Whether one can correctly speak of development in recent Protestant theology is in our day increasingly debatable. Fresh theories, shifting perspectives, even changing frontiers abound, but neither significant change nor meaningful progress seems demonstrable. Silent redecoration or soft repair of the entrenched theories is more characteristic of the last decade of theological studies than resounding debate on the crucial theological issues. The theology of the Protestant world seems, therefore, to have reached a stalemate.

What factors testify to such a stalemate? In the first place, the clamor for an ecumenical theology (the search for a unifying common denominator), coupled with the reduction of the role of reason and truth in religious experience, has dulled the desire for doctrinal depth. No one has given substance to theological discussions. Even Barth, in his much anticipated Princeton lectures, his critics complain, merely reproduced his system in miniature and supplied no new framework for an ecumenical theology. And without an adequate doctrinal foundation, the ecumenical movement is itself theologically vagrant; it is a rocket going into orbit without a sure sense of direction, gaining a momentum proper only to a guided missile, but wavering in its trajectory.

Those who sense that neither Barth, Brunner, Bultmann, Niebuhr, nor Tillich has produced an ecumenically serviceable theology, and who more and more bemoan the fact that no new stars have appeared in the ecumenical sky, are more and more interested in conversations with Rome, a process which is already much further along in Europe than in America. Conversations across ecclesiastical lines are to be encouraged and not deplored if they proceed in a climate of strength and not of weakness. But the extent to which such conversations have sprung from Protestant frustration with the liberal and neoorthodox theologies and from a reactionary refusal to probe anew the evangelical heritage in its historic depth, is a cause for serious alarm. The ecumenical movement itself, then, has hindered the vigorous advancement of theology while it has promoted theological conversations.

But the absence of significant doctrinal debate which characterizes our decade is not evidenced alone in an ecumenical politeness or in a frustration with the liberal and neoorthodox theologies. It is also the product of the problematic rather than a schematic approach to dogmatics which has been adopted by contemporary scholars. Instead of an uneasy conscience in the face of Protestantism’s widespread doctrinal disagreements and a consequent earnest engagement over theological issues, many contemporary religious teachers devote their attention only to the problems of method and tend to dismiss as unworthy of serious concern the doctrinal disagreements which have always been present in Protestant theology.

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Barth’s influence has registered constructively in this respect. By insisting that the understanding of the Christian faith must begin with the canonical books—not with subjective religious experience, as in modernism, or with something “behind the Bible,” as urged by Bultmann—Barth made exegesis the main task of the Church. But questions of methodology have so far dominated the theological enterprise that biblical theology suffers still from Bultmann’s displacement of the objective work of Jesus Christ by the subjective work of the Holy Spirit. Even Bornkamm’s Jesus of Nazareth simply shifts Bultmann’s readiness to dispense with the historicity of the supernatural Jesus into low from high gear, without any significant change in directions.

In a recent survey of the past decade of New Testament studies, Professor Otto Piper singles out as significant achievements the preparation of extended bibliographical helps which cover the period 1800–1960, the publication of the Bodmer papyri (which supply no sensational insights), and the discovery of the Nag-Hammadi Coptic texts, particularly the Gospel of Thomas, which is a Gnostic manipulation of the Gospels. But, concedes Dr. Piper, even such a significant event as the publication in English of Bultmann’s Theology of the New Testament has not raised theological issues but only methodological questions.

The Old Testament arena has likewise disclosed little theological productivity. Once scholars were sidetracked into the scissors-and-paste sport of propounding sources. Today a preoccupation with the nature of language chokes off the exegetical gains which might otherwise have accrued to the new regard for the Hebrew text. In a recent Princeton address, Dr. James F. Armstrong observed that the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the latest Septuagint studies, and the findings of archaeology have tended to confirm the quality and antiquity of the Hebrew text and to discourage the easy emendations so extensively made by Old Testament scholars at the turn of the century. Yet Professor Armstrong also noted that the Old Testament remains poorly situated in respect to commentaries, most of those in use being a half century old.

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For the seminary classroom the net result of the academic climate is inevitable: students are becoming more familiar with the addenda of biblical reservation than with the content of biblical revelation. At Princeton Seminary, for instance, only 35 per cent of a recent junior class passed a comprehensive examination on the content and structure of the Bible. Compounded with the theological barrenness which many seminarians inherit from their churches and with the cafeteria diet (dignified as “ecumenical dialogue”) which is now served on some divinity campuses, this promises an ominous future.

Can anything be done about the present state of the theological enterprise? Where must theology turn if it is to escape the stalemate which has accompanied an overly zealous devotion to the ecumenical cause and a scholarly preoccupation with the problems of biblical methodology? Protestant theology must find its way back to both revelation and reason, to a mode of faith and life that finds a friend rather than a foe in propositional truth, and to renewed and vigorous debate on the vital issues of a sound, relevant, and biblically oriented dogmatics. Until it does so, Protestant theology will continue to move on the periphery of biblical revelation and will never successfully or fully counter the philosophical-scientific criticism of our generation.

