October 15, 2008

Answer: Certainly Nothing Suspicious

What Is the Church Doing? by Henry P. Van Dusen (Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1943)

This book was written by: Henry Pitney Van Dusen, who served as trustee of a dozen institutions (including the Rockefeller Foundation, Vassar, Smith, and Princeton), appeared on the cover of TIME Magazine, and committed suicide by overdose of sleeping pills in 1975.

What is in this book: A chronicle of the church’s efforts to stand against the sweeping menace of the Third Reich. 1943 may have been dark times for Christians, but Van Dusen assures us that throughout history, “the Christian Movement has swept in ever wider circles and penetrated with ever deeper influence” (p.137). In fact, “An undeniable adjunct of Christian extension in each of its four most creative periods has been political conquest or penetration [….] almost always political penetration has in some measure prepared a setting for the Church’s evangelistic work”(p.145). The Church's political penetration, which allows its members to stand erect in the face of der Führer, will bring Fascism to its knees. Thanks to the Church's thorough penetration, “the forward movement, when again resumed, will carry the name and power of Christ farther and deeper than at any earlier time” (p.155).

What is not in this book: Pointless divisiveness. Despite the times, Christian churches across the globe are on a course which might lead “to the ultimate reunion of all principal Christian bodies outside the Church of Rome,” (p.96) and this book describes gatherings where the “congregations are truly ecumenical. All Christian denominations, except the Roman Catholic Church, and thirty different nationalities are here represented”(p.113). Even in the face of terror and oppression on a global scale, Christians of “every major Communion (except the Church of Rome) have been coming increasingly to think of their Churches as members of a World Community”(p.55).

Would you recommend this book to the digital underground? No, in spite of what you may have heard to the contrary, the Church is not interested in doin’ the humpty dance, no matter how urgently Humpty Hump repeats his entreaties.

Would you recommend this book to that guy who played “Lowell” on Wings? No, fans who want to keep abreast of what “the Church” is doing should keep an eye on the latest copy of People.

What was interesting about this book? A surprisingly keen insight into the way that the average man on the street thinks when considering what is the Church doing. “Not infrequently it is asked with a shrug of the shoulders and a slightly altered inflection which suggests its own answer, ‘What is the Church doing?’”(p.3). As true today as when it was written.

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