HIS 250: HISTORY OF CHRISTIANITY IN AMERICA LECTURE 7
HIS 250: HISTORY OF CHRISTIANITY IN AMERICA LECTURE 7
Chapter 13. Growth and Schism
In the final decade of the 19th century, Christianity still dominated the religious life of the United States. The eight largest denominational families were Roman Catholic, Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Disciples of Christ, Episcopalian, and Congregational. These groups were given a great deal of cultural recognition throughout the public sphere of America. However, they did not have a complete hold of the American religious world.
American Catholicism, with about 8 million members, had survived the resentments of Protestant neighbors, the tensions of the Civil War, the strains of ethnic jealousy, and the suspicions of European Catholics—all while maintaining organizational unity. This was a remarkable achievement, considering the enormous stresses the church faced in 19th century America: the continuous waves of immigration accompanied by nativist attack (discrimination from American-born citizens), and territorial assimilation. No other church confronted so great a challenge or emerged as strong and well positioned for further growth in the 20th century.
Methodism ended the 19th century with no conspicuous unity in organization. The Methodist family of about 5.5 million members was divided by race, sectional sentiment, arguments over the authority of their bishops or superintendents, and disagreements over the pursuit of John Wesley’s ideal of Christian perfection. However, the Methodist family as a whole continued to flourish with such zest that it more than offset the divisions and spin-off of new religious bodies.
The Baptists also had no structural oneness. They, too, had been divided by the Civil War and witnessed the creation of separate entities for their black members. They also had other issues that led to further separations, including their own history, the uniqueness of their mode of baptism, the terms by which one might be invited to share in the Lord’s Supper, the authority of the congregation, and the precise wording of the Lord’s Prayer (the model prayer of Jesus). Yet Baptists still constituted a family of about 4 million strong in the closing years of the 19th century.
Presbyterians, who were also successful on the frontier, elevated their quarrels to a higher judicial level. With a more closely knit system of church governance, Presbyterians made a bold effort to maintain unity in doctrine, practice, and organization. But in the environment of the open-ended American experiment, the effort often failed. Divided over the new measures of revivalism, Presbyterians split up just prior to the Civil War. They, too, saw black members create their own organization, while they also struggled with the question of proper ordination and education requirements for all Presbyterian clergy. The family had about 1.5 million members near the end of the century and moved with some ease into all sections of the country.
Immigration in the second half of the 19th century gave Lutheranism significant numerical standing by 1895. However, Lutherans found reasons for division and separation even before they arrived in America. As previously noted, ethnic and national distinctions were numerous. Lutherans from Sweden found it necessary in America to be identified as Swedish Lutherans. Separate organizations existed for Norwegian Lutherans, Finnish Lutherans, Danish Lutherans, and German Lutherans. Conflicts also occurred over theology, creedal loyalty, personal piety, and many other matters. At the beginning of the 20th century, Lutheranism was separated into two dozen distinct ecclesiastical bodies.
The Disciples of Christ denomination was unique in that it did not originate in Europe, but on the American frontier of the period before the Civil War. Though the movement was young, it grew vigorously enough to claim nearly a million members by 1895, overtaking groups such as Dutch Reformed and Quakers, who had been established in America much earlier. Despite the movement’s youth, however, it still suffered internal tension and ultimate division.
The seventh and eighth largest denominations in the 1890s were the two that were at the top in the colonial period: the Episcopalians and the Congregationalists. Though they were still strong movements, they had fallen far behind their competitors. Neither group proved to be sufficiently effective on the frontier or adjusted readily enough to the new realities of the open market in religion. With around 600,000 members apiece, these two churches entered the 20th century with the assurance provided by their earlier privilege and prestige. However, their reduced numbers suggested some declining of both of these historic churches.
In 1900, the population of the country stood at 76 million and church membership at around 26 million. More than eighty percent of those church members could be found in the eight church families noted above. No other religious body had as many as a half million members (as far as official census takers were able to determine). However, much of American religion (then and now) escapes wide public notice. Religious and ethnic groups often exist on the edges of society, with their numbers concealed and their public presence reduced. At the turn of the twentieth century, religious diversity was growing, and new religious movements continued to thrive. In the first half of the twentieth century, these prevailing religious denominations would no longer maintain the clear dominance they had earlier had.
Era of Church Growth
At the beginning of the 20th century, about one third of the nation’s population were members of churches and synagogues. By the middle of that century, membership had increased to well over fifty percent. In the same period, the population as a whole doubled, from around 76 million to over 150 million. The eight major denominations all participated dramatically in that growth. But these churches did not have a monopoly on church grow. Others were growing fast also.
Mormon growth was as sharp as it was surprising. There are several reasons the growth was surprising. First, utopian communities in 19th century America had a way of quietly shrinking from public consciousness, if not disappearing altogether from existence. Second, movements tended to split into countless insignificant smaller groups once they lost their original charismatic leader. Third, Mormons had been exiled to a barren wasteland. Yet the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints survived, suffering no decline even with the abandonment of polygamy in 1890. The admission of Utah as a state in 1896 led not to greater conflict with the United States, but to a stronger embrace of the nation’s pervading cultural values and even to patriotism. Furthermore, the slow acceptance of Mormonism into the wider American culture led not to complacency, but to an increasingly fervent missionary enterprise at home and abroad.
One direct consequence of 20th century Mormonism’s missions was an extensive level of growth, which older religious bodies could only regard with envy and wonder. With a membership of a mere quarter million in the 1890s, Mormons by 1950 had more than twice that number in the state of Utah alone. Mormonism has a power base in the United States that is rural and western. The Utah branch is larger than its offshoot, which is now known as the Community of Christ and has its strongest numbers around Independence, Missouri. The Utah group has spread across state boundaries into southern Idaho and Montana, northern Arizona and New Mexico, western Wyoming, and eastern Washington, Oregon, and California.
Methodism helped to spawn a host of new denominations that quickly overtook the parent group in terms of growth rates. John Wesley had stressed the necessity for all Christians to move beyond the stage of mere justification by faith to a higher level, a loftier goal of entire sanctification (being made completely holy). Wesley and many of his followers pursued the ideal of Christian perfection in one’s earthly life, following the New Testament command to be perfect. Such striving for sanctification was personal, but it also became characteristic of whole churches and entire denominations.
After the Civil War, a National Camp Meeting for the Promotion of Christian Holiness was formed to inspire greater commitment on the part of Christians of various denominations to the steady pursuit of holiness. Though Methodists led in this early organization, the movement went beyond a single religious institution. In the 1880s and beyond, dozens of new denominations were formed, all pursuing the high goal of Christian perfection. The Church of God came into being in 1880, followed by the Christian and Missionary Alliance in 1887, then by the Fire Baptized Holiness Church in 1895, then by the Pilgrim Holiness Church in 1897. The Church of God in Christ was also formed in 1897, eventually becoming one of the largest Holiness and Pentecostal groups. Predominantly an African American group, it was founded by Charles Mason, who eventually led the body from its Holiness roots into the Pentecostal movement. In 1914, a half dozen smaller groups joined together to form the Church of the Nazarene, another body that grew from a base of a few thousand to a quarter of a million by 1950.
