It is not safe for a Christian to lose himself in a multiplicity of religious books unless he is firmly grounded in The Book. Culturally as well as spiritually, a believer worth his salt is one who stands for the theistic, Judaeo-Christian view of the world and of man writ large in the pages of the Bible. Should he for want of a solid scriptural foundation give in to the enticement of naturalistic presuppositions, he would be on his way to making man the measure of all things and would possibly turn into an agnostic or a dilettante, unless rescued by a mighty act of God.
I remember in my younger days having stood for hours in front of the well-stocked shelves of my library in a state of mind and spirit bordering on paralysis. Where was I to turn next in my quest for truth? The heart-rending outcry of the disillusioned poet haunted me:
. . . and I have read all the books.
At times I have seen seminarians in such a plight. However, poor, they would wait at the theological bookstore for the most recently publicized book in their field. Surely the last theologian who had spoken would help them out of the wilderness in which they had lost their bearings! So they waited for his weather report to know what they could believe, perchance proclaim in their next sermon, or say in their pulpit prayer. The main trouble was that having lost their first love for the Book, they found themselves caught in the snare of substitutes. The least that can be said for such a craze for novelty is that it fails to do justice to the dynamism of Bible truth and so issues in a luxuriance of adventitious growth. But it is high time to realize that the Bible is not a grave; it is a cradle.
Had not the theistic view emerging from Scripture been so dynamic, its expansion and enrichment would never have resulted in such forms of doctrine as the Athanasian creed. And it is failure to realize that this may lead one to see only the just evidences of obsolescence—and nothing more—in that historic attempt to better apprehend the living God of Scripture. Yet this daring thrust into the mystery of the Trinity and of the Incarnate Word brought in those fourth-century days the equivalent of our front-page news and headlines.
Far be it from me, therefore, to object to the luxuriance of theological views claiming our attention today, provided that they are set forth by men of faith grounded in the Bible and in love with the Bible—scholars upon whom the Lord has laid his hand and who have as a result proceeded in the awareness of him in whom they have believed; earnest men who have set out to make biblical realities ever more accessible, trusting in God alone for the outcome of their endeavor.
Let me emphasize this element of earnestness. Upon reading risky and often gratuitous conjectures devised in these days of theological inflation, I have more than once been overwhelmed by the sudden realization that here was a man toying with holy things, the very type of easy-going, pleasure-seeking opportunist whom Kierkegaard portrayed as "the professor."
As Kierkegaard saw it, "the professor" was indeed a later Christian invention. One would search the New Testament in vain for a passage where this genus is mentioned. Indeed, it is noteworthy that the moment it appeared, Christianity began to go backward, "the professor's" ascent coinciding with our age, when Christianity is on its way out. So Kierkegaard illustrated his case against the mercenaries of theology in terms of a modernized version of Judas Iscariot a la professor. According to his portrayal, Judas was no longer a man in despair who sold his master for the paltry thirty pieces of silver but a highly cultivated man, calm and endowed with a shrewd understanding of life and profit. Instead of getting once and for all a large sum that he might squander in a few years, he was ready to settle for a regular income, as would befit a young married man with family looking forward to a long and enjoyable life. These conditions once subscribed to, Judas declared himself ready to betray the Lord.
A harsh portrayal indeed, and yet not so severe as its prototype in Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress. Once "a flourishing Professor," and, as he thought, "fair for the Celestial City," he now sat in an Iron Cage, truly a man of Despair. Asked by Christian how he had come to this condition, he explained:
I left off to watch and be sober; I laid the reins upon the neck of my lusts; I sinned against the light of the Word and the goodness of God; I have grieved the Spirit, and he is gone; I tempted the Devil, and he is come to me; I have provoked God to anger, and he has left me; I have so hardened my heart, that I cannot repent.
There are those who will laugh off as old-fashioned such solemn warnings against toying with holy things--as if the Order of God could ever fall into obsolescence! The mockers we have always with us, perhaps only because they enjoy the game. It is fun to play with ideas, the more so when one is paid to do so, and when for good measure the game issues in a proliferation of titles that add to one's image and reputation.
When such books hit the market, the fun catches on. Hardly have the author's uncertainties given the scent when a pack of eager-nosed readers press forward and around. Soon there is a dinning clamor of persuasion to the effect that the unaware should join in. The resulting intoxication is likely to lead one reader after another to take the means for the end and become a dilettante—that is, one who almost voluptuously lends himself to all sorts of mental attitudes without surrendering to any cause whatsoever. With the aid of the unreality of much of this kind of speculation, the new knowledge is easily turned into a dazzling show, perchance even into a thriving trade.
My heart goes out to seminarians and to ministers thus contaminated. At first they can hardly be cheered by the new author's professorial mirth of relaxed gravity wont to triumph in a climax of bright-eyed denial. However insecure their biblical founabode begins to fall apart as the rot of pro-fight. No man argues more loudly than the frustrated believer who increasingly experiences hell within. There is likely to follow a period of hesitation, until their spiritual abode begins to fall apart as the rot of professionalism sets in. Henceforth the figure these unhappy backsliders cut may be likened to one of those vignettes Lucian put together in his essay, "On Persons Who Give Their Society for Pay." Well may they preach polished sermons, as did the Hellenistic professional philosophers of the second and third centuries; it has become only too obvious that their heart is no longer in what they say. And besides, according to the new scholars under whose spell they have fallen, any outward evidence of deep feeling stands condemned as emotionalism. The flaming torch of evangelistic fervor had better be given to Pentecostals.
The new professionalism helping, the current Protestant emphasis is no longer on the Bible but rather on "the church," and thus unconsciously on the organizational Church of Vested Interests, a great confederacy drawn up on the model of this world's "mergers," complete with big boards, committees, and sub-committees. Such a church is no longer responsive to the intimations of the Head. As one wades through the multiplicity of books promoting the modern version of ecumenism, he cannot help being impressed by the dearth of basic biblical references to that which really constitutes the Church.
Just as the rediscovery of the Bible was contemporary with a mighty deliverance from the Roman yoke, a progressive discarding of the biblical approach is becoming under our very eyes a prelude to a Protestant Canossa. As if it were not crystal-clear that the price to pay for union with Rome can only be unconditional surrender, however camouflaged! This is the way Paul VI put the matter in his address at the opening of the third session of the Second Vatican Council:
We shall therefore strive in loyalty to the unity of Christ's church, to understand better and to welcome all that is genuine and admissible [italics mine] in the different Christian denominations that are distinct from us. . . .
We are told that Protestant observers were not surprised by this reassertion of papal supremacy but that they found in the Pope's support for the collegial authority of the bishops an improved basis for dialogue with Catholicism. And so we may look forward to a fresh proliferation of new books. Their authors, needless to insist, are likely to steer at a safe distance from the reminder that only the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments constitute the divine rule of Christian faith and practice.
Reprinted by permission of Christianity Today.