The Ominous Future Of Protestantism

Secular Christianity, by Ronald Gregor Smith (Haper & Row, 1966, 222 pp., $5), is reviewed by John A. Mackay, president emeritus, Princeton Thelogical Seminary, Princeton, New Jersey.

This book by a distinguished Scottish theologian, an admirer and devoted disciple of Rudolf Bultmann, witnesses to a present-day fact that is both tragic and ironic. At a time when Roman Catholics throughout the world are rediscovering dimensions of the Christian faith they had lost, and when the dynamic faith of Pentecostals in maturing and becoming increasingly relevant to basic issues in the secular order today, evidence grows that main-line Protestant denominations are losing the Christian insight and spiritual vigor that produced the movement that gave them birth.

In this volume we have an intellectual symbol of a decline that gives growing concern, and of ominous portents on the horizon of tomorrow. The concern I have in mind is this: The evangelical dimension of Christianity—using the term “evangelical” in no sectarian or other-worldly sense but as expressive of the luminous and dynamic core of the Christian religion—is tending to become disdained and abandoned in traditional Protestant circles.

Here is the basic thesis of Secular Christianity: We do not know whether history has a meaning or, if it does, what that meaning is. But we humans, if we so desire, can give history a meaning. And today is the historical moment when the “secular,” in its fullest dimension, must be accorded precedence over everything that has been traditionally associated with the “religious.”

Smith’s reasoning is this. History’s chief event is the “paradoxical reality of Christ,” who symbolizes, in his life and death, “the forgiving ...

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