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Baptist contributions to liberalism.

Looking at what has happened among Baptists, especially Baptists in the South, during the past two decades, many readers may expect a very short article. Much more, they will assume, could be written about Baptist contributions to liberalism's opposite and bitter enemy, fundamentalism. Indeed, according to some fundamentalists, Baptists have been the stalwart and persistent carriers of the fundamentalist torch of biblical inerrancy from the beginning of their history, so that the use of the words Baptist and Liberal together is at best an anomaly and at worst a contradiction in terms. On the other hand, Baptist and fundamentalist are virtually synonymous.

For persons not well versed in Baptist history, therefore, this article may occasion some surprise. Baptists, even in the South, have raised up some contributors and made some major contributions to American theological liberalism. As a matter of fact, William R. Hutchinson, Charles Warren Professor of the History of Religion in America at Harvard, concluded from intensive study of The Modernist Impulse in American Protestantism that "after the Methodists, the two groups most deeply affected [by liberalism] were the Baptists and the Disciples." (1) Many will think of course of a few names such as C. H. Toy, who departed the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1879 to assume a position at Harvard because he found the historical critical interpretation of Scriptures the only method he could use with integrity; Walter Rauschenbusch, one of the leading lights in the Social Gospel movement and the framer of a theology for it; William Newton Clarke, a professor at the Hamilton (later Colgate) Theological Seminary who systematized liberal theology in An Outline of Christian Theology (1898); and Harry Emerson Fosdick, pastor of Riverside Baptist Church in New York City and "the most widely-known religious liberal of the 1920s." (2) More easily overlooked are the Baptist institutions that took the lead not merely in importing to the United States and refashioning the ideas of Friedrich Schleiermacher, widely recognized as the "father" of liberalism, Albrecht Ritschl, the preeminent theologian of liberalism, and Ernst Troeltsch, architect of the socio-historical method, but addressing in creative ways the peculiar needs of the contemporary American setting. Rauschenbusch, of course, taught at Colgate Rochester Theological Seminary, but the institution which self-consciously carried the liberal banner from its refounding in 1891 under the presidency of William Rainey Harper was the University of Chicago. Almost all of the faculty of the divinity school were Baptists active in forming the Northern Baptist Convention.

Although thorough weighing of evidence will not let one say that Baptists in the South contributed significantly to the molding and spreading of liberal theology, it left quite clear traces in the thinking of Baptist ministers through colleges such as Wake Forest and through Southern Seminary. Edwin McNeill Poteat almost equalled Fosdick in national prominence as a preacher. As president of Wake Forest College (now University), he did much to shape it in the liberal tradition. E. Y. Mullins brought to Southern Seminary some of the more progressive perspectives of Baptists in the North after serving several years as a pastor in Newton Centre, Massachusetts. (3) His own theology owed some of its experiential slant not only to his personal experience but to Friedrich Schleiermacher. The journal Mullins started in 1904, Review & Expositor, regularly landed on the side of progressives rather than fundamentalists in the fight between them. W. O. Carver, for instance, took strong exception to J. Gresham Machen's slashing attack on modernism in Christianity and Liberalism, (4) charging him with overgeneralizing and misrepresenting "the opposition against which he is contending." Although he admitted that many things in liberalism put it in the category of a "different religion," he did not find the "legalistic, externally dogmatic interpretations" of Machen any better. "His interpretation of Christianity is far too external and too dependent on formal logic," he said. In fact, Machen resorted so much to legalism that he left no room for the Holy Spirit. Carver took issue with the whole Princetonian tendency to denigrate the work and progress of the Spirit in human culture. (5) E. Y. Mullins's contribution to The Fundamentals, twelve volumes of essays published between 1910 and 1915, can hardly be cited in support of the fundamentalist agenda; it was about religious experience, (6) that Schleiermacherian emphasis that terrified the fundamentalists!

The truth is, Baptists supplied major players in American theological liberalism. (7) Two of Kenneth Cauthen's five representatives of "evangelical liberalism" (William Adams Brown, Harry Emerson Fosdick, Walter Rauschenbusch, A.C. Knudson, and Eugene W. Lyman) and two of the three shapers of "modernistic liberalism" (Shailer Mathews, Douglas Clyde Macintosh, and Henry Nelson Wieman) were Baptists. Recognition of the fascination liberalism had in its heyday for this denomination raises intriguing questions: Is there something inherent in the Baptist tradition that pulls Baptists toward the liberal and modernist outlook? Are there affinities between the Baptist tradition and liberalism that explain the lure of liberalism for thinking Baptists deeply committed to their tradition? I'll return to those questions in a final section of this article.

What Was/Is Liberalism?

