Last summer tragedy struck the family of a prominent author in New Pork City. His 21 year old daughter and a roommate were brutally killed in an apartment building by some unknown murderer.
The father writes in a national magazine of his experience in the trying days that followed and of his attempts to come to some measure of peace in reconciling himself to this tragic event. In an article in which he traces his family’s history and the history of his slain daughter (a history, by the way, filled with a great deal of other tragedy), he tries to place this brutal murder into some religious perspective. The result of his attempt is that he concludes that religion has really nothing to do with it all. Some of the language makes one shudder. To be without God is a terrible thing.
I quote some of his remarks:
I am obliged to reject the words of St. Paul when he said, “All things work together for good to them that love God.” I am obliged to reject the adage that tells us no man is given loads heavier than he can carry. Whenever we are given loads too much for us to carry, we collapse. . . .
It helped me—and I think it will help you if you need help—to get rid of all the rubbishy platitudes as soon as you can face the fact of your loss. God’s hand is in none of these horrors. The most sustaining single sentence that came to us in over a thousand letters came from (a) doctor: “This did not happen for the best; this happened for the worst.”
That was the truth of it. And that sentence, cold as it is, laid out the tragedy flat and bare and clean and final. . . .
Do (we) have “words to live by?” I think so, although none of us accepts God as the Christian Churches urge us to accept Him. Though believing in the existence of a higher power, we have all, in our several ways, rejected the more formalized Personification that the average churchgoer prays to.
Praying to God will bring no comfort. . . . God had nothing to do with the murder . . ., anymore than He had anything to do with creating the hideous social deformity that is her killer. . . .
God has never protected anyone from anything, and is not in that business. We are chemical sports, only briefly to wear these present forms, already entering the undignified but inevitable, timetable attrition of devolution. . . .
All this is terribly hopeless. The tragedy may be deep; and it may be difficult to speak of true comfort if one has never endured such sorrow. But we ought to be daily grateful that in His mercy God has given to us an only comfort for time and for eternity, in life and in death.
In the latest issue of The Reformed Journal, Prof. J.J. Lamberts writes an article defending his choice to teach in a secular college. The article is mostly concerned with two conversations with students in which the professor spoke of the faith of the gospel. The point of the article is therefore summarized in the concluding paragraph when the professor writes:
If I had imagined that God had given up the secular colleges and universities, perhaps I should feel differently about being here. But the Collettes and Judys (the two students with whom the professor spoke) and scores besides convince me that these too are his harvest fields. That’s the reason I’m here. It’s cold, but it’s never dull.
The trouble is, however, that the professor, unwittingly no doubt, gives some very good reasons why not to teach in a secular college. These reasons ark to be found in the fact that in the course of his conversation with “Judy” he made some very serious theological errors which make one wonder whether he really believes the truth of Scripture at all. The conclusion seems to be that it is necessary to deny one’s faith to teach in a secular college.
Here are several parts of the conversation in which these errors are taught.
In the early part of the discussion the talk was of God—His being and His work of creation.
“Well, God undertakes to do things in this matter. Frankly, I don’t care whether it’s six days or six billion years. He adds various dimensions to his creation-time and motion and life and various stages of intelligence . . . .”
This is tantamount to a denial of creation.
Next the conversation turns to sin and the determination of God to save. The conversation runs as follows:
“God had intended that human beings would live in harmony with His will. You know, Judy, we’re put together in a strange way. There seem to be certain laws that govern the universe and we’re intended to follow them. . . .”
“On an even bigger scale we’ve started running against the will of God, in our relation to the world around us, the people we associate with, and with God himself. We ruin the world and we injure other people.”
“I understand that.”
“Now that human beings have decided to go their own way, God can do any one of several things. First, he can wash his hands of the whole affair and simply destroy the universe; in fact, forget that he ever got involved in it. Or he can do what he did with the fallen angels—condemn them to eternal futility. He could also do what a lot of people imagine he really did do. You know, ‘Oh, Adam, you stupid boy; You really didn’t mean. it, did you?’ Don’t a lot of people think God is going to be soft-headed about the whole business of sin?”
This is little better than the Pelagian conception of sin; there is nothing of the terrible and total depravity of man whereby he sins against God’s most high majesty and deserves only eternal hell. And this is a fearfully weak description of God’s sovereign counsel. But the author at least does not say that God simply overlooks sin. He insists that salvation is possible only through Christ.
But he gives this reason—and spoils even this:
“It’s simply that God has unlimited respect for our integrity as human beings. He’s given us a free will, an ability to make choices. If he’d forget about it and say that our choices didn’t really matter, then we’d be on a level with the animals, or be robots. But God respects our freedom of choice so completely that he will let us destroy ourselves before he will lift a finger.”
This is nothing less than Pelagianism at its worst.
