The Christmas season is a time of glorious celebration not only for children but also for all truly wise men, childlike in faith, who rejoice that God in his saving grace took on human flesh and entered history as a baby born of the Virgin Mary. The joy of Christmas is a reality for Christian believers because they know God has acted miraculously and decisively for them in the literal fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy: “Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).
Many contemporary existentialist theologians, however, are propagating erroneous ideas that, if accepted, would rob Christmas of its historical and universal significance. These men deny that the biblical narratives of Jesus’ birth refer to historical happenings. They view the accounts of Matthew and Luke strictly as mythological literary forms concocted by the early Church to convey the truth of the availability of God’s grace to all. Their thesis appears similar to Dr. Seuss’s moral in his minor classic, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, telecast by CBS this season. The Grinch removed all of Whoville’s outer trappings of Christmas—the ribbons, wrappings, tinsel, and trimmings—but despite this loss, the inner spirit of Yuletide prevailed. In a way analogous to the story’s delightful lesson, these demythologizing theologians claim that the biblical birth narratives are mere symbolic trappings that modern man can discard in the historical sense while he yet retains the real essence of the Christmas message. But their removal of the objective factors in the Christmas message, unlike Dr. Seuss’s moral, will not allow them to preserve the “good tidings of great joy,” for without the actual virgin birth of Christ there is no real Christmas.
The novel theories of these theological Grinches—whose motives are quite different from those of Dr. Seuss’s conniving character—were recently set forth by Professor Rudolph Bultmann in an interview published in the German magazine, Der Spiegel. Claiming that “it is an error to believe that the Apostles’ Creed is a dogma to which the Christian must subscribe,” Bultmann undercut the historical basis of the miraculous events of Christ’s life recorded in the Scriptures. He affirmed that Jesus was not “born of the Virgin Mary”: this phrase is “the legendary expression for the dogma that the source of the meaning of the person of Christ may not be seen in his natural, earthly advent.” He further suggested that Jesus was not pre-existent deity descended from heaven to earth but that his “God’s-sonship consists in the fact that he was obedient to God as his Father.” Belief in the pre-existence of Christ in the traditional sense, he said, weakens the significance of the cross. Regarding the resurrection, Bultmann is “convinced that a corpse cannot come back to life and climb out of the grave” and asserted that the bodily resurrection of Jesus was the “legendary concretization” of the belief of the early Church that God had exalted the crucified one.
Bultmann and his followers formulate a theology that denies the supernatural saving acts of God in Christ attested to in the Bible and substitutes for them an emasculated, non-historical, irrational, subjective message that is man-made. While Bultmann correctly says that faith is the believer’s response “to the Christian proclamation that promises God’s grace to men,” yet there is no message of God’s grace to which men may respond if they deny the historically fulfilled events of the incarnation, vicarious death, and bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Gospel of Christ is based not on the speculations of contemporary theologians but on what God has supernaturally accomplished in his eternal Son and revealed in his eternal word. To reject tire historicity of the critical Christian doctrines is to contradict the Bible and deny the uniqueness of the Gospel. If Jesus is not in reality the pre-existent Son of God who as the son of the Virgin Mary became man, he is not the Saviour who by his death reconciles men to God. If Jesus did not arise bodily from the tomb and show himself alive to his disciples, he is not the triumphant, exalted Lord who offers hope and eternal life to men.
Existential theologians who contend that only the “that” of Christ’s advent and not the “what” of his advent is crucial for faith are men whose teaching would rob the Christmas message of its significance. But the formulations of these well-meaning theological Grinches are destined to fail, since the Scriptures that testify to Christ’s amazing birth in Bethlehem and his atoning death on Calvary cannot be broken.
All wise men who follow the light of God’s Word need never worry about Christmas being stolen from them. Its beacon will always direct them to the virgin-born Son who is Immanuel, God with us. Christmas then will be as the Grinch finally found it: Merry! Very!
Missing The Mark!
The Church of Jesus Christ exists in the world primarily to bring people to know Jesus Christ as Saviour from sin. As new creatures in Christ, they are to make him Lord of their lives.
