THE “GENTLEMEN” FUNDAMENTALISTS
By Dr. Noel Smith
b. 1900 d. 1974
Editor, Baptist Bible Tribune, 1950–1974
On Saturday, May 24, Dr. Harry Emerson Fosdick, retired pastor of the Riverside Church of New York City, which was built under his direction and which he pastored from 1925 to 1946, observed his eightieth birthday. The New York Times sent a reporter to Bronxville, where Dr. Fosdick lives in a pink stucco house, for an interview. When the reporter arrived, Dr. Fosdick had just returned from a walk downtown, which he takes everyday, when the weather permits.
The interview was held on the lawn, under the dogwood blossoms, with Dr. Fosdick seated in a comfortable lawn chair. The picture the reporter took showed Dr. Fosdick with the warm and friendly smile characteristic of him, and looking 20 years younger than he is. Here is a part of what the reporter wrote: “Dr. Fosdick will admit to a “recrudescense” these days of Fundamentalism. But he maintains that it is a new approach under a new brand-name. The days of the “snarling” Fundamentalists are over, he said. They have been replaced by the “gentlemen’ of the neo-Orthodox, or middle-ground school.”
Before going further, we want to recognize some of Dr. Fosdick’s fine qualities–which some Fundamentalists might emulate with profit to themselves and the cause they represent. All his life Dr. Fosdick has been a hard worker. He has governed himself with iron discipline. His mornings have been spent in concentrated study. He has always read with a pen and notebook at hand. He is one of the most famous clergymen in the world, has written 29 books and edited two others, all of which are still selling. And yet he is a man of singular modesty. In nothing he has written including his autobiography, will you find any boasting, concealed or otherwise. “I know well that I have only a third-rate mind. Compared with a scholar like Moffatt I am no scholar at all. Whatever I have been able to accomplish has come through hard work, and if I have any virtue it lies in sticking to my task. I had rather take a big subject and fail to measure up to it than take a little subject, walk around it, and come away feeling triumphant. The North Star may be a long way off but it still has a lot to do with your steering.” He may not know what he should preach, but he knows how to preach it. “Preach first of all to yourself; if it hits you it will usually hit somebody else.”
Dr. Fosdick has always been romantically in love with Mrs. Fosdick–never more so than now–whom he married more than 50 years ago. To his children he has always been a resourceful and loving father and a deeply understanding and sympathetic friend. About as near as he ever gets to boasting is when he talks about how his grandchildren used to tell their friends about “Gramp’s church.” He still speaks of his father and mother with all the reverence with which he has regarded them from his childhood. He still remembers his mother as “one lovely to look at.”
In the last war, Dr. Fosdick kept up with his Riverside men in the armed services. He wrote them intelligent letters, kept up with their families, knew of their anxieties and needs.
It is not true that Dr. Fosdick was “Mr. Rockefeller’s pastor.” It is not true that Dr. Fosdick sought Mr. Rockefeller; it is true that Mr. Rockefeller sought Dr. Fosdick. Dr. Fosdick has done as much for Mr. Rockefeller as Mr. Rockefeller has done for Dr. Fosdick.
Most of the religious world, and all of the informed, cultivated secular world will agree with the Atlanta Constitution that Dr. Fosdick is the “greatest preacher in America during the past 100 years.”
But Dr. Fosdick is not a Christian preacher. Dr. Fosdick is not even a Christian. Dr. Fosdick is not a saved man. “I do not believe in the Virgin Birth, or in that old fashioned substitutionary doctrine of the Atonement; and I do not know any intelligent minister who does.”
There never has been on earth a Christian who rejected the atoning blood of Christ. There is not on earth today a Christian who rejects the atoning blood of Christ. “. . .this is my blood of the New Testament, which is shed for the remission of sins” (Matthew 26:28). The Lord Jesus Christ may not have been an “intelligent minister,” but He believed and preached “that old fashioned substitutionary doctrine of the Atonement.”
Dr. Fosdick, there under the dogwood blossoms, possessing so many attractive qualities, is an infinite tragedy. Being human, and having a feeling of profound distress when we contemplate the judgment and unimaginably eternal destruction of those who scorn the atoning blood of Christ, we may be pardoned for not going into the matter of the world-wide wreckage of souls that lies in the path of Dr. Fosdick’s ministry and influence. And on his birthday, we won’t be so rude as to remind him that nothing that he preached (following the First World War) would come to pass, has come to pass, and that everything he preached would not happen has happened.