But then the discussion turns to the life of Christ. In discussing the incarnation, the life and the death, the resurrection and the ascension of Christ, the professor makes several obvious and serious errors: 1) He seems to teach the “kenosis” doctrine that Christ laid aside all His divine attributes when He entered into our flesh. 2) He denies that Christ was conscious (at least in his earlier life and ministry) of His divinity and of His purpose in coming into the world—to save His people through His own death of the cross. 3) He teaches that at the resurrection and the ascension of Christ, Christ’s human nature really became divine because it took on several of the divine attributes, if not all of them.
Listen again to the conversation:
has to do with Jesus Christ. He was God just as much as the Father and he was equal to him. But at a special moment in time he ‘stripped himself.’ You remember he was all powerful or omnipotent and now he laid that aside and became weak; he was everlasting and became mortal so that ordinary human beings would be able to kill him; he was omnipresent, and now he became simply a baby in a dusty camel shelter. In fact, he discarded or held in abeyance every one of his attributes except maybe one.”
“What was that?”
“You must remember some of the story. A baby is born and a few shepherds get excited, but that’s about all. As a child he grows up, goes to school and like other Jewish boys he memorizes the Old Testament. Every now and then, it seems to me, something will flash into his mind and he’ll wonder why that seems to have a special meaning for him. When he’s twelve he goes to the temple and feels completely at home there so that he says ‘something very curious about being in his ‘Father’s house.’ He learns a trade and becomes the village handyman until he’s about thirty. Then he hears about a preacher who has started telling people that the kingdom of God is almost ready to appear, so he feels drawn to meet this preacher. He is baptized and suddenly he feels such a powerful impact of the Spirit of God that it seems as though he has been struck full force by a dove. Forty days he stays in the wilderness, trying to figure out what has happened. Then he starts wandering around the country talking to people and telling them that he has good news for them. . . .”
“. . . More and more he realized what was going to happen to him if he kept on being perfectly obedient to the will of his Father. Finally he managed to run head-on into the religious people who couldn’t imagine that God would ever appear like that. . . . As a result they resolved to destroy him and finally they captured him for the purpose of crucifying him.
This is a denial of many important parts of the gospel narrative and of the life of the Son of God among us.
But then the resurrection and the ascension:
“The truth is, Judy, this person has been completely obedient to the will of God, to the extent of being willing to die. Now that he has gone the utter limit, God begins to restore to him the attributes he laid aside. First he gives him life, not just in the sense of resuscitating him, but restoring the immortality he has laid aside. Then presently he leaves his disciples and God restores his omnipresence, so that he can say, ‘I am with you always’. . . .”
Then the discussion turns to salvation. First of all Paul’s conversion is described—and denied.
“Jesus Christ talked about being ‘horn again.’ But Paul was the one who was most specific about it, I guess. He was riding to Damascus one day to persecute some of the believers. First he wasn’t thinking about anything in particular and gradually he started hearing in his mind a sermon he had listened to some time earlier—a sermon by a young fellow named Stephen. He kept hearing it over and over, like a tape. All at once Paul stopped—could it be? Could it possibly be . . .? And it seemed to him like an overwhelming blaze of light:—Stephen had been right! And at that moment Jesus Christ—spoke to him and Paul answered, ‘Who are you, Lord? “
Then the inevitable Arminianism.
“He says, ‘I am standing at the door knocking.’ He wants you to open it. Do you understand that?”
“Would you be ready to turn over your life to him, just like that?”
“I’m going to pray with you and after I’ve prayed, you may tell him aloud that you want him to take you just as you are.”
The moral of the story is, Don’t teach in a secular college.
And how can this appear in a “Reformed” church paper?
Time gives us some news about recent developments in mergers.
Lutheran Church leaders met recently to draft a new proposed constitution for a cooperative service agency that would replace the present National Lutheran Council. This National Lutheran Council has been a cooperative venture of the Lutheran Church in America (3,100,000 members) and the American Lutheran Church (2,300,000 members). The new constitution will make it possible for two other Lutheran Church bodies to cooperate also in various church work. These two bodies are the comparatively conservative Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (surprisingly enough), and the Synod of Evangelical Lutheran Churches with 20,000 members.
This is supposed to pave the way for theological discussion that will hopefully result in complete merger between these four denominations.
A joint study committee has reported on the possibility of merger between the Presbyterian Church in the U.S. (Southern) and the Reformed Church of America. The report is very optimistic in that it finds no major obstacles to complete merger. The Southern Presbyterian Church numbers 928,000 members; the Reformed Church in America numbers 232,000. Leaders expect that a formal announcement of merger could possibly come in time to celebrate the 400th anniversary of John Calvin’s death, May 27. This however is according to Time, whose correspondents must have talked to different people than the correspondents of the Presbyterian Journal. This latter paper reports also on this, but says that this report must come to the Presbyterian Assembly in April and the RCA Synod in June. If these two assemblies accept the report, they might instruct a committee to proceed with a definite plan for union-which will then be quite a ways in the future.