13 July 1922 A.D. Dr. Clarence McCartney at Arch Street Presbyterian, Philadelphia—“Shall Unbelief Win? A Rejoinder to Mr. Harry Fosdick Emerson’s “Shall the Fundamentalists Win?
July 13: “Shall Unbelief Win?”
Shall Unbelief Win?
A reply to Dr. Fosdick, by Clarence Edward Macartney.
Makes cowards out of men. The human race
Has climbed on protest. Had no voice been raised
Against injustice, ignorance and lust,
The Inquisition yet would serve the law,
And guillotines decide our least disputes.
The few who dare must speak, and speak again,”
To right the wrongs of many.
Whatever the Church is to do or not to do, it is not to defend the faith; it is not to point out the errors and inconsistencies of those who stand as the interpreters of Christianity. This amazing agreement would have struck the Christian believers of almost any age in Church history, save our own, as a very extraordinary one. The writer of this articles dissents entirely from this popular view, that when a Christian man hears or reads an utterance of Christian teachers and leaders which he believes to be irreconcilable with the Gospel the thing to do is to do nothing. Certainly this is not the course followed by those who are blasting at the Rock of Ages, and consciously or unconsciously, adulterating distinctive and New Testament Christianity with the conclusions and vagaries of this world’s life and thought. I do not believe in letting them hold the field all to themselves. I believe that in this day one of the greatest contributions that a man can make to the success of the Gospel is to contend earnestly and intelligently and in a Christian spirit, but nevertheless, CONTEND, for the faith.
to be revised. If this is truth, then let it prevail, no matter how many churches sink into oblivion. But whether he is right, or whether the evangelical position is right, one thing all must now admit: both positions cannot be right; one MUST be wrong.
Dr. Fosdick does not accept the Virgin Birth as an historic fact. He rejects what he calls “a special biological miracle” as the explanation for the way in which Christ came into the world. The Virgin Birth to him is merely an effort on the part of religious devotion and faith to account for the manifest superiority of the character and person of Jesus. But lest I should do him any injustice in my summary of this paragraph of his sermon, let me quote his own words:
musing and guessing, will it not weaken our regard for the other parts? If for example the stories of the nativity of Jesus are mere human effort to account for a personality who defied human classification, then who can find fault with the man who says that the accounts of the Crucifixion of Jesus are merely imaginations on the part of His followers who wished to have Him die a glorious and sacrificial death? Or that the accounts of the Resurrection are merely the tributes of devotion and admiration, not the records of fact, but stories arising out of the conviction that Christ was too great and holy a man to be held of death, and thus in keeping with other tales of the reappearance and reincarnation of great men? And so with the Ascension and the Second Epiphany. The moment we take this view of the account of the Virgin Birth, do we not prepare the way for the repudiation of any other part of the Gospel story by any man who wills to do so?
a woman, does not say that He was born of a virgin, in no way invalidates the authority of Matthew or Luke, or implies that he had never heard of the birth of “that holy thing” in the womb of the Virgin Mary.
number of those who reject the Virgin Birth also reject the divinity of our Lord. Theoretically, the rationalists might argue that they could still believe in the divinity of Christ, although rejecting the Virgin Birth; but as matter of fact and history, the great number of those who repudiate the Virgin Birth also repudiate the divinity of our Lord. If a man really accepts the wonderful fact of the Son of God becoming flesh and entering our humanity he will not stumble at the only New Testament account of the manner of that entry, but will find in it a ground of faith and an instance of the marvellous condescension of the God of all grace. If we had the story of the Son of God without the story of His Virgin Birth, certainly men would outdo the pagans in the wild dreams and guesses as to the manner of His coming. But against all that God has provided by giving us the revelation of the fact that Jesus was “conceived of the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary.”
Dr. Fosdick describes two ideas of the inspiration of the Bible, neither of which, however, are held by a great number of intelligent and devout Christians. On the one side there is what he calls the “static (note the word, for it is the word of the rationalists, and should it go out of currency, we know not what they would do) and mechanical theory of inspiration.” According to the theory, all the parts of the Bible from the Dukes of Edom to the thirteenth Chapter of First Corinthians were inerrantly dictated by God to men a good deal “as a man might dictate to a stenographer.” We pass by the irreverence of this statement, with its offense not so much against orthodoxy as against good taste, and remark that those who hold the New Testament idea of inspiration, that holy men of old “spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost,” have never thought of the Holy Ghost dictating to Moses, Isaiah or St. Paul as Dr. Fosdick, for instance, to use his own illustration, might dictate one of his sermons to a stenographer. Nor have the multitudes of Christians ever felt that for Paul to remind Timothy to fetch the cloak which he left at Troas, in the house of Carpus, required the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, or any kind of inspiration save that of the gloom and damp of the Mamertine dungeon. But there are places in the writings of St. Paul where he makes the most careful and solemn claim to divine inspiration, and that what he declares, that is, his magnificent interpretation of the Gospel of Christ, has been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit. Every intelligent Christian knows that it is not correct to say that Christianity depends upon the Scriptures in the historical sense, for Christianity had established itself in the world as a conquering and regenerating power before there was any New Testament. The New Testament was the expression of that Christian life and faith and the record of its establishment. Therefore, every intelligent Christian knows too that while Christianity came before the New Testament, if the New Testament is false, Christianity also must be false. The great question at issue is not any peculiar theory of inspiration, but the credibility and authority of the Bible. Personally, I have never been troubled by the controversies which have raged over the question of inspiration, ranging all the way from harsh, petrified and illogical theories which would make a genealogical catalogue with is
graveyard of names of equal authority with St. Paul’s statement of the redeeming and reconciling love of God in Christ—all the way from that to Dr. Fosdick’s’ rationalistic theory, namely, that God revealed Himself, or rather misrevealed Himself, in crude and false ways in time past, sanctioning and approving much that was false, but gradually drew away from the misrepresentation and gave a clearer knowledge of Himself in the New Testament, but which representation will undoubtedly be much improved on in the future, since there is no reason to believe that this “progressive” revelation came to a sudden stop with St. John or St. Paul. For me the great question is this: Can we rely upon the Bible as giving us the great facts as to what God requires of man, and that plan of redemption which God has revealed through Jesus Christ? Does it contain the way of Life Eternal? If so, it is inspired of God. Theories of inspiration are of little consequence, for the inspiration of the Holy Spirit is like the wind—thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh or whither it goeth.
