We have now to consider the sense in which the affirmations of faith may properly be spoken of as practical and regulative, rather than theoretic or speculative. Not all who have drawn these distinctions have intended quite the same thing by them. When Kant says that religious belief is an affair of the practical reason, he means that it arises out of the rational contemplation, not of external nature, but of the principles given us in the moral law for the practical guidance of our lives. He would not, however, for a moment allow that it provides any further guidance beyond what is already offered by those principles themselves. All it does is to enable us to conceive our ordinary moral duties as divine commands. This way of conceiving them is indeed of invaluable help to us in stimulating us to their more diligent performance; but it does not, or rather it must not be allowed to, suggest to us any further duties such as in one passage he rather quaintly calls ‘court duties’. God requires nothing of us save the observance of the moral law, and what that law is every man already clearly knows, whether or not he is religious. Matthew Arnold was later to reduce religion to ‘morality touched with emotion’; Kant, less romantically minded, reduced it to morality touched with the reflection that it was required of us by God. He did not therefore speak of religious faith as regulative of our action, but only as regulative of certain ideas by which our action ought to be accompanied. And indeed, as we saw, it is principally to another kind of faith that he applied the term ‘regulative’—what he spoke of, rather confusingly, as doctrinal faith, and believed to operate not in the practical but in the theoretical sphere, being of a certain modest service to science in its attempt to give coherence to our observations of external nature.
Those later writers who have borrowed this terminology from Kant have, however, spoken differently. When they have said that such knowledge of God as it is given us to possess is regulative and not speculative in character, they have meant that its office is to provide guidance for the ordering of our lives. We must, said Mansel, ‘be content with these regulative ideas of the Deity, which are sufficient to guide our practice, but not to satisfy our intellect’. But, unlike Kant, Mansel believed that they really do guide our practice, and not merely stimulate us to the more faithful following of a guidance we already possess. I am sure he was right in this. We cannot act responsibly without thinking, and how we act depends on what we think. Kant would indeed have accepted that statement; but would have protested that all the thinking that is here required is to remind ourselves of something that all men know, whatever else they believe or do not believe. The universal moral law, which is alone sufficient and which should alone be allowed to guide our conduct, is, he contended, self-evidencing, so that our knowledge of it is an invariable quantity subject to no growth or change. Here, however, as in more than one other context, Kant appears as a sadly unhistorical thinker. The evidence surely is that men's judgements of duty vary profoundly from one historical tradition to another, and above all from one religious tradition to another. The conscience of each great culture was formed within the matrix of religious ideas apart from which its deliverances could not be easily justified. Admittedly there is much that is common to all such consciences, but so is there to the religious ideas with which they are in this way associated.
In particular, the Christian conscience was formed within the matrix of Christian ideas, and this is part of what Mansel means by saying that the latter exercise a regulative function. Yet it is not the whole of his meaning, for the word ‘conscience’, as usually employed, hardly covers all that he believes to be thus regulated. Christian behaviour is much more than the diligent performance of duties. It extends to every aspect of the response we make to the whole of our experience. I remember a fellow student saying to me in my youth that one's Christian faith should make a difference even to the way in which one ties one's bootlaces, and I believe it to have been a wise remark, though I shall leave the exegesis of it to the reader.
