Introducing A ‘Strange Lady’

Such a Strange Lady: A Biography of Dorothy L. Sayers, by Janet Hitchman (Harper & Row, 1975, 177 pp., $8.95), is reviewed by Cheryl Forbes, assistant editor, Christianity Today.

Never leave the middle initial out of Dorothy L. Sayers’s name. That oversight enraged the well-known creator of the rich fictional detective Lord Peter Wimsey. And now, thanks to Janet Hitchman, readers in Great Britain (where the book was first published) and this country know it.

Among the other interesting details one learns in this biography—the first—of Sayers are that her father was a minister, they were poor, and she hated the countryside where her family lived and chafed at the absence of privacy in her home. Also, that the son she supposedly adopted in her early thirties was really her own illegitimate child.

Despite the resistance of Sayers’s family, close friends, and executors, Hitchman managed to piece together the events of her life in a somewhat respectable manner. I wish, though, that she had resisted the urge to stray into psychological speculation, rumor, and biographical literary criticism.

For example, she claims that Sayers gave her son the bare necessities but denied him love. Where is the proof? Without corroboration by family or friends, we cannot accept Hitchman’s word for this. Nor can we accept a rumor that Sayers’s husband fathered an illegitimate child. Since Hitchman admits she could not verify it, why include it at all? She also tells us that “the only way Dorothy could get herself through a crisis was to write it out as fiction, to see it laid down as though it had happened to someone else.” There is little in Sayers’s fiction that compares to her life. This approach denigrates Sayers’s imaginative and creative powers.

Hitchman continues this autobiographical approach to Sayers’s fiction in her analysis of Lord Peter Wimsey, “who,” she says, “may have represented a long-lost lover or have stood for those moral and ethical values which she considered were vanishing from a civilized world.” Wimsey was pure fiction. And, as I point out in my article on Sayers in this issue (see page 16), the characters who surround him more nearly reflect the author’s own Christian world view than does her protagonist.

Once Hitchman gets past the Wimsey years she leaves herself behind. (That’s the real weakness of the first half of the book—too much Hitchman.) Her discussion of Sayers as religious playwright, theologian, broadcaster, and scholar is both informative and entertaining because we hear Sayers first. Hitchman finally allows the curious Sayers personality to dominate. If she had done that from the outset (as all good biographers do), Such a Strange Lady would not have been such a strained book.

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Evangelical Roots

Discovering an Evangelical Heritage, by Donald W. Dayton (Harper & Row, 1976, 147 pp., $8.95, $3.95 pb), is reviewed by Erling Jorstad, professor of history and American studies, St. Olaf College, Northfield, Minnesota.

This volume makes available for a much larger audience a notable series of ten articles from the 1975 issues of the Post-American (now Sojourners) entitled “Recovering a Heritage.” Using both issue-oriented and biographical studies from the nineteenth century as his evidence, Dayton argues that evangelicals today should reclaim their proud heritage of being committed to transforming society, rather than settle for the current evangelicalism that “has become bourgeois and establishment oriented.”

Dayton’s study is a bold, partisan plea for evangelicals to recapture the vision and dedication of such giants as Wheaton College founder Jonathan Blanchard, evangelist Charles G. Finney, and the abolitionist Grimke sisters. They had no doubts that, as Finney worded it, “the great business of the church is to reform the world—to put away every kind of sin.… The great sin and utter shame of the church and of so many of the ministry [is] in neglecting or refusing to speak out and act promptly and efficiently on these great questions of reform.”

The great questions that thrust the nineteenth-century reformers into the most controversial areas of American life were total and immediate emancipation of slaves, full equality for women, temperance, and care for the poor. These evangelicals understood the new life in Christ to mean an uncompromising resistance to evils and the use of all Christian means of eliminating them. They understood the Gospel as rejecting partial measures, objectivity, or “gradual” reform because, to them, such attitudes would be compromising with evil. Said one, “The gospel is so radically reformatory, that to preach it fully and clearly is to attack and condemn all wrong, and to assert and defend all righteousness.”

