Dulling The Numinous
The Lion of Judah in Never-Never Land (Eerdmans, 141 pp., $1.95 pb), and C. S. Lewis: Mere Christian (Regal, 242 pp., $4.95, $2.95 pb), both by Kathryn Ann Lindskoog, are reviewed by Cheryl Forbes, editorial associate, CHRISTIANITY TODAY.
Part of the business of a literary critic is to analyze, synthesize and explicate the meaning behind the words, the tools of literature. Images, symbols, themes are all necessary considerations in such critical endeavors. The business of a “popular” critic, one who writes for the layman rather than the scholar, is to communicate the joy of literature and stimulate the desire to read. Kathryn Lindskoog’s two volumes on Lewis straddle the line between these two purposes. Such straddling is not necessarily bad; Lewis himself sometimes did it. But Lindskoog’s books do not fully succeed on either side of the line.
Lindskoog’s theological treatment of Narnia in The Lion of Judah in Never-Never Land (originally a master’s thesis at Wheaton under Clyde Kilby) deals with three subjects: nature, man, and God. She follows Lewis’s theology in a fairly consistent manner. However, the most important aspects of Narnia are found not in the theology behind the stories but in the stories themselves. Lindskoog discusses theology at the expense of imagination. As Lewis himself said, the Christian elements of Narnia were secondary to his desire to spin a tale.
Lindskoog also reveals an unfortunate misunderstanding of allegory when she forces Narnia into that mode. She has support for it from such a discerning critic as J. R. R. Tolkien, who disliked the seven chronicles because of what he saw as allegorical overtones. However, Walter Hooper in “Past Watchful Dragons” (found in Imagination and the Spirit, edited by Charles Huttar) convincingly argues against seeing Narnia as allegory. For example, Lindskoog finds a direct correspondence between Aslan and Christ. Hooper points out that Aslan is not the atoner for Narnia but merely Edmund’s redeemer. According to the text itself (The Lion, the Witch and the Ward-robe), any innocent person familiar with “the Deeper Magic from the Dawn of Time” could have volunteered for the sacrifice. Lewis himself once commented that Aslan was never intended to be Christ:
If Aslan represented the immaterial Deity in the same way in which Giant Despair represents Despair, he would be an allegorical figure. In reality however he is an invention giving an imaginary answer to the question, “What might Christ become like, if there really were a world like Narnia and He chose to be incarnate and die and rise again in that world as He actually has done in ours?” This is not allegory at all [Letters of C. S. Lewis, edited by W. H. Lewis, Harcourt, 1966, p. 283].
As a “theological guidebook” through Narnia to provide non-devotees of Lewis with background, Lindskoog’s simply written volume has merit. However, those interested in Narnia should first read the chronicles and then the criticism. And here is where Linkskoog falls short of fulfilling the popular critic’s function; her treatment of Narnia is not compelling enough to urge nonfantasy readers to travel to this other world.
The second book, written with the same general purpose, paraphrases Lewis’s pungent thoughts along broader lines. Lindskoog considers such additional topics as death, heaven, and hell. C. S. Lewis: Mere Christian deals with his major apologetic works as well as his fiction, while only occasionally mentioning his literary criticism. Included at the end of each chapter is a helpful list of “Further Reading About C. S. Lewis,” and in the “Afterword” Lindskoog compiles “Special Resources for C. S. Lewis Readers,” which is perhaps the best contribution of the volume. But the “Annotated Chronological Listing of C. S. Lewis” proves inadequately annotated.
Lindskoog’s works suffer when compared with Mary McDermott Shideler’s Theology of Romantic Love: A Study in the Writings of Charles Williams, which also criticizes topically. She dulls the numinous quality that characterizes all Lewis’s writings.
An Outstanding Commentary
Colossians: The Church’s Lord and the Christian’s Liberty: An Expository Commentary with a Present-Day Application, by Ralph P. Martin (Zondervan, 1973, 192 pp., $5.95), is reviewed by Edmon L. Rowell, Jr., minister of the Lee Street Baptist Church, Danville, Virginia.
