Jump to ContentJump to Main Navigation
The Urban PulpitNew York City and the Fate of Liberal Evangelicalism$

Matthew Bowman

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780199977604

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: April 2014

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199977604.001.0001

Show Summary Details
Page of

PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.oxfordscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2018. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use (for details see http://www.oxfordscholarship.com/page/privacy-policy). Subscriber: null; date: 17 August 2018

Harry Emerson Fosdick and Baptism at Riverside

Harry Emerson Fosdick and Baptism at Riverside

(p.253) 8 Harry Emerson Fosdick and Baptism at Riverside
The Urban Pulpit

Matthew Bowman

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

Chapter 8 evaluates the tumultuous 1920s career of Harry Emerson Fosdick, another Baptist who began the decade in the pulpit of the First Presbyterian Church and ended it at Riverside Church, a self-consciously interdenominational edifice built for Fosdick by John D. Rockefeller. Fosdick’s trials demonstrate his stubborn insistence that the liberal and evangelical impulses could exist simultaneously. That Fosdick’s interlocutors equally aggressively insisted that Fosdick was not an evangelical illustrates how deep – but also, in other ways, how shallow – the cleavages in evangelicalism in the early twentieth century were.

Keywords:   Riverside Church, Liberalism, Baptism, Preaching

THE UNION SCHOOL collapsed because it drifted too far from the evangelical consensus, and too close to progressive pluralism. Straton attracted controversy and criticism because he moved too far in the other direction, toward a defiant Pentecostalism. The distinct camps of evangelical piety that had emerged in the city by the 1920s each altered their methods, but both still clung to the dream that God’s grace might offer a way to survive in the pluralist city. It was, though, a compromised dream: each side regarded the other as inappropriate and destructive; a cynical perversion of true evangelical religion. The tirades of Straton and Sunday seemed baffling, dangerous, and even primitive to liberal evangelicals, who regarded these men as culturally backward defenders of an awkward orthodoxy. In turn, conservatives eyed the disintegration of the Union School’s professed Christianity as the inevitable sad fruit of tinkering with the Word of God. It was perhaps inevitable that conflict would break out. And it did. In the middle 1920s, Harry Emerson Fosdick, the leading Baptist preacher of the city, sympathetic to the liberal cause, assailed the growing movement of self-proclaimed fundamentalists and inadvertently provoked a war.

Fosdick’s trials—the case brought against him in the New York Presbytery, the uproar he brought upon himself by suggesting that his congregation accept baptism by sprinkling, and eventually the erection of Riverside Church in the Morningside Heights neighborhood of Manhattan—illustrate this struggle in microcosm. It is important to recognize that Fosdick and his supporters laid as strong a claim to the word “evangelical” as did fundamentalists. Both wanted the historical, theological, and experiential validation that the word represented. The strategies (p.254) of each side were similar: attempts at rhetorical marginalization of the other, claims to legitimate descent from the historic evangelical movement, and appropriations of traditional language of conversion. The line was perhaps best drawn by the Philadelphia Presbyterian Clarence Macartney, who rejected the label “fundamentalist” and instead claimed the title “evangelical Christian.”1 As the liberal evangelical R. H. Nichols, professor at Union Theological Seminary, observed in retrospect, “A main strength of the fundamentalists had been their contention that they alone were evangelicals.”2 Though Fosdick and his defenders have often been characterized as advocates of intellectual freedom, tolerance, and ecumenical progress—in a word, the progressivism of the bohemians and the Randoph Bournes of the world—they defined their success in evangelical language. They were not advocates of secular pluralism; the fall of the Union School revealed that. Rather, they dreamed of a society that found its way if not to homogeneity than to harmony through the grace of evangelical faith. They recoiled at the divisive pastoral style of fundamentalism because it did violence to the image of Christianity as they had come to understand it. Meanwhile, fundamentalists came to identify the purity of Christianity’s content with the confrontational nature of its form.

Fosdick and the Fundamentalists

A stocky, round-faced man with a great shock of brown curly hair, who spoke with stiff gestures but a resonant, rolling voice, Fosdick had in the 1910s and 1920s become a vocal advocate for liberal evangelicalism and would soon become the most famous preacher in America (see Figure 8.1). Over the next few decades he would make himself simultaneously liberal evangelicalism’s greatest exponent but also its greatest critic, a passionate believer that this version of the faith was evangelicalism’s only hope—but also a watchman on the tower, constantly worried that it would drift into irrelevance or lose its prophetic voice.

He was a wholehearted subscriber to the historicism of Parkhurst and Briggs. He was an evangelical in that he believed in spiritual encounters with the divine; as he claimed, the “heart” of biblical preaching was its (p.255)

                      Harry Emerson Fosdick and Baptism at Riverside

Figure 8.1. Harry Emerson Fosdick in 1926. Courtesy Library of Congress.

power to spread the “reproducible experiences” of God described therein.3 “God’s revelation in Israel, and the early Church, of which the scriptures are the record, is primarily a revelation in life and deed, ” Fosdick said of scripture. “See how the historic sense gives back to the preacher with its right hand more than it ever took away with its left.”4 He meant that even if preachers felt they lost the old, naive faith in biblical literalism, they might learn that the transformation “from Semites whose ideal was consummated in the crude ethic of nomadic life to men who dared welcome the ideals of the Sermon on the Mount” was evidence of divine intervention, proof that “God is speaking there” in history, and the same road that the contemporary reader of the Bible could travel in his or her own life.5

But at the same time, Fosdick worried that liberalism was too often self-satisfied, naive, that it lost spiritual vitality in its commitment to social improvement. At his inauguration to a chair in biblical preaching (p.256) at Union Seminary, Fosdick complained that “As one listens to our modern liberal preaching, how lamentably inadequate it is! Its message too often is thinly contemporary.”6 In a celebrated later article, “What’s the Matter with Preaching, ” Fosdick warned against turning “pulpits into platforms, ” and “sermons into lectures, ” emphasizing that preaching must invoke the ways the divine transcended the world. The church must never simply become the Red Cross.7 As he stated, the aim of the sermon was simple: “the Scriptures somehow must be preached.”8 Not lectured nor taught, but preached.

Fosdick feared as much that fundamentalism would wreck true faith as liberalism would. In May 1922, Fosdick delivered his famous address “Shall the Fundamentalists Win?” in his capacity as the preaching minister of the Old First Presbyterian Church, a spark that lit a conflagration. It is well known that in the sermon Fosdick defended the right of Christians to believe (though he carefully avoided stating his own position) that the Virgin Birth was a myth, that Jesus was not literally resurrected, that the original manuscripts of the Bible were not inerrant. But Fosdick did more than that; he specifically declared that it was possible for evangelical Christians to believe these things. This position seemed confounding because, of course, these were not beliefs that had commonly been held by evangelicals over the previous two centuries. But Fosdick was not advocating a particular prescription for the content of evangelicalism; rather, he was reframing its form.

Fosdick defended liberal evangelicalism primarily through attacking fundamentalist preaching, which he maintained was more destructive to evangelicalism’s goals than was false belief. For liberal evangelicals, fundamentalists had associated certainty of doctrine with a particular public style. Fosdick rejected certainty because it seems to him that certainly led inevitably to John Roach Straton. He attacked preachers who were “harsh in judgment” and who showed “cantankerousness.” He stated that as his congregation “watches and listens to them, ” they saw “one of the worst exhibitions of bitter intolerance the world has ever seen.” Echoing an old, old evangelical critique, he blasted preachers who used their pulpits in the “making of themselves a cockpit of controversy.”9 As Frederick Lynch, the (p.257) sympathetic editor of Christian Work, observed of the sermon, Fosdick was “not against the fundamentalist expressing their points of view.” Rather, Fosdick was against the way in which it was done. Lynch made a distinction between theological conservatives and what he called “belligerent conservatives” and stated that Fosdick’s sermon was a critique of “that spirit and method which characterizes what is known as the fundamentalist movement.”10 For both Fosdick and Lynch fundamentalism was a particularly aggressive and destructive pastoral style lamentably wed to what happened to be conservative doctrinal beliefs.