wisdom and power of God, as to leave men inexcusable; yet they are not sufficient to give that knowledge of God, and of His will, which is necessary unto salvation; therefore it pleased God to reveal Himself and declare His will unto His Church.” One puts down a sermon of Dr. Fosdick and all his school with the impression that the light nature was sufficient for the salvation of men, and that the Bible is but a reflection of that light of nature, coming from man only, and not from God.
III. The Second Advent
I have already intimated that I do not adhere to the premillennial school of the New Testament interpretation. I do believe that the Church has been inexcusably silent and negligent in its teaching as to the future chapters in the drama of Divine redemption, and that this wide neglect has prepared the way for much of the extravagance of the popular premillenarian. Thoughtful conservatives are not a little perplexed over the attitude of some premillenarians, and sometimes feel that their defense of historic Christianity is not altogether a helpful one; and when we hear our premillenarian brethren dwell with more emphasis and zeal upon the mechanism of the temporal kingdom that is to be set up here upon this earth than they do upon the redeeming love of Christ and the conquest of human nature through the mild reign of the Holy Spirit, we are tempted to become impatient with them and to cry out as the princes of the Philistines did, when, about to campaign against Israel, they saw David and his men in their ranks, and said to Achish, “What do these Hebrews here?” But there is one thing about the premillenarian concerning which there is no doubt, and that is his loyalty to the Person and the claims of
Jesus Christ. However much he may be tempted to write history before it has been made, his absolute loyalty to the Deity of Jesus, His Atonement, and His reign of righteousness and judgment, is never questioned. This far more than we can say about the rationalists. And the modernists. We feel that it is but a poor Christ that they have left us, and only a shadow of the tremendous personality of the New Testament.
institutions, until He shall see of the travail of His soul and be satisfied!” The best possible comment on this idea of the Second Advent of Christ and the final jurisprudence of our species is to set it alongside the mysterious yet mighty utterances of Jesus in the last part of Matthew’s Gospel, or the equally mysterious and tremendous utterances of St. Paul and of St. Peter. Whatever Christ or Paul or Peter mean or do not mean, we can be sure of this, that they imply a process of progress and arrival at perfection which is something far different from Dr. Fosdick’s mild working out of the tangles of life. The Bible teachers progress and development and a final arrival at a state of universal peace and righteousness, but it also teaches that crisis and cataclysm play their part in bringing the great goal which seers, prophets and poets have saluted afar off and contemplated through their tears. The first advent of Christ was not accounted for by any long-drawnout natural development, although it did come in the “fulness of time,” and it is quite possible that the Second Advent will be just as much of an intervention and interruption as the first advent was. The rationalists do not do justice to this plain portion of the eschatological teaching of the Bible. And even were their absurd dream to come true, even should the world by the slow working out of the powers and principles now lodged in humanity arrive at moral perfection, still the goal would not have been reached, for there would yet remain a fearful contrast between this perfect creature and his environment. So Father Tyrrell, a much more thoughtful modernist than those who today are so vocal, asks: “Shall progress ever wipe away the tears from all eyes? Prolong life as it will can progress ever conquer death, with its terrors for the dying, its tears for the surviving? Can it ever control the earthquake, the tempest, the lightning, the cruelties of a nature indifferent to the lot of man?” What Father Tyrrell meant by these questions was that not only man, but man’s environment, the platform of his civilization and life, must be changed and reconstructed. Have Dr. Fosdick and his fellow-rationalists any prescription for the securing of that great end? They have not, and they know that they have not. Thus, even if it had not been revealed in Scripture, common sense and common experience would demand some such intervention and summing up of human affairs as is
involved in the doctrine of the Second Advent.
lead men to believe that He was not conceived by the Holy Ghost and born of the Virgin Mary; that He did not take our place and bear our sins on the cursed tree; that He did not rise again from the dead, and that He will not come again in glory? How shall they greet Him, and what shall they say to Him? To talk acceptably to skeptical university boys, or persons inclined to unbelief, and write for rationalistic papers, is one thing; it is another thing to stand before the judgment seat of Christ. Now those great swelling words about “progressive” revelation, “dynamic” Christianity, “the modern mind,” etc., etc., sink and shrivel and disappear. No minister should preach or write a sermon which he would not be willing to place in the hands of Jesus should appear in person. Could the authors of these rationalistic sermons, sermons which tend to destroy men’s faith in the Eternal Son of God as their alone Redeemer, meet Christ with confidence, and would they feel like placing in His hands the sermon which has denied Him before men?
Dr. Fosdick does not dwell at length on this central doctrine of Christianity, but in the very sentence in which he caricatures the traditional evangelical belief in the Atonement, he reveals his complete and profound aversion to the New Testament teaching on that great and mysterious subject. He thus describes the theory of the Atonement as held by the Evangelical School: “That the blood of our Lord, shed in a substitutionary death, placates an alienated Deity and makes possible welcome for the returning sinner.”