The Case for Biblical
Essays on Theology, Philosophy, Ethics, Ecumenism, Fundamentalism, Separatism
© 1969 Edward J. Carnell || Edited
by Ronald H. Nash
William B. Eerdmans Company : Grand Rapids, Michigan
BT15 .C3 ~ Dewey: 230 ~ LCCN: 68020584 ~ OCLC: 654943154 ~ 186p.
The Case for Biblical Christianity by Edward Carnell is presently held by 279 libraries including Wheaton College and The Library of Congress
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This page is online with permission of the Carnell and Nash families. All rights reserved. Unauthorized reproduction without written consent of the copyright holders is prohibited.
Editor's Preface .... 5
1. Christian fellowship and the unity of the church .... 13
2. The nature of the unity we seek .... 23
3. Conservatives and liberals do not need each other .... 33
4. Orthodoxy: Cultic vs. Classical .... 40
5. On faith and reason .... 48
6. Becoming acquainted with the person of God .... 58
7. On Reinhold Niebuhr and Billy Graham .... 87
8. Reinhold Niebuhr's view of Scripture .... 97
9. Niebuhr's criteria of verification .... 111
10. Reflections on aspects of a Christian ethic .... 122
11. The virgin birth of Christ .... 141
12. Jesus Christ and man's condition .... 145
13. Reflections on contemporary theology .... 153
14. The government of the church .... 162
15. The case for orthodox theology .... 168
16. The fear of death and the hope of the resurrection .... 174
17. Bibliography .... 183
for text: http://pmoser.sites.luc.edu/idolanon/carnellkingdom.html
Edward John Carnell will be remembered as one of the more prolific and articulate apologists for biblical Christianity in our generation. His untimely death at the age of 47 in April of 1967 ended the ministry of a man generally acknowledged to be one of conservative Christianity's brightest scholars. His many books and articles revealed a well-disciplined mind, steeped deeply in classical and contemporary philosophy and theology an orthodox theologian who was eager to engage in both debate and dialogue with non-conservatives and a man who displayed none of the bitterness and rancor of many fundamentalists.
This is Professor Carnell's last book. When he died, he left behind a legacy of eight books, a seminary whose fortunes he had guided for five of his nineteen years on its faculty, and a host of pastors and Christian leaders who had learned from him that one did not have to be defensive about accepting the tenets of orthodox Christianity in the twentieth century. But Carnell also left behind more than a score of articles written for various journals and books over a period of some twenty years. Because I was familiar with most of these articles, I knew that many merited republication. This anthology is the fruit of that conviction.
This collection of essays has, I believe, many things to recommend it. It gives the Christian community ready access to many of the splendid articles that Carnell wrote during his career, articles that would otherwise have remained buried deep within stacks of dusty, unbound periodicals. The pastor, theologian, and philosopher will find, as always in Carnell's writings, thoughtful, stimulating and often provocative essays on Theology, philosophy of religion, ethics, ecumenism, fundamentalism, separatism, and other topics of contemporary interest.
Most of the major concerns of Carnell's thought are represented in this collection. For example, his first love was apologetics, the philosophical defense of the Christian Faith. His very first book, An Introduction to Christian Apologetics (1948), set the stage for much of his later work, even though he admittedly modified some of the positions he took in this early writing. In Christian Apologetics, Carnell offered a defense of biblical Christianity in terms of a rationalistic and idealistic world view. Making his appeal primarily to the law of non-contradiction and secondarily to the facts of science and history, Carnell argued that Christianity provides the believer with a rational world view that is internally self-consistent and that fits the facts of science and history. In his Philosophy of the Christian Religion (1952, he appealed not so much to logic as to axiology, the science of values. His third book on apologetics, Christian Commitment (1957), revealed a growing indebtedness to the thought of the nineteenth-century Christian philosopher Soren Kierkegaard. Carnell now supplemented his earlier appeals to logic and value with an apologetic based upon what he called "the third method of knowing, and "the judicial sentiment."*
Carnell continued to regard Christian Commitment as his best book and he remained disappointed that it never received the hearing and support accorded to most of his other books. Chapter Six in this volume includes selections from Christian Commitment which illustrate the apologetic he sought to develop on the basis of his third method of knowing. Carnell recognized that apologetics has his limitations. It cannot bring a man to Christ; only the preaching of the gospel can do this. However, apologetics is a useful and sometimes necessary tool in removing obstacles that come between the sinner and Christ.
Another obstacle that can hinder a man's quest for God is spurious theology. This volume contains several articles in which Carnell discusses important aspects of Christian theology, e.g., the virgin birth, the atonement, the Christian ethic. It also contains articles in which Carnell criticizes two major alternatives to orthodox Christianity, religious liberalism and neo-orthodoxy. Liberalism tried to supplant orthodoxy with a Pelagian view of man that substituted human effort for divine grace and a pantheistic view of God that blurred the distinction between Creator and creature. Both liberalism and neo-orthodoxy undermined the authority of the Bible; both positions
*However, Carnell's first references to "the third method of knowing" and "the third locus of truth" appear in his Philosophy of the Christian Religion
reduced Christianity to a kind of religious subjectivism which left man without any objective guide in his search for God. Chapter Five, "Faith and Reason," expresses Carnell's conviction that theological positions must be judged on the adequacy of their epistemology. Carnell's critique of liberalism and neo-orthodoxy in this chapter is primarily an attack on their subjectivistic, non-propositional view of revelation and their inadequate view of the relation between faith and reason. Carnell raises a similar objection to Reinhold Niebuhr's thought in Chapter Nine ("Reinhold Niebuhr's Criteria of Verification").
Mention of Niebuhr brings us to another major concern in Carnell's writings. Carnell wrote one of his doctoral dissertations on Niebuhr and much of this was incorporated in his early work, The Theology of Reinhold Niebuhr (1951). In addition to Chapter Nine, already mentioned, Chapters Seven and Eight provide us with a contrast between Niebuhr and Billy Graham and with a study of Niebuhr's view of Scripture. With respect to Chapter Seven ("on Reinhold Niebuhr and Billy Graham"), one warning is necessary. The chapter contains two articles occasioned by Niebuhr's criticisms of Graham's approach to evangelism and, in particular, by Niebuhr's opposition to Graham's New York City campaign in the mid-1950s. The reader therefore should keep in mind the limited purposes of the articles. They are included here because they contain some important aspects of Dr. Carnell's teaching, especially with reference to the relationship between theology and churchmanship.
While Carnell was forced occasionally to engage in polemics, he never lost his concern for Christian unity. Chapters One ("Christian Fellowship and the Unity of the Church"), Two ("The Nature of the Unity We Seek"), and Three ("Conservatives and Liberals Do Not Need Each Other") exhibit different aspects of this concern; they also make clear his refusal to accept unity on terms that would force the church in the direction of doctrinal inclusivism. Incidentally, another warning is needed, this time in connection with Chapter Three. This essay was originally published in Christianity Today as a companion to an article that maintained that conservatives and liberals do need each other. There is reason to believe Carnell wrote this at the express request of the editor of Christianity Today as a reply to the other article. Undoubtedly, in another context and at another time, Carnell might have been concerned to develop other aspects of this topic.
Carnell is also known for his attempts to correct certain excesses within Protestant orthodoxy. He admitted that when he graduated from seminary, he had stars in his eyes. The imperfections of orthodoxy were not yet visible to him. But he soon came to see that while orthodoxy did possess the truth of God, it carried that truth in earthen vessels. The trouble, Carnell insisted, was not with orthodoxy's theology; the difficulty lay in the attitudes, dispositions, and practices of orthodox Christians. As he listed them in the last chapter of his The Case for Orthodox Theology (1959)*, these included "the quest for negative status, the elevation of minor issues to a place of major importance, the use of social mores as a norm of virtue, the toleration of one's own prejudice but not the prejudice of others, the confusion of the church with a denomination, and the avoidance of prophetic scrutiny but not self-criticism." Carnell became increasingly dismayed with the hyper-separatists within orthodoxy who, often prompted by apparently selfish motives, produced schism after schism in the church. Orthodoxy's proneness to theological nit-picking, its frequent indifference to social problems, and its oft-recurring anti-intellectualism were hindrances to conservatism's attempt to mediate God's truth to modern man. However, in spite of its problems, Carnell continued to defend orthodoxy; it still had much more to offer the world than liberalism it had the gospel! As Carnell put it, "Despite its anachronisms and inconsistencies ... orthodoxy remains a stronghold of biblical Christianity. It puts first things first. It preaches that 'without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins' .... If the church fails to tell sinners how to be saved, of what final value is anything else that is said?" By now it is a familiar story how many extremists within the fundamentalist camp turned on Carnell. However, it should be made clear that most of their criticisms were ill-founded. Those fundamentalists who incorrectly accused Carnell of abandoning the evangelical view of the Scriptures should note that throughout the essays in this volume, he maintains a high view of the Bible and its inspiration. To the last, he continued to criticize the representatives of neo-orthodoxy for abandoning a propositional view of revelation. Many conservatives who were less than pleased with Carnell's Case for Orthodox Theology must have put the book away before they came to his closing chapter. That chapter with its honest appraisal of orthodoxy is reprinted
* Reprinted in this volume as Chapter Fifteen.
along with Carnell's evaluation of the other two volumes in the Westminster Trilogy.
Another essay that deals with fundamentalism, "Orthodoxy: Cultic vs. Classical" (Chapter Four) marked an important state in the development of Carnell's thought. Those fundamentalist critics who never completely understood his opposition to separatism will find his reasons spelled out here in great detail.
There are several other articles included in this volume but we shall let them speak for themselves. May I add just a word to those careful readers who will perhaps detect a few inconsistencies in these articles. One should remember that they were written over a period of twenty years, and only stagnant waters never change. Obviously Carnell's thought developed and underwent some alterations during these years. However, in no case did he deviate from the doctrinal tenets of orthodox theology.
It is still too early to evaluate the work of Edward John Carnell. Perhaps the best appraisal we can give now is a paraphrase of an evaluation he once wrote about Billy Graham.
The issue, it seems to me, is not whether Edward John Carnell was always biblically consistent in his teaching. Each of us unconsciously cultivates some heresy or other. The issue is whether Edward John Carnell was morally uneasy about his inability to be biblically consistent. As long as he was willing to know the right and be transformed by it, the fundamentalist can ask for nothing more. And the reason he can ask for nothing more is that nothing more can be asked of the fundamentalist.
I wish to acknowledge my indebtedness to all the publishers and editors who graciously consented to permit material from their books and journals to be reprinted. My colleague, Dr. Roy Butler, and Dr. David Allan Hubbard, President of Fuller Theological Seminary, offered many helpful suggestions. I wish also to thank Dr. William S. Sailer of the Evangelical Congregational School of Theology and Dr. Joe E. Barnhart of North Texas State University for their assistance on the bibliography.
RONALD H. NASH
Department of Philosophy and Religion
Western Kentucky University
Christian Fellowship and the Unity of the Church
When the mourners gathered at the grave of Lazarus, they experienced perfect unity. Jesus himself was the rallying point for fellowship, doctrine, and form: fellowship because the mourners were bound by cords of love; doctrine because the teaching of the Lord was normative; and form because the will of the Lord became the will of the group. The mourners were all of one mind.
The church remained united after Jesus ascended to heaven and questions of doctrine and form had to be settled by the apostolic college. These questions did not disrupt the unity because they were placed at the service of the fellowship. The believers knew that if they failed to love one another, their profession in doctrine and form would profit nothing.
When great numbers were added to the church, this ideal was not surrendered. The believers were together in the temple; they were together from house to house.
It was not long, however, before believers began to boast that they were of Paul, Apollos, and Cephas. Party spirit corrupted the purity of the fellowship. The tragedy of a divided church is almost as old as the joy of a united church. Party spirit has plagued the fellowship from the middle of the apostolic age until now. The verdict of history is clear.
The Roman Catholic Church played a leading role in guiding believers from the warmth of Pentecost to a time when believers not only faced the wrath of the empire and a spawn of heresies,
Originally published in Edward John Carnell's The Kingdom of Love and the Pride of Life (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1961), pp. 110-121.
but when they could look neither to Jerusalem as the center of worship nor to the collective wisdom of the living apostles. A magnificent effort was put forth, and with many lasting benefits.
But at least one capital mistake was made. The Roman Church began to crystallize its traditions before the epistles of Paul had been thoroughly circulated and studied.1 As a result, the full import of justification by faith was not comprehended. A Roman believer could never rest in the finished work of Christ; he could lose his salvation at any time by committing a mortal sin. A spirit of legalism sullied the biblical concept of grace. This spirit did much to obscure the fellowship, for love and fear are moral opposites.
When the Roman Church faced the spawn of heresies, it was so anxious to preserve internal unity that it lodged the charisma veritatis in the bishop, rather than in the original apostolic college. The church was then conceived as the continued incarnation of Christ. Christ was present in the person of ecclesiastical officers.
With the triumph of form, the Roman bishops dealt harshly with prophets who tried to call the church back to the teachings of the original apostolic college. Rome believed then, as it does now, that no man is rightly joined to Christ unless he is rightly joined to his bishop. This means that justification is decided by a believer's relation to an institution, rather than by personal confrontation with Christ.
Luther repented of sin; he received Jesus as Lord and Saviour; and he believed all that was spoken by the prophets and apostles. But these virtues fell short of Roman requirements. An offense against the form of the church was the same as an offense against fellowship and doctrine.
Rather than gently correcting Luther, Rome excommunicated him. The great schism in Western Christendom traces as much to Roman intransigence as it does to Luther's own sense of individualism. No real opportunity was given to investigate the relation between fellowship, doctrine, and form.
When Luther and his congregation sang A Mighty Fortress Is Our God, one of the great moments in the life of the church was realized. Luther succeeded in liberating the fellowship from the confines of form. And by this liberation he opened the way for the purifying of doctrine.
