A New Year’S Prayer
If we had 1972 to live over, what would we do differently?
Perhaps that question is not worth much discussion time, for the calendar cannot be set back. But a closely related question deserves hard thought: How will we think and act in 1973 in light of our ’72 failures and successes?
Our potential Christians may be greater in the new year than we have ever before experienced. As Director Norman B. Rohrer of Evangelical Press News Service has put it, “Never have the people of God enjoyed so broad an opportunity to speak the message of eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ. Will they catch the tide? Or will they lose it through bickering, apathy, worldliness, a lack of strategy, or excessive legalism?”
It is depressing to review the good things we could have done in 1972 and didn’t. Or to ponder the attempts we botched up. To the extent that we were at fault, we should repent. But the challenge then is to thank God for what was accomplished and to press ahead prayerfully, with the aim of making 1973 the greatest.
Earth men had hardly begun to get acquainted with the moon. Now, already, we have bid farewell, at least for the time being.
Our visits to the moon began at Christmastime four years ago, when the Apollo 8 astronauts conducted their now famous Bible-reading telecast from space. The Apollo missions also ended at Christmas time. And despite all the discussion about national priorities, there was a note of sadness when Apollo 17 closed out the current space program.
Maybe the price was too high, considering all the world’s pressing social needs. But lunar travel has undoubtedly expanded man’s consciousness and, we believe, given him a greater appreciation for God’s creation.
It is now up to Christians to build on this, and not let secular minds exploit the findings for materialistic ends.
“How real, how startingly alive is a factory chimney compared with an elm tree; poor obsolete thing, insubstantial dream of an escapist,” wrote J. R. R. Tolkien in his first-rate essay “On Fairy-Stories.” He points up the problem of an age that has sacrificed creation to machinery. Our society, so often characterized as alienated, no longer understands or sees birds, stones, and trees; simulation of the real has replaced reality. Perhaps, then, we are not so much alienated from one another as from the joy of creation.
We surround ourselves with fake flowers, plastic plants, simulated wood-grain cabinets, and laminated furniture. The vibrance and warmth of wood glowing with life is pragmatically replaced; plastic is easier to clean and laminated furniture won’t scratch. We see simulation on film and stage; simulated sex brings men and women empty of meaning to participate vicariously in erotic error. And experimentation with test-tube embryos reminds us that a brave new world is at hand. Television, which has a unique opportunity to present life as it is, leans heavily on tape rather than life.
Language, too, reflects a mechanistic outlook. Prose lacks the pulse and heartbeat of life, and poetry no longer pleases with the vision and rhythm found in God’s creation. We have forsaken elemental speech for abstraction; imaginations fail from disuse. Tolkien speaks of the “desire to visit, free as a fish, the deep sea; or the longing for the noiseless, gracious, ecumenical flight of a bird, that longing which the aeroplane cheats, except in rare moments, seen high and by wind and distance noiseless, turning in the sun: that is, precisely when imagined and not used. There are profounder wishes: such as the desire to converse with other living things.” But man has broken off relations with the universe and sees little hope for reintegration.
Christians, however, know reintegration through the Incarnation. We see elm trees, birds, and fish with an imagination freed for flight in Christ. The joy of life, the Eucatastrophe (the happy ending) of existence, lives. “The Birth of Christ is the eucatastrophe of Man’s history. The Resurrection is the eucatastrophe of the story of the Incarnation. This story begins and ends in joy,” concludes Tolkien. And it is joy so real that we cannot simulate it.
On Church Cooperation
We do not hold out much hope that the recently approved restructure of the National Council of Churches will mean much for evangelicals. Most of the program of the ninth and last General Assembly of the NCC, held in Dallas in December, perpetuated the preoccupation of American ecumenism with selected social issues to the neglect of theological priorities. The organizational changes are not substantial enough to warrant optimism that the leopard has changed his spots.
