A Faith For Today

By Harris Franklin Rall

Chapter 13


OUR study has made plain that the final answer to man's problem must be both radical and inclusive. It must be radical in getting at the root of the trouble within man himself and finding a way by which this man can be made over. It must be inclusive in giving meaning to his world and in relating him rightly to this whole world: to nature, to fellow man, and to God. What, now, has Christianity to offer?


Jesus' first word when he began preaching was not "man" but "God." "The rule of God is at hand; repent and believe the good news." It is interesting to hear the word of the new psychology as represented by C. G. Jung in his volume, Modern Man in Search of a Soul. "During the past thirty years people from all the civilized countries of the earth have consulted me. Among all my patients in the second half of life, that is to say, over thirty-five, there has not been one whose problem in the last resort was not that of finding a religious outlook on life." The real cause of the patient's illness, he declares, "arises from his having no love, but only sexuality; no faith, because he is afraid to grope in the dark; no hope, because he is disillusioned by the world and life; and no understanding, because he has failed to read the meaning of his own experience." Neuroses grow as religious faith declines. "What the patient needs in order to live," he says, "is faith, hope, love, and insight" (pp. 260, 264). This is Hocking's idea of a revolution through a "radical insight," and God is that insight. It is this challenge of God with which Christianity confronts man, declaring that only so can he see himself and his world and find life. How, then, does God challenge man?

1. There is the challenge of goodness. God is the pure spirit of truth and love and righteousness. Christianity sees that spirit of God in the spirit of Jesus Christ. This is the vision that is at once the glory, the despair, and the hope of humanity. (1) Here is the glory of man. It sets him apart from all his fellow creatures. It shows him where his true life lies, what he may be, what he must be. It is an appeal to achievement and a command to obedience which we cannot escape. (2) Here is our judgment and our despair. We can be fairly complacent when we look at our fellow men. They are, after all, not so different from ourselves, nor can they see us as we really are; so we rationalize our conduct and save our self-esteem. But here is a light that searches our soul and reveals depths of evil which we did not suspect. Before this holiness and love we stand condemned. (3) In this goodness is the hope of man. For the goodness of God is mercy. That was the never-failing theme with Jesus and Paul: the goodness of God does not simply call for obedience and condemn failure; it is forgiving, redemptive, creative.

2. To believe in God means to believe in a universe of purpose; it is a summons to confidence and courage, to loyalty and adventurous living. God has a purpose for this world that is being worked out through the ages. Just as there is an order of cause in the world, so there is also an order of ends; to believe in God is to believe in this order of ends. Evil is real but it is not final; there is a coming rule of justice and love, and the power of the universe is behind this purpose. Here God confronts our fears and destroys them. Faith in God is redemption from fear. Our deepest interests are not at the mercy of chance and change and death.

"I stand amid th' eternal ways,

And what is mine shall seek my face."

Here is a challenge to that cynicism and world weariness, that sense of futility which comes to every age, as it has to ours, when it loses God, when its world becomes an empty shell or the tragic arena of blind forces in unmeaning conflict. But this idea of a divine purpose is not only a challenge to fear and futility; it confronts the will of man. It challenges purpose. It condemns the aimless and selfish life. It gives high meaning to life, but only as we bring supreme devotion. It calls for adventurous living as we commit ourselves to the high end.

3. God means available life and power for man; as such he is a challenge to our moral impotence, to the shallowness and weakness of our inner life. Our central problem, in last analysis, is that of inner resources ; it is one of dynamic. To believe in God is to believe that there are resources available for the spirit of man, just as truly as there is power to propel our machines, to light our streets, to warm our homes, and to supply our bodies with energy. Christianity offers a way to such resources.


"God" is the first word and the last word in the Christian hope, but he is not the only word. Religion means relation; there is no religion until man makes answer to God. The two errors which threaten religion today are humanism and absolutism. The former rules out God and makes man not only central but self-sufficient, with nature as his servant. The latter makes God so absolute, so dominant, that time and earth lose all meaning and value, and man becomes a helpless pawn in the game that God plays. The effort to exalt and glorify God has resulted, not only in an unchristian conception of man, but in a less than Christian conception of God. For the Christian, God is not arbitrary will or irresistible force; he is Person speaking to person, love and truth claiming the understanding and free loyalty of man, Man must make answer to God; it takes two to make a relationship. What does Christianity say as to the human answer? What is the response demanded when such a God confronts us?

1. The first demand is for an inner revolution, an about-face in our inner spirit and attitude. If there is such a God, if this is what life means, then the old attitudes and old ways are wrong, and they must go. To find the wealth of life in things, to make the rule of life selfishness, to get money and power so that you can make others serve you, to rely upon force, to believe only in what you can see—this is the spirit that has usually ruled men and nations.

Now, until that spirit is radically changed, there is no hope for us individually or socially. This nalion began its life in a revolution; we need some more revolutions today. Revolution does not as such imply violence; Webster defines it simply as radical, or fundamental change. Certainly, such change is needed in our social institutions—in industry, race relations, international relations, and political life. But these will avail little, they will not even be possible, except as we have an inner revolution as well. Carl Sand-berg, in vernacular but with vigor, portrays the cynical, selfish spirit of the city.