1. See Thomas F. Torrance, The Doctrine of Grace in the Apostolic Fathers (Eerdmans).
In an alarmingly short time, however, Lutheranism converted to an institution which defined faith as assent to right doctrine, and which granted the prince many of the rights enjoyed by the Roman bishop. Lutherans were no more charitable to dissenters than Roman Catholics were. An Anabaptist could repent of sin; he could receive Jesus as Lord and Saviour; and he could believe all that was spoken by the prophets and apostles. But these virtues fell short of Lutheran requirements. Unless a penitent affirmed, according to the Wittenberg Concord, "that with the bread and wine are truly and substantially present, offered, and received the body and blood of Christ," he was not part of the fellowship.
The internal struggles in Lutheranism, together with the historic tendency of Lutherans to go it alone, can only be accounted for on the assumption that doctrine and form rank higher than fellowship.
The disturbing part of Lutheran particularity is the fact that insufficient allowance is made for either the subtle scholastic arguments that undergird the Lutheran view of the eucharist, or for the inability of believers in other traditions to feel the force of such arguments.
Calvin performed the spectacular feat of delivering the church from state control.2 His penetration of divine grace left little place for human complacency. The Institutes forms the finest treatise in Protestant theology. Aesthetic proportion and personal piety blend with a scholar's command of Scripture.
But when Calvinism converted to a theological system, it turned out that the "elect of God" were those who accepted the distinctive teachings of John Calvin. Once again, doctrine and form ranked higher than fellowship. An Arminian could repent of sin; he could receive Jesus as Lord and Saviour; and he could believe all that was spoken by the prophets and apostles. But these virtues fell short of Calvinistic requirements. Unless a believer accepted the doctrine of irresistible grace, he was not part of the fellowship.
Calvinism did not create an institution as such, but it imitated Catholicism and Lutheranism by drawing up a
2. See Emil Brunner, The Misunderstanding of the Church (Philadelphia, Westminster, 1953).
confession that would serve as a touchstone of correct doctrine, and thus of fit fellowship. But this confession, like those it imitated, was never ratified by the church universal.
Calvinism had no excuse for freezing theological inquiry at the level of the Institutes. A careful examination of that document will show that Calvin himself, despite his great genius, failed to harmonize the divine decrees with human responsibility. Now, if a theology is defective at such a critical point, how can it serve as a norm of fellowship?
The British fear of innovation insulated Anglicanism from the more radical by-products of the Reformation. Gradually a way was opened for high, medium, and low expressions of liturgy within the one church form.
Outsiders may think that Anglicanism has reverted to the age of the Judges, where each man does what is right in his own eyes. But more discriminating minds will perceive that Anglicanism is a majestic, if not altogether unique, effort to subordinate form to fellowship. An Englishman is not much of a gentleman if he is dishonest, and especially when he worships God. Decent decorum requires, therefore, that full allowance be made for the differences in temperament that exist within the various strata of society. By this expedient, greater liberty in the Spirit is encouraged. Some Christians prefer a minimum of ritual, while others feel impoverished unless the ritual is ancient and elaborate.
But the British fear of innovation has all too often been federated with a subtle defense of British interests. Although Anglicanism defends the church universal in its articles of faith, in the real business of daily life it reserves patronage and power for Anglicans.
The religious wars in England trace, in great part, to the intransigence of the established church. Dissenters could repent of sin; they could receive Jesus as Lord and Saviour; and they could believe all that was spoken by the prophets and apostles. But these virtues fell short of Anglican requirements. Unless a believer supported the traditions of the established church, he was not part of the fellowship.
When the Puritans, Scotch Presbyterians, and Methodists succeeded in overturning the papacy, the crown, and the established church, the Christian community was given fresh opportunities to make the fellowship as wide as Christ intended it. But each group was too occupied with improving its own position to take creative leadership in this higher question.
The Puritans restored the classical standards in theology. They composed a body of literature which was a credit to that or any other day. No major topic in the theological encyclopedia was left unexplored.
But the Puritans (with notable exceptions) tended to be parochial in outlook, for they never succeeded in transcending the limitations of Calvinism. They used the distinctive elements in this theology as a measure of correct doctrine, and thus of fit fellowship. They envisioned a theocracy reserved for the "elect."
Scotch Presbyterians drank the full cup of Reformation heroism. They followed Knox in putting their feet on the necks of kings and queens, while bowing in the dust before Almighty God.
But Scotch Presbyterians impaired the fellowship by insisting that presbyterian polity was the only biblical polity. Once again, fit fellowship was decided by correct doctrine and form. Moreover, Scotch Presbyterians, like many Lutherans, have tended to link the interests of the church with the interests of race and soil.
Methodists successfully rebuked Anglican formalism by returning to the biblical emphasis on personal holiness. Although Methodism did little to advance the dialogue in classical theology, it did write an inspiring chapter in frontier evangelism. The gospel was preached with unexampled power and conviction. A lively hope was brought to the working classes.
But many Methodists were not satisfied with this. They used the doctrine of personal holiness as a denominational status symbol, and thus as a reason for separating from the church universal. And when Methodists resisted this cultic tendency, they imitated Anglicanism by drawing up an episcopal polity which reserves patronage and power for Methodists. And since Methodist polity is untempered by the British symbols of the crown and the British gift of understatement, it is often more rigid and bureaucratic than Anglicanism.
Baptists and Congregationalists have hit the trail of independence. They say that the New Testament refers to the local congregation as a church. The evidence is not conclusive, of course, but it is sufficient to encourage the conviction that every local congregation is a self-contained unit. All other associations are voluntary expedients aimed at encouraging richer fellowship between congregations. The Bible is elevated above human creeds, and each believer enjoys liberty of conscience as a priest of God.
With this catalogue of virtues to draw on, independent churches ought to enjoy ideal conditions for the improvement of Christian fellowship. But there is often a wide gap between theory and practice.
The woes of Baptists and Congregationalists are easy to recount. As life in the communion becomes more involved, there is a gradual encroachment upon the liberty of the local congregation. The "voluntary associations" eventually assume the form of an institution. In the end, loyalty to Christ is equated with loyalty to the denomination. It is ironic, therefore, that local Baptist and Congregational churches often have less liberty than congregations under the parish system.3
The separatist settles things by organizing a church of which he himself is the head. His policies are crudely dictatorial, yet he sometimes encourages levels of fellowship which the historic denominations frown on. The diversity of spiritual gifts is accepted without embarrassment, and a genuine effort is made to encourage lay participation.
But the way of the separatist is seldom a happy one. Being out of fellowship with both the church universal and the wisdom of the ages, the separatist is prey to novelty and enthusiasm. He cannot discern shades of better and worse in his own theology; he has no biblical answer to anarchy. Moreover, he is inflated with a feeling of personal superiority. Rather than trying to heal existing divisions in the church, he is busy creating new ones.
Many believers in the modern church are searching for a happier way to blend fellowship, doctrine, and form. They are gathering for friendly, exploratory conversation. This is a genuinely hopeful sign.
3. Paul M. Harrison says it is high time that Baptists develop a genuine representational system of government. See Authority and Power in the Free Church Tradition (Princeton).
Still, the effort only points up the paradox of our witness as Christians. Individual believers may be willing to surrender institutional status, but the institution itself, with its vested interests and tangled bureaucracy, goes right on defending the status quo. In one room there is conversation about enlarging the fellowship, while down the hall committees are busy devising new ways to perpetuate the patronage and power of the institution.
What can be done about this paradox? Well, for one thing we can acknowledge the paradox. Since the church falls short of the ideals set down in Scripture, we might just as well come right out and admit it. Nothing will be gained by either wringing our hands in despair, or by dreaming of utopian conditions that overlook the limits that original sin places on history. With all our lofty theories of the church, the grim fact remains that the institution is more concerned with jurisdiction than it is with fellowship. Money must be handled and property titled. As vested interests evolve, new power blocs are formed to protect them.
If the church were to acknowledge its imperfection, a climate of honesty might be created in which believers could wait on the Holy Spirit to show them happier ways to blend fellowship, doctrine, and form.
There is little reason to believe that the denominations will ever succeed in drawing up a confession that is acceptable to all parties. Confessions not only mirror the times, but they have a disturbing way of converting to final, inspired documents. If a theologian proposes that a confession be brought into more perfect harmony with Scripture, he is charged with departing from the faith once for all delivered to the saints.
The Roman Catholic Church forthrightly announces that its confessions are infallible. But this only adds to the paradox of our witness as Christians. When Rome summoned the Council of Trent in the pressure of the Counter Reformation, it not only acted with haste, but it drew up a creed that was defined against the excesses of sixteenth-century Lutheranism. But how can Rome improve upon a creed that has been declared infallible?
4. See Leslie Newbigin, The Household of God (Friendship Press).
The modern church is trying to shrink the paradox by merging denominations of like heritage. Such mergers, when undertaken with proper ends in view, should by all means be encouraged. If Christians agree on doctrine, they should learn to agree on form. Denominational reduplication not only hinders the fellowship, but it is an inexcusable waste of money and talent.
But merger is not the whole answer. For one thing, it may serve as a substitute for individual responsibility. Shrinking the number of denominations is no blessing per se. Christ prayed for unity, but not for organizational unity. He prayed that his followers might be one, even as the Father and the Son are one. This implies a vital unity, and vital unity implies fellowship. Thus, if organizational merger detracts Christians from their obligation to love one another, it is a hindrance to unity, not an encouragement.
Moreover, the major denominations grew out of a sincere effort to honor the teachings of Scripture. Scripture does not. claim to give a finished system. When the Apostle Paul says, "I know in part," he speaks for the whole church.
It is only natural, therefore, that theologians will disagree on questions such as polity, the eucharist, the subjects and modes of baptism, predestination, and degrees of sanctification. And such disagreements are bound to be reflected in the forms which the Christian community assumes when it enters history. . We should not be ashamed of our theological differences. They are signs that we are taking the work of exegesis seriously. Furthermore, a genuine Christian fellowship can exist within the framework of denominational plurality. Love can hurdle existing barriers.
Roman Catholicism insists that it is the only true church, but its claims are refuted by the plain facts of history. Whether Rome cares to acknowledge it or not, God has true believers in every professing church. All we can do is stand back and rejoice at the manifold operations of divine grace. Whenever there are genuine signs of faith and repentance, we must presume that the gospel is at work. And having made this admission, we then should try to find some way to bring all Christians into fellowship.
Roman Catholicism is in an awkward position. Whenever it says it is willing to hold conversation with "separated brethren," it simultaneously affirms and denies that there is no salvation outside the church.
Despairing of a confessional route to unity, many are proposing that we unite around a least common denominator. This denominator will be so all-inclusive that no believer will be excluded from the fellowship.
The expedient is attractive, but it has its price. Once we become indifferent to right doctrine, it will not be long before we shall also become indifferent to fit fellowship; for the two go together. Saving faith does not take place in a vacuum. It is an act that grows out of a vital response to the gospel, and the gospel is based on specific redemptive events. If we disparage these events, we surrender the normative elements in the Christian religion.
Many obstacles stand in the way of Christian brotherhood. But if we sincerely believe in the communion of the saints, we must continue to strive for more perfect ways to express this brotherhood in history. If God has ordained that doctrine and form should be servants of the fellowship, then we should see that God's will is done on earth as it is in heaven. Whatever impedes the fellowship must be brought under critical scrutiny.
Some help may be found by returning to the grave of Lazarus. When Jesus wept, the mourners were so perfectly controlled by the Holy Spirit that they were delivered from any temptation to seek status in power rather than love. If we were more affectionately united with the tears of Jesus, we might be less anxious to exclude believers who do not agree with us in the details of doctrine and form.
The first evidence that we have been touched by Jesus' tears is an acknowledgment that love is the sign of a true disciple. Jesus says, "By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:35). If we fail to radiate the love of God in our lives, our achievements in doctrine and form will profit nothing. This is taught in Scripture with such force and clarity that only hardness of heart could miss it. "If I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing" (I Corinthians 13:2-3). Love crosses over denominational lines. It puts itself in another's place; it does as it would be done by.
When believers make a sincere effort to enter into each other's lives, they will not only give local expression to the unity for which Christ prayed, but they will be in a better position to extend this unity beyond themselves. They will appreciate why. Christians in other traditions believe as they do. And when the warmth of these traditions is felt, believers will be less tempted to think that they enjoy exclusive access to grace and truth.
If the denominations are serious in their desire to liberate the fellowship from the confines of doctrine and form, they should take immediate steps to encourage interdenominational conversation. This can be done in many creative ways: by exchanging pulpits and seminary lectureships, by arranging programs of personal visitation, and by the use of literature from other denominations. Every pastor should do his part to create a climate in which signs of fellowship are honored wherever they are found and under whatever conditions. And above all, status should be given to the prophet who stimulates a healthy discontent by reminding the church that form and doctrine are servants of the fellowship, and not the other way around.
Christians find their identity by personal confrontation with Christ. And the proof of this confrontation is not assent to doctrine, and certainly not membership in an institution. The proof is a gentle, outgoing charity that takes in all men, and especially those of the household of faith.
Surely it behooves the church to dedicate its energies to an adorning of the one virtue that makes man most like his Maker, and Christians most like their Lord.
If Christians would learn to love one another, the day might come when they would be willing to pray with one another, and perhaps even to confess their faults to one another. In that happy day the eyes of the understanding would be opened to see that the scandal of Christendom is not the plurality of denominations, but the manner in which believers seek status in doctrine and form, rather than love.
The Nature of the Unity We Seek
At the risk of being excessively negative, I shall try to show why orthodoxy finds it difficult to cooperate with the National and World Councils of Churches. The ethos of orthodoxy is seldom sympathetically understood. Critics tend to judge it by its worst, rather than by its best, elements.
Were I to name the criterion that inspires the best elements in orthodoxy, it would be the following: The visible unity of Christendom is an ideal that simultaneously inspires and judges the real. Just as we strive for sinless perfection, though we shall never reach it, so we strive for the equally valid, though equally elusive, ideal of visible unity. If a person imagines that the ideal can be realized in history, he betrays his own want of education. Either the terms of the ideal are underestimated or the possibilities of the real are overestimated. Since original sin tinctures the entire human enterprise, man's quest for unity is never a purely virtuous undertaking. Organizational security is partly a status symbol of pride and an outlet for will to power.
