Rev. Geo. O. Lillegard
1931 Synod Convention Essay
1. The writer of the Epistle of Jude says to the Christians of his day: “Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints. For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ” (vv. 3–4). And the apostle Peter writes in his second epistle: “We have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty. We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts; knowing this first, that no prophecy of the Scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man; but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of. And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you; whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not” (1:16,19–2:3). And the great apostle Paul says to Timothy: “Continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; and that from a child thou hast known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness; that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works. I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and His Kingdom; preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long-suffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables” (2 Tim. 3:14–4:4). “O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called; which some professing have erred concerning the faith” (1 Tim. 6:20,21).
2. We note that all these inspired writers set the revealed truth of God over against the heretical speculations of men. From the very beginning, then, the true prophets and ministers of God have had to contend with false prophets, men within the ranks of the elect nation or the Christian Church, who spoke “great swelling words of vanity” (2 Peter 2:18), contrary to the Word of God at the same time as they claimed to be His true representatives. The early Christian Church had to engage in a life and death struggle with a proud, intellectual system of speculation which styled itself the true “Gnosis,” that is, knowledge, or science. This “science falsely so called,” as St. Paul termed it, assumed numerous forms, but was, in general, an attempt to blend with Christianity the science and philosophy, as well as the mythologies and religions, of the non-Christian world. It was especially the deepest thinkers in the pagan world who became the leaders in this “boldest and grandest syncretism the world has ever beheld” (Kurtz). Many Christians were influenced by it or adopted it, and Gnosticism threatened for a time to submerge the true Church of Christ in many places. The storms of persecution that had raged against it from without had only seemed to strengthen the Church at1d make it spread out to ever new fields. But the insidious attacks of this enemy within the gates weakened the Church and helped toward that degeneration which set in openly when Christianity became the state religion of the Roman Empire.
3. These Gnostic systems of “scientific religion” were, indeed, eventually forgotten, conquered by the sword of the Word as wielded by those champions of the faith whom we know as the Church Fathers. But this did not mean that the pretentious of “science falsely so called” to an authority equal with, or superior to, that of the Revelation of God were permanently repelled. The enemy simply found subtler ways of corrupting the Church. Down through Church history, the authority of Holy Scripture has been set aside in various ways and degrees in order that the authority of man or human reason might find place in the Church. In the Middle Ages, human tradition, transmitted and controlled by a centralized church organization, and defended in elaborate systems of theology by intellects as keen as any that ever lived (Thomas Aquinas, etc.), claimed equal authority with the Bible. Since the Bible was held to be unclear and in need of “scientific, rational” defense, this meant that, in practice, tradition was set above the Bible; and thus was built up that religious despotism which survives to this day in the Roman Catholic Church. Protestantism was fundamentally a return to Scripture as the sole authority for faith and life. But in Protestant circles, false prophets soon arose who made man’s innate reason, or his will, or his subjective feelings and emotions, the real source and criterion of religious teaching. Since no two men will of themselves think, or will, or feel exactly alike, the logical result of such principles was the religious separatism and sectarianism which for centuries have cursed the Protestant world. To place the seat of authority in one man, the head of a despotically controlled church, meant religious tyranny. To place the seat of authority in the “divine reason,” or nature, of each and every individual meant religious anarchy. And so, between the two, it would seem that but a comparatively small part of the Christian Church has at any time “held fast the form of sound words” (2 Tim. 1:13) and kept the liberty of the Gospel. The history of the Christian Church, as a matter of fact, has been the history of Israel over again — repeated falls from grace, with but a “very small remnant” (Is. 1:9) returning in sincere repentance to continue the true Church of God on earth against all the powers o£ Hell.
4. It need not surprise us, then, that also in our day false teachers continually arise in the Church, “who privily bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them.” On the contrary, we should expect it. We should never deem ourselves safe from the attacks of the enemy, or consider our own particular Church so orthodox that no false prophets could arise within its ranks. We should, instead, be prepared at all times to use the sword of the Word against every man, be it a brother in the faith or a pagan profligate, who in any manner wrests the Word of God or denies its all-sufficient authority. And therefore, too, we should study and watch closely that phase of this perennial attack on God’s revealed Word by human reason and authority which is known as “Modernism.” We should not be deceived by the Christian cloak, the sheep’s clothing, which these modern false prophets use to cover and hide the ravening wolf that is their real nature. We must learn to see beneath their Christianized vocabulary and the hypocritical veneration paid to Christ and His Word, to dissect their “cunningly devised fables” and “oppositions of science falsely so called” and to uncover the true character of their “profane and vain babblings.” If we do that while the wolves still are outside our fold, we will be better able to detect their presence when they appear as brethren, perhaps even brilliant scholars or theologians, within or very near our own flocks.
We shall, then, first consider in general:
I. What is Modernism?
5. The Bible teaches us how this world came to be, how and for what purpose man was created, and how God prepared salvation for men when they sinned against him; and gives detailed directions as to how men may gain this salvation. This teaching is repugnant to the mind of natural man. Therefore unregenerate men, whether they are within or without the ranks of the Christian Church, cannot accept the Bible’s teaching, but must ignore, deny, attack, or try to change that teaching in some way or other. In casting about for weapons with which to attack the Word of God, men have always been quick to seize upon popular ideas or trends of thought and generally accepted beliefs. And so it is natural that Science has been called upon to furnish the ammunition for the modern attack upon the Bible. For our age is characterized by an astounding faith in “Science” (with a capital “S”) and its ability to know and accomplish all things. Where men in earlier ages believed in some kind of god or gods as the source of knowledge and power, they today believe in Science. This faith in Science has been built up during the last century largely through the remarkable advance that has actually been made in the study of nature, its laws, and properties, and through the discoveries that have revolutionized life and made possible the development of modern civilization. The mind of man has in a comparatively short time accomplished so many wonderful things that many people believe implicitly in its ability to unravel all the mysteries of life and death and to conquer all things. They may admit that the ignorance of man is as yet far more profound than his knowledge; but they will not admit that there is any field that must forever remain unknown and unknowable. They may, indeed, like Herbert Spencer, proclaim themselves “agnostics,” as regards certain things; but only to write whole books about “the Unknowable,” thus revealing that they have very definite ideas about this “Unknowable” after all. Or at least they look forward in hope to the time when that which is now secret will be revealed through the labors of generations of scientists to come.
6. This almost universal faith in the omniscience and omnipotence of Science is, thus, the first thing to be taken into account when we would explain the character of that attack on God’s revelation which is called Modernism. Dean Shailer Matthews says in “The Faith of Modernism”: “Modernists are Christians who adopt the methods of historical and literary science in the study of the Bible and religion” (p. 31) and who “accept the results of scientific research as data with which to think religiously” (p. 29). Science comes first in modern thought; the Word of God comes second. Therefore leaders in the Church proclaim openly their adherence to “the facts of science” rather than to the facts recorded in God’s Word; therefore they insist on using. “scientific methods” in their study and practice of religion, and consider the old theological or philosophical methods of religious approach out-of-date, unsuited for the modern world, however satisfactory they may have been in their own day and age. So strong is this “scientific spirit” that few, if any, educated people escape its influence. This explains also why so many people who still believe in God’s Word have felt it necessary to compromise with Science in some respect or other. If they cannot succeed in harmonizing the findings of science with the Word of God, they either re-interpret Scripture so as to force it into agreement with Science, or else reject the objectionable parts of Scripture and retain only that which they are able to harmonize with Science. And all too many, even of those who have had every opportunity to experience the power of God in His Word, succumb to the proud attacks of Science on their faith, or are left with but a crippled, trembling belief on Jesus as, after all, their only Savior.
7. There is this difference, then, between Modernism and the earlier attacks on the authority of God’s Word, that it lays claim to being based on scientifically established facts, rather than on human authorities or on man’s innate reason alone. And yet there is no essential difference in reality, as we shall see in a later section of this paper.
8. There would, indeed, have been no ground for Christians to fear this modern scientific trend and spirit if Science had remained true to its name and stuck to actually known facts. For the real basis of Modernism is not to be found in that which scientists have discovered or learned in the field of concrete scientific or historical facts; but in the theories by which the great majority of scientists seek to explain and systematize the facts which they have gathered. Although these theories are almost as numerous in form as there are writers who advance them, some, like Bertrand Russell, even advancing a new theory about every time they publish a new book, there still is one idea that runs practically through them all. That is the idea of evolution, of a developmental process by which all things are continually undergoing change. The great majority of evolutionists have assumed that evolution progresses in general in an upward direction, producing ever higher and better forms. But others, and their number is increasing, are pessimistic and find in this process of change, for the present at least, mainly a tendency towards dissolution, a “retrograde evolution,” which will culminate in the destruction of the world. Both classes accept “the transformation principle, the principle of continuity, of monism in Nature that Evolution represents”; (Kellog in “Darwinism Today,” p. 20), however much they may differ as to the how and whither of that evolution. So true is it that the principle of evolution is the generally accepted principle in all the Sciences, that “Science” has become but another name for the “Theory of Evolution”; the “scientific spirit” is the equivalent of looking at everything from the evolutionary point of view; the “scientific method” is a synonym for the “evolutionary approach.” From the science of biology, where it has its alleged scientific basis, the theory of evolution has been carried over into all other departments of human learning. In Social and Political Philosophy, it appears as Socialism; in its most consistent, Darwinian form, as Marxian Bolshevism. In Philosophy it may appear as Monism or Mechanistic Materialism. In Psychology it may appear as “Behaviorism.” In History, Sociology and Pedagogy also, as well as in the natural sciences, the theory of evolution has now for two generations reigned supreme.
