Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
September 6, 1951
NUMBER 18, PAGE 2-3a

"Plain Speaking"

Roy Key, Chicago, Illinois

Brother Pat Hardeman declares that the time has come for "plain speaking" in the exposure of my "modernism." I trust that he desires me to reply plainly. His last article shows that he has gotten entirely away from my articles that he first attacked, and he describes my "modernism" in two charges: (1) that I can conceive of a man's being a Christian even though not holding the truth on the virgin birth, and (2) I claim that the quality of Jesus' life is more central than the nature of his birth and actually makes credible the accounts of his birth.

Note the first charge. Brother Hardeman knows that I believe the account of the virgin birth. Still, I am a "modernist" "in danger of . . . eternal damnation." Why? Simply because I know and point out that Christian faith is personal rather than creedal. It is commitment in trust to Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, not the intellectual acceptance of a series of propositions about Him, however true those propositions are. In fact, a man may be ignorant of much that is true about Jesus, concerning His birth, and even His life and death. Certainly the Pentecostians and other early converts to Christ were ignorant of many of the facts which later were presented to them by word of mouth and through New Testament writings. What they had to know was that they were sinners and that He could save them, if they would surrender to Him in repentance and baptism.

Let us speak "plainly." I believe that Peter preached enough on Pentecost for men to believe in Jesus Christ, obey Him, and become Christians. Further, I believe that Luke adequately reported that sermon. Brother Hardeman must charge either that Peter did not preach an adequate sermon or that Luke did not report it. If I were using his technique, I would here charge him with "modernism" and "infidelity" and warn all the brethren of his "pernicious, blighting" influence. However, what I suspect is that he simply hasn't thought very much on many of these things and ought to do a little more studying before he displays his lack of understanding so completely.

Note the second charge. Just suppose that I am wrong in holding the life of Jesus to be that which really makes the facts of His birth significant to us (which is really what hundreds of preachers point out every Christmas), and that which makes the account of His birth credible. What makes this wrong judgment so "pernicious" any more than a thousand other errors that all of us have? Surely, any casual reader of the New Testament knows which is more central, on which the Scriptures themselves place most emphasis, unless he is blinded by some special interest.

Neither brother Hardeman nor any other man alive can prove that Peter mentioned or that those accepting Christ on Pentecost knew one word about the virgin birth, premillennialism, church worship or organization, "church cooperation," and a hundred other things we deem important. Yet, he blushes not to say that I make Christ's birth "unimportant and unessential." I could as truthfully charge he admits a man doesn't have to know before he can be baptized. I still wait for a reply on what all one must know before baptism. I wonder what questions brother Hardeman asks such a one. It's clear that he does not regard the simple confession of the early church as sufficient to find out what is fundamental. Answer "plainly," brother Hardeman, What do you propose in its stead?

As for Brunner, I haven't read a book of his in four years, though I previously read enough to know when he is being unfairly represented on some points. My sole interest in even mentioning the man was in behalf of fairness and honesty. We owe that much to anybody, whether we agree with him or not. My "encouraging the study of his works" was a single statement directed to one man in private correspondence. When brother James Bales, in criticizing an article taken from a theological journal, spoke of "the unbelieving and modernistic ears of Barth and Brunner," I asked him, "Are you aware that right now there is serious debate over whether Brunner and Barth are even in the liberal tradition?" Now here is my crime: "At least," I advised, "secure a copy of Brunner's The Divine-Human Encounter and really read it before you make such a charge again."

I didn't claim Brunner to be right on everything. I didn't exhort the following of him in anything. However, he has written much that can be read with great profit. (It may be that five "explicit" and a couple of dozen "implicit false assumptions" can be squeezed out of that statement.) In order to try to find the closest possible agreement with brother Hardeman, let me say that I have never and do not now claim that Brunner can be followed in his radical Biblical criticism, and that is at the basis of all the designated infidel positions of Brunner's theology." According to brother Hardeman's definition of "modernism" Brunner is without question a modernist.