Only as the Church is true to its mission can it hope to have a healing effect on society. It is no more possible to build a good society with unregenerate men than it is to make a good cake with rotten eggs. Furthermore, a righteous social order cannot be brought into being by pronouncements of the Church. It comes from the influence of redeemed men and women, going out into the world as “salt” and “light.”
When does the Church fail in its mission? When it fails to preach the things that are essential to salvation—repentance, confession, faith, regeneration, sanctification, and the grace of God.
When does the Church fail? Whenever it denies man’s need of the new birth and offers a diluted gospel of love with universal salvation that is no gospel at all.
When does the Church fail? When it substitutes for the clear statements of Scripture the opinions of men which run contrary to the divine revelation; and when it falls for cleverly devised or deliberately obscure statements, wise sounding but empty of true meaning.
When does the Church fail? Whenever it becomes more concerned about the material welfare and happiness of the prodigal in the far country than about his need to be led back to his Father through faith in Christ.
The powers of darkness are pleased when individual Christians (or the Church as an organization) major on minor issues, skirt around the periphery of basic Christianity, and neglect the things that are distinctive and essential for Christian witness and living.
Let’s stop missing the mark. Let’s emphasize proclamation and service, always remembering that proclamation is primary and that service may accompany proclamation as a means to an end or as an expression of Christian compassion rising from a personal experience of Christ’s love.
Irresponsibility In High Office
The nation, the House of Representatives, and the citizens of Harlem have for the past twenty-two years patiently endured the playboy antics and questionable political demeanor of Congressman Adam Clayton Powell. Now unless he soon clears himself of contempt charges pending against him, Powell will face a challenge from Lionel van Deerlin (D-Calif.) that could result in his loss of the right to be seated in the Ninetieth Congress. We endorse this effort to bring pressure on Powell to fulfill his responsibilities as a citizen and elected official.
The people of Harlem deserve exemplary personal conduct and faithful representation from this Baptist minister they have sent to Congress twelve times. Throughout his political career, Powell has been criticized for chronic House absenteeism, nepotism, and other conduct unbecoming to a man of his sacred calling and lofty position. His wife now draws a $20,500 salary as a member of his staff and lives in Puerto Rico. But it has been Powell’s dodging payment of the $164,000 judgment against him for slandering sixty-eight-year-old Mrs. Esther James that has made the pot boil over.
Unless Powell gives evidence of a new determination to conduct himself properly, House members should block his seating as a United States congressman.
The New Spirit Of Defiance
The increasing frequency of militant protest against constituted authority by groups of American youth is furrowing the brows of thoughtful citizens dedicated to an orderly society. Recent happenings at Harvard University, Hollywood’s Sunset Strip, and the University of California at Berkeley give evidence of a new spirit of defiant hostility among many young people that overshadows the usual activism of other younger generations. In these rebellious outbursts, coercive techniques have replaced democratic processes and mob action has been substituted for calm, reflective argumentation.
What accounts for the unruly conduct, at the nation’s most renowned university, of students whose threatening protest forced Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara to exit through an out-of-the-way tunnel to escape harm? How do we explain the violent action of teen-agers in smashing store windows, burning buses, and injuring policemen as they enforce a curfew law on juvenile after-hours habitués of the glittering thoroughfare formerly frequented by Hollywood’s stars? What prompts a recurrence of sit-in activities and classroom boycotting by Berkeley students led by non-student Mario Savio, who told his followers it is “necessary to coerce the administration to seriously consider our demands.” Regardless of the validity of their demands, these young peoples’ methods of registering protest are distinctly irrational and undemocratic.
While we cannot diagnose with certainty the underlying causes of these complex situations, we can suggest contributing factors—both good and bad—that influence such mob protest. American youth desire to be personally involved in the issues of our day. Today’s students do not merely want to learn history; they want to make it! They have witnessed the effective use of large demonstrations in the civil rights struggle and believe that such social pressure can be applied to correct any grievance, real or imagined. At the same time, the vociferous critics of American society, including Communists, have adversely influenced certain segments of the younger generation by sowing the seed of anarchy against duly constituted authority. They loudly assert that what they want must be achieved now, at any cost, even violation of the law. Millions of our young people caught in the shifting tides of our restless world have no moorings for their lives. Facing a world in transition and having no personal faith in the unchanging Christ, they seek release for their frustrations by striking out blindly against those who seem to inhibit them or stand for ideas and policies they do not share.
