David's Secret Demons: Messiah, Murderer, Traitor, King
By Baruch Halpern
Eerdmans. 492 pp. $30
This book is, on the one hand, a witty and spirited defense of the historicity of the biblical figure of David. This is no small feat in a scholarly world populated by an ever more vocal group of "minimalists" who would reduce the figure of David to a literary invention of the post-exilic period. On the other hand, the book is also a demolition of any theological use of the material. David looms large in biblical tradition in spite of his modest and rather brutal beginnings. In Baruch Halpern's desire to flesh out the historical David, he gives us a character who is Messiah-King, but also Murderer-Traitor. Having no interest in the canonical story, Halpern pieces together his own rendition of who David was (or, in the case of adultery with Bathsheba and the revolt of Absalom, how his “handlers” saw him). In every instance, the name of the game is political self-interest. There is much to be learned from this carefully researched book, but at the same time the reader should be aware that it is also an excellent exemplar of what Hans Frei documented in his Eclipse of Biblical Narrative. For a more compelling portrait of David that is both historical and theological, one should consult the recent book of Yair Zakovitich, David: From Shepherd to Messiah (1995, Jerusalem [in Hebrew]).
Francis of Assisi: A Revolutionary Life
By Adrian House . Foreword by Karen Armstrong
Paulist. 336 pp. $28
Of the making of biographies of St. Francis of Assisi there can never be too many. Despite what some might take to be the implication of the Preacher ("Of the making of books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh"), no matter how many biographies of St. Francis might appear, and no matter what perspective they might adopt (critical, hagiographical, soberly historical, etc.), the man himself has a way of winning out over his biographer. Adrian House, for many years the publisher of HarperCollins in London, spent five years working on this biography, and he proves to be no exception to the rule. Although certainly not the best biography of Francis and decidedly not the worst, this account seems unable to avoid certain liberal clichés of the genre (for example, the author wonders how so evangelical a Christian as Francis could possibly counsel his disciples to obey the hierarchical Church). But because he is both fair and historically scrupulous, House makes sure that the winning personality and intense holiness of the man from Assisi shines through. For example, the author notes how much Francis insisted that prayer and preaching go together: "The preacher must grow hot within before he speaks words that are cold in themselves," as Francis put it to his followers. And as to the martyrdom that Francis longed for but which never came, House somberly points out that Francis' sacrifice would not be a swift, summary execution like Christ's crucifixion on Calvary, but would resemble Jesus' agony in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night of his arrest, "though drawn out over years, not hours," as the author arrestingly puts it.
—Edward T. Oakes, S.J.
Frank Furness: Architecture and the Violent Mind
By Michael J. Lewis
Norton. 273 pp. $45
A well-researched and illustrated account of the tempestuous life and mercurial career of Philadelphian Frank Furness (1839-1912), one of America's best and most idiosyncratic nineteenth-century architects, designer of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the University of Pennsylvania Library, the Pennsylvania Railroad's Broad Street Station, and scores of banks and churches. The burden of the book is to show how Furness' architecture was both significant in its own right and the product of a particular (and not entirely attractive) personal sensibility working at the moment of meeting between "muscular Christianity" and triumphant American industry. Two problematic and interrelated twentieth-century legacies of this period of American architecture are foreshadowed in Furness' career: the rise of "signature architecture" as commercial advertisement, and the corresponding primacy of charisma within the culture of architecture. Furness employed the young Louis Sullivan, who in turn mentored Frank Lloyd Wright. Lewis writes of this thread of influence as follows: "In Furness, Sullivan found someone who would express in architecture the same stream-of-consciousness reverie offered by Walt Whitman, the same worship of ‘spontaneous me.' This doctrine Sullivan passed on to his pupil Frank Lloyd Wright. He also passed on another principle, probably unknowingly, as one passes on an infection. This was the image of the architect as a form-making maverick, duty-bound not to his client [nor, n.b., his community] but to his own conception of architecture, supremely egotistic, invoking his own authority rather than history's. . . . Before Furness, no one touted this image of the American architect as a maker of personal form. After Sullivan and Wright, it became a kind of convention." Just so.
