Beth Moore and Harry Emerson Fosdick: “Shall the Fundamentalists Win?”

Harry Emerson Fosdick (left) and Beth Moore (right) have a lot in common

In a recent Twitter tirade, Beth Moore referred to those who hold to a biblical view of human sexuality as “hyper-fundamentalists,” which is, of course, a completely meaningless and arbitrary term. In modern parlance, “fundamentalist” essentially denotes anyone whose religious beliefs stands to the right of the person making the accusation, and depending upon who is throwing out the term, could refer to virtually anyone who claims to believe in a being called God.  By adding the prefix “hyper,” Ms. Moore no doubt believes she is adding some sort of frightening gravitas to the term, but in truth, she is only rendering it as doubly meaningless.

This most recent regurgitation of grammatical nonsense on the part of Ms. Moore was in response to some critics who had the unmitigated gall to question her removal of a section of her 2009 book “Praying God’s Word” which spoke of homosexual desires as an assault by Satan which could be overcome through Jesus Christ. Moore further responded to the controversy by stating that she had “overspoken” and had “exceeded Scripture” which had resulted in “keep(ing) people from God’s words.”

If we strip away all the homo-capitulating nonsense, at the heart of Moore’s response lies a fatal assumption that has infected modern evangelicalism: the paradoxical belief that the truth of God’s word keeps people from the truth of God’s word.

If we strip away all the homo-capitulating nonsense, at the heart of Moore’s response lies a fatal assumption that has infected modern evangelicalism: the paradoxical belief that the truth of God’s word keeps people from the truth of God’s word.

This is the same flawed axiom that drove Andy Stanley to declare that the church needs to “unhitch from the Old Testament.” Stated plainly, this is the belief that the church must shield unbelievers from the unpleasant or objectionable things in Scripture, such as a six-day creation or the sinfulness of homosexuality, so that they will accept the more pleasant things in Scripture, namely the gospel.

The theological problem with this argument is that it is simply false. The Bible tells us that God is omniscient (Psalm 147:5) that he cannot lie (Numbers 23:19) and therefore all his words are pure (Psalm 12:6). This means that if God is right about the gospel, then he is also right about everything else he says. Furthermore, contrary to what people like Moore and Stanley believe, if people won’t believe in all of Scripture, then eventually they won’t believe in any of it because their belief is merely situational (Matthew 13:20-22).  Jesus made this clear to Nicodemus when he told him “If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?”(John 3:12).  And so if people won’t accept the Bible’s teaching on human sexuality, then they won’t truly accept the gospel either.

History also demonstrates that this flawed and man-centered concept is doomed to failure. In 1922, a progressive Baptist pastor named Harry Emerson Fosdick delivered a now famous sermon entitled “Shall the Fundamentalists Win?This sermon was given in response to a critique of Mr. Fosdick’s brand of Christianity by J. Gresham Machen, who remarked: “The question is not whether Mr. Fosdick is winning men, but whether the thing to which he is winning them is Christianity.”

“The question is not whether Mr. Fosdick is winning men, but whether the thing to which he is winning them is Christianity.”

The core of Fosdick’s argument in his infamous sermon is that the Bible is the unfolding of God’s will, and not literally the word of God. Fosdick presented some of the core tenets of the Christian faith, such as the virgin birth, the inerrancy of Scripture, and the second coming of Christ, as scientifically untenable and ultimately unnecessary. But much like with Moore and other “woke” evangelicals, the assumption underlying Fosdick’s argument is that unless the church caters to progressives, the church will cease to be relevant.  

According to Fosdick…

“These two groups exist in the Christian churches, and the question raised by the Fundamentalists is: shall one of them drive the other out? Will that get us anywhere? Multitudes of young men and women at this season of the year are graduating from our schools of learning, thousands of them Christians who may make us older ones ashamed by the sincerity of their devotion to God’s will on earth. They are not thinking in ancient terms that leave ideas of progress out. They cannot think in those terms. There could be no greater tragedy than that the Fundamentalists should shut the door of the Christian fellowship against such.”

It has been almost 100 years since Fosdick uttered those words, and what has a century of history shown us? Contrary to the assumption of Fosdick, virtually all of the religious groups and denominations that embraced progressivism have in fact declined.  The United Methodist Church once had 12 million members in the United States. By the end of 2017, that number had declined to 6.8 million. The Episcopal Church had 3.4 million members in the mid 1960’s, but now only has 1.9 million. The Presbyterian Church U.S.A. had a peak membership of 3.1 million in 1984, but now has declined to 1.4 million. At its inception in 1957, the United Church of Christ had a membership of 2 million, which has since declined to 850,000, and the list could go on and on.

In the same way, the recent slide of the SBC into progressive wokeism is no doubt at least partially motivated by the realization that the SBC is also in decline. The SBC hit a peak of 16.6 million members in 2005. That number had reduced to 14.8 million by 2018 (of course only about 5 million people actually attend a local SBC church on a given Sunday, but I digress.) In the face of this unpleasant reality, the SBC intelligencia has come to the same flawed conclusion that Fosdick came to almost 100 years ago: that the SBC needs to embrace progressivism because the truth of God’s word keeps people from the truth of God’s word. The ghost of Harry Emerson Fosdick still walks among us.

Of course, this man-centered philosophy is no less stupid and flawed today than it was in 1922, and if we continue to follow the Beth Moore’s and the Russell Moore’s of the world down this path, the SBC will become just one more footnote in the story of the long decline and utter irrelevance of progressive Christianity.  The good news for the rest of us is that God is faithful, and despite the ever lengthening cultural capitulation train in our midst, God has promised to reserve 7,000 who have not bowed the knee to Baal.

[Editor’s Note: Contributed by Bill Perkins]


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