Is decision enough?

Those who complain that “the converts don’t last” have inadvertently helped convince evangelicals of the importance of evangelistic follow-up. It is now more clear than ever that just as infants need special care, so newborn Christians require help to become established in the faith. It is neither charitable nor biblical to bring a person to the place of commitment, then abandon him to satanic temptations.

This recognition of the need for effective follow-up suggests that we also take a fresh look at the other side of the conversion experience. How can we help to prepare persons to take that all-important step of faith? Is it possible for evangelicals to map national and global strategy that will pave the way for evangelistic tactics? Can we help to create a cultural and intellectual climate more conducive to evangelism?

Dr. Francis A. Schaeffer urges evangelicals to weigh seriously the need for “pre-evangelism.” He contends that “no one can become a Christian unless he understands what Christianity is saying.” In his perceptive new book The God Who Is There, Schaeffer offers exegetical evidence from Luke and John to show that biblical faith must be built upon knowledge.

This is not to say that regeneration rests upon “head knowledge” or doctrinal understanding. But Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians clearly indicates that evangelism is more than isolated personal confrontations. See chapter three: “I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase.… I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon.” If we are to learn from this passage we must conclude that there is a spiritual preface to God’s redeeming work in the life of an individual. Things take place that ready a person for decision. Evangelicals within communions that have traditionally used catechisms and conducted confirmation classes appreciate this principle much more than evangelicals in independent ranks.

Pre-evangelism takes on special priority when one considers today’s acute philosophical, theological, and ecclesastical confusion. Could it be that resistance to the Christian message rests not simply on an unwillingness to accept it but on an ignorance of what to accept?

Evangelicals need to concede that they often have very little idea of what today’s unbeliever is thinking and where the great gaps in his Christian knowledge lie. We know hardly anything about his spiritual hang-ups. We don’t know how he really regards Christ or the Bible or the Church. Thanks to Satan’s subtle diversionary tactics, we may be unaware of the common intellectual or emotional ground upon which We can approach him.

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If a better climate for evangelism can be developed, it may help to overcome individual reluctance to witness. Much of our hesitation in initiating man-to-man evangelistic confrontations stems from the hostility of the cultural climate. Adverse circumstances do not excuse silence, and there are times and places in history when the Christian is unable to improve the conditions for witness. The point is that in North America in our day we do have opportunity to facilitate presentation of the Gospel.

One factor in developing a good climate for evangelism will be the creation of a greater sensitivity toward sin. Modern man must be made aware of his alienation from God. He must be shown the depth of his depravity, the extent to which he has fallen short of the expectations of Almighty God. Dr. H. Daniel Friberg, a Lutheran scholar, has said, “When sin is known for what it is, the issue of salvation or damnation becomes a burning reality, and the Gospel will get a hearing.” You cannot persuade a man to be saved if he does not know he is lost.

This is not to suggest a return to a steady diet of hellfire-and-brimstone preaching. There is little precedent in Scripture for such an approach, and there is little evidence that it would have much of an effect upon modern man. People today respond much more readily to love than to warnings of judgment.

Indeed, another element in a climate conducive to evangelism is a good Christian example. Until the unbeliever sees something different about Christians, something he himself would like to have, he will have little interest in making a commitment to Christ. Too often Christians appear to be just as victimized by circumstances and just as depressed about their lot as unbelievers are. This attitude hardly attracts people to Christ.

Better conduct will also entail more caring. It is far easier to program evangelism than to take an interest in people for their own sake. Yet people still want to be loved, and they will be won primarily through personal confrontation with those who care. Impersonal evangelism is second best.

A better Christian example is demanded in the vocational dimension also. Evangelicals are gratified by the visibility Christian men are winning in the halls of Congress these days. However, this kind of Christian presence should be seen in every profession and discipline, every area of work and study. It is up to the individual Christian to find out how his Christian faith can have the most influence on people working in his particular field. This is not an easy task.

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A better climate for evangelism demands a deeper respect for Scripture. The conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch appears to come out of the sheer blue. However, Philip built on a respect for Scripture that had been instilled in the eunuch sometime in the past. Evangelicals today need to work harder at the task of establishing a reasonable apologetic for the Word of God. The Bible is its own strength, we are told, but among many people there is a skepticism over Scripture that must be overcome before the truths of Scripture can be pressed home.

