Reshaping The Urban Church

Urban Church Breakthrough, by Richard E. Moore and Duane L. Day (Harper & Row, 1966, 183 pp., $4.50), and The Grass Roots Church: A Manifesto for Protestant Renewal, by Stephen C. Rose (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1966, 174 pp., $4.95), are reviewed by William Edmund Bouslough, chairman, Division of Biblical Studies and Philosophy, Westmont College, Santa Barbara, California.

Our decade has seen a great number of volumes about problems in the contemporary church. They range from bitter criticism through more moderate evaluations to academic discussions. Urban Church Breakthrough and The Grass Roots Church represent the latest approach to the issues. They have many similarities. Each purports to build on the foundation of criticism and evaluation of the recent past and to offer positive steps for the future. Each relates itself to the urban situation, each reviews the facets of modern city life that demand renewal, each suggests a basic theological stance for renewal, each recognizes the necessity for continuing and strengthening the local church, and each moves to suggested structures that the authors believe will bring new meaning to the ministry of the Church.

Moore and Day have four basic points. First, a ministry of reconciliation is necessary. The city prompts loneliness, alienation, and depersonalization, and the Church, under the lordship of Christ, must help the defeated to find dignity, courage, and power. Second, the Incarnation, not just as propositional truth but as “reality and presence,” must guide the Church as it goes about its task. Reality is the key, and a “reality-shaped parish” is the means by which a church will fulfill its mission. Third, the residential congregation needs to be, not supplanted, but supplemented as it moves into urban life. Where is the action in the city? Wherever it is, this is where the Church must be as the Body of Christ. This view will take the Church into the public sector, the leisure segment, and the multiple worlds of work. Finally, the authors hold that the possibility of renewal resides in the cooperation of the denominations.

It is at this point that the second book is most meaningful. Rose proposes a cooperative attack on the city through a restructuring of the churches. Instead of competitive and duplicate ministries by several churches in one neighborhood, there should be a cooperative team approach. Each congregation would then minister in the way it is best able to minister. Each would emphasize the gifts of the Spirit given to it as part of the Body of Christ. Each would specialize in certain tasks assigned through the cooperative ministry.

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Rose emphasizes what he calls “chaplaincy, teaching and abandonment” as the three complementary aspects of the ministry of the Church. Only as these three aspects are refined through a cooperative ministry will a community’s church (i.e., the sum total of all the cooperating local congregations) meet the community’s needs.

What shall we say of these books challenging the present-day church? First, each provides fascinating reading. Second, each has value for both pastor and layman. Regardless of our theology, all of us need the challenge of these views on the ministry of the local church. They help to deepen our vision of our task and our commitment to it. Third, a group of pastors in a community may be motivated to build a cooperative ministry and thus project a more vital Christian voice. It is still too early to expect that our denominational headquarters will adopt Rose’s suggestion. Or is it?

Reading for Perspective


Valiant for the Truth: A Treasury of Evangelical Writings, compiled and edited by David Otis Fuller (Lippincott, $5.95). Stirring selections by thirty-three great Christian leaders from the first to the twentieth centuries; excellent biographical sketches by Henry Coray.

Last Days on the Nile, by Malcolm Forsberg (Lippincott, $3.95). The story of the Sudan—crises in its national development, the heroic stand of “Chinese” Gordon at Khartoum, progress made by missionaries until their recent expulsion—by a missionary who spent thirty years there.

Religion: Origins and Ideas, by Robert Brow (Inter-Varsity, $3.50). Religion in man’s life: original monotheism, development and degeneration of priestcraft, revealed Christianity compared with other religions.

The Point Of Contact

Literature and the Christian Life, by Sallie McFague TeSelle (Yale, 1966, 238 pp., $6.50), is reviewed by Calvin D. Linton, dean of arts and sciences, George Washington University, Washington, D. C.

