Cybernetic Religion

Toward an American Theology, by Herbert W. Richardson (Harper & Row, 1967, 170 pp., $3.95), is reviewed by Gordon R. Lewis, professor of systematic theology and Christian philosophy, Conservative Baptist Theological Seminary, Denver, Colorado.

The death-of-God theology buries belief in a personal God but marks the beginning of a fresh American approach to theological thinking, according to Herbert W. Richardson, assistant professor of theology at Harvard Divinity School.

Our high regard for a God with a personal self-consciousness, Richardson says, is simply the projection of seventeenth-century philosophy into Scripture. However, atheistic rejections of God as an individual person are merely transitional. An atheistic culture is impossible in principle, for “an absolute denial of God finally negates its own negation.”

Culturally, the era of the individual is rapidly being swallowed up in what Richardson calls the age of sociotechnics. Man now exercises technical control not only over nature but also over all the institutions that make up society: economics, education, science, and politics. Cybernetics is concerned with the control of probability systems whose terms are the manifold decisions of free individuals. Since America has created and promulgated social technology, it is fitting that America should produce the distinctive theology for the new age. With little reference to Scripture, but some guidance from the history of doctrine, Richardson seeks to chart the way.

The shift to a social conception of God is required, he thinks, by the sociotechnic age. Although Richardson continues to use personal pronouns of God, he says we can no longer think of God as a person explicated by a theological emphasis on the historical Jesus. Apparently we are to think of God as the general goals for a cybernetic system. These goals may be “conceptually imprecise, but symbolically precise.” The myth becomes the message. The new ethical principles will move away from independence and competitiveness to teamwork and conformity to the systems of society necessary for optimum organization of human life. God is “the unity of the encompassing system of social relations.”

A philosophical analysis of unity discloses (1) the unity of the individual, or individuality, (2) the unity of any two or more individuals when taken together, relationality, and (3) the unity of any or all possible relationalities taken together, wholeness. It must not be forgotten that these are three types of unity. The unity of the three is not: one of the three, a fourth hypostasis, nothing at all, or relatively the negation of some determinate being. The unity is the three themselves, that is, “the oneness is nothing other than the threeness of these three ones.” This unity is present in all things, but it also transcends them. We must affirm not only the reality of individuality, relationality, and wholeness, but also the reality of “the unity of unities.” Although Richardson does not wish to consider this a personal God, he asserts its identity with the “one Lord” of biblical experience (Deut. 6:4). He does not consider his henological argument an explanation of the Trinity, however useful it may be as an analogy.

Article continues below
Reading For Perspective


The Philosophy of Gordon H. Clark, edited by Ronald H. Nash (Presbyterian and Reformed, $9.95). A fascinating, challenging Festschrift on the encyclopedic thought of the outstanding evangelical Protestant philosopher of our day.

The Progress of the Protestant, by John Haverstick (Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, $14.95). Haverstick presents highlights of Protestant history from Wycliffe to Barth through 500 illustrations and a limited but lively text.

• … And Thy Neighbor, by Sam Shoemaker, edited by Cecile Offill (Word, $3.50). A sampler of sermons and writings by the late Dr. Sam Shoemaker that stresses the revolutionary spiritual power in the New Testament message and calls men to a victorious life in Christ.

The strategic point of contact with the world for Christian apologetics is the possible transcending of every ideological conflict through this invisible power of reconciliation at work in all things. If the power of reconciliation is at work in everything, we wonder why Richardson singles out the United Nations, the Peace Corps, the worker priests, federal mediators, and ecumenism about which to say, “These are the institutions where God is working in the world today, but only the fides reconcilians will have the eyes to see.” If, as Richardson assumes, every individual act is ultimately socializable, what happens to individual decision and responsibility before God? Is not a very shallow view of sin implied in the anticipation of reconciling all conflicts among men with a single cybernetic system?

In developing his system further, Richardson would do well to consider the biblically revealed possibility that society might in fact be programmed not by the Christ but by antichrist! By what criteria can we distinguish the social unity that is of God from the unity that is demonic? As the cybernetic age dawns, persons must program society’s computers. It becomes more crucial than ever that they be regenerate persons bound by the authority of the crucified and risen Lord disclosed in inscripturated truth.

Article continues below
Why Do We Experience Guilt?

The Paradox of Guilt, by Malcomb France (United Church Press, 1967, 127 pp., $1.95), is reviewed by Willard F. Harley, Sr., professor of psychology and director of counseling, Westmont College, Santa Barbara, California.

