An Invitation to Oddity

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Photo by 童 彤 on Unsplash

“If you want a religion to make you comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.” – C. S. Lewis

There is an idea abroad that faith in Christ opens up the doors to abundance, success and all round good health. We have bought into the notion that becoming a Christian is a ticket to peace, comfort, and security. Whatever we might say concerning Biblical references to prosperity, healing, or success, one thing is abundantly clear: the Scriptures portray God’s people as an odd lot.

God’s redemptive covenant, as commenced with Abraham, sets His people apart as God’s chosen family. Along with this wonderful privilege comes the stark reality that they will be a strange tribe in a fallen world. In a world which has declared hostility against God, His covenant people will be seen as enemies.

All through history, God’s elect have borne the cost of being an odd people. Abraham ‘s trust in God was in marked contrast to his nephew Lot and the surrounding cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Joseph was thrown into prison for daring to have integrity. The Israelites were detested by the Egyptians and were an odd community among the idol -worshipping tribes of Canaan. David’s childlike faith in God proved a point of envy to the backslidden King Saul. The godliness of Elijah set him against the false prophets of Baal. On account of their devotion to the God of heaven, Daniel and his friends attracted sufficient hostility from their Babylonian colleagues as to be thrown into both a furnace and a lions’ den. And what shall we say of Peter, James, and Paul, who endured not only opposition, but also imprisonment, suffering,  and death just for being believers?

No one put the issue more pointedly than Jesus:

“A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for a disciple that he be like his teacher, and a servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more will they call those of his household!” (Matt. 10:25)

And again,

Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.” (Mark 8:34)

The believer is odd because he marches to a different drummer. He seeks to obey God and not merely go along with the views and practices of his neighbours and family. He sees the world differently because he looks at it through God’s eyes. And this can be costly. It will cost him acceptance by society, some comforts, some freedoms, and perhaps his life. Hence the warning by Jesus above. If our message has no place for this conflict, it can hardly be the gospel which Jesus and the apostles preached.

As God calls us to be the odd one out among the peoples of the world, He promises to be our God. While we may endure the scorn of the world, we know we have His smile. The sneer and hatred of a hostile culture are more than offset by the joy we have in Christ. We may be odd, yet it is a positive oddity. To be in union with God, through Christ, is to be above Presidents and Kings.

So we invite you, dear reader, to be odd – to be positively odd.

The Christian Mind in Modern Nigeria

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A recent study by the Barna Group highlights how Christians in the US are largely influenced by other worldviews such as Secular Humanism, Marxism, and the New Age. The figures are quite saddening. 26% of Christians surveyed believe that “all people pray to the same god or spirit, no matter what name they use for that spiritual being.” 32% believe the popular notion that “if you do good, you will receive good, and if you do bad, you will receive bad.” And according to the survey, 20% of practicing Christians believe that “meaning and purpose comes from working hard to earn as much as possible so you can make the most of life,”, which comes from a secular or materialist worldview.

Reflecting on these statistics brought to my mind that Christians here in Nigeria, and much of modern Africa, face a similar problem. The Christian is hemmed in by 2 worldviews which, often unconsciously, shape her thoughts, beliefs, and decisions on different aspects of life. These two worldviews, outlooks or perspectives are Secular Humanism and the African Traditional Worldview.

It is necessary to state at the outset that these outlooks are not false in their entirety; like most worldviews, they contain elements which are true. However, as a perspective on life and reality, they distort the truth as revealed by God in both creation and revelation. As a result, they are inadequate in helping us know the truth, appreciate beauty, and live right.

Secular humanism controls our political and educational institutions. It is the viewpoint which largely drives businesses and the corporate world, the workings of the government, Nigeria’s relations with other nations, and public affairs.

This outlook or perspective considers all life from the standpoint of humans and their welfare. While it is praiseworthy and essential to take humanity’s welfare seriously, the problem with Secular humanism is that it sees humans as autonomous. No higher authority, no higher being. In other societies, especially in Europe and North America, it is often allied with Naturalism, the philosophical view that the physical universe is all that exists, or with Materialism, which is the belief that only physical matter exists. Naturalism is not so strong as a cultural force in Africa, however, because we are largely a religious people; we believe deeply in the supernatural world of God, angels, and spirits. However, we still think, act, and make decisions from a secular viewpoint. Even though we do not deny the existence of God or the spirit realm, it plays no factor in the key issues of society or government. Society thinks in terms of the wellbeing of man but hardly considers what God’s will is in any situation. I understand that secularism can seem like a practical way to handle religious diversity in our modern society. But this is far from being a solution. For the true import of secularism is to ultimately eradicate meaning, truth, and values. In a world where man is the ultimate point of reference, there is no true basis for any of these.

