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Volume 7, Issue 4: Ex Libris

Reviews

The Modern Fascism:
Liquidating the Judeo-Christian Worldview

Gene Edward Veith, Jr; St. Louis: Concordia, 1993

Reviewed by Douglas Wilson

I recently went to hear our congressman speak on her perception of the first hundred days of the Republican control of the House of Representatives. When I got there I saw a young man over by the wall with a sign that included the words, "Youth Against Fascism." So of course, I went over and stood by him. Before the talk began, I leaned over and asked him, "What is fascism?" He replied that fascism was when the government oppressed our rights. A little later, I asked him where our rights come from. He just stood there--it was obviously an entirely novel question. Fascism is bad because it takes away our rights, whatever they are. Before the event was over, it was clear that I was in a room full of fascists, all doing their darnedest to fight "fascism."

Gene Veith's book on fascism is the perfect antidote to this pandemic muddle. "Fascists are wicked. They, they . . . they goosestep!" Veith shows how this ignorance is both culpable and dangerous. We have recently celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the military victory over fascism, and we should continue to thank God for it. But any celebration of victory in the ideological battle against fascism would be premature. Again and again, Veith demonstrates how the ideological underpinnings of fascism surround us; they are a central part of modernity. The preconditions of fascism have not gone away. The list of players reads like a roster of very familiar names indeed--existentialism, deconstructionism, environmentalism, and theological liberalism. The pro-choice ethic is also very much an example of the fascist ethic, which emphasizes the primacy of the will.
At the core, fascism was a revolt against the transcendence of God--and as a corollary, fascists lashed out at anyone who reminded them of that transcendence. This is why they hated and attacked both Jews and confessional Christians. In place of this, the fascists wanted an immanent faith, tied to blood and soil, tied down.
A person well acquainted with many of these various issues will have the wonderful experience of watching Veith make them all intersect. For example, the connections between existentialism and fascism are close. In the existentialist ethic, there are no good or bad choices. The alternative is solely between authentic and inauthentic choices. The content of the choice is immaterial, and the opportunity for fascists should be obvious.
The great fascist experiments early in this century have proved to be a standing embarrassment to the modern humanist. And, as Veith shows, it looks like they are going to be embarrassed again.

Mars Hill Tapes
Ken Myers; Powhatan, VA; 800-331-6407

Reviewed by Douglas Jones

Rarely does something come along in contemporary evangelicalism that is truly remarkable, full of simple beauty and truth. Ken Myers' Mars Hill Tapes easily meets that description. For just over two years, Ken Myers has been hosting this bimonthly audio magazine designed to offer Christians a unique means of becoming better informed about modern culture. Each program is an enchanting piece of art in itself, a very carefully crafted and sophisticated blend of music and discussion and wit.

Ken Myers has the perfect voice and demeanor for such a project, and though for eight years he produced and edited programs for National Public Radio's Morning Edition and All Things Considered, he has gone far beyond their rather parochial limits. Leaving content aside, if we were just to compare the structure and attitude of these fine NPR programs with the Mars Hill Tapes, we could quickly recognize that the former programs entirely lack an appreciation for beauty and elegance that Myers captures so very well.
The program's stated purpose is to go beyond evangelicalism's confinement to evangelism and politics, to address "the influential middle ground that lies between religion and politics, the region in which moral commitments are most evident . . . That region is often labeled `culture.'" This brand of "journalistic apologetics" seeks to "maintain a defense of Christian truth that is culturally aware, that takes seriously the cultural climate of the day."
In pursuing these goals, Mars Hill Tapes has interviewed contemporary thinkers such as David Wells, Gene Edward Veith, Philip Johnson, Os Guinness, Marvin Olasky, Allan Carlson, Neil Postman, Larry Woiwode, and more. The program also includes regular commentators on literature, music, and cultural trends.
So what sort of discussions are typical? Take the recent January/February 1995 program as an example. It included discussions of Jung, advertising, vampires, news, Freud, the Myst computer game, the return of melody, and more, all the while wonderfully assuming a context of Christian truth. Each audio cassette includes a table of contents and bibliographical directions for pursuing the topics discussed.
The complete offerings of Mars Hill Audio go beyond the bimonthly tapes to include tapes of Myers' daily radio commentaries, extended discussions, and special reports. The bimonthly audio magazine itself is a $36 yearly subscription for six tapes. It's well worth it, though hopefully its frequency will increase as they grow and shame NPR off the air. Do order by calling (800) 331-6407 or writing: Mars Hill Tapes, P.O. Box 100, Powhatan, VA 23139.