If Dr. Fosdick continues on the road he has chosen, when he reaches the end of the journey he is going to find no dogwood blossoms, and there will be none “lovely to look at.”
* * *
This brings us to the “gentlemen” Fundamentalists. “The days of the ‘snarling’ Fundamentalists are over,” he said. “They have been replaced by ‘gentlemen’ of the neo-Orthodox, or the middle-ground school.”
Dr. Fosdick says here that Fundamentalism refuses to die, in spite of all the hammering to which it has been subjected for 50 years.
Dr. Fosdick says here that the “gentlemen” now regarded as the leaders of Fundamentalism are not the gentlemen who had anything to do with the founding of Fundamentalism, and with the influence that Fundamentalism has had on this country, and throughout the world.
Dr. Fosdick says here that these new leaders of Fundamentalism don’t come from the Fundamentalists. He says they come from the neo-Orthodox and middle-ground schools.
Dr. Fosdick says here that these â€œgentlemenâ€ refuse to be Modernists, and they refuse to be Fundamentalists.
Dr. Fosdick says here that these “gentlemen” are a hybrid.
Dr. Fosdick says here that these “gentlemen” are a third thing which has been produced as a result of the conflict between Modernists who reject the Bible and historic Christianity and the Fundamentalists who accept the Bible and historic Christianity.
And everybody on all sides who knows anything about this question, knows that Dr. Fosdick has summed up the situation as it actually is.
* * *
Gentlemen, if you were concerned with the driftwood on the surface of the stream of Fundamentalism, which the storms of half a hundred years have blown there; if you were really concerned with the ‘snarls,’ we would be your ally.
But gentlemen, you are not concerned with these incidental and superficial things. You are concerned with the essential elements of the stream itself. You don’t want to clear off the surface; you want to change the basic character of the stream.
Your Second Gentleman, Dr. Harold Ockenga, pastor of Park Street Church of Boston, wrote the platform on which you stand. He says that the “new evangelicalism differs from fundamentalism in its willingness to handle the social problems which the fundamentalists evaded.” He says that the “new evangelical believes that Christianity is intellectually defensible, but the Christian cannot be obscurantist in scientific questions pertaining to the creation, age of man, the universality of the flood, and other debatable Bible questions.” He says that “the new evangelicalism is willing to face the intellectual problems and meet them in the framework of modern learning.”
Gentlemen, everybody knows, including you gentlemen, that the “new evangelicalism” is the “new fundamentalism” led by you gentlemen for whom Dr. Fosdick and his Modernist friends have a warm and friendly smile.
Gentlemen, your Dr. Ockenga has let the cat out of the bag. He says that the new fundamentalists must not be “obscurantist” on the questions of the creation, the age of man, the universality of the flood, “and other debatable Bible questions.”
This means in the language of intelligent and honest men that the new fundamentalists must not be contentious and positive about the Bible’s teaching concerning the creation, the age of man, the universality of the flood, “and other debatable Bible questions.”
And this means, gentlemen, that the new fundamentalists must not be contentious and positive about any question in the Bible; for every doctrine of the Bible is a “debatable question” with modern science.
And this means, gentlemen, that the new fundamentalists must not only listen to Moses, the Prophets, and the writers of the New Testament; they must listen with equal respect to Charles Darwin, Herbert Spencer, John Dewey, Bertrand Russell, and all the others. There must be co-existence.
Gentlemen, your First Gentleman, Mr. Graham, has already ceased to be obscurantist on the Garden of Eden. Mr. Graham says that as far as the Garden of Eden is concerned, “you can take it symbolically, you can take it literally–it makes no difference as far as the truth and meaning is concerned.”
Dr. Fosdick and his friends, including the Christian Century and the Interpreter’s Bible, will certainly concede that your First Gentleman is a real gentleman here. There is of course a difference: the former deny that the Garden of Eden could ever be considered as literal by any intelligent person; Mr. Graham says that there should be co-existence on the question.
Gentlemen, the Garden of Eden involves the creation of man as against evolution, the personality of Satan, the fact of sin. If the third chapter of Genesis is not valid, you have no premise for the Incarnation and its consequences, one of which is the Gospel of Christ. Materialists don’t believe in the Incarnation because they don’t believe in the validity of the third chapter of Genesis. And not believing in the validity of the third chapter of Genesis, the materialists have never found any premise for the Incarnation.
