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TWILIGHT OF A GREAT CIVILIZATION

by Carl Henry.

PART TWO: ESSENTIALS IN THE BATTLE FOR TRUTH

4. THE FIGHT OF THE DAY

The Apostle Paul is concerned lest we be asleep when we ought to be on

guard duty. We have a fight on our hands, he says, and we need to be

awake and primed for it. Phillips Modern English Version paraphrases his

comments in <451311>Romans 13:11-14:

The present time is of the highest importance — it is time to wake up to the

reality. The night is nearly over, the day has almost dawned. Every day brings

God’s salvation nearer than the day in which we took the first step of faith. Let

us therefore fling away the things that men do in the dark, let us arm ourselves

for the fight of the day… Let us be Christ’s men from head to foot, and give no

chance to the flesh to have its fling.

On my first night’s sleep in Keruzawa, Japan, I had no idea that I was in an

earthquake zone until a midnight jolt awakened me to reality. The tremor

didn’t register topmost on the Richter scale, but its severity reminded me

nonetheless not to take tomorrow for granted. So these words of the

apostle, in the middle of the epistle to the Romans, stab us awake and

shock us alive to the invisible realities of the spiritual world, lest we be

entrapped in a sinful, slumbering society.

Three emphases seem to me to rise from this text in our present lifesituation:

first, American culture is sinking toward sunset; second,

Christian believers are stretching toward sunrise; and third, we are warriors

with a mission in the world.

1. AMERICAN CULTURE IS SINKING TOWARD SUNSET

At the opening of the epistle, Paul unveils God’s anger over the depths of

Gentile rebellion. Three times we hear that dreadful refrain, “God gave

them over.” We read that, because of their persistent wickedness, God

“gave them over to the sinful desires of their hearts” (<450124>Romans 1:24,

NIV), that God “gave them over to shameful lusts” (<450126>Romans 1:26,

NIV), and that God “gave them over to a depraved mind” (<450128>Romans

1:28, NIV).

Exegetes have long noted a progression here: desires, lusts, mindset. As

the channel of sin runs ever deeper, God’s compensatory judgment moves

ever closer to final abandonment and inescapable doom. The first chapter

closes in fact with a warning of doomsday ahead for those who in their

own consciences know that all who live wickedly deserve God’s death

penalty, yet who nonetheless defy God and even encourage others to do so

(<450132>Romans 1:32).

I have a heavy heart about America. American culture seems to me to be

sinking toward sunset. I do not, like some, call America the epicenter of

evil in the world. But we have fallen far from lofty ideals for which this

land came into being. I don’t intend to spend most of my time reciting a

catalogue of vices. Yet our country seems more and more to act out of

traditional character. To be sure, there is a godly remnant — not simply a

tiny band but a goodly number — for which we may be grateful. But it is

surely not America at her best when we chart the massacre of a million

unborn children a year, the flight from the monogamous family, two and a

half million persons trapped in illegal drugs and alcohol (our country now

has a larger drug problem than any other industrialized nation in the

world), the normalizing of deviant sexual behavior (in the Washington-

Baltimore area alone there are now estimated to be two hundred and fifty

thousand homosexuals), the proliferation of AIDS to twenty-five thousand

persons, more than half of whom have already died, with reportedly

10,000,000 infected with the virus.

What is underway is a redefinition of the good life, a redefinition that not

only perverts the word “good” but perverts the term “life” as well. What is

“good” is corrupted into whatever gratifies one’s personal desires,

whatever promotes self-interest even at the expense of the dignity and

worth of others. In that fantasy-world of sinful desires, shameful lusts, and

a depraved mind, sexual libertinism is good, coveting and stealing are

good, violence and terrorism are good.

Worse yet, such perversion of the good is connected with what is called

“the life.” All that the Bible means by life — spiritual life, moral life, eternal

life, a life fit for eternity — is emptied into an existence fit only for beasts

and brutes.

“They gave up God,” says Paul, “and therefore God gave them up— to be

playthings of their own foul desires in dishonoring their own bodies.” They

“deliberately forfeited the truth of God and accepted a lie, paying homage

and giving service to the creature instead of the Creator, who alone is

worthy to be worshipped for ever and ever. God therefore handed them

over to disgraceful passions” (<450124>Romans 1:24-27, Phillips).

Western society is experiencing a great cultural upheaval. More and more

the wicked subculture comes to open cultural manifestation. More and

more the unmentionables become the parlance of our day. More and more

profanity and vulgarity find expression through the mass media. The sludge

of a sick society is rising to the top and, sad to say, the stench does not

offend even some public leaders. Our nation increasingly trips the worst

ratings on God’s Richter scale of fully deserved moral judgment.

God who shook the earth at Sinai, God who shook the earth at Calvary,

God who is a consuming fire warns of one more shaking, that final and

decisive shaking: “Yet once more will I make to tremble not the earth only,

but also the heaven. This means,” as the author of Hebrews says, “that in

this final ‘shaking’ all that is impermanent will be removed.., and only the

unshakable things will remain” (<581226>Hebrews 12:26, 27, Phillips). The

world will be asleep when doomsday comes, Peter warns, banking its life

on the premise that “everything continues exactly as it has always been

since the world began” (<610304>2 Peter 3:4). “But the Day of the Lord will

come,” he emphasizes, “and the earth and all that is in it will be laid bare”

(<610310>2 Peter 3:10).

When that great meltdown comes, where will you be? Trapped in Sodom?

In the bleak twilight of a decadent culture, where will you be? Overtaken,

like Lot, looking back at the citadels of sin? “Wake up!” says Paul; “wake

up!” American culture is sinking toward sunset.

2. CHRISTIAN BELIEVERS ARE STRETCHING TOWARD

SUNRISE

The remarkable thing about Paul’s exhortation to awaken from sleep is that

it is addressed to Christians. It apprises them not of encroaching doom but

of daybreak, of the imminent sunrise, of the full dawning of God’s

Kingdom. “Let us arm ourselves for the fight of the day,” he writes, “[and]

be Christ’s men from head to foot.”

Christians have duties in the cultural upheaval around us. God has not told

us to build an ark or to escape the floodwaters by taking to the hills. If

there is hope for America, it will come through the vigorous proclamation

and application of the Christian message.

The early Christians knew the fierceness of the battle. They knew Gentile

wickedness at its worst; it was the moving spirit of the society in which

they were reached for the gospel. “You were spiritually dead through your

sins and failures, all the time that you followed this world’s ideas of living

and obeyed the evil ruler of the spiritual realm… We all lived like that in

the past,” writes Paul, “and followed the desires and imaginings of our

lower nature, being in fact under the wrath of God by nature, like everyone

else… We were dead in our sins” (<490202>Ephesians 2:2, 3, Phillips).

Don’t for a moment forget that we ourselves were dug from the sludge of

a sick society. When recently I wrote Confessions of a Theologian it had a

double exposure — first, on the world from which Christ rescues even

those who become theologians and pastors and deacons, and second, on

the world to which Christ lifted me, the eternal world to which he lifts

prostitutes and drug addicts and homosexuals and other redeemed sinners.

The risen Christ is in the moving and lifting business. How far has He

removed you from the old life and lifted you to divine service? How high

has Christ lifted you?

It is one thing to run away from sin; it is yet another to run up a flag for

faith. “Fling away the things that men do in the dark,” exhorts Paul, and

“give no chance to the flesh to have its fling… Be Christ’s men from head

to foot. Let us arm ourselves for the fight of the day.” God wants your

mind. He wants your will. He wants your heart — the whole self. “Christ in

you” is Paul’s great theme in the letter to the Colossians. Where your feet

go, does Christ walk with you? Where your mind reaches, is the mind of

Christ yours also? In whatever your will embraces, is Christ’s will astride

your own?

During the days of the youth counterculture a lad went door to door

asking, “Does Jesus Christ live here?” Taken aback, one housewife replied,

“My husband’s a deacon.” The lad answered, “That’s not what I asked:

Does Jesus Christ live here?” Christian believers are stretching toward

sunrise. “Be Christ’s men from head to foot”!