I am going to speak, then, of the Christian faith as a frame of reference which enables the believer to make the appropriate response to every circumstance of life or, translating the Latin word, to all that ‘stands around him’. Using a mathematical metaphor, I think of it as a system of co-ordinates within which the believer lives and acts and thinks and feels, and which gives position and significance to each event and each reality as he encounters it. It is in essence a way of regarding, a way of facing, and a way of responding to, every situation in which he finds himself placed. He knows now how to assess the relative authority of the multitudinous claims that are made upon him from every side, and how to meet each. He knows now how best to spend his time, and also how best to spend his money, believing himself to hold both only in stewardship to a higher authority. He knows how to face what we call the buffetings of fortune—disappointment, suspense, unrequited love, frustrated ambition, accident, bereavement and all the rest. He knows how to take pain and sickness, and in particular how to think of ‘the last enemy’ and how to meet it when it comes. But he knows no less how to enjoy the good things of life, how to comport himself in calm weather as well as in the storm, and how to play as well as to work. ‘I know’, wrote St Paul, ‘both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: everywhere and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.’1
But it is necessary for my further argument that we should remind ourselves how this frame of reference was first provided. When we speak of Christianity we are apt to think of it as a new religion which arose in the first century of our era, but that is a very modern and I believe a very misleading way of regarding it. The first Christians never thought of themselves as the adherents of a new faith. On the contrary they continued to be firmly rooted in the faith of their forefathers; and not only of their Hebrew forefathers, for they traced the beginnings of it back to a time when as yet no Hebrews existed, when as yet the human race was not divided into Semites, Hamites and sons of Japheth. They were eager to assert, as for instance in the New Testament Epistle to the Hebrews, that even Abel and Enoch, who represented in their mythology the second and third generations of mankind, and Noah the ‘second founder’ of the still undivided race, were men not only of faith but of the true faith. That was the Hebrew, and also the earliest Christian, way of recognizing and explaining the common elements that pervade all the religions and therefore all the moral traditions of mankind.
Nevertheless the Christians believed that something new had come into the world in that first century of our era. This new thing was the Gospel. And of course that very word implies that it was something new, for Gospel (like their own Greek word evangel which that translates) means good news. It was news in the most literal sense, as the announcement of something that had then only just happened, and the date of which could accordingly be very precisely given. The evangelists (and that means the men who were concerned to spread the good news, as Browning's Joris and Dirck brought other good news from Ghent to Aix) thought of it as beginning when St John Baptist came down from the wilderness to the banks of the Jordan river. St Mark calls that ‘the beginning of the Gospel’,2 and St Luke fixes the date for us very exactly as ‘in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judaea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of Ituraea and of the region of Trachonitis, and Lysanias the tetrarch of Abilene, Annas and Caiaphas being the high priests’.3
There is a sense, then, in which the Gospel is not the whole of our Christian faith. In this sense, it was the part of it which was new in the first century of our era, but there is that in our faith which was already very old.4 This was taken for granted without need of comment in the first Christian preaching, because the audiences then consisted only of men and women whose minds were steeped in the Old Testament. But when St Paul and his companions proceeded to carry the Gospel to the Greco-Roman world, they soon discovered that it was unintelligible to their hearers unless these were at the same time taught something else too. They therefore found it necessary to indoctrinate them in the faith of the Old Testament at the same time as they were proclaiming to them the Christian Gospel. Recent scholarship has shown that the creed used by the first generation of Christians contained only one article, ‘Jesus is Lord’ or ‘Jesus is the Messiah’, but that when the Gentile mission began, a prior article had to be added, so that it read very much like our own: ‘I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth: and in Jesus Christ His only Son our Lord.’
Nevertheless there is a deeper and better sense in which the Gospel is the whole of the Christian faith. It is the crown and completion of the Old Testament teaching which, because so much of it is concerned with promises not yet redeemed and expectations not yet fulfilled, cries out for some such completion. But further, the Christians believed that the fulfilment, when it came, cast a radically new light upon the expectation. And Christians still believe this, being convinced that the Old Testament can be truly understood only by the aid of the New. They read the Law in terms of the Gospel and they find that, when this is done, the whole Old Testament story comes to life for them in quite a new way. They even find Jesus Christ in the Old Testament. That last statement can indeed be made in a way that darkens counsel and that has often led, as I believe, to a perverse ingenuity in Old Testament interpretation; but it is true in the sense that the Christian understands all he reads in the law and the prophets through the illumination which has come to him from the things that long afterwards transpired in Galilee and Jerusalem. Indeed the same is true of everything that the Christian reads anywhere. He reads it with Christian eyes, for he has no other. He may read the sacred books of the great pagan religions and find something in each that he can absorb, but the Gospel is the standard by which he judges them and which enables him to separate whatever light and truth may be in them from the error and the darkness which is most certainly in them too.
