9, put themselves on record challenging the morality of many of the common defense assumptions of current American nuclear policy. They have begun to show the extent to which being American may be at odds with being Catholic.
©1984 New Oxford Review. All Rights Reserved.
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