A corollary to this is that truth must be recognized as absolute, not relative. Men must respect truth as such. In the case of Nicodemus, Christ’s challenge came to him after a measure of respect had somehow been instilled. He came to Christ realizing that he was a teacher of Scripture who had been sent from God, Unless there is a respect for truth in general and Scripture in particular, the Gospel has little authoritative appeal.

Few witnessing evangelicals are as aware as they should be that reason is on their side. The prevailing philosophies of our day have thrown rationality overboard. The time is ripe for evangelicals to take the intellectual offensive, and to carry evangelism and theology forward together. Unfortunately, even the simple practicality of this approach is often overlooked.

Leighton Ford, in The Christian Persuader, says:

The evangelical revival of the eighteenth century provides a classical example of theology’s relation to evangelism. In the early part of that century the orthodox scholars had met and mastered the assault of the deists. Their victory was largely in the realm of intellectual debate, but it did not lack practical significance. The truth of the Christian faith had been established at the scholarly level before Wesley and Whitefield came along. A highway along which the evangelical revival could move had been built.

Similar freeways must be constructed in our day.

What can be done on an individual scale toward developing a climate for evangelism is not enough. Evangelicals must resolve to work together in this effort as they never have before.

The mass media offer sweeping possibilities for cooperative pre-evangelism. But instead of perpetuating a hopelessly fragmented use of radio and television in which each sponsor tries to achieve a balance between outreach and self-support, why not work for coordinated network efforts on prime time? These could be climaxed with person-to-person contacts initiated by cooperating churches and agencies. The same thing could be done through purchase of full-page advertisements in major newspapers. What congregations cannot afford to do singly they can do together.

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The book and magazine field is likewise a giant waiting to be used effectively for pre-evangelism. Evangelicals are largely talking to themselves in what they produce for publication today. Evangelical book and magazine publishers are putting out precious little in the way of apologetics aimed at non-Christians, and are making almost no attempt to market what they do print in a way that reaches the unbeliever.

We cannot program revival and we do not know the nature of the next great revival—how it will come and what will characterize it. Unfortunately many Christians long for revival out of a guilt feeling. They pray that God will step in and sweep sinners off their feet miraculously while they themselves remain at ease. Revival of this kind takes some of the labor out of evangelism, and many of us would like it to happen this way. But although prayer is indispensable, it may not be enough. God sometimes chooses to use secondary means—man’s head and heart and hands—to bring about spiritual awakening.

Student Revolt Hits The Seminaries

No prophetic insight was needed to predict that the current student unrest would filter down to the theological seminaries. We had hoped, however, that its advent would be governed by Christian principles and that its approach to the correction of grievances, real or imagined, would set an example for the university world. Sad to say, the earliest samples of seminary unrest do not point hopefully in that direction.

Students at Colgate Rochester Divinity School took over the main building and chained and nailed it fast. The administration dismissed classes pending the outcome of the seizure, which, fortunately, involved only a handful of students. Whether their grievances were legitimate, which is questionable, is beside the point. The fundamental issue is how candidates for the ministry should conduct themselves when they have grievances.

Seizure of buildings is a violent, coercive measure that contravenes both the letter and the spirit of the Gospel. It is contrary to the law of love—love which is described as being patient and kind, not arrogant or rude, not insisting on its own way, not irritable or resentful. The minister of the Gospel has been given the role of servant. Paul said: “For though we live in the world we are not carrying on a worldly war, for the weapons of our warfare are not worldly but have divine power to destroy strongholds” (2 Cor. 10:3, 4).

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Christ, when he was reviled, did not revile again. He willingly suffered wrong at the hands of men. He told his disciples to turn the other cheek and proclaimed the truth that force does not solve problems nor does the end justify the means. It is better to suffer loss than to win a point by unspiritual conduct.

Seminary students have a unique opportunity for special witness in this disordered age. There is no better way for them to show the relevance of the Church and the Christian faith than by bearing witness in a manner that abjures the kind of conduct exhibited by the student radicals and honors and glorifies Christ by the fullest adherence to the law of love.

Chirp, Chirp

There’s a certain newness in spring. Velvety butterflies, wobbly colts, and newborn rats herald it. Birds that survived winter’s barrenness chirp in happy harmony with the noise of traffic. Sleeping bulbs now poke through bits of softened ground hedged with cement and glass and burst into rich-hued tulips and delicately tinted daffodils. Lilacs’ fragrance is lost in carbon monoxide. Fragile violets nestle near rusty hub caps. Trees bud pale green then bloom pale pink above bent cans glaring in the warm sun. Sparkling mountain streams flow into fetid pools ringed with furry pussy willows.

