“Take a trip with Jesus,” somebody had scrawled on the American Bible Society graffiti board at the vast University of Illinois Assembly Hall. And thousands of college students at the eighth triennial Inter-Varsity Missionary Convention were willing to take the trip—wherever Jesus led them.
In a day when foreign missions—even the Church itself—seems a has-been to many youths, the remarkable Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship movement assembled 9,200 persons in what convention director Eric Fife said might be “the largest missionary convention and the largest student Christian conference ever held.”
One night William Miller, Sr., veteran United Presbyterian missionary to Iran, recalled the impact made on his life when the Student Volunteer Movement met fifty-four years ago. In a poignant twist of history, the theological and evangelistic rationale of the SVM had by this last week of 1967 come to rest in Inter-Varsity as the unrecognizable heir of SVM met in Cleveland (see story following).
The IVCF convention was as ecumenical as John Mott could have wanted. Every major American and Canadian denomination was well represented, plus most of the small evangelical groups. Thirty-six denominational and sixty-four independent boards sent personnel to describe their work to interested students. About 200 U. S. Episcopalians and Canadian Anglicans attended, though their denominations did not send recruiters. The throng even included forty-three Roman Catholics; a panel discussion made it clear, however, that evangelicals have reservations about cooperation with Catholicism.
John Alexander—former assistant liberal-arts dean and department chairman at the University of Wisconsin, who decided to become general director of IVCF in the United States just before the last Urbana meeting—says that the last three years have brought “great improvement” in overcoming IVCF’s “anti-Church” image. Other trends, he said, are a new concern for evangelism of college teachers, whom “most evangelicals have written off”; more local-committee fund-raising to expand staff; and better staff training.
IVCF is at work on nearly every campus in Canada (not true in the United States), and Canadian director H. Wilber Sutherland has just hired as his business assistant Geoffrey Still, one of the nation’s biggest shopping-center operators. Sutherland said official support now comes from Presbyterians and Baptists and that United Church of Canada officials have had to admit in embarrassment that their only reason for not supporting IVCF is doctrinal.
IVCF minimizes disagreements on secondary matters but, unlike many ecumenical groups, takes a staunch conservative stand on the Bible and doctrine. With this kind of audience, one question put to an afternoon panel discussion loomed large in many students’ minds: Should I volunteer for my denominational board or for an independent board that is less permissive on doctrine? Miller took the loyalist position. “If people of biblical faith leave the Presbyterian and other churches, what will be left?” he asked. Arthur Glasser of Overseas Missionary Fellowship said it’s “not just a matter of being friendly,” since many independent boards arose frankly as a “protest against unbelief.”
Fife said that IVCF wants to cooperate with all foreign-mission boards but that it encourages biblically-minded students to ask sharp questions on how they would fit in. At the last convention, he said, two students were so dissatisfied with answers from their denomination’s representative that one joined the Peace Corps and the other joined another church.
In what Glasser called an era of “the disappearance of hope,” several speakers fairly tingled with the dangers, the possibilities, the excitement of foreign missions in the coming generation. Optimist Donald McGavran of Fuller Seminary says it’s “a day of unique openness to the Gospel.” Virtually every nation on earth has an indigenous church, speakers said, so that in this century, for the first time, the world has a universal religion in Christianity.
Other mission clichés toppled right and left. Latin America Mission’s David Howard said an influx of missionaries would be the quickest way to shut off the rapid evangelistic movement in Colombia. London rector John R. W. Stott said evangelism is not soul-winning but rather proclaiming of the Gospel—whether anybody responds or not. Fife added that the success-teaching of business has “infected much of the Church.”
Francis Steele of North Africa Mission rejected the idea of a “call” to a particular board or field. This is God’s guidance, he explained, but the only call in the Bible is unto the person of Jesus Christ. Fife said missionary choice, often made subjective, must be based on objective information.
The most incisive mission theorist was Warren Webster, a Conservative Baptist who has worked for fifteen years in Pakistan. First, he rejected the idea that world missions have been “the handmaid of imperialism,” pointing out that many imperialists fought the very existence of missions.
He attacked the notion that “missionaries should reach everybody for Jesus Christ,” which is “impossible.” Instead, the task is to “plant churches and create cells to evangelize a society from within.” Webster thinks the era of the missionary hero is over and that today’s big missions obstacles are not death, disease, and discomfort but psychological and spiritual barriers.
Webster thinks “we will never fulfill the Great Commission by running into a town, setting up a loud speaker, passing out tracts, and moving on. We must stay and ‘teach all things I have commanded.’ ” This thirst for a comprehensive missionary movement, for social as well as personal redemption, characterized many appeals. “Men with hungry stomachs and cold bodies are in no condition to hear the Gospel,” asserted Howard. Several missionaries were as critical of the social isolationism among evangelicals as of Gospel-less social action by liberals.
