Christianity and Culture

September 19, 2012

Technical Papers

by?J. Gre­sham Machen

This address on “The Sci­en­tif­ic Prepa­ra­tion of the Min­is­ter” was deliv­ered Sep­tem­ber 20, 1912, at the open­ing of the?one hun­dred and first ses­sion of Prince­ton The­o­log­i­cal Sem­i­nary. It is found in the Prince­ton The­o­log­i­cal Review,?Vol. XI, No. 1, 1913, p. 1.

One of the great­est of the prob­lems that has agi­tat­ed the Church is the prob­lem of the rela­tion between knowledge?and piety, between cul­ture and Chris­tian­i­ty. This prob­lem has appeared first of all in the pres­ence of two tendencies?in the Church – the sci­en­tif­ic or aca­d­e­m­ic ten­den­cy, and what may be called the prac­ti­cal ten­den­cy. Some men have?devoted them­selves chiefly to the task of form­ing right con­cep­tions as to Chris­tian­i­ty and its foun­da­tions. To them?no fact, how­ev­er triv­ial, has appeared wor­thy of neglect; by them truth has been cher­ished for its own sake, without?immediate ref­er­ence to prac­ti­cal con­se­quences. Some, on the oth­er hand, have empha­sized the essen­tial sim­plic­i­ty of?the gospel. The world is lying in mis­ery, we our­selves are sin­ners, men are per­ish­ing in sin every­day. The gospel is?the sole means of escape; let us preach it to the world while yet we may. So des­per­ate is the need that we have no?time to engage in vain bab­blings or old wives’ fables. While we are dis­cussing the exact loca­tion of the church­es of?Galatia, men are per­ish­ing under the curse of the law; while we are set­tling the date of Jesus’ birth, the world is doing?without its Christ­mas mes­sage.

The rep­re­sen­ta­tives of both of these ten­den­cies regard them­selves as Chris­tians, but too often there is little?brotherly feel­ing between them. The Chris­t­ian of aca­d­e­m­ic tastes accus­es his broth­er of undue emo­tion­al­ism, of?shallow argu­men­ta­tion, of cheap meth­ods of work. On the oth­er hand, your prac­ti­cal man is ever loud in his?denunciation of aca­d­e­m­ic indif­fer­ence to the dire needs of human­i­ty. The schol­ar is rep­re­sent­ed either as a?dangerous dis­sem­i­na­tor of doubt, or else as a man whose faith is a faith with­out works. A man who investigates?human sin and the grace of God by the aid of dusty vol­umes, care­ful­ly seclud­ed in a warm and com­fort­able study,?without a thought of the men who are per­ish­ing in mis­ery every day!

But if the prob­lem appears thus in the pres­ence of dif­fer­ent ten­den­cies in the Church, it becomes yet far more?insistent with­in the con­scious­ness of the indi­vid­ual! If we are thought­ful, we must see that the desire to know and the?desire to be saved are wide­ly dif­fer­ent. The schol­ar must appar­ent­ly assume the atti­tude of an impar­tial observ­er – an?attitude which seems absolute­ly impos­si­ble to the pious Chris­t­ian lay­ing hold upon Jesus as the only Sav­iour from?the load of sin. If these two activ­i­ties – on the one hand the acqui­si­tion of knowl­edge, and on the oth­er the exercise?and the incul­ca­tion of sim­ple faith – are both to be giv­en a place in our lives, the ques­tion of their prop­er relationship?cannot be ignored.