A non-organizational change may be of some significance, however. The Reverend W. Sterling Cary now begins a three-year term as president, and we wish him well. The challenge is great. Although he was one of the signers of the Black Manifesto demanding reparations from white churches, Cary assumed office on a note of reconciliation, which certainly is to his credit. He is the NCC’s first black president. During 1973 he will undoubtedly be called on to help with the selection of a new general secretary to replace Dr. R. H. Edwin Espy, who will retire in another year.
Cary says he will use his term of office to enable the NCC constituency to conduct “meaningful programs, not to moralize about problems.” “The day of proclamations and resolutions is pretty much ended. We’ve said all we could and we’ve had a significant influence through the pronouncement route. But the church itself must begin to reflect what it has said in its own life.”
Actually, the NCC has not said all that much. True, it has pontificated on a number of social issues, and has caused division among Christians by taking a hard line on political matters, stressing means instead of ends. But on the things that really matter in the long run, in the theological realm, in eternal values, American ecumenism is exceedingly wobbly and quite nonspecific.
We agree with Cary’s call for deeds insofar as these truly reflect the biblical concepts of justice and responsibility. Unfortunately, among the many disparate kinds of special-interest groups caucusing at the Dallas assembly, not one represented an evangelical theological view. That is hardly Christian ecumenism.
The Making Of A Revolutionary?
Perhaps the most widely known American Negro woman in the world today is Angela Davis. When she was under indictment on charges of murder and kidnapping in California (she was subsequently acquitted), her name and picture were blazoned on billboards all around the world: she was portrayed as a victim of fascistic white racism. In a forthcoming biography, J. A. Parker chronicles her step-by-step development from a middle-class home in Birmingham, Alabama, to Elisabeth Irwin High School in New York, then Brandeis University near Boston, where she met Herbert Marcuse, on to the Universities of Paris and Frankfurt, and finally to her current status as one of the most prominent spokesmen for totalitarian Communism in America today. Her way was paved—and to a large extent paid—by white political liberals who recognized her intellectual potential and saw to it that she received every opportunity to learn and adopt radical social and political theories.
Evangelical Christians are quick to denounce the views Miss Davis now proclaims. But how much are they doing for other talented young blacks, to provide them with exposure to better ideas, specifically, to the best in the biblical, Christian tradition at evangelical colleges and seminaries? Unless we are willing to show some foresight and work to make high-quality evangelical teaching as available to young Negroes as radical indoctrination was made available to Miss Davis, we are likely to wait in vain for the appearance of any evangelical counterweight to the Marxist miss from Birmingham.
The Death Of ‘Life’
The main point to be learned from the demise of Life is that magazines should no longer try to be all things to all people. So-called general magazines are falling by the wayside. But despite postal rate increases and lack of adequate advertising income, many specialized magazines, large and small, are thriving. Take Sunset (“The Magazine of Western Living”), for an example. It claims a steady gain in revenue, though it does not run tobacco or hard-liquor advertising. Obviously, Sunset knows its role and plays it well. After the novelty of photo journalism waned, Life never really found a new niche.
A White-Collar Church?
Some years ago Eric Fife could speak of the “unevangelized tribes of the American campus.” In the intervening years, some of the more familiar forms of church and denominational ministry have become virtually moribund: the Student Christian Movement in this country voted itself out of existence. But at the same time, the evangelical outreach has been expanded and intensified, involving both the well-known evangelical student movements and also some new groups and fellowships; where a student witness does exist, it is likely to be evangelical. Across the country the picture is uneven, with some campuses well-served and others relatively neglected. On the whole, however, it can be said that evangelical Christianity is mounting a significant and rewarding outreach in the colleges.
At the same time, a very significant portion—about twenty per cent—of each year’s high school graduating class remains virtually untouched as a group: those who enroll in technical or vocational training schools. Pastor John L. Swanson of Alexandria, Minnesota, a pioneer in ministry to tech students, reports that in Minnesota alone there are thirty-two state supported technical-vocational schools, with an enrollment in 1971–72 of 17,000. Within two months of course completion the vast majority of the students in these schools enter jobs for which they have been trained, a rate far better than that of college students.
