The triennial evangelical happening in Urbana, Illinois, that closed out 1973 provides a focus for some reflections on world missions (see News, page 41). There are many myths about missions that need continued refutation; often the myths are contradictory.

For example, some say foreign missions should cease because they have been so successful! The church is planted in virtually every land. We are told that nationals can evangelize their countrymen; westerners should concentrate their energies on making more Christ-like professing Christians who comprise and run their governments, armies, businesses, and other ventures. Certainly Christians should seek to promote discipleship at home. But half the world’s people are in Asia, and only two per cent of them profess any form of Christianity. Most believers there need and want our help. But they want the right kind of helpers, those who will be co-workers, or those who will minister under the supervision of national Christians. Statistically Latin America is almost completely Christian, but even Roman Catholic leaders admit that much of the Christianity is superficial at best. Africa’s church is indeed growing rapidly, though one must be careful to evaluate the data base on which rosy forecasts are predicated. Africans are just as susceptible to nominal Christianity and to heresy as are Europeans and Americans.

Others say that foreign missions should cease because they have been so unsuccessful! There are more non-Christians alive today than when William Carey in 1793 sparked the Protestant missionary movement. (Without detracting from Carey, Anglo-Saxons need to be reminded that Moravians and other continental Protestants were foreign missionaries earlier.) A variation of this approach is the argument in conciliar ecumenical circles that “disruptive” attempts at evangelism should be replaced by support of liberation movements that will free economically and politically oppressed peoples, while leaving their traditional religions intact. Such attitudes reflect a view of man’s eternal destiny that disregards the clear teaching of Jesus Christ and his apostles. One Urbana speaker compared it to throwing a drowning man a life preserver without pulling him aboard.

Clearly, foreign missions must be truly multi-national, multi-cultural, and multi-racial. Inter-Varsity, sponsor of Urbana, sets a good example. The 1973 convention surpassed previous ones in the degree of international participation at the highest levels. Canada’s Inter-Varsity is headed by a Latin American. The global federation of national movements, the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students, is headed by a Chinese from Asia. One of the Urbana speakers, an American of African descent, served in Zaire before moving to Europe to minister with IFES. The church will always need ministers who cross national and continental borders. There is one body of Christ for the whole world, not one for each country.

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Third World speakers at Urbana stressed the need—and presented biblical evidence to support it—for the best qualified men and women to come to their lands. A Rhodesian speaker pointed out that those raised in evangelical ghettoes, who develop little or no appreciation for the positive or neutral aspects of their own culture, often are unappreciative of the cultures to which they go. They do not sufficiently distinguish between biblical and merely traditional or patriotic elements of the Christianity they proclaim.

Earlier in this century there was a great burst of enthusiasm for overseas missions on America’s liberal arts campuses. After graduate seminary education a host of recruits went abroad. We need to learn from their mistakes as well as their successes. Judging by the degree of earnestness and commitment demonstrated by the thousands of collegians assembled at Urbana, the Lord of the harvest may be preparing to send forth a new wave of evangelists, pastors, and teachers to represent the whole people of God as they seek in each generation to obey the Great Commission to go and make disciples of all nations.

In July of this year an International Congress on World Evangelization is to be held in Lausanne, Switzerland. Christian leaders from all over the world who believe in sharing the Good News are invited. May the momentum of missions interest manifested at Urbana be carried forward through congregations everywhere that the Lausanne congress might herald a truly global awakening to Jesus Christ, the hope of the world.

The Death Of Theology?

Evangelical books are the current sensation of the publishing world. Heading North America’s list, of course, is Kenneth Taylor’s paraphrased Living Bible. Books on eschatology, occultism, and practical spiritual concerns from an evangelical point of view have also done astonishingly well. Many publishers who have never before been interested in evangelical books—or in religious books of any kind—are now rushing to start an evangelical line. In Germany, the citadel of sophisticated academic theology and the birthplace of many of the theological movements we call liberal, modernist, or existentialist, the same thing is happening, though to a less spectacular degree. The German translation of Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth is the most spectacular example.

