The Challenge of Marxism: A Christian Response, by Klaus Bockmühl (IVP, 1980, 187 pp., $4.95), is reviewed by Terry L. Leckrone, minister, Christ United Methodist Church, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
Many readers will question the need for another Christian critique of Marxism when the prevailing view is that the philosophy of Karl Marx is obsolete. But Klaus Bockmühl, professor of theology and ethics at Regent College, sees an exception to this view in the growing appeal of Marxism in the churches. It is this increasing openness to a Marxist-Christian alliance that motivated Bockmühl to write a book to help Christians meet the ideological challenge of Marxian socialism.
Writing of its new attraction in the non-Communist world, the author asserts that Marxism has stepped in and filled the “spiritual vacuum” created by secularism. Marx has become a “provider of meaning to life and … a savior from the spreading nihilism in the West.” Perhaps his most alarming observation is the growing acceptance of Marxist social ethics by Christians, including evangelicals.
The book counters this naïveté with a forceful and substantial argument that Marxism is more than a system yearning to redistribute wealth: “It is an all-encompassing system of thinking and living, a total conception of the world and humanity.” Marxism is an ideology that is “intrinsically atheistic”: a program for creating a new humanity and a new world. It is a secularized vision of the kingdom of God.
The detailed and scholarly analysis of Marxism and Christianity that follows is consistently orthodox and biblical. In the two major sections on the “Marxist Critique of Religion” and “Marxist-Leninist Ethics,” Bockmühl lays bare not only the weakness of Marxist criticism but also the bankruptcy of modern theology and ethics.
He shows that “mainline” Protestantism has no effective apologetic against Marxism because its theology is rooted in the same secularism that gave rise to historical materialism. In discussing Marxist-Leninist ethics, Bockmühl deals with the inherent contradiction of a deterministic world view, such as Marxism, attempting to develop an ethical system; it is a task that presupposes free moral choice. He further shows that Marx dealt with the problem by demanding action that cooperates with the inevitable movement of history toward a classless society. Lenin, the revolutionary organizer, lacked Marx’s preoccupation with the theoretical. His “ethics” were based on the premise that revolution must be self-determining and self-limiting. No moral values can be allowed to hinder its progress. Bockmühl counters these views by proposing that the church develop a biblically rooted, yet flexible approach to ethics that will enable it to act prophetically in the world.
If the reader still feels a philosophical synthesis is possible, the book’s final section, “Creating the New Man,” destroys that illusion. Marxism, while postulating the need for a new humanity, can offer no solution for liberating man from egotism (sin). Only Christianity with its doctrine of regeneration can provide the power for creation of the new man.
An unusual combination of scholarly insight, awareness of the weaknesses of modern Christianity, and a readable style make this a compelling book and one sorely needed in the church today. It is hoped that Bockmühl will write a sequel dealing with the newest and potentially most dangerous Marxist-Christian coalition, liberation theology.
Essays For Today
Belief, Faith, and Reason: Six Papers Presented at The Philadelphia Society’s Sixteenth Annual Meeting, edited by John A. Howard (Christian Journals, Limited, 1980, 120 pp., $13.95), is reviewed by Harold O. J. Brown, professor of systematic theology, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, Illinois.
The deliberately high-toned Philadelphia Society was founded in 1964 as a place for thinking conservative scholars to interact with and stimulate one another to creative thinking and productivity, primarily in economics, government, and the social sciences. Under the leadership of its 1979–80 president, John A. Howard, former president of Rockford College and now president of Rockford Institute, the society for the first time has devoted an entire annual meeting to the interaction between religion and the free society. The result is a series of lively papers, several of which individually would be worth the book’s price.
The most impressive in terms of sweep is the address, “Religion and Science: the Cosmic Connection,” by Stanley L. Jaki, historian, theologian, and scientist. He neatly sums up in this paper the monumental analysis of his magnum opus on science and religion, The Road of Science and the Ways to God (1978, Univ. of Chicago), and draws its implications for contemporary free society. In a nutshell, Jaki’s major thesis is the contention that natural science depended for its origin, and continues to depend for its vitality today, on the concept or doctrine that there is but one universe, and that it is the deliberate, thought-out handiwork of an intelligent Creator.