Spring is a new reminder that God’s creation is good. We’re not so sure about man’s.

The Impending Demise Of The U.C.M.

A familiar line from one of Charlotte Bronte’s novels seems on first thought to apply disturbingly well to the current fate of the University Christian Movement: “Give them rope enough, certain that in the end they will hang themselves.”

One might conclude that this is what has happened to the radical, free-wheeling organization whose roots lie in the evangelistic Student Volunteer Movement immortalized by the late John R. Mott. The UCM General Committee has ordered that the UCM as a national movement be dissolved by the end of June.

Some boast that this development represents ultimate liberation. Others see the organization as a victim of its own thing, choked by too much rein. Either way, the committee’s action reflects the uncertainty of so much of today’s Church about Christian essence and purpose. And it leaves the ecumenical movement without an arm in the academic world at a time of extraordinary campus upheaval.

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The UCM was a 1966 outgrowth of the former National Student Christian Federation. It has been an independently run affiliate of the National Council of Churches, ostensibly embracing Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox groups. The federation was the product of a merger of the United Student Christian Council and the Mott movement, which had as its goal “the evangelization of the world in this generation.” The UCM’s organizing principle was “to bring about social change through the reformulation of the university.”

For all its alleged relevance and responsiveness to the mood of the American campus, the UCM has never really captured the attention of many students. Its 200 local groupings are scarcely identifiable as purposefully Christian entities. There has been little consensus on the nature of lasting values. In its two and a half years of existence, the UCM proclaimed justice as its aim but hardly went beyond being an anti-Viet Nam war protest. UCM leaders have sensed failure and have taken seriously what one spokesman called “deep differences of opinion.” The UCM president has publicly conceded that the issue that prompted the decision to disband centered on the “nature of the Church in a pre-revolutionary society.”

Something can be said in favor of the committee’s action. It is an honest, realistic, and courageous step, and welcome exception to the almost universal ecclesiastical tendency to preserve organizations no matter how outmoded and ineffective. The committee is to be commended for not yielding to the temptation to continue a $200,000-a-year organization simply for its own sake.

On the other hand, orthodox Christians can lament the inglorious end to a movement which has had such a rich heritage and which in its early years did so much to advance the Christian Gospel. Indeed, we might well ask how things ever got to the place where two dozen churchmen could put out of business a movement that untold thousands of Christians have supported with their prayers, their money, and their labors. Fewer than half of the General Committee members were present when the crucial vote was taken.

To ask an even more distressing question: How did the movement ever stray so far from its original purposes? “UCM’s theology emerges from anthropological, sociological, and historical assumptions,” its house organ declared recently. Although these assumptions are not spelled out, a study of UCM programs reveals a naturalistic, humanistic, and anarchistic outlook far removed from biblical precepts or spiritual goals. This point of view sees the university not as a place of mental cultivation but as “a means to effect social, cultural, economic, and political change.” The aim is said to be a just society, but change per se seems to win priority. The UCM officially called upon “one thousand or more universities and colleges to suspend for one full year the business-as-usual curriculum for joint community-university reeducation.”

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The outrageous irony is that this is the approach of a movement allegedly ecumenical. Even a superficial examination shows the approach to be decidedly narrow and unecumenical. It represents a highly speculative philosophical and theological bias espoused by at most a handful in the Church or on the campus. On what grounds such exclusiveness wins support from the major American denominations is a puzzle.

The leaders of the UCM will undoubtedly seek soon to create a successor organization. It is unfortunate but likely that they will continue to seek consensus outside biblical revelation.

The quotation from the Bronte novel really does not fit this situation, because here the “rope” was initially given not to kill but to help. The lesson is there, nevertheless. Liberation for its own sake can be self-defeating, and a free hand unrestrained by biblical norms, rather than serving the best interests of a Christian organization, becomes the instrument of its suicide.

Beauty And The Bible

Television is sometimes useful, sometimes clever, sometimes artful, but rarely biblical. And when it has dared to tread on holy ground, its footprints have not always been beautiful. An exception that was broadcast last December will be repeated next week.