Paradigms in Polity
David & Joseph Hall; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994

Reviewed by Douglas Wilson

The subtitle of this book is Classic Readings in Reformed and Presbyterian Church Government. For some, the reaction will perhaps not be one of unalloyed joy--"Oh, good! Six hundred pages on presbyterian church government! Somebody pinch me!"

Which only shows how little we know. Church government is right at the heart of whether the church is well connected to her Head, the Lord Jesus, or not. Many Christians are well aware of gross deficiencies in the modern evangelical church--our worship is trifling, our discipline is contemptible, our preaching is lethargic, and so on. What we frequently overlook is how a failure in church government stems from the sins of the leaders.
This book is an anthology of primary source documents and representative writings on these issues from the history of the church. Included are Knox's Book of Discipline, Melville's Second Book of Discipline, Rutherford's The Due Right of Presbyteries, the Westminster Assembly's Directory for Church Government, excerpts from Samuel Miller's The Ruling Elder, Charles Hodge's The Church and Its Polity, Dabney's Theories of the Eldership, and on and on. This book is a treasure; it belongs in every church library, and every pastor's study.
In Ecclesiastes, the preacher reminded us that there is nothing new under the sun. As modern elders and ministers struggle with various issues confronting their churches, it is extremely helpful for them to know that these trials did not begin afflicting the church when the Beatles first came to America. One of the favorite conceits of modernity is our belief that we are somehow unique. Consequently, the thinking goes, we must adapt and change with the times. But sinners have always been sinners, the gospel has always set forth their salvation, and the church has always had to testify against the same kind of problem--resistance to the Word of God. The heart of our problem is always that we want to be governed by the word of man.
As this volume so plainly shows, God has not left that option open to us. The church of Christ must be governed in the way the Bible requires, by the Word of Christ. Scripture does not give us suggestions for church government, but rather an authoritative word. Insensitive to our feelings, the Bible establishes a form of church government jure divino. In a day when fads and foolishness buffet the church constantly--from the house church movement to seeker-friendly variety hours--we need the wisdom found in this book.

Will My Children Go to Heaven?
Edward Gross; Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1995

Reviewed by Douglas Jones

Long-lasting revolutions are never violent or flashy. They are like yeast conquering dough--quiet, slow, and devastating. Godly parenting can overthrow empires without bending a reed--"the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world." Edward Gross's Will My Children Go to Heaven appears to be mild-mannered, but it is truly a revolutionary incendiary device whose arguments could greatly help resurrect Christian families and transform Christian culture.

The book's main point is to explain and revive the once dominant doctrine of covenantal succession, the view that God has promised salvation to the children of faithful Christian parents. Contrary to the popular view that the children of Christian parents have an ambiguous future, perhaps Christian, perhaps pagan, covenantal succession maintains that the normal course of Christian parenting is to produce and nurture godly offspring and that if the abnormal occurs--faithless children--then the parents bear central responsibility. In Gross's words:

"I will show from Scripture that parents can be sure that their children will be saved and go to heaven. Their assurance is based on God's faithfulness to perform the promises He has made to believing parents and their families. It also grows from their determination to do their part as they depend on His grace. These promises of God, then, are conditional--parents do have an important part to play in their fulfillment. Yet every fulfillment of a divine promise is itself a product of God's grace. Since Jesus' righteousness is the foundation of all our success, our parental responsibilities can be fulfilled only in the spirit of faith. And so, children are not saved because of their parents; they are saved by grace through the redemption of Jesus Christ."

Terrifyingly beautiful truths indeed, and Gross takes the reader very tenderly and soundly through the biblical teaching on this subject. He begins by carefully defining the doctrine, severing it from any mechanical, noncovenantal notions of salvation such as Rome's. His biblical data fills the middle section and an appendix. The bulk of the instruction is directed toward the duties of parents. There he focuses on parental instruction, discipline, example, and prayer, and offers special separate chapters focusing on fathers and mothers respectively.

Since these truths were more popular last century in orthodox Protestant circles, many of today's parents of older children have been cheated of such instruction, and many have failed in their duties. Gross devotes a chapter to encourage these parents as well. He closes with several important appendices, including his helpful responses to common objections.
The book is intended as a popular, pastoral, nontechnical treatment for parents. I'm aware of several other treatments of this topic in the works, but get this one first.

Surprised by Truth:
11 Converts Give the Biblical and Historical
Reasons for Becoming Catholic

Patrick Madrid, ed.; San Diego, CA: Basilica Press, 1995

Reviewed by Douglas Jones

The contemporary evangelical exodus to Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy will have a wonderful effect on the future of evangelicalism. Those evangelicals who remain will be forced to abandon their weak (dare I say it again) anabaptistic conceptions of the Church and sola scriptura to embrace classical Protestantism or "Reformed Catholicism," to use the phrase of the Puritan, William Perkins. So I sincerely hope more evangelicals will read arguments like those presented in Patrick Madrid's collection of conversion accounts, Surprised by Truth.

