The Holy Kiss

For all their theological profundity, our nation’s seminaries are failing to teach some things vital to a successful pulpit ministry. Take, for example, kissing from the pulpit. A moot point, you say? Hardly! Just see for yourself:

Ethel has been the church secretary for 30 years. Everybody loves her; she’s been a jewel. But her husband has retired and the two of them are moving to Florida. It is her last Sunday morning and you’ve called her up to the front of the church, spent five minutes expressing your profound gratitude, and given her a very nice gift. Now she’s beaming. Tears are streaming down her cheeks. And the congregation is applauding. It’s all very moving.

But how should you close this little ceremony? Shake Ethel’s hand? Slap her on the back? Of course not. Etiquette demands that you kiss Ethel on the cheek. But how? It occurs to you that you’ve never kissed a woman, any woman, from the pulpit on a Sunday morning. How do you make it look natural while you’re feeling so awkward?

You see the problem. Trained in biblical exegesis, armed with apologetic weapons, sweetened to deliver homiletic honey, instructed in the cure of souls, our skilled seminarians know nothing of the holy kiss. I say a practicum is in order. The rudiments of biblical bussing await academic discussion.

Now if only someone, somewhere, felt qualified to lead it.


Killing in Love?

I was glad to see Stephen Talbott’s article “Can We Transcend the Nuclear Stalemate?” [Aug. 10], but I found some of his reasoning disturbing. To suggest that one could “train one’s rifle sights on a Viet Cong guerrilla and squeeze the trigger, all the while loving him,” reduces love to an abstraction. By contrast, Scripture describes love in terms of deeds, doing “to others as you would have them do to you,” and not doing “harm to one’s neighbor.” “Hating with a perfect hatred” would seem to me to be a more appropriate motive for killing someone, if killing were justifiable for Christians.


Broadway, Va.

Is love a warm feeling inside a person—a warm feeling even a murderer can have while killing the helpless victim? Was Jesus’ thinking inverted when he told us that the greatest love involves not killing anyone, but laying down your own life? Did Paul neglect to tell the Corinthians about this important manifestation of love?

No! Love is humble, giving, self-sacrificing. Love does not bomb or kill.


Shelton, Wash.

Thanks for publishing Stephen Talbott’s article. May we continue to see such qualitative reflection.

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Campbell, Calif.

Contrary to Talbott, I find nowhere in the Bible that any human beings “transform the world.” That is a job description that only the Lord Jesus Christ can fill and will fulfill.


Fairfax, Va.

Talbott argues that “one of the principles of the kingdom” is to “Love your enemies,” and says Christ’s display of power protected the soldiers from having to face injury (At his hands? At the disciples’ hands? At the hands of the Father on Judgment Day?) should they proceed with their evil intentions of harming the disciples.

I cannot but think Jesus’ demonstration of power is an example of the efficacy of deterrent force in the face of aggressors. I cannot understand how Talbott can have missed that.


Colorado Springs, Colo.

The Pastor’s Feminine Role

Stephen Wiest, in “Streisand and Woman’s Ordination” [Aug. 10], implies that the role of ordained minister would involve modern women in the same sort of moral transvestism that Singer described of his character Yentl.

I suggest that modern ministry offers male clergy the challenge of putting on roles that have been traditionally regarded as feminine. The role model for all of us in such an undertaking is, of course, Jesus. However, male clergy who are overly rigorous in their search for “certain undeniable distinctions between the sexes” might not think of looking to the women around them for examples of Christlike behavior that they themselves might emulate in becoming more responsible and caring as leaders of his church.


Westminster United Presbyterian Church

Las Vegas, Nev.

Actually, Streisand’s Yentl, as any viewer should have realized, was not about ordination at all, but something far more basic, more timely, more crucial to the heart of Christianity. Its real concern is about whether God can permit—indeed, desire!—every single person he has created to know and understand and love and act on his Word—firsthand! Or whether God’s Word is the exclusive property of theologians and seminarians to mull over, dissect into harmless, meaningless parts that lend themselves to impressively ambiguous dissertations in scholarly journals—so that if any hungering soul could ever learn about the God for whom he/she was created, it would only be at such scholars’ most generous whim.


Santa Ana, Calif.

Weist implies but does not state his opposition to the ordination of women. He appeals to Scripture and “God’s self-revelation in the Cross of Jesus Christ.” What bothers me is that Wiest seems to want his readers to feel a vague uneasiness about Yentl and women’s ordination; he appeals to our emotions but not to our reason. I neither understand nor respect an opponent who uses such techniques.

