Communication And Christian Witness: Ten Top Books Of The Decade

The perennial problem of how to proclaim the Christian Gospel “loud and clear” to a world of men with a marked religious hearing loss has become a vital subject of discussion in the Church today. While the declining influence of the Christian faith in our day may be traced largely to the spiritual lethargy of indolent Christians, dilution of the biblical message, and mounting opposition from demonic, anti-Christian forces, it is also true that a part of the problem lies in the failure of many Christians to apply the principles of communication that lead to meaningful mental and spiritual relationships between persons. During the past decade, Christian scholars sensitive to this problem have produced many excellent volumes calculated to increase the effectiveness of Christian communication. Now many ministers and concerned laymen are also becoming aware of the communications gap and are seeking new and improved means of conveying the truth of Jesus Christ.

The Church has begun to rediscover the importance of using a diversity of communicative means—the visual arts, belles lettres, drama, and music; the mass media of the printed page, radio, television, and motion pictures; and, of course, the spoken word of persuasive discourse. Of all these, however, speech remains the clearest and most penetrating mode of communication for Christian witness. If evangelicals seriously desire to reach men for Christ with maximum effectiveness, they must consider the new understandings and insights in communication found in recent writings.

To encourage Christian spokesmen to this end, we are recommending our choice of the ten most significant books on communication and Christian witness published during the past ten years. They deal with different aspects of the communicative process—man, message, and methods—and were selected from scores of books suggested by thirty members of the Speech Association of America actively engaged in the study, practice, or teaching of religious speaking. While some of the volumes are directed primarily at preachers, all are useful for the majority of Christians intent on improving their communicative skills. These books are by no means all of the decade’s significant books in this area, but they do provide perceptive and stimulating views of current developments in Christian communication.

Reading for Perspective


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How to Give Away Your Faith, by Paul E. Little (Inter-Varsity, $3.50). A down-to-earth book on witnessing by an Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship leader who draws from his experience in ministering to college students and presents a biblically sound approach to personal evangelism.

Not Me, God, by Sherwood Eliot Wirt (Harper & Row, $2.95). Imaginary conversations between a contemporary man and God that explode man’s pretensions and exhibit God’s grace in a penetrating way.

Unger’s Bible Handbook, by Merrill F. Unger (Moody, $4.95). A treasury of biblical data—commentary, historical backgrounds, textual criticism, maps, charts, and outlines—that will aid every student of Scripture.

Message and Mission, by Eugene A. Nida (Harper & Brothers, 1960, 253 pp., $5). This book by the American Bible Society’s executive secretary for translations, combines recent findings of linguistic studies with cogent observations on how verbal symbols serve the purposes of divine-human communication. Using illustrations from a variety of cultures, Nida deals with the nature and structure of symbols and the dynamic processes and psychological relationships that Christian communicators in any setting need to know. Of special value is his final chapter on the theological basis of communication, where he considers the supernatural character of divine revelation and the principles and implications of a biblical view of communication.

The Miracle of Dialogue, by Reuel Howe (Seabury, 1963, 154 pp., $3.50). Howe makes an eloquent plea for the Church to enter into dialogue with the world and treat it as the place of its life and mission rather than as enemy territory. He analyzes the nature of dialogue, stresses its importance in life, dissects communication barriers, and calls people to be totally authentic, open, disciplined, and related to other persons and their environment. This book deserves thorough reading and rereading.

Design for Preaching, by Henry Grady Davis (Muhlenberg, 1958, 307 pp., $4.75). From the many useful texts on homiletics published during the past decade, we single out Davis’s work as the most creative and provocative. He views preaching as a great art of oral communication and, following the poetic simile of a sermon’s being like a tree, shows the interpenetration of form and substance in Christian communication. While Davis considers such usual homiletical topics as choice of subject, development of ideas, types of sermons, adaptation to audience, and style of structure and language, his fresh treatment marked by an artistic style and copious illustrations provides an exciting experience rarely gained from reading a text on homiletics. For help on sermon delivery, however, readers should look elsewhere.

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The Communication of the Christian Faith, by Hendrik Kraemer (Westminster, 1956, 128 pp., $2.50). Published ten years ago, Kraemer’s small book remains a timely treatise on “transmitting the creative spark of the regenerating and converting word by witnessing to it.” He sees communication as the “lifeblood of the church” whose objective is not persuasion but conversion. His sections on communication in the history of the Christian Church and the influence of psychological, sociological, and cultural factors on communication tersely synthesize much important knowledge. Of less value, but nevertheless thought-provoking, are his chapters on the breakdown and restoration of communication in a secularized church and world.

