January 19, 2018

Baptist Fundamentals: Modernism in Baptist Schools (Part 2)

W. B. Riley, D. D.
Pastor, First Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minn.

Editorial note: We are in the midst of a series of posts from the messages delivered at the Pre-Convention Conference of the Northern Baptist Convention, 1920. From the Conference the Fundamental Fellowship was formed which is today known as the Fundamental Baptist Fellowship International. The messages from the conference were published in a book called Baptist Fundamentals. The book has been digitized by Maranatha Baptist University and is available as part of the Roger Williams Heritage Archives collection in Logos format, available here. Links to previous posts will appear at the end of this post.

In Part 1, Dr. Riley discussed The Baptist Faith Defined, laying out three pillars of Baptist belief, the inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible, the deity and infallibility of Jesus Christ, and the fact that Christianity begins with the New Birth or regeneration.

The Baptist Faith Denied

We come, then, to the crux of Doctor Greul’s question. Are there Baptist theological seminaries and Baptist ministers who are repudiating the great doctrines and principles for which the Baptist denomination has stood? If one were compelled to believe all that is found in official editorials, he would conclude that the only “fundamental principle in Baptist belief is the right of private judgment,” and that it matters little where that private judgment leads — the fact that one entertains it leaves him fundamentally a Baptist! Our fathers did not think so; nor do their true sons and natural successors!

The only occasion for a Baptist school is the conservation of Baptist precepts and principles. To be sure, that is not its entire function. It must provide a liberal education in arts, sciences, languages, and cognate subjects; but unless it stand for distinctive Christian and Baptist principles and precepts, the former functions are meaningless. The state can render them as well or better than the sectarian schools, and there is no need for our double taxation if it result not in the defense and propagation of the divine truth.

We have investigated the text-books and teachings of several Baptist colleges, and find that in matters of Christian faith they are not fundamentally different from the text-books and teachers employed in State universities. Here is the rehearsal of a college-town pastor, concerning the text-books in one Baptist College: “I found Lyman Abbott’s ‘Evolution of Christianity’ was required to be read by students in this school, notes taken, and examinations followed.” Think of the following extract from this book: “An infallible book is an impossible conception, and today no one really believes that our Bible is such a book.” “As a collection of literature, the Bible is unquestionably the result of evolution.” W. F. Bade’s book, “The Old Testament in the Light of Today,” had to be read by the same students, notes taken and submitted to the teachers. Its position on the matter of inspiration is this:

Needless to say, the conception of revelation that underlies this study, regards it as an illumination from within, not as a communication from without; as an educative, not as an instructional process. … For the harm lies not in dealing with the imperfect moral standards (of the Bible) but in failure to recognize them as imperfect. … It was a compiler who identified the Noah of the flood with the Noah of viticulture. In the original traditions they were undoubtedly two persons. … The story of Cain and Abel is only a torso. … As an additional instance might be mentioned two legends, in one of which Jahveh wrestles with Jacob at the ford of the Jabbok, and in the other, attempts to slay Moses at his lodging-place in Egypt. In both stories, Jahveh has undoubtedly taken the place of local night-demons.

But still further, and quite interesting from the scientific standpoint, is this statement, “In order to find a mate for Adam, He (God) first engaged in a futile experiment with animals!”

Without putting in too much time on a single institution, it suffices to say that the text-book on ethics was Durant Drake’s “Problems of Conduct.” When one has made that remark, and reminded his auditors that it was a Baptist school, it is enough said! Its definition of morality makes it “a redirection of impulse” appearing in animal life first and later in man as he “emerges from his apelike ancestry.” In Mr. Drake’s judgment, morality is not the result of religion, but came even “without the concept of God,” and in itself accounts for religion. Our Bible is only one of a number of holy books. The only way to get a satisfactory ethical code from it is by a process of “judicious selection and ingenious inferences.” “Its recorded teachings of Christ are fragmentary and touch only a few fundamental matters.”

The same authority was selected in the same institution on the “Problems of Religion,” a book that contends “the early Jews were as polytheistic as their neighbors”; that “Jahveh was originally a ‘storm-god’ of Mt. Sinai”; that “outside of a few illiterate fishermen and peasant folk, Christ made no impression on his time.” “His public career lasted not over a year and a half, and was spent except for the last few days or weeks, in the out-of-the-way province of Galilee”; that “Judas grew skeptical at his pretensions, angry at his presumption, and betrayed his secret claim to Messiahship.” “Paul had no knowledge of an empty tomb”; Jesus “never prophesied emergence from the grave.” “The concept of Christendom that it is the only true faith, we have now come to see, was a presumptuous and narrow conceit.”