Temporal and Eternal
By Charles Péguy. Translated by Alexander Dru with a Foreword by Pierre Manent
Liberty Fund. 165 pp. $10 paper.
This beautifully produced volume, first published in English in 1958, is a collection of some of Péguy's most important prose writings. The book reveals that Péguy was a philosopher and critic of great insight as well as a distinguished poet, dramatist, and Christian apologist. The centerpiece is a somewhat abridged translation of Péguy's greatest prose masterpiece, "Notre Jeunesse" or "Memories of Youth" (1910). In that work, Péguy reconsiders the Dreyfus Affair in light of the degeneration of the Dreyfusite "mystique," the heroic defense of a Jewish captain wrongly accused of treason, into a "politique" of anti-liberal, anti-Christian, and anti-patriotic demagogy promoted by French radicals after 1902. Péguy's work not only chronicles the degeneration of the Dreyfusite struggle into an illiberal assault on the rights of the Church and believers, but exposes the pretenses of an "intellectual party" that "believes in nothing, not even in atheism" and "despises heroes and saints equally." Péguy's thought transcends the left-right dichotomy and exposes equally the sterility of the bourgeois Church and the tyranny of left-wing intellectuals. This patriot and Christian, this admirer of heroes and saints, inspired such diverse thinkers as Bernanos and Mounier as well as the Catholic republicanism of Charles de Gaulle. The second essay, "Clio I," contains beautiful reflections on the sacredness inherent in civic community. Like so many of Péguy's writings, this work entails a sustained reflection on the relation between nature and grace, the temporal and the eternal. Péguy explores the mutual dependence of the two realms and reminds Christians that they too belong to a city, to a human "communion." These meditations renew the dialogue between paganism and Christianity, the "two highest cultures that humanity has ever known," two cultures that are "infinitely superior . . . to everything modern." In Péguy's view, the clerical or "devout party" was in part responsible for the "de-Christianization" of the modern world precisely because it had succumbed to a spiritualism that did not take seriously the dignity of the created order. In his introduction, the French political philosopher Pierre Manent locates Péguy's greatness in his concreteness, in his opposition to the spirit of abstraction. Péguy's life and thought were an endless engagement with the dignity and the destiny of "three capital communities," the civic community, the Christian Church, and the Jewish people. Beginning with particular concerns such as the Dreyfus affair, Péguy opens his readers to the only questions that really matter.
—Daniel J. Mahoney
The Rights Revolution
By Michael Ignatieff
Anansi. 170 pp. $12 paper.
Writing in the liberal tradition associated with, above all, Isaiah Berlin, Ignatieff takes the opportunity of Canada's distinguished Massey Lectures to bring together the central themes of his long-considered reflections on human rights. Ignatieff's intelligence and basic decency are everywhere on display, as is a certain awkwardness about his being a Canadian and a liberal. About being Canadian because, although born in Canada, he has spent almost the entirety of his adult life outside Canada at institutions such as Princeton and Harvard. He reassures his Canadian audience by taking conventional swipes at the supposedly inferior political culture of the U.S. and by declaring that Canada is "the place on earth that, if I needed one, I would call home." In tension with the substance of his argument is that, as a good liberal, he does not need a place to call home. Such tensions, if not contradictions, abound in these essays, making Ignatieff the kind of good liberal who is determined not to let muggings by reality turn him into a conservative of any kind. He carefully protects his credentials as a liberal, even as he acknowledges the damage done by liberal policies with respect to, for instance, marriage and family life. Always he positions his argument against conservative critiques, which he nonetheless fairly represents, because conservatives want to "turn back the clock," and Ignatieff is convinced that there is no alternative to continuing the troubled "gamble" on a "rights culture" that, unloosed in the 1960s, must be played out to the end. As one might expect, he addresses at length the troubled future of Canada as a nation. Where others see the unraveling of Canadian nationhood, Ignatieff proposes that the 1982 Charter of Rights and Freedom proposes a way in which mutual respect and inclusivity among Canada's three nations—Quebecois, English, and aboriginal—can be a model to be emulated by other multiethnic and multinational societies around the world. The Rights Revolution is marked by intelligence, decency, and a hopefulness that some will dismiss as wishful thinking. Against those who doubt that there will be a nation called Canada twenty-five or fifty years from now, Ignatieff advocates a "solution" based on the acceptance of the fact that there is no solution other than continuing on a course of improvised accommodations within a context of shared rights rather than shared roots, beliefs, or the playing out of interest politics. His is an honorable, if not convincing, effort to undergird with intelligent argument a politics premised upon the habits of niceness for which Canadians are noted. In a world of generalized nastiness, niceness is not to be scorned, even if Ignatieff's wan hopes for the improbable nation that is Canada are finally an exercise in decency laced with desperation.