What then is the Gospel? What is the good news? A full statement of it, as it has always been understood by Christians, had to await the events of our Lord's death and resurrection and of Pentecost; but it was already proclaimed by our Lord himself, and at the very beginning of his ministry. In the first chapter of our earliest Gospel we have the following summary of his first public utterance:
After John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, announcing (keryssōn) the good news of God, and saying, The kairos is fully come, and the reign of God is at hand; change your minds, and trust to the good news.5
The noun corresponding to the word for ‘announcing’ is kerygma, and this has now become something of a technical term among theologians for the basic Christian announcement or proclamation, as distinguished from the further instruction which may be based upon it. Kairos, which above I left untranslated, is likewise a prominent word throughout the New Testament, and a word which has also been given a leading place in recent theological discussion. But in his profoundly learned and most illuminating treatise on The Origins of European Thought6 Professor R. B. Onians, writing as a classical scholar, has shown that the word originally meant an opening, such as the hole in the middle of the target through which the arrow was intended to pass. It thus corresponds very exactly to the Latin word opportunitas, deriving from porta which also means an opening; and in English we have the same usage when we speak of the nick of time. Then in my translation I said ‘The kairos is fully come’, but the Greek verb is peplerōtai, and this, with the corresponding noun plerōma, represents another prominent New Testament concept. plerōma means fulfilment, and the evangelist's Greek rendering of the Lord's phrase has usually been Englished as ‘The time is fulfilled’. Thus the Gospel announced by our Lord was that with his advent the day of opportunity had dawned, or that, as we might almost say, he came in the nick of time. St Paul closely echoes this announcement when he writes to the Ephesians that God
has made known to us in all wisdom and understanding the mystery of his will, according to his purpose which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the plerōma of the kairoi, to bring all things to a head in him,…7
And to the Galatians that
when the plerōma of the time (chronos) had come, God sent forth his Son… to redeem those who were under the law, that they might receive adoption as sons.8
Finally, Jesus’ announcement of the Gospel is followed by a challenge. This is translated in the Authorized Version as ‘Repent ye, and believe the Gospel’, but I have ventured to render it as ‘Change your minds, and trust to the good news’—though perhaps ‘Change your hearts and minds’ would come nearer to expressing the full meaning of the Greek verb. My reason for preferring to speak here of trust rather than of belief is that the latter word is too apt to give us the impression that what is demanded is mere intellectual acknowledgement of the truth of the announcement, whereas what is really demanded is a complete re-orientation of the whole of life. But of course this includes a re-orientation of the intellect. Commitment to the good news must be whole-minded as well as whole-hearted. St Paul said, ‘I set aside theories and every rampart thrown up to obstruct the knowledge of God, and I make every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.’9 To orient (or orientate) is to face in the proper direction, and that is exactly what Christians are called upon to do.’ A Christian is a man whose face, like the faces of the Magi in the story, is properly oriented to Bethlehem in Judaea. It is there that he too finds the long-sought-for clue to the mystery of being, to the meaning of human existence, and therefore to the proper ordering of his own life. Holding fast to this clue, as one who has nothing else to cling to, he commits himself unreservedly to its guidance, knowing that, as the Epistle to the Hebrews says, he has here ‘an anchor of the soul, sure and steadfast, which penetrates to what is behind the obscuring curtain’.10
Christianity is not itself a New Testament word. The earliest equivalent of it is simply ‘the Way’ or ‘the Road’ (hodos), and the first Christians spoke of themselves as following this road. Long before anybody called them Christians they spoke of themselves as the followers of Jesus; and he himself had so spoken of them, his constant command being ‘Follow thou me’. I rather think that we have here a specifically Christian usage. Were the disciples of any earlier teacher spoken of as his followers—except in the colourless sense of those who came after him in time? At all events, when our Lord asked his first converts to follow him, he meant that they should take the road with him—in a quite literal sense. And I believe that when the Christians of the next generation spoke of the Way and of themselves as followers of Christ in the Way, they meant that they were recapitulating the way he himself had travelled, his journey up to Jerusalem and to the crucifixion. The Way was the way of the Cross, in accordance with their Lord's own word, ‘He who does not take up his cross and follow me, is not worthy of me.’11