If this school stood alone among Baptists, in the use of such text-books, if this school stood alone among Baptists in bringing its students to such convictions, our problem would be easy. The local pastor, who called attention to it, might find on his hands a fight with college authorities, and be compelled to seek a new field, but the denomination would readily rise and read the college out of its calendar. The simple truth is that the majority of our Baptist colleges in the North are employing text- and reference-books little or no better, and more than one student has reached conclusions similar to this sample, an actual excerpt from an approved student thesis, “It comes as a shock to the faith of many Christians when they are compelled to face the fact that the Bible is not inerrant.” “Daniel and Jonah are probably sacred novels or romances, intended to serve religious purposes and to teach religious truth.” “Genesis tells us that God created the earth in six days and six nights. That is poor science.” It would not be a surprise to learn that that young man is now in the Baptist ministry, and since he entertains the “Baptist spirit” and practises “the privilege of every man to interpret the Bible for himself,” he would be in perfectly good standing!

If the name of this college is desired, the speaker stands ready to provide it, but he believes it would be an injustice to the college named, since he knows it is not a sinner above several of its sister Baptist institutions. I have personally talked and corresponded with students from four other Baptist schools who have confessed to kindred skepticism in teaching. In fact, if there is a single Baptist college in the North, every one of whose professors now holds to the three great fundamentals aforenamed — namely, the Bible, the inspired and inerrant Word of God; Christ, the eternal, infallible Son of God; regeneration essential to the Christian life — that school can forge to instant popularity and take a place of unwonted power, by providing to the denomination indisputable proofs of its loyalty. We call for the evidences! I believe I can speak for this Conference; we stand ready to a man to back any such Baptist school; to call upon our churches to contribute to its maintenance, upon our parents to educate their children within its walls, upon our mission boards to accept, for home and foreign fields, its graduates; and we are ready to recommend to pulpits that need their services, all such students as come from that college carrying kindred convictions!

But I am supposed to speak specifically of the theological seminaries. Unfortunately for the Baptist denomination, the theological condition here is not better, but worse!

Many of the Baptist theological seminaries of the North are hot-beds of skepticism. This remark is not born of hearsay, but based upon the literary output of these institutions. Take the Divinity School of the University of Chicago. If there is one article of the Baptist Confession of Faith that is not opposed and practically destroyed by the volume, “A Guide to the Study of the Christian Religion,” then the speaker is incapable of understanding the English language! And yet in that volume, the following prominent Baptist preachers and professors unite: President Faunce, of Brown University; Doctor Mathews, of the University of Chicago Divinity School; Dr. Powis Smith, Professor of Old Testament Language and Literature; Prof. E. D. Burton, head of the Department of New Testament Literature and Interpretation; Dr. Shirley Jackson Case, of New Testament Interpretation; Dr. George Cross, Systematic Theology, of Rochester; Dr. Gerald Birney Smith, Professor of Christian Theology; Prof. Theodore G. Soares, of Homiletics and Religious Education; the late Professors Charles Henderson and George Burman Foster.

But an assertion is not sufficient; I must quote from the pages themselves to prove my indictment. According to that volume, Jehovah, the God of the Old Testament, is an evolution of Hebrew thought — a tribal god who through conquest by the tribe itself, became a national god (p. 42, 43). Hebraism, by a peculiarly constructive principle, was monotheistic, freer from mythology than most polytheistic religions, and so universalized the conceptions of monarchy, bringing “Yahweh” into governing relations with his subjects; so that their god idea was organized about an essentially political experience (p. 48). According to this book, man is not the direct creation of God in any Garden of Eden, but an evolution from animal life and has been dwelling upon the face of the earth for hundreds of thousands of years (p. 27). Christ’s Messiahship is traced to mythological roots (p. 55). Religion is not a revelation, but an evolution, and we have no more knowledge as to how it came into being than we have as to how man came to his present form (p. 33, 34).