If I am to confirm the thesis that the evidence seems to point to, I need first of all to define liberalism. A popular definition which many adduced from Adolf Harnack's summation of Jesus' teaching in What Is Christianity? (8) was "the fatherhood of God" and "the brotherhood of man." Actually, Harnack had stated three points: the kingdom of God which comes individually and spiritually, the fatherhood of God entailing such divine care that it elevated human worth beyond anything ever known previously, and the inseparability of love for God and service of humanity. Precision demands much more than this.

Classical American liberalism lived a fairly short if vigorous life which Kenneth Cauthen dated from about 1901 until 1933. (9) Those dates, of course, could serve as indexes to liberalism's high tide, but it had a much longer history. The latter date marked the publication of Karl Barth's famous commentary on Romans and the meteoric ascent of neo-orthodoxy toward a position of dominance in theology at the expense of more liberal theology. American liberalism, however, had roots in European as well as American soil--Schleiermacher, Ritschl, Troeltsch, the Religionsgeschichtliche Schule, Harnack, and others. What particularly rolled in like a tidal wave in America in the late nineteenth century, however, was Charles Darwin's Origin of the Species, published in 1859, carrying with it the hope of "inevitable progress." The Great Awakening and the Frontier Revivals had already dealt a heavy blow to New England Calvinism's strong emphasis on human depravity and virtual determinism. Americans counted much more on religious experience to confirm their relationship with God. Darwin's theory of biological evolution paved wide avenues for a more optimistic view of life than Calvinism could ever have conceived possible.

Horace Bushnell, who died in 1876, did much of the groundwork for both the Social Gospel and Protestant modernism. Like the New England transcendentalists, he stressed God's indwelling and humanity's direct access to God. He insisted that religion and science must treat one another with respect because each has its own integrity and because they are harmonious. Just as nature and the supernatural represent "the one system of God," (10) so science and faith, the means by which we apprehend natural and supernatural, are part of one great continuum. Religion has to accommodate science and not do battle against it. Rather, it wants "to possess and appropriate and melt into unity with itself, all other truth; for whatever truth there is in the universe belongs to the Lord of Christianity." (11) Although Bushnell placed Darwinism low on the scale of certainties as not "proven," he nevertheless moved far toward the modernist accommodation to science and, as William R. Hutchinson has remarked, "helped establish the foundation for a modernism that would claim to be conserving the doctrines of Christianity rather than superseding them." (12) He considered the language of creeds poetical and not literal and thus restated doctrines of the Trinity and of the person and work of Christ.

Liberalism was not monolithic. Kenneth Cauthen, for instance, distinguished between earlier "evangelical liberalism" and later "modernistic liberalism." (13) Liberal theologians who also criticized one another, particularly after World War I, shattered the optimism about human nature which had carried the movement earlier. (14) Certain emphases, however, appeared consistently in the writings of prominent liberals. Lloyd J. Averill has listed an even dozen emphases of the liberal theology that emerged in its classic form: (1) a world view shaped by the theory of evolution with its accent on the continuity of all life; (2) modification of supernaturalism by emphasizing the immanence of God; (3) a doctrine of humanity expressed in terms of divine child/parent relationship and free moral agency; (4) "an emphatic personalism"; (5) affirmation of the centrality of Jesus Christ; (6) uniting of religion and ethics with morality seen as not only individual but social; (7) insistence on the legitimacy of testing biblical and theological matters by reason just as in other areas of knowledge and experience; (8) employment of the tools of scientific, literary, and historical scholarship to the study of the Bible; (9) welcoming of both secular learning and scholarship in common concerns; (10) an eschatological outlook which was essentially progressivistic and optimistic; (11) operating on a historical bias in favor of the Reformation and critical of the Middle Ages; and (12) insistence on the need for ongoing theological reformulation and reinterpretation. (15)

How Did Baptists Contribute to Liberalism?

In what way did Baptists contribute to American liberal theology? There is little doubt, I think, that Baptists had a certain prominence in the liberal movement from its inception.

1. A Rationale for Liberal Theology: William Newton Clarke.--In 1898 William Newton Clarke, professor of theology at Hamilton (later Colgate) Theological Seminary in Hamilton, New York, published An Outline of Christian Theology in which he set forth how to build a theological system on liberal assumptions. He began not with alleged irreducible "facts" of Scriptures, as Charles Hodge and the Princetonians did, but with religious experience, recognizing that "all the great religions contain some truth concerning religion." (16) He differentiated his approach from "orthodox" approaches at the point of making no assumption about divine inspiration of Scriptures (although he speckled his theology liberally with quotations from them). Our theology should not be dictated by the Bible, he contended, but "inspired" in us by the Bible or rather "through the Bible by the Spirit that inspired the Bible," (17) for "the authority of the Scriptures is the authority of the truth that they convey." (18) In what could be seen as a sort of left-handed tribute to Clarke, William Adams Brown, professor of theology at Union Seminary in New York, issued his own Christian Theology in Outline to make up for one glaring omission in his teacher's, namely, discussion of the church and the ministry. (19)