Is The Peace Corps Compromising On The Religious Issue?

We are glad the Peace Corps has replied to criticisms of its religious involvement. We are disappointed in its comments, however, for while the Peace Corps statement is factual, it ignores important items and borders on being oblique if not misleading.

CHRISTIANITY TODAY noted (Dec. 21 issue) that the Peace Corps approves schools like Notre Dame and Georgetown for training programs, but disapproves colleges like Wheaton and Berea as “too oriented” religiously. The Peace Corps comments that Wheaton has never formally applied, and that it “will probably” reapproach Berea about a feasible project. Actually, established routine calls for an official Peace Corps representative to approach an institution about becoming a training center, and then to invite campus authorities to submit a proposal. Wheaton has had no such invitation. It remains to be seen whether the Peace Corps moderates prejudices within its own staff that schools like Wheaton and Berea are “too oriented” religiously to qualify as training centers, while institutions like Notre Dame and Georgetown are approved despite their strong Roman Catholic orientation.

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We noted, further, that despite the Peace Corps’s emphasis that appointees are not to participate in proselyting activity, its workers are being assigned to instructional posts in religious schools. In Borneo, for example, many workers are teaching in religious (for the most part Roman Catholic) enterprises. We have since learned that 14 additional trainees are about to begin training for forthcoming assignments to similar religious schools.

The Peace Corps contends it does not inquire into the religious affiliation of volunteers. Furthermore, appointments to private schools are made in fulfillment of requests by foreign governments, and never are appointees permitted to teach religion. The Peace Corps, it seems to us, is compromising itself. For one thing, it is not obligated to grant all requests from foreign governments, which in some cases are highly susceptible to Romanist pressures. Assigning volunteers to religious schools (whether Roman Catholic, Seventh-day Adventist, Baptist, or whatever else) runs counter to the Peace Corps’s selection policy which asks for a trainee’s virtual suppression of sectarian identification. Such assignment also contradicts American traditions of church-state separation, in that the federal government underwrites the salaries of such appointees to sectarian schools. Moreover, to expect Peace Corps volunteers wholly to divorce themselves from their sectarian faith in their teaching activities is to ask the impossible. Such a position either puts a premium on agnosticism or objectionably secularizes the Christian concept of vocation. We doubt that Roman Catholic appointees teaching in Roman Catholic schools will succumb to such a delusion, nor should Protestants teaching in similar schools be asked to do so. In fact, we don’t think Peace Corps workers, salaried by the United States government, should be teaching in sectarian institutions at all. We don’t see any reason for this kind of procedure except to establish precedents that yield easily to future exploitation.

Because of the Peace Corps’s requirements the wives of Protestant workers have confined their sectarian activity to Sunday school and church participation on their fields. But Roman Catholics have been less timid. In Borneo, for example, the wife of the associate representative of the Peace Corps is teaching religion in a Roman Catholic college. Recently, moreover, the Peace Corps program in Chile was interpreted on a television film by a priest on Notre Dame’s faculty, despite his church’s proprietary interest in that geographic field. The sooner this sort of thing ends, the better. END

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Crisis In Katanga And The Gospel Imperative

Amid the swift-flowing crosscurrents of crisis in Katanga—to which such liberal voices as Albert Schweitzer and Adlai Stevenson find themselves speaking at cross-purposes—the Christian may mourn that crisis in the awakening “Dark Continent” seemingly overtook evangelizing activity there too soon. Congo atrocities underscore this. Ours is not a leisurely age for missions or anything else.

How now to quicken the penetration of that gospel which effects peaceful reconciliation to God? An American student at the Sorbonne points us, perhaps, to one of the most strategic means. In conversation with a student from the new African nation of Mali, he learned that among the thousands of foreign students at the university, a great number were from Mali and other African countries. Shortly afterward, the American student met a fellow American who was preparing for missionary service in Mali but was unaware of the presence of the many young people from Mali who were his fellow students—and this after a year of language study. Here was the future leadership of the country in which he planned to spend his life. Reaching these youth with the Gospel at such a formative period of their lives could have untold consequences for their young nation. Who knows but what a single convert for Christ at this point could mean the difference between a nation open or closed to the Gospel a generation hence?

Opportunities are large for personal witnessing as more Americans are discovering that they can go to school in Europe for less money than required by many private colleges in this country. And the opportunities multiply with the growing influx of foreign students in American universities. There are future Nkrumahs and Balewas in our midst preparing themselves for leadership. If they are to be instruments for the export of freedom, mere exposure to the “American way of life” is tragically deficient. To get to the heart of the matter, they must discover the Gospel’s liberating power. How much we help them toward this discovery?

Did Churches Miss The Boat In The Bay Of Pigs?

Because of its potentially nuclear, Communistic context the Bay of Pigs was a big fiasco. But it was also a military failure big with Christian opportunity for the demonstration of mercy. Here was a golden gate for the Christian church to show the world its concern for human need and destitution, to demonstrate that it takes seriously those words of Christ, “I was hungry and ye gave me meat … in prison and ye came unto me.” Although a number of churches have nobly met the needs of immigrant Cubans in Florida, no church or church organization seized the opportunity to ransom the ill-fated Cuban freedom fighters from Castro’s island prison. To the original failure of the American government was added that of the American Church.

