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February 21, 2022 12:01 am
The early 20th century saw a growing skepticism of the Bible among theologians. Today, W. Robert Godfrey introduces us to one man who stood against the tide of unbelief.
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In the early 20th century battle raged from the very soul of the church, one theologian stood in the gap. Welcome to Meadow this Friday in 1909 debate in the Presbyterian Church in New York came to a head revolved around the ordination of 3 million who refused to affirm the virgin birth of Christ, a clear line of the samples drawn in five doctrines were declared to be fundamental to the Christian faith.
Among those essential doctrines was the virgin birth of Christ, along with the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture. All of this became known as the fundamentalist modernist controversy into this for a step the professor from Princeton J. Gress and matron. Let's join look at her teaching fellow Dr. Robert matron is important on several fronts illustrate something of a character and role of Presbyterianism in America but more importantly she was recognized as the single most effective scholarly voice on the fundamentalist side of the controversies that were emerging in America in the first half of the 20th century and Dr. matron in that regard helps us to see that fundamentalists in the early part of the 20th century were not at all what fundamentalism came to mean. Later when it was used in a derogatory way fundamentalist today is often used to refer to uneducated, stubborn, ignorant, uncultured sorts of people and Dr. matron was none of those things.
He was not always entirely comfortable with the label fundamentalist, but not because he thought it was too negative or too critical a label, but because he felt it was important for Christians to have a fuller theology than that represented by the fundamentals alone and so are Dr. matron was the Westminster confession of faith. Man, he wanted the whole confession, not just part of it and that was his only reservation about fundamentalist. In fact, she came to be known by some as the doctor fundamentalists the fundamental Dr. because he was seen as such a important voice in America in the 20s and 30s in defense of conservative Protestant Dr. matron was born in 1881. We can't quite get out of the 19 century altogether.
He was born in Baltimore, Maryland, which means he was a Southerner. Maybe you didn't know that. But Baltimore remained well into the 20th century, a very southern city and the Pres. Lincoln knew that he knew that left to itself, Maryland would probably have seceded from the union, but Pres. Lincoln seem to think that he could not tolerate Virginia and Maryland seceding from the union and leaving the federal capital completely surrounded by rebels, but the ethos the life of Baltimore was very much that of the southern city and matron's mother, the grandsons were from Georgia from Macon, Georgia so there's little Museum of Gress and family in Macon. If you visit their and the matron family were from Virginia and their old home had been in the middle of the battlefield of the battle Bull Run so the matrons had deep Southern roots and done Dr. matron's father was a very distinguished lawyer in Baltimore. It was a family of some wealth and some social connections matrons father was quite a good friend of Woodrow Wilson's and so the matrons were a prominent family and were members of the southern Presbyterian Church.
His mother was a very devout woman inside of the catechesis of her children.
His father was also very devout Presbyterian Dr. matron studied at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and then was sent as the son of her other important family on a tour of Europe. We should all be sent as young people on tours of Europe. I think it's a very good thing. Dr. matron really loved Germany. He he kind of fell in love with Germany and things German and he said German be almost perfect. If these Germans would only learn about the Sabbath and about football and he felt they were somewhat deficient on both points. He did write home at one point to his father and say that he was running a little short of money and his father wrote back and said the pecuniary question need not bother you. I can assure you on that point. I'm still waiting to receive a letter like that. Don't worry about the money will take care of so I was a brilliant student, she was able to study at Johns Hopkins University and then he went to Princeton seminary the most prestigious of the Presbyterian seminary, said that he went on to study for a time in Germany to do post seminary work and his letter show that he is he's wrestling and some people said well baby Dr. matron have something of a crisis of faith in Germany that doesn't really seem to be the case.
What he seemed to have was a crisis of calling Dr. matron had such broad interests. He liked sports. He liked hiking. He liked outdoor life. He likes scholarship and I think he was a little afraid that if he entered the ministry the life of a Presbyterian minister was maybe a little confined people had expectations that there are all sorts of things ministers didn't do, like play football and Dr. matron was not sure he was really quite ready to to live that kind of life and so wrestled with the question of calling but did go off. Despite that, to teach at Princeton seminary and was immediately recognized as a remarkably gifted scholar and teacher, and in due course. He was ordained into the ministry only at that point actually joining the northern Presbyterian Church. So most of his life. The majority of his life. He was a Southern Presbyterian, and only on being ordained at Princeton. Did he become a member of the northern Presbyterian Church and he was recognized as an outstanding teacher by the students. Most of them, but Dr. matron recalled that you already students were beginning to complain that there was too much academics and not enough practical theology and a Dr. matron had no sympathy for that point of view at all. He believed that ministers needed to be carefully and thoroughly educated they needed to be able to engage in a lifelong system of learning said. Some of these young students just want to be told everything they'll need to know for the rest of their ministry, and he said I pity the congregations are going to be sent out a minister has to stay in touch with the world as it's developing around him in the course of his ministry he complained once in 1912. Instead of making our theological seminaries merely centers of religious emotion is what he thought some of the students wanted. We shall make them battlegrounds of the faith were helped a little by the experience of Christian teachers men are taught to fight their own battle where they come to appreciate the real strength of the adversary and in the hard school of intellectual struggle learn to substitute for the unthinking faith of childhood.
