Here’s a list of books I have recently reviewed, linked to the reviews.
Jeffrey Kovac. Refusing War, Affirming Peace: A History of Civilian Public Service Camp #21 at Cascade Locks. Corvallis, OR: Oregon State University Press, 2009. Pp. 192.
During World War II, about 12,000 young men, in face of the military draft, availed themselves of the option to serve their country with “work of national importance” in non-military settings.
Part of the U.S. government’s purpose with what was known as the Civilian Public Service (CPS) program was to keep these conscientious objectors (COs) out of the public eye. The government largely succeeded—and in the years since the history of this program has not received much attention. Now that participants in the CPS program are passing from the scene, the living memory of the witness of World War II COs is fading fast.
However, those events had (and continue to have) importance beyond the small number of lives directly affected by them. So, this book by Jeffrey Kovac, the first in-depth study to focus on just one particular CPS camp, deserves our attention and appreciation. Kovac, an ethicist of science at the University of Tennessee, has a personal interest in this topic due to his own pacifist convictions and the role his CO father-in-law, Charles Davis, played in the story. His research is thorough, and he tells the tale in a clear, straightforward manner.
The camp whose story Kovac tells was operated by the Church of the Brethren and located east of Portland, Oregon, in the Columbia gorge near the small town of Cascade Locks. The main work that campers in this camp (“Camp No. 21”) performed was forestry work in the mountains south of Cascade Locks.
Kovac’s choice of this particular camp was a sound one. This camp endured for the entirety of the war and ended up being the scene for more than its share of drama. A key step early on that greatly contributed to the success of the camp was the choice of Brethren pastor Mark Schrock as the camp director. Kovac portrays Schrock as a crucial player in providing wise guidance for camp operations.
Kovac tells of several of the key events in the five-year history of the camp that gained outside attention. The most famous CPSer was the actor Lew Ayres—who for the first several months of the War was stationed at Camp No. 21. In facing the draft, Ayres had sought to serve as a non-combatant in the medical corps. The military would not guarantee such a position, so Ayres then successfully sought CO status and joined CPS. However, the publicity his situation gained helped persuade the government to change their policies. When Ayres was guaranteed a position in the medical corps, he left CPS and served as a non-combatant in the military. He remained close friends with Mark Schrock and always spoke favorably of his experience at Cascade Locks.
Camp No. 21 next made the news when a CPSer of Japanese extraction, George Yamada, was ordered to leave CPS and enter one of the concentration camps that had been established to imprison Japanese-Americans. Yamada, with strong support from his fellow campers, refused these orders. This actually turned out to be one of few direct acts of resistance to the relocation efforts, and ended somewhat successfully as Yamada was permitted to stay in CPS when he accepted transfer to a CPS camp away from the West Coast.
This controversy pitted Camp No. 21, including director Schrock, against the Selective Service—and exposed the ambiguous nature of the arrangement wherein the Peace Churches acted as agents of the warring government.
A third notable story that Kovac tells is of a confrontation between campers and the U.S. Forest Service when campers discerned that one of the projects the Forest Service was asking them to participate in would too directly contribute to the war effort. The campers stood strong and ended up being excused from the project.
Kovac also tells of an ambitious, and only partly realized, effort at education for campers, called the “School of Pacifist Living.” When the program began, Brethren leader, Dan West, agreed to help it start. While the school did cover some important ground, it was difficult to sustain. Participants were asked to invest at least eight hours a week to intense discussion plus significant time in study on top of their 51-hour workweek. West had to leave after the first segment of the school, and in time the program petered out.
Kovac, along with covering these various high points, also gives the reader a good sense of the challenges facing the program. Probably the most difficult challenge stemmed simply from the interminable nature of the service. CPSers were required to stay in CPS for the “duration of the war.” In time, most of them sought other assignments, especially more challenging and exotic possibilities such as working in mental hospitals and fighting forest fires. Towards the end of the War, director Schrock left to return to his home and the last year or so of the life of Camp No. 21 drug by, ending more with a whimper than a bang.
Refusing War, Affirming Peace is an interesting and important book. This close-grained look at the experience of World War II COs comes at an important time for present-day pacifists. As we lose the living connection with those who witnessed to the ways of peace, Kovac has given us a perceptive reminder of their motivations and experiences.
