Attitudes In The Middle East

The View from East Jerusalem, by John A. Lapp (Herald Press, 1979, 128 pp., $4.95 pb); Israelis. Jews and Jesus, by Pinchas Lapide (Doubleday, 1979, 156 pp., $7.95); are reviewed by Marvin R. Wilson, Ockenga professor of biblical studies, Gordon College, Wenham, Massachusetts.

With the Ayatollah Khomeini voted “Man of the Year” by Time, no longer can anyone afford to be passive or uninformed about the Middle East, its people, and its struggles.

Two recent books go a long way toward providing needed information. In The View from East Jerusalem, Mennonite professor John Lapp sets forth a very readable and timely collection of brief essays pertaining to the political and religious scene in the Middle East. The result is an attention-holding, up-to-date overview geared to inform the average reader and nonspecialist.

The opening chapters provide considerable enlightenment on the background and issues surrounding the current Arab-Israeli debate over statehood for the Palestinians. In Lapp’s words, “it doesn’t take long in Jerusalem to discover the fundamental issue—there is one small land (10,000 sq. mi.) claimed by two people.” Lapp, however, dedicated to a Christian pacifist position, and precisely because his view is from largely Arab East Jerusalem, comes across as intent mainly on building a case for the rights of the Palestinians. He thus treats lightly or ignores many of the claims of the Israelis. Though this does not totally negate the value of the book, it does point to an imbalance in emphasis in viewing certain of the issues.

In the last half of the book, Lapp deals with the revitalization of Islam calling it one of the “five pillars of the new Middle East.” One reason for this Islamic renewal, he states, is that the Christian message is considered to be the enemy rather than a hope of liberation because Christianity is linked with the armies of imperial Rome and the oil corporations of the modern West. Lapp concludes from this Islamic resurgence that “we must take more seriously the authenticity of other people and the reality of their faith.”

The View from East Jerusalem is informative, eye-opening, and well worth purchasing. Despite the limitations of Lapp’s slant on the Middle East, the author is to be commended for not offering easy solutions to the complex problems facing this fomenting part of the globe.

Israelis, Jews and Jesus is a translation of an earlier (1976) German work by an Israeli Orthodox Jewish scholar.

It deals primarily with what Lapide terms the recent “Jesus wave” in Israel. Accordingly, he points to the fact that since the founding of the modern state of Israel, Jewish scholars, writing in Hebrew within the land, have produced 187 books, articles, poems, plays, monographs, dissertations, and essays on the “historical Jesus.”

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Lapide presents a number of Jewish views about Jesus and Christianity in his opening discussion. In addition to acquainting his readers with such well-known scholars as Joseph Klausner and David Flusser, Lapide quotes selections from Hebrew-language novels and poems written by Schwarz-Bart, Shneur, Agnon, Kabak, and others.

He then analyzes 10 texts used in either primary or secondary schools, and from a study of these Israeli schoolbooks published between 1946 and 1971 he concludes that (1) nowhere is Jesus charged with the responsibility for Christian hatred of the Jews, (2) though the Jewishness of Jesus is affirmed, this gives rise to various interpretations of his historical role, and (3) Jesus essentially conformed to the standard Judaism of his day far more than he deviated from it.

The Israeli author concludes his work with an informative treatise on rabbinic thought about Jesus from the first century to the present. This historical summary is an invaluable and welcome contribution to the limited literature in the field.

In this new day of rapidly growing evangelical-Jewish relations, Lapide’s book is imperative reading for the evangelical who wants to be well informed. It will prove useful in helping Christian believers to be sensitive to how their Jewish Lord has been and is now being perceived by Jewish eyes. Without an appreciation of this knowledge—painful as it may be to the Christian—any attempt at serious, in-depth, interfaith discussion will be severely impeded or fail.

Where Do We Go From Here?

An Evangelical Agenda, 1984 and Beyond by The Billy Graham Center (William Carey Library, 1979, 202 pp., $5.95) is reviewed by David Wells, professor of historical and systematic theology, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, South Hamilton, Massachusetts.

Some of George Orwell’s nightmarish predictions for 1984 have come to pass. The collapse of Western culture and the disappearance of some of its most stable institutions, such as the family, pose troubling questions for a faith that has existed largely in symbolic relationship to its culture. What will happen to Christian faith and where ought it to be heading?