Both pastor and psychotherapist must frequently deal with the problem of guilt and feelings of guilt. In The Paradox of Guilt Malcomb France brings together an array of assumptions that he weaves into some very creative propositions. He wants to provide a “Christian study of the relief of self-hatred,” upon which he ambitiously hopes that “a new theology of guilt might be constructed.” Those who subscribe to historical Christianity will be disinclined to accept his definitions of “Christian” and of “guilt,” however, and those who subscribe to mainstream psychological inquiry will be disinclined to accept his behavioral interpretations. France readily admits, “What I have written is a personal view and not presented as possessing any other authority.” Yet, as a piece of imaginative speculation on a difficult subject, the book makes interesting and provocative reading.

France begins by limiting his treatment of guilt “to those situations where recrimination and remorse are dominant, where guilt feelings are too strong to be constructive, and where the element of grief is either absent altogether or else swamped by self-attack.” This definition points to what is usually thought of as neurotic grief. France sees this guilt as originating in infancy. When the infant is left in his crib against his will, he feels abandoned and rejected by his mother. He responds by hating her and by hating himself for hating her. “Through her absence he is being given a bad identity; to be him is to be unwanted.” “… Since his mother is in the place of God, it seems to him that there must be a kind of rightness in what he has suffered. He has brought it all upon himself, by being himself.… By not coming she is making him bad and worthless.” He feels himself to be “horrible, repulsive, a creature unfit to be loved.” France asserts emphatically, “Beyond question this is the birthplace of self-hatred.”

Article continues below

All this is, of course, highly speculative. We are always on weak ground when we “anthropomorphize” the infant or attempt to read his thoughts. Numerous studies show that extreme neglect is indeed harmful to the psyche of the child. But the occasional frustrations of not being picked up and of waiting for meals are not likely to be so devastating as France supposes.

France sees the story of the Garden of Eden as describing “the memory of a real state in which for a time every human being has lived.” Just as Adam was at first innocent, so is the infant. Adam, in asserting himself, contrary to God’s command, became a person at the price of guilt. Likewise the infant, in asserting himself against his mother, becomes a person, but also at the price of guilt. Thus he leaves the innocence and nothingness of infancy in order to become a person through self-assertion.

But if our alienation from God is nothing more than the self-assertion by which we have become persons, we can scarcely repent of such a “sin”; with France, we may divest ourselves of guilt simply by concluding we were not guilty in the first place. In his view, it seems, salvation is derived through self-forgiveness, which we achieve by denying that we ever were really guilty.

The death of Christ points the way for us, France says, by showing us a person who, originally innocent, identified himself with our self-hatred by hating himself and feeling the same alienation from God that we felt from Mother. France proposes that we can love Christ only if we see him as guilty. “Good, compliant, respectable people are unattractive.… Seeing goodness or righteousness in others makes us lonely.” “An innocent Savior could not save.” It is Christ’s hating himself and joining “in man’s condemnation of God’s faithlessness” (for abandoning Christ in his moment of suffering) that makes him the kind of Saviour we can understand and accept, and in understanding and accepting him we understand and accept ourselves.

Nowhere does France consider the biblical concept of sin or the vicarious atonement. In his view, had Adam (man the individual) never disobeyed God, he would never have become a person. Not to be a person is nothingness. The Paradox of Guilt, then, is the inexorable need to escape the nothingness of innocence in order to become a person, albeit a guilty person. We are alienated from God, not because we have done wrong, but because we are persons. France seems to imply that the only guilt God has concerned himself about is a neurotic guilt that needs only self-forgiveness. The Bible, however, addresses itself to real guilt that needs real atonement and real forgiveness.

Article continues below

Although France does not refer to the biblical doctrine of grace, he clearly recognizes the futility of urging the guilt-ridden to work harder to be good. The overwrought conscience compulsively seeks expiation; it is too easy to incite to penitence those who cannot forgive themselves.

France has brought to light much that merits consideration by those who minister to people burdened by feelings of guilt. But his approach to guilt seems to have little in common either with mainstream psychology or with careful biblical exegesis.

When, How, And Where To Refer

Referral in Pastoral Counseling, by William B. Oglesby, Jr. (Prentice-Hall, 1968, 139 pp., $3.95), is reviewed by Earl Jabay, chaplain, New Jersey Neuro-Psychiatric Institute, Princeton.