Secular humanism emphasizes that one must look at life rationally. But rationality is implied to mean a search for truth based only on reason and experience. There is no place for Revelation. This was precisely the doctrine of the European movement known as the Enlightenment. It did away with tradition, particularly Christian tradition, and has blossomed over the centuries into the social and cultural decay observed and experienced all over the Western world.

The African traditional worldview influences personal and family life. We find it in the entertainment media (Nollywood movies and music). It influences churches and other socio-religious institutions. It also shapes public affairs significantly along with the secular humanist outlook.

As the name implies, it is an outlook common to African societies, so it is quite broad with differences from culture to culture. However, there are common elements. The African worldview is characterized by a strong belief in the spiritual realm. And this, I believe, coupled with the influence of Islam and Christianity, has helped restrain the full-blown adoption of Secularism as a worldview in Africa. Africans believe in God, and they also believe in a world of spiritual beings, both good and evil. God is not approached directly, except through diverse mediating gods who derive their power from him. There is a specialization within this pantheon, as you have different deities attached to various elements or natural features. Among my tribe, you have a god of lightning, one of iron, others over different rivers (e.g. Osun). Though these deities are said to be mediating beings, they actually function in that role of God. The adherent depends on it, calls upon it when in trouble and placates it with a sacrifice when offended. And they all have their devoted priests and priestesses.

Under this outlook, the spiritual world is seen as very real. Incidents considered to be natural by the ‘educated’ or ‘modern’ person could be traced to some activity or influence from the spiritual realm. A road accident, a child suddenly falling ill, business decline, are a sample of cases that could be explained by reference to supernatural forces.

Also, this worldview emphasizes community as against mere individual accomplishment. Life is lived in community. A person finds his purpose and significance by obeying the will of the gods and participating in the life of the community. This is why the role of one’s family and relatives matters tremendously in Nigeria and Africa. You should maintain good relations with your relatives and take good care of them. This principle, while praiseworthy and largely biblical, can also foster moral corruption. We can close our eyes to evil where it is committed by a ‘brother’ or ‘uncle’. This is why a society could honour an ex-convict who embezzled public funds with a chieftaincy title or sing the praises of treasury looters and ritualists simply because they built them a road.

Life under the traditional worldview is one of perpetual fear. There are all kinds of evil forces at work, and one must ever be on guard to protect oneself from them.

Both views dishonour God for they fail to tell the truth about Him or the world he has made. And if we seek to be faithful to Him as our Lord and King, we must steer clear of the influence of these 2 perspectives. Man is not God, and neither is God aloof or distant. Our universe is not autonomous; it is held and sustained by God himself. Our universe is also not subject to the movings of an impersonal fate nor the will of some unpredictable spirits. God reigns and his rule extends over all he has made. We can know him; in fact, He created us into a  relationship of love. And He wants to reestablish this connection. Hence the work of redemption. A universe in which man has no God may look like a free and blessed place; but with much reflection and painful experience, we find that is

A universe in which man has no God may look like a free and blessed place; but with much reflection and painful experience, we find that it is a world without meaning, truth and hope. And that can truly be miserable. On the other hand, a  universe filled with different powerful but limited gods, with a Supreme Being who is distant and aloof, with a universe ever at the mercy of evil spirits, is hardly better. The Christian worldview, with its focus on the good news of redemption of God’s creation, supplies the truth, meaning, and joy which the human heart deeply craves. It comprehensively deals with every fact or experience of life and provides meaning for it within its grand narrative of Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration.

Therefore, the believer must continually be on her guard for such ideas and beliefs which emanate from a false view of life. She must continually renew her mind and keep it conformed to God’s revelation (cf. Rom. 12:1). As the light of the world and the salt of the earth, we cannot allow ourselves to be swept along by untrue ideas, however popular they currently are.