Christianity, then, is a way of living, which includes a way of thinking, a way of feeling and a way of behaving. It is the way which was first lived out in its fulness within the Pentecostal community, that is, the fellowship of the Upper Room in Jerusalem after Christ's death, resurrection and exaltation. The words fellowship, community, communion all translate the same Greek work koinōnia, which thus becomes another of the key-words of the New Testament. To be a Christian meant to be a sharer in this fellowship. Moreover, to describe what I might call the peculiar atmosphere or ethos of this fellowship another Greek word, which had hitherto been rarely used, was called into constant play. This is the word agapē, which the Authorized Version often renders as charity, but many modern versions always as love. Neither rendering, however, is very satisfactory. Whatever charity may have meant in the reign of King James, it does not carry the right overtones now—as we may see from the wit's definition of it as wasting one's substance with riotous giving. Similarly, love is as likely as not to bear the wrong meaning. It is how we translate the Greek erōs, a word which meant only sexual intercourse until it underwent a certain sublimation at the hands of the philosophers and the adherents of the mystery religions, and which is wholly absent from the New Testament vocabulary. How often also in contemporary literature the word means simply and solely sexual intercourse! I have sometimes made bold to think that in the many contexts friendship would translate agapē—better than either love or charity, in spite of the fact that there is another New Testament term (philia) which must also be so translated.
The Christian Way, then is the way followed within the koinōnia of agapē, and is a form of togetherness specific to Christianity in spite of all foreshadowings of it that may elsewhere be found. In all probability it was St Paul who introduced the term agapē into Christian discourse,12 and he used it to differentiate the characteristic life of the Christian koinōnia from that which he had formerly known within the synagogue. The togetherness is essentially that of a triangular relationship, the three angles of which were oneself, one's fellow Christians, and God as known in Christ; and the relationship is such that from any one angle a second angle can be effectively reached only by way of the third. We can reach God only through our neighbour. We cannot love him except in loving our neighbour. Nor does God reach us or manifest his love to us save through our neighbour—that is, save in our togetherness with him. Christianity is in its very essence a matter of fellowship. No man who keeps to himself can be a Christian. It is, as Christ himself said, when at least two or three are together in his name, that he is there in the midst;13 and of the occasion on which this experience was first enjoyed in its fullness it is written that ‘When the Day of Pentecost had come, they were all with one accord in one place… and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit.’14 This is the only true meaning of the Cyprianic formula extra ecclesiam nulla salus, which I should like to translate as ‘the man who keeps to himself cannot be made whole’.
But if it is only in our togetherness with our neighbour that the love of God and his Christ effectively reaches us, so conversely is it true that our own love for God and his Christ can find effective expression only in our love of our neighbour. The love of God may seem to be a very rarified and abstruse kind of emotion such as is not easy to produce in oneself, and indeed devout souls have often been troubled about their apparent inability to discover it in themselves.
Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger and took thee in? or naked and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick or in prison, and came unto thee?
And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Insomuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.15
St Paul indeed, though he speaks constantly of God's agapē towards us, and of ours towards one another, does not readily speak of our agapē towards God. The writer of the article on agapē in Kittel's great Wörterbuch goes indeed so far as to say that according to St Paul ‘the purpose of divine love is not that we should return love to God;… it is that he who is called should serve his neighbour in love’. St John speaks more easily of agapē towards God, but for him also it is given reality in our service of our brothers:
If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar; for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?16
Thus the same article in Kittel has it that ‘in John, love to God or Christ takes second place after love to the brethren’; which is, however, not an altogether happy way of expressing something that is undoubtedly true.
