New Look At New Theology

What’s New in Religion?, by Kenneth Hamilton (Eerdmans, 1968, 176 pp., $3.95), is reviewed by Warren C. Young, professor of Christian theology and philosophy, Northern Baptist Theological Seminary, Oak Brook, Ill.

The subtitle of this book is a good statement of the scope of the volume: “A Critical Study of New Theology, New Morality and Secular Christianity.” One might well call it an evangelical look at recent trends in theology.

Professor Hamilton begins with a discussion of the use and misuse of “new.” Technological advance makes possible improvements, changes, and refinements that keep up with our constant demand for something “new.” Yet it does not follow that new political and social movements, new theological systems, new ethical theories, are necessarily improvements. To illustrate his point, the author cites Heidegger’s pro-Nazi address in 1933. As we all know, the “new order” of Hitler proved to be something other than Utopia.

Today we are being offered a “new” theology. The old or traditional theology is dead, we are told, and we need a theology geared to late twentieth-century man and culture. As Hamilton puts it, what man seems to be seeking is a religion that will “give him meaning, direction, and purpose in his attempt to cope with his total environment, and to achieve satisfaction from the struggle.”

But what man is seeking today is not necessarily a Christian faith. For many, apparently, the Christian outlook and promise have failed. Why? What is it in the Christianity of our century that has caused modern man to lose faith in the ability of the Christian faith to meet the needs of the hour? What has caused him to turn his interest into other channels? Has the Christian faith proved itself irrelevant after twenty centuries of trial and effort? If contemporary theology serves no other purpose, it ought at least to spur us to examine the past to see where we may have fallen short. To this end we need a careful reading of Bonhoeffer, Bultmann, Tillich, Robinson, and others.

From theology the author moves to ethics. He quite correctly concludes that if theology changes, then morality is bound to change. If God is dead, then his “thou shalt nots” have lost all meaning. This explains the rise of “situation” ethics to replace the ethic of eternal laws. Now we are told that love is supreme—as if love could have meaning without some rules. Hamilton does well in showing the inconsistency of situation ethics.

Anyone who wants a good survey of trends in religion today should by all means get this volume. I do not know of another that does the job so well in so short a space.

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Surprisingly Conservative

Who Is This Jesus?, by D. T. Niles (Abingdon, 1968, 160 pp., $3), and The Pre-Existence of Christ, by Fred B. Craddock (Abingdon, 1968, 192 pp., $4.50) are reviewed by Ralph Earle, professor of New Testament, Nazarene Theological Seminary, Kansas City, Missouri.

Two new books shed important light on Jesus’ life. They come from D. T. Niles, well known as an outstanding Asiatic spokesman in the ecumenical movement, and Fred B. Craddock, professor of New Testament and preaching at the Graduate Seminary of Phillips University in Enid, Oklahoma.

Although Niles is sometimes quoted for statements that seem a bit over in left field, he is surprisingly conservative in this book. He comes out flatly for the deity of Jesus and u reality of his bodily resurrection, and also for atonement only through Christ.

Unlike many scholars of today, Niles finds it possible to harmonize the gospel accounts into a continuous story of Jesus’ life. Yet as he rightly says, the intention of the gospel writers is neither to write a chronicle nor to compose a biography. What they do is to present a drama.

Niles follows the Johannine chronology (four passover feasts) in outlining the life of Christ. He highlights the conflict between Jesus and the religious leaders, and shows it is similar to the opposition of entrenched ecclesiasticism of our day to the way of Christ. He devotes one of his six chapters to the Christian approach to Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, and Communism. In discussing the last he says, “Pilate had power to crucify Jesus, but he had no power to stop the resurrection”; so the Church though crushed, will rise again.

Niles’s ecumenical interest comes out prominently in the last chapter, on “The Mysteries of the Kingdom.”

Dr. Craddock’s book shows evidence of wide reading in the New Testament field. Here he investigates in depth one phase of Christology. His incisiveness and originality are welcome.

The introduction offers a keen analysis and critique of the work done in Christology by such scholars as Oscar Cullmann, W. D. Davies, and W. L. Knox. The author points out the limitations in the methods of each of these. His own approach he describes as “definition by function,” that is, “what each writer in each situation is intending to say by using the category of pre-existence.”

In the first chapter, “Affirmations of Pre-existence in New Testament Background Materials,” Craddock describes the Sophia of Wisdom Literature, the Logos of Philo, the Son of Man of First Enoch, the Torah of the rabbis, the Logos of the Stoics, and the myths of the Gnostics. Each of these had its own theory of pre-existence. He shows that this doctrine was emphasized most by those who felt alienated from the world.