In the present essay, Professor Jaki goes on to contend that a free society can exist only when there is a shared consensus of moral values resting on an understanding of man and the universe as having a discernible purpose. This purpose, he contends, is visible in the created world order, but is also explicitly communicated in an intelligible revelation, capable of being understood by common-sense interpretation. Here he seems to come close to the Reformation concept of the claritas Scripturae, the intelligibility or perspicuity of Scripture.
But Jaki provocatively says that only a few religious traditions adequately understand the way in which God, his creation, and his verbal revelation in Scripture are integrally related to one another. He names, interestingly enough, traditionalist Roman Catholicism, orthodox Judaism, and fundamentalist Protestantism, but disqualifies—incorrectly, in this reader’s view—not only orthodox Lutheranism and Calvinism, but Eastern Orthodoxy and Islam as well. His approach is one of the most stimulating advances in the area of religious knowledge since Francis Schaeffer began his apologetic work with Escape from Reason and TheGod Who Is There.
If Jaki’s paper, while highly stimulating, requires an immense intellectual effort to comprehend, the one by Wall Street Journal critic Edmund Fuller, “Post-Christian Culture Today,” lightens the atmosphere with a brilliant and biting diatribe. Fuller sees contemporary Western society as tottering on the brink of spiritual suicide and a return to barbarism, and makes a powerful appeal for a revival of Christian culture. Dallin H. Oaks, former president of Brigham Young University, sounds a well-reasoned, persuasive appeal for a revision of our current absolutist doctrine of the total, hermetic separation of church and state. Coming from a Mormon, whose church in its early days suffered from a certain amount of meddling by the state, this appeal is doubly impressive.
John R. MacCormack, a Scottish Roman Catholic historian now at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, makes a strong case in “Religion in Freedom” for the vital influence of historic Christianity in developing free Western society.
In an essay devoted to “Religion in Contemporary Politics,” Stephen Tonsor of the University of Michigan points to the fact that belief has consequences—something Hitler and Stalin recognized better than the United States did. Part of the resistance to such movements as Moral Majority is the result of their violation of the tradition that whatever one believes religiously should not affect the way one acts politically. Tonsor argues that politics will necessarily have a religious element; the only question is, Which religion?
From the perspective of Robert Farrar Capon, the religion of contemporary culture is essentially narcissism. Capon charges evangelicalism and the “born-again” movement with being essentially an illusory religious catering to narcissism and the quick spiritual fix. His essay, “Religion in Contemporary Culture,” although full of provocative imagery and quotable bons mots, was largely a lament with less in the way of constructive proposals than those of his colleagues at the meeting.
For such a brief work, Belief, Faith, and Reason offers an amazing amount of stimulus and challenge, especially in areas where evangelicals have tended to be weak. It should provide valuable material for discussion, reflection, decision, and action.
Out Of The Wilderness
Beyond Loneliness: How You Can Understand and Overcome the Gnawing Feeling, by Elizabeth Skoglund (Doubleday, 1980, 150 pp., $8.95), is reviewed by Raymond F. Pendleton, professor of pastoral psychology, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, South Hamilton, Massachusetts.
This is yet another book by Elizabeth Skoglund that carries her unique seal—that is, a combination of personal vulnerability, expression of deep faith, and keen insight in an attempt to integrate the psychological and theological. She seeks to look at the nature of loneliness, and suggests ways of moving beyond it. Of particular significance is her emphasis on managing loneliness through the structuring of our lives, but she deals with other aspects of loneliness that are not often addressed: the loneliness of being overextended, and the danger of burning out. She deals with loneliness that can occur in an intimate relationship or in the fellowship of the body of Christ.
