I have no easy answers to your hard questions. But your letter taking me into your confidence again, now that you are inside such illustrious ivy walls, set me up as I haven’t been since you left home. I’ll toss out some comments that I hope will help you when you’re being thrown a curve.

As to how far you should go with girls, God help you, and may God help me not to answer for you, nor to unload my own code on you. But here are some things that may not occur to you in the heat of battle.

Your bride is alive and waiting for you right now with high ideals for you. You might want to sit down sometime, when one of the disrupting candidates is not sitting so close beside you, and describe the kind of girl you want to marry. How would you recommend that she behave in the blistering interim instances you gave? Perhaps you could do worse than follow yourself the recommendations you have in mind for her. The fellow has a way of finding and falling for the kind of girl he deserves. Put your dates in this perspective. How far should you go? How far do you want her to go with someone else? How would you feel about your father and mother going that far with someone aside from each other? How far do you want your little sister to go? Is your contemplated behavior something you’d not mind confessing to her and to your own son someday? As a practical matter, remember that the girl the college freshman is currently raving about is probably not the one he’ll end up with.

Undoubtedly, the happiness of your future home will be created or cheated by your current conduct. Whatever habits you make will be hard to break. Your roommate should consider that sowing wild oats starts something hard to stop. It will take more than a big wedding to break up established pre-marital patterns of misbehavior. There are showers of statistics to prove that promiscuity prior to marriage tends to perpetuate itself after the ceremony.

The marriage vows are just as sacred before the partners meet and pronounce them. And obviously only the partner who comes chaste to the wedding can be trusted to be true. I notice that the Institute of Family Relations offers convincing statistics to sustain my own impression that pre-marital sexual experience is a severe handicap to a satisfactory physical adjustment rather than a help, as the scuttlebutt has it. The best insurance for a successfully thrilling marriage solely from the biological point of view is virginity.

Home is hell without mutual trust and security, and everything one does when single carries confidence or suspicion over into the union or disunion. The guilty party will worry over whether he’ll be found out; the other will be afraid the infidelity will recur. Secondly, any sign of dissension between mother and father, any festering grievances for which each blames the other, such as a child conceived before wedlock or the shock of an earlier or suspected unfaithfulness, no matter how carefully concealed sows uneasiness and may even bring panic among the children. Paul Tournier and other distinguished psychiatrists condemn parental dissension as chiefly responsible for children’s problems.

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I think I would call Brad’s atheism more of an emotional block than an intellectual summit he assumes he has reached. I don’t mean to oversimplify every rejection of God as a boy’s projected rebellion against his parents, but I would bet Brad’s rapport with his folks and his friends has not been what it might have been. His antagonistic attitude toward life seems, as you describe it, almost a classical teen-ager’s “neurosis of defiance.” In any case, I am sure you agree that someone in such a negative emotional state cannot be very objective about ultimate authority. Often the dormitory bull session that’s “out to get” religion is dominated by boys who are fanatic unbelievers, who do not want to believe, and who have probably never even read the New Testament. The campus cynic does not normally come to his conclusions conscientiously. Often driven by destructive urges, he chronically questions everything except his own cute little pet questions.

Perhaps the same thing that’s eating Brad accounts, in part at least, for the anti-attitude of your biology professor and even the whole contemporary stance of scientism. To return to Tournier, in his last volume, he exposes the whole secular reaction of our time against religion as “adolescent” (A Whole Person in a Broken World, Harper & Row, 1964). Medieval man’s approach may have been childlike, but our descendants will not consider this age’s attitude as adult. It is more like a big brother’s scorn.

Tournier recognizes in the prevalent condescension toward the Church the same old teen-ager’s “neurosis of defiance.” He believes the objections to the Bible are more emotional than intellectual, that modern man has been led to his present-day position of non-religion more by a contradictory spirit toward his forefathers than by honest doubt or fair trial. Our day has not outgrown God; it has just repressed him. “To say no, consistently, where we said yes before is not to be free.” And while Western man suffers from this compulsion to offend and avert God, he unconsciously yearns for reunion with him like a lost son.

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Science, as you know, John, has succumbed to a far more naïve god of its own. It is that strange god, chance, in whom modern scientists believe. “Chance,” writes Franck Abauzit, “explains nothing; it is merely the negation of the spirit, the opposite of reason, the destruction of all intelligibility.” “And yet it is,” as Tournier tells us, “the last word of every scientific explanation of the world. ‘The classical theory of science,’ writes Lecomte de Nouy, ‘simply replaces God with chance. It is nothing more than playing with words.’ Here again, the psychoanalysts will say, is the return of the repressed disguised as in a dream” (Tournier, p. 33).