Preaching and Biblical Theology, by Edmund P. Clowney (Eerdmans, 1961, 124 pp., $2.50). The central idea of this volume by the president of Westminster Theological Seminary is that authoritative and effective preaching must be based on biblical theology. Since content is crucial in communication, ministers and laymen would do well to prepare their messages with the realization that Scripture contains, not a mish-mash of various theologies, but a single, consistent theology progressively revealed by God in successive historical periods. Clowney recommends that the biblical-theological interpretation of a text deal first with its immediate theological setting and after that with its relation to God’s total revelatory plan, including its significance for today. He also offers sage advice on interpreting biblical symbolism.

Encounter with Spurgeon, by Helmut Thielicke (Fortress, 1963, 283 pp., $4.75). Concerned lest today’s men of the pulpit bypass the Victorian Baptist “prince among preachers,” the foremost German preacher of the day combines his own ideas of preaching with those of Spurgeon to produce a book that conveys ideas of contemporary and classic significance. Thielicke discusses the cheerfulness and worldliness of Spurgeon’s preaching as “he worked through the power of the Word which created its own hearers and changed souls.” He stresses Spurgeon’s insistence that the how of preaching is closely related to one’s spiritual existence. In addition to Thielicke’s extensive introductory essay, the volume contains helpful selections from Spurgeon’s “Lectures to My Students” and also two of his sermons.

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The Urgency of Preaching, by Kyle Haselden (Harper & Row, 1963, 121 pp., $2.75). The barbed arrows of this theological journalist may sometimes go astray in his weekly editorials, but in this book the editor of the Christian Century and the Pulpit gives the shaft to the American pulpit and hits his target dead center. Lamenting the dearth of eager and confident preaching and decrying the fact that homiletics is “hidden away in most seminaries as though it were the black sheep of the theological family,” he places the blame on the minister’s loss of confidence in the urgency of the Gospel and the power of the spoken word. He insists on the priority of the spoken word as the form most suitable for an urgent message. He pleads for preaching of “Peril, Promise, and Alterant: the wrath of God, the love of God, the gift of God” in a way pertinent to the needs of people. Realizing that urgency will not characterize preaching until ministers recover an understanding of their calling, he discusses what the role of the minister is and what it is not. Haselden’s book is no how-to-do-it text; yet its stress on the urgency of preaching serves as a strong motivation for improved communication of the Christian faith.

Religious Television, What to Do and How to Do it, by Everett C. Parker (Harper & Brothers, 1961, 244 pp., $4). “Television affords one major opportunity,” says Parker, “for the church to abandon exclusiveness and to penetrate the surrounding life of the community and of the whole culture.” We recommend this specialized volume in the hope that it will challenge evangelicals to develop and promote greater use of television as a medium for presenting the Gospel. Parker’s book presents a sensible discussion of mass communication and the Christian faith, an analysis of the nature and types of TV audiences, and fascinating expositions of the numerous facets of program planning and production.

Effective Oral Interpretation for Religious Leaders, by Harold A. Brack (Prentice-Hall, 1964, 184 pp., $4.95). Reading aloud is an important phase of religious speaking for both clergymen and laymen and yet is often inadequately done. Brack’s text concentrates on practical help in literary analysis, in the use of voice, body, eyes, time, and text in oral reading, and in oral interpretation of Scripture, responsive readings, poetry, and various rituals.

The Preacher-Prophet in Mass Society, by Jesse Jai McNeil (Eerdmans, 1961, 116 pp., $2.50). The late Dr. McNeil, for many years a “preacher-prophet” in industrialized Detroit and professor of practical theology at California Baptist Seminary, writes convincingly and inspiringly of the demands and dilemmas the Christian faces as he witnesses to man in mass society. His chapter on communication with “mass-man” takes account of factors absolutely essential for understanding the plight of men in urban communities. Emphasizing the need for proclaiming the Word of God with imagination and conviction, McNeil argues that the minister should bring biblical insights to bear on community affairs as well as on the problems of individuals.

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Readers of these ten books will find instruction and motivation for the task of communicating to others the truth of the God who has himself communicated with man in his incarnate and written word.


The Uncomfortable Few

The Restless Church: A Response to ‘The Comfortable Pew,’ edited by William Kilbourn (Lippincott, 1966, 145 pp., $3.50, also paper, $1.95), is reviewed by Ian S. Rennie, minister, Fairview Presbyterian Church, Vancouver, British Columbia.