Also thriving were distinct Pentecostal bodies, named from the description of the Day of Pentecost in the biblical book of Acts, when the Holy Spirit came in power upon the Apostles. One manifestation of that power was that those present began to speak in other tongues (or languages) as the Spirit enabled them. Speaking in tongues as well as practicing spiritual healing of physical infirmities became the chief distinguishing features of this group of rapidly growing denominations in America. The Azusa Street Revival in Los Angeles, which began in 1906 and grew for the next several years, helped launch these new Pentecostal churches. Though the Holiness and Pentecostal movements were initially closely associated, the two gradually moved further apart. The Holiness movement concentrated on the experience of entire sanctification, while Pentecostals saw the spiritual gifts surrounded by the Holy Spirit’s empowerment as central to the Christian life. In 1914, the Assemblies of God denomination gathered many Pentecostal churches into a single organization. This group, along with the Church of God in Christ, was destined to become a leading representative of the whole Pentecostal movement. It had fewer than 50,000 adherents in the 1920s, but by the end of the century it grew to well over 2 million in the United States and abroad.
In general, Pentecostal churches grew faster in the South than Holiness churches did, partially because the Holiness churches emphasized social reform, to which the South had tended to be resistant since the days of slavery. Pentecostal churches attracted both black and white members, sometimes in the same church. In the early days of the movement, many of the revival meetings were interracial; the racial and ethnic complexity of Pentecostalism was especially pronounced at the Azusa Street Revival. In addition, many of the major leaders were black, including Charles Mason and William Seymour (the key leader in the Los Angeles movement). Gradually, the patterns of the surrounding culture led to mainly segregated churches for these denominational groups, though Pentecostalism proved popular among both white and black segments of the population, as well as to Latinos.
The Jewish population in America increased sharply from about 1 million in 1900 to 5 million a half century later. Most of that increase resulted from immigration, and some came from European refugees in the 1930s and 1940s. Not all Jews emigrating to America were conspicuously religious in behavior or institutional affiliation, though it is difficult to distinguish religious and cultural aspects of what it meant to be Jewish in America. The synagogue provided the greatest sense of community and continuity for the majority of newly arrived Jews, and many synagogues (particularly in New York City) held together people from the same European towns.
Jews proved their Americanness by duplicating the tendency toward schism and separation that had characterized non-Jewish groups for years. Jews disagreed on the degree of accommodation to the wider culture that was required or desired, on the degree of loyalty demanded to ancient customs and laws, on the need for a single Jewish voice to speak for all, on the meaning of chosenness as a people, on the centrality of their faith tradition and culture in defining the essence of Jewishness, and on the question of a Jewish homeland under Jewish rule as essential to a secure Jewish future.
A Hungarian Jew named Theodor Herzl gave leadership to Zionism (the program for a Jewish homeland) through a book he published in 1896. Dismayed by the continued outbursts of violent anti-Semitism in Europe, Herzl argued that Jews would have no peace or freedom from persecution until they had a land of their own. Soon after Herzl’s book appeared, Jews in America began to organize on behalf of the Zionist idea, which they were determined to turn into a reality. In 1912, Henrietta Szold founded the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, and six years later an even broader Zionist group was born. Conservative Judaism, represented by Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City, became a major recruiting center and training ground for American Zionists as the movement steadily gained force in the 1920s and 1930s. Then in 1948, following World War II, the state of Israel at last came into being, the culmination of countless dreams and a haven for thousands of homeless Jews from all around the world. From that point on, the existence of a Jewish homeland would play a determinative role in America’s large Jewish community, arousing its moral passion and calling upon its spiritual and financial resources.
Despite the early presence of Eastern Orthodoxy in Alaska, its spread throughout the United States is more a feature of 20th century America than of an earlier period. In the last decades of the 19th century, one Christian group from the region around the Hungarian-Russian borders, known as the Uniates, emigrated to the United States in significant numbers. This group for a time enjoyed a special relationship with the Roman Catholic Church, but ultimately preferred renewed ties with Eastern Orthodoxy. Despite the fact that this body numbered as many as a quarter of a million by 1900, they remained little known beyond their own community of believers. The story of Eastern Orthodoxy has repeatedly involved separate immigration of closely knit ethnic peoples taking up residence in America in communities that resisted acculturation and escaped widespread public attention.
The Russian Revolution in 1917 drew wide public notice, but the many emigrations resulting from it attracted little concern beyond the confines of the churches. Even among these churches, conflict and factions kept Russian Orthodoxy from becoming a recognizable force in American religion. In 1919, a convention declared that Russian Orthodoxy in America would be independent of Russian Orthodoxy in the Soviet Union, though this proclamation was not easily enforced (as seen in a legal battle over the title to Saint Nicholas Cathedral in New York City).
By 1952, Orthodoxy in America had many more representatives than just those who had fled the Bolshevik Revolution. Syrians, Serbians, Rumanians, Albanians, Bulgarians, and others arrived in the United States in the period between World Wars I and II. Greeks most conspicuously grew the membership of ancient Orthodoxy (in which allegiance was given not to the Roman papacy but to a national patriarch, seen as the true spiritual father). However, Orthodoxy’s constituents in America found their loyalties tested as they tried to balance Old World ties against New World realities.
In 1918, the archbishop of Athens (who was historically under the patriarch who ruled from Constantinople) came to the United States to form an all-Greek church where unity and love would prevail. However, disorder and faction prevailed, frustrating his plans. But Archbishop Meletios persisted, and his authority increased when he was named Patriarch of Constantinople. On a second visit to the United States, he created the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America, which now serves as the ecclesiastical home for about two million members. Successive leaders also struggled to promote unity, at least among the Greeks if not among all the Orthodox. Archbishop Athenagoras, who held the highest American office from 1930 to 1949 before also being named Patriarch of Constantinople, was especially successful in this effort.
By 1950, most Americans still did not regularly acknowledge the significant presence of Eastern Orthodoxy in the nation, while continuing to speak of the categories of Protestant, Catholic, and Jew as encompassing virtually all of American religion (and Catholic was understood to mean Roman Catholic, while the Eastern Church was largely ignored). Given the Eastern Church’s ancient history, dramatic liturgy, use of colorful icons (sacred pictures of religious figures), and rich cultural diversity, such lack of awareness became increasingly difficult to maintain (especially with regards to the two largest branches–Greek and Russian). National and world events then helped to bring greater attention to Eastern Orthodoxy. First, the public embrace in 1965 between Rome’s Pope Paul VI and Constantinople’s Patriarch Athenagoras I represented a step toward healing the 900-year old division between the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches. Second, the nomination of Michael Dukakis for president in 1988 was the first time an Eastern Orthodox member had received this nomination.
