Three Messengers for One God.
By Roger Arnaldez. Translated by Gerald W. Schlabach, Mary Louise Gude, and David B. Burrell.
University of Notre Dame Press. 219 pages, $29.95.
This book was first published in French in 1983. Its author then held a chair in Islamics at the Sorbonne, and is one of the best historians of Islamic thought of his generation. The book's title may suggest that it presents one more tired variation on the theme all-religions-really-say-the-same-thing. But in fact it is an unusually subtle, elegant, and well-informed argument by a Catholic Christian to the conclusion that there is good reason to think that Jews, Christians, and Muslims are all worshipping and speaking about the same God. The strongest point of Roger Arnaldez's work is that he neither denies nor minimizes the obvious fact of deep theological differences among the traditions while making this argument-indeed, he celebrates it under Jacques Maritain's slogan “distinguer pour unit.” The reasons he offers for his positive thesis have largely to do with points of convergence among the traditions in prophecy, ascetical practice, and theory of language. Whatever the merits of Arnaldez's argument on these points (and it is too complex to summarize here), his book provides a wealth of fascinating material about Islam coupled with a stimulating theological argument. Strongly recommended.
—Paul J. Griffiths
The Christian God.
By Richard Swinburne.
Oxford University Press. 261 pages, $55 cloth, $22 paper.
This book, according to its author, is about “the core Western doctrine of God” and “the Christian additions” to it. I have been tempted to end these comments: Enough said. Richard Swinburne is one of a recently identifiable group of persons skilled in the current techniques of English-language philosophy and mostly inhabiting philosophy departments who devote themselves to elucidating and defending Christian teaching. The enterprise can only be applauded. Swinburne, of Oxford University, has perhaps the most substantial achievement so far. The present work is the third of a tetralogy, preceded by Responsibility and Atonement and Revelation. One hopes that a second generation for the movement may develop a rather better sense for the actual religious moves and attitudes of the faith they want to expound, and a more historical way of reading texts. Swinburne's central intention in this book is to explain and assert the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. He supposes he is doing this when he establishes the general possibility and likelihood of “three divine individuals,” indexed in more technical sections as G1, G2, and G3, who do not interfere with each other in their several exercises of omnipotence, etc., because two of them subsist by the will of one of them.
The Uneasy Center: Reformed Christianity In Antebellum America.
By Paul K. Conkin.
University of North Carolina Press. 326 pages, $39.94 cloth, $16.95 paper.
In an age of multiculturalism, which demands attention (sometimes justly, sometimes capriciously) for the previously neglected, it is useful not to forget the subjects that once stood at the center. Paul Conkin's primer on America's main traditions of Reformed Protestantism accomplishes that worthy goal nicely. As a reminder of where things came from, he starts with a capsule summary of Christian theology before the Reformation and a longer outline for the English Reformation. The main event is thorough treatment of Congregational, Presbyterian, and Methodist traditions, the side shows substantial attention to German Reformed, Episcopalians, and Dutch Reformed. (Only treatment of Baptists seems disproportionately small.) Again unfashionably, but also helpfully, Conkin emphasizes elite intellectual and theological culture. Illuminating coverage extends as well to subjects like Sunday Schools and hymn-writing. To be sure, not everyone will accept all of Conkin's value judgments. For example, solid sections on Charles Hodge and Horace Bushnell treat the latter as the more serious intellect, despite the evidence Conkin himself presents. (During the era of the Civil War, when fine shades of opinion on questions like republicanism or the meaning of the Bible spilled blood, Hodge took human sin seriously, while Bushnell built a career out of systematic imprecision.) Yet even those who question some of Conkin's judgments should admire this book's ability to summarize what was once widely acknowledged as America's most influential intellectual tradition.
—Mark A. Noll
The Sword Of Imagination: Memoirs Of A Half-Century Of Literary Conflict.
By Russell Kirk.
Eerdmans. 504 pages, $29.99.
There is no disputing that some thoughtful people found his pose as a nineteenth-century literary person insufferably contrived. But these memoirs indicate that Russell Kirk was quite prepared to take that risk. Not only his words but his entire persona was a rebuke to a modern world that had, in his view, quite simply gone mad. He was an incorrigible romantic, drawing “the sword of imagination” against a debased culture that had, as Livy said of the late empire, fallen in love with death. That, he insisted, is what happens to cultures that break off the conversation with the cult from which they emerged, that lose their sense of dramatic participation in the transcendent, and of accountability to the Permanent Things mandated by the transcendent. Tirelessly, and some thought tediously, Kirk returned again and again to the Permanent Things. This romantic posture was first effectively struck in The Conservative Mind (1953), which received a surprisingly sympathetic response in an intellectual world that was drunk on novelty and uncritically convinced that Lionel Trilling was right in dismissing conservatism as irritable mental gestures pretending to be ideas. From there, with more than a little help from his columnistic association with National Review, Russell Kirk built an independent life as the Lord of Piety Hill, Michigan, to which disciples were drawn for more than forty years, until Kirk's death in 1994 at age seventy-five. These memoirs-which, in a typically Kirkian eccentricity, refer to the author in the third person singular-conclude with the passage from All's Well that Ends Well indicating that only the humble pass through the narrow gate into eternity. The implication may seem less than humble, until one recognizes that Kirk's life and work exhibits a remarkably playful modesty. Not, of course, that he was not serious about his life and work, but he knew that the conflicts engaged were so utterly serious that any excessive seriousness on his part could only seem trivial, even silly, by comparison. His manner was not to everybody's taste, but nobody who really wants to understand the strains of an intellectual conservatism that is now in the ascendancy should miss the instruction, and the pleasure, of The Sword of Imagination.
