At month’s end Dr. Herbert C. Jackson becomes director of the Missionary Research Library, a resource center for basic study in missions. A professor of comparative religion and missions in Southern Baptist Theological Seminary since 1954, Dr. Jackson is a member of the North American Advisory Committee of the International Missionary Council, and served in India for six years as a missionary of the American Baptist Foreign Mission Society. These circumstances lend special interest to Dr. Jackson’s address last September on the theme of “The Forthcoming Role of the Non-Christian Religious Systems as Contributory to Christian Theology.”
Today’s missionary confrontation of pluralistic mankind, Dr. Jackson reminds us, requires something radically new. His convictions are shaped by a sabbatical spent in studying Buddhism in Asia, and his determination to communicate Christianity to the Orient is surely commendable. He feels that the much-discussed “encounter” between Christianity and the non-Christian religions is not really taking place. The Church seems isolated from dynamic movements in non-Christian religions and from devotees of renascent faiths. This lack of encounter is doubly serious because “the Church impresses the non-Christian world by its own consciousness of importance before the dynamic life and brilliant intellectual activity of the ancient culture religions.”
Unless we seriously misunderstand what Professor Jackson is urging, however, Christian missionary effort is headed for a time of theological turmoil—and that with Dr. Jackson’s explicit encouragement. We hope that this judgment is not too harsh, and invite our readers to consider the facts for themselves.
“The next several generations,” Professor Jackson tells us, “will see the appearance of what might be designated another ‘Age of Heretics’.” Such a development, he goes on to tell us, “is inevitable in a period of creative theological advance.” Although Dr. Jackson thinks that “real fidelity to the Scriptures” (a formula he does not further define) will provide “protection” in a time of theological mutation, he insists that the appearance of heresy is necessary. Indeed, as we shall see, Dr. Jackson is inclined to run interference for some quite novel views in asking Christians of the West to champion a rash sort of modern theology (Dr. Jackson would not wish to label it as such) in order to make Christianity attractive to Oriental religionists.
We are aware, of course, of two divergent emphases in the theology of missions: one, that the biblical categories are relevant to all cultures; the other, that the biblical categories must be adapted to various ‘logical’ structures (especially in the presentation of Christianity to Eastern peoples). Many who champion the latter view would contend that the Greek-Latin development is valid for Westerners (at least within limits), but in expounding biblical theology they would ally themselves with the recent Hebrew-versus-Greek emphasis and insist on the alogical structure of Semitic thought. Advocates of an anti-Greek thrust seem sometimes to forget that Oriental categories too may be quite unbiblical. Worse yet, they tend in our day to disintegrate the role of conceptual and propositional relevation, thereby threatening the meaningfulness of biblical disclosure.
Lest our anxieties seem unjustifiable, we shall quote Professor Jackson’s own remarks as a missionary interpreter in a great denomination whose task force of 1400 missionaries is spread around the world. Professor Jackson’s address does not lean much upon what the prophets and apostles had to say, although he does drop the names of several dozen contemporary thinkers, at the rate of almost one a paragraph.
What is really needed, Dr. Jackson declares, to make the Christian faith universally valid and relevant, is the creation of “an ecumenical theology” which, in turn “will require no less than a radical mutation in theology.” Is Professor Jackson’s thesis, now to be developed, simply that we must get beyond our many denominational theologies back to the one biblical revelation of divine truths and sacred doctrines? Hardly. The developing theology of which he speaks leaps beyond the ecumenical creeds of the past, which supply a precedent for ecumenical theologizing. “Today the Holy Spirit is leading into a universal matrix out of which further development and enrichment of Christianity will take place.”
Dr. Jackson concedes, as we must, that the Gospel is more than a recital of God’s mighty acts; the saving deeds must be interpreted. But he apparently denies a once-for-all revealed interpretation, a divine disclosure of the meaning of salvation history in logical terms. Primitive Christianity, we are told, “intellectualized” the Gospel within Greek categories. Modern Christianity must not, we are told, be hampered by this intellectual structuring and “the categories that issue from this mind structure.”
