“Let us shout from the housetops that there is hope, but only in Christ.”

“Evangelism.” For many people the very word conjures up soapboxes and street-corner buttonholing. I am ashamed to say how recently I myself have been offended by the subject. I was never one to press for personal commitment beyond what was thought proper in restrained Protestant circles. I was inclined, along with the majority, to smile at the altar call, and am still resistant to the idea that one must raise his right hand or march down the sawdust trail exactly when the revivalist says so. Even as a minister visiting a patient at the point of death, I have found it hard to stagger the conversation with the largest question one can ask: “Are you ready to confess your sins and accept the Saviour?”

Yet must we forever apologize for suggesting salvation? Do we children of the enlightenment realize that some of the most unorthodox Christians far outstrip us as evangelical spokesmen? That great white wizard Albert Schweitzer never failed to greet his African patient emerging from the anesthetic with the testimony, “It is the Lord Jesus who told the doctor and his wife to come to the Ogowe.” I must confess that some other words of Schweitzer lifted me out of another field and into divinity school. And I was astounded to find how many of my seminary colleagues had come, too, in response to Schweitzer’s now famous invitation:

He comes to us as One unknown, without a name, as of old, by the lakeside, He came to those men who knew Him not. He speaks to us the same word: “Follow thou me!” and sets us to the tasks which He has to fulfil for our time. He commands. And to those who obey Him, whether they be wise or simple, He will reveal Himself in the toils, the conflicts, the sufferings which they shall pass through in His fellowship, and, as an ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their own experience Who He is [The Quest of the Historical Jesus, Macmillan, 1960, p. 403].

If men of the most liberal persuasion back in what seems to us “the age of innocence” preached as Britain’s Baxter—“as never sure to preach again, as dying man to dying men”—why do we dally here at the brink of the abyss in uncertain dialogue? How drastically must death stare us in the face before we ask the question men are dying to hear? Where is even a glimmer of the eschatological urgency expressed so brilliantly in the speech of ancient prophets? If Dwight L. Moody never failed to make an altar call because the one audience he skipped perished that very night in the great Chicago Fire, what delays us—now that even China’s itchy finger is added to those clutching the trigger of the last gun ever to be pointed at earth’s old head? We suffer now not for lack of eloquence but for lack of conviction. George Mason said that when “Patrick Henry spoke, a man’s passions were no longer his own.” Where are the prophet’s sons to speak to us of our salvation tonight as the patriot of our freedom did early this morning?

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To say that our time is no more in extremis than any other time is ridiculous. I have been guilty of espousing that comforting illusion too long. For now it is not fanatic adventists but sophisticated existentialists, such as the distinguished French philosopher-poet Gabriel Marcel, who are warning that “we live in a situation without precedent.” Marcel does not get technical and mistakenly schedule God’s reappearance, but in the most impressive manner he speaks of “the flavor of evensong” that now pervades the air. We have become accustomed to thinking of God as a remote Creator; we are not oriented to a God who will be bringing things to a conclusion. Nothing is more certain than that we shall be surprised, for he has promised to return “like a thief in the night.”

The cries of the apostles were not false, nor were these men fooled. The extended time is our reprieve. Have we forgotten the Parable of the Fig Tree that was to be cut down for its barrenness? It was in mercy that the answer came, “I will give it another year.” We have had our year upon year, and now, wherever we look, we can see the handwriting on the wall.

Sins and terrors have always been part of man’s experience. But today the massive fist of madness clenching in China, Communism’s vicious contempt of God that has long been brewing in blood baths and behind barbed wire—these are shrieking crisis. The build-up fear is now spilling over in flagrant drug addiction and sexual perversion that not only are openly seen in the street but are even seeping into the church. Evil and ill will surround us; surely the climax is close.

This should not send us screaming into the streets. The effective plea for Christ is made not with more noise but with silence—by giving the other person his turn to speak, so God can then speak to him without interruption. As the situation grows noisier and more desperate, the faithful will hang on Paul’s words, “The kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power” (1 Cor. 4:20). No one ever talked or scared anyone else into rebirth. Persuasion is a work of God. As Kierkegaard ordered: “Silence! Bring about Silence! God’s word cannot be heard.” “Be still and know.”

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Our plea for Christ is not just in what we say or don’t say but in how much we care for this man for whom Christ cared enough to die. Do we care enough about the other fellow to miss a meal or lose a night’s sleep? His request is not, “Tell me more,” but quite simply, “Lovest thou me?” That is the plea to us from both God and man. In the Book of the Revelation it is written of the church in Ephesus: “I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear evil men … but I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first” (2:2, 4).

Rebirth cannot be predicted or scheduled. It is never accomplished through our clever leading questions. It happens after a sufficient incubation period, and all we can do to help it along is to wrap the other person in a patience that has time for him, trying our best to keep out of God’s way. Meanwhile we keep our spirit of judgment busy on our own failings, which equal those of this one who has been sent to us. And if we bend low enough, we will allow him to see over us to Christ. That God was able to do something even for us ought to make us able to believe almost anything. Our plea is in our own confession and in our confidence in the Love that so holds us that we know it will never let another go.

What I have said is not meant to suggest that we sound an uncertain trumpet to the world. Let us shout from the housetops that there is hope, but only in Christ. I am as anxious as the next man to try to understand other religions, and I proudly count friends of many far-flung faiths. But in all of them something has been left out.

I was once very impressed by modern ethical and cultural movements, liberated as they supposedly were from the taboos of the past. But I was hungry and they offered me no bread. We do not scowl or laugh at the honest pilgrimage of other men; but it is neither discourteous nor provincial to report that the peace and joy for which all mankind is yearning is to be found nowhere else but in the love of God through Jesus Christ his Son. In the rampage of LSD and marijuana, “gay” bars and hip joints, gang wars and slum life, it becomes increasingly obvious why we have been commanded to “believe in him whom [God] has sent.”

The death of God in Christ guarantees the death of man. Take heaven away and you have no earth left. Without this sacred predication of eternal meaning to mortal purpose, man rots and riots in absurdity. Without this God for man to be for or against, man has nothing else to do. He is incapable of doing anything other than killing himself in the battle against God or finding his life in surrender to God.

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A visitor to Communist Russia tells me that among youth there, after all these years of propaganda, conversation often revolves around God. Stalin’s own daughter recently said: “I was brought up in a family where there was never any talk about God. But when I became a grownup person, I found that it was impossible to exist without God in one’s heart.” One cannot escape. “This day I have set before you life and death. Choose life.”

Playboy And Privacy

The underlying philosophical premise is but a revival of the ancient privatist ethic which holds “morality” is my own business.… Upon this ancient privatistic principle, upon this rock, the Prince of Playboy has built his Playboy Kingdom. Mere pietistic huffing and puffing will never blow it down. We have to challenge the very basic philosophical premise upon which the house is built: this privatist ethic. If it can stand, this idea that morals are simply a matter of individual, private, personal judgment, then the Playboy philosophy cannot be shaken.—DR. WILLIAM BANOWSKY, minister of Broadway Church of Christ, Lubbock, Texas, in a debate on the Playboy philosophy.

Milton D. Hunnex is professor and head of the department of philosophy at Willamette University, Salem, Oregon. He received the B.A. and M.A. degrees from the University of Redlands and the Ph.D. in the Inter-collegiate Program in Graduate Studies, Claremont, California. He is author of “Philosophies and Philosophers.”

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