The decline of decency imperils wide reaches of modern culture and life. We are headed for doom unless pervasive immorality is arrested. The prevalent notion that birth control techniques are the best answer to sex passions collapses before the high percentage of unwed mothers who are nurses, teachers, and college students. No enthusiasm for a great American society can gainsay the deterioration of sex standards, the rise in venereal disease, the multiplication of illegitimate births.

Yet those who plot the statistics of immorality should not be permitted to obscure certain facts. America has not sunk to the depravity of the pagan world that existed before revealed religion registered its impact upon society—not yet, happily. In this regard it is well to keep one eye on the world of religion and the other on sex ideals. In ancient Egypt the Pharaoh Akhenaten, who was considered to be divine, married his own daughter. In ancient Greece sacred prostitution was accepted as a feature of pagan religious life. Modern America has not plummeted to the depths of the ancient world, but there is much reason for concern. The nightclub songstress has taken to “gospel” songs, and Ed Sullivan’s Sunday night television program periodically turns religion into entertainment. Some very vocal clergymen proclaim a “new morality” (really the old immorality) that inverts biblical claims in the realm of sex and marriage: almost every week some sensationalist tells his congregation that agape is self-justifying, and all other norms are inferior to it—in other words, nothing can be sexually out of bounds for two people who love each other. Openings like these may release flood waters that will deluge even the churches with erotic tendencies and neo-paganize the life of love.

But the rising tide of indignation and concern also signals a moment of methodological danger for all who plot a remedial alternative. We should not rely mainly on programs that promote purity by destroying freedom. Legislative compulsion may provide penalties for infractions and restrain a sick society from iniquity momentarily, but no society will long survive whose citizens lack heart to abstain from evil; apart from the will to decency not even the best laws will keep men from destroying themselves. While legal restraints are proper and necessary, those who share the faith in revealed religion will fail both the Church and the world if this is all we have to offer. Reliance only on coercion, moreover, is particularly perilous at a time when totalitarian tyrants regard the state as the ultimate source and sanction of approved social morality. When government becomes the defender of private morality it easily becomes the definer of private morality also. Two bills proposed in the present Congress call for the establishment of a presidentially appointed commission which would provide a coordinating center for the reflection of all related apprehensions and concerns and explore methods of combatting and suppressing obscene literature.

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The biggest contribution the clergy can make—Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish—is to reaffirm the seventh commandment, “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” and to remind our wayward generation of the criterion by which God proposes to judge its sexual delinquency. In relation to the tide of obscene literature in our time, the churches should remind modern man of the inner meaning of the divine command as Jesus of Nazareth expressed it in the Sermon on the Mount: “Whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.” The warning is doubly appropriate in view of the photographic cult of feminine nakedness supported by the magazine traffic in our day. At his first coming, Jesus Christ drove the money-changers out of the temple; in the final judgment will he not consign publishers and peddlers of sex temptation and their wares to the stenching refuse pits of Gehenna?

The laity in our churches also have a major contribution to make in these times. If one marriage in five or six ends in divorce, it is high time our generation heard from the four in five marriages that stick. It is time our generation heard the neglected facts—suppressed by the prurient literature of our times—that love that observes the limits of truth and righteousness is more enduring and more satisfying than illicit counterfeits. Let those who know the joys of virtue in sex become vocal about its rewards, to the shame of those who suggest that morality is antiquated and that wife-swapping is more desirable than the maintenance of monogamous marriage.

What we specially need in this day of mass media and mass communication is a creative literature that dips into the restless revolt of our times. Let Christians emphasize the truth that biblical morality is not outdated. What we champion is a society ruled by love in the noblest sense, not one ruled by lust and license. Let us take the initiative for whatsoever things are right and pure by throwing our weight fully behind the creation of a decent literature and not simply against the proliferation of indecent literature. Assuredly there are some who, with tongue in cheek, suggest that the Bible itself contains indecent passages, and who quite forget that, in its exposure of human depravity, Scripture judges man’s lapses in the light of an absolute standard of morality. When distributors of indecent literature begin displaying and promoting the Bible alongside the rot that now clutters many magazine store shelves, it will be time enough to credit such critics of the Bible with sincerity. The creation of an evangelical literature that grapples with the concerns of love and sex as thoroughly as with the issues of life and death remains a profound need of our generation, and only the Church, and not the world, can hope to meet this need. It will be little credit to us if we exterminate the dens of darkness and nowhere light a path of hope.

