Letters to the Editor

Dear Editor:

After my article entitled “Existential Living” appeared, I had some response from lay readers suggesting that some of my meanings were not entirely clear. I had no intention to speak in tongues, that is, to use philosophic jargon which is foreign to the average reader, so I would like to use this means to clear up my meanings a bit.

First, let me elaborate a bit on Jean Paul Sartre’s slogan which sums up his atheistic Existentialism, “Existence precedes essence.” This slogan of Sartre stands in contrast to the older notions of Plato that there is eternal Form which gives to man his essential nature or that is the pattern of his life. This notion of Sartre is also directly contrary to the Christian belief that man was created according to the image of God.

For Sartre the fact of man’s existence stands in isolation and is unencumbered by any explanatory antecedents. The mere fact of man’s existence also has as yet no implied or essential consequences other than the fact that man must act in complete freedom. Man for himself and man alone will decide what kind of essential nature, that is, what kind of essence he will have.

It is Sartre’s clear intention to free himself completely from the sovereignty of God and all the implications of that sovereignty. If one is inclined to be sympathetic towards Sartre, say, on the basis of his ethics, yet, one cannot avoid the clearly implied apostasy which flows from Sartre’s basic approach to being. It is the apostasy of a God-defying, freedom-demanding autonomous man.

Growing out of Sartre’s slogan there is not only the implication that the present action of man will decide what kind of attributes man is supposed to have, that man is unrelated to the past. Also man’s own inner being is always the direct decision maker for his actions. This existentialist subjective frame of mind repudiates established law, tradition and objective points of reference in deciding matters of truth. Truth has to be relative to man’s decision making activily of the moment. We must live by the moment, by feeling, by inwardness. Even the objectivity of the other man as object is a threat to our complete freedom. With that kind of existentialist emphasis, influences begin to radiate outward which feel impatience with the dogmas, the laws, and the traditions of the past. Existentially, man wants to be free to decide each day what he will be. Living in the complete freedom of one’s own personal choice is living authentically. Living according to tradition and conventional morals is living inauthentically according to the gurus of Existentialism.

The paint I wanted to make was that Christians should not fall into Existentialistic traps. In our concern for “getting with it,” being relevant and showing concern, we should not beguile ourselves into leaving the solid foundations of our faith. We should not stray from the foundations of our faith to passing feelings and fads which arise out of boredom with tradition. Feelings cannot be free-floating. Subjectivity leads to meaningless relativity and meaninglessness as it has in the nihilism of atheistic Existentialism.

We must present the Way winsomely but we cannot deviate from the direction set by the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Man was not “thrown” into being by chance with the option to chance his own existence according to his chance notions. Changes in the form, changes in the methods, or changes in the style of Christian life may not succumb to the temptation to change the general direction of man’s life away from simple childlike obedience and accommodation to the freedom of the world.

Living existentially in a Christian way, I would suggest, should mean living for God’s Kingdom today according to the Word. Such a life need not be tradition-bound, legalistic, or run by the prescriptions of neatly bound moralisms. At the same time there can he no assertion or assumption of freedom which discredits the life of freedom in Christ. Living existentially, 1 was at pains to say, cannot mean letting down the bars which have been erected to maintain the purity of life and doctrine in the church. When we have given up all pretensions to human autonomy and any kind of God-denying freedom then we will not feel fenced in by the demands of the Christian life. Then we will feel free indeed. We may thank God for freeing us from our “freedom.”



Dear Jim:

I’m sorry I waited so long to write to you. The same old excuse—I was busy. But there isn’t any excuse for excuses, is there? Well, anyway—

Remember? The last time we talked together we discussed the standard according to which a Christian is to live, the standard by which he can distinguish between right and wrong, good and evil. I know this concerns you and your friends very much. And I’m glad because every Christian—older Christians too—will be concerned about the standard according to which he is going to live.

Because I know you are sincere in this matter, I am disturbed by something which is happening today, something which is confusing and hindering rather than helping you. The something to which I refer is the taking of “polls.” I’m sure you and your friends have frequently been “polled” as to what you think about various issues. And I suppose that, up to a point, these polls or questionnaires are good because they give expression to what the “now generation” is thinking, what it likes and doesn’t like, what it wants and doesn’t want, what it does and doesn’t do and why? We—your parents, preachers, teachers, etc.—should listen and try to understand more than we do.

But there is also a great and very real danger in this “poll taking.” The danger is that we—both younger and older generation—will begin to assume that what the “kids” think and like and want and do is good because they think, like, want and do it.

Really, Jim, this is “bad news.” No man, whether he’s young or middle-aged or old, whether he’s a Christian or a non-Christian (Christians are still depraved) may be directed and governed by what he thinks, wants, likes, and does. And no parent, preacher, or teacher is doing you a favor by simply encouraging you to do “your thing.” This is rank (and I do mean “rank”) humanism, which sets up man and his thoughts, desires and actions as the standard for the good life. This amounts to saying, “Man! He is God! Kids! They are gods!”

But “Jehovah He is God; there is none else besides Him.” (You can find this in Deuteronomy 4:35) And because He is God, the question is how does God want us to live and what standard has He established for our lives? He has told us very clearly that we are to love Him with all our being and our fellowmen as ourselves. He has clearly spelled out in His Law what it means to love Him, our fellowmen, and ourselves. True, it isn’t always easy to know what the will of God is in every situation. But the direction, the way, the spirit, and the “life style” of the Christian have been clearly revealed to us by God. And now when it comes to such questions as war, race, grooming, amusements, dating, etc., we must do more than take polls. Together, as younger and older Christians, we must listen to God, seek to understand and apply His Law.

Sorry that this letter became a little “preachy.” I guess that’s because I am a preacher.


Rev. John Hulst

With this issue we begin a new feature in TORCH AND TRUMPET. We have long felt the need for Reformational leader· ship and guidance for the young people of our churches. We have therefore asked Rev. John Hulst, college pastor at Dordt College. Sioux Center, Iowa, to write a “Pastoral letter” to the youth of today. Beginning in the current issue of TORCH AND TRUMPET, this letter will be a regular feature in the magazine each month.

The Editors