Carter’S Background

The Man From Plains: The Mind and Spirit of Jimmy Carter, by David Kucharsky (Harper & Row, 1976, 150 pp., $4.95), is reviewed by Wesley Pippert, principal United Press International correspondent covering Jimmy Carter, Washington, D.C.

This is more a book about the American religious mood and milieu out of which Jimmy Carter emerged than it is a biography of him. And that is its great value. Of the seven or more books about the Democratic presidential nominee, most are mini-biographies or campaign puffery, or both. Only Kucharsky’s attempts to put Carter in context.

Kucharsky provides short essays on the Southern Baptists, of which Carter is a member; fundamentalism and evangelicalism, with which Southern Baptists are identified; the social gospel; and neo-orthodoxy and Reinhold Niebuhr, whose statement, “the sad duty of politics is to establish justice in a sinful world,” Carter frequently quotes.

Kucharsky’s credentials for speaking authoritatively on these things can be summed up simply: he is senior editor of CHRISTIANITY TODAY.

In many ways, The Man From Plains can be far more useful to the non-Christian who has little knowledge about such matters as being “born again” and who may tend to think of fundamentalism in terms of “holy rollers” and hellfire and brimstone. I know from personal experience of the attempts of many members of the national media to write with insight about Carter’s religion; the result is usually distortion, a matter of the blind leading the blind.

My own guess is that the need to understand Carter lies in three areas:

1. His relationship with Christ.

2. His being a product of the rural South. He comes from a “black belt” county that was a hotbed of resistance to the civil-rights movement. Martin Luther King, Jr., was jailed at Albany and Americus, Georgia, the nearest cities to Plains.

3. His relationship with blacks. With no other group does he establish a better rapport.

Kucharsky paid too little attention to the last two. He came to grips with the first, but many questions still remain to be answered before we have an adequate insight into this man who came from almost nowhere to the brink (at least) of the presidency. Why is Carter different from his many neighbors and fellow Southern Baptists? Why did he vote for integrating the Plains Baptist Church years ago when other “born again” people in the church did not? Why is he so politically active toward, as he puts it, “the poor, black, those who speak a foreign language and are not well educated, who are inarticulate, who are timid,” while many evangelicals are not? Why are so many evangelicals suspicious of him? What were the processes by which Carter integrated his personal trust in God and his political tactics? Theologically, his statements about abortion (personally opposed, but not favoring a constitutional ban) don’t baffle me nearly as much as his continual affirmation that the American people are good.

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Kucharsky has begun a good foundation in The Man From Plains. But I hope that he and others keep digging, for there is much to be learned.

Constructive Critique Of Schaeffer

Francis Schaeffer’s Apologetics: A Critique, by Thomas V. Morris (Moody, 1976, 128 pp., $2.50 pb), is reviewed by Terry Pence, doctoral student in philosophy, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana.

Some evangelicals have been reluctant to criticize Francis Schaeffer for fear it might diminish his overwhelmingly good influence in weaning evangelicals away from anti-intellectualism. Morris points out weaknesses in Schaeffer’s arguments that probably many have noticed, but he does so in such a way as to enhance one’s appreciation of the man and his thought.

In part one, he explicates Schaeffer’s defense of the Christian faith by giving his argument and strategy a lucid structure. Schaeffer’s approach is to challenge non-Christian presuppositions by first calling attention to various epistemological, metaphysical, and moral features of the universe or human life and then attempting to show that Christian presuppositions offer the most satisfying explanations of these features. Non-Christian presuppositions are argued to be inadequate because they fail to account for such things as personality, rationality, and morality; they either deny these things, which is a practical impossibility in some cases, or hold them inconsistently.

As Morris fills out these arguments, he develops three main complaints about Schaeffer’s apologetics. The first is lack of clarity. Schaeffer leaves some of his key concepts undefined or inadequately discussed, including “presupposition,” “reason,” “rational,” and “rationality.” There is a similar vagueness at times in the problems he raises and the solutions he recommends. This is particularly true of “the problem of unity and diversity” and his solution, the concept of the Trinity. It is to Morris’s credit, however, that he not only notices these weaknesses but often provides a strengthening clarification.