Professor Martin, now of Fuller Seminary, whose previous Pauline studies are well known and respected, now presents an expository commentary in the best sense of the term. Its purpose is to interpret for our day and situation the meaning and message of Colossians on the basis of an honest and thorough exegesis of its meaning for those to whom it originally was addressed.
Any who come here for help should come prepared to do some serious reading. So prepared, however, one will not be disappointed. The serious student will be hard pressed to find a clearer statement of the problems of interpretation presented by Colossians or a more comprehensive review of the most viable attempted solutions.
Martin’s introduction is concise but thorough. The intriguing but really less important—and sometimes confusing—questions of authorship, date, and place of writing he relegates to an appendix at the end of the commentary. He rightly insists that, for interpreting Colossians, the important preliminary question concerns the nature of the teaching of those “errorists” in the church, against which teaching the epistle is directed. Martin first suggests the possibility that the church at Colossae was a young church in what was surely an old and decaying community. He suggests further that heretofore the Christians in Colossae had remained faithful, but that evidently the novelty of the theosophy of the errorists was appealing to some and disturbing to others.
Martin believes that Paul saw at least three reasons why this false teaching was a threat to the young church: (1) it degraded Jesus Christ (docetism), (2) it robbed the Christian of his liberty (legalism), and (3) it engendered a haughty exclusivism and human boasting (righteousness based on supposed self-achievement). Martin outlines what can be known of this “fake religion” with its elements of ascetism, strict dualism, and astrology and suggests that, in Paul’s eyes, it was deadly dangerous to the incipient church. Colossians, therefore, is Paul’s remorseless exposure of that “philosophy of vain deceit” which threatened the young church.
The main body of the commentary is a section-by-section (distinguished from verse-by-verse) interpretation of the letter (under fourteen sections). The exegesis is thorough but generally not highly technical. Rather than using a lot of footnotes, Martin refers, within parentheses in the text, to readily recognized sources by an abbreviated title or the author’s last name.
Martin’s exegesis follows the RSV (printed at the head of each section), but the original is always in the background and transliterated Greek appears on almost every page—which should be clear to the reader who knows Greek, unobtrusive to the one who does not. Without burdening the page with detailed word studies Martin calls attention to the basic need for understanding the words themselves in their original context. His definitions usually are crisp and clear. For example, “grace is the undeserved favour of God reaching out to men who need his pardon because they are sinners”; “peace is not just ‘spiritual prosperity’; it is the salvation of the whole man both body and soul as the direct result of God’s grace.”
Unlike many running commentaries, this one presents each section as a complete unit. The section on Colossians 1:12–20, for example, could stand as an independent short study of this important passage. Yet each section is related to the whole: its introduction and conclusion serve both to make the section complete in itself and to relate the particular passage to the rest of the commentary. For a minister who no doubt will turn to this commentary for help with a particular passage this feature is of considerable importance.
At three places the author digresses from his running commentary to deal with two particularly important and difficult passages. There are two “notes” on Colossians 1:15–20 and one on 2:11–13. These “notes” are set in reduced type, at the most occupy only a few pages, and necessarily deal with some rather technical issues. Martin is adept, however, at reducing the “technical problems” to that which is necessary for honest interpretation.
His “Note B: The Setting of Colossians 1:15–20 and Its Application” is an example of the best kind of New Testament exegesis—sensitive to all the problems, aware of the important solutions, yet recognizing that despite the problems involved (some of which can never with certainty be solved) the meaning and message of the passage can come through. Of Colossians 1:15–20 Martin concludes that Paul’s concern is not at all cosmological speculation. Rather, “Paul’s chief concern is with the new creation, actualized in conversion and Christian baptism.… Redemption does not consist in knowing the cosmic secrets of the Universe but in the experiences of sin’s release and cleansing.” Let it be noted that the haughty, boasting modern needs that good word as desperately as did the errorists at Colossae.
