Defenders of God: The Fundamentalist Revolt against the Modern Age
by Bruce B. Lawrence
Harper& Row, 306 pages, $24.95
The subtitle says it all. Lawrence, who teaches the history of religion at Duke, attempts with modest success to analyze similarities between American fundamentalism and militant Muslims and Orthodox Jews in the Middle East. Unfortunately, the author does not resist the temptation to digress into lengthy academic excurses on almost any topic that impinges, however marginally, on the book’s declared purpose. The impression lingers that there is an argument here that never manages to get out from under the author’s assorted interests.
Let Them Call Me Rebel: Saul Alinsky, His Life and Legacy
by Sanford D. Horwitt
Knopf, 595 pages, $29.95
From the early forties and, increasingly, up to his death in 1972, Saul Alinsky was a controversial figure. As Mr. Horwitt would quickly point out, and as Mr. Alinsky would eagerly second, that is an almost ludicrous understatement. Alinsky’s boundless and often abrasive egotism thrived on controversy and confrontation. That is one part of the story and Horwitt, to his credit, does not fudge it. The other part is the enormous, and usually constructive, influence that Alinsky’s work had on the churches in relating to the disempowered in American life. Beginning with the organizing of the Back of the Yards in Chicago, Alinsky and company shaped Roman Catholic responses in particular to “the urban crisis.” In Reveille for Radicals and, toward the end of his life, in Rules for Radicals, Alinsky attempted to channel radical impulses toward the fulfillment of an essentially Madisonian view of American democracy. In the 1960s he courageously challenged the separatism of black nationalists and the anti-Americanism of the New Left, as well as the statist utopianism of the war on poverty. A more baneful influence was his obsession with threat and conflict as the sole instruments of empowerment. In liberationist religious rhetoric today, many who talk about violence as justified counter-violence against the violence of “the system” draw on the language of Alinsky but share little of his understanding of the democratic process. The Industrial Areas Foundation which he launched continues today with much more refined and sophisticated programs involving networks of churches in more than twenty cities. There is ho doubt that Saul Alinsky was excessive in almost everything he did; he was ever posturing, strategizing, and caught up in non-stop talking about what it means to he a radical. But he lived in excessive times, from the Old Left through the explosion of the myriad leftisms of the 1960s. Sanford Horwitt is clearly nostalgic for those good old days. But his spirited telling of a remarkable life leaves one with the distinct impression that, were Saul Alinsky around today, he would be helping the churches to do something constructive about making this representative democracy work a little better. Whatever he might propose, he would, of course, call it radical.
African Catholicism: Essays in Discovery
by Adrian Hastings
Trinity Press International, 208 pages, $14.95
The author, who is now professor of theology at the University of Leeds, has for more than thirty years been embroiled in the life of the church in Africa. He is surely one of the more judicious European writers about Christianity in a continent where Christianity is growing faster than anywhere else. Although there are more than seventy million Roman Catholics in Africa, Hastings is not at all sure that what he calls “the Catholic moment” has not been missed. In 1968 at Kampala, Pope Paul VI declared, “You may and you must have an African Christianity.” In subsequent years, Hastings argues, little has been done in terms of the indigenization of the faith. His contention that the demand for clerical celibacy, and the result of widespread clerical promiscuity, are major obstacles to the flourishing of Catholicism in Africa will not be well received in Rome. But, on this and other questions, he makes his case in a manner that compels careful consideration. (This, incidentally, is as good an occasion as any to note the welcome appearance of Trinity Press International, a Philadelphia-based enterprise launched in cooperation with SCM Press in London.)
Challenge to Apartheid: Toward a Moral National Resistance
by Mokgethi Motlhabi
Eerdmans, 243 pages, $13.95
With the aid of a grant from the Ford Foundation, the author, who directs the Educational Opportunities Council in Johannesburg, was given time at Boston University to do serious academic reflection on the process of change in his homeland. His reflection draws heavily on the work of Walter C. Muelder of that school, now retired, but takes original turns as he applies Muelder’s approach to the experience of radical anti-apartheid groups in South Africa. While he is exceedingly, perhaps understandably, cautious about criticizing the radicalisms abounding in South Africa, there is no doubt about Molthabi’s concern that social and political transformation in that country be just to all concerned. Regrettably, proposals for change from sources outside the circle of the “radicalized” tend to be ignored or lightly dismissed. Challenge is nonetheless a useful introduction to aspects of radical thought in South Africa, and it does encourage the writers of manifestos and party tracts to consider questions of justice that are often subordinated to the immediate and the tactical.
A Requiem for Hitler and Other New Perspectives on the German Church Struggle
by Klaus Scholder
Trinity Press International, 203 pages, $15.95
Scholder, who died a still young man in 1985, gave us the two-volume work The Churches and the Third Reich, undoubtedly the best thing on the subject in English. (The second volume was completed by friends after his death and does not have the coherence of the first.) The present book is a collection of ten essays, in some ways expanding on the earlier work. The title is from an essay describing the role of Adolf Cardinal Bertram of Breslau, the senior German prelate, who, upon hearing of Hitler’s death, ordered a requiem mass to be said in his churches. Perhaps of greatest interest is an essay on Judaism and Christianity in Nazi ideology. Scholder is convinced that National Socialism was essentially a racial movement and that anti-Semitism was its most fundamental dogma. Until 1937, Hitler hoped that the two Christian confessions (Roman Catholic and Lutheran) could be induced to join the Nazis in their war on the Jews. Deeply disappointed by the churches, he made it increasingly clear that he intended to destroy them after he was finished with the war, and with the Jews. What he viewed as the failure of the churches confirmed him in the view that they”along with Bolshevism and capitalism”had succumbed to “the Jewish disease.” A Requiem for Hitler is a welcome addition to the legacy of Klaus Scholder.
Black Theology and Black Power
by James H. Cone Harper & Row, 165 pages, $8.95
This is the “20th Anniversary Edition” of a book that set off fireworks in academic theology in the late 1960s. It is generally thought that Cone’s version of black liberation theology has had little impact on the black pulpit or pew, but some still believe it is the wave of the future. Twenty years later, there are some things Cone says he would change. He now recognizes, for instance, the book’s “complete blindness to the problem of sexism.” For this edition he was tempted to make some revisions, “but I decided to let the language remain unchanged as a reminder how sexist I once was and also that I might be encouraged never to forget it.” Perhaps more substantively, he now repents of the influence of Karl Barth on his thinking. “Barth’s assertion of the Word of God in opposition to natural theology in the context of Germany during the 1930s may have been useful. But the same theological methodology cannot be applied to the cultural history of African-Americans in the Americas or to Africans and Asians on their continents.” The suggestion that a theology of blood and race, such as Barth opposed under the Nazis, is appropriate for select communities today is breathtaking in its implications. Considering the substantive shift in his views, one cannot help but wonder why Professor Cone would want this unrevised text reissued now.
20th Century Religious Thought
by John Macquarrie
Trinity Press International, 468 pages, $19.95
Macquarrie, now emeritus at Oxford, has updated an eminently useful guide that first appeared in 1963. Although himself of an existentialist persuasion, the author strives to be fair to a maddening variety of approaches to religion, and almost always succeeds. Since much of twentieth-century religious thought is in reaction to the several schools of the late nineteenth century, Macquarrie appropriately includes extensive discussion of that earlier period. Also, since the author believes that the line between theology and philosophy is by no means so clear as some think, 20th Century Religious Thought turns out to be a guide to philosophy as well”or at least to philosophy that takes on the questions usually associated with religion. This book deserves a place in the library of the educated generalist, as well as the theologically and philosophically trained.