Advocates of Christianity face a pecular problem today in addressing modern men. It involves finding avenues into a public mentality that is at the same time both more informed and less informed.

The condition is no mere paradox. It seems to me to be the main present-day hurdle for the Church.

Christianity is up against a wall compounded of intellectual wealth and poverty, of prodigious information and huge superficiality, both characteristics existing side-by-side and both demanding consideration if the Church’s word is to get through intelligibly. Sometimes, it seems to me, we don’t pay sufficient heed to either.

We live in an environment that is far more versed in natural data than ever before but which is conversely lacking in religious cultivation. I am referring here not to the often cited imbalance in material and spiritual development, but simply to an imbalance in kinds of general knowledge.

Most Americans have taken in a varied curriculum, but little adult catechism. They’re keen on the encyclopedia, but not on theology. If, in these circumstances, the Christian voice is to ring clear, it needs to speak in terms that are currently distinct to make plain those that are not.

The inner light must be conveyed in the context of the outer glare. This means not that the outer glare is bad, but simply that it exists. Much of it is good. In any case, it is the atmosphere in which we live and in which the Church must function, either coping with it or failing to do so.

The Lore And Lingo Of Our Times

Our society is full of knowledge about many things. It is schooled, sophisticated, critical, sharp. It has grown up in the arts, sciences, and letters, at least on our sector of the planet. It is loaded with the latest psychological, technical, sociological, and assorted other kinds of facts.

In such a climate, if the Church is to be heard and understood it must take this educational polish into account. It must be just as literate, just as astute, just as inquisitive and fertile-minded—or better still, more so.

It must know the aptitudes and use the lore and lingo of the times, whether this be through the public press or through any other channels directed to the mass of men.

This is not to suggest that the church should buy the world’s evaluation of its own knowledge. Far from it. But the Church must itself possess that knowledge, must take cognizance of it and reflect it, in order to express the truth through it and about it.

The neglected religious subject matter must be presented via the orb of the modern mind if it is to reach that mind. In short, the Church must be studiously alert, claiming the world’s learning as the media of its own. I think it is doing so to an increasing extent.

On the other hand, however, the Church also needs a candid, unassuming simplicity.

In the midst of our factual abundance, there is a large gap in religious acquirements. Our culture has taken its Master’s in man but neglected the ABC’s of his meaning. Our day is proficient but not profound. It is laden with mass learning, but it is massively unknowing about Christianity.

We in newspaper work encounter this situation continually. Even the most common religious references need parenthetical explanations. This is not the case in other fields. We don’t have to explain Hiroshima. We do have to explain Pentecost. We don’t have to define NATO, but we do the Trinity. We obviously don’t have to amplify such ordinary terms as diplomatic recognition, astronaut, geneology, and taxes, but we do have to explain such ordinary Christian terms as intercommunion, presbyter, apostolic succession, and stewardship. Readers know Aristotle and Einstein, but not Augustine and Hosea.

Perhaps this intellectual disparity has always been so, to a large extent. But it seems to me to be particularly acute today.

Great numbers of people just are not familiar with religious concepts or traditions. Their notions of Christian doctrine are often shallow caricatures, or plain fallacies. Most of them are without a mature grounding in the Bible. They look casually on the Church’s liturgy as mere form. And perhaps most troublesome of all, they simply do not understand the Church’s vocabulary. The customary terms fail to strike a clear image. Sometimes they even undergo rank distortion.

Almost everyone grasps vividly words like radiation, psychotherapy, telemetry, electrocardiograph, inflation, unilateral action; but people are bemused and uncomprehending in the face of religious terms such as atonement, grace, revelation, justification by faith, mystical body—or even sin and redemption.

I am talking here not about seasoned Christians but about the average run of people encountered at work or in other non-church settings—the general populace, to whom the press speaks and to whom the Church is supposed to speak. They are educated; they have traveled and have read about a vast range of things; but they are impressively naive about Christianity, its resources and its insights.

Thus the Church confronts a curious people.

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Generally they are highly informed and intellectually advanced.

But about religion, they’re rather simple and crass.

For A Smart Simplicity

Somehow, the Church needs to lay hold on these two factors in communicating its message. It needs to be both smart and rudimentary, both more subtle and more explicit. Perhaps we should make a greater effort to translate religious wisdom into the kind of intelligence the world speaks and comprehends.

Many church spokesmen do it. C. S. Lewis is a prime example. Billy Graham, Samuel Miller, Reuel Howe, Roman Catholic Bishop John Wright, to name a few—these also do it, each in his own style. But many others do not.

Each age has its special framework and thought forms. In the contemporary setting the old phrases and images, precious as they are to the initiated, may not tell the story clearly to the finely tutored yet wondering stranger outside the gates. And it is his hearing we seek.

To obtain it, the Church must teach in his terms, in his culturally advanced idiom, while at the same time recognizing, without condescension, his religious drawbacks. This means an awareness of both the world’s brilliance and its ignorance. It means knowing, and also explaining. Perhaps it means taking a tip from Jesus who, when he was sending out the disciples, admonished them to be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”

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