The evangelical community, in a sense, has been much better known for the matters it has opposed than for its positive perspectives and initiatives. In some quarters, this reputation is so bad that evangelicals are written off as reactionaries. They are thought to be contributing little or nothing to cultural development or the evolution of human thought.

The picture has been slowly changing for a generation but the pity is that too many evangelicals are content to carry this reputation. They prefer simply to react to the bad and thus accent the negative, rather than pressing for the good that will keep the bad from happening.

One of the results of reacting negatively rather than leading positively is that evangelicals talk more to themselves than to others. Even though theoretically they assign great priority to the Church’s evangelistic responsibility, true outreach to the unbeliever is in practice often subordinated to feeding the sheep.

John Conlan, a devout and eloquent evangelical congressman from Arizona, has been pleading with his fellow believers to get involved. His lament is that evangelical thought has lost out too many times out of simple default. He is a staunch Republican conservative who places great importance on the individual citizen’s responsibility. In a fiery speech last month to the joint convention of the National Association of Evangelicals and National Religious Broadcasters he urged believers to make their presence known and felt.

Some at the convention felt Conlan set a new tone and that there may be perceptible and positive outward movement by the evangelical community. One illustration of this was the rejection of an anti-obscenity resolution of a traditional sort by the NRB executive committee. The feeling apparently prevailed that the nation’s moral malaise must be tackled by affirmative action that probes deeper and touches the basic issues. NRB Executive Secretary Ben Armstrong said that the vote symbolized a switch from a defensive stance to a strategy of offense.

The question must than be raised whether such evangelical initiative calls for the creation of a power bloc of a political nature. Senator Mark Hatfield pleaded with the convention to resist the notion of a Christian party or platform. While those who would favor such a course are more than a few, the disparate political views of evangelicals make such an outcome highly unlikely. For such a time as this, it is probably enough to campaign evangelically for integrity and good stewardship, and let the chips fall where they may.

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Evangelicals have always been an unwieldy community anyhow because of their many differences. There is one area of conflict, however, that is currently beginning to overshadow the rest: the principle of biblical inerrancy. Francis Schaeffer, who regards this as the watershed issue, told the closing joint session that evangelicals must draw the line there with love and tears, even if it results in a cleavage in their ranks.

Schaeffer’s point is well taken. It matters little what evangelicals say and do if the foundation of their authority is compromised. There is no point in trying to exhibit unity when there is serious disagreement as to the accuracy of the Word. Schaeffer in a way was throwing down the gauntlet, but in another way he was asking evangelicals to face up to reality. The sooner this is done the less grief there will be in the end.

What a marvelous thing it would be if during America’s Bicentennial evangelicals were to be found translating doctrine into deed as never before! What a blessing if during this presidential-election year this would result in a revival of biblical values based on an infallible Word amidst a spirit of evangelical togetherness. It is never easy to deal with evil, but the obligation to do so faces every generation. In our present day, we are ever more conscious of the pervasiveness of evil, and we have ever more reason to fear its consequences. But God has supplied us with adequate resources to do as much as he wants done, and all he asks is that we use them to the full.

Will The New Page Read Better?

Members of the National Council of Churches’ governing board started writing a new page of its history at their spring meeting in Atlanta. (See News, page 41.) It was the first meeting of the 1976–78 triennium, and for some denominational representatives it was a first as an NCC policy maker. It was also the first board meeting for the new officers, led by President William P. Thompson.

Two among the actions might point to better things to come. One was the board’s refusal to reduce its quorum from 40 to 25 per cent. The other was approval of a policy statement on evangelism.

Early in the meeting President Thompson reminded the board of the difficulty in keeping a quorum. To let a “marginal group” conduct important business, he warned, would not be fair to the millions of church members represented.

Overall size of the governing board was reduced from the previous triennium, so that about 240 representatives were eligible to vote in Atlanta. With some additions scheduled before the next meeting in October, about 250 will be on the rolls then.

