Jump directly to the Content
Jump directly to the content


Talking About REAL Marriage

Thanks for the article on Mark and Grace Driscoll's Real Marriage [Susan Wise Bauer, "Talking About REAL Marriage," January/February]. As a military chaplain, I work with a lot of young people in both good and troubled marriages, and I am always looking for good resources to read and to give away to my couples. I will not be reading nor recommending the Driscolls' book.

I tend to be on the busy side and try to be wise about my reading. Books & Culture has stayed on my reading list for several years. It is articles like Bauer's that keep me coming back for more every couple of months. The bonus this time is that I was saved from reading a book that may well have not been published had it not been for Pastor Mark's celebrity pastor status.

This goes to a point about the celebrity culture that has invaded the evangelical world. The article could be seen as much as a necessary indictment of celebrity Christianity as it is a reminder that speaking to a couple that has managed to stay married is more valuable than reading the latest fad book.

Thanks for your great magazine and please keep up the hard work.

Chaplain Gregory S. Woodard
Station Chaplain
Marine Corp Air Station Yuma

On Christopher Lasch

May I offer a few brief reflections on James D. Bratt's review of Eric Miller's biography of my late friend, Christopher Lasch, Hope in a Scattering Time ["The Legacy of Christopher Lasch," January/February]? In a short book review, one can only do so much, but there are a few themes given scant attention by Bratt that surely deserve mention. Part of what Kit Lasch was up to was offering a "counter-tradition" of sorts to the dominant American story, a tale of ever-onward, ever-upward Progressivism, whether of the left or the right. (Each had its own version, when you came down to it.) He put folks like Randolph Bourne back into the pantheon of those one should never neglect, but who are routinely neglected. Along the way I believe he misread some figures—Jane Addams, for one—but he also demonstrated that there were those who, by contrast to American boosterism, look gloomy and mordant but who, nevertheless, offer a reasonable and limited hope as opposed to an unreasonable and unlimited optimism. Because Kit was so wary of people melded into some coherent whole, as this could grow ugly and intolerant too readily, he often offered positions only to abandon them once others "signed on" with the project. I think he believed that if something he proposed garnered too much enthusiasm he had probably got it wrong, as his was bitter medicine by contrast to the pabulum fed to the public routinely by defenders of the status quo and protestors alike.

Kit was a man of culture and rather delicate sensibility, a man of sentiment. I'm quite sure he would much have preferred to spend his life doing scholarship, reading in the den, talking to friends, listening to music, and writing (of course) rather than to be caught up in the hurly-burly of politics. But politics sought him out. As I often tell my students, "You might not be interested in politics, but politics is interested in you." Kit was a man of conscience. It followed that he had to engage despite his temperamental and ideological disagreements with many of his cohorts. As Bratt points out, Kit kept them guessing by publishing in so many places—places that offered many of us who were heterodox, myself included, a temporary home when we were being shut out of other publications as we refused to toe this line or that.

Toward the end of his life—and before the cancer diagnosis—Kit became engaged with religious questions and mysteries. He came from a home that was at least agnostic if not atheist, and religious faith was, for him, terra incognita. I recall one discussion with him as we sat in a Nashville restaurant imbibing white wine and talking into the night about the resurrection of the body. Could I please explain this to him? And he was sincere. The questions were genuine, not sarcastic, not mocking. Minimally, he wanted to be sure-footed in this area, or at least to gain a footing. My last conversation with him took place just hours before he died when he was scarcely coherent. He was trying very hard to tell me something about Orestes Brownson, the 19th-century American scholar and intellectual who shocked the Unitarian establishment in Boston when he converted to Catholicism. That these sorts of things were swirling about in his always fertile mind as he prepared to take leave of this earth is powerful and touching. Unlike some others, however, I must leave it there as I do not know what his future path might have been had cancer not taken him from us too soon.

Jean Bethke Elshtain
Laura Spelman Rockefeller Professor of Social and Political Ethics
The University of Chicago
Visiting Distinguished Professor of Religion and Public Life
Baylor University

How to Talk About Hell

A student recently lent me his copy of Rob Bell's Love Wins, explaining that it's the only book he's read on the subject that has ever made sense to him, and asking to talk about it. So I was finishing it as I read Stan Guthrie's "How to Talk About Hell" [January/February]. I understand why this book makes a lot of people uncomfortable, but with this article Books & Culture has now given us a second review of Love Wins (this time through a meta-review of books about Bell's book) that involves too many misreadings, selective obfuscations, and cheap shots, finished off with a nice veneer of appreciation to Bell for raising the issues. (I should say that I have not read the books by Galli or Chan & Sprinkle; but in turn, I do not see evidence that Guthrie has seriously read Love Wins. Or, as reviewing goes, perhaps his perceptions have been overly colored by the more recent books.)

My impression is that Guthrie and the authors of the books he reviews either fail or refuse to grasp Bell's rhetoric. It is visceral and imagistic, involves wry contemporary humor, and does a lot of analytical work through questions and narratives. This is not how "serious" theology is done, if by "serious" we mean academic, but Bell clearly has a different audience in mind, the "average" American. Once we recognize that, we should applaud Bell's triumph: a remarkable book of simple, conversational prose saturated with a great deal of careful theological thought and research. We don't have to agree with Bell (I'm still reserving judgment as I sift through a number of gaps in his arguments), but before we start critiquing him, we should understand what he is saying and how he is saying it.

Neither of the reviews in Books & Culture has mentioned the significant portion of Love Wins in which Bell is beautifully making the work of N. T. Wright, in particular, accessible to a wider audience: a glorious, full account of the biblical picture of the Kingdom of God, in which Bell again and again explicitly observes that the eschatological visions we are given are not about my narcissistic pleasure in some sweet by-and-by, but the redemption of all of Creation in a new heaven and earth full of the glory of God. If Guthrie, Galli, or Chan & Sprinkle have serious problems with Wright's and Bell's picture of the Kingdom of God, that would be something worth hearing about directly in the review. From my vantage, however, Guthrie has not only passed it by, but has collaborated in a cavalier dismissal of something holy and profound. Should we not be troubled?

Kevin Hawthorne
Associate Professor of Humanities
Mount Vernon Nazarene University

Stan Guthrie replies:

Let me see if I have this straight: Kevin Hawthorne faults my review of two books he hasn't read, and he somehow divines that I have not "seriously read" Rob Bell's Love Wins. Not only that, he accuses me of "misreadings, selective obfuscations, and cheap shots," with only "a nice veneer of appreciation to Bell for raising the issues." Further, Hawthorne intuits that I may have some sort of grudge against the theology of … N. T. Wright (?). Willing to cut me a break, however, Hawthorne has the "impression" that Rob Bell's "visceral," imagistic," and "wry" rhetoric might simply be beyond my powers of comprehension.

Is this how "serious" scholarship is done these days? True, I was not overly impressed with Love Wins, but I was reviewing God Wins and Erasing Hell, which carefully and graciously engage with Rob Bell on a critical issue with the clarity that, sadly, Bell himself so far has lacked.

To move this discussion forward, here's hoping that Bell's fans show the same kind of grace and attention to detail that Galli, Chan, and Sprinkle have modeled. Unfortunately, Hawthorne, who has so cavalierly dismissed my review, fails on both counts.

Most ReadMost Shared