It is never difficult to mistake the coming of Christmas: lights, decorations, songs and sales. There is also the irony of wishes of peace and good will flowing amidst a world full of war, crime and poverty.
Thus, Christmas seems to offer future hope rather than present solutions. However, this doesn’t mean “that the Earth doesn’t matter,” argue Paul Marshall and Lela Gilbert in “Heaven is Not My Home” (Word). They worry that far too many Christians live in their own subcultures; as a result, “the major patterns of our culture and society are being shaped with almost no Christian presence.”
Instead of blithely watching life disintegrate around us, we should “become a vital part of our world.”
What of Christian participation in the great civic square? Those who believe that the Moral Majority inaugurated religious involvement in politics should pick up Kenneth Heineman’s “A Catholic New Deal” from Penn State University. Catholic activists played a major role in promoting organized labor and the Democratic Party during the Great Depression.
A fascinating look at Latin America comes from Anthony Gill’s “Rendering Unto Caesar” (University of Chicago). The Catholic hierarchy seemed to shift its support from entrenched political authority to reform forces when evangelical Protestants and “Spiritist” sects began to attract poor Catholics. In short, competition pushed religious leaders to do the right thing.
A harmful example of churches running after political fashion is the often uncritical embrace of organized environmentalism’s agenda, discussed by Robert Royal in “The Virgin and the Dynamo” from Eerdmans/Ethics and Public Policy Center.
As he amply documents, “The average environmentalist in a developed country partakes of some of the same blindness toward nature that he imputes to the greedy capitalist.”
One should criticize the misuse of nature. We must, however, argues Royal, “make room in the world for the quintessentially human things while respecting and safeguarding the environment.”
A useful adjunct is Jane Shaw’s “A Blueprint for Environmental Education” from the Political Economy Research Center. In “Blueprint,” a dozen leading ecological thinkers explore how reliance on economic analysis and free markets can improve environmental policy‐making.
One of the great challenges facing every religion is how it treats other faiths. Perhaps the most persistent religious ugliness of our time is anti‐Semitism, a topic explored by Bernard Lewis in “Semites and Anti‐Semites” (Norton). Although there is a tendency today to smear any critic of Israel as anti‐Semitic, Lewis demonstrates that real anti‐Semitism still exists.
Particularly controversial is the charge that Pope Pius XII, who reigned during World War II and the Nazi Holocaust, was anti‐Semitic. Not surprisingly, John Cornwell’s “Hitler’s Pope” from Viking, has generated a sharp response. One explanation, if not excuse, may be Pius’ clumsy attempt, like that by many of his contemporaries, to balance what initially appeared to be the lesser danger of Nazism with the more obvious threat of communism.
A towering presence today is Pope John Paul II. George Weigel has produced a monumental biography in “Witness to Hope” (HarperCollins). This pope well understood the evils of Nazism, under which he lived during the German occupation of Poland, and communism, which he helped destroy. He has demonstrated how a spiritual leader can have great worldly impact without sacrificing his faith.
Of course, challenges to that faith persist. In “Jesus” from Overlook, Alvar Ellegard argues that the Gospels are pure fiction.
Essentially, the same theme, though packaged slightly differently, is “The Acts of Jesus” (Harper SanFrancisco), based on the so‐called Jesus Seminar, in which participants voted on what parts of the Gospels they thought were true. The idea that a bunch of professors can pick and choose theological truth should generate some Christmas laughter, if not cheer.
Although critics of Christianity often present faith and science in conflict, two NavPress books argue the opposite. In “Beyond the Cosmos,” astronomer Hugh Ross contends that recent discoveries in astrophysics affirm “what Scripture has always proclaimed about God’s transcendence” and “help us explore and make sense of the Bible’s transcendent teachings.”
In “The Genesis Question,” Hugh Ross explains: “While scientific developments of the nineteenth century seemed to nearly smother faith in God, advances of the twentieth century breathed new vitality into that faith.”
These are merely the latest of several books demonstrating that religious faith does not mean checking one’s mind at the church door. Gerald Schroeder’s “The Science of God” (FreePress), Philip Clayton’s “God and Contemporary Science” (Eerdmans), and Scott Huse’s “The Collapse of Evolution” (Baker) all evidence the consistency of scientific and theological truth.
Of course, if the faith is true, then how do we implement it in our own lives? NavPress is a fount of serious works. Among those worthy of consideration are Gary Thomas“ ‘The Glorious Pursuit,” John Vawter’s “Uncommon Graces” and Alan Kent Scholes“ ‘What Christianity is All About.”
NavPress has also produced a series of study guides on such issues as “Contemplative Bible Reading,” “Meditative Prayer” and “Spiritual Journaling.”
Amidst the usual hustle and bustle of Christmas, find a moment for quiet reflection. Then pick up a good book. The soul you enrich may be your own.