In this week’s University Bookman, I have a review of Robert Louis Wilken’s new book on Christianity and religious freedom, Liberty in the Things of God. Here’s a sample:
Wilken writes lucidly and persuasively, and his basic point is correct. Religious freedom is not a concept foreign to Christian thought, and its place as a pillar of Western civilization owes much to Christian sources. Of course, one should not exaggerate. It’s fair to say that religious freedom, as it developed in the West, is one Christian approach to the question, but not the onlyChristian approach. As the examples of Augustine, Aquinas, and Calvin show, there are strains in the Christian tradition that would oppose religious freedom, at least as we understand the concept today. The dualist nature of Christian politics, which insists that Christians owe duties simultaneously to God and to the state, but that Christ is Lord of all, makes easy conclusions about the Christian approach to church-state relations impossible.
The full review is available here.
A while ago, Marc and I were discussing the great German film, The Lives of Others, about the tactics of the secret police, the Stasi, in East Germany. The film powerfully depicts the soul-destroying nature of life in a police state, in which one never knows who is an informant and when one’s career, or life, may come to an end based on an anonymous report. A new book from Eerdmans, God’s Spies: The Stasi’s Cold War Espionage Campaign inside the Church, by Elisabeth Braw, documents how the Stasi infiltrated the country’s Lutheran churches. Here’s the description of the book from the Eerdmans’ website:
The real-life cloak-and-dagger story of how East Germany’s notorious spy agency infiltrated churches here and abroad.
East Germany only existed for a short forty years, but in that time, the country’s secret police, the Stasi, developed a highly successful “church department” that—using persuasion rather than threats—managed to recruit an extraordinary stable of clergy spies. Pastors, professors, seminary students, and even bishops spied on colleagues, other Christians, and anyone else they could report about to their handlers in the Stasi.
Thanks to its pastor spies, the Church Department (official name: Department XX/4) knew exactly what was happening and being planned in the country’s predominantly Lutheran churches. Yet ultimately it failed in its mission: despite knowing virtually everything about East German Christians, the Stasi couldn’t prevent the church-led protests that erupted in 1989 and brought down the Berlin Wall.