Theonomy: A Reformed Critique
edited by William S. Barker and W. Robert Godfrey
Zondervan, 413 pages, $15.95
Certainly one of the more interesting religious stories of recent years has been the attraction of growing numbers of evangelical Christians to a variation of Reformed theology known as “Christian Reconstruction.” Christian Reconstruction, also called theonomy or dominion theology, teaches—among other things—that the moral and judicial laws of the Old Testament remain normative for the modern state. This volume, a collection of essays written by faculty at Westminster Theological Seminary, is arguably the best and most serious critique of Christian Reconstruction to date. A common theme of the book’s five parts is that theonomy represents a distortion of the Calvinist heritage. Most of the chapters, which are unusually even in their quality, address one or another theological dimension of theonomy, such as the relation of the law to the gospel, and what the editors call “triumphalist dangers.” The book also contains several essays that are not heavily theological in substance. Of special note are coeditor W. Robert Godfrey’s discussion of Calvin’s natural law orientation, Samuel Logan’s engrossing discussion of the Puritan understanding of the state, and John Muether’s first-rate analysis of why theonomy is thriving. While Theonomy: A Reformed Critique may not be the place to start for someone totally unfamiliar with Christian Reconstruction, there is, for the already initiated, no better volume.
— Dean C. Curry
Breaking with Communism: The Intellectual Odyssey of Bertram D. Wolfe
edited by Robert Hessen
Hoover Institution Press, 311 pages, $24.95
Bertram Wolfe (1896-1977), the American historian and journalist, was a Communist in his youth, but later broke with the Party. He then devoted a long and distinguished career to exposing and combating Communist totalitarianism generally and Soviet Communism in particular. His most famous work. Three Who Made a Revolution (1948)—a triple biography of Lenin, Trotsky, and Stalin—remains a classic work in its field. Wolfe’s autobiography, A Life in Two Centuries, covers only the years up until 1938; he died before completing a second volume. This book follows Wolfe’s story to the end, tracing the evolution of his thought through unpublished letters, speeches, and writings. The Introduction, by editor Robert Hessen of the Hoover Institution, provides valuable context and perspective on this fascinating figure.
The Capitalist Spirit: Toward a Religious Ethic of Wealth Creation
edited by Peter L. Berger
Institute for Contemporary Studies, 191 pages, $18.95
The editor and most of the cast of authors are familiar to readers of this journal: Robert M. Gram, David Novak, Michael Novak, George Weigel, Walter Block, and Richard John Neuhaus. The purpose of the essays is nicely caught in the title and subtitle. There are no doubt those who would think it immodest for us to tell you how well the essays achieve their purpose.
Living the Truth
by Josef Pieper
Ignatius, 190 pages, $11.95
A wise man is one who savors all things as they really are,” said Bernard of Clairvaux (d. 1153). We don’t know whether the publisher or the author decided to have that epigram on the cover, but it fits quite perfectly the argument set forth by the renowned Thomist, Josef Pieper. The present edition combines two essays, “The Truth of All Things” and “Reality and the Good.” These essays, both originally published almost thirty years ago, have opened for thousands of readers the way to “ethical realism” as construed in Thomist thought. Pieper quotes, and thoroughly agrees with, the mature Goethe, who observed that “every epoch which is in the process of retrogression and disintegration is subjective, but all progressive epochs have an objective trend.” In our time, the dominant trend, especially in moral thought, is toward the subjective, and usually not in the more elevated Kantian form criticized by Pieper. Ignatius Press of San Francisco renders a real service by making available in this form two of the many important contributions of Josef Pieper.
Paul and the Legacies of Paul
edited by William S. Babcock
Southern Methodist University Press, 426 pages, $32.50
Twelve essays by leading patristic scholars, with comments by yet others, providing a useful overview of the state of scholarship on Paul and the early church. Two might be of particular interest to the readers of this journal. Adolf Martin Ritter examines John Chrysostom’s understanding of Paul as recommending a kind of “social Utopia” centered not in the state but in the church. Robert Wilken, a frequent contributor to this journal, contends that the Pauline view of the sovereign will of God in, for example. Romans 9 is often viewed as teaching a kind of determinism but is in fact the essential break from the Greco-Roman determinism of natural forces.
Church: The Human Story of God
by Edward Schillebeeckx
Crossroad, 263 pages, $22.95
The noted Dutch theologian lashes out at what he believes to be the betrayal of Vatican Council II and its understanding of a church that is constituted by the tasks of history. The subtitle of the Dutch edition is more accurately translated as “Human Beings as the Story of God.” The argument of the book might yet more accurately be stated as “Human Beings as God.” At one point (p. 236), Schillebeeckx quotes Genesis 1:26 as “let us make God in our own image.” There is no indication that this is a typo, and it is perfectly consonant with his contention that “God’s divine life” is contingent upon our ability to cope with questions such as environmental degradation, nuclear warfare, unjust distribution of wealth, struggles of self-liberation, and so forth. “The church only has a future,” the author writes, “to the degree to which it lets go of all supernaturalism and dualism.” For Father Schillebeeckx, it appears, supernaturalism means transcendence and dualism means the difference between God and man. The dust jacket claims that this is theology in “a completely novel framework. “It seemed novel to many people when it was advanced, although by no means for the first time, by Ludwig Feuerbach (d. 1872). Church is a very angry, very dated, and very sad book.