Dr. Jackson seems not to be protesting simply against post-biblical rationalizations of the Gospel. If he were concerned only to avoid the Platonizing, or Aristotelianizing, or Hegelianizing, or Kierkegaardianizing of the Gospel, we would gladly applaud him. While he expresses himself cautiously, and at times appears to put the Greek influence at the patristic period and beyond, rather than in the New Testament itself, his objection is aimed also at the New Testament formulation. Apparently in the interest of some pre-intellectual form of revelation, he tilts toward the neo-orthodox notion that there is a revealed Person but not a revealed theology. He deplores the “failure to recognize the radical variants in differing modes of mental activity and in the semantic connotations which necessarily are involved in the linguistic expressions of the several modes of mentality.” The so-called “Greek structuring” is to him objectionable because it assumes the functioning of mind according to logic or reason, and brings everything to the test of logical rationality. As Professor Jackson sees it, “there is more than a single structure of the mind.… Climatic, cultural and historical conditioning determine the psychological, and to a large degree even the physiological, patterns by which the ‘structure of the mind’ functions.”
Nor is Dr. Jackson’s revolt against reason in religion and revelation simply cast along recent dialectical lines. Indeed, he thrashes contemporary dialectical thinkers for half-heartedness in their repudiation of logical rationality! Paul Tillich is merely a backslidden Greek; he “and others of like position seem not to be aware of the fact that the Logos concept, that is, the concept of Universal Reason by whatever term it might be designated, is a concept unknown in any other system of thought except the Greek.” Likewise, Bultmann’s “real dis-service to Christianity” is his “subservience to Greek rational apprehension” and to empirical science. D. T. Niles, former secretary of evangelism for the World Council of Churches, also comes in for criticism. Evangelical observers have sometimes voiced disappointment that the evangelical thrust in Dr. Niles’ proclamation is sometimes coupled to neo-orthodox influences, but that is not Dr. Jackson’s complaint; the Southern Baptist professor criticizes Niles for not breaking through “to an ecumenical freedom from the fetters of a strictly Greek formulation of the Christian faith.” And he additionally criticizes the evangelistic ministry of Abdul Akbar Haqq, Billy Graham’s interpreter in India, “who cannot reach the non-Christian at all (so Dr. Jackson says) because the only ‘Christianity’ he knows is the Judaic-Hellenic, which does not ‘speak’ to those whose mental categories are not of that stream.”
This remarkable “discovery” that no real affinity exists between Western mind and Eastern mind (if this is the truth) has come so tardily as to indict the whole course of modern missions. May not the fact rather be that Dr. Jackson is predisposed to Oriental speculation and Occidental sophistries when he dismisses as deplorable the emphasis that “clarity calls for a logical frame” and scorns those who “cannot conceive of any mental process than that of Greek logic!”? Evangelists like Akbar Haqq are reaching Orientals not by the promulgation of a Hellenized religious philosophy but by the proclamation that “the blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth us from all sin.” Surely the Logos doctrine of the New Testament (the Logos Who not only “lights every man” but Who also “became flesh”) has its roots in Hebrew revelational sources rather than in Greek philosophy. Does not Dr. Jackson tend actually to dismiss logic and rationality as a mere Greek invention or cultural conditioning? Can he, in fact, press his own argument without relying on the law of noncontradiction as something more than Aristotelian bias? True as it is that the Christian revelation is not locked up to Greek (or Oriental) modes of thought, and that the Christian apprehension of God forms its own “mind,” unless truth is universally valid it is nonexistent.
