Here’s a tough test of your theology: If an imprisoned Nazi leader responsible for the death of millions, with his mind sharply concentrated by the prospect of imminent hanging, comes to believe in Christ and rests on Him alone for salvation—can he go to heaven? The biblical answer that’s hard for many to take is yes—and that’s why Henry Gerecke, a German-speaking American Lutheran pastor, accepted with excitement the task described in Tim Townsend’s fascinating history published this month, Mission at Nuremberg: An American Army Chaplain and the Trial of the Nazis (William Morrow). Townsend reports how Gerecke faithfully ministered to the worst of sinners because he did not see them as beyond redemption.
WORLD published my interview with pastor-turned-novelist Steven James (see “Truth teller,” Dec. 14, 2013), but I haven’t reviewed his mystery series with books named after chess pieces. Published by Revell and Penguin, the books have unpleasant scenes (a murderer is tied to a corpse and buried alive) but are otherwise readable by those who enjoy acute philosophical observations dropped into murder investigations. For example, Tessa, the bright teenage daughter of the hero, eviscerates the supposed Shakespearian adage, “To thine own self be true,” and its Disney application, “Follow your heart.” She notes (The Bishop, pages 323-324) that Shakespeare used that phrase sarcastically in Hamlet by putting it into the mouth of Polonius, a fool who goofs when he follows his heart and is true to himself.
Eighty pages later, James comes back to that theme by having Tessa think through Darwinian determinism: “Chimpanzees aren’t held accountable for murdering their weak. Why should we be?” She examines Richard Dawkins’ statement that “in our political and social life we are entitled to throw out Darwinism, to say we don’t want to live in a Darwinian world.” She asks, “How, if we’re the result of our genes, can we ‘throw out’ being the result of our genes? … You can’t have it both ways—either we’re determined to be as we are by natural selection, or we’re not.” And if we are, then we’re back to “people being true to their hearts. …Bestiality, infanticide—just part of human nature. … Letting AIDS victims or starving children in Africa die would be moral.”
Nazi murderers were true to their hearts, which were influenced by those who followed Darwin in speaking of superior and inferior races. Pastor Gerecke prayed that God would change their hearts.
I normally write about the books I’ve read on my treadmill, but while on the road for 85 days I walked on streets and listened to three podcast series. First: The World and Everything in It, the World News Group’s half-hour daily news and feature show. Second: Sermons by Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church (Manhattan). Third: The Best Stuff podcast, which includes sermons by John Piper.
The Barna Group sent me nine newly published “Frames” booklets (Zondervan, $7.99 each) that incorporate survey data and bits of biblical analysis. Some are balanced, others seem to have agendas: Support pacifism in Fighting for Peace, privilege public over private schools in Schools in Crisis. One booklet, Sacred Roots, shows the “10 Most Churched Cities in America,” listing one as “Asheville, TN” (it should read N.C.). If a book and a Hallmark greeting card had a child, it would read like a “Frame.”
Over the years I’ve reviewed many books on Darwinism versus creation but have not written about the many excellent videos on the subject. One that came out last year from Illustra Media, Flight: The Genius of Birds, is particularly beautiful. Others I recommend: Icons of Evolution (Coldwater Media) and The Magician’s Twin: C.S. Lewis on Scientism, Evolution, and Intelligent Design (Discovery Institute). Two other good ones from Illustra: Darwin’s Dilemma: The Mystery of the Cambrian Fossil Record and The Privileged Planet: The Search for Purpose in the Universe. —M.O.