Attempting to predict the future has become a popular pastime in religious circles. Christians everywhere seem to be absorbed in the prophetic aspects of Scripture. This is both good and bad: Christians certainly ought to be concerned about the Second Advent of Jesus Christ, but some spread ideas for which there is no biblical warrant.

This heightened interest in predictions comes at a time when intelligent foretellers working in other than religious fields are smarting from their failures. Old-timers will remember Drew Pearson’s radio broadcasts, which included “predictions of things to come; predictions that have proved to be 82 per cent accurate.” In our highly complex world, eighty-two per cent accuracy now appears to be an impossible dream.

The predictions made by astronomers last year about Comet Kohoutek are a current case in point: what was supposed to be a dazzling sky spectacle fizzled, and whatever the technical explanations, the highly touted event was a prognosticator’s flop.

Walter Heller, president of the American Economic Association, said recently: “Economists are distinctly in a period of re-examination. The energy crisis caught us with our parameters down. The food crisis caught us, too. This was a year of infamy in inflation forecasting. There are many things we really just don’t know.” A few years ago John Kenneth Galbraith, writing in The Affluent Society, castigated the “conventional wisdom” of the economists, which he said was often wrong. The trouble was that his unconventional wisdom isn’t much better. But at least he helped to make people aware that economics is not the science it was thought to be; the margin of error is large.

Physicists used to teach that the atom was the smallest unit of energy. Then they discovered protons, neutrons, and electrons, which were thought to be the ultimate components of the atom. Now they have found still smaller parts, quarks, which are said to store immense quantities of energy. Even the hard sciences don’t have final answers.

In geology, uniformitarianism has been the mortar binding the science together. This view presupposes long periods of time during which minute changes have occurred gradually. Evolution is generally related to this viewpoint. But years ago Velikovsky, who was widely disparaged by the scientific fraternity, published his Worlds in Collision in which he offered a vast amount of evidence to support his view that catastrophism is a fact. Among the evidences are fast-frozen warm-blooded mammals in Siberia, perfectly preserved with grass in their mouths. He gave convincing evidences to support Joshua’s long day, the reversion of the magnetic fields, and the slowing and speeding of the earth’s rotation. He told also of the La Brea tarpits in Los Angeles, where the bones of animals that were theoretically extinct for millions of years are found side by side with bones of animals of later geologic ages. While the significance of Velikovsky’s findings is open to a great deal of question, and he leaves many questions unanswered, his views nonetheless underscore the point that a true scientist can never rest assured that all the facts are in.

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But at a time when economists and other scientists are becoming more reticent about making predictions lest they later look silly, Christians are going out on all kinds of predictive limbs. We have pre-tribulationists, mid-tribulationists, and post-tribulationists, and pre-millennialists, a-millennialists, and post-millennialists, all with their particular theories at the ready. We have those who say we are living in the last times and others who predict with certainty the very imminent coming of Jesus Christ. Those who hold that the Church will be raptured before the Great Tribulation seem to think that God would never let his people suffer. Korean, Russian, and Chinese Christians who have suffered greatly for their faith would testify that while God does deliver some of his people from suffering, he delivers others in suffering—during “mocking and scourging, and chains and imprisonment,” while they are “destitute, afflicted, ill-treated” (Heb. 11:36, 37).

Without question, the Lord Jesus is coming again; we can say that with 100 per cent accuracy. But no one can know when he will come. Certainly world conditions suggest the possibility that it will be soon. But in ages past Christians thought the same thing, and they were mistaken. We today may be similarly mistaken in our reading of current events.

We are to be looking for Jesus, not for the rapture of the Church. Our lives should be ordered so that if he does come today or tomorrow, we will not be ashamed at his coming. While we wait we had better be busy doing his will for our lives. That includes finishing the task of world evangelization, and fulfilling the normal functions of life as citizens of God’s kingdom and Caesar’s kingdom. And it must include also a becoming modesty that imbues our speculations about his coming with the biblical qualification that no man knows the day or the hour.

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A Moment For Truth

The costliest minutes on television have been reported to be the ones for sale when they stop the clock during the Super Bowl. The initial asking price of CBS was $210,000 for each sixty-second commercial aired during this year’s big football event. That does not seem to be much of a bargain, until you recognize that under virtually no other circumstances is an advertiser likely to reach 80 million people at one time.

