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Unfairly Reviewed?

It is a pity that First Things has printed a review of my book Sham Pearls for Real Swine (January) that appears to attack me rather than deal with the issues my book raises.

My book is not a continuation of my late father, Francis Schaeffer’s, work. Nor was it written out of a desire to respond to any supposed “rejection” of my work by the evangelical community. Quite the contrary. The book is written to individuals, not to a group. (There are still some of us who see people as something more than simply members of groups and group politics.) These individuals might be described as Christians of one sort or another who are also artists. Since the publication of my book I have heard from many such persons. Their response has been overwhelmingly favorable.

Kenneth Myers’ review is not all that objectionable (other than in its relentless condescension); rather it fails in that it misses the point of the book. It does so by examining the book narrowly and from the wrong angle, that of the evangelical establishment and its interests.

Hard as it might be for your reviewer to understand, there are larger, finer, and more interesting communities of faith and practice beyond the one in which he resides and so dutifully serves.

I wrote Sham Pearls after a long six-year absence from all those niceties of evangelical politics/religion that are the ever-present context from which Ken Myers writes. I am not surprised that he resents me. When I chose to go into the “secular” movie business in 1985 my books had sold over a quarter-million copies, largely to evangelical Christians. I hardly felt “rejected” then, nor do I now. However, I felt it was time for me to move on. Your reviewer seems to resent this fact.

How else to account for his rather petty personal attack on me by means of his questioning and impugning my motives for writing my book rather than dealing with its content? A review that does not honestly deal with the substance of a book but only with the perceived political and/or psychological point of view of the author is a poor review.

From reading the review I must say that my impression is that Ken Myers did not read the book, but only read the first chapter and then set about “answering” my book on behalf of the evangelical establishment.

Franky Schaeffer
salisbury, ma

Apocalypse Irritation

Peter J. Leithart (“Middle East Apocalypse Now?” December 1990) painted with a rather broad stroke in his characterization of the eschatological perspective of Evangelicals. As a member of one of the so-called Mainline denominations and a nondispensationalist Evangelical, I feel impelled to respond.

It is not news to Evangelicals that the kingdom is already present, that it is, in fact, a feast, or that Jesus is in some sense present whenever the Lord’s Supper is celebrated. On the other hand, Jesus did promise a bodily return and the New Testament writers do anticipate longingly the consummation of history as we know it through the Parousia. Eucharist may indeed be eschatology, but it is not all of it.

If Jesus planted the anticipation of a real return, but only meant that he would be present in the Eucharist, he was rather tricky to josh us in that way. Likewise the New Testament writers if what they seem to have promised us is really only “pie in the sky” that distracts us from the feast we are to be presently enjoying.

No doubt a great deal of foolishness does go on in the name of interpreting “prophetic Scripture.” Wrongheaded and even bizarre projections about when and how the Second Coming will occur do abound. (Though it should not be surprising that such speculation arises in troubled times. Even such celebrated Christians as Luther and Melanchthon couldn’t resist.)

All this need not keep us from taking Jesus and the Scriptures seriously and anticipating, watchfully and hopefully, as instructed, a final and complete form of the kingdom.

The Rev. Russell C. Wentling
schuylkill haven, pa

It is difficult to consider the eschatological position of Mr. Leithart as it is presented. He comes on so dogmatic, arrogant, and intolerant that his theological postulations appear to be rather insecure.

Worse still perhaps is his totally uncalled-for, pompous, and condescending critique of Hal Lindsey. Referring to Mr. Lindsey as a “former steamboat captain” is a childish cheapshot. (Let’s not forget that Christ was a former carpenter.) Mr. Lindsey’s academic and literary credentials are impeccably well established. It should be needless to say (but for sideline critics like Mr. Leithart) that Mr. Lindsey has done more to focus secular attention on global politics and its potential eschatological implications than probably anyone else alive today; this achievement has spurred masses to come to Christ.

Only yesterday I heard Dr. Billy Graham remark on the present disposition of Middle Eastern politics and its apocalyptic foreboding. I assume Mr. Leithart would seek to enlighten him as well.

I hope future issues of First Things contain articles presenting balanced dissent when appropriate, and less gratuitous attacks on other scholars with whom one may disagree.

Clayton W. Watson
memphis, tn

Peter J. Leithart engages in bold caricaturing and simplistic “either/ or” analysis in his recent joust with the straw dummy called “dispensationalist pop-apocalyptic.” Apparently irked that, in light of recent Middle East developments, the premillenialists may again be in the spotlight, Leithart intends to relegate all of them to the theological and political “yahoo” category, presumably until they embrace repentance, the fruit of which apparently is the exchange of their worship of the Bible for that of the historic Church.