Fosdick understood himself to be evangelicalism’s ambassador to a particular new breed of New Yorkers: the youth, educated in the city’s colleges, and increasingly moving into the city’s professions; those who had been students at the Union School or were interested in progressivism. He warned that he preached “thinking primarily about this new generation, ” for whom he believed the fundamentalist style was ultimately ineffective. They had grown up in the previous two decades in a city enveloped in diversity, intellectualism, and a consumer society: they were college students, debaters, consumers of muckraking, modernist novels, and journalism. Influenced by the bohemians of turn-of-the-century Greenwich Village, they believed passionately in the art of language and rhetoric, embracing what one historian has called a “cheerful conviction that language, unimpeded by convention or law, could create democratic communities.”11 They were self-consciously cosmopolitan, protective of diversity, and suspicious of absolutes, parochialism, and tradition venerated for its own sake. By the 1920s, New York’s young educated class believed in tolerance, showed fascination with the Harlem Renaissance, with the world-weary modernist literature of Hemingway and Fitzgerald, and were skeptical of authority of most kinds; they valued self-expression, discussion, and debate more than dogma.12

(p.258) Fosdick wanted to know if the “controversial intolerance” of fundamentalism, its strident certainty and commitment to unprovable authority “shut the door of the Christian fellowship” against these potential spiritual seekers? It was doing so, even if unintentionally, and the church was losing thousands.13 A few years later Fosdick claimed, “I do not see how a minister can serve in New York City and deal, as I have dealt these years past, with hundreds of individuals in the confessional without feeling with ever deepening poignancy the terrible criticalness of the decisions which youth makes in the direction of its life.”14 He warned against traditionalism and stridency in the pulpit, arguing that “We are paying for it in the loss of our intelligent young people.”15 Just as Straton feared for the moral decay of the city, Fosdick feared for its descent into unbelief. Both were confident their fears would leave the city’s old evangelical order wrecked. Fosdick offered an alternative vision of evangelicalism, which he defined in this way: “that men in their personal lives and social relationships should know Jesus Christ.” Conversion for Fosdick was deeply bound into one’s experience in a community. He identified faith in Christ with a sense of efficacy in life and a desire to serve others.16 He wanted his congregation to be a community, dedicated to social responsibility and mutual support—a haven of order in a tumultuous city life.

The Preaching in the Pulpit of the First Church

Though Fosdick was too savvy to be entirely surprised when his antagonists challenged his claim to the label “evangelical, ” he asserted his claim to the word vigorously and repeatedly, in public and private. “I am an evangelical Christian, believing in the saving grace of God revealed in Jesus Christ, and trusting in him for my redemption, ” he wrote to the Chicagoan F. D. Burhans, who sent the minister a letter of support soon after the controversies over the sermon broke.17 The product of a warm and loving home, the child of educators, he had grown up with a serene (p.259) faith. His conviction wavered in an emotional crisis while in college, but later he claimed that wrestle with doubt was his conversion experience. He insisted with a note of irritation to the committee the New York Presbytery sent to investigate the preaching at the First Church, “If I did not consider myself an evangelical Christian I surely should not be preaching in an evangelical pulpit.”18 But though Fosdick forthrightly claimed the word, to his antagonists his religion seemed not worthy of the name. They assailed his liberal theology, but more fundamentally, they accused him of offering a counterfeit religion, sentiment and social science rather than the true Word of God. They defended a metaphysical system of salvation, and saw in Fosdick soft-headed psychology—the faults of the Union School moved into the pulpit.

Fosdick’s reference to pastoral counseling in “Shall the Fundamentalists Win?” seemed to give the critique substance. Though the Baptist was widely acclaimed for his pulpit talent, he relished even more personal conversation and pastoral counseling, which he rooted in the “personal evangelism” that Chapman had endorsed. He believed spiritual experience came through contact between two personalities. As he wrote to Thomas Glasgow, a resident of Charlotte, North Carolina, who wrote to him with doubts about “Shall the Fundamentalists Win?, ” “I wish that it were possible for us to have a personal interview, for I am sure that I could help you at least to see the possibility of a deep and transforming Christian experience combined with a modern intellectual formulation.”19 When he approached the pulpit, therefore, Fosdick rejected traditional forms of preaching—the expository method, which bound the preacher closely to a particular biblical text, or the topical method, in which the preacher brought scripture to bear on a theme. The first seemed to Fosdick too arcane and the second too bland.

Rather he embraced what he called the “project method, ” in which he structured a sermon around particular issues that his congregation seemed to be wrestling with at the time. This was, in a sense, a preacherly adaptation of the work going on in the institutional churches—an attempt (p.260) to make the sermons reflective of the daily lives of the congregation. In an essay on his methods of sermon preparation, Fosdick told his readers that every sermon “ought to start, proceed, and end with the needs and problems, the moral perils and social prejudices, of the listening congregation.”20 As one observer noted, Fosdick’s preaching was neither “remote” nor “mystical”; the listener did “not think of the orator or the rhetorician.”21 The minister did not expound theology or impose the traditional cycle of conviction of sin, salvation through Jesus, and regeneration by the Holy Spirit that lay at the heart of traditional revivalist preaching. He preached, as he claimed, “not so much to convict men of their sins, but to convince men of their possibilities.”22 Fosdick spurned the sensational preaching fundamentalists espoused. He blasted a revivalist from the “Old Tent Evangel Committee of New York City” who challenged him in a letter, stating bluntly that the revivalist’s method, inspired by Billy Sunday, “I must confess seems to me both false in fact and pernicious in practical result.”23 As Coe had, Fosdick found this sort of preaching psychologically disruptive and chaotic.

Fosdick’s antagonists sought to discipline not Fosdick himself (who as a Baptist could not be prosecuted in the Presbyterian church), but the First Church generally. In 1923 the Presbyterian General Assembly ordered the Presbytery of New York to “take such action as will require the preaching and teaching” in the First Church to conform to the Presbyterian’s official Westminster Confession of Faith.24 The Assembly also reaffirmed the “five points” first adopted in 1910: the inerrancy of scripture, the Virgin Birth, a sacrificial interpretation of the Atonement, the Resurrection, and the reality of Christ’s miracles. The evangelical and former presidential candidate (p.261) William Jennings Bryan lauded the vote as a triumph in “this battle for true Evangelical faith”25

The First Church strongly supported its preacher and argued that he was in fact an evangelical. In a statement they sent to the committee convened to investigate Fosdick, the pastors and elders who made up the Session of the First Church claimed: “The preaching in the first church is ordinarily uncontroversial, but searching, inspiring, and full of the spirit...it is devoid of sensationalism and deals almost exclusively with the a great themes of evangelical religion.”26 More, the First Church argued that Fosdick’s preaching was all that kept evangelicalism afloat in the new cosmopolitan New York. Fosdick’s preaching fit the diversity of the city. They emphasized that theirs was “a district of many different nationalities and religious faiths; a district of changing population, where social classes are comingled. There are few rich, some poor, many young people of very modest means without home ties to bind them...[Fosdick’s] preaching has attracted to the church great numbers of this composite population who are slowly being welded into a gracious fellowship.”27Fosdick’s sermons were squarely adapted to the populations that early twentieth-century evangelicals in the city most desired to reach: “Many educated youth alienated from the church and from Christ have been transformed.” For the Session of the First Church, these conversions were “signal tokens of divine favor.”28

The Presbytery of New York was known for its liberal inclinations, and its committee acquitted the First Church. The committee announced its conviction that “the preaching is evangelical in meaning, ” by which was meant it was “intended to convince men that they cannot live rightly in this world without God and Christ and the Holy Spirit.” And, perhaps in a swipe at Straton’s crusade against the city’s theaters, going on at the same time, the committee affirmed not only that Fosdick’s preaching was not “sensational, ” but that it met the needs of the city better than it would (p.262) if it were: “If his voice should for any reason fall silent, the Committee believes that it would be an incalculable loss and calamity to the church of God in this city, where so many different seas of thought meet in conflict and storm.”29 The committee declared that “The first necessity of all vital and tenacious hold upon the evangelical verities, and of fruitful ministry of them, is the spirit of the Lord Jesus. It is this spirit and this alone that clarifies the atmosphere, removing the confusing, obscuring medium of suspicion, misunderstanding, and unholy anger and resentment.”30 The committee thus threw in with Fosdick: it perceived the challenge of the city to be its diversity, and declared disagreement worse than inaccuracy. In its endorsement of Fosdick’s ability to speak to people of all educations and situations, the committee hewed closer to the liberal evangelical’s solution than it did to Straton’s.

