You are on page 1of 12

OLD TESTAMENT THEOLOGY, vols.

1 the history of the discipline of Old Testa-


and 2, by Gerhard von Rad, with an in- ment theology, beginning with Johannes
troduction by Walter Brueggemann. Gabler, whose well-known lecture in 1787
Louisville: Westminster John Knox, resulted in freeing critical biblical scholar-
2001. Pp. 502; 496. $29.95 each (paper). ship from domination by dogmatic theol-
ogy. That scholarship in Germany resulted
I recall a conversation among graduate in “developmentalism,” tracing the growth
students and professors during a coffee of Israel’s religion from polytheism to
break at Union Seminary in Virginia in the monotheism, and in the “Documentary
mid-sixties. The subject was Old Testament Hypothesis” that sorted the Pentateuch into
theologies, and the rivalry between the the JEDP sources. But much nineteenth-
treatments of Walther Eichrodt and Ger- century scholarship was arid when it came
hard von Rad, whose second volume had to describing and appropriating the theo-
just appeared in English translation in 1965. logical claims of the text. Then along came
One of the professors reported that he had Karl Barth’s Romans commentary in 1919,
been at a pastoral conference where a young and the struggle with National Socialism in
professor named Walter Brueggemann had Germany. As a young pastor, von Rad was
been lecturing on an Old Testament theme. “formed and shaped by the force, vitality,
After the lecture, Brueggemann was asked and liveliness of the work of Barth” (xi), and
to list the ten most important recent books along with Walther Eichrodt, Barth’s col-
in Old Testament for pastors. “I need to league in Basel, soon began to lead the way
think about that overnight,” was Bruegge- in a recovery of the Old Testament for the
mann’s reply. The next morning he an- Christian church.
nounced that he would begin by giving the
Brueggemann identifies three features of
group his top-ten list. He stepped to the
von Rad’s emerging theological work that
board and wrote “Gerhard von Rad, Old
reflect Barth’s influence: (1) the primal
Testament Theology”—ten times.
mode of theological statement is narrative;
And now a new edition of von Rad’s
the “credos” of Deut 6:20-24, 26:5-6, and
Theology has appeared, with a 23-page
Josh 24:1-13 are at the heart of the Old Tes-
introduction by Walter Brueggemann.
tament; (2) this narrative is testimony, that
Brueggemann begins by declaring:
is, “active, out-loud, public utterance
It is clear that von Rad (1901-1971), whereby Israel makes its faith claim in an
long-time professor at the University of either/or mode of presentation that vigor-
Heidelberg, is the defining and preemi- ously counters other religious claims” (xv);
nent interpreter of the Christian Old Tes- (3) this testimony that is central to the Old
tament in the twentieth century, and that Testament is a counter-truth against the
this two-volume work is the most defini- claims of “Canaanite religion.” Bruegge-
tive publication in his long, prolific schol-
mann observes that von Rad’s polemic
arly career. Von Rad’s work occupies such
a dominant place in twentieth-century
against “Canaanite fertility religion” was “a
theological exposition that it is possible polemic against National Socialism with its
and useful to trace theological interpre- focus on ‘Blood and Soil’” (xiii). Bruegge-
tation in the twentieth century in terms mann believes that von Rad
of periods “pre-von Rad, von Rad, and
post-von Rad.” (ix) reports on that confession of ancient Is-
rael in a posture of his own confessional
Brueggemann continues with a review of readiness. The “confessing situation” of
98 Copyright © 2003 by Word & World, Luther Seminary, Saint Paul, Minnesota. All rights reserved.
Reviews