Leithart fails to note the obvious: Both premillenialists and traditionalists have much to learn, as well as avoid, concerning each other. Yes, there is a lamentable lack of “historical,” not to say philosophical and intellectual, rootedness in premillenialism and in other manifestations of sectarianism. But the “rootedness” of the historic churches is offset by a sorry record concerning faithfulness to an honest scriptural exegesis based on the original intent of the biblical writer or writers in question.

Perhaps no group has suffered more as a consequence of this astonishing lack than the Jewish people. For the better part of nineteen centuries, the historic churches, wittingly or unwittingly, have contributed greatly to the global spread of anti-Semitism by their excessively allegorical interpretation of most if not all favorable scriptural references to the Jews. In contrast, premillenialism’s comparative sympathy for reasonably literal scriptural interpretation is laying the groundwork for the possibility of true healing of the long-standing breach between church and synagogue. The recent, though scantily reported, rise within Jewry of a “Messianic” movement which, while affirming the continued theological validity of the Jewish people, also accepts Jesus as Israel’s Messiah, could not have occurred in past centuries when the traditional churches held sway and routinely burned premillenial types at the stake as heretics.

I, for one, refuse to apply “either/ or” to this ongoing traditionalist/ sectarian skirmish. At the very least, the historic churches comprise the primary vessel within which nineteen centuries of Christian wisdom and experience have been preserved. So the “yahoos” ignore them at their own peril. But it is through the various sectarian movements that we are continually reminded that God is not limited to carefully constructed buildings, structures, institutions, or political and theological systems. Indeed, due to the human element residing in them all, none are immune to sin and corruption. And it is through such movements that the historic churches in countless ways are being called not to an entire abandonment of their respective traditions and perspectives, but back to the simplicity of the Gospel and ultimately to their First Love Himself.

Paul Liben
yonkers, ny

Peter J. Leithart replies:

With Rev. Wentling’s theology I have no quarrel; I fully agree that Jesus promised to return bodily as well as sacramentally. Yet, though it is true that the eucharist is not the whole of eschatology, it is central, and, in my estimation, a too-often neglected part.

I agree with Mr. Watson that my reference to Hal Lindsey’s former occupation was unwarranted and irrelevant. Insofar as my article was a critique of Lindsey, the point was not that he is poorly trained, but that some of his views are wrong in a fundamental way. Mr. Watson’s response does not address that issue, but instead directs attention to Lindsey’s (and, implicitly, Billy Graham’s) admirable evangelistic successes. Unless Mr. Watson is suggesting that their success somehow protects them from criticism or guarantees infallibility, however, it is difficult to see the relevance of his letter.

Mr. Liben is correct that I am irked, but he has wrongly diagnosed the source of my irk. My protest was not so much that popular dispensationalists get all the air time, nor that they fail to pay sufficient attention to the historic Church (though that is often the case). Instead, my argument was that by bringing alien questions and presuppositions to their study of the Bible, dispensationalists (and many of their opponents) distort the Scriptures themselves, entirely missing the sacramental and ecclesiological dimensions of New Testament eschatology. On the relative authority of the Church and the Scriptures, Mr. Liben may be surprised to learn that my position is simply that of the Reformers, and, apparently, that of Mr. Liben himself. As Calvin might have said, the Father’s Word (in Scripture) carries absolute authority and is unfailingly true, but one neglects the Mother’s word to his own peril.

Mr. Liben’s charge that “excessively allegorical interpretation” has “greatly” contributed to anti-Semitism carries implications that I am quite sure he would not wish to embrace. “Allegory” was not an invention of the post-apostolic Church, but has an honored place in the New Testament itself. What honest reader of Paul’s avowedly allegorical argument in Galatians 3:21-31 can avoid the conclusion that, for Paul, the Christian Church was heir of the promises to Abraham? Was Paul, then, the father of Christian anti-Semitism? Beyond that, the suggestion that Spain would never have expelled the Jews, nor the Nazis committed anti-Semitic atrocities, if only dispensationalist premillennialism had been dominant in Spanish and German Churches, is another of Hal Lindsey’s absurd fantasies.

Who Joshed Whom?

Richard John Neuhaus (“Joshing Richard Rorty,” December 1990) may have fallen into a trap, like those decent, indignant folk who took Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” literally.

