Upon his return from convers­ing with God upon the top of Sinai, Moses began the work of reclaiming straying Israel by de­manding, “Who is on the Lord’s side?” Upon their return from ecclesiastical conferences held at somewhat lower altitudes and with rather less distinguished guest speakers, thousands of American and European clergy­ men are now similarly trying to reclaim their wandering flocks by posing questions. But now in­stead of asking their parishioners if they will worship Yahweh or a golden calf, pastors are inquiring as to who will support the libera­tion struggle (i.e., terrorism) rather than capitalist  racism who will champion peace ( i.e., disarmament) rather than nuclear buildup, and who will work for economic justice (i.e.,socialism) rather than free-market inequal­ity. Certainly, no sensible person would deny churches or pious individuals the right to bring their convictions to bear on con­temporary political issues. As Peter Hinchliff, a chaplain at Balliol College, argues in Holi­ness and Politics, Christians in democracies cannot conscion­ably ignore politics by merely “submitting to the powers that be.” As office holders and as voters, they must do their part to insure humane government. What is distressing about the current clerical emphasis on political commitment, however, is that it is often a substitute for, rather than an expression of, religious faith. The ministers chanting the political slogans and leading the demonstrations in Christ’s name do not seem particularly dis­turbed by the fact that few in the throng that they have joined be­lieve in or obey Him. Something is gravely wrong when churches thus respond to widespread scriptural illiteracy, declining worship, and moral and social disintegration by calling primarily for more political involvement. The only possible result of such a strategy will be not holiness and politics but rather a radical and degraded politics instead of holiness.

To his credit Mr. Hinchliff recognizes utopianism as con­trary to Christian doctrine, finds liberation theology unconvinc­ing,and warns against allowing “the pursuit of a political programme…to become an absolute good.” Nonetheless, by refusing to take a firm stand on Christian doctrine, he renders this warn­ing meaningless. What is abso­lute good to a chaplain who can passively observe that some theologians have “seriously questioned” the very notion of eternal salvation without unequivocally asserting his own position on the issue? Languidly acquiescing to “the process of modern secularization,” Mr. Hinchliff seems far more intent upon persuading Christians to enter  politics than upon con­verting those in politics to Christianity. Though he dismisses as “too simple” the belief that re­jection of traditional Christian doctrine leads to adoption of leftist ideology, his own sympathy with left-liberal dogmas appears to owe much to his theological nonchalance. While making it quite dear that he regards capi­talist America as horrid, collectivist England as wonderful, African terrorist groups as worthy of church support, and Soviet Russia as perhaps not so bad as to be opposed with nuclear weaponry, he avoids taking sides on the most fundamental of creedal questions. When, in passing, he declares that he is “closer” to those who believe in eternity than to those who do not, the reader cannot but recall King Agrippa’s pathetic response to the Apostle Paul’stestimony: “Al­most thou persuadest me to be a Christian.” Unless the scriptural account is in error, Paul was not particularly comforted by the prospect of an almost-Christian shaping politics on the highest earthly levels. (BC)