By Harris Franklin Rall
THIS book is written for men who want a faith by which to live, who wish to hold it intelligently, who want to face honestly all the facts bearing upon the matter, and then with equal honesty ask what such a faith means for life.
The reasons for such a discussion at this time are obvious. On the one hand is the growing realization of the need of such a faith, without which life becomes unmeaning for the individual and impossible for society. On the other hand there is, among religious folk, widespread confusion and question, and among others a rather common impression that modern knowledge has made faith impossible. The situation is not met by piecemeal discussions of science and religion, or of religion and social problems, or of religion and the new psychology; nor is it enough that scholars should consider one problem or another in learned studies. What is needed is a systematic inquiry into the religious problem for the common man, and a setting forth of a valid and commanding faith. A double conviction underlies these chapters: that religion is every man's concern because it is the supreme interest of life, and that every man has a right to an honest treatment of its problems and a convincing statement of its principles.
This situation indicates the method of procedure here followed: (1) to take what is highest in those insights of faith in which the funded experiences of the race have come to us; (2) to face the questions which are raised by modern thought and modern conditions of life; (3) to seek any enlargement of vision or correction of error which may come through the growing knowledge of the race; (4) to ask what such a faith brings to our need and what it demands of our life. For me the supreme insight of faith is that which has come to our race through Jesus of Nazareth. But this insight is not a system of theology which shuts off inquiry; it is, rather, a summons to fare forth on the road of experiment and adventurous search, with faith in a living God and a growing knowledge of the truth. Empiricism and faith here go together, the spirit of science and the spirit of religion, not as competitors but as akin to each other.
As to form, my one desire is, in Robert Louis Stevenson's phrase, "to say out what I mean about life, and man, and God in fair and square human language." There are certain great obstacles to fruitful religious inquiry: the technical language of the theologians, the traditional phrases of religion worn smooth and become meaningless with long usage, the threshing of old straw in the form of religious issues that have no value for present-day life, and the desire to defend a system rather than discover the truth. It has, therefore, been my effort to write in plainest English, using the language of that everyday world where religion belongs, to include no theme merely because it belongs to the tradition of the Church, and to avoid no question because it is difficult or dangerous to the religious view.
For something over twenty years I have been discussing religion with my students in theological halls whose east windows look out on the broad expanse of Lake Michigan, whose west windows front one of the busiest thoroughfares on this continent, whose seat is a university campus, and whose tower bears the symbol of the cross. Perhaps this may fairly be taken to represent in fourfold aspect the faith that is here set forth: a faith that looks out on the world of nature and makes room for its order, its beauty, its tragic aspects, and for that science which sums up our knowledge concerning it; a faith that looks out upon life, to gain wisdom from its experiences, to test conclusions by its experiments, to bring to it the supreme demand and the saving help of the Eternal; a faith that hides in no cloister but welcomes all inquiry and all knowledge, and desires no God but the God of truth; and, finally, a faith which finds the meaning of all nature and life and learning in the eternal God, and the revelation of that God in Jesus Christ.
HARRIS FRANKLIN BALL.
Garrett Biblical Institute,
Northwestern University Campus,