The prob­lem is made for us the more dif­fi­cult of solu­tion because we are unpre­pared for it. Our whole sys­tem of?school and col­lege edu­ca­tion is so con­sti­tut­ed as to keep reli­gion and cul­ture as far apart as pos­si­ble and ignore the?question of the rela­tion­ship between them. On five or six days in the week, we were engaged in the acqui­si­tion of?knowledge. From this activ­i­ty the study of reli­gions was ban­ished. We stud­ied nat­ur­al sci­ence with­out considering?its bear­ing or lack of bear­ing upon nat­ur­al the­ol­o­gy or upon rev­e­la­tion. We stud­ied Greed with­out open­ing the New?Testament. We stud­ied his­to­ry with care­ful avoid­ance of that great­est of his­tor­i­cal move­ments which was ush­ered in?by the preach­ing of Jesus. In phi­los­o­phy, the vital impor­tance of the study of reli­gion could not entire­ly be?concealed, but it was kept as far as pos­si­ble in the back­ground. On Sun­days, on the oth­er hand, we had religious?instruction that called for lit­tle exer­cise of the intel­lect. Care­ful prepa­ra­tion for Sun­day School lessons as for lessons?in math­e­mat­ics or Latin was unknown. Reli­gion seemed to be some­thing that had to do only with the emo­tions and?the will, leav­ing the intel­lect to sec­u­lar stud­ies. What won­der that after such train­ing we came to regard reli­gion and?culture as belong­ing to two entire­ly sep­a­rate com­part­ments of the soul, and their union as involv­ing the destruction?of both?

Upon enter­ing the Sem­i­nary, we are sud­den­ly intro­duced to an entire­ly dif­fer­ent pro­ce­dure. Reli­gion is suddenly?removed from its seclu­sion; the same meth­ods of study are applied to it as were for­mer­ly reserved for nat­ur­al science?and for his­to­ry. We study the Bible no longer sole­ly with the desire of moral and spir­i­tu­al improve­ment, but also in?order to know. Per­haps the first impres­sion is one of infi­nite loss. The sci­en­tif­ic spir­it seems to be replac­ing simple?faith, the mere appre­hen­sion of dead facts to be replac­ing the prac­tice of prin­ci­ples. The dif­fi­cul­ty is per­haps not so?much that we are brought face to face with new doubts as to the truth of Chris­tian­i­ty. Rather is it the con­flict of?method, of spir­it that trou­bles us. The sci­en­tif­ic spir­it seems to be incom­pat­i­ble with the old spir­it of sim­ple faith. In?short, almost entire­ly unpre­pared, we are brought face to face with the prob­lem of the rela­tion­ship between?knowledge and piety, or, oth­er­wise expressed, between cul­ture and Chris­tian­i­ty.

This prob­lem may be set­tled in one of three ways. In the first place, Chris­tian­i­ty may be sub­or­di­nat­ed to culture.?That solu­tion real­ly, though to some extent uncon­scious­ly, is being favoured by a very large and influ­en­tial portion?of the Church today. For the elim­i­na­tion of the super­nat­ur­al in Chris­tian­i­ty – so tremen­dous­ly com­mon today – really?makes Chris­tian­i­ty mere­ly nat­ur­al. Chris­tian­i­ty becomes a human prod­uct, a mere part of human cul­ture. But as?such it is some­thing entire­ly dif­fer­ent from the old Chris­tian­i­ty that was based upon a direct rev­e­la­tion from God.?Deprived thus of its note of author­i­ty, the gospel is no gospel any longer; it is a cheque for untold mil­lions – but?without the sig­na­ture at the bot­tom. So in sub­or­di­nat­ing Chris­tian­i­ty to cul­ture we have real­ly destroyed Christianity,?and what con­tin­ues to bear the old name is a coun­ter­feit.

