Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 30, No. 3. 1967.
Prof Geering Sermon Drummed Up By Press
Prof Geering Sermon Drummed Up By Press
Before the University Inaugural Service Salient was informed by the N.C.C. Chaplain that Professor Geering had not been invited merely to be controversial. The daily press have done their best to drum up a debate over what he said and the professor's fellow ministers have been busy defending or attacking him. It is unfortunate that those who are taking part in the debate were not at the service as they display this every time they comment.
The press reports gave only part of the picture. The sermon was set in the context of the Book of Ecclesiastes and St. John's Gospel. The thesis which the learned professor proposed is not merely "that man has no immortal soul." This did appear in the sermon, but it was not until after the service that Professor Geering explained it.
Rev. John Murray, the NCC Chaplain, summarised Professor Geering's thought as follows:
"The theme of his sermon was the experience of eternity in our lives and the possibility of realising this in its fullest extent which comes to us in Jesus Christ. In the present situation of confusion which he paralleled with the situation in which Ecclesiastes found himself, the fact of human mortality is all too obvious and can lead to a sense of resignation or despair. Professor Geering affirmed that as Christians we can say more than this.
"We can point to Jesus Christ and say with the first disciples, 'your words are the words of eternal life.' In Him, and not in systems and doctrines, we are able to face our human predicament and find out who we are and where we are going. The 'Word' which God has given us in Jesus Christ 'has called men to the venture of faith—a Word which has the power to turn human pessimism into hope—a Word which can draw out of the heart of man the fullest expression of love of which he is capable'."
This is a fair summary of the sermon. In itself it will not offend many Christians. But not so the trappings of Professor Geering's theology. By his statements he calls into question much that is central to Christian faith.
In stating that "man has no immortal soul" the professor claims to be going back to the early Christian view of this matter. We can agree that man has no claim to immortality as of right. Immortality is not automatic, it is part of the mystery of creation; part of the gift of God. We have been promised eternal life and affirm this in the Apostles' Creed. With what then are we to enjoy or experience eternal life? We cannot say precisely what eternal life is, but the term or concept is meaningless unless there is something which remains after death.
Rev. Murray suggests that what Professor Geering was saying was that we can now enjoy eternal life through our trust and faith in Jesus Christ and death is unable to destroy this. But this trust and faith must surely be embodied in something which is lasting. If there is nothing lasting have we not been deceived? Are we not perpetuating the delusion?
The concept of the immortal soul as an answer to this problem is rejected by the professor, apparently because it is inconsistent with scientific thought which has now rejected animism. But by this rejection are we not made more vividly aware of God's gift to man of a psycho-somatic nature? This is the mystery of man.
A particular philosophy, animism, gave rise to the expression of the psyche as being a "soul." Surely the passing of this philosophy does not invalidate the concept which it expressed. Christianity is full of elements such as this, and much of Christian belief is scientifically doubtful. Indeed both the Old and New Testaments contain assertions, which could not be proved by scientific methods. Similarly both Testaments evidence the influence of several cultures. Through all the problems there have always been Christian scientists. Teilhard de Chardin is one prominent example of such a man.
Christianity adopted a vehicle of expression and gave it a new and greater depth of meaning in order to proclaim a Christian truth. It is not the mode of expression but the truth thereby affirmed that is important.
Another example of this process is found in the concept of God. The Jewish contribution in regard to this concept was to acknowledge one supreme being. The Christian contribution is to proclaim the Incarnation as the fullest expression of God in human forms.
Professor Geering told us that we cannot imagine God in terms of concrete reality. Because of this he seemed frightened of even attempting to appreciate the majesty of God. He admitted that we "might see through a glass darkly" but was not prepared, apparently, to go any further to explore the possibilities of doing so.
Are we not given a basis for speculation by our belief that we are made in God's image? In appreciating this we may discover a little morel of ourselves and of God.
One cannot help feeling that Professor Geering denies the reality of personal revelation, of a living faith and witness, of a continuous Christian tradition. It is in these that we have vivid glimpses of God, and it is in these that we (find the sources of our faith. But at times he refers specifically to just these things. There is in this something of a paradox.
The professor said in his sermon that "Christianity should never be identified with scclesiastical systems or with a body of esoteric knowledge." All will agree that to equate Christianity with a Church is to miss the Christian message. Yet he stated that the Church is a means of dispensing grace.
If the Church is merely a spiritual filling station where we stop to obtain fuel for the journey of life then I must protest. Professor Geering was asked about the relevance of prayer and worship in our modern world. Surely a more complete answer to this question is that the utility of the Church is to be found in its prayer and worship, and in its fulfilment of the duties imposed upon it by Christ.
Where would Professor Geering have us go? During and after the service he showed that he is a sincere man who can argue with logical care. He is obviously influenced by scientific thought and is because of this suspicious of metaphysical concepts.
The problem posed by his sermon and by his answer to later questions is not ours. My question is, where will his logic and his distrust of metaphysics lead him? Surely he must eventually deny the ultimate metaphysical concept, the concept of God. He has not done so but his present course seems to be set in that direction.
The only other solution is that he is banishing the frequent misconception which has its origin in Greek philosophy; that is the misconception as to the nature of the soul. If this be so it is a strange and destructive way of restating the concept of soul. For Christians "soul" is a word denoting the reality which is to be saved, which is to enjoy eternal life. There-tore it is a reality which endures. If this is his thesis, is he convincing his audience? Or is he unnecessarily disturbing them?