9. It is not strange, then, that it should be applied also in the field of theology; and that has been done — in a thousand different forms. It is this principle of evolution applied to Christianity which we call Modernism; and this is about all that can properly be called Modernism. For there is no such thing as a standard creed in Modernism. It takes as many different forms as there are writers advancing it. The University of Chicago has published “A Guide to the Study of the Christian Religion,” composed of papers by leading Modernists on the various branches of theology, as an initial attempt at systematizing the teachings of Modernists. But in the preface the editor was forced to say: “There has, of course, been no attempt to secure absolute uniformity of views. The only common presuppositions of the various portions are the acceptance of the historical method and the belief that the interpretation of Christianity must be in accord with the rightful tests of scientific truthfulness and actual vitality in the modern world. If certain diversities of opinion appear, the volume will only reflect the spirit of freedom which prevails in theological scholarship today as well as in other fields of research” (p. vii). It is, in fact, of the very essence of Modernism that it cannot rest in any fixed form, but must be continually developing, evolving, changing, adapting itself to its changing environment and the changing needs of changing human beings. There is only one thing permanent about Modernism, and that is its implicit, not to say pathetic, faith in the principle of evolution. The ways in which this principle is explained and presented and applied may change, yes, must change with the increase of human knowledge; but not the principle itself. The Modernist or Evolutionist accepts as his slogan, “The only unchanging thing is change.”
10. We shall adduce here a few quotations from prominent Modernists which bring out the importance of “scientific” evolution as the essential thing in Modernism, and which incidentally indicate other characteristics of the “new theology.” Dean Shailer Matthews says: “When the Modernist finds experts in all fields of scientific investigation accepting the general principle of evolution, he makes it a part of his intellectual apparatus. He is cautious about appropriating philosophies, but he is frankly and hopefully an evolutionist because of facts furnished by experts” (Op. cit. p. 29f.). And in “A Guide to the Study of Christian Religion” he says: “The use of the term ‘evolution’ in connection with religion is subject to at least two objections. On the one side are those who insist that religion is the gift of God, and therefore has no historical development. And, on the other hand, the biologist may object to the use of the term in any such general sense as a student of social science must adopt. To the first critic it may be replied that, when he asserts or implies that religion has not developed like other elements in human experience, the facts are against him. Whatever may have been its origin, religion exhibits phenomena akin to those observable in social institutions to which the term ‘evolution’ may legitimately be applied. The old distinction of the Deists between natural and revealed religion has been outgrown. All religions are phases of religion. To the other class of critics it must be replied that if biologists ever had a monopoly on the term ‘evolution’ their exclusive rights have long since expired. The conception given to the word by the ‘Origin of Species’ and general biological usage· is a particular phase of a view of the world as old as reflective thought. Whatever precise definition may be given to the term ‘evolution,’ there is a large measure of similarity between certain processes in social history and certain others in the building up of cellular organisms. Outside of the strictly biological sciences the word must be used in a large sense, but it is not identical with mere change or growth” (p. 30–31 [our italics]).
11. President Wm. H. Perry Faunce of Brown university says in the same “Guide” quoted above: “The method by which men of science approach all problems, the intellectual process by which they discover truth, can and must be made thoroughly familiar to any man who would teach the modern world. And the method cannot be learned from books; it can be learned only in the laboratory, through actual experiment and research in the world of material facts and laws. For the future preacher, whose message is to be ‘life more abundantly,’ biology, the study of the forms and methods of life, is supremely important. The concept of evolution, now accepted by nearly every teacher in northern colleges and denounced by nearly every evangelist, has come to mean, not a theory or dogma, but a point of view, a mode of conceiving the world. We see the world no longer as a fact established by fiat, but as a process, an unfolding of the indwelling spirit. We ask of the Bible, How was it put together? or of the Church, What have been its stages of development? This historical approach is characteristic of all intellectual effort today” (p. 7ff.).
12. J.M. Powis Smith, Professor of Hebrew at Chicago University, says: “We cannot shirk the task of making a religion for ourselves. Ready-made religion, from whatever age it may come to us, will not fit our spiritual needs, however well it may have fitted the age in which it originated. The twentieth century world needs a twentieth century religion, and it is part of its task to make that religion for itself. Progress cannot cease at any point if religion is to remain a vital force in the lives of men. As long as progress is characteristic of other phases of human activity, religion, too, must grow. It cannot remain static while all else is dynamic. ‘An unchangeable Christianity would mean the end of Christianity itself. There has never been such an unchangeable Christianity and never can be so long as it belongs genuinely to history’ (Ernst Troeltsch). It is the task of the leaders of the religious life of today to see to it that the religion they teach and embody shall be one suited to the needs of the modern world” (“A Guide,” etc., p. 157).
13. Dr. E. Gates of the Disciples’ Divinity House, Chicago, says: “The term ‘modern Christianity’ is used in this treatment in a special sense, and refers to the principles, tendencies, or movements which have sometimes been called ‘progressive Christianity,’ ‘the new theology,’ or ‘modernism.’ It has not taken institutional form in any organized denomination nor received authoritative expression in any system of doctrine. It is rather a religious attitude, a mode of thought, or a principle of action manifesting itself in all denominations and Christian movements. Since modern Christianity is not an organic movement nor a formulated system of doctrine, it can be summarized only in terms of certain peculiar principles or tendencies, and these cannot be stated definitely or exhaustively, but only suggestively.” (Some of the distinctive elements that he lists are): “1. The element of liberty. In its general theological phase it is the right claimed by the modern religious thinker to be free from the control of authority, or the disposition to subject all authorities, whether the Bible, the Church, tradition, or a priori ‘reason,’ to the test of rationality and experience. 2. The element of scientific veracity. It is the spirit of veracity in religious belief and in moral conduct which has compelled the appeal to experience as a source of authority. Hence both theology and ethics have become experimental in method. 3. The element of rationality. The development of modern Christianity has been characterized by an increasing tendency to appeal to reason as a criterion of the truth. 6. The element of secularity. A greater appreciation of the worth and sanctity of the present natural order enters preeminently into the attitude of the modern Christian. The result has been a two-fold process — a secularization of the religious and a sanctification of the secular. 9. The element of catholicity. The modern Christian mind has grown more tolerant toward the religious beliefs of other Christians and more appreciative of the religions of non-Christian people. Christian co-operation and union are taking the place of sectarian ostracism and controversy. The resemblances to Christian teaching found in non-Christian religions are no longer waved aside as false imitations of Christianity or the inventions of demons, but are considered genuine attainment of the truth under different/forms by the most inspired spirits among the heathen. The study of comparative religion, and a closer contact with the East through foreign missionaries and international commerce, have had much to do with this new attitude; but the decisive change has come through the rationalizing influences of philosophy and science. The modern mind has discovered new principles by which to interpret and unify the facts of the universal religious consciousness, the most significant of which are the principles of evolution and of the relativity of knowledge” (“A Guide,” etc., pp. 431ff.).
14. Thus we must say that wherever the principle of evolution is made basic in theology or religion, there we have Modernism. Where that principle is made determinative for any particular religious teaching, there we have Modernism in that doctrine, although other doctrines may be left uninfluenced, by that principle. In this paper, the term, Modernism, is used to denote those systems or types of religious teaching in which the dogma of evolution is applied to fundamental Christian doctrines, so as to subvert the central teachings of the Bible. The adjective, Modernistic, is used to describe those teachings which have been shaped more or less under the influence of the belief in evolution, even when they are held by otherwise fairly orthodox Christians.
15. What Modernism is will be brought out more fully in the following sections. However, we shall not try to describe it in all its phases, but shall concentrate our attention on examining the validity of its fundamental theories and assumptions, under these captions: Is Modernism Christian? Is Modernism Scientific? Is Modernism Modern? Are We in Danger of Modernism?