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The real problem of our age, as in every other age, is sinful man’s lack of mind and heart for the truth. Laws that are passed without public enthusiasm are winked at even when they dare not be repealed. Whether our concern is juvenile delinquency and crime or sexual delinquency, the basic problem is not that men and women possess no insight whatever into right and wrong, but that they lack the will to do what they know to be right. Even the ancient pagan world into which Christianity came was not wholly without the light of conscience, but it lacked moral devotion even to its paltry standards. And the Apostle Paul knew that neither he nor the early Christians could keep the revealed moral law of God simply by self-effort. His anguished question and his exultant cry in the letter to the Romans should be priority reading in our generation: “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord.… The Spirit also helpeth our infirmities …” (Rom. 7:24, 25, 8:26). It is redemptive religion that renews human nature, that lifts men to a higher level of ethical motivation, that prompts men not simply to shy from wrong because it is legally prohibited but to do the right out of love for God. If ever the Church was called to a virile theology of evangelism and conversion, this is that time.

Yet those who do not know the grace of God need law, as indeed do all men in this life. Civil government will always be needed in a society of sinful and imperfect men. The promotion of just laws is a special responsibility of the people of God. In urging laws to halt the trend toward indecency we are on sure ground insofar as our concern is to protect human rights from the infringements of those who violate them—to protect minors against public sale of obscene literature and citizens against unsolicited pay-on-examination mailings of indecent literature. But if we propose a paternalistic ground for government intervention whenever the license of madmen sets up a clamor for controls, we may be sharpening a two-edged sword of the state by a precedent that someday may threaten the freedom of good men and not simply, as we now propose, the license of bad men. There are indeed things that can and must be done by law, but let us not put the state into the business of legislating ecclesiastical morality as the means of registering the Church’s impact upon society. There are areas of social pressure that we are also fully free to pursue. Let us ask whether publishers, distributors, and magazine store operators approve these products for their own teen-agers, whether their neighbors find their own living rooms cluttered with the muck that is displayed on the public counters.

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In summary, it is more important to encourage positive alternatives than to deplore negative trends. We must promote decent literature, not merely proscribe indecent litter. We must laud the lasting glory of righteousness and purity over the temporary tingle of the smutty and profane. We must remind our twilight generation that wherever love is loosed from God’s light and law, man’s life soon lurches to lowness and littleness, and loses its lodestar and luster. What men and women no longer remember is that the erosion of these values is the diminution of the self. Formerly the non-Christian who was no saint at least knew himself to be a sinner; his modern counterpart seems sometimes even to forget that he is a man. His world of spiritual and moral response has shriveled to the point where virtually the only infinity he knows is the infinity of sex. The days of old Pompeii are swiftly coming upon us again. We are breeding a generation of sex giants with mustard-seed spirits, and those who read the signs of the times hear the roar of Vesuvius readying its terrible judgment upon our sex-debauched society.

What godly men and women can do now, let them do quickly—but let them do more than erect high fences of prevention. Let them channel wide rivers of life to a doomed generation.

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Academic Freedom And Doctrinal Commitment

In recent years several well-known denominational divinity schools have run into theological difficulties at the faculty level. In each instance these difficulties have involved departure from the doctrinal commitments of the institution, and in each instance the specter of the infringement of academic liberty has been raised.

The problem of academic liberty in relation to theological statements of faith is not new. The real difficulty is how to resolve the tension inherent in such situations. In 1960 the American Association of Theological Schools adopted a splendid statement on academic freedom and tenure that says in part: “An institution which has a confessional or doctrinal standard may expect that its faculty subscribe to that standard.… So long as the teacher remains within the accepted constitutional and confessional standard of his school he should be free to teach, carry on research, and to publish.…”

It is therefore clear that (1) academic freedom does not include the right to subvert an institution by changing its theological position; (2) professors who cannot honestly teach within the framework of the confessions they sign should be ethically sensitive and resign their posts; (3) professors who no longer adhere to a confession and fail to resign voluntarily should be relieved of their responsibilities.