New Dictionary of Christian Ethics and Pastoral Theology.
Edited by David J. Atkinson et al.
InterVarsity Press. 918 pages, $39.99.
Mark Noll and others have written persuasively on the scandal of the evangelical mind, or the lack thereof. This is another in a series of substantial reference works from InterVarsity that aims at remedying that by “joining mind to heart.” With over 700 articles, this book provides a judicious and well-informed overview of questions in ethical dispute. Most articles tend to slight the history of Christianity prior to the nineteenth century, but it is nonetheless a very useful resource, and not only for evangelical Protestants.
Rethinking Life and Death: The Collapse of Our Traditional Ethics.
By Peter Singer.
St. Martin's. 255 pages, $22.95.
The author of Animal Liberation is perhaps the most celebrated intellectual proponent of the view that contemporary society should abandon traditional ideas about the uniqueness of Homo sapiens. Animals, he contends, may have a stronger moral claim upon legal protection than human beings at stages of early development or later deterioration. On the dust jacket, Derek Humphry, founder of the Hemlock Society, says the book “is a blast of fresh thinking that will attract great controversy and debate.” The argument for abortion, euthanasia, and related practices is not fresh, but it is more candidly stated here than is usually the case. Singer's presentation of familiar arguments has the merit of recognizing that the position he advances is a frontal assault on the moral and civilizational presuppositions of Western culture. For that reason, combined with his cavalier treatment of the history of the philosophical and moral questions he raises, the book is not likely to occasion “great controversy and debate.” The philistine's claim that there is a barbarian alternative to civilization is not likely to shock sensible people to whom that hardly comes as news. Singer does correctly contend that foundational ideas about the sanctity of life and human rights are products of Christian teaching. His argument, therefore, is consistently and explicitly anti-Christian. The publishers note that Mr. Singer is the author of the major article on ethics in the current Encyclopedia Britannica, which says something about the decline of that once great institution.
On the Teaching and Writing of History.
By Bernard Bailyn.
University Press of New England. 97 pages, $15.95.
Musings on the craft of history by one of the most distinguished historians of early America. Prof. Bailyn is a commonsense sort of scholar, and he avoids grand theoretical statements concerning his discipline. Good history, he suggests, is produced by intelligent and imaginative people who dig hard in the sources, write well, and maintain strict respect for the otherness of the past. He regrets, but has no real solution for, the fact that the increasing specialization of history makes the writing of large-scale analytical narratives ever more problematic. As to fashionable relativisms concerning the impossibility of pure objectivity, he is admirably trenchant: “The fact that there is no such thing as perfect antisepsis does not mean that one might as well do brain surgery in a sewer.” All in all, a useful exercise in scholarly demystification.
On Being A Jew: A Reform Perspective.
By Dow Marmur.
Holy Blossom Temple (Toronto). 194 pages, $14.95 paper.
Reform Judaism in Canada has been far less affected by political correctness and the Zeitgeist than has the very liberal Reform movement in the United States. This collection of essays by a distinguished Reform rabbi in Canada exhibits that older brand of sober, cautious liberalism that today is usually called conservatism (or at least neoconservatism). Much of the best analysis here concerns the dangerous anarchy of liberal religion and the simultaneous impossibility (and undesirability) of a simple return to tradition. Rabbi Marmur's suggestions for unifying the different branches of Judaism are unlikely to be enacted, but they should stimulate thoughtful discussion. Also instructive is his description of Judaism as a unique blending of religion, ethnicity, and land-bound nationalism.
The Cruelty of Heresy.
By C. FitzSimons Allison.
Morehouse. 197 pages, $12.95 paper.
Subtitled “an affirmation of Christian orthodoxy,” this is a bracing call by an Episcopalian bishop to recognize that heresy, so often peddled in the name of sensitivity and compassion, does awful things to the moral and spiritual life of Christians. Written with high style, and laced with telling anecdotes, it is a book worthy of attention well beyond the bounds of Anglicanism. Indeed, one cannot think of a church in which its message is not sorely needed.
Christianity That Counts.
By Douglas Groothuis.
Baker. 224 pages, $11.99 paper.