II. Is Modernism Christian?
16. The Modernist not only claims the name, Christian, but represents his teaching to be the highest development to date of the religion historically known as Christianity. He not only claims it to be a legitimate shoot from the original roots of the Christian tree, but the fairest product that has yet appeared upon it. He may grant that the future will disclose more beautiful and perfect teachings and life than he has produced, but he has no doubt whatever that his religion is immensely superior to any that has gone before. He claims that his attacks on traditional Christianity are simply a new reformation of the Church, by which numerous alien excrescences are being lopped off and the essential elements of the teaching of Christ are allowed to flourish unhampered. He is simply the latest of the reformers; and Luther is as often as not his hero, although he regrets that Luther did not live in a “scientific age,” so that he could have done a more thorough job of it than he did.
17. Is this claim justified? Since we have defined Modernism as the application of the theory of evolution to the field of theology and religion, our question resolves itself into this: Can the theory of evolution in any way be harmonized with Christianity? It is obvious that everything will depend on how we define the terms “evolution” and “Christianity.” We shall, then, take Kellog’s definition of evolution, quoted above, as the most general and inclusive: “Evolution represents the transformation principle, the principle of continuity, of monism in nature”; that is, that everything changes and develops by a law of change which runs through the whole universe from its smallest constituent part to its guiding spirit or controlling force, in such a way that everything is connected with everything else, matter with life, life with spirit, in one continuous, “monistic” stream or chain. There are other definitions of evolution, but since it is the most general aspect of evolution that concerns us in the field of theology, this definition should be acceptable to all. Cf. Dean Matthew’s statement above, (par. 10): “Outside of the strictly biological sciences the word (evolution) must be used in a large sense.”
18. Christianity we define as the only true religion, that definite, fixed system of eternal truth which is revealed in the Bible and expounded in the Lutheran Confessions. We realize that this definition would only arouse ridicule in “scientific circles.” Even a Lutheran theologian, Dr. Stolee of the Norwegian Merger, is so “scientific” that he refers to similar statements as made “from a narrow viewpoint” (“The Genesis of Religion,” p. 2). However, we hold it to be a fact, capable of scientific, historical proof, that the religion taught in our Lutheran Symbols is the same in every detail as that which was taught by the first apostles, and that it was this religion which was first called Christianity by its enemies, and which thus is primarily entitled to that name. To apply the name, Christianity, to anything else is to apply it wrongly, just as to apply the term, Lutheran, to anything else than the teachings of the Lutheran Confessions is to apply it incorrectly and without due warrant.
19. Thus defined, Evolution and Christianity stand fundamentally opposed to each other and can never be harmonized. For the Bible claims to be the divinely revealed Word of a God who never changes (Mal. 3:6), but is always the same (Ps. 102:12, 24–27; Heb. 1:10–12), in whom there is no variableness, neither shadow of turning (James 1:17); the Gospel of a Savior, “Jesus Christ, who is the same yesterday, and today, and forever” (Heb. 13:8). Therefore this divinely revealed truth cannot change either, but is “forever settled in heaven” (Ps. 119:89, 152). It shall never pass away (Luke 21: 33; Matt. 5:17–19), but endureth forever (Is. 40:8; I Peter 1:25). Its one great subject, from beginning to end, is Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world (John 5:45–47; Luke 24:44–47; Acts 26:22–23), so that every part of it teaches the same fundamental truth. Therefore it is sufficient for men at all times and places (Luke 16:29–31; Is. 8:20, etc.). Thus there can be no change in this revelation itself, however much change there may be in the attitude of men at different times and places to it, or in the degree of knowledge and appreciation of its truths that different individuals may acquire.
20. The Bible teaches, indeed, that many things change in this world. The fixed and permanent, eternal nature of divine truth is often contrasted with the transitory, corruptible nature of earthly things. (Cf. Ps. 102:11, 26; 1 Peter 1:23–24, etc.). This universe that we now see is not to endure forever, having been” “made subject to vanity,” (Rom. 8:20). but is to be destroyed entirely at the Last Day, and a new heaven and a new earth are to be created in their place (Is. 65:17; 2 Peter 3:13; Rev. 21:1). And there is an infinite variety in nature. Since God created the first man and woman, no two individuals have existed who were exactly alike in every respect. The lines in the fingers are so different in each individual, that finger-prints are an absolutely reliable method of identification. In fact, no two living things are exactly alike, not even two blades of grass. Even in the inanimate world there is a similar variety. No two snowflakes appear alike under the microscope. The pieces of colored glass in a kaleidoscope will fall into innumerable different patterns, just as the few notes in the musical scale can be arranged into an apparently inexhaustible number of different melodies. But obvious as this fact of variation in nature is, it is no more obvious than the fact that the variation takes place only within certain limits, as the Word of God tells us. God made “the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit-tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself” (Gen. 1:11). A fig-tree has always been recognizable as a fig-tree from the beginning to the present day, even though no two trees could be found exactly alike. God made “the waters bring forth abundantly — every living creature that moveth — after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind” (Gen. 1:20–21). Pigeons have been bred, and records kept of the many varieties produced, now for over 2000 years — which ought to be sufficient time for the pigeon to change, or at least begin to change, into something else, if the evolution theory is correct. But pigeons have remained pigeons to the present day, and revert to the original parent form as soon as they are allowed to return to their natural wild state. God made “the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind” (Gen. 1:24). A horse has always been a horse, and recognizable as such in the earliest drawings and descriptions, as well as the alleged still earlier fossil remains, even though there may seem to be an indefinite number of varieties of horses and no two can be found that are exactly alike. And man has always been man, separated by an unbridgeable gulf from the nearest beast, even though many scientists still are looking for the “Missing Link” between men and monkeys, and apparently “know everything about the Missing Link, except the fact that he is missing,” as Chesterton has said. Forgetting in the foolishness of their boasted wisdom that “that which is wanting cannot be numbered” (Eccles. 1:15), they not only assume the existence of the many missing links required to prove their evolution theory, but build their theories in reality on that which is missing instead of on known facts. Noting the fact of variation, which however, is within certain limits, they disregard the fact that there are limits, in order to work out a philosophy of change which knows no limits of any kind. That is just as little reasonable as it would be to note the fact that there are limits to the variation in nature, and then disregard the fact of variation in order to work out a philosophy of the absolute permanence and identity of all things. Both these things have been done by philosophers, as a matter of fact, from the time of the early Greeks to the present day. The Bible alone sticks to facts and presents the whole truth, that things change but only within the limits which God has set. “While the earth remaineth, seed time and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease” (Gen. 8:22). “The Lord giveth the sun for a light by day, and the ordinances of the moon and of the stars for a light by night. He divideth the sea when the waves thereof roar” (Jer. 31:35). “Thou, O Lord, hast established the earth and it abideth forever” (Ps. 119:90). “He laid the foundations of the earth that it should not be removed forever; He has set a bound that they (the waters) may not pass over; that they turn not again to cover the earth” (Ps. 104:5–9). Cf. Ps. 147, 148, etc. That is, there is something that remains fundamentally the same through all the variations and changes in nature and the history of the world. This is so much the case that it can truly be said, “There is no new thing under the sun” (Eccles. 1:9). Since it is the changeless God who created the universe, and who still preserves it, corrupted and cursed though it is through the sin of main, there must needs be this element of permanency also in the work of His hands. It is that which makes it possible for us to speak of the “laws of nature”; which makes it possible for us to recognize identity of being or substance through a thousand changing forms; to know truth as distinct from error. A universe really so subject to change as the evolution theory, consistently carried out, would have it be, would be a lunatic world, where anarchy reigned and neither rational thinking nor valid ethics nor true religion would be possible. And so we find, as a matter of fact, that where the evolution theory dominates thought, there there is no rational thinking or real knowledge, but only a vast skepticism concerning all things; there there is no valid, binding ethics, but only a shifting; changing code of morals which merely describes the “mores,” the customs of a certain people at a certain time and place; there there is no true religion, but only “agnosticism,” that is, complete ignorance concerning all things divine and religious.
21. But fundamentally opposed though the Evolutionary Philosophy and Biblical Christianity are to one another, there still are those who attempt to harmonize them. They fall into two classes: (A) Those who, assuming Evolution to be the primary truth, seek to explain Christianity on evolutionary lines. (B) Those who, assuming Christianity to.be the primary truth, seek to interpret Evolution on Christian lines, or to embody it in their theology.
A. Evolutionizing Christianity.
22. Christianity is a fact which stands out in the history of the world as one of the most remarkable phenomena in it. The person of Jesus Christ is central in history. Therefore evolutionists must try to explain Christ and Christianity on evolutionary lines, or else admit that their theory does not fit all the facts. But every attempt that they have made to do so shows only that it is impossible to retain the Christ of the Bible and historic Christianity along with the principle of evolution. Christianity is “a stubborn fact” which simply cannot be fitted into the evolutionary scheme of things without being distorted and misrepresented entirely. We can here only sketch briefly the results of trying to interpret Christianity in accordance with the dogma of evolution.
