During the early decades of the twentieth century theological liberalism gave shape and buoyancy to the hopes and ideals of a multitude of Americans. The force of the movement is now largely spent. No one today suggests turning to W. Adams Brown, H. Nelson Wieman, or to Shailer Mathews for help. Liberalism’s inadequacy has been too convincingly demonstrated, its exuberant estimate of life’s potentialities too battered by life’s actualities.

There was irony in liberalism’s decline, since the very thing with which it sought reconciliation arose to destroy it. Claiming that orthodoxy had forfeited its claim upon modern man by its failure to update Christianity and that no man could any longer be orthodox and intellectually honest, liberalism accommodated Christianity to what it regarded as the demands of modern scholarship. It was therefore ironical that history itself arose to discredit liberalism by demonstrating that the actual world was something quite different from the one to which liberalism had adjusted. History itself undid liberalism’s faith in its character and inevitable progress. In the deep crisis of the twentieth century there appeared a depravity and demonic brutality which demonstrated that liberalism’s morally intact man ever moving toward perfection was nonexistent. Although an estimate of the human situation has rarely been more mistaken, liberalism would still to be very much alive had it been challenged merely by orthodoxy. It has, however, been challenged and discredited by history itself.

The Role Of History

Nevertheless, although history proved to be too much for it, it was liberalism that brought the category of the historical into a large role in theological thinking.

In his new book, The Impact of American ...

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