Reformed Quarterly Volume 9, Issue 3
In contrast to the quiet conformity of the 1950s, the 1960s hit this country like a tornado, leaving wreckage strewn everywhere. I was living in Miami, Florida, when the news came that Soviet missiles were being assembled and deployed in Fidel Castro’s Cuba. Soon South Florida beaches bristled with military hardware and militia. Planes droned overhead through the night. Tension hung thickly in the air when a Naval blockade surrounded the new Soviet satellite. The drama mounted until the missiles were withdrawn. Meanwhile, the bloody war in Vietnam escalated steadily, claiming more and more American lives, soon becoming the costliest war in our history. And emotions rose at home.
Then JFK was assassinated. So was Bobby. Finally Martin Luther King. It was a violent, turbulent era. Riots spread from Watts to Detroit to Newark, engulfing 58 cities in flames. Hippies became a phenomenon, staging love-ins and doing their own things. “Turn on, tune in, and drop out.” That was their slogan, along with “make love, not war?” Timothy Leary championed LSD. The SDS became a force in colleges and universities. Black power flexed its muscle.
There were some happy moments, too. In 1961 Alan Shepard became the first American to fly in space. In a historic moment on July 20,1969, Neil Armstrong radioed to earth, “The Eagle has landed,” and then stepped onto the surface of the moon – the Sea of Tranquility. During this decade the first laser was built, and the computer came of age.
But such technological feats did not alter the fact that the country was falling apart socially. Traditional values were assaulted. In fact, there was a more rapid transformation of values than in any comparable period in American history. The Puritan value system – a historic consensus – was shattered. Authority was undermined. It became unpopular to believe in the ultimate authority of the Bible as God’s Word. Liberal theologians glibly announced the death of God. Mainline scholars advocated the secular city. Angela Davis received financial support from Presbyterians and other Christian groups. The mood was radical. Historical Christianity fell on hard times.
It was all but impossible to place evangelical scholars on the faculties seminaries that had come under control of liberal theologians. It soon became apparent that to perpetuate biblical Christianity would require new academic institutions where faculty could hold such commitments with integrity. The birth of RTS, bathed in prayer, grew out of such adverse circumstances as the best option to perpetuate the faith of the Reformation – the faith the Bible – in the hearts of a rising generation of church leaders. Opposition from church politicians, prominent in the power establishments, was fierce and sustained. But the need was great, and the contrast of commitments was clean. So RTS, from its small beginning, grew quickly with widespread support from the Lord’s people who wanted to help do something to break the stranglehold liberal theologians and church leaders in mainline denominations and most of their seminaries.
The purpose of RTS was clear – to offer training for ministry based on the inerrant Scriptures so that the gospel in its fullness would be passed to a new generation. People would be won to Christ, grow in the faith, and strong, healthy churches would spring up everywhere. From the beginning, there was a wonderful alchemy of Reformed theology; evangelistic passion, and genuine piety. God’s hand of blessing was evident.
The ’90s: A Window of Opportunity
The 1960s have long passed; the 1990s have arrived. The 2Oth century inexorably winds down. This is a quiet period, reminiscent of the 195Os in some ways. But look again and you see a world in ferment, communism in shambles. Recent changes in Russia and Eastern Europe give new hope for permanent improvements. This is a window of opportunity. We also are witnessing a mighty work of the Spirit of God throughout the world. The number of believers in many countries such as Africa, China, South America, Korea, and Indonesia has soared dramatically. More than half of all evangelicals now live outside the Western world.
In the United States the old mainline denominations, comprising more than 80 percent of the religious population earlier this century, have now moved to the sidelines, through massive membership hemorrhages and a failure to evangelize effectively. Evangelical denominations and churches are growing. A massive realignment is occurring. The old labels mean less and less. Evangelical seminaries like RTS are still growing, now claiming more than half of all seminary students. During the last 25 years, RTS has grown with and contributed to the increase of evangelical numbers and influence. Our emphasis is on sound theology and profound spirituality which attracts those who are spiritually hungry.
Meanwhile, secularism is on the march and an anti-Christian spirit seems to be developing in the public sector Trusted figures like Carl Henry and Chuck Colson offer prophetic warning. In Against the Night, Colson warns that: “Our great civilization may not yet lie in smoldering ruins, but the enemy is within the gates. The times seem to smell of sunset:” He adds: “Unprincipled men and women, disdainful of their moral heritage and skeptical of truth itself, are destroying our civilization by wrecking the very pillars upon which it rests.”
In this issue of RTS Ministry Dr. Ron Nash points to the crisis in American education precipitated by secular advocates of anti-traditional or modernistic values. He is right. Remember the demonstrators at Stanford University recently? Led by Jesse Jackson, they chanted, “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Western culture’s gotta go.” Unfortunately, universities now appear to be busily working to undermine the values for which they once stood. R.W.B. Lewis, formerly a professor at Yale, notes that the counterculture agenda of the 1960s has been smuggled into the classroom as an intellectual counterinsurgency movement. Teaching literature now, he says, is “politics with the history left out and, indeed, politics with the literature left out.”‘ Yet, in many instances, that is what education has come to, and the effects are being felt at all levels academically and throughout our society. There is a need to rebuild a Christian philosophy based on the Bible.
The turbulence and violence of the great social upheaval of the 1960s are gone, but we live in a period every bit as dangerous. Christians are becoming a weakened, ineffective, irrelevant minority. Many people, disappointed and disillusioned by their churches, have turned to New Age or other religious attractions. Others have dropped out entirely. Families are falling apart. Half of all marriages in the coming decade will probably fail, leaving children permanently scarred and others wounded, too. Calloused adults justify taking the lives of unborn children in the guise of pro-choice, foisting a modern holocaust upon us. Sexual promiscuity and homosexuality are propagated and defended aggressively. The pace is accelerating. The consequences will be catastrophic.
The times have changed, but the need for a clear witness to God’s Word is needed more than ever The turbulence and violence of the 1960s are gone, but we live in a period every bit as dangerous. There is a need to rebuild a Christian philosophy of life based on the Bible. That will take time. The ministry of RTS and similar institutions is needed more than ever because of the loss of discernment and moral spiritual declension among Christians. Evangelicals are too fragmented and reactive in response to current issues, therefore they are relatively ineffectual. But that can change for the better During this 25th anniversary year, RTS is committed to ministry more than ever with the fervent prayer that God may bring revival and reformation.
Dr. Luder G. Whitlock has been president of RTS since 1979.