I am not saying that orthodoxy succeeds in applying its own principles. I only say that, in its finest moments, it evaluates the possibilities of Christian unity by what theologians call the "polar method." The ideal and the real must be kept in delicate balance.
While orthodoxy may err in its conviction and I want to stress this possibility it nevertheless believes that the ecumenical movement is plying a course that overlooks the effect of original sin on collective human efforts. And this oversight
Originally published in the Spring, 1957 issue of Religion in Life, copyright 1957 by Abingdon Press.
traces back to a rather loose handling of the Word of God. Let me establish this by reviewing the kind of argument that appeals to the orthodox mind.
Christian unity is deceptively simple. Even a junior in seminary can define it. It is a fellowship of those who are spiritually joined with Christ in His life, death, and resurrection. "For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body Jew or Greeks, slaves or free and all were made to drink of one Spirit" (1 Cor. 12:13). But if the definition of Christian unity is simple, its application is not. We unite when we sing the Te Deum. "We praise thee, O God," but we divide when we spell out the theology of this hymn. Our theology is never systematic, and unsystematic theology spawns disunity. This can be abundantly illustrated from the pages of church history, but I shall confine myself to two striking examples.
Luther and Zwingli tried to unite the Protestant cause, but "a different spirit" hindered them. Since they could not agree on the theology of Eucharist, division was unavoidable. And after centuries of theological debate, the Lutheran and Reformed efforts are no nearer union than on the eve of the Marburg Conference.
A similar difficulty frustrated the Reformed cause. Baptists contend that public profession of faith precedes the rite of baptism, while Presbyterians contend that covenant infants form an exception to this rule. Classical Baptist divines (John Gill, Abraham Booth, etc.) and classical Presbyterian divines (William Cunningham, B.B. Warfield, etc.) exhibit equal powers of critical acumen and personal piety. But apparently something more than this is required to exegete the fine points in the Bible. This is why the threat of division, like the poor, is with us always.
There is only one way to defeat this, and that is by making unity a higher virtue than truth. Romanism aptly illustrates the technique. Roman apologists cite our fragmented efforts as palpable proof that the Reformation principle defeats itself. But it should be observed that Roman apologists never tell us how the Vatican eliminates the threat of disunity. And there is good reason for this concealment, for if Roman strategy were really understood, the Catholic cause would fall into considerable disrepute.
The Vatican eliminates the threat of disunity by eliminating religious liberty. Unless a Roman Catholic surrenders his
judgment to the Pope, he is excommunicated. But this species of unity holds no attraction to one who believes that man is made in the image of God and that freedom of inquiry is an indefeasible prerogative. Furthermore, Roman security is specious. A man must exercise religious liberty to evaluate a system that nullifies religious liberty. Before one can surrender his judgment to the Pope, and thus be safe, he must use his own fallible judgment to assure himself that the Pope is infallible. The complex criteria of verification must then be faced. Thus, if we trace Catholic confidence back far enough, it rests on the same peril of private judgment that led the Reformers to conclude that the Pope is not infallible. Where, then, is the Roman advantage? Orthodoxy fails to see any.
The Reformers had one goal in view, and that was to coax Roman theology into conformity with biblical truth. But Rome promptly answered by banishing the REformers. This means that the genesis of our divisions traces back to the medieval church itself. Instead of meeting the Reformers on exegetical grounds, as Christ and the apostles met the Jews, Rome hurled barbed epithets of heresy and schism. The Reformers were given the curt option of either submitting to the tradition of the Church or of being excommunicated. To men of powerful Christian convictions, of course, this was not a live option at all. And Luther promptly showed his contempt by burning the papal bull.
Orthodoxy believes that the National and World Councils of Churches defend a position that is strikingly similar to that of Romanism. This is an audacious assertion, to be sure, but it rests on the solidest kind of evidence.
The Protestant principle received its first clarification in the Leipzig Disputation of 1519. When Luther said that the Council of Constance erred in condemning John Huss, it was plain to Eck, and Luther soon saw it, that two incompatible criteria were vying for primacy. Luther claimed the right of religious liberty, while Eck replied that this was one right Luther did not have. Since God has deposited the whole counsel of His will in the church diffusive, ecclesiastical tradition cannot be challenged by the opinion of an individual.
But Luther stood his ground. He knew that if a man surrenders his right to interpret Scripture according to the dictates of his conscience, whatever else remains is of very small account.
No wonder Carlyle called Luther's stand at Worms the greatest moment in the modern history of man. Luther thundered: "Unless I am persuaded by testimonies from Scripture or clear arguments, for by themselves, I believe neither pope nor council I stand convinced by the Holy Scriptures adduced by myself and my conscience is bound up in God's Word. Retract I do not and will not, for to do anything against conscience is unsafe and dangerous Here I stand. I can do no otherwise. God help me. Amen."2
If the Reformation has done nothing else, it has clarified what is perhaps the most important theological question in this or in any other age. Do we find the truth by submitting to the church, or do we find the church by submitting to the truth? Rome defends the first possibility, while the Reformers defend the second. But a choice must be made; the option is forced. Rome contends that the ruth is where the church is, while the Reformers contend that the church is where the truth is.
If Rome is right, we have only one course before us, and that is to recant our Reformation heritage and return with haste to the papal fold. We cannot plead indefectible ignorance. Moreover, Romanism boasts a consummate order of visible unity. To create a Protestant counterpart would be a very foolish expedient.
But if Rome is wrong, then it seems to orthodoxy that Protestants ought to have the moral courage and the intellectual honesty to live by their own principles. The moment we defend man's right to bind his conscience by a free and open study of Scripture, we are on Reformation soil and divisions in the church are both natural and necessary.
To say this, however, does not mean that divisions are either desirable or good. Such an outcome would offend the biblical ideal. To speak of spiritual unity without visible unity, what is this but to utter a contradiction? If a family will not live together, it is not a family at all. I know mean to say, even as I shall continue to mean to say, that divisions in the church are evil. As long as a single believer is outside the fellowship, love is incomplete.
To develop the problem more fully, let us return to Martin Luther and the problem of tragic moral choices. A choice is tragic and thus invites admiration, when circumstances force one to decide between levels of good. Tragic moral choices
2. Translation by David S. Schaff.
are always difficult to make, for they entail a compromise between the ideal and the real. Protestants should remember that the great schism in Western Christianity was the direct fruit of a tragic moral choice. Otherwise they will overestimate the possibilities of human virtue.
Martin Luther did not want to disturb the visible unity of Christendom. But he did not see how such a disturbance could be avoided, for the gospel of Rome and the gospel of Scripture were different gospels. A tragic moral choice had to be made. Luther had to decide between a united church that taught error and a divided church that at least allowed for the possibility of truth. And being bound by the Word of God, he threw himself on the higher alternative. When a decision must be made between unity and truth, unity must yield to truth; for it is better to be divided by truth, than to be united by error. We test the church by truth not truth by the church. The apostles judged the Christian community by the norm of divine revelation.
Each generation must make this same tragic moral choice and not only once, but again and again. If we want the comfort of the Christian gospel, we must accept the distress of a divided church. When men are free to unite in Christ, they are also free to divide in Christ. Religious liberty brings dissension, and dissension brings disunity. "For there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized" (1 Cor. 11:19). If we remove the threat of factions, we corrupt the very matrix of evangelical confrontation.
Sincere and unavoidable divisions should excite a sense of honor, not shame, in us. Milton wisely observes, "It is written that the Coat of our Saviour was without seam: whence some would infer that there should be no division in the Church of Christ. It should be so indeed; Yet seams in the same cloath, neither hurt the garment, nor misbecome it; and not only seams, but Schisms will be while men are fallible."3 An unfettered gospel is the important thing.
Whenever orthodoxy ponders the goals of the ecumenical movement, it feels that the issue of the Reformation must be raised all over again. Rome says that truth is decided by the church. And judging by the rising tide of Protestant ecclesiasticism, the Roman position is attracting a legion of new converts. The ecumenical movement sees the evil in disunity,
3. Of True Religion, Heresie, Schism and Toleration, in Works of John Milton, Columbia University Press, VI, 176-177.
and for this it must be praised. But it does not see the evil in untruth, and for this is must be criticized. Whether in Rome, Amsterdam, or Moscow, it makes no difference; truth still ranks above unity.
There is only one live heresy in the eyes of the National and World Councils of Churches, and that is the heresy of not cooperating with the National and World Councils of Churches. If a person cooperates, his defection from the Word of God is relegated to a place of tertiary importance. But this is precisely the theological climate that forced the Reformation. Luther was a heretic because he dared to say that the church is where truth is, and not the other way around. Orthodoxy is proud to take its stand with Luther.
To make its position as attractive as possible, the ecumenical movement has reduced Christian commitment to what it believes is a decisive creedal minimum. The 1948 Amsterdam assertion says, "The Ecumenical Council is a union of Churches which accept our Lord Jesus Christ as God and Savior." This is a praiseworthy confession, but it is not praiseworthy enough to suit orthodoxy, for the only heresy it catches is unitarianism. The holes in the mesh are so wide that a sea of theological error can swim safely through. This proves that the ecumenical movement is more concerned with unity than it is with truth.
Furthermore, the Amsterdam assertion is in direct conflict with Scripture. "Not every one who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 7:21). This verse asserts that unless a confession of Christ's lordship is united with an evangelical affection to do the will of God, it profits nothing. And where is the will of God, if not in the system of holy Scripture?
The ecumenical movement ought to come to terms with the disturbing fact that at least one church exists which accepts our Lord Jesus Christ as God and Saviour, but which promptly anathematizes those who defend religious liberty as part of God's image in man. This is what makes ecumenical strategy so anomalous. How can the Amsterdam assertion compose the differences in Western Christianity, when it was not a cause of these differences in the first place? What the Reformers knew, but what the ecumenical movement does not seem to know,
is that the schism in Western Christianity cannot be mended until Rome acknowledges man's right to bind his conscience by a free and open study of the Word of God. But this is a concession Rome will never make, for the very genius of her position rests on a negation of religious liberty.
The practices of the ecumenical movement baffle orthodoxy. For example, what can possibly be gained by extending olive branches of reconciliation to the papacy? These overtures are as embarrassing to Protestants as they are offensive to Catholics. Since Rome claims an absolute monopoly on grace and truth, it considers ecumenical overtures, however sincere, as nothing but loathsome evidences that the Protestant mutiny has not yet been crushed. Rome will not rest until it enjoys absolute ecclesiastical jurisdiction. It seems to me that the ecumenical movement ought to have the good sense to see this.
When Protestants want unity so badly that they are embarrassed by the Reformation, they may want it so badly that they will end up surrendering their judgment to the Pope. They will have their coveted unity, to be sure, but at the price of the Word of God.
Orthodoxy would like to entertain a more charitable attitude toward the ecumenical movement and this irenic note should be taken in the best possible sense but it is not sure how to go about the matter without violating Scripture. Since the meaning of Christianity was normatively defined by Christ and the apostles, the course before us is clear. We must conform our conscience to truth. If there is an extrabiblical way to know the mind of God, orthodoxy has never heard of it. The Bible and only the Bible, tells us h ow an offended God will dispose of a sinful world.
When orthodoxy examines the Bible with an eye to truth, it confronts a series of doctrines that have equal authority to bind the conscience because they are delineated with equal power and lucidity God as triune, God's image in man, the federal headship of the first Adam, the fall of man, the federal headship of the last Adam, and Christ's virgin birth, humanity and deity, sinless life, miraculous works, substitutionary atonement, bodily resurrection, ascension into heaven, and glorious return. There is nothing esoteric about these doctrines. They are all open and plain. They are all carried by the rights of language.
The Amsterdam assertion is included in the above doctrines. Orthodoxy rejoices over any testimony to the lordship of Christ. But because the ecumenical movement is content to select
one doctrine out of a number that are delineated with equal power and lucidity, it betrays its indifference to the exegetical demands of the biblical system. And what is this but a return to the ethos of Romanism?
For example, Christ's resurrection is of such importance that not only is Christian fellowship inconceivable apart from the empty tomb, but the very coherence of the Christian world view turns on the empirical validity of this one event. "If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain" (1 Corinthians 15:14). Deny that Christ defeated death, and where is the good news?
This is very clear. But apparently it is not clear enough, for the ecumenical movement extends a cordial welcome to open antagonists of the resurrection. Whether Christ conquered death is apparently not important. The important thing is that we all get together under one roof. And the ecumenical movement does not take this stand because of any textual difficulties in the Bible, for First Corinthians is universally recognized as Pauline.
If the visible unity of Christendom is ever realized, it will be a sad day for the gospel. Just as democratic freedom is preserved by a prudential balance of social interests, so the freedom of the gospel is preserved by a prudential balance of ecclesiastical interests. Orthodoxy is afraid that the ecumenical movement will upset this balance by taking too much power to itself.
And there is a good reason for this fear. The National Council of Churches not only pretends to speak for the whole of American Protestantism, but it thinks it is sufficiently virtuous to decide what religious activity is of God and what is not. O. Walter Wagner writes in the August 22, 1956 issue of The Christian Century. "Gone are the days when the airways were a wide-open range for the denominational demagogue who could afford to buy time, or for the fundamentalist fringe group that used them to sell its divisive wares. Today, prevailingly, public service time is granted to the radio and television commission of the local council of churches." This is most instructive strategy. The ecumenical movement takes away the prejudices for the damagogue and the anarchist, and in their place puts the prejudices of the ecumenical movement. It then caps its arrogance by
calling this progress. The truth is that the right of religious liberty is being curtailed. When a single power controls religious broadcasting, what is this but ecclesiastical tyranny? In an effort to restore a reasonable balance of power, orthodoxy has had to create such counteragents as the National Religious Broadcasters and the Radio Commission.
