Thanks for your long letter. It was good to get a “stream-of-consciousness” type of report—all the things that you would talk about if you were right here curled up on the foot of the bed. Your other letters were delightful and interesting, but I was wondering what was going on beneath the surface.

Please don’t feel that we are upset by all those questions about the basis of your faith. I am sending you several books on apologetics recommended by a professor who would know just what you need.

Daddy says he’s not dealing with apologetics right now and that he’s not in the student atmosphere. In his ministry he’s dealing with people who are facing matters of life and death, heartbreak and tragedy, practical problems of family living, and it’s quite different. They aren’t, for the most part, worrying about philosophies and theologies. They want something of practical use to them today, something to help them face and solve their problems, something that works. And that is what a practical, experiential Christianity does, as I know you have proved to your satisfaction.

Of course, in the environment in which you find yourself you are challenged to dig out the answers for the sake of those whom you meet and also to strengthen your own faith. It seems to me—am I not right?—that this is the first time all these questions about your faith have bothered you.

Do you remember how disgusted you used to get with your older brother when he would want to bat around such questions at the dinner table ad infinitum? He was always taking the opposite side of the question from us just to get our answers. Then he was fortified to meet discussions on the outside.

As you know, his faith tended to be strengthened in an antagonistic environment and to waver in the environment of a Christian college. You, however, have always been the opposite in temperament; in a truly feminine way, you tend to yield to the atmosphere you are in. This yielding to an atmosphere can be both good and bad. It’s good in that you are always able to gather the full value out of whatever situation you are in. You are able to concentrate on the good points and not worry about the bad. It is the quality of sensitivity that enables you to pick up the language, feelings, and ways of people of another culture and background. This quality will help you benefit to the full from your year in France.

But it’s bad in that you will need to guard against having your spiritual life weakened by the unbelief around you. However well it is dressed up in scholarly and attractive form, it is still unbelief—a basic disinclination to yield the will to Christ. Becoming a Christian is primarily a matter of the will. There is either an honest desire to find out how to get into a vital, personal relation with God or else just an idle desire to argue and toss around scholarly terms, thereby further consolidating one’s own refusal of Christ.

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So by all means study all these questions to your own satisfaction. But don’t let anybody who just wants to show how smart he can sound throw you off balance spiritually. If a person is truly seeking, help him. Give him all the answers to the limit that you have them. But don’t ever for a moment think that, because you don’t have an answer at your fingertips, there is no answer!

Plenty of thinking Christians have agonized through all these questions before you ever were here and have come through with their faith intact. During the first years of my Bible teaching, I was in about the same frame of mind you seem to be in now. I felt I had to know, that I had to work out in my own mind all the “whys.” I felt I had no right to teach, that I could not stand before a class with any ring of conviction in my voice, if I hadn’t beaten my way through every last question that occurred to me—and plenty of them did!

Finally, though, I became thoroughly satisfied, and my interest in apologetics shifted to the practical aspects of Christianity—the way it works in everyday life, the way prayers are answered, the beautiful, the poetic, the soul-satisfying aspects.

In my teaching I try to speak the language of those not committed to Christ and to bring in apologetics when necessary. Yet it really isn’t argument that wins people to the Lord. It’s just presenting the Scriptures and trying to make them come alive in as many different ways as possible, and then trusting the Holy Spirit to do the real work, not yourself.

But I know what you are after; you want to work through all these questions for yourself. And you should honestly face them. Then you will be ready to be a fine Bible teacher someday. I have wondered occasionally why you hadn’t had to go through all this questioning before now. Just about everyone who is brought up in the Christian faith has to go through this shaking-down process sooner or later before his faith is absolutely his own and not just what he has gotten from his parents or from his environment.

So we’ll see that you get the books as soon as we can get them for you. And in the meantime, be sure that you do everything you can be doing to keep your spiritual life strong and bright in a spiritually chilling environment. You haven’t mentioned having any Christian fellowship at all in the few weeks you have been gone, or even attending any church services except one on ship and one in Tours.

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You will have many Christian groups open to you when you get to Paris; with your knowledge of French you can no doubt have some spiritually thrilling experiences as you seek out these minority groups. It will give you the taste and flavor of what it is to be a Christian or a Protestant in an overwhelmingly pagan or Catholic society. Be sure to look up those Christians whose names we gave you.

I’m glad to hear you are keeping up your Bible reading. It’s fine to read the Bible in French, but it might be that you would get more of a blessing out of reading it in English. Anyway, be sure you are getting spiritual nourishment for the day, not just more practice in French.

Another thing about trying to argue with these bright students. Don’t forget that you’re not the kind who finds it easy to win an argument of any kind, any more than I am. Smart as you are, you don’t have that sharp, clipped, overwhelming manner of marshaling facts and arguments in a way that talks other people down.

Your brother Bob has more of that quality. He exults in argument and in his group in Heidelberg was able to take on all comers. Whether it was as intellectually dazzling a group as the one you find yourself in is a question, but still they had been exposed to the same ideas as your group. You are more likely to convince them by what you are and by what Christ means to you than by what you say in argument.

Well, send us another “stream-of-consciousness” letter when you feel like it. Of course, you’re not homesick. You’re a big girl now, all grown-up, or almost. Nothing can take away the wonderful years we have had with you. They are forever written into your conscious and sub-conscious mind. But I would feel that I had done a poor and selfish job if you couldn’t stand to be away from your parents at the age of twenty. I wouldn’t like to think of you over there in the midst of that fine opportunity, all torn up with homesickness.

Of course you know we pray for you constantly.

With love,


Margaret Johnston Hess is the wife of Dr. Bartlett L. Hess, pastor of the Ward Memorial Presbyterian Church, Detroit, Michigan. She is a graduate of Coe College. This letter was written to her daughter, a student at Sweetbriar College, who at that time was taking her junior year abroad by attending the Sorbonne in Paris.

T. Leo Brannon is pastor of the First Methodist Church of Samson, Alabama. He received the B.S. degree from Troy State College and the B.D. from Emory University.

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