The sec­ond solu­tion goes to the oppo­site extreme. In its effort to give reli­gion a clear field, it seeks to destroy?culture. This solu­tion is bet­ter than the first. Instead of indulging in a shal­low opti­mism or deifi­ca­tion of human­i­ty, ?it rec­og­nizes the pro­found evil of the world, and does not shrink from the most hero­ic rem­e­dy. The world is so evil?that it can­not pos­si­bly pro­duce the means for its own sal­va­tion. Sal­va­tion must be the gift of an entire­ly new life,?coming direct­ly from God. There­fore, it is argued, the cul­ture of this world must be a mat­ter at least of indifference?to the Chris­t­ian. Now in its extreme form this solu­tion hard­ly requires refu­ta­tion. If Chris­tian­i­ty is real­ly found to?contradict that rea­son which is our only means of appre­hend­ing truth, then of course we must either mod­i­fy or?abandon Chris­tian­i­ty. We can­not there­fore be entire­ly inde­pen­dent of the achieve­ments of the intel­lect. ?Fur­ther­more, we can­not with­out incon­sis­ten­cy employ the print­ing-press, the rail­road, the tele­graph in the?propagation of our gospel, and at the same time denounce as evil those aci­tivites of the human mind that produced?these things. And in the pro­duc­tion of these things not mere­ly prac­ti­cal inven­tive genius had a part, but also, back of?that, the inves­ti­ga­tions of pure sci­ence ani­mat­ed sim­ply by the desire to know. In its extreme form, therefore,?involving the aban­don­ment of all intel­lec­tu­al activ­i­ty, this sec­ond solu­tion would be adopt­ed by none of us. But very?many pious men in the Church today are adopt­ing this solu­tion in essence and in spir­it. They admit that the Christian?must have a part in human cul­ture. But they regard such activ­i­ty as a nec­es­sary evil – a dan­ger­ous and unwor­thy task?necessary to be gone through with under a stern sense of duty in order that there­by the high­er ends of the gospel may?be attained. Such men can nev­er engage in the arts and sci­ences with any­thing like enthu­si­asm – such enthusiasm?they would regard as dis­loy­al­ty to the gospel. Such a posi­tion is real­ly both illog­i­cal and unbib­li­cal. God has given?us cer­tain pow­ers of mind, and has implant­ed with­in us the inerad­i­ca­ble con­vic­tion that these pow­ers were intended?to be exer­cised. The Bible, too, con­tains poet­ry that exhibits no lack of enthu­si­asm, no lack of a keen appre­ci­a­tion of?beauty. With this sec­ond solu­tion of the prob­lem we can­not rest con­tent. Despite all we can do, the desire to know and the love of beau­ty can­not be entire­ly sti­fled, and we can­not per­ma­nent­ly regard these desires as evil.

Are then Chris­tian­i­ty and cul­ture in a con­flict that is to be set­tled only by the destruc­tion of one or the oth­er of the?contending forces? A third solu­tion for­tu­nate­ly, is pos­si­ble – name­ly con­se­cra­tion. Instead of destroy­ing the arts and?sciences or being indif­fer­ent to them, let us cul­ti­vate them with all the enthu­si­asm of the ver­i­est human­ist, but at the?same time con­se­crate them to the ser­vice of our God. Instead of sti­fling the plea­sures afford­ed by the acqui­si­tion of?knowledge or by the appre­ci­a­tion of what is beau­ti­ful, let us accept these plea­sures as the gifts of a heav­en­ly Father. ?Instead of oblit­er­at­ing the dis­tinc­tion between the King­dom and the world, or on the oth­er hand with­draw­ing from?the world into a sort of mod­ern­ized intel­lec­tu­al monas­ti­cism, let us go forth joy­ful­ly, enthu­si­as­ti­cal­ly to make the?world sub­ject to God.

