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A Newsletter For Reformational Thought

Volume Eight, No.4

June, 1986

Liberating Gospel: Good News for the Poor by Thorn Corbett


God is on the side of the poor. The problem which has troubled the church through the centuries is whether this refers to the materially or spiritually poor. In recent decades this question has been brought to the forefront by the practitioners of liberation theology. As we shall see in the first section of this article, the liberation theologians reject a dualistic approach that concentrates salvation on a purely "spiritualll level. They argue for an integral liberation of both body and spirit through the gospel of Jesus Christ. They are, then, deeply concerned for the poor and oppressed that they see around them, but they do not, as we shall show, exclude the rich: on the contrary, they preach a gospel of liberation for all people and for all of life. The article continues by looking at the practical consequences of an integral theology of liberation for ourselves as western and predominantly middle-class Christians.

Bias to the Poor--Who are the Poor?

Liberation theologians argue that there must be a preferential option for the materially poor on the part of the Church. If this is the case, then we must ask whether a preference for liberating the materially poor suggests a dualism of material and spiritual poverty.

Gutierrez notes that liberation theology's emphasis on alleviating material poverty raises fears that it may be diluting the sp~ritual and genuinely evangelical sense of liberation.1 At the same time, Gutierrez argues against thinking of people as having both a material or physical side and a spiritual side, and articulates that the whole man must be liberated, in every dimension, whether it be "economic liberation, social liberation, political liberation. liberation of the human being from all manner of

servitude, liberation from sin and communion with God as the ultimate basis of a human community of brothers and sisters."2

One of the most influential documents guidlng the liberation theologians~ the Puebla document, clearly argues for this integral liberation that Gutierrez has enunciated:

We affirm the need for conversion on the part of the whole Church to a preferential option for the poor, an option aimed at their integral liberation. 3 (emphasis mine)

The objection that liberation theologians~ in carrying out this integral liberation~ are in fact neglecting the spiritual dimension character of being human, is challenged by the Puebla document: "The objective of our preferential option for the poor is to proclaim Christ the Saviour."4

At the same time, a consideration of the vast majority of people in the world, who suffer from material poverty, causes us to realize how material poverty affects the entire nature of man:

(p)overty is the touchstone of so much else; poverty breeds crime. It is the foil of greed and hardness of heart. So the Christian life centres around the struggle against poverty •••• In many ghetto situations people are so physically down and out that they cannot even grasp the gospel of Salvation.5

While Herzog's assessment of the relationship of physical poverty to spiritual receptiveness runs the risk of a dualistic interpretation, we must agree with his argument that "the problem of missions in the future is largely a problem of tackling poverty."6 In keeping with the Puebla Document, we must close this part of the discussion with the realization that liberation must be concerned with the integral liberation of people which does not seek to divide them


into a spiritual and physical side. In contrast to this some critics of liberation theology insist on arguing that spiritual liberation is the first priority of the Church. This type of dualism is not a recent or unimportant phenomenon within the church.

A Preferential Option for the Rich

As the consequence of being influenced by a Greek philosophical dualism, the early Church quickly adopted a view which identified Scriptural references to the poor as referring to spiritual poverty. J. D. Gort, in his paper "Gospel for the Poor?" shows that throughout history whenever the church professed that the Gospel was for the poor, "what was usually meant was:

Gospel for the poor sinner"7 (his emphasis). Combined with a spiritualizing of references to poverty, the situation arose whereby the church stood on the side of the privileged and rich, a posture that clearly guided the Constantinian Church, which came to think of power and wealth as its perquisites.

Another part of this oppression of the materially poor by the religious materially rich, was the belief that:

God himself had divided huma~ity into barons and serfs, managers and labourers; some men were predestined to wealth, others to poverty •••• Any attempt to make adjustments in the existing state of affairs was perceived to be an attempt to meddle with a natural law as universal as the law of gravitation. 8

As Reverend John T. Pawlidowski notes, the Catholic church in Europe, and of course in many parts of the world, "had strong ties to the economic and political elites in many places,"9 and were thus at the forefront of ensuring a continuation of the "natural law" which sought to keep the rich in their elevated position at the expense of the poor. The Reformation did little to alleviate this situation.

Keversing the Option. The question now before us is whether the Universal Church, in order to atone for its past sins of identifying with the rich, must now focus its attention on the materially poor while excluding the wealthy from any future considerations.

Must we agree with the Chilean Archbishop Primate, Guillermo Blanco, who argued that in liberation theology "Christianity is reduced to a revolutionary class struggle •••• Christians are launched into a struggle for a Marxis t revolu tion"? 1 0 Agai ns t this, however, Miguez argues that the idea of class struggle is not a Marxist invention but an historical fact.

This (class struggle) is not Marx's discovery. Even Calvin, with keen realism, describes the economic and social realms, under the sway of sin, as a battlefield in which greed and self-seeking have destroyed an original community and justice and introduced exploitation, injustice, and disorder.II

In the midst of this "class struggle," however, the aim must not be"a new oppression, a simple inversion of the relations of power" but must evolve into the •. suppression of oppression."12 If our goal is to terminate oppression and seek the integral liberation of the materially poor, the question that now faces us is the means whereby this oppression must be alleviated and whether this "class struggle" only serves to ensure that the rich become identified as the enemy instead of a class also in need of integral liberation.

