Omaha, Nebraska
Spring 1998
Volume 9, Number 2

* * * * Book Notes * * * *

Family: American and Christian

By Michael G. Lawler

Between 1960 and 1990, the age eighteen who experienced the divorce of their parents increased from less than 1 percent to more than 50 percent; the number of children under age three living with a single parent increased from 7 to 27 percent; children born to unmarried mothers increased from 5 to 28 percent. Compared with children who grow up with both parents in an intact family, children who grow up with only one parent are three times more likely to have a child before they are married, two and a half times more likely to become teenage mothers, twice as likely to drop out of high school, and one and a half times more likely to be out of school and unemployed. Data such as this is leading many to the conclusion that, on the whole, two parents, a father and a mother, are better for a child than one parent. The social well-being of Americans, for all their vaunted economic well-being, is awful.

The foregoing data, and much more, provide the background for Michael Lawler's new book, Family: American and Christian. Lawler, an internationally renowned theologian of marriage and family, and a member of the Center for the Study of Religion and Society, notes that Christian spouses and their families are not exempt from the problems that beset American marriages and families but suggests that they could be. He invites them to rediscover the vision of family embedded in the Christian tradition and to live it out in their family lives. He invites also Americans of other religious traditions to discover the meanings of marriage and family embedded in their traditions and their possible convergence with Christian meanings.

Lawler presents his work as a work of practical theology, a work of correlation between American culture, out of which questions arise, and Christian tradition which suggests adequately human answers to those questions. His book develops, therefore, in three parts. Part I deals with marriage, family and divorce in the United States. Part II deals with marriage, family and divorce in the Christian tradition. Part III, the truly correlational part of the book, weaves the two poles together. If the book is to be helpful to Americans and Christians in their marital and familial lives, Lawler concedes, it is in the final part of the book that the American questions and the Christian answers should finally come together. Each of the six chapters concludes with "Questions for Reflection" to facilitate this convergence.

Family: American and Christian has been published in 1998 by Loyola Press of Chicago. It is the final book of a trilogy with two earlier books: Marriage and Sacrament: A Theology of Christian Marriage, published by Liturgical Press in 1993, and Christian Marriage and Family: Contemporary Theological and Pastoral Perspectives, published by Liturgical Press in 1996.

Jonathan Dickinson and the Formative Years of American Presbyterianism

By Bryan F. Le Beau

During the first half of the eighteenth century, Presbyterians of the Middle Colonies were separated by divergent allegiances, mostly associated with groups migrating from New England with an English Puritan background and from northern Ireland with a Scotch-Irish tradition. Such divergent allegiances led first to a fiery ordeal of ecclesiastical controversy and then to a spiritual awakening and to a blending of that diversity into a new order, American Presbyterianism.

In his third book on early American religion, Bryan Le Beau, Director of the Center for the Study of Religion and Society, examines the formation of American Presbyterianism with particular attention paid to the most significant figure in that development, Jonathan Dickinson.

Based on his many published works, Alan Heimert and Ferry Miller have called Dickinson "the most powerful mind in his generation of American divines." Le Beau examines and contextualizes those writings within the history of early American Presbyterianism. He shows that, although he acted as a moderate rather than as a radical, Dickinson was nevertheless a driving force in the formation of the Presbyterian Church in the Middle Colonies. His leadership in the earliest stages of that formative period, Le Beau argues, led Presbyterians to accommodate the diversity of traditions within their ranks, to reconcile their Old World ideas and New World experiences, and to resolve the classic dilemma of American religious history: the simultaneous longing for freedom of conscience and need for order. In the process of defending the rights of Presbyterians to dissent from the established Church of England, Dickinson gave voice as well to a theoretical position that served the yet nascent cause of denominationalism and religious liberty.