By 1950, the United States had also become better acquainted with traditions beyond the confines of Judaism and Christianity. The World’s Parliament of Religions, held in Chicago in 1893, had widened cultural knowledge about Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Shinto. The annexation of Hawaii in 1898 increased this knowledge further. Immigration to the mainland continued to increase this knowledge, both in the late nineteenth century and in the twentieth. Before 1900 Japanese Buddhism had become a major religion in Hawaii, and the religious heritage of both China and Japan had been represented in California. Buddhism emerged as the most vigorous and adaptable of the Asian religions, with the United States being seen in the 20th century as an important mission field for Buddhism.
The Buddhist Mission of North America was formally established in San Francisco in 1899, growing out of the labors of two priests sent from Japan. By 1942, the mission was sufficiently well established, and the name was changed to Buddhist Churches of America. Churches and temples had been established in large enough numbers to suggest that Buddhism had found a permanent home in America, despite efforts to restrict immigration and the relocation of about 100,000 Japanese Americans in internment camps at the outbreak of World War II (which was claimed to be based on grounds of national security considerations but was also due to resentment over Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941).
Buddhism represents not a single strand or denomination, but several liturgical and national traditions. Japanese Zen Buddhism, with its focus on meditation and artistic simplicity, demonstrated an appeal as part of a philosophical and religious counterculture in the West. The Japanese Buddhist scholar D. T. Suzuki moved from Japan to Illinois in 1897, becoming a leading translator and popularizer of Zen Buddhism in the English-speaking world over the next half century. Many other schools of Japanese Buddhism also flourished in the Hawaiian Islands and along the West Coast of the United States. Buddhist traditions from China, Korea, Vietnam, Tibet, and other Asian countries also appeared in America, becoming more obvious in the decades after World War II.
Hinduism, closely identified with the culture of India, did not prove as exportable or missionary minded as Buddhism. Nevertheless, a kind of universalistic or Westernized Hinduism entered the United States following the World’s Parliament of Religions in 1893. Swami Vivekananda established a local chapter of the Vedanta Society in New York City, and Swami Yogananda moved to the United States and began a ministry that led to the establishment of Self-Realization groups around the country. This kind of Hinduism, which combined Indian philosophy and American self-help, appealed to Euro-Americans intrigued by the wisdom of Hindu literature. On a smaller scale, Confucianism and Taoism from China, as well as Shinto from Japan, gained footholds in the United States (predominantly on the West Coast). As racism diminished and Asian groups assertively claimed religious liberty, religious pluralism grew broader and became a reality after 1965.
Religious organizations of all kinds and from all countries generally enjoyed a period of steady growth from the end of the 19th century to the middle of the twentieth, as a result of immigration, population increase throughout the nation, and a growing cultural eagerness to identify with a religious body. However, strife weakened the public voice of religion, due to the confusion of many competing religious voices.
Struggles and Schisms
A dramatic heresy trial held in the final decade of the 19th century pointed to troubled decades ahead in the 20th century. Charles Briggs, who was appointed in 1891 as professor of biblical theology at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, was charged by the Presbyterian Church with teaching that there may have been errors in the original text of the Bible (thus teaching against the notion of biblical inerrancy). Though Briggs (who was Presbyterian) answered that the errors he claimed to discover in the Bible did not involve faith and practice, and thus did not impair the infallibility of the Bible), his answer was deemed unsatisfactory. Found guilty of violating the essential standards of the Presbyterian Church, he was dismissed from the New York Presbytery, though he continued to teach at the seminary until his death in 1912.
What happened in the Presbyterian denomination was duplicated many times in other denominations, and again in Presbyterianism. The struggle is commonly identified through the descriptions of fundamentalism on one side and modernism on the other. The debate between the two sides often revolved around attitudes toward the Bible, but the questions more broadly related to the overall attitudes toward the modern world. In this broader sense, the controversy was reflected in Catholicism and Judaism as well as in Protestantism.
In the 16th century Reformation, Martin Luther and other Protestant leaders regarded the role of tradition as being less significant than Scripture, declaring that Scripture must be used to correct tradition and purify faith. “Scripture alone” became a motto of Protestantism. Thus, it is not surprising that, when Scripture came under scrutiny through new manuscript and archaeological discoveries and through new historical and literary techniques, Protestantism suffered severely—as seen in heresy trials, church quarrels, seminary struggles for survival, and denominational divisions.
In the first third of the 20th century, the three Protestant groups that were most severely divided by fundamentalist-modernist issues were the Presbyterians, the Northern Baptists, and the Disciples of Christ. Other bodies also faced conflicts (including Episcopalians and Methodists) but did not suffer splits. The Dutch Reformed suffered schism in the late 19th century related to other issues, such as immigration patterns. Lutherans, still dispersed in many ethnic communities, escaped the harshest aspect of the conflicts until much later in the 20th century.
The Briggs trial settled very little for Presbyterians. Other trials followed, as did other attempts to define the boundaries of correct Presbyterian theology. In 1910, the General Assembly emphasized five fundamentals that should not be compromised: the inerrancy of Scripture, the virgin birth of Christ, the substitutionary atonement achieved by Christ’s death, Christ’s bodily resurrection, and the reality of his biblically recorded miracles. Though leading liberals came under heavy criticism, the denomination as a whole rejected the fundamentalist stance. In 1929, leaders pulled Princeton Theological Seminary away from the control of the most conservative elements. In the 1930s, some conservatives (including J. Gresham Machen) responded by withdrawing from the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. to create smaller denominations.
Northern Baptists were even more affected by dissension and strife, as the opposing sides struggled for control within the denomination. In the 1920s, fundamentalists and conservatives sought to impose unity in creed upon all those identified with the Northern Baptist Convention, while modernists and liberals resisted such efforts as contrary to the Baptist tradition of having no creed other than the Bible. Liberals maintained control of the denominational boards, seminaries, and agencies. Yet divisions weakened the larger body, and the energies of evangelicals were drawn to other causes. In 1933, fifty congregations withdrew from the larger group to form the General Association of Regular Baptists; fifteen years later more dissatisfied members separated to form the Conservative Baptist Association of America.
The Disciples of Christ, a frontier church that longed to reduce denominational divisions, ironically added even more denominational labels to the situation. Early in the 20th century, the conservatives, who resisted aspects of perceived liberalism, withdrew to create a new denomination, the Churches of Christ. These churches maintained a fiercely independent congregational polity, held to the authority of the Bible in such a way as to resist any of the new interpretations that were becoming familiar in the fundamentalist-modernist debate. The Churches of Christ found their centers of strength in Tennessee, Arkansas, and Texas, while the Disciples of Christ continued to be the major faction in Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Kentucky. In 1927, another division occurred within the movement, which took the name of the North American Christian Connection. The new group argued that the older Disciples of Christ group had grown too fond of scholarship and too ready to surrender its denominational distinctives to a general Protestantism.