While some readers may have some minor, or perhaps even major, disagreements with her concept of sin, the book is another in Skoglund’s remarkable series of integrative attempts to help us learn how to live with the dilemmas of our everyday experience. It is a book for the lonely. It is especially a book for the counselor who wishes to find some ways of helping the counselee learn to manage loneliness. It is a book for the reflective, to help understand the deep, bruising impact of our culture on the soul of human beings.
All Are Saved Except …
Unconditional Good News, by Neal Punt (Eerdmans, 1980, 169 pp., $4.95), is reviewed by John Richard de Witt, professor of systematic theology, Reformed Theological Seminary, Jackson, Mississippi.
This stimulating book probes some profound theological issues with style and aplomb. Moreover, it is written by a busy pastor. Punt is a minister of the Christian Reformed church, committed to the Reformed theology, but at the same time radically critical of some of its teachings. It must not be thought, however, that his criticism is restricted to Calvinism. The book is directed against what he regards as a serious misunderstanding of biblical truth throughout all orthodox Christianity almost from the beginning. His aim is to establish and clarity what he calls “biblical universalism.”
According to Punt, it was in response to the universalism of Origen and others that the church came commonly to teach that all the posterity of Adam are lost, except. In the Middle Ages, all were regarded as lost “except those who continue to live in obedient fellowship with the church.” Lutherans, Calvinists, and Arminians have generally held that all are lost “except those who believe” (p. 3).
It is the thesis of Punt’s book, however, that this consensus fails to do justice to the universalistic passages in Scripture. From his own study he concludes that another formulation is called for, and that with some urgency: namely, “that all persons are elect in Christ except those who the Bible declares will be lost” (p. 16). In other words, the accent should fad, not on the “except,” but on the “all.” In his view, it is the inclusiveness of what God has done in Christ, rather than its exclusiveness, that should control our outlook.
Punt’s starting point is Romans 5:18, but he enlists many other universalistic passages as well to aid his argument. He insists that “Romans 5:18 and its immediate context do refer condemnation to all without distinction and justification of life to all without distinction” (p. 17). Thus he wants to speak of a real universalism. At the same time, he clearly eschews “absolute universalism” (p. 18). “An uncomplicated and biblically accurate description of ‘the exceptions’ referred to in our premise … is this: those who do not ‘see fit to acknowledge God’ (Rom. 1:28). Those who will be lost are those, and those only, who wilfully and ultimately refuse to acknowledge God—whether this refusal is expressed in indifference towards, violation of, or lack of conformity to the law (the will) of God as it has been made known to them” (p. 30).
Plainly enough Punt approaches his subject from a Calvinistic perspective. His chapter on “Biblical Particularism” shows that. He differs from others, however, in that he understands that particularism to include all—except the indifferent and disobedient. In his discussion of “What Faith Cannot Do,” he objects to such statements as these: there is “an essential correlation between faith and salvation” (Berkouwer, p. 101); “salvation depends on faith” (Packer); “no man can be in Christ but him who believes” (Bloesch, p. 102).
The problem he sees in such formulations is that they proceed from the assumption that “all persons are outside of Christ except those who the Bible declares will be saved” (p. 102). Hence, we are left with having to determine how sinners are to be brought into a right relationship with God in Christ. Arminians, he says, and some Lutherans hold that God himself is unable to save those who refuse to make the all-important decision to believe. Calvinists and some other Lutherans conclude, on the ground of what Scripture teaches about human helplessness in sin and the divine sovereignty, “that salvation is determined solely by the ‘all-decisive divine act of redemption’ ” (pp. 102–3).
On this account Punt is also able to assert that “the act or attitude of faith is not essential to establish a saving relationship with Christ” (p. 103). It is obvious how he can move from this to the statement that all infants dying in infancy and those mentally incapable of responding to or repudiating the gospel are saved (pp. 120ff.).