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But what about scholarly theology, where Germany has so long been dominant that hardly anyone pursues a higher degree in theology anywhere in the world without trying to learn German? Says a spokesman for a publishing business in Germany: “the theological scene in Germany has simply changed radically. So-called ‘death-of-God’ theology has not resulted in the death of God, but it certainly has resulted in the death of theology.

In many quarters interest in theology has declined markedly. People have crossed over to psychology, sociology, and political science.” One immediate casualty of this development was a projected German version of Frederick Danker’s value-packed handbook, Multipurpose Tools for Bible Study; its biggest market would have been among theology students. But they are no longer interested in serious Bible study, or willing to put in the long and sustained effort to master the tools of exegesis and interpretation that Danker proffers. So publication of a German translation has been dropped, for the present at least.

On one hand, it is not surprising that considering the attitudes of theological teachers toward the Bible, students would finally tire of consecrating themselves to the meticulous study of Scripture in the original languages that has characterized German theological education since Luther’s days. On the other, it is ironic that precisely those scholars who thought they were making academic theology vitally relevant to the modern world have succeeded in causing, if not its death, at least a lingering and wasting sickness.

We applaud the increasing interest in good, readable books containing sound doctrine and spiritual advice. But it would be a sad thing if the vagaries, sensationalism, and absurdities of a number of celebrated modernist theologians should so discredit the whole subject of theology that serious study of the Bible and of the great and precious body of Christian literature and scholarship would vanish altogether. A new generation of Christians is arising, and its thirst for knowledge and sound teaching is demonstrated in the rising sales of evangelical books. As these new Christians go on in the faith, they will soon want more than mere edification or inspiration: they will look for solid and substantial teaching literature such as that supplied by the great figures of the church’s history. If the theological faddists want to destroy liberal theology, good riddance. But let’s not allow the whole theological enterprise to go down with it.

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The Risks Of Church Attendance

The assassination last month of Spanish Premier Luis Carrero Blanco underscores the special vulnerability of political leaders who choose to attend church regularly. Murderers took advantage of the premier’s church-going routine to carry out their deed. Carrero Blanco had made it a habit during his six months in office to start the day by attending mass. He died when his car was blown up while driving away from a Madrid church.

The circumstances of the assassination should remind the world of the plight of Protestants in Spain. For decades there has been persecution of the devout evangelical minority in that country. Only in recent years has the government eased restrictions.

Spaniards and others may sadly ask, “Why should a person’s religious devotion be used against him?”. May they now be more sympathetic to the Spanish Protestants who have been asking that question for a long time.

The Lessons Of Death

Perhaps we should thank God more often for our tribulations. If he chastizes those whom he loves, then we should meditate with humility on those private and public disasters that come our way. A death may admonish us to delay no longer in our evangelism. We have this moment to tell others about our Saviour and this moment to prepare for eternity. Death may remind us of words left unsaid, opportunities for sharing the love of Christ not seized.

A death also brings our priorities into perspective. The reality of God’s breathing his spirit into the dust of earth to make a man is never clearer than when we see that dust emptied of spirit. Death reminds us not to be occupied overmuch in frail human happiness.

In the death or decline of a public man, we may see the perils of placing our faith in human efforts. The Kingdom will come not through our efforts but through the power of Jesus Christ. We trust men too much, and we need to be reminded that none among us is perfect, that our best hopes among rulers of this world are tawdry compared to the goodness and love of our Redeemer. The strutting, arrogant leader is as much the fragile vessel of the spirit as the helpless child—and Death is the great leveler. The death or dishonoring of the high and mighty can focus our attention once again on the real power and the real glory of the only enduring kingdom man will ever know. As Augustine saw the City of God transcending the city of man, so we may look at the ashes of human utopias with enlivened hopes of that millennium we have been promised.

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The Christian use of tragedy is to be learned from Christ himself. By moving through pain, experiencing and comprehending it, he triumphed over it. The Christian must experience anguish, sorrow, disappointment, and finally death, but he has reason for gratitude in the midst of his pain. He knows that the testing will strengthen him, and he knows that evil ultimately will not triumph. For he knows that Jesus Christ is Lord. And he knows that for those who love Christ, Death himself is dead.

