Monday, January 05, 2015

Establishment Treason, 1924

From Joseph Bottum, An Anxious Age, among other things a history of the decline of mainline American Protestantism:

Early in the twentieth century a trend toward consolidation [among mainline Protestant denominations] began to take hold.  Several things facilitated the trend . . . there was the fight between the fundamentalists and the modernists.  Thoughtful observers had seen that fight developing for some time, but it would come to a head when the powerful liberal preacher Harry Emerson Fosdick delivered his famous 1922 sermon “Shall the Fundamentalists Win” at New York’s First Presbyterian Church, and Princeton’s conservative John Gresham Machen published his defining book, Christianity and Liberalism (1923).

Part of the result was new fissures:  Machen, probably the best American theological mind of his generation, would flee Princeton, moving to Philadelphia to found the more conservative Westminster Theological Seminary in 1929.  but another part of the result was increased agreement about what was and what wasn’t the American Mainline.  The liberal churches all felt they were under assault from a fundamentalist offensive that detested both their social gospel theology and their ecumenically minded church organization.

. . . .

“Shall the Fundamentalists Win”” was not universally applauded at the time, even by the congregants at First Presbyterian.  The local presbytery investigated Fosdick for heresy in 1924 (his defense counsel was the future secretary of state John Foster Dulles, father of the Catholic convert Avery Cardinal Dulles), and he resigned his pulpit – only to have John D. Rockefeller, Jr., build New York’s Riverside Church for him, an avowedly interdenominational church, the flagship of Mainline Protestantism in America.

A couple of terms need some clarification.  First, the term “fundamentalist” in the 1920s referred, ironically enough, to Machen himself; ironically, because the self-described fundamentalists of today would be loathe to embrace Machen for reasons having little to do with modernism.

Second, “social gospel” isn’t just (or isn’t even) “good works”; nor is it merely “social reform”.  As Bottum explains, it is a complete repudiation of the core doctrines of Christianity, a substitution of faith in the saving work of Christ with an adversarial attitude towards the existing structures of civilization.

So I found striking the extraordinary level of support for heterodoxy that the 1920s establishment was so eager to provide.  We have grown accustomed to the elites of today acting out on their ethnic prejudices to wage war on America (though the Presbyterian mainline is far too irrelevant today to attract the notice of people with names like Zuckerberg).  But Rockefeller?  Dulles?  They, too, were hard at work, using their wealth and status to destroy the moral foundation upon which their own success was built.

The elites have been our enemies for a long time.

2 comments:

genericviews said...

in other good news, My Catholic brother tells me that their church is selling indulgences again.

Doing x hours of community service gets you forgiven of your sins here on Earth faster. So, they are just collecting your free labor instead of your pocket change.

Dr. Φ said...

I never quite bought into the Catholics' rather formulaic approach to absolution: do X "Hail Marys" and presto. I suppose serious Catholics will tell me that actual repentance was also required, but I'm not sure how well that is actually communicated.

On a positive note, if you have to be formulaic, at least community service might get something useful accomplished. What did the Hail Marys do?