One of the major problems of Protestantism today is the biblical illiteracy of the laity. “I dreamed,” said John Bunyan at the beginning of his great allegory, “and behold I saw a man clothed with rags standing in a certain place … a book in his hand, and a great burden upon his back.”

If John Bunyan were writing today, he would have to describe Pilgrim differently. Man is still a pilgrim; but now he stands in a situation unknown to Bunyan, surrounded, as Pascal prophetically said, by “those frightful spaces of the universe,” of which science has made him more aware than ever before. Pilgrim no longer holds the book in his hand, because he does not take it seriously.

Let ministers give their congregations the most elementary tests of scriptural knowledge and ponder the results. By a strange paradox, Bibles are purchased in all manner of versions. They may indeed be read—sporadically and piecemeal. But of the Book as a whole, of its grand unfolding of God’s truth and of its essential doctrines, there is a dearth of knowledge.

Why should this be? The answer points to the Church. If at a time when church membership in America is at a high level a living knowledge of the Bible is declining among the laity, the Church must be held accountable for its educational stewardship.

Books are essential to education, and at the heart of Christian education is the Book. But something has happened in Protestantism that has immeasurably weakened the hold of Scripture upon the people. There has been a shift in attitude toward the Bible. Liberal scholarship that dissects major portions of Scripture and denies much of the supernaturalism of the Bible has for decades so confidently acclaimed its conjectures as “the assured results of scientific criticism” that they have been accepted by the common man as a fait accompli. Despite growing archaeological evidence, rationalistic higher criticism has refused to acknowledge its mistakes. Superimposed upon this unrepentant liberalism is the contemporary tendency to demythologize the Bible in order to accommodate it to this age of science. “Biblicist” has become a pejorative epithet for those holding a conservative view of Scripture. “The Word of God” as an acceptable designation of the Bible is now rejected by many on the ground that this term refers only to the incarnate Word. And this despite Scripture’s own repeated designation of itself as the Word of God! Through the publicizing of critical views of the Bible (witness the recent article in Life magazine), the faith of the laity in God’s Word written has been shaken. Sunday school curricula in leading denominations divest Scripture of the authority of its self-witness, an authority attested by Christ himself and held by the Fathers and the Reformers.

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The consequences of all this are disappointing. In a forthright essay in the new journal Theological Education, Professor John Bright of Union Theological Seminary (Richmond) says of seminary students today: “The typical student has come from a Christian home, has attended the church school from childhood, has come through the communicants’ class, perhaps has been active in youth work and attended youth conferences. Quite likely, he has gone to a denominational college where Bible is required, and perhaps has even taken a major in religion. Yet he doesn’t know the simplest facts of Biblical history and content. It is all too common to find a student who is glib in the latest theological fashions—who can discourse on Heilsgeschichte, Formgeschichte, and Entmythologisierung, on Bultmann and Tillich—but who can’t tell you with any precision who King David was, or what Isaiah or Jeremiah had to say. The whole structure of theological education (at least in Biblical studies) has sunk a story into the mud of ignorance for want of a foundation.”

Something has gone very wrong in Protestant Bible teaching. So fearful have many scholars become of the “paper Pope” bugbear that they have lost the classical Protestant reliance upon the Word of God. Moreover, they have communicated this loss to the people, so that for many Scripture has ceased to be the daily bread for men’s souls. And why should it be, if it is in good part mythical, unhistoric, and so far out of keeping with superior modern knowledge as is alleged? Only the man who cares enough for the Bible to read it daily, to hide it in his heart, to rest his very soul upon its truth, and to live by its precepts is the man who takes it seriously.

This is not to plead for a wooden literalism that believes all words of Scripture to be equally important, that fails to distinguish between what is symbolical and poetical, doctrinal and practical, and that considers the writers of Scripture mere automata rather than human beings whose talents God sovereignly used. On the contrary, it is still possible to recognize the human element in Scripture and at the same time hold with intellectual integrity a high view of the Bible as the infallible, authoritative Word of the living God and the indispensable sourcebook of Christian faith and practice. If man today is to stand with the Book once more in his hand—and how desperately he needs thus to stand—he must be brought back to respect for the integrity and authority of the Bible.

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It is ironical that at a time when Roman Catholicism is recovering the Bible for the laity, Protestantism should be losing its Bible. Along with our fascinated preoccupation with renewal in Rome, we Protestants need to set ourselves to the task of biblical renewal within our own house.