Early in 1965 Pierre Berton, perhaps the best-known journalist and commentator in Canada, was invited by the Department of Religious Education of the Anglican Church—the church he has stayed away from for twenty years—to give an intelligent outsider’s evaluation and criticism of the Church. From this invitation came The Comfortable Pew, which provoked an interest and debate far beyond the wildest dreams of Berton, the Anglican Church, or any Canadian, for that matter. It has been an international catalyst, and now, after more than a year of debate, sixteen significant responses have been drawn together by William Kilbourn, a leading young Canadian historian and active Anglican layman, in The Restless Church.

Kilbourn deserves great credit for his catholicity of choice. This is by no means just another volume beating the drum for the secularization of Christianity. While there naturally are essays favorable to Berton’s general position, there are several able and trenchant criticisms that are among the finest this reviewer has encountered in this debate.

Of those writers who sympathize with Berton, several offer practical suggestions about how the Church can communicate more effectively. One or two others, while engaging with the subject on the level of ideas, find themselves in such agreement that they really have little to add. One fresh note, however, is added by Lotte and Werner Pelz, who view the secularization of Christianity as the fulfillment of the authentic prophetic strain of the Bible, discarding the grave clothes of the priestly approach. Although the thesis is not new, it is presented with such a lyrical quality that one has the feeling of entering new dimensions.

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But the most weighty contributions come from the critics. There are four major ones, the first being the widely known and respected lawyer William Stringfellow. He heads his article “The Case Against Christendom and The Case against Pierre Berton” and begins by giving a far more devastating critique of the Church than Berton. He presents the uncritical allegiance of Christians to nationalism, militarism, and capitalism. He scores the timidity of the Churches in dealing with nuclear war, the race issue, the technological revolution, and individual rights over against property rights. Many may be tempted to say that this is what we have heard hundreds of times before. But one cannot say that about Stringfellow. There are a strength, integrity, and biblical standpoint to his criticisms that drive one on the road to repentance. But then he comes to his estimate of Berton. Here, in two pithy pages, he shows that there has been no comprehension of the divine origin and sustenance of the Church’s life and no understanding of grace and Gospel. In Berton he sees only an ethical idealism that has no conscious relation to the great realities of sin and salvation.

The second serious critic is Professor Fairweather, of Trinity College, Toronto, who as a professional theologian does an excellent job of clearing up some of the caricatures that Berton and so many others seem to have assumed represent Christianity. Then he asserts the essential nature of these decaricatured conceptions of God, man, and Christ.

Next comes Peter Berger, who in his own inimitable style argues that Berton is really like those who occupy the comfortable pew: they are all perfectly comfortable in the highly secular worldview of today. “What would really be revolutionary,” he affirms, “would be to take seriously the beliefs of the New Testament, of the early Christian confessions, or of the sixteenth-century Reformers.”

The final critic is Emil Fackenheim, the eminent Jewish philosopher of Toronto. He begins by showing how the Jews have every natural sympathy with the secular liberalism that stems from the Enlightenment and that has done so much to give his own people freedom. But he also contends that the secular liberalism Berton advocates would rob the Church of God himself and reduce it to a willing tool in the hands of the secularists. Liberal secularism, because it has no true God, easily falls prey to false gods—even national socialism and the Third Reich.

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In Fackenheim there is one element that seems to be lacking in nearly all of this debate—the personal knowledge of God. Everyone seems to assume that the Church is just another one of many organizations, and that Christianity is a matter of joining. If this is so, then why resist the movement of the Church into secularism. But if in the Church there is the knowledge of God—this makes everything different.


Racial Crisis And The Gospel

Shall We Overcome?, by Howard O. Jones (Revell, 1966, 146 pp., $3.50), is reviewed by Frank E. Gaebelein, co-editor, CHRISTIANITY TODAY.

In this small but potent book, the Rev. Howard O. Jones, an associate evangelist on Billy Graham’s team and the current president of the National Negro Evangelical Association, speaks plainly and forcefully about the spiritual aspects of the racial crisis in America.

As a Negro, Mr. Jones is deeply involved in the present civil rights struggle. He recognizes the justice of the Negro’s claim to full American citizenship and acceptance as a person. At the same time, he is deeply concerned about the state of the Negro churches in America. He sees the great need for revival in these churches and the neglect of clear preaching of the Gospel on the part of many Negro ministers.

Writing from within the situation, Mr. Jones is unsparing but compassionate in his appraisals. He confronts the white church, particularly the white evangelical church, with its failures in race relations. Out of his own experience in evangelistic work in Africa, he depicts the deplorable effect on the missionary enterprise of discrimination against Negroes. He also challenges the American Negro churches to send out their own missionaries and criticizes the reluctance of some missionary agencies to encourage the use of Negro missionaries.