Christ And The Gospel

It is a cardinal agreement of all theological schools today that the New Testament proclaims Jesus Christ. While affirming that Jesus the Christ must be personally received as Saviour and Lord, the New Testament nowhere presents a man of Galilee with messianic aspirations, a historical figure who subsequently “became” the Christ. Any reconstructed “Jesus of history” that merely details his “beliefs” about God and man obscures this biblical portrait. The apostolic preaching in the Gospels does not reveal a not-yet-interpreted Jesus. What we do find in the Nazarene’s progressive self-manifestation to his contemporaries is a not-yet-acknowledged Redeemer who urges his hearers to decision. The historical Jesus “behind the Gospels” is the God-man whose true messianic identity becomes an open secret.

All the New Testament writings are by believers, who simultaneously bring us in touch with the historical Jesus and recognize him as the Christ. Throughout the apostolic writings we find a correlated emphasis on the finished work of the earthly Jesus and the ascended Christ’s continuing work. Only the whole Christ—pre-existent, incarnate, crucified, risen, ascended, and attested by the Spirit—is the Saviour and Lord of the Gospels. Always the apostles make this larger claim in depicting the true historical Jesus. So tremendously did the experience of the risen Jesus influence their recollection of the earthly Jesus that the apostles everywhere present historical data and evangelical proclamation in indissoluble unity. The New Testament gives no mere recital of past events, but rather confesses the crucified and reigning Lord who is even now present with his Church and who calls men everywhere to repentance.

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Evangelical scholarship acknowledges this Easter-perspective of the New Testament witness. It emphasizes as well that the biblical presentation of the history of Jesus is neither a fictitious reflex nor an imaginative reconstruction of the Church’s faith in him. The faith of the evangelists does not render the Jesus-picture of the Gospels unhistorical. The biblical record preserves the indispensable historical grounding of Christian revelation and faith.

The gospel record, moreover, authenticates itself to historical reason. Only when historical judgment is warped by arbitrary notions of the “admissability” of events does Jesus’ historical reality become unsure, or the reliability of the New Testament portrait of him become unclear. We need not wholly scorn Ethelbert Stauffer’s contention that objective historical criticism, on the basis of extraneous sources independent of the apostolic reports, can confirm and clarify the gospel portraits. Heilsgeschichte and Universalsgeschichte do not entirely lack a point of contact. The religious, social, cultural, and political situation of the first century sheds light upon circumstances surrounding Jesus’ life and ministry. We are free, of course, to dispute Stauffer’s notion that thereby we recover Jesus “as he actually was” in distinction from the Jesus of apostolic proclamation. Yet the danger lies not in the reliance of Stauffer’s method on scientific historical research but in the accommodation of such research to arbitrary dogmas about history.

Many historians are addicted to the controlling idea that biblical history must and can be wholly explained by factors immanent in the historical process. This bias restricts Christianity in advance to the stream of general religious and cultural development and automatically excludes the very possibility of special divine intervention in the world, of once-for-all supernatural revelation, and of unique divine incarnation in Jesus Christ. In order to assign historical, sociological, and psychological factors their due role in the study of biblical history, one need not prejudge the evidence so arbitrarily.

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Our possession of historical documents by those who knew Jesus best is now indisputable; eyewitness accounts are an integral aspect of the apostolic proclamation. And in its purpose to unveil Jesus as the Christ, the historical narration presupposes the historical revelation. New Testament literature does not construct the case for the deity of Jesus Christ; rather, the apostolic writings mirror the life, deeds, and words of the incarnate Lord. As Joachim Jeremias notes, “If … we occupy ourselves with the historical Jesus, the result is always the same: we find ourselves in the presence of God Himself.” It is untrue to scripturally documented history to locate an awareness of Jesus’ messianic role only in the faith of his followers. As Oscar Cullmann contends, and rightly so, no one can assuredly possess authentic Christian faith unless he first accepts the historical fact that Jesus of Nazareth believed himself to be the Messiah. The true starting point of all Christological thought is Jesus’ self-consciousness. The faith of the apostles is not the starting point of Christology as Bultmann and his disciples would have us believe; rather, it is Christ the incarnate God who is the starting point of the faith of the apostles.