Dayton also presents a well reasoned chapter—based largely on the research of Lucille Sider Dayton, his wife—on the evangelical roots of feminism, arguing that the revivalist understanding of the equality of all persons in Christ “gave birth to the women’s rights movement.” Using the leadership of the Grimke sisters and later feminists as his evidence, he shows how the abolitionist-feminist tradition established the foundations on which later egalitarian claims would be built. Dayton cites the words of Free Methodist bishop W. A. Sellow: “Women the world over have been patiently waiting … for the glorious gospel of love, as taught by Jesus Christ and its attendant civilization, to restore to her those rights which have been taken from her by force.” Regarding the biblical defense of keeping women in submission, the Grimkes, we learn, realized (beyond citing Galatians 3:28) that they must “protest against the false translations of some passages by the MEN who did that work.…”

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Dayton suggests that, given certain personality differences, these leaders shared several principles and commitments: total emancipation of slaves, full equality for women, an anti-bourgeois life-style, trans-denominationalism, the power of the Gospel not only to save but to redeem and make righteous sinful persons and sinful institutions, and a willingness to give up their lives if necessary “For Christ and His Kingdom”—the motto of Wheaton College.

The final chapter is a brilliant though brief development of the theological, historical, and sociological forces that altered the reformist heritage of the evangelicals and produced in its place the contentious fundamentalism of the 1920s and 1930s. This chapter cries out for fuller development, especially of Dayton’s comparison of Finney’s redemptionism to Hodges’s resignation to the immutability of sin. Both men are in the evangelical tradition; Dayton obviously thinks that tradition would be better served if we reformulated Finney’s position for our day.

This book is deliberately a manifesto for our times more than a dispassionate analysis of a historical movement. That in itself gives it excitement and importance; it also brings some impatience over sweeping generalizations and unbalanced descriptions of the adversaries of these leaders. Yet Dayton’s zest and commitment, and the implications of his conclusion—namely, that evangelicalism can renew itself best today by sympathizing with the contemporary communitarian movement—make this book compelling reading.

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Science: Relevant To Religion?

The Relevance of Natural Science to Theology, by William H. Austin (Barnes & Noble, 1976, 132 pp., $22.50), is reviewed by Christopher B. Kaiser, visiting professor of theology, Western Theological Seminary, Holland, Michigan.

This volume is a welcome contribution to the vast and often repetitive literature on the subject of science and religion. It is not an exposition of what the author takes to be the relevance of science to theology but rather a critical examination of various arguments, put forth by philosophers and theologians, intended to rule out any such relevance. It is well organized, closely reasoned, and very concise. The examination proceeds on two fronts: (a) are the arguments against relevance sound?, and (b) if so, how much do they prove? For instance, do they rule out any relevance at all, or do they allow indirect relevance via metaphysics or methodology or general psychological impact?

Arguments for the irrelevance thesis are divided into two groups: instrumentalist arguments and “two-realm” arguments. Instrumentalist arguments include those based on an instrumentalist understanding of science (Duhem) and those based on an instrumentalist interpretation of religion (Braithwaite, W. T. Stace). “Two-realm” arguments include Karl Heim’s treatment of God and the world in terms of multiple spaces or dimensions, D. M. MacKay’s version of the “complementarity” between descriptions of a single referent as seen from different standpoints, the post-Wittgensteinian idea of autonomous language games (D. Z. Phillips, W. D. Hudson, Peter Winch), and finally the argument that religion is utterly different from, hence independent of, science, because it involves personal commitment whereas science requires strict objectivity (Donald Evans, Alasdair MacIntyre).

Austin’s conclusion is that all these arguments fail because they lack either cogency or generality. The great value of his work, however, is not the conclusion he reaches so much as the range of ideas he surveys and the example he sets for tackling complex philosophical issues with thoroughness and simplicity.

Light Look At Families

Parables For Parents and Other Original Sinners, by Tom Mullen (Word, 1976, 135 pp., $4.95), is reviewed by Elaine Mathiasen, Boise, Idaho.

Do you want a delightful change from serious articles on discipline? Had enough of books describing the perfect family, the one where even the dog knows its place? Tom Mullen tells us about families that harvest weeds and get blisters from their gardens; families whose children drop marbles in church during prayer; families who buy twice as much car as planned because the salesman spotted their weaknesses. He even gives us an inspiring account of “night people” when morning comes.

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Mullen offers the reader thirty personal commentaries on family life in our society. Humorous and light, they nevertheless end with serious and provocative thoughts and a prayer that keeps us in touch with God’s practical nature. These prayers express briefly and simply a biblical truth that many of us never learn: that God cares about every small detail in our lives.

