Creative Tension: Essays on Science and Religion
By Michael Heller
Templeton. 183 pp. $22.95 paper.
Michael Heller brings to his reflections on science and religion a depth of knowledge, thought, and experience that is highly unusual. He spent his early childhood in Siberia, where his family had been exiled from Poland by the Soviets. The power of faith to sustain people through extreme hardships turned his mind to God and eventually led him to the priesthood. He went on to earn a master’s degree in philosophy and a Ph.D. in physics, and he was one of the intellectuals who would meet at the Krakow residence of Archbishop Karol Wojtyla to discuss science and faith. After Wojtyla became pope, Heller continued to organize these meetings, bringing eminent scholars from around the world to participate. He is currently professor of philosophy at the Pontifical Academy of Theology in Krakow and an active researcher in relativistic cosmology. These essays show him to be a thinker of fine judgment about science, theology, and philosophy, and about their interrelationships. He warns against the conceptual confusion that has led some to expect religion to answer scientific questions or science to answer religious ones; but he stresses that theology cannot insulate itself from science. Every age, he says, forms a "world image" that is an informal synthesis of scientific and other ideas. To ignore developments in science is to risk accepting, unconsciously and uncritically, outdated concepts and even pseudoscience into one’s theology. An ironic example is provided by Whiteheadian and Teilhardian theologies based on conceptions of time that are naïve from the viewpoint of modern physics and cosmology. Heller wisely suggests returning to the profounder insights of St. Augustine and St. Thomas on the atemporality of God and the act of Creation. Heller’s historical analyses are astute. Two noteworthy examples are his discussion of the causes of the estrangement of theology and science and his brief but telling comments on the influence that reigning positivistic ideas about science exerted on Jacques Maritain and, through him, on neo-Thomism. The book has some minor faults. The three essays that deal with Heller’s work on "non-commutative geometry" and the Big Bang, while stimulating, are somewhat repetitive, and they contain some material too technical for the intended audience. No translator is listed, and it should be said that while the English, presumably Heller’s own, is generally quite good, it suffers in places from misuse of the definite article.
—Stephen M. Barr
Revelation: The Apocalypse of Jesus Christ.
By Judith Kovacs and Christopher Rowland.
Blackwell. 315pp. $24.95 paper.
This is the first volume in a new commentary series by Blackwell that promises to provide a brief history of how the biblical text has been interpreted in Western culture. The genres under review are numerous (literature, art, and music), as is the chronological span (everything from the early patristic period to current events). The commentary is arranged according to the chapters of the biblical text. This assures that the discussion is always driven by the structure of the biblical original rather than by the thought-world of the various interpreters who are brought to bear on the text. This volume on the Book of Revelation is a stunning achievement. Since the authors are also the editors of the overall project, it is certainly a good sign for the series as a whole. The range of sources employed is remarkable. One finds an intelligent discussion of everything from Origen to Joachim of Fiore, the Protestant Reformers, late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century fundamentalists and their considerable impact on such modern phenomena as David Koresh’s Branch Davidians and the "Left Behind" series of novels by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins. Almost no stone is left unturned as the authors consider the significance of this inspiring book. The volume is also very well annotated so that the reader wishing to pursue a particular point in greater depth will have no problem in finding out where to turn. Given that it is an anthology, the book need not be read cover to cover, but many readers will be tempted to do just that.
—Gary A. Anderson
Congregations in America.
By Mark Chaves.
Harvard University Press. 292 pp. $29.95.
A numbers-crunching, tables-littered sociological study of religious congregations, of which there are over 300,000 in America, although the largest ten percent include more than half of all churchgoers. The main point that interests the author is that social services always have been, are now, and likely always will be peripheral to congregational life. This point he presses against the more enthusiastic proponents of "faith-based initiatives." At the center of congregational life is worship, religious education, and the arts, the last mainly related to music. The author’s very limited point, however, will likely not impress proponents of faith-based initiatives who never suggested that congregations would or should be turned into social service agencies. For a different and more positive view of the role of churches in meeting social needs, see Robert Wuthnow’s Saving America: Faith-Based Services and the Future of Civil Society (reviewed in this issue).
The Unmasking of Oscar Wilde.
By Joseph Pearce.
Ignatius. 412pp. $19.95 paper.
