25 religious scholars cite important advances and losses in twentieth century

CHRISTIANITY TODAYannually poses a significant question to twenty-five religious scholars and publishes replies in its anniversary number. Here is this year’s query and the response:

What twentieth-century development represents the greatest gain for Christianity? What development represents the greatest loss?

STUART BARTON BABBAGE, visiting professor, Columbia Theological Seminary: “The greatest gain: The revival of biblical theology within the Protestant churches and the establishment of the Biblical Institute within the Roman church. The greatest loss: The intellectual failure of the churches to answer the questions posed by behavioristic psychology and to rebut the philosophy of logical positivism.”

ANDREW W. BLACKWOOD, professor emeritus, Princeton Theological Seminary: “The greatest gain has come through the growth and influence of ‘the newer churches’ or ‘conservative evangelicals,’ not least in missions overseas. The greatest loss, I think, has come through the increase of secularism, by which I mean trying to get along without God.”

EMILE CAILLIET, professor emeritus, Princeton Theological Seminary: “Almighty God knows of no such thing as favorable or unfavorable developments. He is the great Unconditioned.”

GORDON H. CLARK, professor, Butler University: “It appears to me that the great disaster which has overtaken Christianity in the recent past is the immense power regained by the papacy. I do not know of any greatest advance of Christianity.”

OSCAR CULLMANN, professor, University of Basel: “The greatest gain is the fact that Protestant theology in our century emphasizes the Bible, yet not in such a way as to become nearsighted, but rather properly universal in its outlook. This biblical emphasis (1) lays the foundation for action by the Church in the world and (2) advances the cause of ecumenical harmony among all Christian churches. The greatest loss and the greatest danger for Christianity is the influence of mass thought-patterns and mass psychology on theology and the Church. This influence shows itself in a false universalism: theology is enslaved by the latest theological and philosophical fashions, by theological slogans, by theological demagoguery. Special schools of thought arise, as well as personality cults centered on famous theologians (1 Cor. 1:12!). Today such dangers exist especially in theological circles in Germany and unfortunately are also spreading throughout America.”

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FRANK E. GAEBELEIN, co-editor, CHRISTIANITY TODAY: “It could well be that the renaissance of evangelical scholarship, evident both in the number and in the quality of books by conservative scholars, is the greatest gain for Christianity. On the other hand, the greatest loss may be the creeping skepticism regarding the infallibility of the written Word of God. Long a characteristic of liberalism, this crumbling of faith in the full reliability of Scripture is now moving toward evangelicalism.”

JOHN H. GERSTNER, professor, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary: “The resurgence, however limited, of evangelical scholarship is Christianity’s most basic gain. Always less spectacular than other expressions of the faith, literature forms the indispensable basis of expression and the test of its authenticity. Where there is no vision (of the scholars), the people (and the preachers) perish. Possibly the greatest loss for Christianity is in the realm of strict doctrine and consistent discipline. The resultant ‘easy-believism’ leads to inert nominalism which is more of a disaster to true Christianity than Communism, Romanism, secularism, and sectarianism combined.”

CARL F. H. HENRY, editor, CHRISTIANITY TODAY: “In this age of secularism, scientism, and naturalism, the largest gain of Christianity has been the continuing spiritual conversion of men and women from all walks of life. The largest loss, and this in the churches themselves, has been modernism’s erosion of confidence in the Bible and in the Christian revelation of a supernatural God.”

W. BOYD HUNT, professor, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary: “The greatest gain for Christianity in the twentieth century is the renewal of biblical theology, with the attendant recovery of the primary authority of biblical categories for faith. The greatest loss has been the compromise of evangelistic thrust through the identification of institutional Christianity with limited nationalistic and provincial perspectives which deny Christ’s sovereign lordship of life and short-circuit the renewal of the church by the Holy Spirit.”

