So far as we know, the disciples of Jesus never tried to push him as a candidate for the emperorship. He had more important work to do. But the idea of projecting Christ into competition with Caesar is not so far-fetched as it might initially appear. Many Jews of the day were in fact looking for a political saviour, and some wanted to make Jesus king. They understood the messianic concept largely in terms of physical deliverance from Roman bondage. Like many people today, they derived their idea of liberation from the circumstances of their human condition. And make no mistake about it, Jesus had a divine capacity to break those bonds, in or out of office.

Are we to draw from this the lesson that God does not necessarily expect Christians to seek earthly power?

Consider this knottier question: Could circumstances ever be such that evangelicals would do better to try to elect a highly talented person who was known to lie, or to be an adulterer, or even to have cheated or stolen, rather than a devout Christian with very limited gifts?

Christians are still divided over whether they should or should not be involved in political campaigns to begin with. At one pole are those who regard the whole business of politics as intrinsically dirty and therefore to be avoided by persons of principle. At the other pole sit some who think that a fundamentalist in the Oval Office is the ultimate answer to the world’s problems. Biblical evidences are readily adduced for both positions, but of the two extremes, more Christians are gravitating to the latter these days.

One fact that makes the problem more difficult is that we can rarely be certain in this life in saying who is a Christian and who is not (“Not every one who says … ‘Lord, Lord’ …”). It is a lot easier to determine, at least to our own satisfaction, who is not a Christian than to decide who is one. That lets us off the hook a bit, for even if we were to decide to vote only for people who claimed to be Christians, we could never be sure we were really voting for Christians anyway.

The tension is relieved even further by the realization that some non-Christians behave more in keeping with the Bible than do some Christians. That is embarrassing to the Church. But according to classic Reformed theology, one’s works are not the decisive element in his relationship with God. Christians on the whole live lives more pleasing to God, but in a one-by-one comparison faith, not ethics, is the standard.

Christians should not automatically vote for Christians because they are Christians any more than Jews should vote in a bloc for Jews. God works through unconverted as well as converted persons to execute his perfect will; his purpose is not thwarted nor his sovereignty diminished by human rejection of or indifference to the Gospel.

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Christians surely have a right to expect more from those who profess belief. Whoever claims to be among the redeemed had better demonstrate it in his or her life. If there is anything the Church does not need today it is fakes and weaklings in public office. Imposters ought to be repudiated, and nominal Christians do not deserve much better. More than ever believers should vote for persons of moral stature and stamina who stand for principle whatever happens.

Although evangelicals in the United States in the current campaign ought not simply to support those of like faith, there is a religious qualification in the electoral process that is too dear to yield. Something of an evangelical ethos has always pervaded American life. Not only theism but a basic biblical orientation undergirds most of our institutions. Christians have the right to expect that political candidates, whatever their personal religious convictions, will respect the perpetuation of that ethos.

George Could Be Expelled

People all over the United States, and especially the parents of school-age children, are getting more and more interested in what the schools are teaching. Textbook battles are only one indication of this concern. The drive for “neighborhood control” of schools is another. People fear that those nameless, faceless bureaucrats and theoreticians somewhere “out there” control what their children are being taught. The concern is not limited to any geographic, ethnic, political, or religious sector of the population.

This intensified interest is good. For too long administrators, teachers, and a few concerned parents had to contend with a “let George do it” attitude toward the schools. For a long time the mythical “George” was a resident of the community in which the institution was located, but then he moved away without giving much notice to school patrons. Now he is the object of a serious search, in Washington and in universities here and there.

Those who are attempting to wrest control of education from George and restore it to local leaders have come up with novel ideas. Some of these ideas are good, and others are not. Their advocates deserve commendation for raising the issues, at least.

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One of those at work on the national level is Congressman John B. Conlan (R.-Ariz.). By a vote of 222 to 174 last month the House of Representatives adopted his amendment to the National Defense Education Act. That amendment, which must pass the Senate also, would bar the use of federal funds to teach “any aspect of the religion of secular humanism.” The Arizonan believes that such teaching is widespread in the nation’s schools and that it attacks Judeo-Christian beliefs. He reasons that if the teaching of biblical views is outlawed, the teaching of opposite views should be outlawed, too.

