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Harry Emerson Fosdick
Harry Emerson Fosdick.jpg
Born May 24, 1878
Died October 5, 1969 in Bronxville, New York[1]
Church Baptist[2]
Education B.A., Colgate University, 1900
studied at Colgate Seminary, 1900–01
B.D., Union Theological Seminary, 1904
M.A., Columbia University, 1908[2]
Ordained November 18, 1903[1]
Congregations served First Baptist Church, Montclair, New Jersey, 1904–15
First Presbyterian Church, New York, New York, 1918–1925
Park Avenue Baptist Church/Riverside Church, New York, New York, 1925–30/1930-46[2]
Offices held pastor,[2] associate pastor[3]
Spouse Florence Allen Whitney[1]
Children Elinor Fosdick Downs, Dorothy Fosdick[1]
Parents Frank Sheldon Fosdick, Amy Inez Fosdick[1]
P christianity.svg Christianity Portal

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 at the Madison Avenue Baptist Church at 31st Street. 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[4], now the Central Presbyterian Church[5] ) in New York City.

Fosdick became a central figure in the Fundamentalist-Modernist Controversy 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...".[6]

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 case of the Scottsboro Boys in which nine black youth were tried before all white juries for raping white women, Bates and her companion, Victoria Price in Alabama. 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."

Harry Emerson Fosdick on the cover of Time magazine (1930).

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.

Fosdick was an active member of the American Friends of the Middle East,[7] a founder of the Committee for Justice and Peace in the Holy Land, and an active "anti=Zionist." [8]

See also

  • List of people on the cover of Time Magazine: 1920s


  1. ^ a b c d e f Fiske, Edward B. (October 6, 1969). "Harry Emerson Fosdick Dies; Liberal Led Riverside Church". The New York Times. pp. 1. Retrieved 2007-07-25.  
  2. ^ a b c d Balmer, Randall; Fitzmeir, John R. (January 30, 1993). The Presbyterians (Denominations in America). Greenwood Press. p. 158. ISBN 978-0313260841.  
  3. ^ Pultz, David. "The Merging of Three Churches". First Presbyterian Church. Retrieved 2007-07-23.  
  4. ^ Miller, Robert Moat (February 21, 1985). Harry Emerson Fosdick: Preacher, Pastor, Prophet. Oxford University Press, USA. p. 576. ISBN 978-0195035124.  
  5. ^ "Central Presbyterian Church". The New York City Chapter of the American Guild of Organists. Retrieved 2007-07-23.  
  6. ^ "Riverside Church". Time magazine. October 6, 1930.,9171,740482-1,00.html. Retrieved 2008-02-14.  
  7. ^ Merkley, Paul (2001). Christian Attitudes towards the State of Israel. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press. pp. 6–8. ISBN 0-7735-2188-7.  
  8. ^ Modern American Religion: Under God, Indivisible, 1941-1960, Martin E. Marty, University of Chicago Press, 1999, p. 189.

External links



Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Harry Emerson Fosdick (1878–1969) was an American Baptist minister.

  • "I renounce war for its consequences, for the lies it lives on and propagates, for the undying hatred it arouses, for the dictatorships it puts in place of democracy, for the starvation that stalks after it. I renounce war, and never again, directly or indirectly, will I sanction or support another. "
    • Armistice Day sermon (November 11, 1933)
  • "A good sermon is an engineering operation by which a chasm is bridged so that the spiritual goods on one side— the 'unsearchable riches of Christ' —are actually transported into personal lives upon the other."
  • "A person wrapped up in himself makes a small package."
  • "Bitterness imprisons life; love releases it. Bitterness paralyzes life; love empowers it. Bitterness sours life; love sweetens it. Bitterness sickens life; love heals it. Bitterness blinds life; love anoints its eyes."
  • "Christians are supposed not merely to endure change, nor even to profit by it, but to cause it."
  • "Democracy is based upon the conviction that there are extraordinary possibilities in ordinary people. "
  • "Don't simply retire from something; have something to retire to. "
  • "Every human life involves an unfathomable mystery, for man is the riddle of the universe, and the riddle of man is his endowment with personal capacities."
  • "God is not a cosmic bell-boy for whom we can press a button to get things done."
  • "Hating people is like burning down your own house to get rid of a rat."
  • "He who cannot rest, cannot work; he who cannot let go, cannot hold on; he who cannot find footing, cannot go forward."
  • "He who chooses the beginning of a road chooses the place it leads to. It is the means that determine the end."
  • "He who knows no hardships will know no hardihood. He who faces no calamity will need no courage. Mysterious though it is, the characteristics in human nature which we love best grow in a soil with a strong mixture of troubles. "
  • "Hold a picture of yourself long and steadily enough in your mind's eye, and you will be drawn toward it."
  • "I would rather live in a world where my life is surrounded by mystery than live in a world so small that my mind could comprehend it."
  • "It is by acts and not by ideas that people live. "
  • "Liberty is always dangerous, but it is the safest thing we have."
  • "Life consists not simply in what heredity and environment do to us but in what we make out of what they do to us."
  • "No horse gets anywhere until he is harnessed. No stream or gas drives anything until it is confined. No Niagara is ever turned into light and power until it is tunneled. No life ever grows great until it is focused, dedicated, disciplined."
  • Our power is not so much in us as through us.
  • "Picture yourself vividly as winning, and that alone will contribute immeasurably to success."
  • "Preaching is personal counseling on a group basis."
  • "Rebellion against your handicaps gets you nowhere. Self-pity gets you nowhere. One must have the adventurous daring to accept oneself as a bundle of possibilities and undertake the most interesting game in the world— making the most of one's best. "
  • "Religion is not a burden, not a weight, it is wings."
  • "Some Christians carry their religion on their backs. It is a packet of beliefs and practices which they must bear. At times it grows heavy and they would willingly lay it down, but that would mean a break with old traditions, so they shoulder it again. But real Christians do not carry their religion, their religion carries them. It is not weight, it is wings. It lifts them up, it sees them over hard places. It makes the universe seem friendly, life purposeful, hope real, sacrifice worthwhile. It sets them free from fear, futility, discouragement, and sin---the great enslaver of men's souls. You can know a real Christian when you see him, by his bouyancy."
  • "The fact that astronomies change while the stars abide is a true analogy of every realm of human life and thought, religion not least of all. No existent theology can be a final formulation of spiritual truth."
  • "The half is greater than the whole."
  • "The men of faith might claim for their positions ancient tradition, practical usefulness, and spiritual desirability, but one query could prick all such bubbles: Is it scientific? That question has searched religion for contraband goods, stripped it of old superstitions, forced it to change its categories of thought and methods of work, and in general has so cowed and scared religion that many modern-minded believers... instinctively throw up their hands at the mere whisper of it... When a prominent scientist comes out strongly for religion, all the churches thank Heaven and take courage, as though it were the highest possible compliment to God to have Eddington believe in Him. Science has become the arbiter of this generation's thought, until to call even a prophet and a seer 'scientific' is to cap the climax of praise."
  • "The steady discipline of intimate friendship with Jesus results in men becoming like Him."
  • "The world is moving so fast these days that the man who says it can't be done is generally interrupted by someone doing it."
  • "To keep the Golden Rule we must put ourselves in other people's places, but to do that consists in and depends upon picturing ourselves in their places. "
  • "Whatever you laugh at in others, laughs at yourself."


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