2. A Gospel for the Whole Person: Walter Rauschenbusch.--Not all liberals, by any means, put their shoulders under the Social Gospel, but it was part of the liberal tradition, and Walter Rauschenbusch (1861-1918) will always stand at the head of Baptist contributors to this facet of liberal theology. In some respects, that is remarkable, for he came from a pietistic background that tilted him toward an individualistic faith. His father, Augustus, had come to the United States as a Lutheran missionary in 1846 but became a Baptist four years later. After serving as an agent of the American Tract Society among German immigrants in Canada and the West, he spent the rest of his life in the German department of Rochester Theological Seminary training ministers to work among the German-speaking population. In this setting, Walter experienced a conversion near the end of his high school years which he called "a tender, mysterious experience." (20) He spent the next four years in Germany and graduated from the Gymnasius in Gutersloh in 1883.

He responded to a call to ministry and worked simultaneously for an "arts" degree at the University of Rochester and to prepare himself theologically at Rochester Theological Seminary. A summer spent supplying a small German Baptist congregation in Louisville, Kentucky, deepened his sense of vocation with emphasis on spiritual nurture and conversion. In a letter to a friend he said,

The idea came to me that I ought to be a preacher and help to save souls. I wanted to go out as a foreign missionary. I wanted to do hard work for God. Indeed, one of the great thoughts that came upon me was that I ought to follow Jesus Christ in my personal life, and live over again his life and die over again his death. I felt that every Christian ought to in some way or other participate in the dying of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in that way help to redeem humanity. (21)

Deafness diverted Rauschenbusch's dream of being a missionary, but he already was forming some of his liberal perceptions in Louisville the next summer. He confessed:
 I tell you I am just beginning to believe in the gospel of the Lord Jesus
 Christ, not exactly in the shape in which the average person proclaims it
 as the infallible truth of the Most High, but in a shape that suits my
 needs, that I have gradually constructed for myself in studying the person
 and teachings of Christ, and which is still in rapid process of
 construction. I don't believe that believing any doctrine will do a man any
 good except so far as it is translated into life. I don't believe that when
 a man believes in the vicarious death of Christ that death will be imputed
 to him; how can it be? But if he begins to live a Christ-like life, he will
 find that tho' there is no cross for him to be nailed to, he will die
 piecemeal by self-sacrifice just as Christ did even before his crucifixion
 and then he is at one with Christ and placed by God into the same category.

Rauschenbusch never surrendered his deep personal piety. Although he concluded that "the Bible is only in a secondary sense revelation, ... the result of revelation and in turn an aid to revelation," (23) he questioned any idea of "inevitable progress," for ethically, he thought, a human being "sags downward by nature." (24) "Education has not brought salvation." That comes only "by the coming of the Son of God into humanity, initiating the new humanity with a force not previously among us." (25) We must educate. We must seek to transform social and political life. "But spirituality is first." (26) Service as a pastor on the edge of Hell's Kitchen in New York City widened and seasoned his "evangelical" outlook. (27) He and two close friends formed a group called "The Brotherhood of the Kingdom," which they patterned after the Jesuit order.

Although Hell's Kitchen was the crucible for his social thought, Rauschenbusch caught the attention of an ever-wider audience after he took up a position first in the German department (1897) and later as professor of church history (1902) at Rochester Theological Seminary. In 1907, he gained instant and widespread celebrity with the publication of Christianity and the Social Crisis, a book composed largely of papers he had presented before "The Brotherhood of the Kingdom." Close on the heels of this, he published his Prayers of the Social Awakening (1910), Christianizing the Social Order (1912), Unto Me (1912), Dare We Be Christians? (1914), The Social Principles of Jesus (1916), and A Theology for the Social Gospel (1917).

Contrary to what many of his harshest critics assumed, Rauschenbusch wanted Christians to get a deep-enough taste of religion that it would result in their transformation. His basic thesis was that social Christianity is more complete than an individualistic type of religion and will win and inspire modern people. He never relinquished his Baptist conviction, however, that change in the social order depends on change in persons one on one. "Create a ganglion chain of redeemed personalities in a commonwealth," he insisted in Christianizing the Social Order, "and all things become possible." (28) This pointed in turn to the mission of the church. "Here is one of the permanent functions of the Christian church," he said. "It must enlist the will and the love of men and women for God, mark them with the cross of Christ, and send them out to finish up the work which Christ began." (29) He later explained, "We do not want less religion; we want more; but it must be religion that gets its orientation from the Kingdom of God. To concentrate our efforts on personal salvation, as orthodoxy has done, or on soul culture, as liberalism has done, comes close to refined selfishness." (30) He was disappointed that the "skin-deep" revivalism of his day did not do what Dwight L. Moody's evangelism did. "The saint of the future will need not only a theocentric mysticism which enables him to realize God," he judged, "but an anthropocentric mysticism which enables him to realize his fellow-men in God." (31)