Violence vs. non-violence. Some who stand on the side of non-violence within countries where vast numbers of the people are oppressed--although they may see nothing wrong with war between nations--argue that as Christians, reconciliation must be the priority. ThiS is an argument which Paul Ricoeur refers to as an ideological screen which he identifies as "the ideology of conciliation at any

price."13 Miguez suggests that those Christians who stand for reconciliation are ignorant of the Scriptural meaning of reconciliation:

Reconciliation means in the Bible not the ignoring or explaining away of the contradiction but its effective removal •••• Reconciliation is not achieved by some sort of compromise between the new and the old but through the defeat of the old and the victory of the new age. The ideological appropriation of the Christian doctrine of reconciliation by the liberal capitalist system in order to conceal the brutal fact of class and imperialist exploitation and conflict is one--if not the--major heresy of our time.I4

Miguez then poses the question as to whether violence is compatible with "Christ's clear example and command of universal love and nonresistence" as we seek to defeat the oppressive structures in the old age.I5 His solution is for a non-violent end to oppression (although he does not totally rule out violence at some point) because "a victorious revolutionary violence runs the risk of simply substituting one form of oppression for the other •••• "16

At this point we must agree with Miguez's conclusion and add that in struggling against a rich and often oppressive class we must never overlook the fact that the rich are also in need of redemption.

Redemption for the rich. Despite its emphasis on a preferential option for the poor, the Puebla Document does not overlook the needs of evangelizing the rich:

In like manner the witness of a poor Church can evangelize the rich whose hearts are attached to wealth, thus converting and freeing them from this bondage and their own egoism.I7

Although theology

certain elements within the of liberation may appear and


even attempt to exclude the rich from integral liberation, the Catholic Church--to which most liberation theologians belong--has offically stated that the preferential option must not be understood as exclusive.18 In one of its most comprehensive treatments of the topic, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith stipulates:

The special option for the poor, far from being a sign of particularism or sectarianism, manifests the universality of the church's being and mission. This option excludes no one.19

Our references might suggest that this preferential option is the exclusive property of the Catholic Church; this is not so. The basic principle is also clearly enunciated in the Reformed tradition. For example, in a keynote address to the First Christian Social Congress in the Netherlands in 1891, Reformed scholar Dr. Abraham Kuyper declared: "When rich and poor stand opposed to each other, He (Jesus) never takes his place with the wealthier, but always stands with the poorer."20

Shaping the Future in the Light of God: Preference for the Poor

Making a Just History

In our considerations of God's concern for the poor and oppressed, we must ask ourselves what this means for' us within our particular historical aeon. As Hendrik Hart notes: "If we look at reality from the point of view of the future, then the future directs the present. Through anticipation, the future becomes a basis for the present direction of things."21

While God's concern for the poor and oppressed in history, past and present, can be plainly ascertained from Scripture, we must also be guided by future expectations which the Scriptures see as an eschatological fulfillment only to be fully realized at Christ's return. At the setting of


the present age and the dawning of the future age, "the dwelling of God (will be) with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away" (Rev. 21:3,4).

In that future day, God and his people who have been a refuge for the poor and needy will sit at a feast of the finest food, the best of wine and meat, for all people (Isa. 25:4,6). No longer will the hungry of North American cities or the slums of Central America and Asia do without the necessities of life. No longer will the deserts of Africa be a death chamber for millions, as water will gush forth in the wilderness while streams flow in the desert (Isa. 35:6). The prisons of El Salvador, Chile, South Africa and the Soviet Union will be opened and the prisoners will join in the feast at God's table (Isa. 51:14). The weeping prostitutes, drug addicts and the shunned native people will cry no more as God's arms encircle them (Isa. 65:19). Methodist Bishop William McElvaney puts it this way:

(W)e need to understand our history and to acknowledge it as it has more fully come to light. If we deny what was, the future will be a replay of the past. To discover a usable past we must accept the factual reality of the past and at the same time reject its features of oppression •••• This denunciation should amount to a commitment to help bring about a future that is radically different.22

Not only does God's "preferential option" for the poor in the past and present illustrate the need for God's people to become active in seeking an end to social evils. In addition, by examining the Scriptural view of the future when everything will be put under God so that he may be all in all, we see that we must work in the present towards the ideal God has placed before us.

Rev Models

The gaps among the approximately 80 percent poor, 10 to 15 percent middle class and the remaining rich are well known •••• Among the marginalized people in the bottom 50 percent or in some cases an intermediate fringe between the bottom 30 percent and the top 20 percent--the BECs (Base Ecclesial Communities) have thrived.23

Within Latin America and other Third World countries, new Church structures are evolving through which the Church is regaining its historic mission to and for the poor. These "new" structures, which are often forsaking or modifying the hierarchical model of institutionalized Christianity, are rediscovering the communal structure of the early Church. With more than three thousand million people in the world who have yet to hear the gospel, and with the majority of them being the poor,24 historical realities must cause us to consider the need for new Church structures which are more relevant to the situation of the poor. While the Latin American models have largely evolved out of an unique context, their basic structures are becoming increasingly germane in North American society where many of the poor have yet to see the truth of the good news because of an institutionalized Christianity which hides in buildings that often dwarf the poor's meagre housing.

