Copyright (c) 1998 First Things 79 (January 1998): 59-61.
A Sacred Union of Citizens: George Washington’s Farewell Address and the American Character. By Matthew Spalding and Patrick J. Garrity. Rowman & Littlefield. 217 pp. $27.95.
Political scientists who study only the Constitution typically claim America’s founding derives from the analysis of rights and freedoms found in the Lockean tradition. And it is certainly true that the Constitution echoes the Declaration of Independence in seeing government as existing primarily to secure rights. But an Aristotelian and classical tradition was known to the Founders as well, and that tradition ranks political communities according to the virtues or character the laws encourage in citizens. This volume by Matthew Spalding and Patrick J. Garrity shows the extent to which George Washington tied personal character to national greatness—and thereby made himself the most Aristotelian of the Founders. Washington’s Farewell Address in fact offers the finest example of Aristotelian bent, imparting his mature observations about what we should do to maintain free government. He wanted Americans to become more than fellow citizens united only by law; each citizen must acquire and practice virtue in order to preserve republicanism. Perhaps Washington’s loftiest hope was a worldwide moral transformation led by an American republic of unparalleled moral excellence. Though the foreign policy recommendations of his Farewell Address were taken, after the Civil War, to promote isolationism, he was in fact, claim the authors, arguing the advantages of neutrality for independent action. Jefferson and Madison included the Farewell Address on the University of Virginia’s short list of "the best guides to the distinctive principles" of American government, and it can still, as Spalding and Garrity show, supply prudent guidance for foreign and domestic issues. Forget the policy manuals churned out by the Washington think tanks. Washington himself is much more rewarding.
The Great Tradition: Evangelicals, Catholics, and Orthodox in Dialogue. Edited by James S. Cutsinger. InterVarsity. 214 pp. $18.99.
"Let all the anti-ecumenical forces of the Christian World unite!" proclaimed James Cutsinger at the opening of the "Not of This World" conference held at the Aiken, South Carolina, campus of Rose Hill College in May 1995. The conference brought together traditionalist Christians from across the spectrum—all the sort that usually disdain ecumenism as debilitating and vacuous. Participants hoped to discover what united strength could be discovered in the ancient faith all shared, particularly for fighting the culture war. This volume collects papers from the main presenters—including J. I. Packer, Kallistos Ware, Peter Kreeft, Carl Braaten, and Richard John Neuhaus—together with responses by others and notes on the lively discussion that followed each paper. Rose Hill is a chiefly Orthodox institution, and this conference and volume bring orthodoxy—both upper and lower case—into an effort to express more fully the only ecumenism that matters: unity in the truth, which is to say, in the One who is the Truth. Warmly recommended.
— Frederica Mathewes-Green
Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds. By Phillip E. Johnson. InterVarsity. 132 pp. $15.99 cloth, $9.99 paper.
When the Supreme Court struck down "balanced treatment" of creation and evolution in public schools ten years ago, the Justices hoped they had closed the issue. Instead, they guaranteed that Darwinism would become part of the culture war. Rather than being a subject for rational discussion in the classroom, Darwinism is now protected orthodoxy—and has acquired all the bad habits of an established religion. Phillip Johnson, law professor at the University of California at Berkeley and author of two earlier books on Darwinism, hopes to teach readers to spot those bad habits and restore rational debate. His prime complaint is that Darwinism promotes philosophy under the guise of science. Evolution as understood by the scientific establishment is simply materialist philosophy applied to biology. And because the underlying commitment is philosophical, the flimsiest facts are counted as evidence—as when the president of the National Academy of Sciences recently published an article arguing that evolution is confirmed by differences in the size of finch beaks, as though the sprawling evolutionary drama from biochemicals to the human brain could rest on instances of trivial, limited variation. Johnson is convinced that detecting such fallacies would go a long way toward defeating Darwinism. In this lively, tightly written book for a general audience, he teaches readers to train their "baloney detectors" on the doublethink, ad hominems, rhetorical tricks, and logical gaps that characterize the public propaganda for Darwinism.
— Nancy R. Pearcey
Doing Theology for the People of God: Studies in Honor of J. I. Packer. Edited by Donald Lewis and Alister McGrath. InterVarsity. 280 pp. $22.99 paper.