The second complaint is more serious. It is clear from Schaeffer’s language that he means to show that adopting Christian presuppositions is necessary or “the only answer.” Morris convincingly argues, however, that Schaeffer’s arguments show only that Christian presuppositions are possible or probable answers. The reason why they lack the necessity Schaeffer claims for them is that either additional non-Christian positions or sophisticated versions of considered positions can evade Schaeffer’s criticisms. Additional arguments would be required to rule them out. Schaeffer overstates the power of his arguments, says Morris. This is why Morris recasts what seem to be transcendental arguments into an “argument from design.” Although this may depart from Schaeffer’s intentions, it is more in accord with what his arguments actually accomplish.

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The third critical theme deals with Schaeffer’s model of human thought. Morris argues that Schaeffer has a mechanical, depersonalized model of human thought in which “the reader is almost led to imagine men formulating syllogisms and proof lines over lunch.” What this model overlooks is the non-rational, personal, and passionate elements involved in coming to believe. Morris devotes a good deal of space to correcting this model and commenting on the role of these other than purely rational factors in belief. He has many interesting observations about the psychology of belief, but construed as a criticism of Schaeffer what he says confuses apologetics with evangelism. Apologetic arguments have been known to bring persons to faith, but their primary function is to show that Christian belief is rationally acceptable. Syllogisms may or may not stir the soul, but soul-stirring is not their purpose.

Francis Schaeffer is an influential evangelical thinker. Until now we have not had a clear presentation of his apologetic method and a discussion of its limitations. Morris admirably supplies this in a way that is well worth reading.

Positive Thinking On Sex

Thank God For Sex, by Harry Hollis (Broadman, 1975, 167 pp., $4.95), Secrets of Eden: God and Human Sexuality, by Jim Reynolds (Sweet, 1975, 191 pp., $2.45 pb), Why Wait?, by Letha Scanzoni (Baker, 1975, 140 pp., $2.95 pb), and Sex For Christians, by Lewis Smedes (Eerdmans, 1976, 250 pp., $2.95 pb), are reviewed by C. E. Cerling, Jr., minister of education, Hopevale Memorial Baptist Church, Saginaw, Michigan.

Sex is fun, good clean fun, and it’s about time that Christians began to spread this good news. Sex is not just a bunch of “thou shalt not’s” but a positive “thou shalt enjoy thyself as God intended.”

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For years the Church has spoken plainly on the Bible’s negative teaching about sex. While we were preaching the prohibitions, non-Christians were learning to enjoy and talk about the pleasures. And as often happens, we suddenly learned through the world something the Bible has always taught. God created people sexual beings, and a part of this sexuality is the joy of physical sex. Hollis states this; the others implicitly affirm it.

Another theme emerging in these books is that sex is far more than a physical union. It is an experience that involves the total person. Letha Scanzoni develops this theme as a primary basis for her argument that marriage is the place where sexual experience should occur. In a finely written book she attempts to take seriously the contemporary sexual scene. “Relationships are important,” say today’s young adults. “We agree that sex apart from a meaningful relationship is wrong. However, you should not condemn sex in a meaningful relationship in the same breath with casual sex by saying, ‘It’s all sin.’ ” Scanzoni agrees in part, but points out that only in the total commitment of marriage can the most meaningful relationships occur. Apart from marriage sex cannot be the full experience of two persons because they have not given themselves completely to each other. This book is excellent for the present generation of young people, even Christian young people, who are asking Scanzoni’s title question, “Why wait?” The attitude that sex is enjoyable also affects Lewis Smedes in Sex For Christians. If sex is truly fun, if it is a deeply satisfying experience, then we should recognize the deep need it fills in the lives of those who use it wrongly. A sexual ethic that is mere legalism and does not take into account the human factor is less than Christian. Smedes is deeply concerned about people. He adds a new dimension in evangelical sex ethics by including the vital element of compassion.

