The Suicide Of Christian Theology In the Sixties And A Modest Proposal For Its Resurrection -- By: John Warwick Montgomery

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 11:2 (Spring 1968)
Article: The Suicide Of Christian Theology In the Sixties And A Modest Proposal For Its Resurrection
Author: John Warwick Montgomery

The Suicide Of Christian Theology In the Sixties And A Modest Proposal For Its Resurrection *

John Warwick Montgomery

[* Dr. Montgomery of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School made this invitational presentation at the McMaster University Teach-In, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, November 17–19, 1967, in dialogue with the Rev. Greogry Baum, O.S.A., Dr. William G. Pollard, and Resigned Bishop James A. Pike.]

I. A Disquieting Parabolic Introduction

Paul Tillich’s Chicago University Law School lectures have just been published posthumously under the title, My Search for Absolutes. 1 This work is significant not only because of the lectures themselves, which represent Tillich’s last major thoughts, but also because of the striking illustrations prepared for the volume by Tillich’s close friend Saul Steinberg. One of Steinberg’s drawings well depicts the theme of the present essay. It pictures two men on a teeter-totter poised at the edge of a cliff. The man on the end of the board which extends over the abyss is firing a fatal shot at his companion who stands on the safe end of the board. The result of this action is, of course, the destruction not only of the one who receives the bullet but also of the one who fires it, since when the shot finds its mark and the murdered man falls, the tetter-totter will throw the killer into the chasm. In killing his supposed enemy, the agressive gunman has in reality killed himself, for he was dependent on him for his own life.

This, in my judgment, is the sad state of contemporary theology: in firing what is thought to be a fatal shot at Christian orthodoxy, the modern theologian has only succeeded in killing himself, for he has eliminated the sole raison d’être for his own existence. He has, in effect, committed suicide. To understand this suicidal phenomenon, we must first take a close look at its context, both secular and religious.

The Secular Dilema

Theologians of secularity such as death-of-Goders William Hamilton and Thomas Altizer, urban theologians such as Harvey Cox and Gibson Winter, and theological pundits such as James McCord of Princeton, inform us that secular society has finally overcome its neurotic guilt feelings and is on the verge of a new era of optimism, megalopolitan accomplishment, and social progress - an era which may well rise to a new name for God and a new conception of the working of the Spirit. 2

Sad to say, however, a closer look at the evidence belies any such interpretation. Antonini’s film Blow-Up has been heralded as a clear proof that the “op” generation has confidently thrown off the troubling...

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