Protestants were not alone in their concern about where the modern world was leading traditional and historic religion. Roman Catholic authorities in the Vatican found much of European biblical scholarship extremely problematic. In 1893, Pope Leo XIII condemned the higher criticism form of biblical study as a useless method, arguing it pretended to judge each biblical book from internal indications alone, without paying attention to the views of the early church fathers or the teaching authority of the Roman church. In 1907, Pope Pius X made clear that modernism was heretical and dangerous. While modernists talk of progress, what they call progress is, in fact, corruption. He further argued that modernists question everyone’s wisdom but their own, assuming they have understood Scripture where all previous church teachers have failed.
This condemnation was comprehensive and allowed no reinterpretation. The pope further directed all bishops to get rid of any hint of modernism in their jurisdictions, especially their universities and seminaries. While some European scholars were disciplined, no threat of division emerged. However, Catholic scholarship, in particular biblical scholarship, was hindered for more than a generation.
The situation changed in 1943, when a later pope named Pius XII promoted responsible biblical scholarship. He specifically encouraged a study of the original biblical languages of Hebrew and Greek, along with associated ancient languages and attention to archaeological, philological, and additional sciences. He argued that it was wrong to assume all truth was known, noting that current times had brought to light many things that called for fresh investigation.
Judaism also divided in this period. Immigration patterns shaped some of the disagreements. But many similar issued were also involved—attitudes toward the Bible, attitudes toward history and tradition, and attitudes toward modern civilization and the notion of progress. In 1885, Reform Judaism adopted a platform that could be considered modernist, asserting that modern scientific discoveries are not antagonistic to the doctrines of Judaism, and that the Bible reflects the primitive ideas of its own age. Further, this movement accepted as binding only the moral laws and maintained only the ceremonies that enhanced modern life, while seeing the old Mosaic laws as a system of training for Jews in ancient Palestine. It argued that Judaism, to survive, must be progressive, and in accordance with reason.
According to Orthodox Judaism and much Conservative Judaism in the early 20th century, those who wished to choose which demands of biblical law to follow showed that they loved the modern world too much. In 1901, Solomon Schechter, president of the Jewish Theological Seminary, argued that Judaism was a revealed religion, not primarily a progressive religion. Thus, it must continue to take the Bible very seriously. He noted the Jewish heritage of receiving the Bible from God and seeing it as such a great gift that Jews were willing to be slain by the thousands rather than becoming unfaithful to it. Schechter dedicated himself to drawing boundaries for accommodating traditional Jewish faith to modern culture.
Most religious bodies in America suffered severe strain, if not actual breaks, during those decades, for constant evaluation was needed to determine the value of tradition in relation to the modern world. Some groups, such as the Eastern Orthodox communions, escaped the struggle only because they had not yet accepted enough of modernity’s progressive assumptions to be challenged or threatened by them. Others, such as the Unitarians, had long before made the critical choices about embracing the changes of modernity. For the vast majority, however, the chaos faced during this period prevented much rejoicing over the growth in numbers that was taking place at the same time. Religion in the first half of the 20th century was forced to concentrate more and more on the damage within its own internal affairs.
In 1922, Harry Emerson Fosdick preached an influential sermon called “Shall the Fundamentalists Win?” In the sermon, he sharpened the terms of the debate and tried to provide a historical perspective for the decades of conflict. He argued against the virgin birth of Christ, the literal inerrancy of the Scriptures, and the second coming of Christ from the skies. While he pleaded for good will, what he received was an explosion of ill will.
The fundamentalists gained a token victory in 1925 when a high school biology teacher named John Thomas Scopes was brought to trial in Dayton, Tennessee. In this famous trial, the civil courts took up the question of whether Scopes had violated a Tennessee law that prohibited the teaching of the theory of evolution in schools that were supported by state funds. The drama raised by the issue was increased in the courtroom, since the attorney for the prosecution was William Jennings Bryan (a three-time candidate for president). The defense attorney, Clarence Darrow, though not such a public figure, was also widely known as an outstanding trial lawyer.
Though the courtroom was an odd place to settle an issue of the science curriculum in the schools, the issue was far broader since for many the question was not state law, but the authority of the Bible and of the churches across the nation. The national press and new radio industry gave much publicity to the case. Bryan clearly identified the case as a grand battle between unbelief attempting to speak through science and the defenders of the Christian faith speaking through the legislators of Tennessee. He argued that to nullify the law and acquit Scopes was to ridicule the Bible and renounce God, whereas to uphold the law would gain the favor of Christians.
The law was upheld, Scopes was fined a hundred dollars, and a nominal victory was won for fundamentalism. However, in much of the national press the town of Dayton was portrayed as backward and uneducated, fundamentalism as absurd, and the trial a sham. In the cultural struggle for the hearts and minds of Americans, fundamentalism’s victory was not as clear. Liberalism retained control of most denominational colleges and seminaries, most publishing boards, prestigious pulpits, and endowed funds. In a longer struggle with modernism, fundamentalist forces moved on to engage the next battle for the Bible against scientific materialism and unbelief. Leaders in evangelical groups gathered new institutional resources for renewed campaigns, while liberalism seemed to grow weaker in the 1930s and 1940s.
Chapter 14. Faith and Reason
In the first half of the 20th century, broad cultural shifts gradually moved Christianity away from its position of intellectual and ethical leadership in the nation. Increasingly, cultural rewards went to artists, novelists, and journalists, while bureaucratic expertise was bestowed upon politicians, engineers, and social planners. Despite the growing professionalization within religion, the clergy as a profession steadily lost status, while physicians, lawyers, and scientists gained status. The salaries of clergy fell far behind those of other professionals, and even behind those of business and labor leaders, as well as of many civil servants and academic professionals. This loss in the professional standing of the clergy only symbolized far more significant losses in cultural authority at large, which resulted in part from the growing institutional power of many other intellectual disciplines, as well as from internal crises within modern religious thought.
Philosophy and Religion
Though they were traditionally close allies, philosophers and theologians found themselves drawing apart in the 20th century, as each group pursued its own agenda. Many philosophers turned away from the larger metaphysical questions (relating to ultimate reality) that were a focus of religion to narrower issues of linguistic analysis or symbolic logic that seemed irrelevant to theologians. Many theologians also continued to be bound by loyalty to creed and biblical standards in a way that hindered fruitful dialogue with philosophy.
John Dewey, the most influential American philosopher in the first half of the twentieth century, took as his goal the reconstruction of American society. In art, logic, politics, science, and education, he influenced and reshaped intellectual debates to an immeasurable degree. He accomplished this reconstruction without much reference to religion except to explain how irrelevant most ancient religious answers had become to the newer ways of investigation and discovery. He argued that discoveries made in history, literary criticism, and the sciences had offered new accounts of historic events and challenged traditional religious points of view. He further argued that the method for arriving at the truth must involve rational investigation and observable experimentation leading to fresh understanding, rather than consulting sacred writings or ancient religious teachings.
As a follower of pragmatism, Dewey saw the universe as open-ended rather than closed, and he saw truth as something that is discovered rather than given, and ever unfolding rather than fixed. Dewey saw the current shift from religious ways of looking at the world to scientific methods of investigation and verification as a revolution. He believed the universe was full of possibilities that could be discovered as people left their outdated ways of thinking and worked toward a better future for the world.
