Copyright (c) 1997 First Things 75 (August/September 1997): 70-73.
Making Christ Known: Historic Mission Documents from the Lausanne Movement, 1974-1989. Edited by John R. Stott. Foreword by Billy Graham. Eerdmans. 304 pp. $30 paper.
Reviewed by Michael Cromartie
In July 1974, 2,700 evangelical Protestants from 150 nations gathered for the first International Congress on World Evangelization in Lausanne, Switzerland. Time magazine called the conference "possibly the widest ranging meeting of Christians ever held." What became known as the "Lausanne Congress" was the brainchild of Billy Graham. In the early 1970s Graham wanted to develop strategies for world evangelization and consulted 200 evangelical leaders worldwide about the need for an international Congress. The overwhelmingly positive response resulted in the Lausanne Congress and a historically significant document called the "Lausanne Covenant." What followed over the next fifteen years were nine conferences and consultations on topics as diverse as "Gospel and Culture," "Muslim Evangelization," "Simple Lifestyle," "Evangelism and Social Responsibility," and "Faith and Modernity." These produced a number of key mission documents that until the publication of this anthology have been available only in scattered form. The historical introduction and summary by John Stott is especially illuminating, setting the Lausanne Movement in historic context with other world missionary conferences of the twentieth century. This book provides an important historical record of evangelical doctrinal commitments on a wide range of issues.
The Decline of Eastern Christianity under Islam: From Jihad to Dhimmitude. By Bat Ye’or. Fairleigh Dickinson University Press. 522 pp. $45 cloth, $19.95 paper.
Reviewed by Edward T. Oakes, S.J.
On May 20, 1997 Senator Arlen Specter and Representative Frank Wolf introduced legislation in Congress identifying as persecuted minorities the Buddhists of Tibet, the Bahais in Iran, and the Christians in China and eight Muslim countries. China’s oppression of Christians has a totalitarian rationale common to most Marxist regimes; the basis for the persecution of Christians in Muslim countries, however, is much more complicated: in part a traditional rejection of and in part a reaction to modernity. But for any reader who wants to find in one volume the immense complexity of traditional Muslim rationale for relegating Christians to second-class citizenship, this is the book. Bat Ye’or is an Egyptian scholar now living in France and whose earlier book The Dhimmi: Jews and Christians under Islam opened up for scholars a relatively neglected area of research. While not quite her coinage (as her publisher erroneously claims), "dhimmitude" is a neologism to which Ye’or gave wide circulation in France. Speaking very roughly, it refers to the second-class citizenship of Jews and Christians—the so-called "People of the Book"—living in the House of Islam. What strikes one after reading this vastly informative book is how much the conditions of this dhimmitude varied among countries, rulers, and eras, and how much the encounter with Western modernity has added a new element of ambivalence, almost schizophrenia, in Muslim jurisprudence—sometimes leading to emancipation and sometimes to a violence and hatred unknown to the past, as in present-day Algeria. Although the madness currently seizing Sudan and Algeria is not the focus of her book, one concludes Ye’or’s brilliant monograph realizing how fragile the recognition of human rights can be and how long the road will be before all the globe admits what Vatican II taught: that the right to worship God according to one’s conscience is an essential component to what it means to be a human being created by this same God—whom we all worship, however unawares.
Telling God’s Story. By Gerard Loughlin. Cambridge University Press. 266 pp. $54.95.
Reviewed by Thomas Guarino
Not too long ago, in certain circles, new books about the mother of Jesus prompted the cry, Nunquam satis—Never enough! Of books about narrative theology, one is increasingly tempted to declare, Satis! Gerard Loughlin, professor at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, offers us another work largely devoted to explaining and exploring ideas developed by Hans Frei and George Lindbeck. As such, the work consists of a discussion and, in some instances, a development of themes of narrative theology in biblical and ecclesial issues. The book carries with it both the strengths and the flaws of contemporary narrative theology. The strengths include a defense of the historicity and inspiration of the biblical story. They include as well narrative theology’s rejection of secular philosophical norms as criteria for religious truth and of the extremes of rationalist, critical exegesis. It is the weaknesses endemic to narrative that may cause some to question its sufficiency: the rejection of the philosophical supports needed to sustain Christian truth, an emphasis on divine agency entailing a disdain for apologetics, and a turn to intratextual (rather than correspondence) theories of truth. The work is well-written and moves briskly, but is unconvincing. The steep price will also give one pause.
Reclaiming Dietrich Bonhoeffer: The Promise of His Theology. By Charles Marsh. Oxford University Press. 195 pp. $35 cloth, $14.95 paper.