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In the chapter on “New Testament Affirmations of the Pre-existence of Christ,” Craddock devotes the largest space to the Epistles of Paul (the area in which he wrote his dissertation). Here one discovers many helpful analyses of important passages. Pastors will find much material for a sermon on “The Pre-existent Christ.”

This investigation of the New Testament closes with an emphasis on the historical basis of Christianity. “The language of pre-existence is not left to sail in ethereal realms as metaphysical poetry; the New Testament inserts the prose of crib and cross.”

A Closer Look At Suicide

The Social Meanings of Suicide, by Jack D. Douglas (Princeton, 1967, 398 pp., $8.50), is reviewed by David O. Moberg, professor of sociology, Marquette University, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

How many suicides are “pseudocides” of persons who meant to do no more than evoke attention or sympathy? Where do the rights of the individual (as in taking his own life) properly give way to the rights of society or of God? Is suicide an act of free will or the result of some inexorable determinism? These are among the many significant questions discussed in this work on the social psychology of suicide.

In presenting a most helpful summary and evaluation of the sociological theories of suicide, Douglas concentrates on the classical theory of Durkheim. He does not uncritically accept Durkheim’s deterministic conclusions but points out hidden assumptions, methodological inconsistencies, and other flaws in the great sociologist’s work on suicide. He shows how Durkheim’s theory “has the great fault of being adjustable in such a way as to be irrefutable”; yet he acknowledges that his Suicide, first published in France in 1897, remains the best sociological work on the subject because of its high standard of scientific investigation and its break with the positivistic tradition of research on the subject.

Douglas moves from his thorough critique of the various theories into an excellent analysis of suicidal actions as socially meaningful acts. His theoretical approach emphasizes the subjective meaning of activities to the actor (the person who is performing them) and draws a contrast between situated meanings, those that concretely involve the communicator and are related to other meanings in a specific context of time and place, and abstract meanings, those that are imputed by an interpreter who is independent of the concrete situations he analyzes. Behavioral scientists have too often taken only the abstract perspective, failing to consider suicide from the viewpoint of its victims.

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Through case studies and other evidence, Douglas shows that suicidal actions are “meaningful.” They show that something is fundamentally wrong with the situation of the actor, and convey basic information about the actor himself. Common patterns of meaning that Douglas identifies include the belief that death will transport the soul from this world to the other world, that the “substantial self” may be transformed through suicide in this world or the next, that some form of “fellow-feeling,” pity, or sympathy will be aroused through the suicidal actions, and that suicide is a means of getting revenge. Religious factors in suicide, though not well covered in the index, receive considerable attention in this work, and Douglas’s concept of “soul” is not alien to that of Christian theology.

This is not a book for the connoisseur of suicide notes, lurid cases, or popular tales. Neither is it for the counselor who wants direct and easy answers to suicide-related problems. However, those who would like to know how suicide is interpreted in one of the most important current schools of social psychology, or who seek underlying causes in the mentalities of persons who threaten or commit the act, will find The Social Meanings of Suicide a gold mine. And, the thoughtful reader will gain insights and perspectives that will help him understand himself.

Polemical Blitzkrieg

Der Ruf der Freiheit, by Ernst Käsemann (J.C.B. Mohr, 1968, 170 pp., DM 6.80), is reviewed by Harold O. J. Brown, theological secretary, International Fellowship of Evangelical Students, Lausanne, Switzerland.

This little work, “The Call of Freedom,” is the answer of the well-known Tübingen professor of New Testament studies to the rallying of conservatives in German Protestantism, the “No Other Gospel!” movement. Käsemann, whose tenacious and bellicose character stood him in good stead in his courageous resistance to the Nazi infiltration of German Protestantism in the Hitler years, now brings all his rhetoric to bear on the mixed multitude of conservatively inclined German Protestants who are trying in different ways to save something of historic Christianity out of the doctrinal chaos currently reigning in Germany’s theological faculties.

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One of the most striking things about “The Call of Freedom” is its tone of offended innocence, a posture that would be more convincing if Herr Käsemann did not himself indulge in rhetoric and innuendo to discredit his opponents. He points with justifiable pride to his anti-Nazi record and disparages the timidity toward the Nazis of some of those who now take the field against him. It is effective rhetoric but does not contribute much to our understanding of the doctrinal and theological issues at stake in the present controversy.

For Käsemann, “The ruling element of Christian life today is anxiety about the freedom of the Christian man.” He thinks Christendom has turned from proclaiming the Gospel to proclaiming the institutional church as a guardian of order and inhibitor of change.

In chapter 1, “Was Jesus Liberal?” Käsemann opposes “pious” to “liberal.” His criterion for Jesus’ liberality is that he interpreted everything from the perspective of love.

