Books In Review

Briefly Noted

Copyright (c) 1996 First Things 44 (June/July 1994): 65-66.

Briefly Noted in this Issue:

Handbook of Evangelical Theologians. Edited by Walter A. Elwell. Baker Books. 465 pp. $29.95.

Almost twenty years ago, Newsweek magazine declared 1976 the "Year of the Evangelical." Jimmy Carter's born-again Baptist faith and Charles Colson's best-selling book Born Again had caused our media elites to rediscover our country's vibrant, and growing, evangelical subculture. But the intellectual foundations had been set long before, and in this volume we have concise biographies of former, and current, leaders of the evangelical renaissance. For those seeking a broad understanding of the intellectual and theological roots of modern evangelicalism, the thirty-three theologians included here are the place to start. Representing a variety of traditions (Reformed, Lutheran, Anglican, Arminian, Pentecostal, and dispensational), these significant scholars have had a profound impact on twentieth-century evangelical thought. The theologians featured range in date from Augustus H. Strong, who was born in the 1830s, to Oxford's Alister McGrath, born in 1953. They include philosophical and systematic theologians such as B. B. Warfield, Louis Berkhof, J. Gresham Machen, Gordon Clark, Cornelius Van Til, Helmut Thielicke, Carl Henry, E. J. Carnell, Bernard Ramm, J. I. Packer, Donald Bloesch, Thomas Oden, and Clark Pinnock. One can quibble as to why certain persons were included and others omitted. For instance, John R. W. Stott is a popular preacher and biblical expositor par excellence, but not a theologian. And Francis Schaeffer's influence on evangelical intellectual life was significant as a cultural apologist and critic, but not as a systematic theologian. But for those interested in evangelical theological reflection and debate, this is an indispensable source. - Michael Cromartie

The Hastening That Waits: Karl Barth's Ethics. By Nigel Biggar. Oxford University Press. 194 pp. $35.

The chaplain of Oriel College, Oxford, proposes the way in which the ethics of the Church Dogmatics would have been completed had Barth lived to do the job. Of considerable interest to specialists.

Chapters into Verse: Poetry in English inspired by the Bible. Edited by Robert Atwan and Laurence Wieder. Oxford University Press. Two vols., 481 and 391 pp. $25 each.

A marvelous idea marvelously executed. From Genesis through Revelation, the editors give the pertinent passage and then poetry (from the fourteenth century to today) that has been inspired by it. Not all the poetry is great and not all of it is "edifying," but the sum is a magnificent gift, not least to preachers who employ poetry homiletically (a practice sadly neglected in our day). Editor Wieder contributes poetry to this journal.

Dictionary of Cults, sects, Religions, and the Occult. By George A. Mather and Larry A. Nichols. Zondervan. 384 pp. $24.95.

The subject is vast, and there are more than a few gaffes, as might be expected with two authors trying to define, well, just about everything. This is nonetheless an exceedingly useful reference work. Not the authoritative word on much of anything, but a helpful introduction to much that literate people should know about the maddeningly confused worlds associated, however marginally, with what is called religion.

The Call of Service: A Witness to Idealism. By Robert Coles. Houghton Mifflin. 306 pp. $22.95.

Coles has become something of a cultural and intellectual icon for his sensitive telling of the stories of others. The Spiritual Life of Children, for example, should be read for years to come. Although the aim is entirely laudable (to lift up the importance of voluntarism and service to others), perhaps the present book doesn't quite work because most of those profiled bear the Robert Coles stamp of approval for being in such thorough agreement with Robert Coles. Idealism as self-conscious moral superiority begins to look an awful lot like smugness.

Liberty or Equality: the Challenge of our Time. By Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn. Christendom Press (Front Royal, VA). 395 pp. $14.95 paper.

Like his friend William F. Buckley, the octogenarian author goes inveighing against every miscreant idea in sight. And Kuehnelt-Leddihn's range of vision covers almost the entirety of the human condition. He inveighs with highest delight against the delusions of democracy and equality. A few hours with these eccentrically erudite essays will reward especially those readers who may be helped to understand why they disagree. That is no little service for a book to render.

The New Age is Lying to You. By Eldon K. Winker. Concordia. 224 pp. $10.99 paper.

The title does not leave one in doubt about the author's message. It is one of a growing number of books from Christian publishers on the confused and confusing constellation of ideas and movements called "New Age." This and other such books would be of greater interest if they recognized, first, that "New Age" covers a multitude of sins and, second, it covers a multitude of virtues gone awry. Many of the "discoveries" of New Agers are truths of the Christian tradition too often neglected - e.g., the possibilities of mystical experience, the spiritual significance of nature, the transcendence of self in prayer. Like all heresies, New Age thought is built with pieces of the truth. Of course, that does not obviate the need to point out that the heresy is lying to you.

The War Within: America's Battle over Vietnam. By Tom Wells. University of California Press. 705 pp. $30.

A history of the antiwar movement written from a very sympathetic perspective. The author, a recent sociology Ph.D. from Berkeley, was too young to be part of the movement, but he has done some careful digging and provides valuable material from interviews with participants. The book is sometimes critical of factions within the movement but never of the presuppositions of the movement itself. Wells believes that the "Vietnam syndrome" is a healthy check against America's militaristic propensities, a view not widely shared among today's former antiwar protestors, who tend to be enamored of the potential of U.S. military power in advancing a global democratic crusade.

Daily Readings with Mother Teresa. Edited by Teresa de Bertodano. HarperCollins. 141 pp. $9 paper.

So we don't review devotional books, but what's the point of editing a journal if you can't make exceptions? Here is the wisdom and holiness that tells us what we're called to be. A splendid little book.

The Constitution of Judicial Power. By Sotirios A. Barber. Johns Hopkins University Press. 279 pp. $25.95.

A professor of government at Notre Dame takes on "moral relativists" on the right and the left in this spirited defense of interpreting the Constitution by the measure of "simple justice." He, however, does not do simple justice to the contention of Robert Bork, Walter Berns, and others that it is for the legislatures, not the courts, to frame moral judgment into law.

Las Casas: In Search of the Poor of Jesus Christ. By Gustavo Gutierrez. Orbis. 682 pp. $34.95.

The Peruvian father of liberation theology celebrates a sixteenth- century Dominican priest who was "Defender of the Indians" against the depredations of Spanish conquest. The connection with the economic and political questions of the late twentieth century sometimes seems strained, but the book once again makes clear that Gutierrez is a theologian with a deep appreciation of classical Catholic spirituality.