Gentlemen, you may be gentlemen, and the materialists may not be gentlemen; but you are stupid gentlemen, and the materialists are at least intelligent. They at least know that there must be a premise for the Incarnation. There must be a reason for it.
Gentlemen, a large part of the country, including a considerable segment of your admirers and supporters, is beginning to get puzzled about you. You are too much of gentlemen to criticize and repudiate Modernism, to denounce gamblers and brewers and distillers; but you are not such gentlemen as to hesitate to indiscriminately brand as “pharisaical sectarians” the people who have been responsible for the conversion of most of you, your education, and the opportunities through which you have climbed to the summit of gentlemen fundamentalists.
Gentlemen, in reflecting on this thing, we are afraid that some of our more discerning and discriminating readers are going to censure us for ignoring quotation marks with the use of gentlemen. But when we err, we like to do so on the side of charity, even though you gentlemen and Dr. Fosdick would never consider us as being gentlemen. We are obscurantist where the authority of the Bible is involved. And nowadays no gentlemen will be obscurantist when an ever-changing science repudiates the authority of the Word of God.
* * *
Gentlemen, your First Gentleman, Mr. Graham, has given us a concrete illustration of the anxiety you gentlemen are experiencing as gentlemen leaders of the new fundamentalists.
You remember that Mr. Noel Houston wrote two articles on Mr. Graham for Holiday magazine, which appeared last February and March respectively. They were the most objective, balanced, and comprehensive articles that anybody has written about Mr. Graham. In the first one there was a color photograph of Mr. Graham which the Prince of Wales might well envy–if there were a Prince of Wales instead of a Princess Margaret.
In an interview with Mr. Graham, Mr. Houston, with a rare quality of discernment, asked Mr. Graham a question which penetrated to the sore spot of you gentlemen. It’s the sorest spot you have. And it gets sorer.
Mr. Houston reminded Mr. Graham that his position was that he neither criticized nor attacked any existing institutions, as reformers have always done. Mr. Houston reminded Mr. Graham that this position was that he, Mr. Graham, had only “good news.” Mr. Houston suggested that such a position was a popular position, and that Mr. Graham, holding such a position, could hope for nothing more than a rise and then a decline of his popularity, that his name could not live in history beside the names that have turned the tide and arrested the progress of godlessness. Mr. Houston wanted to know what Mr. Graham thought of his future.
Mr. Graham was not prepared for such a question. It astonished him. It knocked him off his balance. He jumped up from his chair. He paced the floor. He was beside himself. The Ku Klux Klan might martyr him. The “extreme fundamentalists” might martyr him. He might have to suffer as Christ had suffered. He might be torn apart.
In other words, Mr. Graham had a childish tantrum.
He never answered Mr. Houston’s question.
He never answered it because there was no answer.
Gentlemen, whatever happens to you gentlemen, including your First Gentleman, nobody–neither Ku Kluxer nor “extreme fundamentalist”–will ever persecute you. History doesn’t record that anybody holding your position was ever jailed for that position. All of you are perfectly safe. Men are never persecuted for standing for nothing.
Gentlemen, even Josephus was safe in that terrible madness which resulted in the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple under Titus in A. D. 70. Josephus was a gentleman. He surrendered his army to Titus. The gentleman accompanied Titus to Rome. He received from the emperor the equivalent of all that he had lost in Jerusalem. He was made a Roman citizen. He got a pension. Later on, he received grants of land in Palestine.
Gentlemen, Josephus was a gentleman.
But gentlemen, Simon Gioras never surrendered. He was no gentleman. He was captured. He accompanied Titus to Rome also, but in chains. He was publicly scourged, with Josephus looking on. And what was left of his writhing, bleeding flesh was executed.
Gentlemen, the Josephuses have always been safe, even in the days of pagan Rome.
Gentlemen, you yourselves know that if the Prophets were here today you and Dr. Fosdick would not consider a one of them as being a gentleman. And if John the Baptist were here, you would brand him as obscurantist.
And the plain truth is, gentlemen, as reluctant as we are to mention it, if the Lord Jesus Christ were here today not a one of you would consider Him a gentleman.
Good luck to you gentlemen. The world is big enough for all of us.
But your suspicions are justified: history is against you. History is against Josephus. History will stand with the Fundamentalists who spell it with a capital F, and who have what you gentlemen and Dr. Fosdick call a “snarl.”
A “snarl” is not the worst thing one can have in the face of the demand that Christianity and infidelity shall co-exist.