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Hayden, Ala

America’s Civil Religion

Civil religion in America may indeed have the aura of being Christian [Editorial, July 13]. Historically, it has been influenced by some of the values of faith, freedom, and the dignity of persons. However, this does not render American civil religion any less idolatrous. It becomes dangerous in its syncretism. Civil religion is a culturally ensconced lie that has diluted the full allegiance of the Christian believer to Christ.

If American civil religion is the cement which holds this nation together, and if its nature determines the character of this nation, it is a religion of self-perpetuation at the expense of others. The values of the kingdom surely oppose the values that are at the center of American civil religion.


Washington, D.C.

Schuller’s Critics Comment

Your insightful, thought-provoking interview, “Hard Questions for Robert Schuller about Sin and Self-esteem,” the sidebar, “A Theologian Looks at Schuller,” and his own piece, “Schuller Clarifies His View of Sin” [Aug. 10], were a joy to read and reread.

And that is what Schuller’s life, ministry, and books are all about—joy! In my recent five-year assignment as a missionary in Los Angeles and five surrounding counties, I grew spiritually far more than during the entire preceding portion of my Christian life. This was, in large part, due to his influence.

He is both faithful to the spirit of Reformed theology and an imaginative, scholarly trendsetter with the pen and in the pulpit. I especially love his concept of the church as first of all a mission, his down-to-earth approach of not alienating the already-alienated (from God) by giving them a guilt complex, and his ability to relate traditionally theological subjects to the mundane frame of reference.


The Christian Jew Foundation

San Antonio, Tex.

I object most strongly to the colossal arrogance displayed in the Kantzer/Fromer article where they “damn with faint praise,” using such classic put-downs as: “Robert Schuller has grasped some important pieces of evangelical truth.” I don’t know what they are looking for, or what their purpose is. It is probably something shrouded in the murky mists of fundamentalism. I have profound respect for my Dallas Theological Seminary professor, the late Dr. Lewis Sperry Chafer, who taught us the philosophy of “hate sin, but love the sinner.” If it is a choice between Paul and Kantzer vs. Jesus and Schuller, I will choose the latter any time.

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Centerville, Mass.

Nobody’s perfect. To focus on Schuller’s view of sin and repentance as the principal point of theological weakness represents, to my thinking, a naïvely, culturally biased viewpoint. Missiologists, who deal with the world’s cultural spectrum, have long recognized that while repentance of sin is a good entry point for the gospel in the guilt-oriented culture (such as American evangelicalism), it is not the only approach which God honors. Perhaps Schuller has discovered something about contemporary, secularized, unchurched American culture that most other evangelicals have missed. For every rich young ruler there is a Philippian jailor, and the demands for each are quite different.


Fuller Theological Seminary

Pasadena, Calif.

Schuller is so downright likeable. One wants to agree with him. Nevertheless, I still have to side with C.S. Lewis who said: “The greatest barrier I have met (when presenting the Christian faith to modern unbelievers) is the almost total absence from the minds of my audience of any sense of sin.… The ancient man approached God (or even the gods) as the accused person approaches his judge. For the modern man the roles are reversed: He is the judge: God is in the dock.” Schuller’s basic problem is that he’s willing to accept this switch.


Elizabethtown, Pa.

Dr. Schuller Comments

Few people have the opportunity to see their strengths and their shortcomings so boldly emblazoned in print as I did with the article in CHRISTIANITY TODAY. I thank you for what I consider to be a very responsible and fair treatment on the subject. I must say that no other publication in magazine or book format has ever been as responsible or thorough as you have in your treatment of the Robert Schuller theology and ministry.

I shall most earnestly seek to improve myself where I am failing. I ask my colleagues in evangelism, apologetics, and ministry, to pray that I may be the man that God wants me to be. My earnest hope is that I shall only help and never be a hindrance to our Lord’s redemptive enterprise. My first love is still to his church and to his called servants. Passionately I want to encourage and strengthen the work of my fellow pastors and evangelists.

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May I ever prove to be true and truer to the Word of God incarnate and the Word of God in print within the sacred Scriptures.

Oh, yes, I shall trust the Holy Spirit for wisdom when it comes to dealing with the entire subject of “how to proclaim sin”—effectively, redemptively, winsomely and graciously. Mr. Kantzer—or was it Paul Fromer—in his critique credited Jesus coming down on sin stronger than Schuller. And seems to fault me at that point. I have two observations:

1. First, I do not believe that I’ll ever be able to come close to Christ in effectively dealing with the subject of sin. I believe that people will take the judgmental proclamation from the innocent and holy Jesus much quicker than they would from Robert Schuller whom they intuitively suspect, correctly, to be far from sinless himself!