With so many of the Western Church's membership living a middle class lifestyle, we must ask how Church structures as well as our own attitudes can be changed to articulate a preferential option for the poor, instead of presenting Christianity as a way to join a materialist middle class.

Challenging Materialism

Western Christians must first of all seriously question their support of an oppressive economic system. Considering that many Christians in the developed parts of the world, however, derive significant benefits from the

continuation of the capitalist system, such a task is a difficult though necessary undertaking.

One might ask whether two thousand years of history indicate that Christians have increasingly deposited their treasures on earth, thereby ensuring their active support of economic systems that have been clearly shown to exist in large part by exploiting the poor. Christians must also ask whether their accommodation with the capitalist economic system helps explain the seemingly small influence of today's Church. One need only contrast our influence with that of Jesus' ministry.

Jesus did not carry money or own any. He had no silver or gold, no cash income, no property, no stocks or shares, no current account, no savings account, no hedge against inflation, no tax havens, no financial reserves. He had nowhere to lay his head. He was less well off than the foxes or birds. He lived in poverty. But his impact on the world was enormous. He founded what was largely the original Church of the Poor, a fellowship of the oppressed, the exploited, the politically powerless, the deprived, the dispossessed. He commanded his first followers: "Do not carry any gold, silver, or copper money in your pockets" (Mt. 10:9, GAB). Today he has 1.5 billion followers who receive annual incomes totalling U.S. $6.5 trillion and who own two-thirds of the earth's entire resources. On this basis. global Christianity has become overwhelmingly the church of the Rich. To what extent are these people having any impact today?25

As the Church continues to accumulate wealth which is often utilized for its own well-being. any suggestion that Christians should dispose of what has become their first love will be met with various questions: "How are we to continue supporting our Christian ministries? Arenrt Christians also allowed to enjoy Godrs blessings?"


These and various other questions only serve to justify the continuation of an economic system which benefits Christians while oppressing millions.

One step towards a necessary critique of our Western economic system is for the Church to identify closely with the poor in order to protest against their "scandalous condition."

As Ricoeur says, you cannot really be with the poor unless you are struggling against poverty. Because of the solidarity--which must manifest itself in specific action, a style of life~ a break with one's social class--one can also help the poor and exploited to become aware of their exploitation and seek liberation from it. Christian poverty, an expression of love, is solidarity with the poor and is a protest against poverty. This is the concrete~ contemporary meaning of the witness of poverty. It is a poverty lived not for its own sake~ but rather as an authentic imitation of Christ; it is a poverty which means taking on the sinful condition of man to liberate him from sin and all its consequences.26

Starting Points

To suggest that Western middle class Christians should critique our economic system and actively identify with the poor, would lead to an open revolt within the Church. A preliminary first step would therefore be necessary to motivate Christians towards seeing the need of social change. Several relatively non-threatening first steps have been suggested by some of Canada's CatholiC bishops:

1. Christians must reread the Scriptures to hear in them God's call to justice.

2. Christians must listen to the victims of society.

3. Christians must speak out

against injustices.

4. Christians must analyze the causes of injustice and join others in the struggle to remove


these causes from society.27

De-institutionalizing The Church

A move towards implementing the bishops' last point can have a Significant effect on the restructuring of our institutionalized Church. In his book~ The Problem of Wineskins~ Howard Snyder presents a compelling case for breaking the church up into small groups of eight to twelve people which he feels is not only a more biblical model but also the "most effective structure for the communication of the gospel in modern seculurban soc iety."28 Snyder sees several advantages in these small group structures; 29 they are flexible, mobile, inclusive (i.e. they can be open to those who might never enter a more institutionalized setting), personal, can group by division and they require a minimum of professional leadership.

The East Harlem Protestant Parish in New York City, which combined the small group settings with a variety of social ministries to the poor within their area, is an early example of a church model which is still relevant. As George W. Weber notes; ftThe traditional forms of the churches we knew as children and young men in middle class America have little power or relevance in a community like East Harlem. ,,30

Unlike early monasteries~ small Christian communities are not an attempt to escape from the world but are a conscious effort to bring the poor of the world into contact with a living and relevant community which is attempting to identify with and meet their needs. While the structure of such communities may vary according to the needs of the particular area in which they are located, their success depends on a common goal of service to the poor and oppressed. The Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization~ in endorsing the creation of small Christian communities in which Christians live and share equally with others, sees these structures as the vehicle best suited for ministering to the poor in North America.

These communities function as a holistic redemptive presence among the poor, operate under indigenous leadership, demonstrate God's love, and invite men, women and children to repentance, faith and participation in God's Kingdom.31


The thread which dominates our study is that God has, and therefore the Church should have, a preferential option for the poor. Our study sees few problems with the emphasis by liberation theology on the poor, an emphasis which Scripture itself clearly makes. However, in justifying the preferential option for the poor, we must also ensure that Scripture is placed over all worldviews which interact with this controversial issue. Ultimately, though, the truth of Scripture must be borne out by action on behalf of and for the materially poor--while not excluding the materially rich--a move which sets us apart as the people of God, representatives of God, under the Lordship of Christ and empowered by the Holy Spirit.

