Review of Authentic Transformation: A New Vision of Christ and Culture

by Glen Harold Stassen, D. M. Yeager, John Howard Yoder
Book Reviewed
Book Title
Authentic Transformation: A New Vision of Christ and Culture
Book Author
Glen Harold Stassen, D. M. Yeager, John Howard Yoder
Book Publisher
Abingdon Press
Place of Publication
Book Review Citation
Review Author
Kent Reames
The Journal of Religion
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October 3rd, 2012

The Journal of Religion

pleted task. Thus, neither the "objects" known by the human mind nor the "self" that knows them has a finished. "given" character.



This is an important book, but it is not without its weaknesses. Lohmann be- lieves that, of the three elements of Neokantian thought whose fortunes he traces, only the first is retained in the Church Dogmatics (p. 402). He is right with respect to the category of the Ursprung; it does disappear during the course of the 1920s. Less satisfactory is his treatment of the polemic against the "given." Lohmann claims that, in the Church Dogmatzcs, Barth turned back from the pointed rejection of the "given" and moved in the direction of a theological realism whose precise character is never defined (pp. 392-99). Here it is necessary to register a sharp demurral. The defect in Lohmann's interpretation of Barth on this point has its roots in a misreading of the second Romans. On his reading, the Barth of Romans 11is finally a "critical idealist"; a theologian so heavily influenced by his brother Heinrich that the God-concept held by the two becomes virtually indistinguish- able. In truth, however, the God of Romans II is much more than the "principle of critical negation" advocated by H. Barth. Lohmann's single-minded pursuit of the influence of Neokantianism has caused him to miss the realistic elements in Barth's early dialectical theology. The result is that when he finally discovers theological realism in the later dogmatics, he thinks a "turn" has occurred. Worse still, failure to fully grasp the critical realism of Barth's early dialectical theology has rendered Lohmann incapable of comprehending the precise contours of Barth's later theological realism as well. He misses the ongoing Realdialektik which lies at the heart of Barth's later realism, and in doing so, he fails to realize the extent to which Barth's opposition to the "given" is still in place. Ironically, this also means that the influence of Neokantianism remained even more extensive in the later dogmatics than Lohmann dared to believe since, notjust one, but two of the three elements he examines continued to influence the later Barth. BRUCEL. MCCORMACK,

Princeton Theological Seminary.


Authentic Transfor- mation: A New Vision of Christ and Culture. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996. 299 pp. $15.95 (paper).

This book brings together essays which have in common a focus on the problem of the relationship of Christ and culture and the continuing importance of

H. Richard Neibuhr's thought about that problem.

John Yoder's essay focuses on Niebuhr's Christ and Culture. After allowing that Niebuhr's thought as a whole is more nuanced and careful than the one book, Yoder launches into a wide-ranging, and devastatingly accurate, criticism of the book's major assumptions, arguments, and conclusions. Most fundamentally, Nie- buhr's use of the terms "Christ" and "culture" itself is defective; the definitions bias the account against those who try to be radically faithful to the New Testa- ment, a position which Niebuhr misconstrues by labeling "Christ against culture." Yoder agrees with Niebuhr that Christ ought to transform culture but argues that, even at his best, Niebuhr gives us no principles with which actually to enact this transformation; at worst, Niebuhr falls into a relativism within which all ways of relating Christ to culture are equally valid. Yoder then reiterates and expands his classic argument that the New Testament itself provides a workable and norm- ative account of Christian life in relation to culture, centering on seven church- based, biblically grounded practices of theological witness and moral discernment.

Book Reviews

Essays by D. M. Yeager and Glen Stassen place Christ and Culture in the context of Niebuhr's thought as a whole. In response to arguments like Yoder's, Yeager defends Niebuhr's rejection of the "Christ against culture" model. She argues that for Niebuhr the church has important responsibilities for worldly tasks, and she draws on Niebuhr to specify three such tasks: apostolic, pastoral, and pioneering. The church is responsible to God for the world; the "against" posture is wrongly conflictual and moralizing rather than reconciling and repentant. Finally, though, she finds little substantive difference between Niebuhr's position and the one she is criticizing. Indeed, on my reading she ends up affirming a position on church- world relations almost identical to Yoder's. For example, her affirmation, which she takes to be critical of the "against" posture, that "the church is therefore the servant of the world-to the extent that the world belongs to God" (p. 124) could have come straight from Yoder's pen.

On Stassen's account, Niebuhr and Yoder are deeply similar; he argues that it is precisely where Yoder criticizes Niebuhr that Niebuhr is least authentically himself. During the 1950s, Niebuhr's reaction against Barth caused him to see God in abstraction from all worldly concerns; Yoder is thus correct to criticize Niebuhr as a near relativist. However, Stassen finds in Niebuhr's writings of other decades materials which anticipate Yoder's concerns. Reading Niebuhr's project as an attempt to clarify the transformative sovereignty of God over the whole world, Stassen details how Niebuhr's understanding of God's sovereignty should be used by the church to transform the world; he finds in Niebuhr's The Meaning of Revelation principles and practices to help the church be self-critical in pursuing that transformation. Many of his conclusions parallel and overlap Yoder's. Most important, he appears to agree with Yoder that God's revelation in Christ is con- cretely normative for all of life and that it is primarily within the church and through church practices that Christians need to proclaim and live out that reve- lation.

The individual essays are excellent, and the interplay between them particu- larly interesting. Followers of both Niebuhr and Yoder have often thought that the two theologians' positions on the relation of church and world are mutually opposed; the attempt to bring them together is thus fascinating and important. However, tensions remain, perhaps the most important of which concerns how to understand the judgment of God on all human institutions, including the church itself. Both Niebuhr and Yoder affirm this, but they mean different things by it. For Yoder, it means that the church can never be satisfied with its performance; for Niebuhr, it means more radically that we cannot trust the church's guidance any more than that of other human institutions. Stassen's portrait of the normati- vity of church-practice-centered Christian life thus seems to owe more to Yoder than to Niebuhr. Still, if the synthesis is not perfect-and none of the authors would claim it is-the work of Yoder and Niebuhr remains crucial for contempo- rary thought about the church-world relationship, and these important essays provide admirable stimulus to further reflection on these issues. KENTRWMES,Chicago, Illinois.


Violence: The Unrelenting Assault on Human Dignity. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996, xvii+ l57pp.

Until his election in 1993 as the bishop of the Protestant Church in Berlin- Brandenburg, Germany, Wolfgang Huber was professor of theological ethics at

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