Dewey saw institutional religion as an outdated way thinking, which seemed more interested in defending truths already known than in seeking truths yet to be found. Instead of these old and outdated ideas, religious people should dedicate themselves to cooperative inquiry by means of observation, experiment, recording, and reflection. Though Dewey did not think he was asking religion to give up much that mattered, most theologians believed that what he called for was a total surrender of religion to the demands of modernity.
Other popular writers carried similar messages in this same period of time. An influential journalist and widely read author named Walter Lippman convinced much of the literate American public that traditional religion was becoming obsolete and that the old cultural cohesion had been dissolved by modernity. Religious certainty had given way to the momentous shift, and some other ground for moral choices than God’s revelation was needed.
However, not all philosophers dismissed traditional religion. Harvard professor William James, though also a pragmatist, found religious questions and answers to be significant and relevant. Such questions and answers had consequences for human behavior that pragmatists could not ignore. James argued that faith is a necessary condition for reaching some goal. In addition, Alfred North Whitehead did not dismiss the idea of God, but he altered it to emphasize the elements in the world that operate by love. Whitehead argued that God moved by persuasion rather than coercion, which explains why the work of God occurred so slowly.
Despite the counterarguments offered by Whitehead’s process philosophy, by midcentury professional philosophizing had distanced itself from any alliance with theology. Liberal religious thinkers tried to keep connections between faith and reason, but often in the process they yielded so much to modern rationality and critical inquiry that only minimal claims remained for a unique perspective of religion. On the other hand, conservative religious thinkers pointed out the idolatry of modern thought and the liberal disparagement of religious authority, though in doing so they all but forfeited the hope of exercising intellectual leadership in wider areas of culture. A serious breach formed between faith and reason.
Science and Religion
Far better known in this period were the contests and conflicts between scientists and theologians (the Scopes trial was only one example). From the point of view of theologians, science kept invading their territory by answering questions about the origin and purpose of the world and about the nature and destiny of humanity—questions that were fundamentally religious rather than scientific. From the point of view of scientists, theology blocked the pathway to knowledge by hindering scientific experiments. Each side saw the other as overly ambitious and uncompromising.
In the closing years of the 19th century, leading theologians searched for accommodations with the growing authority and prestige of science. But in this search, they were often limited by their own religious convictions and by church authorities. Roman Catholics found their church’s position to be against Darwin’s theory of evolution. One Catholic cardinal called this theory false science, while arguing that there is no conflict between religion and true science.
A few years later, John Augustus Zahm, a Roman Catholic professor of physics at Notre Dame, tried to suggest that Darwinism was compatible with Catholic teaching. In a book published in 1896, he explained that there can be theistic evolution, just as well as atheistic or agnostic evolution (in other words, that there was a God who created humanity using evolution). But Catholicism was not yet ready for this synthesis of new biology with theology, and Zahm’s book was denounced and withdrawn from publication and circulation.
Protestants, likewise, were not ready to fully embrace evolution. The popular Brooklyn preacher T. DeWitt Talmage denounced the idea of evolution as atheistic and absurd. The argument that humans came from beasts made humanity more bestial, and the argument against immortality destroyed all foundation of morality and purpose. Instead, Talmage taught a redefined concept of evolution—evolution out of sin into holiness, out of grief into gladness, out of mortality into immortality, and out of earth into heaven.
Another Brooklyn Protestant named Henry Ward Beecher contended that the whole history of Christianity was itself an instance of natural evolution. In a series of sermons preached in 1885, he argued that evolution was another example of the diversified unfolding of God’s plans on earth. The idea of evolution affected religion for good rather than ill, weeding out the inferior and making room for the strong. Beecher asserted that theology and the Church were undergoing a process of evolution toward perfection.
Conflict erupted in Brooklyn over these diverse ideas, spreading across the country and across the denominations. The popular revivalist Billy Sunday denounced and ridiculed the theory of evolution well into the 20th century, winning wide approval from audiences and even from several state legislatures. However, Lyman Abbott reached even wider audiences through his editorial work and many books designed to reconcile the teachings of Christianity with the ideas of Darwin. He argued that humanity was gradually emerging from an animal nature into spiritual maturity.
Psychology, sociology, and anthropology also contributed to intellectual and theological controversy. The theories of Sigmund Freud challenged traditional doctrines of sin and salvation, guilt and repentance, innocence and depravity. Freud saw religion as a wishful illusion, as Karl Marx considered it a drug that numbed the suffering of the masses. Neither saw religion as a legitimate or effective means for dealing with the ills of the individual or society, but instead argued that religion was responsible for many of these ills. The sociology of the time was based on a positivist philosophy that dismissed all ideas not immediately derived from sense experience, with theology often viewed as a stage that humankind would inevitably outgrow. Anthropology raised questions of cultural relativism and openness to religious difference—questions that seemed to threaten the very truth, goodness, and superiority of Christian civilization. Both sociology and anthropology seemed to suggest that gods were little more than social productions that functioned to order and maintain communities.
Once again, religious leaders who tried to keep open a dialogue between theologians on the one hand, and scientists and social scientists on the other, often appeared all too ready to surrender the distinctiveness of their own traditions. And those who declared that no reconciliation between science and religion was ever possible abandoned any claim to cultural authority and became objects of ridicule by those who had come to see religion as ignorant. There were also middle-ground institutions (such as the Conference on Science, Philosophy, and Religion), but such voices were largely drowned out in the theological conflict.
Theological Battle Stations
Modernists and fundamentalists fought about more than who would run what agency, who would control what college, and who would preach from what pulpit. They also argued about ideas. In one form or another, the contest over ideas affected Catholicism and Judaism no less than Protestantism, and the contest continues to the present day.
Protestants debated the future as well as the past: the future with respect to the second coming of Christ, the past with respect to biblical history and command. In the 19th century, large numbers of Protestants from time to time had been caught up in expectations that the world would soon come to an end and that Christ would dramatically and visibly appear to establish the Kingdom of God on earth in a new Jerusalem. In the early 20th century, such views seemed outdated to many who believed the future was one of peace and progress, not coming war and catastrophe. These modernists believed the Kingdom of God might come through the efforts of people working together for the greater good of the social whole, and that God would look with pleasure on what his children had managed to accomplish rather than giving up on an evil and warring world.
As many backed away from the notion of a visible second coming of Christ, other Protestants defended that position even more vigorously and sometimes with strange detail. Though few were willing to name a specific time or day for the second coming, the notion that it would be soon became common. Premillennialists believed that Christ’s coming would precede the thousand years of peace foretold in the book of Revelation, though they did not agree on all the details. One of the more pervasive versions of this point of view was known as dispensationalism and associated with the Plymouth Brethren in England, as well as the American Cyrus Scofield (who published the Scofield Reference Bible in 1909). Dispensationalism divided the world’s history into seven ages (or dispensations), claiming that humankind was now in the sixth age. This age would end with Jesus’ descent from heaven, when dead saints would return to life and, along with living believers, rise to meet Jesus in the air. Then the seventh and final dispensation would follow—the period known as the millennium, when Christ would reign over a restored Israel and over the earth for one thousand years.