the Barmen Church in the 1930’s, when unfortunate that these more recent materials
von Rad wrote this essay, surely makes have not been included in this new English
such a confessing perspective inescapable edition.
for him. (xv, xvi) A symposium on von Rad and his work
Brueggemann declares that in volume was held in October, 2001, in Heidelberg.
one, The Theology of Israel’s Historical Tra- Among the papers presented there was a
ditions, von Rad “does the most to make a short biographical statement that begins:
fresh contribution to Old Testament theol- Gerhard von Rad is to be counted among
ogy and to establish himself as the premier the most meaningful and influential teach-
interpreter of his period” (xvii). Bruegge- ers of the Old Testament in the twentieth
mann refers to von Rad’s “amazing discus- century. “The lecture halls in Goettingen
sion of wisdom” in the last part of this and Heidelberg where he taught became
volume and points out how this finally de- places of pilgrimage....There was a magic
veloped into a complete book, Wisdom in that went out from his spoken and written
Israel (1970), “which functions almost as a words that touched many people” (R.
third volume to his theology” (xix) and Smend; my translation).
which pointed the direction that subse- James Limburg
quent Old Testament studies would take. Luther Seminary
While appreciative of much of the mate- St. Paul, Minnesota
rial in volume two, The Theology of Israel’s
Prophetic Traditions, it is in connection with READING BIBLICAL POETRY: AN IN-
this volume that Brueggemann has his ma- TRODUCTORY GUIDE, by J. P. Fokkel-
jor criticisms of von Rad. He finds here a man. Translated by I. Smit. Louisville:
“soft form” of supersessionism that “did John Knox Press, 2001. Pp. 243. $24.95
not acknowledge the existence of vibrant (paper).
contemporary Jewish faith communities”
(xxvi). Brueggemann quotes with approval In this volume, the companion to his
a statement about von Rad from Jon Leven- earlier Reading Biblical Narrative: An Intro-
son: ductory Guide (John Knox, 2000), J. P. Fok-
kelman, Professor of Classical Hebrew
Rather than flaying Judaism [as per Ei- Literature at the University of Leiden, takes
chrodt], he generally pretended that it did on the challenge of describing the art of He-
not exist. In fact, his theology was, to a
brew poetry. His goal is to introduce the
certain degree, implicitly predicated on
the disappearance of Old Testament tra- rules and literary conventions of the poetry
dition after the death of Jesus. (xxvi) (which comprises nearly a third of the He-
brew Bible) to those unfamiliar with biblical
Whether one has read von Rad or not, all Hebrew. Should readers learn to recognize
readers will find Brueggemann’s introduc- and apply the rules, he contends, “the texts
tion to these volumes an informed and in- become generally self-explanatory” (13).
valuable guide. This English edition reprints Fokkelman opens with the question of
the translation published in 1960 and 1965, definition. What is Hebrew poetry? Two
which was based on the German with revi- preliminary analyses of Isa 1:16-17 and 2
sions for the second German edition. But Sam 1:19-27 present the Hebrew poet as a
von Rad’s work in German has appeared in “master of proportions” who conveys com-
ten editions, through 1992, with major plex meanings through compact, measured
changes from the fourth German edition on- speech. Given that the poet’s raw material is
ward, including an expanded discussion of language, Fokkelman identifies some of the
apocalyptic and a concluding chapter at the distinctions between biblical Hebrew and
end of volume two, “Rückblick und English. He then assesses critically “the old
Ausblick” (Retrospect and Prospect). It is definition” of Hebrew poetry that consid-
99
Word & World 23/1 • Winter 2003

ered a poem to be determined largely by Fokkelman succeeds in offering a heuris-


meter and the parallel arrangement of tic method for interpreting Hebrew poetry.
verses. Instead, he argues, the Hebrew poem He rightly calls attention to the intricacies
is a “hierarchy of layers, each layer having its of form and meaning in a poem and articu-
own characteristics and rules and making lates a definition and model to reflect that
its own particular contribution to the over- complexity. He guides his readers along
all effect of the work of art on the reader” step-by-step, offering extended discussions
(30). He identifies these layers from small- and numerous examples. Particularly help-
est to largest as sounds, syllables, words, ful, in my estimation, are the “questions to
versets, verses, strophes, stanzas, sections, be asked of biblical poetry,” a list of eighteen
and the poem as a whole. Claiming that the questions arising from his model that he
Hebrew poet strives to perfect the form and considers important to ask when interpret-
expression of each layer, Fokkelman pro- ing a poem (208-209).
poses this definition of a Hebrew poem: “A At the same time, Fokkelman’s writing is
poem is a result of (on the one hand) an ar- quite dense for an introductory textbook.
tistic handling of language, style and struc- This is due, in part, to the inconsistency
ture, and (on the other hand) applying with which he defines the many technical
prescribed proportions to all levels of the terms he uses. He defines some terms in the
text, so that a controlled combination of text—though not necessarily the first time
language and number is created” (35). they occur—but does not include them in
Fokkelman devotes the rest of the book the glossary (e.g., verset, strophe, stanza,
to illustrating how this understanding of a meter, acrostic). He defines other terms in
Hebrew poem as a “well-constructed hier- the glossary only (e.g., caesura, metonymy).
archy” informs interpretation. He con- Some terms he defines in both places (e.g.,
structs a model of a poem from the verset to prosody, inclusio), while others he never
the stanza to demonstrate (a) the impor- clearly defines anywhere (e.g., radical criti-
tance of numbers (particularly two and cism). The result is that the reader has to
three) in the crafting of each layer, and (b) backtrack or read ahead to find definitions
that the verset, the verse, and the strophe are that are not provided in the glossary or in
the fundamental building blocks of a poem. the immediate context. A more compre-
He elaborates on the model in subsequent hensive glossary would have been helpful.
chapters by considering the smaller (verset, Fokkelman also tends to dismiss curtly
verse) and larger (strophe, stanza) layers in those interpreters whose analysis of a poem
more detail. Then, speaking to the poem as is different from his own. He contends, for
a whole, he explores how beginnings and example, that Job 10 “has so far not been cor-
endings are marked and repetition may rectly analyzed anywhere, but a sound struc-
function. Fokkelman applies the model to tural analysis will put the correct articulation
selected texts from the wisdom literature beyond doubt” (179); and, with regard to
(Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiastes) and the Prov 10:1-29:27, that “the average Old Testa-
Song of Songs. He also reflects on the role of ment scholar lacks the necessary theoretical
the reader. He urges rigorous and open- knowledge and analytical skill” to recognize
minded interpretation, without concern for its larger poetic structures (176). Such rheto-
the origins or historical particularities of the ric is not only unnecessary, but may promote
poem. As incentive for the reader to con- the misperception that there is only one cor-
tinue to “tackle these puzzles” (viii), Fok- rect way to analyze a poem.
kelman concludes with a list of strophe Walking his readers up the layers of a
divisions for all of the psalms and such Hebrew poem like a staircase, Fokkelman
other selected poems as Gen 49, Deut 32, makes an important contribution to the
and 2 Sam 22. There is also a glossary of study of Hebrew poetry. Many, whether
technical terms and a Scripture index. new to the task or experienced interpreters,
100
Word & World 23/1 • Winter 2003

