Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
July 19, 1951
NUMBER 11, PAGE 8-10b

Modernism: The Point Not The Name

Pat Hardeman, Tampa, Florida

Brother Jimmy Lovell wrote recently accusing someone of being willing to run a brother "out of the church and into hell without the bat of an eye" by calling him a "modernist." Said he, "All of us are modernists in many respects, and we should be judged on the point not the name." Of course, this is a shallow play on the word "modernist" by brother Lovell. His idea is that we do many things in modern ways, such as using songbooks, baptisteries and communion cups. But these illustrations, as brother Lovell well knows, have absolutely nothing to do with the modernism which is threatening the church. Brother Lovell announces a good principle when he says that one should be judged "on the point not the name." This article is an attempt to judge "on the point not the name."

In a recent Christian Forum, Roy Key has an article, "Modernism, Legalism, and Faith In Jesus Christ," in which he vaguely defines modernism, more vaguely, but with definite implications, defines legalism, and mis-defines faith in Jesus Christ. The whole article is important only as it illustrates the loose thinking characteristics of those to whom "modern theology" holds such a good attraction, and because it is written by one who still claims to be a gospel preacher.


Brother Key's first deception, whether intentionally or not, is in his definition of modernism. Since he contends for a kind of "faith in Jesus Christ," he thought to exonerate himself from the charge of modernism by defining modernism as the denial of Christ's divinity. Then he could say, "I believe in Christ; the modernists do not; therefore I am not a modernist." But modernism implies much more than the denial of Christ's divinity. Note the following definition by a modernist, Shailer Matthews. "Modernism is the use of scientific, historical, and social methods in understanding and applying evangelical Christianity to the needs of living persons." Again, Matthew says, "It is the use of the methods of modern science (that is, experimentation) to find, state and use the permanent and central values of inherited orthodoxy in meeting the needs of the modern world." These definitions of modernism include its denial of verbal inspiration, of the virgin birth and of various miracles of Christ. Included also is modernism's characterization of the Biblical doctrine of heaven and hell as "crass and materialistic." Brother Key apparently holds tenaciously to some tenets of this old liberalism. However, in this article we are concerned with a new modernistic trend he has espoused. Brother Key is an advocate, whether consciously or not, of the new modernism, which is as much opposed to Christianity and as dangerous as the old modernism. (See The New Modernism. Cornelius Van Til, The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1947.) Brother Key thinks that we do not contend for faith in Jesus Christ himself but rather merely in the Bible. Since he does, he thinks, contend for faith in Christ himself, he is not therefore a modernist. We, because we contend for faith in the Bible as necessary to and inclusive of faith in Christ, become legalists in brother Key's sight. He accuses us of having an "impersonal conception' of faith in Christ, Christ as the plan and as the word of God. Then he quotes from several brethren in support of his view that faith in Christ is in addition to faith in the word and is different from obedience to the word. I doubt that some of the brethren whom he quotes had any intention of supporting such a view as his. Be that as it may, however, for my faith is not founded in brethren, but in the Bible, study carefully the following.

The Person — Jesus Christ The Son Of God

The gospel I preach is the gospel of the risen Lord. The divine person—Jesus Christ, the Son of God—is now in heaven on God's right hand. I believe in him; I trust in him; my life is devoted to obeying him as one having all authority. But, brethren, there is no escape from these facts.

1. No relationship to Christ as the divine person and no experience with him is possible without the word. The virgin birth, sinless life, death, burial, resurrection and ascension of Christ were necessary to the divine part of our relationship to him as mediator. But before that relationship could be completed it was necessary that the Spirit come from heaven to earth to "make known" to man the mystery which from the beginning of the world had been hidden in God who created all things by Jesus Christ. (Eph. 3.1-11) The other divine acts were necessary, but the revelation God made in the New Testament was the divine act that made the others sufficient for a completed relationship to the divine person Christ. Of course, the other divine acts were revelation, but they were insufficient without the revelation made in the New Testament.