Premillennialism (whether dispensationalism or another type) was enormously popular in much of American Protestantism. This theology was emphasized by the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh-day Adventists, the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel (founded by Aimee Semple McPherson in 1927), Plymouth Brethren, and many more. It was also present in much of more mainstream Protestantism, where debates about the future became more intense and divisive.
Shailer Mathews, Baptist professor at the University of Chicago and a leading modernist spokesman, confronted the issue directly and forcefully in 1917 with a brief tract, in which he argued that Christ would not return physically to earth, as the premillennialists expected, but would save the world by spiritual means. Mathews further argued that premillennial views could not be found in the early church fathers or the leaders of the Reformation, and that this theology demanded the sacrifice of intelligence and education for the life of faith. Mathews argued that Christ will come as a spiritual presence, leading us through the Holy Spirit into all truth, regenerating people and institutions. The real Kingdom of God on earth was the triumph of the ideals of Jesus that would come when the spirit of Jesus came into human hearts.
Many saw the spiritualized millennium suggested by Mathews as wholly unacceptable. Another Baptist named Isaac Haldeman criticized the tract written by Mathews, calling it a grotesque and dishonoring caricature of one of the most sacred subjects of Scripture. Arguing carefully from the biblical text, Haldeman declared that Mathews contradicted the plain sense of Scripture. He further replied that Christian history (especially in its earliest years) was full of testimony of expectation regarding Christ’s second coming. He noted the growth of evil and wrong theology over time, and that spiritual and moral character tends to deteriorate rather than to evolve. Thus, he pitied those who believed both that the world was getting better without direct intervention and that the Kingdom of God was soon to come spiritually. In the midst of World War I, Haldeman prayed that Jesus would return soon to put an end to the global chaos.
Similarly, Presbyterians, Methodists, Disciples of Christ, and others held strongly opposing views about the second coming. Some saw belief in the visible return of Christ as a single-issue theological test of one’s faithfulness as a Christian and loyalty as a church member. It became a leading fundamental within fundamentalism, and a question to be pressed when ordaining new clergy, calling a new pastor, or hiring a new professor. In many religious bodies, this concern has continued to the present day, and the premillennial view has remained popular.
Underlying this apparently rather narrow or specifically limited item of belief was a far broader concern: the authority of the Bible for this and all other matters of faith and morals. The Bible could even be considered a book of history, telling us when the world was created, or a book of science, telling us of the origins of humanity and races and of supernatural suspensions of natural law. While first-century Christians considered correct belief about Christ to be the essential test of Christian faith, twentieth-century Christians focused on correct belief about the Bible.
The test can be clearly seen in the debate between Mathews and Haldeman. Mathews said that premillennialists misused and misunderstood the Bible, regarding all the beliefs of early Christians as the teaching of the Bible, which he argued must logically include a flat earth, the continuation of slavery, and submission to unjust rulers like Nero. Mathews instead argued for a better, common-sense way to use the Bible, which involves progressive inspiration fitted to successive periods of human intelligence. For example, beliefs of early Christians can be understood only as they are studied in the light of the thought habits prevalent in their times.
Haldeman considered the arguments for the common-sense view of Mathews to be nonsense. He argued that modern theologians accept only the part of the Bible that agrees with their theory of world progress, while denying that the Bible was and is the complete and perfect Word of God. He further suggested that modernist ministers had essentially lost the uniquely Christian aspect of their service and might as well preach in the name of Buddha or Confucius as Christ.
While Mathews and Haldeman were only single opponents, each represented a constituency that was far broader. For Protestantism throughout the 20th century, the issue of biblical authority was the major subject of debate. In 1924, Fosdick published a book that sought to summarize the results of modern biblical scholarship in a way that the average Protestant churchgoer could understand and perhaps even welcome. He argued that the Bible became more meaningful and uplifting, rather than less so, when one understood its different periods of development and gradually accumulated insights. As a result of the new learning, we can trace the ideas of Scripture through their development from simple initial forms to full maturity in the later Scriptures.
Fosdick had both admirers and detractors, the latter of whom saw his argument for modernity as another attempt to evade clear biblical demands. These critics considered the very foundation of Protestant Christianity to be undermined by any questioning of the Bible’s sufficiency and validity. Congregationalist Reuben A. Torrey published a book in 1898, in which he explained thousands of biblical propositions as scientifically precise and authoritatively required. He argued that modernists set aside the Bible in favor of modern thought; they really did not believe in the Bible at all but did not have the intellectual honesty or moral courage to say so.
Princeton theologian J. Gresham Machen agreed that modernism, rather than being a more sophisticated version of Christianity, was no Christianity at all. By making the concessions most required by modernism, modern theologians have really abandoned Christianity, which they started out to defend. Machen argued that biblical critics and the modern liberal church were primarily interested in defending contemporary culture, under the guise of reforming and refining New Testament religion. In actuality, they were undermining and destroying the true Christian faith.
Protestants were not alone in being torn by the tensions and new ideas that modern scholarship had introduced into institutional religion. Roman Catholics in both Europe and America confronted similar conflicts. Questions of progress, history, theology, the Bible’s authority, and the church’s teaching authority overwhelmed Catholics. For a hundred years or more, the Roman Catholic Church in Europe had been thrown on the defensive–suffering through historical events such as the French Revolution, Napoleon’s reign, the weakening of monarchies, and the repeated loss of political power. In 1864, Pope Pius IX declared that modernity was a major mistake. After continuing to face political sufferings into the 20th century, followed by the additional challenges to the church’s theology offered by modern scholarship, Pope Pius X in 1907 dismissed modernism as horribly misguided secular learning. He argued that the modernists saw the Bible as only a summary of human experiences, losing sight of its special inspiration. Further, the church in the modernist view is nothing more than collective conscience. He noted how the modernists promoted the ideas that the Catholic Church should become more democratic, and the state should be separated from the Church. In fact, the pope asserted, modernist Catholics can hardly be distinguished from liberal Protestants.
However, one difference between Catholics and Protestants, whether liberal or conservative was the Vatican’s powerful authority to scorn and officially condemn modernism. In stern and explicit language, the pope announced that all bishops, heads of religious orders, and directors of schools and seminaries were to exercise the greatest vigilance in blotting out modernism. At Catholic universities, administrators and professors who expressed modernist ideas were to be excluded from their offices, and those who already occupy such offices were to be removed. He urged special caution concerning those who love new ideas in history, archaeology, and biblical interpretation, as well as those who tended to abandon or criticize the teachings of traditional Catholic theologians (specifically naming the 13th-century theologian Thomas Aquinas). Dioceses were also to have councils with appointed clergy to watch carefully for modernism in publications and teachings. The Vatican saw modernism as heresy to be fought against, not an innocent new idea to be tolerated.