23. The Bible is, according to its own claims and the faith of historic Christianity, the inspired Word of God, given to men to teach them the way of salvation. For evolutionists, the Bible has become at best the record of the religious experience of men in ages past; but also an unscientific, superstitious, immoral, unhistorical, and inaccurate compilation of, in the main, deliberately falsified documents by a set of unknown impostors, parading under the names of great prophets or apostles. The “Higher Critics” have turned the history of God’s chosen people upside down, assigning that which the Old Testament places in earlier ages to later periods and vice versa. The text of the Old Testament has been broken into bits, arranged and rearranged to suit the fancy of the arranger. This the “Critics” have done in order that the evolution theory might be applied to the events there recorded and to the doctrines there taught. The prophets who so scathingly denounced all false prophets are themselves alleged to have written their “supposed prophecies” of future events after those events had already taken place. The “assured results of Higher Criticism” are, indeed, not so assured that any two Critics cart be found who will agree as to just what those results are. But each and every Critic will, for all that, confidently announce that what he teaches is “an assured result” of the labors of Higher Critics in general. The New Testament is treated in the same way as the Old Testament. The Gospels and most of the other New Testament books are said to be composite documents, palmed off upon an uncritical age by falsifying impostors as the work of the apostles. Some of the letters of St. Paul have resisted the attacks of even the most wildly anti-Christian Higher Criticism. But then Paul himself is put under the microscope of modern religious psychology and found to be only a neurotic invalid, subject to epileptic fits, or even quite mad — with the Governor Festus as one authority for that contention! (Acts 26:24).
24. Having disposed of the historical sources of Christianity in this way, they still are not quite through with the person of Jesus Christ, that “head stone of the corner,” that “rock of offense” and “stone of stumbling.” In the Bible, and in the historic creeds of Christendom, he is the Son of God and the Son of Man, the only Savior of men; true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, true man, born of the Virgin Mary. To the evolutionist, Christ was only a man, divine only as we are, or can become, divine; the bastard son of an unfaithful woman; at best, a great religious teacher, who has taught men to call God their Father and has shown them how to live a life of self-sacrificing service; but also a strangely unbalanced character, who imagined himself to be a Messiah and King. The more logical and consistent evolutionists subject also our glorious and risen Lord to the analysis of that modern abomination, religious psychology, and adjudge Him, even more than Paul, to have been insane, with the “much misunderstood and maligned Pharisees.” as prime authorities for that theory! (Cf. John 10:20). But most Modernists, with characteristic lack of logic and consistency, combine with a complete rejection of every claim made for Christ by the Bible an alleged reverence and respect for Him and His teachings. These, however, only reveal that they themselves are children of the father of lies, Satan, by the way in which they praise him while still making him really a liar or deluded fanatic; for only liars could retain any respect for a person who was such a deceiver or self-deluded leader of deceivers as Christ, on their theories, must have been. The Modernist Christ is, in short, an impossible being, whether we consider the caricatures of him presented by many modern theologians or the “manly Master” of Fosdick and his smooth-tongued ilk. He is a religious and ethical monstrosity that could have been even imagined only by a theology that is itself a hybrid monstrosity, the unnatural product of un- naturally combined opposites.
25. With such a view of the Bible and the Christ who is its theme from beginning to end, we can understand that the Modernist way of salvation must be something quite different from that which the Bible and historic Christianity teaches. The Bible says that Jesus Christ is the only Savior; that there is “none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). The Modernist may, indeed, call Christ a Savior; but there are many other saviors, too; in fact, every man must work out his own salvation by following in the footsteps of Christ and the other great religious leaders of men, Buddha, Confucius, Mohammed, etc.; Christ saves men only by showing them how to save themselves. This is possible because men are not so bad after all; they all have the immanent God dwelling in their hearts. They need, not so much to be saved from sin, as to recognize that they are essentially good and divine themselves. In fact, that which the Bible calls the fall of man was necessary in order that, as the serpent said to Eve, men might themselves become divine through knowing both good and evil. Good and evil are relative terms. That which is the good of today may be the evil of tomorrow, or vice versa. The Ten Commandments are essentially an outgrown moral code. Though not many Modernists will go so far as the mad philosopher, Nietzsche, and condemn the ethics of the New Testament out- right, they are at one in assuming that we now need a more modern system of ethics to fit our modern age: that, hence, the ethics of Christ must, in certain respects at least, be superseded by a “scientific ethics,” worked out by the “experimental method.” There is no such thing as permanent, fixed truth, either in theology or in ethics, according to them. Therefore there can be no such thing as sin either, in the absolute sense. The sins of men are as much the mistakes of the immanent God as they are the errors of men; for he is thus by the experimental, trial-and-error method working out the more perfect universe to come. Therefore there is no doctrine which Modernists hate more than the Bible teaching concerning the substitutionary death and blood atonement of Jesus Christ. On it they visit all the scorn and ridicule they can express; over it they pour the. vials of their alleged righteous wrath. For it is just that doctrine that brings out most clearly the awful, eternally horrible and destructive character of sin in God’s eyes, since it takes the death and blood of the Son of God Himself to atone for it.
26. Furthermore, Modernism has no use for salvation in the Biblical sense, because the belief in a Hell and a Devil from which men need to be saved has been completely discarded. There is even little faith in a future Heaven to which to be saved. At any rate, the Modernist centers his attention on this life and on making it heavenly for himself and others, leaving the next world, if there is one, to take care of itself. This explains the emphasis on what is called “Social Christianity.” Modernists are not interested, according to Dean Matthews, in rescuing brands from the burning, but in putting out the fire. They hope by social reform, by legislation, and by education to improve conditions so that happiness and content will be the general lot, instead of poverty, crime, and suffering. A theory which leads presumably intelligent men to trace crime and moral degeneracy to poor eyesight or adenoids will also lead them to believe in the possibility of a general reform by purely natural means. The Modernist may discourse eloquently about the Kingdom of God, but he means a kingdom of this world, where Prohibition laws are enforced, thus incidentally improving upon Christ and his scandalous (!) conduct at the wedding at Cana; where Modernists dictate legislation and capitalists meekly obey their commands or, perhaps, “give all their goods to the poor” and help to establish a Socialistic State, a la the Marxian Bolshevist Paradise.
27. This is a very incomplete sketch of Modernism; but it should be enough to show that it is something entirely different from Christianity as we know it. But that does not prove to the Modernist that he has no right to the Christian name. We have seen a famous university professor, during a discussion of the Resurrection of Christ, become quite excited when a speaker said that those who denied the resurrection could not be called Christians; he claimed that the name, Christian, was not copyrighted, and so he could call himself a Christian, too, no matter what he believed about Christ! The explanation for this attitude is simply that the name, Christian, has come to stand for everything good, noble, and true; and the Modernist claims to be good and noble and true, too! The Modernist, of course, admits that his Christianity is not the same as that of the first disciples. Yes, more, he insists that modern Christianity must be different from the old, or it is no longer Christianity. A tree looks quite different after a hundred years from what it did when it first took root. Only a dead stick would look the same, after a century, as at first — if it has not decayed away. And so, the Modernist says, it is only a dead Christianity which remains the same — static, unchanging. The Modernist uses the familiar vocabulary of the old-fashioned Christian, partly in order that his new teachings shall not shock the congregations into open opposition before they have had time to absorb his views more or less unconsciously; partly, as Dr. Gerald B. Smith says, because “the inertia of theological thinking tends to conserve terms which have had a vital significance in relation to realities of former days, but which are artificial in our own, day” (“A Guide,” etc., p. 524) ; partly because he must use at least some of the old terms if he is to demonstrate that his teaching has any “genetic connection” with original Christianity, as he claims it has. But he has no hesitancy about affirming that his religion is very different from the religion of Paul or Luther, and must be different, since the modern world has discovered so many facts of which Paul and Luther never even dreamed.
28. In order to understand this attitude on the part of Modernists, we must remember that all their thinking is based on a theory which derives life from dead matter, men from the monkey or a lump of jelly, which can gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles, which knows no dividing line between any of the many different forms of life, but makes all things one. Any kind of Dualism is abhorrent to this theory. Therefore, there can be no real dividing line, on this theory, between the different forms of religion either. They are all one — the lowest heathenism, the pagan idolatries, the Christianity of Paul, the Modernism of today. And so at the same time as Modernism claims a true historical connection with Christianity, it also most frankly and openly claims a similar connection with all other religions. There is no such thing as true religion distinct from false religions. All religions are but more or less successful gropings after a truth which consists, not in some/objective, metaphysical being or system of teaching, but only in a correct adjustment between changing individual and changing environment, their proper adaptation to each other. (Cf. par. 10 and 13, lit. 9, above).