It is mostly an asset that the book focuses directly on the story of Camp No. 21. We do have a few other books that give us the broader picture of the CPS story—though most of these are long out of print and hard to find (the most thorough treatment is Mulford Q. Sibly and Philip E. Jacob, Conscription of Conscience [Cornell University Press, 1952]). We have nothing else quite like Kovac’s treatment; it would be great if this book could stimulate some other similar studies.
I did wish for a bit more information in a few cases. Several times Kovac gives us some tidbits about the future of some of the Camp No. 21 members (e.g., George Brown, who went on to serve 18 terms in the U.S. House of Representatives). However, after learning a great deal about camp director Mark Schrock’s background and effective time of service at Camp No. 21, we don’t learn about his post-CPS life.
We also don’t learn much about the actual forestry work the CPSers did as part of their service. Certainly, many (most?) campers found this work to be less than fully engaging and fulfilling, especially in comparison with their social transformative ideals. Nonetheless, they spent most of their time and energy out in the woods performing “work of national importance.” It would have been nice to learn a bit more about this work and what the CPSers did accomplish (or not) with it.
Jeffrey Kovac deserves our gratitude for completing this fascinating book, obviously a labor of love. We now have an accessible portrait of one particular example of life in service of vital and costly ideals. May it be widely read and serve as a stimulus for better understanding and applying those ideals.
Lawrence McK. Miller. Witness for Humanity: The Biography of Clarence E. Pickett. Pendle Hill Publications, 1999.
Clarence Pickett, who died in 1964, was a giant among the great humanitarians of the 20th century. For many years, Pickett served as the executive secretary of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC). He oversaw the AFSC’s wide-ranging efforts to meet human needs and witness for peace in some of the most turbulent and violent years of recent human history.
Pickett and the AFSC received the ultimate accolade when the AFSC was awared the Nobel Peace Prize in 1947, most especially for their work in saving millions of lives of post-World War II displaced persons.
This biography by Lawrence Miller, himself a longtime worker with the AFSC and other Quaker organizations, gives a comprehensive portrayal of the life of a man who helps us see just how important able and visionary administrators are for the concetizing of high ideals. He tells of Pickett’s lifelong profound commitment to the Quaker expression of Christian faith and commitment to minister to human needs and to witness for peace in a warring world.
Clarence Pickett, once he was able to leave his parents’ Kansas farm and attend college, moved on a fast track toward leadership. He served as a pastor in Friends’ congregations and spent time as a Bible professor at Earlham College. In 1929, when he was in his mid-40s, Pickett was chosen to head the AFSC. He stayed in that position until his retirement in 1950.
Several of the dramatic events recounted by Miller include Pickett’s involvement with Depression-era miners and mill workers, Pickett’s rather amazing and fruitful friendship with Eleanor Roosevelt, and the desperate and prescient work of Pickett and other Quaker leaders to raise awareness of and bring aid to besieged Jews and other minorities in Nazi Germany in the late 1930s.
This is an inspiring story—in a century of total war and rapacious ec0nomic forces, to see such a powerful witness for peace and human solidarity. Pickett’s story also fascinates in its combination of idealism and pragmatism.
Unfortunately, though this book was published ten years ago, it received little attention and is very difficult to find. Miller notes in the preface that he had a hard time finding a publisher, finally settling for the Quaker-run Pendle Hill, a publisher mostly of excellent pamphlets on peace and various other important themes, but with minimal distribution capabilities.
One reason for lack of interest on the part of publishers is probably the sense that Clarence Pickett is by now too obscure a figure to warrant the investment in a new biography. It also doesn’t help that the book is not written in a particularly engaging fashion. It doesn’t have much narrative force, ending up mainly as simply a cataloguing of one event in Pickett’s life following another.
However, Miller does tell an important story. Since we are not likely to get another biography of Pickett, we may be thankful that we do have this record. The writing may not be particularly dynamic, but the record is here—and the account Miller gives gets the point across. This book is recommended for all who would seek to understand more about important counter-currents to the 20th century’s tragic embrace of the myth of redemptive violence.