Reviewed by Alan Jacobs
In this book—first published in 1994 but just released in paperback—Charles Marsh of Loyola College in Maryland proposes a way of reading Bonhoeffer’s theology that deserves revisiting. He takes up two themes: first, Bonhoeffer’s understanding of the possible role philosophy can play in the theological enterprise (seen here in comparison to the position of Karl Barth, which is often, though reductively, thought to be a purely anti-philosophical stance); and second, the meaning of Christian community and its place in Bonhoeffer’s thought. What is most significant about Marsh’s project is that he demonstrates quite persuasively that these two themes are in fact one, that the philosophical significance of Bonhoeffer’s theology lies in its redefinition of human identity within wholly communal and relational terms. One phrase from Bonhoeffer’s habilitation thesis, Act and Being, proves to be the key: "Christ existing as community." Through this transformative insight Bonhoeffer finds the key so many modern thinkers have been looking for: a way beyond metaphysics, or what Heidegger called the "onto-theological tradition." The English theologian John Milbank has claimed, more in hope than with confidence in a realized goal, that "only theology overcomes metaphysics." The achievement of Marsh’s excellent book is not only to confirm that claim, but also to show that Bonhoeffer’s passionately Christocentric theology is the means by which such overcoming becomes possible.
Environmental Ethics and Christian Humanism. By Thomas Sieger Derr. Abingdon. 159 pp. $17.95 paper.
Derr offers a trenchant argument for an unapologetically "anthropocentric" approach to environmental ethics, followed by two extended responses. James A. Nash of the Churches’ Center for Theology and Public Policy vigorously attacks Derr’s alleged indifference to the inherent integrity of nature, and Richard John Neuhaus, agreeing with the gist of Derr’s argument, calls for a more thoroughly Christocentric understanding of the creation. The result is three quite different perspectives advanced in a very readable manner. Derr has been thinking and writing about environmental ethics for many years, and his essay alone makes the book well worth the price.
The Right Choice. Edited by Paul T. Stallsworth. Abingdon. 118 pp. $14.95 paper.
Fourteen sermons and talks advancing the pro-life position on abortion. Recommended as a fine gift for clergy whose heart is in the right place but who become stumbling and tongue-tied when it comes to talking about this most fevered of issues in public. Among the contributors are Elizabeth Achtemeier, Richard John Neuhaus, John Cardinal O’Connor, Frank A. Pavone, Terry Schlossberg, and Mother Teresa.
Christian Faith and the Theological Life. By Romanus Cessario, O.P. Catholic University of America Press. 197 pp. $34.95 cloth, $17.95 paper.
Do not be misled by the title. The "theological life" in the title does not refer to the life lived by theologians, although theologians too, by the extraordinary grace of God, can also live the theological life. The theological life is, quite simply, the life of faith, and it is here examined with wondrous clarity. It is a very Catholic treatment, drawing heavily on Thomas Aquinas and the fathers, and also thoroughly ecumenical in its invitation to all Christians to understand faith as a virtue that anticipates the fullness of the God it trusts. Strongly recommended.
Covenant and Commitments. By Max Stackhouse. Westminster/John Knox. 224 pp. $18 paper.
Stackhouse of Princeton Theological Seminary is no stranger to the readers of this journal. The latest book in a series of which he is general editor offers a reflection on sex, marriage, and Christian love that appeals for solid grounding in the Bible and a tradition of moderate Calvinism. A great strength of the present work is that it places current debates and confusions about gender roles, mutual service, and self-fulfillment within a rich tradition of Christian reflection that is theocentrically shaped by the concept of covenant. Covenant and Commitments is scholarly in substance, accessible in style, and always wise in its engagement with the everyday perplexities of living Christianly in the world.
The Priestly Office: A Theological Reflection. By Avery Dulles. Paulist Press. 81 pp. $7.95 paper.
With the learning, clarity, and sobriety that mark his distinctive contribution to Catholic theology, Father Dulles here brings together five lectures delivered to priests at Seton Hall University. After considering the relationship between the priest and the Church, he reflects on the priest as minister of the Word, minister of worship, shepherd, and disciple. There is, as usual with Dulles, a deceptive simplicity of presentation, but a careful reading reveals that these brief lectures comprehend with great subtlety the many, complex, and sometimes rancorous debates about the meaning of priesthood since the Second Vatican Council. The author leaves no doubt that in his mind the so-called crisis in vocations is, in fact, a crisis of faith. Get the faith right, he persuasively argues, and it follows that the glory of the priesthood will become luminously clear and attractive.