29. There is thus only one way by which to prove to the Modernist that he has no right to the name Christian. And that is to show that his basic theory is the fundamental opposite of Christianity from beginning to end, at every point, from the doctrine of creation to the doctrine of the Final Judgment. The Christian who hesitates to draw the line sharply or leaves any room for the theory of evolution at all, might as well give up his case first as last. In the battle between Modernism and Christianity, the doctrine of creation therefore becomes fundamental. Any concession or weakness at that point opens the door for the whole series of Modernist blasphemies. So we need to review briefly here the contrast between the Bible and Evolution as regards the origin of the universe; or to compare the science taught in the Bible with the science based on Evolution.
30. The first page of the Bible introduces us, without any attempt at philosophical explanation, to the Lord God, who by His almighty Word creates the universe and its myriad forms of matter, force, and life, with Man, a living soul, the breath of God in his nostrils, as the crown and head of His creation. The last page of the Bible tells us how this same God will create a new heaven and a new earth in the place of the first creation, which sin had corrupted, and will grant all those who have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, the second Adam, the right to reign and rule with Him in all eternity. Everything between the first and last pages of the Bible is permeated by the belief in this same Creator as the one who sustains, governs, and controls the destiny of His creation. Any attack on the first page of the Bible constitutes, therefore, logically an attack also on the last page of the Bible and everything between. Teachings which deny the existence of God, and make Matter (Materialism), or some impersonal “Idea” (Idealism), or an Unknowable Something (Agnosticism), the ground and origin of all things, are plainly contrary to the Bible. For the existence of a Creator God, who is a personal Being, is assumed throughout in it. All those who deny His existence are simply called “brutish men who know not, fools who do not understand” (Ps. 92:6); and that is the end of the argument. (Cf. Ps. 14:1; 10:4; 53; etc.). But teachings which rule God out of His universe after He once had created it (Deism), or identify Him with it so that He is bound up in it and by it (Pantheism), are just as contrary to the whole tenor of the Bible. “God spake and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast” (Ps. 33:9). “Every house is builded by some man; but He that built all things is God” (Heb. 3:4). It is the Creator and His creation that thus are contrasted; the inventor and his machine. To identify God with the universe is as absurd, in the light of the Bible teaching, as it would be to identify Henry Ford, the man, with one of his “Fords,” the car. The case stands no better for those who teach that God was through with His universe after He created it, and that it since the begnning of time has run of itself, by its own laws and inherent forces, like a clock wound up. No machine runs itself, but requires to be periodically supplied with new power and repaired and attended. And so, too, with the “machine” that is this universe. The Bible teaches from beginning to end that God is continually watching over His creation; that it depends every moment upon His support for its existence. “In Him we live, and move, and have our being” (Acts 17:28). Without God, the universe would simply collapse and be utterly destroyed. (Cf. Matt. 6:26ff.; 10:28ff.; Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:3, etc.). Read the book of Job and the Psalms again!
31. Most Modernists are Pantheists and have no use for a transcendental God, but speak continually about the God who is immanent in all nature. Rev. Charles F. Potter, e.g., says: “God was existent in the spiral nebulae from which this earth was formed. He was existent in the matter which gradually cooled and which formed until this earth became more like what it is now. He was immanent in the dust and slime in the early stages. He was immanent in the first forms of animate life which came directly from the inanimate matter which existed before. He was immanent in every reaching upward of the earlier forms of life. He was immanent when our last animal ancestor became gradually conscious of himself and of his difference from the beasts which had preceded him. God has been present at every progressive development of mankind since that day” (“Evolution vs. Creation,” p. 29). This is nothing else, in reality than the old Pantheism which in India prevents insect pests or poisonous reptiles from being destroyed, because, forsooth, God is also in them! If anyone wishes to learn what the fruits of such Pantheism are. let him go to India, or read Miss Mayo’s hook, “Mother India.”
32. But there are also Modernists who call themselves “Theistic Evolutionists.” They include many people who, perhaps, belong properly under our second class: Those who, assuming Christianity to be the primary truth, seek to interpret evolution on Christian lines, or to embody it in their theology.
B. Christianizing Evolution.
33. Infidel evolutionists and radical Modernists reject the Bible in blind unbelief, and are to be pitied for their unbelief. But those who claim to believe in Biblical Christianity and who still try to harmonize Evolution with it deserve only condemnation. If men who are blind to the sun of God’s revelation seek to find out God by the flickering candle light of Science, they are all wrong; but they are at least not as foolish as those who know and see that sun and yet think to discover eternally valid truths by the spluttering, ill-smelling flame of a man-made Science. It is one of the saddest chapters in Church History, this, which records how ready and anxious Christian Church members and leaders often have been to cater to the wisdom of this world and absorb its vaunted knowledge into their own theology. The Gnostics of the early Christian era, the scholastic theologians of the Middle Ages, the Rationalists of the 18th century, and the Modernists of today, all have numbered in their ranks many Christians who by no means went to the extremes of their radical leaders, but who gave those heretical movements the best possible support by their weak concessions and compromising attitude. There may be Christians among such compromisers today, because they have illogically retained certain fundamental beliefs in God and Christ together with their faith in Evolution. But we cannot, therefore, call their compromising doctrines Christian. For that same “happy inconsistency” by which they themselves can still be Christians becomes a most unhappy inconsistency, when we consider what effects their illogical, un-Biblical teachings must have upon the minds of those who associate with them. A logical mind is not necessary in order to be a sincere Christian. But it is highly essential in these days when the science of Logic has been relegated to the scrap-heap and theological and philosophical muddle-headedness is the order of the day, that those who would be teachers of Christianity should observe at least some of the elementary laws of reasoning.
34. The theory of Evolution is fundamentally an attempt at explaining the origin of the world as we see it without the intervention of a Power existing before or beyond the world. But many people claim that they believe in a personal God and still can accept Evolution. They look upon Evolution simply as the method by which God created the world and by which He still governs it. In other words, they consider evolution a divinely established law, which is operative throughout in life, in the world, and in society. Without identifying God with this law in pantheistic fashion as most Modernists do, they consider it unreasonable to hold that God should change His own laws arbitrarily for the benefit of one person or race, or even break and contradict them, as He must have done, if, for example, the sun stood still at Joshua’s command, or iron floated on the water for the prophet Elisha. God would not be God, they say, if he should thus interfere with, or capriciously set aside, the marvelous laws which He Himself has put into His creation. The miracles recorded in the Bible they thus either reject, or explain as the operations of higher laws not yet known to us, but which may eventually be discovered, so that men could duplicate those miracles.
35. God is, indeed, a God of order. But the Bible nowhere represents Him as being in any manner bound by the laws which He has made. He does that which is good in His own sight. He is from beginning to end presented as a God who is intensely personal, and who, therefore, like every other person, is continually interfering with “natural law,” in accordance with the dictates of his own free will. To imagine a God who is bound by His own laws is to make Him no longer a free, independent person, but the slave of forces which He could create, but not thereafter control or destroy. But we all know that men are continually starting and stopping, repairing and remodeling, changing and destroying the machines which they make. We can think no less of God’s ability over towards the “machine” He has made, if we really look upon Him as a truly personal being, just as distinct from His creation as we are distinct from the machines we make. Indeed, according to the Bible, God is so entirely free that His acts could be described as arbitrary, were it not for the fact that He is also Love and Righteousness, so that everything He does has a loving and good purpose and character. “Whatsoever the Lord pleased, that did He in heaven, and in earth, in the seas, and all deep places” (Ps. 135:6). “He doeth according to His will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay His hand, or say unto Him, What doest thou?” (Dan. 4:35). Thus the Bible represents God. Read Job 9, Ps. 104, Isa. 29 and 45, Rom. 9, etc. Strictly speaking, then, to say that one believes in God at all, and at the same time to bind Him by his own “natural laws” is to talk nonsense. It is interesting that a scientist, L.T. More, Professor of Physics at the University of Cincinnati, should express himself most strongly against those who thus seek to combine evolutionary science and Christianity with the result that they satisfy neither. He says in “The Dogma of Evolution”: “To admit the existence of God in any sense of the word is to admit the possibility of the miraculous. To say that natural law was instituted by a Power and to deny that natural law may be suspended or changed is to accept the greater mystery and to deny a less. If God instituted the laws by which the solar system moves, then I see no reason, so far as physics is concerned, why the sun may not have stood still at the command of God through Joshua. To say that it would have deranged the solar system is an argument which should have no more weight than to say that a man who had made a machine could not stop it and start it again without deranging its mechanism. The disbelief in such miracles comes from the conviction of so steadfast a reign of law that the purpose ascribed to the miracles is not commensurate with the infraction of the law. But believing, as I do, in free-will, which is contrary to scientific law, and that man can comprehend imperfectly the laws of the universe, it seems reasonable to assume that he also to the same extent comprehends the creator of the laws” (p. 357 [our italics]).
