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27

OPEN BOOK

Views & Reviews

No. 27 Copyright (c) 1996 Biblical Horizons June, 1996

 

 

Isaac E. Mozeson, The Word: The Dictionary that Reveals the Hebrew Sources of English (Northvale, NJ: Jacob Aaronson Inc., 1995), 310 pp. Reviewed by James B. Jordan.

Once there was only one language in the world, the language God spoke to Adam. At the Tower of Babel, there came to be many languages. What was that one, original language? There are three possibilities:

Can we decide which it was? I believe so. First, looking into the Bible itself, we _nd that pre-Babelic names like Adam, Eve, Noah, Lamech, and the like are in fact Hebrew word-names. It could be argued that Noah’s father was not really named "Lamech" but something else, say "Joe-Bob," and that Moses translated "Joe-Bob" into "Lamech" when he put Genesis in its _nal form. But how likely is this alternative?

Second, it can be argued, from outside the Bible, that Hebrew word are found in the background of words in languages all over the globe. For instance, the Hebrew-knowledgeable Christians who came to America found many semitic words in American Indian languages. The led to the belief on the part of some that the Indians were descendants of some Hebrews. Others in more recent years have explained this phenomenon by arguing for American contact with Phoenician traders in the ancient world. But it may simply mean that Hebrew was the original pre-Babelic language, and that Hebrew foundations survive at some points in all post-Babelic languages.

This is the contention, admirably presented and defended, by Isaac Mozeson in his book The Word. A brief introduction sets forth the case for Hebrew as the primordial language, and then the rest of the book is an English dictionary that displays and discusses the Hebrew backgrounds of speci_c terms.

For instance, at random, "patio" comes from the Latin patere, which means "to open." The supposed Indo-European root is pet, "to spread." But the Hebrew word for open is patahh, a rather obvious association.

Now, the value of this exercise also lies in that it blows to pieces the notion that Indo-European languages and Semitic languages have radically different roots, a notion that actually developed in the anti-semitic culture of German scholarship, and a notion for which, as Mozeson shows, there is no credible foundation. It also knocks in the head the idea that Hebrew is some late form of a primitive semitic.

Mozeson also rightly argues that the fact that Hebrew is the primordial language does not mean everyone must go back to it. There is an eschatology, and God wants to be praised in all languages. All languages, being developments of the original language, are part of God’s plan. Mozeson is Jewish. As Christians, we have the "gift of languages" to a_rm this fact. The meaning of the "gift of tongues" is that in the New Covenant, now all languages are _t vehicles for the word of God, and thus God now authorizes the translation of the Scriptures into every tongue. While the miraculous dimension of this gift ceased in ad 70, the larger meaning of it abides because it is an aspect of the undivided Spirit and His work.

This is a valuable book, and could be useful in Christian high school education as well as of general interest.

Peter J. Leithart, The Kingdom and the Power: Rediscovering the Centrality of the Church (Phillipsburg, N.J.: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 1993). 269pp. Reviewed by James R. Rogers.

In his epistle to the Church at Ephesus, St. Paul writes that the struggle of the faithful is not a struggle _rst and foremost with human oppressors. Indeed,

Yet Paul makes clear earlier in the epistle that, just as Jesus contended against and overcame these powers, so God has ordained that his "manifold wisdom" be "made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places" (Eph. 3.10).

From the earliest days Christians have understood the critical connection between the Church’s worship and her Holy warfare against the spiritual rule of wickedness. On his way to martyrdom in Rome early in the second century, Ignatius, the Bishop of Antioch, thus encouraged the church at Ephesus to "Be eager to meet more often to give thanks [or "for eucharist"] to God, and show forth his praise, for when you come together often, the powers of Satan are broken."

Yet in an ideological, political age, Christians too often forget that the Church is the _rst institution of the Kingdom of God, and the Church advances the Kingdom, not with the comparatively ine_ectual political weapons of this world, but with her potent spiritual arsenal of worship, preaching, service and su_ering.

In The Kingdom and the Power: Rediscovering the Centrality of the Church, Peter J. Leithart calls modern American Christians to remember their _rst recourse in the spiritual battle against the increasing darkness of this age.

His primary thesis that "the church is central to the kingdom of God" and that worship "is not peripheral but central to the kingdom" would no doubt strikes few Roman Catholic readers as controversial. What might be more surprising is that Leithart argues the Scriptural truth of a "Eucharistic world-view" as a theologically conservative, evangelical Presbyterian pastor. He is one of a growing handful of evangelical thinkers who argue that the Scriptures teach a much higher ecclesiology than that recognized in modern, "Bible-based" Protestant churches.