3. WE ARE WARRIORS WITH A MISSION IN THE WORLD

Christian duty requires of us more than personal piety and devotion,

important as that is. It’s not enough to say “no” when the culture holds

that fornication is a morally acceptable option and that we may abort the

unborn child if it’s unwanted or take hallucinatory drugs if we are minded

to do so.

Are you aware of the cultural challenges we face? Or are you yourself

debilitated by the shoddy secular values of our time?

“The fight of the day” — are you aware of what that entails?

In the battle between good and evil, are you armed and engaged in “the

fight of the day”?

In the battle for the minds of men, are you armed and engaged in “the fight

of the day”?

In the battle for the will of humanity, are you armed and engaged in “the

fight of the day”?

In the exhibition of a Christian mindset, are you armed and engaged in “the

fight of the day”?

In the deployment of Christian countermoves, are you armed and engaged

in “the fight of the day”?

Just as there are depths of depravity in human life, so too there are levels

of dedication. And just as God progressively abandons renegades to their

rebellion, so too He rewards the righteous in their spiritual renewal. When

ancient Rome fell, it was the godly Christian remnant that walked headhigh

into the future. When medieval Christianity compromised its Biblical

heritage, the Protestant Reformation emerged to bring great blessing to

Europe and the world. When the post-Enlightenment era spawned an anti-

Biblical mindset, the eighteenth-century evangelical awakening in England

spared that nation the travesties of the French Revolution. What will be the

final verdict on the evangelical confrontation of today’s radically secular

humanism? We are on the threshold of the decade of destiny, in the last

generation before we leave behind the twentieth century, the end of one

century and the beginning of another. What spiritual situation do we

bequeath not only to those who follow us, but also to our contemporaries?

Christianity is qualitatively different or it has nothing distinctive to offer the

world. The real arena in which we are to work and witness and win over

others is the world, or we have ceased to be light, salt, leaven. Christian

duty requires courageous participation at the frontiers of public concern —

education, mass media, politics, law, literature and the arts, labor and

economics, the whole realm of cultural pursuits. We need to do more than

to sponsor a Christian subculture. We need Christian counterculture that

sets itself alongside the secular rivals and publishes openly the difference

that belief in God and His Christ makes in the arenas of thought and action.

We need Christian countermoves that commend a new climate,

countermoves that penetrate the public realm. To live christianly involves

taking a stand for God that calls this world’s caesars to account before the

sovereign Lord of the universe, that calls this world’s sages to account

before the wisdom that begins with the fear of the Lord, that calls this

world’s journalists to account before The Greatest Story Ever Told. We

must strive to reclaim this cosmos for its rightful owner, God, who has title

to the cattle on a thousand hills, and for Christ who says to the lost

multitudes, “I made you; I died for you; I ransomed you.”

What does that mean for the world of the liberal arts and the sciences?

What does it imply for the mass media? What are its consequences for the

political realm? What does it imply for the debate over human freedom and

justice and rights?

We may not know all the answers, but we know some absolutes at least,

and that puts us head and shoulders above the relativists, and the woods

are full of relativists today. Each of us must find his or her proper station

and platform in “the fight of the day” and use our God-given talent to

reflect the truth and justice of God into the world of public affairs.

Everywhere around us is strewn the philosophical wreckage of those who

rely on the voice of conscience, on social utility, on aesthetic gratification,

on majority consensus — on everything but a sure Word of God. If you are

still wavering between the God of the ages and the spirit of the age, listen

to Paul’s warning summons. American culture sinking toward sunset.

Christian believers are stretching toward sunrise. We are warriors with a

mission in the world. Have you enlisted, winsomely and courageously, in

what Paul calls “the fight of the day”?

5. BEGGARS AND BENEFACTORS

Let me set the record straight. When speaking of beggars, I am not here

referring either to street people or to professional fund-raisers, not even to

television evangelists. Nor am I criticizing or commending beggars as a

class. Sometimes begging may be a necessity, perhaps even a virtue.

Some years ago, in Portland, Oregon, after I had preached, two women in

their thirties came to greet me. “We are domestics,” one said, “and work

for very rich people.” “Please pray for them,” she added. “They can buy

anything they want,” she continued. “They don’t know what it is to have to

receive something as a gift.” The gift they had in mind, of course, was

God’s great gift of redemptive grace in Christ. Only those who come as

needy suppliants receive the priceless gift of divine salvation.

Even we Christians can self-sufficiently take for granted life in the Spirit as

a daily-renewed gift. And we easily forget also that the food and shelter we

routinely accept contrasts with the daily experience of multitudes who have

no idea where tomorrow’s bread will come from, if there is any. Those

who need to beg for what others take for granted know how truly

wonderful such things are, and know the excitement and joy of obtaining

them.

Many years ago I was speaking at First Baptist Church in Detroit for Dr.

Hillyer Stratton. I arrived Saturday night by train and walked to the nearby

hotel. On the way I passed a used book store and ended up buying as many

volumes as I could carry: The next day after the morning service the agent

at the Detroit train station refused to sell me a ticket to Chicago because I

was a few cents short and Traveler’s Aid was closed. Loaded with more

books than luggage, I walked shyly through the waiting room begging for a

few pennies, hoping that none of the millionaires I had just preached to

were nearby. Never in my life did a bit of change look more precious than

when I tried to extract a few small coins from skeptical and unresponsive

travelers. One man finally gave me a dime, and I was on my way with

change to spare.

I don’t know whether you have ever had to beg. The experience, let me

assure you, has some spiritual values. Those of us who have once been

poor often sense the value of what others take for granted; we know both

the need for something and the joy of receiving it, and hopefully also some

of the joy of sharing it.

Jesus says something remarkable about begging and giving. In open view

of the multitudes Jesus instructs His disciples. In immediate context the

disciples’ mission is local, temporary, and restricted to Israel. But Jesus

was preparing those disciples for a universal and permanent mission that

would embrace the Gentiles as well.

So Jesus went round all the towns and villages, preaching in their synagogues,

announcing the good news of the Kingdom, and curing every kind of ailment

and disease. The sight of the people moved him to pity; they were like sheep

without a shepherd, harassed and helpless; and he said to his disciples, ‘The

crop is heavy, but labourers are scarce; you must therefore beg the owner to

send labourers to harvest his crop.’ Then he called his twelve disciples and

gave them authority to cast out unclean spirits and to cure every kind of

ailment and disease. (<400935>Matthew 9:35-10:1, NEB)

Many facets of this text are controversially in the limelight today: divine

healing, unclean spirits, apostolic gifts. But I focus on two emphases: first,

a harvest so ripe for reaping that Jesus instructs His disciples to beg the

Lord of harvest for workers; second, the concerned disciples whom the

Lord in turn dispatches as authorized harvesters.

First: a critical historical situation establishes the urgency of proclaiming

the gospel, and the disciples are to implore God because of this dire plight

of the masses. They are not simply to brief the Lord about fields white unto

harvest; they are to shoulder a personal concern for reapers and to beg Him

to send forth harvesters.

The versions most familiar to us translate deomai by “pray” — “pray the

Lord of the harvest.” But since prayer so often becomes perfunctory, the

word “beg” in The New English Bible underscores and intensifies the

urgency of the appeal. The same Greek verb occurs in <440431>Acts 4:31 where

the early Church, harassed by religious oppression, begged for God’s help

until the gathering-place shook and they were filled with the Holy Spirit

and with boldness. A further step in ministry is to pray not for one’s self

and one’s own fortunes, but for others. The worker whose heart God

stretches to embrace the plight of Planet Earth is the worker who begs God

in behalf of human need, the worker who pleads the cause of the lost and

beleaguered, who wrestles the cause of unreached multitudes. He begs

God for the filling of impoverished pulpits, begs for the integrity of

Christian colleges and seminaries, begs for political leaders of honest

courage, begs for bold Christian witness in an age of secular humanism.