36. The “Theistic Evolutionist,” then, comes no closer to the Bible teaching than the outright Pantheist does. Neither does his view of the matter please the orthodox Evolutionist any more than it does the orthodox Christian. He is forever halting between two opinions, “ever learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” The same must be said about “the pathetic attempts of modem (Christian) apologists to reconcile Genesis and Darwinism,” as Dr. George B. Foster puts it. (“A Guide,” etc., p. 747). The great Gladstone wrote a book which he entitled “The Impregnable Rock of Holy Scriptures”; but he himself allowed a considerable number of dents to be made in that rock by conceding as fact things which were, after all, only arbitrary assumptions on the part of too cock-sure scientists, as, e.g., when he made the six days of Genesis 1 into long periods of time, in order to make room for the alleged “facts” of Geology. And so with a host of “conservative” writers down to the present day, who forget that one Word of God is more true, scientific, and certain than all the experiments and observations of a thousand scientists could ever make the simplest event or phenomenon in nature. The plea of these “conservatives,” of course, is that the Bible does not pretend to teach Science, but religion; that hence, where the Bible statements seem to contradict the findings of modern science, there we must interpret the Bible in a new way, or explain its statements as an “accommodation” to the “un-scientific, simple-minded views” of the people of that day. Thus Otto Lock, in “Theological Forum” of the Norwegian Merger, says: “It is very important that we should avoid the common error of assuming that a miraculous revelation of detailed scientific truth was ever designed by God in His Word. The account of Creation is given in popular language” (Jan. 1931, p. 46). And so on this theory, when God said “Let there be light,” we must not think of that light as being created within an ordinary day, in immediate response to His almighty Word. No, we must think of God as making a long, laborious speech, requiring extended periods of time, corresponding to the geologic ages of “Science,” and thus gradually, with much patient labor, producing light out of nothing! That is “modern” and “scientific,” and it is also, we submit, sublime nonsense, as so many of the other “pathetic attempts at harmonizing Genesis and Science” are, even though it is sponsored and advanced by some great names in the Christian theological world. It is most certainly true, as Mr. Lock points out, that a revelation of the whole “mystery of creation — in scientific details” would have been of little “benefit to early man.” If it had, the Lord would undoubtedly have revealed it to him. But we object to his naive assumption that “Science” has been able, or ever will be able, to find out anything about that mystery in “scientific details,” all the while we know that scientists, as Thos. Edison says, “do not know one-millionth part of one per cent about anything”! All too many “conservative theologians” make this mistake: They assume that scientists by their researches have added to human knowledge, when the fact of the matter is that they have only, by their discoveries, extended immeasurably the boundaries of their ignorance and plunged themselves still deeper into that complete mystification with regard to nature and its laws which is so conspicuous in the latest scientific and philosophical writings.
37. And this is not a mere “glittering paradox.” To give an example of how new discoveries increase the ignorance of man rather than their knowledge; or, in other words, add only to their knowledge of their own ignorance: There was a time when scientists thought they could give a true definition of matter. But physicists today have, through their researches, arrived at the stage where they must frankly admit that they do not know what matter is. The more they learn about the properties of matter the less they understand it. Thus Dr. W.R. Whitney, “a world figure in science,” says, as quoted in Literary Digest, (Nov. 22d, 1930): “The best scientists have to recognize that they are just kindergarten fellows playing with mysteries — our ancestors were, and our descendants will be. We move from one theory to the next, and always there is something that does not fit in with the other evidence. Take the atom. Yesterday it was whirling particles, infinitesimal solar systems. But that is outmoded now, and today the atom is described as a wave in space. Tomorrow it will be something different. The theory of relativity is not final. It won’t stand still. No scientific concept can stand still. All is in motion. The will of God, the law which we discover, but cannot understand or explain, that alone is final. No cut-and- dried bundles of words made up into a scientific formula will suit; they simply cover up the investigator’s ignorance. In the last analysis, everything operates by the will of God, and there is no formula which will explain that.” (our italics)
38. This scientist is wise in that he makes God the real explanation for all the phenomena of nature, as the Bible does. But most scientists prefer to try to cover up their ignorance by learned theories, expressed in technical language or mathematical formulas which few can understand. Still they conclude by calling themselves “Agnostics”; and that after all is simply the polite Greek word for ignoramus or “greenhorn”! The average scientist’s procedure is described correctly enough in Literary Digest, (Aug. 10th, 1929): “Quoting that ancient definition of metaphysics as ‘looking in a dark room for a black hat that isn’t there,’ Mr. Chesterton confronts us with some of the theories that have gone the way to the scrap pile, and says that the physical scientist, however, ‘actually announces that he has found the hat, handled the hat, worn the hat, weighed and photographed the hat, all by way of leading up to the announcement that it isn’t there’.” (our italics) And so modern scientists are repeating the experience of “The Preacher,” who says in Ecclesiastes: “When I applied mine heart to know wisdom, and to see the business that is done upon the earth, then I beheld all the work of God, that a man cannot find out the work that is done under the sun; because though a man labor to seek it out, yet he shall not find it; yea, farther, though a wise man think to know it, yet shall he not be able to find it” (Eccles. 8:17). “God hath made everything beautiful in His time; also He hath set the world in their heart, so that no man can find out the work that God maketh from the beginning to the end” (Eccles. 3:11). In short, God has so ordained that men will never be able to explain His creation at all except, to a certain extent, by faith in Him. “Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the Word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear” (Heb. 11:3). We can study nature only as it now is, “the things which are seen.” But these things “were not made of things which do appear”; that is, their origin, their fundamental nature is to be found in something that does not “appear” to our senses, so that it cannot be known or made the subject of scientific study at all. To argue back from what scientists now see and observe in nature and assume that the world has originated by the forces or the laws that now are operative in it, (as Lyell did, e.g., in Geology), is as foolish in reality as it would be to explain the origin of a gasoline engine by demonstrating how the completed machine operates. Scientists who have done this should confess with Job: “I have uttered that I understood not; things too wonderful for me, which I knew not” (Job 42:3). Read Job 38–42.
39. Instead of assuming, then, that Science has given us an insight into the “mysteries of creation” which the first men did not possess, true Bible Christians should say with the famous author, Jean Paul Richter: “The first leaf of the Mosaic record has more weight than all the folios of the men of science and philosophy combined.” And wherever Science contradicts the least jot or tittle of God’s Word, we should remember the words of the prophet Isaiah: “Thus saith the Lord, thy Redeemer, and He that formed thee from the womb; I am the Lord that maketh all things; that stretcheth forth the heavens alone; that spreadeth abroad the earth by myself; that frustrateth the tokens of the liars, and maketh diviners mad; that turneth wise men backward, and maketh their knowledge foolish” (44:24–5). For it is not true that the Bible does not teach Science. It tells us all that we can really know concerning the creation, government, and preservation of the universe. The scientist who attempts to go beyond this knowledge and to penetrate deeper into the mysteries of life and the world, while leaving God out of account, will find only that he “is turned backward”; his “knowledge is made foolish.” So true is this, that many of us here can expect to see the day when scientists will be ridiculing the theories that now have been popular, with even more devastating irony than our most “scientific” Modernists or humorous scientists today can ridicule the theories of the so-called “pre-scientific ages.” The Bible, indeed, does not give us detailed descriptions of the many forms of life and matter; it is the privilege of a reverent and God-fearing science to observe, and to gather facts concerning, the wonderful world which God has created. But Science can never penetrate into the secrets of nature so as to understand its laws or explain its processes; it cannot explain even a blade of grass or a lump of dirt, much less the mind or soul of man. The very best it can do is to say that they exist “by the will of God.” No man can read God’s Book of Nature aright if he in unbelief rejects the Book which is His direct revelation to men. And even those who accept that Revelation must confess the truth of the Preacher’s words: “As thou knowest not what is the way of the spirit, nor how the bones do grow in the womb of her that is with child; even so thou knowest not the works of God who maketh all” (Eccles. 11:5). Thus Lord Kelvin, a Christian and one of the greatest scientists of modern times, says: “One word characterizes the most strenuous of the efforts for the advancement of science that I have made perseveringly for fifty-five years. That word is failure. I know no more of electric and magnetic force, or of the relation between ether, electricity, and ponderable matter or of chemical affinity, than I knew and tried to teach to my students of natural philosophy fifty years ago in my first session as professor.”
40. It is only “a science falsely so called,” then, that pretends to do more than record the facts of nature which it has observed. For the word “science” means “knowledge.” But most of that which today is called science is not knowledge at all, but pure speculation, fanciful imaginings, the wild dreams of men who know not God and who therefore can do nothing better than to “give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which minister questions rather than godly edifying which is in faith” (1 Tim. 1:4). It is like the “Gnosis,” the knowledge or science, which Paul condemned in his day; and its advocates can well be described in his words to Timothy: “If any man — consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness; he is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth” (1 Tim. 6:3–5).
