The sight of an insolent, shouting Slavic bully is never attractive, whether fictionally in Dostoievsky or in the flesh in Paris; and the deliberate twisting of the spy plane incident into a cause for international misbehavior is a piece of “brinkmanship” that Satan alone could have devised.
The Communist strategy strains at a gnat while it asks the Free World to swallow a camel. We whose spiritual ancestors bled and died to win the only freedom the human race has ever known should be the last ones to concede an inch to the great twentieth century brainwash known as Marxist socialism. Years ago Time magazine accurately diagnosed communism as simply a technique for gaining and keeping power. It has achieved its power not by persuasion and reason, but by the rack, the wheel, the screw, and the marathon-discussion technique of eroding the mind and will. Its leaders are not elected by a multiple party system; they concede no natural rights to their citizenry. Comrade Ivan may think that life in Magnitogorsk is “not bad,” but he is like the slave chained in Plato’s cave, to whom shadows are the only reality. For in truth Comrade Ivan has never risen to his full height as a free man. The prisoner who unhappily falls into the hands of the state police is informed, “Your defense is not necessary for we never make a mistake. When we arrest you, you’re guilty. A defense is necessary only in corrupt bourgeois society where they have corrupt officials.”
In the light of the charges now being hurled at our own country, it is well that we recall the nature of the ruthless and ungodly system with which we are dealing. Communist espionage for 42 years has been poking under every tent in the inhabited world. The U-2 flights over Russian territory during the past four years were not ordered by irresponsible and aggressive leaders, but were a vital part of Free World defense for which we should be thankful. America would be in much graver danger but for multiplied activities designed to protect us from surprise attack. Espionage is evil only as it is carried out with aggression in mind. Neither we nor our leaders contemplate aggression against anyone in the world. But we are face to face with forces which plan to destroy us if possible.
Khrushchev’s rage and his subsequent scuttling of the summit seem to spring from two facts: Soviet humiliation from the world’s discovery that at least 50 flights of the U-2 had taken place over Russia before mechanical failure intervened May Day to bring down one of the planes; and a serious rift within the Kremlin which may have sent Khrushchev to the summit a virtual prisoner of those he had dominated up to that time.
Having said this, we are now forced by events to take stock also of the fact that America stands morally humiliated before God. Not before Russia, not before the world, but before God. We have been trapped in attempting refuge in a lie. We have even encouraged men in our armed forces when facing torture to commit the act of self-destruction—which clearly violates the commandment of God and may send the victim unprepared into his presence. We announce to the world that we will defend our country with espionage and then we say that we will not. We have chosen to rely on human prudence rather than on the wisdom that comes from counsel with the Almighty. The high moral principles upon which our government was founded, and the righteousness and justice which have been the invisible structure of our foreign policy, are being sabotaged by the relativistic and utilitarian ethics of a cynical age.
But God will not be ignored! If we forsake the springs of living water for broken cisterns, and if we substitute subterfuge for rectitude and divine trust, this nation which has known God will surely feel the rod of judgment. Many Christians have been praying fervently for something to happen to America that would wake her up, that would bring our nation to her senses before it is too late. Scripture does not teach that we will be saved by miracle fabrics or the four-day week; by the U-2 or the United Nations. For the Christian there is comfort in the thought that God may have spared us yet greater evil through the collapse at Paris. Many have felt that any meeting of minds with the Communists must lead inevitably to our own detriment. A collapsed summit is to be welcomed more than another Teheran. Scripture teaches that God will meet America at only one place: at the Cross, and that is the way of repentance and spiritual humiliation.
True, God wills government and abhors anarchy, but he is not overly concerned to “salvage the chestnuts” of our Western civilization. His Church, in fact, has already extricated herself from three dying cultures in her two-thousand-year history. In the modern crisis of the nations we have seen the breakdown of the strategy of power blocs, of the League of Nations and United Nations, of personal diplomacy. Neither flexibility nor intransigence has overcome the Cold War; the spirit of modern civilization remains chilled with fear of destruction. God does not provide survival insurance, he provides only himself. He wills a nation and its people under himself; and if the Deuteronomic philosophy of history is correct, the living Lord has never and will never ultimately abandon his own.
In the strange, apocalyptic times in which we live, where safety, as Winston Churchill said somewhere, is the sturdy child of terror, even Khrushchev recognizes the fact that rockets and missiles will not provide the answer the world is seeking; that they will only destroy all possibility of further seeking. Yet all this was known before Paris. What has come to light since is the sad deterioration of the Western position before the onslaught of the devil’s preaching. Were we to send a man or a platoon into space tomorrow, our position would not be improved. We need to do exactly what a football coach does when he sees his fair young hopefuls pushed around by an opponent: schedule some sessions in fundamentals. America needs a drill in right thinking and right acting according to God’s Word.