An outstanding feature of this commentary that will be especially helpful to every serious student of Colossians (and, in fact, of Paul in general) is the author’s stated intention to express in “popular form” the important insights of other interpreters. With the reservation that the “popular form” here is a bit heavier than average, this intention is admirably realized. Martin reviews especially the important commentaries of Lightfoot, Scott, Moule, Lohmeyer, Masson, and Bruce, and includes a host of articles in recent journals and the relevant material in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. In addition he gives careful attention to a recent important critical commentary—Eduard Lohse’s (in Fortress’s “Hermeneia” series). Martin reviews both those important contributions with which he agrees and those with which he disagrees. Furthermore, he not only states his reasons for his own conclusions; he also fairly and clearly states the arguments in favor of conclusions with which he disagrees. This important feature greatly enhances, the usefulness of this commentary for today and the future.
In summary, the present work is a competent interpretation of Colossians by an experienced student of Paul who is fully aware of the contributions of others and who is adept in selecting what is most important and most helpful in relating the message of Colossians to our day. For this reviewer an important contribution of this work is Martin’s basic approach to the interpretation of Scripture. A statement in his preface indicates the nature of this approach: “Paul as apostle of Jesus Christ is primarily here writing in a pastoral context and concerned with a specific set of historical and cultural circumstances. What he writes has a timeless validity, but in its original form it is dressed in garments of its own day and age.” It is this sane and serious approach to biblical interpretation and this basic conviction of “timeless validity” that makes Martin’s commentary an important contribution to the Church’s ongoing task of rightly interpreting Scripture.
Philosophy Of Religion
Problems of Religious Knowledge, by Terence Penelhum (Seabury, 186 pp., $7.95), God the Problem, by Gordon D. Kaufman (Harvard, 276 pp., $10), and Risk and Rhetoric in Religion: Whitehead’s Theory of Language and the Discourse of Faith, by Lyman T. Lundeen (Fortress, 276 pp., $9.50), are reviewed by Robert Brow, Anglican Rector of Cavan, Millbrook, Ontario.
Penelhum’s work is elegant, readable, and rigorous. He is a thoroughly competent philosopher who also understands theology. Problems of Religious Knowledge should be required reading in university-level philosophy-of-religion courses, and many readers of CHRISTIANITY TODAY would profit by working through it. The aim is to clarify what is at issue between “the knowledge claims made in religious faith and the rejection of these claims by religious sceptics.” As examples of religious faith Penelhum selects St. Thomas Aquinas’s statement in the Summa and John Hick’s presentation of Protestant neo-orthodoxy in Faith and Knowledge (second edition, 1966). The argument, however, applies to a much wider range of theistic theology. Penelhum rightly takes it for granted that the proofs for the existence of God so far offered have failed.
He uses G. E. Moore’s “Proof of an External World” to illustrate the requirements for a successful indirect proof of the existence of God. This chapter alone is worth the price of the book if only to keep us from the perennial temptation to think we have proved the existence of God and the consequent implication of the stupidity of agnostics.
In the third chapter Penelhum argues that although no proofs of the existence of God have so far met the standards of proof, this is no proof that no proof is possible. A chapter on “Faith and Verification” has an important discussion of Hick’s doctrine of eschatological verification—the view that although no proof is possible now, the situation after death could verify the believer’s faith.
After a careful argument that revelation and proof need not be mutually exclusive terms, Penelhum suggests in a final chapter that St. Thomas’s dichotomy between faith and knowledge is not necessary. The man who has faith “considers himself to know certain things which the sceptic says he believes mistakenly.”
In the first four pages Penelhum notes and briefly dismisses two approaches to the philosophy of religion that stem from Wittgenstein’s later work. He refers the reader to the literature and to his own work on the argument that religious discourse is not intelligible. He also rejects “Wittgensteinian fideism,” a view that was never argued by Wittgenstein himself but can be vividly illustrated by the works of Castaneda. The argument is that neither Don Juan’s world of magic nor a Christian theistic world view can be criticized from outside the system. You can adopt or refuse to adopt, but you cannot say that it is wrong. Penelhum’s too brief but (I think) plausible answer is that “it needs a great weight of argument to force us to hold, a priori, that what men of faith proclaim and what unbelievers deny is not one and the same thing, and known to be.” Although discussion may not be possible between two world views like magic and theism, it should surely be possible for, say, a believing and an unbelieving scientist discussing their faith over a period of time in the same laboratory to understand what they are disagreeing about.
