With All Your Mind
The Christian Imagination: Essays on Literature and the Arts, edited by Leland Ryken (Baker, 1981, 448 pp., $10.95), is reviewed by Gwen E. Prestwood, art teacher, and Larry M. Lake, English teacher, Delaware County Christian School, Newtown Square, Pennsylvania.
Leland Ryken’s considerations of Paradise Lost, of the Bible, and of literature in general (in his 1980 Triumphs of the Imagination: Literature in Christian Perspective), have shown that Christianity is no enemy to the literary imagination.
In The Christian Imagination, Ryken is joined by other Christian scholars, writers, and thinkers who explore the relationships between Christianity and music and the visual arts, as well as literature.
In the collection’s first two sections, several authors, including C. S. Lewis, Clyde Kilby, and Frank Gaebelein, “attempt to discover and apply the Christian principles that should govern a Christian’s involvement in the arts.” Like most introductions, it tends to deal in generalities, but contains valuable ideas for considering the arts.
Three sets of essays are devoted to literature. The first, “Christian Perspective in Literature,” offers Thomas Howard’s enlightened reasons for reading literature. T. S. Eliot’s famous “Religion and Literature” is followed by Van Der Weele’s “Shakespeare and Christianity,” the kind of “above and beyond” criticism that Eliot recommends.
“The Christian Writer” consists of essays by five Christian writers. This section moves beyond the rest of the book’s concerns and helps clarity the work of Christians who write. Three of the essays offer particularly helpful observations on how difficult it is for a Christian writer who is truly an artist to find acceptance by a Christian audience.
The five essays in the section “Christian Perspectives on the Visual Arts” offer the nonartist a guide to appreciating the visual arts, and provide the artist with a basis for style and content. To mention two, Seerveld contends that the use of abstract style is a valid approach for the Christian artist, and in his “Letter to a Christian Artist,” Rookmaaker encourages young artists to seek a method of expression that will be truthful.
Of all the arts, music is the one in which Christians are most often participants. The final section of the book explores principles for the practice and enjoyment of music. Because it deals heavily with the difficulties in selection of church music, this section consequently overlooks modern music. Even Robert Elmore mentions no twentieth-century composers. It is weaker in its treatment of current trends and deficiencies than the sections on other art forms. For example, while Margaret Clarkson points up inherent difficulties in gospel music, she tends either to underrate or simply disregard contemporary Christian music.
This book’s varied styles and approaches will reach many audiences: artists and appreciators of art, musicians and listeners, writers and readers, teachers and students. For too long, the few who think carefully about the arts have been drowned out by the vocal masses of Christians ignorant and unappreciative of some of God’s gifts. Perhaps the voices in The Christian Imagination will be heard by those who need to hear.
Not What You Do, But What You Are
What the Bible Teaches About Christian Living, by Gilbert Kirby (Tyndale, 1980, 106 pp., $3.95), is reviewed by W. Wilson Benton, Jr., pastor of First Presbyterian Church, Cleveland, Mississippi.
Gilbert Kirby, principal of London Bible College, England, unfolds “the science of conduct and behaviour” in What the Bible Teaches About Christian Living. Only after affirming the inseparable relationship between Christian doctrine and Christian ethics does he emphasize the “behaving side” as opposed to the “believing side” of faith.
Granting the obvious—that only a Christian possesses potential for Christian living—Kirby contends that what actually constitutes a Christian is not so obvious. Reacting to the easy believism of much modern evangelism, he stresses the unmitigated challenge of Christian discipleship by amplifying the early church’s confession, “Jesus is Lord!” The premise is simply put: “Accepting the lordship of Christ affects every aspect of a person’s life.”
This fundamental thesis finds confirmation in the Ten Commandments, that broad and general summary of what God requires of his redeemed people. Although the commentary on each in turn is brief, there is a piercing demonstration of the radical implications of each one. Application of basic principles is personal and demanding. The standard is held high—so high, in fact, that the law is dubbed “the accusing ten.” We are not to despair, however. The Christian is shown “how God in his mercy has provided means of grace to help his children to reach the standards he has set for them.” According to Kirby, the means of grace include Bible reading, church attendance, Communion, and prayer (but not baptism). Extreme brevity limits the effectiveness of this section.
While some may register concern over the author’s clearly drawn distinction between carnal Christians and truly sanctified Christians, the serious reader will not be offended by this almost tangential voyage into troubled waters. He will rather focus on the salient issues addressed by this work—“Down-to-earth Christianity” and “Christian Character.” In the former section, Kirby forges a functional tool for assessing one’s level of consecration at home, at work, at leisure, with money, in society, and in the state. Thoughtful study elicits honest and painful self-examination. Since he believes that “it’s not so much what you do or do not do as a Christian which counts, but rather what you are,” he enjoins the development of a Christ-like character, delineated in terms of “the fruit of the Spirit.” The degree of our Christ-likeness is the measure of our spiritual maturity. The truly mature Christian displays at least to some degree all the fruits of the Spirit. To be so involved is to practice the art of Christian living.