Because sinners use power as an outlet of pride, no part of Christendom can speak for all of Christendom. Whenever bands of union become too tight, religious liberty is threatened. Voltaire may have been wide of the mark at many points, but he knew enough about human depravity to hit the mark when judging the relation between pride, power, and ecclesiastical pretense. "If one religion only were allowed in England, the government would very possibly become arbitrary; if there were but two, the people would cut one another's throats; but as there are such a multitude, they all live happy in peace."4
Orthodoxy believes that every prudent means should be used to heal the divisions in the Christian church. But before one Protestant denomination joins with another, it must examine its own distinctives in the light of the Word of God. If the exegetical ground of these distinctives is no longer conclusive, overtures of union may be undertaken. But if Scripture affords no such release, separation must remain. Under no conditions should truth be subordinated to unity. We are saved by faith in Jesus Christ, not by works of the law and especially not by the law that the church should be visibly united. Our divisions will continue to scandalize the natural man, but this should not unhinge us. The message of the cross is also a scandal.
At an earlier point I admitted that orthodoxy does not succeed in applying its own principles. I want to reaffirm this as I close. If the ecumenical movement tends to upset the biblical balance from one side, orthodoxy tends to upset it from the other. The ecumenical movement sees the perils in a divided, but not in a united, church; while orthodoxy sees the perils in a united, but not in a divided, church. The one error leads to tyranny, the other to anarchy. And the anarchy is no less reprehensible than the tyranny. Orthodoxy overlooks the work of sin in the separatist himself. Since the separatist does not belong to the National and World Councils of Churches, he thinks he is virtuous. This is a pathetic illusion, however, for status by negation is a far
4. Letters on the English, Letter VI, "On the Presbyterians."
cry from affirmative righteousness. Orthodox doctrine, unsavored by orthodox love, profits nothing.
I am sorry about one thing. I am sorry that orthodoxy hesitates to take an active part in the modern dialogue about unity. I should think that the possession of truth would issue in a passionate desire to guide, rather than chide, the groping efforts of a tragically divided church. Failing in this nobler role, orthodoxy has merited its disrespect.
What shall we say, then, is the nature of the unity that we seek? It is a fellowship in Jesus Christ that is vitally united with the system of biblical truth. Fellowship is the flesh, while truth is the bones. Flesh without bones is flabby, while bones without flesh are dead. Together they make for organic unity.
Conservatives and Liberals Do Not Need Each Other
The title of this article seems to suggest an approach that is both heartless and offensive, if not sub-Christian. But I am speaking solely and exclusively about the fact that conservatives and liberals in no way draw essential nourishment from each other when attempting to develop a systematic relation between human existence and ultimate reality. This deliberately restricted frame of reference must be understood and appreciated; otherwise I shall give the impression of being a plain fool. I want to make as plain as the English language can put it that I would be among the first to contend that conservatives and liberals must work hand in hand whenever means can be devised to improve the general good of mankind. We might think, for example, of the promotion of social justice, the stabilization of political and economic forces in the nation, the improvement of public education, the cultivation of friendly ties between neighbors, and the offer of help to victims of a disaster.
Certainly it is a cause for no small sorrow that Protestantism is divided into such ideological competitive camps as conservatives and liberals. What joy would result, if all who professed to be followers of Jesus Christ were to arrive at the unity of the faith.
Existing divisions in theology do not excuse acts of personal hatred, for the responsibility to love all human beings is repeatedly set forth with such solemnity in Scripture that an unloving Christian is a manifest contradiction in terms. Christians are confronted with a universal duty to love at the very moment they surrender their lives to Him who died a sacrificial death on the cross. Consequently, the law
Originally published in the May 21, 1965 issue of Christianity Today.
of love may not be taken lightly, as if we have the privilege of deciding whether to be loving or unloving, depending upon how a particular person happens to affect us. Christians are commanded to love all men, everywhere. And if we ever have occasion to doubt this, we need only remind ourselves that Jesus Christ defended the law that we must love even our enemies.
Taking their eyes off their own inconsistencies, however, liberals now and then seem to derive a measure of consolation from the charge that conservatives are not true to the ideal of Christian love. This can be illustrated by the energy expended to see that the Reformers themselves are openly criticized. The crux of this criticism, whether valid or not, is that the Reformers themselves are openly criticized. The crux of this criticism, whether valid or not, is that the Reformers labored so hard to develop a systematic interpretation of Scripture that they not only credited their interpretation with a finality it did not deserve but went on to vilify those who understood Scripture in a somewhat different way.
Actually, the only charge against the Reformers that is relevant is that they tended to be somewhat inconsistent when they went about the task of translating their philosophical and theological presuppositions into useful daily guides. After rigorously defending the divine quality of Scripture, they occasionally entertained the fallacy that love for a dissenter carried with it approval of the dissenter's effort. Fallacies of this sort continue to tincture the testimony of the conservative.
Still, this in no way places the conservative in need of the liberal. It is a plain and observable fact that consistent, contemporary conservatives readily admit that they have no more than a partial grasp of God's whole counsel as revealed in Scripture. Moreover, this admission tends to make them more charitable toward those who, after no small dedication of mind and spirit, view the system of Scripture in a somewhat different light. Not all conservatives are charitable, of course, but neither are all liberals. Whenever the right conditions for it prevail, hatred rears its ugly head in every race under the sun: red, yellow, black, or white.
It should be pointed out, however, that the limited perspective that accompanies finitude is at best only a secondary reason why love toward all human beings is a basic imperative. The primary reason is the ethical teaching of the Christian system itself; and the conservative finds no justifiable ground for turning from this system. Jesus Christ loved God and neighbor with the whole of His person, and it is the sacred responsibility of all who profess the name of Jesus Christ to
do likewise. Moreover, the Apostle Paul set forth a definitive list of love's attributes in the thirteenth chapter of First Corinthians. His language is so lucid that there is no need for supplementary standards. Some parts of Paul's epistles are difficult to understand, of course. Even the Apostle Peter acknowledged this. But it is quite enough if both the nature and the necessity of love are revealed through language that is easily understood.
True love for a person implies an act of unconditional acceptance. All human beings are made in the image of God, and the solemnity of this fact is in no way invalidated by the tendency of some people to think evil thoughts and perform evil deeds. Even those who put our Lord to death on the cross were made in the image of God, and Jesus Christ set a perfect example for all Christians when He manifested love for His slayers.
Unless this biblically revealed distinction between a person and his conduct is seriously accepted, misguided zealots conservative or liberal may end up clothing themselves with the garments of a new pharisaism. In other words, they will presume that they are righteous because they are not like others. This is no innocent error. Its substance may justly be called status by negation; and negative status, the most highly developed claim of a Pharisee, owes nothing to the redemptive work of Jesus Christ. If personal righteousness can be acquired by the trivial fact of not being like others, any reference to the gospel, however pious and eloquent, is little more than idle talk.
With this description of the ethical primacy of love before us, let us now turn to a brief discussion of the rational primacy of truth. This will help us put a cap on the topic under consideration.
As a convenient transition, let us reflect on an ideological error that some naive conservatives commit in handling Christian truth. They bow their heads and solemnly assert that the quality of religious infallibility is confined to Scripture, only to turn right around and piously presume that their particular interpretation of Scripture is also infallible. Such an error seriously disturbs the liberal mind, and rightly so. As a direct fruit of this error, these conservatives complacently imagine that they enjoy a monopoly on Christian truth, and that nothing whatever would be gained by entering into exploratory conversations with others who are also sincerely attempting to understand the meaning of Scripture as the revealed Word of God.
Since this kind of error traces to inconsistency, however, it is a warning that conservatives should be more faithful to their own presuppositions, and not a sign that conservatives need liberals.
This leads to another matter. Since conservatives are dedicated to the conviction that the Bible contains a divinely revealed system of truth, they tend to become so absorbed with yesterday's world that they pay little attention to issues peculiar to the world of today so the liberal charges, anyway. Or to put it another way, the changing features of life are seemingly thought irrelevant. The present is neglected because the past is absolutized, and this supposedly spells the end of Christianity.
From all of this, it would seem to follow that conservatives need liberals, for liberals presumably will not rest until they have made a conscientious effort to see that the claims of the Christian faith are stated in such a way that they are relevant to the peculiar needs of modern man.
But this inference carries no force, because it is meaningless to speak about the claims of the Christian faith unless we are first of all persuaded that these claims are objectively true. This is why the conservative dogmatically insists that love and truth must be simultaneously respected. Christian truth accounts for the Church's time-tested conviction that God inspired holy men to declare the plan of salvation on divine authority. This conviction not only embodies the precise, systematic teaching of Scripture itself but also gratifies a basic need that the soul senses the moment it entertains judgments about the nature of God and God's revelation to the human race. Unless our religious convictions grow out of a divinely revealed system of truth, we shall have no means by which to be certain that anything is holy, not even love itself. This is probably the crucial reason why a conservative refuses to surrender his conviction that Scripture contains the only infallible rule of faith and practice. If God fails to disclose the manner in which He plans to deal with His creation, human beings have to more of a rational basis for faith and hope than does a tree.
In other words, nothing possesses ultimate authority and importance unless it can be validated by divinely revealed truth. The reason for this ought to be rather obvious. Suppose we have great wealth and enjoy perfect health; suppose we exercise awesome talents and wield immense powers; still, unless we are able to rest in a divinely validated answer to the question,
"What must I do to be saved?" everything about us is hollow or empty.
Thus it is fallacious to say that conservatives and liberals need each other, for liberals simply do not believe that a divinely validated plan of salvation has been entrusted to the church. Liberals are so dedicated to the vision of making the Christian religion relevant to the supposed needs of modern man that they consider it a handicap to be checked by the rights of language in Scripture. Conservatives may now and then overlook new means and methods by which to confront modern man, and for this oversight they deserve criticism, that conservatives are sincerely trying to make peace with the revealed will of God.
Liberals doubtless mean well, but they invariably nullify the divinity of the gospel by the manner in which they subordinate the data of Scripture to data drawn from contemporary science and philosophy. This may strike some readers as a rather prejudiced and heartless judgment, but actually it is nothing more than a plain statement of fact. It is true that liberals sometimes claim to experience an encounter with God through the reading of Scripture, but this should never be confused with a whole-soul submission to the rights of language in Scripture.
If the church has been entrusted with a plan of salvation that is true on divine authority, then the relevance of Christianity is automatically established by the fact that it is true. To try to impose any other standard of relevance is manifestly wrong. What God says is final; even the slightest mishandling of Scripture is altogether out of order.
Liberals heavily emphasize love, and they often translate their convictions into praiseworthy acts of love. But they are less concerned to show how the highest act of love correlates with the highest statement of truth. If it is true that Jesus Christ died on the cross to save sinners, have we any right to say that we love sinners if we fail to confront them with this truth? And where can we find a divinely validated account of this truth apart from Scripture? In sum, we can express no higher love to lost humanity than to preach the gospel in the precise form in which God has been pleased to reveal it.
The intimate tie between love and truth can easily be illustrated. Let us suppose that some miners are sealed underground because of a huge landslide. Although communications
with the trapped men is established, it seems inevitable that they will die of suffocation. But suppose an engineer in town is aware of a cave through which the trapped miners can crawl to escape their apparent doom. Unless the engineer shares this information clearly and accurately, he has no right to say that he loves the helpless miners.
No doubt someone will challenge our concept of highest love by citing John 15:13, "Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." The challenge can be met if we agree that Jesus is speaking of the greatest expression of love between friends. Certainly the last the highest proof of love for a friend is the act of substitutionary death. But a state of true friendship does not exist between a Christian and lost sinners when a Christian deliberately withholds the good news of the gospel. This follows from the fact that personal reconciliation with God is more important than earthly security. Earthly security is temporal, while reconciliation with God is eternal.
It might seem that liberals, in their zeal to make Christianity relevant to modern man, would derive some sort of stabilizing element from the conservative position. It is rather well known that liberalism tends to identify Christianity with the latest viewpoint, a procedure doomed to continue forever. But in fairness to the liberal position, it should be pointed out that dedicated liberals consider changing conditions of truth as worthy of praise, no scorn. Change, according to liberal standards, is a healthy sign that the human race is making progress. This is why the liberal becomes suspicious whenever he is confronted with the claim that material truth can be developed to the point where it is the same for all generations.
Hence the inference simply cannot be avoided that conservatives and liberals do not need each other. Since liberals look with disdain on fixed material truth, they also look with disdain on conservative presuppositions. When something is not needed, it is altogether futile to argue that it is needed. This is such a crucial part of the thesis under discussion that it merits restatement in another paragraph.
A consistent conservative, as we have pointed out above, believes that Scripture contains an account of a plan of salvation that is true on divine authority. Now, unless a liberal forthrightly and emphatically repudiates this particular view of Scripture, there simply would be no such person as a liberal in the first place. Therefore, since the very uniqueness of liberalism comes into existence with the repudiation
of all claims to fixed and final truth as indispensable elements in the Christian faith, how can it be claimed that liberals need conservatives?
The only thing liberals really need is the steady flow of evidences that comes from daily thought and experience. Certainly conservatives do not believe that such evidences are sufficient to answer man's questions about the nature of God and of God's will for the human race. But the convictions of conservatives, when treated by liberal standards, bear no essential relation to the particular issues that concern modern man; and thus they may be dismissed as irrelevant.
When all is said and done, therefore, it is just about as meaningful to say that palm trees and icebergs need each other as it is to say that conservatives and liberals need each other. Certainly some element of mutual need exists, but the need is not essential.
Orthodoxy: Cultic vs. Classical
I finished graduate studies in 1949. Being irenic in disposition, I wanted to go about the work of the gospel in a quiet, unassuming way. My goal was to defend a sane Protestant orthodoxy that was willing to be corrected on secondary issues because it was clear on primary issues. I never reached my goal.
The trouble began with of all things my use of the Revised Standard Version of the Bible. I was not charged with indiscretion, but with outright heresy, by a number of orthodox churchmen. At first I decided to ride out the storm, making no defense before my accusers. But in due season I sensed that a principle was at stake. Is Christ Lord of the conscience, or is orthodoxy? Once the question assumed this form, I knew I would have to play the polemicist, whether I wanted to or not. As Luther realized in his own day, the time to speak had come, the time to be silent had passed.