The scriptural theme of the book is that since we are all saved by grace, no family member should be expected to be perfect. In a lighthearted way Mullen promotes love, forgiveness, and acceptance within the family; these qualities can be seen by others and attributed to the grace of God. He also probes into such things as our value system, our fear of growing old, and our national love of bumper stickers. (On this last point, he wonders whether we may be passing up opportunities to express friendship and love.)

Mullen’s book is a fresh approach to living in a real family. He encourages humor and perspective in personal relations and practices them in his views of our world.

Religion And Philosophy

Wittgenstein and Religious Belief, by W. Donald Hudson (St. Martin’s, 1975, 206 pp., $6.95), is reviewed by James D. Spiceland, assistant professor of philosophy, Western Kentucky University, Bowling Green.

To all who are acquainted with his life and work, it is clear that Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889–1951) was not a religious believer. He was an interesting and eccentric Cambridge philosopher who spent his time pursuing problems that would appear, at least initially, to have little bearing on religious belief. But initial impressions are often mistaken, and Donald Hudson has written an articulate and thorough account of the bearing of Wittgenstein’s thought on the philosophical problems generated by religion.

Hudson states at the outset that Wittgenstein was not a believer. But in an interesting section on Wittgenstein’s life, he builds a solid case for the claim that Wittgenstein’s mature attitude toward religion was “anything but that of the hostile positivistic critic.” He points out that while an Austrian soldier in World War I, Wittgenstein read Tolstoy on the Gospels and was, according to his own word, profoundly influenced by it. Wittgenstein was an intense and sometimes abrasive man who was very selective about friends. It is interesting that some of his most meaningful friendships were with Christians. Unlike some intellectuals of his day, he did not deride Christianity, and when other philosophers did so, he occasionally rebuked them. Among his preferred authors were Augustine and Kierkegaard, thinkers who are not usually thought of as after-dinner reading for analytic philosophers.

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His unwillingness to criticize religious belief is probably made more significant by the fact that he was not the least bit reticent to express his distaste for many of his academic peers. Hudson relates that when Wittgenstein was told about an important meeting of philosophers to be held in Cambridge in July of 1920, he replied, “To me it is just as if you had told me that there will be a bubonic plague in Cambridge next summer. I am very glad to know and I shall make sure to be in London!”

It should be clear, then, that while he saw himself quite unambiguously as an unbeliever, Wittgenstein was more open to the possibility of religion than many of his colleagues. So much for Wittgenstein the man.

In a clear, brief chapter, Hudson presents a very readable overview of Wittgenstein’s philosophical stance. He was a philosopher of language whose work was characterized by an effort to develop a theory of meaning. In his early book called Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1921), Wittgenstein’s theory of meaning was scientifically oriented and appeared to be agreeable to the positivists of his day. That theory has been called “the picture theory.” In its most elementary form it states that propositions picture reality, that the meaning of every word is the object it refers to. If a word or proposition does not picture an actual state of affairs in this direct way, it is meaningless. When Wittgenstein finished the Tractatus, he felt he had provided philosophy with a method of distinguishing at one stroke everything that it makes sense to say from everything that it does not. Having accomplished this he returned to his native Austria, where he worked at various jobs, including schoolteaching, from 1920 to 1926.

Philosophy had gotten hold of him, however, and it appears that he never ceased to wrestle with its problems. Observing the language habits of peasants and rural schoolchildren caused him to rethink his earlier theory of meaning. He slowly moved toward a more pragmatic position. In spite of his professed distaste for academics, he was back in Cambridge in 1929, beginning what is generally called his later period.

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His later thought is seen most clearly in his Philosophical Investigations, published posthumously in 1958. The theory put forward in this book has been called “meaning as use.” It holds that meaning in language is related to the various contexts in which men speak. Meaning does not come about in, say, empirical science in exactly the same way as it does in morality or in religion. This is not to say that each one of these is completely divorced from the others. There is much interplay and overlap of meaning. However, if the philosopher is to understand how meaning occurs in a particular context, he must familiarize himself with that context. To do otherwise is to confuse universes of discourse, to misunderstand the great variety of uses to which language is put. This is the “language game” notion of meaning. Wittgenstein said that “the term ‘language game’ is meant to bring into prominence the fact that the speaking of language is part of an activity, or a form of life.”

