Dragging Fosdick Into the Present

While preparing for an upcoming sermon series that deals with the cultural polarization that has infected our churches, I reread Harry Emerson Fosdick’s famous sermon, “Shall the Fundamentalists Win?”  I found the following sentences as applicable today, in our current controversies, as they were in the 1920’s.

Here in the Christian churches are these two groups of people and the question which the Fundamentalists raise is this – shall one of them throw the other out? Has intolerance any contribution to make to this situation? Will it persuade anybody of anything? Is not the Christian Church large enough to hold within her hospitable fellowship people who differ on points like this and agree to differ until the fuller truth be manifested?  The Fundamentalists say not.  They say the liberals must go.  Well, if the fundamentalists should succeed, then out of the Christian Church would go some of the best Christian life and consecration of this generation – multitudes of men and women, devout and reverent Christians, who need the church and whom the church needs.

Within my own denomination, all inclinations are that we are becoming incapable of staying at the table with those with whom we disagree.  We are talking, but at one another and past one another, not to one another.  We have fallen into camps that are little more than a sad mime of cable news.  As Adam Hamilton asks in Seeing Gray, “Are Jerry Falwell and John Shelby Spong our only options?”

3 thoughts on “Dragging Fosdick Into the Present”

  1. If “Spong” insists on doing whatever he wants and no one has the will to say “no,” then you wind up with “Falwell.”

  2. I’m not entirely sure I’m following your argument; if you are saying that a Spong with no accountability will cause a Falwell as a natural counterweight, then I think I can agree with you. The issue is that the Spong folks and the Falwell folks don’t see that they are two sides of the same coin: both extreme modernists and extreme fundamentalists are equally reactionary, co-opted by modern liberal thought and in breach of orthodox Christianity.

  3. I think that these issues reside in not just the the narrative of Spong and Falwell but also within the denominations themselves. The spectrum is not simply fundamentalist vs. modernists but also denominational respect vs. authority. While parishioners are able to “shop” denominations because they no longer understand the differences, the clergy and episcopacy are quite reactionary to this which does not allow walls to be torn down without throwing denominational integrity out the window. One could used the language fundamental and modernist within denominational practice and not just across the theological spectrum.

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