2. I don’t think anything has been done in the name of Christ and under the banner of Christianity that has proven more destructive to human personality and, hence, counterproductive to the evangelism enterprise than the often crude, uncouth, and unchristian strategy of attempting to make people aware of their lost and sinful condition. I would remind Mr. Kantzer, whom I love and respect deeply, that in understanding Schuller’s treatment of sin we must also understand Schuller’s definition of sin, which was well stated in an article in the same issue of CHRISTIANITY TODAY. “The core of sin is lack of faith. This is the result of the Fall.”

This is solidly scriptural. “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Heb. 11:6).

If I preach to build people’s faith—I am preaching against sin! When I preach possibility thinking, that is biblical faith—rooted strongly in Christ! That’s preaching against sin. When I preach the Christ-centered theology of self esteem, that’s faith in oneself because of who I am as a redeemed child of God. That’s preaching against sin—positively! When I lead someone to a personal acceptance of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, I am introducing him to the Source of redeeming faith into an experience of salvation from doubt to belief. That’s preaching against sin—positively!

When I was a child on the Iowa farm we had a plot of ground where cockleburs grew every spring. It was the job of my brother and I to cut them down, pile them up, and burn them. We hated cockleburs. We killed the cockleburs. We attacked the cockleburs. But every spring they grew back. Until one year my father plowed up the plot of ground and planted alfalfa hay. The roots of the alfalfa grew so deep and so thick that they choked out the cockleburs—forever. And at the same time the ground produced nutritional food for the cows to supply sweet milk. When my father planted alfalfa, was he not fighting cockleburs? And was this not a more positive and productive and redemptive and creative strategy?

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Finally, I am walking closer with my Lord today than ever. Thanks to good people like yourself who have knowingly or unknowingly given me the counsel I need to see how and where I should improve my mission.


Garden Grove, Calif.

Maranatha: A Biased Report

I am shocked and alarmed at Randall Frame’s article in the August 10 issue [“A Team of Cult Watchers Challenges a Growing Campus Ministry”]. I am concerned by the hypercritical “tone” of the article; an alarming lack of objectivity is obvious in Frame’s failure to address any of the strong points in the track record of Maranatha Ministries. Instead, he casts doubt “upon an impressive list of endorsements”—excusing himself from any necessity to objectively pursue another side of the story.

The overall tone of the article is not only overzealous and hypercritical, but the very appearance of such an article in CHRISTIANITY TODAY demonstrates an alarming lack of discretionary wisdom. “He who speaks before he has heard the whole of a matter—it is folly and shame to him” (Prov. 18:13).


Church in the Valley

Reno, Nev.

Ronald Enroth states that there are parallels between Maranatha and the cults. This is a silly statement. There are parallels between the First Presbyterian Church and cults! And people who leave First Church during a church split might well feel the same “depression and feelings of guilt” that Maranatha members have felt in leaving. The only real accusation I can find is over-authoritarianism, but does church history not show that any dynamic, fast-growing organization requires more authority at its outset?


The Fundamentalist Baptist


Los Angeles, Calif.

I feel that there is a bias against “high demand” evangelical groups. Some of the same complaints could have been made against the Salvation Army during its formative years. Most effective foreign mission agencies are also “high demand” ministries, as are many rescue missions. I think the utter dedication of Maranatha Campus Ministries serves to make other Christians feel guilty.

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Jews for Jesus

San Francisco, Calif.

Thank you for the article. As one who has dealt with Maranatha and also counseled its castaways, I can say it was sorely needed. But I must disagree on one point: things the article stated are isolated excesses are often the norm, no matter how in “excess” they may seem. Paraplegic friends of mine were solicited for large contributions in exchange for prayers that would restore their ability to walk. Also, Wiener’s claim that the ad hoc committee had an “anti-charismatic” bias is hocum. The most anti-MCM people I know are charismatic.


Greenville, Miss.

Some time ago, Bob Weiner shared the materials critical of Maranatha with me and asked me to make a response. This is my analysis: (1) There were unfortunately some theological statements that could be misleading at best and wrong at worst; those have been corrected. (2) Most theological objections were against Pentecostal theological concepts which have been taught for decades in the Pentecostal mainstream. We in the mainstream may believe that they are wrong, but why do we single out Bob Weiner? (3) Mr. Weiner does believe in the freedom of conscience of each individual before God. However, in seeking to plant one hundred churches, he has a dynamic idea full of promise yet fraught with the danger of unseasoned leaders. This is the primary reason for abusive leadership, which will improve over time as these men are trained.

What disturbs me about the news story is the guilt by innuendo and the application of unbiblical standards of judgment assumed to be criteria for judging a ministry.


Beth Messiah Congregation

Rockville, Md.

Letters are welcome; only a selection can be published. All are subject to condensation, and those of 100 to 150 words are preferred. Address letters to Eutychus and His Kin, CHRISTIANITY TODAY, 465 Gundersen Drive, Carol Stream, Illinois 60188.

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