will find that they reach the landing with a Still, many of us must admit to once hav-
fresh appreciation for the poets’ toolbox. ing heard—and affirmed—the question
However, as Fokkelman acknowledges, posed at ordination: “Will you therefore
what makes a poem art remains, always and preach and teach in accordance with Holy
predictably, beyond theory. Scriptures and these creeds and confes-
Christine Roy Yoder sions?” Further, we are distantly aware that
Columbia Theological Seminary the various constitutions of our church ac-
Decatur, Georgia cept the Augsburg Confession and “the
other confessional writings in the Book of
Concord, namely, the Apology of the Augs-
THE BOOK OF CONCORD: THE CON- burg Confession, the Smalkald Articles and
FESSIONS OF THE EVANGELICAL the Treatise, the Small Catechism, the Large
LUTHERAN CHURCH, ed. by Robert Catechism, and the Formula of Concord, as
Kolb and Timothy J. Wengert. Minnea- further valid interpretations of the faith of
polis: Fortress, 2000. Pp. xii + 774. $33.75 the Church.” Moreover, these constitutions
(cloth). go on to confess the Lutheran confessional
writings, along with the gospel and the ecu-
SOURCES AND CONTEXTS OF THE menical creeds, as “the power of God to cre-
BOOK OF CONCORD, ed. by Robert ate and sustain the Church for God’s
Kolb and James A. Nestingen. Minnea- mission in the world.”
polis: Fortress, 2001. Pp. xv + 277. $25.00 As an antidote to amnesia and as a guilt-
(paper). free way of refreshing our doctrinal mem-
Perhaps there should be something simi- ory while tapping our theological roots,
lar to the Surgeon General’s Warning many of us can read afresh The Book of Con-
printed on the spine of this new translation cord, prepared by a bevy of translators un-
of the Book of Concord. That caution might der the editorial leadership of Robert Kolb
read something like this: “WARNING: Read- from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis (Lu-
ing this book and inhaling its content may theran Church–Missouri Synod) and
lead to some serious discomfort with cur- Timothy Wengert at the Lutheran Theo-
rent religious practices as well as abiding logical Seminary at Philadelphia (the Evan-
dissatisfaction with one’s own under- gelical Lutheran Church in America).
examined life of faith.” That is, taking a Reading the confessions, like any physical
deep inhalation of these defining docu- or spiritual exercise, requires diligence,
ments may leave the reader gasping for time, and patience. It is not an easy fix, but
breath, painfully aware of the shallowness in the long run it can prove both beneficial
of much that passes for religious thought and satisfying. The conviction voiced in the
and practice in the church today. Preface to the Augsburg Confession in 1530
For many Lutheran pastors the confes- is still compelling more than 470 years later:
sions are something from the past, a body of “we offer and present a confession of our
literature that was once swiftly covered and pastors’ and preachers’ teachings as well as
subscribed to at the beginning of their min- of our faith, setting forth on the basis of the
istry. Thereafter, the Tappert edition of the divine Holy Scripture what and in what
Book of Concord, that redoubtable red book, manner they preach, teach, believe, and give
has likely languished on the shelf. One is instruction in our lands, principalities, do-
committed, after all, to pressing and practi- minions, cities, and territories” (32).
cal matters of ministry; and one tends to Since the Book of Concord saw itself in
look to many more fashionable, popular light of the creeds of the ancient church, it be-
guides to help in the doing. With so many gins with “The Three Chief Creeds or Confes-
facets of ministry to polish, it is no wonder sions of Faith in Christ Which Are with One
that Tappert gathers dust. Accord Used in the Churches.” Readers who
102
Word & World 23/1 • Winter 2003

