Empirical Religion

Experience and God, by John E. Smith (Oxford, 1968, 209 pp., $4.75) is reviewed by Gordon H. Clark, professor of philosophy, Butler University, Indianapolis, Indiana.

In the first, the shorter, the basic, and therefore the more important part of this book, the author, John E. Smith, defends the philosophy of empiricism so that in the second and much longer part he can construct an empirical religion and theology.

In defense of empiricism Smith fulminates against restricting experience to sensation and in particular against the subjective idealism that results from such restriction. Experience is encounter; it is objective, not subjective, a critical product of the intersection between reality and a self-conscious being. Experience does not reside uniquely in the person who has it. Indeed, experience is not mental at all; it has a social character. “The experience of being a self distinct from a world of events and other selves is itself an event, and one that is usually accompanied by a shock.”

I myself cannot recall any such shock. I seem always to have realized that I was not the little boy who lived next door. Perhaps before this is pronounced unusual, a poll should be taken. I remember being hit by a baseball bat at an early age, as the batter slung it aside and ran for first. The game no doubt was a social situation, but the hurt and bruise were private and individual. So, too, when smallpox may have threatened, the doctor vaccinated me, the individual; he did not vaccinate the social situation.

Then, again, even if experience is an encounter with reality, there is no guarantee that this encounter gives more accurate information than the subjective idealist would allow it. My own encounter with allegedly objective roll mops led me to contradict violently the predications some of my friends made.

This highlights the first gap in Smith’s formulation. There is no continuity between his poorly defined “experience” and his assertion of a religious reality. To obscure the gap, he momentarily reduces “God” to “religious object,” for the latter is so vague that maybe it could be reached from some equally vague “experience.” But the gap cannot be hidden, for when he needs some “religion,” he has a revert to the terms “God,” “holy,” and “religious dimension.” If these terms were clearly defined, the gap would be painfully obvious; yet vague as they remain, the author shows no derivation from experience.

Instead of justifying them, Smith asserts, reiterates, and begs the question. For example, “To ignore the religious dimension of experience in favor of a wholly dogmatic approach to God through revelation is an error.” Is it? Could not dogmatic revelation itself be the religious dimension of experience? “The attempt to present God as a being who breaks into the world and human life entirely ab extra through sheer self-disclosure must always fail to convey to the would-be believer a proper understanding of his belief.” Would Abraham agree to this? If the author believes that Abraham was deceived or lacked proper understanding, something more is needed beyond the simple statement that this “is an error.”

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There is a second gap, this time one that the author acknowledges. It is impossible to derive any positive religion from the “religious dimension of experience.” This leaves unsupported, not so much his denial that Christianity is final and exhaustive, as his assertion that Buddhism and Hinduism contain true revelations from God. One would like to see a detailed, step-by-step account of how experience justifies this or that truth in Hinduism. If the alleged truth is definite, even the author admits the gap; but if the truth is vague enough to be found in some form in all three religions, then “God” is the common characteristic of Jehovah, Shiva, and Nirvana; and this is nothing at all. These considerations ruin some twenty pages of non-Chalcedonian Christology, as well as the assumptions underlying a discussion of the Book of Job.

So far as I can see, the best Smith does with this situation is to appeal to a “living reason” that depends on “convincing” conversation, which by the canons of logic is fallacious (chapter 4). Such fallacious “living reason” can “develop the content of experience” in any direction one wishes. Christianity—whether it be liberal or orthodox—Buddhism, and Hinduism follow equally well.

First Corinthians Rediscovered

The First Epistle to the Corinthians, by C. K. Barrett (Harper, 1968, 410 pp., $8), is reviewed by G. Coleman Luck, chairman, Department of Theology, Moody Bible Institute, Chicago, Illinois.

First Corinthians is the longest of all the New Testament epistles, and in content it is fascinating and relevant to our day. Yet it is almost a lost book, according to the distinguished professor of divinity at the University of Durham (England). Indeed, Professor Barrett feels that the Gospel itself is in the same class. In a brief preface he expresses his belief that “the church in our generation needs to rediscover the Apostolic Gospel; and for this it needs the Epistle to the Romans. It needs also to rediscover the relation between this Gospel and its order, discipline, worship, and ethics; and for this it needs the First Epistle to the Corinthians.” The dust jacket of this new addition to “Harper’s New Testament Commentaries” proclaims that this volume itself represents such a discovery.