Now all this has a bearing on the language of religion. The picture theory left religious language pretty much a no-man’s-land. Since the referent of talk about God cannot be found, it appears to be meaningless. His later position, however, is more open. It implies that if a philosopher is to unpack the logic of religious language, he must do his homework, so to speak. He must familiarize himself with its native habitat, i.e., the religious life. Of course this does not mean that he must be a believer. It simply means that he must make an effort to gain some understanding of the religious life, its purposes, goals, and the like. Nor does it mean that religion is a kind of linguistic ghetto. It is one of the many interrelated contexts in which people express themselves. Its boundaries are sometimes vague, and part of the philosopher’s task is to chart where they are vague and where they are sharp. He must uncover the relation that religious language has to all language.

In 1938 Wittgenstein gave a series of lectures on religious belief, and here we find his most direct comments on religious language. Hudson’s excellent discussion of these lectures concludes the book.

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One of the important issues dealt with in the lectures is the logical distinctiveness of religious belief. Take, for instance, belief in God. To the believer, the word “God” is used something like a word representing an object or a person. Yet, if a question arises concerning the existence of God, it will not be handled in the same way that a question about, say, Jimmy Carter’s existence would be. God is not found in Washington. D.C., in Vatican City, or at Harvard Divinity School (at least not in the way Jimmy Carter might be found in one of those places). It is true that some believers seek empirical evidence to support their beliefs, but it is generally conceded that lack of such evidence does not bring about abandonment of belief. The role of belief in God is regulative, i.e., it determines how we interpret evidence, indeed, how we view all of life. Questioning the believer about God’s existence, then, is something like questioning the foundations of his worldview. It is not the same as asking if Jimmy Carter or John Doe exists. In a similar vein Wittgenstein examines the religious belief in a coming Last Judgment. Is such a belief held to on the basis of historical and/or sociological evidence as belief in a coming war might be? Wittgenstein thinks it is not. This belief has a regulative function, and is logically distinct from other beliefs. If a man said that he believed in a Last Judgment but went on to say that it makes absolutely no difference to him, we would probably say that his belief is not a truly religious belief. A religious belief is more (logically) than simply the belief that a being exists or that an event will take place.

The logical status of the question of God’s existence is dealt with directly in the book. Hudson’s position is that it is logically impossible to handle this question within the context of religious belief, because that context presupposes God’s existence. On the other hand, if God is, by definition, not a physical object, or a moral obligation, or whatever, then it is logically impossible to deal adequately with the question of God’s existence in non-religious contexts (e.g., science). The presuppositions and methodology of these contexts will not lead to God, or at least not the believer’s God. In the end, Hudson says, our answer to the question of God’s existence will rest on an ontological choice. Religion confronts people with a decision.

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This book is an excellent contribution to frontier studies in the philosophy of religion. It is clearly written and carefully documented by an author who has immersed himself deeply in both Wittgensteinian studies and the philosophy of religion.

Briefly Noted

PSYCHOLOGICAL DENOMINATIONS seem to be almost as numerous as Christian ones. Joel Kovel claims to offer A Complete Guide to Therapy (Pantheon, 284 pp., $10). He doesn’t, but nevertheless it is helpful to see a book that compares T-A, Rogerianism, Gestalt, and many other types, instead of propagandizing for one of them. One of Kovel’s options is the subject of a large survey. The Reality Therapy Reader edited by Alexander Bassin, Thomas Brattner, and Richard Rachin (Harper & Row, 691 pp.,$15). Reality therapy, promoted by William Glasser, has been adopted by many Christians because of its stress on personal responsibility. One of the best-known Christian counselors has no use for the therapies described by Kovel. Jay Adams in What About Nouthetic Counseling? (Baker or Presbyterian and Reformed, 91 pp., $2.50 pb) briefly answers questions raised by critics and others. He thinks that psychologists, even if Christian, should stop counseling and stick to behavioral research and that psychiatrists should stick to treating patients with brain injuries.

The Poetry of Civic Virtue by Nathan A. Scott, Jr. (Fortress, 164 pp., $8.50) discusses Eliot, Malraux, and Auden, who take “the world of men to be a world of coexistence, of Coinherence, or a world of … the City.” Those familiar with Charles Williams will see where Scott is going. Contrary to many novelists and poets, says Scott, these three consider the City to be a beneficent image. Thought-provoking, both critically and theologically.

NEW-STYLE SUNDAY SCHOOLS are proposed in Open Education Goes to Church by Mary Duckert (Westminster, 140 pp., $3.45 pb), Will Our Children Have Faith? by John Westerhoff III (Seabury, 126 pp., $6.95), and The Family Together: Inter-Generational Education in the Church School by Sharee and Jack Rogers (Acton House [1888 Century Park East, Los Angeles, Calif. 90067], 138 pp., $4.95 pb). The last book tells how several families actually started a class for all ages and outlines a year’s curriculum. The husband teaches at Fuller Seminary.