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Ransom by the Church of the prisoners of war Fidel Castro had put up for sale would have been such an act as comports with Christian charity. An American Christian looking for a hungry man might well become very hungry himself before he found such a man to feed. Prosperity combined with governmental and community welfare provisions have made the simpler forms of extending Christian mercy difficult to come by. Most Americans eat too much, and the rest turn to secular and civic organizations when lacking life’s physical and material necessities. The area in which the Church can show the mercy and concern of Christ for men in physical need is constantly shrinking; as the State and secular institutions do more and more, the Church’s opportunities to aid the destitute become smaller and smaller.

The Church missed a big opportunity to meet a big need in a big way. It could have shown to the Communist world and to the poor and destitute of every land that the mercy of Christ is bigger than any human need. It could have shown that it still understands the words, “I was in prison and ye visited me not.… Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.”

Release of Castro’s prisoners was admittedly a big job calling for big money. No doubt American Christians meant well—so did the United States government in February, 1960. But mere intentions are not enough; they neither forestall failures, nor “release the captives.”


Diplomatically Correct—Possibly, But Morally Wrong

Our hearts have been stirred by a small group of intrepid Russian Christians who entered the American embassy in Moscow and asked for refuge. “Those who believe in God and Christ, help us!”, they pleaded. A few hours later they were in a bus, escorted away by representatives of the Russian Foreign Office at the request of our Embassy officials.

The niceties of diplomatic usage may have been observed. But there are many Christians who regard this incident with heavy hearts. Surely something might have been done other than a hasty turning of these religious refugees back to those who have been persecuting them.

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Missionary Opportunities For Those With Special Gifts

The time-honored approach to missionary service has been to keep the Christian church aware of the need and to maintain interest through preaching on missions, distribution of missionary literature, and visits of missionaries or Christian nationals. From such a setting God has again and again called young men and women to go to the foreign field.

Some mission boards and individuals are concerned over the world mission of the Church and the lack of qualified and willing candidates for missionary service. They are accordingly exploring the wisdom and rightness of placing calls to specific types and fields of service before those who seem prepared but who have never volunteered for such ministry.

We fervently hope that the need will be met through the thrusting forth of those dedicated ones who respond to an inner compulsion. At the same time we think there is no reason why boards and persons aware of particular needs should not deliberately present those needs to “uncalled” but qualified men and women. How an individual reacts to such a proposal will be one way to determine whether the invitation is directed of God or of man.

Certainly the unmet needs of the mission fields of the world today are staggering. Every effort of enlistment, therefore, and every avenue of recruitment should be explored. Many of those in the ministry today are there because some godly person challenged them with the call in their formative years. Why not consider the same method of call to service abroad?


A Brief Word To The Pulpit On Knowing When To Quit

Not many years ago sermons in The Netherlands came in two parts, a song being inserted after the first part to keep the man in the pew from falling asleep or, if matters had gone beyond that, to wake him up. This unusual liturgical technique was abetted by a simpler device: a custodian with a long pole was authorized to administer a sharp tap on the head of any dozer (a prerogative which must often have been viewed as a “fringe benefit” of considerable satisfaction). Sharp, biting peppermints were also employed to counter the claims of sleep, and very effectively—if taken in time. All these NoDoz devices were made necessary by hour-and-a-half sermons.

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It is difficult to compare the relative spirituality of this man of the pew with that of the more modern man who clamors for ever shorter pulpit efforts in sermon and prayer. The latter can at times appeal to Job who, after hearing out his friends, delivered that pithy sermonic criticism, “Surely you have multiplied words without wisdom,” for not every present-day pulpiteer knows that the ratio between sermonic impact and sermonic length is often an inverse one. And when did we last hear a sermon on that verbosity which Jesus said characterizes the heathen who “think that they shall be heard for their much speaking”?

Nor is the clamor for pulpit brevity necessarily evidence that the man of today has little time and even less spirituality. As far back as the eighteenth century Scotch frugality knew how both to save time and to prevent untimely sleep. J. H. Thomson said of the Scottish Covenanter preacher James Fisher (1741), “Like all the early Seceders, Fisher preached short sermons. Sometimes he would not be longer than a quarter of an hour, and he rarely exceeded 40 minutes. Indeed, brevity was one of the secrets of the popularity of the Fathers of the Secession.” And Brown of Inver-Keithing advised a young man, “Be short, begin well, go on, and when you see the people all eagerly listening, close, and be certain that what you have said will be remembered.”

There is of course neither a biblically nor an ecumenically endorsed standard length for a sermon. There is, however, one (painfully) self-evident truth: the less the preparation, the longer the sermon and the shorter the impact. Preachers do well to remember that in the reaction of the pew, an excellent sermon is always regarded as too short, and a poor one as too long.

Let the words of the pulpit set forth the Word clearly. Once the Christ has been brought to view, let the people reach for exit instead of peppermint.

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