The Conservative Crisis

In the wake of the First Church’s acquittal fundamentalists sensed a crisis, and not merely in New York City. Outside New York the confrontation took on the same contours. In 1923, partly in response to Fosdick’s growing popularity, the well-known Princeton New Testament scholar J. Gresham Machen released Christianity and Liberalism, which assailed Fosdick and evangelical liberals as practitioners of a “modern, non-redemptive religion, ” which Machen linked to the distressing penetration of scientific expertise into “the sphere of human life.” He distrusted “psychological experts” who claimed control over childrearing and “utilitarian education” that focused only on “physical well being.” In Fosdick’s rise Machen saw this tendency transforming religion.31 He mourned Fosdick’s “empty sentimentality” and “meretricious rhetoric, ” which lacked the transcendent fire of a true Christian preacher.32

(p.263) But Machen’s reasoned defense of effective evangelicalism was soon overwhelmed. Only two years later, in Dayton, Tennessee, fundamentalists lost a major voice when William Jennings Bryan was silenced at the Scopes trial. The aging lion of conservative Protestantism and three-time Democratic nominee for president had long been one of the most renowned orators in America, gaining the respect of audiences and commentators alike for the power of his voice. The famed journalist and Progressive William Allen White remembered, “His magnificent earnestness was hypnotic....The weight of all his rhetoric, of his splendid magnetic presence, of his resonant voice fell upon the wicked who opposed his holy cause.”33 Bryan was also a devoutly conservative evangelical, who wielded his voice in defense of the faith as much as for his politics, and in 1925 he volunteered to prosecute John T. Scopes, a high school teacher who had violated a state law against teaching evolution in the schools. The defense accepted the offer of the wily defense attorney Clarence Darrow to stand against Bryan, and late in the trial Darrow reduced Bryan to stubborn stammering with a barrage of questions about Jonah, the whale, the origins of Cain’s wife, and the age of the earth. Bryan died five days after the trial, but the national media had begun muffling his voice as soon as he stepped from the courtroom. The famous editor H. L. Mencken declared that the Scopes trial had revealed Bryan’s oratory to be mere “coo and bellow” directed at “Homo neandertalensis.” “There he stood in the glare of the world uttering stuff that a boy of eight would laugh at, ” Mencken sneered. “Darrow led him on and he repeated it, ranted for it, bellowed it in his cracked voice.”34 Bryan’s humiliation dealt anther blow to the verbal piety of conservative evangelicals.

In New York fundamentalists fought back. Soon after “Shall the Fundamentalists Win?” John Roach Straton declared that Fosdick “has a brilliant mind and could have been a gloriously useful preacher, ” but became a “product of the skeptical schools, ” and thus became a counselor rather than a real minister. Straton declared, “I do not believe Dr. Fosdick has any ethical right to stand in the great historic Christian pulpit” of (p.264) First Church. He then renewed his challenge to a debate, proclaiming that he did so “speaking, therefore, as a Baptist from a Baptist pulpit, ” a sharp contrast designed to call into question Fosdick’s legitimacy as a preacher.35Fosdick turned Straton down, illustrating the distinction between the two men: Straton, the fundamentalist with great confidence in the power of vigorous speech, declared that “Jesus was constantly debating with the Sadducees.” On the other hand Fosdick pointedly declared himself “a long sea-mile from a controversialist” and affirmed that “of all ways which to discover truth and propagate it, a joint debate is the worse.”36 Straton clearly was seeking a new bonanza of sensation, while Fosdick found verbal confrontation destructive.

The same year Straton compared William Merrill, minister at the Brick Church who had defended Fosdick, to the famous Unitarian Charles Francis Potter. He said that Potter had done the right thing when he left his denomination after “he lost his faith in Baptist and evangelical views of religion.” Straton urged Merrill to do likewise and to take Fosdick with him.37 In an aggrieved letter Merrill insisted to Straton that “neither one of you could by any possibility represent the great body of liberal evangelicals (to which I and most of the people in my church belong) for they hold loyally to the essential doctrines of the evangelical faith.” He insisted that he was merely a pastor, and the fact that he “delighted to preach the Word of God” was a more important qualification than any doctrinal test Straton might impose.38

But Merrill was not done. Like Fosdick he was not willing to concede the evangelical mainstream to the Stratons of the city. He took the conflict public, composing an article for The Presbyterian warning that both Straton and Potter were “extremists.”39 The next month, January 1923, (p.265) Merrill delivered a sermon in defense of Fosdick in which he observed, “It is not often that those who worship in this church are asked to take an excursion into the theological field.” Rather, Merrill noted archly that generally his “sermon time seems all too brief and too infrequent for dealing with anything but the Gospel of Christ.”40 For Merrill the proclamation of that gospel was far deeper than Straton understood. Merrill claimed, “The Church has been built upon personal testimony and influence. Preaching, teaching, and all the other elaborate machinery of organized Christian effort has been secondary in importance or powerful only as a public means of exerting private influence.”41 Of Straton’s verbal gymnastics, he said simply that the Baptist’s preaching was simultaneously “extreme and narrow.”42 The battle lines seemed clear: for Merrill, evangelicalism meant the personal and social work of liberal evangelicalism; for Straton, it meant the verbal proclamation of the Word of God.

The exchange highlighted the aspect of liberal evangelicalism that infuriated its critics the most: imprecision of language, and indifference to that imprecision. Fosdick’s dissembling was not merely annoying; it was metaphysically corruptive, because Fosdick seemed to see little wrong in playing fast and loose with God’s Word, thereby draining it of its appropriate power. J. Gresham Machen famously claimed that while listening to Fosdick preach “one has the feeling that traditional language is being strained to become the expression of totally alien ideas.”43 This was a common complaint, and it got to the heart of what fundamentalists believed was inadequate about liberal evangelicalism. Fosdick, who declared that Jesus was a “living Lord” and yet who did not believe in a literal resurrection, baffled Isaac Haldeman most with his serenity; it seemed inconceivable that he could state both things at once. And thus Haldeman took his fellow Baptist for a hypocrite, one whose preaching had the form but not the intent of godliness. “It is this subtle use of orthodox phrases, ” Haldeman said, “while in his heart of hearts he does not believe in the facts these phrases express which renders Dr Fosdick so actually dangerous.”44

(p.266) The problem with Fosdick was not merely his lack of belief, for there were many heretics. Rather, it was his verbal agility, his capacity for abusing language, his hazy commitment to clarity, and his ability to wrap his heresies in pious but bland rhetoric. Walter Buchanan, conservative pastor of the Broadway Presbyterian Church, noted wryly that there “was evidently no desire on the part of Dr Fosdick to use language that could not be misunderstood.”45 A local minister named Charles Fountain complained that when Fosdick invoked words like “grace” and “incarnation” and “resurrection, ” he was intentionally misleading his audience: “These words are used in a sense...which is the very opposite of the doctrines which have always been signified by them.” Though he gave lip service to the notion that language was “imperfect, ” Fountain’s protest here revealed the close identification between the metaphysical reality of the Christian universe and the language used to describe it; the words signified reality, and that was what made them powerful. Therefore, Fountain insisted that “Honesty in the use of language—to say what we mean and to mean what we say—is not least important with regard to religious language (and especially in our approach to Almighty God).”46 This ran precisely counter to Fosdick’s often-repeated belief that religious experience could be described in different ways at different times, and that the good preacher would—and must—adapt his method of delivery to promote that experience at any given time.

