Words Alive

Words Alive January 8, 2008

It’s back to school this week for an intensive week reading about and discussing the preaching of Harry Emerson Fosdick.  Although I knew of Fosdick’s lasting legacy I’d never read his sermons before now.  They are dated, of course, set in a historical context by their language and style.  But I could not believe how relevant his words still seem for us today.  I wondered: what kind of preaching lasts beyond a life, words alive and speaking still to generations following?

Some words alive from Fosdick’s 1922 sermon delivered at New York’s First Presbyterian Church: “Shall the Fundamentalists Win?”:

“Has intolerance any contribution to make to this situation?  Will it persuade anybody of anything?  Is not the Christian Church large enough to hold within her hospitable fellowship people who differ on points like this and agree to differ until the fuller truth be manifested?”

“There are many opinions in the field of modern controversy concerning which I am not sure whether they are right or wrong, but there is one thing I am sure of: courtesy and kindliness and tolerance and humility and fairness are right.  Opinions may be mistaken; love never is.”

“Now the worst kind of church that can possibly be offered to the allegiance of the new generation is an intolerant church.  Ministers often bewail the fact that young people turn from religion to science for the regulative ideas of their lives.  But this is easily explicable.  Science treats a young man’s mind as though it were really important.  A scientist says to a young man, ‘Here is the universe challenging our investigation.  Here are the truths which we have seen, so far.  Come, study with us!  See what we already have seen and then look further to see more, for science is an intellectual adventure for the truth.’  Can you imagine any man who is worthwhile turning from that call to the church if the church seems to him to say, ‘Come, and we will feed you opinions from a spoon.  No thinking is allowed here except such as brings you to certain specified, predetermined conclusions.  These prescribed opinions we will give you in advance of your thinking; now think, but only so as to reach these results.'”

“The second element which is needed if we are to reach a happy solution of this problem is a clear insight into the main issues of modern Christianity and a sense of pentitent shame that the Christian Church should be quarreling over little matters when the world is dying of great needs . . . .”


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  • Interesting that a Methodist seminary would be offering a seminar on a leading Baptist preacher, no? Though, I guess Fosdick was pastoring a Presbyterian congregation at the time that he preached this particular sermon.

  • Interesting that a Methodist seminary would be offering a seminar on a leading Baptist preacher, no? Though, I guess Fosdick was pastoring a Presbyterian congregation at the time that he preached this particular sermon.