Harry Emerson Fosdick's doctrine of man
Bonney, Katharine Alice
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One of the most controversial theological subjects today is the doctrine of man. In this area, too, lies some of the sharp criticism of Protestant liberal thought. Hence there should be value in analysing some recognized liberal thinker's doctrine of man. Harry Emerson Fosdick was an especially well-known liberal preacher of the first half of the twentieth century. He received both great praise and severe negative criticism. While much has been written concerning his preaching methods, there has been little effort to analyse any of his theological doctrines. This dissertation has sought to make clear and to evaluate Fosdick's doctrine of man. An effort has also been made to discover what implications this doctrine has for Fosdick's type of liberalism. The method followed has been a careful reading of all Fosdick's work pertinent to any phase of the doctrine of man, supplemented by correspondence and personal interview with Fosdick himself. Fosdick is not a systematic theologian. He has not fully expounded any theological doctrine in any one place. Therefore, it was necessary to select different emphases from different works and to try to bring them together into a coherent whole. The resulting doctrine of man was then analysed for its liberal elements. These elements were compared with those found in concepts of liberalism expressed in the writings of Reinhold Niebuhr and Walter Marshall Horton. These two theologians hold widely differing views of what constitutes liberalism. The comparison between their concepts of liberalism and that revealed in Fosdick's doctrine of man served to clarify Fosdick's type of liberalism. The study established the fact that Fosdick's doctrine of man is fundamentally Christian, true to the emphases of the Bible and general Christian thought. Fosdick does not reveal the tendency, often found today, to over-emphasize one aspect of man's nature to the exclusion of others. He balances the idea of man's goodness with clear recognition of his sin; reason is important but revelation is primary; man is both free and limited; man is a spiritual being but the physical body is a necessary vehicle for its expression; eternal life, which is both present and future, is open to man. What man should be, as a total person, is seen in Christ, the revelation of both God and man. In insisting on the sacredness of personality Fosdick is true to the spirit of Jesus. Fosdick is clearly a liberal. He is not guilty, however, of the excesses of liberalism which gave rise to severe criticism. His liberalism has always been moderate and he has remained close to central Biblical affirmations. A critic himself of much early liberalism, he expressed neo-liberal ideas before the term "neo-liberal" came into existence. No adequate grasp of Fosdick's theology can be gained unless one reads all his work. Much of his theolo gical thought is expressed in writing other than his published sermons upon which many are prone to base their criticism. A thorough study of all his work shows that he deserves more recognition than he has received in theological circles. Appreciated as he has been for his important contribution to early liberal thought, he has not been recognized for his solid contribution to what is now often called neo-liberalism. In the advance guard of both the critics of early liberalism and the adherents of a new, more realistic, and soberly considered liberal viewpoint, he deserves consideration in modern thought.
Thesis (Ph.D.)--Boston University
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