For fundamentalists, the function of preaching was to revise the world of the hearers, to strip away the merely visible world around them and present to them the literal truth of their situation as fallen beings in need of redemption through Jesus Christ. They expected that language could bring its hearers into direct experiential knowledge of the reality of God. Thus, Isaac Haldeman declared that “if Christ did not rise preaching is in vain. Deny the bodily resurrection of Christ and you make the preaching of Christ of no more value than empty sound, of no more value than shifting sand and blowing winds.”47 As Fosdick centered the religious experience of his church upon service and personality, so did they center their devotions upon scripture. At a rally in protest of the New York Presbytery’s decision Buchanan took the pulpit to emphasize the importance of the (p.267) verbal Word of God. Buchanan reminisced about “Sabbath afternoons I was required to commit to memory long passages of scripture.” He was distressed that Sunday schools—particularly singling out the Union School of Religion—were setting aside such catechizing: “I am sorry for the boys and girls of today who have not had like precious privilege.”48Then he said, “I will say I am a Fundamentalist” and insisted “it has been my privilege throughout the years to bear witness to the infallible Word of God.”49

Fosdick was particularly dangerous, then, because he offered a religion that, as J. Gresham Machen said, was “not Christianity at all.”50 Buchanan protested most of all the New York Presbytery’s seemingly naive embrace of Fosdick’s own claims; it was with a note of frustration that Buchanan pled that Fosdick “was accepted as evangelical because he called himself evangelical.”51 But others shared Haldeman’s belief that Fosdick was being consciously deceptive, feigning faith in Christianity for his own purposes. Fountain opined that “Dr Fosdick himself is responsible for the widespread impression that he is a Unitarian under the mask of an evangelical Christian, ” and speculated that the report of the committee and Fosdick’s letters prepared in his own defense were “a clever piece of camouflage designed to make people believe he teaches the doctrines of grace signified by the wonderful words that describe the Person and Work of our Lord.” Repeatedly, Fountain characterized Fosdick’s position on various points of theology in the terms of a personal relationship with Jesus, and accused Fosdick of slighting Christ personally. “The Saviour taught that he would come again on the clouds of heaven and commanded us to watch for His return, ” Fountain wrote. “The professor rejects this teaching and does not obey this command. He does not believe the Lord’s words.”52

For Fountain and other fundamentalists, because Fosdick ignored this personal relationship with Christ his religion was merely ethics, without the power to save. “It is his eulogistic portrayal of the character of Christ, his emphasis on the ethics of Christianity in words of eloquence, and often in words of Scripture, while denying or ignoring the Supernatural, (p.268) that leads many who are not instructed in the things of God to believe that he is exalting the divine Lord and Saviour of the New Testament.”53 His Christianity was actually the practice of good morals; his preaching was the performance of the stage, and he sent his audiences home thinking they had heard the gospel, but in fact, the true salvation that the Word of God offered was void and null in his words completely. But of course, Fosdick would have insisted that these very things could in fact bring conversion.

The Sacramental Faith of Liberal Evangelicalism

In the face of such pressure Fosdick voluntarily resigned from the First Church in 1925, having refused the General Assembly’s offer that he become a Presbyterian, an attempt at compromise that outraged fundamentalists and that made Fosdick uneasy. As he wrote to Henry Sloane Coffin expressing his discomfort with Presbyterian subscription to the Westminster Confession, “I simply do not talk your language about theological subscription. I read what you say, not so much disagreeing with it as not understanding it.”54 The letter pinpointed Fosdick’s convictions about evangelicalism: the tenuous connection, if any, he perceived between religious experience and language, and a firm insistence upon the principle of liberty of conscience. Both lay at the foundation of the new church Fosdick would raise on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Like other liberal evangelicals, he had come to understand the reach of God’s grace to extend through mediums other than the traditional sermon and scripture, and sought to forge a liberal sacramentalism in his new church.

Even while Fosdick was under fire from the Presbyterians, John D. Rockefeller, patron of liberal Baptists in the city, was pressuring him to accept a call from the Park Avenue Baptist Church. Fosdick agreed to take the position after his official obligations to the First Church expired, and when Rockefeller stipulated that he would fund the construction of a new church in Morningside Heights in northwest Manhattan, to which the Park Avenue congregation would move. Soon Fosdick announced this church would reject Baptist tradition of baptism by immersion and (p.269) instead practice open membership: baptism by immersion, sprinkling, or even no baptism at all. As Fosdick put it in a letter to Edward Ballard, chair of the Park Avenue Board of Trustees, “any one joining with us on confession of faith for the first time might be immersed, sprinkled, or (if Quaker scruples are present) welcomed on verbal confession, as each individually might choose.”55 He had already closely paraphrased these sentiments in his farewell sermon to the First Presbyterian Church, but the declaration resulted in outrage. Ivy Lee again published a pamphlet, stating Fosdick’s position with gusto, and some 15% of Park Avenue’s 700 members resigned, and again Fosdick came under the fire of his fellow New York City ministers.

Such a decision had important ramifications. For centuries, membership in Reformed Protestant churches—including most Baptists—had not been open to any who simply wanted to join; rather, membership was contingent upon a demonstration that one had undergone a conversion experience and could thus profess faith. Baptism was to many of these churches a ritual and public declaration of conversion.56 Though he recognized the aesthetic and traditional value of baptism, Fosdick wanted to provide the Riverside Church with a way of recognizing, promoting, and celebrating evangelical conversion that seemed more in keeping with the place and time in which his Christians found themselves.

Throughout 1925, Fosdick defended himself largely by stating that liberal evangelicals had found a better way to identify who was and was not a Christian than traditional rites like baptism. Just as Fosdick believed that the particular descriptions of Jesus’s miracles in the New Testament were attempts to capture ineffable religious experience in what he called “the mental categories of Biblical times, ” so did he believe that baptism itself expressed a timeless religious experience in a ritual form bound by culture.57 As he wrote of the early church, “baptism had been a Jewish (p.270) rite” that the earliest Christians adopted to signify their rebirth into the life Jesus offered.58 He thus saw no reason why it could not be abandoned or modified in a way more meaningful to the lives of present evangelical Christians. Instead, Fosdick stated that Riverside would offer “A free opening of membership to all disciples of Jesus Christ.” He required that “any one who accepts Christ as the revelation of God and the ideal of man may come into full and equal membership.” This meant first, faith in Jesus, but second, it meant that petitioners who wished to join Riverside would have to commit themselves to the work of the church.59 This was the functional equivalent of baptism at Riverside.

To many fundamentalists, this was simply more liberal evangelical confounding of the Word. Isaac Haldeman declared flatly, “There is no record in Scripture of an unbaptized church.”60 This was significant because it indicated that for Haldeman baptism was a signifier of fidelity to the Word, and as he sometimes did, he used verbs that described the action as speech. Haldeman claimed that “each time the ordinance is performed, it is the declaration that all who have fallen asleep in Christ shall be raised.”61 This was why it was essential that it be by immersion, which alone preserved the close correspondence between verbal truth and its re-enactment in the world. And though Haldeman’s insistence upon the embodiment of language in behavior echoed the adaptation of the verbal Word to other forms liberal evangelicals had pursued, Haldeman was aware of the danger and emphasized that baptism was not salvific in and of itself; rather, it was a commandment, “the issue of obedience to confession.”62

Haldeman emphasized that an “unbaptized church” was “an assembly on the ground of disorder” rather than the “order thus laid down in the New Testament.”63 Fosdick, though, also had a vision for a Christian order. As had George Coe, Fosdick shared the liberal evangelical hope that (p.271) New York City’s disorder could be regularized, and its society brought to cooperation, unity, and common subscription to the ideals of Christianity. He had simply come to believe that the church work of liberal evangelicals was the means by which this could be accomplished. In one of his last sermons at Old First Fosdick wondered, “Does faith in God make a significantly practical difference to our daily life?” This was nothing so shallow as the accusation voiced by many fundamentalists that liberal Christians believed that the gospel was nothing more than an imperative to do social work. Fosdick in the same sermon invoked the importance of spiritual experience, declaring, “If the living God exists, then these deep and transforming experiences tell us the truth.” But he also declared that “Faith in God makes a difference in your capacity to believe in and sacrifice for social ideals on the earth, ” and that it was in the enaction of this faith that such experiences might be gained.64 That action would gain a Christian religious experience, but it would also transform human society.

