Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
March 1, 1951


That is a term which requires some explanation to the average reader; it means "the new orthodoxy," and is a technical name given to a particular type of modernism in religion. This "new orthodoxy" is a theology, an approach to religion, developed by Karl Barth and Emil Brunner, European theologians as a reaction against the extreme and radical liberalism which seemed on the verge of bringing the whole Protestant world religion to nothing more than an exalted humanism.

Barth and Brunner, rebelling against this bold and barren infidelity, worked out a new formula, a new approach. The basic principle of their "new theology" is that truth becomes true only as it is experienced in the conscience and consciousness of the individual. Whether Jesus actually arose bodily from the tomb or not, the "new orthodoxy" would say, is of very little consequence or importance; the important thing is for one to "realize" the living presence of the Spirit of Christ in his heart. It is the experience of the individual that is valid, not the actual truth or falsity of some historical event.

The practical result of this approach to religion is a confused and chaotic type of mysticism, a religion that finds its ultimate authority not in the written words of an inspired book, but rather in the inward feelings and perceptions of "the Christian conscience." With its emphasis on "experience" and "inner feeling" the new orthodoxy is somewhat akin to the old time Methodism and its "better felt than told" religion. It is vastly different, however, in that basically its philosophy and attitudes are modernistic to the core—liberalism in its most dangerous and deceiving guise. For the new orthodoxy uses all the vocabulary and terminology of the most devout and thorough going conservatism, and at the same time accepts most of the conclusions of the most advanced liberalism!

In Our Midst

It is very likely this paradoxical feature of neo-orthodoxy which has so deceived certain brethren among us. For the new orthodoxy is found among certain elements in the churches of Christ. A number of younger brethren among us, most of whom received their training at the University of Chicago, have accepted this type of modernism. Leader of the group seems to be brother Ralph G. Wilburn, a professor in Pepperdine College in Los Angeles. Brother Wilburn's writings and teachings are in complete accord with the Barthian approach. And as his classroom comments are preserved in the notebooks of his students (taken down verbatim from his lectures by such men as John Wolfe, Floyd Thompson, Otis Gatewood, Hoyt Houchen and many others) they reveal all the familiar arguments and catch phrases of Barthian modernism. Many of brother Wilburn's students, lacking a sturdy independence of intellect, unable to realize the insidious nature of his modernistic teaching, are going out from year to year with their faith in the fundamental concepts of the gospel weakened, if not destroyed. Mature students (like those named above) who come through his classes with their faith intact and undamaged are the exception rather than the rule.

Brother Wilburn came to the University of Chicago some years ago with a strong and humble faith. But he was not prepared, somehow, to cope with the strong modernistic influences of that institution. There was some weakness in his intellectual or spiritual background which made him peculiarly susceptible to the subtle influence of the great university. He left the school with his doctor's degree—and with a mind confused, bewildered, uncertain. As a teacher of young preachers in Pepperdine College he has destroyed the usefulness to the cause of Christ of a number of fine young gospel preachers. The modernism which brother Wallace referred to in a recent issue of Torch is from brother Wilburn's students; on another page in this issue of the Guardian is an article from brother Pat Hardeman dealing with the modernism of still another of brother Wilburn's students. And now that brother Ernest Beam has provided a medium for this school of thought in his new paper, we will see increasing evidences of the wide-spread destruction that is being wrought by it.

Some of those close to brother Wilburn tell us that recently he has been deeply troubled over the growing liberalism and modernism of his own thinking. With something akin to feeling of uneasy panic, he is catching glimpses of the inevitable infidelity and atheism to which his present commitments and tendencies will inexorably lead; and inwardly, his friends tell us, he is having a rather desperate struggle as to whether he shall retreat from the shaky and uncertain ground he has been treading and seek to regain the faith he once held, or shall break free altogether from his associations of former years and follow the path of Carl Etter and William P. Reedy into open and avowed modernism, leaving the "narrow" church of Christ for the fellowship of the Congregationalists or some other modernistic group. Those of us who have known Ralph Wilburn in past years, and loved him then for his clean life and gracious spirit, can only pray that God may yet lead him out of the dark morass into which he has fallen, and that he may return to the faith which was once precious to him.

But the future of the church, and the welfare of unsuspecting youth, cannot be left to so uncertain an outcome. Something must be done now to guard against and to meet this growing threat of modernism. For by no means is brother Wilburn the only one openly advocating the "neo-orthodoxy" modernism; scores of his students are all over the country already; and many who have never been his students, and perhaps have never even heard of him, have accepted the philosophy and attitude of this new modernism. Ernest Beam's desire to fellowship the sectarians who have split the church is a case in point. He would on the basis of an "inner feeling" fellowship the sectarians and disfellowship his brethren who have fought for the truth! He has more in common with a digressive who splits the church over instrumental music, but who has the "spirit" of Christ," than he has with a valiant soldier of the cross who has opposed the sinful introduction of the organ!

A New Paper Projected

Elsewhere in this issue will be found a letter from brother James R. Cope concerning a new religious journal, designed particularly to meet such problems to the church as that posed by the "new orthodoxy." This new paper, Reason and Revelation, will be written by a corps of brilliant and talented young men, teachers in Florida Christian College, who are fully prepared, both intellectually and spiritually, to deal with these serious matters. These brethren have taken the same courses in ethics, philosophy, religion, history, and other fields, which weakened and crippled the faith of brother Wilburn and others. They have heard the same teachings, have read the same books, have studied the same systems—and have come through their courses with faith unshaken and convictions unweakened. Perhaps they lacked that over-weening awe of "scholarship" which caused others to swallow uncritically whatever statement the "scholars" might pronounce; these brethren realized that the "scholarship" of one age is shown to be simple and foolish naivet by the "scholarship" of the next age. Thinking for themselves, they demonstrated once again the oft repeated adage that "truth has nothing to fear" from a full, free and unfettered presentation of every fact. For there are facts, which will contradict or weaken our faith; only philosophies, speculations, accepting conclusions of human reasoning can do that.

It is not merely in the realm of "Liberalism," however, that the church faces problems; there is the growing conflict with Catholicism; the threat posed by those who would pervert the Restoration Movement into something entirely different from the "restoration of New Testament Christianity;" and numerous others. We urge you to read brother Cope's letter and send a card to brother Cope, indicating your desire to receive the new journal when and if it becomes a reality. Do not send any money yet; you will be notified in time to subscribe and receive the first issue if there is sufficient response to make the paper possible.

The Gospel Guardian sincerely hopes brother Cope will get a very liberal response to his letter. The two papers will not overlap in their fields, as Reason and Revelation will be in the nature of a specialized medium, designed to do a particular work in certain well defined and restricted fields. Brother Pat Hardeman, one of the writers for the proposed new journal, is on the staff of Gospel Guardian, and will continue his work with us, regardless of whether the new paper becomes a reality or not.

— F. Y. T.