Craig Carter. The Politics of the Cross: The Theology and Social Ethics of John Howard Yoder. Brazos Press, 2001.
Reviewed by Ted Grimsrud
I think The Politics of the Cross: The Theology and Social Ethics of John Howard Yoder (Brazos Press, 2001) is quite a good book. Craig Carter reads Yoder sympathetically and appreciatively. As a big Yoder fan, I would unhesitatingly recommend this book to someone who wants better to understand Yoder. Maybe most importantly, Carter’s book furthers the cause of the gospel of peace. For that I am grateful.
However, I have to admit that some of what got my blood pumping the most in the book were points where I would want to challenge Carter’s argument. I will discuss a few of those points here.
(1) It was courageous of Carter, as an “outsider” to write chapter one, “Yoder and the Recovery of the Anabaptist Vision,” where he tries to situate Yoder in the context of twentieth-century Mennonite thought. This is a very important and necessary task, though. Yoder’s Mennonite context must be taken seriously if his thought is to be understood—and not enough attention is paid to this context by most Yoder interpreters.
I agree that this topic should be the first chapter, but, even though he has worked hard at understanding Mennonite theology, Carter’s treatment is problematic for at least two reasons that I see. I could nit-pick his threefold typology on page 48 (“Mennonite revisionists,” “peace witness advocates,” and “classically orthodox Mennonites”)—and, in fact, I do not think it’s particularly helpful.
However, more importantly, I would say (a) Carter does not ultimately take Yoder’s Mennonite context seriously enough. I think his attempt to link Yoder with Barth is wrong-headed (more about that below), as his focus on “classical, creedal Christology” (more about this below as well). One consequence of these two linkages is to minimize the fact that Yoder was from start to finish a Mennonite theologian.
And, I would say (b) Carter ignores Yoder’s most important Mennonite links. Much more than Barth, to understand Yoder one should read his Mennonite teacher Guy Hershberger (especially War, Peace, and Nonresistance and The Way of the Cross in Human Relations). I think Yoder’s two most important Mennonite students are J. Denny Weaver and Duane Friesen. Carter ignores Friesen and barely mentions Weaver—but these are the thinkers (much more than Stanley Hauerwas) who have applied Yoder’s thinking the best. Carter also fails to consider an almost exact contemporary of Yoder’s, Mennonite theologian C. Norman Kraus, whose extensive writings very much parallel Yoder’s. Especially in relation to issues of christology and Yoder’s relation to classical christology, Kraus’s work provides some crucial sense of perspective. Another important contemporary of Yoder’s who helps illustrate my point here, also ignored by Carter, is Dave Schroeder of Canadian Mennonite Bible College.
Attention to these Mennonite thinkers, none of whom was particularly influenced by Barth at all, would have made clear that in virtually every aspect of Yoder’s thought, he was not reflecting a perspective originating in Barth’s theology, but a perspective coming directly out of the Mennonite tradition. I point this out not due to my “Mennonite pride” (which is, popular mythology notwithstanding, not an oxymoron!), but because I think the full radicalness of Yoder’s program will not be appreciated if his roots are not given full credence.
Yoder challenges mainstream theology and ethics not as a kind of mutant individual who brought unique insights to bear on key issues, but as a particularly articulate and prominent member of a community of thought, of which thinkers such as Hershberger, Kraus, Weaver, Friesen, and Schroeder are also important members. I am sorry that Carter distorts this reality.
(2) Carter himself has drunk deeply from the Waters of Barth and then he turned to Yoder and was struck with the common themes. Plus, he learned that Yoder studied at Basel and seemed to have some personal connections with Barth. I am not unsympathetic with Carter’s claims about Barth’s importance to the world, though I remain to be convinced. Even as evinced with Carter’s discussion of Barth in this book, though, I find Barth’s ethical thrust simply to be too abstract and vague to be that important for peace theology.
I was struck throughout chapter two (“Yoder and the Theology of Karl Barth”), point by every single point, that all Carter was accomplishing was to show that Yoder and Barth had some parallel perspectives. The Yoder corpus is impressive in how little direct evidence there is of Barth’s influence as a shaper of Yoder’s thought. Carter milks the few times Yoder refers to Barth, but even those occasions are evidence more of Yoder using Barth to help illustrate a point Yoder has arrived at from non-Barthian sources.
