Eschatological Problems III: Is Moral Progress Possible? -- By: John F. Walvoord

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 101:402 (Apr 1944)
Article: Eschatological Problems III: Is Moral Progress Possible?
Author: John F. Walvoord


Eschatological Problems III:
Is Moral Progress Possible?

John F. Walvoord

Introduction.

There are few questions in the realm of human thought more arresting than the question of the direction of human experience. Are we making any progress, particularly in the moral sphere? Is there a teleological significance in history? What is the direction in which we are going? In Christian theology as well as in non-Christian philosophy, these agelong questions reappear like persistent moonbeams through a cloud-spattered sky. Sometimes the question is stated more directly, if more tritely, “Is the world getting better?” Is it our duty to introduce a new moral order?” “Are we building a new world socially?” Many of these questions produce varying answers, due in part to difference of opinion in basic beliefs, partly from a failure to ascertain the real issues of the question. The present article is an attempt to outline the major considerations involved in the question of the possibility of moral progress-outline, because manifestly a full treatment would involve many times the space devoted to it here.

I. The Issue.

The importance of the question is apparent even without a careful study. Dr. James H. Snowden, an ardent exponent of the idea that the world is getting better, in discussing the question wrote this analysis: “It is one of the great dividing ridges and shaping forces of human thought and experience. It is the watershed between two opposite views of the world, pessimism and optimism: the one holding that the world, though mixed with some good, is yet essentially evil and will grow worse and worse; and the other holding that the world, though infused with some evil, is yet fundamentally good and will grow better and better; the one destroying the value

of life and killing interest in it, and the other making life worth while and giving us courage and cheer in living it. It is still more profoundly the line of cleavage between two types of religion: impersonal pantheism and personal theism; between two systems of philosophy: materialistic monism and idealistic personalism; and between two hemispheres of the globe: the pessimistic Orient and the optimistic Occident. Such a radical distinction must enter deeply and vitally into our daily living and necessarily lowers or lifts our ideals and hopes, weakens or strengthens our wills, and colors with dark or bright hues our whole world and tinges all our temperaments and moods.”1

The foregoing quotation is an illustration of the viewpoint that the only possible Christian approach to the subject is that the world is improving. Dr. Snowden leaves us two...

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