Since Celsus of the second century, a recurring criticism of Christianity has been that it is too narrowminded to listen to the voices around it. Without doubt a prima-facie case can be established. Tertullian of North Africa raised the question, “What has Jerusalem to do with Athens?” The medieval Church was as brusque in its reaction to the new thought forms arising from the rediscovery of the writings of Aristotle. In the nineteenth century some Christians violently opposed the use of chloroform in childbirth.

But the truth is that the Church has not been unwilling to listen to voices around it; she has only been slow to do so. That is why critics have been able to make the bigoted characterization stick, for the Church has been one of the great conservative forces in Western life. Novelists of the 1920s such as Sinclair Lewis, and the philosophers Friedrich Nietzsche and Jean Paul Sartre attacked the Church. But the Church listened even to their views. She only appeared not to, because she failed to respond quickly.

The Church has sometimes fooled both herself and her detractors by insisting that her ear is attuned only to the voice of her Lord. On the contrary, she has sometimes resembled those referred to in Second Timothy “who will listen to anybody and can never arrive at a knowledge of the truth.” She has even been like a King Jehoiakim, putting a penknife to the document to which she claims to listen, while in fact listening to voices from elsewhere.

By the time a new intellectual movement reaches its peak it begins to infiltrate the Church—or the Church, in an attempt to oppose the new philosophy, accepts its premises. The difficulty is that about the time the Church accommodates to the current fad new intellectual ...

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