Evangelicals And Politics

Washington: Christians in the Corridors of Power, by James Hefley and Edward Plowman (Tyndale, 1975, 200 pp., $3.95 pb), is reviewed by Wesley Pippert, UPI correspondent, Washington, D.C.

Two well-known evangelical writers have provided us with the most comprehensive survey yet of professing Christians in official Washington. It is a worthy document for Bicentennial 1976.

Their survey stretches from President Ford and the federal bureaucracy to Congress, from the Prayer Breakfast movement to the churches of the Washington area. Some of the persons, of headline familiarity, may surprise the reader; others, like Senator Mark Hatfield, Representative John Anderson, and Nixon White House political operative Charles Colson, are already known for their Christian witness. The book’s thesis, a valid one, is that the bonds of Jesus Christ cut across denominational lines and, more importantly, across partisanship.

There is a troublesome note here, however. It is expressed by two Christian men in Congress. Says Delegate Walter Fauntroy, a minister who represents the District of Columbia in Congress: “I have difficulty understanding how some of my conservative prayer-breakfast white colleagues can continually vote against programs designed to assist the disadvantaged.” Six pages later, Hefley and Plowman describe Representative Trent Lott of Mississippi as “apple pie positive about the American system,” and quote him as saying, “If I don’t believe that the American dream will work, who in the world will?”

What does it mean to the nation for its leaders to be Christian? When one of them makes a personal decision to accept Christ, we rejoice. When prayer and Bible study, an exemplary life-style, personal morality, and Christian fellowship flow out of this decision, we rejoice.

But the Bible does not stop here. Jeremiah, speaking to the Israelites, linked their amending their ways to practicing justice, and not oppressing the alien, the orphan, or the widow (aid to dependent children?). In Malachi, the Lord said he would judge not only the adulterers and perjurers but “those who oppress the wage earner, the widow and the orphan, and those who turn aside the alien.” This was the force of the Old Testament prophets. Jesus Christ himself calls believers to feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, visit the prisoner, liberate the oppressed-mandates with direct political implications. How have these Christian politicians and bureaucrats responded? This book, with some exceptions, does not tell how—or whether—they integrate the biblical mandate with their politics.

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Assistant Commerce Secretary Betsy Ancker-Johnson lays out a sobering agenda of concerns to America—an energy shortage, severe poverty, strip-mining. She says, “This is going to call for some very levelheaded thinking. It’s a time when I’m glad to be a Christian.” She explains that Christians “have a certain extra confidence and courage.” Is that all? Is that the only difference being a Christian makes for the politician?

A more significant example, perhaps, is President Gerald R. Ford. Hefley and Plowman say that he reportedly became a Christian in 1971. Again, what difference has it made in Ford’s politics as measured by biblical standards? Are his vetoes related to his concept of biblical justice? Is this Christian President any different politically from the non-Christian Grand Rapids congressman?

Politicians and bureaucrats are not ordinary persons. Their actions effect the rest of us. We must be concerned not merely with their personal commitment to Christ but with their political commitment to biblical goals.

Hefley and Plowman sense this, too. For in their final chapter, they say America is in “deep, deep trouble,” which they immediately describe not in spiritual language but in terms of post-Watergate, inflation, recession, the Middle East, and threats to peace. I wish they had asked their subjects tougher questions about these matters in the light of the Bible.

One of the persons who has a scriptural sense of what a politician—or anyone else—ought to be is Louis Evans, Jr., pastor of National Presbyterian Church. “There’s a rising third party in the church replacing the old dictum where you were either a soul saver or a social worker,” Evans says. In this party, “you meet Christ and the naked, pursue peace, and do all that the gospel says we should have been doing all along. It is a balanced ministry to the spiritual, social, economic, and political person.”

Black Political Theology

God of the Oppressed by James Cone (Seabury, 1975, 280 pp., $9.95), and Christian Ethics For Black Theology: The Politics of Liberation, by Major Jones (Abingdon, 1975, 205 pp., $4.50), are reviewed by James Tinney, Ph.D. candidate in political science, Howard University, Washington, D.C.

To view black theology as simply a covert form of political ideology, as some do, is to oversimplify some of the issues while bypassing others. Nevertheless, since black churches generally have never made a harsh separation between the sacred and secular realms, black theology does indeed contain a pronounced element of political protest and designs for liberation. And it insists that any theology that pretends or intends to neglect the secular is a covert form of political ideology itself, albeit one devoted to the status quo.

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This contention between those favoring transformation of political relations and those favoring continuation of the present order is nowhere better illustrated than in these two books and their authors. In fact, the alternatives are made more lucid by two simple facts: the conservative contender here makes no pretense of neglecting the secular or social realm; and both sides are represented by theologians from the oppressed camp.

Jones (president of Gammon Seminary) is the conservative who claims that theological support for revolution is an “ideological misuse of the New Testament”; whereas Cone (professor of theology at Union Seminary) is the liberationist who asserts that theology’s task is to help “the oppressed realize that their fight for freedom is a divine right of creation.”