Finally, however, we must note that the current of agapē within the Christian koinōnia flows also round the triangle in the contrary direction. The horizontal path along the base is not viable unless we are at the same time following the longer route via the apex. If we can find God, and God can find us, only in our finding of our brother, so also is it true that we can find our brother only through God's finding of us and our finding of him. That is to say, our brother remains a stranger save as we know him in God and as the object, like ourselves, of God's love. ‘It is not’, writes Professor Nygren, ‘that God's love for man and man's love for his neighbour are two different things; they are one thing. agapē is used to denote God's love, not for human love; God's love present in the human heart.’17
Those who speak of Christianity as a way of life have often been suspected of reducing it to what is called mere morality, and in not a few cases the suspicion has been justified. A distinction of this kind between religion and morality is, however, wholly absent from all ancient thought, being a most doubtful product of later philosophical relationalism. Certainly the New Testament knows nothing of it. For in the first place the Christian Way is a way of thinking as well as a way of acting, neither of which makes sense unless it be accompanied by the other; and in the second place its way of acting includes acting towards God as well as acting towards our fellow men. Indeed even that way of putting it is already too disjunctive to do justice to the Christian outlook. For in the first place all authentically Christian thinking not only issues in action but is for the sake of action. Professor Macmurray sums up the central contention of his Gifford Lectures by saying that ‘All meaningful knowledge is for the sake of action, and all meaningful action is for the sake of friendship’;18 and here for ‘friendship’ I should like to be allowed to say agapē, just as I have already asked to be allowed for agapē to say ‘friendship’. And in the second place Christian action towards our fellow men is not a separate thing alongside of Christian action towards God. To serve our fellows in love is the only way open to us of serving God in love. Again I must quote, ‘When saw we thee an hungred?… And the King shall answer,… Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.’ As I have perhaps sufficiently emphasized, the koinōnia of the Upper Room in Jerusalem was no mere fellowship of man with man but at one and the same moment a fellowship also with God the Father, God the Son and God the Spirit.
In his Eddington Memorial Lecture, to which reference has already more than once been made, Professor Braithwaite contended that ‘the primary use of religious assertions is to announce allegiance to a set of moral principles’; and that the assertions of the Christian religion, which he holds to be epitomized in the assertion that God is agapē, find their use, and therefore their meaning, in the Christian's commitment to follow what he calls an agapēistic way of life. Yet though thus assimilating religion to morality, he is at the same time anxious to acknowledge that the two are not identical. There is something more in a religious assertion than in a moral assertion, for the former always includes a reference to a certain story or set of stories, these consisting of empirical propositions; such as, for the Christian, statements about the life and death of Jesus and also about the beginning and end of the world. But he holds that it is not necessary for the Christian ‘to believe in the truth of the story involved in these assertions: what is necessary is that the story should be entertained in thought, i.e. that the statement of the story should be understood as having a meaning’.
A man is not, I think, a professing Christian unless he both proposes to live according to Christian moral principles and associates his intention with thinking of Christian stories; but he need not believe that the empirical propositions presented by the stories correspond to empirical fact.
Thus the function of the story is a purely psychological one.
It is an empirical psychological fact that many people find it easier to resolve upon and to carry through a course of action which is contrary to their natural inclination if this policy is associated in their mind with certain stories. And in many people the psychological link is not appreciably weakened by the fact that the story associated with the behaviour policy is not believed.
In religious conviction the resolution to follow a way of life is primary; it is not derived from believing, still less from thinking of, any empirical story. The story may psychologically support the resolution, but it does not logically justify it.