It was this situation and these questions that brought together participants at a conference held in Kansas in 1979, sponsored by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. The results, in the form of papers and responses, are published in this book.

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Six papers constitute the major portion of the book. To these are appended immediate responses, with general responses appearing in the final section under the rubric of “scenarios.”

Two papers consider the future, one supposedly from a “utopian” viewpoint and the other from a supposedly “dystopian” perspective. In fact, these categories are somewhat irrelevant, for neither paper fits comfortably in its assigned niche. In the first, Willis Harman points out that deep, seismological, cultural shifts in the past have always been accompanied by an increase in alienation, mental illness, violent crime, social disruption, sexual hedonism, religious cultism, and economic inflation. William Garrison’s paper, in fact, covers the same matters but he views them from the challenges posed by the military, the economic situation, and the crises in ecology, politics, and culture. He asks how far the church has become a part of this decaying, “dystopian” structure. It is a pertinent question.

This is the context provided for the remaining papers on the church (Gene Getz), family (Armand Nicholi), secular society (Ted Ward), and world evangelization (Ralph Winter). Getz works hard but produces little that is new. Nicholi produces much that is new but I don’t think he worked hard enough on his paper. What he presents, however, is significant. Based on clinical evidence, his argument is that a child’s emotional development is dependent for its well-being on satisfactory relationships to both parents. The divorce plague, absentee mothers, television as a surrogate parent, are among the forces presently wreaking havoc on our mental and emotional health. Ward’s paper tracks over some of the matters covered by Harman but with the Christ/culture theme somewhat in focus; Winter again reminds us of the evangelistic task that remains to be done.

I would make four points by way of assessment. First, any serious consideration given to our changing and distraught world must be applauded. I therefore commend the Billy Graham Association for sponsoring this consultation.

Second, there is still so much basic work that needs to be done by evangelicals in coming to terms with this world that it is altogether premature to think that we now have an agenda for 1984 and beyond.

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Third, the necessity of understanding the actual world into which we are to bring the gospel is too serious a task to be treated in the casual way the form of this book suggests. The papers seem neither to be edited nor prepared for publication by many of the authors. Indeed, some are still in the note form in which they were delivered.

Finally, the form of the book leads me to think that the purpose of the consultation was simply mutual exhortation and that publication was a kind of afterthought to enable others to listen in on the conversation. Almost all evangelical consultations are of this nature, which may explain why nothing much happens when the participants disband.

Nathanson’S Confessions

Aborting America, by Bernard N. Nathanson, M.D., with Richard N. Ostling (Doubleday, 1979, 321 pp. $10.00), is reviewed by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., minister, Midway Presbyterian Church in America, Jonesboro, Tennessee.

Aborting America is probably the single most significant secular contribution to the abortion debate produced in several years. Its significance is due not only to what is said but to who says it. Dr. Bernard Nathanson (writing with Richard Ostling, a Time editor) is a noted gynecologist-obstetrician, a former abortionist, and a cofounder of the radical National Association for Repeal of Abortion Laws organized in 1969.

Aborting America contains the confessions of one of America’s most widely known and experienced abortionists and it surveys many of the important historical, medical, ethical, and legal aspects of abortion. Nathanson’s startling revelations about the key figures, forces, and methods of the proabortion movement are sure to bring down the wrath of his former medical colleagues-in-death, the feminist movement, and other supporters of abortion on demand.

From February 1971 through September 1972 Nathanson was director of the world’s busiest abortion clinic, the Center for Reproductive and Sexual Health. During this brief period Nathanson did his part in establishing New York City as the “Abortion Capital” of the nation by presiding over 60,000 abortions.

The book opens with two biographical chapters on Nathanson himself and then spends the next 10 chapters carrying the reader on a fascinating journey through the tumultuous history of the abortion movement of the sixties and early seventies. Nathanson’s account affords the reader a frank, behind-the-scenes look at the various deceptive propaganda schemes arrayed by the abortionists in this important social revolution, as well as the reasons he changed his mind.

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It was Nathanson’s research that led to his almost 180-degree about-face. In 1974 he published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine his now famous lamentation; “I am deeply troubled by my own increasing certainty that I had in fact presided over 60,000 deaths. There is no longer serious doubt in my mind that human life exists within the womb from the onset of pregnancy.”