That Helpless Feeling

Seven years ago Harris pollsters started asking a cross-section of Americans questions that indicated the degree of feelings of personal helplessness. Back in 1966 only 29 per cent of those polled tended to feel that the people running the country didn’t really care what happened to them, that what they thought didn’t count much anymore, that the rich are getting richer while the poor are getting poorer, and the like. Now, for the first time, over half of the cross-section, 55 per cent to be exact, share such sentiments.

This is both bad news and good news. It is bad because constitutional democracy is a fragile form of government. Historically it has been rare and, when it has existed, short-lived. Dictators often rise to power on the basis of promises to alienated masses. Once in control they do not need to make good on their promises in order to maintain power. Christians can and do function under all kinds of government, but constitutional democracies have proved to be the best suited for both a flourishing church at home and support for the extension of the church abroad.

But the news of increasing feelings of helplessness is also, from the Christian point of view, good. Our Lord made the point clearly when he said, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:32). Those who deem themselves “all right” (Christ does not of course agree with their self-evaluation; he only reports it) are not usually ripe candidates for conversion to the truth of the Gospel. Why turn away from (what one perceives to be) a “good thing” in order to identify with a crucified Jew?

If the poll is reliable and more people feel helpless, Christians should be encouraged in their evangelistic task, because the fact is that, from the viewpoint of eternal salvation, people are helpless.

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However, total dependence upon what God has done and continues to do for us in regard to eternal life does not mean that Americans should despair of all attempts to make our temporal government more responsive. If Christians and others were to give up on society, we might well find that our opportunities for sharing the Gospel would be severely curtailed through the emergence of totalitarian government.

Where Silence Is Guilt

Although in 1970 and 1971 there was an increasing public tolerance of abortion, even of proposals for abortion on demand, by 1972 the tide seemed to have turned. Legislatures in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and even New York, where permissive abortion was in full swing, passed restrictive laws. These were subsequently vetoed by the governors of those states. They were, however, probably more representative of public sentiment than the governors’ vetoes, for in the two states in which permissive abortion was submitted to popular vote in 1972, Michigan and North Dakota, the results were decisively against it. Therefore the January, 1973, decision of the United States Supreme Court that virtually swept aside all hindrances to nationwide abortion on demand appears psychologically puzzling as well as morally irresponsible.

Does abortion cause the death of an innocent human being? The Supreme Court evaded the issue and handed down its opinion on other grounds. Some pro-abortion forces deny that the fetus is human life; others admit that it is, but claim that this life may properly be terminated under certain variously defined circumstances. But the opinions of state governors, of Supreme Court justices, or even of the majority of American citizens, if they could be shown to be pro-abortion, can never justify abortion in the eyes of that very considerable number of citizens who are convinced that it means taking innocent human life. If it was necessary to appeal to moral absolutes against legalized racial discrimination at a time when the majority of Americans probably favored it or at least tolerated it, it is even more necessary to bring moral issues to the fore when the question is thought by many to involve not mere injury but killing.

That the issue of permissive abortion versus protection of unborn life is a burning one unresolved by the Court decision is indicated by the fact that fourteen states have already petitioned the United States Congress to pass an amendment protecting unborn human life, and that eighty such bills have been introduced in Congress. Unfortunately, all the bills proposed in the House of Representatives remain bottled up in a subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee chaired by Don Edwards (D.-Calif.), an outspoken advocate of permissive abortion. They have not even been scheduled for committee consideration, allegedly because there is insufficient interest in them—this despite the memorials submitted by several states and a number of petitions, one of them signed by half a million people. Congressman Larry Hogan (D.-Md.), author of the so-called Human Life Amendment in the House (H.J.R. 261), has filed a discharge petition in an effort to bring his bill before the full House in 1974.

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Both houses of Congress and the President found themselves able to act with alacrity to prohibit television blackout of professional football games just in time for the fall football season. Compared to this, intransigent foot-dragging on issues involved in the Human Life Amendment seems incredibly callous if not downright vicious. Perhaps abortion on demand should not be regarded as the legalization of homicide. But a very large number of Americans think it should, and Christian moral and ethical teaching through the centuries largely supports them. According to reliable estimates, at least one million legal abortions have been performed in the United States since Congressman Hogan first proposed his amendment.

