Books In Review

Briefly Noted

Copyright (c) 1994 First Things 42 (April 1994): 54-56.

Briefly Noted in This Issue

Martyrs and Martyrologies. Edited by Diana Wood. Blackwell. 497 pp. $64.95.

The story of Christian martyrs of the twentieth century is yet to be told, and one of the merits of this collection of learned essays, consisting of papers read at the Summer 1992 and Winter 1993 meetings of the Ecclesiastical History Society, is that they not only deal with early, medieval, and early-modern martyrs (and ideas about martyrdom), but include several original essays on latter-day martyrs. Thus we read, for example, of martyrs under the Communists, of martyrs in the African church of the twentieth century, and of the Anglican missionary Vivian Redlich, who died at the hands of the Japanese in Papua in 1942. There are also essays on such diverse topics as princely martyrs in Kievan Russia, medieval heretics as Protestant martyrs, John Foxe and the politics of Marian persecution, and the veneration of the martyrs of Ikitsuki in the seventeenth century. - Robert L. Wilken

Theology Without Boundaries: Encounters of Eastern Orthodoxy and Western Tradition. By Carnegie Samuel Calian. Westminster/John Knox Press. 130 pp. $14.99 paper.

Calian, President and Professor of Theology at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary (a Presbyterian school), has written a book intended to acquaint Western Christians with the ecumenical contribution of Eastern Christians. It includes chapters on the authority of the ecumenical councils and on prayers of interiority in the East (including the Jesus prayer), but there is also a prescient discussion of Christianity and nationalism in the Balkans, an essay on Nikos Kazantzakis, and some good concluding words on theological convergences of East and West. - R.L.W.

Conservative Judaism: The New Century. By Neil Gillman. Behrman. 227 pp. $18 paper.

A concise history and analysis of Conservative Judaism, the movement that has self-consciously sought a middle ground between Orthodoxy and Reform. In the decades immediately following World War II, Conservatism provided, for many American Jews, the ideal balance between tradition and modernity. In more recent years, however, Conservatism has faltered. It has failed to create a religiously observant laity, while losing members to rival movements or to religious indifference and assimilation. The author, a professor at the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) in Manhattan, offers an extremely informative and not uncritical assessment of his own movement, identifying its roots in nineteenth- century Germany and following it to full flower in America. Special emphasis is given to the rise of JTS as one of the great centers of Jewish learning. Over and over, Professor Gillman returns to the central contradiction bedeviling Conservative Judaism: its attempt to promote a near-Orthodox level of observance based on what is essentially a Reform ideology (i.e., that Scripture and Jewish law-halakhah-are historically conditioned documents susceptible to reinterpretation and change). "If the Torah can be studied scientifically like any other human document," he asks, how then can "the movement insist on the binding character of its laws?" Despite Conservatism's recent statement of principles, Emet Ve-Emunah (Truth and Faith), the tension remains unresolved. This book can be strongly recommended not only as a casebook of the Conservative movement but also as a primer on the broader subject of Judaism's struggles with modernity.

Against Nature? Types of Moral Argumentation Regarding Homosexuality. By Pim Pronk. Eerdmans. 350 pp. $24.99 paper.

An interesting book not so much for the position it advances (approval of homosexual relations) as for the claim that any position on homosexuality (or anything else) must be reached on the basis of moral reflection independent of nature, science, or theology. There is no moral test other than "what is good and what is bad by the world of experience." "A thing is God's will because it is good: that is the unavoidable conclusion." Unlike many gay advocates, Pronk acknowledges that the Bible condemns homosexual behavior, but that is irrelevant. "The function of an appeal to Scripture is to reinforce the position one finds convincing before making that appeal." That is also true with respect to an appeal to nature or to theological reason. Pronk recognizes that this holds for his position, too. He is identified as a homosexual in the Reformed Church of the Netherlands which formally approves, inter alia, gay partners as ministers. Since his experience tells him that homosexuality is good (and therefore is God's will for him and others similarly situated), he concludes that homosexuality should be permanently removed from the churches' agenda as a moral or religious question. Episcopalian bishop John Shelby Spong says the book "is a unique contribution to the contemporary dialogue on homosexuality." Pronk teaches dogmatics and philosophy at an affiliate of the Free University in Amsterdam. Against Nature? is a convincing and remarkably candid argument that the case for homosexual relations must be made against Scripture and the Christian tradition.

A Jewish Quest for Religious Meaning: Collected Essays. By Norman Frimer. Ktav. 305 pp. $27.50.

