Martin Luther once studied law. So did John Calvin. Deans of law schools and theological seminaries point to interchange of students between the two disciplines. Now for the first time a full-fledged national conference has been held by American Protestants on “Christianity and Law.” Some four years of preparation produced four days of intensive discussion at the University of Chicago, September 7–10. And though Wittenberg and Geneva showed greater strength than many would expect in these environs, the theology of Basel cast the longest shadow across the campus. It did not, however, have entirely its own way, despite the presence of able proponents, including the Basel master’s son Markus Barth, associate professor of New Testament of the University of Chicago’s Federated Theological Faculty.

In fact, one of the most interesting points of the conference was the reaction of lawyers, judges, and law professors and students—meeting with theologians and parish clergy—to dialectical theology.

The conference, sponsored by the United Student Christian Council and the Faculty Christian Fellowship of the National Council of Churches, brought together 120 registered participants from 30 states, along with numerous visitors, and consisted of three “dialogues,” three “sub-conferences,” more than a dozen seminar sessions, worship services led by conference chaplain Professor A. T. Mollegen of the Episcopal Theological Seminary, Alexandria, Virginia, and daily Bible study conducted by Professor Barth.

Already aware of the “increasing evidence of an earnest concern among Christians in the legal profession about the issues of Christianity and law,” the conferees were accorded a sharpened awareness by means of three resource papers sent out in advance of the conference. The selection of these was criticized as weighting the conference prematurely toward a Barthian orientation, one essay being a reprint of Karl Barth’s “Gospel and Law.” Following this line was the paper by Jacques Ellul, professor of law at the University of Bordeaux in France. Disdaining the optimism of liberal theology as to man’s goodness and human progress, he emphasizes that everything in this world is doomed to death. Only men can be Christian—not “things, ideas, or institutions.” Thus law cannot be based on Christian love (“unthinkable”!), nor can it “express justice.” Rather it is “a waiting place” and will only become justice at the coming of Christ in his glory. It has now but a relative value.

In other conference literature, chairman F. William Stringfellow, young New York attorney, denies the possibility of a Christian philosophy of law. As Professor Wilber Katz of the University of Chicago Law School put it, Stringfellow “denies that Christianity provides ethical norms and asserts that the gospel stands in opposition to laws both good and bad. For him Christianity offers not standards for rational criticism but a vocation to worship and witness” which may be lived within the legal profession.

Article continues below

On the other hand, Professor Katz argues for the possibility of a Christian philosophy of law and “for Christian ethical standards for criticizing particular laws.”

In the first dialogue, Professor Katz contended that the law should provide freedom for moral growth and that in criminal law should be found a place for forgiveness (he urged the abolition of capital punishment, charging it ineffective as a crime deterrent). The law should find a “token fulfillment” of the future that Christ would bring. It should provide for equality of economic ability, as for example in “progressive taxation.”

In answer, Markus Barth found the law to be good only when “Christ takes it in his hand” and gives it a “spiritual interpretation.” The lawyer who is a Christian—in contradistinction to the term “Christian lawyer,” to Barth an unreality—will follow Christ by seeking to do the law. He will thus enter into a solidarity with evildoers and intercede for them. Clarence Darrow’s practice of taking “hopeless cases” provides a worthy example of a willingness to “get one’s hands dirty.” Christians are thus to serve persons and not institutions, which, though they may improve temporarily, will always in time decline.

In the second dialogue, Professor Paul Lehmann of Harvard Divinity School surprised some with his optimism, contending that “love can be unsentimentally translated into concrete terms of justice” through the possibility of law acting as “a function of forgiveness” and “an instrument of reconciliation.”

In the most optimistic presentation given thus far, Professor Harold Berman of Harvard Law School defended the concept of a Christian jurisprudence and traced its course through history. Calling upon his hearers to be “more realistic than liberalism or neo-orthodoxy,” he professed to see no tension between law and love. “Law needs love for its motivation and direction, and love needs law for its structure in society.” The church is challenged to create a legal environment where “love can flourish.” Professor Barth retorted that “only the gospel creates conditions under which law can flourish.” Katz and Mollegen also opposed Berman’s optimism, the latter sensing that the Cross had somehow been left out.