Supporters of a similar amendment proposed in the Senate by Senator James Buckley (Cons.-N.Y.) suggest that the willingness of congressmen and senators to let pro-life bills languish in committee results from their fear of publicly taking any position on so controversial an issue. But while they hesitate, abortions are being performed at the rate of thousands weekly.

Of course, allowing the bills to languish unread in a subcommittee appears to get everyone off the hook. Legislators who believe abortion morally wrong are not faced with the necessity of crusading against it and thus attracting opposition, as long as the bills are never discussed. Those who think it right, or are indifferent, never have to take personal responsibility for their position either. In such a situation, failure to bring the issue into the open involves moral cowardice and evasion of responsibility. Refusal to face the question of mass abortions and either forbid or publicly endorse them is no more creditable on the part of Congress than was the silence of so many Germans when Hitler introduced his policies of racial repression.

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Free Goodies And A Fine Spirit

Evangelicals do not agree on whether to separate themselves from theologically liberal groups or to stay in and try to turn those groups around. Therefore many of them have opposed creation of the new, decidedly evangelical National Presbyterian Church.

That Bible-believing Christians part company on this issue is unfortunate; it diminishes their collective impact. What is more lamentable, however, is the theological drift that has led some evangelicals to feel they can no longer stay in their churches and live with their consciences. Severe divine judgment awaits those responsible for this theological drift, as well as those who have done little or nothing to arrest it.

We compliment our National Presbyterian friends on the good spirit in which they established the new denomination. It was in the best Southern tradition (see January 4 issue, page 52)—complete with free coffee and doughnuts for all throughout their first General Assembly. The rancor has been minimal. John E. Richards summarized the situation well when he wrote in the Presbyterian Journal, “God has not given us great leaders, but by His grace, the weak and the ungifted are being welded by love into a Presbyterian Church that will be faithful to the Scriptures, to the Reformed faith and to the Great Commission of our Lord.”

Triumph In Adversity

As every follower of Christ should, the Apostle Paul wanted to avoid doing anything that would put an obstacle in the way of someone’s accepting the grace of God. He elaborates this principle in Second Corinthians 6:1–10. Paul recognizes that the message of the good news can itself be a stumbling block, but that the message-bearer should not.

Paul’s character, like that of any mature disciple, did not deteriorate in the face of unpleasant external circumstances. “Afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, tumults, labors, watching, hunger” (vv. 4, 5)—even such extremities as these do not justify unrighteous behavior.

How could Paul do this? How can we be good Christians in the face of provocation? Paul tells us: “by purity, knowledge, forbearance, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness” (vv. 6, 7). It is noteworthy that the Holy Spirit appears in the middle of the list, and the power of God near the end. One would think these would head the list. Perhaps they do not in order to make the point that we are not to seek the Holy Spirit for himself, nor the divine power he exercises for its own sake. Rather, the Holy Spirit is striving to develop and sustain within us, by the power of God, such virtues as forbearance, genuine love, and truthful speech. Our attention is to be focused not on the Holy Spirit but on the character he is seeking to form within us.

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Paul is under no illusion that right behavior will everywhere evoke a position response. So in addition to stressing uprightness in the face of calamity, he also stresses rectitude even when others think and speak evil against oneself: “in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as imposters, and yet as true …” (v. 8). We are to do right because it is pleasing to God, whether or not it is pleasing to men.

Paul was able to keep such positive attitudes, and hence positive behavior, in the face of pressures of various sorts because he kept the long-range view before him. He looked not simply to what was around him but also to what was in store for all eternity for him, and for all who believe the Gospel of the grace of God that he proclaimed. That is how he—and any other disciple—could honestly portray himself “as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything” (v. 10).

The same Holy Spirit that Paul used to develop and sustain such attitudes and behavior is available to all Christians at all times. Let us, like Paul, triumph in the midst of our difficulties and deprivations.

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