The direction of that renewal is plain. It lies in a return to the central principle of education—namely, that of going to the original sources. For Christianity the Sourcebook is the Bible. What is demanded is to put aside secondary sources and to teach the people the Bible itself. It will take humility to admit this, but the modern Sunday school curriculum follows a method that would not be tolerated in an accredited school or college. In secular education the day is long past when literature was taught from textbooks about authors without reading more than mere snippets of their works.

But liberalism is not alone in its unsatisfactory teaching of Scripture. If insisting upon the mechanics of JEPD and if equating critical conjecture about the Bible with fact have broken down faith in the authority of the Bible, honesty demands that conservatives take a fresh look at their Bible teaching. In too many evangelical schools and colleges the Bible department is comparatively weak. The fault lies in a pedestrian instruction that forgets that loyalty to high doctrine and to scriptural authority does not preclude exciting teaching of the Bible. Indeed, over-dogmatism that hands to the inquiring student the deep things of God all wrapped up in neat parcels, that insists upon the letter and too often forgets the spirit, does not lead to vital personal use of God’s Word. If it is a crime against literature to teach Shakespeare on a dull level of mediocrity, it is a far greater crime to combine doctrinal soundness with lifeless teaching. Yet inadequate as some conservative teaching of the Bible is, it at least produces a larger share of biblical literacy than the more liberal peripheral methods that fail to impart even the simplest facts about the Scriptures.

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Protestantism began in biblical renewal. If it has to a large extent lost its Bible, let it return to the Book that made it great. Let layman and minister alike become once more men with the Book in their hands.

Students In Search Of A Cause

No one can avoid having an “image” these days, not even the student, who is yet busily developing a lifetime image. At present, the student image is in no danger of outshining the sun. Along with the durable agitation at the University of California campus at Berkeley comes word of the death of two, perhaps three, persons as a result of a snowfall fight by University of Tennessee students.

While not a mortal matter, the Berkeley situation is much more complex than a snowball riot. It cuts across the lines of party and political philosophy. The students’ Free Speech Movement originally sought to abolish restriction of political activity on campus, and in this was only seeking a freedom already possessed by students in the California state college system. But as time has passed, FSM demands have increased to the point where no one seems quite sure what the students really want. Indeed, they now seem engaged in seeking a cause.

The reason for the trouble is found by some observers in the anonymity of the huge modern university. Professors understand this, for they too merge into the anonymity. They are generally more interested in research than in teaching, and it has been suggested that guilt feelings over neglect of their students were largely responsible for the endorsement of the FSM demands by the great majority of Berkeley faculty members.

One looks wistfully at a student’s vitality, admiringly at his searching challenge to tradition, and sympathetically at his reach for a non-conformity that does not momentarily become a new conformity. Those who seek novelty in leftist movements find the novelty evaporating in the passage of time. Some known Communists have been seen at Berkeley, says Life magazine, and “probably have contact with the FSM leadership.” But observers believe the Communists to have had but a marginal role in the student riots.

The underlying search of students seems to be for an ideal to master them and to guide them through the tangled ways of a society that manifests glaring weaknesses. Unfortunately, their pursuit of non-conformity has not been in the direction of that great non-conformist, the Apostle Paul, whose ideal propelled him through the lonely, wild Cilician Gates to numerous encounters with death itself. That ideal was a unique Galilean who offered himself up to the agony of a cross. Here is non-conformity par excellence. The students may press on until they find a cross. Let us hope and pray that it is the right one.

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Church Union: On What Basis?

Dr. Eugene Carson Blake, whose very considerable influence prompted the New York Times to say that “there is a kernel of truth” in his being called “the Presbyterian Pope,” has again characterized the pursuit of separate denominational goals as “a scandal and a sin.” In a sermon delivered in the Episcopal Cathedral in San Francisco on the fourth anniversary of the “Blake-Pike” proposal, he expressed gratification that nearly 60 out of 200 presbyteries of the United Presbyterian Church rallied to support the Blake-Pike plan, since, as he said, “without some such positive response my position and leadership in my own Church would have been greatly diminished.” But he deplored the denominational tendency to become “more and more interested in world-wide confessional relationships”—whether Anglican, Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist, or even Presbyterian and Reformed.

Dr. Blake is disturbed by the tendency of many denominations to seek union with those other denominations that are within their confessional tradition. But is it not quite natural and even feasible for denominations first to seek union with next of kin rather than with more distant relatives in other traditions? It is easier to take short steps than long ones.