W. HARRY JELLEMA, professor, Grand Valley State College: “What is important is not the changes and developments as such (e.g., the waning of nineteenth-century liberalism; the staggering advances in scientific knowledge; the population explosion; the awakening of the Dark Continent; etc.). ‘Gains and losses’ are measured by the reaction of Christians to the new challenges and opportunities.”

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HAROLD B. KUHN, professor, Asbury Theological Seminary: “Of great positive significance for evangelical Christianity has been the appearance of such phenomena as the Graham crusades and projects like CHRISTIANITY TODAY. On the negative side, one views with genuine concern the extension of the work of the judicial branch of our federal government into the religious affairs of the nation. This concern stems not so much from any specific decision rendered, as in the expanding areas in which the Supreme Court is assuming jurisdiction for itself. Disturbing also is the seemingly exaggerated sensitivity of the Supreme Court to expressions from small minority groups, some of whom express no significant affirmative religious concern.”

ADDISON H. LEITCH, professor, Tarkio College: “The accessibility of the whole world to the Gospel is the greatest gain for Christianity in our century. This same accessibility allows ease of movement for evil also, but the Gospel can be and is being preached in the whole world. The greatest loss has been the time and energy and cost of endless committees and commissions working towards a feasible, physical world church.”

CHARLES MALIK, professor, American University of Beirut: “The ecumenical movement with the push it was given by Pope John XXIII and the Second Vatican Council is probably the development of the twentieth century which represents the greatest gain for Christianity. The greatest loss has been the spread of atheistic materialism spearheaded by Marxism-Leninism-international Communism.”

LEON MORRIS, principal, Tyndale House: “I see the question of gain and loss in terms of the fundamental facts that God has chosen to reveal himself to man and that the record of this revelation is in the Bible. The greatest gain of this century in my judgment is the recent growth of interest in the Bible and its teaching as shown in the appearance of translations, commentaries, and works on biblical theology. The greatest loss is that too often this insight is neglected. Christian men stand in judgment on the Bible using human criteria to select what is divine, instead of submitting themselves humbly to what God says.”

J. THEODORE MUELLER, professor, Concordia Seminary: “The greatest gain for Christianity in our century is represented no doubt by the remarkable revival of conservative Christianity with its emphasis on the inerrant Scriptures and Christ’s vicarious atonement; the amazing spread of the Bible at home and abroad; the witnessing to the Gospel by radio and television as by the Lutheran Hour and others; the successful testimony by Dr. Graham and CHRISTIANITY TODAY; the ardent spread of the Gospel by Christian missions; in short, by the fulfillment of the Lord’s prophecy: ‘This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come’ (Matt. 24:14). Christianity’s greatest loss is represented by the terrifying spread of unbelief and atheism in both Communistic and so-called Christian countries. But also this loss agrees with our Lord’s prophecy in Matthew 24:3–13.”

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KENNETH L. PIKE, professor, University of Michigan: “Gained: in evangelistic breadth—international proclamation of the claim of Christ; in cultural depth—one or more academic disciplines, especially linguistics, re-savored with the salt of wide evangelical contributions (and concomitant tribal Bible translation) after a bleak century of divorce of research scholarship from the evangelical thrust. Lost: in evangelism—the open door to China; in culture—the reputation earned as leaders in service to the poor, the masses, the blacks.”

BERNARD RAMM, professor, California Baptist Theological Seminary: “I think the most unusual development of the twentieth century is the serious, scholarly study of the Bible by the Roman Catholic scholars according to the finest principles of Protestant exegesis. The greatest loss remains the one billion of people under Godless Communistic rulership.”

W. STANFORD REID, professor, McGill University: “To my mind the development of mass media of communication represents both the greatest gain and the greatest loss to Christianity. It’s the old story of something having a high potential for good and at the same time by perversion a high potential for evil. By the new mass media we can reach people as we have never been able to before with the Gospel, but at the same time other forces can use the same media and the same techniques for perverting and misleading. Consequently, it would seem that the Church must awaken to its present situation and endeavor to use that which God has given to it for the extension of his Kingdom.”