Do you depend absolutely on God?

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Man is God’s creature. He is dependent on Him for everything. Knowledge, Being, Values.

The Christian worldview is more than a collection of doctrines and ideas. This would be to miss the whole point. In its practical outworking, it is the outcome of devotion to a single principle: entire dependence on God. The Christian is one who has embraced God entirely. He realizes he was formed and shaped by God for fellowship with God and dominion over the earth. Through the act of his human ancestors, he is fallen along with the rest of God’s creation. Yet through the sovereign love of the same God, he has been redeemed and restored to fellowship with his God, ready to resume his task of developing culture under God. In his knowing, in his existing and in his living, God is his Lord.

The difference between the Christian worldview and a secular worldview is the difference between Dependence and Autonomy. A secular worldview proclaims Autonomy in the three classic areas of epistemology, metaphysics, and ethics¹. In other words, knowledge is based on what we can see, think and feel, without any input from divine revelation. (Epistemology) We exist, so we think, independently of any cosmic spirit or ‘God’. Nature is all there is. We humans are simply higher animals who have evolved from less complex organisms, which have themselves developed from lifeless matter. And all this has come about by mere chance. (Metaphysics) We define for ourselves what is proper or improper. Right and wrong are social constructs or personal preferences. Either way, they derive from man and are not handed down by a ‘god’. (Ethics)

The Christian life and worldview, on the contrary, understands that reality is entirely dependent on God. The vast universe is charged with the grandeur of God (to borrow a phrase from James Sire²). All reality bristles with God’s invisible yet potent energy. Knowledge, existence, life, principles, values, bodies, intelligence, spirits – all are dependent on God. And this is not a straitjacket for someone who holds to such a view of things. It is the height of true freedom. For I find true liberty in living according to the law of my being – understanding myself and my makeup, and living accordingly. Seeking to extricate oneself from God does not liberate; it disorients. Like a tree planted in mid-air, there is neither true growth nor firm support. True life is one that is lived Coram Deo (before God). It is a life of absolute dependence, yet one of lasting joy and peace.


¹These are three traditional sub-divisions in the study of Philosophy. They are very helpful in understanding the nature of reality.

²James Sire, author of The Universe Next Door.

The Church and Culture

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“Culture covers the whole range of human society.” 

Brian J. Walsh

The relationship between the church and human culture is one of neither total acceptance nor pure rejection. Every culture, on account of our creation in God’s image, has some elements of truth, goodness, and beauty within it, which the Christian should not despise. Nevertheless, no culture is so preserved as not to be fallen and corrupted with the rest of humanity. The church needs to be discriminating, examining every cultural artifact, style, art form, or product in light of God’s revealed word.

Culture is a broad term. It encompasses all that we do as humans in developing God’s creation. When we design and build furniture out of wood, glass, or steel; when we compose music, write plays, or produce engrossing movies; when we set up institutions for promoting literacy and education, we are building culture. Fallen human nature, however, implies that our products as cultural beings will be tainted with sin. Our music may be brilliant while the lyrics extol pride and vanity. Our noble  effort to establish a political group might be tainted by a lust for power. And even a commercial business, which clearly serves an important need in society, could be managed by ambitious leaders who abuse and humiliate their subordinates.

So culture, while a God-given privilege and task, often bears the marks of humanity’s fallen nature. This is why discernment becomes necessary. We cannot abandon all cultural pursuits as evil, neither can we naively embrace all ideas as legitimate. Truth, goodness, and beauty must still remain our objective in assessing every form of culture.

Bringing this home, the church in Nigeria must be culturally discerning. Too often, we adopt either one posture or the other. Music, products, institutions, ideas, are generated across the diverse cultures of Nigeria. Embrace them as neutral? No. Reject them as worldly activities which do not befit the saint? Not at all. Culture must be assessed in light of God’s word. Does this song’s lyrics express truth or promote a lie? Is this institution in line with God’s design for human society? As the light of the world, we have a responsibility to pronounce on our society’s cultural pursuits. But we cannot stop there. We will also work to produce cultural products that bear the evidence of Christ’s redemption. Businesses in which managers demonstrate servant leadership, music which delight the ears and inspire the spirit, products which display excellent craftsmanship, and institutions which selflessly champion the public good. In this way, we would not only be dispelling the darkness, but we would also be giving light.

