THE BAPTIST VIEW
An Open Letter to the “Gentlemen” Fundamentalists
By the late Noel Smith
(founder and long time editor of the Baptist Bible Tribune)
On Saturday, May 24, Dr. Harry Emerson Fosdick, retired pastor of the Riverside Church of New
York City, which was built under his direction and which he pastored from 1925 to 1946, observed
his eightieth birthday. The New York Times sent a reporter to Bronxville, where Dr. Fosdick lives
in a pink stucco house, for an interview. When the reporter arrived, Dr. Fosdick had just returned
from a walk downtown, which he takes every day, when the weather permits.
The interview was held on the lawn, under the dogwood blossoms, with Dr. Fosdick seated in a
comfortable lawn chair. The picture the reporter took showed Dr. Fosdick with the warm and
friendly smile characteristic of him, and looking twenty years younger than he is. Here is a part of
what the reporter wrote:
will admit to a ‘recrudescence’ these days of fundamentalism. But he
it is a new approach under a new brand-name. The days of the “snarling” Fundamentalists are over,
he said. They have been replaced by the ‘gentlemen’ of the neo-Orthodox, or middle-ground
further, we want to recognize some of Dr. Fosdick’s fine qualities—which
Fundamentalists might emulate with profit to themselves and the cause they represent. All his life
Dr. Fosdick has been a hard worker. He has governed himself with iron discipline. His mornings
have been spent in concentrated study. He has always read with a pen and a notebook at hand. He
is one of the most famous clergymen in the world, has written twenty-nine books and edited two
others, all of which are still selling. And yet he is a man of singular modesty. In nothing he has
written, including his autobiography, will find any boasting, concealed or otherwise. “I know well
that I have only a third-rate mind. Compared with a scholar like Moffatt I am no scholar at all.
Whatever I have been able to accomplish has come through hard work, and if I have any virtue it
lies in sticking to my task. I had rather take a big subject and fail to measure up to it than take a
little subject, walk around it, and come away feeling triumphant. The North Star may be a long way
off but it still has a lot to do with your steering.” He may not know what he should preach, but he
knows how to preach it. “Preach first of all to yourself; if it hits you it will usually hit somebody
Dr. Fosdick has
always been romantically in love with Mrs. Fosdick—never more so than
now—whom he married more than fifty years ago. To his children he has always been a resourceful
and loving father and a deeply understanding and sympathetic friend. About as near as he ever gets
to boasting is when he talks about how his grandchildren used to tell their friends about “Gramp’s
church.” He still speaks of his father and mother with all the reverence with which he has regarded
them from his childhood. He still remembers his mother as “one lovely to look at.”
In the last war, Dr. Fosdick kept up with his Riverside men in the armed services. He wrote them
intelligent letters, kept up with their families, knew of their anxieties and needs.
Most of the religious world, and all of the informed, cultivated secular world will agree with the
Atlanta Constitution that Dr. Fosdick is the “greatest preacher in America during the past one
But Dr. Fosdick
is not a Christian preacher. Dr. Fosdick is not even a Christian. Dr.
Fosdick is not
a saved man. “I do not believe in the virgin birth, or in that old fashioned substitutionary doctrine
of the atonement; and I do not know any intelligent minister who does.”
There never has been on earth a Christian who rejected the atoning blood of Christ. There is not on
earth today a Christian who rejects the atoning blood of Christ. “For this is my blood of the new
testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Matthew 26:28). The Lord Jesus
Christ may not have been an “intelligent minister,” but He believed and preached “that old fashioned
substitutionary doctrine of the atonement.”
there under the dogwood blossoms, possessing so many attractive qualities,
infinite tragedy. Being human, and having a feeling of profound distress when we contemplate the
judgment and unimaginably eternal destruction of those who scorn the atoning blood of Christ, we
may be pardoned for not going into the matter of the world-wide wreckage of souls that lie in the
path of Dr. Fosdick’s ministry and influence. And on his birthday, we won’t be so rude as to remind
him that nothing that he preached (following the first World War) would come to pass, has come
to pass, and that everything he preached would not happen has happened.
If Dr. Fosdick
continues on the road he has chosen, when he reaches the end of the journey
going to find no dogwood blossoms, and there will be none “lovely to look at.”
