'That word above all earthly powers...'
Ultimate Realities 1: Refreshing as Rain and Dew
- Bob Horn (1933-2005) was General Secretary of UCCF. View all resources by Bob Horn
A great celebration was taking place, with thousands of God’s people present. They had known God’s deliverance, but had often failed to be grateful; in fact, they had often been deliberately disobedient and ‘acted corruptly’, forgetting all that God had taught them.
When their leader stood up in front of the whole assembly, he recited a song to them — to a people whose spiritual life had often dried up. He began by calling on the whole universe, the heavens and the earth to pay attention to his words, and then sang ‘Let my teaching fall like rain and my words descend like dew, like showers on new grass, like abundant rain on tender plants.’
Those were powerful images: rain, dew and showers were crucial to life and survival in a ‘desert land’, ‘a barren and howling waste’. The words were highly evocative in places where grass and tender plants could die inside a day if no moisture came.
That leader was Moses, his hearers the Israelites (Deuteronomy 32:2). He was telling them that God’s teaching (‘doctrine’ in some versions) was to their spiritual life what dew and rain were to the physical world an absolute necessity for restoring and sustaining life. When Moses had finished reciting all those words, he added: ‘They are not just idle words for you — they are your life’ (Deuteronomy 32:47).
This is a cameo of the Bible’s consistent view that truth is paramount. ‘The biggest asset any religion can have is truth. ‘You might say that redemption [was the biggest asset], but Christianity can’t be redemptive unless it is true’ (Carl Henry, Christianity Today, 3 March 1997).
Moreover, human beings need truth in order to live. They ‘do not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD’. That was spoken by Moses and confirmed by Jesus (Deuteronomy 8:3; cf Matthew 4:4). Life depends on God’s words. This is why the New Testament so emphasises ‘sound doctrine’. ‘Sound’ partly means teaching that is correct or orthodox it also means what promotes spiritual health and growth (1 Timothy 1:10; 6:3; 2 Timothy 1:13; 4:3; Titus 1:9, 13; 2:1).
God’s truth is not merely cerebral, passing information to the brain; it is dynamic giving life. It does not merely instruct; it restores. There is no conflict here between Word and Spirit, as though the Word gives mere knowledge, while the Spirit changes people. The Word and the Spirit are together in this. The Spirit who gives and strengthens life does so through the Word that he inspired. The Word is concerned for life as the Spirit is for truth.
Realities, ultimate and universal
The conviction behind this little book is similar: we cannot survive without the central truths of Christianity — and we need them if we are to grow. This book therefore aims to introduce core Christian beliefs. Those beliefs have saved lives, changed lives and cost lives. They have saved people from sin and its judgment and for God and eternity God has used these truths to change people in all cultures from self-centred rebels into children, friends and servants of God. And ordinary people have given their lives, in the last one hundred years most of all, to tell and spread the news of Jesus Christ as the only way to God. Some of these people, at different periods, have been students.
The core truths or ultimate realities opened up here are powerful and life-changing. Men and women of all backgrounds have counted it a high privilege to stand for them. They were willing to risk their reputations, and even their lives, because they beieved that what God has revealed in the Bible is true. All our reflection on particular truths is set against the background of these ultimate realities, these issues of life and death.
The great succession
The great succession of people committed to the truth runs all down the centuries and is essentially a gospel or ‘evangelical’ succession. ‘Evangelical’ comes from the Greek word for gospel (evangel) and fundamentally describes anyone who believes the gospel. It is not a denominational, sectional or sectarian term. It aims simply to point to the gospel, the heart and soul of New Testament Christianity.
This book is the latest in a line of booklets and books previously called Evangelical Belief; all have been ‘short explanations of the Christian faith’ as found in the Doctrinal Basis of the Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship (UCCF). In 1998, some minor changes were made to its wording in order to make it more accessible and understandable, and to make it gender-inclusive. This revised edition of Ultimate Realities takes the changes into account The UCCF’s Doctrinal Basis is the same in meaning (and almost identical in wording) as that of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (IFES), of which the UCCF is a founding member.
These truths are the springboard and inspiration for evangelism and Christian living (through national student movements) in over 140 countries around the world - that is, in a huge range of contrasting cultures and societies. These truths have shown themselves to be of universal relevance and application - as we would expect, since they come from the one God who gave the one Saviour for the world he loved. As Paul said to the Christians in Thessalonica: ‘The Lord’s message rang out from you ... your faith in God has become known everywhere.’ (1 Thessalonians 1:8).
Or as he wrote to the Romans: ‘Your faith is being reported all over the world.' (Romans 1:8). Today the everywhere’ and the world’ have been extended and Christian students are penetrating more and more universities with the evangel, with the ultimate realities set out in this basis.
Some books are suggested for further study or where a more in-depth treatment is desired. Some questions are offered at the end of each chapter, for use by individuals or in groups. Chapter 8 gives some suggestions on how student groups can take up the truths of their doctrinal basis in their teaching meetings, study groups and evangelistic events.
This book is simply an introduction, a starter pack.
1. What is, or should be, at the heart and soul of evangelicalism?
2. What is the significance of the fact that this Doctrinal Basis has worldwide acceptance?