In late 1924, the indefatigable Ivy Lee engaged Fosdick in a long discussion about the future of the Riverside Church. Fosdick claimed that New York was “the city where the largest opportunities to influence the world abound.” Riverside must then be up to the task, to have “daring and bigness of program [to] strike the imagination in a way that it is entirely impossible” for any other church in the city to do—because those other churches were bound by the restrictions of tradition, denomination, and old ways of doing things. The Riverside Church, on the other hand, could pursue the liberal evangelical agenda unencumbered. Fosdick announced he would be “placing in the foreground the condition of membership in the church, consent to enter the ranks of some one department of the work of the church.” Such work would impress upon Riverside’s membership “the validity of Christian faith as illustrated by actions rather than words, by Christian service rather than verbal consent to a creed.”65

In short, the Riverside Church would be the practical and formal distillation of that liberal theology which had been gestating since Charles Briggs, a theology that invested the metaphysical force of evangelical devotion, the religious passions and experiences that brought conversion and salvation, into the social efforts of a congregation. As Fosdick (p.272) described Riverside’s revolution: “The words of Christ in gathering his disciples—Follow thou me—should be taken in a somewhat more literal sense than the church has taken these words when receiving persons into membership.”66 To sum up this aim in a scripturally resonant way, Fosdick became fond of the word “discipleship” and repeatedly used it to describe the mission of the Riverside Church; he once succinctly summarized that mission as “To win human lives to personal discipleship to Christ.” “Disciple, ” he said, “means learner, ” and thus to promote discipleship among the congregation of Riverside was to “make real to them Christianity’s intellectual meanings, its spiritual resources, and its ethical applications, and to challenge them to carry out this discipleship as a practical way of individual and social living.” He thus reoriented the mission of the Riverside Church pulpit, characteristically downplaying the worth of his own preaching and instead emphasizing that “To this end the ideal of the pulpit is to maintain a teaching ministry.”67 For Fosdick, as for the Union School, to be made Christian was becoming a process of education, and the process of education was one best done without words.

Since these accomplishments were possible only through enaction Fosdick embraced the chance to absorb the Union School of Religion when Coffin closed it down. He agreed that the Union School needed to be returned to Christocentrism, but he also agreed wholeheartedly with its methods. “Children learn primarily not by verbal indoctrination but by personal imitation and social contagion, ” he insisted. Thus, “the church aims to bring children into as extensive contact with the church as is possible, ” to have children involved in the activities, service, and celebrations of the church community.68 But this was not only true for children; Fosdick also, when he announced the church’s official “educational and recreational opportunities for adults, ” informed his congregation that “Anybody who fails to enter into some human fellowship, who does not become aware of a fuller life, is missing the most fundamental opportunities which the church and its several organizations seek to make available.” The “fuller life, ” the deepened spiritual experience that evangelical religion offered, (p.273) was here identified with the extracurricular work of service and education that the church offered.69

In the end, Fosdick and the Park Avenue Church compromised on baptism, but perhaps only because Fosdick believed the issue not of vast importance, but also because of consistent pressure both locally and nationally. As early as March 1925, before Fosdick had taken the pulpit at Park Avenue, John Roach Straton was raising protests in the New York Baptist Ministers’ Conference, which had voted to send Fosdick a declaration of support.70 And as late as 1927, after ground had been broken on the Riverside Church, Fosdick proposed that the sermon might be usefully supplemented with a Catholic-style confessional. This was hardly new in his conception of evangelical ministry, but Straton’s hackles were raised, and he stated, “If it should ever come to a choice whether I would stand with the Catholics or the Fosdick type of Protestant, I would go over to the Catholics, bag and baggage.” At least, Straton believed, the Catholics were forthright about their beliefs; Fosdick professed to be a Baptist, but seemed a crypto-Catholic to fundamentalists, who suspected him of teaching salvation through works.71

Furthermore, there was a great deal of discord in the Northern Baptist Convention in the middle 1920s, though it was never as strong as that in the Presbyterian General Assembly, and eventually, the Park Avenue Church agreed that while it would insist on maintaining open membership and welcoming Christians who did not wish to be baptized by immersion, it would not sprinkle. The June 1925 Northern Baptist Convention had rebuffed resolutions submitted by Straton and the Minneapolis fundamentalist William Bell Riley calling for the Convention to exclude churches that practiced open membership, but it had passed a resolution expressing “sorrow” at Fosdick’s proposals.72 In May 1926 the elders of (p.274) the church sent a letter to the Northern Baptist Convention expressing bafflement that a resolution passed in the 1925 convention seemed “under the belief that the Park Avenue Church was planning a campaign of propaganda, with the intention of materially altering the practice of the denomination in respect to baptism.” This, the elders assured the Convention, was not the case, and though the Park Avenue Church still believed that Fosdick’s pastorate was “an opportunity for doing a larger work for the kingdom of God in the city of New York...the Park Avenue Church has no intention of practicing sprinkling.”73

Fosdick himself spent much of 1925 and 1926 in Europe, and his letters to his contacts in New York and elsewhere reveal that his very conviction that the particular forms of baptism were of less importance than other issues enabled him to compromise. As he wrote to his secretary in May 1926, “alternative forms of baptism are the only reasonable method of handling the situation, but to have carried the Park Ave Church out of the denomination on the issue before I was even in the saddle there would have crippled my work from the start with a badly split congregation and the bitter resentment of liberals and conservatives alike.”74 Fosdick began his pastorate at Park Avenue Church in October 1926 and baptized two men in his first service, both by immersion.75

His willingness to compromise illustrates a final impulse characteristic of the liberal evangelicalism that he and so many other New York ministers had helped to form: the continuing dream of a unified Christian society. Fundamentalists like Haldeman and Straton repeatedly emphasized the Baptist tradition of reliance upon scripture, as Straton did when he informed Fosdick that “You still wear the Baptist name but you have betrayed the Baptist cause by your denial of the inspiration of God’s Word, ” or Haldeman when he expressed hope that “the rising generation of Baptist preachers” would embrace “the dignity and the definiteness of (p.275) the Word.”76 But Fosdick and the Park Avenue Church emphasized a countertradition, equally rooted in Baptist heritage of “soul liberty, ” or what the church’s elders called “the Baptist principle of individual freedom and responsibility.”77 Fosdick declared of “Religious Liberty” that “Such was the genius of the Baptist movement in its origin. Each individual believer was free from creedal subscription to interpret the Gospel for himself.” The firm foundation of the Riverside Church was its effort at “carrying these principles into present-day application.”78 Practically, the notion of soul liberty was the root of Fosdick’s determination to embrace open membership, to accept diverse forms of initiation, and, at the same time, uneasily, his desire to remain in communion with the Northern Baptist Convention, “its historic denominational affiliation without in the least sacrificing its autonomy.” This would allow Riverside to “maintain its association with the churches of Christ” while at the same time striving toward Fosdick’s vision: “the union of all disciples in one body...on the basis not of uniform opinion but of individual liberty.”79

The Limits of Liberal Evangelicalism

Fosdick had been struggling toward this balance his entire career: he sought simultaneously the evangelical dream of a city unified and its achievement through the lines of experience and practice liberal evangelicalism had laid down, but also, in some measure, to accommodate the cultural pluralism the Union School of Religion had confronted. It was what lay behind his attempts to minister to New York’s youth: because “a solitary Christianity is practically impossible, the church aims at deepening the sense of unity among its members.” Fosdick sought this unity through allowing a diversity of Christian practice: “services of worship of many kinds, suited to differing temperaments and needs; congregational (p.276) gatherings, both with and without sermon and other group meetings in which worship, communal prayer, interaction and discussion have their place.”80Fosdick rejected the excesses of the Union School and stood staunchly for a sensibility rooted in Christianity, but he also saw liberalism’s emphasis upon practice and devotion as a way to throw the doors of Christianity as wide as possible: to recognize the city’s cultural landscapes not as territory for subjection and conquest, but places in which the seeds of Christianity were already rooted and needed only nourishment.