The issue deserves more debate, and Conlan is to be commended for bringing it up. But one may question whether his amendment has enough “teeth” in it to change the situation. Perhaps that is why some congressmen did not vote for it. The clergymen in the House either voted no or abstained; not one of the minister-politicians voted with Conlan. At least two Washington newsletters sympathetic to the amendment attacked Rep. John Anderson (R.-Ill.) for his failure to support the proposal. They accused this prominent Christian of “voting for the continuation of [an] exclusive franchise for secular humanism,” and worse, of voting for atheism. Apparently they did not give him a chance to explain why he voted no.

That the amendment won the approval of the House is surprising, since there was little evidence before the vote that many congressmen shared Conlan’s view of secular humanism and its influence in the schools. Americans United for Separation of Church and State rejects the view that secular humanism is a religion. (In his speech in the House, Conlan quoted a 1961 Supreme Court decision to support his point that it is a “world and life view.”) Americans United, of course, does not want the public schools to teach any faith. It is currently involved in a suit to get Transcendental Meditation out of the curriculum of schools in New Jersey. But according to spokesman Edd Doerr, Americans United “utterly rejects the idea that secular humanism is being taught as a religion in public educational institutions.”

If nothing else, Conlan’s success in getting a majority of the House to pass the amendment reflects a concern that is being communicated to Congress. The New Jersey suit (involving several organizations) also is a sign that people are concerned. If enough Americans express an interest in what their children are being taught, they could expel “George” from their schools.

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Martin Heidegger

The central figure in European existential philosophy died on May 26. Martin Heidegger, who was born in 1889, studied under the phenomenologist Edmund Husserl and later succeeded him at Freiburg.

Throughout his life’s work Heidegger insisted that scientific accounts of man missed the mark. His best-known work, Being and Time (1926), gives a painstaking analysis of inauthentic and authentic human existence. We are cast into a world not of our own making, free to pursue all sorts of possibilities, yet inescapably entangled in life’s contingencies (“forfeiture”). Ours is a “being unto death.” Our “time” is marked by existential anxiety (Angst). Yet conscience summons us to authenticity, and “destiny” awaits.

This sounds like Promethean man finding in himself the power to save himself. (Indeed, Heidegger was for a while sympathetic with Nazi ideals.) But this interpretation was promoted more by what the French existentialist Sartre did with Heidegger’s ideas than by Being and Time itself. There the intent seems clear that Being Itself is revealed in our being with its existential concern.

Theologian Rudolf Bultmann took seriously Heidegger’s substitution of existential analysis for scientific accounts of man. Demythologizing the kerygma of its cosmological trappings, he adopted Heidegger’s analysis as a framework that would interpret the Gospel to modern man, bringing to life concepts like sin and grace, flesh and spirit. Existential interpretation was to break the hold of the scientific mentality on theology, and enable us to hear the kerygma’s call to faith. (See John Macquarrie, An Existential Theology, Harper Torch-books, 1965.)

Heidegger’s later works deny that man creates his own authenticity and claim that he must be grasped by Being Itself. Heinrich Ott has pushed this in a Barthian direction, rejecting both Promethean man and metaphysical conceptions of the divine for a wholly other God who calls us to faith. But Heidegger himself rejected the Christian God, because the Being revealed in our existential concern is not a being, not even a supreme Being, but Being Itself. It is closer to Tillich’s Ground of Being than to a personal God who acts, and any adequately personal relation between man and God, or even between men, is lacking. Instead one finds intimations of mysticism and leanings toward pantheism. (See James M. Robinson and John B. Cobb, editors, The Later Heidegger and Theology, Harper & Row, 1963.)

One other strain is significant. Being and Time describes how we establish authenticity by speech; the later Heidegger probes the pre-philosophical Greek language for clues about Being at a pre-theoretical level. And he points the way to an existential hermeneutic that interprets man through his word, an approach that French Protestant Paul Ricoeur has developed in philosophy, and one that the “New Hermeneutic” is pursuing in theology.

