Strong’s address to the Baptist Denominational meeting held on May 19, 1904 finds its spokesman opining about the successes of Baptists in the past numerically, financially, and progressively. He does note that Baptist growth in numbers has tapered off and that they could be a bit more giving. But these are all the stock and trade of a typical Baptist minister. Strong, however, was neither typical nor, strictly speaking, a minister. He was a Baptist seminary president who had been a pastor. He was such a man who would divide his allegiance between a progressive outlook for the future and a staunch orthodoxy from the past. This makes Strong a unique character: a sort of chimera – neither fish nor fowl.
In other works, Strong would subscribe to no single theory of inspiration while still claiming biblical authority on matters of faith and practice. He would hold that scholars make too much of alleged discrepancies in the text of Scripture even as he himself subscribed to a sort of theistic evolution. Strong takes the opportunity, in this address, however, to promote his ethical monism and his unique view of the atonement.
Here Strong delivers a not so subtle message that the laws of the universe are nothing more or less than “habits of Christ” (14). Furthermore, Christ is intimately related to man in that all men were in him before they were in Adam. This leads to an atonement that is at once substitutionary and also sharing. Christ shares in the sin of the race. Christ is in humanity and humanity is in Christ. In fact, Christ is providing the good impulses in unregenerate man by indwelling them (15). The substitution of Christ is merely the manifestation of Christ’s erstwhile sharing in humanity’s suffering from sin (17). Of course this raised more than a few eyebrows in orthodox circles. This was more than mere realism; it was an extreme form of realism.
Other than the promoting of Strong’s rather unique views about Christ, humanity, creation, and atonement, the address is rather pedestrian. It cites successes in the past, challenges in the present, and largely a promising future. Among other things, Strong believes that a more serious worship is in order (23), that evangelism ought to be commonplace among the rank and file membership (24), and that Christians ought to involve themselves in public service (25). He implores his listeners to take heed in view of the coming Christ, but he fails to give a clue as to his views on the millennium. We know from elsewhere that he was really postmillennial but claimed to also be premillennial.
The future outlook for the church and the challenges of the present find Strong promoting timeless truths. This address could be preached today with little change for his concerns of yesteryear are the same as ours today. They only interesting item is his creative injection of ethical monism into his address.
Hutchison provides for the reader a concise, if not easily readable, summary of the history of modernism within American Protestantism. He traces the earliest modernist impulse back to the old Unitarians. His narrative maintains a distinction between liberalism and modernism. All modernists are liberals, but not all liberals are modernists. Liberalism could make headway within religion without the input of modernity. Modernism, however, made use of the modern Zeitgeist. Of course, this does not mean that liberalism and modernism are sealed off from one another. Very early on liberalism and modernism would become subsumed under the single referent, modernism. Hutchison primarily traces the American form of modernist Protestantism beginning with the Unitarians and ending with the Niebuhrs. As such, it makes a tacit statement that the modernist form of religious liberalism is primarily a bygone thing. Hutchison offers barely a hint of Process Theology or the ethnic-gender-socio-economic theologies. His scope seems limited when compared to Gary Dorrien’s ponderously exhaustive three volume history of religious liberalism. Hutchison’s treatment, however, seems to be an improvement on Kenneth Cauthen’s seminal work on American religious liberalism. I hope to be able to examine both of these works in the future. As such, Hutchison’s work stands prospective to Cauthen and retrospective to Dorrien.
Hutchison finds early religious modernism taking root under the auspices of what Marsden would call old evangelicalism. The denial of biblical authority in any orthodox sense and the entertaining of higher critical views with respect to the Bible first occur, in any lasting sense, within the fold of evangelicalism. The evangelical desire to affect culture not only connects it to the Social Gospel, but also aids in disguising a significant renovation of theology that was going on just beneath the surface of its social piety. This could, perhaps, explain why so many fundamentalists are still wary of any social component in the gospel or related to the gospel, and why later evangelicals would confess an uneasy conscience with respect to its neglect of the same. Hutchison relates the usual sordid details of the altercation. He relates events from the Presbyterian heresy trials to the slow takeover by modernists of all the mainline denominations and their service organizations. First individual pulpits, then seminaries, then mission boards file successively into the modernist fold. Hutchison takes time to differentiate between types of modernists. He demonstrates how different liberals may present their views. A particularly disheartening narrative is Hutchison’s depiction of the reaction of modernists to the fundamentalist uprising. Despite evangelicals and fundamentalists opining about the disruption brought about by the fight, Hutchison develops a narrative that leaves the fundamentalists as largely ignored. He does not deny that they had talent and that they had valid arguments, but by the time they mounted any real offence, modernists had largely moved on. I tend to think that those living at the flashpoints of the debate probably saw more than mere disinterest by liberals in the fundamentalists’ contentions, but Hutchison’s broad sweep of the events in retrospective does seem to provide a procrustean bed for his assertion. For all of this, Hutchison lacks interest in providing an ample description of the roots of American modernism within Europe. That seems to be his point. American modernism, to a certain extent, was a domestic brand. European thought may have influenced it, but American modernism was unique in its own right. In like manner, Hutchison depicts the next stage of religious theology