No institution ministering to the many needs of the world is accused with more vituperation than the church. Many are the charges leveled against her. The one most frequently and vehemently asserted concerns her message. This, so the critics argue, is totally irrelevant in today’s world.

Here not so much the church as the Christian Scriptures are under fire. Although some people seem to delight in attacking all churches, most of the critics reserve their brickbats for those which declare and defend the Bible. This is commonly regarded as the cardinal sin of provincial minds. This is condemned as the grossest insult to a generation committed to its scientific theories and humanistic philosophies. The modem man insists that he is fully competent to determine by his own reason or intuition or experience what is truth. Man in his own eyes has become the measure of all things.

To militate against the temper of these times is not easy. Even those who profess allegiance to the Reformed faith find themselves tempted to reconstruct their convictions in the light of the supposed results of science. All this reflects adversely on the absolute trustworthiness of the Scriptures. It limits the significance of God’s Word to the area of “personal faith” whatever this may mean. Even more, it to all practical purposes drives men away from a serious study of the Bible.

We find it, therefore, heartening to note that interest in the Bible as the rule for faith and life is by no means dead in our day.

During the month of May the Federation of Christian Reformed Men’s societies will hold its 34th annual convention in Midland Park, N.J. This organization has pledged itself to quicken among the male members of that church a serious and sustained study of God’s Word. Most of the more than three hundred societies affiliated with this organization, numbering almost ten thousand members, meet every week for some eight months of the year. In such sreieties Bible study—verse by verse and chapter by chapter and book by book—constitutes the main course for the evening. And because God’s Word is “living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword,” the blessed consequences of such study are immeasurable. These accrue not only directly to those who take part but also indirectly to their families and churches and communities. How much stronger and more solidly grounded would these churches become., if not merely ten thousand but twenty or even fifty thousand men would pledge themselves to such weekly study!

With many others we join in extending our congratulations to the Federation and in praying that God’s choicest bleSsings may be experienced at the coming convention. Such speakers will be featured as the Rev. Gordon Negen, engaged in Inner City mission work among the teeming masses of Manhattan, the Rev. Theodore Jansma, chaplain-counsellor at the Christian Sanatorium in Wyckoff, N.J., Dr. Edwin Palmer of Westminster Seminary, and last but by no means least Professor-emeritus R. B. Kuiper, serving for several decades Calvin College, Westminster Seminary and Calvin Seminary. These speakers will develop the maio theme of the convention: “God’s Word for Today’s World.” We know that all those privileged to attend the sessions will be strengthened in their convictions that the Scriptures are the inspired and infallible Word of God, and that this Word precisely and powerfully meets all the needs of man in today’s world.



J. Heywood Thomas has a most interesting appendix in his book, Paul Tillich: An Appraisal.1 There Thomas, whom Tillich calls his logical critic, gives us a review of the Roman Catholic criticisms of Tillich. We are impressed that apparently Roman Catholic scholars have been busier doing their homework on Tillich than have Protestants. They see in Tillich wide departures from the traditional creeds of Christianity, that is, those of Nicea and Chaloedon.

As an example, we may refer to Fr. G. H. Tavard who in his book, Paul Tillich and the Christian Message2 insists that with the appearance of the second volume of Tillich’s Systematic Theology it is impossible to think that Tillich’s point of view can be reconciled with the faith of the Church as regards the central Christian message, the Christ himself. What Tavard finds particularly puzzling is that, in spite of Tillich’s departure, “no rebuttal came. This could mean either that most theologians found Tillich’s Christology unimportant or they feared to tackle a dominant figure of the contemporary scene in American Protestantism” (Tavard p. 7).

Thomas goes on to state that the second suggestion, namely, fear of Tillich in the face of his prestige, is the most likely explanation for the dearth of material by Protestants. He continues, “As against an occasional article in Protestant journals, there are in Catholic journals nearly a dozen articles on Tillich all of which are in some way critical studies” (Thomas p. 188). These comparisons by Thomas invite some further thoughts as to the reasons for the disparity between the critical evaluations of Tillich on the part of Roman Catholics in contrast with Protestants.

First, we might conclude that the luminosity which Tillich reflects to the Protestant world may lose some of its brilliance before it reaches Roman Catholic circles; so that Roman Catholic scholars might be more ready to enter the lists against Tillich. Such scholars also are under no pressure to accept the conclusions which Protestant leaders have offered concerning the works of Tillich. Protestant theologians of lesser standing (not necessarily lesser theologians) are not only under pressure from their fellows to accept Tillich, but this pressure has been fortified by the tendency of the secular press and secular seats of learning to lionize Tillich. With all this going on the average Protestant minister may at times even feel the need to try to understand Tillich.

A more sobering explanation of Tillich’s immunity in the Protestant world may lie in the fact that twentieth century Protestant discernment and interest have so declined that one who comes with Tillich’s kind of travesty on the Christian religion can receive acclaim with a minimum of dissent. This dissent is so negligible that the secular press can present Tillich as the authoritative voice of late twentieth-century Protestantism. There Tillich carries the image of a Protestant theologian who is making the Christian religion meaningful in the context of twentieth century complex life.

Perhaps we may be allowed the additional suggestion that in this role of Protestant image-maker in the Madison Avenue sense, Tillich comes under criticism by Roman Catholics more readily than Protestants, because Roman Catholics are bound to give more honor and deference to authority and tradition. Though they are image-conscious, as the Ecumenical Council seemed to indicate, they are not under the same compulsion of “interpreting or translating the Christian message into the language of the contemporary situation, ( whereas) Tillich has made this the essential character of his theological method” (Thomas p. 18).

The Roman Catholic critics do not hesitate to point out that in the process of interpreting and translating, Tillich loses the essential Christian message. They are not afraid to say that with Tillich “Christ is risen indeed, but this does not state that Jesus of Nazareth physically rose from the dead. We are only told symbolically that the man of perfect faith rises above death, which then loses its existentially constrictive menace” (Thomas p. 192). Here the critic, G. Weigel, S.J., also suggests that there is no more merit in the symbolism of Barth, Tillich and Niebuhr than in the demythologizing of Bultmnann. Furthermore, he goes on to call Tillich’s epistemology “a melange of Kant, positivism and existentialism” (Thomas p. 193). He does this even though Tillich has been celebrated as a philosopher-theologian.

We may ask, Could it really be the case that the Roman Catholics are more confident of their voice of authority, since they have the backing of their church, the pope and tradition, than Protestants who in times past dared to say, Thus said the Lord? Or is it that in our age of relativism no one is willing to assume that he knows what the Lord meant to say? If Tillich is celebrated as a great accommodator, must Protestants generally share that honor and try to emulate him?

The history of the Christian Church indicates that frequently some or all of the essential tenets of the Christian message are lost in this process of accommodation. Presentation of the message must be winsome, current, and with full knowledge of the existential situation. Yet it cannot be trimmed, modified, contracted, expanded or reinterpreted to meet the demands of post-Christian apostasy or modem itchy ears. Accommodation may win temporary acclaim even from the secular press (this is not to impugn Tillich’s motives); but then what of the claims of the Christian message?


1. Westminster Press, Philadelphia, 1963.

2. Burns and Oates, London, 1962.