Over three years ago, these pages alerted readers to a new book on Oscar Wilde by the marvelous literary historian Joseph Pearce which had just appeared in Great Britain under the HarperCollins imprint, and the hope was expressed that it would soon appear in the United States (While We’re At It, February 2001). Now, thanks to Ignatius Press, American readers can benefit from Pearce’s effort to portray the real Wilde, freed from the legends woven about him and the many masks he wore. As Pearce shows in persuasive detail, Wilde’s homosexuality was part of a pose and an attitude, less fundamental to him than other, deeper aspects of the complete man, who was not only a husband and father but also a religious seeker who finally was baptized a Catholic and received absolution and extreme unction a few hours before his death. In Wilde’s art, much of the true Wilde comes through, and Pearce points out that his novel The Picture of Dorian Gray (attacked in its day for its "immorality") is a thoroughly moral work. This is a sympathetic portrait of a humane and intelligent artist who was divided against himself in fundamental ways but of whom it is fair to say, in sad approbation, that his face never did grow to fit the masks with which he tried to shield it.
Edited by Richard Cimino.
Eerdmans. 246 pp. $20 paper.
The several Lutheran churches in the U.S. count 8.5 million members, and twice that number of Americans identify themselves as Lutheran, but, as historian Mark Noll observes in the opening essay of this instructive book, Lutherans keep a very low public profile. For instance, among U.S. Presidents, many have been Episcopalian, several Presbyterian and Congregationalist, as well as Quaker, and Disciple of Christ, but there has been no Lutheran, despite the fact that there are more Lutherans in America than all of the above. Part of the reason for this may be found in Matthew Rose’s winsome article, "Unremarkably Lutheran" (FT February 2001). Cimino, the book’s editor, writes about Lutherans who are "evangelical catholics," and it seems they are a tolerated minority in the liberal Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and have a stronghold, but no ecumenical engagement, in the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod (LCMS) at that body’s Fort Wayne seminary. Other chapters in the book address, inter alia, historical disputes, youth attitudes, higher education, and political engagement. The subtitle is "American Lutheran Identity in the Twenty-First Century," and one’s general impression is that Lutheran identity—traditionally shaped by confessional theology, sacramental realism, liturgical richness, and a powerfully anti-utopian view of worldly possibilities—is on the ropes. Of the two large bodies, the ELCA is increasingly indistinguishable from oldline Protestantism, and the LCMS, while maintaining important dimensions of that identity, continues to exhaust its energies in polemics against other Lutherans and in famously fractious internal rivalries. Lutherans have often been called "Protestants with a difference." Lutherans Today suggests that the ELCA is less and less different, while the LCMS is different in ways that few others would want to be. Between its being, in Matthew Rose’s terms, unremarkable and unattractively remarkable, it seems Lutheranism will continue to be, when they notice it, something of an enigma to most Americans. Which, in view of the promise inherent in its traditional identity, is a great pity.
Arguing About War.
By Michael Walzer.
Yale University Press. 208 pp. $25.
Walzer, who has been influential in current thought about just and unjust wars, is a committed man of the left with a talent for challenging leftist illusions. The present book is a collection of previously published pieces. Although they were all written before September 11, 2001, he addresses regime change in Iraq (a policy goal also in the Clinton administration) and has sharp words about the responsibility of France and Russia, among other dubious friends, in contributing to terrorism.
The Logic of Renewal.
By William J. Abraham.
Eerdmans. 172 pp. $17 paper.
A Methodist scholar at Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, Abraham surveys a wide range of proposals for Christian renewal over the past half century. Joseph Ratzinger, Rosemary Ruether, R.R. Reno, Don Cupitt, Leslie Newbigin, Martin Luther King, and John Spong all come in for critical attention. Obviously, many of these proposals are in conflict, and Abraham tries to be fair to all, while evaluating their worth in the light of their potential contribution to a tradition of orthodoxy he calls our "canonical heritage." The Logic of Renewal is, at the very least, a helpful introduction to some of the best, and worst, of what influential thinkers have been saying about the prospects for the revitalization of Christian faith and life.
God and Violence: Biblical Resources for Living in a Small World.
By Patricia M. McDonald.
Herald Press. 370 pp. $16.99 paper.
The degree of violence in the Bible, and especially in the Old Testament, is commonly overstated, also in the service of justifying violence. In a careful canonical reading of the texts, the author attempts to counter that misreading and misuse. Admirers of René Girard will be interested in her criticisms of his theory of violence as the foundation of human society. Whatever the other merits of the theory, she says, it does not square with the biblical texts.