3. A Faith for Moderns: Shailer Mathews and the Chicago School.--If Rauschenbusch was a premier representative of "evangelical liberalism," Shailer Mathews stood out as the shaper of "modernistic liberalism" nurtured in the University of Chicago. The original University of Chicago, founded in 1856, floundered in the panic of 1857 and went deeper and deeper into debt to the point that an insurance company foreclosed on its property in 1886. In 1891 John D. Rockefeller bank- rolled its reestablishment under the presidency of William Raney Harper. Harper, a noted Hebraist, set out to make the university a first-class research institution "uniquely grounded in the American experience." (32) Backed by the Rockefeller endowment of $35 million, he raided faculties everywhere to bring the brightest young scholars in the country to Chicago. Those who came to teach at the Divinity School made adaptation of the scientific method to advance the critical study of the Bible and religious history a central concern. They were at one and the same time devoted churchmen and, without exception, modernists who took what they learned to people of the Bible belt with all the enthusiasm of sawdust-trail evangelists. They wanted to help laypersons understand how the insights of critical scholarship could relate to contemporary issues of faith. In the development of the Chicago School, they were influenced by the burgeoning philosophy of American pragmatism of John Dewey and William James. As one of the later representatives of the Chicago School remarked, they "either abandoned what they had begun in Europe, or turned what they had acquired as a disciplined mode of study to contemporary ends within a medium native to the American experience." (33)

Although opinions vary on the constituency of the Chicago School, (34) key early figures included Shailer Mathews (historical theology), Shirley Jackson Case (New Testament and early Christian history), (35) John Merlin Powis Smith (Old Testament), George Burman Foster (philosophy of religion), Gerald Birney Smith (theology), and Edward Scribner Ames (philosophy). Later representatives included Albert Eustace Haydon (comparative religion), Henry Nelson Wieman (philosophy of religion), Bernard Eugene Meland (constructive theology), (36) Daniel Day Williams (theology), and Bernard McDougall Loomer (philosophy of religion). Shailer Mathews heads all lists as the acknowledged pioneer, if not the most careful scholar, of the Chicago School.

Like Rauschenbusch, Mathews (1863-1941), too, came from a devout Baptist family professing evangelical theology. Descended from a long line of preachers and teachers on both sides of his family, he attended Colby College and Newton Theological Institution. He taught rhetoric and public speaking at Colby and New Testament at Newton for a short time. After two years of study at the University of Berlin, he was shifted to the field of history and political economy at Colby. In 1894, the University of Chicago hired him as associate professor of New Testament history. In 1906, he was transferred to the Divinity School of the University of Chicago to teach theology and spent the remainder of his career in that position. From 1908 until his retirement in 1933, he served as dean.

In early years at Chicago, Mathews pursued a more evangelical line, but in later ones he moved increasingly toward a modernist approach. Although members of the Chicago School differed among themselves--some emphasizing an empirical and pragmatic approach and others socio-historical method--all agreed with the central concern of modernism, that the Christian tradition had to be reinterpreted from the perspective of modern culture if it were to make it through the twentieth century. Mathews took the lead in this.

In The Gospel and Modern Man, published in 1910, he still considered the faith he found in the New Testament normative, but he argued that it required translation into modern thought forms. The theologians' task is to discover the functional meaning of biblical doctrines and make them intelligible to modern people.

Convinced that Christianity is not a corpus of truth but a religious social movement, he shifted to the left in his theological outlook. He became increasingly convinced that theological views are products of the dominant social outlook of the period and change when social structures change. From 1915 on, with the publication of a long article on "Theology and the Social Mind" in The Biblical World, Kenneth Cauthen has estimated, Mathews should be described as a modernistic rather than evangelical liberal. He no longer considered the Christian tradition normative and sought a new method for evaluating Christianity's historic teachings. He found the method he was looking for to test religious truth in the methods and conclusions of modern science. He expressed the new point of view in The Faith of Modernism (1924), Atonement and the Social Process (1930), and The Growth of the Idea of God (1931). Believing that theologies have a practical rather than a theoretical significance, he turned to the natural and social sciences rather than philosophy to interpret religious doctrines. (37)

In sharp contrast to fundamentalism, Shailer Mathews insisted that Christianity is a way of life rather than a set of beliefs or doctrinal propositions. His central contention in "Theology and the Social Mind" was that Christianity is a religious movement grounded in an experience of salvation centering in the life and work of Jesus Christ. He pointed to seven subsequent social minds as evidence that they produce doctrines: the Semitic, the Graeco-Roman, the imperialistic, the feudal, the nationalistic, the bourgeois, and the modern or scientific-democratic. This means that there are no permanent truths that require no adjustment.