According to Dr. Jackson, a really ecumenical theology must compromise the last vestiges of logical rationality. “There has never been either a rejection or an amplification of the basic union of biblical ‘facts’ and Greek interpretation. Hither this circumstance must now change,” he tells us, “or Christianity will be foredoomed as a tiny and insignificant minority movement in a multi-religion world.… It is the writer’s considered judgment … that such restriction of the Christian faith … is a positive determent to the violation of what God is seeking to do in our day.” Now it is true that Professor Jackson says that Christian theology must enlarge its tents to embrace the contributions that come from “other mind structuring … without abandoning the contributions that logical conceptualism can make to it.” But these enlarged tents would surely need to be of circus variety, it seems to us, if they are to shelter both logical and illogical views.
We do not at all dispute Dr. Jackson’s premise that profound and basic differences exist between Eastern and Western thought, nor for that matter even profounder differences between biblical thought and non-Christian thought in its entirety. But Dr. Jackson’s proposal seems to us in the long run to accomodate the Gospel to speculative pagan categories while abandoning the rational and propositional structuring of scriptural revelation. What Dr. Jackson seems to want is a faith which is paradoxical in character—and paradoxical at that in a pro-religious nonlogical way! “In a theology constructed within a framework of the Oriental mode of thought,” he states, “paradox as an intellectual problem would be removed, while at the same time the tension of the ‘encounter’ with God would remain, since the latter is personal and existential and grounded not in any mental apprehension but in the fact that our human nature is against God—the God revealed in Jesus Christ—and therefore decision, a kind of decision which is related to the will and not the intellect, continues to be the primary factor in the ‘salvation’ that Christianity offers. Thus the Gospel would still be a ‘scandal’ but would not be ‘foolishness’ except to those who persisted in being ‘Greeks’!” Since the Gospel would no longer be stated “in the mental world of logical rationalism” the Oriental mind could then accept it “without violating the mental sense of propriety.” Indeed, as Dr. Jackson sees it, this reconstruction “produces a sincere seeking after ‘the whole truth’ with a total absence of the belligerent and divisive ‘defence of truth’ which characterizes the Occidental understanding of truth as propositionally stated. This Oriental approach presents a far more Biblical spirit than does the theological warfare that has marred, and still mars, Occidental Christianity.”
While Dr. Jackson’s reconstruction of the missionary message in these terms is buttressed by the declaration that it does justice to the total personality of man (“… The God of the Bible is a total personality who is related to the total personality of man, or not related at all, and … this relationship of totality can, for instance, come to men more accurately in a milieu that emphasizes Being than in one that stresses rationalism in the Greek sense”), the clear impression is that his anti-intellectual restatement of the Christian faith demeans the proper and necessary role of cognition in revealed religion. Despite Dr. Jackson’s protest against Greek rationalism, we have the impression that he nonetheless loses the simplicity of the Gospel in the world-wisdom of the modern Greeks. Indeed, if paradox is accepted a bit more zestfully in modern missions philosophy, the Christian message to the Orient may soon displace the Good News that Christ died for sinners by the garbled news that Jesus is Lord and Mohammed is his prophet, or that heaven is real and Nirvana is my home.
THE BASIC SINFULNESS OF THE ‘FREEDOM RIDERS’ RIOTS
The rash of race riots underscores the fact that brotherly love cannot be legislated, nor have laws and court decisions any power in the face of mobs whose prejudices have been taunted.
Moreover, our tendency to lament these riots because of the reaction they elicit abroad is almost as distressing as the violence itself. A parallel can be drawn of the couple who regret having quarreled because they lost their neighbors’ respect.
The race riot problem stems from our reluctance to recognize the remedy for sin. Even church legislation will not resolve the sin question.
CHURCH UNION IN CEYLON: IS AMBIGUITY A VIRTUE?