Article continues below

The third dialogue found many of the lawyers breathing a sigh of relief that they were to hear at last the practical application of Christianity to their daily practice of law. The two speakers were John Mulder, Chicago attorney and occasional lecturer at McCormick Seminary, and Professor Karl A. Olsson of North Park Seminary, Chicago. Olsson had already sounded an orthodox Protestant note in criticizing liberalism for reducing theology to a social science, and in finding fault with dialectical theology for not taking history, society, and institutions seriously enough.

A difficult question was raised as to whether it was right for a lawyer to defend a client he believes to be guilty. Attorney Mulder’s conclusion, seemingly a popular one: the adversary system in this country demands that every client’s case be argued as strongly as possible, though the lawyer’s conscience may experience anguish in this “ambiguous life.”

Mulder and Olsson defended the concept of “Christian lawyer,” the latter finding it indicated in the doctrines of creation, providence, and redemption. And in some sense, law “reflects God’s will for the world.” The Christian lawyer lives in two worlds—he knows a solidarity with the sinner in this world and gives himself in love to this service, but he also sees this world passing away and looks for the New Jerusalem.

Professor Barth assured the writer that the concept, “Christian lawyer,” is permissible if “Christian” is understood in terms of sovereign grace, with exclusion of any notion of human merit or accomplishment in salvation. But he prefers to drop the term rather than add the cumbrous definition each time it is used.

Indeed, the conference debates were often reminiscent of the Barth-Brunner controversy on common grace. But the thunderous “nein!” was uttered this time in the more dulcet tones of the amiable younger Barth, who was troubled at the difficulty of communication between lawyer and theologian.

The optimistic lawyers were at times nonplused at the “gloom” and “unreality” of dialectical theology. Some theologians thought this due to the “rational” conditioning acquired in the course of legal training. One pointed out that on certain of the issues, conservatives, liberals, Roman Catholics, Greek Orthodox, and Judaists would stand together in opposition to neo-orthodoxy.

Article continues below

In any case, the theology of crisis seemed to exhibit little attraction for the men of law over so brief an exposure. The attorneys generally saluted the conference for the excellent idea that it was, but often they watched arguments expose Protestant cleavages much as one sees an iceberg—only the upper ninth being visible. But the cleavages are deep. Some call them wounds.

Siberia Bound

Spokesmen for the extremist Doukhobor group known as “Sons of Freedom” say they accept “in principle” conditions under which they can get aid to return to Siberia.

Canadian governmental authorities, which “Sons” have defied since emigrating to western Canada some 60 years ago, promise financial help provided that sect members renounce Canadian citizenship, give proof that Russia will take them back, and supply evidence of a means of transportation.

The State Of Jewry In 5719

Jews still waiting for the Messiah were blowing the shofar unto the ends of the earth this month, in observance of the year 5719 on the Hebrew calendar. The new Israel was in its eleventh year and still growing, but more than 10 million Jews were still away from “home.”

Even as Yom Kippur drew nigh, reports out of Romania told of new Jewish persecution by Communists. Fleeing refugees said virtually all Jews in government posts had been dismissed. Personal effects and real estate were being confiscated.

As if in relief, the Soviet press broke a 10-year silence on the fate of Jews in Birobidzhan. The autonomous Jewish province was described as a successfully flourishing center of industry and agriculture.

Jews back in Israel were thinking of material success as well. The government announced that within five years steps would be taken toward setting up an atomic power plant.

Prayer Support

Many thousands of Australians are praying daily for the ministry of Billy Graham. Protestant churches in Sydney observed a night of prayer September 21 to coincide with the opening of Graham’s crusade in Charlotte, North Carolina. Prayer programs are scheduled to continue through the spring of 1959, when the evangelist visits Australia and New Zealand for campaigns in a number of cities. Australasia has never seen a religious revival. But neither has there ever been such a prayer offensive as is now going on “down under.” There are signs of awakening spiritual interest.

Meanwhile, Christians in the Carolinas fixed eyes on Charlotte, where a fully-integrated crusade was launched amidst a school integration crisis.

Article continues below
Race Relations

The Reformed Ecumenical Synod, meeting last month in the South African city of Potchefstroom, adopted a statement which emphasizes that no single race should consider itself superior.