are familiar with the 1959 edition of the Book (40-41). Affirming faith as a gift for human
of Concord, translated and edited by Theo- beings suggests a given platform from
dore Tappert, will notice the freshness of the which to ponder and proclaim the heart of
new edition at the outset. For one thing, the the confessions.
editors point out that the Augsburg Confes- Revisiting the confessions, though, is
sion generally follows the order of the Creed, more than a chance to appreciate the schol-
moving from God and creation to Christ, the arly skills of translators. It is an opportunity
Holy Spirit, and finally the church, sacraments, to relearn by reacquaintance and to rethink
and resurrection (19). Moreover, the title of issues that may have lain dormant for dec-
this section sets a certain ecumenical tone ades. Some of the recent accords that have
when compared to Tappert’s edition, which been reached with Roman Catholics, Epis-
reads: “The Three Chief Symbols or Creeds of copalians, and the Reformed take on a fresh
the Christian Faith which are Commonly Used luster (perhaps a challenging radiation as
in the Church.” well) when considered in the light of these
There are many features in the Kolb/ new translations. For instance, one might
Wengert edition that will prove helpful to want to read and then discuss with col-
the reader who perseveres. The editors note leagues such matters as repentance (Article
that over the past half-century English- XII). One cannot but be struck with how of-
language usage and style have changed, ten the issue of the terrified conscience and
scholarship on the history and language of the comfort of the gospel are iterated here
the Confessions has proliferated, and the and throughout the other confessional
training and preparation of Lutheran semi- writings as well. The matter of a just war (in
nary students has undergone transforma- Article XVI) is as much a concern now as in
tio n (viii). Thes e co ndition s h a ve the sixteenth century, and it is helpful to
stimulated the move toward more inclusive have an enframing insight.
translation, extended introductory materi- Of course, there are issues raised in the
als, and the rich body of footnotes (which confessions with which we may find some
have enriched and enlarged the basic text by difficulty and discomfort. Since we live in a
about 25 pages). different world, it may not be easy for us to
One example of the new approach can be press some confessional hot buttons such as
seen in the pivotal Article IV [Concerning the Pope as Antichrist (338), the dismissive
Justification] of the Augsburg Confession. attitude toward the Jews (440), the struggle
Tappert renders the translation from the with “Pharisaical and even Mohammedan”
Latin text this way: “Our churches also teach monastic vows (282), and the power of the
that men cannot be justified before God by bishops (94). The sheer length and diffi-
their own strength, merits, or works but are culty of the magisterial discussion on faith
freely justified for Christ’s sake through faith in the Apology (Article IV, pages 120-173)
when they believe that they are received into take much concentration and patience.
favor and that their sins are forgiven on ac- This article (and the entire Apology) was
count of Christ, who by his death made satis- translated by Charles Arand.
faction for our sins” (Tappert, 30). The new The discussion of justification may seem
translation of Article IV, in this case by Eric repetitious and hair-splitting to some. But
Gritsch, reads thus: “Likewise, they teach the extensive treatment of this doctrine
that human beings cannot be justified before demonstrates conclusively its centrality as a
God by their own powers, merits, or works. matter of life and death. Much of the discus-
But they are justified as a gift on account of sion in the sixteenth century was aimed at
Christ through faith when they believe that the arguments of opponents, sometimes (to
they are received into grace and that their us) in less than conciliatory language. How-
sins are forgiven on account of Christ, who ever, in response to those who then and now
by his death made satisfaction for our sins” look elsewhere for justification—to those
104
Word & World 23/1 • Winter 2003

who confuse law and gospel, to those who Contemporary Translation of Luther’s Small
think that all you need is love, to those who Catechism, Wengert does include illustra-
may yearn for a basis for spirituality—to tions, making it a valuable and visual hand-
such as these the voluminous discussion in book for ordinary pastors, preachers,
Article IV may prove eye opening. It may children, and heads of households. The
even help to reattach some dangling theo- Large Catechism, here translated by James
logical and homiletical moorings. “The Schaaf (deceased), is intended “for instruc-
proclamation of repentance, which accuses tion of the simple, often poorly trained
us, terrifies consciences with genuine and clergy in the basics of the faith” (377). Re-
serious terrors. In the midst of these, hearts reading the Large Catechism, contemporary
must once again receive consolation. This simple clergy may realize anew how this
happens when they believe the promise of work can assist in ethical discussions and de-
Christ, namely, that on his account we have cisions. Doing good to the neighbor (412),
the forgiveness of sins. This faith, which cleaning out the cesspool of all sorts of im-
arises and consoles in the midst of those morality and indecency among us (414), at-
fears, receives the forgiveness of sins, justi- tending to the detestable, shameless vice of
fies us, and makes alive. For this consolation backbiting or slander by which the devil rides
is a new and spiritual life. These things are us (421): these are some of the issues to
plain and clear” (130). which the Large Catechism justly and pro-
It is clear from rereading the confessions vocatively draws our attention.
that certain theological and practical mat- Some of the confessions are more argu-
ters were of great concern in the sixteenth mentative or convoluted. In the Smalkald
century. In addition to the matter of justifi- Articles (translated by William Russell) and
cation, robust attention was given to such the Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the
issues as ex opere operato, the real presence Pope (translated by Jane Strohl) the tem-
of Christ in the sacrament of holy commun- perature of the discussions rises well above
ion, the two natures of Christ, and monastic temperate. The strong language with re-
abuses. Some of these issues are still with us, spect to the pope (307) and the designation
of course, and the confessions continue to of Antichrist (338) are evidence of fires
provide markers for conversations today. past, leaving us with the challenge of find-
Other issues that are of our time, however, ing a new language for a new day. The For-
(like mission, leadership, spirituality, or mula of Concord, translated by Robert
worship wars) do not appear high above the Kolb, tries to be a more moderate, though
confessional horizon. But, as with Scrip- no less technical, document. Claiming it-
ture, we find ourselves having to develop a self “A THOROUGH, CLEAR, CORRECT, and Fi-
usable confessional hermeneutic. Such her- nal Repetition and Explanation of Certain
meneutic would not only expand the con- Articles of the Augsburg Confession on
versation within the Lutheran family and Which Controversy Has Arisen...” (486),
with ecumenical partners, but it would also this document attempts to set the doctrinal
keep us rooted to our singular tradition. record straight. Along the way the writers
Some of the confessions are more pacific and signers “have come to fundamental,
than others. The Small Catechism, newly clear agreement that we must steadfastly
translated by Timothy Wengert, is virtually maintain the distinction between unneces-
free of argument and full of helpful instruc- sary, useless quarrels and disputes that are
tion. In his footnotes Wengert informs the necessary” (530). That principle, valid in
reader that early printings of the catechism the late sixteenth century, is equally sound
were accompanied by woodcuts and refer- in the church today.
ences to the Bible. Unfortunately, this edi- There is a genre of television shows that
tion of the catechism in the Book of Concord purports to tell the background stories of
is without illustration. But, in his 1994 A popular movies and how they are made.
106
Reviews