Professor Braithwaite is, I understand, himself a professing Christian, and the deep sincerity of his statement cannot be questioned by anybody who reads it attentively. The difficulty we have with it is in believing that the stories will continue to be entertained if none of them is believed to be true; or that even if so entertained, they will continue to exercise the required psychological function. We are reminded here of Thomas Hardy's ‘idealism of fancy’ and of the views of Mr Santayana, to which reference was made at an earlier point, and of the criticism we then passed upon them. But it is more important that we should understand the difference between what is here advanced and the ‘demythologizing’ programme of Professor Bultmann as well as the views of Professor Tillich. Professor Bultmann does indeed go very far in reducing the extent of our reliable knowledge of the historical life of Jesus and in regarding many elements in the evangelists’ narrative as ‘mythical’, but there is a point at which he calls a halt to this reductive process; and Professor Braithwaite, who characterizes the Christ-myth theory as ‘unplausible’, shows, to say the least, no disposition to go further than he. Professor Tillich is more explicit in declaring that by the methods of historical criticism we cannot even reach the certainty that such a man as Jesus of Nazareth ever existed.19 But neither of these theologians would allow that we are here at the mercy of such methods. Both would hold that the essential Christian affirmations about Jesus—that in him God was incarnate and that through him we have redemption from our sin and misery—are not such as could conceivably be either verified or falsified by such methods. Thus, whatever we may think of their depositions, the all-important difference between them and Professor Braithwaite is that they believe these affirmations to be true and required by Christian faith, whereas he thinks a man may be a Christian without believing any of them. Even the Christian doctrine that there is a God who desires us to do his will is not, he considers, one that we are justified in believing, though it is morally stimulating to entertain it in our minds. ‘There is’, he tells us, ‘one story common to all the moral theistic religions which has proved of great psychological value in enabling religious men to persevere in carrying out their religious behaviour policies—the story that in so doing they are doing the will of God’;20 but it would be a mistake to regard this story as true. This is to go further in the direction of unbelief than Kant did in his Als ob, since according to the latter it is an imperative requirement of pure practical reason that we should not only act but also think as if God existed, and so believe him to exist, though from this belief we must not allow ourselves to draw any speculative inferences. At all events, what I am anxious to affirm is that the life of the Christian koinōnia is carried on, from beginning to end, within what I have called a triangular system of relationships in each of which God plays not only an active but the initiating part.
There still remains for our consideration what is after all the central phrase in St Mark's summary of the announcement with which our Lord began his public ministry: ‘The reign of God is at hand.’ The more usual English rendering is ‘Kingdom of God’, but the other is better because it suggests as it should an administration rather than a realm, and a time rather than a place. In the early decades of the present century there was keen debate among New Testament scholars whether Jesus thought of this reign as being already inaugurated with his advent or as about to be inaugurated in the very near future. The latter or futurist hypothesis, as developed in its radical form by Albert Schweitzer, Johannes Weiss and others, meant that Jesus was calling men only to prepare themselves for a crisis which had not yet come but would come very soon. It is, however, now fairly generally agreed that, whereas there is indeed much in his teaching that speaks of a coming reign of God, there is much also that speaks of a present enjoyment of the powers and blessings of that reign. It was in this way also that the situation was understood within the early Church after Pentecost, though with varying degrees of emphasis upon the two contrasted aspects of it. There is, for instance, a quite unmistakable difference of emphasis in this matter between the Pauline and the Johannine writings. But if we take the New Testament teaching as a whole, it may be said that there is something like an even balance between the note of fulfilment, as of a new age that has already dawned, and the note of expectation, as of a consummation that is still to be awaited. Christians knew themselves to be living in the new age, but they knew also that the old age had not yet passed away, so that they were living in both ages at once. God, writes St Paul, has indeed ‘delivered us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of the Son of his love’;21 yet he has much to say also of the havoc that the powers of darkness are still working in the world and even within the Christian community. Christ has decisively defeated these powers, so that they are now ‘under his feet’, but they still carry on their guerilla warfare among men; so that, as it has been so felicitously expressed by Dr Oscar Cullmann in his much-quoted simile, men are now living in the interval between the decisive battle and Victory Day.22
Thus when the followers of Jesus met in that little room in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost, they met under the power of a sequence of events which had only just transpired, but which they believed to have set the course of human history and of human life on an entirely new course for all time to come. They thought of this sequence as extending from the advent of Jesus, through his ministry, passion, crucifixion, death, resurrection and ascension to the Pentecostal coming of the Spirit which they were even now enjoying. They knew that the final event in this same sequence, the ‘coming again’ of their Lord, still lay in the future; but they were convinced that for those who lived in the light of what had already transpired and in the confident hope of the consummation yet to come, all things had already been made new—a fact of which even the least Christianly-disposed among us has daily reminder as often as he puts a date to a letter he writes or examines the postmark on a letter he receives. Every one of us every day pays at least lip-service to the centrality of the Christ-event, and to the new age in the world's history which it introduced—lip-service to the persuasion of those who divided our calendar into the years B.C. and the years A.D., ‘the years of our Lord’.