Christianity and Culture (Part 3 of 3)

The chief obstacle to the Christian religion today lies in the sphere of the intellect. That assertion must be guarded against two misconceptions.

 

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

 

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

 

Modern culture is a tremendous force. It affects all classes of society. It affects the ignorant as well as the learned. What is to be done about it? In the first place the Church may simply withdraw from the conflict. She may simply allow the mighty stream of modern  thought to flow by unheeded and do her work merely in the back-eddies of the current. There are still some men in the world who have been unaffected by modern culture. They may still be won for Christ without intellectual labor. And they must be won. It is useful, it is necessary work. If the Church is satisfied with that alone, let her give up the scientific education of her ministry. Let her assume the truth of her message and learn simply how it may be applied in detail to modern industrial and social conditions. Let her give up the laborious study of Greek and Hebrew. Let her abandon the scientific study of history to the men of the world. In a day of increased scientific interest, let the Church go on becoming less scientific. In a day of increased specialization, of renewed interest in philology and in history, of more rigorous scientific method, let the Church go on abandoning her Bible to her enemies. They will study it scientifically, rest assured, if the Church does not. Let her substitute sociology altogether for Hebrew, practical expertness for the proof of her gospel. Let her shorten the preparation of her ministry, let her permit it to be interrupted yet more and more by premature practical activity. By doing so she will win a straggler here and there. But her winnings will be but temporary. The great current of modern culture will sooner or later engulf her puny eddy. God will save her somehow – out of the depths. But the labor of centuries will have been swept away. God grant that the Church may not resign herself to that.

 

God grant she may face her problem squarely and bravely. That problem is not easy. It involves the very basis of her faith. Christianity is the proclamation of an historical fact – that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. Modern thought has no place for that proclamation. It prevents men even from listening to the message. Yet the culture of today cannot simply be rejected as a whole. It is not like the pagan culture of the first century. It is not wholly non-Christian. Much of it has been derived directly from the Bible. There are significant movements in it, going to waste, which might well be used for the defense of the gospel. The situation is complex. Easy wholesale measures are not in place. Discrimination, investigation is necessary. Some of modern thought must be refuted. The rest must be made subservient. But nothing in it can be ignored. He that is not with us is against us. Modern culture is a mighty force. It is either subservient to the gospel or else it is the deadliest enemy of the gospel. For making it subservient, religious emotion is not enough, intellectual labor is also necessary. And that labor is being neglected. The Church has turned to easier tasks. And now she is reaping the fruits of her indolence. Now she must battle for her life.

 

The situation is desperate. It might discourage us. But not if we are truly Christians. Not if we are living in vital communion with the risen Lord. If we are really convinced of the truth of our message, then we can proclaim it before a world of enemies, then the very difficulty of our task, the very scarcity of our allies becomes an inspiration, then we can even rejoice that God did not place us in an easy age, but in a time of doubt and perplexity and battle. Then, too, we shall not be afraid to call forth other soldiers into the conflict. Instead of making our theological seminaries merely centers of religious emotion, we shall make them battle-grounds of the faith, where, helped a little by the experience of Christian teachers, men are taught to fight their own battle, where they come to appreciate the real strength of the adversary and in the hard school of intellectual struggle learn to substitute for the unthinking faith of childhood the profound convictions of full-grown men. Let us not fear in this a loss of spiritual power. The Church is perishing today through the lack of thinking, not through an excess of it.

 

She is winning victories in the sphere of material betterment. Such victories are glorious. God save us from the heartless crime of disparaging them. They are relieving the misery of men. But if they stand alone, I fear they are but temporary. The things which are seen are temporal; the things which are not seen are eternal. What will become of philanthropy if God be lost? Beneath the surface of life lies a world of spirit. Philosophers have attempted to explore it. Christianity has revealed its wonders to the simple soul. There lie the springs of the Church’s power. But that spiritual realm cannot be entered without controversy. And now the Church is shrinking from the conflict. Driven from the spiritual realm by the current of modern thought, she is consoling herself with things about which there is no dispute. If she favors better housing for the poor, she need fear no contradiction. She will need all her courage. She will have enemies enough, God knows. But they will not fight her with argument.