The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics
By Robert A.J. Gagnon
Abingdon. 519 pp. $49.
Thirty or even ten years ago, leaders in church, synagogue, and society who are not themselves homosexual never thought they would be required to discuss, or even think about, the subject with such intensity. But homosexuality, with the now familiar debates over same-sex unions and the ordination of gay and lesbian clergy, has become a flash point in wars cultural and theological. Gagnon of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary renders an invaluable service to those who would defend traditional Christian and Jewish teaching, while also countering some of the dubious advocacy scholarship on what biblical texts "really mean," and responding to sometimes novel arguments in today's debates. Impressive also are the distinguished scholars who endorse the book, thus risking the wrath of what may be the most vicious censorship lobby of our time.
Building a Healthy Culture: Strategies for an American Renaissance
Edited by Don Eberly
Eerdmans. 543 pp. $35.
So what is the alternative to the pathologies of American culture, both elite and popular? With this book we have in one place mostly persuasive answers by people who have thought long and hard about that question, including Zbigniew Brzezinski, Mary Ann Glendon, Gertrude Himmelfarb, Leon Kass, Charles Krauthammer, Michael Medved, David Popenoe, Robert Royal, and Christopher Wolfe. "You conservatives are always complaining, but what's your positive proposal?" For the next time you hear that, you might want to have Building a Healthy Culture at hand.
Fundamentals of Ethics for Scientists and Engineers
By Edmund G. Seebauer and Robert L. Barry
Oxford University Press. 269 pp. $35
In most professional guilds, "ethics" is a hot topic, but it too often means no more than covering yourself and your company in the event of legal liability. This book is something very different. It really is an intelligent and eminently readable introduction to ethics in the great tradition (the dedication is to Aristotle and Aquinas!), with very practical application to the everyday problems encountered by engineers and scientists in sundry fields. (An instructor's manual is also available.)
The Doctrine of Double Effect
Edited by P.A. Woodward
University of Notre Dame Press. 315 pp. $34.95
This is philosophical ethics at a very high level in very spirited exchange, indeed combat. The question of double effect is whether it is licit to do something that is good or morally indifferent even if one knows (al though not intends) it will also have an evil effect. Lined up on different sides of the debate are heavyweights such as Michael Walzer, G.E.M. Anscombe, Thomas Nagel, and Philippa Foot. Intellectually rigorous and intense.
Knowing the Triune God
Edited by James J. Buckley and David Yeago
Eerdmans. 312 pp. $29 paper.
Essays by the editors and others making the case that knowing the triune God cannot be separated from the communal practices—sacramental, moral, intellectual—of the Church. Yeago, a Lutheran, and Buckley, a Catholic, keep the discussion on a thoroughly ecumenical plane.
