I can find no better expression of our mission than a very old-fashioned one: we are to confront the student with the Gospel. This task remains as long as the university requires for graduation courses in the cycle of the mollusk, but not in the life of Jesus; as long as its students (our students) are exposed to what was said and assumed in first-century Rome but not to what was said and assumed in first-century Jerusalem; as long as the philosophy department imparts the teachings of Kant and Hegel in ignorance of or opposition to those of Christ and Hosea.
Narrowly construed, what we are talking about now is Christian education. It is naive to assume and unfair to expect that the student will permanently worship what he has not carefully explored. The student wants and needs to know how the Christian faith got that way, whether its critics are right, whether its advocates are wrong, or whether (as he suspects is more likely the case) the truth is less neat and more stubborn than either his pastor or his professor has said.
The serious attempt to answer such questions (or, if necessary, to raise them in the first place) brings us into direct confrontation with faculty.
Knowledge Plus Morality
A part of our task with teachers is to give the lie to the “heresy that knowledge is moral” (Gerald Kennedy, The Lion and the Lamb, p. 14). “To emphasize information alone is to clap with one hand” (A. W. Goshay, “What is the Message?,” Saturday Review, Feb. 13, 1960, p. 35). Whitehead observed that “a merely well-informed man is the most useless bore on God’s earth.” He might have added that a merely well-informed man is dangerous, too. “It all depends upon who has the knowledge and what he does with it” (A. N. Whitehead, The Aims of Education [Mentor Books], p. 43). Knowledge as such is not moral. It is morally neutral. This is not popular doctrine with the scientific naturalists and humanists. It will be anathematized as dogma; it will be resisted as unjustified restraint on academic liberty. But it must be stated and restated in every conceivably commendable way if we are to take seriously our mission of faculty confrontation.
Nature Of Ultimate Reality
Assuming that we are talking about the teacher who is resistant to the claims of Christianity, it is also safe to assume that he will not be especially interested in discussing the issue in theological categories, or even able to do so. I have found that such confrontation can therefore best take place in terms of what I might call a man’s primal assertion. Prior to all experiences is the question, “What shall I take to be real?” Here the Christian and the non-Christian or even the anti-Christian can join hands. This is a question in which each of them, each of us, is really involved. There is no getting out of it, whether I think or do not think, whether I think as a scientist or as a theologian, whether I like it or not. The scientist who has no other commitment for security than his science is manacled by blind faith. The religionist who resists and rejects the facts and even insights which science can contribute to his life is also blindly committed to blindness. But when a man can accept both without resenting either; when he can search out the one without distorting the other; when he can ask the question, “What shall I take to be real?,” and commit himself irrevocably to the answer—then he can be confident that the result will be both scientifically respectable and spiritually real.
Need Of The True Religion
Again, our mission involves a responsible confrontation of the university as a whole: student and faculty and staff. Whatever the nature of the University of Eden before the Fall, the contemporary academy is sorely afflicted with itself. It is gravely stricken with wounds of its own stabbing. I am suggesting very literally that the university needs to be saved. This cannot be accomplished, mind you, by saying it just this way. It cannot be brought about by a “wiser than thou” attitude. It will never be seen by a Church which is not willing to learn as well as teach. But it will arise out of a relation of critical friendliness, interpreting to the university the mind of the Church about the mind of Christ, although in penitent recognition that this is a mind which we neither fully understand nor perfectly embody.
Religion is being taught within the curriculum of some universities which make great claims of church-state virginity. I mean religion in the formal, systematic, historic sense of the word. Such teaching is often sprayed over with a magic paint called “Modern Philosophy and …” or “The Sociology of Religion.” That, supposedly, makes it invisible. But one coat won’t cover. It escapes me why this is believed to be more palatable or less sectarian simply because the teacher’s biases are those of a logical positivist rather than those of an orthodox Wesleyan or of a Roman Jesuit. In any case, it is happening, and I for one think it time we start employing a little holy boldness—and even a little unholy boldness, if this is necessary—in saying so.