We must seriously consider the Church structures which would most successfully ensure that the poor would be served by the people of God, and would show how the people of God can loosen their own identification with a socioeconomic system--often mirrored in their Church structures--that displays utter disregard for the poor.

If the Church is to be relevant in the face of increasing oppression of the poor. costly changes must be made not only to Church structures but to our definition of Christian discipleship. In calling for and living out a preferential option for the poor, Christians must be prepared to become victims themselves of those who use oppressive economic structures to define their very being.


1 Gustavo Gutier~ez, The Power of the

Poor in History (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1983) p. 131.

2 Ibid., p , 144.

3 John Eagleson and Philip Scharper (ed.) Puebla and Beyond (Maryknoll:

Orbis Books, 1979) p. 264. 4 Ibid., p. 266.

5 Frederick Herzog, Justice Church (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1980) ~p. 80, 81.

Ibid., p. 84.

7 :r:-D. Gort, "Gospel for the Poor?" in Zending 2R Weg Naar De Toekomst (Kampen: J.H. Kok, 1978) p. 88.

8 Ibid., p. 85.

9 David M. Byers (ed.), Justice in the Marketplace (Washington: United States Catholic Conference, 1985) p. 4.

10 Jose Miguez Bonino, Doing Theology in ~ Revolutionary Situation (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983) p. 106. 11 Ibid., p , 119. ", 12 Ibid., p. 107.,1". 13 Ibid., p. 120.

14 Ibid., p. 121.

15 Ibid., p. 121.

16 Ibid., p. 127.

17 Eagleson & Scharper, Puebla and Beyond, p. 266.

18 United States Catholic Conference, The Final Report of the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops, Rome, 1985 (Washington: United States Catholic Conference, 1986) p. 23.

19 The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, "Instruction on Christian Freedom and Liberation," Origins, Vol. 15, No. 44 (April 17, 1986)p. 23. 20 Gerald Vandezande, Christians in the Crisis (Toronto: Anglican Book Centre, 1983) p. 99.

21 Hendrik Hart, UnderstandinB Our World (Lanham: University Press of America, 1984) p. 265.

22 William K. McEnvaney, Good News is Bad News is Good News... (Maryknoll:

Orbis BookS, 1980) p. 48.

23 William Cook, "Base Ecclesial Communities," The Mennonite Quarterly Review, Vol-.-- LVIII (August 1984) p , 413.

24 Ibid., p. 423.

25 David Barrett, "Silver and Gold Have I None: Church of the Poor or Church of the Rich," International Bulletin of Missionary Research (October 1983) p. 146.

26 Gustavo Gutierrez, A Theology of


Liberation (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1985) pp. 300-1.

27 Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, Ethics and Economics, pp. 30- 31.

28 Howard A. Snyder~ The Problem of Wineskins (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1979) p. 139.

29 lbid.~ p. 140-3.

30 George W. Weber~ God's Colony in Man's World (New York: Abingdon, 1960) p. 23.

31 Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization, Christian Witness to the Urban Poor (Wheaton, 1980) pp. 16-1~

Religious Studies and the Crisis

of Modernity by Brian Walsh

The annual joint meeting of the American Academy of Religion (AAR) and the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) brings together over 2000 professors and graduate students in religious studies. Attending this joint meeting in Atlanta held November 22-25, 1986 was therefore an excellent occasion for me to feel the pulse of religious studies in North America. The breadth of religious studies as an academic discipline is so great, however, that even attendance at such a gathering can only afford one a sampling of the present situation. My reflections in this piece are limited to the American Academy of Religion.

My overriding sense of the present state of religious studies is that, while there is much creative scholarship occuring within the discipline, its most fundamental situation is one of crisis. Some scholars, such as the Canadian Donald Wiebe, would argue that this crisis is characterized by a "failure of nerve."l This failure of nerve can be discerned in a subtle, though noticeable, shift from a social scientific (and often positivistic) approach to the discipline to a more consciously value-laden and "confessional" approach. This "confessionalism" is a failure of nerve because it draws back from the implications of the social scientific foundations of the discipline and reintroduces "faith" perspectives into scholarship.

This shift, so the argument goes, threatens the academic integrity of the discipline and its legitimate place among the sciences of the university.

This is not, however, my own reading of the present situation. The real crisis in not that religious studies has deviated from the scientific prinCiples of modernity, but that it is lost in the sea of relativity that is the cultural inheritance of postmodernity. The crisis in religious studies is inextricably connected- to the crisis in modernity itself.

The crisis of modernity is, of course, multifaceted.2 Two dimensions of this crisis were especially apparent to me at the Atlanta meeting, namely, the feminist controversy and the question of truth and a cultural "centre." I will briefly discuss these in this order.

The Feminist Attitude

Coupled with the post-modern critique of the Renaissance/Enlightenment ideal of human domination and exploitation of nature (what Dooyeweerd called the freedom/nature, or personality/science ideal3) feminism argues convincingly that such a worldview is not only exploitive of nature, it is also fundamentally patriarchal and androcentric. A new vision of life, together

with a new theology, philosophy, sociology, ethics, aesthetics, etc., is necessary both for women to regain their sense of place and power in culture and for the culture as a whole to move beyond the dead-end of exploitive patriarchy. That such a vision is historically necessary, I have no doubt. The problem that I discerned at Atlanta, however, is that such a vision is, at present, being formulated by women and for women in essential independence of men, if not hostility toward men. The old division within the Academy between "evangelical" and "liberal" (in the broadest sense of the terms) has been blurred. But it has been replaced by a serious and alarming female/male dichotomy.

