What Went Wrong? The Creation and Collapse of the Black-Jewish Alliance.
By Murray Friedman.
Free Press. 423 pages, $24.95.
The American Jewish congress reported in January that black and Jewish members of the U.S. Congress continue to share a common core of interests and values, but in What Went Wrong? Murray Friedman is less confident. Not surprisingly, he looks back in nostalgia to the days when Jews and blacks fought together for civil rights and social reform. Since the 1960s Jews and blacks have instead fought each other over affirmative action, the Arab-Israeli conflict, and city neighborhoods. Some blacks have recently argued that Jews have always sought to manipulate American blacks for their own Jewish purposes. But Mr. Friedman has written an engrossing book rescuing the history of black and Jewish relations. Manipulation theories cannot explain Allard Lowenstein or Kivie Kaplan, or Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner (murdered in Mississippi while registering black voters). Without Jewish votes, black mayors might not have been elected in New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia. But Mr. Friedman makes some questionable assumptions in What Went Wrong? The 1960s alliance was never as warm as it seems in nostalgia to have been. Blacks and Jews cooperated because it was in their interest to do so. That they do not walk entirely together anymore is a sign of political maturity. The book ends on a sad note. Jews appear obsessed with talking things out with blacks under the presumption that talk is beneficial in and of itself. Blacks will sometimes indulge Jews in these efforts, Mr. Friedman notes, but their responses are at best halfhearted.
” Edward S. Shapiro
Religions of India in Practice.
Edited by Donald s. lopez, Jr.
Princeton University Press. 648 pages, $59.50 cloth, $19.95 paper.
This is the first volume in Princeton’s new series of anthologies of religious texts. The series hopes, by its choice of works, to represent the variety within each religion, and to emphasize practice (ritual and devotion) over doctrine. So this volume draws heavily from India’s vernacular (i.e., non-Sanskrit) religious literature, and includes Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, Sikh, and Islamic works-but, oddly, nothing Christian. Much of the material appears here in English for the first time. The translations, on the whole, read well, sometimes beautifully, providing much matter for those who want to meditate, theologically or otherwise, upon humanity’s religious yearnings and obsessions.
” Paul J. Griffiths
The Responsibility People.
Edited by William McKinney.
Eerdmans. 377 pages, $24.99 paper.
The Lilly Endowment funded a Senior Leaders program in which the Hartford Seminary brought together a group of people who had been at the top of mainline Protestant denominations and ecumenical agencies in the last forty years. Most of the names are familiar to those who have followed the fortunes and misfortunes of liberal Protestant denominations over the decades: James M. Ault, Arie Brouwer, Robert C. Campbell, Joseph H. Evans, Robert Marshall, James K. Matthews, Gerald Moede, Robert W. Neff, Avery D. Post, David Preus, Claire Randall, Kenneth L. Teegarden, William Thompson. The subject of their extended discussions was What went wrong? Of course that is not how they put it. Editor McKinney describes the group as the last generation of leaders of established Protestantism and the first generation of leaders of post-established Protestantism. Needless to say, he is not referring to the conservative Protestantism that has in some respects displaced the oldline. Some of these leaders strongly emphasize what they think went right, and stress the ways in which the problem was that they were misunderstood both by their own constituencies and the larger culture. There is a poignant combination of the complaisant and complacent as these leaders reflect on their stewardship; they want to be nice, except to conservatives, and they think they did their best, which, all in all, they believe was pretty good. Kenneth Teegarden of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) wants to be remembered for his formulation of a creed for the non-credal Disciples. The creed declares: While stressing freedom and diversity under God, they believe unity and mission are inseparable, and witness and serve among the whole human family in the interest of peace, justice, mercy, and kindness. And, he gives us to believe, we would have had a kinder and gentler world, too, if those conservatives hadn’t come along. With such treacly bromides these leaders describe what they fancied to be their prophetic ministries. Typical is Doris (Dodie) Younger who headed Church Women United until 1989. She says that CWU was free to put all our strength into such issues as racism, corporate responsibility, poverty of women, peace, and the empowerment of women in the churches. Therefore, we could take stands that were frequently ahead of the churches from which women came. True, there were conservatives who withdrew, but many women in local units, and almost all of the women who are elected to national office, are committed to the more liberal stance on which CWU has always prided itself. Never mind that the organization is a shadow of its former self; the important thing is that it is going down with its liberal pride intact. Most of the book is composed of interviews. Rambling, repetitious, and unedited, they will nonetheless serve as useful grist for the historian who will one day provide a worthy account of the remarkable, and remarkably rapid, decline of what used to be mainline Protestantism. This book fairly represents some of the people who were, as the title says, responsible.