For an audience that has Barth on a pedestal, it may increase people’s openness to Yoder’s work to argue for a close connection. For other audiences, this connection would provide a further basis for dismissing Yoder. As I will argue below, to label Yoder’s work as “Christocentric” in a Barthian sense would be a pretty effective way of deflecting the true radicality of Yoder’s theology.
I will cite one sentence from Carter’s book that I think helps make my point. He writes that like Yoder, “Barth also interprets the whole Bible from its center, which is for him Jesus Christ, that is the salvific work of God in Jesus Christ as broadly conceived by classical orthodoxy” (page 65). Assuming this is an accurate portrayal of Barth’s position, this actually emphasizes his difference with Yoder. One of Yoder’s main concerns was to challenge the doctrinal focus on Christ as Savior, seeing as central instead Jesus as Model. What matters for Yoder is the way of life Jesus followed, not orthodoxy’s “saving work of Christ.” That is why Yoder’s theological ethics are so extraordinarily concrete and specific, in contrast with the vagueness and abstractness of Barth. An interesting contrast can be seen in comparing Barth’s published sermons (e.g., Liberty to the Captives) with Yoder’s published “Bible lectures” (He Came Preaching Peace). I love Barth’s sermons, but if you’ve read one you’ve pretty much got his message down—and it is pretty ethically vague.
Carter writes on page 79 that “Yoder’s identification of doctrine and ethics as two sides of the same coin is simply the implementation of Barth’s method.” This statement amazed me. Denny Weaver’s Keeping Salvation Ethical has shown how deeply embedded this identification was even in late-19th Mennonite theology. I think most interpreters would say that the central theological distinctive of the 16th-century Anabaptist movement was its linking of theology and ethics. I would need to be convinced that Barth did indeed link these two as closely as Carter claims, but even if he did all that would explain is why Yoder might have been drawn to Barth. To imply that Yoder got this linking from Barth is a case of the problem of not taking Yoder’s Mennonite roots seriously enough.
(3) Carter’s argument that “Yoder’s radical social ethic is derived from a classically orthodox Christianity” (blurb on the book cover) is the element of his book that I would most want to challenge. Carter writes on page 93, “Yoder’s approach to social ethics is rooted in the classical, orthodox Christology that the ecumenical creeds affirm as the meaning of the Scriptures.” I believe that this statement is exactly backwards from what it should be.
To the extent that Yoder finds it useful rhetorically to express support for the creeds, he does so only insofar as they are subordinated to scripture. Yoder does not present the creeds as the interpretive key to Scripture. The interpretive key to scripture, for Jesus, is the way of life Jesus embodied. The creeds are useful for Yoder primarily in that he tries to use them rhetorically to argue for the normativeness of Jesus’ way of life. I learned from Yoder in his class, “Christology and Theological Method” (Spring 1981—this may have been the last time he taught this class at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary), to be suspicious of the creeds (though not to reject them or think of them as wrong) insofar as they tend to express a perspective on faith that increasingly distances the way of Jesus in their making abstract doctrine more and more central.
The issue for Yoder, as I understand it, is not, as Carter presents it, the centrality of “incarnation” as a doctrine about Christ the Savior, but rather the way of life that led to the conclusion that in this man God was present. That is, the focus for Yoder is on Jesus’ way, not on doctrines about Jesus.
I believe that Carter misses the way Yoder uses his affirmations of orthodox Christology. Mention of the creeds is rhetorical move by Yoder to make his point that Jesus’ way is True, the most authentic expression of God among human beings. But the priority is on this way of life, not on the creeds as “ontologically true.” In this sense, I actually think Mennonite theologian Jim Reimer reads Yoder more accurately (see pages 115ff. in Carter’s book) in seeing Yoder as not really meaning that the “gospel is ontologically true”—though, unlike Reimer, I happen to believe that Yoder was right in this view.