This brings us
to the “gentlemen” fundamentalists. “The days of the ‘snarling’
over,” he said. “They have been replaced by ‘gentlemen’ of the neo-Orthodox, or the middle-ground
says here that fundamentalism refuses to die, in spite of all the hammering
to which it
has been subjected for fifty years.
says here that the “gentlemen” now regarded as the leaders of fundamentalism
the gentlemen who had anything to do with the founding of fundamentalism, and with the influence
that fundamentalism has had on this country and throughout the world.
says here that these new leaders of fundamentalism don’t come from the
fundamentalists. He says they come from the neo-Orthodox and middle-ground schools.
says here that these “gentlemen” refuse to be Modernists, and they refuse to
Dr. Fosdick says here that these “gentlemen” are a hybrid.
Dr. Fosdick says
here that these “gentlemen” are a third thing which has been produced as a
of the conflict between Modernists who reject the Bible and historic Christianity and the
fundamentalists who accept the Bible and historic Christianity.
on all sides who knows anything about this question, knows that Dr. Fosdick
summed up the situation as it actually is.
fundamentalists: Gentlemen, if you were concerned with the driftwood on the
of the stream of fundamentalism, which the storms of half a hundred years have blown there; if you
were really concerned with the “snarls,” we would be your ally.
you are not concerned with these incidental and superficial things. You are
concerned with the essential elements of the stream itself. You don’t want to clear off the surface;
you want to change the basic character of the stream.
Gentleman, Dr. Harold Ockenga, pastor of Park Street Church of Boston, wrote
platform on which you stand. He says that the “new evangelicalism differs from fundamentalism
in its willingness to handle the social problems which the fundamentalists evaded.” He says that the
“new evangelical believes that Christianity is intellectually defensible, but the Christian cannot be
obscurantist in scientific questions pertaining to the creation, age of man, the universality of the
Flood, and other debatable Bible questions.” He says that “the new evangelicalism is willing to face
the intellectual problems and meet them in the framework of modern learning.”
everybody knows, including you gentlemen, that the “new evangelicalism” is
fundamentalism” led by you gentlemen for whom Dr. Fosdick and his Modernist friends have a
warm and friendly smile.
Dr. Ockenga has let the cat out of the bag. He says that the new
must not be “obscurantist” on the questions of the creation, the age of man, the universality of the
Flood, “and other debatable Bible questions.”
This means in
the language of intelligent and honest men that the new fundamentalists must
contentious and positive about the Bible’s teaching concerning the creation, the age of man, the
universality of the Flood, “and other debatable Bible questions.”
And this means,
gentlemen, that the new fundamentalists must not be contentious and positive
any question in the Bible; for every doctrine of the Bible is a “debatable question” with modern
And this means,
gentlemen, that the new fundamentalists must not only listen to Moses, the
Prophets, and the writers of the New Testament; they must listen with equal respect to Charles
Darwin, Herbert Spencer, John Dewey, Bertrand Russell, and all the others. There must be co-existence.
First Gentleman, Mr. Graham, has already ceased to be obscurantist on the
of Eden. Mr. Graham says that as far as the Garden of Eden is concerned, “You can take it
symbolically, you can take it literally—it makes no difference as far as the truth and meaning is
Dr. Fosdick and
his friends, including the Christian Century and the Interpreter’s Bible,
certainly concede that your First Gentleman is a real gentleman here. There is of course a
difference: the former deny that the Garden of Eden could ever be considered as literal by any
intelligent person; Mr. Graham says that there should be co-existence on the question.