” Janet Marsden
Modern Halakhah for Our Time.
By Emanuel Rackman.
KTAV. 195 pages, $29.50.
Ethics of Responsibility: Pluralistic Approaches to Covenantal Ethics.
By Walter S. Wurzburger.
Jewish Publication Society. 156 pages, $20.
The respective authors of these volumes are exemplars of the liberal, or Modern, Orthodoxy that emerged from Yeshiva University in the postwar years. More a socio-intellectual style than a doctrine, postwar Modern Orthodoxy maintained an unapologetic commitment to traditional, largely unmodified, halakhah, while articulating its beliefs in terms of, and engaging in sincere dialogue with, the Western intellectual tradition. Rabbis Rackman and Wurzburger are both highly respected rabbinical and communal figures committed to a generous intellectual pluralism that yields interesting results. In his Modern Halakhah for Our Time Emanuel Rackman wields his considerable erudition in both Jewish and Anglo-American law to demonstrate that within the bounds of traditional halakhah there is to be found considerable diversity, creativity, and responsiveness to social change. This play in the joints is no accident of exile or imprecision, he maintains, but derives from the nature of the enterprise, as the halakhist must not only try to discern the divinely mandated norm, but must also veer frequently between antithetical values found in the basic norm, the Covenant itself, such as universalism and particularism, freedom and self-control, the needs of society and the needs of the self, this-worldliness and other-worldliness. Walter Wurzburger, in his graceful and learned essay Ethics of Responsibility , reconciles theocentric ethics with the dictates of a disciplined, educated conscience, arguing that when specific halakhic rules are not available or fall short, ethical beliefs, grounded in tradition, can step into the breach. Human freedom, creativity, and responsibility are indispensable to the fulfillment of the divinely assigned task, which involves more than blind submission to the divine will. Thus as long as their conduct conforms to halakhic standards, individuals are free to select whatever ideals are most suitable to their respective personalities. Both authors have enjoyed distinguished careers as communal leaders as well as academics. As Orthodoxy sways increasingly to the right, their inheritors increasingly find themselves relegated to pockets of academia and other corners of the intelligentsia. Their very attractive ideas are entrusted to an uncertain future.
” Yehudah Mirsky
The Clash of Gods: A Reinterpretation of Early Christian Art.
By Thomas F. Mathews.
Princeton University Press. 223 pages, $49.50.
It is commonplace to view the relation between early Christianity and Roman culture as a clash of ideas. In this provocative and revisionist book, Thomas Mathews, an art historian at New York University, shows that it was also a clash of images. In contrast to the prevailing view that images of Christ were modeled on images of the emperors, Mathews argues that Christian artists consciously avoided imperial imagery, choosing instead to put Christ into competition with the images of the ancient gods. Within the space of several generations a highly nuanced visual imagery that had developed over the course of a millennium was discarded and a new set of images was created, drawing in part on biblical stories and parables (Christ’s entry into Jerusalem, the good shepherd, etc.). The lanky Good Shepherd of Early Christian art wrestled with the muscular Hercules and won, writes Mathews. Whatever the judgment of art historians on Mathews’ highly controversial argument, the book is a pleasure to read, richly illustrated (138 illustrations, many in color) and handsomely produced, and it can serve as an up-to-date primer on early Christian art.
” Robert L. Wilken
St. Gregory of Nyssa: The Soul and The Resurrection.