Near the end of chapter 4 (page 133), Carter admits that for Yoder “the authority of the creeds can never supersede the authority of the biblical texts themselves….However, to subordinate the authority of the creeds to that of Scripture is not necessarily to think the creeds are wrong.” I think this is about right—but seems to me to be much different than earlier claims Carter has made: “protecting, declaring, and unpacking the claims classical Christology is what Yoder is about” (page 17); “Yoder…shows how…Christological orthodoxy…contains the key to the survival and flourishing of the church’s witness to Jesus Christ” (page 23); “peace [is] at the heart of the biblical gospel as it is enshrined in the creeds” (page 49); “Yoder’s approach to social ethics is rooted in the classical, orthodox Christology that the ecumenical creeds affirm as the meaning of the Scriptures” (page 93).
I think here is where Carter’s attempt to see Yoder as a Barthian/Mennonite rather simply as a Mennonite has led him to distort Yoder’s theology. It is too bad Carter was not more attentive to thinkers such as Denny Weaver and Norman Kraus who, drinking from the same Mennonite waters as Yoder, have done significant work in trying to articulate a christology that places the priority on the way of Jesus as presented in the Gospels over the doctrinal, salvation-oriented christology of the creeds. I actually also think that Gordon Kaufman could be helpful here as well—not as an influence on Yoder but as an independent expression of a Mennonite-rooted christology.
(4) Finally, I found chapters six through eight to be terrific, especially chapter six (“The Heresy of Constantianism”). I think, though, the effectiveness of these three chapters actually supports my criticisms above. In these chapters were have pretty much “straight Yoder” without Carter trying to fit Yoder’s thought into the boxes of Barthianism and classical orthodoxy.
[This review was originally posted on the John Howard Yoder listserve in Fall, 2001. For a response from Craig Carter and extended dialogue from Fall, 2001, go here.]
Michael Bess. Choices Under Fire: Moral Dimensions of World War II. Knopf, 2006.
Reviewed by Ted Grimsrud
An extraordinarily strong cultural assumption most Americans hold—to a large extent across the political spectrum—is that World War II stands as one of the highest moral achievements in our entire history. It’s obvious that the patriotic Right affirms the “goodness” of the War, but strong similar feelings are held by those on the opposite side of the political spectrum, too (witness, for example, Leftist pundit Katha Pollitt’s scathing response to Nicholson Baker’s attempt to question the “goodness” of the War in his book, Human Smoke, in The Nation [April 21, 2008]).
One of the main virtues of Michael Bess’s Choices Under Fire: Moral Dimensions of World War II, is how Bess, a professor of history at Vanderbilt University, complexifies the easy assumption that World War II was mostly a morally unambiguous success story for American virtue.
While Bess pays respectful attention to pacifists who question the validity of all wars (see especially his highly sympathetic treatment of French pacifist pastor André Trocmé’s work to save Jews during the war years in chapter six), he is no pacifist himself. He even states that, of course, we have no reason to question whether this was ultimately a necessary and just war. And in the end, in fact, he treats even the use of the atomic bomb against Hiroshima, Japan, as a morally justifiable (if barely) act (he’s less positive about the dropping of the second bomb on Nagasaki).
However, the ultimate justifiability of the war does not release its participants nor those now seeking to take account of what happened from moral analysis. Bess works hard, and mostly with admirable success, at offering an objective moral analysis that scrutinizes “our side” as much as “their side.” So he criticizes the bombing of civilian populations by the Allies as a case of “moral slippage.” And in one of his more important, though frustratingly brief, chapters he examines the “moral awkwardness” of the Allies’ alliance with Stalin and totalitarian Soviet Russia. He also critically discusses the “victors’ justice” of the post-war war crimes’ trials.
I found the positive impression Bess’s careful analyses made on me lessening as the book continues, however. The first half of the book, showing the dynamics of racism shaping all sides of the conflict, the policies of the victorious World War I nations that surely played a major role in making Germany “safe for the Nazis,” American imperialism in the Far East, and the morally problematic war tactics the “good guys” used, indeed effectively challenges American mythology about the “goodness” of the “Good War.”
However, right in the middle of the book, Bess offers a curious chapter on the Battle of Midway that turns out simply to be a celebration of the bold American tactics that turned a likely defeat into a war-changing victory. Admirable and interesting as those tactics and their execution may be, it was unclear what the role of this particular story played in relation to Bess’s overall argument in the book—and Bess’s account here adds a note of triumphalism that actually seems to diminish the overall objective tone of the book.