Those who come to a pastor for help sometimes have problems that exceed his competence. This book shows him how to refer such persons to the other professional people or service organizations that can best deal with their problems. The author, who is professor of pastoral counseling at Union Theological Seminary in Richmond, Virginia, adeptly draws on his considerable counseling experience in describing when, how, and where to make referrals.

There is a concrete, down-to-earth quality about Dr. Oglesby’s writing that makes this book a practical guide, especially for the young pastor. He offers numerous examples to explain not only the process of referral but also the ways of finding the right marriage counselor, adoption agency, welfare agency, psychologist or psychiatrist, and so on.

This helpful book stimulates one to reflect on some of the persistent questions involved in referral. Why is referral to medical people always a one way street? How can we help pastors resist the temptation to view the psychiatrist and psychologist as omnicompetent? How could pastors be better trained to deal with people?

It is time to take a hard look at referral. This volume is a constructive guide in that direction.

Does Ecumenism Bring Sterility?

The Ecumenical Mirage, by C. Stanley Lowell (Baker, 1967, 205 pp., $4.95), is reviewed by Robert Boyd Munger, pastor, University Presbyterian Church, Seattle, Washington.

A good debate requires a good rebuttal. Hundreds of books have been written advancing ecumenism; C. Stanley Lowell’s The Ecumenical Mirage is one of the few to make a sharp, cogent attack upon the basic assumptions and observable effects of the current movement toward church union.

Article continues below

Lowell does not hedge about his position: “The naïve assumption that a Christian unity embodied in one great church represents the will of God will be challenged throughout this book. I believe, in fact, that those who so plead have catastrophically missed the will of God.” His conclusion: “[Ecumenism] is not an authentic manifestation of the Holy Spirit but merely the cultural drift among nominal Christians who are without real convictions. It is a sickness of our time, or a symptom of it.”

He supports his thesis in two sobering chapters, “Ecumenism and Sterility” and “Proliferation and Health.” Member of the mainline churches should take a hard look at the statistics of faltering church growth in denominations identified with the ecumenical movement, in contrast with figures of rapid growth in churches outside the movement. Lowell concludes that church merger leads to sterility because of the inevitable surrender of distinctives and loss of convictions. Whether the surrender of distinctives results from church union or is part of a deeper malady he does not make clear.

The author attempts to show that the proliferation of churches is a sign of spiritual vitality: “History teaches that reforms come about only under challenge and only when the challengers are firm to the point of proliferation away from the group to be reformed. This is why division has been good for the church. A church incapable of proliferation is dead.” His fear that Protestantism will ultimately be absorbed into a monolithic Roman Catholicism is an outgrowth of his experience as an accredited correspondent at the Second Vatican Council and as editor of Church and State magazine.

Since the book is intended as a rebuttal, its negativeness is understandable; still, one wishes Lowell had made some positive suggestions about the desperate need for Christian unity in a day of world community and massive social structures. At times, it seems to me, he lets his strong feeling carry him beyond an objective interpretation of the data and even to some unsubstantiated imputations of motive.

In dialogue each party must take the other seriously. For this reason I hope this book will be read by those who see in church union the solution to the problems of Christendom, even as I hope the authentic longings of God’s people that all might be one in Christ Jesus will not be brushed off, but will be heeded responsibly, by those outside the ecumenical movement.

Article continues below
A Clear Perception Of Reality

A Second Touch, by Keith Miller (Word, 1967, 156 pp., $3.50), is reviewed by C. Ralston Smith, director of development,CHRISTIANITY TODAY, Washington, D. C.

This stimulating and refreshing little volume is a relevant application of the miracle of Jesus Christ in which he twice touched a blind man to restore his sight completely. The obvious application is that some of us who name the name of Christ need the second touch; we are still in the first stage, where haziness prevails and persons are not seen in clear perspective. The author takes us along with him in his own experience of gaining a clearer perception of reality.

In three segments Miller outlines an autobiographical odyssey, applies newly discovered truths to everyday situations, and approaches the tangled skein of institutionalism with a view to unraveling it. A good summary statement is this:

I have found that the thing which has helped me most is that during these past few years I have begun to become conscious of what I think it actually does mean to live and grow as a Christian. I have begun to believe that the Christian life is a pilgrimage, not a program; a pilgrimage with people who want to be willing to love, live, and possibly die for Christ, each other, and the world. I have begun to experience what it is like to take the risk of revealing my true needs, and to love other Christians enough to let them help me when I really hurt—as well as trying to help them [p. 125].