Although the program was oriented toward the central theme of evangelism, some of the panel discussion and much of the corridor chat centered on war and peace, civil disobedience, and—most particularly—race (see story, page 40). Reason: IVCF conventions also serve as the only large meeting of the coming generation of college-trained evangelical leaders.
Evan Adams, IVCF assistant missionary director, said that youth has newly emerged as “a great social bloc of history,” and that few older people are ready for this development. But IVCF is trying. Its magazine proudly promotes the unsolicited testimonial, “His makes me so mad I could spit.” Fife said that people who are conservative in theology “and progressive in every other area” are “precisely what God needs today.” Adams criticized a sermon on “Viet Nam and Prophecy” in a church where dozens of students in the audience would have to face the issue next week. C. Stacey Woods reported on the internationalism of the movement, which has spread to autonomous groups in thirty-five nations. And with institutional grace, Fife said, “There is no guarantee, no magic charm of blessing in Inter-Varsity.”
But IVCF Evangelism Director Paul Little couldn’t help remarking as he gazed out on the potent minds and muscles of the gathered crowd, “Reality can’t be faked on such a mass scale.”
Pennsylvanians Urged To End Church Tax Exemption
Pennsylvania’s constitutional convention is being asked to consider eliminating all property-tax exemption, including that of churches, in revising the state’s basic laws.
Milton W. DeLancey, secretary of the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors, told the Committee on Local Government that “all property owners should pay their fair share for local services, and therefore we propose the elimination of all exemptions, including governmental and authority exemptions.”
Religious News Service, in reporting governmental operations in some small townships, and in municipalities, said exemptions have caused financial strain on local governments.
Asked by the committee if he proposed that churches lose their exemption, DeLancey said: “You’ve got to draw the line somewhere. If you are going to make exceptions for churches, then that opens the door for others to ask ‘why not us?’ ”
The township association’s stand was supported by the Pennsylvania League of Cities. Richard G. Marden, executive director, said that “not only would we prohibit property-tax exemptions, we would prohibit exclusions from local taxes, such as the exclusion won in the General Assembly by movies on theater admissions, and the proposals to exempt certain categories of elderly from local real-estate taxes.”
The tax-exempt status of churches is coming under increasing scrutiny. The December issue of Nation’s Cities, a monthly published by the National League of Cities, included a major critique of the problem by Margaret M. O’Brien. She declared:
“The financial resources of government, particularly at the local level, appear sometimes to dwindle before our eyes when we contemplate the vast, complex, and right-now needs of this nation. And yet, at the same time, the wealth of the nation’s churches continues to grow, having already reached incredible dimensions, thanks in large part to tax exemptions.”
SUPPLANTING THE GOSPEL
A special kind of missionary showed up in Cleveland for the quadrennial meeting sponsored by the University Christian Movement. He was the missionary of social change.
Some 3,000 students came to the Lake Erie city at the call of the movement, which is related to the National Council of Churches. Stressed throughout the program was the UCM’s organizing principle: To bring about change through reformulation of the university. This aim was adopted last summer by the organization’s governing committee. The UCM got its present name in 1966 when the National Student Christian Federation was dissolved so the base could be broadened to include Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Quaker collegians.
The broadened base and new goal failed to swell the attendance. The last NSCF meeting, held at Athens, Ohio, in 1963, registered more than 3,000 participants. Attendances of up to 10,000 were recorded in the heyday of the Student Volunteer Movement, one of the groups taken over by NSCF.
Three elements tied Cleveland Week (the meeting’s official name) to the predecessor quadrennials, one commentator quipped. There were students, long lines, and confusion. He could have added: heavy financial assistance by many denominational boards of missions. UCM President Steve Schomberg, a student at New York’s Union Seminary, claimed the meeting rightfully followed in the train of Student Volunteer Movement quadrennials in that it was concerned with mission. He said mission is how Christians live out their lives.
Definitely supplanted by the UCM principle of working for social change was the long-heralded SVM goal of “evangelization of the world in this generation.” Also supplanted were hymn singing, Bible study, and testimonies to the power of the Gospel. Students at Cleveland sang the protest songs. They studied books on social problems. And posters beckoned them to caucuses on student power, Catholic power, and black power.Delegates gave out four kinds of buttons urging the Presidential nomination of Senator Eugene McCarthy. The Young Socialist Alliance sold posters and stickers and took subscriptions for leftist publications.
Cleveland Week was only one part of a year-long educational effort called Process ‘67, according to UCM officials. Another part of Process was a series of network TV programs in November. Organizers said the final six days of the year were designated as an education experience and experiment.
Participants were divided into some 100 Depth Education Groups, to consider nearly that many topics. The list of subjects ran the gamut of social issues. Resource people and background material were provided to stimulate discussion.
The week was planned with a “dialogical” approach, since any answer is temporal, President Schomberg told reporters as the conference began. Paperback books prepared for the conference were called “dialogue focusers.” The same name was applied to closed-circuit TV programs produced at Cleveland and fed into participants’ hotel rooms.