We find the term deomai again in <470520>2 Corinthians 5:20. The Apostle Paul

declares that we are “ambassadors for Christ, as though God were

beseeching you through us; we beg (deometha) you in Christ’s behalf, be

reconciled to God.” Just as earnestly as God is entreated to send workers,

just so earnestly the lost world is begged in turn to become reconciled to

God. An unmistakable spiritual connection exists between the sense of

urgent harvest that implores God for workers and the sense of urgency

with which the commissioned worker himself reaches out to the

beleaguered world.

This, then, is my second and final emphasis: the beggars become the

benefactors. Nor only does the God of the eternal decrees build prayer into

His creation as a means to advance His purposes, but He also responds to

the needs of lost humanity by dispatching the very workers who know

what it is to beg for the rebellious world’s reconciliation to God. The

Greek word here used for “send” — “beg the owner to send” — is ekballo,

to thrust forth. The solicitous laborers are launched into their mission by a

divine thrust. In this last segment of the twentieth century, don’t let

Challenger astronauts take the only risks of propulsion into the future.

To the variety of human need in this world God matches a remarkable task

force and vast range of means. One preaches, another teaches, another

writes, another translates, another transports, another builds. The Great

Reaper advances His overarching purpose through multiplied harvesters

who seldom see how seemingly minute efforts blend ultimately into some

bold redemptive victory. As Jesus says in the parable of the landowner

(<402001>Matthew 20:1), we are “laborers who farm for the owners of the

land.” Each of us reaps part of the harvest in an interdependent effort. The

divine thrust involves many booster rockets that set Christ’s cause fully

into orbit.

We are to beg the Lord of the universe not because prayer can manipulate

God, or because it has merely an internal subjective value as a spiritual

discipline. Prayer is one of the means God has etched into the cosmos for

the advancement of His purposes. Recall the excellent Article (116) on

prayer in the Heidelberg Catechism, especially the words: “God will give

His grace and Holy Spirit to those only who with hearty sighing

unceasingly beg them of Him and thank Him for them.” Fervent

intercession is declared the means of God’s bestowal of the gifts of grace.

The divine benefactions are for “those only” who “with hearty sighing

unceasingly beg them of Him and thank Him for them.”

Even Old Testament critical scholarship has now rediscovered the

prophet’s role as intercessor, begging God in behalf of Israel even before

publicly declaring God’s impending judgment. Not until God commands

him no longer to pray for the nation’s rescue does Jeremiah desist from

prayer for Israel. Ezekiel’s intercession too is divinely interrupted.

Intercessory prayer is an indicator of how deeply we are involved in the

concerns and fortunes of others. Those who are beggars of God in turn

become benefactors holding before impoverished humanity the forgiveness

of sins, the meaning of life, the cause of justice, the abiding riches of

eternity. That mission falls to us at a time when multitudes demean the

glory of the living God; when His call for social justice is widely spurned;

when His inspired Book is questioned, even in His own house; when the

gospel of grace is all too often blurred and the Christian worldview

truncated. It is the beggars of God who become God’s benefactors to

mankind.

To your knees, then, when, as Solzhenitsyn says, “men have forgotten

God”; to your knees when secular humanism spurns the supernatural; to

your knees when the once-Christian West outruns its moral capital and

risks spiritual bankruptcy; to your knees when history is at a decisive

parting of the ways; to your knees when the civilizational mindset is

yielding to culture in chaos; to your knees when the churches’ light grows

dim while America needs a new will and courage for the right.

In God’s job description the benefactor and the beggar are one and the

same. No benefactor ever touched greater glory than when begging God to

bestow His grace upon lost mankind. And no beggar ever reveled in

greater rewards than when God thrusts him into an impoverished world as

a dispenser of divine riches. “Beg, … that he will send.”

PART FOUR: EDUCATION AND THE QUEST FOR TRUTH

 FACING THE CRISIS IN EDUCATION

Not for many decades has education been the target, as it currently is, of

such deep scrutiny and criticism. Not only teaching methods but also the

very content of formal learning, and even its value, is presently under

attack. Can we project an evangelical agenda?

1. Parental responsibility for shaping the ideas and ideals of the oncoming

generation has priority. The imperative of training a child to walk morally

and spiritually (<202206>Proverbs 22:6) does not, of course, reduce to

“throwing the Book” at the younger generation. The example of time spent

in prayer, worship, Bible study and church participation, the reading of

quality books and magazines, the nature of social life, the way the family

makes crucial decisions, and not least of all open conversation and

discussion of cardinal ethical and religious concerns define the character of

home life.

2. The church has responsibility for perpetuating the Christian heritage. It

must not seek to transfer this duty to civil government. The church is not

primarily a building that posts hours of public access; it is an assembly or

fellowship of believers. Popular education was motivated originally by the

church’s conviction that a body of information — good news — must be

shared with every living man, woman, and child. If the churches are

doctrinally weak and experientially oriented, they will obscure the cognitive

content and supports of revelatory truth.

3. Christianity insists that revealed truth is universally normative and is not

merely perspectival. By contrast, the defection of much public education

from theism and the governing influence of atheistic humanism tend to

relativize all truth claims, to promote skepticism over the supernatural, and

to antiquate evangelical credal commitments. Christian education cannot

afford merely to circumvent the naturalistic option by escapist alternatives

that do not engage the crisis of contemporary civilization as a life-or-death

matter. Evangelical scholarship must not only maintain a stake in public

learning, but it must also illumine the control issues in the context of

intellectual history from a theistic vis-a-vis naturalistic perspective. Efforts

of the Institute for Advanced Christian Studies and of the Society of

Christian Philosophers are contributing to this end, as are evangelical

scholars teaching in the secular arena. Parachurch student movements have

functioned on the edge of classroom learning to preserve and commend a

theistic commitment. But deep penetration of secular education remains an

unfulfilled task.

4. Evangelical schools — from kindergarten through college — have been

promoted both as principially necessary to present a cohesive world-life

view and as strategically necessary to avoid losses to humanistically-loaded

instruction. These institutions have channeled much notable evangelical

leadership into modern society. Yet of some thirteen million American

university and college students, less than ninety thousand are enrolled on

campuses represented in the Christian College Coalition. Some of these

campuses, moreover, too much take the secular institutions as a model, and

critics ask whether concessions to alien views may not impair their

effectiveness in conveying a cohesive Christian perspective (cf. J. D.

Hunter, Evangelicalism, University of Chicago Press, 1987). The Coalition

has recently adopted as its motto “For Enduring Values” at a time when

public education is struggling to rise above ethical relativity and mere

value-clarification. More than fifty years ago, when secular universities

forsook God as the integrating factor in learning, they turned instead to

“shared” values — only to discover that values divorced from metaphysical

anchorage cannot escape a relativizing fate. Moreover, in The Closing of

the American Mind (Simon and Schuster, 1987), Allan Bloom criticizes the

modern displacement of absolutes by values. In the conflict between

Biblical theism and naturalism, evangelicals need most of all to vindicate

the intellectual credibility of theism and to exhibit the cognitive weaknesses

of humanism and raw naturalism, rather than to rely on untenable theories

of natural morality.

5. Evangelical Christians need a deepened commitment to higher education

and a probing of new pilot projects to penetrate secular liberal arts

learning. Just as various student movements like Inter-Varsity, Campus

Crusade, Navigators and others should not be viewed competitively

because of different approaches, so diverse experimental research and

classroom efforts should be encouraged to bridge to the secular arena.

Tyndale House near Cambridge University could well supply a model for

similar American efforts. C. S. Lewis College is being projected as an

effort by qualified conservative Protestant and Catholic scholars who for

two years would on the edge of a secular university teach the Great Books

in the context of the Greatest Book, after which students would in two

more years complete work for a standard degree issued by the adjacent

university. Many students question the worth of university learning which

for $20,000 to $40,000 equips them mostly with knowledge of space-time

relativities that need to be perpetually updated but leaves graduates

without moral absolutes.