These shows are really movies about the to others who are preparing for leadership
making of movies, and they give back- roles in the Lutheran church. Beyond this
ground information, display discarded audience entering ministry, though, these
out-takes, and discuss the first ideas behind volumes would be of inestimable value to
the final product. Anyone who enjoys this those who have been in ordained service
kind of entertainment will enjoy Kolb and and would like to get in touch with their
Nestingen’s book Sources and Contexts of theological and confessional roots.
the Book of Concord. This volume gives These works could be read as a kind of
some of the back story of the larger and offi- spiritual discipline during Lent. This re-
cial confessions. In fourteen separate docu- viewer took it on as an Advent project,
ments the reader is treated to rough drafts though it spread well into Epiphany. A re-
and first starts. tired colleague admitted that he and his wife
For example, two early attempts at draft- used the Book of Concord as a devotional
ing catechisms are included. One of them guide for a period of time. Perhaps clergy
contains a touching series of conversations study groups could make a covenant to read
between The Soul and God in Scripture. one or both of these books over the course
The argumentative Four Hundred Four Ar- of a year. Such study of the confessions
ticles of John Eck are reproduced. One sees would be enhanced by also using Günther
from Eck’s quotes (some not entirely accu- Gassmann and Scott Hendrix’s Fortress In-
rate) what spiked the arguments in the con- troduction to the Lutheran Confessions, pub-
fessions themselves. For example, Article lished in 1999.
355 (a quote attributed to Melanchthon) Some readers will be familiar with Rob-
states: “A bishop is not allowed to do any- ert Putnam’s writing in which he talks
thing else but to teach the Word of God. To about the value of social capital. Recently,
preach the Gospel thus properly belongs to Dan Bartlett, the White House communi-
a bishop....So if he does not teach, he is not a cations director, pointed to the value of po-
bishop.” Many of Eck’s other observations litical capital. “I think,” Bartlett has said in
are similarly prickly. the New York Times, “if you have capital you
This book may not be to everyone’s taste. must use it wisely—but use it.” The Lu-
But for those who would like to know the theran church, by the presence of the Book
inside story of the Leipzig Interim or the of Concord in its tradition, has immense
Saxon Visitation, the volume should prove theological capital. It has not always used
to be of some interest. Luther’s moving that capital wisely; sometimes it has not
1533 Torgau Sermon on Christ’s Descent used it at all. But if the proposed warning on
into Hell and the Resurrection is also in- the spine of the book is to be heeded, we are
cluded. This sermon not only figured in the obliged to take seriously that which we have
shaping of the Formula, but it also says some to offer in the larger theological conversa-
suggestive things about the value of art in de- tion. Preaching might also be enhanced;
picting doctrine. Along the way it makes a certainly it would be more faithful. Teach-
strong point about speaking simply about ing the faith confessionally and with integ-
those things God has revealed for us and not rity would surely have a positive effect on a
racking our brains about those things that church in mission. Figuring out the differ-
God has not seen fit to reveal. Simply put, if ence between the slick and the solid would
we believe that Christ died and was raised, be a bracing exercise in faithfulness.
says Luther, “[i]f we believe this, then we Finally, taking the confessions seriously
would live well and die well” (251). and developing a robust confessional herme-
Who should read (or reread) the Book of neutic would be capital well spent. In the end
Concord and its sourcebook? Obviously stu- it might honestly be said that those to whom
dents preparing for ordained ministry we speak “will find that we do not lurch from
should. It would also be of immense value one teaching to another, as our opponents
107
Word & World 23/1 • Winter 2003