Why was orthodoxy so hostile toward the Revised Standard Version? This was the question that disturbed me, for I had always assumed that Protestants rejoiced when the Word of God was translated into the vernacular. I could easily forgive the laymen who attacked me, for they acted on higher orders. But what about the clergymen who plotted this war of nerves? Though they lacked a scholar's command of Hebrew and Greek, they were not shy to storm the divinity schools of the land, there to rail against the retiring members
Part One of this chapter was first published under the title, "Orthodoxy: Cultic vs. Classical," copyright 1960, Christian Century Foundation.
of a translation committee. The very thought of this unholy crusade filled my heart with sorrow.
I realized that the Revised Standard Version has its share of faults. The conjectural emendations in the Old Testament, for example, leave much to be desired. Still, the RSV sets forth the gospel in plain, forthright language, and in this I rejoiced. I think it is a mistake to entomb the Word of God within the seventeenth-century language forms of the King James Version. It we must choose between beauty and clarity, for the sake of the common man let us choose clarity.
Orthodoxy was particularly impatient with the RSV translation of Isaiah 7:14. The rendition "young woman" (I think "maiden would have been better) was taken as a theological attack on the virgin birth of Christ. This reaction was unfortunate, for it betrayed a serious deficiency in biblical hermeneutics. The Old Testament is to be interpreted by the New Testament, not the other way around.
After due reflection I concluded that orthodoxy suffered from a serious illness. The symptoms were too clear to be missed. Orthodoxy has at times denied modernists the most elementary civil courtesies; it has subtly evaded Christian social action and cooperative church ventures. But I could not not accuse orthodoxy without accusing myself, for I was a direct offspring of orthodoxy. I soon found that my own heart was hardened. I forgot that Jesus names love, not possession of doctrine, as the sign of a true disciple. I corrupted the communion of the saints by refusing to hold friendly, exploratory conversation with Christians of other traditions; I was more anxious to correct than to be corrected. This was a painful admission, but it served as a spiritual catharsis. It prepared me for the delicate task of judging my own heritage. I knew what was wrong with orthodoxy because I knew what was wrong with myself.
During graduate studies I presumed that American orthodoxy was a pure, unified witness to the system of truth in Scripture. A little experience on the field showed that I erred. American orthodoxy is a house divided against itself. Two schools of though vie for leadership.
The first school is cultic orthodoxy. The cult lives by mores and symbols of its own devising; it makes no effort to join fellowship with the church universal. The more belligerent elements in orthodoxy come from this school.
The second school is classical orthodoxy. The followers of
this position are impatient with the small talk of the cult; they long for authentic conversation on historic themes. Most younger men, especially those who have taken time to get a decent education, belong to this school.
Cultic orthodoxy draws its followers from two main sources. First, it attracts those who are separatists by nature. These people enjoy greater liberty, or reap greater glory, by going it alone. They have little concern for the fortunes of the church universal. They found independent churches, independent schools and independent mission boards. Second, cultic orthodoxy attracts those whose theological attitudes have been warped by the fundamentalist-modernist controversy. These people turn to the cult as a refuge from the presumed apostasy of the historic denominations. They defend the church universal in their theology, but they do little to translate this defense into an outreaching program of fellowship.
For the sake of semantic clarity, I have decided to designate cultic orthodoxy by the term "fundamentalism." Although the fundamentalist movement dissolved many years ago, the mentality of fundamentalism has remained a fixed feature of the cult.
I reserve the term "orthodoxy" for classical orthodoxy. I know of no enlightened conservative who wants to perpetuate the ethos of fundamentalism. The struggle between fundamentalism and modernism may have been unavoidable, but this is no reason why elements in the modern church should be locked in prejudice. And that goes for everyone professing the name of Christ. A lot has happened in the past twenty-five years. With the decay of the Wellhausen hypothesis and the return to biblical theology, the time is ripe for mutual signs of humility. The issues are not nearly as neat as either fundamentalism or modernism imagined.
The doctrine of the church is the dividing line between fundamentalism and orthodoxy, and the line is a sharp one. Fundamentalism rests its case on a separatist view of the church. It contends that when a denomination has modernists among its clergy or missionaries, a Christian must withdraw financial support until said modernists are deposed. And if financial boycott fails, a Christian must disaffiliate forthwith; he must start a "pure witness for the gospel.
When I first began to preach the Word of God, I paid little attention to the difference between fundamentalism and orthodoxy. But after a few encounters with fundamentalism I realized
I was not a separatist by nature, nor could I discover any biblical warrant for the separatist position. To the contrary, all relevant evidence pointed in the other direction. Let me cite samples of this evidence.
The believing community in the Old Testament was often blemished by ungodly kinds and false prophets. But the true prophets of God did not separate themselves on the that account, nor were the laity any less obliged to bring their tithes and offerings into the storehouse.
Jesus remained in communion with the temple, though scribes and Pharisees taught there, though Annas and Caiaphas ministered at its altars, and though corruption was so widespread that the office of high-priesthood was put up for the highest bidder. Jesus worshipped in the temple and taught in the synagogues because the oracles and ordinances of God were there. He denounced separatism by His express example.
The Book of Revelation clearly points out the defects of seven churches. But these defects supplied neither cause nor occasion for schism. Separation from these churches would have implied separation from Jesus Christ and John His apostle. The seven churches had the true canon of Scripture and the true sacraments, dispensed by apostolic ministry.
From this and other evidence I concluded that fundamentalism had formulated its view of the church with an eye to the interests of the cult. Fundamentalists believe they are superior because they have withdrawn from the historic denominations; they imagine that they alone glorify the gospel. Since the fundamentalist is deprived of the happy security that comes from communion with the church universal, he must devise substitute securities all his own. And the handiest substitute the one calling for the least energy and skill is to appear better by making others appear worse. In plain language, the fundamentalist tattles, because censure implies superiority.
This explains why fundamentalism took such an intolerant attitude toward the Revised Standard Version. Ever occupied with the work of negative status, the fundamentalist must blame others for evil; he must find a scapegoat. So, the modernists on the translating committee were considered fair game. And when I preached from the RSV, I was charged with giving aid and comfort to modernism.
Since orthodoxy is willing to hold friendly, exploratory conversation with Christians of other traditions, I think that orthodoxy should be invited to the tables of theological
discussion. When liberalism dismisses orthodoxy as a refuge of ignorance, it manifests the same signs of cultic thinking that protrude so conspicuously in fundamentalism.
If we are going to bear true witness to the body of Christ we must temper our zeal with kindness, for love is the sign of a true disciple. Love does not rejoice in evil; it puts itself in the place of another; it does as it would be done by.
Let me say why I think that orthodoxy should be invited to the tables of theological discussion. Theologians now know, if they have never known it before, that man has a moral defect in his will and in his affections. This defect has been revealed in the brutality of two world wars; it has been corroborated by the clinical findings of depth psychology. In an effort to grapple with the reality of human sin, theologians have wisely reaffirmed the doctrine of justification by faith. Unless God accepts us by the righteousness of Christ we are undone, for in ourselves we cannot defeat pride and pretense. But the moment we rest in positional righteousness we must deal with the problem of religious authority. The logic of justification could not be discovered by human wisdom, nor is it imparted by personal confrontation with Jesus Christ. It is discovered by a patient, exegetical submission to Scripture to Romans and Galatians, in particular, for they are the places where justification is treated in systematic, didactic form. When we take the work of exegesis seriously, we face issues that orthodoxy has faced for quite a long time. Not to draw on the experience of orthodoxy would, I feel, be new evidence of cultic pride.
In defending the normative character of Romans and Galatians I am not trying to brew unrest in the church, nor am I turning my back on the legitimate claims of biblical criticism. Rather, I am addressing myself to an issue that decides the very foundations of Protestant hermeneutics. Only as we anchor hope in objective evidence will we be delivered from the sorry business of gaining status by negating each other. Even our mistakes, when made in the name of Christ, are covered by justification. We need not try to seem better by making others seem worse, for Christ is our righteousness. He paid the full debt of sin.
When I way that believers of various traditions should come to know each other, I do not say that we should organize some sort of super-church. Under these conditions original sin would only express itself in new forms of ecclesiastical tyranny. But I do say that we should not rest until we have
created a genuine unity in the Holy Spirit. And the first evidence of this unity is a spiritual willingness to respect one another's convictions. We do not understand the nature of the church because we do not understand one another. We are the church, whether we acknowledge the relation or not. We belong to one another, with Christ as our head.
The fundamentalist continues to go it alone because he fears that friendly conversation will lead to theological compromise. His fear traces to an imperfect grasp of the Word of God. When we communicate with the church, we do not communicate with the errors of individual members. We communicate only in the truth, the truth bequeathed by Christ and the apostles.
Perhaps the day will come when the fundamentalist will temper his separatism by the wisdom of the ages. Perhaps not. But in the meantime let us not be too disturbed by his vanity. The fundamentalist means well. He wants status in the church, but he errs in the way he goes about getting it. Having missed the way, he needs our pity, not our scorn.
Let me say a word about that anxious breed of younger men who are conservative in theology but are less than happy when they are called "fundamentalists." These men are both the cause and the effect of a radical atmospheric change within American orthodoxy.
The fundamentalist movement was organized shortly after the turn of the present century. It served as a rallying point for a host of gifted and not-so-gifted conservatives, who rushed to do battle with modernism. The charge was that modernism had surrendered the gospel to German higher criticism and to extravagant social philosophies patterned after biological evolution. Subsequent events, such as the disintegration of modernism and the return to biblical theology, show that the fundamentalist movement was not tilting against windfalls.
But if such is the case, why did the movement fall into general disrepute? The answer is quite within reach. Through a series of subtle internal changes, fundamentalism shifted
Part Two of this chapter was first published under the title, "Post-Fundamentalist Faith"
from an affirmation to a negation. The result was a cunning pharisaism that confused possession of truth with possession of virtue. Fundamentalism stood in the temple of God, thankful that it was not like modernism. Status by negation, not a humble reliance on the grace of God, served as the base for Christian security.
Having exempted itself from the scrutiny of divine righteousness, fundamentalism often took on the mannerisms of a pugnacious cult. The test of Christian discipleship was no longer "works done in love." The test was "assent to the fundamentals of the faith." In this way the foolishness of the cross was obscured by the foolishness of those who came in the name of the cross. Assent to doctrine is no match for demonic pretense, for even the devil can pass a course in Christian theology.
But fundamentalism made its crowning error when it enlisted the doctrine of the church in its quest for negative status. While the doctrine purposed to come from Scripture, scrutiny showed that it derived from the conviction that possession of truth is the same thing as possession of virtue. And since only fundamentalists were in possession of truth, they alone were virtuous enough to form the body of Christ. All other elements in the Christian community were apostate.
It was by a discovery of this pompous theological error that I awoke from dogmatic slumber. I now realize, though once I did not, that the nature of the church is never measured by the doctrinal maturity of those who profess Christ. Doctrine clarifies the plan of salvation, but a sinner is justified by faith and repentance, not by assent to doctrine. Believers, in some cases, must overcome deeply embedded prejudices before they can appreciate either the scope or the relevance of Christian doctrine. But this deficiency, other things being equal, is no mark against the person. The want of doctrinal maturity, like the want of subjective holiness, is remedied by sanctification, not justification. When fundamentalism confined the body of Christ to those who received the system of revealed doctrine, it obscured the distinction between justification and sanctification. It returned, in effect, to the ethos of Roman Catholicism.
I know that much of this will sound elementary to outsiders. But to one reared in the tyrannical legalism of fundamentalism, the recovery of a genuine theology of grace is no insignificant feat. The feat calls for a generous outlay of intellectual honesty and personal integrity.
Since a goodly company of younger conservatives are trying to restore the classical lines of orthodoxy, philosophy of religion ought to reserve the term "fundamentalist" for the person who confuses possession of truth with possession of virtue or who defends a separatist view of the church. Unlike fundamentalism, orthodoxy does not affect a monopoly on truth. It rejects the cultic quest for negative status; it is ready to entertain friendly conversation with the church universal.
The term "orthodoxy," of course, is freighted with unfortunate connotations of its own. It often suggests either a sterile confessionalism or a provincial stand against progress. Still, it is a useful term, for it denotes the conservative tradition in Christian theology. I call myself orthodox because I cordially assent to the great doctrines of the faith. But I do not for one moment suppose that assent to doctrine is either the instrumental cause of justification or the touchstone of Christian fellowship. Were I to do so I would be reverting to fundamentalism.
It is too bad, in a way, that we have to use labels at all. In Antioch they were content to be called Christians. But all is not lost. By using carefully selected labels, we at least clarify our position in the theological spectrum. And once we are done with the business of semantics, we can turn to the really exciting item on the agenda of faith: sharing fellowship with all who love Jesus Christ and who are willing to test and correct their partial insights by the full insight of God's Word.
On Faith and Reason
There can be no question but that Soren Kierkegaard gave a profoundly convincing defense of the third locus of truth.* What Christianity has always assumed, Kierkegaard made explicit .... Saving faith is not simply an intellectual assent to objective facts. Faith is cordial trust; it is a concerned, inward response to the person and work of Jesus Christ. Until the end of time, therefore, men who remember what it means to be a person will defend the supremacy of truth as inwardness. God sent His Son to make us good, not simply to make it possible for us to recite the creeds of the church.