"Play it across the table.

What if we steal this city blind?

If they want anything, let 'em nail it down.


"Harness bulls, dicks, front-office men,

And the high goats up on the bench,

Ain't they all in cahoots?

Ain't it fifty-fifty all down the line?"

The language of diplomacy is different, but when we let the facts speak and see the motives that were really at work in the World War, the Versailles treaty, and the years of arming and scheming and fighting that have followed, we have the same selfishness, ruthlessness, hardness, and indifference to truth and justice. How can there be a new order without a new spirit?

So when Jesus held up God and his high purpose, and looked at the world of men's hearts, he cried out: "The rule of God is at hand; repent." The word "repentance" has lost much of its strength by narrow and petty usage. It has come to mean for many an emotional episode. The Greek word of our New Testament means literally a change in thought, or mind; it means an inner revolution, a revolution of mind and will and feeling. To see God means for us a reversal of values, a transformation of our hates and loves, an about-face of the will. It is no mere opinion. It means to see the evil for what it is, to hate it and turn from it, to turn with equal passion of devotion to the good, and so to re-orient our whole life. That is the first demand of Jesus.

2. The second demand is expressed in the word "faith." That too has suffered from narrow and false conceptions. Faith does not mean holding certain opinions, or submitting to some creed or authority in religion. Faith is a trust that rests on an inner conviction and issues in action. Faith like this, thoughtful but earnest, not credulous but with the courage to venture, ready to trust and act when once it meets that which deserves confidence and obedience—this is the absolute condition of all life and of the Christian life first of all. "The way to experience," writes C. Q. Jung in the volume quoted above, "is a venture which requires us to commit ourselves with our whole being." It is quite literally true, as Mark 16. 16 reads in the old version: "He that believeth not shall be damned." Only, "damned" means something more than the medieval hell of flames; it is the loss of life.

The Christian challenge to faith is simple in meaning and searching in demand. Back of this universe there is a Love which offers us forgiveness and fellowship, a creative Good Will that is bringing in a kingdom of justice and mercy, a Power available for our lives. This God has spoken to men in Jesus Christ, in his word and life, in his love and death. Believe that, live in that faith; then life from God, life at its richest will be yours. Surely, it is plain that if there be such a God, faith is the one answer that is demanded; but it must be faith in this large sense, the response of the whole man, of mind and heart and will.


The Church of the past has always laid great stress upon the death of Christ in relation to human salvation. The teaching most commonly held was somewhat as follows: "Man has sinned against God and so is worthy of death. Christ took the place of man, dying in his stead. Thus the honor of God (or the demand of justice) is satisfied and man can be forgiven." The objections to this are obvious. It fails to see where the real problem of saving men lies. It is not a courtroom affair, a plan by which a debt can be paid or a penalty remitted. That really rules out the mercy of God, for when once a debt is paid there is no need of forgiveness and no place for it. Forgiveness is not a legal matter but one of moral-personal relations, and the problem lies in man and not in God. It is far more serious than the old teaching suggested. Here is man the sinner. His trouble is not simply his evil past; it is what he is now. He does not see the truth, he does not love the right things, he does not have God. What will bring this man into fellowship with God and make him over?

The modern man, however, priding himself on his breadth, may easily be narrower and more superficial here than the traditionalist. There is a double modern delusion. The first concerns the matter of forgiveness. Someone asked Heine, old and feeble, whether he did not fear death and what might follow. "Oh, no," he replied, "the good God will forgive. C'est son metier —That's his business." But forgiveness is not so simple. You cannot get rid of consequences in the moral world by just waving your hand. It is more than cancelling a debt; it is getting men into fellowship with God, into right relations in life, opening their eyes, getting them to hate evil and love the good and trust the Highest. The second delusion is the idea that when men once see the truth, the job is done. But the springs of life are not so easily touched. Men are not made over in their hates and loves and highest devotions simply by words or abstract ideas. Life is only changed by life.

It is not theory but a plain fact of history that Jesus was the beginning of a new spiritual epoch in human history, that he transformed a group of followers by his life and death, and that through the ages he has constantly released these spiritual forces among men. What does it mean when all these men tell us that it is the Christ of the cross that is the center of their faith? It does not mean that this particular instrument of a shameful death, this cross, has any particular significance, or that there is any special power in a man's dying. Many an innocent man endured this torture under Roman rule. But the Christ that has laid hold on men's faith and love is the Christ that died, the Man who was more than teacher, more than a noble example, who paid the last full measure of devotion in love to men and obedience to the will of God. And there is something still more important to see: it is not Christ that saves, it is God in Christ. What these men saw w&s that God had spoken, that God had come near. Here is the most daring belief that man ever ventured upon—to hold that the Eternal God was present in this life of a humble carpenter, in this love, in this suffering and death. So Alfred Noyes asks the question in "The Last Voyage":

"Did his creation, then, involve descent,

Renunciation, sacrifice in heaven,

A Calvary at the inmost heart of things,

Wherein an eternal passion still enacts

In an eternal world what mortal eyes

Saw dimly on one shadowy hill of time?"