WILLIAM CHILDS ROBINSON, professor, Columbia Theological Seminary: “Externally, Christianity has grown on the foreign field, and at the same time has lost control of a large section of Christendom to Communism. Internally, she has regained her hold on the mighty acts of God in Christ Jesus, and lost by loosening her grasp on the Bible as God’s inspired interpretation of these acts.”

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ANDREW K. RULE, professor emeritus, Louisville Presbyterian Seminary: “Within Christendom two things of very great importance have occurred in the twentieth century, both involving gains and at least potential losses; and I find myself unable to choose which is the greater. One is the rebuff to naturalism, which damaged the Christian proclamation through the so-called liberal theology, but which has now lost its sting through the regression of scientism and a more positive, believing approach to the Bible and to authentic Christian theology—that is the gain; but this has not yet penetrated to the level of college and high school teaching or to the common life of educated people so that secularism is still rampant—that is the loss. The other is the ecumenical spirit, which could be the greatest gain to Christianity in this century. But with it has gone a certain seeking of the common measure, indifference to great theological questions which still divide us, a feeling that the distinctive emphases of the various denominations are to be eliminated, and the development of a massive machinery that swamps the warm, personal relations that used to characterize the smaller de-dominational units. If that prevails, it will perhaps be our greatest loss.”

HERMAN SASSE, professor, Immanuel Theological Seminary of Adelaide, Australia: “The church historian will always be hesitant to answer such questions. Ancient Neoplatonism was equally helpful to paganism and to Christianity. It helped pagan superstition to survive, and it brought the greatest minds of that time, e.g. St. Augustine, into the Church. The fall of the Roman Empire terminated the history of the Church in Asia and opened the great history of Christian Europe. So it may be with the great developments of our century. The rise and the fall of the Church, the growth and the decay of the Christian faith are solely in the hands of him ‘that openeth and no man shutteth; and shutteth and no man openeth.’ ”

DR. WILBUR M. SMITH, professor, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School: “Perhaps the most significant phenomenon in the Church just now is the widespread renewed interest in the entire subject of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which must, necessarily, lead to a reexamination of the teaching of the Holy Scriptures on this too-long-ignored theme. One of the major losses to the Church of Christ at this time is the silence of the authorities of our great denominations, in refusing to take any official action of condemnation and repudiation of literature published within their respective communions, in which the basic doctrines of the faith are denied.”

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JAMES S. STEWART, moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland: “Positive: The new climate of understanding among Christians, created by the wind of the Spirit. Negative: The madness of the nuclear death race among the nations.”

MERRILL C. TENNEY, dean, Graduate School, Wheaton College: “The greatest gain for Christianity in the twentieth century lies in the rise of evangelistic movements such as the Billy Graham campaign, Youth for Christ, Young Life, and Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship, and the increased development of the younger churches abroad. These have stimulated new interests and have brought many to the Lord. The greatest loss lies in the increasing secularization of the institutional church, the weakening of firm confidence in the reliability of the biblical revelation, and a decline in personal dedication and holiness in the professedly evangelical church.”

CORNELIUS VAN TIL, professor, Westminster Theological Seminary: “There is no one ‘twentieth-century development’ that I can think of as marking greater gain than others for Christianity. But I do think that the various aspects of the work of the World Council of Churches should indicate its existence to be ‘the greatest loss.’ Through the council’s effort human tradition is rapidly replacing the Word of God as final authority for truth and practice.”

Lessons In Love

What does a Christian father say when his only child has been killed in the racist-inspired bombing of a Sunday school?

One such father, Chris McNair, whose eleven-year-old daughter Denise was one of four Sunday school girls killed in Birmingham’s all-Negro Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, had this comment:

“While I would like to see the culprits … brought to justice, I believe their chief need is for repentance and Christian forgiveness. God has given man the intelligence to build a true democracy, and now it’s up to us to pray that the Spirit of Christ will move the hearts of people to act wisely. I firmly believe that the Gospel of Jesus Christ has the answer to our problems.”