Rorty says he is an ironist, and irony implies two audiences, those in the know and those who take things at face value. For the latter, the book masquerades as philosophy; but surely to the former it is meant to be a bitter in-joke, a pungent satirical description (but not so obvious as to lose the amusing credulity of the uninitiated) of the contemporary academic game.

Apparently Rorty makes much of “play,” and what does one play if not a game? The purpose of the university game is for the intellectual to create himself (e.g., get his doctorate, get tenure) by being original, by “playing the new off against the old.” (Emphasis added.) In order to satisfy his dissertation committee or his ad hoc committee, the journeyman intellectual has “to make something that never had been dreamed of before,” and every graduate student or instructor in the humanities knows he can’t do that any more just by studying facts, finding out which are true, and reasoning from them; the material is used up. Oh, occasionally a lucky woman can still get away with “factual” work (Angry Queen Mab: The Lesbian Authorship of “Shakespeare’s” Plays), but she is an anachronism. The only recourse left for the ordinary wretch is to invent new jargon (a “final vocabulary”) to “redescribe” old things. He finds himself speaking in tongues without having a god to praise.

The best part of the “joshing” comes when Rorty, who is a professor at a state university, goes on to distinguish slyly between the liberal intellectuals who are playing this game and the taxpayers, incapable of liberal ironism, who are paying them to play it. He has a great deal of fun suggesting that public rhetoric should not be ironist even in “the ideal liberal society.” It might have a bad effect on “solidarity”; the state legislatures might cut off the funds.

Donald Barr
colebrook, ct

The Church and the Holocaust

In “The Christian West” (November 1990), Professor Wolfhart Pannenberg at one point responds to observations of Richard John Neuhaus about the Holocaust. While acknowledging that “there is no doubt that most Christians, and especially Christian leaders, failed to make the witness that was morally required during that period of horror,” Professor Pannenberg says also that “National Socialism was explicitly and powerfully anti-Christian.”

If Professor Pannenberg is right in this latter statement, certain questions cry out for answers. For one, why did so many, if not most, Ger-mans who were church-going Christians actively aid and abet National Socialism? For another, why did the Holy See sign with the Nazi regime a Concordat within six months of Hitler’s accession to power in 1933 which was never abrogated? Perhaps, however, the most painful question on this terribly painful subject was posed some years ago by a former editor of the Catholic lay magazine Commonweal, James O’Gara: “How did it happen that this diabolical pagan barbarism of Adolf Hitler could have arisen and flourished in our time in the heart of Christian Europe?”

Samuel Rabinove
american jewish committee
new york, ny

Wolfhart Pannenberg replies:

Samuel Rabinove raises three important questions about the anti-Christian as well as anti-Semitic character of Nazism. It is true that the situation was not clear during the first years of the Nazi regime, since the party program claimed a basis in “positive Christianity.” Since Hitler himself had been raised a Catholic Christian, this may have contributed to misleading the Roman Catholic Church. But Nazi opposition to the Old Testament alienated many Christians, though the churches were divided in their attitudes. In the course of time, however, it became increasingly apparent that after the “victory” the Christian churches would come under more serious attack. That many Christians were imprisoned as enemies of the system is well known. The most difficult question is certainly how it was possible for such a barbarism to arise in the heart of Christian Europe. One should take into consideration, however, the largely secularized situation of European societies at the time. In many respects Nazism arose as a late product of romanticism, and there had been many pagan elements in romanticism as early as the nineteenth century.

Of Women and Bishops

I am glad you did not entirely exclude from the pages of First Things Fr. Paul Mankowski’s trenchant observations about the American bishops’ draft pastoral letter on “women’s concerns” (“Women, Bishops, and King Lear,” Public Square, December 1990). However, I am concerned that your reasons given for not publishing the entire article may give readers the mistaken impression that the pastoral is essentially a dead issue.

In fact, the pastoral is Undead. Bishop Joseph Imesch, chairman of the pastoral’s drafting committee, has made clear”most recently in his report on the status of the pastoral at the National Conference of Catholic Bishops annual November meeting”that the pastoral “process” will continue for several more years, if necessary, and yet another draft is scheduled to be presented to the bishops for voting in November 1991. (The bishop emphasized that the new draft will be based on the current one, with the same title.) In his report to the bishops on the status of the document, he quipped that “if we haven’t got it done by 1999, we’ll quit.”

Bishop Imesch also told journalists he did not expect the content of the pastoral to be affected materially by the “consultation” with the “other bishops’ conferences” recommended in a letter to the pastoral committee from Cardinal Casaroli, nor by criticism of the pastoral contained in a letter “several pages long” from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith”criticism which he said would not be disclosed. He said that the pastoral is “for the American Church, not the universal Church.”