The Politics of the Cross: The Theology and Social Ethics of John Howard Yoder
By Craig A. Carter
Brazos. 254 pp. $10.99 paper.
Most of what pass for "radical" Christian theologies are downright tame when compared with the arguments of the late Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder. In his desire to assert uncompromisingly the lordship of Jesus and the normativity of his life, Yoder startles and disturbs. He also fails to convince many thoughtful and committed Christians. But he represents a stream of thinking about Christian discipleship that should be engaged, if not embraced. The Politics of the Cross offers a reliable overview of Yoder's work, but the place for such an encounter to begin is with Yoder's own The Politics of Jesus.
Vaclav Havel: The Intellectual Conscience of International Politics
By James W. Sire
InterVarsity. 135 pp. $14.99.
As a dramatist, anti-Communist dissident, and philosopher president of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Havel deserves this tribute, although he possibly might be put off by its uncritical enthusiasm. It is not entirely uncritical, however, since the author is distressed at Havel's continuing to resist the decision for Jesus to which he, the author, is convinced Havel's thought and life should necessarily lead.
Religion in American Public Life: Living with Our Deepest Differences
Introduction by Martin E. Marty
Norton. 205 pp. $13.95 paper.
The American Assembly was established by Dwight D. Eisenhower at Columbia University in 1950. The present book is part of a larger project called "Uniting America: Toward Common Purpose." In these pages we have called attention to the project's meeting on "Religion in Public Life," held in March 2000 (see FT, August/September 2000). The present book includes the final report from that meeting, plus several essays developed in connection with the project. It is a remarkably well-balanced consensus statement, reflecting the thought of a wide range of thinkers, and should serve as an important historical marker in the American understanding of religion in public.
Inside the Nation of Islam
By Vibert L. White Jr.
University Press of Florida. 272 pp. $24.95
Subtitled "a historical and personal testimony by a black Muslim," this book provides useful inside information about Minister Louis Farrakhan and his movement, although the genre is that of the exposé. White, who was once close to the leadership of the Nation of Islam and is a professor of African-American studies at the University of Illinois, contends that Farrakhan is a manipulator and demagogue who is largely in it for the money. He makes a believable case.
Religion, Pluralism, and Public Life
Edited by Luis E. Lugo
Eerdmans. 383 pp. $28 paper.
Essays by a wide range of scholars on the legacy and continuing pertinence of Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920), a Dutch politician and religious thinker who proposed a Calvinist understanding of Christian public responsibility that some thinkers argue works in tandem with, and is a necessary complement to, Catholic social doctrine.
The Second Spring of the Church in America
By George A. Kelly
St. Augustine's. 195 pp. $25
Taking his title from Cardinal Newman's famous address, a veteran priest and skilled polemicist goes inveighing against what has gone wrong with the Catholic Church in this country since the Council and tells us what can be done about it. Vintage Kelly, and a bracing critique and proposal.
Between Cross & Resurrection: A Theology of Holy Saturday
By Alan E. Lewis
Eerdmans. 490 pp. $30
Holy Saturday seems to be something of a blank between Good Friday defeat and Easter victory, notes Lewis, who taught theology at Austin Presbyterian in Texas. Working within the Reformation tradition, but drawing also on Catholic and Orthodox sources, he helps the reader hear the voice of Saturday's silence. The style is academic but accessible, and frequently elegant. Lewis finished the book as he knew he was dying of cancer.
The Postmodern Bible Reader
Edited by David Jobling et al.
Blackwell. 380 pp. $29.95 paper.
There is smart smart and then there is dumb smart. Here is a treasury of mostly very smart and very dumb academic self-pleasurings stimulated by postmodernism's encounters with biblical literature. There are big names such as Umberto Eco, Jacques Lacan, and Jacques Derrida, along with a host of imitators playing word games with post-humanism, Marxist analysis, queer theory, liberation theology, and whatnot. Designed for course adoptions, this reader will have little appeal for people who get to choose for themselves what they read.