Fosdick himself recognized how far he was pushing the Northern Baptist Convention with his proposals for sprinkling, open membership, and so on, and from that perspective, he appeared radical indeed. He expressed his surprise to his secretary upon receiving report from his friend Charles Gilkey that the Convention had not blinked at Riverside’s proposal to accept open membership, noting wryly, “I can understand Gilkey’s surprised delight at getting open membership admitted to respectability by a national convention of American Baptists.”81

Fosdick consistently emphasized his desire to bridge gaps between all types of Christians. He particularly admired Quakers, saying, “I feel myself of such close kin to them” and expressing happiness at the “coming into our membership of a family where the husband has behind him three hundred years of uninterrupted Quaker ministry in his heritage, ” and nothing he hoped the man would help introduce Quaker practices to Riverside.82 Soon he established a time and place for Quaker meetings at the church.83 He pointed to the Riverside Guild, the youth drama club, as a model: “Catholic, Protestant and Jew sit side by side; Liberals and Fundamentalists sing the same hymns; Theists and Humanists join in the same prayers. Naturally it is uncommonly difficult to attain any unity of spiritual experience and to achieve a sense of group communion.”84

But as Fosdick and the Union School, driven by a confidence in practice, were moving toward inclusivity and pluralism, the city’s fundamentalists were moving in the opposite direction. Just as Fosdick was settling (p.277) into a long pastorate at Riverside, First Baptist tightened its rolls, dropping nearly half its membership (most of whom had lost contact with the church) and established new laws of membership, requiring “satisfactory evidence of having received the Lord Jesus Christ as personal Saviour, ” or letters “only from Churches of like faith and practice.”85 At the same time, John McComb, who had replaced Walter Buchanan at the Broadway Presbyterian Church, discovered that a member who had requested a letter of dismissal—normally a courtesy granted to congregants moving from the area that could be presented to another congregation for admittance—intended to join Riverside. He sent her a terse note: “We do not grant letters of dismission to churches that do not believe that Jesus Christ is the only begotten Son of God, and that deny the infailibility of God’s Word....We shall drop your name from our rolls, and pray that God will reveal to you the truth of Ephesians 5:11.” In pencil, to emphasize the point, McComb scrawled a paraphrase of the verse: “And have no fellowship with the unfaithful works of darkness.”86 Fosdick, for his part, announced that at the Riverside Church “Letters are accepted from any other Christian church whatever.”87 Fundamentalists, having failed to convert the city, were beginning to separate themselves from it.

Fosdick felt this pressure too. Despite his optimistic declarations of unity and his desire to fuse the aims of liberal evangelicals with New York’s cultural pluralism, Fosdick found himself repeatedly drawing boundaries to protect his vision, and which marked liberal evangelicalism as a movement distinct from pluralist progressivism. The essential tensions the Union School of Religion exposed in the liberal evangelical movement remained. For instance, on a Saturday in February 1936, the messianic African American leader Father Divine, bald, five foot two, wearing a neat suit and trimmed mustache, appeared at Riverside Church with an entourage. Divine had moved his community from a large home on Long Island to a new Harlem headquarters several years before, after a brief prison stay for disturbing the peace. In both places, Divine attracted hundreds of followers, preaching racial integration, offering assistance to job seekers, (p.278) and opening several cheap restaurants, clothing stores, and the like. While presumably there to attend a regularly scheduled meeting of a committee of relief workers, as the meeting ended Divine’s followers formed an ad hoc choir and began to sing hymns. Father Divine himself began to preach to the bemused onlookers in the church, upon which Fosdick ordered the man to leave.88

Like the Pentecostals who so troubled the congregants of Calvary Baptist Church, Father Divine’s beliefs and practices lay outside the acceptable norms for evangelicals of most stripes in New York City. This included the Riverside Church. Fosdick objected to the man’s interruption of the immediate work of the Riverside Church, namely, the social relief efforts the committee met to discuss. But the particular form of Divine’s interruption was relevant as well: he interfered with the regular practices of the Riverside Church with an appeal to the sort of ecstatic worship common in his Harlem services: extemporaneous preaching, rollicking song. Like the deacons of Calvary Baptist, when confronted with worship reminiscent of African American Pentecostalism, Fosdick reached his limit; he was less tolerant for such charisma than was John Roach Straton. As Fosdick reported to a “Miss Herkimer, ” the committee’s chairwoman, the administration of the Riverside Church hoped “that our desire to keep him from speaking in The Riverside Church did not too greatly invade your own program...he was concerned primarily with getting the background of The Riverside Church for a personal experience.”89 That is, Fosdick believed that Divine was a showman and a publicity seeker who sought to use the platform of Riverside for his own aggrandizement. To Fosdick, Divine was not so different from John Roach Straton.

Though Fosdick shared many of the cultural assumptions about race in his time, he was in the 1930s involved in antidiscrimination efforts, and Riverside had, as one historian puts it, “never drawn the color line.” The church’s initial congregation was primarily professional and white, but it employed black members of the choir, Fosdick and his administrators (p.279) administered tongue lashings to members who protested those choir members, and Mordecai Johnson, the African American president of Howard University, occasionally served as a substitute in the pulpit. Fosdick was well aware that where Riverside sat in Morningside Heights it was surrounded by the Harlem churches: Father Divine’s Peace Missions and the innumerable storefront Pentecostal congregations. When he confessed that “We have very few colored members, ” he believed it to be because “We should have thought that an invasion of the membership of the colored churches...our membership [is open] to colored people whose allegiance naturally belongs to us.”90 This may have been naive on Fosdick’s part, but he perceived the lines drawn here not simply between race, but between ways of religious practice: those African Americans who found worship like Divine’s charisma appealing simply vastly outnumbered those who preferred Riverside. Fosdick was content with the situation. But his equanimity silently signaled the racial limits of his evangelical dream. He felt little need to evangelize Harlem. He sought harmony with a pluralist society, but on his own terms.

Fosdick drew lines in other ways as well. A. R. Kepler, a missionary in China, wrote to Fosdick with a query that illustrated the delicate balance the Riverside Church sought to maintain in another field. Kepler was blunt: “I recently had a conversation with a member of your church who informed me that Mohanmedans, Jews, Buddhists, and Unitarians could be members of your Church, ” he said.91 That Kepler could plausibly entertain the notion demonstrates the challenges Fosdick was up against as he sought to maintain a liberal evangelical Christianity in his church; he could cry for tolerance, but the very plea seemed to imply that he went too far. In his reply he called Kepler’s information “strange news, ” and insisted that his church did in fact require new members to confess faith in Jesus Christ. However, he offered caveats: “Our definition of a Christian, however, is very broad and we should certainly count the Unitarian and Universalist churches Christian churches, just as we count the Roman Catholic church a Christian church.”92

(p.280) This was a broad definition of Christianity indeed, one that included little essential points of doctrine and instead focused almost entirely on conduct. And indeed, Fosdick had said that “Active members should be taken into this church on the basis of their belief in Jesus Christ as guide and master and life, and the declaration of their intention to follow Him as they understand Him into some kind of Christian service.”93 A Buchanan or particularly a Haldeman would have bristled at the lack of description of Christ as a savior—as they would have at his welcoming of Jews and “Humanists” into the Riverside Guild—and at certain points in his career Fosdick himself would have agreed. He mused at times in the pulpit about the dangers of a church dedicated too much to organization, services, and social work, and his fear that such a church would eventually forget the evangelical heritage of spiritual experience and communion with God. He castigated enthusiastic social reformers who made God “as a kind of chairman of the board of sponsors of our highly successful human enterprise.”94 Though he believed that Christian work in the world was the path of discipleship and the best means of forming a relationship with God, and in his successful struggles with the city’s fundamentalists had made his version of liberal evangelicalism the dominant faith of the city, he was well aware of how precarious an achievement that was. New York City was full of doubters, as it was full of those who believed that liberal evangelicalism was a slippery slope toward secularization. Fosdick was always ready to insist that the needle could be threaded. But it seemed more and more he was the only one.


