God of Abraham
By L. E. Goodman
Oxford University Press, 384 pages, $49.95
A sustained argument for natural theology by a first-rate philosopher who also knows the Jewish tradition. Goodman argues that human reason, unaided by special revelation, can teach us much about God—including a basic understanding of what He requires of us in our practical conduct. The book is a tour de force in its extensive use of Spinoza by a Jewish thinker who (unlike Spinoza) has very much remained within Judaism. It includes critical treatment of many philosophers and theologians, always remaining respectful of their ideas and never sinking to ad hominem arguments. Although avoiding the Christianity-bashing that seems to interest some contemporary Jewish thinkers, Goodman clearly advocates a closer theoretical relationship between Judaism and Islam than between Judaism and Christianity (he is a distinguished scholar of Islamic as well as Jewish thought). Christians will find this aspect of the book especially challenging and, in general, there is much to disagree with in Goodman's argument by both Christians and Jews. But it is a major contribution to philosophical theology that must be encountered on the playing field of reason. Highly recommended.
Raising Abel: The Recovery of the Eschatological Imagination
By James Alison
Crossroad, 203 pages, $19.95
Drawing on the now familiar Girardian themes of the necessity of sacrifice and Jesus as the end of sacrifice, Alison makes clear the “eschatological difference” these themes can make in our understanding of creation. With chapters on God, Jesus, apocalyptic time, and hope, Alison displays an extraordinary ability to hit just the right example to make his theological claims come alive. Whatever one may think of Girard (and I think highly of him), one can only be grateful for the new confidence he has given theological language to do descriptive work for shaping the Church's witness to the world. Indeed, one of the refreshing aspects of this book is that the Church is not seen as the problem, but as a proper sign of the kingdom. Alison is extraordinarily well-schooled, but he feels no need to parade his erudition. The book turns on what he calls the Catholic principle of analogy. In only a few short paragraphs, Alison provides a compelling account of analogy as God's way of subverting the human story of violence from within—analogy depends on God's refusal to be rejected by his creation. Alison's book develops this quite extraordinary insight through close readings that show how Scripture helps us locate the time in which we live. This would be an excellent book to introduce Christian theology to upper—division undergraduates, for here you have theology done not as something they are supposed to “know about,” but rather as an activity necessary for helping us better negotiate the world's violence.
The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Reformation
Edited by Hans J. Hillerbrand; Four volumes
Oxford University Press, 1,977 pages, $45
It's a reviewer's cliche, and a way of damning with faint praise, to say of a book that no academic library can afford to be without it. But when we're speaking of an encyclopedic set of volumes as big and expensive as this, only a library can afford to be with it. And fortunately, the scholarship and writing in this set make it well worth any library's investment, with over 1,200 articles written by some 450 contributors. As in any such large enterprise, there are some nits to pick. For example, Cardinal Baronio gets generous treatment while the Protestant Centuriae Magdeburgenses (to which his Annales Ecclesiastici is a response) is hardly mentioned. But that is only a nit. With its 126–page index and extensive cross-referencing, this encyclopedia is an important contribution to Reformation studies. Go to the library you depend on and tell them they can't do without it.
—Mark E. Chapman
Saving the Constitution from the Courts
By William Gangi
University of Oklahoma Press, 326 pages, $45
Cases like Roe, Casey, and the recent Romer decision remind us of the degree to which constitutional interpretation has been supplanted by judicial lawmaking. Taking its title from one of FDR's famous attacks on “the nine old men,” this volume offers a trenchant critique of our imperial judiciary and its academic defenders. Beginning with an exposition of The Federalist's understanding of the judicial power and a survey of early American constitutional history, Gangi argues that the gradual transformation of the courts constitutes a revolution in the American constitutional order. This revolution, he contends, is inconsistent with the founders' intentions, violates the trust of the American people, and effectively substitutes “a judicial oligarchy for the Republic established by the Constitution.” While the Supreme Court for the most part has refused to admit the revolution, the Court's academic defenders have generally been more honest. The arguments they put forward to legitimize this revolution, however, reflect a disturbing lack of faith in the capacity of the American people for self-government with justice. “Today's intelligentsia,” Gangi argues, possess neither “their forefathers' faith in republicanism” nor “even the New Dealers' faith in their fellow citizens.” Even some of his interpretivist compatriots may have reservations about portions of Gangi's argument, but all will agree that this volume is a spirited and provocative contribution to one of our most important national debates.