But Käsemann does not appear to consider his own conflict with the “No Other Gospel!” movement from the perspective of love; in fact, his sarcasm has lost him some of the sympathy he gained as the victim of its attacks.

Käsemann attacks the “Theology of the Resurrection” of his opponents, particularly of Professor Walter Künneth of Erlangen. For Käsemann, emphasis on the glorious, risen, and ruling Lord produces an unstable and self-righteous enthusiasm; the Risen Lord must remain the Crucified Sufferer. The polemical note rings out again and again, especially in a supercilious attacks on “Professor Künneth’s unknown assistant Wolfram Klopfermann.”

He refers to Jesus’ “royal freedom” to redefine the Law in the Sermon on the Mount, preferring in the subsequent discussion to see this as an evidence of Jesus’ freedom rather than of his kingship. For Käsemann, Jesus, by interpreting everything from the perspective of love, really understood the will of God, while the scribes obscured its meaning with their convoluted interpretations. The “scribes” of today are the orthodox, the pietists. Surely a closer parallel would be to the modern theologians who warn us that the Word of God cannot be understood without the very special training and point of view that they alone can effectively impart.

Herr Käsemann’s little book reveals much more of the passion and power of Käsemann than of Jesus’ message of freedom, which shines only dimly through the smoke of the polemical artillery. The unprejudiced reader will readily concede that Käsemann has some reason to be dissatisfied both with the record of Germany’s conservative Protestants under Hitler and with their courtesy and respect in theological discussion today. He cannot but observe that in attacking Käsemann, “No Other Gospel!” has tackled a tiger, emotionally as well as theologically. But if the conservatives’ most odious allegation, in his eyes, is that “Ernst Käsemann can no longer be held to be a teacher of the church,” this book, ample in invective and meager in coherent teaching, is not a good refutation. Methinks the lady doth protest too much.

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Explorations By A Secularist

Theological Explorations, by Paul M. van Buren (Macmillan, 1968, 181 pp., $4.95), is reviewed by L. D. MCoy, chairman, Department of Biblical Literature, Texas Technological College, Lubbock, Texas.

Paul van Buren has assembled eight of his essays that question the old base camp and equipment of theology and seek to find a role for theology in the plurality and relativism of our culture. “Not one of these essays represents my ‘position,’ past or present,” he says, “except in the way that one frame of a moving picture film represents the ‘position’ of the dancer it portrays.” The concern that is central to him is “what religion has done for men and what it might do for men today.” He cannot accept a theology based on the “faith of our fathers” but seeks one influenced by today’s culture.

Van Buren assumes that speaking in terms of the absolute is now dead because it has been neglected. Theologians are no longer understood by the common people, he says, because they are using outdated terminology. A great point is made of theologians’ use of the term “reality,” but van Buren himself later uses the same frame of reference when he talks about what is “real” to us. He shows great disdain toward dogmatism and extremism and extols a live-and-let-live attitude. One wonders how this can be reconciled with the dogmatism and imperatives of the New Testament, such as, “Except you repent, you will all perish.”

His definition of faith as a way of seeing and understanding the world disregards the God who is beyond metaphysics. Van Buren admits he has formulated an “atheistic interpretation of the language of faith.” In myths, stories, and parables Christians must find analogies for the object of faith; with the death of the Absolute, faith must live by faith alone.

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The chapter “On Doing Theology” is mainly involved in taking apart the language of Heinrich Ott. In criticizing Ott, van Buren says that “a faith which claims to be grounded in historical events is actually not interested in historical investigation” and uses for example the Corinthian letters. What Paul meant or what the Corinthians took Paul to mean, van Buren concludes, is unimportant. The importance of the epistles lies solely in the meanings that believers today might want to discuss.

In a chapter dealing with Bonhoeffer, van Buren points out that at times the believer is forced to say, “But this is how things are.” When that happens, van Buren says, he has spoken of God. On the basis of one statement written by Bonhoeffer in 1944, van Buren concludes that Bonhoeffer was using language that had lost its meaning. Another chapter is devoted to the philosophy of William James, which our author likes.

In the last chapter, which contains his comments on a discussion of God by Gordon Kaufman, van Buren struggles with the problem of translating God into secular terms. Men who have “trembled in the presence of the gods” are not typical of any age or society, he says, and Jesus added very little except a sense of urgency. However, he states very well the message of Jesus that “to be ready for the kingdom means to start living now.” He concludes that theologians need not try to formulate another doctrine of God until they have had an experience of trembling before God when language cannot adequately communicate their feeling.

These sometimes difficult explorations are thought-provoking. Yet there seem to be no answers to the questions raised. One is left to wonder what part contemporary culture plays in shaping contemporary theology.