6. The evangelical colleges would do well to look anew at their

curriculums and ask how best to enhance the excitement of serious learning

in the present culture context. Some are tempted to inject an activist

dimension by involving students in social and political enterprises for

academic credit. Some courses no doubt benefit from practical

requirements, and instructors and parents are delighted in a drug-and-sex

society to see collegians constructively engaged. But when such activism

competes with time for serious study, and when the excitement of learning

is shifted from the classroom to external activities, we need to remind

ourselves that the world of ideas is the primary focus of an institution of

learning that presumably functions as the intellectually critical center of

culture. Without clear understanding of the Christian world-life view and a

cohesive philosophy, evangelical activism will through its diversity and

conflict nullify its own social impact. Somewhere an evangelical college

may rise to the challenge of our culture by enrolling incoming freshmen in a

course on Plato’s Republic and on the great motifs of the Bible, and by

sending seniors into our decadent society with a lucid comprehension of

the Christian world-life view.

12. EDUCATING FOR INTELLECTUAL

EXCELLENCE

“How shall we best advance the excitement of serious learning, asks my

correspondent, in the present culture context? That serious learning needs

to be promoted few of us will question; to neglect it is an invitation to

unenlightenment and inerudition.

The content of ideal education may, to be sure, be in deep dispute: what

the classroom sometimes energetically champions may do more harm than

good. But ideas, for all that, are gravely important. Not to be fortified with

good ideas is to be victimized by bad ones. For, as we are now often

reminded, “ideas have consequences.”

Yet other prongs of this question — concerning classroom excitement and

contemporary culture — call for a closer look. The classroom can surely

get along best without some kinds of excitement. Students have assaulted

teachers, pulled switchblades, and otherwise intimidated them. Teachers

have resorted to gadgetry and gimmickry, and a few exhausted instructors

have told offending students to go to Gehenna. In the aftermath of the

AIDS crisis, moreover, nothing seems to stimulate student interest more

than sex education about condoms. The classroom might well take a

critical look at the combustible climate of current learning and ask what

atmosphere is most conducive to serious study. Not every form of

excitement contributes to excellence in education. The melodramatic is

more appropriate to theatrical studies than to the liberal arts.

The bearing of contemporary culture likewise deserves some comment. It

is crucially important that teachers and students recognize it for what it is,

grasp its controlling beliefs and behavior-patterns, and do full justice to its

intentions. Education taught in a cultural vacuum short-changes the student

who must live his life, as we do, in a particular historical context and must

understand its far-reaching implications. We are not contemporaries of

Plato or of Paul or of Hegel but of Stephen J. Gould and Carl Sagan who

despise the supernatural and, even more, seem wholly ignorant of divine

commandments and of revealed truths. No teacher does serious learning

any service who implies the finality of contemporary culture and represents

its conceptual content as the acme of truth and the criterion of wisdom.

Modern culture is the expression of one particular epoch in the much

longer chain of human history, and it has no authentic basis for claiming

ultimacy for its representations of reality, truth and good.

The desirable excitement of serious learning begins, therefore, with a

studied look at presuppositions that even educators often take for granted:

such as that spine-tingling classroom confrontation is all to the good, that

relatedness to contemporary culture necessarily serves the student well,

and so on. Here we already enter the arena of disputable ideas whose

differing implications, often covert, shadow all of life.

Someone will surely ask whether ours is not an activistic age, an era

impatient with concepts and clamoring instead for social involvement.

Should not the excitement of learning be advanced by mobilizing the

classroom for community action? Does not Christian education, aware that

the New Testament requires us to “do the truth” (and not simply to learn

or know it), demand that concept and comportment stay together like

husband and wife? Has not Christian learning been too much dominated by

the classic Greek view that whoever knows the truth will do it? In brief,

should we not alter classroom requirements so that academic credit

requires community or public engagement reflective of evangelical

conceptual commitments?

Here we need to distinguish several matters. Surely it is the case that

Christianity rejects the notion that whoever knows the truth will do it;

Greek philosophers, who were silent about the sinfulness of man,

underestimated the role of volition and assumed the divinity of the human

mind. And Christian learning must have in view the goal of Christianity in

society and shape a philosophy of culture and of politics that articulates the

Christian vision of man in society. Education which leaves students without

an awareness of those commitments short-changes the younger generation.

A distinctive behavior is rightly expected of evangelical students in a

campus-community manifestation of basic beliefs. Some college classes

may properly involve larger public engagement as a legitimate part of

course study for credit — in education, practice teaching; in political

science, local precinct activity; in social science, community service. Yet

any notion that the excitement of the classroom is best preserved by

shifting the focus from the clash of ideas to public activism is misguided;

community involvement on the wrong premises can do more harm than

good to student and society alike.

The conflict of ideas and their resolution in the classroom remains the

critical center of serious learning. Not doing the truth will condemn us, but

not knowing it — when in fact earnest education can uncover it — is

worse still, since it dooms us to doing the right thing only by chance, if at

all. Intellectually unanchored experience is like a yacht unpredictably

tossed about on the high seas and outside the final authority of any

country. The college or university is the intellectually critical axis of

society, and if the Christian takes seriously his citizenship in two worlds he

dare not be disengaged from either.

What this requires is philosophically-sensitive teachers and students, alert

both to personal and to cosmic concerns and to pursuing world-life

perspective. The task is the more complex today because, much as secular

humanism remains the covert conceptuality of much liberal arts learning,

contemporary American society is now sundered by a plurality of cultures

and a widening diversity of worldviews. Education increasingly faces the

burden of wrestling these conflicting and competing currents and of

unmasking their divergent depictions of the real world and of the human

predicament and its resolution. They define the problem of evil and the

meaning of the good in rival ways, and variously explain the struggle

against hostile powers.

The tug of neo-paganism pulls humanism toward raw naturalism, and

shapes an agenda that strikes against evangelicalism and other options as

well. Anti-intellectualism yields a ready welcome to new cults, for it does

not penetrate to the essential distinction between Judeo-Christian

creational transcendence and the immanental spiritism of apparently new

but actually archaic religious options.

That is not to say that effective education consists of stuffing an assortment

of empty skulls with conceptual data. It differs from teaching elephants and

horses to count, even if aided by acrostics and alliteration, or from simply

adding “another room” to a sprawling ranch house.

Students do not now come to the classroom mentally unstuffed. If they are

rooted in secular modernity they are preloaded with cultural biases

acquired from playmates, neighbors, radio and television and cassettes.

Much of this information is unorganized, and some of it incapable of

organization; most of it offers little in the way of moral and spiritual

illumination. God, if included at all, gets a formal nod or merely honorific

role; who He really is, and what His objective is, remains a mystery. An

astonishing number of students do not rise above the artificial and decadent

view of life fostered by the soap operas, and surprisingly few are familiar

with great works of literature. Even a television program like “It’s

Academic,” commendable as it is for its motivation of smart students,

carries little assurance of intellectual integration of unrelated data, or of life

perspective.

The evangelical student comes to college with a considerably different

stance. He or she knows refreshingly more about God than his or her

secular counterpart. Nevertheless, with some few gratifying exceptions,

neither home nor church has shaped a comprehensive and consistent faith

that stands noon-bright amid the dim shadows of spiritual rebellion and

moral profligacy. Too often such students are tempted to link excitement

with the renegade world and find Christian commitment drab. They have

not intellectually won the Biblical heritage for themselves but merely parrot

it. They are seldom any longer models of ethical purity, for the social

climate has tarnished their value-system, and interest in vocational

opportunity outruns interest in intellectual power and moral consistency.

Personal excitement is focused on inner experience rather than on objective

truth — as if the validity of experience can somehow be assured on merely

subjective grounds. Theological depth and philosophical power are

considered inessential life-support factors.

How does the Christian college penetrate this mood and thrust its students

beyond narrow channels of private interest into broad and deep rivers of

cognitive concern? Can we get past administrators who are satisfied if

education simply helps build character, adds personal life perspective, and

enhances vocational objectives? Do not many educators greet with

dragging feet any proposal to alter a curriculum hard-won in the face of

academic turf battles?

