A review of the momentous news stories during CHRISTIANITY TODAY’S first ten years suggests that the magazine could have chosen no opening decade more strategic.
Reporting of intellectual, moral, and spiritual news is hazardous because significance often lies as much in broad trends as in specific events and personalities. This, plus the sheer bulk of the news, makes it virtually impossible to compile a useful list of “top stories.” Instead, we point to ten great dynamic forces that affected Christianity and were affected by Christianity during our first decade of publication:
Quest For Racial Justice
As newly independent nations arose, Christian nationals across the world assumed management of their churches as never before. In an era of racial interaction and new freedom, South Africa epitomized white intransigence.
In America, a political revolution began with Negro Christians and drew increasing support as a moral issue from white clergymen. From Martin Luther King’s bus boycott, the movement went on to attack a multitude of sins, but barely touched long-term problems of employment, education, housing, and family stability.
Public shock at police brutality and pressure from churchmen led to major national civil rights laws. While public institutions gradually integrated, the color line within Protestantism generally stood fast. A backlash of bigotry accompanied excesses in the Negro struggle while Gandhian non-violence faded as the reigning rationale.
The Ecumenical Tide
A new spirit of unity on a pan-Christian scale was possible because of a moderating Roman Catholicism. The attitude of Eastern Orthodoxy was more ambiguous. In a decade full of ecumenical “firsts,” intra-Protestant mergers created the new United Presbyterian Church, American Lutheran Church, Lutheran Church in America, and United Church of Christ. The United Church, which cut across confessional lines, lost members during the decade; growth was more typical of Baptists, Pentecostals, and other non-ecumenical independents.
In 1960 Eugene Carson Blake, later chosen general secretary of the World Council of Churches, proposed a dramatic U. S. Protestant merger. By 1966, delegates from nine denominations with 25 million members had approved union principles. In world missions, the International Missionary Council merged with the WCC, and cooperation grew among independents outside the WCC.
The New Face Of Roman Catholicism
Some have said that Pope Pius XII had planned to call a council. It probably would have rapped the Reds, endorsed the past, and promulgated new Marian dogma. But Pope John’s Vatican Council II gave surprising vent to Rome’s liberal element and such thinkers as Küng and Murray. It recast attitudes toward Protestants, Jews, revelation, and church-state relations, and updated church structure and worship. But the ecumenical barricades of mariology and papal infallibility remained tough problems of implementation and such unresolved issues as birth control fell to John’s successor, Pope Paul VI.
Another John, named Kennedy, became the first of his faith elected to the U. S. Presidency. His performance in office assuaged anti-Catholics and contributed to the new interfaith climate.
Shifts In Church-State Relations
Centuries-old patterns of church-state relations changed in many countries. The major spur to this was Vatican II’s religious freedom document, which weakened ancient papal agreements with certain governments. In Catholic Spain and Latin America and in Orthodox Greece, priests berated the government. Lutheran Scandinavia reconsidered the official churches’ status, and in Britain, government ties seemed increasingly an albatross for Anglicanism.
In the United States, the Supreme Court increased separation, if not secularism, with two key rulings on prayer and Bible reading in public schools. But in a contrasting trend, long-standing church-state walls crumbled as Congress gave federal aid to parochial schools, religious colleges, and church-related poverty agencies.
The Cold War’S Move East
As Red China became a nuclear force and a growing threat to world peace, she drew apart from her onetime ally, the Soviet Union. The thaw between the Soviet Union and the West was seen in Khrushchev’s tour of America and the entry of Russian Orthodoxy into the World Council of Churches. Rome was more conciliatory toward Moscow but was unable to become a diplomatic third force between East and West. The United Nations—which was visited by a pope for the first time last year—seemed to wane as such a third force.
A crude anti-Communist reaction survived in some segments of the Church and society, but other Christians were more concerned that the Communist Bloc remained the most challenging unevangelized area on earth. The ambiguous Viet Nam war succeeded World War II and Korea, where the moral issues were clearer; some churchmen opposed the war and favored a new, selective form of pacifism.
Science Tamed And Unleashed
In the decade of Sputnik and of the advent of man in space, science increased its dominance over philosophy and the humanities in the academic world, a trend accentuated by federal aid. Even art forms were increasingly mechanistic, as in electronic music and Op Art.
Scientific advance continued to create crises men were unprepared to handle, in automation, a surplus of unskilled labor, and a surplus of leisure, particularly in America. And science left unsolved the great moral questions created by new knowledge in such fields as medicine and genetic control. Who would make life-and-death decisions, and on what criteria?
