Life With The Spider And The Specious

The death of Bertrand Russell reminded me of the time he wrote his own obituary—an exercise I would commend without malice to all readers of this journal. One sentence Russell applied to himself stuck with me: “His principles were curious, but, such as they were, they governed his actions.” (It has now got me reading the noble earl’s autobiography.)

Owen Smythe would have approved that sentiment. You have never heard of him? Do not fret—no one had, between the years 1962 and 1969, when O.S. lived in an Australian cave. When finally seen and arrested for vagrancy, the magistrate said of him: “He has made very little use of his life in an impressive way.” Overlooking the slight ambiguity, I would suggest that such pronouncers, be they judges or janitors, not only set themselves up as experts but imply that they themselves have made creditable progress along life’s way.

Forget for a moment that Owen Smythe had once been a house painter (a profession linked historically with some odd characters), and hear the defense he made at his trial. “I like caves,” he said simply, “and I like all the bush animals, the goannas, the pythons, and even the funnel-web spiders” (one of which had shared his cave). He said living by himself had advantages he was not likely to have by being civilized. I hope the irony was as deliberate as delicious.

O.S. had evidently found, like W. Whitman, that animals “do not sweat and whine about their condition … not one is demented with the mania of owning things.…” No wealth, no wistful questions, no heavy-hearted departures, no spiritual loss.

Or take Three Men in a Boat (I hope you know it), with Jerome K. Jerome’s indictment of those who overload their boat on the river of life, “swamping it with a store of foolish things”: fine clothes, big houses, hollow friendships, pretense, ostentation, fear of my neighbor, luxuries that cloy, pleasures that bore. “Throw the lumber over, man!” urges J.K.J. Take only what you need; make the going easier. “You will have time to think as well as to work … time to listen to the Aeolian music that the wind of God draws from the human heartstrings around us.…”

A dusty magazine of yesteryear tells me of a pious lady who had her house burgled. Next day at a prayer meeting (you see how long ago it was?) she thanked the Lord that he “had made her lighter for the upward flight.” I venture to think that the Lord smiled in acknowledgment.


Otherwise Heavy

Just a note of special appreciation for “Dark Counsel at Easter” and “The Bunny and the Madonna” (Mar. 27). It is refreshing to see short, more sprightly articles in a magazine otherwise a little heavy.


Burton Heights Christian Reformed Church

Grand Rapids, Mich.

Cover Comment?

I am intrigued by your cover for the March 27 issue. Is the center caption an editorial evaluation (concise, albeit) of The New English Bible Old Testament and The New Church Music?


Morgantown, W. Va.

Hues Of Unity

I read with amusement and sincere concern the portraits of the church presented in comic relief by Russell Chandler in “Plan of Union: The Nose on COCU’s Face” and by Ron Durham in “Rainbow over Abilene” (Mar. 27): COCU, a Super-Church union in search of non-identity; the congregations of the Churches of Christ, identity in search of non-union.…

COCU searches for creeds which make no profession in order to offend no one; the Churches of Christ, while embracing the entire Bible as their common creed, cease not to offend some within. COCU is attempting to blend nine achromatic hues, while preserving black and white and while trying to prevent spurious emissions. The rainbow over Abilene contained at least seven colors being held together, yet apart, by colleges, editors, and sophomores.…

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Communicants in COCU and the Churches of Christ can find unity in Jesus Christ as he is revealed in the Bible. If we search for unity of doctrine or creed as revealed by political theologians or editors of religious periodicals, we will never find it.


Middletown, N. J.

I cannot read about the recent COCU plenary session without turning to God in prayer and asking him to send his Holy Spirit down to today’s churches.… I am proud that Bishop Washburn from Minnesota dared to bring up the idea of “personal religion”—even if nobody clapped.


Minneapolis, Minn.

Root Perception

A fine contribution is J. L. Spradley’s “Christian Roots of Science” (Mar. 13). His sojourn in the Middle East has given him a perceptive insight into why the “scientific revolution” could not have occurred there.


Chicago, Ill.

I particularly appreciated Joseph L. Spradley’s article. The basis in Christianity of a world-affirming and orderly world-view has too often been entirely overlooked by science. This is a greatly needed corrective word.

However, I have problems with the evidence with which he supports some of his propositions. He rightly notes that Greek metaphysics could not adequately deal with the regularity in the universe, but to credit Thomistic theology with an interpretation of the Christian concept of regularity which contributed to the growing faith of the importance of science overlooks some important facts. It was the rigid philosophy of Scholasticism which vehemently opposed the objective findings of Copernicus because they were not in agreement with the traditional authoritative interpretations.…

Furthermore, his statement that “the idea of progress in applied science has its roots in the Augustinian teaching that history has a purpose culminating in the second coming of Christ” overlooks the early origin of the linear view of history in the religion of Israel, not to mention the eschatological message of first-century Christianity. The roots of the concept of purpose in history are not in Augustine, but in the Exodus theology of the Old Testament.…

Spradley does have a valid fear that science may not continue to rely on the Christian sources of progress. It is a matter of increasing alarm that the belief in the Christian hope has, in fact, given way to a belief in progress based on self-confidence. As even the self-centered belief in progress totters in the wake of the events of this century, only a return to the biblical doctrine of the blessed hope in the return of Jesus Christ can prevent the universal emergence of a nihilistic philosophy of despair.