As Dwight Small’s Christian: Celebrate Your Sexuality (see review in the April 11, 1975, issue, page 18) set the standard for a Christian theology of sexuality, Lewis Smedes sets the standard for a Christian sexual ethic. Whether a person agrees or disagrees, Smedes cannot be dismissed. His chapter on creative fidelity is a clarion call for Christian morality. He shows not simply that extra-marital sex is wrong but, with Scanzoni, that sex can be fully experienced only in the intimacy and total freedom of the marriage relationship. He brings out again the theme that the sexual act is more than genital expression; it is the union of personalities.

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In a more compact volume Jim Reynolds does much the same as Lewis Smedes. His book is a well-written summary of what is happening in sexual ethics.

Two problems loom large in the contemporary sexual discussion, masturbation and petting. Masturbation, until recently condemned, is now readily accepted—too readily, in my opinion—and petting is largely overlooked, though it is uppermost in the minds of many young people.

Masturbation is increasingly accepted by evangelical writers on sex. But the acceptance rarely deals with the problem of sexual fantasizing that is often a part of masturbation. Smedes, too, fails to discuss this problem when he states that masturbation is just a phase in sexual development. Maybe so, but are the fantasies that often accompany it sinful according to Matthew 5:27, 28 as a part of the “lustful look”?

Smedes produces an interesting though curious solution to the problem of petting. In the chapter “Responsible Petting,” his thesis is that all sexual activity, from the first touch to intercourse, should be an appropriate expression of the stage of the developing love relationship. Intercourse is reserved for marriage by God’s command. Everything else should be an expression of the level of the love relationship. Petting is permissible if the relationship has progressed to that point.

Isn’t it asking too much of sexually aroused young people sitting in a parked car to expect them to weigh the level of their love and the appropriate way of expressing it? I realize that Smedes is attempting to make an important distinction between sexual experience short of intercourse and intercourse, so that young people will not say, “Well, we’ve gone this far into sin, we might as well complete the job.” Nevertheless, the deceitfulness of the human heart seems an unrecognized part of the problem and a hindrance to his solution.

Human sexuality is a mystery, and all our analysis will not remove that mystery. It is a subject to be approached with reticence; nonetheless it must be approached. Everyone in the world is discussing the subject while the Church has spoken only its No. These books are ground-breakers, opening the way to discussion of a subject we have too long ignored.

Conflicting World-Views

The Universe Next Door, by James W. Sire (InterVarsity, 1976, 236 pp., $4.25 pb), is reviewed by Richard H. Bube, chairman, Department of Materials Science and Engineering, Stanford University, Stanford, California.

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James Sire, the editor of InterVarsity Press and associate professor of English at Trinity College (Deerfield), performs a valuable service by gathering together the major presuppositions of eight views that affect people’s perception of themselves and the world. The views are: Christian theism, deism, naturalism, nihilism, atheistic existentialism, Christian existentialism, pantheistic monism, and “the new consciousness.” The book traces the disintegration from Christian theism down to nihilism, and then the abortive attempts to recover what had been lost.

In arguing that a consistent acceptance of naturalism inevitably leads to nihilism, Sire would do well to define terms a little more carefully. When he speaks of chance as “absolutely irrational, … causeless, purposeless, directionless,” he should make it clear that he is speaking of chance as a total world-view and not as a mode of scientific description. Events and processes that are described scientifically as “chance occurrences” can in the larger picture still be elements in design and purpose, provided that God is active in all reality. To condemn a scientific description on the grounds that it was a “chance” description and hence violated basic theological principles would be an unfortunate confusion of categories.

Again, when Sire says, “Naturalism holds that perception and knowledge are either identical with or a byproduct of the brain; they arise from the functioning of matter,” it would be interesting to know what the alternatives are. According to what we know about living human beings, perception and knowledge do arise from the functioning of matter—that unique functioning which is itself responsible for the fact that we are human beings.