The profound convictions of full-grown men and he said we must never be afraid of studying and learning what the enemy has to say. If we just bury our head in the sand and pretend the rest of the world doesn't exist. We are really not worthy of Christ. He said we cannot believe without knowing that our belief is true, and if the cost of faith is not to know what's true that were not real Christians anyway. His mother actually written when he was in Germany she was afraid he was going to influence by those liberal Germans a horror very nice trip and she said come home.
I don't want to influence by those people and said mother I can't come home and hide from reality.
If the cost to be a Christian is hiding from reality that were not real Christians, so he he was a man who plunged in to the reality of the world in which he found himself is his biggest single scholarly book that he would write was entitled the virgin birth of Christ, and it was a careful scholarly thorough study not just of the Bible. But if everything that had been written in modern theology on the virgin birth and he with the greatest care is in exegete showed what the Scripture actually taught about that then is a theologian, reasoned about why that was important that those scriptural teachings were true, and then answer one by one all of the objections of liberal scholarship to the idea of the virgin birth is a big fat volume. It it if you will, trouble sleeping, and might be good.
Some of the chapters but it was hailed as a remarkable scholarly achievement and the young Rudolph Bultmann of all things.
Read the book and said this is a very impressive work of scholarship. So I matron believe that there had to be a continuing scholarly dialogue between conservatives and liberals, and he was able to do that in a most effective sort of way, and he believed that Princeton needed to go on being that place, not of a motion not just of of pious practice. Although he was all for pious practice, but that would continue to be a place of really serious scholarship that would help the church that would lead the church and would ensure that the church was able to be faithful in the work to which was called to do as time went along matron was more and more called into an involvement in the ecclesiastical life of the church. He became more and more concerned not just about what students at Princeton were thinking, but what was going on in the church as a whole.
What the church as a whole was thinking, and that's why in 1923 he produced this little popular book, Christianity and liberalism because he was concerned about what was going on in the church. He wanted to be an influence in the life of the church. He wanted to be sure that influence would be genuine and healthy, and he would look around the church and a part of his concern. He expressed in this term already as early as 1915 he wrote the mass of the church here is still conservative, but conservative in an ignorant, non-polemic, sweetness and light kind of way, which is just meat for the wolves. I do not mean to use harsh phrases in a harsh way and light language must be understood to be biblical know what's he really saying there, it's that the church still felt conservative.
The church still felt comfortable with conservative practices and ideas, but the church no longer really understood why these things were important of the church no longer could defend these things on the face of an onslaught and that to seriously troubled Dr. matron and worried him about what the future would hold, and as he analyzed the forces with which he disagreed in the life of the church. He felt those forces needed to be exposed for what they were.
He wrote at one point here, as elsewhere, the destructive forces have been content to labor for the most part in the dark. I think Dr. matron really put his finger on something, he said, those who want to change our church are not going out publicly and saying these are the changes we espouse what you think of them there working in the background. They were working behind-the-scenes. They were working in ways that most of the laity didn't observe in the life of the church and Dr. matron thought there was a dishonesty about that again. He would write in Christianity and liberalism. Honesty is being relinquished in a wholesale fashion by the Liberal party in many ecclesiastical bodies today by the equivocal use of traditional phrases by the repetition of differences of opinion as though they were only differences about the interpretation of the Bible entrance into the church was secured for those who are hostile to the very foundation of the faith again is the very title of the book said you are free to be a liberal, you're not free to call that Christian that's not honest, that's not fair. And Dr. matron all his life remained what I would call Southern gentleman.
He was always charitable to his opponents. He always tried to represent them fairly. He was never mean-spirited. Watkinson never but he was largely not mean-spirited or nasty in the way in which he conducted himself. In fact, if anything. Maybe he was a little too trusting of the other side to also behave like gentlemen and they didn't. They were nasty and mean spirited. Some of them in reference to him and he would write about that to be wrote at one point what is thoroughly evil.
What leads to strife, bitterness, hypocrisy, and every evil thing is a unity of organization, which covers radical diversity of an and that's what he became concerned was more more characteristic of what was going on in the Presbyterian Church in his day, they were still all Presbyterians. They all insisted they were evangelical but in fact the theological differences were becoming immense and increasingly separating different people in the church, these issues began to come to the Gen. assembly. Increasingly, and as I said before, in 1923 the general assembly once again reiterated its commitment to the five fundamentals and this decision was particularly directed against Harry Emerson Fosdick Harry Emerson Fosdick was a Baptist. One of the liberals amongst the Baptists in the 20s, but he had been asked to be stated.
