Theology On Wheels
Many charges have been brought against the Jesuits in their long and tumultuous history. But the most nefarious deed ever perpetrated by one of their members has so far escaped condemnation.
In 1678 Ferdinand Verbiest, a Jesuit missionary to China, built the first working model of an automobile.
Verbiest could not possibly have realized the demonic nature of his invention. How could he know that the triumph of his toy would suppress truth, subvert honesty, and promote idolatry?
If he had had any idea of the impact of the automobile, surely he would have done posterity the service of revising the horsey Scriptures. The Psalmist could say: “Do not behave like the automobile, unreasoning creatures whose course must be checked with power steering.” (Ps. 32:9). The Prophet Isaiah could more relevantly admonish: “Shame upon those who go down to Detroit for help and rely on armored cars, putting their trust in tanks many in number …” (Isa. 31:1).
The moral effect of the automobile can hardly be overstated. The conscientious Christian who believes that his yes should mean yes and his no should mean no suspends that morality upon entering an auto dealer’s showroom.
With steady eye he will assure the salesman that the gasping heap of metal and glass parked outside—which will pass everything on the road except a gas pump—yields an economical eighteen miles to the gallon.
The salesman, not to be outdone in this fiction contest, will assure the buyer he’s taking a personal loss since his commission is going to come to about seventy-five cents an hour for his time.
And think of how many young men succumb to the incessant advertising that promises them they too will be like the gods if only they possess the XL 442. Bowing the knee to the great, gleaming, bechromed, oil-drooling, rubber-footed, two-ton Baal, the modern youth will dedicate himself to possessing one—however briefly—by hook or by crook.
Too often it won’t be by hook. I understand that a large proportion of car thievery is done by teen-agers who know they can’t get away with it but who feel irresistably drawn by the sense of power that comes when they have three hundred odd horsepower under foot.
One of the automobile’s most insidious effects can be seen in many ministers. Put mild-mannered Reverend Clark Kent behind the wheel of his Spitfire Eight and he becomes Super Andretti, chuckling over his reputation for “driving like Jehu.”
If they ever reinstate the Inquisition, I shall be the first in line to lay my case against Ferdinand Verbiest, S.J.
I rejoiced to see the cover of the issue (March 30) which arrived in my mailbox several days ago, because, I reasoned, it might represent a sober reflection on Bangkok a couple of months later. I was deeply distressed by what I found, simply a continuation—in greater detail and somewhat greater depth—of the kind of cavalier, superficial, and parochial “impatient waving of the hand” (Arthur Glasser) that you did earlier with regard to the Bangkok meeting.
I am an evangelical serving in the mission agency of a conciliar church. I shared the anguish of Donald McGavran over Uppsala. I worked hard within my own denomination and in ecumenical circles to see that something would happen at Bangkok which would give greater representation to the understanding of the faith that I have. I was invited by Thomas Wieser to write one of the commentaries on the collection of testimonies. That surprised me. Other things surprised me too, notably the number of conservative evangelicals who were invited to Bangkok and related prior meetings. I spoke with many of them, counseled with some, and met with them afterwards to find out what happened. Over and over again I got the word that the direction in which the ecumenical movement was going at Geneva and at Uppsala had been in a very real way changed. Accepting the biblical view of the church as composed of wheat and tares, I rejoiced. I do not ask for perfection. Conversion will be slow, but we pray for it. In the meantime we learn from others as well and learn new ways of understanding a basically evangelical faith.
You do us evangelicals in the conciliar churches a real disservice by arrogating to yourselves the title of the evangelical witness and publishing your narrow-minded views as if they represent all the evangelicals in the world. I think at this time a distinction needs to be made between conservative evangelicals and hidebound ones.
ALFRED C. KRASS
Consultant on Evangelism
United Church Board for World Ministries
New York, N. Y.
Peter Beyerhaus’s article on “The Theology of Salvation in Bangkok” states in the concluding paragraph that it was “predictable” what the conference would come up with. His article strikes me as a somewhat strained effort to validate his own negative expectations … [and it] sets back the cause of constructive dialogue between Christians.… It is filled with insinuations about sinister plots, insidious schemes, and conspiracies by card-carrying ecumenical ecclesiocrats across the world, who allegedly took all of us unaware souls at Bangkok for a “sensitivity training” ride straight into secular theology. We were brainwashed, claims Beyerhaus, by the “shrewdest of psychological techniques,” as anonymous “sensitizers” infiltrated our small-group meetings. Such statements make me wonder how silly we can get in our uncreative encounters between Christians.
Beyerhaus mentions the great number of participants at Bangkok whose biblical convictions are very much intact. The conference model was designed to give an opportunity for their witness to be freely expressed in numerous contexts, and to me that was indeed a hopeful sign. I personally regret that there wasn’t more celebration of “Salvation Today” at Bangkok. The work of the Holy Spirit, I know, is not a matter of our techniques and designs, but our procedures do often stand in the way of experiencing the power of the Lord.