What Dr. Blake wants first, however, is a united American church. But what ground is there for union of churches on a national basis? Why inject the inflammatory and divisive element of nationality into the ecumenical movement? A common nationality is no part of the ground on which the unity of Christ’s Church rests. Nor is the past history of nationalism such that it holds great promise for unification. Creating national churches out of divided churches only leads to new divisions and a new form of what Dr. Blake called “a scandal and a sin.” Nor is there any ground for believing that a unification of all American churches will of itself give us a united American church “truly catholic, truly reformed, and truly evangelical” (italics ours).

Dr. Blake’s sermon contained some references of special interest to evangelical churches, whether inside or outside the ecumenical movement. He warned against “any church union which is established at the expense of truth.” Yet for all this emphasis upon truth, he seems not to recognize the existence of untruth within the churches. He spoke of the sin of the churches, but he mentioned none except their dividedness. What sins and whose caused the divisions, he did not specify. Admittedly no denomination is wholly innocent of the Church’s divided state. But not all denominations are equally in the wrong and equally in error.

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Even if we concede that all churches are guilty and admit that none is in a position to assess the guilt of another, this does not mean, as Dr. Blake seems to assume, that all churches have been equally disloyal to the Gospel. He urged that “a united church must fully confess the faith received by us all from the ancient fathers and enriched by the insights of the separated fathers and contemporary brothers of our several traditions.” With this one can only agree; but one can agree without closing his eyes to the plain fact that these enrichments of our common faith through our various traditions are not the causes of our divisions. The real solution to our disunity can be found only by facing the causes. Aside from such considerations as time and space, the churches were and are divided by error, doctrinal departures, and downright heresy. These must be dealt with if we are to avoid “any church union which is established at the expense of truth.”

Dr. Blake envisaged a unification in which no church asks another to “capitulate” to its tradition. While one need not stumble over the precise meaning of “capitulate,” he can only wonder how denominations with different convictions about the truth can all combine in a united church without some group’s giving up something it has held as truth. In pleading for a united national church, Dr. Blake warned against union at the expense of truth; yet in his sermon he did not point out a single untruth that causes disunity and must be surrendered to achieve unity.

It is only fair to recognize that in Bishop Pike’s gray-stone cathedral, Dr. Blake could hardly have specified the kind of theological error that cannot be absorbed in a church merger except at the expense of truth. A guest preacher does not take direct issue with the theology of the man from whose pulpit he is speaking. Yet Dr. Blake’s sermon, preached in furtherance of the Blake-Pike proposal for union made four years ago, cannot but bring to mind the radically unorthodox theology of Bishop Pike. Perhaps this is why the sermon referred to the bishop only in passing.

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Was this omission and the sermon’s insistence that unity must not be sought at the expense of truth an indication that Dr. Blake wanted tactfully to show the distance between his theology and that of Bishop Pike? All churches are entitled to know whether the united church Dr. Blake has in mind will include a theology that denies the Virgin Birth and the Trinity.

Not A Laughing Matter

For all its vulgar double meanings, its acreage of bare skin, and its studied preoccupation with sex, the motion picture Kiss Me, Stupid lives up to the last word of its title. While it is bawdier than most films of its kind, its chief claim to distinction lies in its making one long joke of adultery.

The industry’s Production Code declares, “The sanctity of the institution of marriage … shall be upheld,” and, “Vulgar expressions and double meanings having the same effect are forbidden.…” Yet Kiss Me Stupid, which openly and repeatedly violates both these regulations, received the industry’s Seal of Approval.

The Roman Catholic Legion of Decency condemned the film. A Committee of Bishops issued a statement asserting, “The current trend in film production warrants vigorous reaction of all citizens interested in preserving the traditional standards of decency and morality.… We beg [parents] not to expose their children to the corruptive influence of morally objectionable movies.…”

The last major film the legion condemned was Baby Doll in 1957. That one lost money. We hope Protestants also will reject Kiss Me, Stupid. If they do, this inexcusable film too will lose money—which it should.

There are some things a self-respecting society ought not to tolerate. Turning adultery into a joke is one of them. Verbal protests are often not enough to keep Hollywood from revealing a cynical disregard for common decency. Editorials like this will accomplish little or nothing unless they move people to talk back to Hollywood in the only language it seems to understand: the quiet box office.

Vanishing Absolutes?