For the complacent, this is and should be a disturbing book. There shine through its pages the conviction and compassion of a Christian leader dedicated to Christ and his Gospel, committed to the needs of his people, and courageous in proclaiming the truth as he honestly sees it.

The introduction by Billy Graham lends a note of urgency. “Howard Jones,” says Dr. Graham, “has helped broaden and deepen my understanding of the religious aspect involved in the civil rights struggle in America.… He preaches the Gospel as clearly and straight as any man—but he also implements it to the needs of the nation.”

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An R.S.V. Modified For Catholics

The Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version: Catholic Edition, prepared by the Catholic Biblical Association of Great Britain, with a foreword by Richard Cardinal Cushing (Nelson, 1966, 1,262 pp., $3.50), is reviewed by Bruce M. Metzger, George L. Collord Professor of New Testament Language and Literature, Princeton Theological Seminary, Princeton, New Jersey.

This is a special edition of the RSV prepared by a committee of British Catholic scholars. It carries the imprimatur of Gordon Joseph Gray, Archbishop of St. Andrews and Edinburgh, and of Peter W. Bartholome, Bishop of St. Cloud, Minnesota.

In order to make the RSV acceptable to British Catholics it was thought necessary to introduce sixty-seven changes into the New Testament text. These modifications are listed in an appendix, and the one that occurs most often (eighteen times) is “brethren” for “brothers” (of Jesus). Apparently it was assumed that the archaic English “brethren” would be more in accord with the dogma of Mary’s perpetual virginity. (Nevertheless, nothing could be done with “James the Lord’s brother” of Galatians 1:19.)

Another type of change is the introduction into the RSV text (from the RSV footnotes) of sixteen passages that are of doubtful or debatable textual authority, such as the ending of Mark’s Gospel (16:9–20), the second cup of Luke 22:20, and the story of the woman taken in adultery (John 7:52–8:12). Quite indefensibly, the Latin Vulgate rendering of Luke 1:28, “Hail, full of grace …,” is substituted for the Greek text, “Hail, O favored one.…”

In the Old Testament, books regarded as apocryphal by Protestants are distributed among the protocanonical books. Likewise the deuterocanonical additions to Esther and Daniel are introduced throughout the text of these books, differentiated from the basic Hebrew and Aramaic by being printed in italics.

Since every edition of the Bible approved for general usage by Catholics must, according to canon law, be furnished with comments or annotations, the British committee has provided a brief appendix to each Testament containing explanatory notes (twenty pages for the Old Testament, twelve pages for the New).

To prevent misunderstanding, it should be pointed out that this is a special edition of the RSV—indeed, the title page declares it to be a “Catholic Edition.” Though close to the text of the RSV, it is not the RSV unchanged. It is probably, however, the closest approximation to a “common Bible” for which the British Catholic Biblical Association could hope to receive an official imprimatur. That the American hierarchy is more liberal-minded is shown by the fact that the Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha, published by the Oxford University Press, has received the imprimatur of Richard Cardinal Cushing. In the Oxford volume (which is not a special Catholic edition), the RSV text is reproduced without a single change in the Old Testament, the New Testament, or the Apocryphal books (which are segregated after the New Testament). Fourteen brief annotations, suggested by an American committee of Catholic scholars and approved by the original annotators, have been introduced in the footnotes among the other annotations, all of which were prepared by Protestant scholars.

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The existence of such editions—whether approximately or totally ecumenical—is a testimony to the general unanimity in technical matters among Catholic and Protestant biblical scholars. It is also a sign of a revival of interest among Roman Catholics in the Holy Scriptures. Such a revival, at a time when Sunday school curricula in mainline Protestant denominations are becoming less and less Bible-centered and when most Protestant seminaries require fewer and fewer courses in the Bible, is greatly to be welcomed by all who are concerned for the survival of classical Christianity.


Book Briefs

Appointment Congo, by Virginia Law (Rand McNally, 1966, 290 pp., $3.95). The inspiring story of the heroic life and death of missionary Burleigh A. Law in the war-torn Congo. Written by his wife. Heartily recommended.

The Cambridge Bible Commentary on the New English Bible: The Acts of the Apostles, by J. W. Packer, and The Pastoral Letters, by Anthony Tyrrell Hanson (Cambridge, 1966, 233 and 126 pp., $3.50 and $3; also paper, $1.65 each). Brief treatment of background, problems, and text reflecting major findings of modern scholarship.

The Oswald Affair: An Examination of the Contradictions and Omissions of the Warren Report, by Léo Sauvage (World, 1966, 418 pp., $6.95). A Paris newspaper correspondent argues not too convincingly that it is “logically untenable, legally indefensible, and morally inadmissible” to declare Lee Oswald the assassin of President Kennedy.

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