Cer­tain obvi­ous advan­tages are con­nect­ed with such a solu­tion of the prob­lem. In the first place, a logical?advantage. A man can believe only what he holds to be true. We are Chris­tians because we hold Chris­tian­i­ty to be?true. But oth­er men hold Chris­tian­i­ty to be false. Who is right? That ques­tion can be set­tled only by an examination?and com­par­i­son of the rea­sons adduced on both sides. It is true, one of the grounds for our belief is an inward?experience that we can­not share – the great expe­ri­ence begun by con­vic­tion of sin and con­ver­sion and con­tin­ued by?communion with God – an expe­ri­ence which oth­er men do not pos­sess, and upon which, there­fore, we can­not directly?base an argu­ment. But if our posi­tion is cor­rect, we ought at least to be able to show the oth­er man that his reasons?may be incon­clu­sive. And that involves care­ful study of both sides of the ques­tion. Fur­ther­more, the field of?Christianity is the world. The Chris­t­ian can­not be sat­is­fied so long as any human activ­i­ty is either opposed to?Christianity or out of all con­nec­tion with Chris­tian­i­ty. Chris­tian­i­ty must per­vade not mere­ly all nations, but also all?of human thought. The Chris­t­ian, there­fore, can­not be indif­fer­ent to any branch of earnest human endeav­our. It?must all be brought into some rela­tion to the gospel. It must be stud­ied either in order to be demon­strat­ed as false, or?else in order to be made use­ful in advanc­ing the King­dom of God. The King­dom must be advanced not merely?extensively, but also inten­sive­ly. The Chruch must seek to con­quer not mere­ly every man for Christ, but also the?whole of man. We are accus­tomed to encour­age our­selves in our dis­cour­age­ments by the thought of the time when?every knee shall bow and every tongue con­fess that Jesus is Lord. No less inspir­ing is the oth­er aspect of that same?great con­sum­ma­tion. That will also be a time when doubts have dis­ap­peared, when every con­tra­dic­tion has been?removed, when all of sci­ence con­verges to one great con­vic­tion, when all of art is devot­ed to one great end, when all?of human think­ing is per­me­at­ed by the refin­ing, ennobling influ­ence of Jesus, when every thought has been brought?into sub­jec­tion to the obe­di­ence of Christ.

If to some of our prac­ti­cal men, these advan­tages of our solu­tion of the prob­lem seem to be intan­gi­ble, we can?point to the mere­ly numer­i­cal advan­tage of intel­lec­tu­al and artis­tic activ­i­ty with­in the Church. We are all agreed that?at least one great func­tion of the Church is the con­ver­sion of indi­vid­ual men. The mis­sion­ary move­ment is the great?religous move­ment of our day. Now it is per­fect­ly true that men must be brought to Christ one by one. There are no?labor-saving devices in evan­ge­lism. It is all hand-work. And yet it would be a great mis­take to sup­pose that all men?are equal­ly well pre­pared to receive the gospel. It is true that the deci­sive thing is the regen­er­a­tive pow­er of God.?That can over­come all lack of prepa­ra­tion, and the absence of that makes even the best prepa­ra­tion use­less. But as a?matter of fact God usu­al­ly exerts that pow­er in con­nec­tion with cer­tain pri­or con­di­tions of the human mind, and it?should be ours to cre­ate, so far as we can, with the help of God, those favourable con­di­tions for the recep­tion of the?gospel. False ideas are the great­est obsta­cles to the recep­tion of the gospel. We may preach with all the fer­vour of a?reformer and yet suc­ceed only in win­ning a strag­gler here and there, if we per­mit the whole col­lec­tive thought of the?nation or of the world to be con­trolled by ideas which, by the resist­less force of log­ic, pre­vent Chris­tian­i­ty from?being regard­ed as any­thing more than a harm­less delu­sion. Under such cir­cum­stances, what God desires us to do is?to destroy the obsta­cle at its root. Many would have the sem­i­nar­ies com­bat error by attack­ing it as it is taught by its?popular expo­nents. Instead of that they con­fuse their stu­dents with a lot of Ger­man names unknown out­side the walls?of the uni­ver­si­ties. That method of pro­ce­dure is based sim­ply upon a pro­found belief in the per­va­sive­ness of ideas.?What is today a mat­ter of aca­d­e­m­ic spec­u­la­tion begins tomor­row to move armies and pull down empires. In that?second stage, it has gone too far to be com­bat­ted; the time to stop it was when it was still a mat­ter of impassionate?debate. So as Chris­tians we should try to mould the thought of the world in such a way as to make the accep­tance of?Christianity some­thing more than a log­i­cal absur­di­ty. Thought­ful men are won­der­ing why the stu­dents of our great?Eastern uni­ver­si­ties no longer enter the min­istry or dis­play any very vital inter­est in Chris­tian­i­ty. Var­i­ous totally?inadequate expla­na­tions are pro­posed, such as the increas­ing attrac­tive­ness of oth­er pro­fes­sions – an absurd?explanation, by the way, since oth­er pro­fes­sions are becom­ing so over-crowd­ed that a man can bare­ly make a living?in them. The real dif­fi­cul­ty amounts to this – that the thought of the day, as it makes itself most strong­ly felt in the?universities, but from them spreads inevitably to the mass­es of the peo­ple, is pro­found­ly opposed to Chris­tian­i­ty, or?at least – what is near­ly as bad – it is out of all con­nec­tion with Chris­tian­i­ty. The Church is unable either to com­bat it?or to assim­i­late it, because the Church sim­ply does not under­stand it. Under such cir­cum­stances, what more pressing?duty than for those who have received the mighty expe­ri­ence of regen­er­a­tion, who, there­fore, do not, like the world,?neglect that the whole series of vital­ly rel­e­vant facts which is embraced in Chris­t­ian expe­ri­ence – what more pressing?duty than for these men to make them­selves mas­ters of the thought of the world in order to make it an instru­ment of?truth instead of error? The Church has no right to be so absorbed in help­ing the indi­vid­ual that she for­gets the world.