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For all that Heidegger has done to heighten modern man’s awareness of the complexities and contingencies of his existence, the Christian still finds in his writings no adequate account of authenticity. There is nothing here of the personal Creator God who acts in history for man’s redemption, nothing of sin and forgiveness, nothing of faith and hope and love, no ultimate triumph that robs our “being unto death” of its sting.

Wilbur M. Smith

Just a few weeks short of his eighty-second birthday, Wilbur Moorehead Smith entered the presence of Jesus, whom he had served faithfully for more than fifty years.

Wilbur Smith never received an earned degree, though he studied at the Moody Bible Institute and at the College of Wooster. Yet, largely self-educated, he was a learned scholar and was given two honorary doctorates. He loved books and wrote books. His library included more than 35,000 volumes, and he wrote or edited more than sixty, including the well-known Peloubet’s Notes (1933–1972) on the International Sunday School Lessons.

He was ordained to the Presbyterian ministry in 1922 and was a pastor in that denomination until 1937. Then he went to teach at the Moody Bible Institute. Fuller Seminary was founded in 1947, and Dr. Smith was a charter member of its faculty, remaining there until 1963. He finished his teaching career at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and retired in 1971.

Wilbur Smith was pre-eminently a teacher of English Bible and a noted pulpiteer and conference speaker. He was a hard-driving, indefatigable worker and a master of aphorisms. His Bible students were accustomed to hearing him say, “This is something I never saw before,” an announcement that was sure to be followed by an expository gem. He could regularly be seen rushing to his office at 7:30 A.M., his arms loaded with books, clutching a Thermos bottle filled with coffee.

Dr. Smith was deeply involved in the Machen-Independent Board struggle in what was then the Presbyterian Church in the U.S. A. He remained with the church, though he was later forced to join another denomination when the Presbyterian Church insisted that he either leave Fuller Seminary or leave the church. (The Los Angeles Presbytery would not permit him to minister within its bounds, although his own presbytery had granted him permission to do so.)

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Thousands of Christians loved and respected Wilbur Smith and were blessed by his ministry. Those who worked with him in any of the three schools he served will never forget him. They will expect that, when they join him in heaven, they will find him hidden behind the pages of some of the many obscure and out-of-print books he searched for but never found here on earth.

The False Angel Of Light

In Second Corinthians 11:14 we are told that “Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light.” Paul here uses a verb that means Satan “fashions himself” as an angel of light. He masquerades as something he is the exact opposite of. How can Christians see through his disguise?

The old idea that by making the sign of the cross a believer can instantly detect whether another person is a tool of Satan is no more than superstition. Moreover, little can be done if the Christian is willing to be deceived. But the serious believer does have a safeguard against Satan’s deception. He can penetrate the cleverest disguise. The way he does this is to live close to Christ.

The closer we are to Christ, the more obvious the things that oppose Christ become. Whoever is pure in heart not only sees God but also is able to detect the presence of evil. In Faust, Mephistopheles has the manners and the speech of a gentleman. Yet the innocent Margaret shrinks from him instinctively. Something spiritual in her protects her against the evil that the spirit, not the eye or the ear, can detect. Because Satan is pictured so dramatically in Faust and in other literature, some people have the impression that he is only a character in fiction. Others, who know a little of the Bible, consider the great deceiver to be a product of Paul’s day but not alive today. Those who know the Scriptures well, however, believe he is a present reality.

The closer we come to being sanctified, the more quickly we can note and expose the machinations of the evil one. In a grossly pornographic world in which Satan uses the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eye, the solution is not found in better resolves and more determination. It is found in being so absorbed in the good by our relationship to Jesus that there is little or no room left for the bad. When this is true, exposure to evil so shocks the spiritually sensitive soul that it closes the door to that soul. But if the door is left ajar and defilement enters, the sensitive believer allows the Holy Spirit to flush out the evil, restore the spiritual balance, and sustain the living of a holy life.

When Satan transforms himself and comes in the guise of an angel of light, the best defense is to let the Holy Spirit transform us so that we become skillful in sensing his evil presence and strong in resisting him.

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