falsely allege, but that we earnestly desire to torical theology at Oxford, has started a
be found faithful to the Augsburg Confes- more ambitious project with this new book.
sion (as it was originally presented) and to In a projected series of books, entitled A
its straightforward and intended Christian Scientific Theology, McGrath sets for him-
meaning. By God’s grace we shall persist self the goal of a serious and sustained inves-
steadfastly and firmly in this confession tigation of key issues in the relationship
against all adulterations of the truth that between theology and science. This series
have arisen” (Solid Declaration, 531). goes beyond introduction, seeking to make
Robert Brusic a substantial contribution to the literature.
Luther Seminary The first of three volumes, Nature, discusses
St. Paul, Minnesota the history, theology, and philosophy of the
concept of “nature” in both Western sci-
ence and Christian theology. Written in
A SCIENTIFIC THEOLOGY, vol. 1, NA- clear academic prose, and grounded in fine
scholarship and serious theological reflec-
TURE, by Alister McGrath. Grand Rap-
tion, McGrath has written what must be the
ids: Eerdmans, 2001. Pp. 325. $40.00
best volume on this topic in print from a
(cloth).
theological perspective.
Our Western culture is seeing a tremen- Despite what we might think, the term
dous revival of interest in the relationship “nature” is not a neutral one. Drawing upon
between natural science and spiritual issues. postmodern thought, McGrath argues co-
This revival usually goes under the title of gently that the concept of nature is a con-
“the dialogue between science and relig- tested and constructed cultural artifact. In
ion.” This renaissance of dialogue and dis- an excellent chapter on “The Construct of
cussion between disciplines too long Nature,” McGrath traces the history of this
divided is one sign of our so-called post- idea from Plato to modern science. His
modern culture. Science and technology are main point is that “nature” is an interpreted
no longer the purely positive priests of and socially mediated category, not a neu-
knowledge and truth: the dark side of tech- tral ontological term. Which concept shall
nology has come upon us with a vengeance. the Christian thinker accept and develop?
At the same time, philosophers and histori- McGrath argues for the concept of creation
ans of science have undermined the older as the basic Christian idea of nature.
claim of scientists to be purely logical and There follows an excellent chapter that
rational: science itself is based upon value sets forth a Christian doctrine of creation.
judgments and human factors. Develop- For the most part, McGrath follows the work
ments like these have opened up a space for of T. F. Torrance, the famous Scottish theo-
natural science to embrace religious and logian. Torrance is notoriously difficult to
spiritual questions. Major scientists are read (there is even a book called How to Read
writing about religion, and taking seriously T. F. Torrance [!]) and McGrath himself
issues of value and spirituality that would wrote an intellectual biography of Torrance
have been unthinkable in the 1950s. as an introduction. Several of the key themes
Alister McGrath, one of the most prolific of the work under review develop ideas that
theologians alive today, has already written Torrance has long defended. Even the terms
two introductions to the current science “scientific theology” are used in the sense
and religion discussion (Science & Religion: that Torrance developed.
An Introduction and The Foundations of By “scientific theology” Torrance and
Dialogue in Science and Religion, both pub- McGrath mean a theology that takes seri-
lished in 1999). Both of these make good in- ously the need to engage with and interpret
troductory books for those interested in this natural science. McGrath argues, “a positive
subject. Now McGrath, a professor of his- working relationship between Christian the-
108
Word & World 23/1 • Winter 2003

ology and the natural sciences is demanded ers would do well to reflect upon McGrath’s
by the Christian understanding of the na- defense of natural theology. In an impor-
ture of reality itself” (21). Therefore, some tant final section on “natural theology as
Christian theologians must engage contem- discourse in the public arena,” McGrath
porary science and its interpretation if the- rightly points out that learned non-
ology is to fulfill its vocation within the Christians will demand some Christian re-
mission of the church. In this vocation, sponse to the natural sciences and to the
McGrath defends the medieval notion that ever-popular scientific atheists of our day.
the sciences are ancillae theologiae, that is, To be true to its mission, the church must
“the handmaidens of theology.” contend in public for a Christian under-
A major contribution of this book is its standing of the natural order and of natural
defense of natural theology in a new key. If science, over against popular science authors
theology can and should engage natural sci- like Richard Dawkins who assume that sci-
ence, then natural theology will once again ence and religion are antithetical. For too
become an important topic for Christian long, the Lutheran church has ignored natu-
thought. Since the work of Karl Barth, natu- ral science (while accepting the human sci-
ral theology has been very much on the de- ences with open arms). Yet many people
fensive in the twentieth century. Much of the today, inside and outside of churches, still
critique of natural theology, however, has look to science and technology for meaning
been based upon an extreme separation of and salvation. Evangelical mission and con-
natural from revealed theology. Barth was fession in a scientific culture require the dis-
critical of natural theology as a substitute for cipline of a theology of nature, and perhaps
revelation, while in our time Alvin Plantinga even some work in natural theology.
has criticized natural theology because it as- Alan G. Padgett
sumes that belief in God is unreasonable Luther Seminary
without evidential proof. In Christian his- St. Paul, Minnesota
tory, Luther was also critical of reason and
natural theology when these were under-
stood as replacements for faith in Christ. GREED: ECONOMICS AND ETHICS IN
CONFLICT, by James M. Childs, Jr.
The final chapter of this book contains
Minneapolis: Fortress, 2000. Pp. 152.
an excellent response to criticism of this
$16.00 (paper).
sort, especially Barth’s. Following Calvin,
McGrath shows that natural theology can This brief study with the arresting title,
work together with faith and revelation, as Greed, is a manifesto to the church and to
long as it is not a substitute for faith, or seen whomever will listen in the wider community
as the rational foundation of faith. Both of business and government. The author,
Torrance and McGrath want to reject natu- professor of theology and ethics at Trinity Lu-
ral theology as understood by its critics. theran Seminary, Columbus, Ohio, is well
That is, McGrath is at pains to reject natural qualified to address the topic of business and
theology as a foundational resource for ethics. He has authored books and articles as
Christian faith, independent of Christ and well as taught ethics at the School of Business,
revelation. Instead, he argues for the impor- Capital University. What prompts him to
tance of “natural theology” understood as a write with such urgency are a number of dis-
Christian theological framework for the in- turbing issues in the economy that are dis-
terpretation of the natural world, and there- cussed in subsequent chapters.
fore also of natural science. A better name The basic Christian conviction that un-
for this approach might be “the theology of derlies his evaluation of economic life is this:
nature,” but under any name this kind of re- the Christian love ethic, with its commit-
flection is needed in today’s churches. ment to sharing and generosity, reflecting
Evangelical theologians and church lead- God’s love and generosity in Christ, works
110
Word & World 23/1 • Winter 2003

