New Testament Christianity by J B Phillips







The foregoing chapters have all been given as addresses to groups of people in different parts of this country and in California, and naturally they have been followed by discussion. Speaking generally, I find a widespread desire to recapture the power and energy of the new‑born Church, and a very marked wil­lingness, particularly among young people, to give them­selves sacrificially to the service of Christ. I have learned a great deal from these frank and free discussions, and I have reached the following conclusions.


1. The way of recovery for modem man lies un­doubtedly through the recovery of the whole Christian Church. Throughout the centuries there has been no deep and lasting revitalisation of the Christian religion unless the rekindled faith has been welded into the life of the existing Church. Enthusiastic "splinter‑groups" and separatist movements may blaze impressively for a time, but if the new life is to be effectual it must flow into the body of believers already existing, however mori­bund and defeated they may appear to have become. It is not so much the isolated Christian as a purified and refreshed fellowship which will be the effective witness to a largely despairing world.


2. I find that there is a definite movement towards a united Church, and a very deep desire to see the end of "our unhappy divisions". I have found this strongly marked desire in all denominations, including my own, and for myself I would say that unless a man is completely blind and bigoted, he could scarcely deny that the living Spirit of God is using gentle but considerable pres­sures to bring all Christians together. Young Christians particularly, many of whom are in daily contact in office, garage, factory, and workshop with ardent young Communists, find the tragedy of a divided Christendom a painful obstacle to their witness. As has been brought home to me so many times, the points of agreement among the Christian denominations are so very much larger than the points of disagreement that, surrounded as we are by a largely pagan world, it is the height of folly to say or do anything which postpones the process of unity or perpetuates our differences. Prayer is prob­ably the best weapon here, since a real influx of the living Spirit into existing denominations would quickly expose the stupidity and sin of maintaining denominational bar­riers of which, be it firmly said, many keen young Chris­tians are not even aware.


3. I am not at all convinced that the modem evangelistic techniques of arousing sin and guilt are the best. The successes of such campaigns are paraded before us, but in common with many other clergy and ministers, I know something of the failures. I know of scores of people who are naturally resistant to guilt‑injection, but would, I believe, be among the first to follow Christ if only they could see Him. But they are not going to be shouted at or crooned over, and they give mass meetings a wide berth. I believe that, although of course we are all "sinners", the clamant modern need is to be "saved" from the materialism and hopelessness of modern civi­lisation rather than from the sins the evangelist de­nounces. Most people in my experience are not so much sinful as bewildered. They need to be shown Christ as He really is. They need to be shown in fresh ways the basic Christian belief that God, Who is far greater and more complex in His wisdom than our grandfathers ever imagined, became focused for our understanding as well as for our salvation in the Man Jesus. They need to be shown afresh the vast scheme of the redemption of human living, the building of the Kingdom of God. They need to be shown the new quality of living avail­able through the living Spirit of Christ. They need to be shown the spiritual "dimension" ‑ that this little life is only part of a vast scheme which God Himself is work­ing out. As far as I can see, they will not become aware of any of these things by having their sins thunderously denounced. It is not the sentimental "Jesus" of the reli­gious crooner that they need, but the living Christ. When they see Him, when they attempt to follow Him, they will find soon enough, as we all do, that there is much in their lives to be forgiven, and that without the Spirit the new life remains an unattainable ideal. They will find, in short, that they are "sinners". But I am quite certain that it is a profound mistake psychologically, spiritually, and in every other sort of way to begin by telling people about their sins, and I would to God that modem evan­gelists would study the technique of Christ Himself in dealing with actual human personalities.


All the above, and a great deal more, needs to be thought out with the utmost care. We must studiously avoid the cliché and the over‑used familiar phrases which are meaningless to the man who is outside the Church. We need to reword, to retranslate, as it were, the Good News. We need so to present the Character and Purpose of God that men and women will seek in it, not so much individual salvation (though that is included), but a worth‑while Cause with which people will joyfully co­operate and to which they will willingly give their adult loyalty.