“The Secret of Michelangelo: Every Man’s Dream” not only offers great art; it also portrays biblical themes. One of the greatest depictions of man’s spiritual history was painted on the Sistine Chapel ceiling by Michelangelo. For four and a half centuries, visitors to the chapel have craned to view the panels sixty-eight feet above their heads. On Easter Sunday the paintings will be as close as the television screen (ABC network), where closeup cameras will show details of the heroic work that the pilgrim to Rome cannot see. The script, beautiful in its imaginative prose and poetry, tells the Old Testament stories that the Renaissance painter interpreted: creation, fall, flood, and others.

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Criticism is easy to come by, and television has had its share (often deservedly). But productions that tastefully wed beauty and the Bible merit attention—and commendation.

Women And Israel

In ancient times the history of the Israelites was greatly influenced by women—Miriam, Jael, Deborah, Bathsheba, Jezebel, Athaliah. Now, at a turning point in history, the new Israel has turned to another woman for leadership, Mrs. Golda Meir, a Ukrainian-born one-time Milwaukee schoolteacher. Surely the whole world wishes her well as she struggles for the survival of her people and as she pursues what may be an illusive objective—the peace of Jerusalem.

Is The Sky The Limit?

This has been spoken of as “the era of permissiveness,” and we wonder if this attitude is not something like the concept of space now held by some—that it reaches on to infinity.

The news headline “Vassar OKs Male Visits Any Hour, Day or Night” has amazed some and distressed others. Does this decision merely regularize an already existing situation? Does it reflect the philosophy of life of those who made the decision? Or is it a weak-kneed concession granted by those who want peace at any price?

Without some guidelines based on religious convictions or common sense or personal experience, young people (and old) are left to drift in a sea of ethical relativity and moral decay. Young and old alike need standards of conduct to follow, and colleges have usually been considered sources of the teaching of moral values. Vassar’s departure from accepted standards will doubtless prove to be bad for the school, unfair to the parents of students, and, most of all, bad for the students themselves.

Decision Time On Viet Nam

Former President Johnson, whose decision not to run for re-election was based largely on the Viet Nam war, took the step his critics advocated when he stopped bombing North Viet Nam and sat down at the bargaining table to end the war. He was assured that when he halted the bombing there would be a corresponding response from the Viet Cong and that serious peace negotiations could then get under way.

At the present writing it is clear that serious peace negotiations haven’t begun yet, and that the Viet Cong response to the cessation of bombing has been to bomb Saigon and kill innocent citizens. Not unexpectedly, those who clamored loudest about U. S. bombing of North Viet Nam targets are silent about Viet Cong bombing of civilians in Saigon. Those who argued that the only way America could test the sincerity of the Viet Cong was to stop the bombing have not yet suggested that perhaps they were mistaken.

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President Nixon has inherited a war his predecessor turned into a holding operation and a search for a very elusive peace. His choices, as we see it, are limited to (1) complete withdrawal from Viet Nam and acknowledgment of failure, (2) all-out military assault designed to ruin the Viet Cong or else force them to serious peace endeavors, and (3) military holding efforts that will allow the enemy to attack when and how he chooses while Nixon endeavors to secure a negotiated peace that the Viet Cong seem to have no interest in attaining. No choice is free from danger and none will be acceptable to every American. Nixon’s third alternative, now in force, is a tenuous one at best and puts him at the mercy of the Viet Cong. He will be forced to alter that stance unless dramatic changes occur in Paris and in Saigon.

Big as America is and powerful as its nuclear armaments are, the Viet Nam imbroglio seems beyond its ability to terminate. Maybe the time has come for Christians to cry as Jehoshaphat did when he was faced by a coalition of powers: “We are powerless.… We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon thee” (2 Chron. 20:12). Maybe, just maybe, God can do what armaments, peace tables, and talk have not been able to do.

Campus Turmoil: Tracing A Cause

Dr. Nathan Pusey of Harvard ran little risk of dispute when he declared in his latest president’s report that the academic year “will surely prove to have been one of the most difficult in the history of higher education in America.” Harvard had so far been spared the major unrest experienced on other campuses, but Pusey noted realistically that “the end is not yet.” Although he did not speak from first-hand experience, his description of the problems was only too accurate:

Unpleasant, demanding, and accusatory attitudes were in evidence on many campuses. The sobriety of the scholar and the would-be scholar, celebrated in all previous ages, seemed simply to vanish. In some places the spirit of reasonableness, and the desire to achieve understanding with common courtesy, traditional hallmarks of academic life, were actually sneered at and contemned. In many places discontent flared and strong passions tended to drive out good feelings and careful thought. Manners suffered. It was indeed an extraordinary year.