Now, neither of these positions is novel. Strands of both conservatism and radicalism have persisted through the history of the black church (although a fair assessment insist that the latter has been more prominent). If black theological writings only restated these two trends, then it might be pointless to review each new volume. But that is not the case.

These two books are important for two reasons: (1) Unlike previous volumes, these have Cone and Jones confronting and answering each other in a direct manner. (2) Both herein substantially modify their previously stated positions.

Jones makes a noticeable right turn. He begins to espouse ideas that were set forth by white opponents of the “new black mood,” which, curiously, helped create a platform for him in the sixties. He says that biblical freedom has “almost a totally spiritual meaning”; Christian love “is totally unrelated to the slave-master tradition”; premature emancipation of slaves “would have produced chaos,” and had it occurred, “there was no free market for labor. The time was not ripe.” Jones goes on to criticize an “over preoccupation with black history”, the existence of too many non-traditional black schools, the current black-studies emphasis, the unethical qualities of some civil-rights activists, the tendencies of revolutions to produce something worse, and the “mistaken” idea that the riots were necessary causes of black social improvements. As if this were not enough, he caustically states, “Black people have talked too long of oppressions that simply do not now exist.”

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Such rantings remove Jones from even the conservative camp of J. Deotis Roberts and Joseph R. Washington, Jr., and thrust him into the unenviable positon and ultra-right company of men like George S. Schuyler, a black “Bircher.”

Cone, on the other hand, while true to his published liberation ideology, develops some new emphases in God of the Oppressed. If anything, he moves to an increased importance of the Scriptures, Christology, and the second coming. Some of this stress on apparently orthodox themes comes as a surprise to many, although it is wedded to political struggle. The “Lordship of Christ” becomes a key phrase for Cone, who also now insists that “the meaning of Christ is not derived from nor dependent upon our social context.” While Cone believes that “reliability” rather than “infallibility” best describes the black viewpoint on the Bible, he contends that “black people in America had great confidence in the holy book … which has not been shaken by the rise of historical criticism.” He also denies that the idea of heaven and the “second coming” are opiates in the Marxist sense. “The power of Christ’s future coming” is the key to “why the oppressed keep on keeping on,” he states. “It is a radical judgment which black people are making upon the society that enslaved them.”

All of this seems to be a natural outgrowth of the “personal testimony” to which Cone gives a central place in this new book. He relates in detail “the presence of the divine Spirit” he encountered in his conversion at age ten and his entering the ministry at age sixteen, at the Bearden, Arkansas, Macedonia African Methodist Episcopal Church. “Jesus is now my story, which sustains and holds me together in struggle,” he fairly shouts later in the book.

With such securely evangelical underpinnings, Cone’s new emphases speak not of a desertion of liberation theology but of a return to the dual, paradoxical thrust of both the sacred and secular in black religion.

In other developments, Cone makes distinctions between tradition and revelation, and between ideology and theology. While he gives no prominence to the formal theories of the “sociology of knowledge,” and to Niebuhr’s analysis in Christ and Culture, he also sets forth with (not entirely new, yet significant) clarity these propositions: that the words of the oppressed are not always the Word of God; and that whites may be “converted” and “given, by the Holy Spirit, a new way of thinking and acting in the world, defined and limited by God’s will to liberate the oppressed.”

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I do not want to be overly dramatic, but it seems safe to say that black theology will not be the same now that Jones and Cone have again spoken.

Salvo Against Scripture Critics

More Evidence That Demands a Verdict: Historical Evidences for the Christian Scriptures, by Josh McDowell (Campus Crusade for Christ, 1975, 365 pp., $4.95 pb), is reviewed by David E. Aune, professor of religion, Saint Xavier College, Chicago, Illinois.

The documentary hypothesis of the Pentateuch and form criticism are the two targets of a barrage of qualifications and refutations delivered by conservative biblical scholars under the tactical direction of campus lecturer Josh McDowell. A supplement to the earlier volume Evidence That Demands a Verdict, the book is an encyclopedic apologetic handbook composed of thousands of exact quotations drawn from 521 sources. The purpose is to provide the inquiring Christian student with pro and con arguments in these two major areas of radical biblical criticism. A traveling representative of Campus Crusade for Christ wants to give Christian students in secular universities an arsenal of responses to the claims of radical critics, not infrequently parroted by liberal professors in a onesided way. The volume is thus both a study guide and a research tool. Its most important contribution is undoubtedly its solid demonstration that the evangelical position on the historical reliability of Scripture is supported by scholarly research.

The book is divided into three sections, two of which deal with the documentary hypothesis and form criticism. The first section is introductory and discusses the anti-supernatural presuppositions of radical criticism and the substantial contribution that archaeology has made to biblical research, particularly on the conservative side. Appendices include welcome reprints of five important essays supportive of the evangelical position (such as Cyrus Gordon’s “Higher Criticism and the Forbidden Fruit” and C. S. Lewis’s “Modern Theology and Biblical Criticism”) and a helpful collection of specific archaeological examples that tend to confirm that the biblical narrative is historic and reliable.