Mrs. TeSelle, a lecturer in Christianity and contemporary culture at Yale Divinity School, has written a skillful book about an extraordinarily difficult subject. Indeed, to appreciate her achievement it is important to understand precisely what her subject is, for in its depth and centrality it distinguishes her purpose from that of a number of other books with somewhat similar titles. Her interest is not in “Christian elements in literature,” or “theological implications in the works of such-and-such a group of writers,” or “literature in the light of Christian ethics.” She writes, “I have not been concerned with aesthetics and religion or art and Christianity, but with literature and the Christian life. I have taken the point of view of the person who is already a Christian, and who is attempting to see how literature in its own integrity might be relevant to his task of implementing his discipleship.”

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To accomplish her task, she attempts to describe the experiential core of literature and of the Christian faith, trying to protect “the uniqueness of their individual truth claims,” to the end that the Christian may be more deeply instructed in the complexities and subtleties of human life and that one’s view of literature may be enriched by a better awareness of its true independence and creativity.

Her aim requires, therefore, that she devote a considerable amount of time to analyzing the terms of her title, “Christianity” and “literature,” neither of which, it may safely be said, is entirely free from controversy in contemporary thought. As to literature, she rather naturally (in view of the influence on her thinking at Yale of Cleanth Brooks) leans toward the position of the “New Criticism,” which asserts that a work of art is autonomous, a “thing in itself,” subject only to its own rules, a thing known in itself, not an instrument for knowing other things, unsusceptible of adequate paraphrase.

This insistence on art as a mode of knowing, not merely a pleasing vehicle for communicating truths from some other mode of knowing, shields her from the danger of evaluating literature on grounds other than those generated by its own unique nature. (This is one of the strengths of the New Critical position. One of its weaknesses is that it divorces art from other, possibly illuminating dimensions of knowledge, including historical, biographical, and intellectual backgrounds.)

Her view of Christianity is essentially that of contemporary neo-orthodoxy, with perceptive awareness of the varied positions of Barth, Bonhoeffer, Bultmann, Niebuhr, Robinson, Tillich, and others. Inevitably, the conservatively inclined Christian will find instances of what are, to him, misinterpretations of the faith. For example: “The main Christian assertion about man is that all men are saved in Jesus Christ, not that all men are evil in their hearts. At the most, the latter is an implication from the event of salvation.”

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Mrs. TeSelle’s purpose, however, was not to write a book of Christian doctrine or of literary criticism but to “show the central point of contact between these disparate realms.” Her achievement will be much appreciated by readers possessing the specialized vocabulary of modern theology and literary criticism. For the general public it may be rather hard going.

The World’S Biggest Question

Good God! Cry or Credo?, by Hubert Black (Abingdon, 1966, 144 pp., $2.75), is reviewed by Robert Boyd Munger, pastor, University Presbyterian Church, Seattle, Washington.

In his foreword, David H. C. Read says: “This is a book about the biggest question in the world—the presence of evil and suffering, how we understand it, and how we cope with it.” The wisdom of the ages, the agonizing inquiry of sensitive spirits, and the insight and research of modern science have not reduced the size of the question. Nor will this book give all the answers. It will, I believe, fulfill the author’s intention:

The aim of this book is to put the questions and stimulate thought and discussion. I shall challenge some conventional answers which I believe to be muddle-headed at best and blasphemous at worst. I can promise no answer for you, for your own answer must come from your own heart and head.… But by the end I shall have given my own answer—the answer that to me is satisfying, that to me is not only logical but loving (for the two unfortunately are not always identical); that is to me consistent with Christian faith, that coincides with the New Testament picture of our Lord.