Of the 147 sessions that were held during the meeting some 15 were exclusively concerned with feminist issues. That may not appear to be overly significant. It is only 10%. But those sessions were organized in such a way that if one wished one could easily fill one's time at the conference by going to feminist sessions exclusively. Many women seemed to do this. This had two immediate consequences. First, the other 90% of the sessions were dramatically overloaded with male participants. This meant, of course, that in these sessions women's voices were seldom heard.4 The discussion could then go on as if the cultural and (spiritual) force of feminism did not exist. Second, at those feminist discussions (at least the ones I attended) a male voice was seldom heard and I felt seldom welcome. The Academy is split down sexual lines. The chasm between the two groups is so great that effective dialogue is simply not occuring.j Nor can it occur because the two groups seem to be operating with radically different modes of discourse. While such a situation may be historically understandable, and perhaps even necessary, it is, nonetheless, profo~ndly unsettling.

The Crisis of Modernity

The male/female dichotomy in the AAR could also be seen as a feature of what may be even a more profound di-

mension of the present crisis. This is my second observation. Daniel Bell has written that "the real problem of modernity is the problem of belief. To use an unfashionable term, it is a spiritual crisis, since the new anchorages have proved illusory and the old ones have become submerged."6 That crisis has been manifest in the academy by the increasing cacaphony of voices clammering for our attention. 7 This cacaphony and its cause in the loss of any intelligible spiritual centre in our culture, was the topic of Nathan A. Scott Jr.'s AAR presidential address.8 Traditionally this annual address takes stock of the state of the discipline in its cultural context. Scott told us that the word which most appropriately describes our age is "carnival." We live in a carnival age in which we are surrounded by numerous voices beckoning us to taste their product or play their game. Scott is recognized as the "dean" of the growing sub-discipline within religious studies of "Religion and "Literature." It was, therefore, from the field of literary criticism that he drew his examples. How do we hear~ evaluate and mediate between the claims offered in the plethora of literary critical perspectives? How can we hear and appropriate the voices of Derridean deconstructionism, Habermas ian neo-Marxism~ Gadamerian and Ricoeurian hermeneutics and feminist. structuralist and post-structuralist literary criticism?

Dialogue Replaces Truth

Perhaps the most fundamental question that Scott asked was whether there was any truth to be found in this carnival of voices. His answer was that if truth was capitalized then such "Truth" cannot be found. There is, said Scott, no Truth, only scattered truths. And in place of a Truth to which we must be subject he argued that we must be "obedient" to the imperative of "dialogue." It is through open dialogue that the scattered truths of these various voices can be brought into creative interchange. These voices play different language games and inhabit different


"worlds" of their own construction. This is inescapable. The task, then, is to open our worlds to the worlds of others. In this light I found it instructive to note that Scott did not refer, as I did earlier, to a cacaphony of voices, but a polyphony.

I will bring these reflections to a close with some comments on Scott's speech--recognising that this short account of it fails to do justice to either its breadth of scope or depth of insight. This spiritual centre of modernity has collapsed and with the collapse, the university as a prominent and leading institution in modern culture is thrown into disarray. We are left, as Scott rightly observed, with scattered truths and a plethora of voices bearing witness to alternative worlds (or worldviews). And we have noted that the contrast of male and female voices was especially evident at this conference. Yet even in the midst of this situation Scott enjoins us to obey the mandate of dialogue and to listen to the polyphony, not cacaphony of voices.9

polyphony or Cacaphony!

But how does Scott know these voices are polyphonic? And how does he know that dialogue is the only way to live in a world of scattered truths? Indeed, how does he know a scattered truth when he sees one? The only answer to these questions that I can surmise is that Scott is still hanging on to the liberal ideals that are now in crisis. The voices form a polyphony because, as desperate as the human condition may be, we all partake of the same human spirit, the same creativity. It is this commonality of our humanity that allows us to dialogue and to perceive scattered truths, even when we are living in different worlds with different criteria of truth. But is not this belief in polyphony and obedience to the mandate of dialogue also a particular world, a particular voice? What gives it any more verity than any other voice?

As a Christian I am not immune to the crises of my time. I too must attempt


to hear and, yes, dialogue with other voices. There is a cacaphony of voices inviting us to enter into alternative "worlds." But there is also only one world and it is in the light of that world that these "worlds" must be evaluated. Truths are, indeed, scattered and no one voice, not even a Christian voice, can ever claim to finally and conclusively speak the Truth.

But this does not mean that there is no such Truth. Truth is not, however, a reified concept, but a flesh and blood person. All truth is relational precisely because the ultimate Truth is personal. For each of us relation to this Truth is, I suggest, foundational for our personal and cultural healing, for·· going beyond androcentrism, for discerning scattered truths from scattered lies, and for grasping (in a provisional way) the unity of truth and the meaning of our one world.