An Uneasy Moral Climate
The “new morality” and situational ethics gave an air of respectability to what people intended to do anyway. The new Playboy empire and less urbane pornographers made millions on permissiveness endorsed by some churchmen. Men sought escape from their environment through such exotic means as LSD. More traditional misuse of narcotics continued, as did such old-fashioned problems as alcoholism, gambling, marriage breakdown, and plain dishonesty.
It was easier to lie, cheat, and steal in an impersonal, institutionalized society than in small-town America. A surge in all types of crime accompanied such chilling specifics as mass murders and aimless rioting. The assassination of John F. Kennedy was the worst single crime of the decade; Adolph Eichmann’s trial and execution were a reminder of past outrages.
Secularization Of The Church
An important element in Protestantism struggled to break out of institutional cocoons, often not to proclaim but to serve and to change social structures. The United Presbyterians’ new confession, with its “reconciliation” theme, was symptomatic of the search for the idiom of the age. Secular theology and relativism were exaggerated in the small but much-discussed “death of God” school.
Church lobbies in Washington, D. C., tended to overshadow activities by individual Christian citizens, and political pronouncements from church assemblies became commonplace. The churches also had another important link with the secular world—billions of dollars in equity—and use of these resources was an open question.
Demand For Depth Evangelism
In Christian theology and in evangelism and education, there was marked probing beyond the more obvious elementary issues. The decade’s foremost proclaimer of the Gospel, Billy Graham, led the way by intensifying his preparation and follow-up. Hit-or-miss witness was gradually yielding to what might be called “contextual evangelism,” in which the right to be heard is first won by identifying with needs and attitudes. The proliferation of means of communication brought many new opportunities but generally worked against the personal touch.
The World Congress on Evangelism, with its not-by-design forerunner, the Congress on the Church’s Worldwide Mission, represents a broad new move toward coordinated evangelistic strategy.
End Of A Generation Of Giants
Great religious thinkers died in this decade: C. S. Lewis, then Schweitzer, Tillich, and Brunner. Another major figure who died was Sartre, existentialism’s leading exponent of despair. Giants of Christian thought were at the close of their careers: Barth, Bultmann, Niebuhr, and Maritain.
During these years, neo-orthodoxy declined as an intellectual option, largely because of its wavering sense of divine revelation and biblical authority. In an ecumenical age, major denominations reflected an eclectic, tolerant atmosphere, without indignation even toward heresy. Protestantism was groping for meaning and direction and was uncertain which concepts and personalities would condition the new era.
A high churchman, Archbishop Philip N. W. Strong of Brisbane, was elected primate of the Church of England in Australia. He succeeds Dr. Hugh R. Gough, an evangelical who resigned both an archbishopric and the primacy because of illness. The 67-year-old Strong, a bachelor, was born in England and served twenty-seven years as bishop of Papua, New Guinea.
Dr. Ronald Osborn, dean of Christian Theological Seminary, Indianapolis, was named president-elect of the International Convention of Christian Churches.
Alabama-born C. Eugene Kratz was chosen president of Maryland Baptist College, now being built on a 140-acre site forty miles west of Baltimore. Kratz has been a researcher for the U. S. Office of Education and a Southern Baptist educational missionary to Southern Rhodesia. He earned a doctorate from Teachers College of Columbia University in college and university administration.
South Viet Nam’s new constitutional assembly includes 30 Roman Catholics among its 117 members. Buddhist candidates won 34 of the seats, according to Religious News Service. Only two or three of the Buddhists, however, are rated as supporters of the militant monk Thich Tri Quang (see Sept. 30 issue, page 18).
Pollster Louis Harris said last month that U. S. Catholics favor Robert Kennedy over Lyndon Johnson by a 60–40 ratio for Democratic Presidential candidate in 1968. Protestants, he reported, prefer Johnson 53 to 47. Harris said Catholics go for Kennedy over Richard Nixon 66 to 34, Jews for Kennedy over Nixon by 70 to 30, and Protestants for Nixon over Kennedy by 58 to 42.
Methodism’s controversial student monthly motive has agreed to be the magazine for the new ecumenical University Christian Movement (see Sept. 30 issue, page 16). Evangelical Press Association and Evangelical Literature Overseas plan a joint effort to give a push to Christian communications in higher education, including counseling service, promotion of scholarship programs, and exchange of information on career opportunities.
Canada releases a new Christmas stamp this week showing a reproduction of “Praying Hands,” a famous drawing by the German Renaissance artist Albrecht Dürer. The stamp will come in denominations of three cents (rose-colored) and five cents (orange).
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