Six years of “self-examination” passed before he came to his present position, which may be summarized briefly:

1. In chapters 20 and 21 he asserts that human life exists within the womb from the moment of implantation. He chooses this point because it is the moment the presence of the new entity can be detected scientifically by its production of hormones as it interacts with another being of the human community.

2. In chapters 22 through 24 he argues that no ethical justifications other than the serious threat of the loss of the mother’s life can warrant abortion.

3. Chapters 25 and 26 contain his reasons for calling for laws to protect the unborn and to punish the abortionist and the aborting mother. However, he advocates that this crime be punished less severely than that of murder.

Though a knowledgeable and accomplished physician. Dr. Nathanson is no philosopher, which is evident at several points. For example, his argument that human life does not begin until implantation is based on the fact that it is only at that stage of development that the conceptus is scientifically detectable. This confuses epistemology (what is known) with ontology (what is). Furthermore, his arguments occasionally suffer from dialectical tension: in one place he discredits the Right-to-Life “slippery slope” argument against abortion (p. 182). In several other places he assumes that very form of argument: (e.g., pp. 226. 227, 254).

Despite these imperfections, Aborting America is a fascinating, insightful, and powerful contribution to the abortion debate. This work should be required reading for those on either side of the abortion issue. However, Right-to-Lifers should be careful of embracing Nathanson too enthusiastically. He disdains the Right-to-Life movement almost as much as the proabortion movement, despite the similarity of his conclusions to theirs. In his eyes, the Right-to-Lifers appear too emotional (they use “blood and gore” tactics), too religious (he is a convinced atheist), too dogmatic (he does not call abortion “murder”), and inconsistent (the Right-to-Life movements are not opposed to capital punishment).

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Ethics And Behavior Modification

Theology and Ethics of Behavior Modification, by Clyde J. Steckel (University Press of America, 1979, 169 pp., $8.60 pb), is reviewed by W. Mack Goldsmith and Dick W. Harig, Department of Psychology, California State College, Stanislaus, Turlock, California.

Clyde Steckel is an ordained minister of the United Church of Christ and presently professor of theology and psychology at the United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities. Trained himself in Rogerian humanistic psychology, he was intrigued by the furor among intellectuals caused by B. F. Skinner’s Beyond Freedom and Dignity and its thesis that mankind must give up illusions of free will to achieve a behaviorist’s paradise run by techniques of behavior modification. Steckel found himself forced to consider the promised benefits of behaviorism and also to reflect on its implications for theology and ethics.

The book is organized like a textbook, and Steckel’s prose style, while clear, is overly didactic. There are five chapters. The first three contain an introduction to behaviorism’s promises and perils, a murky attempt to define terms, and a survey of the freedom versus determinism issue as seen by psychologists, philosophers, and classical theologians (mostly Augustine, Calvin, and Jonathan Edwards). In this latter chapter, Steckel concludes that humans have a truly free will beyond the clutches of Skinner’s environmental determinism, even “in principle.” We think most readers would miss little by skipping the first three chapters. Evangelicals interested in the freedom/determinism issue in science, including psychology, might see Donald McKay’s Clockwork Image or his recent InterVarsity Press release, Human Science and Human Dignity, for a fuller and better discussion.

Steckel’s chapter on ethics is the heart of the book. He claims that any ethical system must have a universally (vs. culturally) valid vision, a set of guiding principles and knowledge. His own recipe consists of three vague visions and five ponderous principles. His eschatological vision of Christian justice, love, and hope lacks any detail. The five principles seem to us indistinguishable from the ethical guidelines of secular civil libertarians. We had hoped that basing ethics on theology would give some unique force or viewpoint, but we found none here.

We were most interested in the last chapter. It deals with the application of behavioral methods in the church. Steckel argues correctly that the church has a bias against behavioral techniques because of the philosophy with which they are associated. This bias has resulted in the church’s ignoring some psychological methods that could be very useful.

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Steckel discusses in detail the one application of behavior model he could find in a church. In this situation, the adult leaders arranged to manipulate the members of a youth group toward more approved religious attitudes without the group’s knowledge or consent. Steckel roundly criticizes the lack of ethics here, and he is right on target.