In a series of twenty-seven brief essays, Professor Groothuis continues the analysis of contemporary fads and fallacies in the name of religion that he had begun in his prior books. In Christianity That Counts, however, he consistently relates his analysis to the fundamentals of Christian faith. New Age spirituality, ecological mysticism, triumphal relativism, and the commercialization of religious symbols are held one by one to the touchstone of an authentic faith and found to be false metal.
Reclaimed Powers: Men and Women in Later Life.
By David Gutmann.
Northwestern University Press. 310 pages, $16.95 paper.
A second edition of the brilliant 1987 analysis of aging, this book argues that aging is not decay but growth into new potencies and new pleasures. The “parental crisis” requires that adults fulfill certain roles for the sake of the endurance of the species. But once their rearing of children is past, adults may find-if they do not fall prey to myths about decay and weakness-that there are open to them for the first time fully adult experiences and activities.
Our Country, Our Culture: The Politics of Political Correctness.
Edited by Edith Kurzweil and William Phillips.
Partisan Review. 298 pages, $12.50.
After all the anecdotal books about the imposition of political correctness, Partisan Review-the famous old journal of the 1950s New York Intellectuals-has gathered a collection of thirty-two essays that assume the reality of imposed political rectitude and seek to analyze its role and effect in American culture. The essayists range from such well-known conservatives as Hilton Kramer and Glenn Loury to such well-known liberals as Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. But all the essayists decry the emergence of what Steven Marcus calls the “soft totalitarianism” of political correctness. The novelist Doris Lessing in her marvelous essay on “Unexamined Mental Attitudes Left Behind by Communism” and the classicist Mary Lefkowitz in her “Multiculturalism, Uniculturalism, or Anticulturalism?” trace some of the historical roots of political correctness, while Jerry L. Martin and the philosopher John Searle demolish its philosophical pretensions. The entire collection is highly recommended.
Edited by Brad Miner.
Simon & Schuster. 297 pages, $15 paper.
The disagreements between neoconservatives and paleoconservatives can be quite sharp, but there is nonetheless a familial unity to the two camps of conservatism. In Good Order, Mr. Miner-former literary editor of National Review-selects thirteen brief readings that express the positions on the spiritual, social, economic, political, and cultural orders agreed to by nearly all conservative authors, neo-and paleo-alike. The essayists range from G. K. Chesterton to George Will, and include several First Things' authors. Mr. Miner's anthology is neither a handbook of general conservative theory nor a catalogue of specific conservative policy proposals. It is rather a first-rate introduction to the middle ground of the conservative imagination as it grapples with our most pressing public concerns.
Hayek on Hayek: An Autobiographical Dialogue.
By F. A. Hayek. Edited by Stephen Kresge and Leif Wenar.
University of Chicago Press. 170 pages, $27.50.
The best of all possible lives for a thinker is to write for the future and then live long enough to see himself proved right. The great economist F. A. Hayek was ignored and even reviled by the Keynesian proponents of government spending during his early and middle years, but the long run he made of life enabled him to see the world turn back to his ideas. The editors of this volume have put together an odd work, cobbling together the fragments of autobiography Hayek occasionally composed and piecing them out with interviews. But, until an imaginative scholar with skill in both history and economics comes along with a complete biography of Hayek, this will remain the best account of the economist's life and times.
Odd Angles of Heaven: Contemporary Poetry by People of Faith.
Edited by David Craig and Janet McCann.
Harold Shaw. 311 pages, $14.99 paper.
Good poets write good poetry, and religious poets write religious poetry, and sometimes religious poets are also good poets-and then we get glimpses of the glory of God. Gathered from the previously published work of seventy contemporary poets, all the poems in this anthology are religious, and several of the poems are good. Not suprisingly, however, the good poems are from good poets. There is good work here from lesser-known poets: Bruce Bawer, David Citino, Raymond Oliver, Jill P. Baumgaertner (First Things' own poetry editor). But most of the first-rate pieces are from well-known sources: Wendell Berry, X. J. Kennedy, Denise Levertov, William Stafford, Richard Wilbur, Charles Wright. The editors have put together a fine anthology and a good introduction to contemporary religious poetry.
Vanishing Boundaries: The Religion of Mainline Protestant Baby Boomers.
By Dean R. Hoge, Benton Johnson, and Donald A. Luidens.
Westminster/John Knox. 254 pages, $17.99 paper.
In a book-length treatment of the research they first presented in First Things (March 1993), the authors provide statistical analysis of mainline Protestantism's enormous decline over the last three decades. Interviews with Presbyterian baby boomers, the churched and un-churched alike, make for grim reading, and the authors are not sanguine about the future of the mainline Protestant churches-though they do offer, in conclusion, some interesting suggestions about the necessity for a return to a biblical and theological faith.
Dictionary of Christian Art.
By Diane Apostolos-Cappadona.
Continuum 376 pages, $39.50.
A straightforward, alphabetical guide to Christian visual art, especially of the Renaissance. The major symbols, biblical references, artists, and works are all briefly described, which makes this book a boon to viewers looking for the background knowledge necessary for forming critical opinions. The book contains no surprises, which is a blessing in this sort of student's guide.