2. Every relationship we sustain to Christ as a Person is not only thus made possible by the word but is also described and limited by the word. The content of the relationship or experience is defined in the word. There is no relationship to Christ with a boundary larger than that outlined in the word; there is no experience with Christ whose content is not defined by the word.

3. Our knowledge, consciousness, or awareness of every relation we sustain to Christ arises from the word. To deny these things convicts one of infidelity with respect to the word of God. To "label" those who believe these things as "legalists'—in connection with an effort to justify departures from the word of God on the part of those whom Woodrow Wasson recently styled "loose constructionists'—is dangerously close to blasphemy. Brother Key knows full well that we believe in Christ as a divine person, and that our "legalism' consists only in contending for "the faith," and insisting to the innovators, "thus far shalt thou come, and no farther."

Brother Key quotes Lathbury's words "Beyond the sacred page, I seek thee Lord. My spirit pants for thee, O living Word," and he thinks that to sing these words is to support his view. The preceding paragraph demonstrates clearly in what sense we seek Christ "beyond the sacred page." The three facts written above in connection with the person of Christ show that the "sacred page" makes possible, gives content and limit to and gives knowledge of our relationship to the Living Word in heaven. Christ, the Person, is in heaven and we are on earth, and he dwells in our hearts by faith. This indwelling of Christ is one of the relationships to which the three facts noted above apply. Any further charge by brother Key or any other modernist that we hold an impersonal view of faith in Christ will come either from ignorance or insincerity.

Christ The Plan

Brother Key accuses us of eliminating Christ from God's plan for the unity of believers by our insistence on the word of God as the plan for unity, and he parallels us with the modernists who believe that "the plan consists simply of the teachings of Christ on human brotherhood." He says of us and the old modernists "that we simply have come to different intellectual conclusions concerning the plan." He also said in his reply to "Foundations Under Fire" that Christ "is the Bible plan." Now does he mean by this that anything the Bible says about Christ is part of the plan? or does he mean that nothing the Bible says about Christ is part of the plan? If nothing the Bible says about Christ is a part of the plan, then all brother Key could do in preaching the plan would be to say over and over in meaningless repetition "Christ, Christ, Christ." But if he says that any one thing the Bible says about Christ is a part of the plan, then by his reasoning is he not to that extent a legalist? If part of the Bible can he in the plan, why not all of it? At this point his "new modernism" finds itself in an inescapable dilemma. It must either, by its own reasoning, convict itself of legalism by saying that some of the New Testament is a part of Christ the Divine plan, or it must preach a Christ of whom nothing can be regarded as essential but the concept of him as a person. But apart from the word there is no knowledge of his person. So his logic lands brother Key in either the hated legalism or utter skepticism. The truth is, Christ as the plan in relation to us is the same as Christ the person in that relation. Apply our three facts above to this relation—

1. The word of the New Testament, plus the divine acts that preceded its being revealed, makes possible our relation to Christ the plan.

2. The word gives content to, describes, and defines our relation to the plan.

3. The word enables us to know Christ the plan—Thus brother Key's accusation that our plan eliminates Christ is nonsense and infidelity—nonsense, because insistence on the word of the Bible dethrones Christ, and infidelity, because his modernistic conception of Christ has taken his faith from the word. He says that to the modernist the Plan is a moralistic philosophy and to us, the "legalists," it is a code which men can follow and save themselves." I wonder what Paul meant when he told Timothy "thou shalt both save thyself and them that hear thee." He did not intimate that taking heed to himself and the doctrine could save without Christ. He did mean that by thus taking heed of them (the doctrine included and exalted Christ) he could save himself. I challenge any modernist to deny this.