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The epistle deals with various problems the Corinthian assembly faced. Since these were largely of conduct rather than doctrine, the main thrust is practical. However, as Barrett says, “the practical advice is consciously grounded in theological principles which can usually be detected.” After a brief, readable introduction and an unimpressive outline, he provides a careful exposition, covering every verse to some extent. The work is scholarly, yet not pedantic. There are numerous references to Greek words (with a useful index of them at the close); yet these are not conspicuous enough to hinder the reader unacquainted with that language. Barrett quite often refers to views of other expositors (mostly modern and liberal), both to agree and to disagree.

The greater part of what he writes is edifying, and he sometimes expresses important biblical truths in a thrilling way. One sample:

Paul must have known that he could not surpass or even equal the Greek world in its own kind of eloquence and wisdom, and like wise Christian preachers in every age he focused his attention upon the one theme the world did not share with him. Of all the epistles, those to the Corinthians are most full of Christian paradox—of strength that is made perfect in weakness, of poor men who make many rich, of married men who are as if they had no wives, of those who have nothing but possess all things, who are the scum of the earth but lead it to salvation, who die and yet live; and the heart of the paradox is the preaching of the feeble and stupid message of the crucified Christ, which nevertheless proves to have a power and wisdom no human eloquence possesses, since it is the power and wisdom of God himself.

But although Professor Barrett seems to hold to many of the great doctrines of the faith, he clearly is far from believing in the verbal-plenary inspiration of Scripture. In fact, his conception of inspiration is rather loose. He confuses it with illumination—we are “inspired to understand” things. He seems to consider any kind of divine empowering or manifestation to be inspiration. He concedes that the great inspiration text of 2:13 may refer to the apostles, but “more probably” it merely means that all mature Christians talk about deep spiritual truths as “prompted by the Spirit.” He expresses doubts about the historicity of statements in the Book of Acts and in the Synoptic Gospels. This is probably why he thinks First and Second Corinthians “constitute perhaps the most valuable of all the documents available to the historian of the apostolic age.”

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As for Paul himself, though Barrett concludes that he probably wrote the letter straight through as it now stands, yet he concedes that part of chapter 14 may be the work of a “Deutero-Pauline writer,” and plainly states that First Timothy is such. Paul is said to be sometimes “not wholly consistent,” to give wrong numbers probably from a memory lapse, to hold “substantially Gnostic opinions,” to use physiology that “may or may not be correct,” to have reworked an “existing apocalypse” in a large portion of chapter 15.

Barrett claims that the Apostle thought he was living in the “last days,” and that he was positive he would live to see the actual return of Christ. This view is based on Paul’s use of such expressions as “we shall be changed.” In Second Corinthians 5:1 Paul uses the first person plural when speaking of the prospect of physical death. Instead of understanding that by “we” the Apostle merely mean any and all Christians to whom the teaching might apply, Barrett argues that Paul at first was sure he would live to see the second coming, but later found “death nearer” and therefore probably changed his “perspective” in Second Corinthians.

Many times Barrett speaks of the redeeming work of Christ in the highest terms. In the incarnation and especially the crucifixion, he says, God did for man what man couldn’t do for himself. Christ offered himself for his people; he bought us at the cost of his life; for his sake men are freed from guilt; the righteousness of Christ is given to believers; our sins are forgiven because of the shedding of his blood. Nevertheless, the “primitive proclamation” simply affirmed that his death was “in order to deal with our sins” without explaining the exact way this dealing was accomplished. Salvation is a gift and cannot be earned, we are rightly told on one page; yet later we read that “the law was … able to keep a well-intentioned man in the way of life.” Perhaps Paul isn’t the only one who is sometimes “inconsistent.”

