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The Spike Golden Jubilee Number May 1949

Some Trends of Thought Within the Student Christian Movement

page 74

Some Trends of Thought Within the Student Christian Movement

The year of Jubilee for Victoria University College is also one of celebration for the V.U.C. Student Christian Movement, for, several months before the College was officially opened, in January of that year, a group of intending students met with W. H. Salmon of Yale University, a travelling secretary of the World's Student Christian Federation, and decided to form a "Christian Union," as local branches of the S.C.M. were for many years known. In the life of the Movement over the succeeding half century, there have been several major trends of thought, but none more sharply differing than the change of emphasis over the last twenty-five years. In the twenties the S.C.M. shared the general "Liberal" point of view. Today, Liberalism is no longer regarded as an effective Christian standpoint. At that time, ethical, moral, social and economic problems occupied the foreground of S.C.M. thought and discussion. The "practical application of Christian principles" to these problems was the great concern, and little interest was directed to the nature of Christian belief.

Dogma was shunned, and at all costs the Christian must avoid being intolerant—after all, every man was entitled to his own view. The Bible, interpreted in the light of the current "modernist" view, was regarded as a collection in the Old Testament, of interesting, but not altogether reliable stories of primitive peoples, and in the New Testament as the main source of knowledge of the Jesus of History, the Prophet of the Brotherhood of Man, our Great Moral Example. Man was regarded as essentially good, provided he had grown up in an enlightened environment, and sin was not thought of as a dynamic force. Thus the imminent dawn of a better world was confidently hoped for, its possibility depending upon the enthusiasm of men of good will for the great moral principles of Jesus of Nazareth.

But this genial mood was to change. With the thirties came sobering years of economic depression while in Europe, in Germany itself, the very centre of the Enlightenment, new and disturbing totali-tarian forces emerged. From the same continent Karl Barth's theology of militant orthodoxy in direct opposition to the easy optimism and rationalism of the previous decade began to gain ground among the intellectuals of the Movement. Then came the War, the second World War within a generation, and in Nazi Germany and in the occupied countries students, both men and women, went to concentration camp and death because of the role of the S.C.M. in the Resistance.

Today, in the face of the despair of the vanquished and the gloom of the victors, in a world of mass movements in which the significance of the concrete human person steadily decreases, in a world split into two vast opposed camps so that issues riddled with complexities are presented in blacks and whites, the S.C.M. is called to "Christian obedience." That is its members are called to a thorough understanding of Biblical thought and doctrine, that whatever eventuates they may know where they stand and why they stand both personally and politically in order that they may be able to act deliberately and decisively out of Christian conviction and say "I can no other."

The S.C.M. member is now no longer shy of dogmatics and systematic theology. The Bible is for him the Word of God to be heard and to be obeyed "existentially." He has an important role in the Ecumenical Movement. "Social problems" do not occupy a large part of his discussion, while his interest is great in the theological basis of Community. Believing the corporate nature of the Church to be essential to a full Christian life, he must be sharply critical of any political theory which assumes religion to be a private and individual concern, and demands a total conformity to Party directions. He realises the urgent need of responsible student citizenship, and for that reason he is prepared to work for the College, and to stand for its offices. He is prepared to declare beyond the College walls the faith by which he lives, and he desires to see the gap between the university and the community bridged. To this end forty-two members of V.U.C.S.C.M. made time during the recent long vacation to take part in a week's mission of goodwill to a Wellington provincial town.

He admires the zeal of his Liberal predecessor for a better society, but cannot endorse his cure that it only depends on ourselves. The events of our day have re-taught the Christian a hard lesson: that left to himself man does not naturally follow the good, and that man will be saved from the inevitable chaos of his radical personal and national egocentricity only by singlehearted worship and service of a God, Who is both God of Love and Lord of History, who calls men not to lofty ideals and noble sentiments, but to sober obedience, in whom alone our existence has purpose, and who can turn even the wrath of man to his glory.

Denzil Brown