Driving Out The Fundamentals

The recent passing of Dr. Harry Emerson Fosdick brought press notices suggesting that the ninety-one-year-old pastor was most commonly remembered for his part in the so-called fundamentalist controversy. As it happened, I had this summer been reading a sermon of his that dealt with this theme. It was preached forty-six years ago in New York’s First Presbyterian Church, and was entitled, “Shall the Fundamentalists Win?”

In churches controlled by fundamentalists, Fosdick suggested, the policy says to young folk: “Come, and we will feed you opinions from a spoon. No thinking is allowed here except such as bring you to certain specified, predetermined conclusions.” He pitched that angle strong before going on to expatiate on the stark contrast of a world situation smelling to high heaven (a naïve concept at that time yet unexploded by the Bishop of Woolwich, who was three at the time).

Dr. Fosdick’s conclusion was a masterpiece of its kind: “And now, in the presence of colossal problems, which must be solved in Christ’s name and for Christ’s sake, the Fundamentalists propose to drive out from the Christian churches all the consecrated souls who do not agree with their theory of inspiration. What immeasurable folly! Well, they are not going to do it; certainly not in this vicinity. I do not even know in this congregation whether anybody has been tempted to be a Fundamentalist. Never in this church have I caught one accent of intolerance. God keep us always so …” (the italics are mine).

There is no record of how many resisted temptation that day and went forward to dedicate their lives to the crusade against fundamentalism. No studious ...

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