Needless to say, evangelical Protestantism is not well known for its high ecclesiology and sacramental theology. Until recently American Protestants did not really have to live with the practical working out of their low ecclesiology. After all, American national identity – "the nation with the soul of a church" – served to unify Christians in the face of Protestant denominational pluralism. American civil religion, nebulous as it was, nonetheless provided powerful cultural and social sanction to undergird Protestant belief and habit. The discipline of public opinion e_ectively substituted for ecclesiastical discipline.

With the erosion of social sanction as a force of de facto religious discipline for America’s once dominant Protestant culture, entropy occurs and denominational pluralism reverts to ecclesiastical anarchy. The demise of a Christian national culture thus fundamentally threatens American Protestantism in a way that it does not threaten Roman Catholicism and other ecclesiastically centered traditions.

Issues such as corporate prayer and Bible reading in public schools agitate evangelicals not simply because of concerns about the practice of personal piety in public settings. The struggle over these issues represents for evangelical Protestants a struggle over the means of ecclesiastical authority. With the loss of these powerful cultural tools of Protestant discipline, evangelicals rightly fear the centrifugal dynamic inherent in the Protestant principle.

Spiritual exile from the centers of American public life thus does not simply represent a Babylonian captivity for the American Protestant church, with the promise of restoration after the season of exile, as Jeremiah promised Judah. The impoverished ecclesiology of American evangelicalism means that the loss of the culture war risks ecclesiastical disintegration. For evangelicals, the political _ght over culture is a _ght for the survival of their church.

The failure of the Reagan revolution to make much progress in the culture war deeply disillusioned large segments of the evangelical community. While many politically active evangelicals simply increased their commitment to the political _ght, other evangelicals are becoming increasingly skeptical of attempts to renew the Church through a politically reanimated national Christian culture.

First, because America’s civil religion initially developed organically out of colonial America’s Protestant consensus, a consensus which has now been irretrievably fractured. Take the example of school prayer. Today, evangelicals hope only for a moment of silent "prayer or meditation" before school begins, even though teacher-lead prayer was common and largely uncontroversial before 1962. Teacher-lead recitation of the Lord’s prayer in public schools is inconceivable today because it no longer organically re_ects a society’s already existing Christian consensus. The "back then" no longer exists to go back to. Secondly, as Leithart argues at length, the political model of Christian renewal places priority on the wrong institutions, and answers the wrong questions. He explores and unpacks Richard John Neuhaus’s dictum that "The _rst political task of the Church is to be the Church."

Evangelical thinkers increasingly look for answers not in political action, but in critical theological re_ection. These thinkers fall into two large categories, both of which emphasize the church, but to much di_erent e_ect. One line of thinking stresses that all Protestantism needs is a revival of the sermonic, intellectual core of classical Protestant "liturgy." The other line of thought, represented by Leithart, while not at all denigrating sermon or mind, argues that classic American pastor-centered models of worship are unbiblical, and that the problems a_icting the evangelical church today do not issue out of the neglect of classic American Protestantism, but stem from the inherent weakness in the traditional model. Leithart’s line of criticism thus probes more deeply into the largely unexamined assumptions of modern evangelical worship and ecclesiology.

David Wells’s 1993 book, No Place for Truth: Or Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology, is a helpful contrast to Leithart. Wells argues that Protestants need vigorously to reassert the sermonic center of "classical Protestant" worship. In writing of "classical" Protestant worship, Wells takes as his model the sermon-centered, liturgically minimalist worship of seventeenth century British and American Puritans.

Like the Puritans, Wells argues, Protestant ministers need once again to focus worship on the sermon and pastors need to preach hard-nosed theology from the pulpit. He explicitly rejects models of worship that do not reduce worship to sermon. Completely ignoring the sacramentally rich liturgical theologies of Martin Luther and John Calvin, Wells contrasts Catholic worship with classical Protestant worship: Unlike the Catholic priest, Wells writes, the Protestant minster cannot lean on the magisterium to teach his _ock, or the sacraments as a source of God’s presence in the worship service. Rather, for the Protestant, the Pastor’s sermon, and it alone, must bear the work of bringing the congregation into "the presence of God." The liturgy-lite, sermon-centered model of "classical" Protestant worship so e_ectively moves the "listening" congregation into the presence of God, Wells asserts, that by comparison, the presence of God in Catholic sacramental worship is but a pale shadow of the Protestant experience in worship. Nothing ails Protestantism, Wells argues, that a vigorous return to Puritan piety cannot cure.