For nearly a half century J. I. Packer has served as perhaps the most distinguished theologian in the Reformed evangelical community. His major writings have examined such serious theological topics as the doctrine of God, the doctrine of Scripture, the work of the Holy Spirit, Puritan theology, and the personal applications of Reformed theology for everyday life. His career changed dramatically in 1973, however, with the publication of Knowing God, a volume that sold over a million copies and remains in print twenty-five years later. It established Packer not just as a man the theologians knew and respected but as a name known at every level of the evangelical world. This collection of fifteen essays—with such distinguished contributors as Alister McGrath, John R. W. Stott, Mark A. Noll, James M. Houston, Colin Brown, Kenneth Kantzer, Bruce Waltke, and Roger Nicole—is published in honor of Packer’s seventieth birthday and pays due honor to an exemplary scholar whose distinguished career has had such wide influence. As the editors observe: "Like so many great theologians, he has been drawn into controversy out of pastoral concerns, intensely aware of the fact that bad theology damages people. He has sought, however, in all of the controversies in which he has been involved, to be a peacemaker and a true Christian ecumenist."
— Michael Cromartie
Malcolm Muggeridge. By Gregory Wolfe. Eerdmans. 462 pp. $35.
This is the biography that is necessary for pinning down all the details often skirted in other writing about Muggeridge, who became—to use a much overused term—an icon of brilliantly curmudgeonly saintliness for millions. When he was a college student, the author drove Muggeridge to lecture engagements in the Midwest and fell permanently under his spell. Late in a rather dissolute life, "St. Mugg" turned to Christianity and then entered into communion with the Catholic Church. As a Christian apologist, he hardly belongs in the league of G. K. Chesterton and C. S. Lewis where Wolfe wants to put him, but he no doubt prompted many to consider the Christian possibility, and others to live it. Through television and the book Something Beautiful for God, he helped bring Mother Teresa to world attention, which is no little contribution. And he was right from the start in exposing the sham of Western apologists for the evil empire of the Soviet Union. Muggeridge charmed, provoked, and instructed a large part of a generation on the really important questions, and Gregory Wolfe’s tribute is amply deserved.
The Two Cities of God: The Church’s Responsibility for the Earthly City. Edited by Carl E. Braaten and Robert W. Jenson. Eerdmans. 152 pp. $18.
St. Augustine’s enduring conception of the two cities here receives contemporary development and application as outstanding authors, most of whom are also First Things contributors, address economics, the academy, natural law, politics, and marriage: Robert Jenson on the Church’s responsibility, Robert Louis Wilken on what Augustine really meant, Carl Braaten on natural law, George Weigel on not despairing about the ambiguity of politics, Robert Benne on Christian engagement in economic enterprise, and Gilbert Meilaender on the virtue of marriage. The essays are accessible, clearly argued, and reflect a realism that avoids both cynicism and delusion. An excellent text for courses or study groups on what the Church can and cannot do to care for the world of which we are part.
Divided Memory: The Nazi Past in the Two Germanys. By Jeffrey Herf. Harvard University Press. 527 pp. $29.95.
A fascinating account of how Marxist ideology hobbled East Germany’s very limited efforts to come to terms with its Nazi and anti-Semitic past. Being, by definition, anti-Fascist and having transcended bourgeois categories such as religion, Marxists in East Germany could confess no sins without flagrantly contradicting their consciousness of themselves. The West Germans, and especially the Christian Democrats, have an uneven but, by comparison, immeasurably superior record of taking historical account. A professor at Ohio University, Jeffrey Herf has written a thoughtful exercise in moral, cultural, and political analysis.
Worship with One Accord: Where Liturgy and Ecumenism Embrace. By Geoffrey Wainwright. Oxford University Press. 276 pp. $35.
Methodist Wainwright is one of the world’s leading scholars on worship and ecumenism. The subtitle gives the gist of an argument that explores the unexpected commonalties between Catholic sacramental life and understandings within Protestantism, especially in the Wesleyan tradition. Particularly valuable is the author’s emphasis upon the Trinitarian character of Christian faith, and his cautions about subtle and not so subtle ways in which that character can be undermined.