The Audacity of Christianity

Excerpt from commencement address given at Westminster Theological Seminary in May of this year.

Let us look once again at the truth of the fact of the bodily resurrection of Christ as that gripped the apostles. Are we to think of this truth simply as a specific and carefully defined item handed to the apostles much in the way in which a grocer takes an item from his shelves and methodically hands it to his customer? Have we done justice to this signal truth when we honor it simply as a correct datum of fact and theology and see no more? It seems to me there is more—more which in no way detracts from the character of the resurrection of Christ as fact and as truth and as message. What is this “more?” This “more” is present in the human and historical elements that entered into the receiving, the believing and the preaching Or the blessed truth of the resurrection of Christ. I refer to elements like these: the wonderment and doubt of the stunned disciples turned to ecstatic joy at the fact that their beloved Lord and Friend was not dead; the intimate and undergirding sense of fellowship among those bound together by a common commitment to the risen Christ; the deeply personal sense of being cleansed by the blood of Christ and exalted to a blessed newness of life by his resurrection; the superb native endowments of Saul of Tarsus claimed by the risen Christ unto the amazing furtherance of the gospel; the profound exhilaration of soul that came with the knowledge that because of Christ’s resurrection death no longer had its painful sting, the grave no longer could claim its crushing victory and the law of God had lost its awful curse; and finally, the deep satisfaction of whole-hearted dedication to God’s service in proclaiming the gospel of the death and resurrection of Christ as expressed, for example, by the apostle Paul as his life neared its earthly end, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith.”


When devotees of current dialectical and existential theology charge that allegiance to the Bible as the infallible Word of God and to the creeds of the church as expressions of the abiding truth of that Word is to hold to a static faith, a faith that is dead because tied to dead symbols of the past, a faith that cannot give real answers to the pressing needs of man in today’s existential situation, it seems to me that such spokesmen fail to do justice to…the fact that this abiding truth of God’s Word as expressed in our creeds and doctrinal formulations has been given to the Church. The Word lives in the Church as surely as the Church lives by the truth of the Word. The Church is the pillar and ground of the truth. It supports the truth…The Church is a living organism. Its sure foundation is in God’s eternal counsel. Its sure consummation is in the New Jerusalem. And it is always a present reality, a here and now, made up of real men and women and children. By the power of the eternal Spirit the truth of God’s changeless Word is in them and over them and through them. Therefore this truth participates in the vitalities of these living beings. And therefore this truth can never be static, because it lives in the Church, and the Church is never static. The Church is the God-ordained historical continuum in which the truth lives and bears wondrous fruits. It is this, not as a collection of isolated individuals, but as a vital communion of believers who share the riches of the truth and the life which it genders.