It was with his thorough and thoughtful account of the dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan that Bess challenges my thinking the most. He raises important questions and makes a strong case for the complexity of the American decision to introduce the world to this most devastating of weapons. However, since he doesn’t convince me that this decision was not an unqualified moral disaster for this country, I ended up finishing this part of the book with a bad taste in my mouth. Any moral account of the War that leaves the door as open as Bess’s does to the moral legitimacy of nuclear weapons fails its most important test.
Bess, at the end of the day, seems to treat morality as a series of quandaries without any overarching anchor points. With his assumption that, of course, this was a necessary and just war, he ends up mostly making the case for the inevitability of “dirty hands.” He does give the reader a lot to appreciate in his treatment of the various elements of World War II—his rigor in raising moral questions marks this as a highly unusual work. And this distinctiveness is certainly commendable, even if in many ways I am left with the feeling that the fact that I am as impressed as I am with this book mostly reflects the utter failure of other historians and ethicists in our country to use stable moral criteria in their evaluation of the War.
Ultimately, though, Bess gives us only a little help in our struggle to counter the American version of the myth of redemptive violence that uses World War II as one of its paradigmatic cases of how violence does indeed defeat evil and make good win out. If indeed, as Bess helps us see at a number of places, the actual war that was fought from 1939 to 1945 did violate fundamental moral principles, perhaps we should allow those violations to push us to ask even more fundamental moral questions about World War II than Bess seems willing to ask.
Maybe the War was actually a moral failure—and as such more serves as a cautionary tale. Is it possible that even when there is a “good cause,” even when democratic and “Christian” nations take up the sword in “justifiable” resistance to tyranny, even then war corrupts absolutely?
Michael J. Gorman. Inhabiting the Cruciform God: Kenosis, Justification, and Theosis in Paul’s Narrative Soteriology. Eerdmans, 2009. 194 pages.
I really like this new book from Michael Gorman, a Methodist New Testament scholar teaching in a Roman Catholic seminary (the Ecumenical Institute of Theology at St. Mary’s Seminary and University in Baltimore). Gorman has been prolific in recent years writing on Paul; this book stands alone but is surely best understood when read in conjunction with others of Gorman’s books, especially Cruciformity: Paul’s Narrative Spirituality of the Cross (Eerdmans, 2001).
I am a bit put off by terms such as “cruciformity,” “spirituality,” and “theosis.” I’m not totally happy with Gorman’s choice to use these words. But the way he uses them and the meaning he gives to them make a lot of sense and are part of an extremely attractive theological reading of Paul.
Gorman writes with great clarity and economy. He’s a scholar well-versed in current Pauline scholarship and the broader theological world–but this book is quite accessible and would probably even work as a text for mid- and upper-level undergrads, and certainly for lower-level seminarians.
He sees Philippians 2 and its affirmation of the centrality of Jesus’ self-giving in its view of God’s involvement in the world as a key element “Paul’s master story.” And at the heart of this story we find a view of God that sees the best understanding of God being one wherein God is self-giving–not simply Jesus.
Along with seeing God as self-giving and vulnerable, Gorman argues strongly for an understanding of Christian faith where the believer identifies so closely with Jesus (and God) that it is most meaningful to think not so much in terms of belief or even following so much as participation, sharing life with–even to the point of sharing in Jesus’ crucifixion (hence, the term “cruciform”).
When we share in God’s self-giving, we share in the life of God– “theosis.” And this takes the form of self-giving love. Gorman’s understanding of God is determined in large part by his understanding of Jesus. And his understanding of Jesus centers on Jesus’ self-giving love described in Philippians 2 and manifested most fundamentally in Jesus’ way of life that led to his crucifixion.
While not as “political” in his reading of Paul as a scholar such as Neil Elliott (see Elliott’s insightful book The Arrogance of the Nations: Reading Romans in the Shadow of Empire), Gorman takes the social and political implications of Paul’s theology quite seriously (on this point I read Gorman’s approach as lining up closely with N.T. Wright’s, a scholar Gorman uses extensively).