In The Faith of Modernism, Mathews proceeded to elaborate on his understanding of modernism. He gave six features: (1) "The Modernist movement is a phase of the scientific struggle for freedom in thought and belief." (2) "Modernists are Christians who accept the results of scientific research as data with which to think religiously." (3) They are "Christians who adopt the method of historical and literary science in the study of the Bible and religion." (4) They believe that "the Christian religion will help [people] meet social as well as individual needs." (5) They are Christians who believe that "the spiritual and moral needs of the world can be met" because they are convinced intellectually that "Christian attitudes and faiths are consistent with other realities." (6) "Modernists as a class are evangelical Christians," i.e., "accept Jesus Christ as the revelation of a Savior God." (38) In sum, he said, modernism is "the use of methods of modern science to find, state and use the permanent and central values of inherited orthodoxy in meeting the needs of a modern world." (39) In The Atonement and the Social Process and The Growth of the Idea of God he employed his method to explicate the doctrines of atonement and of God in history and in his own time. He thought other doctrines should receive similar treatment. Even the Bible cannot be treated as normative. The object of scientific study is to get beyond its doctrinal affirmations to the basic and enduring experiences which gave rise to the doctrines.

What Attracted Baptists to the Liberal Movement?

Much more could be written about specific Baptist liberals or modernists, but the persons I have alluded to up to now demonstrate that Baptists played major roles in the liberal movement. More intriguing at this point are the questions I posed earlier, that is, whether there is something inherent in the Baptist tradition that would attract Baptists to the liberal movement or whether there is even an affinity between the Baptist and the liberal traditions that explains why Baptists contributed as much as they did. The degree and depth of Baptist involvement in the movement inclines me to think that the answer to both questions is yes, as I hinted in earlier writings. (40) Kenneth Cauthen reached a similar conclusion in his classic study of The Impact of American Religious Liberalism. Noting that half of the persons he would treat in detail were Baptists, he remarked:
 The Baptist influence on twentieth-century liberalism in America, then, is
 of great significance. One suspects that there is an important connection
 between some of the theological emphases of Baptists and the development of
 liberalism. Baptists have always shied away from any creedal statements
 which would enforce strict doctrinal conformity and have stressed the
 freedom and competency of the individual under the leadership of the Spirit
 to interpret the New Testament for himself [or herself]. Moreover, Baptists
 were among those most affected by revivalism in the nineteenth century. The
 stress of revivalism on conversion and Christian experience shifted
 attention away from concern with correctness of belief and the significance
 of dogma to the authority and importance of personal experience. In the
 light of this background it is not surprising that some of the most
 influential leaders of liberal thought in America came out of a Baptist,
 pietistic environment which had already laid the groundwork for some of the
 most distinctive liberal emphases. (41)

A couple of points can be added to this. First of all, I see an affinity in an emphasis on God's immanence and voluntary response to God. At the heart of the Baptist tradition, in my opinion, lies the voluntary principle in religion. (42) To be authentic and responsible, faith must be free. Coercion of any kind invalidates obedience. Vibrating through this basic religious premise is the conviction that the living God, the Holy Spirit, is immanent and active here and now to do far beyond what human beings have any right to expect from their contrivances and machinations. It is not hard to see Baptist affinity for liberalism in this central conviction, for emphasis on the immanence of God stood also at the heart of liberal theology. So, too, did opposition to authoritarian images of God and support of free moral agency.

The voluntary principle accounts for other traditional Baptist concerns: believer's baptism, voluntary association to carry out the world mission of Christ, suspicion of creeds, ardent support of religious liberty, and advocacy of separation of church and state. To explain the evidence of sympathy for liberalism in the South here, we need only recall that Baptists in the South resisted adoption of creeds even more vigorously than northern counterparts. The Southern Baptist Convention adopted its first confession of faith, The Baptist Faith and Message, in 1925, eighty years after it began, with considerable reluctance in the midst of a controversy over evolution and did not redo it until 1963 in the midst of a controversy over interpretation of Genesis.

Second, we can ask, too, whether Baptists have not inherited a sort of "modernist impulse." In their beginnings, they had to defend themselves against those who questioned whether they could validate their claims to be a legitimate Christian group. Anglicans insisted that validation depended on succession of bishops. In Amsterdam John Smyth, the first English Baptist, in fact, developed doubts about his baptism on that basis and split with Thomas Helwys over the question. Helwys led a small group back to England to found the first Baptist church on English soil. From this point on, Baptists contended that validation depended not on succession but on faithfulness to the New Testament, not in some slavish imitation but as that can be meaningfully manifested today. Baptists can easily be faulted, just as modernists were, for taking history lightly, but they aspired to make faith speak to modern persons.