On both of these points I expect that Sire would make the appropriate distinction if questioned, but his reader may not do so without some specific aid.

Another place calling for caution is the description, in the section on existentialism, of paradoxes as “sets of seemingly contradictory statements.” Here it is important to be clear on the difference between a paradox and a logical contradiction. A contradictory statement, one that affirms that both A and not-A are true, cannot be tolerated; but theological paradoxes are not of this type. The intrinsic biblical teaching of the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man is a paradox, but hardly a contradiction.

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Most notable among the traditional world-views that Sire does not discuss is humanism, which does not strictly fit into any of the categories treated. Another absentee that I wish he had included is Islam, in view of the widespread influence of this derivative of the Judeo-Christian position.

Sire makes a very significant contribution in setting forth the still-forming dimensions of what he calls “the new consciousness.” Here is a dominant world-view that is taking shape all around us among students, intellectuals, and even formerly conventional scientists. It is only a slight exaggeration to predict that one will not be able to understand major trends in modern thought without understanding this world-view. Sire properly sees it as “a Western version of Eastern mysticism in which the metaphysical emphasis of the East is replaced by an emphasis on epistemology.” It has roots in modern theories of physics as well as in the occult. Sire clarifies the situation by discussing in some detail the writings of Carlos Castaneda, a colorful and articulate exponent of this view.

This is a valuable book for everyone who attempts to integrate the beliefs and actions of human beings. Everyone has a world-view, whether he articulates it or not, and Christians should be aware of the mental framework of those to whom they witness.

Demonic Deluge

New books on demonology, the occult, and parapsychology are legion, and the variety of stances almost as numerous. The writers of all the following books accept the reality of a personal Satan and seek to be faithful to the biblical teachings. Demon Possession edited by John Warwick Montgomery (Bethany Fellowship, 384 pp., $4.95 pb) consists of a score of papers presented at a conference last year sponsored by the Christian Medical Association. Medical, historical, anthropological, and theological perspectives are represented. The Case Against Possessions and Exorcisms by Juan Cortés and Florence Gatti (Vantage, 271 pp., $7.50) does not deny the biblical accounts but argues that we have misinterpreted the word “demons,” confusing it with Satan’s angels, who exist but do not possess. Adolph Rodewyk disagrees with fellow Jesuit Cortés in Possessed by Satan, in which he presents the traditional Catholic teaching on possession and exorcism (Doubleday, 190 pp., $6.95). An Episcopal rector, Elijah White, calls for avoiding extremes in Exorcism as a Christian Ministry (Morehouse-Barlow, 80 pp., $2.50 pb). Morton Kelsey, a professor at Notre Dame, presents a positive case for parapsychology, with some warnings, in The Christian and the Supernatural (Augsburg, 168 pp., $3.95 pb). Clifford Wilson links—and warns against—demons, Eastern religions, Western occultism, astrology, and, with some qualifications, parapsychological phenomena in East Meets West in the Occult Explosion (Creation-Life, 176 pp., $1.95 pb). In view of its comprehensive scope, Wilson’s book could be of value for Christians to give those who are dabbling widely. Satan’s Angels by Ken Anderson (Nelson, 153 pp., $3.50 pb) is a much needed warning to Christians that Satan is more of a threat to them in subtle ways such as materialism and pride than in the more obvious occultic ways. Demons Yes, But Thank God For Good Angels by Lehman Strauss (Loizeaux, 121 pp., $1.96 pb) also warns against Satan’s influence in traditional guise. Two chiefly biblical expositions are Spiritual Warfare by Ray Stedman (Word, 145 pp., $4.95) and Satan Cast Out by Frederick Leahy (Banner of Truth, 181 pp., $2.50 pb). The former homiletically treats the Christian’s armor of Ephesians 6 while the latter gives a survey of biblical teaching as the basis for handling post-biblical manifestations down to the present. Gary North in None Dare Call It Witchcraft (Airlington, 253 pp., $8.95) insightfully surveys the resurgence of occultism and correlates it with humanism.

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