 

The twentieth century, in theory, is agreed on social betterment. But sin, and death, and salvation, and life, and God – about these things there is debate. You can avoid the debate if you choose. You need only drift with the current. Preach every Sunday during your Seminary course, devote the fag ends of your time to study and to thought, study about as you studied in college – and these questions will probably never trouble you. The great questions may easily be avoided. Many preachers are avoiding them. And many preachers are preaching to the air. The Church is waiting for men of another type. Men to fight her battles and solve her problems. The hope of finding them is the one great inspiration of a Seminary’s life. They need not all be men of conspicuous attainments. But they must all be men of thought. They must fight hard against spiritual and intellectual indolence. Their thinking may be confined to narrow limits. But it must be their own. To them theology must be something more than a task. It must be a matter of inquiry. It must lead not to successful memorizing, but to genuine convictions.

 

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

Christianity and Culture (Part 2 of 3)

 

 

 

 

 

Certain obvious advantages are connected with such a solution of the problem. In the first place, a logical advantage. A man can believe only what he holds to be true. We are Christians because we hold Christianity to be true. But other men hold Christianity to be false. Who is right? That question can be settled only by an examination and comparison of the reasons adduced on both sides. It is true, one of the grounds for our belief is an inward experience that we cannot share – the great experience begun by conviction of sin and conversion and continued by communion with God – an experience which other men do not possess, and upon which, therefore, we cannot directly base an argument. But if our position is correct, we ought at least to be able to show the other man that his reasons may be inconclusive. And that involves careful study of both sides of the question.

Furthermore, the field of Christianity is the world. The Christian cannot be satisfied so long as any human activity is either opposed to Christianity or out of all connection with Christianity. Christianity must pervade not merely all nations, but also all of human thought. The Christian, therefore, cannot be indifferent to any branch of earnest human endeavor. It must all be brought into some relation to the gospel. It must be studied either in order to be demonstrated as false, or else in order to be made useful in advancing the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom must be advanced not merely extensively, but also intensively. The Church must seek to conquer not merely every man for Christ, but also the whole of man.

We are accustomed to encourage ourselves in our discouragements by the thought of the time when every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord. No less inspiring is the other aspect of that same great consummation. That will also be a time when doubts have disappeared, when every contradiction has been removed, when all of science converges to one great conviction, when all of art is devoted to one great end, when all of human thinking is permeated by the refining, ennobling influence of Jesus, when every thought has been brought into subjection to the obedience of Christ.

If to some of our practical men, these advantages of our solution of the problem seem to be intangible, we can point to the merely numerical advantage of intellectual and artistic activity within the Church. We are all agreed that at least one great function of the Church is the conversion of individual men. The missionary movement is the great religious movement of our day. Now it is perfectly true that men must be brought to Christ one by one. There are no labor-saving devices in evangelism. It is all hand-work.

And yet it would be a great mistake to suppose that all men are equally well prepared to receive the gospel. It is true that the decisive thing is the regenerative power of God. That can overcome all lack of preparation, and the absence of that makes even the best preparation useless. But as a matter of fact God usually exerts that power in connection with certain prior conditions of the human mind, and it should be ours to create, so far as we can, with the help of God, those favorable conditions for the reception of the gospel. False ideas are the greatest obstacles to the reception of the gospel. We may preach with all the fervor of a reformer and yet succeed only in winning a straggler here and there, if we permit the whole collective thought of the nation or of the world to be controlled by ideas which, by the resistless force of logic, prevent Christianity from being regarded as anything more than a harmless delusion. Under such circumstances, what God desires us to do is to destroy the obstacle at its root.

Many would have the seminaries combat error by attacking it as it is taught by its popular exponents. Instead of that they confuse their students with a lot of German names unknown outside the walls of the universities. That method of procedure is based simply upon a profound belief in the pervasiveness of ideas. What is today matter of academic speculation begins tomorrow to move armies and pull down empires. In that second stage, it has gone too far to be combated; the time to stop it was when it was still a matter of impassionate debate. So as Christians we should try to mold the thought of the world in such a way as to make the acceptance of Christianity something more than a logical absurdity.

