Kenneth Scott Latourette

Kenneth Scott Latourette

The Perspective from a 20th Century Historian

Kenneth Scott Latourette (1884-1968)

This is just one of many outstanding Christians waiting for me to introduce here on E4Unity blog- my wish list for the Saint’s Gallery. But I want to go ahead and introduce him so I can put up a quote from a little book published in 1948 on what I believe is now coming to pass in Christianity and what we’ve already introduced in several previous blogs: a radical re-evaluation (heart-searching) of how the people of the Christian Faith should function in today’s world.

Dr. Latourette was perhaps the most recognized historian of Christianity in the twentieth century. An expert on China and the Orient, author of volumes on the history of the Christian Faith down through the centuries. He taught at Yale University from 1921 to 1953, served as Department of Religion Chairman, and Director of Graduate Studies at the Divinity School. The man was an intellectual giant. We really should know something about men and women of the past like this if we hope to know what’s going on in our world today.

In his Presidential Address to the American Society of Church History in 1945, he spoke on “The Future of Christianity in the Light of it’s Past”, considering the mid-century following two world wars an urgent time for the Church to do an evaluation of where they had been and what the future may have in store. In the years 1946 and 1947 he spoke at more than a dozen Seminaries and Universities on the subject which was later published in a book which I am fortunate to have on my desk, “The Christian Outlook“.

I have already brought up the theme for some of my posts in the coming year, the 100th celebration of the great World Missionary Conference held at Edinburg in 1910 and the celebrations in various parts of Christendom scheduled to take place to commemorate this most significant date in the History of Christian missions.

I will begin with some quotes from the book above that I think you will find most timely some  sixty years later.

The word ‘Christianity’ never occurs in the New Testament. Gospel is there and it is the Gospel which gives rise to Christianity and which is the source of its vitality. So long as any branch or expression of Christianity is a channel of the Gospel it lives. When it ceases to be a channel for the Gospel it becomes sterile and withers.

Latourette spends a number of pages, reluctantly, describing for us his own convictions regarding the Gospel, for he was convinced that it was only from the vantage (perspective) of the Gospel as presented in Holy Scripture that ” we can presume to look into the future to the near and far outlook for Christianity and for humankind”.

At the outset we must remind ourselves of the meaning of the word ‘Gospel. It is simply the Anglo-Saxon, for Good News, or Joyful message. . .The New Testament rings the changes on that note. The stories of the birth are filled with it. It is the spirit of the Magnificant, of the Benedicdus, of the Nunc Dimittis, of the announcement to the shepherds, and of the angelic song.

Jesus compared himself and his disciples to a wedding party. There is joy over the sinner who repents; the feasting and the joy over the return of the lost son; the joy of one who, seemingly by chance, when not looking for it, discovers the treasure hidden in the field; the joy of the pearl mercahant who has made it his business to seek and then finds; the joy of which we hear on the eve of the crucifixion and which was left as legacy to the disciples. There is the joy of the resurrection, when the disciples were so full of it that they could scarcely believe what they had seen. After they could no longer meet their Lord in the flesh, the early disciples continued that same experience of joy. They rejoiced with “joy unspeakable.” One of the outstanding ‘fruits of the spirit’ which they found working in them was joy.

So, through the centuries since, men and women of many different races and cultures have found this same joy. Martin of Tours, who as a soldier gave himself wholly to the Christ of the Gospel and left his occupation to be a pioneer in the monastic way to which he believed that dedication called him, impressed by his joy those who were attracted to him. Bernard of Clairvaux sings of ‘ Jesus thou joy of loving hearts’. Francis of Assisi and his early band were troubadours of God, joyous in spite and in part because of their elf-assumed poverty. Luther is a herald of joy. . .

Moody is captured by the ‘Good News’ and in unlearned language tells it to the masses. In simple, unsophisticated ‘Gospel hymns’ his associates and thousands since have sung of the wonder which they have glimpsed. This joy is our privilege today. Through all the ages to come it will continue to be part of the Gospel.

READ Biography  at History of Missiology: ” Classic writings in the history of Protestant Mission thought.”