Harry Emerson Fosdick was the “bad boy” of modernist preaching
Harry Emerson Fosdick had a certain reputation. He was the theological “bad boy” of modernist theology when he stood at a lectern in the 1920s and delivered his famous sermon “Shall the Fundamentalists Win?”. He was in New York City. One preacher, preaching one sermon. But this one talk spread all over the country and created real upset. Could modernist theology win in the Northern Presbyterian denomination?
J. Grescham Machen didn’t think it should. He was a fundamentalist and wrote in response to Fosdick’s sermon. But how does one keep out heresy?
The fundamentalists decided to call in a big-name Christian celebrity — William Jennings Bryan. He was on a cross-country crusade to stop the teaching of evolution in public schools. Not because he didn’t believe in science. He did. The problem that Bryan saw with teaching evolution in school was the cruelty that humanity would express if they believed they were nothing more than animals.
The battle between liberal and conservative Christians was a public one. William Jennings Bryan and Harry Emerson Fosdick wrote competing articles in The New York Times. Would it cause a split in the Northern Presbyterian denomination?
Sources for this episode:
- “Fundamentalism and American Culture” by George Marsden
- “The Evangelicals” by Frances Fitzgerald
- “A Godly Hero” by Michael Kazin
- Articles about Fosdick on Christianity Today and the Gospel Coalition
- Fosdick’s sermon
- Machen’s response
- Westminster Confession of Faith
- What do you think are the basic beliefs required to call something “Christianity”?
- What if someone does not believe those things but still calls themselves a Christian?
- Does it matter when people try to use a word to describe themselves that does not apply to them?
- What is to be our response when we encounter someone who spreads false doctrine?