There are two objec­tions to our solu­tion of the prob­lem. If you bring cul­ture and Chris­tian­i­ty thus into close?union – in the first place, will not Chris­tian­i­ty destroy cul­ture? Must not art and sci­ence be inde­pen­dent in order to?flourish? We answer that it all depends upon the nature of their depen­dence. Sub­jec­tion to any exter­nal author­i­ty or?even to any human author­i­ty would be fatal to art and sci­ence. But sub­jec­tion to God is entire­ly different.?Dedication of human pow­ers to God is found, as a mat­ter of fact, not to destroy but to height­en them. God gave?those pow­ers. He under­stands them well enough not bungling­ly to destroy His own gifts. In the sec­ond place, will?not cul­ture destroy Chris­tian­i­ty? Is it not far eas­i­er to be an earnest Chris­t­ian if you con­fine your atten­tion to the?Bible and do not risk being led astray by the thought of the world? We answer, of course it is eas­i­er. Shut yourself?up in an intel­lec­tu­al monastery, do not dis­turb your­self with the thoughts of unre­gen­er­ate men, and of course you will?find it eas­i­er to be a Chris­t­ian, just as it is eas­i­er to be a good sol­dier in com­fort­able win­ter quar­ters than it is on the?field of bat­tle. You save your own soul – but the Lord’s ene­mies remain in pos­ses­sion of the field.

But by whom is this task of trans­form­ing the unwieldy, resist­ing mass of human thought until it becomes?subservient to the gospel – by whom is this task to be accom­plished? To some extent, no doubt, by pro­fes­sors in?theological sem­i­nar­ies and uni­ver­si­ties. But the ordi­nary min­is­ter of the gospel can­not shirk his respon­si­bil­i­ty. It is a?great mis­take to sup­pose that inves­ti­ga­tion can suc­cess­ful­ly be car­ried on by a few spe­cial­ists whose work is of?interest to nobody but them­selves. Many men of many minds are need­ed. What we need first of all, espe­cial­ly in our?American church­es, is a more gen­er­al inter­est in the prob­lems of the­o­log­i­cal sci­ence. With­out that, the spe­cial­ist is?without the stim­u­lat­ing atmos­phere which nerves him to do his work.

But no mat­ter what his sta­tion in life, the schol­ar must be a regen­er­at­ed man – he must yield to no one in the?intensity and depth of his reli­gious expe­ri­ence. We are well sup­plied in the world with excel­lent schol­ars who are?without that qual­i­fi­ca­tion. They are doing use­ful work in detail, in Bib­li­cal philol­o­gy, in exe­ge­sis, in Biblical?theology, and in oth­er branch­es of study. But they are not accom­plish­ing the great task, they are not assimilating?modern thought to Chris­tian­i­ty, because they are with­out that expe­ri­ence of God’s pow­er in the soul which is of the?essence of Chris­tian­i­ty. They have only one side for the com­par­i­son. Mod­ern thought they know, but Chris­tian­i­ty is?really for­eign to them. It is just that great inward expe­ri­ence which it is the func­tion of the true Chris­t­ian schol­ar to?bring into some sort of con­nec­tion with the thought of the world.