We need to set collegiate learning in the context not simply of

contemporary culture but rather in the context of intellectual history, and

to put students in touch with the primary sources. We stand upon the

shoulders of the past, and in often unwitting ways we think with minds

indebted to ancient and medieval as well as modern conceptual networks.

Instead of overdependence on secondary sources, students need to be put

into direct touch with the influential intellects and the Great Books — not

only the works commended by Mortimer Adler but other equally important

Christian works also with a focus on God who speaks and acts. The Bible

will not be missing on any worthy manifest of monumental literature.

These sources thrust upon the reader the perennially significant questions:

Who am I? Why am I? Where am I going? Does human life make sense,

and if so what is its meaning? The world asks these questions out of

desperation, the Christian in search of confirmation. The Great Books

underscore not only the indispensability but also the practicality of these

concerns. On the answer hangs the very nature of truth, of the good, and of

human worth.

Nor should we simply breast-feed incoming college students until they are

ready for reading “the greats”; a student unready to ingest such works

should be required to take remedial preparatory courses. The very first

course — perhaps a full-time freshman module — might well be Plato’s

Republic, which interacts with materialism from a supernatural stance,

deals with the sad breakup of Greek democracy, discusses the ideal content

of education, wrestles the nature of truth and the good, and interacts with

much else that is also of critical contemporary concern.

The next course might well take the Bible as its basic book in revelatory

confrontation of both philosophical idealism and naturalism. An

educational program alert to presuppositions and to the importance of

logical tests could then well find its climax in a senior required course on

Biblical theism and Christian ethics. That comprehensive overview is much

more important than majoring only in changing space-time relativities that

need constantly to be revised.

The shift from secular to Biblical metaphysics and ethics will inevitably

focus on the crown jewel of human history — namely, Jesus Christ the

God-man. In Greek philosophy one does not speak of the Platocenteredness

or of the Aristotle-centeredness of classic metaphysics and

ethics, but Christianity speaks insistently of the Christ-centeredness of its

outlook. What Jesus said and did, and the New Testament ethic predicated

on His divine authority, work, and teaching, are definitive and exemplary

for the Christian enterprise. Without the centrality of Christ, Christianity is

but another speculative cult. The New Testament forces upon the model of

the good man the indispensability of faith, hope and love as lifetransforming

values that undergird spirituality. No less does it connect a

soul-integrating stance with godly activity in neighbor and community

involvements. Christian commitment is not mere devotion to a revered

tradition, but carries a demand for the believer’s total response in home

and society.

Of course, evangelicals cope today with a tide of debatable hermeneutics

that converts the Biblical texts into instruments of political or social change

and clothes preferred courses of action with pseudo-textual authority. The

cult of revolution-theology is but one example. An important element of

theological education is a decision for or against the legitimacy of positions

and programs alleged to be grounded in the truth of the text.

In the current largely anti-intellectual climate, which has made substantial

inroads not only into evangelical televangelism but also into evangelical

academe, one can almost anticipate the tortured groans and complaints of

those who insist that not every student intends to be a theologian or

philosopher. That is not the point, however. The leaders of the Protestant

Reformation were all university-trained, and they knew the Biblical

languages and the Bible’s content and its implications. In that great

turning-time the laity knew more about theology than do many pastors

today, armed as they may be with even a Doctor of Ministries degree.

Evangelical leaders often speak enthusiastically of the prospect or hope of

a new Reformation. If they intend this seriously, they must face up to its

educational demands.

There may be other ways of promoting Christian education in depth, but

every way of not doing it more effectively seems too shallow to challenge

the naturalistic mainstream. When our Christian forefathers founded

Harvard and Columbia, they did not have in mind merely salvaging the

saints. If independent evangelical colleges do not rise to intellectual

confrontation, they should not be surprised if challenging alternatives arise,

perhaps shaped by conservative ecumenists and conservative Catholics

along with uneasy evangelical independents. Christian education that is not

intellectually demanding may be living on borrowed time.

13. CHRISTIAN FUND-RAISING HERESIES

Despite the risk of worshiping it, money — at least some of it — is

indispensable. There is nothing evil about fund-raising to establish,

preserve and enlarge legitimate Christian enterprises. One task of

evangelical institutions is to persuade potential donors that their activities

are worthy of generous support.

Nor does modernity force upon evangelical organizations a choice between

the spiritual and the technological generation of financial help. When an

enterprise depends, as many do, on tens and hundreds of thousands of

donors, personal contact is possible with only a limited few, and

technology provides the means of continuing access.

Yet there is ever-present danger that fund-raising will encroach upon the

spiritual vitality and moral integrity of evangelical enterprises. This is true

of educational, of evangelistic and of charitable agencies.

Some administrators are as unlearned about economic matters as they are

naive about the use of the media. One college lost valuable property

through a seemingly advantageous deal with an all-too-clever shyster. We

can understand why most administrators readily enlist professional fundraisers

and investment agencies. Some three hundred thousand planners

today offer their services to the public. There are risks galore. In the

transfer of financial activities to professional managers, administrators may

in fact unwittingly lose control of an institution’s destiny. The faculty of an

evangelical seminary lost retirement benefits some years ago when a highly

touted insurance plan collapsed. One informed evangelical leader

volunteered to me that he would not turn over funding operations to more

than three or four of the many hundreds of professional fund-raisers. Their

performance record, reaching back through at least one Wall Street bear

market, is important. No less important is the character of an outside staff

that will have intimate access to an institution’s financial sources.

Yet the day is virtually gone when evangelical leaders, like George Mueller

earlier in this century, mainly trust God’s providence and make little public

mention of their needs.f2 As budgets spiral ever upward, college trustees

seek presidential leadership skilled in public relations and in fund-raising

from large foundations. One prominent administrator complained some

decades ago because a requisite daily reading of the Wall Street Journal

parched his soul; it may have worsened his migraine also. Reading the

Journal is not, of course, administratively off-limits; reports of corporate

executives who sell large blocs of their own stock at handsome profits can

identify possible future donor sources. But the need to meet large budgets,

the sophistication required in preparing grant proposals, the importance of

personal contacts in the financial world, all tend to treat God as a Peeping

Tom in economic affairs, except when deficits so threaten survival that no

earthly hope remains but a return to the prayer meeting.

Not a few enterprises take their promotional cue from Madison Avenue,

and eagerly taper their appeals to secular approaches. Some ministries

refuse to make public their doctrinal or financial statements and

meticulously avoid identification with the Evangelical Council for Financial

Accountability. So intense is the evangelical rivalry for dollars that shortterm

evangelistic projects are sometimes pitted competitively against longterm

educational enterprises.

The notion of “heresies” in fund-raising may seem not quite appropriate.

Yet fund-raising today does incorporate significant deviations from

orthodox methods and policies. Fund-raising techniques and themes once

viewed with disdain are becoming as common in evangelical circles as are

botanical hairdos and skin-grafted jeans in secular society: We need to

address serious questions to some nonconformists and innovators.

Among major controversial issues are whether Christian institutions should

actively seek funding from nonevangelical foundations; whether familiar

Biblical passages on stewardship can properly be channeled into

solicitations for modern parachurch movements; whether even evangelical

enterprises may be guilty of “bait-and-switch” tactics; whether a

“prosperity theology” is a legitimate means of enlisting donors; whether

premium offers, including cheap trinkets depicted as having intrinsic

spiritual power, are akin to medieval indulgences; whether so-called “junk

mail” can in good conscience be represented as priority personal

correspondence.