(1) . Clarence Macartney, “Shall Unbelief Win?” The Presbyterian (July 13, 1922), 8.

(2) . R. H. Nichols, “Leader of Liberal Presbyterianism, ” in Reinhold Niebuhr, ed., This Ministry: The Contributions of Henry Sloane Coffin (New York: Scribner’s, 1945), 49.

(3) . Harry Emerson Fosdick, The Modern Use of the Bible (New York: Macmillan, 1924), 208, 195.

(4) . Harry Emerson Fosdick, A Modern Preacher’s Problem in His Use of the Scriptures (New York: Union Theological Seminary, 1915), 27, 29.

(5) . Fosdick, Modern Preacher’s Problem, 28.

(6) . Fosdick, Modern Preacher’s Problem, 33, 17–18.

(7) . Fosdick, “What’s the Matter with Preaching?” Harper’s, 157 (July 1928), 134; 137.

(8) . Fosdick, Modern Preacher’s Problem, 17.

(9) . Harry Emerson Fosdick, “Shall the Fundamentalists Win?” Christian Work 102 (June 10, 1922), 716–722, 21–22.

(10) . Frederick Lynch, “The Fundamentalist Controversy, ” Christian Work 115:26 (December 29, 1923), 776–777.

(11) . Christine Stansell, American Moderns: Bohemian New York and the Creation of a New Century (New York: Holt, 2001), 72–75.

(12) . On this generation, see Thomas Bender, “The Emergence of New York Intellectuals: Modernism, Cosmopolitanism And nationalism, ” in Intellectuals and Public Life: Essays on the Social History of Academic Intellectuals in the United States (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993), 78–91; Bender, New York Intellect: A History of Intellectual Life in New York City from 1750 to the Beginnings of Our Own Time (New York: Knopf, 1988), 249–263; Ann Douglas, Terrible Honesty: Mongrel Manhattan in the 1920s (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1995), 31–74.

(13) . Fosdick, “Shall the Fundamentalists Win?” 716–722, 21–22.

(14) . Harry Emerson Fosdick, The Farewell Sermon of Dr Harry Emerson Fosdick to the First Presbyterian Church of New York, Sunday, March 1, 1925 (New York: The Church, 1925), 25–26.

(15) . Fosdick, Modern Use of the Bible, 60–61.

(16) . Fosdick, “Shall the Fundamentalists Win?” 21–22.

(17) . Harry Emerson Fosdick to F. D. Burhans, August 21, 1922, Fosdick Papers, series 4E, box 2, folder 3, Burke Library Special Collections, Union Theological Seminary, New York.

(18) . Quoted in The First Presbyterian Church of New York and Dr. Fosdick (New York: First Presbyterian Church, 1924), 19; on his conversion experience, see 20. For Fosdick’s youth and college conversion experience see Robert Moats Miller, Harry Emerson Fosdick: Preacher, Pastor, Prophet (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985), 15–23; Fosdick, The Living of These Days (New York: Harper, 1956), 66–67.

(19) . Harry Emerson Fosdick to Thomas Glasgow, October 13, 1922, Fosdick Papers, series 4E, box 2, folder 3, Burke Library Special Collections, Union Theological Seminary, New York.

(20) . Harry Emerson Fosdick, “Methods of Sermon Preparation, ” 3, 5, Fosdick Papers, series 3C, box 2, folder, 6, Burke Library Special Collections, Union Theological Seminary, New York.

(21) . Edgar DeWitt Jones, American Preachers of To-day (New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1932), 28–29.

(22) . Quoted in Miller, Harry Emerson Fosdick, 375.

(23) . Harry Emerson Fosdick to G. W. McGovern, October 17, 1921, Fosdick Papers, series 4E, box 2, folder 3, Burke Library Special Collections, Union Theological Seminary, New York.

(24) . The directive is reprinted in Walter Buchanan et al., The Fosdick Case: Complaint of Walter D. Buchanan and Others to the 136th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the USA against the Presbytery of New York in Its Answer to the Mandate of the 135th General Assembly (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1924), 5–6.

(25) . Cited in Miller, Harry Emerson Fosdick, 122. On the Five Points, see Bradley Longfield, The Presbyterian Controversy: Liberals, Conservatives, Moderates (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 75–78.

(26) . “Statement of Pastor and Elders of First Church to Edgar Work, chair of Committee of Presbytery, Dec 11 1923, ” in Fosdick Papers, series 4E, box 2, folder 4, Burke Library Special Collections, Union Theological Seminary, New York.

(27) . “The Church’s Letter to Dr. Fosdick, ” The Church Tower 1:12 (November 1924), 11.

(28) . “Statement of Pastor and Elders of First Church to Edgar Work.”

(29) . Quoted in First Presbyterian Church of New York and Dr. Fosdick, 22, 23, 24–25, 16.

(30) . Quoted in Buchanan et al., The Fosdick Case, 16.

(31) . J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1923), 2, 3, 10, 11. On Machen’s worldview, George Marsden, Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 181–202; D. G. Hart, Defending the Faith: J. Gresham Machen and the Crisis of Conservative Protestantism in Modern America (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994).

(32) . Cited in Miller, Harry Emerson Fosdick, 114.

(33) . William Allen White, Masks in a Pageant (New York: Macmillan, 1928); see also Michael Kazin, A Godly Hero: The Life of William Jennings Bryan (New York: Knopf, 2006), 48–49.

(34) . H. L. Mencken, “In Memoriam—WJB, ” Prejudices: Fifth Series (New York: Macmillan, 1926), 64, 71. For more accounts, see Edward J. Larson, Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America’s Continuing Debate over Science and Religion (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1998), 190–191.

(35) . John Roach Straton, “Shall the Funnymonkeyists Win?” Religious Searchlight 1.7 (October 1922), 7–8.

(36) . On the sermon and its aftermath, see Miller, Harry Emerson Fosdick, 114–119; Longfield, The Presbyterian Controversy, 9–10. John Roach Straton to Harry Emerson Fosdick, September 30 and 23, 1922, and Fosdick to Straton, September 27, 1922, Fosdick Papers, series 4E, box 2, folder 3, Burke Library Special Collections, Union Theological Seminary, New York.

(37) . Joel A. Carpenter, ed., Fundamentalist versus Modernist: The Debates between John Roach Straton and Charles Francis Potter (New York: Garland Publishing, 1988), vii.

(38) . William P. Merrill to John Roach Straton, December 20, 1923, John Roach Straton Papers, series 1075, box 15, American Baptist Historical Society, Mercer University, Atlanta. See also Merrill’s substantially similar comments on the debates in Lynch, “The Fundamentalist Controversy, ” 779.

(39) . Merrill to John Roach Straton, December 20, 1923, John Roach Straton Papers, series 1075, box 15, American Baptist Historical Society, Mercer University, Atlanta.

(40) . William P. Merrill, The Comprehensive Creed of the Presbyterians, sermon delivered January 14, 1923 (New York: Brick Presbyterian Church, 1923), 3, 5.

(41) . William P. Merrill, “The Duty of Witnessing, ” Brick Church Record 9:5 (February 1921), 1–3.

(42) . Quoted in Lynch, “The Fundamentalist Controversy, ” 779.

(43) . Machen, Christianity and Liberalism, 100–101.