Dur­ing the last thir­ty years there has been a tremen­dous defec­tion from the Chris­t­ian Church. It is evi­denced even?by things that lie on the sur­face. For exam­ple, by the decline in church atten­dance and in Sab­bath obser­vance and in?the num­ber of can­di­dates for the min­istry. Spe­cial expla­na­tions, it is true, are some­times giv­en for these?discouraging ten­den­cies. But why should we deceive our­selves, why com­fort our­selves by pal­lia­tive explanations??Let us face the facts. The falling off in church atten­dance, the neglect of Sab­bath obser­vance – these things are?simply sur­face indi­ca­tions of a decline in the pow­er of Chris­tian­i­ty. Chris­tian­i­ty is exert­ing a far less pow­er­ful direct?influence in the civ­i­lized world today than it was exert­ing thir­ty years ago.

What is the cause of this tremen­dous defec­tion? For my part, I have lit­tle hes­i­ta­tion in say­ing that it lies chiefly in?the intel­lec­tu­al sphere. Men do not accept Chris­tian­i­ty because they can no longer be con­vinced that Chris­tian­i­ty is?true. It may be use­ful, but is it true? Oth­er expla­na­tions, of course, are giv­en. The mod­ern defec­tion from the?Church is explained by the prac­ti­cal mate­ri­al­ism of the age. Men are so much engrossed in mak­ing mon­ey that they?have no time for spir­i­tu­al things. That expla­na­tion has a cer­tain range of valid­i­ty. But its range is lim­it­ed. It applies?perhaps to the boom towns of the West, where men are intox­i­cat­ed by sud­den pos­si­bil­i­ties of bound­less wealth. But?the defec­tion from Chris­tian­i­ty is far broad­er than that. It is felt in the set­tled coun­tries of Europe even more strongly?than in Amer­i­ca. It is felt among the poor just as strong­ly as among the rich. Final­ly, it is felt most strong­ly of all in?the uni­ver­si­ties, and that is only one indi­ca­tion more that the true cause of the defec­tion is intel­lec­tu­al. To a very?large extent, the stu­dents of our great East­ern uni­ver­si­ties – and still more the uni­ver­si­ties of Europe – are not?Christians. And they are not Chris­tians often just because they are stu­dents. The thought of the day, as it makes?itself most strong­ly felt in the uni­ver­si­ties, is pro­found­ly opposed to Chris­tian­i­ty, or at least it is out of connection?with Chris­tian­i­ty. The chief obsta­cle to the Chris­t­ian reli­gion today lies in the sphere of the intel­lect.

That asser­tion must be guard­ed against two mis­con­cep­tions. In the first place, I do not mean that most men reject?Christianity con­scious­ly on account of intel­lec­tu­al dif­fi­cul­ties. On the con­trary, rejec­tion of Chris­tian­i­ty is due in the?vast major­i­ty of cas­es sim­ply to indif­fer­ence. Only a few men have giv­en the sub­ject real atten­tion. The vast?majority of those who reject the gospel do so sim­ply because they know noth­ing about it. But whence comes this?indifference? It is due to the intel­lec­tu­al atmos­phere in which men are liv­ing. The mod­ern world is dom­i­nat­ed by?ideas which ignore the gospel. Mod­ern cul­ture is not alto­geth­er opposed to the gospel. But is out of all connection?with it. It not only pre­vents the accep­tance of Chris­tian­i­ty. It pre­vents Chris­tian­i­ty even from get­ting a hear­ing.

In the sec­ond place, I do not mean that the removal of intel­lec­tu­al objec­tions will make a man a Chris­t­ian. No?conversion was ever wrought sim­ply by argu­ment. A change of heart is also nec­es­sary. And that can be wrought?only by the imme­di­ate exer­cise of the pow­er of God. But because intel­lec­tu­al labour is insuf­fi­cient it does not?follow, as is so often assumed, that it is unnec­es­sary. God may, it is true, over­come all intel­lec­tu­al obsta­cles by an?immediate exer­cise of His regen­er­a­tive pow­er. Some­times He does. But He does so very sel­dom. Usu­al­ly He exerts?His pow­er in con­nec­tion with cer­tain con­di­tions of the human mind. Usu­al­ly He does not bring into the Kingdom,?entirely with­out prepa­ra­tion, those whose mind and fan­cy are com­plete­ly dom­i­nat­ed by ideas which made the?acceptance of the gospel log­i­cal­ly impos­si­ble.

