One drizzling evening in Singapore a dozen of us involved in the Asian-South Pacific Congress on Evangelism met for dinner at the home of the dean of the university medical school. So-called evangelical headliners made up the guest list.

When we discovered our host serves on the Singapore committee that decides who qualifies for the kidney bank and who is left to die, we became imaginatively introvert. To our surprise, if not dismay, we learned that, had any one of the twelve of us been in dire need of a kidney, he would not have stood a chance of survival; all of us were too old to be eligible for the kidney bank.

Ours is in many ways already a young people’s world. In his controversial Reith Lectures, Dr. Edmund Leach noted that this is especially so in fields of learning: whoever is now over forty-five left the classroom before the emergence of antibiotics, nuclear fission, jet aircraft, space rockets, and computers. Any teacher “with a white hair in his head is already hopelessly out of date,” he says, in such fields as microbiology, ethology, radio astronomy, and computer studies, where “the men under forty … ‘know what is worth’ knowing” (A Runaway World?, p. 74).

It is hardly true, of course, that youth now control the centers of world power. But they nonetheless have the near future firmly in their reach. On university and college campuses today are almost all coming leaders in politics, science, education, literature and the arts, journalism, radio and television, and religion.

What especially concerns me here is the “and religion”—particularly Christianity. For the future of the evangelical cause now surely depends in a strategic way upon dedicated young people.

Last summer I suggested at Canadian Keswick that for a bold confrontation of our age young Christians in their teens and twenties are now the most hopeful vanguard. Evangelical Christians must soon take to the streets to march and sing for the faith, and the older evangelicals, I surmise, are probably not suited for such a venture. Dedicated evangelical youth could turn the spiritual tide—unless they are infected by their parents’ timidity about openly conveying their convictions into the public arena.

My halting doubts about older evangelicals are not primarily based on their age. Nearly every Veterans’ Day parade includes an octogenarian who proudly shows his colors and reaffirms faith in his country, even though he can hardly keep step with the drums. Some spirits will never grow too old to march.

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But is the generation of older evangelicals perchance a victim of a particular kind of premature senility? Does middle-age evangelicalism have a failure of nerve? Is there a discernible palpitation of heart in what ought to be a steady beat for the cause of Jesus Christ in the modern world? And does hesitancy about public engagement reflect a secret identification with the materialistic value-preference of our age, a hidden inner debate about spiritual realities in the struggle against the vogue ideas of a secular age, a reluctance to walk conspicuously on missionary frontiers through the streets of the new society? Is there more evangelical waffling than appears on the surface of our comfortably filled churches with their predictable routines and well-worn patterns of response? Do evangelical adults lack courage to do for their faith what a Marxist will do for his ideology and what many college students will do for a minority cause—that is, hoist colors eagerly in a hostile environment?

Or do the reservations about bold and creative involvement stem rather, or in part, from a failure to understand our generation? Are we aware that the mass media have become the most fantastically powerful human means of persuasion ever to have emerged in history, and that the Christian Church has a crucial and indispensable stake in this very arena of human persuasion?

It is easy enough to opt out of the public arena by simply dismissing street-marching as the prerogative of revolutionaries. Mass demonstrations, singing in the streets, or whatever else goes on outside the shelter of the churches—what is this but the trapping of radicals and revolutionary causes?

If that be the case, of course, it is only because Main Street has been forfeited to the radicals. The Apostle Paul was not beyond crusading for Christ in the Athenian market place. In his time the throngs were almost all outside the churches, and that strategic situation is now rapidly overtaking us again.

What I have in mind is not simply counter-mobilization, a sanctimonious parading that protests the protesters and ignores the protested. Nothing less is needed than modern Pauls to make sure the throngs outside know that Jesus Christ is risen and invites contemporary Epicureans and Stoics to meet him—either today or on the last day.

Nor is that all. I have long felt—and have said so—that evangelicals ought to be and to have been in the vanguard of the cause of human rights. Not that they ought to hop, skip, and jump whenever the secular movements of our time call for a show of mob pressure; that would place evangelicals in the tailguard, rather than the vanguard—though surely there is nothing wrong with a simultaneous show of concern when the cause of justice is at stake. Evangelicals ought in fact to see themselves in the mirror of events whenever some member of a minority is deprived of equal rights before the law; they too are a minority in the world, and are likely to continue to be so in the generations to come. When fellow Jews would have put the Apostle Paul to death after his conversion to Christ, he swiftly appealed to Caesar for equal treatment under the law, expecting impartiality even from a pagan empire. A government that does not preserve human equality before the law is neither the servant of God nor an ally of pure religion.

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The mobbists are mistaken, of course, in their reliance on pressure and coercion, rather than on law and jurisprudence, for social change. In America a way remained open to carry their cause to and through the courts; if local statutes and politicians and citizens and even churchgoers seemed immovable, a single test case could have propelled the issue into the juridical process. Evangelicals could have shown the better way, but it was easier, and more popular, to deplore mobbism than to deplore injustice.

I have no interest, however, in enlisting the younger generation to sing but a single tune. What the world needs is the reality and vitality of a living faith in God—its transforming power in personal life, its high motivation for public righteousness, its holy joy that restores music to man’s soul and dignity and direction to his walk. Persons everywhere today are searching for a new ideal of life; they are panting for a new freedom. It is time we show them openly that America’s best young manhood and womanhood has discovered an adventurous role in the cosmic purpose of God by squaring life with Jesus of Nazareth.


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