Is the Day of the Denomination Dead?, by Elmer Towns (Nelson, 160 pp., $5.95). Towns is the unofficial publicist for large Baptist congregations. Two earlier books, The Ten Largest Sunday Schools (1969, Baker) and America’s Fastest Growing Churches (1972, Impact), overlooked giant Presbyterian, Pentecostal, and black congregations, among others. Drawing on his research Towns seeks to show in the present book that whatever benefits denominations—which, like church buildings, are admittedly extra-biblical—may have provided in the past, they are now in urban, technological, changing society more likely to hinder than to help the advance of the Gospel. His thesis will disturb many but deserves consideration.
The Jesus Scroll, by Donovan Joyce (Dial, 216 pp., $5.95). Sarcastic and bitter attack on Jesus and Christians. Joyce tells of a no longer available document he has seen in a language he doesn’t read which supports such wild speculation as that Jesus lived to be eighty. According to Joyce, early Christian writings turned the Lord “into the greatest bore the world has known.”
From Time to Time, by Hannah Tillich (Stein and Day, 252 pp., $7.95), and Paulus, by Rollo May (Harper & Row, 113 pp., $5.95). Both books are highly subjective and deal with Paul Tillich as a man rather than as a theologian. They read more like exposés than biographies. The first, by his wife, is a disclosure of their life together in intimate detail. The second, by a student and close friend, is highly psychoanalytical.
Theological Investigations, Volumes IX and X, by Karl Rahner (Seabury, 268 and 409 pp., $9.75 each). Thirty-four essays and lectures on a wide variety of topics, written 1965–67.
Pornography: The Sexual Mirage, by John Drakeford and Jack Hamm (Nelson, 189 pp., $6.95), and Obscenity, Pornography, and Censorship, by Perry Cotham (Baker, 206 pp., $2.95 pb). Two differing approaches by evangelicals to a current ethical issue, especially to what should be done about it. (It is noteworthy that those who have opposed laws against racial discrimination because “you can’t legislate morality” are sometimes avid promoters of anti-pornography laws.) Both books are worth reading.
Medical Ethics, by Bernard Haring (Fides, 250 pp., $8.95), and Human Medicine, by James Nelson (Augsburg, 207 pp., $3.95 pb). Two ethicists, a Catholic and Protestant, give excellent, readable analyses of such issues as abortion, euthanasia, birth control, and experiments on human beings. They examine all sides of the question, including their own opinions, from a Christian viewpoint.
Which Way?, by John and Karen Howe (Morehouse-Barlow, 136 pp., n.p., pb). Comments guiding young Christians on practical and theological problems in the Christian life. Brief treatments of major topics.
Whatever Became of Sin?, by Karl Minninger (Hawthorne, 242 pp., $7.95). A call by one of the foremost psychiatrists to recognize sin for what it really is. Informally written. Especially significant because of the author’s prominence and his closeness to a biblical view though he writes from a psychiatric rather than exegetical perspective.
Cutting the Monkey-Rope, by John Galen McEllhenney (Judson, 126 pp., $2.50 pb). A look at the question, “Is the taking of life ever justified?” The author decides it is not, whether judicially or by abortion or enthanasia. He uses both Scripture and literature, especially Moby Dick.
William Penn and Early Quakerism, by Melvin Endy (Princeton, 410 pp., $17.50). Detailed examination of William Penn and his relation to the Quaker movement and his own religious thoughts. Counters some established views on the origin and development of Quakerism.
Story and Reality, by Robert P. Roth (Eerdmans, 197 pp., $3.45 pb). A look at the Gospel in the framework of a narrative of life rather than, as is most usually done, philosophy. Roth sees the literary narrative approach to theology as the intended way of revealing truth.
Prayer in a Secular World, by Leroy T. Howe (Pilgrim, 159 pp., $5.25). An analytical rather than inspirational discourse on prayer, its structure and inner dynamics. Written for those who want to be Christians in some way but have trouble with the notion of praying. Howe teaches philosophical theology at Southern Methodist.