Suppose you had such a moment for truth at your disposal. How would you use it?

If you wanted to put across a message of Christian truth in that short span of time, just what would you say? Would you read a portion of Scripture? Sing a hymn? Say a prayer? Recite a poem? Act out a scene? Preach a mini-sermon?

Although few of us will ever have the opportunity to address that large an audience all at once, we do have chances to speak our minds to substantial numbers, and most of us do not use them. A single letter to the editor published in Time or the New York Sunday News, for example, gets into the hands of as many as ten million people!

The problem is not lack of access so much as inadequate expression. We’re not geared to make the most of a moment, and that’s a pity, for we pass up many openings daily to speak for God. And, really, when it comes down to obedience to the Lord of life, does it matter whether we are talking to one person or to one hundred million?

Unworthy Valentines

February 14, Valentine’s Day, is commonly considered a “romantic” holiday that historians think has its origin in the Roman festival of Lupercalia honoring Juno, goddess of marriage. The feast of St. Valentine, however, may also commemorate two Christian martyrs of the same name. While the exact details are legendary, their stories seem to be based on some historic fact. The first, a Roman priest, suffered martyrdom under the reign of the Emperor Claudius; the other, a bishop of Interamna (Terni), also died in Rome.

Both the pagan and the Christian festival commemorate love, the one love of man, the other the love of God that is man’s response to God’s love for him. The human expression of love in marriage can mirror divine love, as Paul’s metaphor of the faithful church as the bride of Christ shows. In knowing the love of a person or the love of God, each of us is seeringly conscious of his unworthiness to receive such a gift, all the while recognizing how necessary it is to accept love. George Herbert in “Love (III)” succinctly expresses such a need of unworthy people:

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Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back,

Guilty of dust and sin.

But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack

From my first entrance in,

Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning

If I lacked anything.

“A guest,” I answered, “worthy to be here”:

Love said, “You shall be he.”

“I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear,

I cannot look on thee.”

Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,

“Who made the eyes but I?”

“Truth, Lord, but I have marred them; let my shame

Go where it doth deserve.”

“And know you not,” says Love, “who bore the blame?”

“My dear, then I will serve.”

“You must sit down,” says Love, “and taste my meat.”

So I did sit and eat.

Who Believes In Exorcism?

When The Exorcist was published in 1971, Thomas Culliman of the Cleveland Plain Dealer commented that the book was “absolutely superb.… Blatty makes you think this scary tale really might have happened.” Since then reports of witchcraft, Satan-worship, and demon possession have become more and more frequent. Last year official exorcists of the Roman Catholic Church performed several exorcisms in this country and abroad. According to the National Jesuit News the latest one occurred last fall. Karl Patzelt, S.J., performed the twenty-seven-page ritual fourteen times before the bedeviled family was “at peace.”

Now that the novel is a movie (see The Refiner’s Fire, page 16) some Jesuits fear that the church will be beleaguered by requests for exorcisms. Georgetown University, site of the film, already is experiencing some of this. The small Dahlgren University Chapel on the campus has received calls requesting the rite from as far away as Kansas. Priests and theologians disagree on the reality of demon possession, however. One Jesuit thinks demons can enter the body but not the soul. The university psychologist, on the other hand, thinks there is no evidence to believe in demon possession; he discounts New Testament reports of such a phenomenon.

Evangelicals generally agree that demon possession is possible in the unbeliever, though there seems to be some doubt about the possibility of demonic indwelling of a believer. For those interested in learning some ways in which demon possession manifests itself The Exorcist provides a vivid view. We cannot wholeheartedly recommend that Christians attend the film (the rating is R); as J. R. R. Tolkien said, “It is perilous to study too deeply the arts of the Enemy.” However, it is good to know who the enemy is, and to know that he sometimes uses bizarre means to attack the human soul. Although The Exorcist cannot be called a truly Christian film, it does not deserve the strict boycott many evangelicals will give it, for the eerie film shows the reality of that which our secular society has scoffingly relegated to the superstitious Middle Ages. What do you say now, Thomas Culliman?