And what is the Christian Church contributing to the moral renaissance America needs in her desperate hour? How is she meeting the nation’s need? Heroically, with sacrificial toil, burning the brand of God’s truth and righteousness into every man, woman, and child? Filling each convert with a loyalty and a sense of destiny under God that would call forth the ultimate measure of devotion? Or are we spending our best efforts railing at “the liberals” or “the fundamentalists,” shaking our heads at the human race, choosing carpeting for the new building, begging for money, pushing for ecclesiastical status, and following the priest and Levite down the other side of the road while America is bleeding to death?
There is no use sending up a wail of self-pity over our lot, any more than there was in Israel’s time of affliction. As Jeremiah told them, they “had it coming.” Our task as Christians and as Americans is therefore quite simple: to ask divine forgiveness and to gird up our loins and set our hearts to serve the living God. Not an easy prospect or a pleasant one, to be sure, for it means an overhauling of much that we have been prone to take for granted as “the American way of life.” Our spiritual diet may change from upside-down cake to hardtack, but that, too, will be to the good. If we seek revival now, it may still not be too late. For while God’s judgment is terrible, his mercies are yet infinite, and Jesus Christ remains Lord of history. Any other road points straight to oblivion.
CHICAGO THEOLOGICAL TROUBLES RECALL AN UNFULFILLED VISION
In May death came to the great philanthropist John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and, by coincidence, dissolution also to the federated divinity faculty at University of Chicago (founded in 1890 by J. D. R., Jr.’s father under the misimpression of establishing a great center of Christian education). The son’s death at 86, and disruption of the Federated Theological Faculty, provide instructive opportunity to recall the distortion of his father’s objectives for Chicago by liberal advisors.
Noted Baptist theologian A. H. Strong had persuaded J. D. R. of the need of a great Baptist university. Ecclesiastical counselors encouraged him, instead, to establish University of Chicago with a Baptist divinity school attached. Before long the seminary not only ceased to be Baptist, ceased even to be Christian, but also became intolerantly naturalistic; there was more supernaturalism in philosophy than in theology classes.
In time Chicago Divinity School (American Baptist in name) had three neighbor seminaries: Chicago Theological Seminary (Congregational), Disciples Divinity House, and Meadville Theological School (Unitarian). In 1943 an ecumenical experiment merged these schools into a loose but complex amalgam. While the experiment often showed signs of strain, new professors and Sealantic Fund grants extended its life. But tension continued. Chicago Theological Seminary supplied most of the B.D. students while the unified I acuity dominated the curriculum and the University sought more controls. Soon debate over faculty appointments and study programs was openly publicized. Now three institutions have indicated impending withdrawal. The actual detachment date is still to be set.
The Rockefeller fortune exemplified a noble dedication of wealth. Serving the unstable cause of liberalism, however, and in fact the interests of many creeds, it tended especially to neglect J. D. R.’s basically evangelical vision of a great Christian university. It is still not too late to fulfill a holy vision, conceived but abused 70 years ago, to guard America’s high heritage.
CLARITY AND THE GOSPEL IN THE POST-MODERN AGE
The basic concern that confronts us as Christian believers is the difficult task—daily it grows more difficult—of reaching the world in the 1960s for Jesus Christ. The fact that we are in a time of transition and turmoil nullifies the simpler sketchings of our problem of communication. The real world around us is a very complex world. Harvard historian Crane Brinton, in A History of Western Morals, may write of complacent intellectuals who see the United States only as a land of “identical Main Streets tied together by the same interstate highway of mind and body,” but he notes also that the social alarmists see the diversities: “the incredible variety of … institutions of higher education; the hundreds of organized sects, Christian, Jewish, Enlightened, theosophic, faddist … the sometimes appalling course of fashion, the uniformity of the desire to be different … the continuing American lust for experiment, including socio-economic experiment, which has meant that even in the mid-twentieth century … there still try to crop up little groups that try to live without machines, or bring up children without a single ‘No!,’ or make a university out of one hundred Great Books, or control the flesh by going nude.…”
This real world around us is a very complex world; speak of it as “wide,” “wild,” “lost,” or “doomed,” the big problem remains with us of finding living touch for the Gospel in the experience of the post-moderns among whom we live. The Greek and Roman “barbarians” (the pagans of New Testament times) were closer to the Christian outlook, not only in time and space but in mind, in their basic view of Reality, than modern beatniks and conformists. The ancient pagan mind, however dim and dark it was, was “closer to the Kingdom” than the post-modern pagan mind. What does that imply for you and me as disciples of Jesus Christ in 1960? Do we therefore forsake this “beat generation,” or are we under heavy obligation to the generation of which we are a living phase?