The Living God, edited by Millard J. Erickson (Baker, 513 pp., $7.95 pb). Thirty-three selections intended to acquaint students with a variety of views on what theology is, how God is known, and what God is like. Good refresher for those out of seminary. Tillich, Ramm, Bultmann, Warfield, Aquinas, Barth, Calvin, Berkhof, Henry, and Augustine are among the contributors. A much better balanced anthology than is customary.
Man in Motion, by Gary Collins (Creation House, 167 pp., $4.95, $2.95 pb). Fourth and final volume of the “Psychology for Church Leaders” series. The other titles—Man In Transition, Effective Counseling, Fractured Personalities—are each slightly longer and have the same prices.) Looks at learning, emotion, motivation, individual differences, interpersonal relations, and the psychology of religion.
The Old Testament Books of Poetry From Twenty-six Translations, edited by Curtis Vaughan (Zondervan, 710 pp., $9.95). The complete King James text of Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon is compared with selected significant variations from one or more of numerous other translations.
Death in American Experience, edited by Arien Mack (Schocken, 201 pp., $7.50), The Phenomenon of Death, edited by Edith Wyschogrod (Harper & Row, 235 pp., $12, $3.45 pb), Deaths of Man, by Edwin Shneidman (Quadrangle, 238 pp., $8.95), Death and Western Thought, by Jacques Choron (Macmillan, 320 pp., $6.95), and The Mystery of Death, by Ladislaus Boros (Seabury, 201 pp., $2.95 pb). The first of two contain eighteen essays by scholars and professionals in various fields, looking at the impact of death from a variety of perspectives. The third is by a psychologist and grows out of his daily experience of work with dying persons and the similar and varying patterns he has found. The fourth is a rarity: a hardback edition of a work issued in paperback ten years earlier. It is a philosopher’s survey of thinkers from Socrates to Sartre, and has become a classic. Since the reality of death is one of the key thrusts of the evangelistic appeal, it is well for Christians to know something of the feelings and thoughts of men regarding it. The fifth is a paperback edition of a worthwhile philosophical and theological treatise.
A flaw in Penelhum’s otherwise sparking philosophical work is the assumption that the point at issue is whether or not God exists. “Perhaps God exists, and perhaps not. Philosophy will not tell us. But if God exists, then Abraham and Isaiah and Peter and John and Paul knew that he does.” Since Kant, it has been objected that existence cannot be a predicate. Penelhum merely notes the discussion of this question in modern philosophy but dismisses as “misguided apologists” the many who have difficulty with the proposition that God exists.
For myself, I cannot see that it is misguided to hold that propositions such as “mauve exists,” “justice exists,” “love exists,” “Jones exists,” or “an artist exists for this painting” are meaningless. If those are meaningless, then “God exists” can fare no better. Once we have decided to use “mauve,” “justice,” or “love” in an agreed way, it then makes sense to discuss whether a particular dress is mauve, whether a particular law is just, and whether so and so exhibits love. Having agreed that we are going to apply the name “Jones” to such and such a person, we can ask whether Jones still lives in Toronto.
Now it obviously makes sense to discuss whether this painting was painted by an artist or by chance splashes of paint. If we admit that there was an artist, we can discuss whether he is still alive, and whether he is or was a loving man, a just man, and so on. Similarly the proposition “God exists” is totally meaningless, and philosophers and theologians should be reminded that it is not asserted in any of the great creeds. What is asserted in the first chapter of Genesis is that our world was created, and whoever did this is given the name “Elohim” in Hebrew, “Allah” in Arabic, or “God” in English. According to this use of the word, an atheist is then someone who denies that this world indicates creation in any sense that includes personal intention. The fool of Psalm 14:1 said not that “God does not exist” but that “there is no Creator” or possibly “there is no Judge.”
Most modern atheists would assert that instead of being created by intention this world came into being by haphazard chance. It is also possible to believe that this world was created, and then accuse the Creator of injustice, lack of love toward oneself or others, and so on. In this case one is not an atheist, but a Marcionite or a rebel against one’s Creator, and the form of the argument required to justify God is quite different.
Happily Penelhum’s otherwise excellent account of the difference between theists and atheists could be restated without making “God exists” the point at issue. For “God exists” read “this world of mountains, fish, mammals, and men was created.” This proposition would then be what is common to most theists, and it is obviously denied by true atheists.