But what must be questioned is the prudence of Kierkegaard's attempt to secure inward truth by opposing it to objective evidences. It is from his lips, not those of the biblical writers, one learns that faith must believe what the understanding find contradictory and for that very reason. Scripture's healthy balance of the loci of truth has been upset by Kierkegaard. Rationality was bequeathed by Jesus Christ as a light by which men may penetrate the darkness of error. "The true light that enlightens [gives a spiritually rational nature to] every man was coming into the world" (John 1:9). Being a rational creature, thus, man must proportion his
*In his later writings, Carnell devoted much time and space to what he called "the third locus of truth" (truth in the heart) or "the third way of knowing." (See Chapter Six in this volume.) This was a departure from what he regarded as an excessive rationalism in his first book, An Introduction to Christian Apologetics. It was also a concession to what he viewed as a moment of truth in such Christian existentialists as Soren Kierkegaard. However, Carnell continued throughout his life to deplore the tendency of many Christian thinkers (e.g., Kierkegaard, Barth, etc.) to divorce faith from reason. This chapter, taken from Carnell's Philosophy of the Christian Religion, begins with a critique of Kierkegaard and then applies this same line of reasoning to contemporary neo-orthodoxy.
spiritual commitments to what the mind can conscientiously clear. Apart from this distribution of authority edification is impossible ... Saving faith germinates only after the mind is first convinced of the sufficiency of the evidences. If Christ taught plain logical nonsense ... a balanced man would turn aside from Him as one to be pitied, not trusted. The reason why we are able to trust Christ is that He spoke and lived in a way which is congenial with our axiological expectations.
Faith and Reason in Daily Life
There is nothing offensive about the Scriptural insistence that faith be based on a co-operative activity of spirit and mind, for it is the very arrangement we are obliged to respect in all conscious activity. We commit ourselves in faith to that is, we act with concern over only what is reasonable. The faculty of intelligence is the guide of our lives. By its word we conclude that since the alarm has rung it is time to arise; that this hallway leads to the bathroom; that h is is our toothbrush in front of us; that these are our children with us at breakfast; that the driveway is clear as we back our automobile out; that the signals in traffic mean what they say; that the building ahead contains the office in which we must labor for the day, etc. And in no case do we act passionately in defiance of the report of reason. The only way a person can maintain both social respect and personal sanity is to proportion his commitment to the voraciousness of the evidences which the understanding processes. When reason assures us that our automobile is the blue one parked just beyond yonder sign, we dare not passionately believe against the understanding that the brown car over to the left belongs to us. Suppose that a person, having generated enough passion to act in opposition to the understanding, concluded: "My understanding tells me that this is a porcupine, but I passionately believe that it is my loving wife." If he existentially acts upon this urge, the results will be interesting. The porcupine will be perplexed, the wife greatly resentful, and the individual filled with quills. In any case the terminal value could hardly commend itself to a person who remembers he is made in the image of God.
If our conduct in life is able to suggest any axiom, it is the following: The native person the one unaffected by corrupting philosophic presuppositions is at his best, and is most ideally a man of faith, when he obeys, rather than
defies, the report of a critically developed understanding. If my understanding assures me that I cannot drive through the darkness ahead because a bridge has been washed out, I come to grief when I permit my inward passion for crossing to go in defiance of the evidences. Faith may remove mountains, but it cannot declare mountains to be non-mountains.
The Controversial Exception
At this point, Kierkegaard [might interrupt] to say that the above discussion is entirely beside the point. Not only does he grant that nous is part of the imago dei and this is the daily guide in our practical affairs but that all praise belongs to the understanding for the regal authority of its office. There is only one realm in which reason must be defied, and that is when our eternal happiness is at stake. Whenever time and eternity intersect, paradox results. It is at this point that objectivity brings offense to the understanding. The finite cannot assimilate the infinite without facing paradox. The seek to construct a rational bridge between time and eternity is to assume the very attitude of sinful detachment and disdain which is characteristic of existential untruth. The very desire to meet God on congenial, rational terms is sinful. If the bride-to-be is offended to seen her bridegroom calmly collect rational evidences to prove her existence, God is slashed in heart to have His own children leisurely move about the world, using strength supplied from Him, to accumulate evidences which make it rationally respectable for them to believe there is a God.
Kierkegaard appears firmly convinced that a faith which reposes in objectively veracious evidences is not a faith at all. Faith rises and falls in proportion to the risk the will must take in the leap of decision. One has no faith when doing mathematics, since all venture is missing; but infinite faith is generated when approaching God, for the proof of God's existence is the commitment itself. Any bridge to eternity apart from the existential witness is untruth ....
With all candor, however, one finds it impossible to concede Kierkegaard's thesis that in matters of eternal happiness we may nay, must go against the understanding. The obvious difficulty is that in our approach to eternal things .... we doom our venture to defeat the instant we turn aside from a mindful respect of the degrees of objective evidence. If there is any realm where we should expect to rally all our faculties
for one harmonious thrust toward truth, it is at the point where our eternal happiness is at stake. If the witness of daily life has another axiomatic insight to teach us, it is the following: The obligation of the will to clear with the verdict of the understanding rises in direct ratio to the importance of the value at stake ...
The principle illustrated here holds in every conceivable circumstance where the valuable is in the balance: The more a value increases, the more our concern should respect the report of reason. When a fleeing man comes to a fork in the road, knowing that one path leads to life while the other guides to death, he will critically examine the evidence and then act in harmony with the report of the understanding. Suppose he said, "My understanding tells me that if I go to the right I will find life; but in passionate faith I shall act against the understanding; for I will be complacent in my decision if I follow objective truth." One would label him unbalance. Worthy passion is aroused by the nature of the value in question, not the strength or weakness of the evidences which support it.
And when the supreme value is brought into the discussion, namely, faith in God, the heart can think of absolutely no reason why the axiom which guides us in all other axiological situations should now suddenly fail. If God's existence is of infinite concern to us, we ought to express infinite determination to obey, rather than defy, the understanding ....
Neo-orthodoxy and the Problem of Error*
[Religious modernism claimed], harking back to Schleiermacher, that feeling is the way to know God. If a man will only be sensitive to the still, small voice of God, he will feel the nearness of God and know the doctrine whether it be of God or man. To the modernist, the Bible is the history of man's experiences with God.
Now, if feeling is the test of religious truth, how can one draw the line between valid and invalid religious feeling? Some feel that there is one God; others feel that there are many gods. Some feel that Christ is the Son of God; others do not .... The obvious difficulty with Modernism's theory
*The material in this section is taken from Carnell's article, "The Problem of Religious Authority," which first appeared in the Feb., 1950 issue of His.
of knowledge [was] that it [could not] be tested for error. This is fatal for any epistemology. When a man cannot test a system for error, he cannot validate it, for he never knows but that his very claim to truth might be an instance of the error which his methods cannot test.
Neo-orthodoxy's much more subtle epistemology is far less easy to examine. This new method is explained by so much technological terminology that only the expert can understand it.
The following minimal presuppositions seem to emerge however:
What the modernist calls "feeling" neo-orthodoxy calls "crisis" (Karl Barth), "divine-human encounter" (Emil Brunner), or "dialectical tension" (Reinhold Niebuhr). Neo-orthodoxy then goes on to say that the Bible is authoritative as salvation-history (Heilsgeschichte), but not as ordinary history or science, and that it is in connection with the reading of this salvation-history that one enjoys the "crisis-encounter." The Bible is a stable reference, but it is not an objectively inspired document. Neo-orthodoxy goes along with destructive higher criticism in matters of historical or scientific fact which are unimportant to salvation-history, as does Modernism. For example, while the Bible affirms that there was both a historical Adam and a fall, neo-orthodoxy contends that each man is Adam and that the fall is a moment-by-moment experience of all men.
This is difficult epistemology. It needs more explanation. We would ordinarily think that to reveal Himself, God would do it in just about the same way we reveal our human selves to each other. When the act of revelation is over, those to whom it came have something which is completed, which can be studied and examined as a fact. Neo-orthodoxy, however, fearful left revelation encourage dead orthodoxy, has defined the relation between time and eternity as a dialogue or a conversation, and says that a tensional relation between the two must be perpetual if revelation is to break through. Revelation is a conversation between a hidden God and a depraved sinner. Revelation is effective only when it shatters the individual by speaking to and against his pride. But because time and eternity are always incompatible, paradox results whenever they are brought together in the moment of revelation. The intellect is offended by what the heart finds to be true. The sinner is simultaneously condemned and justified. God is hidden and revealed at the same time.
The kingdom of God is not given, and yet it is here. The Bible is not, and is, God's Word. As an objective document lying hidden in the safe, it is just another claim to revelation; only when I speak with God in passionate interaction with salvation-history does the Bible become God's Word for me, they claim.
The crux of neo-orthodoxy is its attempt to separate salvation-history in the Bible from ordinary history, whereas the Bible claims to be divinely inspired on both counts. We look in vain for the slightest hint in the Scriptures themselves that the writers shifted in their claims to authority when they talked first about Adam and then about Christ, the second Adam. This is the heart of the problem: If we cannot trust the Bible's account of itself, how can we trust its account of salvation-history?
To be concrete: with the same breath the Bible's writers teach that there was a historical Adam and that this Adam is the prototype of Jesus Christ, the second Adam (Romans 5:12ff.). Now, observe what the epistemology of the "divine-human encounter" does to this claim. Crisis theology affirms that it is the witness of the dialogue of the sinner with God that there was no Adam. This is a very serious epistemological claim, since it shows that the real thing in neo-orthodoxy is not an objective Bible but the subjective experience of the crisis encounter.
Neo-orthodoxy, in fact, turns out to be but an extension of the fallacy of modernism, for modernism has its own Heilsgeschichte. The feeling of God was normatively expressed in portions of the Bible. All that neo-orthodoxy has done is to increase this insight in the field of valid experience to include the salvation-history tension. But the intensification of a bad epistemology will not save it from the inherent weaknesses which attend it. Like modernism, neo-orthodoxy is a theology based on feeling.
For example, let us suppose that the crisis experience teaches me that Christ is not the Son of God and that the Bible has no salvation-history at all? Is not this encounter valid? Shall not this experience be just as acceptable on neo-orthodoxy's thermometer as the registration that there is no first Adam? The Apostle Paul was willing to let the validity of both Christ and the first Adam hang together. If one goes, the other goes likewise. Neo-orthodoxy believes that it has done a great epistemological service in dividing between history and salvation-history, but it fails to sense the implications of such a
division. It would not take a Marxian long to have a crisis experience that cancels out the whole Christian framework as untrue. Should the Bible not fall in line with the kind of tension that his heart feels ought to be maintained between time and eternity, so much worse for the Bible, and so much the better for Communism.
The trouble with neo-orthodoxy is, once again, that it cannot test for error. It can no more recognize a valid crisis experience than the modernist can recognize a valid religious feeling.
Should the collective experience of the community be appealed to, even that would not settle the matter. Truth is not learned by counting noses. Furthermore, even if it be true that collective crisis experience has validated the second Adam to date, does it follow that Christ will be true tomorrow? Perhaps what was dialectically valid yesterday will be dialectically invalid tomorrow. We can only wait and see.
Nowhere does the Bible distinguish between ordinary and salvation-history. Jesus Christ affirmed both the historicity of Noah and the flood and the eschatological implications for salvation attending them. He showed absolutely no tone of difference in His authority when speaking of one or the other. Neo-orthodoxy, however, is trying to perform surgery on the text by teasing out the tissues of salvation-history from the cancer of ordinary history and science. But it does not realize that in so doing it has destroyed our basis for believing that the Bible is God's Word in any compelling sense. The doctrinal claim of the writers of the Bible is that they are telling the mind of God whenever they speak. And if this doctrine is wrong, why should their doctrine suddenly be right when they begin to speak about salvation-history?
A city newspaper would dismiss its reporters if they ever did what neo-orthodoxy charges that the writers of the Bible have done. Suppose that a large city fire were reported, only the name of the city was wrong; would that be a "slight matter of history" which the editor-in-chief would not worry about? Or suppose that the headlines read that a new president had been elected, except that on the historical matter of who this new president was, the paper erred; would that be just "a triviality"? Hardly. And yet we are asked by Brunner and Niebuhr to believe that, though the Bible blunders here and there about history, science, and psychology, it is God's valid salvation-history where the writers happen to speak things that coincide with our crisis experiences.
How can we trust Christ for the really important things of the soul if He is not even able to get simple historical matters straight .... When a man cannot put two and two together and get the right answer, he surely is not an advanced mathematician. If Christ blundered on data of simple history, how can He suddenly become an authority when He switches to salvation-history?
And if Christ deliberately accommodated Himself to tradition on historical matters, announcing them as truth when He knew they were not, then it is not easy to see how Christ has even the moral qualities to be our Saviour, let along the knowledge. Generally, truth in the inward parts even if the price be death is a prime characteristic of a moral man.
The Apostle Paul was willing to throw Christianity away entirely if Christ was not bodily raised from the grave (1 Corinthians 15:14). Yet Niebuhr calls the resurrection a "myth," contending that salvation-history does not depend on the literal fact of the resurrection. What could be further from the truth? Can nothing stand for something and mean anything? If the resurrection never happened, it can no more be a symbol of our hope than can the fountain of youth, which never existed.
If faith and dogmatics have no part with philosophy and rational proof ... the heart is bequeathed a bifurcation in knowledge which renders the conventional laws of philosophy impotent to test for the truth of revelation.* Then what test is there for a veracious crisis experience or devine-human encounter? Perhaps what we think is God overtaking us in Christ is either only an emotional disturbance or the by-product of a hidden disease. Since we use coherence to test for truth in all other realms, why should its power suddenly be ruled irrelevant where we need it most, namely, in the testing for revelation? These questions remain unanswered ....
The Truth about Faith
It is extremely difficult to understand why it is necessary to antagonize faith's relation to rational evidences. Kierkegaard started off with a completely false prejudice in supposing that inwardness is jeopardized when the mind is satisfied with the consistency of objective evidences. It is not psychologically true that passionate concern increases in commensurate ratio
* This chapter now returns to Carnell's argument in the last chapter of his Philosophy of the Christian Religion.
to objective uncertainty. In our daily living, we proportion our inward response to the certainty of the evidences. Suppose, for instance, a man of questionable character comes to me and swears that my house is on fire; rather than being passionate over such objective uncertainty, I only shrug my shoulders and pass my way. Why become excited over nothing? If in the next minute I see smoke rising from the direction of my home, I now become somewhat concerned, though not greatly, for the smoke may be from a passing train. The evidences are not yet sufficient. But if a trusted friend rushes up and gasps out the words that my property is actually on fire, I then become aroused to great concern, for the evidences at last are fully trustworthy. I now passionately act upon the truth of what has been told me, my whole person being satisfied with its coherence. Thus, a faith based on rational evidences is able to nourish a healthy inwardness. But if faith were a passion grounded in objective uncertainty, then I should exhibit my best faith when I have no house, when there is no fire, and (alas) when I myself am not.