41. Those, then, who seek to incorporate Evolution into Christianity can succeed no better than those who try to fit Christianity into their evolutionary scheme of things. Whether they yield little or much to evolutionary Science, they bring an alien theory into that system, of divine truth to which Genesis 1 is fundamental. Whether they reject the whole doctrine of a Creation out of nothing by a divine fiat or reject only the six days of creation and seek to convert them into the indefinitely long periods of evolutionary Geology, they convict themselves of folly; they exchange the certainty of divine revelation for the uncertain theories of human Science, a Science which has become so foolish that it will determine dogmatically how long the world must have existed; even while it is unable to explain the simplest phenomena of nature as we see it today! Both the extreme Modernists, then, and their compromising “conservative” brethren succeed only in contradicting true scientific facts as well as the Bible, and in destroying faith in the only saving religion: Biblical Christianity. Therefore we say that Modernism in any form is not Christian, but anti-Christian; that any compromise with it or its fundamental theory is compromise with falsehood, heathenism, and Satan.
42. But there are many who are so convinced that Modernism and Evolution are based on scientific ±acts that they will rather give up the name, Christian, than their faith in Science and Evolution. We need, therefore, also to discuss the question:
III. Is Modernism Scientific?
43. We cannot go into detail on this question here, but can, we believe, show satisfactorily that Modernism has no scientific validity whatever, but is purely and simply a false religion, the blind, unreasoning, and generally unreasoned, faith of the (from the Christian viewpoint) unbelieving world; no more reasonable or helpful to mankind than the pagan abominations in which it has its real roots.
44. The Bible makes two assumptions which we are required to make with it, if we are to believe its teachings: (1) That there is a personal God. (2) That this God reveals Himself to men in order to win lost sinners back to Him. These are in themselves perfectly reasonable assumptions to make. But we cannot demonstrate scientifically that there is a God, although we can, by faith, become entirely certain that He exists. We cannot prove scientifically that God would reveal Himself to men in the way which the Bible teaches, although we can, again by faith, become entirely certain that He would do so and did so so in the Bible. If we make these two initial assumptions, and believe in God and His Holy Word, then all the rest follows with logical certainty and necessity. The more Biblical a system of theology is, the more logical and self-consistent it proves to be. There is no more consistent and clear teaching to be found anywhere, in the whole history of human thought, than in the theology of such orthodox Christian scholars as the famous Lutherans who prepared the first complete Book of Concord.
45. Biblical Christianity, then, frankly states that it requires faith and can be proven true only to those who are born again of the Spirit, so that they have new spiritual powers with which to apprehend and comprehend divine truth. But Modernism claims that it doubts all things until they have been scientifically demonstrated to be true. It refuses to believe in the Bible as God’s Word to men, or even to believe in the existence of God, unless these beliefs can be made reasonable or can be harmonized with the findings of Science. It assumes, however, the validity of a theory, that of Evolution, which never has been, and never can be, proven true. It assumes also that God and true religion can be discovered by scientific methods, an assumption which is directly contrary to the Bible as well as to the facts of history. Here is where the contrast between Modernism and true Christianity shows itself most clearly. Christianity starts with faith in the eternal God who is Life and Truth, and thus begets certainty of conviction and a steadfast hope of life eternal. Modernism claims that it starts with definite knowledge, but is in reality based on faith in an unreasonable theory which is utterly incapable of scientific proof; therefore it can only beget doubt and skepticism and lead men into a morass of speculation and uncertainty about everything from the origin and nature of the world to the future fate of man and the universe.
46. Modernism can certainly be no more scientific than the so-called “scientific” theory on which it is primarily based. But Evolution is admittedly only a theory, and not scientific fact at all. We shall quote first, in proof of this, a few statements by a confirmed evolutionist, Dr. Vernon L. Kellog, Professor of Zoology at Leland Stanford University. He says, in “Darwinism Today”: “All the millions of kinds of animals and plants can have had art origin in some one of but three ways: they have come into existence spontaneously, they have been specially created by some supernatural power, or they have descended one from the other in many-branching series by gradual transformation. There is absolutely no scientific evidence for either of the first two ways; there is much scientific evidence for the last way. There is left for the scientific man, then, solely the last, that is, the method of descent. The theory of descent (with which phase organic evolution may be practically held as a synonym) is, then, simply the declaration that the various living as well as the now extinct species of organisms are descended from one another and from common ancestors. It is the explanation of the origin of species accepted in the science of biology. If such a summary disposal of the theories of spontaneous generation and divine creation is too repugnant to my readers to meet with their toleration, then, as Delage has pertinently said in connection with a similar statement in his great tome on ‘Heredity,’ my book and such readers had better immediately part company; we do not speak the same language” (p. 10–11).
47. This is dogmatic language, indeed, as dogmatic as any that can be found in the most hidebound system of orthodox dogmatics. And what is the evidence on which this evolutionist bases his dogmatism? He is forced to refer “to the curiously nearly completely subjective character of the evidence for both the theory of descent and natural selection. Biology has been until now a science of observation; it is beginning to be one of observation plus experiment. The evidence for its principal theories might be expected to be thoroughly objective in character; to be of the nature of positive, observed, and perhaps experimentally proved, facts. How is it actually? Speaking by and large we only tell the general truth when we declare that no indubitable cases of species-forming or transforming, that is, of descent, have been observed, and that no recognized case of natural selection really selecting has been observed. The evidence for descent is of satisfying but purely logical character.” (p. 18–19 [our italics]). In other words, the “evidence” for the evolution theory has been spun entirely out of the more or less — mostly less, cf. par. 48 — logical minds of the evolutionists themselves. Prof. Kellog also lets another interesting, and certainly nine-lived, cat out of the bag when he gives Darwin the credit for establishing the evolution theory on a scientific basis; and still at the same time admits that Darwinism is now discredited in the scientific world: “The theory of descent, long before it was fully set forth by Darwin in 1858 together with a definite and wholly plausible causo-mechanical explanation of it, had been foreshadowed and even fairly explicitly formulated by various philosophical naturalists. Even in the far older writings of the Greeks, most conspicuously perhaps in the pages of Aristotle (350), may be found phrases foreshadowing those of Lamarck, Wallace, and Darwin. But it was not until Darwin backed up the formulation of the descent theory with that wonderful accumulation of illuminating and explaining facts, and with those always ingenious but ever candid and supremely honest tryings-on of the theory to the various fact-bodies, that the Theory of Descent began to be spelled with capital letters in the biological creed. Nor was it merely good-fortune that led to the quick and wide acceptance of the theory of descent when proposed by Darwin, while the same theory when proposed twenty years earlier by Lamarck found practically only rejection. It was because to the old descent theory the new Darwinian theories were added. It was because of that explaining Darwinism, which today is being so rigorously re-examined as to its validity, that the theory of descent took its definite place as the dominant declaration in the biological credo (p. 11–12 [our italics]). Still Kellog must admit: “The fair truth is that the Darwinian selection theories, considered with regard to their claimed capacity to be an independently sufficient mechanical explanation of descent, stand today seriously discredited in the biological world. On the other hand, it is also fair truth to say that no replacing hypothesis or theory of species-forming has been offered by the opponents of selection which has met with any general or even considerable acceptance by naturalists. Kurz und gut, we are immensely unsettled” (p. 5). In other words, the Darwinian theories gave the evolution dogma its start in the modern world. Darwin is one of the canonized saints of such slavish followers of Evolutionary Science as Fosdick, whose “Cathedral” in New York has Darwin’s image, along with that of the apostles and the Lord Himself, carved above the doorway. Many people believe his books infallible. But Darwinism now stands completely discredited in the scientific world; the observations and experiments that have been made since Kellog’s statement was written (1907) have completed the work of destruction that had then been well begun. As Dr. Dwight, Professor of Anatomy at Harvard University, says: “We have now the remarkable spectacle that just when many scientific men are all agreed that there is no part of the Darwinian system that is of any great influence, and that, as a whole, the theory is not only unproved, but impossible, the ignorant, half-educated masses have acquired the idea that it is to be accepted as a fundamental fact…” (Quoted in Lunn’s “The Flight from Reason,” (1931), p. 88 [our italics]). Still, with its Darwinian basis entirely gone, and nothing else to take the place of Darwinism, the evolution theory is being held all the same as “the dominant declaration in the biological credo.” That is, it is confessedly an article of faith and nothing more — a “working hypothesis” which men hold to, mainly because they refuse to accept the reasonable view of the matter taught in the Bible.