I must go on to add, though, that so defined "modernism" does not exclude faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God. It does not exclude the doctrine of creation, sin, miracles, salvation by faith, etc. Not only may a radical Biblical critic believe in Jesus Christ, but if Brunner's words mean what they say, he does so believe. I mention only a couple of direct, unqualified statements from The Theology of Crisis. "We mean by revelation what the New Testament and the church expressed in the doctrine of the incarnation of the eternal word of God. Any doctrine of Jesus that says less than this, that the Word of God became man, falls below the true fact of revelation." (p. 36) "Christian faith, faith in contradistinction to the religion of immanence, must abide by the assertion: Jesus Christ, the incarnate Word, God become man.' Acknowledgment of the living Word of God constitutes the Christian faith." (p. 37) Is more needed? It can be gathered by the armful.

In the presentation of my statement on the nature of Jesus' birth my words were lifted out of context. Immediately preceding the quotation was this:

It is true that W. did not say in so many words, `Jesus Christ is the Son of God,' but he most certainly did point to the truth which these words are meant to convey. He set forth Christ as the Revelation of the creative Love which God is, and the Grace of God that has appeared to us. In Him alone is fulfillment or salvation. Through Him has come God's Grace as forgiveness over us and divine Spirit, power, within us. He even points to the eternal significance of the cross and resurrection. They were not isolated happenings, but the key to reality.

When one then reads that what he did not say was that Christ was virgin-born, he can (or should) see what was meant. The truth of the doctrine is implicit in what was said. Without speaking directly of Christ as God's Son or virgin-born the writer taught these truths, just as he taught the realities of heaven and hell without specifically mentioning them.

The assertion that "Christ as God's Son" and "born of a virgin" are identical is pure assumption, based on brother Hardeman's inability to fathom the mystery of the Incarnation apart from it. Does he imply that by this identification he does comprehend it? Then he ought to explain, for, undoubtedly, he is the only man alive who does. I do not argue that God could have accomplished the Incarnation in another way, as charged, but I do not insist, as my brother does, that He could not. All I said was that one might believe that He could and did, without proper knowledge of this truth accept Jesus of Nazareth as that Incarnate One.

The arguments for the virgin birth are beside the point. They can be made to those not accepting it. The passages referred to on the matter do not say that "salvation 'stems from' the virgin birth." Rather, they say that salvation is through Him who was so born. It is charged that "the book is not enough" for me, but that it is the "book" which gives credence to both "Virgin Life" and "the virgin birth." I simply ask, What gives credence to the book? Is the book more basic than the Christ it reveals?

Brother Hardeman thinks I ought to hit modernism as hard as I propose to hit legalism. I would if it were cursing those who comprise my audience as is legalism. I'm not accustomed to fighting straw men. However, because of growing confusion over them, I have been working on a definitive statement concerning "modernism," "liberalism," and "fundamentalism." My brother's premature criticisms have interrupted that work. I hope to come to sufficient agreement with him that I may soon resume it.

Through letters brother Hardeman and I have come to closer agreement. I have come to think that he has more real "care" in his heart than I first thought. I don't think his heart is as legalistic as some, of his words, and I hope that the personal aspects of his preaching overshadow the other. It remains to be seen whether he is convinced that my position is not "a mixture of Calvinism and infidelity." I hope he will see that it is not. I have spoken "plainly" enough on Brunner that it should be satisfactory. We do not agree yet on a definition e "modernism," but I see no particular tragedy in that. if it could be seen that faith is personal rather than creedal, then I believe that we could come to a great degree of oneness. What I have said about one's accepting Christ as Savior and Lord while ignorant of such matters as the biology of his birth, nature of the church and its worship, matters related to His return, etc., etc., would then be seen as plain deductions from the nature of Christian faith. But if brother Hardeman can't see them thus deduced, I trust he can see from the plain New Testament record that people ignorant of these matters not only could but did believe on the Lord and submit to Him as Christ.