This is a poignant, personal book. It will get to the reader if he has any feeling of failure in the past, frustration in the present, or futility about the future. There is nothing pharisaical about this honest-to-God recital of life in the home of a Christian couple. No classroom theories are found here; rather, Miller deals with the events that make up the dawn-to-dusk life of most of us. The suggested vitalizing diet is not the ambrosia of the gods but the meat and potatoes of daily sustaining grace.

It is easy for me to be enthusiastic, and even a bit prejudiced, toward anything that comes from Keith Miller. I knew him a few years ago in Oklahoma City when he was determining how best he could serve God. In my study and at his office with his two Christian fellow workers, I benefited from his winsome and genuine searching and from his unpretentious honesty. Here’s hoping he keeps growing, and telling us about it in this fresh, invigorating way.

Article continues below
True To The Fathers Of Methodism

The Wesleyan Bible Commentary, Volume 1, Part I and Part II, edited by-Charles W. Carter (Eerdmans, 1967, 550 pp. and 497 pp., $8.95 each), is reviewed by Ludwig R. M. Dewitz, associate professor of Old Testament language, literature, and exegesis, Columbia Theological Seminary, Decatur, Georgia.

The Wesleyan Bible Commentary is intended “to maintain the faith of the Fathers of Methodism” while at the same time taking full advantage “of the latest and best information available to present-day Bible scholars.” Volume I consists of two complete books, one dealing with the Pentateuch, the other with all the rest of the historical books, Joshua to Esther. There are a general introduction to the Pentateuch and particular introductions to each of the other books.

The documentary theory is seen as a villain: “On the whole, the results of this type of study have been destructive,” the “level of an authoritative revelation” having been reduced “to a fallible record of the religious evolution of finite men groping after eternal truth.” Yet while JEPD is dismissed, a complete Mosaic authorship for the Pentateuch is not claimed. Mr. Haines, who deals with Genesis and Exodus, takes the position that the Pentateuch consists of “large portions written by Moses using preexisting sources, substantial editing by a later editor or editors with the slight possibility that they also used some pre-Mosaic sources either not available or not used by Moses himself.”

Although introductory questions of authorship and historical setting are not central to a commentary of this sort, it is regrettable that the introduction to Deuteronomy is overly short. Moreover, comment on the chapters dealing with the centralization of the cult and the restriction on the Kingship should have some reference to the historical-critical perspective.

Generally, the comments are clear and interesting. They underline quite rightly that, whatever the various records may have meant to the original writers and listeners, they do have additional meaning to a Christian. For example, the account of the Passover rightly includes a view from the New Testament perspective. It may not be obvious to all, however, that use of the plural form of Elohim for God has reference to the doctrine of the Trinity.

The bibliographies given at the end of each book include both conservative and liberal writing.

A real deficiency is the lack of maps and other illustrative material. One always can get this elsewhere, of course, but in the discussion of the tabernacle or the ark, for instance, a drawing or two would have been of real help.

Article continues below

The commentary is meant to aid those who teach the Bible in Sunday school and Bible classes and all others who wish to study the Bible more systematically. For this it is well suited and should find wide use.

Theological Brinkmanship?

The Dimensions of the Church: A Post-conciliar Reflection, by Avery Dulles (Newman, 1967, 118 pp., $3.50), is reviewed by Carl S. Meyer, director of graduate studies, Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri.

Avery Dulles of the Society of Jesus looks at the Roman Catholic Church in its relations with other churches, the unevangelized, and secular institutions in the light of the pronouncements of the Second Vatican Council. However, he does not do justice to the council’s concept of the Church as the people of God as it is brought out in Lumen gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution of the Church. Instead he goes to a broad definition of the Church that smacks of universalism.

Lumen gentium does indeed contain a prayer that the entire world might become the “people of God.” It also teaches: “Those also can attain to everlasting salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God, and moved by His grace, strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience.” In this, what is Christ’s role? Is his universal dominion, in which all his enemies are subjected to him, the inclusion of all in everlasting bliss? Is his universal atonement the same as eternal life for all, as if rejecting him were tantamount to accepting him? “We have, as it were, a secret presence of the Church even where the spoken or written word of the Gospel has not yet permeated,” says Dulles. He does not, however, accept the view of Eugene Hillman that the presence of the Church in a given ethnic-cultural group is operative for the eternal life of all past and future members of that group.

