Just as you can tell the Oligocene Epoch by all the small saurians running about, and the Ice Age by all the ice lying about, and the Stone Age by the boulder that yon Cro-Magnon man is prying off the cliff onto your head, so there are ways by which you can tell that we are now in the Post-Verbal Epoch.

Item: If you want to get people to come out and hear you, you don’t advertise a speech; you call your offering a “multi-media presentation.” The supposition here is that the mere hearing of words is gruel too thin to sell.

Item: Big Bird and Ernie and Bert have replaced McGuffey in the teaching of children. The implication here, presumably, is that children must be regaled with all that is cute and fun (and many of us post-children, incidentally, are fascinated by that bird and those Muppets) if we expect them to learn anything.

Item: Post-verbal utterances like “Oh wow,” “I mean like,” and “Outta sight” have replaced earlier verbal ways of articulating human responses to various situations.

Item: Audio-visual departments, supplying movie projectors, opaque projectors, overhead projectors, slide projectors, film-strip projectors, TV tapes, and one thing and another, have been called in to assist the lecturers in their job of trying to flag down the attention of undergraduates.

We have, it seems, moved into a post-verbal, post-ratiocinative era. We are told that we must see things, feel them, and be pawed, stroked, or inundated by them. Will a man with a book soon be about as timely a phenomenon as a man with a button-hook or an ox-goad?

There may yet be something to be urged in behalf of the man with the book, before we dissolve the libraries the way Henry VIII did the monasteries.

For a start, books are made up of pages full of printed words, and those printed words are nothing more than conventional symbols, as exact as we can get them, by which we humans fix in time and space what we say. Other species do not seem to need to do this: we hear nothing of the seraphim writing things down, and we are almost certain that aardvarks and flatworms don’t. We, somehow, are somewhere in the middle, lacking the ability of the one group to perceive things and understand them immediately and wholly, but needing, unlike the other group, to do something more with things than feel them. The great distinguishing mark of our species is that we do, in fact, articulate things. Whatever we want to say about the singing of whales, the antennae of ants, and the beeping of dolphins, the word “language” has a unique meaning for us. We are more, in other words, than feeling, seeing creatures. We are intellects, and the great exercise of the intellect is articulation.

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There are two dangers to be avoided, though. First, we must not suppose that words, much less printed words, are the only method we have of articulating things. There is a sense in which any gesture, any picture, any noise we make, is some sort of articulation. Any of these may give shape to something we want to “say.” But humankind seems, from the beginning, to have been driven by the need to get beyond gesturing, drawing, and groaning. We, for example, could not get this case through to you by waving and sketching and mmphing. Words are an enormous help in bridging the region between our brain and yours.

Second, we are not, of course, merely verbal creatures. Surely this has been one of the limitations of much of Reformation religion: at times it has seemed to approach us all as though we were nothing more than brains, or souls at best. All we need to do is sit and listen to the Word, or sit and read the Word. All the rest of our being is irrelevant as far as worship, say, is concerned. The Hebrews, and various forms of pre-Reformation Christianity, knew better than this.

Still, no matter what else we are doing, somebody somewhere had better keep on writing, and somebody had better keep on reading. The precision and plenitude that language makes possible in the articulation of ideas is indispensable to us human beings. We sink toward brutishness when we disavow our capacity for rigorous discourse—for hewing between worthy ideas and rubbish, for example, and for rousing human imagination to the fiery apprehension of virtue and bliss, and for telling the story.

Telling the story. There it is. Sooner or later the son et lumiére, or the Bayeux Tapestry, or the icon, or the Sacrament itself, must be explained to us. Someone has to tell the story. Why is that man spearing that other man? Why is that lady’s head bent over her infant that way? Why am I eating this wafer? Somebody tell me about it.