Assistant Professor of Religion

Azusa Pacific College

Azusa, Calif.

Developing Deliverance

I was grieved as an evangelical that Mr. Howard in his otherwise fine article (“What About Unwed Mothers?,” Mar. 13) failed to make a single mention of an exciting development that promises soon to bring deliverance and new hope to the millions anguished by unwanted pregnancies. I am referring to the gallant struggle of Christians and others to remove the hideous abortion laws from our land.

The examples of loving action in his article were noble but to a growing number of Americans the genuineness of the compassion of the evangelical church is being questioned as they see our rigid non-biblical Victorian position on abortion immobilizing our action in this critical area where the principles of Christian love demand reform.


Rindal Lutheran Parish

Fertile, Minn.

‘Dear Ann’

As a young adult and Christian, I would like to thank you for the continuous stream of useful and relevant articles found in CHRISTIANITY TODAY. I really enjoyed your question and answer session with Ann Landers (Mar. 13). The “What If …” cartoons are usually very much on target and well presented.

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Springfield, Ill.

Dealing With Evangelism

I was absolutely delighted with your editorial “Shall We Evangelize the Jews?” (Mar. 13). I appreciated the fact that you steered clear of a discussion of methodology and dealt directly and thoroughly with the question. Your analysis was exact and incisive.

Undoubtedly you will get a lot of negative feedback, but on behalf of the Jewish people who are yet to be evangelized and won to Christ I want to say thank you and thank God!


American Board of Missions to the Jews

New York, N.Y.

Your editorial was so fine, but the last paragraph was a shock. I am wondering if you did not mean to say God’s earthly people instead of “God’s chosen people” in referring to the Jews? In any event the Romans 11 passage refers the “his people” to the election of grace, and surely the chosen are the saved.…

Yes, we are interested in the Jews’ return to Palestine, but perhaps you are inadvertently linking the evangelical cause to Zionism. The fact that the Romans 11 passage is speaking of the salvation or revival of Israel, says not a word of the return to Palestine, and the fact that no promise is realized outside of Christ, must give us pause.


Presbyterian Church

Calvary Orthodox

Sonora, Calif.

Prophetic Ecology

“Fulfilling God’s Cultural Mandate” (Feb. 27) is one of the clearest statements I have seen concerning the theological and religious problems involved [in ecology]. This topic provides an excellent opportunity for individual Christians and churches to carry out a prophetic role in condemning our society’s complacent affluence and our failure to love our neighbors.

But we also have a message of hope—that disaster can be averted by a true repentance, a thorough change of heart. Then we can use with gratitude and wisdom God’s good gifts of natural resources and advancing technology.



Dight Institute for Human Genetics

University of Minnesota

Minneapolis, Minn.

Raising Dough For Dictators

I want to congratulate you on your fine editorial, “Inflationary Pains” (Feb. 13).

Not only is inflation morally wrong, but it can lead to the downfall of government.…

I keep under the glass on my desk a one million German mark bill issued September 1, 1923. In 1914 one million marks would buy over two million loaves of bread; only nine years later this same amount would not buy a single loaf. And Hitler took over.

The trends of history would seem to indicate that America is in store for a dictator unless the federal government stops inflating the money supply.



Southern States Industrial Council

Nashville, Tenn.

Surveying The Top

Your use of information from my research (“Deans List Top Ten,” Jan. 30) was out of context and somewhat misleading. The title of my study was “Deans of students and their programs at selected Christian liberal arts colleges.” The three objectives of the study included: (1) discovery of the prototype dean of students at Christian liberal arts colleges (i.e., training, degrees, age, experience, etc.), (2) making comparisons with a national sample of secular deans, and (3) gathering information regarding organizational structure, policies and programs at the various colleges participating in the study. There was no attempt to develop a set of criteria by which Christian colleges would be evaluated or rated.… As I mentioned in the study, only four of those institutions receiving the most votes for inclusion in the top ten were selected by more than half the college administrators participating.…

Within the broad range of data collected by this study, this information was interesting and of some merit, but only so within the context of the study. To present a listing of the “top ten” and to cite my study as the “survey” upon which you base your presentation does a disservice to Christian higher education and to me as a researcher.


Dean of Students

Biola College

La Mirada, Calif.

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