Harry Emerson Fosdick is dead at the age of ninety-one. The longtime minister of New York’s Riverside Church, which was built for him by John D. Rockefeller, Jr., was deeply embroiled in the famous fundamentalist-modernist controversy of the twenties. Fosdick outfought, out-maneuvered, and outlived many of the key fundamentalist spokesmen, and declared that the battle against fundamentalism had been won.
In 1922 Fosdick’s sermon entitled “Shall the Fundamentalists Win?” set off the controversy that rocked the old-line denominations of his day. He later declared that “the conflict between liberal and reactionary [he did not call it orthodox] Christianity had long been moving toward a climax.” In his sermon, as he later described it, he “stood in a Presbyterian pulpit and said frankly what the modernist position on some points was—the virgin birth no longer accepted as a historic fact, the literal inerrancy of the Scriptures incredible, the second coming of Christ from the skies outmoded phrasing of hope.”
John Roach Straton of the Calvary Baptist Church in New York rose to the defense of fundamentalism, declaring that Fosdick, a Baptist, was “not only a Baptist bootlegger, but … also a Presbyterian outlaw.… I declare in the name of eternal truth that Dr. Harry Emerson Fosdick is a religious outlaw—he is the Jesse James of the theological world.” Perhaps the greatest opponent of Fosdick was Clarence Edward Macartney, who was swept into the moderatorship of the Presbyterian Church U. S. A. as a result of the struggle. Under Macartney’s leadership conservative forces were able to force Fosdick to retire from the pulpit of the First Presbyterian ...1
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