1. Cf. the discussions between Donald Wiebe and Charles Davis in Studies in Religion/Sciences Religieuses 13, ~ (1984) and 15, 2 (1986).

2. Cf. Bob Goudzwaard, Capitalism and Progress: A Diagnosis of Western Society, trans. by Josina Van Nuis ·Zylstra (Toronto and Grand Rapids: Wedge and Eerdmans, 1979); Langdon Gilkey, Society and the Sacred: Toward ~ Theo.!.2u of Culture in Decline (New York:

Crossroad, 1981), ch. 1, 2, 6-8; and Brian Walsh and Richard Middleton, The Transforming Vision: Shaping ~ Christian Worldview (Downers Grove, Ill.:

InterVarsity Press, 1984), ch. 9, 10. 3. Cf. Roots of Western Culture: Pa~ Secular and Christian Options, trans. by J. Kraay and ed. by M. VanderVennen and B. Zylstra (Toronto:

Wedge, 1979), ch. 6, 7.

4. One welcome and notable exception (at least one that I experienced-undoubtedly there were more) was the contribution of Elisabeth Johnson of the Catholic University of America in a discussion of Wolfhart Pannenberg's theological anthropology. The discus-

sion would have been impoverished without her perceptive argument that Pannenberg's anthropology is thoroughly androcentric.

5. I understand that the situation within the SBL is somewhat different, with,more dialogue happening.

6. The Cultural Contradictions of CapitaIIsm (2nd edition, London: Heineman, 1979), p. 29.

7. Cf. Loren Wilkinson, "Lost in the Library of Babel: A Meditation on the State of Learning," Crux XXII, 1 (March 1986), pp. 20-26-.-

8. This address will be published in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Religion.

9. It should be added that Scott did

Book Notes

British Idealism in a Christian K.ey: A Review of The Magdalen Metaphysicals, Idealism and Orthodoxy at Oxford 1901- 1945 by James Patrick (Macon: Mercer University, 1985)

Reviewed by Nigel Douglas

The main thesis of this book is that in the work of four Idealist-influenced philosophers associated with Magdalen College, Oxford, we have a school of authentic Christian philosophy. James Patrick's claim raises some interesting questions about the relationship of Christianity and philosophy in the movement of British Idealism. In order to appreciate the importance of this argument we need to look briefly at the historical background to this much neglected philosophical tradition.


Idealism was a powerful force in late 19th and early 20th century Britain: influential not only in the academic sphere but in politics, social and educational reform and in the life and leadership of the Church of England. Primarily developed at Oxford under

present a blistering attack on one voice--that of deconstructionism. But deconstructionism's cardinal sin, as far as I could tell from Scott's speech, was not so much that it proposes an untrue or contradictory "world," but that it insists on monologue, not dialogue.

the influence of T. H. Green, it rapidly took root in the Scottish universities, and spread slowly through the English academic world. The major philosophers of the movement were F. H. Bradley, Bernard Bosanquet and Edward Caird.

At the basis of Idealist philosophy was a twofold purpose: first (as deeply influenced by English romanticism) to fight Victorian scientism--that is to oppose every mechanistic, naturalistic, materialist and reductionist philosophy drawn from the contemporary state of the natural sciences; second, to break down every dualism, and to re-unite every pluralism, and so present a holistic and unified picture of the world. Particularly it sought to overcome the dualism--which it saw arising from Kantian philosophy--between a phenomenal world, much as pictured by Newtonian science, and a transcendent realm of spiritual and moral meaning. Through this integration of spiritual and moral value with the physical realm, i~ sought to show that the world is not a great 'amoral' machine in which mind is alien and


homeless~ but a many layered organism whose ultimate nature is spiritual.

The relationship of this philosophy to Christianity was much debated. Some saw it as pointing the way to a considerable revision of Christianity--so much so that they developed virtually a new religion~ mainly of an evangelical fervour, earnestness, and desire for self-sacrifice, shorn of its dogmatic and historical basis in Christian revelation. Others saw it as a potential Christian metaphysic and apologetic, and sought to control its ultimately monistic and anti-supernaturalist tendencies by a dogmatic assertion of Christian orthodoxy.

Patrick's Magdalen Metaphysicals seeks to demonstrate the existence of a third group of Idealist-influenced thinkers for whom Idealism was neither a pathway to agnosticism, nor a convenient apologetic device. These Magdalen metaphysicals are J. A. Smith (1863-1939), who was for many years Waynflete Professor of Moral and Metaphysical Philosophy of Oxford~ R. G. Collingwood (1889-1943), who succeeded to Smith's chair in 1935, C. C. J. Webb (1865-1954), Oriel Professor of the Philosophy of the Christian Religion, and C. S. Lewis (1889-1963), for many years a Fellow of Magdalen College. Patrick's thesis is that Webb, Collingwood, Lewis, and to a lesser extent Smith,

••• did with Oxford idealism what Augustine had done with Plato and Aquinas with Aristotle, taking a current philosophy in which much was true and transforming it by bringing it into an integral and subordinate relation to revealed wisdom. (p. 169)

Patrick claims that theirs was not merely an attempt to synthesize Idealism and Christianity--they wanted to transfor. this philosophy and bring in into a subordinate relationship to Christianity: they "cons Ide red revelation an indispensable knowledge apart from which the philosophic enterprise would fail," they "could philosophize apart from revealed truth" (p. Ip9).