An evangelistic impulse, particularly in America, has energized modernist tendencies of Baptists still more and pulled them away from strong doctrinal preoccupations toward experience, another of liberalism's emphases. Early Baptists, of course, found themselves restrained by Calvinist predestinarian tenets. The "Great Awakening" (1720-60) and the Frontier Revivals (1790-1820) freed them from such restraints as they competed with Methodists to become "America's church." Revivalism with the attendant conversions shifted the accent from doctrine to experience. What mattered was not whether you could recite a creed but whether you could testify about your personal experience of Jesus Christ and lived what you believed. John Bunyan framed it concisely in The Pilgrim's Progress in the dialogue between Christian, Faithful, and Talkative. How does one discover a work of grace in the soul? he asks.
 "1. By an experimental confession of his faith in Christ. 2. By a life
 answerable to that confession, to wit, a life of holiness, heart-holiness:
 family-holiness, (if he hath a family,) and by conversation-holiness in the
 world." (43)

Baptists in the South, influenced more deeply by Separate Baptists of the Great Awakening, likewise, valued conversion and experiential religion more than dogma. (44)

If, as I am arguing, liberalism and the Baptist tradition have a certain affinity, you may wonder why there are not more liberal Baptists today. Why has liberalism only attracted its hundreds or thousands while fundamentalism has attracted its tens and hundreds of thousands of Baptists? Any serious answer to that question would require a long and elaborate response well beyond what I can offer here. Just briefly, I would say, as Shailer Mathews would, that part of the answer rests in what is happening in modern culture. Fundamentalism, absolutism, prospers in times of rapid change and uncertainty such as we have witnessed in the past century. Every world religion--Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism--has experienced it. Fundamentalist Muslims have seized control of countries such as Iran and Afghanistan; they have tried and failed to do so in other countries. In the United States, fundamentalist Christians have exerted powerful political influence, though that is waning and some fundamentalist leaders have deliberately drawn back from public life. Another part of the answer lies in the fact that liberalism has attracted chiefly a more highly educated constituency while fundamentalism appeals to people of modest education. The latter far outnumber the former among Baptists. One might ask here, though, whether liberalism has not been too "heady." It has appealed to an elite with its carefully constructed arguments, but it has not touched hearts. There have been exceptions, of course. Walter Rauschenbusch and Harry Emerson Fosdick touched hearts. But the Chicago School did not.

Finally, not many Baptists know their history or understand their tradition. As a matter of fact, the more Baptists in the South have succeeded, the less they have appreciated their Baptist idea. The Baptist idea is a minority idea. As the Southern Baptist Convention has achieved numerical dominance in most of the South, Baptists no longer think like Baptists with their intense concern for the voluntary principle in religion, religious liberty, separation of church and state, and voluntary association to carry out the world mission of Christianity. They think like Anglicans thought in the era of Baptist beginnings in England. Understandably, they favor imposing of the religion of the majority which they have become.

Does this mean that liberalism will have no place among Baptists in the future? I think not. One will find Baptist theologians such as Harvey Cox and Langdon Gilkey who have shown remarkable skill in responding to a whirling mass of questions hurled at theologians in the last half of the twentieth century. Cox, in fact, has leaped as nimbly as a deer from secular theology in The Secular City (1965) to medieval fantasizing in The Feast of Fools (1969) to the charismatic movement in The Seduction of the Spirit (1973) to dialogue with oriental religions in Turning East (1977). Gilkey represents more the maturation of the Chicago School. As neo-orthodoxy overshadowed liberal theology in mid-century, the Chicago School adjusted to a more philosophical outlook under Henry Nelson Wieman and Charles Hartshorne. Liberalism has enjoyed a resurgence in the latter third of the twentieth century in the form of the evolutionary theology of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and the process theology of John B. Cobb.

Although Chicago no longer has discernible Baptist connections, evolutionary and process models have appealed to more conservative Baptist theologians such as Eric Rust, for many years professor of the philosophy of religion at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. (45) He would not want to be classified as a liberal, but Rust did his best throughout his career to make Christian faith speak to modern persons whose thought is shaped by modern science, though in a different manner than the Chicago School did. (46) Rust's more conservative approach is shown in the fact that, whereas Chicago School theologians such as Shailer Mathews used science to interpret history, including biblical history, Rust used the model of salvation history or biblical realism to interpret nature. Nevertheless, it would not be inaccurate to say that he did much to achieve the major goal of liberal theology. I summed it up in this way: "Laboring within a conservative context both in England and America, he has done as much if not more than any Baptist scholar to demonstrate the way in which a serious Christian can relate his or her faith to the modern world." (47) Liberalism among Baptists may look pale and emaciated at times, but it still lives.