Use of television in the week’s program was a major innovation. A studio was set up in the Sheraton-Cleveland Hotel with shows going out three times daily through the improvised network that took in two other downtown hotels. Volunteers recruited from among conference participants helped Cleveland technicians and a New York production crew put on the telecasts. Interview and panel discussions on social issues dominated the fare, but skits, music, dancing, poetry readings, news, and commentary provided variety.
Debate and discussion were also stirred up by demonstrations and rallies. First was a mezzanine sit-in protesting recruiting by defense suppliers. Dow Chemical Company, manufacturer of napalm, got the major attention, but government agencies and other war matériel producers were also spotlighted. The recruiters had not come to sign up UCM participants but were interviewing Cleveland-area college seniors assembled by the Chamber of Commerce.
Another kind of recruitment at the headquarters hotel all week long was that of the Resistance, a group encouraging draft-age youths to resist induction. The Resistance got eight young men to turn in their draft cards during a worship service.
Only two events were scheduled to draw together all the conference participants—a “happening” the first night and a New Year’s Eve party the last. French bread and beer were provided for the final night’s affair, and priests and ministers attending the conference were asked to help serve. The supply was exhausted before all the partygoers were served, however, so some latecomers brought their own provisions.
What made the Cleveland Week of Process ‘67 a Christian event? Leonard Clough, resigning as UCM general secretary February 1 to devote his time to other duties in the NCC’s Department of Higher Education, responded for reporters. He said the kind of things the UCM is interested in are the kind of things Christian people ought to be doing.
ARTHUR H. MATTHEWS
A highly significant development in relations between the National Council of Churches in the Philippines and independent evangelical groups in the islands was the participation of the latter in the third general convention of the NCCP. Observers were present from the Christian and Missionary Alliance, Salvation Army, Lutheran churches, and other evangelical bodies. Also on hand were Seventh-day Adventist and Roman Catholic observers.
The NCCP also invited observers from the Assemblies of God, the Pilgrim Holiness Church, Foursquare Gospel Church, and the New Testament Church of God, but these politely declined.
The presence of some conservatives reflected a growing friendliness among Philippine Protestants who are at odds theologically. But the conservatives were believed eager to be put on record as opposing compromise.
The socially-oriented NCCP has traditionally been looked upon with disfavor by evangelical leaders who were afraid that the movement represented a drift toward a super-church. Some of these leaders now are satisfied that there is no such intent and so are cautiously curious over NCCP functions.
Foreign conservative missions have also been worried that the NCCP might gain recognition as the official screening agency for missionary organizations seeking to enter the country.
EUSTAQUIO RAMIENTOS, JR.
EVANGELICALS DEBATE NEW VIEWS
Questions of faith and history, theological methodology, and the nature of biblical inerrancy loomed large in discussions at the nineteenth annual year-end meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society, held at Toronto Bible College.
In the keynote address at Victoria College, University of Toronto, Editor Carl F. H. Henry of CHRISTIANITY TODAY noted the chaotic state of neo-Protestant theology and said the times were never more propitious for a reassertion of evangelical rational theism. The “distorted Word” of recent modern theology, he said, must be confronted by the “disclosed Word” of the Judeo-Christian revelation. “The revelation and manifestation of the Logos—the in-scripturate and incarnate Word—can reverse the current trend to a godless word,” Henry said.
A panel discussion on “Faith and History in Biblical Christianity” was enlivened by the projection by Dr. Daniel P. Fuller (of Fuller Theological Seminary) of the view that God “deliberately accommodated” errors in non-theological and non-moral facets of biblical teaching in order “to enhance the communication of revelational truth.”
Another panelist, Dr. Arthur F. Holmes of Wheaton College, argued that biblical inerrancy is not a first-order scriptural doctrine like revelation but is rather “a second-order theological construct.” Holmes noted that dialogue between philosophy and theology has been reopened by the current replacement of the empirical-verificationist techniques of logical positivism by ordinary-language analysis. Instead of imposing the logic of other “language games” on theology, he said, linguistic analysis opens the door to a description of the actual logic at work in ordinary theological language. He contended that theological concepts are derived, not solely deductively or inductively, but “adductively,” in terms of conceptual mapwork and models. The advantage of such a view, he argued, is that “it admits the legitimacy of theological diversity stemming from the scriptura sola principle.”
Another center of debate was a panel on “Constructing a Theological Methodology for Evangelicals” in which participants ranged from natural theology to the language-game proposal in support of biblical ontology. There was also vigorous espousal of more traditional points of view.
Illness derailed one scheduled participant, Dr. Gordon H. Clark, in whose honor a Festschrift is soon to appear.
The society’s twentieth-anniversary program will be held at Westminster Theological Seminary and will concentrate in Old Testament studies. The society currently has 524 members, 177 associate members, and 93 student associates. New officers are Dr. Kenneth S. Kantzer, president, succeeding Dr. Stephen W. Paine of Houghton College; Dr. Henry, vice-president; Dr. Vernon Grounds, secretary-treasurer.
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