Unfortunately, evangelical fund-raising practices are sometimes more

shoddy than those of nonreligious agencies. Some secular agencies

maintain a level of integrity in the use of funding techniques that even

religious enterprises may well emulate. Christian organizations of every

kind therefore need to evaluate funding practices not only in order to

critique the secular milieu, but for their own sakes also, and for the good of

the larger evangelical cause.f3

The growing evangelical pursuit of funds from nonevangelical or secular

foundations raises vexing problems. Some administrators are inclined to

“take all the Devil’s money you can get, and put it to godly uses.” Others

balk at drafting proposals that deliberately downplay specifically Biblical

convictions in order to shape programs that non-Christian philanthropies

are most likely to approve. To be sure, there may be overlapping moral and

scientific concerns of interest to both evangelical institutions and secular

foundations. No objection can be mounted if available funding does not

oblige the receiving institution to compromise its own principles and does

not encourage reliance on secular sources that in time may deviate an

institution from its distinctive commitments.f4 It is not unthinkable that in

order to secure outside funding that removes personal financial pressure

from themselves trustees may moderate an institution’s commitments. An

evangelical college must in any event be supremely concerned that nothing

shall erode its loyalty to God, its devotion to charter objectives, the

goodwill of its constituency, and dependence upon prayer for faithful

survival.

The notion that gifts may be advantageously solicited from wealthy persons

irrespective of their basic convictions often leads fund-raisers to conform

proposals to the special interest of one or another monied prospect. Helen

Bergan’s Where the Money Is: A Fund Raiser’s Guide to the Rich

(Alexandria, Va., VioGuide Press) then becomes the solicitor’s main

sourcebook. The Chicago Tribune’s biweekly newsletter Donor Briefing

($150 a year) alerts him to who is giving what to whom and why Yet the

fund-raiser may be quite unaware that buying into nonevangelical or

subevangelical funding may in the long run do as much harm to a ministry’s

theological and spiritual orientation as it does good to its present fiscal

condition. As a compensation for their gifts some large donors have

expected personal or proxy representation on a board or governing body.

Fund appeals are almost routinely cloaked with some aura of Biblical

legitimation. <390308>Malachi 3:8-10 is frequently invoked for “storehouse

giving.” In view of this passage, many pastors encourage channeling all

one’s contributions through the local church, whereas others no less

energetically promote support of para-church organizations. Yet complex

hermeneutical presuppositions underlie an extension of this passage to any

and all modern giving. If we evade sound exegesis and open such texts to

allegorical meanings, what are the overall implications for Scripture?

Often an appeal letter will begin with a Bible text (e.g., “Thanks be to God

for His unspeakable gift,” <470915>2 Corinthians 9:15) and, having enlisted

Jesus Christ merely as a transitional theme, will then conclude by soliciting

funds for some current project and promising each donor the promoter’s

latest book brimful of unprecedented spiritual blessing. Seldom is the fundseeker

content to mention a need for which he is “looking to the Lord in

faith” without the further suggestion that the Lord in turn is looking to the

letter’s recipient to handle the matter in His absence.

More disconcerting is the notion prevalent in some circles that in fundsolicitation

“the end justifies the means.” Since the church “does good” in

the world, it can merchandize whatever turns a quick dollar to support the

cause. Many local churches, although usually not evangelical in

identification, resort to house-to-house peddling to support special

projects. For more than twenty years some groups have offered items that

Revere Company says “sell like magic” and make “eye-popping profits”:

not Bibles, devotional studies and soul-stretchers but jelly beans, bedtime

teddy bears and dish cloths. The saddest aspect of this is that as

Resurrection Sunday approaches, the church leaves the impression that

Christianity is a matter of going into all the world to peddle Easter-egg

dye.

Such examples are by no means the most offensive. Some churches rely on

“bingo,” raffles and lotteries to stay out of the red. Salesian Missions,

which identifies itself with forty thousand Salesian priests, brothers and

sisters, recently sent to its large mailing list six sweepstakes tickets on a

new Olds Firenza as a lure for $5 contributions to its child-support

ministry.

Even the secular press has taken note of the fact that the “bait-and-switch”

technique is moving from the world of commercial advertising into

churches and synagogues, and into other kinds of ministries. Charles

Trueheart, Washington Post staff writer, comments on “a growing

sophistication by Christian and Jewish congregations at developing ‘baitand-

switch’ techniques to beef up their flocks — settings for singles to

meet mates, for example.” When a snow emergency postponed church and

school meetings, Baptists in northern Virginia learned from cancellation

announcements on television that one of their houses of worship was

sponsoring a weekly class in ballroom dancing.

Some evangelists push all the “hot buttons” of human misery in their

appeal letters, and then shift attention to alternative ministries for which

support is really sought and for which requested funding will actually be

used. Appeals sometimes focus on earthquakes, famines and other human

crises even when the soliciting organizations lack proper structures for

implementing relief programs. Sometimes photos have been mislabeled and

composite stories have been depicted as true accounts.

Evangelical agencies frequently seek to impress potential donors by

subordinating an institution’s main rationale for existence to present

activities that differ notably from those for which it was founded. The final

1986 appeal letter of a national evangelical association, for example,

speaks not of gains in evangelical affiliation and transevangelical unity as

much as the movement’s current crusade against pornography, and

moreover of its having “educated the IRS in the exemption battle for

church auxiliaries.” The letter pleads for gifts to launch a “1987 offensive”

to complete the victories of 1986 lest the nation “be torn asunder.” The

nearest hint of transevangelical progress is a somewhat ambiguous

statement that the organization “is uniquely able to link 46,000 churches”

without indicating that they are still divided into seventy-nine different

denominations.

Too much evangelical advertising fails to highlight crucial core beliefs.

Even during the 1986 Graham crusade in Washington, D.C., the

Washington Post carried a large advertisement featuring the evangelist but

with no mention of God. Not a few evangelical institutions today use

ambiguous terms to gloss over the issue of Biblical reliability.

Most evangelical agencies, though not all, avoid adducing a “prosperitytheology”

as a motivation for giving: the more you give, the wealthier you

become. Some invoke <420638>Luke 6:38 (“Give and it shall be given unto

you”) as a reciprocity-guarantee, thus obscuring Jesus’ teaching cited by

the Apostle Paul: “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (<442035>Acts

20:35). The spiritual rewards of stewardship are thus subordinated to the

supremacy of material blessing. Successful entrepreneurs who stress that

God has been instrumental in the growth of their business wittingly or

unwittingly reinforce such prosperity-theology. The error of the prosperity

theme is not its emphasis that God blesses commercial integrity and

sacrificial stewardship, nor that business success is attributable to divine

providence, but rather its conversion of stewardship into a material

prosperity tool, its attachment of giving to the expectation of personal

financial benefit, its correlation of spirituality with material gain. This

approach fails to see stewardship first and foremost as a spiritual exercise

for the glory of God and the advancement of His goals, one that when the

giving is sacrificial yields distinctive compensations of character to the

donor.

Sometimes the appeal for “seed faith” or “seed money” is simply a variety

of prosperity-theology: funds are solicited with the assurance that God will

not only repay the gift materially, but will also multiply the donor’s

investment. Apart from such distortion, the notion of seed money has much

to commend it as a launchpad for pilot projects.

Fund-raising premiums raise more urgent ethical problems. For one thing,

the monetary value of such premiums is often exaggerated. At worst,

special spiritual worth is attributed to floral sprigs or tiny twigs from the

Holy Land, or mother-of-pearl crosses from Bethlehem, or olive wood

amulets from Jerusalem, or cheap jade charms from Hong Kong or Taiwan.

Such relics may not carry all the implications of medieval indulgences. But

they are reminiscent of them nonetheless insofar as they are depicted as

laden with blessing, if not with miracle-power, because they have been

prayed over or are thought to protect the recipient against evil. If this were

merely a religious extension of the cosmetic industry’s “free bonus with

purchase,” it would be bad enough; far worse is the promise not merely of

physical enhancement, but of spiritual benefits that the almost worthless

trinkets are presumed to convey.