To be sure, “the defiant ones” are a small minority. Yet taken as a whole the present younger generation is quantitatively and qualitatively different from those preceding it. These young people need to find purpose in life so that their passion for action may be expressed constructively. The Christian Church must intensify its efforts to show our youth that real meaning for life can be found only in Jesus Christ; that only his cause is worthy of their undivided loyalty; that only in his plan can lasting solutions be found for the problems that plague mankind.
The present younger generation with its better-trained minds and stronger bodies has greater potential than any other in history. By precept and practice the older generation must encourage our youth to live responsible lives before God and their fellow men.
Spain And Religious Liberty
The Spanish Cortes has just approved a constitution that includes a provision that “the state will assume the protection of religious freedom, which will be guaranteed by an effective juridical system that, at the same time, will safeguard morality and public order.” This is to be followed by a law on the freedom of religion, ten years in preparation, that will be voted on by the Spanish people not long after this editorial is written.
Of all the western European countries, none has been more rigid in its opposition to religious liberty than Spain. Church and state have been interlocked for centuries, and Protestants and Jews have suffered greatly in this priest-ridden country. The statement of Vatican Council II on religious liberty helped to change the Spanish situation, despite the obstructive tactics of the conservative members of the country’s Roman Catholic hierarchy.
General Franco and the Spanish parliament are to be commended for what they have done. The action is a major breakthrough. But it would be premature to suppose that the final victory has been won. Evangelical leaders in Spain know the battle is not over. The practical outworking of the legal principle of religious liberty will take considerable time. Friends in Spain tell us that three things stand in the way of obtaining in practice what has been legally granted:
1. Freedom of religion will be subject to the same kind of limitations common to other spheres of national life because of the paternalistic structure of the Spanish state.
2. The powerful, conservative Roman Catholic hierarchy is, in the main, opposed to religious liberty and continues to believe in and press for religious unity, which means the exclusive domination of the Roman Catholic Church.
3. Discrimination and intolerance are based largely on strong social traditions that have favored Catholicism and militated against other religions. These social restrictions will yield slowly, particularly in non-urban areas where prejudice and clerical power are greatest.
Spanish evangelicals rightly caution their friends around the world not to blow the lid off things by rushing in many missionaries to combat the errors of Romanism. They feel that more progress will be made by approaching the problem indigenously. Missionaries who do come must be prepared not to attack Roman Catholicism as such but to present a positive message and to raise interest in looking at the Christian message through the eyes of the Scriptures. This is particularly true because the Spanish authorities view the change as an arrangement to help the existing Protestant community in the country, not as an invitation for the entry of a large number of missionaries.
Aid For Distressed Brethren
Many of the people of the Waldensian Church, the oldest Protestant communion in the world, have lost their homes and possessions in the floods that have plagued Italy recently. So disastrous have been these floods that the American Waldensian Aid Society has issued a call for help in a situation where a loaf of bread is worth more than a million-dollar painting to the man who has lost everything.
Christian compassion calls for a response to help not only those of Waldensian heritage but also other Italians who are likewise engulfed in suffering.
Dry Socks And Letters From Home
More than a third of a million of America’s finest men will spend this Christmas in Viet Nam’s guerrilla-infested jungles, grimy foxholes, or unfamiliar Oriental communities. But their thoughts will be centered on their loved ones and homes half a world away. Their only consolation as the holidays draw near is the hope that the Viet Cong will respect the two-day moratorium so that Christmas and New Year’s Day may bring brief periods of peace.