I don’t know what you can do with this, John; but I do know that the feud between faith and scientific fact is folly “exactly like the quarrel between an adolescent and his parents, in which he scoffs at them by making assertions which are too categorical and they regard every contradiction on his part as an offense” (Tournier, p. 87). It’s high time to challenge science’s sacred trinity of “accident, struggle, and progress.” The doubts so dear to humanism need doubting now.

As for your religion course, an English professor, of all people, gave me a little paperback by Sören Kierkegaard the other day, entitled On Self Examination. I wouldn’t like you to take Kierkegaard’s word on everything, but he puts higher criticism in its place as man’s last and most insidious means of escaping God. The Bible is a mirror, he says, but instead of assisting us to see ourselves in it more clearly than ever, criticism tends to distract us. We exhaust our energy and interest, dating the mirror, measuring it, counting bubbles and cracks. We note the word’s distortion here, its duplication there. We interpret, relate, outline, and evaluate. We do everything to the Bible but look in it and shout, “Hallelujah, it is He!” We miss the crowd about the Cross and forget to cry in bitter shame, “It is I.”

I am sure you will gain much from your course. At least it will test your faith and teach you what problems others will raise that must be answered. But be comforted that John Bunyan, St. Francis, and St. Peter had no Dead Sea Scrolls to prove to them how long this faith could be preserved intact. St. Peter couldn’t even have read them; he wouldn’t have had time, because he was too busy having a religious experience and being true till death. It is not obscurantism to say that the time comes when the examination should stop and the experiment begin.

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Of course, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Perhaps the best way to appreciate the Christian position is to go back to Abraham and see how our first citizen got started. He was obviously a man of great wealth; perhaps he owned a huge plantation at the suburban edge of pagan Ur. No doubt his hearth was heavy with specialized figurine gods for every conceivable purpose. But something stirred him to restlessness. Not a nervous breakdown, I think. He could have felt like the little girl I saw in the cartoon the other day. She had just stopped jumping rope. “Why?” someone asked. “Suddenly,” she said, “it all seemed so futile.” Whatever the reason, Abraham wanted more from religion and from life, or someone wanted him to have more, than he’d been getting.

Gradually it dawned on him (or instantly light struck him—who knows?) that some new and vastly superior God seemed to be telling him to get out of Ur and go somewhere else. It was all so new, so difficult to translate, I suppose. His wife Sarah must have feared for his wits. But Abraham, anxious to do better and having nothing better to do, promised this voice that he would give it a try with everything he had. He went all out. And the answer came back, promising unbelievable blessing in return. What happened there was that God got through to a man and a bargain was reached that has made all the difference in the world ever since. Call it a contract if you wish; officially that little arrangement is what we mean when we say the old covenant or Old Testament.

The moral of this story is that Abraham made no mistake. The result surpassed his wildest dreams. And he was not the only one who knew it. History bears witness that Abraham was not talking to himself. The Promised Land appeared out of nowhere; a child came out of a barren womb that set off a chain reaction of descendants distinguished for this same belief. This agreement was carried on through this lineage down to David and ultimately up to Christ. It is hard to believe that all this good news was originally born from a mistaken impression or a madman’s mind.

Now it is your turn and mine to try it, if we wish. We Christians have never been able to talk anyone into belief. We are asked only to gamble on it, as Abraham did. It would not be faith if we had all the facts or if life manipulated us like puppets by letting us peek at all the answers at the back of the book. Grooms risk “I do” in marriage with much less reason for believing it will work. Right now, no doubt, you face some problem too big and painful for you to want—or even be able—to unburden it on me. Instead of handling it on your own, ask the God of Abraham for help. Keep asking until your prayer is so important that you’ll remember next week what you asked for tonight. Help will come, and you will know the solution later, if not now. The religious bull session is usually stale, sometimes stagnating. The real thing is a trial-and-error method—God speaking to you, saying yes or no, in the language of your daily activities and in the deeper knowledge your heart knows.

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I think I shall not at this point try to tell you any more than I already have about who Christ is, lest I be guilty of understatement or presumption. For when the time comes, he will come and address you in person. The essential question is, Are you ready to follow him? That is all you have to agree to now. The day Jesus walked up the beach to where Peter and Andrew and James and John were fishing, I notice he asked for nothing more than that. He didn’t ask just then who they thought he was. That question would have been premature; it came later.

Remember, John, how we used to play that game together, “If I had one wish.” You always said you’d wish for as many wishes as you wanted, you rascal. If I had one wish tonight, it would be for you to follow Christ wherever he leads you. That’s my prayer. If you’ll dare to do that much, one step at a time, sometime, as an illustrious pilgrim once promised, you’ll come to know as an inexpressible secret who He really is.

Blessings on you, my son, always,



David A. Redding is pastor of the First Church (United Presbyterian), East Cleveland, Ohio. He holds the degrees of A.B. (Wooster) and B.D. (Oberlin). His writing has appeared in “Life” magazine and “Reader’s Digest” and in the “Christian Herald” and “Presbyterian Life.”

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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