Mr. Moody and the Evangelical Tradition.
Edited by Timothy George.
T&T Clark. 185 pp. $24.95.
It has been said that Dwight L. Moody was the Billy Graham of the nineteenth century, but editor Timothy George of Beeson Divinity School suggests it is more accurate to say that Billy Graham is the Dwight L. Moody of the twentieth century. These ten essays explore dimensions of Moody’s doctrine, preaching methods, and extraordinary role in advancing the urban revivalism that swept the U.S. and Britain in the last part of the century. Incidentally, long before Billy Graham was justly hailed for doing so, Moody invited Roman Catholics to join in the leadership of his revivals, and they accepted. The book gives a vivid impression of an extraordinary man who, with no more than a fifth-grade education, shook the English-speaking world with the saving gospel of Jesus Christ.
The Two Reformations.
By Heiko A. Oberman.
Yale University Press. 320 pp. $35.
A collection of essays by the late Heiko Oberman (best known for his Luther: Man Between God and the Devil) in which he reevaluates some of his earlier views. He now accents the degree to which the sixteenth century was an outcome and extension of dynamics at work in the fifteenth, and, provoked by the recklessness of the likes of Daniel Goldhagen, attacks the claim of a direct line between Luther and the Holocaust. In an aside, he writes, "Well before the Germans were characterized as ‘Hitler’s willing executioners,’ the books on Luther were already closed (quite literally in the library of the Hebrew University, where I had to slice open the page of the only critical edition of Luther’s writings on and against the Jews.)"
What’s Right with Islam.
By Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf.
HarperCollins. 314 pp. $23.95.
Current unpleasantnesses in world affairs incidentally involving Muslims have nothing to do with Islam. Islam is a religion of peace and its ideal of the rightly ordered society is very much like tolerant and pluralistic America. Tragically, Westerners have over the years done many bad things to Muslims, making some of them confuse their murderous resentment with Islam itself. Christians and Jews, who share the "Abrahamic faith," should join in attempting to remedy these unhappy misunderstandings. That’s the gist of the book and the author gives every appearance of being sincere. Father Hans Küng, president of Global Ethic Foundation, hails the book as "an excellent work of bridge building." Abdul Rauf is imam of a New York City mosque.
Is the Market Moral? A Dialogue on Religion, Economics, and Justice.
By Rebecca M. Blank and William McGurn.
Brookings. 151 pp. $16.95 paper.
Blank is an economist at the University of Michigan and McGurn is chief editorial writer for the Wall Street Journal. The title question is, of course, a perennial, and both authors answer it with the appropriate qualifications, McGurn more in the affirmative than Blank. While the demise of "real existing socialism" has blunted the edge of ideological confrontation, one is again impressed by the ways in which debate over plausible policy proposals still falls along the lines of divide between dispositional socialism or capitalism.
J. Gresham Machen: Selected Shorter Writings.
Edited by D. G. Hart.
P&R Publishing. 584 pp. $39.99.
Machen, who died in 1937, was once one of the most influential figures in American Protestantism and is still a major intellectual presence among conservatives of a Calvinist and specifically Presbyterian persuasion. This anthology of his shorter writings on a wide range of subjects—theological, cultural, social, and aesthetic—bears witness to his intellectual and spiritual stature.
A Man of Faith: The Spiritual Journey of George W. Bush.
By David Aikman.
Thomas Nelson. 237 pp. $21.95.
Aikman, formerly senior correspondent with Time magazine, had remarkable access to those closest to President Bush and presents a strongly positive view of the integrity of his religious and moral commitment. Also those who are skeptical or hostile toward the man will benefit by coming to understand better his understanding of himself, American purpose, and what God may intend for world history.
A Time for Reflection: An Autobiography.
By William E. Simon.
Regnery. 352 pp. $27.95.
The late William E. Simon was an extraordinarily successful entrepreneur, treasury secretary under two Presidents, a philanthropist of both discernment and generosity, a paterfamilias on a grand scale, and a man who found high adventure in living fully the Catholic faith. From building a financial empire to his personal care for the sick and dying at Lourdes, Simon lived with all stops pulled. The autobiography addresses family relations and, chiefly, his experiences with people in power—political, financial, and ecclesiastical.