Translated from the Greek and introduced by Catharine P. Roth.
St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press. 130 pages, $6.95.
In recent years St. Vladimir’s Press has published a number of patristic texts in paperbound translations, e.g. John of Damascus’ three treatises On the Divine Images , Athanasius of Alexandria’s On the Incarnation , several homilies of John Chrysostom On Marriage and Family Life . The most recent volume is a fresh translation by Catharine Roth of Gregory of Nyssa’s treatise On the Soul and the Resurrection . This work, written as a dialogue (modeled in part on Plato’s Phaedo ) between Gregory and his older sister Macrina (who instructs Gregory) on the resurrection, was occasioned by the death of their brother Basil the Great. It is not, however, an occasional writing, but a systematic discussion of the nature of the soul (with an extensive digression on the passions and how desire gives place to love in our relation to God), death, resurrection, and the restoration of all things. This is one of Gregory’s most important works and it is very good to have it available in an up-to-date translation with helpful notes in an inexpensive edition.
Dispatches from the Front: Theological Engagements with the Secular.
By Stanley Hauerwas.
Duke University Press. 237 pages, $24.95.
Irrepressible, incorrigible, provocative, outrageous, fresh, feisty, courageous-all are terms regularly applied to the author. And since he appears from time to time in these pages (including this issue), readers know that all those terms, and more, apply. Who else could turn an essay titled Why Gays (as a Group) Are Morally Superior to Christians (as a Group) into a clarion call for Christians to stand by the truths of their tradition? For well over twenty years, Hauerwas has been a major figure on the American theological scene, advancing a wisdom born of learning and experience under the unsuccessful disguise of enfant terrible of the academic guild. Hauerwas fans, and those who want to know why there are so many of them, will not want to miss Dispatches from the Front.
Dostoevsky: The Miraculous Years, 1865-1871.
By Joseph Frank.
Princeton University Press. 523 pages, $35.
No age gets the literary biography that it deserves; there is something about the careful research and careful reading necessary for writing a biography of a writer that, once every generation, forces a biographer to rise to greatness. And, since 1977, through all the silly season of postmodern and deconstructive literary criticism, Joseph Frank has been publishing to widespread acclaim the volumes of his truly great biography of Dostoevsky. Covering the six years in which Dostoevsky unbelievably wrote Crime and Punishment , The Gambler , The Idiot , and more besides, the new fourth volume continues to combine literary analysis and factual biography in a compelling way: explaining the financial disaster of Dostoevsky’s attempts to run a magazine, his marriage and flight to western Europe, his famous quarrel with Turgenev, and his writing-always his writing. Frank continually returns, as Dostoevsky would have wanted, to the books themselves, analyzing each text and placing it within Dostoevsky’s life and growing understanding of Christianity and Russian life. Readers of First Things must read this biography, for they will find in Joseph Frank’s account of Dostoevsky great resources for their own understanding of religion and public life.
Jewish Views of the Afterlife.
By Simcha Paull Raphael.
Aronson. 474 pages, $40.
What Happens After I Die: Jewish Views of Life After Death.
By Rifat Sonsino and Daniel B. Syme.
Aronson. 147 pages, $22.50.
Simcha Paull Raphael has produced a learned and comprehensive historical survey that refutes the popular nostrum that Judaism has been, or can be, unconcerned with the afterlife. Indeed, as the author shows, Judaism’s understanding of otherworldly destiny has always been intimately bound up with its ethical concern for this world. The Jewish approach to the afterlife is not imported from Christianity; rather, it provided the moral grounding for Christian reflection and teaching on the subject. Moreover, the visionary Midrash of the Middle Ages contain depictions of postmortem worlds that range from the macabre to the sublime, with graphic details of life after death, no less fantastic than Dante’s Divine Comedy . What Happens After I Die? by Sonsino and Syme (originally published by UAHC Press, 1990) offers a brief summary of Jewish views on the afterlife, followed by personal testimonies of several contemporary American Jewish thinkers-some of whom believe in postmortem existence and some of whom do not.