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Attendance at the first meeting of this triennium was not untypical of other meetings in recent history. Only 145 representatives were enrolled by the end of the first day of the three-day session. An even smaller number actually voted on important issues. The largest vote counted added up to 128. Thus, barely over half decided the business of the council. Furthermore, had there been a close vote on any question, just over 20 per cent of the delegates could have made policy for Thompson’s millions of church members.

The board was properly cautious in not reducing the quorum beyond the already-low 40 per cent. Robert Marshall, president of the Lutheran Church in America, pointed out that the proposed constitutional amendment would have allowed a mere 13 per cent to control the outcome of contested issues. He spoke of the need to speak from strength instead of weakness.

Denominations part of the NCC can back up their board members in this triennium by making sure they to combat the impression that the few decide for the many.

The Atlanta policy statement on evangelism, first in the NCC’s quarter century of existence, deserves study. Although it avoids defining evangelism, it does at least acknowledge that calling people to faith in Christ is “a primary function” of the church. This is a salutary word, especially for those congregations and denominations that have shown little evidence in recent years that they consider it a function at all, much less the primary one.

In this triennium the governing board has many opportunities to show that it was sincere when it approved the evangelism statement. It can insist that more attention be given to the subject in council programs and materials produced. It can appropriate enough money from its discretionary funds (and raise designated funds) to support at least one full-time executive in this area. It can elect to other executive positions, whether in the areas of relief, education or communications, persons with a demonstrated interest in leading people to Christ.

If the NCC’s new board and officers provide the kind of constructive leadership needed in this three-year term, it will be a bright, new page in American ecumenical history—something many members of the constituent communions will be waiting and hoping for.

A Wreath Of Ribbons

If the Minnesota snow is not too deep, a moving van will roll away from Dr. and Mrs. Sherwood Wirt’s Minneapolis home at the end of this month, heading for a sunny spot in their beloved California. After more than seventeen years, the Wirts are going back home. It would be less than accurate to say they are retiring since no one expects the founding editor of Decision and his wife to do that. They will probably be doing more writing in the sunshine than they ever did in the cold northland.

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From his editor’s desk at Decision, Sherwood Wirt has made immense contributions to the cause of evangelical Christianity. Not only has he led this publication to a place as the world’s most widely circulated Christian periodical, but he has also set a standard in editorial excellence. Through his writing he has popularized many of the forgotten giants of Christendom. He has given positive coverage to the members of the Billy Graham team, and to other evangelistic activity as well. He has pointed out some of the soft spots in the Church and has helped Christians think through crucial issues. Probably his most important contribution has been the discovery and encouragement of writers through the Decision Schools of Christian Writing and related endeavors. The schools have geared composers not only of prose but of poetry, which much communications study overlooks (Wirt himself has written poems of considerable merit).

We trust that after the moving van is unpacked he will continue this valuable work. Sending flowers might be inappropriate, so to the Wirts, here’s a wreath of ribbons for your typewriters.

Michael Polanyi

Michael Polanyi, Hungarian-born scientist who died last month at the age of 84, literally gave Christians much to think about. He laid the groundwork for a theory of knowledge that makes biblical principles more compelling for modern thinkers.

Polanyi won scholarly respect early in life for pioneering work in chemistry and medicine in Hungary as well as Germany. He moved to England in 1933 in protest against the Nazis, whose designs upon the world apparently taught him some things about values. Most of his time in later years was spent combating the notion that a narrowly conceived, scientistic outlook was adequate for human well-being.

Polanyi said little about specific religious beliefs—either his own or others’. He showed no signs, for example, of sensing any special reality in divine revelation. He simply concentrated on shaping an epistemology that would avoid the extremes of empiricism as well as existentialism. Most philosophers today are found in one or the other of these schools and they have not shown a great deal of interest in Polanyi. Some Christian theoreticians, however, see substantial possibilities in Polanyi’s work.

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Dr. Jerry Gill drew extensively from Polanyi in The Possibility of Religious Knowledge. Gill credits Polanyi with undermining the fact-value dichotomy, with its built-in hostility toward the tenets of Christianity, by his acceptance of the Augustinian thesis that faith is at the basis of the rational process. Also religiously important is Polanyi’s stress on knowing by doing.