The statement says “unquestioned equality” of all races “must be recognized according to Scripture.”

Middle East
From Zion … The Law

Amos Khaham, 30-year-old partially-paralyzed clerk in the Jerusalem Institute for the Blind, won the first international Bible quiz sponsored by Israel’s Tenth Anniversary Committee and the Israel Broadcasting Service.

Some 26,000 persons, including Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion and President Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, witnessed the contest held at the Hebrew University amphitheater in Jerusalem.

Mrs. Myrtle Davis, 49-year-old Baptist teacher from Georgia, who was declared Bible champion of the United States on “The $64,000 Challenge” television program, tied for seventh place.

Archbishop’S Deportation

The Jordanian government seized and deported to Lebanon last month Archbishop Tiran Nersoyan of the Armenian Orthodox Church. The patriarch-elect of Israel and Jordan is a naturalized American citizen, having served as primate of the American diocese from 1944 to 1954.

In 1956, Nersoyan was named to the Israeli-Jordanian patriarchate in an election which was disputed and never recognized by the government at Amman. In ensuing months, Nersoyan and his predecessor, Archbishop Yegeshe Derderian accused each other of being sympathetic to communism.

True Or False

Iron Curtain representatives generally got their way with the World Council of Churches’ Central Committee last month.

The Central Committee, meeting at Nyborgstrand, Denmark, (1) acceded to demands of Hungarian Bishop Lajos Veto, a member, that “false” be dropped as a label on charges of WCC complicity in the 1956 anti-Soviet revolt in Hungary (it was decided that the Hungarian charges were merely “criticisms and misrepresentations”); and (2) turned down proposals to show up opposition to Dr. Joseph L. Hromadka, Czech Protestant theologian and WCC Executive Committee member who has been called an apologist for the Communist regime.

The Central Committee reelected all 12 members of the Executive Committee, including Hromadka, as a bloc without opposition. Proposals to elect Executive Committee members secretly from a list of 15 had been introduced by Dr. P. O. Bersell, president emeritus of the Augustana Lutheran Church, and Colonel Francis P. Miller, of the Presbyterian Church in the U. S. The proposals died.

Article continues below

The Central Committee also:

—Agreed to invite observers from the Moscow Patriarchate to attend future meetings “as a wise first step on a road which may lead to closer contacts.”

—Adopted a report which declared that Christians should speak “openly” against use of atomic weapons in an all-out conflict but could “in conscience” agree to their use in a limited war. The report said Christians should seek to end any all-out war by resorting, if necessary, to the enemy’s terms.

—Voted to admit into the WCC the Evangelical Church of the Cameroons, the Independent Philippine Church, and the U. S. Hungarian Reformed Church.

—Approved a new $2,500,000 WCC headquarters in Geneva.

Theology In France

Three major groups constitute French Protestantism: (1) the Reformed Church, the largest; (2) the Lutheran Church, which has fewer churches but almost as many members, owing to the large proportion of Protestants in Alsace, and (3) nonconformists, with a great many local churches and assemblies, each rather small. The latter includes Evangelical Reformed and Free churches, various types of Methodists and Baptists, Mennonites, Open and Closed Plymouth Brethren, Salvation Army, and several Pentecostal associations.

In the third group the theological trend is clearest. With few exceptions all its ministers and spiritual leaders are evangelical. They hold to the great facts and doctrines on which Christianity rests.

This gives a fine basis for fellowship and cooperation. Some of these churches have joined the World Evangelical Fellowship. Some are members of the International Council of Christian Churches.

Except for Pentecostalists and the Salvation Army, all are loosely linked together through the Evangelical Information and Action Center, which affords leaders of these various denominations the chance to meet annually, together with representatives from French-speaking Belgium and Switzerland, to exchange information and to coordinate efforts in fields of Christian education, evangelism, mission work, and literature. Every year a number of fine publications are issued: commentaries, Bible handbooks, treatises on systematic theology, and tracts. There is no genius of world repute among these men. But many worthy scholars and clear thinkers are members. Clarity has always been one of the main characteristics of French theologians.