Words. Tales. Books. They are a sign and nourisher and guarantor of our humanity—that humanity which needs on the one hand, certainly, to be stroked and roused and thrilled by touch and sight and smell (and hence sex, and liturgy, and audio-visual departments), but on the other, to think and judge and reflect and discriminate, and to articulate exactly the fruits of these latter activities. To treat people, or to act, as though we were either only bundles of sensations or bundles of ideas is to make either the dionysian or the rationalistic error. Christianity, with its doctrine of the Incarnation of the Word, gives the lie to both. On the one hand, the Word became incarnate (we needed to see and touch something); on the other, it was the Word that became incarnate (that eternal Thing which we saw and touched is named by the word Word). These are truths forever written in Heaven.

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Language (i.e., words) is the great gift to us men. Insofar as we celebrate the non-verbal at the expense of the precisely verbal, we disavow that gift and hence our humanity. And once we disavow our humanity, what is left?

The making and reading of books is perhaps the primary way by which we acknowledge, use, and glorify that gift.

Freedom Exacts An Ongoing Toll

The death of two American army officers last month in Korea suggests that the free world will continue to pay a price for trying to contain Communism. Certain influential Communists seem intent on pushing the free world into confrontation, or at least in seeing how far they can go without provoking a confrontation. Around the world, this strategy prevails, and on numerous occasions this has been profitable to the Marxists.

The fatal incident was more like a lumbermen’s brawl than a military exchange. The Americans who were killed had been escorting a group of South Koreans in a tree-pruning operation. Their innocent mission was to trim a large poplar so as to improve the Visibility for a command post. The North Korean response was a sudden, brutal assault. It was a tragedy that fit neatly into the preference of the world’s trouble-makers for terrorism rather than open warfare.

Do the Korean Communists really want people to believe that the United States wishes to start another war in Korea? This kind of irrationality calls for subtle initiatives on the part of the West if commitments to South Korea and other countries are to be guaranteed. But this must be done without allowing irrationality to triumph.

Our sympathy goes out to the families of the slain Americans and to those who were wounded. Our hope is that their deaths will stir our consciences. The post-Viet Nam period has produced an indifference toward the Communist menace that must be overcome. We must realize with Solzhenitsyn that détente notwithstanding, the challenge is greater than ever.

Back To School, Parents

As school doors open this month, those Christian parents whose children are entering Christian-run schools should not think that this relieves them of their responsibility for spiritual nurture. Bible teaching in the classroom needs to be corroborated at home. It can easily be nullified by words and deeds—between husband and wife and between parents and children—that are contrary to biblical standards.

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These parents should also realize that they are not protecting their children completely from exposure to some of the more sinful aspects of personal and social life. What the children don’t encounter at school they are likely to encounter after school, among their neighborhood friends. And such sins as racism, materialism, chauvinistic patriotism, and self-righteousness are at least as likely to be exhibited in professedly Christian schools as in secular ones.

The majority of Christians send their children to public schools. They realize that spiritual nurture must be provided in the home, in the congregation, and in specialized ministries. (One wonders whether the people who clamour for bringing God back to the public schools seriously think that the presence or absence of a few bland religious rites and references makes much difference one way or the other.)

Now, at the beginning of the school year, is the time for parents to realize the importance of being active in school affairs consistently instead of suddenly appearing on the scene when they are offended by some egregious transgression of Christian standards. Most PTA’s need active members. Most school boards have open meetings, advisory committees, and other channels for parent participation. Parents have no right to complain about the way a school is run if they have not consistently taken part in the affairs of the school and have not become informed about the various options before final decisions are made.

Election ’76—The Push Potential

Not since 1960 have the religious and ethical commitments of our presidential candidates been so carefully scrutinized. In that year the candidacy of John F. Kennedy posed the question whether a Roman Catholic could or should be elected president. Now we have the religious outspokenness of Democratic candidate Jimmy Carter. We also face in 1976 the disillusionment of the American people following the revelation of moral misconduct by leaders of both parties in the executive and legislative branches.

