Western Culture is in retroactive decline, like an unsure rocket yawing in orbit before plummeting to disaster. Whether this scientific civilization can yet be salvaged for meaningful survival is an open question.

According to some observers, Western society is doomed to nihilism (perhaps after a period of pragmatism), unless modern man heeds a fresh summons to the truth of revelation and thus recovers Christian perspective.

Others emphasize, and I think rightly, that the recovery of vital religion would not necessarily mean the rescue of the Western way of life as we now know it. Christianity is something more than the inner spirit of any culture, transcending even the noblest socio-historical features it inspires. In a discerning if over-due warning against the dangers of cultural Christianity, a Roman Catholic priest calls the conversion of Constantine the greatest single disaster that ever overtook the Christian Church. Western civilization is now so infused by the spirit of secularism, and so lacking in genuine Christian conviction and commitment, that no ultimate reason remains for linking the fortunes of Christianity to the survival of Euro-American culture.

Also an open question, however, is whether the death of Western culture would bring about a rebirth of true faith or global enslavement by totalitarianism. These alternatives, of course, are not decisive for the survival of the Christian Church; we have Christ’s Word that not even the gates of hell shall prevail against it, however sad may be the condition of twentieth-century Christianity in Germany, Great Britain, and America, let alone in Russia and China. But the accelerating secularism of the free world is so increasingly approximating the self-conscious materialism of the Communist world that the role of the Church in the next generation becomes more and more problematical.

The most tragic fact during this decade that has ushered in the last third of the twentieth century is that institutional Christianity has forfeited the truth of revelation. It is therefore impotent to expound the Christian mind in a decisive intellectual confrontation of today’s humanist-materialist spirit.

The evangelical vanguard, concentrating mainly on evangelism and personal morality, is often woefully weak at the frontiers of public affairs and cultural influence. By such compartmentalization and isolation, it unwittingly but voluntarily often approximates the situation in Communist lands (freedom to evangelize excepted) where Christian commitment is of necessity a matter of private spirituality and morals, and socio-cultural affairs are shaped by alien forces.

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The ecumenical mainguard, on the other hand, ventures a sharp critique of Western civilization with its problems of nuclear war, race prejudices, class differences, mechanization of human life, and cynical materialism—and earnestly pursues dialogue with contemporary man. But for all that, the World Church merger-mentality is uniting ever-dwindling congregations because of the virtual loss of biblical evangelism and missionary momentum.

Neither conciliar nor nonconciliar Christianity, however, is actually confronting modern culture with a coherent, systematic exposition of Christian truth, of a revelationally grounded world-life view, of a Christian mind vis-à-vis the modern alternatives. While the evangelical failure is largely a matter of myopic vision, it is a matter, too, of reticence and of a certain unease in meaningful dialogue. The ecumenical failure is due mainly to the loss by bureaucratic and ecclesiastical leadership of the authority and content of divine revelation and to American-inspired preoccupation with debatable politico-economic pragmatics apart from an authentic theological rationale. Evangelical Christianity tends to mistake the less objectionable aspects of humanism—namely, political democracy and technical achievement—as genuinely Christian, and easily confuses a privileged American way of life with Christian culture; such an alliance dulls the socio-cultural impact and expression of fully Christian values. Ecumenical neo-Protestantism welcomes and echoes the spirited criticism of contemporary society shaped by non-Christian social critics. Without explicit Christian perspectives, however, such criticism cannot effectively retard the secular drift; instead it enhances non-Christian visions of an ideal society, and even plays into the hands of those who would demean both Western culture and Christianity. Even Bertrand Russell, confident that Christianity has no future, insisted that man too will become a cosmic dropout unless a scientific society puts an end to war (Has Man a Future?, Penguin Books, 1961, pp. 20 f.). In Christian circles one might expect to find neither indifference to the false values that grip modern man, nor sympathetic echoes of humanist criticisms indifferent to the truth of revelation. In its calling to judge the world of culture, the Church of Christ, after all, can tolerate no pseudo-lords. Nor dare it nurture the illusion that the Living God is silent.

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British educator Harry Blamires has said:

By sheer tactical error Christians in the West may be gradually maneuvered into the position of Christians in Russia, content to say the best that can be said of a social system wholly and professedly committed to godless materialism, and meanwhile sincerely keeping alive the flames of faith and piety and moral virtue among a remnant that is tolerated so long as it holds back from any comprehensive criticism of the established system [The Christian Mind, London, SPCK, 1966, p. 190].

Such a prospect can, in fact, be accelerated both by evangelical indifference to the socio-cultural drift and by ecumenical indifference to the truth of revelation and the evangelistic task. Many churchgoers do not mentally inhabit the ideal world presented by the Christian faith; opening their souls instead to the co-existence of Christian faith and the secular outlook, they forgo an authentically Christian mind. As Blamires puts it:

On the one hand is the assumption that all is over when you die; that after sixty or seventy years, sheltered and cushioned by the Welfare State, you can sign off for good; that eating, sleeping, growing, learning, breeding, and the rest, constitute the total sum of things.… On the other hand is the almost crushing awareness of a spiritual war tearing at the heart of the universe, pushing its ruthless way into the lives of men—stabbing at you now, now, now, in the impulses and choices of every waking moment; the belief that the thoughts and actions of every hour are moulding a soul which is on its way to eternity.… [ibid., pp. 75 f.].

It is high time that the truth of revelation once again overawe the Christian community. Our decade urgently requires the emergence of an authentic and vigorous Christian mind. Without it, neither evangelism nor social energy can win.


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