There is no convincing reason why time-eternity relations should stand outside of the conventional connections of rational coherence. If rationality does not form a univocal bond of meaning which significantly relates these two orders of being, not only is the venture of faith made difficult; it is rendered impossible. When God is not rationally related to us, we cannot trust Him for our salvation. Not only will we never understand what He says, on the one hand, but also we would never know whether He means to perform what He says, on the other.
There is no "leap" in faith. While faith may involve a cordial commitment of the whole man to Jesus Christ, it is a passion which is drawn out by objectively measurable evidences. Whenever spirit is satisfied that the evidences are sufficient, it rests in truth. One ought to repent, for example, only when he has been persuaded that it is an exiologically good thing to do. Why repent if it is not worthwhile? Why believe in Christ if it is not a coherent act? Why be obedient to God's law if it is absurd? Truth is one, not many. Plato long ago realized that the world of Ideas is useful only if it is continuous with rationality as philosophers in the academies know it. The Christian stands in this tradition. Jesus Christ is worthy of our faith and consequently ought to receive it because both His person and His doctrine are rationally continuous with the values which we have already
accepted in ordinary experience. We do not think dialectically when we do geometry, operate a battery of drill presses, drive our automobiles, or converse with friends. Why, then, should we suddenly do it when we either perform God's will, struggle within the tensions of morality, interpret the Scriptures, or converse with the Father in prayer? There is no cause for a shift. The same Lord of truth is sovereign in both heaven and earth; His mind gives meaning to both natural and special revelation.
Becoming Acquainted with the Person of God
When formulating a philosophy of life, I contend that the least accessible fact, and thus the most baffling to isolate and classify, is the complex moral and spiritual environment of the philosopher himself. Most efforts in abstraction fail to impress the common man because sages seldom take time to interpret life from within the center of their own perspective as individuals. The more carefully I have meditated on this, the more convinced I have become that a world view remains truncated to the degree that a thinker fails to deal with data gained by a humble participation in the moral and spiritual environment.
Philosophers err when they confine their attention to "universal man." There is only one real man: the suffering, fearing individual on the street; he who is here today and gone tomorrow; he whose heart is the scene of a relentless conflict between the self as it ought to be. Whenever a philosopher speaks of mankind in the abstract, rather than concrete individuals at home and in the market, he deceives both himself and all who have faith in his teaching.
What it means to be held in a moral and spiritual environment can only be learned as one acquaints himself with the realities that already hold him from existence itself. This pilgrimage into inwardness is a painfully personal responsibility, for only the individual himself has access to the secrets of his moral and spiritual life. The task cannot be wrought by proxy. It is sheer affectation to try to be another person. "We are not to judge of the feelings of others by what
Reprinted from chapters one, two and six of Edward John Carnell's Christian Commitment (New York, Macmillan, 1957).
we might feel if in their place."1 The particularities of selfhood are not open for public inspection; they lie too deep for discovery ....
Here, then, is the first clue to the third method of knowing: Ultimate reality cannot be grasped unless rational knowledge is savored by spiritual conviction. We do not know the significance of "dependence" until a mental awareness of this relation fructifies in a whole-souled adjustment to its claims. Dependence must be felt; it cannot be a mere object of thought. Even as guilt implies the feeling of culpability, and even as indebtedness implies the feeling of obligation, so dependence implies the feeling of subordination. Hence, a person does not rightly apprehend dependence until he conforms himself to the relation. The necessity of this conformity is included in the relation itself. If an individual professes to be dependent, while he lives as if he were self-sufficient, he deceives himself and the truth is not in him. His proud life shows that his admission is academic and formal, not moral and spiritual. He is a hypocrite ....
The Two Kinds of Truth
Since "being" is the subject of any investigation, philosophers never quibble over the fact that the real is the true. One may say, for example, "This is truly a pleasant afternoon," or, "This is truly part of the American way of life." Whatever is, is true. To the extent that something participates in being, it is true. This is called ontological truth.
Were there no more to the problem than mere academic agreement on the proposition "The real is the true," philosophers would never wrangle about truth. No matter what the stuff of reality is, it has being, and to this degree it is true.
But how can reality be known? How can we critically distinguish reality from appearance? If ontological truth is to be of any service, therefore, a procedure must be devised that will put man's mind in touch with reality. This procedure is rational inference. Whenever a person enters a new environment, he is compelled to make inferences, for man is curious by nature. Symbols or terms represent concepts, and the valid construing of these symbols is truth. Propositional truth, thus, is the second kind of truth. Whenever judgments conceptually house the real, they possess the quality of truth.
It makes no difference whether ideas are the real, or whether they correspond to the real. In either instance the
1. Oliver Goldsmith, The Vicar of Wakefield (Oxford), p. 32.
proposition is the receptacle of truth. Nor is it of any moment how particular philosophers verify propositional truth: whether by the power of propositions to guide our experience without frustration (systematic consistency); by the correspondence of ideas to things (correspondence); by the consistency of ideas with each other (coherence); or by operational differences in controlled experiment (pragmatism). Whatever the stripe of a philosopher may be, he still has to think, and in thinking he must make inferences. The manner of his life proves that the proposition is the cradle of truth.
With the rarest exceptions such as Socrates, Pascal, and Kierkegaard thinkers have rather consistently confined themselves to a defense of these two kinds of truth. Such a restriction, I assert, is a fruit of philosophy's dreadful habit of ignoring the moral and spiritual realities that already hold man as a creature made in the image of God.
The Third Kind of Truth
It is no simple task to unmask the deficiency of classical philosophy, however, for its error is more one of omission than of commission. I am fully persuaded that if one criticizes philosophy's passion to be precise in either ontological or propositional truth, he simply shows his own want of good sense. Were classical philosophy to be judged by its devotion to the conventional kinds of truth, we would have to doff our hats in praise. Reality is the "given" in truth, while experience and judgment make it possible for the whole man to contact reality.
But what if a third kind of truth exists, one that is the precise equivalent of neither ontological nor propositional truth? What if there were a kind of truth which, in Kierkegaard's words, "comes into being" only as one is transformed by ethical decision? Philosophers think that when they have developed an elaborate system of propositional truth, they can rest on their laurels, quite content that the task is finished. But if Socrates and Kierkegaard are right, such a retirement is culpably premature. The real business of philosophy has not even started.
By the term "third kind of truth" I mean truth as personal rectitude. The possibility of rectitude is implied in the very meaning of moral freedom itself, for uprightness does not come into being until man as he is coincides with man as he ought to be. For example, if one ought to be transformed by the fact
that he is dependent on powers greater than himself, truth as personal rectitude has no existence until one morally and spiritually conforms the whole of his life to this relation. Essence and existence are united by right moral decision. If one chooses to scorn this responsibility, the third type of truth is shorn of reality.
Since man is part of nature, and yet enjoys moral freedom over nature, it is easy to suppose that man's affinity with nature invests him with the same harmony that is enjoyed by a flower. Let us call man's natural features the "descriptive essence." This essence takes in all that belongs to man as he is: legs, organs, reproductive desires, and so on. Viewed from the perspective of his descriptive essence, man really and truly is; existence and essence are federated harmoniously.
Unlike brutes, however, man remains spiritually free to make or undo the most important aspect of his being. Men have moral freedom; they are entrusted with the responsibility of creating or destroying rectitude by the quality of their own decisions.
Let us call the stuff of rectitude the "imperative essence." Even as the descriptive essence comprehends all that man is, so the imperative essence comprehends all that man ought to be. Moral and spiritual decision cannot be shunned without deteriorating character, for essence and existence are not in harmony until one elects to live uprightly.
The Two Conventional Methods of Knowing
If the fulfillment of duty is man's most important responsibility, however, one would think that classical philosophy would have devoted its best talents to devising a method which answers the question, "How is a knowledge of the imperative essence possible?" But this certainly has not been the case. Just as it has been assumed that there are only two types of truth ontological and propositional so it has been assumed that there are only two methods of knowing: knowledge by acquaintance and knowledge by inference. Let us briefly review these two types of knowing, showing why neither is able to lead the mind into a conceptual awareness of the imperative essence. If one expects to grasp the third type of truth truth as personal rectitude he must develop a theory of knowledge which can make peace with the data of the moral and spiritual environment.
Knowledge by acquaintance is the passage of the mind to a conclusion without the aid of a middle premise. Acquaintance
is direct experience. For example, when Thomas De Quincey tried to tell what it meant to bask in the ecstasy of opium, precise words failed him. His experience paragoned description. "Eloquent opium! that with thy potent rhetoric stealest away the purposes of wrath, pleadst effectually for relenting pity, and through one night's heavenly sleep callest back to the guilty man the visions of his infancy, and hands washed pure from blood."2 Intimate emotions, such as love, joy, and grief, are effectively known only as they are felt. The same is true about the more universal aspects of nature. For example, Samuel Johnson wisely observes that though we know what light is, it is not easy to tell what light is. Augustine said the same thing about the meaning of time.
Knowledge by acquaintance answers to ontological truth. If one wants to know the sunset in all its presentational immediacy, he must face the west and open his eyes. He must experience the sunset. Since whatever is, is true, and since experience is our only way of apprehending the wholeness of what is, it follows that only knowledge by acquaintance can directly apprehend ontological truth. A child defines a cat by pointing at it. Since he experiences the cat, he knows the cat.
Knowledge by inference is the passage of the mind to a conclusion with the aid of a middle premise.3 The syllogism is the foundation of valid inference: "All men are mortals; Socrates is a man; therefore, Socrates is a mortal." Valid inference can be simple or complex, but it must always follow the rules of logic. Knowledge by inference begins with simple judgment "This is a horse" and it ends with vast libraries of ponderous tomes. A system of thought is the consummate fruit of human reflection. But systems must be reflected on; they cannot be directly intuited.
Nothing will be gained by laboring this. It is sufficient to note that whenever a judgment is formed about the real, the thinker relies on rational inference to acquaint his mind with truth. If an expert geologist makes a series of judgments about the meaning of certain rock strata, his inferences are valid if they place the mind in contact with the real. This, quite obviously, is why knowledge by inference answers to truth as
2. Confessions of an English Opium-Eater (Oxford), p. 217.
3. In broadest terms, of course, all knowledge is inferential. Knowledge by acquaintance completes the inference without a middle premise, while knowledge by inference does not. Let us not be confused. We have simply distinguished these two species of inference in order that our efforts may enjoy greater precision.
propositional correspondence to reality. A valid inference always yields a true conclusion providing it is based on true premises.
But if knowledge by acquaintance directly introduces the mind to reality, while knowledge by inference houses the real by means of symbols and words, what method escorts the mind into the imperative essence? How can we grasp the nature of that one species of being which has no existence until free, moral decision closes the gap between what an individual is and what he ought to be? That is the problem ....
[Following a discussion of the limitations of both knowledge by acquaintance and knowledge by inference, Carnell turns to what he calls the third method of knowing.]
The Third Method of Knowing
Since man enjoys veto rights over his own impulses, one can only know the content of the imperative essence by a total spiritual acceptance of the duties to which he is already committed by existence itself.4 Rather than experientially or speculatively fingering mere claims to duty, one must allow himself to be transformed by the duties that hold him as he drives his car or shops for a new refrigerator.
Man is a spiritual creature; praiseworthy moral decision forms the very essence of his dignity. But if one will not spiritually acquaint himself with the components of his moral life, nothing from the outside can move him whether it be a system of ethics, a self-transcendent survey of his own impulses, or a scientific review of how men conduct themselves in other cultures. The obligation to meet duty is part of duty. Duty can never be measured by thought; its essence eludes detection until one is morally and spiritually controlled by a sense of duty.
This is why I assert that a knowledge of the imperative essence will never be felt until one places himself in the
4. This expression, "the duties to which he is already committed by existence itself," will doubtless sound gratuitous and naive to the reader. How does "existence itself" establish a line of argument from a person reared on Christian soil to a German conditioned by Hitler? Of what value, then, is an appeal to duties that already hold us? I have no other response than that I am conscious of these problems and that in due time I shall give my attention to them.
center of those obligations which form the moral and spiritual enrivonment of his life. If he shrinks
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from this, preferring to deal with either rational or empirical claims to duty, he will never move one inch toward a correct knowledge of the imperative essence.
But what name shall I give the third method of knowing, in order that it may henceforth be referred to with convenience and accuracy? Let us remember that terms are only useful' they cannot be true or false. A name is serviceable to the degree that it accurately denotes the ideas one has in mind.
I shall call the third method of knowing knowledge by moral self-acceptance. The content of the imperative essence cannot be apprehended until one is spiritually transformed by the sum of those duties which already hold him .... Although knowledge by acquaintance and knowledge by inference are the only ways in which the content of the imperative essence can be brought before the mind, only moral self-acceptance can release the data which make up this essence. If a person will not submit to the moral sense, he will remain spiritually blind; for neither acquaintance nor inference has access to the pith and marrow of the imperative essence. Only moral self-acceptance can release a sense of duty into consciousness. Once duty has been released, of course, it then can be directly experienced or conceptually represented ....
It is important to notice how Wisdom answers one who acts rashly, for Wisdom's word may resolve our difficulty. Anxious to save one from the effect of his own imprudence, it says, "Why, you know better than that!" Foolish conduct is a sin against knowledge. To say that an individual "knows" better is merely another way of saying that he is responsible for acquainting himself with the outcome of his choices. And this is precisely what is meant by the third condition of knowing: To know is to be morally responsible for knowing. Although one does not meet the first condition of knowing until he experiences something, and although one does not meet the second condition of knowing until he reasons consistently, one already meets the third condition of knowing by virtue of his being a normal human being. Moral responsibility is the third condition of knowing. A person must spiritually anticipate the outcome of his actions ....