In continuing his confusion brother Key says, "We can not be saved by either philosophy or .law. Neither Plato nor Moses is our saviour . . . neither the Republic nor the Bible is the Incarnation of God." This is a sample of the loose and liberal thinking characteristic of brother Key's school of thought. It is true that we can be saved neither by philosophy nor by law, if he means by "law" the law of Moses. The Gentiles demonstrate the one, the Jews the other; but instead of saying that neither the Republic nor the Old Testament, the law of Moses, can save, brother Key says "neither the Republic nor the Bible," including the New Testament. This shows conclusively that in his mind the New Testament itself is no better than the old but that both are simply legalism. Well, the Old Testament was the law that depended on "mine own righteousness" (Phil. 3.9), while the New Testament is a different and better law, the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus. . Talk about legalism! If a man is so blind that he cannot see the difference between the words of the Old and New Testaments, he needs some Christian glasses. Brother Key certainly needs to quit viewing things through the glasses of "modern theology."

He cannot see the difference between the Jews thinking that Christ came to destroy the law of Moses and our thinking that his views will destroy the law of Christ. The fact is the Jewish law was to be fulfilled and set aside, but God never intended that Christ's law be treated that way. Grant that some of Paul's brethren did think that "he taught his converts to forsake Moses," the real issue is, where did Paul ever teach us to forsake the law of Christ or to look upon it as "legalism?" Brother Key keeps writing disdainfully of "arbitrary commands and decrees of God." He says of our conception of salvation, "by saved' he means a judicial decree by which God arbitrarily cancels out the sin recorded in the celestial ledger." Ignoring the intended-to-be unattractive metaphors in this statement, I raise the question, if God does not arbitrarily cancel out sin, does he do it necessarily? Can he help canceling it out? Brother Key knows that we believe God personally cancels or removes or remits sin when we obey the gospel of Christ, and that God was under no antecedent compulsion to do so, but that he promised to do so when we yield ourselves as servants unto righteousness, having obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine. Brother Key writes that baptism is a means of laying hold on the atoning salvation of Christ and is not "an arbitrary command of God intended s a stumbling block in the way of believers." He knows full well that we never taught that God intends baptism as a stumbling block in the path of the believer, but does not he believe that it becomes such to those who will not accept it? Does not the failure to accept it prove the inadequacy or the deadness of the person's faith? Or does he like some others in Chicago, fellowship most anybody that believes whether he has been scripturally baptized or not? Be truthful, brother Key, instead of hiding what you really believe, and thinking it is "dangerous" to express fully what you really believe about these fundamentals, try in the open to convert us to your modernistic view of them. If baptism is not an "arbitrary" command, is it one that God could not help giving? You know that God personally commands people to be baptized and that that commandment is found in the word. Your continued harping on the arbitrary part is, whether intentionally or not, a smoke screen. Now brethren, and brother Key especially, that you may see the main issue, note the following diagram:

Chirst In Heaven > Word on Earth > Men on Earth

The Bible teaches that Christ is revealed to men in the word. I challenge brother Key to name one influence that Christ—Christ's person, Christ's plan, God's will, the living Word, God incarnate—exerts on men immediately, i.e., apart from the word. This is a simple challenge, but I predict that it will go unaccepted. The Baptists believe in the direct operation of the Holy Spirit on men, but cannot name a single influence which the Spirit exerts on men directly, apart from the word. Brother Key and the other new modernists believe in the direct operation of Christ's personality, but cannot name a single influence which that personality exerts on men directly. To clarify matters further, I quote Roy Key's restatement of "our real differences" which he gives as a challenge, and which I accepted, but as yet have not had a reply to my acceptance of it. I am waiting to hear that brother Key will debate what he says is the real issue. He says, "I contend that the scriptures teach that they are to bring one personally face to face with God in Christ, not to act as a road map, a walking stick, a blueprint or a code to show man how to save himself." When brother Key agrees to debate this, he agrees to deny 1 Timothy 4.16. If he defines "personally" to mean directly and not "by faith" (Eph. 3.17) I will deny that part of the proposition also. If not, I will deny the last part of it. Meanwhile, I will continue this series of articles on modernism in the church. Brethren, I pray that you will give careful study to these issues.


C. D. Crouch, Trumann, Ark., July 2. "Two good services here yesterday. Largest morning attendance we have had recently. I begin a series of meetings with Boone Prairie church, near Franklin, Texas, on July 10. Marshall Con- ner is to begin meeting here on the fifth Sunday in July."