Many shortcomings must be acknowledged within this circle. Yet in so diversified a section of French Protestantism there is no apostasy from biblical faith. Mutual love and understanding prevail. From Bible institutes and the seminary at Aix-en-Provence fine young people (about as many as come out of Reformed and Lutheran seminaries) are sent to preach the Gospel.

Article continues below

In spite of tighter ecclesiastical links, the Reformed and Lutheran groups, odd as it may seem, are doctrinally much less homogenous.

Some observers say old-fashioned liberalism of the nineteenth and early twentieth century has died out. That is not true, though liberalism now is much less prevalent. Some local churches notorious for modernistic traditions are now under care of evangelical ministers, and happily so! Among seminary professors, there are very few old-time rationalists.

Still some ministers and laymen are proud opponents of orthodoxy. A liberal association was inaugurated a few years ago, having among its leaders a handful of able men, including the noted Albert Schweitzer and André Siegfried, journalist member of the French Academy. Both these men are over 80, but they have around them younger enthusiastic disciples who exert considerable influence over the radio and through the press.

Decline of liberalism during the last 30 years was aided largely by the influence of Barthian theology. But some major obstacles stood in the way of this influence. The question of language was one. Only a few minor booklets of Karl Barth have been translated into French. The voluminous Kirchliche Dogmatik has been accessible to French readers only since 1953. Moreover, although Barth is a Swiss citizen, his way of thinking is decidedly German. To the French he is characterized by inclusiveness, minuteness, and seeming self-contradiction.

Nevertheless, his impact has been great. Many who claim to be his disciples are much at variance with him and with one another. One for whom Barth himself had much sympathy and admiration was Pierre Maury, who recently passed away. But not many French ministers are really at home with all the subtleties of Barthian dialectic. Most of them have mainly embraced the following tendencies: acknowledgment of the deity as well as of the humanity of Christ, over against liberalism; reverence for the Bible as the only means of revelation, but combined with approval of higher criticism; some distrust of Christian experience, overstressed and sometimes distorted by the previous generation.

The latter tendency leads to an anti-pietistic attitude, and favors a certain kind of worldliness, in order to avoid self-righteousness and spiritual pride. Quite at variance with Barth’s own teaching, it sometimes even disparages conversion and sanctification.

Article continues below

Barthianism in France has had an influence both bad and good. The most sturdy fundamentalism has something to learn from that great mind, although many of his conclusions must certainly be discarded, and his dialectical method is dangerous.

A kind of high churchism is not unknown in France. Many Lutherans, of course, favor ritualism and insist on the objective value of the sacraments. But in the Reformed Church a similar tendency has arisen. A community of men formed at Taize, near Cluny, would like to introduce the practice of confession, call for an episcopal church government, and make themselves advocates of celibacy. They are frequently in contact with Roman Catholic priests and monks.

Theologically, these people hold orthodox views of the person of Christ, his atoning work, and the inspiration of Scripture. Their sympathy for some of the least acceptable features of Roman Catholicism is nonetheless strongly resented by many who have in their veins the blood of old Huguenots.

Main bulk of the Reformed and Lutheran churches is made up of somewhat hesitant evangelicals. They are Trinitarian, believe in salvation by faith through the atoning death of Christ, wait for his second coming, and have much love for the Bible. They do not, however, consider the Bible as the infallible Word of God. They deny eternal torment and assert annihilation or universal restoration of the wicked. They have no desire to sever ecclesiastical ties with the liberal wing of the church. They are much interested in the ecumenical movement, and at times become uneasy over rigid evangelicals who want to stay apart.

In the Reformed Church, a Calvinistic revival has taken place in recent years. A generation ago, Calvinism was dying out. Today a very lively Calvinistic society is developing. Members are as valiantly orthodox Calvinists as the most conservative Dutch Reformed in The Netherlands or in the United States.

Finally, there are Lutheran and Reformed church members who are frankly evangelical and who like to cultivate contacts with nonconformists. The 100-year-old Evangelical Alliance has recently been renewed and revived. This organization groups individuals from various denominations on a doctrinal basis, and its membership includes those who oppose the ecumenical movement, as well as proponents.