Mod­ern cul­ture is a tremen­dous force. It affects all class­es of soci­ety. It affects the igno­rant as well as the?learned. What is to be done about it? In the first place, the Church may sim­ply with­draw from the con­flict. She may?simply allow the mighty stream of mod­ern thought to flow by unheed­ed and do her work mere­ly in the back-eddies?of the cur­rent. There are still some men in the world who have been unaf­fect­ed by mod­ern cul­ture. They may still?be won for Christ with­out intel­lec­tu­al labour. And they must be won. It is use­ful, it is nec­es­sary work. If the Church?is sat­is­fied with that alone, let her give up the sci­en­tif­ic edu­ca­tion of her min­istry. Let her assume the truth of her?message and learn sim­ply how it may be applied in detail to mod­ern indus­tri­al and social con­di­tions. Let her give up?the labo­ri­ous study of Greek and Hebrew. Let her aban­don the sci­en­tif­ic study of his­to­ry to the men of the world. In?a day of increased sci­en­tif­ic inter­est, let the Church go on becom­ing less sci­en­tif­ic. In a day of increased?specialization, of renewed inter­est in philol­o­gy and in his­to­ry, of more rigourous sci­en­tif­ic method, let the Church go?on aban­don­ing her Bible to her ene­mies. They will study it sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly, rest assured, if the Church does not. Let?her sub­sti­tute soci­ol­o­gy alto­geth­er for Hebrew, prac­ti­cal expert­ness for the proof of her gospel. Let her short­en the?preparation of her min­istry, let her per­mit it to be inter­rupt­ed yet more and more by pre­ma­ture prac­ti­cal activ­i­ty. By?doing so she will win a strag­gler here and there. But her win­nings will be but tem­po­rary. The great cur­rent of?modern cul­ture will soon­er or lat­er engulf her puny eddy. God will save her some­how – out of the depths. But the?labour of cen­turies will have been swept away. God grant that the Church may not resign her­self to that. God grant?she may face her prob­lem square­ly and brave­ly. That prob­lem is not easy. It involves the very basis of her faith.?Christianity is the procla­ma­tion of an his­tor­i­cal fact – that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. Mod­ern thought has no?place for that procla­ma­tion. It pre­vents men even from lis­ten­ing to the mes­sage. Yet the cul­ture of today cannot?simply be reject­ed as a whole. It is not like the pagan cul­ture of the first cen­tu­ry. It is not whol­ly non-Christian.?Much of it has been derived direct­ly from the Bible. There are sig­nif­i­cant move­ments in it, going to waste, which?might well be used for the defence of the gospel. The sit­u­a­tion is com­plex. Easy whole­sale mea­sures are not in?place. Dis­crim­i­na­tion, inves­ti­ga­tion is nec­es­sary. Some of mod­ern thought must be refut­ed. The rest must be made?subservient. But noth­ing in it can be ignored. He that is not with us is against us. Mod­ern cul­ture is a mighty force.?It is either sub­servient to the gospel or else it is the dead­liest ene­my of the gospel. For mak­ing it subservient,?religious emo­tion is not enough, intel­lec­tu­al labour is also nec­es­sary. And that labour is being neglect­ed. The?Church has turned to eas­i­er tasks. And now she is reap­ing the fruits of her indo­lence. Now she must bat­tle for her?life.