Thoughtful men are wondering why the students of our great * Eastern universities no longer enter the ministry or display any very vital interest in Christianity. Various totally inadequate explanations are proposed, such as the increasing attractiveness of other professions – an absurd explanation, by the way, since other professions are becoming so over-crowded that a man can barely make a living in them. The real difficulty amounts to this – that the thought of the day, as it makes itself most strongly felt in the universities, but from them spreads inevitably to the masses of the people, is profoundly opposed to Christianity, or at least – what is nearly as bad – it is out of all connection with Christianity. The Church is unable either to combat it or to assimilate it, because the Church simply does not understand it.

Under such circumstances, what more pressing duty than for those who have received the mighty experience of regeneration, who. therefore, do not, like the world, neglect that whole series of vitally relevant facts which is embraced in Christian experience – what more pressing duty than for these men to make themselves masters of the thought of the world in order to make it an instrument of truth instead of error? The Church has no right to be so absorbed in helping the individual that she forgets the world.

There are two objections to our solution of the problem. If you bring culture and Christianity thus into close union – in the first place, will not Christianity destroy culture? Must not art and science be independent in order to flourish? We answer that it all depends upon the nature of their dependence. Subjection to any external authority or even to any human authority would be fatal to art and science. But subjection to God is entirely different. Dedication of human powers to God is found, as a matter of fact, not to destroy but to heighten them. God gave those powers. He understands them well enough not bunglingly to destroy His own gifts.

In the second place, will not culture destroy Christianity? Is it not far easier to be an earnest Christian if you confine your attention to the Bible and do not risk being led astray by the thought of the world? We answer, of course it is easier. Shut yourself up in an intellectual monastery, do not disturb yourself with the thoughts of unregenerate men, and of course you will find it easier to be a Christian, just as it is easier to be a good soldier in comfortable winter quarters than it is on the field of battle. You save your own soul – but the Lord’s enemies remain in possession of the field. But by whom is this task of transforming the unwieldy, resisting mass of human thought until it becomes subservient to the gospel – by whom is this task to be accomplished? To some extent, no doubt, by professors in theological seminaries and universities. But the ordinary minister of the gospel cannot shirk his responsibility. It is a great mistake to suppose that investigation can successfully be carried on by a few specialists whose work is of interest to nobody but themselves. Many men of many minds are needed.

What we need first of all, especially in our **American churches, is a more general interest in the problems of theological science. Without that, the specialist is without the stimulating atmosphere which nerves him to do his work. But no matter what his station in life, the scholar must be a regenerated man – he must yield to no one in the intensity and depth of his religious experience. We are well supplied in the world with excellent scholars who are without that qualification. They are doing useful work in detail, in Biblical philology, in exegesis, in Biblical theology, and in other branches of study. But they are not accomplishing the great task, they are not assimilating modern thought to Christianity, because they are without that experience of God’s power in the soul which is of the essence of Christianity. They have only one side for the comparison. Modern thought they know, but Christianity is really foreign to them. It is just that great inward experience which it is the function of the true Christian scholar to bring into some sort of connection with the thought of the world.

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

What is the cause of this tremendous defection? For my part, I have little hesitation in saying that it lies chiefly in the intellectual sphere. Men do not accept Christianity because they can no longer be convinced that Christianity is true. It may be useful, but is it true? Other explanations, of course, are given. The modern defection from the Church is explained by the practical materialism of the age. Men are so much engrossed in making money that they have no time for spiritual things. That explanation has a certain range of validity. But its range is limited. It applies perhaps to the boom towns of the West, where men are intoxicated by sudden possibilities of boundless wealth.

 

But the defection from Christianity is far broader than that. It is felt in the settled countries of Europe even more strongly than in America. It is felt among the poor just as strongly as among the rich. Finally it is felt most strongly of all in the universities, and that is only one indication more that the true cause of the defection is intellectual. To a very large extent, the students of our great Eastern universities – and still more the universities of Europe – are not Christians. And they are not Christians often just because they are students. The thought of the day, as it makes itself most strongly felt in the universities, is profoundly opposed to Christianity, or at least it is out of connection with Christianity.

 

Editor’s Notes

*The prominent American universities located in the north-eastern part of the country – Harvard, Yale, Princeton, etc.

**Although originally written for an American audience, Machen’s observations and recommendations are of utmost relevance to present day Nigeria and, in fact, every modern society.