By Paul Mojzes.
Continuum. 248 pages, $24.95.
Even to call the mess of Balkan states Yugoslavia is to imply an etiology and a solution to their multisided war, but Prof. Mojzes sees all too well that the moment when a democratic, fully Yugoslavian solution was possible is now irretrievably lost. This book presents a balanced and informative account of the war that manages, unlike the wishful thinking of many Americans, to take seriously the dark and bloody crossroads where religion and nationalism continue to meet. Though the situation in Yugoslavia changes day by day, this book is invaluable for understanding the roots and possible termination of the war.
Jesus-Miriam’s Child, Sophia’s Prophet: Critical Issues in Feminist Christology.
By Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza.
Continuum. 262 pages, $22.95.
Praising in her opening paragraph her own bravery and energy in writing yet another book of feminist theology during these reactionary times, Prof. Fiorenza has written a brave little book that dares to dismiss as stupid and sexist everything that everyone who lived before her ever thought about Christian theology. It’s hard to know in what her bravery consists, since Prof. Fiorenza received a $10,000 prize for this book and became an established professor at Harvard University for writing similar books, but brave and energetic she congratulates herself for being. The cowardly and weary reader will let the book pass by.
Building a Community of Citizens.
Edited by Don E. Eberly.
University Press of America. 376 pages, $29.50.
Nearly every book on public policy published nowadays demands that we strengthen our communities. But what we need instead is some practical advice on exactly how we are supposed to do it, and Building a Community of Citizens undertakes to give us that advice. A collection of twenty-three essays by various authors, with a long introduction by the editor, the book is understandably uneven in quality, but consistent in outlook. The loss of civic virtue and civil society has ruined our cities and made irrelevant the endless debates between radicals and reactionaries. From the political center (broadly conceived) we need to issue forth and do the hard, personal work of building up the mediating institutions so weakened in our society. The essays are very helpful for this work, though the book’s easy assumption that it lies at the political center will, understandably, be challenged by some.
Dancing Alone: The Quest for Orthodox Faith in the Age of False Religions.
By Frank Schaeffer.
Holy Cross Orthodox Press (Brookline, Mass.). 326 pages, $20 paper.
When the author, son of famed evangelical teacher Francis Schaeffer, became Greek Orthodox, eyebrows were raised. With the zeal of a convert, which can be a commendable thing, Mr. Schaeffer explains his move, and along the way leaves no doubt that he thinks everybody in the hopelessly decadent and theologically compromised Protestant and Roman Catholic communities should do as he has done. Those lost and confused secularists, Protestants, Roman Catholics, and others who are looking for something transcendent , sacred , and steadfast in a confused, desacralized world, must be invited into the Church-the One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic Orthodox Church of the ages. True, lasting ecumenical unity’ will occur when all Christians come home. Even those who are unpursuaded by the argument that it is also their home may appreciate Mr. Schaeffer’s joy in his new home.
Not the Way It’s Supposed To Be: A Breviary of Sin.
By Cornelius Plantinga, Jr.
Eerdmans. 202 pages, $19.99.
A part appeared in these pages (The Sinner and the Fool, October 1994), and readers who thought that article was as great as we did will not want to miss the book. This breviary (meaning summary) of the cardinal sins recasts traditional wisdom in lively engagement with the follies and fads of a culture that, with a dreary lack of imagination, fancies itself beyond sin. Bracing stuff, highly recommended for the deeper things that ail us.
John Wesley’s Scriptural Christianity.
By Thomas C. Oden.
Zondervan. 376 pages, $22.99 paper.
Subtitled A Plain Exposition of His Teaching on Doctrine, this study by Thomas Oden of Drew University challenges the commonplace that Wesley was not a systematic thinker. He makes a persuasive case that Wesley presented a coherent, and remarkably catholic, understanding of the faith in a form relatively unscathed by the great discontinuities of the continental Reformation. This book gives further evidence of the capacity of Oden, a United Methodist, to bridge divides and give new credibility to the notion of ecumenical theology.