The hard-hitting thesis of the book is that God is good and only good, that he wills good for all men at all times, that therefore all suffering is evil and has its source not in God but in the abuse of man’s God-given freedom. No concession is made to a “Christian fatalism” that accepts tragic events as the will of God or to “dreadful half truths” that God sends suffering for good ends. Rather, suffering and death are seen as the natural results of man’s rebellion against the will of God. Although this position poses problems, it is cogently argued to be true both to the revelation of God in Jesus Christ and to man’s authentic freedom. Such a view speaks effectively to the modern mind and will stimulate fresh thought upon a subject that, for many, lies muted in doubts.

The author, Hubert Black, a native of Edinburgh, Scotland, is now minister of Franklin Street Presbyterian Church in Baltimore, Maryland. He writes clearly and convincingly, out of a scholar’s thought and a pastor’s heart.

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Is There A Christian Economics?

Christian Economics: Studies in the Christian Message to the Market Place, by John R. Richardson (St. Thomas Press, 1966, 169 pp., $4.95), is reviewed by Irving Howard, assistant editor, “Christian Economics” magazine, New York, New York.

“If there is a ‘Christian’ economics, why not a Buddhist, Islamic, or Judaistic economic theory? And besides, economic theory is an impersonal science which makes no value judgments, Christian or otherwise.” Such arguments are often raised to oppose the very idea of Christian economics.

But economics is not an impersonal science. It can and must use some of the techniques of science, particularly statistical studies; but it is too deeply involved in the subjective aspects of human life to be a true science. Indeed, economics is primarily concerned with the values people attach to goods and services, and these are closely bound up with their religious faith.

One’s economic ideas, moreover, are determined by what one believes about the nature of God and man. Therefore it is reasonable to expect every religion to influence the economic system of the civilization in which that religion is dominant.

Christianity has had its effect upon the economics of Western civilization, and Dr. Richardson has produced a much needed exposition of that effect and of the implications of Christianity for the market place today.

This is not a technical textbook. It should be in demand among ministers and laymen who want a general discussion of the relation between economics and the Christian faith and a clear distinction between collectivism and Christian individualism.

It will also serve churches looking for a study book for a young adult, senior high, or adult class.

Making God A Metaphysical Myth

The Reality of God and Other Essays, by Schubert M. Ogden (Harper & Row, 1966, 237 pp., $6), is reviewed by William Young, assistant professor of philosophy, University of Rhode Island, Kingston.

In this attractively written discussion of fundamental problems of philosophical theology, the author of Christ without Myth attempts a synthesis of Bultmann’s existentialist demythologizing, Toulmin’s linguistic analysis, and Hartshorne’s relativistic theism. The result, as may be expected, comes short of philosophical clarity and theological soundness.

Ogden’s rejection of classical Christian supernaturalism is explicit and peremptory. Dialogue with him from an evangelical position would seem to be futile, since his acceptance of a secular standpoint rules out supernaturalism. The alleged contradictions in classical supernaturalism are little more than moves in a game with words.

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Yet since Ogden tries hard to come to terms with contemporary secular philosophy, some philosophical mistakes may profitably be pointed out. He merges the attitude of ordinary perceptual experience with that of theoretical scientific thought, with the result that his attempt to analyze objectivity fails to yield a genuine clarification of the concept. In the chapter “Myth and Truth,” there is ample muddle about the nature and criterion of truth. Consensus appears to be the criterion for adopting a certain view of myth. This appeal to consensus accounts for Ogden’s earlier adherence to the secular outlook, not effectively demarcated from the secularism he professes to reject. Although the nature and criterion of truth are distinguished in principle, they are in fact confused in the statement that “the question of the sense in which myth can be true must be formulated as the question of the criteria.…”

The analysis of “true” as “worthy of being believed” is viciously circular, since to believe something means to accept it as true. The attempt to find truth in myth by employing the notion of a “category mistake” is singularly misconceived. A category mistake is a form of nonsense (e.g., “The number seven is soft”) and does not qualify for being either true or false. In fact, it is not to myth but to the outcome of demythologizing,—namely, a metaphysical proposition—that Ogden actually ascribes truth.

