The Need For New Approaches

A Theology of Christian Education, by Lawrence Richards (Zondervan, 1975, 324 pp., $8.95), is reviewed by Edith Tinder, Arlington, Virginia.

Church renewal! A common slogan these days, but certainly with no common meaning. Some Christians welcome changes, or at least the idea of change. Others in effect turn away from any suggestion that we need to do things differently in the churches today. However, no matter what one’s attitude, reading Richards’s A Theology of Christian Education is a stirring and thought-provoking experience.

Richards is one of the most widely known writers in practical theology today. He admits that he has only gradually and recently changed from a “traditional” Christian educator and churchman to one who is convinced that we not only can but must do things differently. However, he does not try to provide all the answers to the problems confronting the Church. His is simply a theology. He hopes to stimulate many readers to discuss and debate his ideas. To encourage this he concludes each chapter with a “probe” section that has case histories, discussion questions, thought-provokers, and resources. These make the book very valuable as a textbook.

The title may be misleading, suggesting that the book is too academic or theoretical for practical use. Only the first third deals with theoretical matters, such as various understandings of the Church and their implications for Christian education. The remaining two-thirds discusses the implementation of these concepts in the life of the local congregation. Richards seeks to live up to his conviction that “theology isn’t the stuff of ‘impossible’ dreams. Theology is instead completely practical, the very stuff of reality.”

This volume expands on a chapter in an earlier book, A New Face For the Church, where Richards described in some detail a hypothetical church of the future and the exciting results from its approach to education. The changes were rooted in a conception of the Church as a ministering body and the conviction that the home is central to the Christian education of children. Richards now expands upon this model by examining such ideas in the light of Scripture.

For Richards, Christian education means “nurturing the development of God’s life within believers.” It is for this task that the Body is designed. Hence “our educational ministry must focus on adults … and on discipleship.” No longer can Christian education be confined primarily to the classroom; it must be seen to involve “all the activities and transactions that take place within the Body of Christ.” Richards explores in depth how these concepts can affect the approach to childhood education and to evangelism.

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Numerous diagrams and summaries help to keep the whole picture before the reader. The last three chapters conveniently restate the issues that face the Church in Christian education. The person who studies this book in the light of Scripture and seeks to apply its principles in the power of the Holy Spirit can help to bring about church renewal in our time.

Fine Poetry By A Christian

The Secret Trees, by Luci Shaw (Harold Shaw Publishers, 1976, 80 pp., $3.95), is reviewed by Edward Higgins, professor of English, George Fox College, Newberg, Oregon.

For those who already know the poetry of Luci Shaw from her frequent contributions to Christian periodicals and her earlier collection, Listen to the Green, here is a welcome new offering of her more recent work. For others who might not know Mrs. Shaw’s poetry yet, The Secret Trees provides an introduction guaranteed to make one a fan.

Luci Shaw is a poet who speaks skillfully and movingly of the mystery, surprise, and delight that move through and all around us daily; from seashells (“how small an empty space,/ a folding out of pink and white”), to living-room carpets (“I have a carpet, green as outside grass”), to miracles (“who will/ diagram the gynecology/ of incarnation,/ the trigonometry of trinity?”), and more. She avoids the clichés and shopworn versifying that often pass for Christian poetry, all too often sanctified on the back of our Sunday bulletins. That is not to say Mrs. Shaw is without an occasional weak line, or a flawed poem or two. But they seem few, and more than forgivable measured against what is offered overall.

Here is fine poetry by an outstanding Christian poet. Reader or writer, those who would learn how to, or those who would simply enjoy, will find The Secret Trees has much to offer. At the very least, buy a copy for whoever prints up your church bulletin.

What Religious People Are Like

The Social Psychology of Religion, by Michael Argyle and Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi (Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1975, 246 pp., $18.50), is reviewed by Lewis Rambo, assistant professor of psychology, Trinity College, Deerfield, Illinois.