In his 1907 anti-modernist writing, the pope was focused more on Europe than America, since full-fledged modernists were rare in the Catholic Church in America. However, there were numerous debates among American Catholics, as liberal Catholics argued with conservative Catholics. Catholic bishops such as John Ireland and John Lancaster Spalding led the liberal side, while bishops such as Michael Corrigan and Bernard McQuaid led the opposing conservative side. The pope’s writing gave strong support to the side of the conservatives, achieving an artificial and enforced unity against modernism at the cost of a renewal of Catholic theology.
Within Judaism, concerns were similar but not identical. While there was no obsession with the second coming of Christ or anxiety about the final authority of a centralized religious hierarchy, broader underlying questions about science, cultural evolution, revelation, tradition, and the uneasy relationship between sacred and secular divided the religious community of Jews. The place of honor given to the Torah (or Laws of Moses) prevented a full embrace of biblical criticism by observant Jews, though Jews argued about interpretations or commentaries on that law. Under the sponsorship of the Jewish Publication Society, and after many years of labor, a new translation of Hebrew Scriptures appeared in 1917. The American Jewish community now had its own official Bible (rather than being dependent on a Christian translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into English), which testified to the growing importance of the Jewish presence in the United States as well as to the maturing biblical scholarship of the nation’s Jews.
Over the next several decades, Jewish scholars were busy with another translation that would take advantage of the newest manuscript discoveries and other developments in biblical scholarship. In 1962, a fresh translation of the Books of Moses was published. Twenty years later, the complete Hebrew Scriptures appeared in a translation that revealed the mature scholarship of American Judaism (in which Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox scholars cooperated and worked closely with biblical scholars in Israel).
Despite this cooperation, institutional divisions persisted within Judaism. Reform Judaism continued to be the group most comfortable with modernity. Conservative Judaism, stressing the continued importance of a moderate traditionalism, persisted as a kind of middle ground between Reform and Orthodox Jews. Orthodox Judaism viewed itself as the uncompromising continuation of Jewish practice and belief across the centuries. It intentionally isolated itself from acculturation and modernity, and it remained far less visible outside major centers of Jewish population.
America in the 20th century introduced yet another stream into the Jewish landscape: Reconstructionism. The work chiefly of Mordecai Kaplan, Reconstructionism argued that Judaism was more a form of community than it was a revealed religion. Thus, the peoplehood of Israel was more important than the supernatural emphases of the Torah, and the function of religion was more a matter of historical identity than beliefs about God. Kaplan sought to appeal to the many Jews in America who were not affiliated with any temple or synagogue yet who still found support in their sense of belonging to an ancient tradition and identifiable people.
The peculiarly American character of Reconstructionism is evident in its first platform statement, issued in 1935, which describes the call to develop the Jewish heritage within American life. The statement reflected Kaplan’s concern, which focused more on the common purpose of Jews than with their ideas about God. While remaining a relatively small movement in comparison with the other three branches of Judaism, Reconstructionism was a notable parallel to the modernism found among both Protestants and Catholics. It imagined a Judaism thoroughly at home in the scientific, pluralistic, and free society of the United States, while celebrating the vibrancy of its ethnic particularity.
It should be kept in mind that the labels modernist and fundamentalist represent special types more than the full reality that is American religion. At no time within the 20th century was it possible to classify the majority of church and synagogue members as belonging to either one or the other of these categories. Most people fit somewhere in the middle, attracted to aspects of both positions but never wholly aligned with either. The two movements also underwent shifting emphases and internal divisions. Modernists gradually lost their confidence in progress and their uncritical fondness for the surrounding culture. Similarly, fundamentalists lost their antagonism with respect to other Christians and hostility to efforts to apply Christianity to the social dimension (such as the social gospel).
Within Protestantism, a broad coalition of conservatives, preferring to call themselves evangelicals, joined together in 1942 to form the National Association of Evangelicals. They sought to promote a greater degree of cooperation and fellowship among conservative church groups, while recognizing that there were theological differences among the groups that were unlikely to be resolved. In the following decade, a leading evangelical scholar named Car. F. H. Henry called for abandoning the narrow legalism that had often characterized fundamentalism and at the same time embracing the social implications of Christianity.
On the liberal side, Reinhold Niebuhr pulled away from the naïve optimism of an earlier generation. He argued that belief in the steady progress of humankind can be maintained only by ignoring reality. The reality is that human nature is perverse, and that society tends toward evil. He asserted that science and education will not produce a perfect world, and neither will a sentimental Protestantism that refuses to confront the undeniable realities of war, greed, exploitation, prejudice, poverty, cruelty, injustice, and lust. He called for a kind of Christian realism that recognizes the highest goal among nations is justice rather than love, and that the means to achieve justice sometimes require force and violence. By midcentury, both modernism and fundamentalism were much different than they had been a generation earlier.
Niebuhr was a member of a small Protestant denomination called the Evangelical and Reformed Church (which later merged into the United Church of Christ), yet he transcended denominationalism, Protestantism, and even the whole field of religion as he shaped the thinking of political scientists, statesmen, journalists, diplomats, and many others. Similarly, a Jewish refugee from Germany and Poland named Abraham Joshua Heschel moved beyond the confines of organized Judaism to offer both comfort and rebuke to modern civilization as a whole. He arrived in the United States in 1940 and became a professor at Jewish Theological Seminary, but he soon found himself speaking to audiences extending well beyond his own students. Lecturing across the country, he argued that the fate of humankind depends upon realizing that the most important distinction is between good and evil (or right and wrong) and that religion can assist humanity in making those critical distinctions. He further noted that modern civilization had lost a vision of the sacred (or focus on God).
Heschel was an activist in the battle against evil. He fought for the cause of civil rights and protested the folly of America’s imperial ambitions. He was concerned with the soul of the individual as well as of the nation and of the world, arguing that spiritual well-being and faithfulness to God were essential to the fate of the world and human life. Everything worthwhile in civilization, as opposed to barbarism and chaos, depends on the human sense for the sacredness of life, which he compared to a spark of light in the darkness of selfishness. In his lifetime, Heschel contributed to many causes, including the reuniting of theology and philosophy—religious practice and serious scholarship—in modern American society. In the process, he renewed the passion of many for attaining a life of both learning and prayer.
The secularism that seemed to weaken religion’s viability in the modern world did not cause similar damage to American culture as a whole. The modern crisis of belief did not affect that many Americans, as noted by the critic H. L. Mencken. Though, as a non-religious person, he had resigned himself to life without meaning and to a death without hope of an afterlife, he concluded that the great masses of people in American society were deceived by religion’s false hopes and the fraud of religious leaders. Though Enlightenment skepticism was continually advocated by such modernist thinkers in the early to mid-twentieth century, religious bodies kept renewing and multiplying themselves, much to the irritation of those who were critical of religion. After World War II, the membership rolls of churches and synagogues reached new highs.
Primary Text 7
A. From Christianity and Liberalism (by J. Gresham Machen)
Machen Liberalism (extremetheology.com)
What is the relation between Christianity and modern culture; may Christianity be maintained in a scientific age?