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The Lincoln Legacy

The American people have an unusually good opportunity this year to follow some spiritual examples set by Abraham Lincoln. Senator Mark Hatfield is trying to get the country to observe a “National Day for Humiliation, Fasting, and Prayer” on April 30. The Senate unanimously passed such a resolution just before Christmas, and the House is considering it.

The resolution, drafted by Hatfield, is patterned after one issued by Lincoln on April 30, 1863. Says Hatfield, “Our government and other institutions of our society would all cease business as usual, as I envision it, so that we all would be free to consider actions appropriate to a time that would symbolize national repentance.” Hatfield, a student of Lincoln, attributes to Lincoln the belief that “only through the acknowledgment of our corporate guilt and confession of national sins” can the country regain its national purpose and unity. The senator goes on to say:

Today our nation has once again been torn apart by a crisis from which there appears little relief. Our refusal to acknowledge our dependence and need for a Power beyond ourselves has severely damaged our national soul. I believe that only a national confession of corporate guilt can save us from the worship of our own finite power and the tragedies that this worship creates.

Elton Trueblood, author of an excellent new book, Abraham Lincoln, Theologian of American Anguish, says that the Great Emancipator issued nine separate calls to public penitence, fasting, prayer, and thanksgiving during his forty-nine months in the Presidency. He did so at the urging of Congress, which in turn may have taken its cue from President Jefferson Davis of the Confederacy. Davis had appointed June 13, 1861, as “a day of fasting and prayer throughout the Confederacy.”

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By law, the President of the United States is required to proclaim a national day of prayer each year. The legislation dates back to Eisenhower’s time, though prayer was not on the minds of very many people then. During the Kennedy and Johnson years the proclamations were intimidated by the Supreme Court’s rulings against school prayers, and were therefore issued very quietly. But the timidity should be put aside in this hour of national need. We urge people who pray to get behind Senator Hatfield’s resolution. It could prove to be our great corporate corrective of the 1970s.

No Escape From Reason

Listen to this: “Like all tales told about God, the Christmas story is a myth whose truth lies in the telling and whose meaning transcends narrower questions of historical detail, philosophical purity or psychological significance.” That’s Newsweek, a highly respected and trusted magazine, at once sermonizing about and explaining so-called narrative theology (December 31, 1973). It’s jarring if not exasperating to come across such speculation in a periodical that has prided itself on separating fact from opinion. In this case, the editors may well have separated fact from opinion, but they failed to say which was which. Interestingly enough, a Christmas editorial in the Washington Post, which owns Newsweek, focused upon alleged differences between the Nativity narratives in Matthew and Luke, but was not nearly so dogmatic as that in the magazine.

We’ll not quibble about Newsweek’s objectivity or lack of it. There is something much more important to consider here, namely, a contradiction in its approach to the subject. On the one hand, the Newsweek account implies that theological truth and meaning need not be dependent upon history and philosophy. On the other hand, the account appeals to historical realities and philosophical principles to make its point. So do the books on narrative theology cited in the article. They all set forth logical arguments to persuade the reader that narrative theology is somewhat self-authenticating. They rely upon the very kind of dialectic that they disparage and minimize.

All this apparently goes to show that try as we will, we cannot get away from history or philosophy. We can only choose from among the varying theories found therein, apply our choices as we please, and run the risk of error through prejudiced selection or application.

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We inevitably resort to reason, even when we try hard to disown it.

The Stewardship Of Energy

Owen Cooper makes good sense in noting that proper use of the Lord’s Day would save fuel energy and generate “spiritual energy.” The president of the Southern Baptist Convention, a retired industrialist, says, “If the Christians in this country were to commit themselves to the protection of the Lord’s Day, they not only would conserve enormous amounts of energy, but they would also make unprofitable the operation of many business establishments on the Lord’s Day.” Amen!

Let’s Clear The Air

There is a great deal of talk about impeachment of President Nixon and a certain amount of snail’s-pace action. While it goes on, the head of one of the world’s great nations remains in a kind of moral and executive limbo, unable to speak authoritatively or act effectively. And a large chunk of the government and its policies, both foreign and domestic, remains in a kind of suspended animation with him.