The Social Psychology of Religion is the most comprehensive book now available written from the perspective of experimental psychology of religion. The book, a completely revised edition of Argyle’s Religious Behavior (1958), covers approximately one thousand studies of religion made from 1900 to 1973 in the United States and Britain. Michael Argyle, a professor of experimental psychology at Oxford University, and Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi, a professor of psychology at the University of Haifa in Israel, organize this plethora of research into categories, such as age and religion, personality and religion, and environmental and situational factors. Each of the eleven chapters draws together great amounts of research on a particular topic and provides concise, illuminating expositions.

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Unlike most contemporary students of religious behavior, Argyle and Beit-Hallahmi define religion in a substantive, not a functional, manner; they write that religion is a “system of beliefs in a divine or superhuman power, and practices of worship or other rituals directed towards such a power.” Using this definition, they seek to explore the social and psychological conditions, causes, and effects of religious beliefs, attitudes, and actions. As psychologists with no overt religious commitments, they work on the assumption that religions follow the same empirical laws as other attitudes or beliefs. The tone of the book, however, is not reductionistic (such as the theory that religion is nothing but sublimated sex), and the authors even admit that religion is such a complex phenomenon that research methods do not fully deal with the range and depth of religious experience.

One of the most interesting chapters concerns the role of religion and the level of religious activity in the United States and Britain. The data show that there was a gradual decline in church attendance in Britain and a continuing increase in attendance and membership in the United States between 1900 and 1973. In fact, the United States is one of the few industrialized nations in the West that shows trends counter to the secularization that reigns elsewhere. The authors tentatively suggest that part of the reason for this discrepancy is that churches themselves have become secularized in the United States and serve other than specifically religious functions in most American denominations.

A surprising conclusion of the studies was that very traditional personality traits were not related in a significant way to religion. The only consistent relationship found was between religiosity and suggestibility. Religious people tended to be more dependent and submissive, and to have more feelings of inferiority. Another consistent finding was that social class or status was an important determinant in the way in which a person expressed his or her religious beliefs. For example, higher-status persons attended church more regularly and maintained strong ties with organized religion, but were generally more liberal theologically; lower-status persons tended to have a higher rating on theological conservatism and devotionalism (prayer and daily Bible reading) but did not always express these religious tendencies in organized religious groups.

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The final chapter of the book is an extensive coverage of the major theories of religion articulated by such figures as Sigmund Freud. The authors attempt to weigh the empirical evidence gained in experimental studies in order to either verify or disprove various theoretical options. They examine theories of origin, maintenance, and consequence of religion. This section of the book is a model of caution and fairness because Argyle and Beit-Hallahmi recognize that many theoretical positions are difficult to operationalize for empirical research. One of the interesting, but not explicitly stated, thrusts of the chapter is that many theories are appropriate when their use is limited to particular religious groups or isolated aspects of religious experience. The authors conclude that religion is a multifaceted phenomenon demanding interdisciplinary cooperation and humility; like art, it is a uniquely human enterprise that defies simple reductionistic analysis.

This book is a stunning achievement in that it has synthesized enormous amounts of research on the psychological and social dimensions of religion. The bibliography contains about one thousand items, and the organization lends itself to the use of both scholars and interested laypeople. The only problem I see is that the authors limit their interpretation of the data to their organizational categories and to very brief commentaries. Their observations and extrapolations are, however, very fair; and had they been more expansive in their own analysis, they could have written a five-hundred-page instead of a two-hundred-page book. The Social Psychology of Religion will probably be the definitive text in the empirical psychology of religion for many years to come.