BLACK CHRISTIANS are the target audience of an increasing number of books, but whites associated with blacks as teachers, co-workers, and the like can benefit from them also. Church Administration in the Black Perspective by Floyd Massey, Jr., and Samuel Berry McKinney (Judson, 172 pp., $5.95 pb) is aimed at Baptists. Biblical Faith and the Black American by Latta Thomas (Judson, 160 pp., $4.95 pb) and The Identity Crisis in Black Theology by Cecil Wayne Cone (AMEC [414 8th Ave., S., Nashville, Tenn. 37203], 172 pp., $7.95) are by professors at Benedict College and Interdenominational Theological Center, respectively. In Negro Spirituals From Bible to Folksong, Christa Dixon (Fortress, 117 pp., $3.25 pb) comments on twenty-three well-known spirituals (such as “Let Us Break Bread Together” and “Joshua Fit de Battle”); the book has helpful Bible and subject indexes and should be of wide interest. Collections of black sermons (which lose even more than other types of sermons by confinement to the printed page) are Preaching the Gospel edited by Henry Young (Fortress, 89 pp., $2.95 pb) and Outstanding Black Sermons edited by J. Alfred Smith, Jr. (Judson, 96 pp., $2.95 pb).

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ANCIENT ASTRONAUTS from other planets visited earth and according to many accounts are still visiting in unidentified flying objects (UFOs). Erich von Däniken in Chariots of the Gods? and its sequels (of which tens of millions of copies have been sold) is the best-known promoter of this view. Although some versions profess to accept the biblical data, considerably reinterpreted, UFOlogy is essentially a religious viewpoint that rivals Christianity and other religions. Ronald Story demolishes von Däniken’s “evidence” by taking a second (sometimes it’s the first) close look at it in The Space-Gods Revealed (Harper & Row. 139 pp., $7.95). Three other books add an evangelistic thrust in their refutations of von Däniken and the like: Crash Go the Chariots by Clifford Wilson (161 pp., Master Books [Box 15666, San Diego, Calif. 92115], $1.95 pb), revised and enlarged from a previous million-copy edition; The Gospel According to Science Fiction by John Allan (Quill/Mott Media, 111 pp., $3.75 pb), who criticizes several of the competing views including those of Presbyterian minister-author Barry Downing (The Bible and Flying Saucers); and The Great Flying Saucer Myth by Kelly Segraves (Beta Books [10857 Valiente Ct., San Diego, Calif. 92124], 93 pp., $1.25 pb), who believes in UFOs but thinks they are piloted by fallen angels.

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CHURCH-CENTERED EVANGELISM is not the most talked about kind, though over the long run it is probably the most productive. Leading Your Church in Evangelism by Lewis Drummond (Broadman, 165 pp., $2.95 pb), Every Member Evangelism For Today by Roy Fish and J. E. Conant (Harper & Row, 111 pp., $2.95 pb), and Conserve the Converts by Charles Shaver (Beacon Hill, 104 pp., $1.50 pb) are very practical guides for local congregations. How to Take the Worry Out of Witnessing by George Worrell (Broadman, 92 pp., $1.75 pb) is aimed at teens to help them lead their peers to Christ.

RELIGIOUS EDUCATORS who are in the field full-time, and libraries serving them, should know the following books. Foundations For Christian Education in an Era of Change edited by Marvin Taylor (Abingdon, 288 pp., $5.95) updates the same editor’s An Introduction to Christian Education.The D.R.E. Book by Maria Harris (Paulist, 190 pp., $4.95 pb) is about the role of the director of religious education in today’s congregation. Catholic or Protestant. Catechesis and Religious Education in a Pluralist Society by R. M. Rummery (Our Sunday Visitor, 225 pp., $8.95) is a scholarly study of the past and possible future of Catholic educators. Emerging Issues in Religious Education edited by Gloria Durka and Joanmarie Smith (Paulist, 211 pp., $7.95) is also Catholic-oriented but is of value to Protestants as well.

PSYCHICS, the best known of whom is currently Jeane Dixon, are found wanting by a biblically informed journalist, René Noorbergen, in The Soul Hustlers (Zondervan, 190 pp., $5.95). The book would be helpful for the many Christians who do not properly distinguish spirituality from spiritism.

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