It is a cause for rejoicing when theology opens the way to more effective ministry and evangelism. One cannot help but appreciate Punt’s transparent pastoral motivation in presenting us with this challenging and able treatise. He is to be thanked also for having called to our attention once again and with such earnestness the glorious biblical pronouncements on the cosmic extent of the work of Christ.
One wonders, however, whether Punt’s exegesis of Romans 5:18 (and other texts) is ready preferable to that of Herman N. Ridderbos, whose interpretation he explicitly rejects. Is it ready so evident in Scripture that death in sin has been done away for all but those who “wilfully and ultimately refuse to acknowledge God”? Is the Bible as silent as Punt claims on the eternal roots of condemnation? Can it be said with such certainty that death in infancy is a positive proof of election? Does the argument that supports this view not also necessarily involve a shift in the biblical doctrine of sin? If we speak as Punt does, are we not in danger of reducing the biblical imperative of repentance and faith, an imperative so significant that eternal issues are said to hang on it (Luke 13:3, 5; John 3:16; Acts 16:31)?
One hopes the appearance of Punt’s book will be followed by a thorough discussion of the questions he has raised and the answers he has suggested.
Biographical. We often find mirrored in the lives of others our better self—the self we would like to be. This collection of biographically oriented books puts that mirror before us.
Augustine: Wayward Genius (Baker), by David Bentley-Taylor, shows some of the deep shadows as well as the bright sunshine that fell across the great bishop of Hippo’s life. Marina Warner’s Joan of Arc (Knopf) ably presents Joan as the image of female heroism. The prize-winning fictional biography of Luther’s wife, Katherine(Northwestern), by Clara S. Schreiber, is now available in paperback. A very interesting book for ministers is When Adam Clarke Preached, People Listened (Beacon Hill of Kansas City), by Wesley Tracy, which is about one of the greatest Wesleyan preachers of the late eighteenth century. From roughly the same epoc comes Letters and Memoir of Joseph Charles Philpot (Baker), another extraordinary British preacher. Probably the definitive biography is George Müller (Harold Shaw), by Roger Steer, now available in paperback. Müller’s life remains something of a mystery and a challenge to the present day. Theologians will appreciate the Autobiography of Augustus Hopkins Strong (Judson), Crerar Douglas, editor. It recounts the Baptist theologian’s life, including such personal touches as his whirlwind courtship (engaged in one week), and his son’s loss of faith.
Two literary characters who figured prominently in the nineteenth-century religious thought are treated well in John Ruskin: The Passionate Moralist (Knopf), by Joan Abse, and Waldo Emerson (Viking), by Gay Wilson Allan.
Southern Baptist mission work is epitomized well in David Gomes: When Faith Triumphs (Broadman), by Anne McWilliams. Gomes is a remarkable contemporary Brazilian evangelist. Margaret of Molokai (Word), by Mel White, is the grim but triumphant story of work among lepers in Hawaii. In the Potter’s Hand (Augsburg) is the somewhat sugar-coated autobiography of Gretchen Quie, wife of Minnesota’s Governor Al Quie. I Wouldn’t Take Nothin’ for My Journey (Johnson), by Leonidas H. Berry, is the not-so-sugar-coated history of two centuries of an Afro-American minister’s family. Bruce Olson (Christian Herald), by Andres Küng, tells of Olson’s work with the Indians of Colombia, asking, against the backdrop of charges and countercharges leveled at missionaries, if he was a missionary or a colonizer.
A chilling yet stirring tale about the awful days of Nazi Germany is One Woman Against the Reich (Bethany House), by Helmut W. Ziefle.
J. Gresham Machen (Kregel), by Henry W. Corey, is described as a “silhouette,” and so it is; someone ought to write a definitive biography. A new annotated edition of the absolutely outstanding biography Teilhard (McGraw-Hill), by Mary Lukas and Ellen Lukas, has now appeared in paperback.
Thomas Merton continues to attract attention with two well-done works: Thomas Merton’s Dark Path (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), by William H. Shannon, and Thomas Merton, revised edition (Doubleday/Image), by Cornelia and Irving Süssman.
Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.