Barrett believes that a saved person can lose his salvation—this could even have happened to Paul himself, he says. The resurrection of Christ is said to be historical “only to a limited extent”; it cannot be proved or disproved by historical evidence. The accounts of the post-resurrection appearances prove only that certain people thought they saw Jesus. “If Paul used them as such a proof [i.e., of the Christian doctrine of the resurrection], he was for the moment losing his grip on his own subject matter and line of argument.” Paul also, according to Barrett, may have been a universalist. God’s final judgment of those outside the Church “may indeed bring to the orthodox Christian a number of surprises.” May I be permitted to respond that it may also bring a number of surprises to the unorthodox Christian.

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There are still other points in the book to which I take exception. Yet despite all these strictures, I still can say that I found much positive teaching of real value, and I recommend the book to the reader who can use it with discernment.

Dusting Off Pelagius

Pelagius: Inquiries and Reappraisals by Robert F. Evans (Seabury, 1968, 171 pp., $6.95), is reviewed by Robert D. Knudsen, Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

A scholarly book on a British monk of the fifth century who became famous because he was attacked as an heretic by the church father Augustine is not likely to become a best-selling paperback. That is even more true of a book that is a series of historical essays aiming to extricate their subject from a heap of criticism. As the subtitle suggests, this book aims to place Pelagius in what the author feels is a more exact historical perspective, which means that many of the criticisms of him will have to be revised. The book’s scholarly sifting of the evidence in defense of this position will make it tough sledding for the average reader. It will have to be judged not by its popular appeal but by the historical accuracy of the image it projects of Pelagius and the adequacy of its evaluation.

The author introduces his subject by describing Pelagius’s relationship to Jerome and to Augustine. Pelagius’s views, he says, took shape in reaction to teachings of Jerome centering on the possibility of Christian perfection. Jerome held that sin was a necessary aspect of human bodily existence. Pelagius argued, on the contrary, that the Christian could live without sin. The law does not require of man what he cannot attain by his natural powers with the aid of divine grace. After reading a treatise of Pelagius on Christian perfection, Augustine began to attack him for having abandoned the foundations of the Catholic doctrine of grace. This attack, Evans claims, was for the most part unjustified. Pelagius desired to uphold the received doctrine. In his attack Augustine even forgot that he himself had once held some of the views he was attacking in Pelagius.

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The last chapter, which is a statement of Pelagius’s position, is the easiest one to read. It is also one of the most revealing. Pelagius’s claim that the Christian could attain perfection was based on the adjustment of the demands of God’s law to human capabilities. Further, he believed that the resources for this perfection lay within man himself. Indeed, Pelagius thought that the law was evangelical, that it itself was a manifestation of grace. But for Pelagius this was true only in the sense that the law acts as an abrasive that scours off the surface of man’s life, tarnished by sinful habits, and reveals to man the possibilities that reside within himself as a rational creature.

Evans tries to rescue Pelagius from the attacks of Augustine. A close reading of his last chapter, however, ought to convince the discerning reader that Augustine was justified in rescuing the Church from Pelagius.

Jewish Initiative

The Jew in American Politics, by Nathaniel Weyl (Arlington House, 1968, 375 pp., $6.95), is reviewed by Ludwig R. M. Dewitz, associate professor of Old Testament language, literature, and exegesis, Columbia Theological Seminary, Decatur, Georgia.

This informative and stimulating book adds one more variation to the theme that the Jews happen to be different Hegel found it to be so, as did Toynbee, and so does Nathaniel Weyl.

Sociological logic suggests that Jews in America would be found in the conservative political camp, says Weyl; but the strange fact emerges that they are more dominant in the liberal-radical sector. In seeking to explain this, he takes the reader back into American history, over to Russia, to Israel, and into the modern civil-rights movement. His ample statistics show that the Jews in America are an intellectual, progressive, elite group, but that their enemies are not those who are in competition with them (i.e., elite Gentiles) but rural or low-income groups who, as such, have little direct contact with Jews.

Understandably, minority problems come to the fore in this book about American Jews. Weyl criticizes modern trends that aim at “egalitarianism” without due respect for the initiative of the “uncommon man.” He wants the Negro to have every opportunity to help him progress but emphasizes that “privileges entail duties” and that “men are not entitled to equality, but to the far more precious gift of equality of opportunity.” He fears that Jews are going too far in their espousal of the Negro cause, not realizing that account must be taken of intellectual and social potential. At this point he seems to imply that Negro potential is below par and that this should be recognized. He puts into the mouths of an older generation of American liberals these words: “Yes, it is wrong if he is held down by lack of equal opportunity. But if he is at the bottom because he is the least intelligent, the least productive and the least creative component of the population, then the bottom is where he belongs. And there is no point in being sentimental and saying that society should not have a bottom. For unless there is a bottom, there cannot be a top.”