It is strange that a demythologizer like Ogden should censure classical theists for their figurative interpretation of patently anthropomorphic elements in the biblical self-representations of God. On a wider and more natural sense of “myth” than his own, Ogden could be critized for not demythologizing far enough, or, more correctly, for propounding a mythological conception of God. Ogden’s temporal God is nothing but a metaphysical myth, an incongruous combination of relative and absolute factors—in short, an idol.

Is Religion Pathological?

Religious Pathology and Christian Faith, by James E. Loder (Westminster, 1966, 255 pp., $5), is reviewed by Orville S. Walters, director of health services and professor of psychiatry, University of Illinois, Urbana.

How can we assimilate Freud’s insights into Christian thought without committing either theological or psychological reductionism? This volume seeks the way to such an interdisciplinary liaison by examining the psychological substratum for theological assertions. The plan of the book is “to bring the viewpoints of Kierkegaard and Freud into a mutually enlightening relationship” by placing in apposition analyses of the views on each on pathological religiousness, reality consciousness, and the epistemological problem.

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The author immediately confronts the crucial question. Since the insights of psychoanalysis were elaborated under clinical conditions, how can they be used in theological thought without the presupposition that Christians have lost their mental health? He as promptly begs the question by declaring simply that no distinction can be drawn between the sick and the healthy. He at once rejects the “myth of disciplinary purity” that would separate psychoanalysis and theology, and the “myth of normalcy.”

The book’s title leads one to expect more than he finds on religious pathology and Christian faith. Freud’s views on religion as pathology are traced in comparison with Kierkegaard’s writing on dread and despair. Loder’s synthesis: anxiety creates problems of objectification, leading to neurotic symbolization and illusion or delusion. He concludes that members of the church do nothing to correct this pathology but only sacralize it.

Consciousness, in its discovery and perusal of reality, passes through the stages of conflict, emergence of an image, resolution of conflict with release of tension, and restoration of the empirical “vital balance.” From both Freudian and Kierkegaardian standpoints, reality consciousness emerges as the operation of subjective, empirical, and interpretative modes, with the mediation of the imagination as the “artificer of consciousness.”

Loder recognizes the defects in Freud’s analogy of religion as pathology, but he apparently accepts the structural model without question. He is sectarian also in his attitude toward nosology. As “the concluding substance of a doctoral dissertation,” the book is unfortunately understandably narrow in scope and has limited practical applicability.

The Varieties Of Existentialism

Studies in Christian Existentialism, by John Macquarrie (Westminster, 1966, 278 pp., $6), is reviewed by Jerry H. Gill, assistant professor of philosophy, Southwestern at Memphis, Memphis, Tennessee.

This is an excellent book for the person who is looking for an introduction to existentialist theology. In addition to being well organized and clearly written, the book has the great merit of being written by a thoughtful “practitioner” of the existentialist approach.

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Although all the chapters have appeared in somewhat different form in a variety of journals, they are arranged in a logical and progressive sequence. After briefly defending the existentialist approach to theology in Part One, Macquarrie lays out the philosophical presuppositions of such an approach in terms of Heidegger’s major themes in Part Two. He then moves to an analysis of the existentialist method as presented by Bultmann in Part Three. The insights in Parts Two and Three concerning self-understanding and understanding the biblical message are extremely valuable. After exploring some other contemporary approaches to theology, such as logical empiricism and neo-Catholic thought, in Part Four, Macquarrie concludes with an application of his approach to such doctrines as atonement, immortality, and the Holy Ghost in Part Five.

Existentialist theology is characterized by a lack of concern for the factual dimension of Christianity, with respect to both the Bible and the Christian life. In this Macquarrie is no exception. He maintains that in the New Testament and in religion in general, the question of “facts” and “objective statements” is simply beside the point. While I can agree that factual concerns are not the most important in matters of religion, they are nonetheless of some importance. I am suspicious of any attempt to dichotomize the various dimensions of human existence.