Preparations for Meeting God
If one were content to know the existence of God, rather than
pressing on to an acquaintance with God's person, this would be the logical place for him to stop; for the probe from here on will seem pointless to all who do not appreciate the fact that personality can only be known as one either introduces himself or is introduced. If we want to enjoy a rich knowledge of God, deliberate steps must be taken to become acquainted with His person. To refuse acquaintance is to refuse knowledge. An inferential knowledge of God's existence is without value until fellowship is gained by an acquaintance with God's person. In person-to-person relations, knowledge by inference must yield to knowledge by acquintance .... [An intellectual love of God is not sufficient.] The real man is not the rational man; the real man is the moral and the loving man .... Until fellowship with God is enjoyed, it is clear that we do not rightly know God.
Extending the Cycle of Fellowship
From the very beginning I have argued that the nearness of God makes it difficult to develop a perspective from which to decide what conditions must be met if we are to enjoy fellowship with God. Such a difficulty is clearly illustrated at this point in the argument. How can we go about acquainting ourselves with the person of God? Where shall we begin?
At an earlier point we asked the question, "Under what conditions shall we trust another individual?" And we answered, "We shall trust him only to the extent that he shows signs of receiving the dignity of our person." This query led to what we called the "cycle of fellowship": an introductory word, the sustained pleasure, and a warm gesture of farewell. Let us now extend this cycle by adding a new element.
Suppose we are walking along the bank of a muddy river, when suddenly we notice that a young mother's rowboat has slipped its knot and is drifing out into the current. Wtihout calculating consequences, we dash into the water and reach for the line, only to soak our clothing and be inconvenienced for the rest of the day. When we finally recover the boat and return it to the woman, does our participation in the moral and spiritual environment oblige her to meet any new terms?
There can be no doubt, as we ponder this and similar illustrations, that whenever we do a large favor for another, the person helped is morally obligated to express a spontaneous word of thanks. By large we mean measurable, out of the way, not legally expected. Whoever is faithful to the
manner of his own life will immediately recognize that there is no exception to this rule. Not to look for evidences of spontaneous gratitude is as clear a sign of character deterioration as an indifference either to one's own dignity or to the moral demand that others respect it .....
The sum of the matter is this: if we expect to approach the person of God, our effort will be presumptuous unless we are held by the spontaneous feelings of gratitude for all God has done. This much is clear. But words of gratitude can only be exchanged within fellowship itself. So, this leaves us just about where we started. An enlargement of othe cycle of fellowship has solved no problems. Our plight, in fact, has even worsened. The more we know about the good, the less able we are to be good.
Spiritual Preparation and the Perception of Truth
Classical thought has seldom appreciated the fact that one can "know" another person only after definite spiritual preparation. Philosophers assume that, regardless of what phase of reality one may probe, the preparations for knowledge are quite the same. This simply is not true.
Take the trivial matter of knowing a pear, for example. There are at least three different approaches to the pear, each requiring a different quality of preparation: Is it a pear? How does the pear taste? May I take the pear? Knowledge by inference establishes the reality of the pear; knowledge by acquaintance the taste; and knowledge by moral self-acceptance our ethical relation to the pear. If a person confuses this order, he confuses knowledge; and if he negates any one method he negates his changes of knowing a part of reality. Knowledge by inference answers to mind; knowledge by acquaintance answers to perceptive faculties; and knowledge by moral self-acceptance answers to the moral sense. Rational inference may decide the existence of the pear, but it cannot tell how a pear tastes; and general experience may decide the taste, but it cannot tell whether it is right to make off with the pear. Each method answers to some specific aspect of man, and this aspect, in turn, answers to the whole individual.
As we shift from one method of knowing to the next, a shift must likewise be made in the spiritual tone of the heart. And just as there are three methods of knowing -- each answering to a particular aspect of the real -- so there are three grades of spiritual preparation.
Knowledge by inference asks for nothing but a desire to construe one's judgments consistently. This calls for a modicum of spiritual preparation, but the amount is too insignificant to be identified. An arrogant individual can excel in logic and mathematics. Perhaps this is why philosophers restrict themselves to knowledge by inference, for pride is left untouched.
Knowledge by acquaintance asks one to relate the content of experience to what he publicly professes. Since one can easily deny what he experiences, a measure of real humility is pre-supposed. The less public the data are, the more convenient it is for ignorance and pride to deny them. A guilty person can stand before the court and plead, "Not guilty." A severely injured person can reply, "Pain has no reality; it is an error of the material sense." Because knowledge by acquaintance asks for a correlation of experience and profession, it calls for much greater spiritual preparation than knowledge by inference.
Knowledge by moral self-acceptance asks for a spiritual willingness to be morally transformed by the realities that already hold one. The content of experience must be related to the total self, not simply to what one professes. Thus, the spiritual preparation is the greatest. The third species of truth -- truth as personal rectitude -- has no existence until one closes the gap between what he is and what he ought to be. The whole person must be spiritually drawn into the task. This means that one cannot even begin the third method of knowing until he has won a decided spiritual victory in his heart. One will not recognize the content of the moral and spiriutal environment until he is humble, for duty is not known until one stands within the center of duty.
No profound truth can be perceived until all three methods are effectively blended. One cannot say, "I know my neighbor," let alone, "I know God," until he submits to the witness of the fourfold environment -- physical, rational, aesthetic, and moral and spiritual. To know a friend calls for the verdict of sense perceptino ("the friend is warm"), the faculty of judgment ("the friend is Norwegian"), and the moral sense ("the friend is kind"). The assertion, "This is my friend," cannot be established either by logic or by science. There is no straightline way to prove the reality of personality. Even as others do not know us until they are humble, so we do not know others until we are humble. The meaning of personality must be
spiritually intuited. Whenever one attempts to establish our reality by speculative techniques, he arouses the judicial sentiment and we judge him guilty. He is guilty because he violates the claims of the moral and spiritual environment. He has no right to treat us as an object.
If we cannot approach one another without satisfying the claims of the moral and spiriutal environment, how can we avoid these claims when approaching God? Is it easier to know God than a fellow citizen? We certainly dare not treat God as an object; He cannot be regarded as the conclusion to a rational argument. God must be spiritually experienced; He must be encountered in the dynamic of fellowship.
God, it seems, is always just beyond the reach of our interests. Although the dignity of our life is safeguarded by the divine vigil, we tend to transact all business in the impersonal corridors of the judicial sentiment. After the dignity of our lives has been vindicated, rather than seeking out God and thanking Him, we turn to other interests.
Since it is advantageous to have God complete the moral cycle by answering to the judicial sentiment, it might appear that we are guilty of using God as a means to our own calculated ends. But such is not the case. Although we look to God to complete the moral cycle, we are held in this necessity from existence itself. Since we are made in God's image, we cannot be indifferent to those who abuse us. We can more easily flee from the universe than we can flee from the presence of God, for in Him we live and move and have our being. "If I ascent to heaven, thou art there! If I make my bed in Sheol, thou art there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there thy hand shall lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me" (Psalm 139:8-10). Therefore, if the charge of culpability is to be leveled anywhere, this is not the place. God has made certain that the whole human race shall look to Him for spiritual as well as physical and rational well-being.
Some might despair of ever enjoying fellowship with God. They err. We know the preconditions of fellowship because we are morally responsible for knowing -- thus decrees the third condition of knowing, a condition that holds us from existence itself. Since we are able to deiscover that God is a person, we are equally able to discover that God is a person, we are eqully able to discover the terms of fellowship; for the second piece of information is analytically implied in the first. If one admits that God is a person, but despairs of ever knowing God through acquaintance, he contradicts himself.
From the very beginning we have admitted that we depend on powers greater than ourselves. These powers, we now know, center in God. All we have and are is a gracious gift. "What have you that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if it were not a gift?" (1 Cor. 4:7). Even our ability to strive and get gain is from God. Without Him we can do nothing. "Beware lest you say in your heart, 'My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.' You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth; that he may confirm his covenant which he swore to your fathers, as at this day" (Deut. 8:17-18). This means that if we fail to be held by spontaneous sentiments of gratitude toward God, we sin.
Since this is the case, it would seem that we ought to get on with it. But this is easier said than done. Though we may sincerely want to be held by expressions of gratitude for all God has done, we have no power to make good this intention. We simply cannot convert our affections. "Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? Then also you can do good who are accustomed to do evil" (Jer. 13:23). The more we consciously strive to arouse sentiments of spontaneous gratitude, the more we are betrayed into what I call a "moral predicament." Each effort to escape this predicament draws us all the more deeply into it. We are like wretches in a pool of quicksand: our very determination to escape lowers us all the deeper into the liquid death.
Here is a pithy summary of the moral predicament: Although it is evil to be morally indifferent to those who do us favors, not only are we held by a spontaneous sense of gratitude when we contemplate the divine favors, but we have insufficient moral resources to convert ourselves. The more we try to be grateful, the more affected, and thus the less moral, our attitude becomes. We may wring our hands, meditate with our faces toward heaven, or drone out holy desires to have fellowship with God; but at the end of each religious exercise we end as spectators who acknowledge a moral task greater than we can meet. We cannot thank God unless we have fellowship with God; but our very want of thankfulness is itself a barrier to fellowship. Which way can we turn?
It would be very easy for one to pretend that he has feelings of spontaneous gratitude to God, but this surely would conduce to folly. "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us" (1 John 1:8). Carlyle observes, in this
connection, that the greatest of faults is to be conscious of none. Since an omniscient God forms the environment in which man lives and moves and is, holy eyes scrutinize our every thought and intention. "O Lord, thou hast searched me and known me! Thou knowest when I sit down and when I rise up; thou discernest my thoughts from afar. Thou searchest out my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways" (Psalm 139:1-3). A resolution to be transparently honest before God may not secure fellowship, but it at least provides a clean moral platform on which to build. We cannot deceive God.
I must confess that no fruit of the third method of knowing has proved more puzzling than the moral predicament. We admit we ought to be held by spontaneous sentiments of gratitude, yet we have no moral resources to convert ourselves. If we were grateful by nature, we would fulfill rectitude out of unconscious necessity.
The moral predicament is serious because it throttles the very possibility of fellowship. Fellowshipo is a daughter of spiritual spontaneity; it is not brought into being by legal or rational striving. But until we are personally acquainted with God, we really do not know God, for personality must be experienced to be known.
Although we speak of God as "personal," William James would be quick to point out that, functionally and pragmatically, we mean the same thing that Aristotle meant by the unmoved mover. God is an ultimacy who explains areas in our life that we happen to call important. We postulate God to explain our participation in the moral and spiritual environment, while Aristotle postulated God to explain motion and rest in nature. But what is the functional difference between these two efforts? Until we know God by acquaintance, there is none.
The Character of God
One phase of the moral predicament must now be carefully examined, for it may help us resolve our difficulty. Suppose the moral predicament does exist. Are we culpable for this fact? Can we be blamed for failing in what we cannot do? Blind people cannot see color, and we cannot arouse spontaneous sentiments of gratitude; but may either of us be meaningfully blamed? It would seem not.
As I meditated further, I discovered that an important phase of our relation to God has not yet been explored. What
if it can be shown that God completes the moral cycle from a necessity that is immanent in His own character? Would this not immediately relieve the moral predicament? Just as God exists of necessity,5 so He completes the moral cycle of necessity; and just as we need not thank God for His existence, so we need not thank Him for completing the moral cycle. If this accords with truth, the case is closed.
Some may charge us with probing into the secret things of God: "We have no present right to look into God's essence, for the privilege is reserved for the beatific vision. We must believe, not question." This is all well and good, but what should we believe? Unless we can spell out the terms of fellowship, we cannot prepare to meet God.
The truth is, we already know the essence of God. God is perfect rectitude. God unfailingly defends our dignity by answering to the judicial sentiment. To argue otherwise would be repugnant to truth. Were we to assert that God is not held by a necessity to judge those who mistreat us, we would obscure the clearest element in our moral experience; for our reliance on God is woven into the very fabric of existence itself. It is impossible to have fellowship with wicked people. But it is not we who judge the wicked; it is God who judges them through us. We are only vessels through which a duly authorized moral tribunal works. We have no native rights to judge one another. "For there is no authority except from God" (Romans 13:1). This is why we cannot avoid believing that God completes the moral cycle out of a necessity that resides in His own character. We are only saying, in more elaborate language, that God is God. God and an upright man are held by similar attitudes toward justice and injustice, for the moral and spiritual environment is common to both. The more perfect man is, the more like God he becomes.
But some may ask, "Are we not limiting God? Isn't a sovereign God free to do whatever He wants?" Certainly God is free -- absolutely free. Freedom means that one acts in accord with his nature; and it is in accord with God's nature to see the
5. In asserting that God exists of necessity, we are not appealing to the ontological argument. Kierkegaard has given the coup de grâce to the Anselmic dream of passing from the idea of God to the existence of God. (See Kierkegaard, Concluding Unscientific Postscript [Princeton University Press], p. 298.) We here argue from within the Thomistic-Kantian tradition. If anything exists, something exists of necessity. This necessity is God. The argument from contingency is dialectically more compelling than that drawn from the idea of an all-perfect being.
judgment of those who abuse us. This in no way impedes sovereignty.
It is not we who limit God, but God who limits our power of apprehending Him. We perceive God in and through the claimsd of the moral and spiritual environment, for we live and move and are in God.
Others may add, "But if we cannot trust a fellow human unless he shows signs of receiving our dignity, neither can we trust God unless He shows similar signs; in which case we place an abstract rule above God, and God is no longer sovereign." The objection fails to respect our true relation to God. We do not turn God's standards back on God, for it is God Himself who judges immoral people through us. A house divided against itself cannot stand. Were it not that we live and move and are in God, we should never know what duty is. We should be brutes. Dissolve our confidence that God completes the moral cycle, and the very meaning of rectitude collapses.
The moral and spiritual environment admits of no exceptions. Whenever a person enters the circle of nearness -- be he God or man -- we cannot extend
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