Project Canterbury

The Good News

By Bernard Iddings Bell, D.D.

Milwaukee: Morehouse Publishing, [1921]

Chapter I. The Unknowable God

Chapter II. The Knowable God

Chapter III. The Heroic God

Chapter IV. The Saving God

Chapter V. The Blessed Company

Chapter VI. Christ's Kind of a Church

Chapter VII. Our Social Duty

Chapter VIII. Our Individual Duty

Chapter IX. Why We Talk with God

Chapter X. How to Talk with God

Chapter XI. The Touch of Jesus


DURING the World War it was my great privilege to act as chaplain in the "detention" or receiving section of the Great Lakes Naval Training Station, although, because of certain physical defects, it was impossible for me to obtain a commission. A shortage of commissioned chaplains for land duty furnished my opportunity, and Rear Admiral William A. Moffett, commandant at Great Lakes, at the suggestion of Captain Frank Thompson, senior chaplain, gave me the necessary authority. There I passed twenty busy, happy, and illuminating months, for which I cannot too greatly thank the two officers named.

In addition to giving the chaplains' official instruction in religion and morals two hundred and sixty-seven times to a total of over eighty-seven thousand recruits, conducting never-to-be-forgotten preaching services on Sundays with congregations of from three thousand to seven thousand men, administering communion under trees and in rude barracks, visiting hospitals--especially during the influenza epidemic--and holding office hours to which men came with problems ranging from how to believe in God to how to get a dance invitation for an approaching liberty, it was my chief pleasure and, as I now see it, my chief usefulness, to meet many men, individually and in small groups, who were willing to sit around and talk about religion.

It was in these informal meetings that I first came to understand the lack of enthusiasm of our present-day young men for Christianity. Perhaps four-fifths of the men I knew at Great Lakes were quite uninterested, at least from any vital viewpoint, in any definite religion. Thai was no discovery, of course. Every wide-awake observer knows that there is a similar deficiency in religious fervor in civilian life. The discovery I made, which came to me at once as a challenge and as an encouragement, was that most of the non-interest was due, not to deliberate disbelief or even to indifference, but rather to plain ignorance. They had, for the most part, scarcely any idea what the Christian religion was all about.

The young man that I know, whether I have met him in camp, in shop or factory, or in college or university, has usually confused Christianity's essential truths in a mass of non-essential facts, alleged facts, and "discarded facts" of a more or less religious flavor. Christianity,--and Jonah and the Whale, and creation of the world in a literal six days, and the pseudo-ethical pomposities of those late Victorians who too often teach in our Sunday schools, and the advertised virtue of those Pilgrim fathers who rarely smiled for fear of damnation, and the supposed naughtiness of going fishing on Sunday, and the assumed religious value of learning the names of the twelve tribes of Israel and of the minor prophets, and the alleged wickedness of dancing and playing cards, and the fetish sacredness of the scriptures as bound up in "family Bibles" gathering dust on parlor tables,--these and many similar strains are all confused together in his mind. It is a delight to him, commonly, to learn that Christianity is a rational, human, simple, and personal thing. He frequently expresses wonder why the heart of his nominal religion has not long before been made plain to him. I too wonder why. It does not seem quite reasonable that four out of five of our young people should never have learned what Christianity, in its essence, really is. We seem to have been astonishingly inefficient in passing on the Faith.

The chapters of this book came into being in barracks talk. They were not made in one sitting. They grew. Later on, after the war was over, I gathered them together and wrote them down. I then used them in four "parochial missions", twice to ordinary parishes, in Lynn, Massachusetts, and Schenectady, New York, and twice to predominantly university congregations, at Ithaca and Princeton. They also became the basis of a series of instructions on personal religion at Wellesley Conference, a summer assembly of the Episcopal Church. There were seventy-four young women in my class there, about half of them of more advanced education and half of them working women of ordinary public-school training. Everywhere these simple presentations of the fundamental things in Christianity seemed to arouse a considerable degree of interest. Therefore I am, after some hesitation, putting them into a book.

I have endeavored to use a minimum of theological terminology. People do not dislike dogmas because they are dogmas, but because dogmas are usually phrased in language which has partially lost its vital meaning. Take, for instance, the doctrine that "man is subject to original sin". That sounds stupid and unreal. When, however, one says that "we men are all by nature inclined to be selfish", that sounds reasonable. Yet the two statements are identical in meaning. Again, for the ancient phrase about "the grace of the Lord" one may with resulting force substitute "the free friendship of the Lord", or "the generous comradeship of the Lord". In this book I have tried my best to talk the language of the twentieth century. In that medium I have attempted to utter the basic truths of that Faith which in days past has made heroes, sacrificers, those to whom the world bows low in homage truly earned, out of men and women naturally no nobler, no wiser, no better that men and women are to-day.

If in the doing of this I have, through inability or inadvertence, in the least corrupted the good news of God as manifested in Christ Jesus, may He in His mercy pardon me.

It is probable that I have spoken in this book in a way more comprehensible to "Episcopalians" than to others. That would be natural, since I am an "Episcopalian". I trust, however, that the things said may not prove to be, to any reader, stupidly "sectarian" or in any way ill-humored.


Saint Stephen's College,
Saint Peter's Day, 1921.

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