Modernism's Inadequacy Is Our Opportunity

It is common knowledge that Modernism is in the ascendancy, that a very great majority of the clergy and of the theological schools are to an increasing degree contaminated with Liberalistic ideas. But it is not so widely known that Modernism is beginning to be questioned in the house of its friends.


It is common knowledge that Modernism is in the ascendancy, that a very great majority of the clergy and of the theological schools are to an increasing degree contaminated with Liberalistic ideas. But it is not so widely known that Modernism is beginning to be questioned in the house of its friends.

Dr. Harry Emerson Fosdick, who long ago made himself known as a champion of Mod­ernism through his widely discussed sermon, "Shall the Fundamentalists Win?" now ex­presses thoughts that sound strangely different. The New York Times of November 4 reports his sermon of the day before under the title, "Modernist Faith Held Inadequate." He first paid a compliment to Modernism by declaring that it had accomplished a certain necessary task in giving to the ministry a new viewpoint, but he is reported as adding, "That is no kind of religion to speak for the eternal and claim the allegiance of the soul." His indictment was specific:

"First, the Modernistic movement has been excessively preoccupied with intellectualism, whereas spiritual life sweeps a far wider ambit than that. . . .

"Second, Modernism adjusting itself to an intellectual culture that was obsessed with the idea of inevitable progress, has been predominantly sentimental. Modernistic faith even largely dropped the God of moral judgment, as though this were a soft and lovely world full of roseate elements only and blessed by in­evitable progress with nothing at all to fear.

This, however, is no longer the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. This is another era altogether..-after---the--first-World-- War of history has shaken the earth to its foundations, and the God of judgment has spoken.

"Third, Modernism harmonizing itself with a man-centered culture has oftentimes let the idea of God grow vague, whereas these are days when we need profoundly a philosophy about what is ultimately real in the universe.

"Fourth, Modernism has commonly lost its ethical standing ground and its power of moral attack."

This very recent sermon by Dr. Fosdick is in line with his strictures on Modernism as presented in a sermon early in 1932, where he con­fessed that Modernism is often only a "fair weather" religion, and that "in comparison with the hardheaded candor and fearlessness with which the old theology faced the terrific facts of this world, our Modernism often seems soft and lush and sentimental."

But Dr. Fosdick is not alone in his views. Some four years ago a well-known liberal, Reinhold Niebuhr, wrote an article entitled, "Let Liberal Churches Stop Fooling Them­selves." He opened his article by a stricture on the optimistic remarks of "a well-known liberal clergyman" who had given public ex­pression to very roseate views concerning world peace and good will:

"There is no real health and there are only a few signs of convalescence in the body politic of continental Europe. But liberal religion has a dogma, and it views the contemporary world through the eyes of this dogma. The dogma is all the more potent in coloring opinion because it is not known as a dogma. The dogma is that the world is gradually growing better, and that the inevitability of gradualness guarantees our salvation.

"The liberal church has held to this dogma ever since John Fiske and his school made the doctrine of evolution acceptable to the religious mind and heart."—Christian Century, March 25, 1931.

He charges that liberalists fail "to under­stand the diabolical aspects of human life," because they hold that man is essentially good, and that he needs only the right environment to ensure the development of perfect character for a perfect society.

Paul Hutchinson, when writing in the Forum two years ago on "The Future of Religion," expressed a closely related thought:

"I believe that we are living in a day which sees the final destruction of the illusion of in­evitable progress which Herbert Spencer and the Victorian evolutionists fastened upon the prewar liberalism of the West."—April, 1933.

He feels that "the terrific task of Western religion" is "that of maintaining for man direc­tion and meaning in his life." There is great significance to these admissions. They reveal that the real fruitage of Modernism is a barren, sentimental view of God and evil. As Dr. R. W. Dale wrote some years ago: "The difference between our religion and the religion of other times is this: We do not think God has any great resentment against sin or against those who are guilty of sin."

This statement by Dr. Dale is quoted in an editorial in the Presbyterian (Jan. 5, 1933) entitled, "The Lost Note." Says this editor:

"We seldom hear sin mentioned at all. The results of sin are never spoken of. . . One can attend most churches, year in and year out, and never have a sense of sin at all. It is the lost note. Man's sin and God's merciful for­giveness in Christ have been cast out, and that is the trouble in the church today."