Yet, on the other hand, they were not merely ecclesiastical apologists--they were philosophers, they were "unwilling to sacrifice thought to any apologetic purpose ••• [they were} men who followed philosophic method rigourously" (pp. 168-69). Patrick is an unashamed supporter of his Magdalen metaphysicals, believing that a revival of interest in their philosophy will lead "to fruitful thought about the world, and to the reasonableness of the Christian intellectual patrimony" (p. 170).

He would; however, be the first to admit that there are difficulties with this thesis. For example, J. A. Smith was not what Patrick would term an "orthodox" Christian. Rather he was much more in the tradition of T. H. Green and the liberal strain of Idealism--believing that "nothing less than radical revision would render Christianity intelligible and convincing"-apparently neither Catholic nor English modernism of the period was sufficiently radical. Smith was, however, unquestionably Idealist in his philosophy. On the other hand C. S. Lewis was no doubt "orthodox" in his belief, but it is less clear that he was Idealist in such philosophy as he developed. Patrick's thesis is most plausible for Collingwood and Webb: certainly both were Idealist in their philosophy, but it is less clear whether they were, as Patrick likes to call them, 'orthodox' in their belief. For example, in Magdalen Metaphysicals Collingwood is characterised as a dogmatic Christian; and certainly in all his writings he characterised religion (by which he meant usually Christianity) as making knowledge claims, and making them dogmatically. Yet, as Patrick is well aware, the only theological movement with which he was associated was a modernist group centred around B. H. Streeter.

The facts are complicated, not sure they are entirely to Patrick's argument. He half aware of this:

and I am favourable himself is

Clearly this claim that the Magdalen metaphysicals and their

pupils were a distinctive and fruitful school of Christian wisdom can be countered in the case of Webb with the assertion that he was not really a dogmatic Christian. in the case of Smith with his rationalism, in the case of Lewis with the plea that he was not really a philosopher, and in the case of Collingwood with the observation that he had no zeal for religion ••• (p. 169)

Even the most generous estimate of this book would have to state that much more work needs to be done before Patrick's thesis is firmly established.

When we ask what it was that these philosophers produced to justify the claims that Patrick makes, we are given only hints and scraps of an answer. The main point seems to be that they opposed those forces in philosophy which were hostile to Christianity. Against positivism they maintained that religion was real knowledge, not just feeling and emotion. Against the older. more agnostic Idealists they upheld the distinctive and authoritative claims of Christianity. And against the general tendency to see religion as irrelevant to philosophy they asserted its centrality. Patrick does not explore in any depth. however, the Christian philosophy that his heroes produced. He spends much time exploring their biographical and historical background-which is not only helpful but, based as it is on original research into little known archival material, extremely valuable. But the reader is not introduced in any detail to their supposed Christian philosophy.

For those who have an interest in the later stages of Idealism or philosophy at Oxford in the early twentieth century, Patrick's study is most important for its use of little researched archival material. Much new light has been shed on the lives and works of such shadowy and enigmatic figures as Smith, Webb and Collingwood. Beyond that, this study is, at least in part, an attempt to revive enthusiasm in Idealist philosophy and especially that part which sought to philosophize in a manner consistent with Christian revelation.

My own feeling is that Idealism's opposition to scient ism and its concern for integration and holism may make it especially useful in bringing Christian healing to a broken, frag ... mented world under the sway of the idols of scientism and technologism~ Something of this concern is mediated sensitively in some of Collingwood's writings for example--particularly Speculum Mentis (1924). I am less convinced than Patrick that these Magdalen metaphysicals were a fruitful school of Christian thought; but, as a result of reading this study, I am more convinced than I was that their work is an attempt in that direction-and a useful resource for those of us who share that goal.


A Theologian in the Public Arena: A Review of Church and Society in the Late Twentieth Century: The Economic and political Task by Ronald H. Preston (SCM~ 1983). (The Scott Holland Lectures for 1983)

Reviewed by Doug Hynd

The fact that the material contained in this book was delivered as the Scott Holland lectures should give cause for reflection. The first Scott Holland lectures were given by R. H. Tawney in 1922 and were published as Religion and the Rise of Capitalism (1926). The high standard set by that noted economic historian hangs forbiddingly over the head of subsequent lecturers. Religion and the Rise of Capitalism has become a classic and the source of continuing controversy in the wider academic world. Yet relatively few theologians are likely to find it on their required reading lists in the course of their theological studies.

The contrary is likely to be true of Preston's lectures. Theologians may well take some notice, particularly if they are teaching Christian social ethics. But only a few economists are likely to have it brought to their attention. That alone tells us much about the state of Christian social reflection and critique.

This is an unfortunate situation for, though a theologian, Preston has read widely in the recent literature which attempts to deal with economic issues from a Christian perspective. He has produced a most helpful survey of this literature. Anyone without previous acquaintance with the current debates would be hard pressed to find a better introductory coverage of the trends in thought, some of the significant authors, and the issues that are at stake. The criticisms that I have to make need to be read in the light of that overall judgment.