A gradual evolution, not a direct inspiration, was the explanation of the Bible. The Hebrew faith is a development “from a primitive type of thought and conduct into a relatively advanced and lofty type” (p. 136). The difference in the origin of the Bible and that of any other literature, is called into question (p. 553), while the claims of infallibility for it are utterly repudiated. On this last point, the language is: “There is no appeal except that of orthodoxy itself to the authority of either councils, the pope, or an a priori belief in an infallible Scripture. It goes without saying that such an appeal will completely break with our modern world” (p. 76).

The Old Testament books were declared to be not by the authors whose names they bear, but most of them of composite origin (p. 110). Concerning portions of the Old Testament, they are declared unprofitable. The language is, “There are whole pages of the Old Testament that can, in and of themselves, by no legitimate methods be made to minister to the soul’s welfare, and evidently were not written for that purpose” (p. 105). Even the trustworthiness of these Old Testament books, in spite of multiplied evidence from archeological sources, is still disputed (p. 130–134).

The New Testament fares no better at the hands of these men. Its literature came into existence haphazard. Our present text was really an accidental collection (p. 180). Mark made an effort to preserve, for the Roman church and other churches, Peter’s recollection of the words and ministry of Jesus, he having played the part of interpreter to Peter in Peter’s latter days (p. 190). Matthew and Luke got their information from Mark’s Gospel (p. 191). Of the author of the Gospel of Matthew, nothing is definitely known (p. 192). The writer, whoever he was, was simply anxious to explain to his Christian brethren the continuity of the Christian movement with Judaism (p. 193). “The Gospel of John was originally anonymous. A later epilogue claimed the apostle as its voucher.” Notwithstanding the fact that in the Synoptic Gospels, Jesus is reticent about himself and his office, in John’s Gospel he becomes promptly a divine Christ and boldly asserts his preexistence and Messiahship. It is conceded that if John was a personal follower of Jesus, his Gospel has substantial claims to be regarded as the authoritative formulation of Jesus’ thought and teaching, but the author immediately hastens to remind us that “apostolic authorship is not the most vital point.” The question is whether it contains a true picture of Jesus and his teachings (p. 196, 197).

We ought to be grateful perhaps that all of these Baptist men have not gone the length of Drake, a consulting author in some of our Baptist schools, who says of John’s Gospel, “But it is of little value in helping us to get an idea of the real Jesus as he lived and taught on the earth.”

If there were time, we could take the great doctrines in turn, beginning with an Infallible Book, and concluding with Final Judgments and Futurities, and show that not one single article in the accepted Baptist Confessions of Faith finds a full reception with this volume. But all of this only serves to illustrate the principle recently officially announced, that “nothing is more fundamental in Baptist belief than the right of private judgment.” Infidelity concerning inspiration never reached its climax, until Prof. Shirley Case wrote his book, entitled “The Revelation of John.”

But we must remind our auditors that Chicago Divinity School does not stand alone, nor indeed are the authors of these volumes even lonesome in the theological seminary realm. They are speaking the new Baptist seminary shibboleth. Rochester retains a somewhat effective plea for Baptist patronage in the face of an orthodox presidency. It cannot be forgotten that Doctor Cross’ article on “The attitude of the modern scientist toward Jesus” provided an exact occasion of Ex-president Strong’s remark, “Ask him if he believes in the pre-existence, deity, virgin birth, miracles, atoning death, physical resurrection, omnipresence, and omnipotence of Christ, and he denies your right to require of him any statement of his own belief.”

That this, for some years, has been a sort of Rochester City atmosphere is proved by the circumstance that L. E. Finney some time ago received from his old friend and former college chum, Dr. J. E. Woodland, Baptist professor in the University of Rochester, a letter in which he said:

As for the church, I believe it is dying at the top and will have to sprout anew on sounder foundation. The day of Calvinistic ideas, to which so many preachers seem to hold, whether they admit it or not, has long since gone by; and as these beliefs were laid aside, so I think the myths and fables of the Bible will be laid aside and the new church be founded on truth.

But not to abide too long in one place, let us shift to Crozer Theological Seminary and begin with President Evans. I quote from the Crozer Theological Seminary Bulletin of April, 1919:

It is too late in history for any Protestant denomination in 1919 to formulate a creed concerning the infallibility of Scripture in order to safeguard other inherited beliefs (p. 72).

Our Baptist opportunity rests upon the fact that the idea of the infallibility of the sacred Scriptures is not a distinctive Christian doctrine.