Pusey has given a good description. The question that remains is: Why should it be so?

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Where the Christian faith is operative, such turmoil ought not to be. Indeed, it cannot be. The fact that we have it indicates quite clearly that faith has lost its hold, that we have yielded those principles upon which Western civilization was founded and has prospered.

Christian faith is never overthrown suddenly. Its demise is always gradual, and sometimes undetected. Very often a residue of acceptable standards will be perpetuated for a time, so that many who are not Christians will temporarily continue to be controlled by Christian ethical presuppositions. But inevitably the time comes when even these are discarded, and disorder ensues.

The university is geared to pass on knowledge. But it cannot effectively pass on Christian faith. Each generation must come to believe for itself, and adopt anew those principles that have made for social order and tranquillity. Only when we return to the faith that has made these principles operative—or at least to an acceptance of its derivative implications—can we logically hope for a return to campus sanity.

The Strange Case Of Segregation

For some years powerful forces have worked for desegregation in American life. The battle was won at the legal and constitutional level. Gradually, despite pockets of opposition, Americans are adjusting to an integrated society. Now the objective sought by blacks who were discriminated against and fought for by both blacks and whites is being reversed. More and more blacks are calling for the restoration of a segregated society.

Nowhere is the pressure greater than that in educational institutions where black students insist on separate facilities and demand a segregation hardly different from what blacks fought against for a hundred years. Some of the schools that were among the first to banish segregation have capitulated to black insistence on re-segregation with the result that the government is now forced to withdraw financial aid from such institutions on the ground that voluntary segregation by blacks is just as illegal as involuntary segregation forced on them by whites. It is a strange twist indeed that what blacks have fought to secure is now being rejected, as some insist on returning to a social condition long regarded as inhuman and unconstitutional. Does it not play into the hands of demagogues, and does it not tend to negate all the effort and bloodshed that went into the blacks’ battles for equal rights?

Verily, human perversity in men of all skin pigmentations is an enigma hard to understand and a disease not easily conquered.

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Antidote For Anxiety

Anxiety is a thief that robs many Christians of the fullness of life Christ intends they should experience. Most Christians spend a great deal of time and energy worrying—about all kinds of things. In his Sermon on the Mount Jesus talked about anxiety and how to deal with it (Matt. 6:19–34).

First, he pointed out the need to put things into perspective. All the “things” that we worry about and work for are only temporary (v. 19). In time all our material possessions will decay or disappear. Only the treasures laid up in heaven are lasting (v. 20).

Most of our anxieties grow out of our excessive concern with material comfort and security. We cannot be preoccupied with these things and still be loyal to God (vv. 21–24). Jesus made it clear that loyalty to God excludes any competing loyality; either our lives are centered in God and his will or we are servants of mammon.

When we give priority to the wrong kind of treasure, anxiety is an inevitable result. Jim Elliot expressed the proper Christian perspective when he said: “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

Secondly, Jesus encouraged his bearers to look at the reasons not to worry (vv. 25–33). Remember that God is the creator of life; certainly he can provide food. He created the body; surely he can provide clothing. Besides, worry is useless; it won’t accomplish anything. Look how wonderfully God cares for the birds of the air and see how magnificently he endows the flowers with beauty. He will care for his people in an even greater way.

When we allow our lives to become little more than an anxious pursuit of food and clothing, we are behaving as those who have not God. The godless have reason to worry, because they do not know a heavenly father who cares and provides. In essence, worry is a kind of atheism, because it is a lack of trust in God. The Christian has an infinitely big God whose love for him defies description. There are no grounds for worry.

Finally, Jesus offers a positive cure for worry: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (v. 33). A man seeks the kingdom of God and his righteousness by submitting himself to the authority of the king, Jesus Christ, and by making the will of God the controlling factor of his life. Anxiety springs from the desire to have things as we wish rather than as God wills. To place ourselves completely in the hands of the living Christ and to desire only his will eliminates all cause for anxiety. He will do his will through us, and his will is “good and acceptable and perfect.”

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