It is this problem which modern liberalism attempts to solve. Admitting that scientific objections may arise against the particularities of the Christian religion– against the Christian doctrines of the person of Christ, and of redemption through His death and resurrection–the liberal theologian seeks to rescue certain of the general principles of religion, of which these particularities are thought to be mere temporary symbols, and these general principles he regards as constituting “the essence of Christianity.”
It may well be questioned, however, whether this method of defense will really prove to be efficacious; for after the apologist has abandoned his outer defenses to the enemy and withdrawn into some inner citadel, he will probably discover that the enemy pursues him even there. Modern materialism, especially in the realm of psychology, is not content with occupying the lower quarters of the Christian city, but pushes its way into all the higher reaches of life; it is just as much opposed to the philosophical idealism of the liberal preacher as to the Biblical doctrines that the liberal preacher has abandoned in the interests of peace. Mere concessiveness, therefore, will never succeed in avoiding the intellectual conflict. In the intellectual battle of the present day there can be no “peace without victory”; one side or the other must win.
As a matter of fact, however, it may appear that the figure which has just been used is altogether misleading; it may appear that what the liberal theologian has retained after abandoning to the enemy one Christian doctrine after another is not Christianity at all, but a religion which is so entirely different from Christianity as to be long in a distinct category. It may appear further that the fears of the modern man as to Christianity were entirely ungrounded, and that in abandoning the embattled walls of the city of God he has fled in needless panic into the open plains of a vague natural religion only to fall an easy victim to the enemy who ever lies in ambush there.
Two lines of criticism, then, are possible with respect to the liberal attempt at reconciling science and Christianity. Modern liberalism may be criticized (1) on the ground that it is un-Christian and (2) on the ground that it is unscientific. We shall concern ourselves here chiefly with the former line of criticism; we shall be interested in showing that despite the liberal use of traditional phraseology modern liberalism not only is a different religion from Christianity but belongs in a totally different class of religions. But in showing that the liberal attempt at rescuing Christianity is false we are not showing that there is no way of rescuing Christianity at all; on the contrary, it may appear incidentally, even in the present little book, that it is not the Christianity of the New Testament which is in conflict with science, but the supposed Christianity of the modern liberal Church, and that the real city of God, and that city alone, has defenses which are capable of warding of the assaults of modern unbelief. However, our immediate concern is with the other side of the problem; our principal concern just now is to show that the liberal attempt at reconciling Christianity with modern science has really relinquished everything distinctive of Christianity, so that what remains is in essentials only that same indefinite type of religious aspiration which was in the world before Christianity came upon the scene. In trying to remove from Christianity everything that could possibly be objected to in the name of science, in trying to bribe off the enemy by those concessions which the enemy most desires, the apologist has really abandoned what he started out to defend. Here as in many other departments of life it appears that the things that are sometimes thought to be hardest to defend are also the things that are most worth defending.
B. From The Faith of Modernism (by Shailer Mathews)
Shailer Mathews (cuny.edu)
What then is Modernism? A heresy? An infidelity? A denial of truth? A new religion? So its ecclesiastical opponents have called it. But it is none of these. To describe it is like describing that science which has made our modern intellectual world so creative. It is not a denomination or a theology. It is the use of the methods of modern science to find, state and use the permanent and central values of inherited orthodoxy in meeting the needs of a modern world. The needs themselves point the way to formulas. Modernists endeavor to reach beliefs and their application in the same way that chemists or historians reach and apply their conclusions. They do not vote in convention and do not enforce beliefs by discipline. Modernism has no Confession. Its theological affirmations are the formulation of results of investigation both of human needs and the Christian religion. The Dogmatist starts with doctrines, the Modernist with the religion that gave rise to doctrines. The Dogmatist relies on conformity through group authority; the Modernist, upon inductive method and action in accord with group loyalty . . . .
While by its very nature the Modernist movement will never have a creed or authoritative confession, it does have its beliefs. And these beliefs are those attitudes and convictions which gave rise to the Christian religion and have determined the development of the century long Christian movement. No formula can altogether express the depths of a man’s religious faith or hope to express the general beliefs of a movement in which individuals share. Every man will shape his own credo. But since he is loyal to the ongoing Christian community with its dominant convictions, a Modernist in his own words and with his own patterns can make affirmations which will not be unlike the following:
I believe in God, immanent in the forces and processes of nature, revealed in Jesus Christ and human history as Love.
I believe in Jesus Christ, who by his teaching, life, death and resurrection, revealed God as Savior.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the God of love experienced in human life.
I believe in the Bible, when interpreted historically, as the product and the trustworthy record of the progressive revelation of God through a developing religious experience.
I believe that humanity without God is incapable of full moral life and liable to suffering because of its sin and weakness.
I believe in prayer as a means of gaining help from God in every need and in every intelligent effort to establish and give justice in human relations.
I believe in freely forgiving those who trespass against me, and in good will rather than acquisitiveness, coercion, and war as the divinely established law of human relations.
I believe in the need and the reality of God’s forgiveness of sins, that is, the transformation of human lives by fellowship with God from subjection to outgrown goods to the practice of the love exemplified in Jesus Christ.
I believe in the practicability of the teaching of Jesus in social life.
I believe in the continuance of individual personality beyond death; and that the future life will be one of growth and joy in proportion to its fellowship with God and its moral likeness to Jesus Christ.
I believe in the church as the community of those who in different conditions and ages loyally further the religion of Jesus Christ.
I believe that all things work together for good to those who love God and in their lives express the sacrificial good will of Jesus Christ.
I believe in the ultimate triumph of love and justice because I believe in the God revealed in Jesus Christ.
Such affirmations are more than the acceptance of biblical records, ancient facts or the successive doctrinal patterns of the Christian church. They are the substance of a faith that will move mountains. Under their control no man can deliberately seek to injure his neighbor or distrust his God. They are moral motive and direction for social action.
To trust God who is good will is to find a cure for the cynical doubt born of war and its aftermath.
To be loyal to the sinless Son of Man is to gain new confidence in the possibility of transforming human nature and society from selfishness to brotherliness.
To discover in the death of Jesus that God himself shares in sacrifice for the good of others is to gain confidence in the struggle for the rights of others.
To know that the God of law and love has made good will the only source of permanent happiness is to possess a standard of moral judgment.
To follow Jesus in international affairs is to end war.
To find God in natural law and evolution is an assurance that love is as final as any other cosmic expression of the divine will.
To embody the spirit of Jesus Christ in all action is to enjoy the peace which can come only to those who are at one with the cosmic God.
To experience the regenerating power of God is to have new hope for the ultimate completion of the human personality through death as well as life.
The final test of such generic Christianity is the ability of the Christian movement to meet human needs. And of this we have no doubt. Whoever does the will of God will know that the gospel of and about Jesus Christ is not the dream of a noble though impracticable victim of circumstance, but the revelation of the good will of the God of nature, the Father of our spirits, the Savior of His world. And through that knowledge he will gain the fruit of the Spiritlove, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, selfcontrol.