But how can Dulles or Lumen gentium postulate that the Gospel is not necessary for salvation? The Church must proclaim the Name, the only way of salvation for man. All those who believe on that name will be saved; those who do not will be damned. This is the message of Christianity; it cannot be diluted. And it is the reason for missions, whether at home or abroad. Christianity is an exclusive religion. That is not the same as saying that there is salvation only in the Roman Catholic Church, nor is it limiting the power of God. But to his followers the Redeemer has given orders: Go, preach the Gospel, baptize, teach.

Article continues below
Book Briefs

Born to Climb, by Dick Hillis (Word, 1967, 157 pp., $3.50). Illuminating biographical sketches of twenty contemporary evangelical missionaries by the founder and director of Overseas Crusades.

Luther’s Works: Lectures on Genesis, edited by Jaroslav Pelikan, translated by George V. Schick and Paul D. Pahl (Concordia, 1968, 412 pp., $6). The German reformer deals mainly with Jacob’s experiences in this new translation of lectures on Genesis, chapters 26–30.

The Thought of Teilhard de Chardin, by Emile Rideau (Harper & Row, 1968, 672 pp., $12.50). An analysis of the Roman Catholic paleontologist-theologian’s erroneous view that the universe and man are progressively evolving toward an ultimate state of redemption in the Cosmic Christ.

The Westminster Pulpit, The Preaching of G. Campbell Morgan (Revell, 1968, Volumes I-X in five books, $29.95). Masterpieces of expository preaching by the minister who addressed thousands weekly for four decades in London’s Westminster Chapel.

David Brainerd: His Life and Diary, edited by Jonathan Edwards (Moody, 1949, 384 pp., $4.95). Re-issue of the classic biography of an early American missionary to the Indians whose short life had great spiritual impact; written by one of the greatest theologian-preachers in the nation’s history.

The World of the Bible, by Anton Jirku, translated by Ann E. Keep (World, 1967, 167 pp., $10). Geographical, historical, and cultural studies of the ancient Pales-tine-Syrian region based on documents and letters, biblical texts, and recent archaeological findings.

The Old Testament for Everyman, edited by Frank Dell’Isola (Meredith, 1968, 427 pp., $8.95). A condensation and chronological rearrangement of the Old Testament based on the RSV and Confraternity of Christian Doctrine edition.

Geneva and the Consolidation of the French Protestant Movement, by Robert M. Kingdon (University of Wisconsin, 1967, 241 pp., $8). A scholarly study for church-history buffs.

Language, Persons and Belief, by Dallas M. High (Oxford, 1967, 216 pp., $4.75). High analyzes Wittgenstein’s later philosophy and challenges the assumption that faith and reason are altogether separate processes.

Changed into His Likeness, by Watchman Nee (Christian Literature Crusade, 1967, 123 pp., $3). Spiritual lessons for today gained from God’s dealings with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Article continues below

Church and State in Confrontation, by Herbert Stroup (Seabury, 1967, 246 pp., $6.95). A sociologist considers church-state relations from biblical times to the present.


The Evolving World and Theology, edited by Johannes Metz (Paulist, 1967, 184 pp., $4.50). Catholic and Protestant scholars, mainly European, who accept the evolutionary hypothesis grapple with its ramifications in the formulation of theology.

The Preacher and His Models, by James Stalker, and The Glory of the Ministry, by A. T. Robertson (Baker, 1967, 284 and 244 pp., $2.95 each). These reissues in Baker’s “Notable Books on Preaching” have what it takes to spark a minister’s mind and spirit.

The Treasury of C. H. Spurgeon, by C. H. Spurgeon (Baker, 1967, 256 pp., $1.95). Sermons by the nineteenth-century “Prince of Preachers” that still ring true in 1968.

The New Testament in the Contemporary World, by Warren W. Jackson (Seabury, 1968, 154 pp., $2.50). A highly readable exposition of the dominant attitudes toward God, the universe, the Bible, and Jesus Christ found in many of our seminaries today. An antisupernatural stance, evolutionary constructions, and low view of Scripture are passed off as factual conclusions. Written for secondary students, this work offers a distorted view of the biblical picture of God, man, and the world.

Jerusalem Through the Ages, by Charles F. Pfeiffer (Baker, 1967, 94 pp., $1.95). A brief but fascinating profile of the great city from its first biblical mention in Genesis 14 to the present day.

The Second Vatican Council, edited by Bernard C. Pawley (Oxford, 1967, 262 pp., $3.75). Eight Anglican Vatican II observers give their reactions to the council’s deliberations on divine revelation, the church, religious liberty, ecumenism, and other topics.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.