The central “political” message Gorman sees in Paul is the message of nonviolence. His fourth chapter, “‘While We Were Enemies’: Paul, the Resurrection, and the End of Violence,” is a tour de force. Better than anyone I have read, Gorman helps us understand Paul’s own journey from sacred violence as a persecutor of Jesus’ followers to a powerful advocate of the way of peace.
Along with his forceful argument for Paul as a pacifist, Gorman helps us understand Paul’s integration of theology and practice more generally. Paul’s pacifism links inextricably with Paul’s affirmation of Jesus’ divinity–and with Paul’s portrayal of God’s own cruciformity (that is, God’s own nonviolence).
I really can’t recommend this book highly enough. It ranks right at the top of an ever-growing list of valuable books on Paul’s theology, especially notable for his clarity, accessibility, and (most of all) for its portrayal of a Paul whose life and thought link him intimately with the Jesus of the gospels and his message of peace.
My only hesitation with this book is Gorman’s use of key terms such as “cruciform” and “theosis.” Before reading this book (and his others) I would have more often associated these words with apolitical and even otherworldly piety and spirituality. Gorman goes a long way toward redeeming this language, but I still wonder if he makes his presentation a little too jargonish and insiderish and less accessible to those who don’t know these words. If one follows Gorman’s own use of his key terms, though, one will be left with a clear sense of a gospel that fully engages this world we live in, and engages it with a transformative message of peace.
William I. Hitchcock. The Bitter Road to Freedom: A New History of the Liberation of Europe. Free Press, 2008.
This is an interesting and significant book. Hitchcock, who teaches history at Temple University, tells an important story well. His agenda is mainly to complexify the way we Americans (and others) view World War II. He does not question the necessity of the war to defeat Germany, but he does question the simplistic character of the basic story we have been told about the nobility of this war.
For many of those “liberated” by this war–the citizens of Normandy, Belgium, and Holland; the populations of Eastern Europe; and most tragically Europe’s Jewish people–the “cure” of Allied conquest was nearly as devastating as the “disease” of German domination.
I learned a lot from Hitchcock’s account. Normandy, the scene of the great invasion of the Allies that signaled the final push into Germany from the west, faced extraordinary (and often inefficient and unnecessary) destruction from their supposed allies. For example, the city of Caen (population 60,000) was bombed to smithereens by the British, an attack that served no real strategic purpose. Holland, on the cusp of “liberation” in the late Fall of 1944, was deemed peripheral to the core priorities of the Allies and left to suffer through one more winter of starvation and disease at the cost of tens of thousands of lives.
I was aware of the unbelievable death and annihilation of Eastern Europe in the ruthless back and forth of the Germans and Russians. Hitchcock’s account, nonetheless, still left this reader shaken at the shear nihilism of that conflict.
The story of the fate of Europe’s Jews carries the most potent punch in this account. If anyone still imagined that this war was fought in order to “save the Jews,” reading what happened after the defeat of the Nazis will refute such a notion. Shockingly, we learn that for months, even years, after the end of the war Jewish survivors remained in prison-like camps under conditions not greatly improved from the death camps. Clearly, the Allies had given no thought to these victims of Nazi insanity.
Hitchcock ends the story in 1947, so we only get hints concerning the connection between Europe’s utter amorality concerning the treatment of Jewish people, Britain’s vain but devastating efforts to hold on to the remnants of their Empire in the Middle East, and today’s intractable conflicts in that part of the world.
As I mentioned above, Hitchcock does not mean to question the necessity of the War. He mainly seems to want to remind his readers that such a necessary effort nonetheless came at great cost. He hopes we can gain a more complex and less romantic perspective on the terrible cost so many paid on this “bitter road to freedom.”
As one less certain of the necessity for this War, I came away from this book with many percolating thoughts. For one thing, it seems clear that most if not all of the moral-high-ground type of justifications for this “last resort” of violence had little significance in the event of the actual war. Clearly, this war had nothing to do with saving or caring about the welfare of Europe’s Jewish people. It had little to do with protecting human life (see the destruction of Normandy and the lack of concern with the Dutch people). It had little to do with democracy and freedom (see the total abandonment of Eastern Europe to Stalin at the end of the War).