We who enjoy the security and comfort of our safeguarded homes must stop and consider our personal responsibilities to these 360,000 fighting men. What are we doing to lighten their heavy load? A former First Lady once said that there are two things that keep up the servicemen’s morale more than any other: dry socks and letters from home. We can encourage our men in many ways: (1) by faithfully writing letters to those we know—or perhaps to some we don’t know—to tell them that we are thinking of them; (2) by sending appropriate newspaper clippings, church bulletins, personal items, and nonperishable foods; (3) by providing materials that will aid them spiritually—Bibles, practical Christian literature, books on prayer; (4) by informing the chaplain of a man’s unit of our interest in a particular person whom he might help in specific ways; (5) by interceding with God daily for our men and letting them know that we are doing so; (6) by praying that this grievous war may soon be ended in such a way that the cause of freedom in Asia may be advanced.
Our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines in Viet Nam are devoting the best years of their lives—and in some cases their lives themselves—to the defense of freedom and justice in a world of revolution. Can we do less than remember them in a personal and tangible way, not only at this Christmas season but every day they remain in Viet Nam?
The cost will be high if evangelicals ignore study of the human personality
Psychiatrists at this year’s meeting of the Academy of Religion and Mental Health rebuked clergy for not setting out clear-cut standards of faith and morals. The recently emphasized “situational ethics,” it was pointed out, leaves people in a state of uncertainty. Since they have to work out everything for themselves in the light of the concrete situation, with no guidance other than the primacy of love, they can be faced with agonizing decisions. Most persons simply do not have the equipment with which to make such decisions.
Our generation needs guidance on the great moral principles of the Bible, and evangelical professors and pastors must give that guidance. It is unrealistic to expect it of those who have no great respect for the Bible.
But we must not give that guidance as men standing aloof from the struggles of life. It is all too easy to content ourselves with laying down detailed codes of behavior and condemning all who fail to agree with us or to reach the standards we set. Devoted servants of God, when faced with men in deep distress of soul, sometimes simply add to the distress by confronting the sufferers with moral platitudes. This is deplorable. We need much more than the statement of the principles on which men ought to have acted.
If it is true that the psychiatrist needs the churchman to set forth great moral principles, it is also true that the churchmen cannot well neglect the insights God has given the psychiatrist. Evangelicals must not ignore the modern study of the human personality. Many evangelicals have a deep-seated suspicion of all that psychiatry stands for, possibly because of the destructive philosophies and naturalistic premises that underlie much of the recent work in psychology and psychiatry. But we should not overlook a great deal that is good, simply because in the hands of unbelievers this particular discipline can yield unwelcome results. Of what discipline is this not true?
It has been estimated that fewer than 9,000 out of 235,000 clergymen in this country have had clinical pastoral training. Yet the emotionally troubled most often turn first to their ministers for help, rather than to psychiatrists. Pastoral counseling is doubtless the single most important activity of the clergy in the mental health field. That they be properly prepared for this is surely not too much to ask. This ought to be a special concern for evangelicals, for they are more concerned with personal salvation and all that goes under the general heading of “the cure of souls” than are those secularistic clergy who concentrate more specifically on social structures and public affairs.
Dr. Orville S. Walters, director of health services at the University of Illinois, makes two suggestions to point the way to a more profound evangelical interest in psychiatry. More evangelical physicians, he thinks, should choose psychiatry as a vocation. “The healing of personality is bound so intimately with physical healing that psychotherapy should keep a tie with medicine,” he says. “It would be unfortunate if the evangelical movement should identify itself too exclusively with lay or non-medical psychotherapy. Non-medical healing movements easily become anti-medical.”
His other suggestion is that the training of evangelical pastors and seminary students in counseling and pastoral psychology be broadened. He adds the point that more direct acquaintance with psychiatry and psychiatrists would resolve some prevailing prejudices. “Just as objective theological scholarship outdates the disparagement of evangelicals as ‘obscurantist,’ so interpretative writing and the blending of evangelical faith with professionally competent psychiatric practice must abolish the idea that vital Christian devotion and psychiatry are incompatible.”
We must be on our guard lest we fall into the error of thinking that modern techniques are a substitute for the power of the Gospel. And our sympathies are with those in our seminaries who are always being urged to add new courses to their already lengthy lists. Evangelicals must never do anything to alter their emphasis on training in Bible and theology.
Nevertheless, when we recall those figures—only 9,000 out of 235,000—we confess to an uneasiness. It would be well if evangelicals could establish leadership in a field so closely related to their traditional concern for persons.
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