Local churches could certainly heed the ethical principles Steckel propounds in this book, even though these do not differ from secular professional ones. Whether Steckel will succeed in his stated goal of influencing secular psychologists is another matter. It is just possible that in his efforts to do so, he has badly diluted the impact he might have had on the church.

The Coming Steady State

The Emerging Order, by Jeremy Rifkin with Ted Howard, (G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1979, 303 pp., $10.00), is reviewed by Steve Hurlburt. Now but Not Yet Productions, Atlanta, Georgia.

The Emerging Order brings together thoughts on religion, economics, history, and the future, and melds them into a religioeconomic vision of what might be in the United States during the last 20 years of this century. Author Rifkin’s presentation of this vision is simultaneously frustrating, insightful, speculative, and factual. (See Current Religious Thought, issue of May 5.)

His basic thesis is this: The vegetable, mineral, and energy resources of the earth are being used up much too rapidly by a world given to consumption. Thus the world (and especially the United States) will shortly enter an unprecedented age of scarcity, and completely at odds with the age of expansion and development which has prevailed in the Western world since the 1500s. This major economic shift to conservation is the opposite of the West’s liberal-capitalist policies of the last 500 years, which stressed relentless economic growth so that happiness (read: material possessions) could be had by all. Out of the ashes of dying capitalism Rifkin foresees either the emergence of a cooperative steady-state economy spearheaded by (of all things) the fast-growing charismatic-evangelical branch of Christianity, or a Hobbesian “war of all against all”—a fight to the finish for the earth’s dwindling resources.

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Rifkin begins his thesis by tracing the growth of liberalism (that is, the philosophy of unlimited economic growth) from the Reformation theology of Calvin through its secularization in Bacon, Newton, Locke, Franklin, and Adam Smith. In doing so, he proves himself a better historian and economist than a theologian, often doing violence to Calvin’s thought by overlooking large portions of his theology in an attempt to make isolated statements fit into his schema.

Nevertheless, Rifkin’s contention that liberalism has brought us to the current economic crisis stands, and he proceeds to demonstrate the excesses of American consumption in the face of worldwide hunger and poverty and, as a result, the dire shortages the world will soon face. The figures he gives concerning the energy, food, population, mineral, and pollution problems confronting the world are stunning, and one’s mind becomes numb trying to take them all in.

Dealing with the present, Rifkin says a third major social upheaval (the nongrowth, steady-state economy) is on the horizon, and that it is being ushered in by the combined “liberating force” of the experience-oriented charismatics, and the new “covenant vision” of the more structure-minded evangelicals.

He paints a rosy picture of an economy governed by biblical stewardship, in which “maintenance replaces the notion of progress, stewardship replaces ownership, and nurturing replaces engineering. Biological limits to both production and consumption are acknowledged; [and] the principle of balanced distribution [of wealth and resources] is accepted …” (p. 270). That all sounds nice and wonderful, but Rifkin gives no hint as to how the nuts-and-bolts working out of those ideals will be accomplished.

The Emerging Order seems to me to be a reworked and combined version of Charles Reich’s The Greening of America and Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock, with Reich’s “Consciousness III” equaling Rifkin’s “emerging order,” and Toffler’s “future shock” equaling his economic analysis for the coming 20 years. I have a feeling that in the same way we could ask today “What was Consciousness III?” 10 years from now that question will be, “What was Rifkin’s charismatic-evangelical ‘emerging order’?”

Getting The Word Across

Christianity in Culture, by Charles H. Kraft (Orbis, 445 pp., $12.95 pb), is reviewed by William A. Dyrness, associate professor of theology, Asian Theological Seminary, Manila, Philippines.

Missiological studies have come a long way since the pioneering work of Eugene Nida (Customs and Cultures, 1954) and the old Practical Anthropology. Charles Kraft, a professor at the Fuller School of World Mission with a Ph.D. in anthropological linguistics and missionary experience in Nigeria, offers us the opportunity to assess the nature of this progress. He addresses Christian communicators and theologians who are interested in a broad, culturally informed perspective on Christianity that is cross-culturally valid, and who need to recognize the importance of what the author calls translational expertise.

