This month, I have had the privilege of reading three rather interesting books:
The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William L. Shirer. Published in 1960, this book was the first historical study of Nazi Germany in English. The book was criticized by some academics, primarily for his assertion that Nazism was a natural result of a process that began with Martin Luther in developing the German character rather than being just one of several expression of totalitarianism that were prevalent in the 20th century (e.g. Franco’s Spain, Mussolini’s Italy, Japan, Stalinist communism, et al). Such a criticism is valid, in my opinion. But having read this book twice, I still find the book an insightful and thorough study. In particular, it is a poignant reminder that Hitler did not seize power in Germany illegitimately. Rather, he was able to manipulate his way into power, even as a minority party, constitutionally (albeit with the threat of violence lingering in the background, though it is worth remembering that the Nazis were not the only party with paramilitary troops at the time). I could not help but think of this during the recent political crisis here in Canada, as the opposition parties claimed constitutional grounds for seeking to overthrow the elected government. I am not comparing the Liberals, NDPs or PQs with the National Socialists, of course, but the thought did come to mind that both Lenin and Hitler came to power constitutionally as leaders of minority parties. Just because something is legal, it does not make it ethical or right.
The State in the New Testament by Oscar Cullman. Almost every biblical and theological study on the State and its relationship to the Christian refers to this text by Cullman. It is a concise and convincing study. Most noteworthy is his observation that Jesus was often called upon to make a clear distinction between His view of the kingdom of God and the political view of the Zealots. He also spends a great deal of time expounding on what Jesus meant when He said to render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and the call to give Caesar nothing that belongs to God. The State has the right to claim what is necessary for its existence (i.e. taxes) but the State must not be given more than that (cf. page 33). Cullman writes “If the State demands that belongs to God, if ever it hinders you in the proclamation of the Kingdom of God, then resist it.”
If church and state relationships interest you in any way, you would do well to pick this little book up.
Human Rights: A Christian Primer by Thomas K. Johnson. This little book is the first in a series of books in the recently started WEA Global Issues series. Johnson’s text is a good start. It is, as the title suggested, a primer on a Christian view of human rights. This is a study close to my own heart, as an activist working with and on behalf of persecuted Christians around the world. When I began my own study on the subject several years ago, I found very little written on the subject. This scarcity of resources has been remedied to some degree in recent years, but Johnson’s book fills a particular niche of being a primer or an introduction, while also dealing with the subject really quite thoroughly.
Rightly grounding the basis of human rights on, the fact that all humans are created in the image of God, Johnson does a particularly good study on what exactly rights are and what they are not. His chapter on “Rights, Religions, and Ideologies” was, I believe, the strongest part of the study. He carefully notes how only a Christian world view of humanity (both fallen and created in the divine image) provides an adequate basis for defending the dignity of human life. What I think would strengthen this primer even more, however, would be further development on the implications of being created in the image of the Triune God for human rights. This is something that I have studied at length in my own biblical theology of persecution and believe that this is an aspect of the study that is often lacking in other studies.
All in all, I would say that this is the best study on the subject that I have yet read and highly recommend it, especially to university or college students. I look forward to reading it again in a few months as I continue rewriting my theological study on persecution.
(Note: VOMC will soon be offering this book on out online book catalog, but you can also download it for free as a pdf from the IIRF site. Click here)