A Look at Books

THE LIFE OF MARY BAKER G. EDDY AND THE HISTORY OF CHRISTIAN SCIENCE, by Georgine Milmine. Edited by Willa Sibert Cather and Introduction by Stewart Hudson. Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan. 1971, pp. 495, $5.95. Reviewed by Rev. Jerome Julien, pastor of the Faith Christian Reformed Church of Grand Rapids, Michigan.

After reading this informative and interesting reprint this reviewer can readily understand why it may be that the first edition published in 1909 was bought up by Christian Scientists as soon as it was in circulation. No doubt anyone loyal to Mrs. Eddy would find it to be a repulsive piece of work. Frankly, it is hard to see how a woman who did such wicked and cruel things and who was so controlled by hatred and fear became the leader of as large an influential movement as Christian Science. I am sure this book can be charged with being unfair to a great leader. Nevertheless, it is an expose that is worth reading.

Baker Book House is to be congratulated for making this volume available after such a long time when it was a rare thing, indeed. Apparently the author profited from criticism leveled against the content of this book when it was first published serially in McClure’s Magazine. This, of course, makes it all the more valuable.

Not only will those interested in the evolution of an American cult find this volume interesting, but also students of American literature. Dr. Hudson points out in his introduction the influence of Mrs. Eddy on novelist Willa Cather . . . and also Miss Cather’s influence on this particular book.

THE POSSIBILITY OF RELIGIOUS KNOWLEDGE by Jerry H. Gill; Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Mich, 238 pages, $3.95. Reviewed by Professor Nick Van Til, teacher of philosophy at Dordt College, Sioux Center, Iowa.

To the Christian layman, the question implied in the title of this book may seem either bizarre or shocking. Phil0sophers being what they are, they often discuss questions which seem odd to the layman and this question has received as much attention in the last several decades as any in an extended list of oddities.

Gill begins with the two main schools of opposition on this general subject. On the one hand we have the naturalistic atheists stemming from the school of philosophy known as Logical Positivism. These deny religious knowledge “ipso facto” because they have eliminated the supernatural from their world. The other side of the opposition contains the Existentialist theologians who suggest that to know God requires a heap of faith which has nothing to do with national explication.

Beginning with this opposition in modem thought, Gill rightly and with admirable lucidity traces this difficulty to the “two realm” thinking of Immanuel Kant. After demolishing the rationalistic arguments and the “five ways” of Thomas Aquinas as to proof for the existence of God, Kant decided that the way to God was through practical reason, that is, through, the moral demands on man. Moral demands were not associated with practical consequences in the world of workaday life especially science. So Kant effected a separation of fact from value, God may be admitted into the area of value but science rules the area of fact and the twain are not to meet. It is this impossibility of interchange between Kant’s two realms which keeps the Existentialist theologians out of the world of fact and by so much out of the world of ongoing history so that we have to use “odd” words like “myth,” “saga,” and “geschichte” when talking about what the Bible wants to present as historical fact.

Gill proceeds to close the chasm created between Kantian “realms,” by suggesting that man lives or experiences not in two mutually exclusive realms but in mutually overlapping dimensions. He lives in the physical hut also in the moral and the religious. These arc not separated by some insuperable barrier but rather are part of an interchange which is part of the very fabric of human life.

Having eliminated the gap between the Kantian realms by introducing dimensions, it remains a fact of experience that it is difficult to he completely explicit concerning religious experience and to transfer religious knowledge by the chief tool of science, an explicit propositional statement. Facing this problem, says Gill, the Existentialists have run off into subjectivity and mystery. They have given up trying to he explicit but have also refused the realm of value the right of entrance into the realm of fact.

Gill would help us around the difficulty by introducing the distinction between explicit and tacit knowledge. Even though we may not be able to state the latter in clear propositional form it is valid knowledge in its own right. Take the example of athletic ability. You may know exactly how you go about insuring a high percentage of free throws in basketball by the stance you take and the motions you go through, but it is extremely difficult to get your instructions across in a series of factual statements. So with religious knowledge.

Among other arguments, Gill also suggests that certain aspects of self-awareness involve us in “odd-talk” which deviates from the ordinary pattern of explicit statements. This kind of “oddtalk” is analogous to the problems which we face when we involve ourselves in “God-talk.” In spite of all difficulties and arguments to the contrary, using the tools of the “language analysis” school of philosophy, Gill is satisfied that religious knowledge is possible. In doing so he acknowledges a debt to such thinkers as Ian T. Ramsey to whom he dedicates his book, as well as to the philosophers, John Hick and John Wisdom. Gill h;ls produced a highly readable review of the problem and a book that will be worth the time of :my philosopher-theologian or theologian-philosopher who would like a concise review of this general subject.

Yet for all of Gill’s accomplishment one has to decry the fact that like so many who would make a case for Christianity or religion in the field of philosophy, Gill would win his victories by operating out of the enemies base camp. He begins by assuming that that language analysis school is on the right track philosophically but that he can bring them to accept religious knowledge by going them one better. For Gill “theology is essentially a linguistic activity. Its purpose is to lay bare the main themes of religious knowledge as they are embodied in our language. Thus theological language is a “meta” or second-level, linguistic activity (p. 195).

To he sure, Gill talks about “commitment” in connection with religious knowledge hut when talking about commitment he does not distinguish that kind of commitment from any other truth which one might come by naturally in everyday life as being committed to the law of gravity, for example, and for that reason avoiding jumping off high buildings. In similar fashion when talking about the religious dimension, Gill suggests that Christians make some incidents in Hebrew history and Jesus Christ the focal point of their religions dimension. In all of this and in the whole volume there is no mention of the place of a Creator-creature relationship as the base of religious knowledge. Nor is there any mention of the work of the Holy Spirit in the process of coming to know Jesus Christ whom to know is not only life eternal but the key to all knowledge. As might be expected, Gill hasn’t gotten any more out of his quest for religious knowledge than his assumptions were capable of yielding. That is far too little for Christians in the Reformed tradition.