In all fairness it should not go unnoticed that Macquarrie tries to distinguish himself from Bultmann et al. by emphasizing the necessity of a “minimal core” of historical facts about Jesus’ pattern of life. Unfortunately, he never indicates how this minimal core is to be established without the help of the historical dimension of the New Testament, which he has already dismissed as “beside the point.” The minimal core that Macquarrie allows is, after all, too minimal to do the job that he wants to be done, that needs to be done, and that can be done!

Creationism Vs. Evolution

Herkunft und Zukunft des Menschen: Ein Kritischer Uberblick der dem Darwinismus und Christentum zugrunde leigenden naturwissenschaftlichen und geistlichen Prinzipien, by A. E. Wilder-Smith (Brunnen-Verlag, 1966, 160 pp., 18, 60 DM), is reviewed by Edwin Y. Monsma, professor of biology, emeritus, Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Mich.

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This book on creation and evolution was written in response to many requests that Dr. Wilder-Smith republish a book he wrote in 1949, Die Problematik der Dezendenzlehre. In view of the many scientific discoveries that have been made during the last fifteen years, he thought it best to write this new book, The Origin and the Destiny of Man. He serves as professor of pharmacology at the Medical Center of the University of Illinois in Chicago.

The author critically considers a wide range of subjects bearing on evolution and creation. After explaining the teachings of Darwinian evolution and the Bible on the origin of living things, he examines various popular attempts to harmonize Darwinism with the first three chapters of Genesis. His general conclusion is that these attempts are not successful. In discussing recent experiments to produce life in the laboratory he does not deny the probability that some day living substance may be produced by the careful experimentation of a highly qualified biochemist, which indicates to him that the first life on earth required a wise creator; it could not have arisen by chance, as the Darwinian theory implies.

He also takes up the question whether life, and, subsequently, plants and animals, could have arisen under God by a process sometimes called “theistic evolution.” This idea, he says, is not consistent with the character of God as it is revealed in the Bible and in Jesus Christ, since evolution in any form implies a struggle for existence in which the strong survive at the expense of the weak and death, destruction, and animosity become a part of the creation process.

In the last chapter, Wilder-Smith points out that Darwinism has no future for the individual but only for the race to which he belongs. According to the Bible, however, there is a future for every person. For the believer this is eternal life in a renewed creation. The appendix contains information on such subjects as: popular attempts at harmonizing Darwinism with chapters 1 to 3 of Genesis; dinosaur and human footprints in the Poluxy River bed in Texas; the constancy of species; and the lowering of entropy in living organisms.

This is a timely book that deserves to be translated into English. It touches upon fundamental principles in the consideration of evolution and creation that continues to be debated.

Book Briefs

The Fellowship of the Holy Spirit, by Georgia Harkness (Abingdon, 1966, 208 pp., $4). The person of the Holy Spirit considered biblically, doctrinally, experimentally. Sound for the most part; constantly provocative.

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His Church, by Reuben H. Mueller (Abingdon, 1966, 143 pp., $3). The immediate past-president of the National Council of Churches offers ten messages that call Christians to confidence in Christ’s Church, local and universal. He proclaims the need for a new church that exhibits spiritual unity (not necessarily organic), relies on the Holy Spirit, witnesses to God’s mighty works, and is spiritually productive.

Creating Christian Personality, by A. Don Augsburger (Herald, 1966, 135 pp., $4). A sensible discussion of the attitudes and principles that Christian parents should exhibit as they guide youth to maturity.

Judaism in a Christian World, by Robert Gordis (McGraw-Hill, 1966, 253 pp., $6.50). An erudite rabbi analyzes forces that have molded the Jewish community and charts new directions for Jews in America.

The Regathering of Israel, by Arthur Petrie (American Board of Missions to the Jews, 1966, 78 pp., $2). An abundance of Scripture is cited to show that God will one day bring all Israel back to the promised land.

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