There is a direct relationship between this failure to cry out mightily against sin, which has robbed the churches of any real message, and the evolution theory, which is the basis of Modernism. This is evident in two distinct ways:

First, the doctrine of evolution, which denies the Bible account that our first parents were created perfect and upright, was compelled to deny, next, the record of the fall of man, for the fall requires a belief that man formerly was on a high plane. But with the fall discarded, the whole Bible basis for the doctrines of sin and of salvation is removed. Hence those who accept Modernism could not possibly preach against sin, as that term has always been under­stood in the Scriptures and in Christian history.

Second, the doctrine of evolution, with its basic concept of gradual progress upward from the ameba and the mire, has provided a kind of blanket assurance that ultimately all will come out perfect in the end, though that end may confessedly be a painful distance in the future. Why, then, be too disturbed over the sinfulness of the human heart, for all distress­ing manifestations of what Fundamentalists describe as sin are nought but the hang-over of some primitive animal trait that will ulti­mately be expelled as evolution makes progress. This second reason is the basis for the critical remarks of Reinhold Niebuhr, already quoted.

But today scientists are not so certain that evolution necessarily means inevitable progress upward. It may mean movement in any direc­tion, even downward. This new viewpoint of science toward evolution has removed the major premise from the optimistic reasoning that has characterized liberalists in increasing degree for a half century. Couple with this the fact that Modernism has no sword of the Spirit to pierce the conscience of sinful men or to bring to their hearts a vision of a perfect and holy God who loves righteousness and hates iniquity. There you have the reasons for the discontent and the forebodings of certain Modernists whom we have here quoted.

We are confronted with a Protestantism largely gone over to Modernism, and with a Modernism already revealing by its fruits its complete inadequacy to deal with the problem of eternity. A few years ago the well-known religious writer, Charles Stelzle, in an article entitled, "Decline of American Protestantism," declared in the closing paragraph:

"There is no doubt that what is needed more than anything else is a great prophetic message which will stir the church to its foundations. Nothing less heroic than a new voice with a great challenge can stir the Protestant church." —Current History, October, 1930,

Now, if the decline of Protestant power is due to the dearth of a vital message on God and sin, and if the absence of such a message is due to a turning away from the foundation truth of creation, then the prophet that is needed today is one who will raise his voice to proclaim the great truth of creation, with all it involves of our relationship to a personal God, our fall from perfection, and our need and provision of salva­tion through Christ, if we are to escape eternal death.

And behold, when we examine the message which God has given us to preach, we find that we are to call men to "worship Him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the foun­tains of waters." And those who proclaim this message are described as "having the everlast­ing gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth."

How significant that this should be the first of the three messages that most definitely dis­tinguish our preaching to the world! Men have turned from the God of creation. We are to call them back. They have turned to "another gos­pel," to borrow, further, the words of the pre­viously quoted Presbyterian editor. We are to call them back to "the everlasting gospel." The more evident the failure of Modernism becomes, the more effectively can we proclaim the mes­sage that would call men back to the most fundamental of all truths, the truth of creation.

But all this, of course, is but another way of saying that our Sabbath truth stands revealed today as the most timely message to the world, for the 'Sabbath is a memorial of creation, and the sign and pledge to the believer that the God who originally made man perfect stands ready to recreate him, to sanctify him, so that he shall be free from sin. In keeping God's holy Sab­bath, we show ourselves to be the real Funda­mentalists, for we are witnessing to the world our belief in the most fundamental truth of Bible religion. We can call upon men today to accept the Sabbath and live it out before their neighbors, not as a cold, legalistic re­quirement, but as a living testimony that they believe the most primary truths of revealed religion.

Washington, D. C.

* Believing without reservation in the thesis of Elder Nichol's book, "God's Challenge to Modern Apostasy," written for the 1936 Ministerial Reading Course, we asked the author to enlarge upon and enforce the vital principle that called forth this im­portant volume. We requested the marshaling of the evidence of immediately current events in the religious world, as a reading help for all registrants for the course, and to constitute a stimulus to further en­rollment in this annual, united study program. The situation portrayed is a challenge that should, yes. must be met—Editor.

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February 1936

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