Here is the profoundest meaning of the cross: the law of life is self-giving love, and such a love serves men by suffering in their stead. It is the law of God's life; it must become the law of man's life. For us, whose natural impulse is the selfish seeking of ease and avoidance of pain, that is a hard saying, but there are many witnesses to it. A distinguished Indian scholar, not a Christian himself, Professor Radakrishnan, writes in his volume, East and West in Religion: "The mystery of life is creative sacrifice. It is the central idea of the cross, which was such a scandal to the Jews and the Greeks, that he who truly loves us will have to suffer for us, even to the point of death. . . . The cross signifies that evil, in the hour of its supreme triumph, suffers its decisive defeat by the force of patient love and suffering. . . . The world belongs to the suffering rebels, the unarmed challengers of the mighty, the meek re-sisters who put truth above policy, humanity above country, love above force."

And now we can see some of the reasons for the potency in the remaking of men that has belonged to this Christ, who loved and lived and died in this way. We look at his death: Here is love at its highest, God's love; here is revealed what sin actually is, sin that could do a deed like this. Black against white, evil against good, here they stand in eternal opposition. And they speak to us, as no mere words can, about God and life, about sin and the love that saves.


We are all agreed that salvation does not mean a mere escape from hell or getting to heaven, but that it means the making of men or, facing the fact of evil in men, their remaking. Can men be remade, and, if so, how?

Yes, says Christianity, men can be made over and have been without number. What is it that makes the real nature, or character, of a man? It is what he loves, what he hates, what he believes in, what he lives for. Find these and you find the real man. And all these can be radically changed. Sometimes this truth has been made difficult. It has been set forth as something wholly mysterious, if not magical. It has been limited to some great emotional experience or pictured as a sort of sudden transformation of soul substance. It has, indeed, been sudden and dramatic at times, as when the light came to Paul on his way to Damascus, or when gay young Francis of Assisi one day turned his back on his home of wealth and life of pleasure, literally dropped his fine attire, and went forth naked to be "the little poor one/' the brother of beggar and leper, of bird and beast. William James has given abundant illustration of this in his great work, The Varieties of Religious Experience. John Masefield has pictured it in his "Everlasting Mercy:"

"I did not think, I did not strive,

The deep peace burnt my me alive;

The bolted door had broken in,

I knew that I had done with sin.

I knew that Christ had given me birth

To brother all the souls of earth.

And every bird and every beast

Should share the crumbs broke at the feast."

Most often, however, the change is not sudden and dramatic. ; The essential fact is simply this, that men can be made over in their deepest nature by vital relation to the world of the spirit.

A popular word for this change today is integration. It is a most suggestive term. It means literally to unify, to make whole or complete. But what is often overlooked here is the fact that no man can be made whole without belonging to a whole. The process is this: find something higher and greater, give yourself to it, and in this larger whole find your true self and your richest life. Christianity declares that the highest that includes all is found when we find God. Integration is not enough; it must have the right center around which the integration takes place.

The common Christian word is the new birth, though the figure is older than Christianity. One birth is not enough for man; life is really a process of births. New Worlds come to us, rising one above the other—physical, mental, social, moral, aesthetic. To enter each, to rise to each level in turn as it summons us, is to find a richer life, to be born again. But the new birth that religion brings probes so deep, reaches so to the center, so includes all good, that we rightly keep this word for the change that it works. And the word well describes what Paul has in mind when he writes: "If any man is in Christ, he is a new creation." But it can be made simpler than all this if put in personal terms. God is our life. To find him, to give ourselves utterly to him, to love him and see all things in him and live in him—that is the life that is life indeed. Christ shows the way to that life. To accept him as Lord is to enter into that life. To enter it means to open the door to those forces which make life new and which make men over.


  • In what way is God a challenge to man?
  • What attitudes and acts on man's part are the fitting and necessary response to God?
  • Discuss the statement: The way of life (salvation) is integration through right relations. Give illustrations.
  • Show the significance of the Christian way in this connection.
  • What forgiveness means and costs between man and man, and between God and man.
  • The meaning of the cross for us today in relation to God, to salvation, and to the life of men with each other.
  • The meaning of conversion and its place in salvation.


The references in the last chapter should be consulted in connection with these.

  • G. W. Richards: Christian Ways of Salvation
  • E. R. E.: Articles, "Salvation," "Soteriology," "Faith"
  • G. B. Stevens: The Christian Doctrine of Salvation
  • George Cross: The Christian Salvation
  • John W. Oman: Grace and Personality
  • Philip Cabot: Except Ye Be Born Again
  • John Baillie: The Place of Jesus Christ in Modern Christianity
  • Edwin Lewis: Jesus Christ and the Human Quest
  • James Denney: Jesus and the Gospel
  • William James: The Varieties of Religious Experience (especially the sections on conversion)