Book Briefs

Hang Tough, by John Bonner (Bethany, 1968, 122 pp., $2.95). A brief examination of the criminal mind and the problem of penology by a man who has spent eight years as a teacher inside San Quentin.

Beyond Combat, by James M. Hutchens (Moody, 1968, 128 pp., $3.95). A stirring account of the experiences of an outstanding combat chaplain in Viet Nam. Filled with heart-warming stories that show the power of the Gospel even in the hell of war.

To God with Love, by Jean Reynolds Davis (Harper & Row, 1968, 147 pp., $3.95), This collection of “letters to God from a busy housewife and mother” vividly reminds us that our God cares about even the most insignificant areas of our lives.

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The Mirages of Marriage, by William J. Lederer and Don D. Jackson (Norton, 1968, 473 pp., $7.95). A provocative examination of marriage in America exposes marriage as many people experience it. Offers many helpful insights, though it virtually overlooks the spiritual aspect of marriage.

The Inside Story of Jehovah’s Witnesses, by W. C. Stevenson (Hart, 1968, 211 pp., $5.95). A penetrating analysis of the fastest-growing religion in the world by a man who was a member of this dedicated sect for fourteen years.

Sex and the New Morality, by Frederic C. Wood, Jr. (Association, 1968, 157 pp., $4.95). A college chaplain presents guidelines for applying “situation ethics” in the area of sexual morality.

Psychotherapy and Religion, by Josef Rudin (University of Notre Dame, 1968, 244 pp., $5.95). A Roman Catholic scholar offers a helpful analysis of the purpose and methods of depth psychology and seeks to bridge the gap between theology and clinical psychology.

My Family: How Shall I Live with It?, by George and Nikki Koehler (Rand McNally, 1968, 126 pp., $3.95). Father and daughter team up to offer helpful suggestions for a full and happy family life.

This Is My Story, This Is My Song, by Jerome Hines (Revell, 1968, 160 pp., $3.95). Testimony and autobiography of the famous Metropolitan Opera basso. On a popular level, and likely to be most convincing to the already committed.

On the Inspiration of Scripture, by John Henry Newman (Corpus, 1968, 153 pp., $4.95). Newman’s 1894 apologetic essays present the human and the divine elements in the Catholic doctrine of inspiration.

In Heavenly Places, by Charles H. Welch (Berean, 1968, 432 pp., $4.50). This competent analysis of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians—“the high water mark of God’s Scriptural revelation”—deals with the will of the Father, the work of the Son, and the witness of the Spirit as they relate to man.

The Liberty of Obedience, by Elisabeth Elliot (Word, 1968, 63 pp., $2.95). Warns against over-simplifying the Christian life in terms of rigid adherence to man-made custom and points the way to the achievement of maturity in the freedom of the Christian man to commit himself totally to God.


Almost Twelve, by Kenneth N. Taylor (Tyndale House, 1968, 59 pp., $1). The facts of life from a Christian perspective presented tastefully, forthrightly, and in language that a twelve-year-old can understand. A great help to parents and children alike.

A Book of Protestant Saints, by Ernest Gordon (Prairie Press, 1968, 376 pp., $1.25). Reprint of a 1946 volume presenting sketches of the lives of some little-known Protestant saints.

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Oswald Chambers: An Unbribed Soul, by D. W. Lambert (Oliphants, 1968, 95 pp., $.95). Sketchy biography of a man whose life and writings have spoken profoundly to the hearts of many Christians.

Discovery in Song, edited by Robert Heyer, S. J. (Paulist and Association, 1968, 138 pp., $1.95). One of a series, which also includes Discovery in Word, in which the editors seek to provide a tool through which young people can study the Christian faith in the light of current writers and popular music.

The Gospel of Baptism, by Richard Jungkuntz (Concordia, 1968, 137 pp., $2.50). A fresh treatment of the doctrine of baptism from the pen of a Missouri Synod Lutheran.

Death and Contemporary Man: The Crisis of Terminal Illness, by Carl G. Carlozzi (Eerdmans, 1968, 79 pp., $1.45). A former chaplain at a metropolitan hospital offers a helpful examination of the attitudes and behavior of patient, family, doctor, and pastor in the crisis of terminal illness.

The Christian and Politics, by Daniel R. Grant (Broadman, 1968, 127 pp., $1.95). This provocative study of the Christian’s role in the realm of practical politics calls him to use political power to show compassion for human needs.

She Shall Be Called Woman, by Frances Vander Velde (Kregel, 1968, 258 pp., $2.45). Revised edition of a series of character studies of Bible women, written by a mother of eight children.

Climbing Up the Mountain, Children, by H. S. Vigeveno (Regal, 1968, 184 pp., $.95). A lively, fresh interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount. Don’t let that title throw you.

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