I am involved with “evangelicals” and “ecumenicals” in the planning of several Key 73 events. The design of those conferences is somewhat similar to the one used at Bangkok. At least in America we seem to be beyond the point of seeing all group-dynamics techniques as the enemies of grace.
A large number of “ecumenicals” and “evangelicals” are quite prepared to struggle together with the questions and challenges of mission today. In my judgment, Peter Beyerhaus’s suggestion that a representative convocation for frank discussion of the issues be sponsored by the World Council of Churches has merit. If the World Council has no interest in this, perhaps some other group does. That dialogue between people of living faith should be our first order of business.
ISAAC C. ROTTENBERG
Secretary for Program Interpretation
Reformed Church in America
New York, N. Y.
Congratulations on the splendid article “Dateline: Bangkok.” This is reporting at its best. I want you to know how much I appreciate it.
ROBERT C. SAVAGE
Dalton Baptist Church
I was very distressed when I read the allegations and innuendos contained in your April 13 article, “Underground Evangelism: The Rumors That Won’t Go Away.” I appreciate your second article, April 27, “Underground Evangelism: The Other Side,” which does clear the air somewhat. However, given the opportunity, we could have provided the necessary answers and documentation for the first article, making the second article unnecessary. The brevity of the second article as opposed to the length of the first article (two columns on one page as opposed to seven columns on four pages) leaves many allegations unanswered, even though we supplied the information for you. I will mention only a few.
Sergei Kourdakov did not receive $2,600 for expenses in October as you stated. This money was paid directly to printers, airlines, motels, etc., and Sergei did not receive one penny of it. Also, Sergei did not “drop out of sight” in Canada and “emerge a few weeks later in the United States in Underground Evangelism’s employ.” The facts are: In May Sergei began a series of public meetings across Canada, and his itinerary was well distributed even to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. He came to the United States late in July for Underground Evangelism’s well publicized Winona Lake Conference. It really does not lessen the credibility of his testimony that “he was fed a stream of information on religious life in the Soviet Union.” Sergei’s knowledge of the church in Russia would be limited by necessity to those activities in which he personally participated: the persecution of the church.
Even though the findings of the coroner showed that the alcohol content in Sergei’s bloodstream was extremely small, and even though medical tests on the girl show that no sex act had occurred, we definitely do not approve of the activities of that New Year’s weekend. However, we do not believe this one occasion should have the effect of canceling Sergei’s challenging testimony. Sergei had made tremendous progress in his short Christian life. Those who discredit him would do well to exercise something of the same grace toward Sergei that God has shed in their own lives.
Space does not permit me to answer, in detail, every allegation in the article. Suffice it to say, there is nothing in the article which cannot be answered. I urge those who have questions to direct them to us. After examining our answers and documentations, you are free to arrive at your own conclusions, of course.
I do not believe CHRISTIANITY TODAY intentionally tried to harm the Lord’s work, but rather was the victim of misinformation. Unfortunately, rumors, like feathers in a wind, cannot be gathered again after they are scattered. Sadly, those who will suffer most from these rumors are those who are already suffering so much: the believers in Communist lands.
L. JOE BASS
Underground Evangelism International Glendale, Ill.
The article … is in my estimation what is commonly called yellow journalism. It had the markings of being unresearched, unfactual, generalized with innuendo, tantamount to a smear.… Mr. Plowman stated that Canadian Mounted Police reportedly located two brothers of Sergei Kourdakov. I challenge him to bring forth definite proof. He also quotes Congressman Landgrebe and others as to imply that their words are accepted fact, while at the same time statements by UE sources are “alleged” or implied as untrustworthy. The episode of Sergei Kourdakov leading up to his death is brought out to the barest degree only for the purpose of sensationalizing.… I realize that the coroner ruled the death as accidental. Perhaps this is true. I will not impugn the integrity of the official findings. At the same time, since all men are open to mistakes, it is entirely possible that a mistake could have been made in this case. Whatever the case, CHRISTIANITY TODAY is remarkably naïve in apparently underestimating the ability of the murderous KGB in assassination techniques. The spring issue of American Mercury would take some issue since this reliable magazine reports that Sergei was assassinated.
As a former editor of Underground Evangelism Magazine, with fairly extensive knowledge of Underground Evangelism’s activities, I am amazed that a journal commanding the respect of the theological world would besmirch in such a libelous manner not only the excellent work of Underground Evangelism is doing but also the name of its brilliant young founder, the Reverend L. Joe Bass. To me this is a very shattering experience.
EVA JORDAN BLAIR
CHRISTIANITY TODAY is to be commended for courage. No doubt there was editorial agonizing as to whether to become involved in the unpleasant business of the sad death of Sergei Kourdakov and the general modus operandi of Underground Evangelism. There is a time for responsible Christians to finally in love and restraint speak out against unethical practices when they are rampant in a Christian organization. There is a cost involved in this kind of love. Thank you for paying it.
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