Even if the pastoral had been tabled, not merely delayed, euphoria would be unjustified. St. Augustine, in the same sermon in which the oft-quoted phrase, Roma locuta, causa finita est, occurs (#131, if memory serves), issued a warning that, even though “Rome has spoken, the error persists.” He is cautioning Christians against complacency and premature dismantling of defenses against the continued assault on the Faith by an ideology inimical to authentic belief.

Clearly, the feminist branch of “liberationism,” which has already caused deep damage both to the Church and to society, will not cease its efforts to “re-form” the Church, whatever the bishops (or Rome) may say. In fact, at a meeting of the dissident “Call to Action” group held at the same time as the NCCB meeting, keynote speaker Fr. Richard McBrien, chairman of the theology department at Notre Dame, explicitly called for continued resistance to Church authority, rejoiced that Vatican statements are continually “riddled with a volley of dissenting views,” and exultantly predicted that the “outdated” hierarchical structure of the Church must inevitably fall “just as surely as the Berlin wall.” Furthermore, two bishops. Auxiliary Bishop Francis Murphy of Baltimore and Bishop Raymond Lucker of New Ulm, Minnesota, “mingled” with the Women’s Ordination Conference rally outside the hotel during the bishops’ meeting, and Archbishop Rembert Weakland, to show his solidarity with the WOC, requested the women’s prayers.

It is surely clear that this damage cannot begin to be repaired until the fundamental cause of the deepening conflict is correctly and forthrightly diagnosed. Correct diagnosis is, minimally, what any pastoral letter should accomplish. That the draft pastoral fails to do this consistently is one of its chief defects. This is what its critics, whether feminist or orthodox, have been saying all along, although from opposite points of view. (For the record, Women for Faith & Family was not among those groups who said the bishops should not write this pastoral. From the outset, we said”and still maintain”that there is immense need for clear and consistent teaching from bishops on fundamental issues addressed by the pastoral. After the appearance of the Pope’s “pastoral on women,” Mulieris Dignitatem, we hoped that the American pastoral would conform faithfully to it. It does not.)

Unhappily for the Church (and for Catholic women), the drafting committee has been more strongly committed to “listening” (responding) to feminist complaints than to those of orthodox Catholics; to “responding with sensitivity” to those who “have problems” with Church teaching rather than correcting error

In view of the persistence of the problem of feminism to Christian belief and to the Catholic church in particular, because the controversial pastoral and the issues it raises are emphatically undead, and because, to continue Fr. Mankowski’s penetrating metaphor, the angry voices of Lear’s hostile daughters continue to dominate, perhaps First Things should have gone ahead and published the article in its entirety

Helen Hull Hitchcock
women for faith & family
st. louis, mo

Abortion Rhetoric

Guy Condon’s December 1990 review of Decoding Abortion Rhetoric by Celeste Michelle Condit reminded me of George Orwell, who warned us four decades ago about the abuse and decline of the English language and the degenerative effects such a decline would have on public discussion of important issues and on the moral and political climate of a nation.

Orwell also had something significant to say about abortion and language. Gordon Comstock, the “hero” of Orwell’s novel. Keep the Aspidistra Flying, impregnates his lover, and after learning that she is carrying his baby, engages her in a conversation regarding what they should do.

Comstock’s lover proposes the “termination of pregnancy” as the “solution”; but after she begins talking about money for the abortion, Comstock suddenly begins to understand that what they have been discussing is the killing of their unborn child: “For the first time he grasped, with the only kind of knowledge that matters, what they were really talking about. The words ‘a baby’ took on a new significance. They did not mean any longer a mere abstract disaster, they meant a bud of flesh. It was the squalid detail of the [money] that brought it home.”

People both for and against abortion have abused and manipulated language to gain support for their views; but certainly, pro-abortionists have been especially guilty of brutalizing language to cover up the fact that abortion is the killing of innocent unborn babies.

Haven Bradford Gow
arlington heights, il 

Preventing Abortions

Richard John Neuhaus asks (Public Square, November 1990): “How can politicians ‘lessen and prevent abortions’ without opposing ‘specific choices’ to abort?” Quite simply, actually, by seeing to it that sex education in schools is improved, by supporting the development and distribution of more effective contraceptives (such as Norplant), and by improving the economic conditions of poor women and poor families. All of these measures would reduce the demand for abortion.

Alec Randall
aspen hill, md