(44) . Isaac Haldeman, Dr. Harry Emerson Fosdick’s Book: “The Modern Use of the Bible”: A Review (Philadelphia: Sunday School Times Company, 1919), 59, 86.

(45) . Buchanan et al., The Fosdick Case, 37, 39.

(46) . Charles Fountain, The Case against Dr Fosdick (Plainfield, NJ: The Author, 1924), 19, 17.

(47) . Haldeman, Dr. Harry Emerson Fosdick’s Book, 29.

(48) . Walter Buchanan, “An Address Delivered at the Mass Meeting in the Interest of Historic Presbyterianism, December 10, 1923, ” The Presbyterian 94:1 (January 3, 1924), 7.

(49) . “Tells His Belief as a Fundamentalist, ” New York Times (March 9, 1925), 20.

(50) . Machen, Christianity and Liberalism, 6.

(51) . Buchanan et al., The Fosdick Case, 40.

(52) . Fountain, The Case against Dr Fosdick, 17.

(53) . Fountain, The Case against Dr Fosdick, 11.

(54) . On this decision, see Miller, Harry Emerson Fosdick, 133–144. Harry Emerson Fosdick to Henry Sloane Coffin, December 11, 1924, Henry Sloane Coffin Papers, Box 1, folder 1.2, Burke Library Special Collections, Union Theological Seminary, New York.

(55) . Harry Emerson Fosdick to Edward Ballard, April 17, 1925, Fosdick Papers, series 4A, box 1, folder 1, Burke Library Special Collections, Union Theological Seminary, New York. See also Fosdick, Farewell Sermon of Dr Harry Emerson Fosdick, 19. For numbers, Miller, Harry Emerson Fosdick, 164.

(56) . For such requirements among the evangelical churches of New York, see The Manual of the Madison Square Presbyterian Church (New York: The Church, 1856), 8–10, which describes the “public manner” in which the confession and baptism are to be administered; Manual of the First Presbyterian Church (New York: The Church, 1904), 59.

(57) . Fosdick, Modern Use of the Bible, 89.

(58) . Harry Emerson Fosdick, Christianity and Progress (New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1922), 161.

(59) . Fosdick to Ballard, April 17, 1925.

(60) . Isaac Haldeman, The Question of the Order: or Baptism in Relation to the Lord’s Supper (New York: First Baptist Church, n.d.), 6.

(61) . Haldeman, Baptism and Close Communion (New York: First Baptist Church, n.d.), 5.

(62) . Haldeman, Baptism and Close Communion, 8.

(63) . Haldeman, Question of the Order, 11–12.

(64) . Harry Emerson Fosdick, “Belief in God, ” Church Tower 1:12 (November 1924), 5, 7, 24.

(65) . Harry Emerson Fosdick, quoted in Ivy Lee, “The Fosdick Church, ” Fall 1924, 1 3.Fosdick Papers, Series 4A, box 1, folder 2, Burke Library Special Collections, Union Theological Seminary, New York.

(66) . Fosdick, quoted in Lee, “The Fosdick Church, ” 1.

(67) . Harry Emerson Fosdick, “The Objectives of the Riverside Church, ” 1, Fosdick Papers, Series 4A, box 1, folder 2, Burke Library Special Collections, Union Theological Seminary, New York.

(68) . Fosdick, “The Objectives of the Riverside Church, ” 3.

(69) . “Educational and Recreational Opportunities for Adults, Fall 1933, ” Fosdick Papers, Series 4A, box 2, folder 9, Burke Library Special Collections, Union Theological Seminary, New York.

(70) . Minutes, New York Baptist Ministers’ Conference, March 2, 9, 16, 1925, American Baptist Historical Society, Mercer University, Atlanta.

(71) . “Protestants Split on Confessional, ” New York Times (February 10, 1927), 11. Haldeman makes the crypto-Catholic accusation in Question of the Order, 11.

(72) . C. H. Sears to Harry Emerson Fosdick, June 25, 1926, recounts the events of the 1925 and 1926 conventions, Fosdick Papers, Series 4A, box 7, folder 17, Burke Library Special Collections, Union Theological Seminary, New York. See also Miller, Harry Emerson Fosdick, 165–172; Norman Furniss, The Fundamentalist Controversy (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1954), 115–116.

(73) . Elders of the Park Avenue Baptist Church to the Northern Baptist Convention, May 17, 1926, Fosdick Papers, series 2A, box 7, folder 17, Burke Library Special Collections, Union Theological Seminary, New York.

(74) . Harry Emerson Fosdick to secretary, May 25, 1926, Fosdick Papers, series 4A, box 1, folder 7, Burke Library Special Collections, Union Theological Seminary, New York.

(75) . Harry Emerson Fosdick to John D. Rockefeller, October 5, 1926, Fosdick Papers, Series 2A, box 8, folder 20, Burke Library Special Collections, Union Theological Seminary, New York.

(76) . Straton to Fosdick, September 30, 1922; Haldeman, Question of the Order, 20. On reliance on scripture as a traditional Baptist principle, see Stanley Grenz, The Baptist Congregation (Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press, 1985), 82–84; Bill Leonard, Baptist Ways (Valley Forge: Judson Press, 2003), 24.

(77) . Elders of the Park Avenue Church to the Northern Baptist Convention, May 17, 1926; on “soul liberty, ” William McLoughlin, Soul Liberty: The Baptists’ Struggle in New England, 1630–1833 (Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 1991).

(78) . Harry Emerson Fosdick, “Statement on Membership, ” Fosdick Papers, series 4A, box 2, folder 8, Burke Library Special Collections, Union Theological Seminary, New York.

(79) . Fosdick, “Statement on Membership.”

(80) . Fosdick, “Objectives of the Riverside Church, ” 4.

(81) . Harry Emerson Fosdick to secretary, May 25, 1926.

(82) . Harry Emerson Fosdick to Henry Morris Haviland, June 29, 1929. Fosdick Papers, series 4A, box 1, folder 2, Burke Library Special Collections, Union Theological Seminary, New York.

(83) . This is described in Fosdick, “Objectives of the Riverside Church, ” 4.

(84) . “Presenting the Riverside Guild, ” Church Monthly 9:6 (April 1935), 113.

(85) . Minutes of the First Baptist Church of the City of New York, April 25, 1920, 213–214; October 4, 1935, 423; May 10, 1935, 415, Archives of the First Baptist Church of the City of New York.

(86) . John McComb to Marjorie Falling, April 12, 1938, Fosdick Papers, series 4A, box 1, folder 1, Burke Library Special Collections, Union Theological Seminary, New York.

(87) . Harry Emerson Fosdick to G. P. Mitchell, February 19, 1934. Fosdick Papers, series 4A, box 1, folder 1, Burke Library Special Collections, Union Theological Seminary, New York.

(88) . On Father Divine, see Jill Watts, God, Harlem, USA: The Father Divine Story (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995), Harry Emerson Fosdick to “Miss Herkimer, ” February 3, 1936, Fosdick Papers, series 4A, box 1, folder 2, Burke Library Special Collections, Union Theological Seminary, New York.

(89) . Fosdick to Herkimer, February 3, 1936; on Riverside’s racial history, see Miller, Harry Emerson Fosdick, 449–463; Curtiss Paul DeYoung and Michael O. Emerson, United by Faith: The Multiracial Congregation as an Answer to the Problem of Race (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), 78–81.

(90) . Quoted in Miller, Harry Emerson Fosdick, 463.

(91) . A. R. Kepler to Harry Emerson Fosdick, January 6, 1937, Fosdick Papers, series 4A, box 1, folder 2, Burke Library Special Collections, Union Theological Seminary, New York.

(92) . Fosdick to Kepler, February 19, 1937, Fosdick Papers, series 4A, box 1, folder 2, Burke Library Special Collections, Union Theological Seminary, New York.

(93) . Lee, “The Fosdick Church, ” 3–4.

(94) . Harry Emerson Fosdick, “The Church Must Go beyond Modernism, ” in Successful Christian Living: Sermons on Christianity Today (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1937), 160.