Harry Emerson Fosdick

Harry Emerson Fosdick

[foz-dik]
Fosdick, Harry Emerson, 1878-1969, American clergyman, b. Buffalo, N.Y., grad. Colgate Univ., 1900, and Union Theological Seminary, 1904. Ordained a Baptist minister in 1903, he was pastor in Montclair, N.J., until 1915. From that year until 1946, Fosdick was professor of practical theology at Union Theological Seminary. He became pastor of the Park Ave. Baptist Church, New York City, in 1926; this was transformed into the Riverside Church in 1930, when the congregation and Fosdick moved to an impressive new structure on Riverside Drive. He served there until 1946, when he became pastor emeritus. His position as a Modernist leader in the Fundamentalist controversies of the 1920s and his forceful, practical sermons won wide recognition. His radio addresses were nationally broadcast. Among his writings are The Meaning of Prayer (1915), A Great Time to Be Alive (1944), The Man from Nazareth, as His Contemporaries Saw Him (1949), and his autobiography, The Living of These Days (1956).

See biography by R. M. Miller (1985).

Harry Emerson Fosdick (May 24, 1878-October 5, 1969) was an American clergyman. He was born in Buffalo, New York. He graduated from Colgate University in 1900, and Union Theological Seminary in 1904. While attending Colgate University he joined the Delta Upsilon Fraternity. He was ordained a Baptist minister in 1903. Fosdick was the most prominent liberal Baptist minister of the early 20th Century. Although a Baptist, he was Pastor of the First Presbyterian Church on West Twelfth Street and then at the historic, interdenominational Riverside Church (the congregation moved from the then-named Park Avenue Baptist Church, now the Central Presbyterian Church ) in New York City.

Fosdick became a central figure in the conflict between fundamentalist and liberal forces within American Protestantism in the 1920s and 1930s. While at First Presbyterian Church, on May 21, 1922, he delivered his famous sermon “Shall the Fundamentalists Win?”, in which he defended the modernist position. In that sermon, he presented the Bible as a record of the unfolding of God’s will, not as the literal Word of God. He saw the history of Christianity as one of development, progress, and gradual change. To the fundamentalists, this was rank apostasy, and the battle lines were drawn.

The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. (Northern) in 1923 charged his local presbytery to conduct an investigation of his views. A commission began an investigation, as required. His defense was conducted by a lay elder, John Foster Dulles, whose father was a well-known liberal Presbyterian seminary professor. Fosdick escaped probable censure at a formal trial by the 1924 General Assembly by resigning from the pulpit in 1924. He was immediately hired as pastor of a Baptist church whose most famous member was John D. Rockefeller, Jr., who then funded the Riverside Church in Manhattan's Morningside Heights area overlooking the Hudson River, where Fosdick became pastor as soon as the doors opened in October 1930, prompting a Time magazine cover story on October 6, 1930 (pictured). In it, Time said that Fosdick "proposes to give this educated community a place of greatest beauty for worship. He also proposes to serve the social needs of the somewhat lonely metropolite. Hence on a vast scale he has built all the accessories of a community church — gymnasium, assembly room for theatricals, dining rooms, etc...In ten stories of the 22-story belltower are classrooms for the religious and social training of the young...". Fosdick's brother Raymond ran the Rockefeller Foundation for three decades, beginning in 1921. Rockefeller had funded the nation-wide distribution of Shall the Fundamentalists Win?, although with a more cautious title, The New Knowledge and the Christian Faith. This direct-mail project was designed by Ivy Lee, who had worked since 1914 as an independent contractor in public relations for the Rockfellers.

Fosdick was an outspoken opponent of racism and injustice. Fosdick also supported appeasement of Hitler and argued "moral equivalence", i.e. that the democracies were largely to blame for the rise of fascism:

"The all but unanimous judgment seems to be that we, the democracies, are just as responsible for the rise of the dictators as the dictatorships themselves, and perhaps more so."

Fosdick's sermons won him wide recognition, as did his radio addresses which were nationally broadcast. He authored numerous books, and many of his sermon collections are still in print. He is also the author of the hymn, "God of Grace and God of Glory"

Fosdick's book A Guide to Understanding the Bible traces the beliefs of the people who wrote the Bible, from the ancient beliefs of the Hebrews, which he regarded as practically pagan, to the faith and hopes of the New Testament writers.

His brother, Raymond Fosdick, was essentially in charge of philanthropy for John D. Rockefeller, Jr.

Fosdick had a daughter, Dorothy Fosdick, who was foreign policy adviser to Henry M. Jackson.

He was the nephew of Charles Austin Fosdick, a popular author of adventure books for boys who wrote under the pen name Harry Castlemon.

Fosdick reviewed the first edition of Alcoholics Anonymous in 1939, giving it his approval. AA members continue to point to this review as significant in the development of the AA movement.

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