Judas Iscariot and the Myth of Jewish Evil
by Hyam Maccoby
Free Press, 213 pages, $22.95
Maccoby is noted, or notorious, for his argument, made here once again, that anti-Semitism is inherent in Christian faith. Judas Iscariot, he claims, is for Christians the demonic symbol of Judaism, which will come as news to almost all, if not all, Christians. “The real and only permanent solution to the problem of antisemitism,” Maccoby writes, “is to dismantle the Pauline Christian myth of atonement” and what he calls “the mythic resurrection.” In sum, in order to end anti-Semitism, Christians should give up Christianity. Maccoby’s proposal is as offensive as his reading of history is fanciful. (Maccoby is a disciple of Leo Baeck, on whom see Alan Mittelman’s “Christianity in the Mirror of Jewish Thought” in this issue.)
Gerard Manley Hopkins and the Language of Mystery
by Virginia Ridley Ellis
University of Missouri Pres, 352 pages, $35
A demanding but rewarding book that takes Hopkins for what he was, a “deeply committed priest and Christian poet, for whom faith was life, and art the voice of the instrument of faith.” Mystery in the title is meant theologically; it designates not a vague sense of something unknown, but, in Hopkins’ words, “an incomprehensible certainty” such as the Incarnation.
A very readable and generally sympathetic account of a revivalist who reached his apogee in 1915 and set the pattern for much of the mass evangelism of the future, including the ministry of Billy Graham. In view of the vitality of evangelical Christianity today, suggests Bruns, it would seem that Billy Sunday rather than H. L. Mencken or Clarence Darrow was much closer to understanding the American character.
With almost a hundred pages of notes, the reader may expect from the professor of social psychology at Michigan’s Hope College a tome of off-putting technicality. In fact, the text could hardly be more accessible, as it is also commonsensical and, all in all, edifying. (It is probably a publicist’s nightmare to have a book called edifying.) Happiness understood as a sense of well-being joined to serving others is intricately, and sometimes confusedly, connected with religious faith, according to Myers and the many authorities he cites. Although disclaiming any attempt to recommend a particular faith, the beliefs, attitudes, and habits described by the author are unmistakably Christian in character. A book for the personal and parish library.
A professor of medical ethics at Baylor contends for a version of “secular humanism” that does the work some would assign to “natural law.” The common morality of the subtitle remains entirely procedural, as moral “truths” grounded in religion and other sources apparently can have no place in a vocabulary appropriate to the “moral strangers” who comprise the modem world.
A distinguished religion specialist with the Los Angeles Times offers a journalistic tour d’horizon of our religio-cultural situation and what it portends for the third millennium. It is in the nature of this genre that the tone is a bit breathless and the generalizations very broad indeed, but the book can serve as a useful introduction to some of the agitations and the players who would give shape to the spiritual spasms of the age.
But Was It Just?
Reflections on the Morality of the Persian Gulf War
edited by David E. DeCosse
Doubleday, 132 pages, $15
The views of Stanley Hauerwas and George Weigel on the question posed by the title are familiar to readers of this journal. In addition to Jean Bethke Elshtain, also a regular contributor here, this fine little book contains essays by Sari Nusseibeh and Michael Walzer. Times of crisis and heated debate can confuse clear thinking, or give salutary specificity to general theories. This book does the latter. It will, we believe, have a lasting and important place in any library that takes seriously questions of war and peace.
“Religion has value when it enriches individual and community life, when it makes sense of suffering and makes death bearable, even meaningful.” With a firm grip on that dogma, journalist D’Antonio goes out to discover the wildly various worlds of the New Age. Crystals, channeling, mystic baseball, and folks who know that they are the new incarnation of the Absolute can all be “meaningful,” he reports. No doubt. The dustjacket has Garry Wills saying that this is “an intelligent survey of modern evangelicals,” which is surely a blurb for another book. Bill Moyers says he loves Heaven on Earth. Contra the subtitle, this is not about the spiritual frontier. It is an off-puttingly gushy report on the verdant marginalia that has been a constant of American history.
Prayers of the Martyrs
compiled and translated by Duane W. H. Arnold, foreword by Madeleine L’Engle
Zondervan, 122 pages, $12.95
A beautiful collection of prayers of Christian martyrs arranged for devotional purposes. The prayers range over the whole of Christian history, including many from the familiar Christian figures (Ignatius, Polycarp, Cyprian), but some from little-known heroes of the faith, Jonas of Beth-Isa (fourth-century Persia), Noel Pinot (eighteenth-century France), Gabra Michael (nineteenth-century Ethiopia), Yona Kanamuzeyi (twentieth-century Rwanda).
Nine essays, some with a distinctly anti-Zionist (anti-Israel) bias, but representing a range of influential views both within and about the Holy Land. Burrell teaches theology at Notre Dame and Landau is director of Oz V’Shalom-Netivot Shalom, a religious peace movement in Israel.
God and Violence:
The Christian Experience of God in Dialogue with Myths and Other Religions
by Georg Baudler
Templegate, 366 pages, $19.95
Dialogue is the key word as this German author engagingly moves back and forth between world religions and the Christian Scriptures. He instructively shows how human history has constructed a pantheon of nasty gods that contrast sharply with the biblical God of covenantal mercy. The author concludes, however, with the hope for a “harmonization” of world religions that, despite his intentions, seems slushily sentimental. Nonetheless, this is an informative study attractively presented.
The New Birth of Christianity:
Why Religion Persists in a Scientific Age
by Richard A. Nenneman
HarperCollins, 198 pages, $19
As the institutions of Christian Science reel under a succession of crises, one of its top officials calmly explains why Mary Baker Eddy got it right the first time. The impurturbability comports nicely with the doctrine. Just set your mind, says Nenneman, on “the simple Christianity of Christ Jesus.” Apparently there are still a 100,000 or so Christian Scientists who believe it is that simple.
American Lawyers and Their Communities:
Ethics in the Legal Profession
by Thomas L. Shaffer
University of Notre Dame Press, 272 pages, $24.95
Written “with Mary L. Shaffer,” this volume should not be confused with innumerable volumes on “legal ethics” that are designed to keep lawyers out of trouble with the law. The Shaffers, rather, examine different moral models of the lawyer, concluding with the ways in which a confident assertion of Christian and Jewish particularities might influence positively the practice of law in America. The book should be of interest and benefit to readers interested in the legal profession and the meaning of professionalism in our culture.
Interpretation and Obediance:
From Faithful Reading to Faithful Living
by Walter Brueggeman
Fortress, 324 pages, $14.95
The author is a much-published Old Testament scholar at Columbia Seminary in Atlanta, and he here collects some of his commentaries and exhortations that intend to be faithful to the title. Regrettably, repeated references to liberation from “the system” of nationalism, consumerism, imperialism, etc. lack the specificity and subtlety that might enable readers to know what biblical faithfulness means in their lives, if they do not happen to be Old Testament scholars publishing books.
The Reformation and Liberation Theology:
Insights for the Challenge of Today
by Richard Shaull
Westminster, 144 pages, $11.95
A veteran liberationist of Princeton Theological Seminary contends that the sundry Protestant reformations demand and make possible a radically new social order. The somewhat jejune subtitle reflects a style that does not feel obliged to challenge what, on the ideological left, are taken to be “the challenges of today.”