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In a series of 13 models (which confusingly do not correspond to the 18 chapters and leave readers paging back and forth) Kraft develops his views on communicating the Christian message. He begins by defining biblical Christians (those who base their views on the data of Scripture and yet are open to change) and cultures (those models of reality that govern our perceptions and actions which we conceptually organized and directed by “worldviews”). In the latter he distinguishes between form and perceived meaning, yet he emphasizes the underlying human commonality that makes intercultural communication possible.

In a second section Kraft proposes what he calls ethnotheological models (those revised theological understandings that may have cross-cultural validity). God is above culture but uses culture “as the vehicle for interaction with human beings.” God communicates supra-cultural meanings through specific cultural forms, which provide for adequate but not perfect perception of his truth. Theology is then a culture-bound process that involves a dialogue between the culture of the Bible and that of the interpreter. To illustrate God’s revelation in culture Kraft makes use of a communications model: source-message-receptor. The constant in the message is God’s appeal to people throughout history.

The most helpful chapters of the book are those in which Kraft explains his views of communication as a translation that seeks a dynamic equivalence. As in the translation of a language, to which communication is the cultural analogue, what is called for is not a formal correspondence, but an equivalent process that accomplishes in the receptor’s frame of reference what we see happening in Scripture.

Though we cannot even summarize the dense argumentation and various case studies and diagrams in a short review, we may try to give some account of the achievement and the problems of Kraft’s approach. First, it is impossible any longer to ignore Kraft’s contention that hermeneutics is an essentially cross-cultural enterprise. What we see in Scripture is clearly conditioned by the biblical cultures and defined by our own. Kraft calls the interpreter to take full advantage of this by using an ethnolinguistic method of exegesis that goes beyond the traditional grammatical-historical techniques.

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Second, the communicator can make full use of the social sciences for the theological reason that God deals with us as we are: creatures of cultures. People need not be extracted from their setting to respond to God. Kraft notes: “People don’t seem to need more ideals (especially foreign ones) to increase their feeling of guilt and frustration. What they need in the first instance is assistance in dealing with their own ideals.”

Finally, Kraft’s transformational model points up in helpful fashion how the gospel works best in culture: slowly (like yeast rather than dynamite), from within, at the deepest level of allegiance and world view, outward. For whenever an indigenous word or form is pressed into service to convey Christian meaning, there “the process of Christianity-stimulated conceptual transformation has begun.”

All of this—and much more—is indispensable for the Christian communicator. But Kraft’s approach also has certain limitations. Kraft seems overly impressed by a model of a communications system for understanding revelation. He desperately wants to avoid seeing revelation as static information, but the model he has chosen leaves him little alternative in the matter. We are told: “Revelation like all communication is a matter of information structured into messages designed to stimulate response.” This conviction has certain interesting corollaries: he cannot see how revelation can progress from the Old Testament to the New; he does not believe revelation can have stopped with the closing of the canon; information in Scripture without the Holy Spirit activator is only potential revelation and even general revelation is not deficient as a basis for salvation.

Strangely, Kraft often quotes Geerhardus Vos, but he does not see Vos’s point that revelation is the redemptive world-changing work of God in which Scripture self-consciously participates. Its information is dynamic, as Kraft says; but that is because God’s self-revelation is the powerful remaking of the fallen order, focusing on Christ binding the strong man. It is true, of course, that God continues to communicate himself, but only because Christ’s work is finished and we live in the last days in which God is pouring out his spirit. Perhaps, in other words, revelation is simply not “like all other communication” and we need a model that grows out of the abundant, loving triune character of God and that takes seriously his people as the embodiment (and not only bearers) of this life message.

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We look in vain for any theory of the relation between cultural forms and their meaning. Kraft says meaning flows through the forms like water through a pipe and that culture is really a neutral vehicle with only perceived meaning, but clearly he does not mean this, for elsewhere he insists that forms are very important and “certain cultural forms do, apparently, allow for a greater possibility of being employed to serve Christian functions.” But he does not pause to consider why this might be so; cultural forms do not seem to have any intrinsic meaning and we are not to seek a culture that we can call Christian. Significantly the only reference Kraft makes to art—where the meaning is intrinsic to the form—is to allow drama a role in repersonalizing the message.

This is not an easy book and there may be some who will be uncomfortable with Kraft’s persistent polemic against closed conservatives, but it is an important contribution to a discussion of concern to all Christian communicators, and it deserves a wide and careful reading.

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