—Kenneth L. Grasso
Handbook on Religious Liberty
Edited by Pedro Moreno
Rutherford Institute, 347 pages, $8.95
The Rutherford Institute has a distinguished record of work in religious freedom cases, but this book is not up to its usual standards. An ambitious attempt to provide a “balanced account on the status of religious liberty around the world,” Rutherford's Handbook is undermined by its lack of uniform analysis. There is much information on countries the editor knows, and little on countries he doesn't—even though they may be the worst violators of religious freedom in the world. The U.S. receives sixteen pages of scrutiny, while the militantly atheistic regimes in North Korea and Vietnam have almost no mention. The eight pages on the Sudan give only a vague, disjointed account of the jihad the northern government is waging against the Christians and animists in the south. The Latin American section suffers from an anti-Catholic bias. The Handbook cites a legitimate exercise of religious freedom—a Bolivian Catholic newspaper's criticism of the doctrine and practice of charismatic Protestant churches—as an example of religious intolerance. It also declares that “several violent actions motivated by religious intolerance against non-Catholics have been committed” in Bolivia—giving as its only example a stoning incident from 1949 that was, according to “some witnesses” left unnamed in a local newspaper account, instigated by a Catholic priest. The Rutherford Institute has done better work before, and will again, but reference libraries and interested researchers are advised to give this one a miss.
The Integrative Jurisprudence of Harold J. Berman
Edited by Howard O. Hunter
Westview, 164 pages, $59
A much-deserved festschrift for a jurist who has made an inestimable contribution to understanding the connections between law, morality, culture, and religion. John Witte's essay on Berman on law and religion is of particular interest.
The Color of a Great City
By Theodore Dreiser
Syracuse University Press, 287 pages, $16.95
For all who love the city and that city of all earthly cities, New York, this book is a joy. Here are about forty “sketches” of life in the city that Dreiser (An American Tragedy and Sister Carrie) did for daily newspapers in the first two decades of the century. The focus is on ordinary people and on the poor and marginal. Dreiser conveys the everydayness of the city with a minimum of sentimentality and moral posturing, which is no little achievement. Syracuse University Press is to be commended for bringing back to life a notable collection.
Renewing the Left: Politics, Imagination, and the New York Intellectuals
By Harvey Teres
Oxford University Press, 326 pages, $30
The author teaches English at Syracuse University and here reviews in great detail the controversies on the literary left from Partisan Review through Norman Podhoretz's Commentary. Lionel Trilling is his hero, one who points the way toward a leftism with a democratic and civil face. Chiefly of interest to those with an unshakable devotion to the Marxist faith.
Martin Luther King: Inconvenient Hero
By Vincent Harding
Orbis, 146 pages, $12
In the continuing contest over claimants to Dr. King's mantle, conservatives and moderate liberals opt for the King of “I Have a Dream” and the American possibility, while sundry radicals celebrate a King who was allegedly moving toward a Marxist analysis of America's “systemic” evil. This little book at least succeeds in making it clear that Vincent Harding is in the second camp.
Positive Expectations of America's World Role: Historical Cycles of Realistic Idealism
By Frank L. Klingberg
University Press of America, 490 pages, $42
The author, a retired professor of political science at Southern Illinois University, argues that the end of the Cold War offers a promising moment for developing the right mix of “idealism” and “realism” in foreign affairs. Writing in the tradition of Reinhold Niebuhr, Klingberg views with tempered hopefulness the prospect of an “extrovert” turn in the cycles of American attitudes toward world responsibility.
Defending the Faith: J. Gresham Machen and the Crisis of Conservative Protestantism
By D. G. Hart
Baker, 227 pages, $16.99
A welcome reprint of an engaging biography of Machen, one of the more intellectually formidable fathers of twentieth-century fundamentalism. Especially recommended for those who cannot fathom the possibility of an intellectually formidable fundamentalist. The author teaches church history at Westminster Seminary, Philadelphia.