The Index of Leading Spiritual Indicators
By George Barna
Word, 140 pages, $10.99
This is a fascinating if somewhat predictable account of recent trends in American religion by the evangelical pollster George Barna. Among other things, Barna found that Americans are searching for a personalized religion that meets individual needs and minimizes rules and absolutes. The general public is not very interested, he reports, in orthodox Christianity, Bible reading, or history. Ignorance abounds. Two-thirds of the population has no idea what John 3:16 refers to. Six out of ten people believe that if a person is generally good, or does enough good things for others during their life, they will earn a place in heaven. Ten percent of adults believe that the name of Noah’s wife was Joan of Arc. This brief study will bolster the view that too many American churches have failed at every level and in every way.
”Thomas C. Reeves
By What Authority? An Evangelical Discovers Catholic Tradition
By Mark P. Shea.
Our Sunday Visitor Books. 192 pages, $7.95.
C. S. Lewis writes about Mere Christianity as a hallway, from which each Christian can choose a number of confessional doors. Mark Shea’s thoughtful and accessible book encourages the reader to consider the Catholic door. Chronicling his own doubts about sola scriptura, he pursues the Catholic Tradition as a possible interpretive key by which Christians can understand the Bible and life. For Shea the choice is obvious in the end, as he argues that the Catholic Tradition outperforms scripture alone. Shea’s argument reflects the new-found interest in tradition among evangelicals. And yet, though some evangelicals are heading toward Rome, Catholicism does not necessarily follow from acceptance of tradition: Others are returning to Geneva or Wittenburg, or even turning toward Constantinople. Whether or not one agrees with Shea’s conclusion, the argument presents in a congenial and interesting way the need for evangelicals to consider both the catholic and the Catholic tradition.
Christianity and Civil Society
By Robert Wuthnow
Trinity Press International, 103 pages, $15
The prolific Princeton author might easily be dismissed as a Beyondist”a person who urges that we should move beyond categories such as liberal and conservative so that liberalism can have its way. There is some of that in Wuthnow’s argument, but he also wants to take seriously that there are deep and legitimate cultural differences among Americans, some based in religion, that must be engaged in civil discourse. The greater difficulty with his argument is reflected in the sophistication that he urges upon Christians. To be sophisticated, I have suggested, means being willing to give up some control over one’s own claims to know the truth, subjecting them to self-evaluation and to the critical commentary of others. Apart from the confusing use of the term control, the problem with that statement and the entire argument is that Christians can with integrity only ground civil engagement precisely in the truth that they claim to know. The suggestion that civil discourse requires Christians to be less than fully Christian leads either to Christian withdrawal from or rejection of civil discourse. That is the outcome forced by militant secularists, and Professor Wuthnow surely does not want to be party to that.
Miles to Go: A Personal History of Social Policy
By Daniel P. Moynihan
Harvard University Press, 245 pages, $22.95
There are book blurbs and then there is: Moynihan, the nation’s best thinker among politicians since Lincoln and its best politician among thinkers since Jefferson, stands at the summit of a long career in public life. At the summit and over the top. This collection of essays does include Defining Deviancy Down, which is worth a trip to the library, if not the price of a book by one of our more thoughtful politicians looking back wistfully at, mainly, failed opportunities.
The Nature of Confession: Evangelicals and Postliberals in Conversation
Edited by Timothy R. Phillips and Dennis L. Okholm
InterVarsity, 296 pages, $15.99
It is a rare and welcome thing when major disagreements are engaged with honesty, intelligence, and good faith all around. Here we have premodern evangelical Protestants in conversation with the postliberal hermeneutic represented by George Lindbeck and the late Hans Frei. Among the contributors are Alister McGrath, George Hunsinger, and Gabriel Fackre. One outcome of the exchange is clarifying the fact that historic Christian orthodoxy can be sustained by quite different theories of interpretation, although some evangelical participants are left insisting that the orthodoxy defended is missing an important component, namely, scriptural authority.
Slouching Toward Gomorrah: Modern Liberalism and American Decline
By Robert H. Bork
HarperCollins, 382 pages, $25
Cranky, dyspeptic, bad humored, pessimistic. Those are among the many adjectives employed by reviewers. So they want the author to be upbeat about the decline of America? Fortunately, many thoughtful Americans are less interested in Judge Bork’s mood today than in what he has to say. What he has to say is said forcefully and persuasively, and no one can leave this book without at least entertaining the salutary suspicion that we are witnessing the end of America as a free and (relatively) virtuous society. The message is obviously being received, for the book has had a long run on the New York Times ’ best-seller list, reaching the second spot, and is the subject of vigorous debates in the worlds of talk. This journal ran an excerpt in the January 1996 issue, and readers will want to go to the book for the more fully developed argument that Bork made in our End of Democracy? issue of last November. Were the word prophetic not so over-used, especially in religious circles, we would say it applies to this book. Suffice it that Robert Bork’s is an acute and relentless intelligence that has produced a jeremiad that could, just maybe, change enough minds and hearts to change the country that he so manifestly cares about.
Soul of the World: Notes on the Future of Public Catholicism
By George Weigel
Eerdmans, 206 pages, $18
No stranger to these pages, Weigel here offers a brilliant synthesis that brings together Catholic teaching and the state of Catholicism itself as these relate to the public order. The author is currently working on a biography of John Paul II and has a remarkably comprehensive grasp of this pontificate’s contribution to our understanding of the human project. That project is the public in the subtitle of a book that weaves Christology, the anthropology of freedom, democratic theory, and the culture wars into what might be called, had the term not been coopted for dubious purposes, a seamless garment. Soul of the World is imperative reading for those who would understand the direction of Catholic social teaching, the mind of John Paul II, and the high promise of Christian witness in service to the world that is the object of God’s passionate loving.
The Truth About Homosexuality: The Cry of the Faithful
By John F. Harvey
Ignatius, 376 pages, $17.95
A marvelously well-informed and much needed book for Christians with a homosexual orientation and those who try to help them. Father Harvey is the founder of Courage, an organization of homosexual Catholics who strive to live in accord with the teaching of the Church. Foreword by John Cardinal O’Connor and introduction by the noted spiritual director Benedict J. Groeschel. The book also includes appendices by medical authorities on the healing and change of homosexual orientation. This wise and encouraging book will be of great value to all Christians both in helping homosexuals and in countering the cultural aggression of the gay movement.