The encounter with the totality of this sequence of events, which we may speak of in the singular as the Christ-event, is the paradigmatic experience which issued at Pentecost in the koinōnia of agapē, the fellowship of Christian love, and has ever since kept the Christian faith alive in men's hearts and lives. It provides the paradigm in the light of which all other events are to be interpreted, the frame of reference within which they are to be set. This includes not only the daily contingencies with which the individual has to deal in his own personal life, but also all that happens in the wider world around him; and moreover it includes not only contemporary events, but also all that has happened in the past and all that is still to happen in the otherwise unknown future, giving rise alike to a specifically Christian interpretation of history and to a specifically Christian eschatology. In this way a single critically significant encounter is used to give significance to all other encounters, past, present and future. Let me now set out more fully a statement by A. N. Whitehead to which I made reference at an earlier point:
Religion claims that its concepts, though derived primarily from special experiences, are yet of universal validity, to be applied by faith to the ordering of all experience. Rational religion appeals to the direct intuition of special occasions, and to the elucidatory power of its concepts for all occasions. It arises from that which is special, but it extends to what is general. The doctrines of rational religion aim at being that metaphysics which can be derived from the supernormal experience of mankind in its moments of finest insight.23
Not all the phraseology Whitehead here employs is such as I myself would have chosen, but the passage as a whole excellently expresses what I have been trying to say. I should like also to place beside it the following remarkable passage from Professor Ethelbert Stauffer's New Testament Theology, though again there are phrases in it which seem to me misleading and which indeed I do not fully understand:
The New Testament writers never think of Christianity as absolute. They do not make the doubtful attempt to give absoluteness to some particular interpretation of life, or some special understanding of God. Indeed, men like Paul engage in bitter war against the temptation to give absolute status to some form of Christianity or some ecclesiastical system, and thereby to invalidate the sole efficacy and sufficiency of the sola cruce. Rather did the primitive Church preach the gospel of salvation wrought out in the Christ-event which had introduced a new situation between God, the world and the adversary, and had placed the destiny of mankind on a new footing. Every reality in the world and in history is in some way related to this central fact, relative to this absolute point of reference. In this sense we can speak of the absoluteness of Jesus Christ. But the New Testament connects this absoluteness with an historical fact that hides itself in the ‘servant's form’ of historical relativity. It is this Christ-event that the primitive Church proclaimed: an absolute in the form of the relative.24
The New Testament writers employ a considerable variety of concepts to describe the ‘new situation’ or ‘new footing’ which is here spoken of. In our Lord's own discourse, as reported in the Synoptic Gospels, it is always described as the inauguration of the reign of God. For apostolic thought it is a new divine ‘economy’ or, in the Latin translation that was found for that Greek word, a new ‘dispensation’. Or again it is a ‘rebirth’ (palingenesia)—a rebirth both of the historical situation to which men were called upon to adjust themselves and of the individuals who were willing so to adjust themselves. The Pentecostal experience made it no less inevitable that life in the new order should be spoken of as ‘living in the Spirit’. St Paul constantly so expresses himself, but even more often he speaks of the Christian believer as being ‘in Christ’; and sometimes he combines the idioms in one, as when he speaks of those ‘who are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit’.25 When he has particularly in mind the contrast between his life as a Jew and his life within the Christian koinōnia, this opposition of flesh and Spirit becomes an opposition of law and grace. ‘Ye are not under the law, but under grace’,26 he says to his fellow Christians; and in the same context, as in many others, he speaks of the Christian as a man who has died with Christ, so that his former being was buried with him, but who has now risen with him to ‘newness of life’.27 ‘Therefore’, he writes again, ‘if any man be in Christ, he is a new creation; the old things have passed away, and lo! new things have come into being.’28 Or once more: ‘As in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive.’29 In so many varying ways does the New Testament describe the new era which has been inaugurated by the Christ-event, the new society appropriate to this era, the new humanity in which it issues, and the new manner of life for which it provides the paradigm.