According to the United States Constitution, it is the responsibility of the House of Representatives to vote an indictment and of the Senate to hold the trial. But what are the members of Congress doing about it? Many of them, it seems, are asking their constituents, trying to “sound out the grass roots,” as the common mixed metaphor puts it. At least one congressman is reported to have ended his speeches with a call for a show of hands: How many for impeachment? How many against?

We can understand the hesitancy of many congressmen to vote for or against the impeachment of the President. It is indeed a difficult decision, and one fraught with dangers not only for the republic but for the world as a whole. But on this matter, consulting voter sentiment is no way for a congressman to make up his mind. In the first place, the United States is not a direct democracy, where the voters can be consulted by plebiscite on every issue. We have a representative form of government, in which the people choose representatives and invest them with certain powers—and obligations. The constitutional obligation to determine whether or not President Nixon should be indicted rests not with the voters but with the members of the House of Representatives. Some congressmen may wonder whether they know enough to make the right decision, but it is certain that the voters in general cannot know more.

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It would be thought a disgrace if a judge, or a district attorney, were to make a general appeal to the members of a community to decide whether a murder suspect should be tried, or—even worse—condemned. In perhaps the most celebrated dereliction of judicial duty in all history, the Roman administrator of justice for Palestine, Pontius Pilate, appealed to the crowd to tell him what to do with a certain prisoner. When a whole community decides on whether to try or condemn an accused person, it may happen that justice will be done. But we call such a state of affairs lynch law.

If there is insufficient evidence to warrant bringing charges against President Nixon, then the congressmen have the solemn duty to vote against impeaching him, no matter how many citizens might want to see it done. If they feel that the evidence against him is sufficient, then their duty is to indict him, regardless of whether a majority of the people might wish to see the affair dropped.

For Congress to go on as it is doing now is to play a cat-and-mouse game with justice, and also with the person and honor of America’s highest elected officer. Perhaps some think they have something to gain, either for themselves or for their party, by temporizing, testing, talking—and perhaps they do. But they also have much to lose: personal integrity and honor. Let us clear the air: If impeachment should be brought, then bring it. If not, then stop toying with the idea and free the President to function as he should. There is far too much at stake, both for the President himself and for the nation as a whole, to allow this confusion to continue.

But What Of The Right To Life?

On December 27, the eve of the Feast of the Holy Innocents (the babies of Bethlehem slaughtered on Herod’s orders), the formation of a national “Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights” was announced in Washington, D. C. According to its own publicity, the coalition consists of “sixteen major Christian and Jewish organizations,” representing United Methodists, the United Church of Christ, and the Unitarian-Universalists (two organizations each), the United Presbyterian Church in the U. S. A. (the denomination as a whole plus two of its agencies), American Baptists and the Church of the Brethren (one agency each), plus one controversial Roman Catholic group and four Jewish organizations.

Leaving aside the rather macabre timing of the announcement, it seems strange that religious groups, particularly Jewish ones, should feel called on to defend the “option” of “safe and legal” abortion without giving any consideration to the humanity or rights of the unborn. Abortion is safe enough, for the mother at any rate, and also “legal” if the laws so define it. But do such “safeness” and such “legality” allow us to brush aside the question of the right to life? Herod wouldn’t have hesitated to say yes.

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The State Of The Person

What is the worth of human beings? Is their nature basically right and their potential infinitely great? Or does realistic observation force upon us the conclusion that people inevitably succumb to evil?

Your answers to such key questions form a large part of the foundation of your philosophy of life. They go a long way to determining the role you assume in the world and the way you deal with others.

Christian teaching has a very high view of man. The reason for this is that God made man, and he made him well. God made man in His own image, Scripture tells us. To find fault with man as a created being is to accuse God of shoddy workmanship. Let no one think that the Bible devaluates humanity.

Man’s willful rejection of the place God had prepared for him in the created universe is something else. Man fell from grace because he rejected the relationship in which he could fulfill the purpose for which he was created. And herein lies the explanation of our inclination for evil. It stems from wanting our own way instead of God’s.

Man has marvelous possibilities—as long as he works within the framework supplied by his Creator.

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