The Awakening Of National Conscience

The widespread determination that voting rights must not be denied to eligible citizens of any race shows that a sense of justice is deeply imbedded in the American character. There is no cause for pride, because it has taken so inexcusably long for public conscience to be aroused. It is nevertheless encouraging that all over the nation people are insisting that freedom everywhere become a reality for their Negro fellow citizens. It is undeniable that in some areas there has been, and continues to be, a calculated determination to keep Negroes from voting. Public accommodation rights also have been grudgingly acknowledged, and only under pressure.

In his special message to Congress, President Johnson reflected the accumulated force of America’s awakening conscience and put the issue in a national rather than a sectional perspective. He was right in insisting that the promise of equality be fully kept, and in demanding prompt rectification of long-standing wrongs. He stressed the importance of judicial process and also sounded a timely warning against the abuse of free speech and free assembly.

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What legislation best secures the national interest by preserving constitutional patterns and guarantees is a question that must weigh heavily upon congressional leaders in the weeks ahead. World opinion and organized protest have reached emotional heights that must not be allowed to bring about hastily conceived federal legislation. Yet there must not be inordinate delay.

For the Church this should be a time of healing ministry when love is preached, when the Gospel that changes hearts is heard. Let the voice of reconciliation and forgiveness be heard. Should the Church be swept into a preoccupation with political reform instead, she will lose her witness where it is most needed.

Selma has now become a symbol of the struggle of two forces, and Alabama has become an emotional image. Civil rights activities have gained national and world-wide publicity. Many Southern spokesmen are indignant because universal misimpressions are created by the selection of particularly offensive target-areas.

Regrettably, thousands of citizens lack adequate knowledge and ability to vote responsibly, a situation that can lead to easy manipulation of voters. This doubtless is one penalty for the failure to prepare them for adequate citizenship. Yet it remains a fact that the most radical views can be discovered among the so-called intellectuals, and that unenlightened mass voting blocs now exist in many large cities.

Some observers find a similarity between the situation in the Congo and that in Alabama. The Belgian colonial government in the Congo was in many ways benevolent in later years, but it did not systematically prepare the Congolese for self-government nor train the people in advanced technical skills. Then came the clamor for independence. Supportive world opinion soon developed, based theoretically on the right to self-determination and complemented by emotional factors quite apart from practical reality. Belgium yielded to these demands and pulled out of the Congo, leaving a hastily established regime. The result was chaos.

Yet the mistakes of the past should not be used to perpetuate intolerable situations, nor to create new ones. It will take great political skill to give due weight to America’s highest interests during the discussion of pending legislation.

The march to Montgomery is over, but the nation has not yet seen the end of large-scale public demonstrations which now serve as complex fronts for many ambitions. Legitimacy of public assembly and public protest against glaring social injustice are not the only issues involved in mass demonstrations. Communist sympathizers exploit these activities to undermine confidence in free-world governments. Selma was not without such entanglement; the syndicated Washington columnists Rowland Evans and Robert Novak reported that “there is no doubt whatever that SNCC is substantially infiltrated by beatnik left-wing revolutionaries and—worst of all—by Communists.” Political agitators exploit mobocracy to overthrow constitutional government rather than to achieve political reforms by judicial processes. Church leaders use demonstrations to identify the theologically confused and evangelistically dormant Church not only with social concern but also with specific legislative programs.

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This growing reliance on mass pressures for swift change is an awesome spectacle. A recent issue of Life magazine carries pictures not only of the Alabama demonstrators but also of mobs stoning an American embassy abroad and of student uprisings on a university campus. The end of these things is not yet. Professional revolutionaries have a special interest in crises, since they furnish a context in which agitators can function as decisive masses through the mechanism of pressure to destroy government.

Yet the best alternative is surely not a reactionary policy of mere negation. America needs a new dedication to godliness and government, and under these to liberty and law. Let us convince our neighbor that we zealously cherish his human rights, and remind him also that his rights stop where ours begin.

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