The War inevitably took on its own logic–which, paraphrasing the words of one American general, was to kill and kill until the enemy quits.
We must not minimize the evils of Nazism. Hitchcock powerfully reminds us of those. However, the basic issue this War raises–the basic issue humanity must resolve if we are to have a future–is how do we successfully resist evil without becoming evil ourselves. Hitchcock’s important book helps us see that “the Good War” only intensified this problem.
Johanna W. H. Van Wijk-Bos. Making Wise The Simple: The Torah In Christian Faith And Practice. Eerdmans, 2005.
Van Wijk-Bos, professor of Old Testament at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, has written a helpful and important, if somewhat frustrating, book on a Christian appropriation of Old Testament law.
I greatly appreciate Van Wijk-Bos’s sympathetic reading of Torah and her deep concern for faithful Christian living. She helps us better understand how from the start Torah was rooted in God’s healing mercy–not legalism and fearfulness. She writes as a Christian, but with high regard for the Jewish tradition. While the scholarship is deep and sound, the writing is accessible, clear, and generally engaging.
However, the book’s organization seems fragmented and the book doesn’t follow as coherent a flow of logic as might be desired. It’s impact is lessened by its scatteredness.
Overall, though, Making Wise the Simple makes a strong contribution on a vital theme.
G. K. Beale. We Become What We Worship: A Biblical Theology of Idolatry. InterVarsity Press, 2008.
I read this book because it is one of the few I know of that addresses what I see as a hugely important and interesting theme in the Bible–idolatry. While I like Beale’s basic argument, that we become like the things we give our highest loyalty to, I found the book quite a disappointment. I would not recommend it except for those with a strong research-kind of interest in biblical teaching on idolatry.
My main criticisms have to do with Beale’s very narrow sense of what idolatry is about–he minimizes the social dynamics of idolatry linked with nationalism, ethno-centrism, religious exclusivism, and various other ways idolatry and violence and injustice connect. He approaches the Bible with great reverence, but seems oblivious to many of the core elements of the Bible’s critical stance towards imperialistic social institutions and the role these institutions play in turning people and their religiosity against the true God.
Paul Redekop. Changing Paradigms: Punishment and Restorative Discipline. Herald Press, 2008.
I like the basic argument of this book very well. A Canadian Mennonite peace educator and practitioner has taken on a tremendously important topic: how do we respond to harm-doing without adding to the cycle of harm? And he states a clear point of view, that punishment (by definition a form of violence) is never appropriate. And he seeks to follow the logic of this point of view wherever it takes him–challenging the use of on corporal punishment on children, the use of retributive approaches to criminal justice, and the justification of international violence (i.e., warfare).
On the positive side, Redekop draws the insights of the restorative justice movement to articulate concrete alternatives to dealing with harm-doing in ways that do indeed promise to bring about genuine healing. His proposals may seem utopian, but they are based on actual human experience and are carefully thought through. Given the dead end road we are on with our dynamics of punishment and spirals of violence, he presents us with bases for hope that change may be possible.
I am delighted to see such a thoughtful and internally consistent presentation of this perspective. Though Redekop does not engage theology very seriously (and this is a problem), he frames his argument from within the Christian peace church tradition and its interpretation of the Bible. Sadly, Redekop’s Mennonite tradition with its generations long profound and lived-out opposition to state violence has nonetheless not been very self-aware about the damaging punitive practices toward its own children that have undermined its witness. Redekop alludes briefly to his own punishment-drenched up-bringing in a Mennonite family. And it’s great that he makes these connections–an exercise in self-awareness still pretty rare among the Mennonites I know and know of.
I do wish Redekop had been able to engage theology more deeply, but he at least gives theologians some impetus to test and expand his argument.
I do have one stronger criticism. I am sorry to say that I found the writing style to be uninspiring. The book has an exciting story to tell, but does not tell it in an engaging way. I had to plow on through most of the book. So my recommendation will be qualified. I fear people who are not already disposed to appreciate Redekop’s thinking here may find the book fairly tedious going and may lose patience. I hope not, though, because there is much wisdom and new thinking here.