(1.) William R. Hutchinson, The Modernist Impulse in American Protestantism (Cambridge and London: Harvard University Press, 1976), 114.

(2.) Ibid., 253.

(3.) On the impact of Boston University Personalism and the Pragmatism of William James during his service as pastor of Newton Centre Baptist Church on his theological views, see Timothy D. F. Maddox, "Mr. Baptist for the 20th and 21st Century," Review & Expositor 96 (1999): 91.

(4.) J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism (New York: Macmillan Co., 1923).

(5.) W. O. Carver, "Review of Christianity and Liberalism by J. Gresham Machen," Review and Expositor 21 (July 1924): 344-49.

(6.) E. Y. Mullins, "The Testimony of Christian Experience," in The Fundamentals (Los Angeles: The Bible Institute, 1917), 4: 314.

(7.) Kenneth Cauthen, The Impact of American Religious Liberalism (New York and Evanston: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1962). To these we could add the whole Chicago School of Theology which began with William Rainey Harper, Shailer Mathews, Edgar DeWitt Burton, and Shirley Jackson Case and included George Burman Foster, who incited such an outcry that Harper transferred him to humanities. (On Foster see Creighton Peden, The Chicago School: Voices in Liberal Religious Thought [Bristol, Ind.: Wyndham Hall Press, 1987], 24-43.) Although the thought of the Chicago School shifted from its more historical/critical orientation to a more philosophical one, the liberal tradition continued with Gerald Birney Smith, Edward Scribner Ames, Henry Nelson Wieman, and Bernard Eugene Meland.

(8.) Adolf von Harnack, What Is Christianity? trans. Thomas B. Saunders (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1901), 51, 56-60, 70-74.

(9.) It began with Henry Churchill King's comment in Reconstruction in Theology (New York: Macmillan Co., 1901), v: "A new constructive period in theology, it may well be believed, is at hand." It ended with John Bennett's observation in "After Liberalism--What?" The Christian Century, November 8, 1933, 1403: "The most important fact about contemporary American theology is the disintegration of liberalism."

(10.) Horace Bushnell, Nature and the Supernatural, as Together Constituting the One System of God (New York: Charles Scribner's, 1858).

(11.) Horace Bushnell, "Dogma and Spirit," God in Christ (Hartford, Conn.: Brown and Parsons, 1849), 313.

(12.) Hutchinson, 47.

(13.) Cauthen, 26-37, et passim.

(14.) Hutchinson, 185-287.

(15.) Lloyd J. Averill, American Theology in the Liberal Tradition (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1967), 69-94. R. V. Pierard, "Liberalism, Theological," Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. Walter A. Elwell (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1985), 631-32, has telescoped these. He listed five features: (1) a desire to adapt religious ideas to modern culture and modes of thinking; (2) rejection of religious belief based on authority alone; (3) the immanence of God; and (4) consequent restatement of many traditional Christian doctrines; and (5) humanistic optimism. John P. Crossley Jr., "Liberalism," A New Handbook of Christian Theology, ed. Donald W. Musser and Joseph L. Price (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1992), 285, has given the following definition: "Liberalism in theology is characterized by a deep respect for the authority of reason and experience in religion, an openness to culture, a willingness to adapt theological expression to cultural forms, and continuing flexibility in interpreting the sacred texts and practices of its tradition."

(16.) William Newton Clarke, An Outline of Christian Theology (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1898), 3.

(17.) William Newton Clarke, Sixty Years with the Bible: A Record of Experience (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1912), 203.

(18.) Clark, Outline, 45.

(19.) William Adams Brown, Christian Theology in Outline (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1906). Brown explained the relationship of his work to that of his teacher in A Teacher and His Times: A Story of Two Worlds (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1940), 109.

(20.) Walter Rauschenbusch, "The Kingdom of God," Cleveland's Young Men 27 (9 January 1913); reprinted in Robert T. Handy, The Social Gospel in America, 1870-1920 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1966), 264-67.

(21.) Walter Rauschenbusch, cited by Winthrop S. Hudson, "Introduction," Walter Rauschenbusch: Selected Writings (New York and Mahwah, N.J.: Paulist Press, 1984), 6.

(22.) Walter Rauschenbusch, "Letter to Munson Ford, Louisville, Ky., May 30, 1885; in Walter Rauschenbusch, Writings, 55.

(23.) Walter Rauschenbusch, "Revelation: An Exposition," The Biblical World (August 1897), 94-103; in Walter Rauschenbusch, Writings, 115.

(24.) Rauschenbusch, "Conceptions of Missions," in ibid., 68.

(25.) Ibid., 69.

(26.) Ibid., 70.