Some years ago Doctor Evans prepared a paper on “The Deification of Jesus — A Test of Character,” and read the same before the Presbyterian ministers of Philadelphia. I tried to get a copy of this address, having heard much of the same, but Doctor Evans’ answer to a friend who wrote him regarding it, was, “It is in manuscript form only, and it is not for publication or distribution.” Of that paper “The Presbyterian” of Philadelphia, said: “A man may take his choice between the dreamings of Doctor Evans and the plain teachings of Christ; but he cannot accept both; there is no fellowship between them.” Professor Meeser, of the same school, writing in Crozer Bulletin, October, 1917, said of the Scriptures, “Authority is scarcely the term to describe this value.” Again, “Authority, as an external, is an unwarranted intrusion.” Again, “Man is true to the end of his being only in rational self-guidance.”

Three weeks ago we did think that ONE doctrine remained to the Baptist denomination. We had a right so to conceive. It was authoritatively declared, for The Baptist now speaks for the denomination, and in the leading editorial we were told that “Baptists are at one in holding to salvation by grace”; but, alas for the Baptist principle, “the right of private judgment”! A week later there came into my hands a volume from the pen of Prof. A. S. Hobart of Crozer, entitled “Transplanted Truths from Romans” (p. 29). I read it, and when I came upon this statement,

I cannot see anything understandable or acceptable in the theory that my guilt and my penalty were placed upon Christ, or that Christ’s holiness is imputed to me in any way that involves a substitution of his holiness for mine, or of his suffering for what was due to me.

That view of the theory of the atonement finds no foothold in my consciousness or my reason, and as I further perused the same volume, I concluded that these were truths bereft of roots and stripped of branches in the transplanting process. That all of Crozer needs a denominational disinfecting, became the more evident when, a few days later, I received through the mails a series of “Little Sermons Out of Church” from the pen of Prof. H. C. Vedder, in which I found the following exhibit of Baptist independence:

There is one crowning absurdity of theology that even human law never suggested, namely, that the penalty of an evil deed can be vicariously borne by another, while he goes scot free. The idea is a violation of the universal instincts of justice —

and that in the face of the plain teaching of the Bible, “for He hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Cor. 5: 21); “Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree that we, being dead to sin, should live unto righteousness; by whose stripes we are healed” (1 Peter 2: 24); while Paul to the Romans writes, “For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous” (Rom. 5: 19).

Doctor Vedder, in Chester Times of April 10, said:

The same difficulty attends any theory of the atonement that supposes Christ to have borne our sins and died in our stead. … The fault of all such theories of the atonement is that they are pitched in too low ethical key. … Especially repugnant, to our best ethics, is the idea of sacrificial expiation made by the innocent for the guilty. … The moment we make an effort of imagination to realize what it means, our gorge rises.

Reader, did you ever visit a slaughter-house? Have you ever smelled burning meat? What is your candid opinion of a Being in the heavens whose eyes would be pleased with such sickening sights, or who found in that horrid, nauseating stench a “sweet savor?” The whole thing is too revolting, too stupidly absurd, to be worthy of serious refutation. No God whom we could possibly love and worship ever devised such a method of approach to him and of winning his good graces. Of all the slanders men have perpetrated against the Most High, this is positively the grossest, the most impudent, the most insulting.

But follow these gentlemen in their attempts to explain away plain Scripture and introduce a novel and far more intelligent operation, and you have a perfect illustration of what Doctor King of Oberlin, himself an expert in the business, has said:

One of the greatest dangers of the educated man is to be found in his ability to defend more or less successfully any position. He finds it easy, therefore, as Fichte puts it, to go on subtilizing, until he loses all power of recognizing truth, and readily persuades himself either that what he wants is true or that all convictions are about equally justified.

There is much more from this Crozer source that one might quote.

To the theological seminaries of the North unmentioned, aside from the Northern Baptist Seminary of Chicago, I present my apologies! I pass you over not from lack of interest. If there were time, I should like to bring to you a letter from a late student of Berkeley to show that the Pacific Coast is not one inch behind the Atlantic in its adoption of a most dangerous modernism, but I must conclude with a declaration.

The Denomination Is Endangered

I think you will consent that that is a mild putting of our peril. Our distinctive doctrines are being denied; our distinctive mission is being disparaged; our distinctive influence is being destroyed. But in order to make the fundamental appeal the final one, let me state these facts in another order.