Article continues below

This past summer, an international congress was held at Strasbourg on the theme, “How to confess our Reformed faith?” Men of worldwide reputation (Dr. G. C. Berkouwer of Amsterdam was among them) presented valuable lectures now scheduled for publication. Presence of young ministers and students was taken as a sign of vitality.

Billy Graham’s visit to Paris in 1955 supplied opportunity for congenial cooperation. Liberals and Barthians mostly opposed. But under the leadership of the Evangelical Alliance, with chairman Jean-Paul Benoit, people ranging from the “incomplete evangelicals” among the Lutherans and Reformed to the Closed Plymouth Brethren and some moderate Pentecostalists joined for prayer and work. Since then, similar campaigns have been launched, always with a strictly evangelical basis.

The most important one in recent months was the Eugene Boyer campaign in Paris last spring. The largest auditorium in Paris, the Velodrome D’Hiver (where Graham had spoken), was used for 16 days. Night after night audiences of 1,200 to 3,500 attended the services. A total 600 decisions for Christ were registered. Boyer speaks French fluently and knows how to bring home the eternal Gospel to the French mind.

Contemporary reviews of the trend of modern thinking in France often ignore Protestantism, numbering 800 thousand out of 45 million people. But Protestantism is intellectually much stronger and more influential than its numerical weight would indicate.

Whether political changes will affect French Protestantism remains a revelant question.

J. M. N.

Papal Condemnation

Pope Pius XII takes a dim view of Chinese Communist efforts to establish a Catholic church independent of the Vatican. In a 2,000-word encyclical made public this month, the pontiff condemned the “crime” of the consecration of bishops without the Vatican’s permission. He exhorted Chinese Catholics to “remain unflinching” in their faith.

People: Words And Events

Deaths: The Rev. Canon Bernard Iddings Bell, 71, Episcopal churchman, author, and educator, in Chicago … B. D. Ackley, 85, composer of more than 3,500 Gospel songs, in Warsaw, Indiana … Dr. Harry Thomas Stock, 66, general secretary of the Division of Christian Education in the Congregational Church Board of Home Missions, in Boston … Dr. Lucius Porter, 78, former Congregational missionary to China, in Beloit, Wisconsin … Dr. Charles P. Bernheisel, 85, retired Presbyterian missionary to Korea, in Indianapolis.

Election: To the executive presbytery of the Assemblies of God, the Rev. N. D. Davidson.

Article continues below

Appointments: As general secretary of the International Missionary Council, Bishop J. E. Leslie Newbegin of the Church of South India … as executive secretary of the National Service Board for Religious Objectors, J. Harold Sherk … as Lutheran tutor at Mansfield College of Oxford University, Dr. William E. Hulme … as editor of a proposed Methodist music magazine, the Rev. V. Earle Copes … as associate director of information for the Presbyterian Church in the U. S. A., Stanley J. Rowland Jr.… as director of the youth work of the Church of God, the Rev. Alan Egly.

Inaugurations: As president of Evangel College and Central Bible Institute, Springfield, Missouri, the Rev. J. Robert Ashcroft … as president of Philadelphia College of Bible, Dr. Charles Caldwell Ryrie.

Awards: By The Missionary Digest, to World Vision, Inc., for its film, “Cry in the Night” (top documentary); to the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel in Los Angeles, for its film, “Life to Live” (top drama) … by the government of Haiti, to the Rev. Wallace Turnbull of the Conservative Baptist Home Mission Society, a citation in admiration of his “tireless efforts and spectacular accomplishments for the welfare of the peasants of Haiti.”

Dedication: Of the Thomas W. Phillips Memorial, new headquarters building in Nashville of the Disciples of Christ Historical Society, held September 12–14.

Grant: To Tennessee Baptists’ Carson-Newman College, $21,373 from the U. S. Public Health Service for cancer research.

Digest: While ringing a doorbell of a faculty colleague’s apartment on the campus of Northern Baptist Theological Seminary in Chicago, Dr. Thorwald W. Bender, professor of theology, was pounced upon and beaten by three thugs … The Cambridge Inter-Collegiate Christian Union in England is sponsoring a mission, to be led by the Rev. John R. W. Stott, November 9–16. Mission Prayer Secretary G. C. Neal, King’s College, Cambridge, is enlisting prayer partners.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.