Reassessing Reticence

The biography of Jos Wedgwood, The Last of the Radicals, tells of a questionnaire he sent to a long list of influential people. One thing he asked was: “To what cause do you attribute your failure?” The book reports that only Lord Beaverbrook denied he had failed.

Long ago as a college freshman headed for the ministry I found myself on a social occasion seated next to a psychiatrist in government service. He showed interest in my plans, while himself disclaiming any Christian profession. Suddenly he asked, “What would you say is the best, and what is the worst, qualification for your job?” Now, normally I am an indifferent disburser of Instant Wisdom, but not on that occasion. “A sense of humor and a lack of reticence,” I said promptly. The reply impressed us both. It impresses me still, despite rueful survey of the intervening years. On humor I might just get by, though my friends might hotly challenge the assumption. On reticence, however, there is no doubt, but a damaging indictment.

It is scant comfort that many another in the ministerial and in other walks can attribute failure to the same deficiency (Lord Beaverbrook, of course, excepted), even if some have not yet tumbled to it. Advancing years seem to help: on her fifty-fifth birthday Simone de Beauvoir reminisced: “I have written certain books, and not written others.” E. M. Forster, probably the greatest of modern British novelists, who died recently at ninety-five, was a master of reticence who had not written anything major for many years previously. “His reputation,” it was said, “goes up with every book he doesn’t write.”

This may bring welcome solace to those who for years have lived uneasily because they had never got down to that classic within them just waiting to be penned, but it won’t do much for the pastor whose ministry is built around the resolve that he will never through silence be the devil’s advocate. I was mulling over that dubious philosophy last week when I came across an utterance of Benjamin Franklin. In consenting to the Constitution in 1787, that indomitable fighter for the rights of the individual said: “The opinions I have had of its errors I sacrifice to the public good. I have never whispered a syllable of them abroad.” An indignant counter motion would have come from a lesser man, but Ben was witty and wise enough to have made a good pastor. Come to think of it, his expertise with lightning would have been an invaluable pulpit asset, too.

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Twixt Pit And Excess

As a theological student … I disagree with many articles, but others are stimulating. Most of your articles are more fitting for a theological journal, instead of a periodical appealing to clergy and laity alike. However, “Incarnational Evangelism” (Aug. 21) blended theological acuity with lay application in a most thrilling way.

Mr. Haughton (who, I was pleased to notice, is a pastor and not a seminary professor) is to be highly commended on a fine piece of expository work related to an ever-present question, “How do we communicate the Gospel?” He avoids the excesses of “isolationism” practiced by many conservatives today. Yet he avoids the pit of “compromise in evangelism” into which many evangelicals have wandered.


Elkins Park, Pa.

Poetic Gibberish?

That “poem” (“Fall and Then …,” Aug. 21)—would you mind translating it into Americanese so we can understand it?

Robert Frost was once asked by a student if he would tell what a certain poem of his meant; to which he replied, “Do you want me to say it in poorer English?”

But then, even some of Shakespeare’s stuff is in Gibberish, too.


Yonkers, N. Y.

What’s In A Name?

While I agree that the term conservative evangelicals is redundant to those of us that profess to be evangelicals according to the definition you gave from Webster’s International (“Evangelicals Without Adjectives,” Aug. 21), I do not agree that we should discontinue use of the term at once.

For one thing, the very fact that this term was begun by those within the conciliar movement shows that from their point of view they thought it was necessary to give further identification. It would seem that some who would not place themselves as conservative evangelicals would still classify themselves as “evangelicals.”

Webster’s Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary gives five definitions for the word evangelical, the third of which corresponds with the definition you gave from Webster’s International. The second definition is “protestant,” and we know that many people in Latin America, Europe, and other places of the world use the term evangelical with this meaning …

Another reason we should not throw out the term “conservative evangelicals” too quickly is because of the use and misuse of the term new evangelical or neo-evangelical. While others use adjectives like this to confuse the term evangelical, I think we still need to continue to clarify the position of most evangelicals by the adjective conservative.

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Executive Secretary

Interdenominational Foreign Mission Association

Ridgefield Park, N. J.

Unbinding The Tie

“Strange Company” (News, Aug. 21) contains erroneous information.…

T. Sherron Jackson did not “formally” or in any other way organize the North American Baptist Association. If you are familiar with Baptist polity, you should know that we are of all people in the world democratic in our form of government. It is true that there were leaders; however, the Reverend T. Sherron Jackson was not one of them. He has neither held office nor preached an annual sermon in the association. The Baptist Foundation of America is in no way connected with the Baptist Missionary Association of America. It has never been a part of our association, either officially or unofficially.


General Secretary

Baptist Missionary Association of America

Little Rock, Ark.

• We erred. Jackson, ordained in the former North American Baptist Association, is listed on the ministerial roll of its successor, the Baptist Missionary Association of America. He founded the Third Baptist Church in Little Rock, not the association.—ED.

Jones Power

Your news report “Free Will Baptists: Fending Off the Jonesites” (Aug. 21) is a misrepresentation of the true facts. The leaders of the denomination were charged not with liberalism or heresy … [but] with softness toward new evangelicalism. This latest dress of biblical Christianity prefers positivism without negativism, infiltration to separation, so-called science to revelation, pragmatism to separation, so-called love to biblical principles, results to apostolic injunctions, part of the Gospel to all of the Gospel, dialogue to confrontation, appeasement to repudiation, and contempt to love for the fundamentalist.

Dr. Stanley Mooneyham was invited to speak at the convention this summer. This invitation, however, was withdrawn because of a resolution by the North Carolina Association of Free Will Baptists and a packet circulated by students at Bob Jones University.


Greenville, S. C.

When Adding Subtracts

I believe that your news item on the Unity church (Aug. 21) leaves a misleading impression with readers unacquainted with their teachings. Your writer, James S. Tinney, states, “Unity generally affirms standard Christian concepts and considers the Bible the Word of God, but adds its own special disciplines and metaphysical dimensions.…”

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I am disconcerted and dismayed that Christianity Today would abet the misconception that this cult is in agreement with fundamental tenets of historic, biblical Christianity.


Fairfax, Va.

• Our reader is right: Unity denies substantial parts of the historic faith. “Adds its own … disciplines and … dimensions” is the key. Among other things, the cult is pantheistic, says heaven and hell are states of mind, and denies the vicarious blood atonement of Christ.—ED.

Solid, Not Soft

I am writing to clarify a possible impression readers might get from your report on the thirty-ninth conference of the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches (“GARBC Debating ‘Neo-Evangelicalism,’ ” July 31).…

The GARBC stands as solidly today as it did when founded in 1932 on what we believe to be the biblical injunction to separate from unbelief in its various manifestations in Christendom. By its very genius our association cannot be soft toward the neo-evangelical position of infiltration, which by its nature involves cooperation with unbelief in various ways and degrees.

One other small matter. We received into our fellowship this year fifty new churches, not forty-nine. This maintains our consistent growth record for several years, an average of one or more new churches added each week.


National Representative

General Association of Regular Baptist Churches

Des Plaines, Ill.

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