The father, who operates a photographic studio in Birmingham, serves as Sunday school superintendent at St. Paul Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod). The daughter and mother, however, held membership in the Baptist church.

The lesson for the day was on the subject, “The Love That Forgives.” The memory text to be learned by the students was Matthew 5:44: “But I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.”

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Denise and three fourteen-year-old girls left the classroom to go to the bathroom. The bomb explosion brought down the walls and ceiling. It was one of the worst acts of violence against an organized religious activity in U. S. history.

Zealots In The Holy Land

On Tuesday afternoon, September 12, simultaneous raids were carried out against Christian schools in Israel’s three principal cities—Jerusalem, Haifa, and Tel Aviv-Jaffa. The attacks, attributed to ultra-orthodox religious students, were regarded as the most violent and carefully organized in the country’s fifteen-year history. Police arrested 104 of the religious zealots in Jerusalem, nine in Haifa, and seven in Jaffa. Government officials denounced the students’ methods, but implied endorsement of their motive: a campaign against all Christian missionary activity.

Screaming insults and blowing the shofar, attackers invaded a Scottish Presbyterian school in Jaffa, smashing tables and chairs and breaking windows. The headmistress said they beat up the smaller pupils and slapped and jostled the teachers. Attending the school are children from diplomatic and business families; about half the pupils are believed to be Israelis.

Melkite Rite Archbishop George Hakim, head of the largest Christian community in Israel, was visiting the school in Jaffa when the youths stormed in. He told newsmen he had been “molested and grossly insulted” during the assault.

In Jerusalem, the zealots broke into the outer courtyard by a Catholic convent and school. Dozens had to be carted away by police. Police also dispersed a mob at a Finnish Protestant school in Jerusalem, which had been the scene of a similar attack last January.

Earlier this summer, orthodox students stoned buses carrying tourists from Mandlebaum Gate on the Sabbath and clubbed a cripple with his own crutches for driving in a “forbidden” area on the Sabbath. One of the buses stoned was carrying a group of Baptist young people who were returning from the Baptist World Youth Conference in Beirut, Lebanon.

Following the incidents, the youth group thought to be responsible distributed pamphlets titled:

“The Cross Completes What the Swastika Left Unfinished.”

Israel’s attitude toward Christians promises to gain more world attention in coming months. While the population largely condemns violence, Christian-Jewish relations show some signs of deteriorating. The widely publicized case of Father Daniel, Jewish-born Carmelite monk who tried to obtain Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return, indicated the government’s unwillingness to recognize as a Jew anyone who in its view has become an “apostate.” Father Daniel was given Israeli citizenship a few weeks ago, but not under the Law of Return, which would have recognized him as a Jew.

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A Senate For Catholicism?

Opening of the Vatican Council’s second session was accompanied by increasing speculation that the council will go on indefinitely as a continuing legislative body.

Father Edward Duff, S. J., special correspondent for Religious News Service, in an introductory dispatch from Vatican City, cited the following:

“Paul-Emile Cardinal Leger of Montreal has remarked that the council will never come to an end in the sense that the needs of the church and the facility of modern travel make possible regular meetings, every few years at least, of the representative archbishops and bishops from different parts of the world in extended consultation in Rome with the Pope.”

The current session was originally projected to run until the first week in December. A third session probably will not convene until next fall at the very earliest.

The first session of the council adjourned without a conclusive vote on a single item of its agenda. At the rate of the discussions of the first session, it is estimated that it would have taken the council thirty-two years to get through the agenda, the schemata, submitted to it.

The first topic announced for discussion at the second session was “the nature of the church.” A corresponding schema taken up at the first session had been referred back for basic revision.

The visit of Metropolitan Nicodim of the Russian Orthodox Church to Pope Paul VI early last month and his gesture of leaving flowers at the grave of John XXIII after reciting a prayer from the Orthodox ritual foreshadowed the assignment of representatives of the Russian church.

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