In discussing this book I have chosen to give a chapter by chapter summary of the contents and follow each summary by some very brief evaluative or


critical comments.

Chapter one is entitled 'The Legacy of the Christian Socialist Movement in England.' Preston provides a sketch of this movement which covers leading figures as well as economic and theological themes. The later part of the chapter is devoted to a sympathetic critique of the movement. It is interesting to note that, apart from Tawney, most of those who receive an honorable mention in this chapter are theologians and parish priests rather than social scientists.

Chapter two offers an examination of basic economic problems. Preston uses his summary of the three main weaknesses of Christian socialist thought as a starting point.

First it shared too much of a pervasive Victorian optimism in the perfectibility of man. Marxism also shares this •••• The next defect has been the ecclesiastical, sectarian and clerical character of much of it, and this applies, as we shall see, to much social theology •••• Thirdly, there has been its weakness in grappling with fundamental economic problems which all societies have to solve, even though it was right to repudiate the overall philosphy of competitive individualism which was dominant in Victorian Britain. (p. 33)

He covers three issues: (1) The role of economics, (2) the origin and development of the market economy and (3) fundamental economic problems of market and communal economies.

There is material here that could be debated. It is doubtful, for example, whether economic analysis is value free even under the restrictive conditions which he sets out. However the summary of the isssues is clear and provides a helpful starting point for further discussion.

Though chapter 3 is entitled 'The New Radical Rightl it actually covers more ground than its title would suggest.

It provides an historical introduction to previous Christian contributions to political economy. preston's discussion of the 'new right' Is fair. At times he almost bends over backward to seek common ground with the protagonists. He does however raise critical questions and indeed devotes the last section of the chapter to the spirituality of the radical right. In the end it is a spirituality which he regards as 'radically' defective. It is probably at this point that he most clearly recognizes the 'religious' nature of social analysis and practice.

Chapter four is devoted to 'The Trend to the Left in Twentieth Century Social Theology.' It covers, inter alia, Scott Holland's social theology, Dutch neo-Calvinism and its social theology, the social theology of the World Council of Churches and the move to the left in Roman Catholic social theology.

Preston is relatively critical of the neo-calvinist contribution and is much more at ease with the wce tradition, to which, it should be noted, he has significantly contributed. Here a crucial problem emerges. The attempt of neo-calvinism to give organizational form to its critique within the 'secular' world, rather than within the 'ecclesiastical' realm, is in real contrast with the WCC approach which often does not appear to be sufficiently earthed in an institutional or social location outside the church.

Chapter five bears the interesting title of 'Problems of Prophecy.' It includes brief sections on prophecy in the Old and New Testament as well as longer sections on 'Prophecy and the. Church Today' and 'Prophecy and the Life of Faith.' The role of intermediate groups outside the church struc-

ture as a means of giving form to a Christian critique seems to be overlooked in the discussion. The individual and church-related institutions seem to be the only possible locations for the prophetic.

The final chapter, 'Politics, the Church and the Gospel in the Late Twentieth Century' includes discussion of the following issues: the necessity of politics, the gospel and advanced industrial societies, the challenge of these societies to theology: the role of the church in society. Much of the material is worthwhile. Let me note however some of the perspectives that are not included in the presentation.

There is no reference to the sustained and substantial social critique of Jacques Ellul. This is quite surprising. Accompanying this is a lack of a serious engagement with liberation theology and the ethical issues that it raises particularly in its Latin American context.

The Anabaptist social critique and practice as articulated most recently by John Howard Yoder is not dealt with except indirectly in Appendix 1.

Attached to the lecture is a useful bibliography and two appendices. Appendix 1 is brief: 'A Note on the Social Theology of Radical Christian Communities.' Appendix 2 is a substantial discussion of 'Middle Axioms in Christian Social Ethics.'


TELLJM; I1IE REXT GKRERATION: Educational Development in North American Calyinist Christian Schools by Harro w. Van Brummelen. Co-published by the Institute for Christian Studies and University Press of America, 318 pages, 1986. Available from ICS for $20.95 (Can) or $14.75 (US) plus $1.50 for mailing.

This book, a revision of a doctoral "d!ssertation~ sets' "out to do two

~~s~ First, it intends to shed new irg~~~.~he interaction of religion~ ethni~y and edur .: m as this came to unique express~~ In the North American Dutch Calvih~ <community. Second, it holds up a~m~rror to the Christian school movement rooted in Dutch Calvinism. Because the author considers himself to be a "Dutch Calvinist" he takes a great deal of interest in the future of these schools.

The book analyzes the educational thinking and practice that has characterized this Christian school movement for the past 150 years. The book begins with the Dutch educational situation prior to the first wave of

ANAKAINOSIS Managing Editor:

Robert E. VanderVennen

Associate Editors: Mark Roques and David Woods

Dutch immigrants to the U.S. around the 1850's. T,he Dutch influence with further waves to the U.S. around the turn of the century, and to Canada after World War II, also proved crucial to the schools' development.

Of special interest is the attention given to the struggle of the schools to maintain a religious and educational distinctiveness while at the same time being able to speak to people who are or want to be Americans. This dilemma is common to all immigrant groups worldwide who wish to maintain their religious or cultural distinctiveness. Van Brummelen's landmark study will be a basic reference source for many years to come.

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