The Presbyterian Controversy: Fundamentalists, Modernists, and Moderates

The Presbyterian Controversy: Fundamentalists, Modernists, and Moderates, by Bradley J. Longfield.  New York: Oxford University Press, 1991.  Pb., 352 pp.  ISBN 0-19-508674-0. $30.

Editor's Note: This book review was written before the release of the recommendations from the PC(USA) Task Force on Peace, Unity and Purity.


Along with Jon Walton, I serve as the Co-Moderator of the Covenant Network of Presbyterians and was glad to be asked to recommend a book that might be instructive to members of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) as we awaited the full report and recommendations of the Task Force on Peace, Unity and Purity. I asked for suggestions from many friends and colleagues. One book got several mentions and so I ordered it and then wondered if I would stay awake as I read it.

When one is pondering "summer reading" possibilities, suffice it to say that the title, The Presbyterian Controversy: Fundamentalists, Modernists, and Moderates, would not seem to be the best choice to slip into your beach bag! That said, I thoroughly enjoyed--yes, enjoyed--reading this interestingly written and instructive book by Bradley J. Longfield. I believe that this book ought to be on every pastor's reading list and required reading for seminarians. It should be accessible to laypeople who seek to understand the Presbyterian Church's ways of debating important issues and trying to work through times of disagreement by a responsible use of our polity and understanding of our history.

The Gospel According to America: Reflections on a God-blessed, Christ-haunted Idea

by David Dark. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2005. ISBN 0664227694. Pb., 173 pp. $14.95.

The Gospel According to America is a winding path through the literature, film, and music of the American consciousness. It curves through theology and brings onto the stage of awareness figures ranging from Bayard Rustin to Dorothy Day, Fr. Daniel Berrigan, and Will Campbell. It is not an easy read for those unaccustomed to Melville, Hawthorne, and Pynchon--and far less easy for those who have never listened to Wilco, REM, or Dylan. Written in a style that at times leaves one considering the possibility that David Dark's marvelous offering was translated from the German (not so), the book is demanding; it is not a book for the beach. So why make the journey? Is the demand on the reader worthy?

Indeed it is. For Dark brings biblical insight--delivered in diverse cultural forms--to bear upon our history. He calls us to "stand firmly within the Jewish- Christian tradition and its teaching that evil doesn't come to us self-consciously, introducing itself and offering us a choice ("Join us in our evil"). It's more like a Faustian bargain, a narcissism in which we believe our fantasy to be the only real, unbiased version of events. We surround ourselves with voices that will affirm our fantasy and dismiss as treacherous (or evil) any witness that would call our innocence into question. (p. 76)

Reflections Over the Long Haul, A Memoir

by Robert McAfee Brown. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2005. $24.95. Hb. 305 pp. ISBN: 0664224040

Bob Brown didn't yield the floor until the Grim Reaper nudged him out. Son Peter: "When he quite literally was on his deathbed, a week before he drifted off, and still somewhat rational, I asked him how he was doing. ... I thought he would say something to the effect that all was well, that he was unafraid, that life had been good, that he was ready to move to meet God, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Jackie Robinson and all the others. Instead, he looked at me with great determination and said, 'Publish that book.' "


Red Eye

We've all been conditioned to fear the Saudi, the terrorist with the thick Middle Eastern accent and the half-crazed look in his eye. But what if we board a plane on a "red-eye" flight and the killer turns out to be a nice, slender, attractive, blue-eyed Anglo?

Wes Craven delivers a straight suspense movie, no tricks, nothing supernatural, not sci-fi. It's the story line that propels this movie, and the stars do a nice job of taking us all for the ride.

The People’s New Testament Commentary

by M. Eugene Boring and Fred Craddock. Westminster John Knox Press, 2004, Hardcover; 827 pages. ISBN: 0-664-22754-6, $39.95.

Here is a one-volume commentary on the New Testament with up to date information that is also very much in line with what Presbyterians believe. I am tempted to say, "This is the commentary for you;" because I firmly believe that every household should have one handy reference work that helps each person understand Scripture, and you would find this book to be exactly that.

From Christendom to World Christianity: A Review Essay

Andrew F. Walls, The Missionary Movement in Christian History: Studies in the Transmission of Faith. Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1996. 266 pages; and The Cross- Cultural Process in Christian History. Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2002. 284 pages.

An intriguing intramural debate is being waged today among members of the mission studies academy -- a debate about terminology. What is the best phrase to describe the result of revolutionary change in Christian demographics that occurred at the end of the 20th century? This change concerns the center of gravity of Christian adherents in the world. Mission demographers, David B. Barrett and Todd M. Johnson, document in their massive publication (The World Christian Encyclopedia, Oxford, 2001) that by the year 2000 there were more Christians in the southern and eastern hemispheres than in historic Christendom--Europe and North America. Philip Jenkins has highlighted this phenomenon in his work, The Next Christendom (Oxford, 2002), claiming that perhaps as many as two-thirds of the world's Christians will live outside the West by 2050. Shall we refer to this global Christian movement as "world Christianity" or "global Christianity"? By either name 21st century Christianity not only now is firmly established as a world-wide phenomenon but also has become predominantly a non-Western religion.

Whose Religion is Christianity? Christianity beyond the West

by Lamin Sanneh. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003. Pp. xii, 138. ISBN 0- 8028-2164-2. $12.

In the course of the 20th century, Christianity finally outgrew its long Western phase of development, underway since the time of Constantine. A world religion had emerged by the end of the modern era, an "ambi-cultural" network of Christian faith communities that will not be bound by past patterns of social, aesthetic, or even theological conformity. Lamin Sanneh, D. Willis James Professor of Missions and World Christianity at Yale Divinity School, is not concerned to establish these facts here. Instead, his burden is to explore the implications of Christianity's unfolding polycentric future, where the edges of greatest growth are to be found in places like China and sub-Saharan Africa, rather than in the old North Atlantic heartlands of 19th century Christendom.

The Elusive Spirit of Just War: A Review Essay


Books reviewed:

Jean Bethke Elshtain, Just War Against Terror: The Burden of American Power in a Violent World. New York: Basic Books, 2003. 250 pages.

Edward Leroy Long Jr., Facing Terrorism: Responding As Christians. Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 2004. 117 Pages.

Oliver O'Donovan, The Just War Revisited. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

The Dignity of Difference: How To Avoid The Clash of Civilizations


by Jonathan Sacks
(New York: Continuum, 2002 with four reprints; ISBN 0 8264 6850 0)


If you are concerned about the world, and wonder if there is any hope for the crises and complexities of our times, and if you care about faith and relationships around the globe, this is a book for you.

The year: 2020. Jonathan Sacks, philosopher and theologian, Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth (UK), paints two different pictures of how the world could be.

In one wonderful vision, the year 2020 brings the dawning of "a world of global prosperity and peace." Information technology and high-speed communication have doubled real incomes in the space of 20 years. The dangers of overpopulation have been removed. Genetically modified crops have made starvation a thing of the past. The latest in education curricula reach the most remote African villages via the Internet. Low-cost medical treatments have brought AIDS, TB and malaria under control. International agreements have put an end to the injustices and tensions, the inequity and exploitation that characterized the first years of the 21st century.