 4. Closely allied to the problem of presenting the Good News in relevant attention‑compelling terms is the need to enlist in the service of Christ's Church the diffused good‑will of the vast army of "unconscious Christians". Again, as far as I can see, the technique of modern high‑pressure evangelists has little to offer to such people. I know a number of them personally, and they are already, for reasons of which they are largely unconscious, undeniably exhibiting the fruits of the Spirit. What I am sure they need to be told is that the very ideals which they follow so devotedly derive from an actual Person Who is alive today. How enormously enriched would the life of the Church become if she could receive within her fellowship not merely a small proportion but all the social workers, nurses, doctors, almoners, probation officers, all those who care for the blind, the deaf and dumb, the crippled children, the mentally defective, and the insane. And how fortified and re-inspired would so many of these wonderful people be if they were doing their work, not merely in obedience to a vague ideal, but for the love of Christ and in the fellowship of His Church.


5. Near the beginning of this book there is a little fan­tasy called "The Angels' Point of View". I am sure that it would do us all a power of good if we would take time off, and use our imaginations to see what is really hap­pening on this earth from the point of view of Heaven. We might see how pathetically ready man is to be fascin­ated by what we might call the technical marvels of the age ‑ how thrilled he is with the so‑called electronic "brain", with the breaking of speed records, by the pos­sibility of an artificial satellite, and such‑like achieve­ments. Yet if we were observing life from the true point of view, we should see how infinitely more important it is to recognise what is really going on in the world of human beings than to goggle at any number of physical marvels. We should see how few, how tragically few, are even trying to find out what the Creator's Plan might be for this world, and how even fewer are prepared to co­operate with it. From the angels' point of view, what enormous waste of energy, courage, talent, and person­ality there must be in many of Man's highly‑lauded  pro­jects. The angels might well ask themselves: "Why does he want to go so fast, to climb so high, to dive so deep, and to complicate his life with so many inventions while he leaves the heart of the matter untouched?" For since Man has been promised a share in the timeless life of God, how blind and earthbound he must appear as he spends his best ingenuities, his highest intellects, and the bulk of his resources upon what is merely ephemeral! If a thousandth part of the devotion and energy which are so freely given to athletic achievement or scientific re­search were devoted to the building of the Kingdom of God, to better understanding between people, to the pro­duction of true brotherhood between nations, what vast forward strides Man, as a potential son of God, could make. But, alas, he can plainly be seen by the angels to be, consciously or unconsciously, avoiding the real issues, where the personal cost is likely to be high. It is infinitely easier and more attractive to plan to visit the moon than to deal with the problem of the juvenile delinquent or the chronic alcoholic. The fun and games grow infinitely more exciting as knowledge increases; but that is hardly an excuse for diverting our best talents and personalities from the real, the spiritual, conflict in which our little lives are set.


But because Man's faith‑faculty is atrophied and be­cause his knowledge of spiritual resources is infinitesimal, he devotes enormous energies and ingenuity to amassing knowledge and solving problems on their purely physical level. Where the human shoe really pinches; where the problems are moral, psychological, and spiritual; where, in fact, the painful patient building of the Kingdom of God is involved, most of our best intellects and person­alities are conspicuous by their absence. If it should be a matter of forming an expedition to climb a high moun­tain‑range, to explore and survey an unknown territory, or to observe the habits of an almost extinct animal species, volunteers would step forward by the thousand. But when it is a question of dealing at first hand with real human problems, with maladjustment of personality, with malnutrition or illiteracy, with ignorance and superstition ‑ in fact, where it is a matter of entering bravely into human darkness ‑ how few are prepared to volunteer to carry the Light!


If we will train ourselves to see life steadily from the true point of view, we cannot help seeing how very slowly it dawns upon modem man that his real prob­lems, his real conflicts, can never be resolved on the physical plane. A man may travel far faster than sound, but that does not help him in the least to deal with the problem of his own marriage which is fast breaking up. He may successfully launch an artificial satellite, but that does nothing to solve the squalid conditions in which his fellow‑men have to live only a few streets away. He may invent and produce commercially 3‑D television for every home, but he has not made the slightest contribu­tion towards solving the problems that arise in home, in­dustry and nation ‑ the selfishness, cruelty, and greed, the fears, resentments, and suspicions, that poison our common life. Perhaps the time is not too distant when the bankruptcy of scientific achievement to solve human problems will become increasingly obvious. Perhaps Man will then return, not indeed to rediscover any old­fashioned "hell‑fire" religion, but to seek realistically that quality of living which transforms personality, and which we may fairly call "New Testament Christianity".


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New Testament Christianity by J B Phillips