The challenge left by Pilanyi is that Christian intellectual inquiry can bear fruit to the glory of God, and prove that there is more to Christianity than meets the modern eye, which is so intensely conditioned by its amazement at scientific progress.

Ousting The Abrahams

Tiny Albania now has a new claim to fame. It has joined the list of countries taking away one of the most personal and private possessions of its citizens: their names. Henceforth, Albanians will be known by designations that mirror the state’s ambitions and priorities.

The new edict is regarded as an attempt by the little Adriatic country’s communist government to squelch religious expression. Christians and Muslims have been under the gun in this officially atheist nation, and open profession of any faith has been unthinkable. The stiffest penalties await those speaking out for any religion, or distributing religious literature.

Albania’s rulers must have been worried that these repressive measures were not effective enough. After all, someone named Abraham, or Ruth, or Mark might someday wonder where his name came from! And that could lead to a time-consuming search for a Bible or other religious literature. In the process, the unfortunately named Albanian might absorb some of the teachings of the outlawed book. That result, in the view of the government, would be very bad.

Right they are! The Bible is a very dangerous book for dictators. Hitler knew it, and so did many other totalitarian rulers. If they are to remain in power, repressing liberties and keeping their subjects ignorant, they should use every means possible to keep the Bible out of the hands of their people.

They are wrong, though, if they think any such ridiculous action will keep God out of Albania. No matter what they do, he will somehow have his witness. Some overzealous bureaucrat, trying hard to please the party bosses, may decide to change his own name to the equivalent of “No-Bible Jones.” Just think what a problem that will cause when all the while he thinks he is solving problems.

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Belief That Does Not Go Far Enough

The events leading up to the raising of Lazarus from the dead, reported by John in chapter eleven of his gospel, reveal a strong belief in the power of Christ, but a belief that does not go far enough.

Lazarus of Bethany and his sisters Mary and Martha were special friends of our Lord. When Lazarus became gravely ill, the sisters sent word to Jesus in the obvious expectation that he would come and heal him (v.3).

Jesus eventually made his way toward Bethany, Martha learned of his approach, went out to meet him, and affirmed her belief in his power to heal—had he only arrived in time (v.21). Perhaps realizing a tone of bitterness and complaint in her voice, she quickly adds, “Even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you (v.22).” But she is unprepared for Jesus’ announcement that he will return Lazarus to life; she supposes he is speaking of the general resurrection (vv. 23, 24). Martha readily believes that Jesus is able to delay death but does not recognize that he can overcome it, even though she does confess him as the Christ, the Son of God (v.27).

Then it is Mary’s turn to go to Jesus; she, too, confesses her faith in his power, up to a point, and then breaks down in tears (vv. 32, 33). Mourners who accompanied her express their perplexity that one could restore sight to the blind, yet not keep a close friend from dying (v.37).

Apparently nobody expected that he who made blind eyes to see could, when it was the Father’s will, make a dead body live again. All believed, but their belief did not go far enough.

How often is that the case with modern believers? We have believed in Jesus Christ for salvation; we believe in his power to accomplish many things familiar to us; but we do not go far enough in believing that because he is all powerful he can do far more than we are accustomed to. Admittedly only rarely did the Lord bring dead people back to physical life, but are we not too quick to use that as an excuse for unbelief in the fullness of his power?

But unbelief may also take an opposite direction, namely in those who are too eager to see God do the spectacular. Such believers forget that the main point of the raising of Lazarus was not the extraordinary display of power. Jesus himself tells us “this sickness is … for the glory of god (v.4),” so that men may believe that he comes from the Father (v.42), and that all who believe in him, even though they suffer physical death, will nevertheless have eternal life (vv. 25, 26). It is indeed paradoxical that one of the hindrances to full belief in our time might be preoccupation with the desire to see God do the spectacular, and therefore miss out on his will to work in quieter ways.

Whether one’s particular tendency is not to believe that God is all powerful, or to restrict his power to extraordinary displays, the result is the same: belief that does not go far enough.

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