There is a widespread resurgence of interest in the psychic and occult, ranging from naturalistically oriented parapsychology research to bizarre, Manson-type terrorism. The occult was once the province of obscure, specialized publications; now the major general houses are rushing to feed a growing market. Mature Christian leaders need to be informed about what is ultimately (not necessarily at each point) a rival religion. Occult Illustrated Dictionary, by Harvey Day (Oxford, 156 pp., $8.50), contains brief descriptions of most of the terms and persons, in a style befitting a university press. Occultisms, Witchcraft, and Cultural Fashions contains six essays by a noted student of world religions, Mircea Eliade (University of Chicago, 148 pp., $8.95). A British scholar, John Randall, in Parapsychology and the Nature of Life (Harper & Row, 256 pp., $8.95) collects evidence to show that biological science has been too narrow in its approach to the study of life. The Satan Trap: Dangers of the Occult (Doubleday, 276 pp., $7.95) is significant because the author, Martin Ebon, is a widely known writer on parapsychology, yet he warns against the unknown evil forces, internal and external, that careless experimentation unleashes. He does not say all that an evangelical would, but especially for people dabbling in the psychic, this book could serve as a beginning warning. Conjuring Up Philip, by Iris Owen (Harper & Row, 217 pp., $8.95), describes a remarkable experiment in Toronto where several persons invented “Philip” to see if they could reproduce what spiritists claim to do for real. Something did indeed happen, with implications both for secular psychical research and for religious claims. William Rauscher, an Episcopal minister, claims psychic exploration is compatible with his understanding of Christianity in The Spiritual Frontier (Doubleday, 204 pp., $7.95). Admittedly, parallels to contemporary psychic phenomena are related with approval in the Bible, where they are usually called miracles. Moreover, psychic researchers, after making allowances for the religious trappings, would find themselves quite at home in many “charismatic” meetings of various stripes. However, the acknowledgment that there is much more to reality than science can explain does not warrant unscriptural concern with the paranormal. We are to seek to be related to the supernatural only through the Lord Jesus Christ and his representative, the Holy Spirit. Since they do not stress this emphasis, even these six relatively mild books need to be used cautiously.

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A very practical guide for leaders of weekend retreats, especially for young people, is Retreat Handbook, by Virgil and Lynn Nelson (Judson, 128 pp., $5.95 pb).

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Concerned about getting more publicity for your congregation? Practical tips from experts are provided in Religious Public Relations Handbook, edited by Wilmer Fields (Religious Public Relations Council [475 Riverside Dr., New York, N.Y. 10027], 64 pp., $2 pb).

John Calvin: A Biography, by T. H. L. Parker (Westminster, 190 pp., $10.95), gives new approaches to dating early events in the life of the Reformer but is especially valuable for theologian Parker’s insights into theologian Calvin.

It is remarkable that otherwise fairminded people hurl the names of certain Christian movements (e.g., fundamentalism, Puritanism) at almost any religious belief or practice that they happen to dislike, without regard to whether it bears any relation to the original movement. No term has suffered more abuse in this way than “pietism.” We welcome, therefore, the publication of four essays, Contemporary Perspectives on Pietism, edited by Donald Dayton (Covenant Press [3200 W. Foster Ave., Chicago, Ill. 60625], 89 pp., $3 pb). No one who reads these essays can thereafter in good conscience use “pietist” as a term of abuse.

Transcendental Meditation attempts to cover with a secular cloak a basically Hindu worldview. An evangelical, James Bjornstad, helps to uncover it in The Transcendental Mirage (Bethany Fellowship, 93 pp., $1.50 pb).

Many people are living as long as only a few once did. Harold Dye writes to the elderly in No Rocking Chair For Me!, subtitled “Optimistic Reflections on Retirement” (Broadman, 147 pp., n.p.) Theresa Buccieri addresses those with aged relatives with the exhortation Keep Your Old Folks at Home (Alba Books, 171 pp., $1.65 pb). The author, who herself is caring for a senile aunt, considers the various alternatives that society offers before stressing what the individual can do. She also gives very practical tips. One of society’s options is fictionally but authentically treated by a long-time nursing-home resident, G. Janet Tulloch, in A Home Is Not a Home (Seabury, 122 pp., $6.95). Tulloch does not dwell on horrors but depicts the struggle for dignity amid widespread insensitivity.

Most Christian ministers are ill prepared to be managers, and stories about Christian organizations provide abundant evidence of this fact. Olan Hendrix served as a pastor for ten years, was a member of a foreign-missions home staff for another ten years, and for more than five years headed up a large home mission. Now he lectures and consults on management, and he shares some of his views in Management for the Christian Worker (Quill [117 W. Lake St., Libertyville, Ill. 60048], 130 pp., n.p.).