In criticizing the rationalistic reductionism of this "classical" or Puritan model, Leithart urges modern evangelicals to reread the Reformers and to rediscover a richer heritage in the pre-Puritan Protestantism of the Reformers, a Protestantism that contrasts with the congregational passivity of the late medieval church and the Puritan church, and that forwarded sacramental renewal as well as sermonic renewal in worship. Unlike the "classical" Protestantism of Wells’s Puritans, Reformation Protestantism sought to be a Patristic and catholic Protestantism; it sought explicitly to engage and appropriate – even while it sought to correct – Catholic tradition.

Modern evangelicals largely dismiss Martin Luther’s view of the sacraments as leftover "Romanism," and they do not quite know what to do with John Calvin’s distinctly non-Zwinglian theology of the sacraments and worship. Indeed, the Puritan theology that Wells touts, and Leithart critiques, can be viewed as the logical working out of Zwinglian rationalism _avored with anglo-empiricism.

As a matter of practice, if not of theology, almost all modern American evangelical congregations, whether they be Baptist, Wesleyan, Presbyterian or independent Bible churches, approach the sacraments with a Zwinglian mind. The sacraments have no real divine referent. Rather, they stand as arbitrary signs which, when subjectively apprehended by Christians, edify them only by reminding them to think of Jesus Christ. They enjoy no intrinsic character beyond that of a verbal, sermonic reminder to "remember Jesus." To be sure, this neglect does not always result from Zwinglian confessional standards, but more often than not a low view of the sacrament is the manifested or practiced theology of these churches.

More than any theological di_erence between Calvin and Luther, Zwingli’s in_uence introduced a "di_erent spirit" into the reformation. Quoting J.P. Singh Uberoi, Leithart makes the point that "Spirit, word and sign had _nally parted company at Marburg in 1529; and myth or ritual . . . was no longer literally and symbolically real and true.  . . .Zwingli was the chief architect of the new schism and . . . Europe and the world followed Zwingli in the event."

The logic of the Zwinglian spirit has worked itself out in modern evangelicalism, and compromises a signi_cant portion of the current ecclesiastical distress. After all, aside from the not insubstantial consequence of ignoring the sacrament and the presence of Jesus in the eucharist itself, a low view of the sacrament leads to a particular ecclesiastical problem: What sort of a stick is excommunication if neither church o_cers nor the censured Christian believe eucharistic communion is literally nothing more than eating a common morsel of bread and taking a sip of grape juice while thinking about Jesus? Once American cultural sanctions no longer work to communicate and enforce Christian habits, Zwinglian churches lose their de facto governing authority.

Leithart takes direct aim at evangelicalism’s low view of the sacraments and worship:

Given the biblical emphasis on the feast of the kingdom, the lack of practical and theological attention given to the Lord’s Supper by contemporary evangelicals is little short of astounding. If anything is clear from the Gospels, it is that for Jesus the kingdom is a place of feasting. Yet, many who talk and write about the kingdom completely ignore this crucial dimension of Jesus’ teaching. Some look for the future millennial reign of Christ. Others talk about the kingdom in connection with social and political action. Still others concentrate on the power of the kingdom manifested in "signs and wonders" and the charismatic gifts. But many neglect the very dimension of the kingdom that was evidently central for Jesus Himself: the kingdom of God is a feast.

For Leithart, "Worship is not merely a means to realize God’s kingdom. Worship is itself the _rst form of God’s kingdom in the World."

The logic of individualism works inexorably in modern America to pull apart natural and supernatural associations, those little "platoons" of civil society, such as family, church, and city. Alasdair MacIntyre is certainly right when he admonishes his readers in the concluding paragraph to After Virtue that what matters at this stage in history, with the collapse of meaning in the modern vocabulary, is "the construction of local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages which are already among us."

Leithart warns the Christian, however, not to be taken in by a promiscuous regard for each and every community. The _rst form of Christian community is the Church; the divine community is the type of all other communities, it is the "nursery of culture," as Alexander Schmemann put it. In the Church Christians unite with God and with each other, and this union occurs most poignantly in the union with God and with others in the sacraments.

Because "judgment begins with the Household of God," the recovery of community must begin with the recovery of the supernatural community of the church. John Calvin wrote without equivocation that the Church is the mother of the Christian. If Leithart has his way, American evangelicals will once again learn to call the Church their mother, and to honor her for the same.