Our second work is a collection of essays and lectures by Gordon Kaufman of Harvard Divinity School. The aim is to explain “the logic of the concept of God.” This is therefore a philosophy-of-religion preface to the author’s Systematic Theology: A Historical Perspective (1968). A chapter on “Christian Theology” makes clear that Kaufman views theology not as the study of a God-given revelation but as the exploration of a perspective on life. Chapter three is entitled “Transcendence Without Mythology.” Kaufman views God “as a limiting concept”; the word “refers to that which we do not know but which is the ultimate limit of all our experiences.” He then lists four types of limiting experience, and picks an experience “on analogy with the experience of personal limiting as known in the interaction of personal wills.” He later explains that just as we find ourselves limited and frustrated in our relation to other persons, we have a similar sense of limitation and frustration in relation to our world as a whole. This would then suggest that we are faced by, or answered back by, a personal being behind our world that we can then call “God.” This move later enables Kaufman in chapter six to change the meaning of revelation from personal acts of God, which to him would be mythological, to the whole process of world history.
In a chapter on “God as symbol” Kaufman uses a quite different method of analogy. He views the whole of Western culture centered on our theistic view of God as providing a map. The map has many roads, which go off the map, but all point in the direction of the city of God. We can if we choose use this map to order our lives in certain characteristic Christian ways. No proof of the existence of God is possible, but if we adopt the map we have a focus in what we call “God.”
We then ask on what basis we choose the Christian map over any other. The answer is that we cannot choose and act without some kind of map. The result is that “one does not ask first whether it is true that God exists (a speculative question), but rather whether this is an appropriate life-policy for men to adopt.” Kaufman then argues that speaking of God is one way, and perhaps the only way, to view our world as a moral universe. In chapter nine Kaufman contracts “secular” and “religious” world views with the “theistic” one that he has recommended.
Kaufman’s introduction is written in the shadow of Wittgenstein, but he does not use the methods that Wittgenstein has opened up for philosophy and theology. It is quite wrong to speak of theological discourse as a “language-game.” Often several language-games would be needed to clarify even a simple theological statement. Thus to understand “God created the world” Wittgenstein would want to know the speaker’s language-game for “the world.” Various language-games for using the word “created” could be constructed: e.g., would a beautiful pattern splashed on a white wall by a car driving through mud be a creation? Only then would the speaker’s language-game for the word “God” become clear, or it might in turn require several language-games to bring the use into proper focus. What then would Wittgenstein do with the following assertion by Kaufman: “The master act of God (which he has not yet completed) is the temporal movement of all nature and history toward the realization of his original intention in creation”? Are we back to theistic creation as usual, or is this theism of the Teilhard de Chardin variety? And how would ordinary men and little children learn the proper use of the word “God”? It is time that theologians who wish to venture into the philosophy of religion discipline themselves by a thorough exposure to the methods of Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations.
Our third work is Lyman T. Lundeen’s presentation of Whitehead’s theory of language. The style is one of verbose obscurity, and philosophers will find the uncritical use of references extremely tiresome. Lundeen does succeed in showing that Whitehead wrestled with problems of language that are now commonplace since the modern linguistic turn in philosophy. Thus he notes Whitehead’s rejection of the notion of “substance.” “The standard of actuality is no longer the Cartesian independent substance, but subjects who are constituted by their experience of each other.”
Typical Wittgensteinian insights are that language deceives us into thinking that stones, planets, animals, and so on exist as distinct entities, and so we are lured into dangerous oversimplification. There is the denial of logical precision in any assertions except those of mathematics: “such clarity as is given is relative and partial. Things are clear enough for the moment.” It does not follow from this, however, that “religious assertions, like all other human claims about concrete experience, are a mixture of certainty, probability, and provisional projection.” “I have a headache” has nothing probable or provisional about it, nor does “I believe in God, Creator … and in Jesus Christ.”
The incredibly obscure string of statements about God collected from the works of Whitehead (pp. 149–53) cannot help anyone to do theology. This book may serve students of Whitehead as a collection of his thinking on language and religion, but it does not rate as serious philosophy.
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