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Certain random observations that Weyl makes are of special interest to the Christian. Some paragraphs on Jews and Puritans discuss their affinities. Both tend to prefer Old Testament names (to contrast with Roman Catholics). The Puritan elder, “like the rabbi, laid no claim to supernatural authority, but qualified for his vocation through piety, wisdom and Biblical learning. Like the rabbi, he was consulted on all political and juridical issues.”

In his chapter on “Church and State” Weyl is critical of Jews who are over-aggressive in their desire to banish from the public schools anything and everything associated with religion. He prefers the view of those Jews who realize that diversity, not uniformity, is desirable; this would allow for more permissiveness also in the practical application of the First Amendment to the Constitution.

Weyl has given us a thought-provoking, well-written book.

Mapping The Bible

The Macmillan Bible Atlas, by Yohanan Aharoni and Michael Avi-Yonah (Macmillan, 1968, 173 pp., $14.95), is reviewed by Carl E. DeVries, research assistant, The Oriental Institute, University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois.

Of the many Bible atlases that have appeared in the last decade or so, this one deserves particular commendation. By using many more maps than are ordinarily found in a Bible atlas—about 260—the authors have been able to show the geographic details of many Bible events. Maps of battles show the position and movements of opposing forces. An abundance of maps illustrate events and situations on the periphery of the biblical scene that influenced some facets of biblical life. These maps increase our understanding of the history and culture underlying the Bible. There are economic maps that show the sources of important raw materials, manufacturing centers, and trade routes. A number of maps have to do with the intertestamental period and with Judaism during the early days of Christianity. Often the maps are accompanied by translations from ancient sources and by references to primary source materials. Drawings of archaeological objects, reliefs, inscriptions, and so on, a detailed chronology, and a comprehensive index increase the usefulness of the volume.

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As the authors note in the preface, making a map commits one to putting down definite boundary lines, even when their actual location is not known. (Could not uncertainty be indicated by a different kind or color of line, by an explanatory note, or by a question mark?) And obviously a writer’s own views show up as clearly in the way he discusses chronology, theology, and textual criticism. Although in a number of details my own conclusions differ from those of the authors, in general I found the text to be objective. Careful attempts have been made to indicate differing views when scholarly opinion is divided. But thoroughly conservative viewpoints are typically slighted.

The emphasis on vivid presentation and the introduction of rarely used but relevant data from extra-biblical sources make this atlas unusual. It is highly recommended as an informative help to anyone who will use it critically and carefully.

The Serving Church

Service in Christ: Essays Presented to Karl Barth on His Eightieth Birthday, edited by T. H. L. Parker and James I. McCord (Eerdmans, 1967, 223 pp., $6.95), is reviewed by Jaymes P. Morgan, instructor in systematic theology, Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, California.

This eminently readable discussion of diakonia—the mutual service to one another by the members of Christ’s Church and their service to their fellow men—is a most fitting tribute to one whose teaching and writing have been dominated by the theme “the man for others.”

Two chapters are of particular note: In “The Care of the Poor in the Old Testament” N. W. Porteous outlines how the people delivered from bondage were taught to respond to suffering; and G. Barrois documents the fateful shift by the theological system-builders of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries from viewing works of mercy as an obligation of justice to understanding them as an office of love. The dire effects of this change are described by James Atkinson in his discussion of Reformation times. G. W. Bromiley’s criticism of the Reformers’ relative lack of witness to the civil authority concerning a just social and economic order is both temperate and well considered.

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In a rather unclear section of his generally fine introductory chapter, T. F. Torrance suggests that the Church is faithful in diakonia when it threads its way between a quietistic relegating of corporate responsibility to the state and the temptation to build power structures of its own. As it stands, this analysis is unfortunately facile, for in contemporary American society the use of power is not optional for the Church. We may regret that the churches have become powerful, but we cannot ignore the fact that they are sources of political, economic and social power, whether they use this force consciously or not, redemptively or not.