Books, magazines or cassettes are frequently sent as premiums. Donors

must deduct their value from any claim for a tax-exempt contribution. The

hawker often puts their value not at actual cost but at the publisher’s or

producer’s inflated price. IRS requirements are more murky when gift

books are provided by an independent source to help stimulate support for

a program. Publishers’ closeouts, now and then distributed by evangelical

agencies, often do little to enhance organizational goals. Some tax-exempt

groups are careful to distribute books that reflect an organization’s creative

interests and achievements, thereby stimulating larger long-term support.

Doctrinally responsible ventures will distribute books of theological

integrity that truly promote a spiritual life. “Health and wealth”

solicitations are often somewhat more ambiguous than are theologicallyarticulate

ministries and are sometimes less precise about how

contributions will be used. Some theologically-indefinite efforts focus

constantly on world emergency needs, and alter their appeal goals and even

moderate their doctrinal tenets when they shift to new crisis concerns.

Even if evangelical funding appeals are less than ideal, things could be

worse. Much secular fund-raising links generosity in making charitable gifts

primarily to the tax break such gifts bestow on donors. In 1986 many

charities advised U.S. citizens how they could benefit tax-wise by giving

before year-end when the new tax law became effective. Wellesley College

projected a “tax alert” warning for its donor list that under the new law the

cost of giving could rise by as much as 44 percent. The accounting firm of

Arthur Anderson & Co. advised nonprofit institutions that opportunity was

vanishing for wealthy donors to “get the government to pay as much as

one-half the cost of lifetime charitable giving.”

Fortunately, evangelical appeals escape the misleading secular offers of

“something for nothing.” As far as I know, no evangelical college, for

example, has yet promoted an alumni lottery offering free tuition for a child

or grandchild, or offering the second-prize winner an all-expense-paid

invitation to homecoming weekend for a class reunion. I hesitate to project

additional options lest some venturesome promoter be tempted to actualize

the possibilities.

Yet many evangelical organizations, and even some Christian colleges, do

not wholly escape the temptation to post fake mailgrams or to dress up

junk mail to look like first-class personal correspondence. Evangelistic

enterprises and humanitarian agencies routinely imprint their envelopes

with “Urgent — Immediate Reply Requested” or “Priority Mail” so that

gullible recipients may think the correspondence is selective and private.

A more blatantly offensive device is the first-class letter sent by a stranger

who addresses the prospect by first name and signs off on a first-name

basis. The correspondence shares supposedly confidential information

(usually so intangible that its release could harm no one) and charts new

evangelistic opportunities that promise certain success. Sometimes this

approach takes the form of a Christmas greeting. I usually ask my wife if

she knows the writer before the letter vanishes with other junk mail.

A special public relations feature of evangelical education is its vaunted

personal interest in the individual student as a person uniquely fashioned in

God’s image and created for distinctive service in the world. In reality

large present-day enrollments and oversized classes, along with heavy

faculty demands, continually jeopardize this personal touch, but

recollection of earlier college days by alumni often remains a lifelong

motivation for dedicated service. Yet smaller colleges, which sometimes

boast of a larger one-on-one faculty-student relationship, do not

necessarily excel at it. A few years ago, when conducting a faculty survey,

I wrote a dozen evangelical colleges for their current catalogue. One

institution immediately computerized my name, and for three consecutive

years I was invited to enroll as a freshman and to have my parents visit

campus at homecoming.

Computer-generated correspondence which gives the impression of a

personal exchange is bad enough. But when the mechanical signature

guarantees that it will personally pray for all who write expressing their

needs — and conveys the impression of a truly significant prayer burden

for each respondent — the pitch is unconscionable. One recent solicitation

letter from a religious magazine began with the sender’s personal assurance

that “Today I have your name before me in prayer.” One need not major in

mathematics to know that even the most determined correspondent would

never manage ten thousand three-second sound blips like “O God,

remember Carl Henry wherever he is, whatever his need,” even if he

prayed for eight solid hours without ever stopping for breath (unless of

course the prayers were also computerized and names automatically fed

into the computerized tape). The writer adds that “I am deeply and

strongly on (his) heart” because the American economy may suddenly

plummet and seed gifts are needed. The letter proceeds to invert apostolic

priorities by saying far more about money than about ministry:

Obviously movements with large supportive constituencies cannot maintain

personal relationships with all donors, and overstatement readily becomes

the first step toward manipulating and exploiting the donor base. The

temptation also arises, on the basis of an evangelical entrepreneur’s private

faith, to exceed budget prospects by anticipating support which is not

really in hand or in view for new and enlarged ministries. Some such

funding appeals have even blamed God for unfortunate overextension of

enterprises: “The Lord has blessed this work so abundantly that now we

are really in trouble trying to keep it going.” Or again, “Without additional

help we must cut back critical programs, but I know that is not God’s will

for us.”

According to media commentators, “compassion fatigue” followed the

sustained drive carried by established evangelical agencies like World

Vision and by ad hoc relief efforts like Live Aid and Hands Across

America to aid countless impoverished multitudes in Africa and elsewhere.

Yet on the premise that people will not respond to a financially successful

effort as readily as to a salvage operation, direct mail experts advise

Christian agencies to create a crisis by “pressing the panic button.”

Conservatively-worded direct mail that deals with substantive issues is said

to be financially unrewarding; only by feeding the constituency “raw meat”

— homosexuality, pornography, sexual delinquency, drugs, and so on —

will the recipient feel sufficiently “moved” to respond.

Financially faltering enterprises may suggest a need for Christian

cooperation and merger. Personality-cult movements run great risk when

leaders become — as Mel Lorentzen puts it — “builders of personal

empires ‘in His name’“; rather than serving as “commissioned agents of the

heavenly kingdom” they compete with each other for cash from a common

constituency. Just as lamentable is the sale and exchange of donor lists by

some evangelical or fundamentalist agencies. I know that one particular

enterprise has bartered my name because I once deliberately misspelled it

Hhenry; solicitations are now addressed to me that way by at least a dozen

sources.

The fact that a cause is good does not of itself justify telephone intrusion at

any hour of the day or evening. The year-end phonathon is an unpleasant

tactic; the caller is not personally known, often interrupts something the

responder considers more important, usually solicits a larger contribution

than the responder is disposed to make, and demeans the prospect list into

a series of technological statistics. How would the president of an

offending institution or movement feel if the victims of phonathon lists

called him at his home to ask for a contribution to their local churches for

community evangelism? Even worse is the long-distance supposedly

person-to-person call in which the “operator” asks if one has just a minute

to listen to an important personal message from some Big Name

Evangelical, and then is subjected to the insult of a recorded tape. I usually

hang up; such an approach is an invasion of my time under false pretenses.

Other fund-raisers suggest asking someone from a potential donor’s

college class or peer group to make the pitch. If the potential donor is

personally unable or indisposed to give, fund-raisers then invite the

recalcitrant prospect to address the most vulnerable of his well-to-do or

wealthy acquaintances. The appeal to donor ego nullifies the ethical and

spiritual gratification that donors ought to experience in giving. Another

questionable device is that of publishing lists of donors and their gifts, thus

making public what ought to be a private matter — namely, the extent of a

donor’s contribution. This practice exposes contributors to solicitation by

still other fund-raisers. Moreover, if such tactics are used to send smaller

donors on a “guilt trip,” they may alienate an important and perhaps even

the largest segment of supporters.

Something more should be said about unworthy pressure techniques upon

donors. By any estimate, the decline of Oral Roberts’ $500 million

evangelical empire is a sad spectacle: closing of the dental school, transfer

of the law school, failure of the City of Faith hospital to fill many of its

beds, diminution of Oral Roberts University endowment funds, and now a

desperate media plea for scholarships that has invited the scorn of Roberts’

foes and friends alike. Seeking $4.5 million for medical school scholars,

Roberts begged TV viewers to post $100 apiece in quick money lest God

take him hostage and doom him to heaven. Media stations in Dallas,

Denver, Oklahoma City, Tulsa and Washington rejected the money begging

telecast as unacceptable. At the end of a substitute program,

Roberts’ son Richard in effect urged viewers to send gifts to spare his

father from being taken to heaven. When Roberts reportedly postponed his

deadline or lifeline to March 1988, a newspaper columnist speculated that

God’s credit department must have given Oral a 365-day extension. But

whether Oral’s D-day is in 1987 or 1988, his appeal discredits a ministry

whose overall message has been that sufficient faith can work miracles. It

was hardly a gain for the evangelical gospel, moreover, to put the prospect

of going to heaven in the category of a calamity. But quite aside from

theological concerns, such gimmickry detracts from the financial integrity

of evangelical fund-raising.