Our distinctive mission is being disparaged. The very same men who, in Baptist meetings, talk most about “the distinctive mission of Baptists,” head movements that look to the final and effective effacement of that mission. The men with whom they affiliate have expressed themselves as hoping to produce a new type of Christian churches, in which “every denominational body would recognize the ministry, ordinances, and discipline of the others.” The time was when we supposed we had a special mission; namely, to emphasize the divorcement of Church and State, the new birth essential to Christian experience, the proper interpretation of New Testament ordinances, the priesthood of the individual believer, etc.; but now we draw lines, not in teaching at all, but at territory, and divide from any people that care to assume the name of Christ, not on basis of doctrine, but to share the sphere of “social service,” calling it “the kingdom,” forgetting more and more that such federations put the soft pedal upon the great principles that have made our people a power.

This necessarily destroys our distinctive influence. Alarmed lest we should be called exclusive or bigoted, we have more and more consented to the Ingersollian philosophy: “You have your opinion; I have mine. Let it rest at that, and let us increase our good fellowship by uniting our forces toward desirable objects.” Such a philosophy ignores the fact that people without profound convictions have never exercised saving influences, and that so-called Christian organizations, created by such, have commonly been as incompetent as creedless.

All of which refers to our original declaration, the greatest danger to our denominational life conceivable is the common denial of our distinctive doctrines.

In a coal-mine near Wilkes-Barre, Pa., one morning in early September, some years since, the watchman gave an excited alarm: “The roof is working! Men! Out without delay!” An awful scramble resulted. But a few minutes had passed when the great ceiling fell, with a terrific crash. The air was expelled with such violence that timbers and ventilating-doors were shivered into kindling; loaded cars were blown from the track like autumn leaves; one hundred acres of solid earth had sunken; a long strip of a half mile had gone down from three to five feet; seaming itself as it went with great fissures, and men who were slow in movement, and every poor beast employed in the deeps, met an awful fate. The fall came in consequence of removing the coal pillars that had supported the roof. Men, in their greed, had pecked away at them, taking piece after piece, and when remonstrated with, would answer: “Oh, that earth is too solid; it will never cave in!” And finally when some of the supports were wholly removed, and others were sadly weakened, the crash came.

It is a parable! “When the foundations are removed, what shall the righteous do?” It is no longer an instance of God’s giant, groping in darkness for the pillars of a heathen temple, that he may hurl them to the ground and conquer against his adversaries. The whole figure has shifted. The Samson of Modernism, blinded by theological fumes from Germany, feels for the pillars of the Christian temple and would fain tear the last one away and leave Christianity itself in utter collapse. If in any measure that ever be accomplished, let it not be said to the shame of Baptists that they were engaged as “pipers of peace” at the very time when their denomination perished!

Link to Baptist Fundamentals and other works available in Logos format as part of the Roger Williams Heritage Archives, produced by Maranatha Baptist University.

Baptist Fundamentals series:


Baptist Fundamentals: Opening Address

Comments on Baptist Fundamentals: Opening Address

Historic Baptist Principles? … or the seed of defeat in the soil of revival

Baptist Fundamentals: Fidelity to Our Baptist Heritage (1)

Baptist Fundamentals: Fidelity to Our Baptist Heritage (2)

Comments on Baptist Fundamentals: Fidelity to Our Baptist Heritage

Baptist Fundamentals: The Divine Unity of Holy Scripture

Comments on Baptist Fundamentals: The Divine Unity of Holy Scripture

Baptist Fundamentals – The Significance of the Ordinances

Comments on Baptist Fundamentals – The Significance of the Ordinances

Northern Baptists and the Deity of Christ

Comments on Northern Baptists and the Deity of Christ

An Unexpected Message

Comments on An Unexpected Message

The Bible at the Center of the Modern University (1)

The Bible at the Center of the Modern University (2)

Comments on The Bible at the Center of the Modern University

The Baptist Program of Evangelism

Comments on The Baptist Program of Evangelism

Things Not Shaken

Comments on Things Not Shaken

Modernism in Baptist Schools (Part 1)

Although Proclaim & Defend is the blog of the FBFI, the articles we post are not an expression of the views of the FBFI as a whole, they are the views of the author under whose name they are published. The FBFI speaks either through position statements by its board or through its president. Here at Proclaim & Defend, we publish articles as matters of interest or edification to the wider world of fundamentalist Baptists and any others who might be interested.

Submit other comments here.