In a talk entitled “Vanishing Absolutes” (published in the Dartmouth Alumni Magazine), Professor Richard P. Unsworth, dean of the Tucker Foundation at Dartmouth, told this year’s freshmen at the college that the day of ethical absolutes is past. Modern life, he said, is very complicated. “Sure and reliable rules for the guidance of individual conduct and social policy seem to be disappearing like snowmen in July.…” Using as an example “something simple like the Biblical commandment ‘Thou shalt not steal,’ ” Professor Unsworth declared that you can say either that “in certain circumstances stealing is permissible” or that “in certain circumstances, what would otherwise be called stealing is not really stealing. The only thing you cannot do is to apply the commandment willy-nilly to any and every situation.” And he remarked that the father who reprimands a child for taking bubble gum on the ground that stealing is always forbidden faces ambiguities in business for which this “simple” biblical commandment is inadequate. “What point is there,” he asked, “in having an absolute that can’t be applied or can only be applied to bubble-gum-sized problems?”

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Despite some wholesome counsel in this address about responsibility and the preoccupation with sex, Professor Unsworth’s thesis is open to grave objection. Though repeatedly asserting that ethical absolutes are passé, he offers no evidence of this beyond his assumption that present-day ethical dilemmas are too complicated for absolute moral law. From the religious pluralism of the United States he draws the strange conclusion that “it is a little unreasonable to expect a Jew or a Roman Catholic or an agnostic to live up to the old Protestant virtues,” as if the Decalogue were not common to all three major faiths. In place of the absolutes of the Judaeo-Christian ethic, Professor Unsworth offers “an ethic of service.”

This subtle denigration of biblical morality is the last thing immature seventeen- and eighteen-year-old college freshmen—products, most of them, of a thoroughly secular education—need.

The late President Whitney Griswold of Yale said, “Every basic institution bears a direct responsibility for society’s moral health. The university bears a large and exceptionally important part of this responsibility.” How does teaching such as that of Professor Unsworth discharge that responsibility?

Two Prayers

At the Presidential Prayer Breakfast held in Washington, D. C., on February 4, two prayers were offered—one by Lieut. Gen. M. H. Silverthorn, USMC (Ret.), and the second by the Rev. Dr. Abraham Vereide, founder and executive director of International Christian Leadership. CHRISTIANITY TODAY prints these prayers, which were among the high points of the occasion:

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Our heavenly Father, we come before thee with thankful hearts. We thank thee for our Christian heritage, for thy guidance to those who founded our country, for the opportunities afforded us in this land of freedom, and for the glowing lamp of thy Word and the gift of thy Son, Jesus Christ.

Father, thou knowest our innermost thoughts. Cleanse our minds and hearts of all thoughts that are unworthy of thee. Consecrate with thy presence the way our feet may go and lift us above unrighteous anger and mistrust.

Especially do we pray, our Father, for thy blessing on the President of the United States. May our country, under his leadership, be a shining light of wisdom in thy work. Fortify him and all others in authority with the armor of thy righteousness.

Father, as thou didst tell thy people centuries ago to humble themselves, to pray, to seek thy face and to turn from their evil ways, so reveal to us here assembled this very hour the means of drawing nigh to thee so that we may avail ourselves of thy divine power.

Almighty God, teach all of us to be humble. Challenge us to dedicate ourselves to the honor and glory of thy name so that we may faithfully represent thee today, tomorrow, and forever.

This we pray in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Lord God, Almighty, help us to pray. We are in such great need of thee for ourselves individually, for our nation, and for the world.

We remember today our leadership over in the Far East, our representatives around the world, how they are linked with us here.

And as we stand together here before thee, O living God, to whom all men are accountable, we thank thee that we can come presenting those who are our elected or appointed leaders to give thee thanks.

Lord God, we thank thee. And now together we humbly pray thee, once again, that the spirit of wisdom, of understanding, of love, and of power may rest upon our President in his tremendous responsibilities as our chief executive, upon our Vice-president and all these leaders in their various capacities, and upon this great nation, that we may learn to live together in understanding and co-operation for thy sake, for the sake of the country as a whole, and for the sake of the world that keeps its eyes on us.

Grant us, O God, grace to repent and to be converted, that our sins may be forgiven and blotted out and that we in thy presence may learn to live in humility and in harmony with a daring faith and in mutual appreciation.

Thank you, Lord God, for hearing us. And may now thy peace fill our hearts, thy joy, thy love shed abroad by thy holy spirit; and we thank thee, Lord, that thou will do it for Christ’s sake. Amen.

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