The scheme for the union of the Protestant denominations in Ceylon (the proposed Church of Lanka) has been brought before the public eye by the recent debates in the Convocations of Canterbury and York of the Church of England. As long ago as 1940, at the invitation of the Methodist Church in Ceylon, a negotiating committee was formed for the purpose of exploring the possibilities of union. All the Protestant Churches co-operated, though after two years the Dutch Reformed Church withdrew from the discussions. In due course a scheme for union was drafted. At the 1958 Lambeth Conference the Lanka proposals received the careful consideration of the 300 bishops present and were in fact approved without any dissenting voice. The Anglican bishops there assembled recommended full communion from the outset with the Church of Lanka.
The report of a joint committee appointed by the Church of England failed, however, to display a like unanimity, for a minority of this committee expressed grave doubts about the Lanka scheme. When introducing the debate in the Convocation of Canterbury, the Bishop of Chelmsford, Dr. Allison, emphasized that the members of convocation were about to take an historic and momentous decision which was likely to have a decisive influence on future reunion negotiations in other parts of the world. The alarmist tone of the reference in the minority report to the danger of the disappearance of the Anglican communion particularly shocked him. The fact had been accepted by successive Lambeth Conferences since 1920 that the reunion of separated churches in any part of Christendom must involve the disappearance of Anglicanism as such in the area where the reunion takes place. Dr. Allison warned that for convocation to decide against full communion with Lanka might prove to be the death-blow to the reunion movement for many years to come. Be that as it may, neither convocation was able to make up its collective mind over the Lanka proposals, the bishops, with one exception in the northern province, being in favor and the clergy being seriously divided.
The present church situation in Ceylon is as follows. Out of a population of 8 million there are only 800,000 church members, 700,000 of whom belong to the Roman Catholic church; of the remaining 100,000 the Anglicans claim 60 per cent, and the Methodists 30 per cent, with 10 per cent distributed between the other ecclesiastical groups. As the bishop of Chester, Dr. Ellison, pointed out in the Convocation of York, Christians in Ceylon are under intense pressure because of the resurgence of a militant nationalistic Buddhism which threatens their very existence and therefore makes Christian unity a matter of urgency. Nonetheless, the scheme faced strong opposition.
The real bone of contention is the proposed rite of unification which would mark the inauguration of the Church of Lanka. This novelty would involve the submission by the ministers of all the uniting churches to the laying on of episcopal hands with the somewhat vague intention of communicating to each whatever might be lacking of the fullness of Christ’s grace.
The crucial question is: Is this rite of unification an ordination, or is it not? The Anglican high churchman rebels against any suggestion either that his own orders are invalid or that nonepiscopal orders are valid. Therefore he insists that if this is a rite of ordination, then only nonepiscopalians should receive it. The nonepiscopalian, on the other hand, is not disposed to acknowledge any invalidity in the orders he possesses. And in this judgment he would have the support of evangelical and liberal Anglicans. Accordingly, the precise nature of the unification rite has been left undefined, so that those who wish to interpret it as an ordination and those who prefer to regard it as no more than an integrating symbol may do so. As the bishop of Exeter, Dr. Mortimer, has observed, the rite will be at one and the same time an ordination if and where that is needed, and, where it is not, a public act of “identification.”
It is precisely this unwillingness to define what is taking place that critics of the rite find objectionable. In the opinion of one speaker in the Canterbury Convocation, it is not only intolerable but morally wrong for anyone to be placed in such a position of double meaning. This is the view also of Bishop Lesslie Newbigin who is so prominent and experienced a figure in the ecumenical movement. And it is indeed a most important issue. Is ecumenism to succumb to the temptation to exalt ambiguity into one of the cardinal virtues? Are difficulties, and especially cruces of division such as this concerning the validity of orders, going to be left behind by refusing to face them squarely and by covering them over with double-talk? We believe that they cannot be facilely circumvented and that resort to such devices will not set forward the cause of true Christian unity either in Ceylon or elsewhere. In the coming together of Christians of different affiliations there is paramount need for frank theological definition that is fully scriptural, honorably charitable, and not made suspect by ecclesiastical wool-pulling.
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