toward the building of caring communities, growing “economic apartheid” between


contrary to the prevailing ethic of greed. Each CEOs and employees. In response, Childs
of the nine chapters begins with general com- draws on Luther and others to shape a vi-
ments on the topic, followed by an ethical sion of more equitable sharing in which the
analysis of the problem (both Christian and key question is that of the good of the whole.
secular) and a concluding summary of Chris- The chapter on “Unshared Goods:
tian perspectives. A very useable “Questions Health Care in America” deals critically
for Discussion” ends each chapter. with two problems: the move to managed
The opening chapter, “Greed: A Charac- healthcare and the lack of universal cover-
ter for All Seasons,” surveys the contempo- age. Childs notes the good of managed care
rary scene that promotes the “commodi- but fears that corporate greed has placed
ficaton” of all of life. Two entrenched habits profits above patients (I noted nothing is
of our cultural mind-set need challenge: the said about excess in the medical profes-
prioritizing of individual freedom ahead of sion). On the need for universal healthcare,
the common good, and the belief that it is noted that forty-three million persons
wealth is always capable of expansion. The have no coverage, plus many are underin-
latter argues for infinite growth on a finite sured, in the richest nation on earth. Here
planet. In sharp counterpoint, our bibli- the moral conviction to universal care is re-
cal/theological tradition recognizes the lim- quired, undergirded by our Christian com-
its of finitude and the human sin that mitment to the poor and vulnerable. I found
creates greed and injustice. particularly apropos the need to question
Chapter two, “From Parable to Para- our preoccupation with prolonging life
digm,” seeks to develop a biblical paradigm rather than focusing on sustainability of our
over against the prevailing “soul of our cul- natural lifespan. A fine reflection on Chris-
ture.” While the triad of individualism, un- tian hope concludes this discussion.
limited growth, and control by the affluent The hotly debated topic of the global
governs our capitalist economy, an alterna- economy constitutes chapter five, “Un-
tive view is necessary. Here the author shared Goods: Hunger and the Global
draws creatively from the Lucan parables of Economy.” While its advocates argue that
reversal and other sources to propose a bib- this new economy will raise the standard of
lical paradigm in which sharing, that is, car- living for all, its critics see its cost to the en-
ing for the basic needs of all, is the goal. vironment, the workers, and the social fab-
Scripture places limits on individual free- ric. The author argues for a global ethic that
dom and recognizes the self-centeredness blends economic and humane goals, with
of our human nature. The paradigm of the community the prior good. On the mas-
sharing also means persons are to live in sive problem of increasing global hunger,
solidarity with those in greatest need. Childs draws effectively from Bread for the
The provocative chapter “The Business World publications. Hunger is rooted in
of Business is Avarice?” takes on two cur- poverty and poverty remains the global
rent ethical problems of corporate business: problem par excellence. “The evidence is
downsizing and excessive CEO compensa- overwhelming that improving health and
tion. Both occur at the expense of other education among poor people, with a par-
stakeholders, the employees, and their ticular emphasis on gender equality and
communities. While there may be some le- improved female literacy, contributes enor-
gitimate reasons for downsizing, the author mously to economic growth and poverty re-
argues, “layoffs not driven by the tragic ne- duction” (68). Our recent stay in South
cessity of...survival are morally wrong” Africa only confirmed the reality that pov-
(44). With regard to CEO compensation, in erty lies at the core of what plagues our
1999 top executives earned more than 419 globe, including AIDS.
times the average of workers. The result is a In chapter six, “Toward a Sharing Soci-
112
Word & World 23/1 • Winter 2003

ety,” Childs develops his biblical vision of a between the rich and the poor. Maybe capi-
sharing society “amid the out-of-whack re- talism and the global economy are not the
alities of this world” (79). This vision re- answer for two-thirds of the world! Still,
quires a willingness to face our limits, a this book is a must for Christians and others
renewed emphasis on the community, and to read and study. Use it with profit in adult
more equitable local and global standards. class or business meetings.
Especially intriguing is the proposal to sub- Walter E. Pilgrim
stitute the present GPA with an Index of Pacific Lutheran University
Sustainable Economic Welfare. In this vi- Tacoma, Washington
sion of a sharing society, Christians act like
leaven to create a more just economy.
Chapter seven, “Stakeholder Capitalism: AUTHENTIC SPIRITUALITY: MOVING
A Case Study in Sharing,” is a bold argu- BEYOND MERE RELIGION, by Barry
ment for a new understanding of business L. Callen. Grand Rapids: Baker Aca-
within our society. The current theory and demic, 2001. Pp. 271. $18.99 (paper).
practice promotes “shareholder capitalism,” From the outset, Barry Callen defines his
in which the stockholders and top manage- goal for writing this work as assisting
ment control the wealth and power, with “Christian believers” who have a “desire to
profit the bottom line. Against this, “stake- better understand and pursue the Christian
holder capitalism” insists that business needs spiritual life” (11). He certainly achieves his
to consider all the parties involved in their goal of providing a resource on Christian
activities, with employees and the commu- spirituality that is both comprehensive and
nity equal partners. The vision here again is accessible to those who “have no extensive
that of a sharing society in which the good of knowledge of theology or church history”
the neighbor takes precedence and compa- (11). The book lends itself easily to “per-
nies serve people, not merely profit. Again, sonal and devotional levels of study” for in-
one finds this proposal powerfully appealing dividuals, but I would also recommend it
but one only hopes its argument gets heard for adult education forums. Each chapter
amid the cacophony of “shareholder-only” concludes with questions for reflection that
decisions so rampant today. guide the reader’s study, though other ques-
The final two chapters are moving invita- tions certainly arise as one works through
tions to teach and practice the biblical and the material. The notes are helpful yet un-
Christ-centered vision of neighbor-love and obtrusive since they follow the glossary of
community sharing (“Teach Your Children key terms at the end of the work. In addi-
Well” and “A Question of Calling”). tion, there are practical select bibliogra-
In its modest yet balanced way this study phies and indices that can serve as further
joins a growing chorus of voices urging our guides for the enthusiastic reader who de-
government and businesses to rethink sires to continue studying, but Callen is
much of their beliefs and actions. The wel- emphatic throughout the work that “ad-
fare of the common good and the vision of vancing in spiritual maturity requires being
a local and global community of sharing committed to a journey with the Spirit of
are the heart of the ethical challenge. After God as opposed to engaging in an academic
ENRON and the growing list of company exercise” (11). This is not, however, a
downsizings, there may be a new opportu- “how-to” book for those wanting to embark
nity to rethink “shareholder” capitalism on a journey with the Spirit of God. Never-
and other topics. I found the author too theless, the final chapter does provide some
gentle on “capitalism” and its adverse ef- suggestions for Christian practices that will
fects in our nation and globe. Living in advance spiritual maturity.
South Africa, Namibia, and the mid-East is Callen uses the first chapter to define his
not easy when one sees the horrendous gap terms. So how does he understand “authen-
114
Word & World 23/1 • Winter 2003