If we are going to communicate properly, we shall have to communicate intelligibly as well as relevantly and faithfully. It is more than ever a tragedy when the Gospel gets sunk in semantic swamps, for Christianity is still a message for the masses, for the millions. Giant business and political movements have learned to address the masses. Billy Graham has grasped the significance of clarity in gospel presentation better than Barth, Niebuhr, or Tillich, who often seem to the masses as obscure and ambiguous as the Delphic Oracle. We have an obligation to make the Christian message as clear as the sky in a California travel ad, so that the truth stares our generation in the face as clear, unambiguous, and recognizable, and is communicated in the plain speech of even man. A generation whose responses are so skillfully manipulated by Madison Avenue that the reader can enjoy on paper the sizzle of a steak, thrill to the speed of a jet without actually stepping off the ground, experience capital gains in a mutual fund before investing a cent, splash imaginatively in the satisfying style of a new Cadillac, safely carry the money he doesn’t have by traveler’s cheques—such a generation has been reached by precision in thought and by effectiveness in wording and imagery that places new responsibilities of articulateness upon all of us. Whatever else we do in the 1960’s, the message must be intelligible.
THE TEMPEST OF RELIGIOSITY AND THE DECLINE OF FAITH
“Religion in American Life” posters present a comfortable and appealing picture: Sunday School children gazing upward, a thoughtful man occupying a church pew. Such images subtly suggest that “a little religion never hurts anybody.” Within the very limited context of “pure religion” the cliché is not altogether devoid of merit. Indeed, no Christian would deny that some wisdom can be found in other spiritual traditions, nor would he insist that Christianity has a monopoly of truth and virtue. As good Americans, moreover, we believe in freedom of religion, and we do not like it when any group arrogates primacy to itself because “error does not have the same rights as truth.”
In the midst of a wave of “religiosity,” CHRISTIANITY TODAY is committed to a vigorous evangelical witness. It maintains that the gospel of Jesus Christ cannot be accommodated to the spongy atmosphere of “syncretism” and “inclusivism.” The “religious” wave currently sweeping America may carry some earnest seekers into the stream of historic Christianity, but champions of non-Christian points of view are exploiting the movement most actively. Millions are being swept into cults where the evangel of Jesus Christ is ignored or distorted to the point of unrecognizability.
We are disturbed that so many people are seeking God everywhere except where, according to his Word, he is assuredly found. We do not hold that what a person believes “really does not matter so long as he is sincere about it.” Rather, we affirm that the choice is still between true religion and false religion, pure religion and impure religion, and not simply between some religion and none at all. The New Testament does not say that there are many paths to the kingdom of heaven. It does not liken the Word of God to a shotgun that scatters its pellets but to a sword that pierces sharply and deeply.
The lack of spiritual discrimination shown by devotees of these cults is often accompanied by a lack of moral discrimination. Thus the well-known practice of “sheep stealing” among some groups suggests a doctrine that the end justifies the means; and the habit of “disaffiliating” from the world and repudiating the obligations of citizenship, indulged in by some groups, denies in effect the social responsibility of the individual. What are we to say of a sect or a “religion” that confirms a man in his sins and worsens his plight?
The common target of all these cults seems to be the churches. It is in part a judgment on the church at large that great numbers, dissatisfied with her current teaching and works, have taken up “strange fire” and esoteric doctrines. The man who has found “fulfillment” in nudism, in Zen-Buddhism, or in existentialism usually has nothing but pity and scorn for the unenlightened Bible-reading Christian. Herod and Pilate can still be counted on to agree on one issue. But we are led to ask the question: were the Gospel, which is the power of God unto salvation, faithfully preached, would there be this new diaspora of our day? As Christians we are not so much concerned which particular church the people choose to attend as we are that the churches of our land be found holding forth faithfully the Word of life.
There is a curious likableness about the American religionist and his determination to coexist with anyone and everyone, whether he worships in a church, shrine, mosque, tent, store front, temple, synagogue, joss house, high place, or lodge meeting. But the modern tendency of putting faith on a subjective basis (e.g., “What is true and good for one need not be true and good for another”; “Your religion is real only if it is real to you”; “The important thing is that what I believe comforts me”; and so forth) has called in question the objectivity and reality of God himself.
We have arrived not just in the post-Christian era where Christ is rejected while his ethics remain; we have reached the “post-modern” era where even the morality is gone. Who are the new “spiritual” leaders now beckoning America? They are marijuana-smoking beatniks, blob artists, composers of offbeat anthems, and pantheists from the East. What is the revised version of the Mosaic code we are now asked to adopt? Acceptance of cheating, lying, corruption, and laziness as normal behavior; contempt for law itself; indifference to immorality and even to sex deviation. And what are the sanctions for such behavior?—anything under the name of “religion” that does not interfere with our selfish drives.
Popularizers of social studies freely admit that a connection exists between the increasingly invertebrate state of American character and the flight from the historic Christian faith. The task of the Church is to show that “religion” itself is no solution; that the road to hell is paved with religious fetishes.
In the days ahead, according to observers, Christian faith and other religions will be confronting each other in unprecedented ways. We welcome all such encounters. After centuries of “holy” warfare, an era of religious understanding and brotherhood is long overdue. Together the theistic religions should be speaking unequivocally to the hedonistic naturalism and the militant atheism of our time. But we have no reason to stop evangelizing. The Great Commission has never been revoked, nor has the Father’s purpose altered. It is still true that nothing less than spiritual awakening and a fresh obedience to God in Christ will save America and the nations.
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