Harry Emerson Fosdick
|Harry Emerson Fosdick|
|Born||May 24, 1878
Buffalo, New York United States
|Died||October 5, 1969
Bronxville, New York
|Education||B.A., Colgate University, 1900
studied at Colgate Seminary, 1900–01
B.D., Union Theological Seminary, 1904
M.A., Columbia University, 1908
|Spouse(s)||Florence Allen Whitney|
|Children||Elinor Fosdick Downs, Dorothy Fosdick|
|Parents||Frank Sheldon Fosdick, Amy Inez Fosdick|
|Ordained||November 18, 1903|
|Congregations served||First Baptist Church, Montclair, New Jersey, 1904–15
First Presbyterian Church, ("Old First" of Manhattan), New York, New York, 1918–1925
Park Avenue Baptist Church/Riverside Church, New York, New York, 1925–30/1930-46
|Offices held||pastor, associate pastor|
"Harry Emerson Fosdick" (May 24, 1878 – October 5, 1969) was an American pastor. Fosdick became a central figure in the "Fundamentalist-Modernist Controversy" within American Protestantism in the 1920's and 1930's and was one of the most prominent liberal ministers of the early 20th Century. Although a Baptist, he was guest preacher in New York City at First Presbyterian Church on West Twelfth Street, Manhattan and then at the historic, inter-denominational Riverside Church, founded by philanthropist John D. Rockefeller Jr.
Fosdick 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 at the Madison Avenue Baptist Church at 31st Street.
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 national convention of the General Assembly of the old Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. in 1923 charged his local Presbytery in New York 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, (1888-1959), (future Secretary of State under President Dwight D. Eisenhower in the 1950's), 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 First Presbyterian Church (historic "Old First") pulpit in 1924. He was immediately hired/"called" as pastor of a new type of Baptist church ministry at Park Avenue Baptist Church whose most famous member was the industrialist/financier/philanthropist John D. Rockefeller, Jr., who then funded the famed ecumenical Riverside Church (later a member of the American Baptist Churches and United Church of Christ denominations) in Manhattan's northwestern Morningside Heights area overlooking the Hudson River and near-by Columbia University, where Fosdick became pastor as soon as the doors opened in October 1930, prompting a Time magazine cover story on October 6, 1930 (pictured). 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. Alleged victim Ruby Bates credited him with persuading her to testify for the defense in the 1933 retrial of the infamous and racially charged legal case of the Scottsboro Boys in which nine black youths were tried before all white juries for raping white women, Bates and her companion, Victoria Price in Alabama.
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 United States Senator from Washington state, Henry M. ("Scoop") Jackson, who was a famous Senate leader beginning in the 1960's and presidential nomination contender in the 1980's.
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.
- Fiske, Edward B. (October 6, 1969). "Harry Emerson Fosdick Dies; Liberal Led Riverside Church". The New York Times. p. 1. Retrieved 2007-07-25.
- Balmer, Randall; Fitzmeir, John R. (1993). The Presbyterians (Denominations in America). Greenwood Press. p. 158. ISBN 978-0-313-26084-1.
- Pultz, David. "The Merging of Three Churches". First Presbyterian Church. Retrieved 2007-07-23.
- Fosdick, Harry Emerson (1956). The Living of These Days. New York: Harper. p. 132.
- Miller, Robert Moat (1985). Harry Emerson Fosdick: Preacher, Pastor, Prophet. Oxford University Press, USA. p. 576. ISBN 978-0-19-503512-4.
- "Central Presbyterian Church". The New York City Chapter of the American Guild of Organists. Retrieved 2007-07-23.
- "Riverside Church". Time magazine. October 6, 1930. Retrieved 2008-02-14.
- Merkley, Paul (2001). Christian Attitudes towards the State of Israel. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press. pp. 6–8. ISBN 0-7735-2188-7.
- Modern American Religion: Under God, Indivisible, 1941-1960, Martin E. Marty, University of Chicago Press, 1999, p. 189.
- A Guide to Understanding the Bible text online
- Encyclopædia Britannica article
- Harry Emerson Fosdick at Find a Grave
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