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Today in Church History

May 21

Harry Emerson Fosdick

On May 21, 1922 Harry Emerson Fosdick preached the famous sermon, “Shall the Fundamentalists Win?” from the pulpit of First Presbyterian Church in New York City.

Although a Baptist, Fosdick was serving as the preaching minister of the prominent Fifth Avenue church, and his sermon has been generally regarded as the “Fort Sumter” of the fundamentalist-modernist controversy in the Presbyterian Church. Though ostensibly a plea for tolerance within the northern church, the widely distributed sermon served to warn fundamentalists that they could not “drive out from the Christian churches all the consecrated souls who do not agree with their theory of inspiration.”

In an earlier (1916) letter, J. Gresham Machen had described Fosdick’s preaching as “just dreadful! Just the pitiful stuff about an undogmatic Christianity.” By 1923, Machen would emerge as modernism’s most formidable critic with the publication of Christianity and Liberalism. Fosdick, however, would recede from Presbyterian prominence. In 1925 he resigned his post under pressure, and in 1930 he became pastor of the newly built Riverside Church in New York City.

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