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A major aid to the teaching and study of church history is The Macmillan Atlas History of Christianity, by Franklin Littell (Macmillan, 176 pp., $19.95). All theological and most college and public libraries should acquire it. Modern evangelicalism is under-represented, but this imbalance affects only the last few pages.

The tragedy of intra-Christian violence continues in Northern Ireland. Two books by evangelicals that provide backgrounds to understanding and prospects for solutions are Conflict and Christianity in Northern Ireland, by Ronald Wells and Brian Mawhinney (Eerdmans, 126 pp., $2.65 pb), and A Flower Grows in Ireland, by Ron Wilson (David C. Cook, 148 pp. $4.95, $3.95 pb). The former aims at an overall view while the latter focuses on grass-roots concern, both Protestant and Catholic, especially charismatic. More academic in approach is The Irish Triangle, by Roger Hull (Princeton University, 312 pp., $15). Hull tries very hard to present fairly the three main perspectives, those from Dublin, from London, and from the leadership in Belfast. Hull is a lawyer, and hence the legal approach is paramount. However, his book is useful background for those who wish to reflect theologically on the Irish struggle.

Testimonies by active participants in the charismatic movement include Your Authority to Believe, by Lutheran minister Herbert Mjourd (Creation, 154 pp., $2.95 pb); Wow, God, by Francis Clare, a Catholic nun (New Leaf, 188 pp., $5.95); and Run Preacher Run, by exbackslidden Baptist preacher Ezra Coppin (New Leaf, 159 pp., $2.95 pb), who also wrote Slain in the Spirit (New Leaf, 96 pp., $1.95 pb) to give a biblical justification for “holy rolling.” The most significant of the lot is The Happiest People on Earth, by Demos Shakarian, the Armenian-American leader of the Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship (Chosen, 187 pp., $6.95).

The Study Of The Gospels

New Testament Foundations, Volume 1: The Four Gospels, by Ralph P. Martin (Eerdmans, 1975, 325 pp., $8.95), is reviewed by Stanley Riegel, doctoral student in New Testament, University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen, Scotland.

Ralph P. Martin, a professor at Fuller Seminary, here draws attention to the salient features of current discussion in the study of the Gospels, rather than providing a comprehensive introduction. He tries to highlight some modern issues, thereby laying the foundation for later personal study.

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The first of the book’s five parts introduces the literary genre of Gospel and examines recent study of gospel history. Martin concludes that the Gospels present us with the “interpreted history of the person Jesus of Nazareth.” The second part gives a background to the Gospels with chapters on the historical, cultural, social, and literary milieu. The third section, entitled “How the Gospels Came to Be Written,” deals with the critical aspects of gospel study, such as literary, form, redaction, and textual criticism, as well as the Synoptic problem.

Having taken care of introductory details, Martin then moves, in part four, to look at each Gospel. Here his concern is to examine “the theological intent of the evangelists and the setting of these books in early Christianity.” In the short final section, Martin applies to selected passages (Matt. 11:25–30; Mark 12:1–12; John 13:1–20) what he has discussed in the preceding pages. The book is rounded off with a select bibliography and indexes of subjects, modern authors, and Scripture references.

Because the book covers such a vast area of scholarship, in a brief review one can only make some general comments about its contents.

Martin is fair in presenting both sides on various issues. His writing reflects, as his aim states, much of the recent critical debate. He is sympathetic toward current scholarly study, which says some of the generally accepted traditions need to be re-examined. However, he does not accept the scholarly consensus in full. He attempts to interact with what others have said and still to maintain an evangelical perspective.

The text has not been encumbered with voluminous footnotes but does note significant articles and books deserving further examination and study. Martin’s style is easy to read and clear.

One possible criticism is that the treatment of the Gospels in part four is uneven. The Gospel of Mark receives twice as much space as either Matthew or Luke and three times as much as John.

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