What of preaching in current thought and practice? What is the general character of twentieth-century preaching, judging from present-day pulpit men and literature?
Perhaps we can get an historic perspective by glancing at Harry Emerson Fosdick, who is regarded by many as the greatest preacher of our time, and Jonathan Edwards, who is regarded by virtually all as the greatest preacher of the eighteenth century (at least in America).
Though always a candid opponent of historic, creedal Christianity, which he usually dubbed “Fundamentalism,” Dr. Fosdick receives high praise from Dr. Ganse Little (The Princeton Seminary Bulletin, February 1957). “We must hasten to add,” he remarks, “as Dr. Fosdick does himself, that here is a man literally ‘saved by grace’ for a ministry of unsurpassed helpfulness to men in every walk of life for well on towards fifty years.” Dr. Fosdick believes in “grace” in essentially the same way Pelagius believed in “grace”—and as Augustine proved that Pelagius’ “grace” was not the Bible’s grace, so Machen proved the same of Dr. Fosdick’s “grace.”
With respect to Dr. Fosdick’s “unsurpassed helpfulness,” a remark is in order. It probably would be generally granted that Dr. Fosdick was the most influential American preacher of the first half of the century (at least on ministers and the intelligentsia). Whether he was the most useful would depend, as he would gladly admit, on the soundness of his message. If it was the truth of God, as he no doubt believes and Dr. Little with him, then it would follow that his usefulness was probably unsurpassed among preachers. If his gospel was “another gospel,” as many believe, then the effect of his life requires drastic re-evaluation. This is all obvious and no one would ...1
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