Supply preacher at a congregation in Manhattan in New York and he had famously preached there a sermon entitled shall the fundamentalists win fairly in-your-face sort of title and Fosdick was insistent that the fundamentalists must not be allowed to win, but the general assembly of the Presbyterian Church was equally insistent that Baptist liberals ought not to be telling Presbyterians what they ought to believe and so the general assembly again reiterated its commitment to conservative principles and then something very important happened. I think everything happens, things been pretty important, but in in 1925 the Gen. assembly met again, and the general assembly was confronted again by what was going on in New York and word got around in the general assembly where there was a conservative majority that maybe it was time to really admonish and discipline. The Presbytery of New York for tolerating what was tolerating in its churches and the Presbytery of New York pretty well made clear that if the Gen. assembly criticized them they would leave the Presbyterian Church and Dr. mentions opinion was good leave go, but the general assembly conservative leadership decided that they ought to give it one more chance that they ought to be patient that they ought to be turning the other cheek and so they did what churches so often do in difficult times.
They appointed the study committee and the. The idea was what what harm can it do let's let's have a committee spend years studying the condition of the church and then the committee will bring what we can really defend is a well researched analysis back to the Gen. assembly next year.
Then we can do what needs to be done. What no one could know at that time, is that there would be an event in the summer of 1925 that in fundamental ways would change American attitude up until 1925, most American churches and most Americans and and most reporting on the state of American churches was more sympathetic to the fundamentalist side then they were to the liberal side but in the summer of 1925, there was a trial took place that came to be known in the press as the monkey trial trial that Took Pl. in Dayton, TN, a trial of the nice young biology teacher in the Dayton public high school who had violated the laws of Tennessee by teaching the theory of evolution in school and he was put on trial and the media flocked to this trial and many people since this was going to be a very important trial and so the defense of this high school teacher hired Clarence Darrow one of the most accomplished trial lawyers in the country to lead the defense of Mr. Scopes and the prosecution thought it had made a brilliant choice by choosing William Jennings Bryan to lead the prosecution, William Jennings Bryan was one of the most famous men in America. He had served in the cabinet of presidents. He been a nominee for president by the Democratic Party. He was well known as being one of the most accomplished orators in America and he was a Bible believing presbyterian elder who could we get the could possibly be better.
But when Jennings Bryan was an old man. He was tired he was not well. He was not an accomplished trial lawyer and Clarence Darrow sort of ran circles around him, and as many of the newspaper folks said.
Darrow set America laughing at fundamentals a Darrow made Bryant look ridiculous and some of the media there, led by HL Mencken, a notorious unbeliever, but a very effective writer and witty man used the Scopes trial to launch a full-scale attack against fundamentalist only in Bible Belt Tennessee.
Could you have a law forbidding the teaching of evolution.
How ridiculous. How unfair, how un-American and so the whole notion of freedom.
The whole notion of tolerance. The whole notion of niceness was brought out by the press and America was sent laughing at fundamentals and the mood of the nation changed the mood in the Presbyterian Church change things were dramatically different after that. And increasingly, the press became critical of fundamentalism as being intolerant. There's nothing worse in America than being intolerant and when the Gen. assembly met in the next year 1926, the committee reported that everything was fine in the Presbyterian Church.
There was no theological problem in the Presbyterian Church and indeed anyone who would suggest there was a problem in the Presbytery church there something wrong with them and at that meeting of the Gen. assembly. A recommendation was present to make Prof. matron, Prof. of apologetics of Princeton seminary Gen. assembly. It always just rubberstamp those kinds of recommendations coming from similar but the decision was made to establish a study committee to study what was going on at Princeton. What's wrong at Princeton causing all this trouble in the Presbyterian Church.
So as we come to an end. Today we we see how quickly things can turn out quickly things can be reversed. There was never a conservative majority Presbytery and Gen. assembly, and by the mid-30s.
Dr. matron was suspended from the Presbyterian ministry in his book the great evangelical disaster. Francis Schaeffer wrote that Dr. mentions defrocking was the culmination of a long trend toward liberalism within the Presbyterian Church and represented the same trade and most other denominations. It's a sober reminder is in it. The gospel work requires a diligent contending for the faith, and a reminder that knowing church history is critical for us in the laity, Dr. Robert Godfrey has been our teacher this week we been featuring his series of survey of church history in 73 messages. Dr. Godfrey traces the threat of Christ Church through 2000 years, and when you give a donation of any amount today would like to send you part six of the series covering the 20th century can give your gift and make your firstname.lastname@example.org or you can call us at 800-435-4343. This series will show you how men like Dr. matron stood firm for biblical truth in their generation. We hope it encourages you to take a stand for truth and there are so many heroes of the faith through the centuries learn about them when you request part six of the series.
A survey of church history is yours for your gift of any amount when you call us at 800-435-4343 or when you go online to Renewing Your Mind.org and by the way, today is the last day they were making this offer available following a brief look at church history this week. We thought it would be a good idea to take a critical look at the Roman Catholic Church tomorrow and the rest of this week will present several messages from Dr. RC Sproul helping us understand the doctrines of the church in Rome and why the Protestant Reformation was necessary so I hope you'll join us tomorrow. Here, for Renewing Your Mind