(27.) I use "evangelical" in the sense it had for Rauschenbusch--of genuine commitment to the gospel--and not in the sense often used today--of commitment to a certain doctrinal orthodoxy. In an article on "Conceptions of Missions, The Watchman, 24 November and 1 December 1892, he said, "I mean by that [sc. evangelical Christianity], not any particular type of doctrine, but the extensions of faith in the crucified and risen Christ, who imparts his Spirit to those who believe in him, and thereby redeems them from the dominion of the flesh and the world and their corruption, and transforms them into spiritual beings, conformed to his likeness and partaking of his life." In Walter Rauschenbusch, Writings, 67.

(28.) Walter Rauschenbusch, Christianizing the Social Order (New York: Macmillan Co., 1912), 462.

(29.) Ibid., 462-63.

(30.) Ibid., 464.

(31.) Walter Rauschenbusch, A Theology for the Social Gospel (New York: Macmillan Co., 1917), 109.

(32.) Ceighton Peden, The Chicago School: Voices in Liberal Religious Thought (Bristol, Ind.: Wyndham Hall Press, 1987), 10.

(33.) Bernard E. Meland, "Reflections on the Early Chicago School of Modernism," American Journal of Theology and Philosophy 5:6.

(34.) In this list I have followed Peden, 11. However, William J. Hynes, Shirley Jackson Case and the Chicago School: The Socio-Historical Method. Society of Biblical Literature: Biblical Scholarship in North America, No. 5 (Ann Arbor, Mich.: Edwards Brothers, Inc., 1981), 12-14, has given lists complied by C. H. Arnold, A. C. McGiffert, B. Meland, and W. S. Hudson. All include Shailer Mathews. Selected writings of the scholars listed by Peden may be found in the Chicago School of Theology--Pioneers in Religious Inquiry, ed. W. Creighton Peden and Jerome A. Stone, 2 vols. (Lewiston/ Queenston/Lampeter: Edwin Mellen Press, 1996.

(35.) On Case as a key figure in the school see Hynes, Shirley Jackson Case and the Chicago School.

(36.) Delores Joan Rogers, The American Empirical Movement in Theology (New York, et al.: Peter Lang, 1990), 105-74, expands on the outgrowth of the thought of the Chicago School as reflected in the work of Bernard Eugene Meland. Henry Nelson Wieman, Charles Hartshorne, and Meland differed from representatives of the early Chicago School in that they had a philosophical orientation rather than the sociohistorical slant of Mathews and Case.

(37.) See Cauthen, 148-50.

(38.) Shailer Mathews, The Faith of Modernism (New York: Macmillan Co., 1924), 23-25.

(39.) Ibid., 23.

(40.) E. Glenn Hinson, "Baptists and Evangelicals: What Is the Difference?" Baptist History and Heritage 16 (April 1981), 20-32, republished in James Leo Garrett, E. Glenn Hinson, and James F. Tull, Are Southern Baptists Evangelicals? (Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 1983), 165-84.

(41.) Cauthen, 62.

(42.) See E. Glenn Hinson, "The Voluntary Principle in Baptist Life," Whitsitt Journal, May 1999. Obviously you will find a variety of opinions about Baptist principles, and I will not have space here to justify my views. My argument is laid out in the article cited as well as in several other writings.

(43.) John Bunyan, The Pilgrim's Progress in The Doubleday Devotional Classics, ed. E. Glenn Hinson (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday & Co., Inc., 1978), 1: 387.

(44.) These factors figured prominently in E. Y. Mullins's theology. The Christian Religion in Its Doctrinal Expression (Nashville: The Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, 1917), evinces that, in his own mind, Mullins envisioned a coalescence between his experiential theology and that of Clement of Alexandria, Augustine, and F. E. D. Schleiermacher. As noted earlier, moreover, the "fundamental" he wrote about was religious experience.

(45.) See especially Eric C. Rust's Evolutionary Philosophies and Contemporary Theology (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1969) and Nature: Garden or Desert? (Waco, Tex.: Word Books, 1971).

(46.) In a biographical sketch, I referred to Rust as "Apostle to an Age of Science and Technology." He was trained as a scientist, specializing in mathematics, physics, and chemistry. As he experienced a call to ministry, he also felt a strong call to bridge the gap between Christian faith and the sciences. See E. Glenn Hinson, "Eric Charles Rust: Apostle to an Age of Science and Technology," in Science, Faith, and Revelation: An Approach to Christian Philosophy, ed. Robert E. Patterson (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1979), 13-25.

(47.) Ibid., 24.

E. Glenn Hinson recently retired as professor of spirituality and John Loftis Professor Church History at Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. Previously he was David T. Porter Professor of Church History at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky.
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Publication:Baptist History and Heritage
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2000
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