The Fundamentalist-Modernist Controversy

This is going to be a long topic as I've came across and learned from various sources such as Reformed Forum and online searches about this. Let it be known that the content here will not be organized, however, I will try my best to tidy it.

This is not too relevant to creation day age problem as it shouldn't, so that will not be here, and I already have that else where in my journal.

Other than Reformed Forum materials, I today looked up Henry Van Dyke vs. Gresham Machen, since I heard from Darryl G. Hart: Liberalism, the Different Religion, Van Dyke walked out of Machen's sermon, which popularized Machen's book on Christianity and Liberalism. I had to looked Van Dyke up after realizing that he's the author of the lyrics for Beethoven's Ode to Joy: Joyful Joyful We Adore Thee. I remember WTS faculty and jazz enthusiast William Edgar staunchly said he would never sing it. I briefly read the lyrics again, didn't seem to be a big deal. Tough, since Van Dyke walked out on Machen, one would presume that he is a modernist. But he would disagree, according to his article here (I'll post it in the comment to in case of broken link, and put my own comments/notes in that comment as I read through it). Despite rejection the labels for modernist and literalist, I do not believe Van Dyke has escaped out of the woods yet. Judging from his article, he reads as a modernist who denied such label. He did not think the virgin birth is important, apparently (because the Bible is inconsistent about it - Luke 2:33, Matthew 1:16), or at least we shouldn't take the Bible so literally. Then Van Dyke attacked the fundamentalists/literalists on lack of good work (social gospel), complicate ideas using scripture against simple minded folks (I think Van Dyke actually just proved himself looking down on simple folks). For him, just simply come to Jesus and do good works, forget about theological definitions.

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1 Response to The Fundamentalist-Modernist Controversy

  1. timlyg says:

    Religion of Liberal Christian
    Noted Divine Suggests Sweeping Away "Those Too Silly and Misleading Names, Fundamentalists and Modernists."
    Religion of Liberal Christian

    Noted Divine Suggests Sweeping Away "Those Too Silly and Misleading Names, Fundamentalists and Modernists."


    "WHY not sweep away those two silly and misleading names, Fundamentalists and Modernists?” asks Dr. Henry van Dyke in an article in the Outlook, entitled, “The Religion of a Liberal Christian.” These names, he argues, only becloud the issue and confuse the mind of plain folks. Dr. van Dyke, author of that classic, “The Other Wise Man,” is himself neither a Modernist nor a Fundamentalist, because he does not believe in either title. He calls himself a Liberalist who believes in the virgin birth of Jesus Christ, but who, on the other hand, is as firmly convinced that there are portions of Holy Writ that must not be taken literally. In his article he tells us the principles of the Liberalist faith and defines arguments in both the Modernist and Fundamentalist doctrines that are not acceptable to him “as a plain man.” The Liberals interpret the Scriptures according to the spirit and not according to the letter:

    ; We Liberals have no wish to exclude the Literalists from the church. But the Literalists are more warlike. They say the Liberals must go out. Among the Presbyterians a few men plainly say the church must be divided and the Liberalists left in possession of the endowments. Now this proposition (which has a certain commercial flavor) is definitely schismatic —that is to say, it seeks to split the church.

    But there is another thing that must strike the plain man who likes to take words in their ordinary sense. The socalled “five points of essential doctrine” which are put forth by the Literalists as tests of Christian faith are not consistent with one another.

    Take an example. The first point is the absolute freedom of the Scriptures from error of any kind. The second point is the virgin birth of Jesus Christ, as told in the Gospels according to Matthew and Luke. Now suppose a plain man accepts this story as it is told, and believes, as I do, in the virgin birth. Then he reads on and finds (Luke ii. 33) that Joseph and Mary are distinctly called “the father and the mother” of Jesus. Then he turns back and finds (Matthew i. 16) that the descent of Jesus from David and Abraham is definitely traced through Joseph. Now what is the plain man, taking language in its obvious sense, to do? Either he must give up the doctrine of the virgin birth, or he must hedge and qualify his statement that the Holy Scriptures are absolutely free from error, or he must say, as the Liberals do: “Such material discrepancies mean nothing to us. We interpret Scripture, not by the letter, but by the spirit. Anyway, we believe that Jesus Christ is our God and Saviour.”

    It would be easy to go on showing, in the same way, that the five points of the Literalists are neither self-consistent, nor adequate as statements of the truth

    taught in the Bible, nor binding as “essential doctrines.” But to what purpose? It would only make confusion worse confounded.

    The second unhappy feature of the Fundamentalists’ strife is its tendency to delay and obstruct the practical work of the Church. This conflict diverts attention and effort from Christian service to dogmatic definitions. Christ said, “By their fruits shall ye know them.” St. James said that faith was proved by works. Doing good in obedience to Christ is the ultimate test of orthodoxy.

    The third unhappy feature of this Literalists’ attack upon the Liberals is the distraction and anxiety which it causes in the mind of very simple Christian folks. They are my folks. With all who can sing “Jesus, lover of my soul” from the heart, and then rise up to do good in the world, I am in fellowship. Let us not be dismayed. Christ will save us and give us the victory.

    But three things seem to me to belong to the Everyman Gospel, and somehow or other the Christian preacher, on the soap-box or in the pulpit, ought to try to get them over to his brother-man, rich or poor, learned or simple.

    First, God made us all. We are not the children of chance, the offspring of senseless matter and blind force. The Great Spirit is the framer of our bodies and the Father of our spirits. Lift up your hearts. Our bodies come from dust but our souls from God. Let us live bravely, not as mere beasts, but as men and women, children of God.

    Second, there is something wrong with all of us, something which makes it easier to go down than to go up, and to indulge our passions rather than to follow our conscience. The Bible tells us, and our hearts know, what that evil thing is. It is sin, selfishness, which separates us from our Father in heaven and from our brother-men on earth, and makes all the trouble in the world. We must escape from it, get rid of its guilt and its power, if we want peace and a better life.

    Third, there is only one person who can deliver us, Jesus Christ, the Son of God. He came from heaven, and lived a sinless life as the Son of man, and died upon the cross to save the world from sin. He rose from the dead to bring immortality to light. He is one with the Father. God is like Christ. He is love, forgiveness, mercy, truth. Every one who wants to may come to this Saviour. If you believe in him, he will give you a new life. If you trust him, he will give you the peace that is everlasting. If you honestly try to obey him in being good and doing good, that will be the test and proof of your true faith. There is no other. Try this. You don’t need to swallow a volume of theological definitions. Simply come to Jesus, trust him fully, follow him honestly, and you shall be saved. That is Gospel truth.

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