Who Really Killed God?
The Testament of God, by Bernard-Henri Lévy (Harper & Row, 1980, 250 pp., $15.95), is reviewed by Lloyd Billingsley, a writer living in Poway, California.
Bernard-Henri Lévy’s precious work, Barbarism with a Human Face, left him “without compass or charts,” having rejected Marxism. If this “religion of our time” is a gigantic fraud, then what is left for mankind? What can be done about the global slide into totalitarianism? Picking up where he left off, The Testament of God fills in some of the blanks.
Using numerous references to history and philosophy that will not be of interest to everyone (but are sure to delight the specialist), Lévy links modern totalitarianism with historic paganism. He sees the modern conflict as a war of religion: “From Robespierre to Mao, there is no totalitarianism without this insistent, pathological, obsessive reference to slaying the one and sovereign God.” Those who usurp the place of God are, in his words, “the real theocrats” who are “always recruited from among the murderers of God rather than his worshippers.” His reply to modern paganism and its accompanying barbarism is resistance—in the form of monotheism.
“Monotheism is the thought of resistance of our age, because it proposes a definition of evil, a doctrine of justice.” The ideal state he sees as one where “God reigns only because he does not govern” and one with “a Law holier than any history.” Lévy proposes seven “commandments” as a resistance manual to totalitarianism. Although much of what he says is not new, it is stated in manifesto fashion and will excite all who cherish freedom and detest barbarism.
The book’s ventures into what the author calls the “thickets of the biblical text” will probably disappoint most evangelicals, but the author is a relative newcomer to all this. Great minds that have wrestled with the Scriptures have produced some astonishing results. Bernard-Henri Lévy will certainly bear watching.
The Testament of God will be most valuable to those who have recently been dragged kicking and screaming into the world of politics, are bewildered by current cant, and seek a lucid, theological view of the world. In this, the book succeeds remarkably.
Don’T Hurry: Live!
At Home in the World: A Christian View of Wholeness, by Patricia Kennedy Helman (The Brethren Press, 1980, 120 pp., $4.95), is reviewed by Raymond F. Pendleton, professor of pastoral psychology, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, South Hamilton, Massachusetts.
Mrs. Helman’s small volume is a statement of deep personal piety. She encourages the reader to develop a deep, conscious response to the living of all of life. Her message is: enjoy the conscious experience of living and take from it all that is possible.
This is a book written by a contemporary Christian mystic. Her mysticism is balanced by a sense of hope, faith, love, and the power of the living God. Her view of wholeness is that we become complete by acknowledging that multiple factors contribute to: our identity, our complex personal history, our capacity to locate ourselves in the present and celebrate the reality of the world around us, an increased sensitivity to the value of human relationships, and a sense of the blessings of both the inward and outward journey.
This is a personal volume with which all readers can identify. The author has touched our eyes, and the scales of “hurry” blindness have been taken away to see God at work in our lives. Readers will have the sense that this pilgrimage can belong to them as well.
God And The World
Theology of Nature, by George S. Hendry (Westminster, 1980, 252 pp., $12.95), is reviewed by James S. Nelson, associate professor of religion and philosophy, North Park College, Chicago, Illinois.
In these Warfield lectures, George Hendry contends that the crisis in ecology is now forcing Christians to ask about the purpose of nature in God’s plan of creation and redemption. He says that theology of nature should be “knowledge of nature in the light of God.”
The basis of creation faith for Hendry has its origin in biblical particularism, beginning with election of a people with a universal dimension in view. This method of particularity continues in the New Testament in Jesus Christ, with the understanding that the Redeemer was also from the beginning. Thus God’s redemptive action in Christ “is integrally related to the creative and consummative in its universality” and “is coextensive with the work of God in creation and consummation” (p. 118).
After making such profoundly suggestive statements, it is a shame that Hendry does not develop the relation of redemption to creation in a way that overcomes the false split between general and special revelation. Instead, he concentrates on the meaning of redemption for the destiny of nature.
Hendry’s discussion of the meaning of creation introduces the major central section entitled Theology of Nature. Its focus is on why God created the world, what the fact of creation means for the being of God, and whether creation can be understood as an expression of the rational essence of God or an expression of divine fiat and arbitrariness. While the discussion is interesting, it is not clear where Hendry is going, or what his thinking is on these matters. Creation by the divine logos is helpfully related to the idea of wisdom and Jesus Christ, suggesting that the “word of creation” relates not to “a series of divine fiats, but the design of the world as an ordered structure” (p. 134).
What is missing from the entire discussion, however, is how the meaning of God as the creator relates to the processes of nature understood by science—that is, the relation of the purpose of God in creation to the order of the world. This would have given evidential support to Hendry’s purpose, to understand nature in the light of God.
