"Thou hast given a banner to them that fear thee, that it may be displayed because of truth." — (Psalm 60:4)
"Lift ye up a banner upon the high mountain, exalt the voice unto them." — (Isaiah 13:2)
Devoted To The Defense Of The Church Against All Errors And Innovations
Vol.X No.V Pg.11-12a
May 1948

The Skeptical Religious Student

Jack G. Dunn

(A review of an article appearing under the above title in CHRISTIAN EDUCATION Vol. XXX, No. 3, September, 1947; and reprinted with an Addendum dated January 12, 1948, for the consumption of brethren. It was written by Brother Ralph Wilburn, Professor of Religion at George Pepperdine College.)

Brother Ralph Wilburn, Professor of Religion at George Pepperdine college, has written an article praising the "skeptically religious student," in which he quotes ninety words from David Hume, eighty-two words from Nels Ferre, fifty-five words from Sir Isaac Newton, and forty-one words from Michel de Montaigne. He also quotes or refers to Rene Decartes, Augustine, Walt Whitman, Socinus, and Socrates. Moreover, he mentions Jesus (twelve words), Paul (three words), and quotes ten words from James. He doesn't mention James by name, except in the footnote, but simply states "we are told."

Brother Wilburn's idea seems to be that the religious student should presuppose nothing; he should accept nothing on the say-so of the "authoritarians." He states: "The kind of skepticism about which I am concerned in this article has to do with the method of inquiry in one's quest for truth." Later on he elaborates: "I am arguing that the weighing, sifting, and testing of various ideas and points of view by a wholesome methodological skepticism is indispensable in valuable religious thinking as in all valuable thinking about reality."

So far, I agree; but this idea sincere brethren recognize in Paul's statement which Bro. Wilburn quotes, "Prove all things," and the part which he doesn't quote, "hold fast that which is good." (1 Thess. 5:21)

I do not agree, however, with some statements loosely thrown around. In making his point that no one group has "priority on religious truth," he wants his "skeptically religious student" to "... explore the entire range of the history of religious thought and experience, knowing that a broad historical approach to the pursuit of religious truth is the surest way for one to transcend religious sectarianism and provincialism."

Now that, brethren, is a large dose. If Brother Wilburn means that his "skeptically religious student" must explore all man has written on "religious thought and experience," he would just be started when he celebrated his 100th birthday. An aged, bed-ridden Baptist preacher told me one time that he was just beginning to learn the will of God, because all his lifetime he had read what man had said about the will of God. And I would venture to say he had not read one per cent of the "entire range of the history of religious thought and experience." Now this Baptist preacher, too old and infirmed to preach, had begun to read the Bible. Jesus said, -if ye abide in my word, then are ye truly my disciples; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." (John 8:31,32.)

Brother Wilburn also writes: "Christianity has always stood like a rock for the victory of this religious faith in the ultimate goodness of the world (God)." I take it that, by enclosing "God" in parenthesis, he means that the "goodness of the world" and the goodness of God are the same thing. Since when has the goodness of God been identified with the goodness of the world? Christians, the saved, are those who have been called out of the world; and only that part of the world which is "called out" can be saved. If the present world is so good, why should we look for a "new heaven and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness"? (2 Pet. 3:13). Even babes in Christ know that the world is not good.

It may be that Brother Wilburn means something else; I do not wish to do him an injustice. He may mean that whatever goodness is in the world is of God. He may mean that God is the goodness of the world. But you would never gather it from the context, which, without qualification, speaks of "the ultimate goodness of the world (God)."

In fact, the article is either deep in spots, or muddy in spots, or I am stupid in spots. He says, for instance: "Thus in the literary deposit of the historic wisdom of Christianity one frequently encounters the fundamental belief of the debilitas rationes of the natural man." As soon as that soaks in, we will go to further elucidation: "The self-transcendence which lies at the center of the Christian idea of redemption is construed in the intellectual as well as the volitional dimension." Get it? No? Then come on with me to the back seat, where you belong.

Brother Wilburn thinks that the learning of truth is progressive, that each century should know more truth than the preceding century. He writes: "Human truth is a growing body of insights and formulations." Ones "perspective" is enlarged by the discoveries of men through time. He says: "It would hardly have been possible, for example, for an 18th century thinker to have seen the truth that individuals become persons only in the societal context of a community with the clarity with which a twentieth century man perceives this truth, thanks to the nineteenth century developments of an awareness of the organic character of human existence. Our progeny of the 25th or 30th century (we hope) will have acquired a global perspective which will enable them to attain unto a vision of truth that considerably transcends our present 'scale of observation'."

I hadn't thought about it much, but just supposed that man was always aware of the "organic character of human existence". And I never did know before that an "individual" could not become a "person" except in the "societal context of a community"; but then I'm learning things. You see, Adam, the "individual" did not become a "person" in the garden of Eden, for he did not then fit into a "societal context of a community." But during the 930 years of his life he begat sons and daughters, and they in turn begat sons and daughters, until finally there was the "societal context of a community." Then, presto! Adam the "individual" became a "person!"

Is Brother Wilburn speaking of progressive knowledge in religion, or in scientific and philosophical fields, when he speaks of "human truth" as a "growing body of insights and formulations?" If he means religious truth, he is as wrong as the Mormons, for Jude 3 mentions the "faith which was once for all delivered unto the saints." The word "faith" does not refer here to the act of believing, but to the body of matter believed; and that had been "once for all delivered." I contend that Jude, over 1900 years ago, knew as much about that faith as Brother Wilburn does now, and as much as his progeny will in the "25th or 30th century." It could be, however, that Brother Wilburn has turned to some other kind of "truth." If so, he has jumped the track; for he started out talking about the "skeptically religious student," who, I take it, would naturally be pursuing religious truth. This is cleared up somewhat in the Addendum of January 12, 1948. Here, Brother Wilburn writes: "Putting the same thought in other words, we could say that Christians should be absolutely sure about the revelation of Christ (the victory of Christian faith), but only relatively sure about their own understanding of Christ. The latter must be continuously examined and re-examined by each individual and by each generation, in the light of the Truth —the word of God, revealed by Jesus Christ through the pages of the New Testament." Now the peculiar thing is that nowhere in the first article did Brother Wilburn identify Truth as the "word of God.'' He didn't even hint that Truth is that which is "revealed by Jesus Christ through the pages of the New Testament." He rather spoke of exploring the "entire range of human thought and experience." Yes, in the earlier article he says of man that "over a period of three thousand years his philosophical inquiry has uncovered much truth." I cannot understand why this shift in stating the fountain and source of religious truth. Could it be that he shifted with his readers? Remember, the first article appeared in CHRISTIAN EDUCATION, September, 1947. But the reprint, with the Addendum, was for the brethren to read. I am not stating this is why Brother Wilburn shifted his source of truth. I am just wondering if that could be the reason. Could it be ?