The Carter Question II: Piety and Politics

The Miracle of Jimmy Carter

by Howard Norton, by Bob Slosser
Logos Books, 134 pp., $1.95 (paper)

The Gift of Inner Healing

by Ruth Carter Stapleton
Word Books, 115 pp., $4.95

I’ll Never Lie to You” Jimmy Carter in His Own Words

by Robert W. Turner
Ballantine, 178 pp., $1.75 (paper)

Albert Schweitzer in his marvelous book The Quest of the Historical Jesus writes about, or parodies, the rich, poetic manner of Renan’s Life of Jesus:

Thus he rode, on His long-eyelashed gentle mule, from village to village, from town to town. The sweet theology of love (la délicieuse théologie de l’amour) won Him all hearts. His preaching was gentle and mild (suave et douce), full of nature and the fragrance of the country.

The historical Jesus is never discovered. (Noack, a German scholar writing in the 1870s, thought Jesus was prone to ecstasy because he was born out of wedlock. De Jonge [1904] believed he had discovered in the Gospel of John that Jesus was between forty and fifty years old at the time of His first coming forward publicly. He was a widower and had a little son.)

The political rise of Jimmy Carter who, along with his family and members of his staff, asserts that he is “strongly committed to Jesus Christ” leads us, cheerfully, into the murk of the Christian past, into the cacophony of the Holy Spirit. And indeed theirs is a “born again” world—free and blithe and with the milky theology of a newborn baby.

Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar” was the only sound left of the great Sea of Faith for Matthew Arnold. Still the evangelical movement with its plainness, obstinacy, and intensity lives on. The “enthusiasm” rises in the summer conversion dramas, the altar acceptances of Christ, the murmuring encouragement of the communicants humming “Almost Persuaded.” These practices maintain their hold here and there, with a few shapings and reshapings, with shifts that are not essentially doctrinal since the central belief is that salvation comes from faith in Christ alone. Changes appear as metaphor, and Christ keeps up, now a businessman, now a sort of early astronaut, a neighbor and best friend.

Jimmy Carter set forth on a period of “witnessing”—passing out tracts, preaching, witnessing in humble door-to-door missionary greetings, revealing his own strong commitment to Christ. He went from Georgia to Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, encouraging people “to receive Jesus Christ into their hearts and lives.” On a call back home to his wife he said, “I feel as though if I walked across the street no car would even dare to hit me, because the Lord is with me.”

The account above is from The Miracle of Jimmy Carter by Howard Norton and Bob Slosser. The Carter “literature” begins in such presses as Logos (New Jersey), publishers in Nashville and Waco, Texas, and finally leads up to the sayings of Carter, put out by Ballantine and called “I’ll Never Lie to You.” These printed works are presumably presented for our scrutiny and yet the reading of them makes one feel a little sly and unworthy. This is especially true in the case of The Miracle of Jimmy Carter and the book by Ruth Carter Stapleton called The Gift of Inner Healing. True, here, because of the hasty …

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Letters

The Smiles of Carter October 14, 1976