Formulate strategy for Third World countries.

Christian scholars from around the world met at Dordt College last August to develop a response to Marxism and neo-Marxism, especially in the context of Third World countries. The meeting was the Third International Conference for Institutions of Christian Higher Education (ICICHE). Reformed colleges and seminaries from 20 countries were officially represented.

The keynote speaker was Sander Griffioen of the Free University in Amsterdam, who presented the challenge of Marxist and neo-Marxist ideologies for Christian scholarship. He recognized the need to address both orthodox Marxism-Leninism, which is in control in the Soviet Union, and the various schools of neo-Marxism that appear in western Europe and the Third World. He contended that Marx underestimated the importance of economic life, locating the “good life” outside the economic realm. “There is no sense of stewardship, of pride of one’s own work, of the joy of harvest,” in Marxism structure, Griffioen contended. Nor has a century of Marxism made innovative contributions to the restructuring of the economic order. Even today, Marxist nations are being forced to adopt a modified capitalism.

Marxism has an optimistic view of man, untainted by the Fall. Consequently, said Griffioen, it views the individual without need of intermediate structure. As a result, “in Communist society, individuals are left behind without protection over against a state and a party not bound by laws, without the shelter of independent trade unions and other associations.” The cult of man for himself thus has left the individual exposed and unprotected.

Central in Marxian philosophy is a certain inevitability of the historical movement toward the Communist state. Yet, its view of human nature again is important. Griffioen countered that “Marx’s optimism is founded on the assumption that the drama of history leaves man’s creative nature intact. He never seems to face up to the corrupting effects evil has had on human nature.” Rather, the Christian is called to affirm the fact that God is upholding creation and guiding history for his purpose. Only at the religious level can Marxism be adequately understood.

James Skillen of Dordt College, who presented a specific Christian response to the Marxist challenge, said Christians need to be concerned for social justice as well as evangelism. Emphasizing either without the other makes for an unscriptural dichotomy. Evangelicals concerned for social justice need to see that persons are not destroyed or treated inhumanly. This principle was applied elsewhere in the conference to apartheid in the Republic of South Africa and to the terrorism of both right and left in some areas of Latin America.

Article continues below

Social justice has an eschatological dimension, Skillen explained; it points to the final judgment against injustice. In that context, Marxism uses the revolution as the eschatological moment in which all inequities are righted. Marxism replaces the Christian message that God will step decisively into history to judge man at the Day of Judgment by inserting in its place a transformation of society within history.

Ideology Of Liberation

Another facet of the Marxist challenge to Christianity, the theology of liberation, was examined by C. René Padilla, director of Ediciones Certeza in Buenos Aires. Seeing liberation theology in the context of the Marxist challenge is a result of its emphasis on the historical custom of doing theology. The historical situation is the starting point for theological reflection. In turn, it takes on ideological forms. The Marxist sociology, including the notion that poor are poor because the rich exploit them, is taken as axiomatic.

Padilla reminded the conference that Christians need to articulate their faith in the same context of repression, poverty, and hopelessness that spawned liberation theology. He asserted that theology should not be the exclusive domain of the philosophical and academic reflections of the few. It needs rather to respond to the needs of individuals in their specific situations. To accept the validity of the challenge of the liberation theologians does not mean one must become a Marxist; evangelicals should be stirred by the Marxist invectives against injustice. Evangelicals, in rejecting liberation theology, need not be isolated from historical reality.

The conference also considered the church in Poland and in Communist China. Alice-Catherine Carls, of Sterling College, said two challenges face the church in Poland. The more important challenge is the one from the government, with the second coming from revisionists and dissidents whose leftist views oppose the social doctrine of the church. The church has retreated from neither of these.

Jonathan T’ien-En Chao, director of the Chinese Church Research Center in Hong Kong, explained that there are three major political institutions in China: the party, the state, and the army. The real political power, however, resides in the party. Consequently, the party expects the church to comply with its requirements, so while, for example, the Three-Self Patriotic Movement is technically independent of the state, it is not free from party control. In spite of both strong party sanctions to restructure the church and rampant past persecution, the church in China is growing significantly.

Article continues below

Three proposals were adopted at the conference. The first expressed solidarity with the Polish people and pledged to generate an awareness of the situation and to lend all appropriate support. The second called upon and encouraged the South African Christians to work for justice for all racial groups, to dismantle the present system in institutionalized racial discrimination, and to reconcile and unify the people. The third proposal took the form of a letter to President Reagan, begging him to “take seriously the cries of Latin America’s oppressed peoples …” and “cease sending aid and arms to the governments of countries such as Guatemala and El Salvador.”

The conference statement declared that Christian scholars, while “continually challenged to self-criticism,” have a responsibility to educate the Christian community about the unchristian meaning and dangerous impact of Marxism in the contemporary world and to “speak prophetically on behalf of those for whom few speak about the problems of poverty, wealth, injustice, and oppression.” They must face the question of socioeconomic development and the need for critical examination of capitalism, and they must strive toward better international channels of communication.


Beyond Ideology
Thielicke Questions Wcc’S Political Judgment

Eminent German theologian Helmut Thielicke is the latest to join the ongoing controversy about World Council of Churches policies. He asserts that the 300-member body has “identified itself with certain political ideas and systems” in the last two decades, and in particular has “allowed subversive movements to be legitimated through the gospel.”

Writing a foreword to the German version of Amsterdam to Nairobi by Ernest W. Lefever, Thielicke points out that the church is not just a comforter of those suffering under unjust rule, but also has the task of monitoring “unjust societal structures.” Nevertheless, it must take care not to be equated with an ideology and should not itself become the subject of revolutions. There could be situations in which Christians decide upon a course of “active opposition,” but never the church or the wcc.

Thielicke does not question the Christian motivation of the council, but detects a slide toward “sympathy for Marxist revolutionary groups” and increasing subjection to “Marxist programs.” Anyone who treads on such ground should not be surprised that slowly but surely Jesus was reduced to a “bare principle” of love. The Hamburg theologian goes on to question the political understanding of the WCC staff. One could only wonder at a church institution straying “from the parental home of the gospel into the foreign land of an ideological charm.”

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.