The sit­u­a­tion is des­per­ate. It might dis­cour­age us. But not if we are tru­ly Chris­tians. Not if we are liv­ing in vital?communion with the risen Lord. If we are real­ly con­vinced of the truth of our mes­sage, then we can pro­claim it before a world of ene­mies, then the very dif­fi­cul­ty of our task, the very scarci­ty of our allies becomes an inspiration,?then we can even rejoice that God did not place us in an easy age, but in a time of doubt and per­plex­i­ty and battle.?Then, too, we shall not be afraid to call forth oth­er sol­diers into the con­flict. Instead of mak­ing our theological?seminaries mere­ly cen­tres of reli­gious emo­tion, we shall make them bat­tle­grounds of the faith, where, helped a little?by the expe­ri­ence of Chris­t­ian teach­ers, men are taught to fight their own bat­tle, where they come to appre­ci­ate the?real strength of the adver­sary and in the hard school of intel­lec­tu­al strug­gle learn to sub­sti­tute for the unthink­ing faith?of child­hood the pro­found con­vic­tions of full-grown men. Let us not fear in this a loss of spir­i­tu­al pow­er. The?Church is per­ish­ing today through the lack of think­ing, not through an excess of it. She is win­ning vic­to­ries in the?sphere of mate­r­i­al bet­ter­ment. Such vic­to­ries are glo­ri­ous. God save us from the heart­less crime of disparaging?them. They are reliev­ing the mis­ery of men. But if they stand alone, I fear they are but tem­po­rary. The things which?are seen are tem­po­ral; the things which are not seen are eter­nal. What will become of phil­an­thropy if God be lost??Beneath the sur­face of life lies a world of spir­it. Philoso­phers have attempt­ed to explore it. Chris­tian­i­ty has revealed?its won­ders to the sim­ple soul. There lie the springs of the Church’s pow­er. But that spir­i­tu­al realm can­not be?entered with­out con­tro­ver­sy. And now the Church is shrink­ing from the con­flict. Dri­ven from the spir­i­tu­al realm by?the cur­rent of mod­ern thought, she is con­sol­ing her­self with things about which there is no dis­pute. If she favours?better hous­ing for the poor, she need fear no con­tra­dic­tion. She will need all her courage, she will have enemies?enough, God knows. But they will not fight her with argu­ment. The twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry, in the­o­ry, is agreed on social?betterment. But sin, and death, and sal­va­tion, and life, and God – about these things there is debate. You can avoid?the debate if you choose. You need only drift with the cur­rent. Preach every Sun­day dur­ing your Sem­i­nary course,?devote the far ends of your time to study and to thought, study about as you stud­ied in col­lege – and these questions?will prob­a­bly nev­er trou­ble you. The great ques­tions may eas­i­ly be avoid­ed. Many preach­ers are avoid­ing them.?And many preach­ers are preach­ing to the air. The Church is wait­ing for men of anoth­er type. Men to fight her?battles and solve her prob­lems. The hope of find­ing them is the one great inspi­ra­tion of a Seminary’s life. They need?not all be men of con­spic­u­ous attain­ments. But they must all be men of thought. They must fight hard against?spiritual and intel­lec­tu­al indo­lence. Their think­ing may be con­fined to nar­row lim­its. But it must be their own. To?them the­ol­o­gy must be some­thing more than a task. It must be a mat­ter of inquiry. It must lead not to successful?memorizing, but to gen­uine con­vic­tions.

The Church is puz­zled by the world’s indif­fer­ence. She is try­ing to over­come it by adapt­ing her mes­sage to the?fashions of the day. But if, instead, before the con­flict, she would descend into the secret place of med­i­ta­tion, if by?the clear light of the gospel she would seek an answer not mere­ly to the ques­tion of the hour but, first of all, to the?eternal prob­lems of the spir­i­tu­al world, then per­haps, by God’s grace, through His good Spir­it, in His good time, she?might issue forth once more with pow­er, and an age of doubt might be fol­lowed by the dawn of an era of faith.

About Bill

Bill Crouse is a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary and has done graduate studies at the U. of Texas at Dallas in the History of Ideas. The ministry of C.I.M. is dedicated to defending the historic faith in a postmodern world.

View all posts by Bill

Subscribe

Subscribe to our e-mail newsletter to receive updates.

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.