Garden of Eden involves the creation of man as against evolution, the
of Satan, the fact of sin. If the third chapter of Genesis is not valid, you have no premise for the
incarnation and its consequences, one of which is the gospel of Christ. Materialists don’t believe
in the incarnation because they don’t believe in the validity of the third chapter of Genesis. And not
believing in the validity of the third chapter of Genesis, the materialists have never found any
premise for the incarnation.
may be gentlemen, and the materialists may not be gentlemen; but you are
gentlemen, and the materialists are at least intelligent. They at least know that there must be a
premise for the incarnation. There must be a reason for it.
large part of the country, including a considerable segment of your admirers
supporters, is beginning to get puzzled about you. You are too much of gentlemen to criticize and
repudiate Modernism, to denounce gamblers and brewers and distillers; but you are not such
gentlemen as to hesitate to indiscriminately brand as “pharisaical sectarians” the people who have
been responsible for the conversion of most of you, your education, and the opportunities through
which you have climbed to the summit of gentlemen fundamentalists.
reflecting on this thing, we are afraid that some of our more discerning and
discriminating readers are going to censure us for ignoring quotation marks with the use of
gentlemen. But when we err, we like to do so on the side of charity, even though you gentlemen and
Dr. Fosdick would never consider us as being gentlemen. We are obscurantist where the authority
of the Bible is involved. And nowadays no gentleman will be obscurantist when an ever-changing
science repudiates the authority of the Word of God.
First Gentleman, Mr. Graham, has given us a concrete illustration of the
you gentlemen are experiencing as gentlemen leaders of the new fundamentalists.
You remember that
Mr. Noel Houston wrote two articles on Mr. Graham for Holiday magazine,
which appeared last February and March respectively. They were the most objective, balanced, and
comprehensive articles that anybody has written about Mr. Graham. In the first one there was a
color photograph of Mr. Graham which the Prince of Wales might well envy—if there were a Prince
of Wales instead of a Princess Margaret.
In an interview
with Mr. Graham, Mr. Houston, with a rare quality of discernment, asked Mr.
Graham a question which penetrated to the sore spot of you gentlemen. It’s the sorest spot you have.
And it gets sorer.
reminded Mr. Graham that his position was that he neither criticized nor
existing institutions, as reformers have always done. Mr. Houston reminded Mr. Graham that his
position was that he, Mr. Graham, had only “good news.” Mr. Houston suggested that such a
position was a popular position, and that Mr. Graham, holding such a position, could hope for
nothing more than a rise and then a decline of his popularity, that his name could not live in history
beside the names that have turned the tide and arrested the progress of godlessness. Mr. Houston
wanted to know what Mr. Graham thought of his future.
Mr. Graham was
not prepared for such a question. It astonished him. It knocked him off his
balance. He jumped up from his chair. He paced the floor. He was beside himself. The Ku Klux
Klan might martyr him. The “extreme fundamentalists” might martyr him. He might have to suffer
as Christ had suffered. He might be torn apart.
In other words,
Mr. Graham had a childish tantrum. He never answered Mr. Houston’s question.
He never answered it because there was no answer.
whatever happens to you gentlemen, including your First Gentleman, nobody—
Ku Kluxer nor “extreme fundamentalists”—will ever persecute you. History doesn’t record that
anybody holding your position was ever jailed for that position. All of you are perfectly safe. Men
are never persecuted for standing for nothing.
Josephus was safe in that terrible madness which resulted in the destruction
Jerusalem and the Temple under Titus in A.D. 70. Josephus was a gentleman. He surrendered his
army to Titus. The gentleman accompanied Titus to Rome. He received from the emperor the
equivalent of all that he had lost in Jerusalem. He was made a Roman citizen. He got a pension.
Later on, he received grants of land in Palestine.
Josephus was a gentleman.
Simon Gioras never surrendered. He was no gentleman. He was captured. He
accompanied Titus to Rome also, but in chains. He was publicly scourged, with Josephus looking
on. And what was left of his writhing, bleeding flesh was executed.
Josephuses have always been safe, even in the days of pagan Rome.
Gentlemen, you yourselves know that if the prophets were here today you and Dr. Fosdick would
not consider a one of them as being a gentleman. And if John the Baptist were here, you would
brand him as an obscurantist.
And the plain
truth is, gentlemen, as reluctant as we are to mention it, if the Lord Jesus
here today not a one of you would consider Him a gentleman.
Good luck to
you gentlemen. The world is big enough for all of us.
suspicions are justified: history is against you. History is against
Josephus. History will
stand with the fundamentalists who spell it with a capital F, and who have what you gentlemen and
Dr. Fosdick call a “snarl.”
A “snarl” is
not the worst thing one can have in the face of the demand that Christianity
infidelity shall co-exist.