It is encouraging for our day that a significant American theologian has sought to address himself to the development of a theology of nature. Hendry’s book can be read helpfully alongside Arthur Peacocke’s important Creation and the World of Science (Oxford, 1979), which is more scientifically oriented. Though much remains to be done on the doctrine of creation, Theology of Nature makes an interesting contribution to a long overdue discussion.
Bible Teaching Handbook
Asking Questions: A Classroom Model for Teaching the Bible, by D. Bruce Lockerbie (Mott Media, 1980, 156 pp., $4.95), is reviewed by Matthew Baldwin, teacher of English and Bible at Delaware County Christian School, Newtown Square, Pennsylvania.
One comes to expect superior work from thoughtful and versatile educator Bruce Lockerbie. This carefully prepared book is no exception, and should prove a welcome handbook for the Bible teacher. Lockerbie lays groundwork for analysis of the Bible as a piece of literature. However, he also presents basic principles of biblical inquiry in recognition of the fact that the Bible is also a theological work.
Perhaps the most refreshing aspect of this book is the author’s insistence that meaning cannot be isolated from the historical-cultural context. Too often students seek personal and contemporary application with no consideration of the historical-cultural context. Lockerbie suggests that the questions “What does it say?” “What does it mean?” and “How does this apply to me?” be the order for a proper biblical hermeneutic. Using this format, teachers may then formulate a series of questions that bring out the literary and theological value of the Bible.
One of the strengths of this book is the series of 10 sample lesson plans based on the life of David and selected psalms. A unit test is included. Lockerbie reminds the reader that Jesus taught primarily by means of question and answer, but he is not recommending the Socratic method where the questions were philosophical and the answers seemed to come from the minds of youths. Rather, Lockerbie’s questions and answers are found in the Bible itself. Clearly he believes the Bible to be self-interpreting. Teachers will find much of value in this book as they seek to lead students into deeper understanding of God’s Word.
Good books continue to be reprinted in our own day. The following is a mélange of such material.
Biblical Studies. The Bible Almanac (Nelson), edited by J. I. Packer, M. C. Tenney, and William White, Jr., has already proved its usefulness and is now available in paperback. John Bright’s standard A History of Israel (Westminster) is now in a third, thoroughly revised, updated edition. Another generation of seminary students will now benefit from its scholarship. They will also appreciate the second, revised and enlarged edition of Siegfried Herrmann’s A History of Israel in Old Testament Times (Westminster).
Joseph A. Seiss’s warmly evangelical Gospel in Leviticus has been made available after many years by Kregel Publications. Baker has reprinted The Sufferings and the Glory of the Messiah by the nineteenth-century Scottish preacher, John Brown. Brown’s immense critical gifts are well known. Charles Bridges was praised lavishly by C. H. Spurgeon; his Ecclesiastes has been reprinted by Banner of Truth. Klock & Klock continues its excellent ministry by reprinting the seventeenth-century exposition by James Durham, Clavis Cantici; or, An Exposition of the Song of Solomon, and J. A. Alexander’s two-volume Isaiah: Translated and Explained. Charles Hodge said of J. A. Alexander: “I regard [him] as incomparably the greatest man I ever knew, as incomparably the greatest man our church has ever produced.” James Morrison’s commentaries on Matthew and Mark are also available from Klock & Klock. J. A. Beet, a contemporary of Morrison, said of these works: “The unanimous verdict of the best judges … had declared it to be one of the ablest expositions of Holy Scriptures produced in any age or nation.”
Theology/Church History. Earle E. Cairns’s much-used Christianity Through the Centuries (Zondervan) has been revised, up-dated, and illustrated; it is a handsome volume. Baker has made available once more Wilbur M. Smith’s collection, Great Sermons on the Birth, Death and Resurrection of Christ. The sermons range from Lancelot Andrewes to Harold John Ockenga. Two long out-of-print works, The Incarnation: A Study of Phil. 2:5–11 and a University Sermon on Psalm 110, by E. H. Gifford, and Man and the Incarnation, by Samuel Andrews, have been reprinted as The Incarnation of Christ by Klock & Klock. They also offer Theological Essays on Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy, by W. G. T. Shedd, a welcome reappearance. The standard scholarly study by Ernst Troeltsch, The Social Teaching of the Christian Churches (2 vols.), in Olive Wyon’s translation, introduced by H. R. Niebuhr, is available in paperback from the University of Chicago Press.
Devotional. Keats Publishing offers three tine works in paperback: The Gift of Suffering, by F. B. Meyer; Victory in Failure, by Alexander MacLaren; and The Secret of Communion with God, by Matthew Henry. Many will be happy to see Daily Thoughts for Disciples (CLC), by Oswald Chambers, available again in a new edition. Andrew Murray’s 1905 classic, The Inner Chamber and the Inner Life, has been brought up to date in two new editions: The Believer’s Daily Renewal (Bethany Fellowship) and The Inner Chamber (CLC); they are essentially the same. Thomas Hooker’s The Poor Doubting Christian Drawn to Christ (Baker) will help strugglers today as it did in earlier times.
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