These eleven testimonies come predominately from self-professed, anti- Catholic evangelicals who were swept off their feet by the compelling biblical case they found for the Roman Catholic church. All except perhaps one were involved deeply with evangelicalism, and six of the eleven came from Reformed/Presbyterian backgrounds. Almost all of these persons noted their shock upon encountering a serious biblical case for Roman Catholicism free of Protestant distortions.
I only wish that they had devoted half their passion for researching Roman Catholicism to digging deeper into the historic case for classical Protestantism. That these converts could misunderstand something as central as sola scriptura is quite embarrassing, not so much to these converts, but to contemporary evangelicalism.
Two opposed notions of sola scriptura developed within Protestantism. The converts in this book reject, for good reason, one version, but thoroughly neglect the mainstream classical Protestant view (even the converts from Reformed backgrounds do this). The anabaptistic view of sola scriptura maintains that sola (only) is a "geographical" constraint--that Christian truth and authority can be found only within the pages of Scripture. This is an easily discreditable and popular notion, pervasive among these testimonies (pp. 30, 36, 38, 50, 62, 83, 118, 123, 138, 190, 208, 215, 250, 260). All the standard Catholic Answers/ Scott Hahn type of criticisms are directed at this notion as well. Also noteworthy is the anabaptistic view of Church history these converts held (even among those with Reformed backgrounds) in which the Church dropped off the face of the earth for a over a thousand years (pp. 30, 35, 66, 89, 120, 154, 187, 219, 248, 261).
In contrast, the classical Protestant view of Scripture maintains not that Scripture is the only location and authority for the truth, but that in post-revelational eras Scripture alone is the ultimate and infallible norm among genuine but subordinate authorities, the Church being most important among these. All the favorite Roman Catholic counterexamples to the anabaptistic view--oral revelation, apostolic tradition, New Testament canonization, etc.--are quite irrelevant to this classical notion. The Reformers weren't rebels like the anabaptists. They clearly recognized the dangers of the type of anabaptism that has overtaken American evangelicalism.
A proper understanding of sola scriptura avoids the illusion, as one Protestant has said, "that Scripture can reign in isolation--an illusion that avenges itself when this isolated Scripture is shackled either by unrecognized tradition on the one side or unbridled individualism on the other . . . Discharging its ministry, the church necessarily builds up a structure of agreed interpretation . . . Sola scriptura is true enough inasmuch as the Bible is the supreme court of appeal, but it does not remove or invalidate all other authorities.'' 1Though such a description will sound foreign to contemporary anabaptistic evangelicals like those in Surprised by Truth, this is pure classical Protestantism. I have yet to hear any contemporary critics address the view of the Reformers.
Even some of those seeking to revive classical Protestantism appear unaware of these rather important distinctions in sola scriptura. In the recent, widely-touted debate on sola scriptura between Roman Catholics and our Protestant allies from CURE (Christians United for Reformation), both sides in the debate assumed the anabaptistic notion of sola scriptura, completely ignoring the mainstream Reformation stand attested regularly in the classical Protestant creeds and in mountains of Protestant Scholastic writings. Both sides in that debate should be ashamed.

The Alphabet Effect
Robert K. Logan; New York: William Morrow & Co.,1986

Reviewed by Wes Callihan

Like Neil Postman, Robert Logan has fascinating insights into the role of information technology in culture. In this book, Logan discusses the impact of phonetic alphabets on civilization, concluding that they have stimulated the development of deductive logic, codified law, abstract science, etc. He argues that abstract science arose in the West, in spite of earlier technological sophistication in China, Egypt, and Mesoamerica, because pictographic writing (which they all used) discourages abstract scientific thought, while Western phonetic alphabets encourages it. He discusses the role of the printing press and computer on literacy, education, and culture. He asserts, fundamentally, that alphabetic literacy structures our thoughts about reality (in the direction of abstraction, logical analysis, and categorization) and, therefore, how we behave.

The book has serious flaws because Logan does not think biblically, nor does he always argue soundly, and causality is problematic. But he discusses well, and at length, the relation between literacy in ancient Israel and Judaism's word-orientation, and the relation between that and Reformation Christianity.
His essential argument is worth considering from a Christian perspective: how has God used language and literacy to shape cultures for His purposes? And how should we use it in terms of the cultural mandate and our mission in the world?

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