Evangelical enterprises need constantly to investigate how dependent their

promotion is on the philosophy of secular professionals. Madison Avenue’s

most successful commercials, it is said, are those which stretch the truth

but do so subtly. Yet the advertising world was caught off guard recently

when a thirty-second television commercial openly caricatured the

exaggerated claims of competing car wheelers and dealers. While a smooth

huckster ridiculously overstated the virtues of the Japanese Isuzu — top

speed of 300 miles an hour and 94 miles a gallon in city driving — the

screen carried the background warning: “He’s lying!” The huckster

continued: “It has more seats than the Astrodome.” The Isuzu ad was

considered a breakthrough because it openly admitted that usual promotion

practices tend to gloss over truth in advertising.

It seems self-discrediting when a college puts itself into the academic major

leagues and depicts itself, as did Liberty Baptist College, as the future

fundamentalist Harvard even before its campus emerged from the concretebunker

stage. In any case, Harvard, which even in its divinity school now

holds evangelical Christianity at considerable distance, hardly provides the

milieu that sound fundamentalism should desire to emulate. (Speaking of

insensitive overstatement, I recall that in 1971 an evangelical promoter

uhblushingly described the Jerusalem Congress on Biblical Prophecy to

tour prospects as “the nearest thing to a seat at the Second Coming.”).

No less overstated is the designation, by one spokesman, of the Christian

College Coalition as a great Christian university of seventy affiliated

schools enrolling a total of eighty-five thousand students on related

campuses in scores of cities that span the nation. Such comments not only

miss the sense of what essentially constitutes a major university, but tend

also to dwarf the fact that a vast majority of America’s twelve million

university students get their learning in nonevangelical schools.

The time has come for full candor in all evangelical promotion. Evangelists

who cite impressive statistics of cumulative attendance and of public

“decisions” as evidence of success need to play fair with their

constituencies and to concede that between 92 and 97 percent of those

coming forward at decision-making time do not become active church

members. Some promotion has claimed that for ten cents a person all

Africa can be evangelized, as if illiteracy and anu ntranslated Bible are

nowhere obstacles in reaching lost and hidden groups.

Even when prospective donors are told that the first $15,000 received

would go to meet some dire need, what is often unmentioned is that the

first contributions by radio and television audiences usually go toward

meeting program and overhead expenses. Unless an independent source

has underwritten the salaries of an institution’s development or stewardship

staff, a substantial part of the money raised goes to pay salaries and travel

costs, even where solicitation is done on commission. No fund-raising can

be done without administrative costs; few organizations are in a position to

devote every cent that is given to the cause for which contributions are

intended. Hence the percentage of funds that remains to advance an

institution’s spiritual and moral vision is crucially important.

Few factors permanently motivate the giving of believers more than a clear,

unambiguous definition of objectives enunciated by a leader perceived to

be trustworthy. A touch of charisma is an asset, but it will not compensate

for a lack of personal integrity or for imprecise formulation of goals or for

uncertainty over the intended use of funds. The risk of concentrating the

promotion of an enterprise upon a single personality is evident, however;

not only does such a policy create problems of succession, but the leader is

sometimes also conceived as being more important than the work.

Consequently, the temptation arises to perpetuate family dynasties.

Fund solicitation for evangelical enterprises is best done by dedicated

believers who are assured of the doctrinal, moral and fiscal integrity of

their enterprises and who venture fund-raising primarily as a divine

vocation rather than simply for the commission that represents or augments

their salaries.

For the Christian educational institution, the issues of fund-raising strategy

have a further important implication. In their solicitation of funds, Christian

colleges and seminaries may be expected to conduct such efforts as

efficiently as any other organization. But no commendation of an

evangelical college can surpass that of quality education and the victory for

truth it achieves in the struggle for the mind and will of our generation.

Evangelical educational institutions have used the media for fund-raising,

but they have not by and large used the media to promulgate Biblical

world-life convictions. It is no credit to evangelical educators that

television has offered sunrise courses oriented largely to secular humanism,

or that educational networks have featured major programs advancing

naturalistic evolution; even our most prestigious colleges have done little

to invest their educational resources for significant public impact. The fact

remains that prominent nonevangelical scholars are invited more frequently

as lecturers on evangelical campuses than evangelical scholars on those

campuses are invited by faculty at nonevangelical schools to address

nonevangelical student audiences. We might well ask why:

As Christianity’s critical intellectual center in contemporary society, the

evangelical college must take seriously the importance of a learned

exposition of the Christian world-life view. The promotional literature of

evangelical campuses has for decades rightly oriented their special

academic mission to Christian world-life concerns. Yet such literature

routinely overstates actual achievement in that realm, for there has often

been little more than an elemental exposition of it.

As the cognitive center of the evangelical movement, the Christian campus

must place promotion and funding conspicuously in the service of

preserving, propagating and vindicating truth. To do this requires an

unapologetic statement of doctrinal conviction, a platform of fund-raising

principles compatible with those commitments, and a promotional policy

that above all else stresses how the institution’s faculty and alumni succeed

in advancing the triumph of truth in the contemporary world.

No amount of enthusiasm for evangelism, no proposals for expanding or

renovating buildings, no plans for increasing faculty salaries, no program of

zeal for sports — however proper such interests may be — can

compensate for an academic institution’s neglect of its proper priority —

namely, precision in presenting truth and competence in advancing truth’s

triumph in today’s conflict of ideas. The biggest assets of any evangelical

college are its comprehensively integrated Christian world-life view; its

instructional and literary contribution of able scholars who expound that

view; faculty books and articles that both expose the cognitive weaknesses

of modern regnant alternatives and articulate the logical and moral

superiority of the Biblical option. Such effort must persevere until

adversary thinkers see the need for serious response and evangelical works

are widely used not only by Christian college students but also by secular

collegians and are accepted as valid parallel reading.

Significant books by evangelical academicians outside the Biblical and

theological field have only recently begun to appear, although seldom are

such volumes interdisciplinary in nature, except as numerous colleges

engage in an exchange of faculty monographs. Evangelical colleges fail

their constituencies most of all in respect to Christian world-life view

fulfillment. To be sure, all evangelical campuses declare their devotion to

it, and feature that devotion as one reason why students should enroll. But

faculty delineation is often disappointing, and sometimes barely rises above

a devotional level. Surely on an evangelical campus every professor should

have some role, however small, in advancing world-life concerns. Secular

humanists have gained ascendancy in the realm of liberal learning not

because they outnumber evangelical scholars, but in part at least because

evangelical scholars seem remote from the cultural clash of ideas and too

infrequently and too ineffectively dissect and display the core convictions

of contemporary naturalism.

Fund-raising for Christian colleges ideally presupposes institutions that

readily proclaim their doctrinal heritage; that have academically gifted

faculties devoted to the whole truth and its vindication in the cultural

context; that exemplify devotion to the living God in thought and life; that

produce alumni who in all their vocational pursuits — from evangelism to

science and philosophy and politics and even fund-raising and promotion

— stand tall in the service of God and man and who amid conflicting tides

of current thought courageously champion the core-truths of Biblical

theism. A great alumni magazine that unfolds the drama of this intellectual

and spiritual and moral engagement as it impinges upon contemporary

civilization could become one of an evangelical college’s best promotional

voices.

Let’s hoist a new standard of promotion and fund-raising. Let’s be nothing

more or less than God’s trusted guardians of Christian doctrine and

morality, certainly in Christian colleges, but equally in every other

evangelical institution.