Vocational and technical students typically experience little of “campus life”; most of them live at home or in rented rooms and work hard on what amounts to a crash program, often of less than a year’s duration. It is more difficult in many respects to minister to them than to college students; they are less accessible, more scattered, and more strongly motivated in a practical rather than theoretical direction. And churches with a suburban and bourgeois orientation often find it hard to relate to people who are so intent on getting down to doing the world’s work.
It is often lamented that Americans, even Christians, are losing their awareness of the value of honest, productive human work. By developing a ministry to the neglected class of vocational students, who will be doing much of the nation’s manual and technical work in the years to come, evangelicals could not only begin to reach a large and virtually untouched group but also recover for themselves a feeling for the universality of the Gospel that is in danger of being lost if the Church ignores the “mechanics” and becomes an ingrown, middle-class, white-collar club.
Death no longer rides a pale horse. Instead he careens drunkenly down the highway, driving one person every twenty minutes to a grave of twisted metal and shattered glass. But warnings and wailings do no good unless action is taken.
It is still too difficult in this country to prove drunken driving. Even when such a case reaches the courtroom, judges and juries seem reluctant to convict the defendants (perhaps an attitude of “that could have been me” prevails over conscience). To stop highway manslaughter—and the need for perennial holiday editorials on the issue—we need stricter laws and stricter enforcement. In several European countries a mandatory jail sentence for inebriated drivers—whether involved in an accident or not—has curbed the number of drunk-driving incidents.
This holiday season, Christians should give themselves and their fellow human beings a livesaving gift by supporting with money and time various organizations, such as the Alcohol Safety Actions Projects, founded to get drunk drivers off the highways. Or perhaps evangelical churches should start their own local alcohol safety projects. That would be a good way to combine a positive Christian witness with practical social concern.
In His Own Image
The start of a new year, traditionally a time for resolving to make a fresh start, is an apt time to reflect on the real Beginning, and especially on our own origin, which tells us much about what we can and cannot hope to be.
The first remark that the Bible makes about man is that God determined to create man “in his own image” (Gen. 1:27). Philosophers and theologians have long pondered the implications of those mysterious words, and probably no explanation can exhaust their meaning. Yet surely one of the most important facets of being made in God’s image is this: man, like his Maker, is personal. Significantly, it was among people with a biblical heritage that the reality and importance of individual human personhood was first grasped. Development of the concept of the person as an individual center of continuing consciousness followed the development of the Christian understanding of God in the formulation of the doctrine of the Trinity.
In other words, the biblical revelation led Christians to confess that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are not merely transitory modes or aspects of God’s Being but are distinct, abiding Persons. Each of the divine Persons has individually and continually communicated with the others in fellowship and love. This realization has led Christians to see that each human being, made in God’s image, is also a distinct person with a unique character and destiny. Most of the world’s great religions believe that the human personality is a painful illusion; for them “salvation” means the loss of individuality in the infinity of God. But the biblical teaching indicates that the saved will experience eternal life as individuals, as persons. It will mean fellowship with the personal God, not absorption into a universal spirit.
In recent decades a terrible shift has been taking place in “Western Christendom.” Large segments of “Christian” populations have lost all awareness of the reality of the personal God. And as a result millions are finding the consciousness of their own unique human personhood, so charged with responsibility and crowded with possibilities of guilt, estrangement, and failure, too much to bear. So multitudes seek to escape from it. Their devices are many, ranging from self-surrender to a collectivistic ideology or to a political messiah, to self-destruction by drugs. Only a tiny minority of those who have repudiated belief in God—Faustian intellectuals such as Ayn Rand or the late Bertrand Russell—seem to have the courage to try to assert their individuality in the face of an impersonal universe. But such egocentric attempts to be the center of one’s own universe ultimately end, like those of Goethe’s Faust, in pitiful self-deception.
Unless the individual personality is supported and sustained by fellowship with the personal God, individuality is a burden, not a blessing. This is why Augustine wrote, “Thou hast made us for Thyself, and our hearts can know no rest until they rest in Thee.”
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