tic spirituality”? “Authentic Christian spiri- constructively critical. His own preference
tuality” is for the holiness tradition is evident in his
suspicion of “mere religion” as a Christian
a consciously chosen relationship to God,
religion that speculates about “abstract re-
in Jesus Christ, through the indwelling of
the Spirit, in the context of the commu- ligious concepts” while it minimizes the
nity of other believers. Theologically role of divine revelation and personal expe-
speaking, being spiritual in the distinctly rience (80, 123, 133). Callen’s preference
Christian way is explicitly trinitarian, for his own tradition does not undermine
christological, and ecclesial (the fullness the positive value of the book; in fact, he is-
of God seen in Christ and realized to- sues a challenge to all Christian congrega-
gether in the whole church). (30) tions as follows: “The goal of any Christian
The Christian believer who is on a jour- congregation should not first be concerned
ney with the Spirit of God, then, is on a “bib- about being relevant, growing, or success-
lically informed quest for holiness” that ful. The central goal is to be alive in God’s
emphasizes the priority of Christian com- Spirit” (120). He is equally critical of what
munity (31-32). Callen continues by outlin- he sees as a “currently popular search to be
ing five types of spirituality based upon freed ‘to be me’” movement that all too of-
Geoffrey Wainwright’s work that employs ten passes for Christian spirituality (159).
H. Richard Niebuhr’s five “Christ-relating- Callen acknowledges that he comes from
to-culture types” (see Geoffrey Wainwright, a Wesleyan/Holiness tradition and while
“Types of Spirituality,” in The Study of Spiri- his preferences are evident throughout his
tuality, ed. Cheslyn Jones, Geoffrey Wain- book, he does strive (successfully, I might
wright, and Edward Yarnold [New York: add) to reach an ecumenical reading audi-
Oxford University Press, 1986] 592-605). ence. At times I found myself being chal-
The “Christ of culture” and “Christ above lenged by Callen (in a positive manner) to
culture” types of spirituality are viewed as evaluate my own Lutheran biases with re-
deficient polar opposites, while the remain- gard to the pursuit of the Christian life.
ing three types receive approximately equal Statements like “[g]rowth in the life of faith
treatment. The first chapter concludes with is more likely when deliberate attention is
insights for spirituality that can be gleaned given to spiritual traditions not previously
from marking time according to the church considered, not natural to one’s personality
or liturgical year, but as one progresses type, or not often appreciated by one’s de-
through the book, one learns that Callen nominational environment” were thought
truncates the church year to three major sea- provoking (65). While I did not always con-
sons (i.e., Advent, Easter, and Pentecost). cur with Callen’s theological conclusions
The heart of the book (chapters 2-7) is (e.g., his claim that the Holiness tradition
devoted to the presentation of six major tra- offers a “better answer” when it comes to a
ditions of Christian spirituality, including Christian understanding of sin), I did ap-
what Callen identifies as the evangelical, preciate the breadth of his study (148). In
contemplative, charismatic, holiness, in- light of increasing interest in issues of spiri-
carnational, and social justice traditions. He tual formation, especially in seminary
draws correspondences between these tra- communities, Callen’s work is a welcome
ditions, the church year, and the Apostle’s addition which both goes “beyond mere re-
Creed by reaping insights from biblical, his- ligion” and the “individualistic assump-
torical, and theological resources. Contem- tions many Christians now bring to their
porary authors such as Henri Nouwen, spirituality” (116).
Richard Foster, and Barbara Brown Taylor
are also cited as Callen attempts to cull the Carol L. Schnabl Schweitzer
best of each spiritual tradition presented in Union-PSCE
a manner that is both respectful as well as Richmond, Virginia
116