Regrettably, most of the chapters do not give biographical suggestions for further study; those by Frederick Herzog on the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and by H. Francis Davis on the modern Roman Catholic Church are notable exceptions. The materials on diakonia in the life of other churches tend to be rather pedestrian.

This volume makes a valuable contribution to the modern discussion, both as a theological and historical commentary on the tangled question of the relation of love and justice, and as a plea for a credible witness to Jesus Christ in the world, under the assumption that the Church can be recognized as such only as Christ clothed in the Gospel meets Christ clothed in the desperate needs of men.

Book Briefs

Old Testament Life and Literature, by Gerald A. Larue (Allyn & Bacon, 1968, 513 pp., $8.95). A well-organized and broadly researched survey of the Old Testament. Accepts the documentary hypothesis and correlates biblical passages with historical data.

The Gospel of St. Luke, by G. B. Caird (Seabury, 1968, 271 pp., $6.50), and The Gospel of St. Mark, by D. E. Nineham (Seabury, 1968, 477 pp., $8). Learned and readable commentaries originally published in 1963 by Pelican Books.

Maya Mission, by Lawrence Dame (Doubleday, 1968, 252 pp., $4.95). The thirty-year missionary service of Elva and David Legters in Yucatan jungles.

Youth at Bat, by Chester E. Swor and Jerry Merriman (Revell, 1968, 128 pp., $3.50). Biblical personages and events portrayed in baseball terms for youth. Should hit 400 in the Little League.

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The Marrow of Theology, by William Ames (United Church, 1968, 353 pp., $7.95). A new translation of the theology of Puritan William Ames (1576–1633) that stresses living, dynamic faith.

The People on Second Street, by Jenny Moore (Morrow, 1968, 218, $5). Introduction by Malcolm Boyd. An Episcopal rector’s wife tells of her family’s emotional involvement for eight years with the people in a ghetto-like area of Jersey City—how they learned about the “constant fears, harassments, and discomforts” that the very poor face every day, and how love contributed to change.

Taste: An Essay in Critical Imagination, by Christopher Browne Garnett, Jr. (Exposition-University, 1968, 88 pp., $4). A philosophy professor simply presents the continual exercise of critical imagination as the tastebud enabling man to appreciate beauty in such things as poetry, people, and silent thought.

Writings in Time of War, by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (Harper & Row, 1968, 315 pp., $5.95). Early writings of the Catholic scholar whose theology posits that Christ is at the center of a cosmic evolutionary process.

Mr. Jonathan Edwards, by James Playsted Wood (Seabury, 1968, 166 pp., $4.50). A biography of the great eighteenth-century Christian leader, written especially for young readers.

The Word in the Third World, edited by James P. Cotter (Corpus, 1968, 285 pp., $7.50). Roman Catholic and Protestant thinkers offer lively discussion on new approaches to the task of church mission.

Revelation and the Quest for Unity, by Avery Dulles (Corpus, 1968, 325 pp., $7.50). Papers on the two areas of theological study that have advanced most dramatically in Roman Catholic theology during the past decade: revelation and ecumenism. By a Roman Catholic priest who is the son of the late John Foster Dulles, a Presbyterian.

Acts—An Inductive Study, by Irving L. Jensen (Moody, 1968, 253 pp., $4.95). Jensen provides a study guide and diagrams that help the inductive Bible student grasp the message of the Book of Acts.

Every Man a Brother, by William F. Drummond (Corpus, 1968, 160 pp., $4.95). Father Drummond writes about reason, nature, and natural law as stressed in the social encyclicals. His emphasis on the mutual responsibility of all men should make an impression on ecumenists.

Some of My Best Friends Were Addicts, by Virginia Ely (Revell, 1968, 128 pp., $3.50). A firsthand account of the determination and understanding of a woman who has sought to rehabilitate lives trapped in drug addiction.

Absolutes in Moral Theology?, edited by Charles Curran (Corpus, 1968, 320 pp., $6.95). Catholic professors of moral theology wrestle with personal and social ethical problems and call for modifications by their church in various areas.

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