Evangelical Christians are wondering upon what ethical criteria they should base their votes come November 2. A number of factors enter into such a decision, but particular attention needs to be given to one of the greatest and most recurrent questions of politics: What is the proper balance between equality and privilege? As Dr. Paul Henry of Calvin College has observed, “It is especially important that evangelical Christians deliberately focus on this issue, given the fact that many will no doubt be prone to engage in religious moralizing in this election without asking nuts-and-bolts questions about the policy decisions their votes will favor.”

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All political decisions are in the last analysis allocative; that is, all political questions relate in some manner to the question of who gets what. Politics deals with questions of distributive justice.

Aristotle, one of the first commentators on politics, saw that distributive justice always involves achieving a balance between two sets of demands. On the one hand, argued Aristotle, there is the democratic impulse in society: men are fundamentally equal in nature (i.e., before God), and their equality in nature should reflect itself in all social, economic, and political relations. On the other hand, there is the aristrocratic impulse: men are unequal in the contributions they make to and the investment they make in a society, and their inequality is justifiably maintained in all social, economic, and political relations.

The same debate continues within society today. There are those who argue that respect for mankind’s equality in nature should reflect itself in the distributive policies of the public sphere. Others contend that the fruits of one’s labor should be respected as earned privilege. One of the central needs in the American political debate is to recognize legitimate rights of property and fruits of enterprise while opposing those social and economic inequalities that deny the claim to God-given equality.

Either of the two impulses cited by Aristotle can, when carried to an extreme, be dangerous to a society. The democratic impulse can overwhelm quality through quantity and can abuse the argument for egalitarianism in order to destroy earned and legitimate privilege. The aristocratic impulse can overlook the rights of the majority by exaggerating the rights of the minority and can abuse the argument for legitimate privilege by extending it to indiscriminate and arbitrary privilege.

These impulses are one of the core distinctions between “liberals” and “conservatives” (the terms are admittedly imprecise) in America today. And it is fair to suggest that the Democratic party currently leans more heavily toward respecting the demand for equality while the Republican party leans more heavily toward respecting demands to protect privilege (which may or may not have been earned).

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Evangelical Christians must be warned against romanticizing away this struggle by looking solely at other matters such as the relation of church and state and the moral integrity of candidates, or by headily envisioning evangelicals in the citadels of political power. While these matters merit discussion, evangelicals should never forget that in a fallen world greed (found equally among those who beat the drum for earned privilege and those who beat it for equality of distribution) plays an important role in politics, and that it will use every possible pretense to mask its purposes. Accordingly, Christians should not be surprised when those who find themselves disadvantaged in comparison to others in a society seek to extend the principle of equality at the expense of the principle of privilege. Nor should they be surprised when those who are more advantaged than others in society seek to extend privilege at the expense of equality.

We agree with Professor Henry when he suggests that distributive justice lies between the extremes, and that evangelicals should ask before they vote, In which direction does the nation need a push?

Love In A Circle

Sometimes we speak of man in relation to God as a vertical dimension, and man in relation to his fellow man as a horizontal dimension. This can suggest that a person can have one relationship or the other and need not have both. But the Scriptures also teach that there is a circular relationship among self, God, and others.

John in his first letter speaks of this circularity in the matter of love. “If any one says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother … cannot love God …” (4:20). John recognizes that love for God is something that can grow: “his love is perfected in us” (v. 12). And he specifies as the basis for this growth in the love of God the condition “if we love one another” (v. 12).

We cannot separate an increase of love for God from an increase of our love for others: “this commandment we have from him, that he who loves God should love his brother also” (v. 21). Earlier in this letter, John was quite specific: “if any one has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” (3:17).

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The basis of our love is that “he first loved us” (4:19); he loved us so much that “he laid down his life for us” (3:16). And “if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (4:11). If we continually contemplate the love of God for us, love for others will be, not an optional addition, but an inevitable expression of our love for God.

To complete the circle: not only does genuine love for God produce love for brethren, but the reverse is true as well: “if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us” (4:12).

Occasionally it may be helpful to speak of the vertical and horizontal dimensions of love, but the teaching of John suggests that instead of thinking of love in lines—man to God, and man to man—we should see it as a circle.

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