A variety of subjects-e.g., faith, theology, ethics, ritual-are discussed from the standpoint of Orthodox Judaism. Rabbi Frimer, who died late last year, was for many years national director of the Hillel Foundation (the college campus organization for Jewish students). These essays make no concession to "the modern mind," but being intelligent and literate they present liberal Jews with a bracing challenge-and Christians with a window on how classical Jewish thought is applied to contemporary problems.

Revelation and Truth: Unity and Plurality in Contemporary Theology. By Thomas G. Guarino. University of Scranton Press. 228 pp. $38.50.

An exceedingly thoughtful examination of the problems involved in Christian theology's engagement with postmodernism. Guarino, who teaches at Seton Hall University, holds that recognizably orthodox Christian thought can accommodate postmodernity's difficulties with identity and difference, unity and pluralism. He argues for a "commensurable pluralism" that is to be understood in a manner consistent with the depositum fidei traveling through time. The book is for specialists, to be sure, but nonspecialists concerned about postmodernity's impact on "faith in search of understanding" would do well not to ignore it.

Mexican Americans: The Ambivalent Minority. By Peter Skerry. Free Press. 461 pp. $27.95.

What the rapidly growing number of Mexican Americans are ambivalent about is how they should make it into the American mainstream. Is the route through the "race politics" travelled by aggrieved victims of oppression, or through the more travelled and more successful route of immigrant groups who aspired to "making it in America"? Skerry has done exhaustive research among Mexican Americans, especially in San Antonio and Los Angeles, and applies a sharp analytical mind to his findings. How the Mexican American ambivalence is resolved will have a strong bearing in the years ahead on questions ranging from immigration policy to welfare reform and realignments in the culture wars.

The United States and Democracy in Chile. By Paul E. Sigmund. Johns Hopkins University Press. 254 pp. $13.95 paper.

For both the secular and religious left, U.S. policy in Chile during the 1970s and 1980s was prime evidence of the wicked influence of America in world affairs. Now a distinguished professor of politics at Princeton has set the record straight. That Chile in 1994 has achieved a remarkable measure of prosperity, peace, and democracy is, Sigmund persuasively argues, largely attributable to the wisdom of a U.S. policy that steadfastly pressed for democracy and a market economy. This is important reading for all who take foreign policy with moral seriousness.

The Imperiled Academy. Edited by Howard Dickman. Transaction. 279 pp. $32.95.

The feeling grows that we've heard enough about political correctness, multicultural follies, and illiberal liberal education. The nine essayists here, however, offer analyses that are frequently as refreshing as they are sharp. Contributors include Daniel Bonevac, Stanley Rothman, Seymour Martin Lipset, and Fred Sommers. Read, and be disturbed all over again.

Beautiful Losers: Essays on the Failure of American Conservatism. By Samuel Francis. University of Missouri Press. 237 pp. $37.50.

The author has considerable writing talents; more the pity that they are spent in such a dismal cause. The cause is paleoconservatism. The term refers to a small band of "old conservatives" who despise every other kind, and work themselves into something that sounds very much like hatred when it comes to those who are called neoconservatives. The "failure" in the subtitle refers to the claim that, except for Mr. Francis and his righteous remnant, American conservatives have sold their souls to Mammon, the bureaucratic state, secularism, and other bad things. The paleos, we are asked to believe, are going to "radicalize" the Real America of the Midwest and lead a rebellion to take back the country from the cabal that has been running it since the infamous tyranny of Abraham Lincoln.

The Roman Catholics. By Patrick W. Carey. Greenwood Press. 400 pp. $55.

A serviceable short history of Catholicism in America, enhanced by more than two hundred pages of biographical sketches of the main players. A volume in the Greenwood series "Denominations in America."

Home Education: Rights and Reasons. By John W. Whitehead and Alexis Irene Crow. Crossway. 556 pp. $16.99 paper.

As everyone should know by now, home schooling is a very big thing in America. This very big book is an excellent guide to pertinent laws and regulations, prepared by people associated with the Rutherford Institute, which does important work in defending religious freedom.

The Decomposition of Sociology. By Irving Louis Horowitz. Transaction. 282 pp. $35.

Thirty years ago sociology was the number one choice of undergraduates. Today the discipline, so to speak, is on the ropes. Horowitz explains how "radicalized," reductionist, and irrascible academics destroyed their field, and what might be done about it. Notes from the intensive care unit of the contemporary academy.Briefly noted