The real value of a work of this type is directly proportional to the degree of accuracy and fairness with which the views of the opposition are presented. I am pleased as punch to report that McDowell bends over backward to present accurately and fairly, with elaborate documentation, the views of radical biblical critics. These views are carefully matched with an equally accurate and impressive presentation of conservative rebuttals. While the volume has some unevenness of quality (the section on the documentary hypothesis is far more satisfactory than that on form criticism), the fault seems to lie more with the quality of evangelical scholarship than with McDowell.

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In anticipation of a second edition, a few constructive suggestions might be in order. The explicit intention of the book is to provide conservative students with resource materials from sources all too often absent from secular university libraries. It seems to me that this objective was only partially achieved. There seem to be two reasons: (1) Not infrequently the quotations drawn from conservative scholarship are more rhetorical than substantive; while they might be effectively used in one of McDowell’s popular lectures (and on page v he uses the term “lecture notes” to describe the book), they will hardly cut the mustard in a term paper or in classroom discussion and debate. (2) While the book could serve admirably as a research guide for students, it frequently fails to do this.

Although occasionally McDowell suggests which books or articles are particularly good on a specific subject, more often than not the student is left to sink or swim in a sea of literature (521 sources!) with little to guide him. Further, the extensive bibliographies of secondary literature (pp. 22–24, 169–78, 292–99, 322–24) seem to be arranged in accordance with no rational principle (neither alphabetically, chronologically, or topically); however, each entry is numbered so that quotations in the text may be correlated by number and page with the source from which they are drawn. McDowell might do well to place “Guides to Further Research” at appropriate points in the text. Another help would be to annotate bibliographical items that might prove particularly helpful for conservative students.

While evangelicals will derive a certain amount of gratification from seeing radical critics pass in review with varying amounts of egg on their faces, neither the documentary hypothesis nor form criticism currently occupies the center stage in the work of radical critics. Traditionsgeschichte (history of tradition), a combination of source criticism, form criticism, and redaction criticism, seems to be of focal concern in much of contemporary Pentateuchal and Synoptic research. McDowell might do well to cut out some of the repetitive treatment of JEDP and form criticism and zero in on some of the weaknesses (and there are many!) of Traditionsgeschichte as an end-product of earlier Pentateuchal and Synoptic criticism.

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Despite these quibbles, I am convinced that McDowell’s book will prove invaluable to inquiring students at secular universities, as well as to Christian students at evangelical Bible institutes, colleges, and seminaries. He deserves our gratitude for meeting an important need in an imaginative way.

America’S Religion: What Kind?

The Nation With the Soul of a Church, by Sidney Mead (Harper & Row, 1975, 128 pp., $7.95, $3.95 pb), is reviewed by W. Terry Harrison, history teacher, Stony Brook School, Stony Brook, New York.

In this brief series of seven articulate essays, Sidney Mead suggests, essentially, that the world of antagonistic governments can be transformed into a pluralistic commonwealth, one that lives in peace because of recognized law. At the very least, this is his hope. But he worries that it may not become a reality, for he knows that persons in responsible positions, including leaders in high places, fail to foresee the possible end of mankind. He takes for his model the United States, whose history of religious pluralism and political cosmopolitanism nurtures a vision of true universalism.

Pursuing his professional interest in America’s religious history, Mead investigates those religious elements that he believes inhibit the full realization of a truly compromising spirit. There is in the land, he argues, an unresolved conflict that is detrimental to national health. Simply stated, the conflict has to do with the fundamental conviction that America’s Constitution, its history, and its purposes were (and are) essentially Protestant and with the fact that pluralism and sectarianism are now drastically altering the religious complexion of the society. The tensions thus created are best reflected, he thinks, in the so-called post-Protestant arguments.

Mead, however, holds that America has never been “Protestant.” By this he means that in its constitutional and legal structure the United States is not at all rooted in a Protestant theology. The United States, he avers, ought not to be viewed as having any certain religion other than that of the republic. Its theology is that which underlies the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and “the long line of Supreme Court decisions.” Readers will recognize this theology as that borne out of the Newtonian age and the Enlightenment.

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Mead wants America’s religious practitioners, especially those concerned with the problem, to recognize that the United States is a pluralistic society in which the basic institutions of church and state do not stand as opposites but work together synergistically (as opposed to syncretistically) to produce a spiritual core. This core is the source of a religious principle that transcends all denominational and sectarian particularities.

The evangelical Christian will find this book thought-provoking but disturbing. In it he will recognize an (implied) argument that is already historic, that there is little room for persistent biblical faith within a republic that is evolving toward the universalist’s ideal. He will also be unhappy with the fact that Mead fails to see the burdensome significance of secularization within American society. There is no attempt, for example, to associate materialism with the new religion or with the religion of the republic. Indeed, Mead’s arguments are directed toward intellectual understanding, not spiritual need.

Although he condemns national idolatry, Sidney Mead seems to encourage a complete compromise with the republic’s processive developments. Christians may find this hard to accept.

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