If we do not, if we decline to declare the utter unneutrality of it, if we refuse to see—and to help the university to see—that some kind of religion, open or covert, is necessarily taught, we get the curious anomaly of an English literature teacher’s trying to deal with Milton without dealing with the cluster of Christian truth on the basis of which Milton wrote. You do not get Milton that way. What you get is Milton minus his faith plus the teacher’s ignorance.
A Liberating Fellowship
Again, let me suggest that the campus church’s mission requires it to speak to the larger Church of which it is a part. This is an important form of finger-pointing which, if we are not careful, can become an innocuous form of thumb-sucking. It involves interpreting the university to the Church beyond the university, combatting the pious anti-intellectualism that glories in its ignorance and has plenty to glory in.
I choose my words now carefully as well as, I hope, charitably. I speak as one who occupied a university pulpit for nearly five years before only recently coming within the orbit of what we call The Wesley Foundation. It saddens me to have to report that the breed of ecclesiastical cat known inaccurately as the student worker is the most insecure and frustrated clergyman in our church. Sometimes this is his own fault. But oftener, I suspect, it points to Methodism’s refusal (is she alone in this?) to take its campus men seriously and its unwillingness to heed the (sometimes) unpleasant things he has to say. He listens, as to an ancient gramophone, to the worn-out question about when he is coming back into the ministry. His friends treat him as a kind of male Virgin Mary upon whose head at ordination the bishop laid but one hand—and that lightly.
Faced with such a mission as here outlined, the campus church may be forgiven for reacting as the defendant did when he heard the bailiff announce the “Case of John Smith vs. the People of the United States.” “My God,” he breathed, “what a majority.” The only thing that will prevent such despair is the reverent recognition that the Church, like the individual, is justified by faith. It may well surprise us that God has chosen us, of all people, for this, of all tasks, to be fulfilled in these, of all circumstances.
What I covet for the Church I love is that she become an enlightened, liberating, and persuasive fellowship: enlightened about the facts of our tradition; liberating the lives of our people for joyful worship and service; persuading those who are not yet a part of us that here is a people who love one another in God and who, because they do, welcome all of every age or station to become the recipients of God’s grace and the instruments of his love.
I say it may well astound us that God has chosen us for this. But he has. So we must. Let us then, as Wesley said, unite the two so long disjoin’d: knowledge and vital piety.
Preacher in the Red
ELIXIR OF THE NORTHERN GODS
WHILE SERVING as interim pastor, I had occasion to spend a great deal of time counseling a widow who was undergoing severe spiritual trials. With prayer, I sought to minister the “strong consolation” of the Word.
At the close of each session, she would insist that I accompany her to the kitchen for a cup of steaming coffee. For me, being a Swede, that was reward enough! I would gratefully sip the “elixir of the northern gods” while her young son sat in a corner and eyed me with questioning probe.
One Saturday afternoon, some time later, the wife of the present pastor of that church telephoned. The preacher had collapsed with a fever due to a mysterious attack of something or other. Could I please supply the next day?
The congregation seemed somewhat surprised to see me without prior warning. But none was more taken back than my young friend of the kitchen. As I mounted the platform, he squirmed in his seat, gave his mother’s arm a hard pull, and cried out in a voice audible in every corner of the sanctuary, “Hey, mommy, look! That ain’t the preacher! That’s the fellow who came and drank up all your coffee!”—The Rev. EDWIN RAYMOND ANDERSON, Hartford, Connecticut.
For each report by a minister of the Gospel of an embarrassing moment in his life, CHRISTIANITY TODAY will pay $5 (upon publication). To be acceptable, anecdotes must narrate factually a personal experience, and must be previously unpublished. Contributions should not exceed 250 words, should be typed double-spaced, and bear the writer’s name and address. Upon acceptance, such contributions become the property of CHRISTIANITY TODAY. Address letters to: Preacher in the Red, CHRISTIANITY TODAY, 1014 Washington Building, Washington 5, D. C.
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