48. And in other fields of human knowledge, evolution is held still more firmly, even in its Darwinian form — not least in religion and ethics, i.e. Modernism. It has taken to itself wings, and needs no longer the solid foundation of scientific fact on which it was allegedly built up. It has had the bottom completely knocked out from under it; and all the labors of thousands of scientists have not availed to give it any other or better foundation. But it soars on airily all the same on the wings of faith — a faith so credulous, so illogical, so unreasonable that it is increasingly becoming the target of cynically-minded philosophers or independent thinkers. Thus, Prof. More says: “The most discouraging feature of the whole problem of biological evolution, to one who has been trained in the exact phraseology and rigorous logic of the physical and mathematical sciences, is the loose language and the still looser reasoning of the evolutionists and of the biologists. Up to a certain point, their language and methods are those of science and then comes the relapse into the methods of the untrained thinker. Professor Bateson carefully knocks down every prop to natural selection, to the inheritance of acquired traits, and to evolution in general; then he concludes by asking us to apply the doctrine of evolution to the thoughts and actions of men because he still has faith in evolution, and some day biologists may find its solution. We can leave to the biologists the hope that some day they may enter the temple of life through the doors of evolution, out the collapse of the theory of natural selection leaves the philosophy of mechanistic materialism in a sorry plight. Those who are trying to use its conclusions as a guide to social polity and ethics will find themselves without any ground on which to stand if they address themselves to a real study of biological evolution” (Dogma of Evolution, p. 236ff. [our italics]).
49. The science of Paleontology (the study of fossil remains) is supposed to furnish the evolution theory with some of its best evidences. But scientists now admit that these evidences do not prove the theory at all. Darwin had to assume that the evidences he sought in fossil fields were lacking because they had been lost, like pages torn out of an old book. But then it is remarkable that the “pages” which remain prove the truth of the Bible teaching at every point, and never furnish a single proof for the theory of evolution! Prof. More, after reviewing the present state of this science, says: “The more one studies paleontology, the more certain one becomes that evolution is based on faith alone; exactly the same sort of faith which it is necessary to have when one encounters the great mysteries of religion. The changes that are noted as time progresses show no orderly and no consecutive evolutionary chain and, above all, they give us no clue whatever as to the cause of variations. The evidence from paleontology is for discontinuity; only by faith and imagination is there continuity of variation” (“Dogma of Evolution,” p. 160–1).
50. But the fact that the evolution theory is based solely on faith does not put it on a par with Christianity which is also based on faith. For the Christian puts his faith in an omniscient, omnipotent, eternal, and perfect God, who guarantees for him that what He teaches is eternally valid Truth. But the evolutionist puts his faith in the observations and speculations of his own mind, which according to his theory has been developed by gradual changes out of the mind of an ape or some still lower form of life. And so he can hardly have much faith in them! As Charles Darwin himself confessed: “But then with me the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of a man’s mind which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would anyone trust the convictions of a monkey’s mind?” (Quoted in Lunn’s “The Flight from Reason,” p. VI). The validity of our faith, then, on the Christian assumptions, is guaranteed by God Himself. What guarantee has the evolutionist, on his assumptions, for the validity of his faith?
51. We cannot take the time here to give further quotations from recent scientific writing on Darwinism and evolution. We can only allude to such criticisms of evolution as Prof. Arthur W. Lindsay’s “The Problems of Evolution,” and Henshaw Ward’s “Builders of Delusion,” both published this year. So general is this attitude of criticism becoming that Modernists like Cadman, ever alert to be on the band-wagon, are joining the critics. In 1922, he wrote an unqualified defense of Darwinism. (Hom. Review, June, 1922, reprinted in “Evolution or Christianity?” 1924, by Dr. Wm. M. Goldsmith). In 1931, he writes an appreciative foreword to Lunn’s attack on “the Victorian heresy,” as this same Darwinian Evolutionism is called in “The Flight from Reason.” Apparently it will not be long before the world of scholarship will be agreeing with Prof. George Frederick Wright that “the Evolution theory is one-tenth bad science and nine-tenths bad philosophy.” According to their own theory, of course, evolutionists should eventually change so much that they could not believe in evolution any longer! And that they will do, as soon as they can find some other, or presumably better, excuse for their refusal to believe in the Tri-une God of the Bible. For although some may by the grace of God come to a knowledge of the truth in Christ Jesus, and others may jump from the anarchistic rationalism of Modernism over to the despotic, absolutist rationalism of the Catholic Church, most of them will be only confirmed in their skepticism, by the breakdown of their old faith in Evolution; so that they will join the growing ranks of atheists and Bolshevists who are raging so wildly today against the Lord and against His anointed. Rather than admit the existence of the Creator they will, with Kellog, be satisfied to confess that they simply “do not know” how the various kinds of life have originated, or what anything in reality is; and to say with him: “Nor in the present state of our knowledge does any one know, nor will any one know until, as Brooks says of another problem, we find out. We are ignorant, terribly, immensely ignorant. And our work is to learn. To question life by new methods, from new angles, on closer terms, under more precise conditions of control; this is the requirement and the opportunity of the biologist of today. May his generation hear some whisper from the Sphinx”! (Op. cit. p. 387). “Some whisper from the Sphinx,” that is all the “knowledge” that Science can give men, even to hope for in some dim, distant future!
52. In fact, no Science, however sane and exact it might be, can ever properly be made the basis for religion. For it is not true, as the Modernists assume, that God and eternal truth can be discovered by the methods which Science uses in its study of nature. God is a Spirit who can he seen neither with the microscope nor the telescope; but who can be apprehended by faith alone. “For he that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him” (Heb. 11:6). As Luther says: “The world seeks in innumerable ways, with great industry, cost, trouble, and labor to find the invisible and incomprehensible God in His majesty. But God is and remains to them unknown, although they have many thoughts about Him, and discourse and dispute much. For, God has de creed that He will be unknowable and unapprehensible apart from Christ.” The historical person, Jesus Christ, can indeed be submitted to historical, scientific investigation. But the chief, most vital fact concerning Him, that He is the only begotten Son of God, is again something that men can understand and accept only by the power of God, the Holy Spirit working faith in their hearts, as we confess in Luther’s explanation of the third article. This is not only the teaching of the Bible; it is also the teaching of human experience. Apart from faith in the Christ who is revealed to us in the Bible, no man has ever been able to arrive at a knowledge of the true God. The unbeliever has succeeded instead only in making; gods in his own image and in demonstrating the foolishness of his wisdom and the vanity of his man-made idols. “Professing themselves to be wise they became fools” (Rom. 1:22). “Hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe” (1 Cor. 1:20–21). Thus St. Paul summarizes the experiences of men in their search after God. “The Lord knoweth the thoughts of the wise, that they are vain” (1 Cor. 3:20). And so He has not left us to stumble about in the darkness which the wisdom of this world creates, but has given us His gospel which the veriest child can believe. If we had to wait for Science to find God or to make up its mind about who and what God is, we would never learn to know Him. As Mr. Lunn says: “It is a great mistake to associate enduring truths with the passing scientific fashion of the moment. I think theologians should refrain from basing their apologetics on the third (the latest) version of the quantum theory. It is a great mistake to hitch one’s wagon to a shooting star” (“The Flight from Reason,” p. 295–6). Indeed, scientists change their theories so quickly, and often unexpectedly, that it leaves the confiding public as bewildered as though it were really being dragged about by a shooting star. Mr. Einstein gained great fame through his theory of relativity. But now he blandly announces that his theory was all wrong and proposes another. When one observes the manner in which he, on his American visit, hobnobbed with the comedian, Charlie Chaplin, one suspects that Einstein may be the greater humorist of the two, and that he has simply been offering us another example, by his theory of relativity, of “how one manages to lead a whole generation by the nose,” as the German biologist, Driesch, said of Darwinism. And it is not only the Bible that condemns the wisdom of this world’s wise men. They can be trusted to do that for each other also. Thus Mr. Lunn says: “One thing is certain: Very clever men are capable of talking very great nonsense. The Victorian heresy itself (i.e., Darwinism) might be described, as Professor Broad has described ‘Behaviorism,’ a modern variation of that heresy, as ‘an example of those theories which are so preposterously silly that only very learned men could have thought of them!’” (op. cit. p. 318–9).
53. A theology or religion like Modernism, then, which is based on modern science, has in reality as unsubstantial a foundation as could be imagined. And since the Evolution theory lacks any scientific basis even in those departments of human knowledge where it was first given some appearance of validity, it should be clear that its application to other fields of study or research is entirely without warrant. To apply the jargon of Biological Evolution to theology, as Henry Drummond did in his “Natural Law in the Spiritual World,” is bad enough, even when it is granted that there is some justification for believing in evolution in the strictly biological sciences. But when there no longer is such justification, Modernism clearly stands convicted of being un-scientific as well as un-Biblical and un-Christian.
54. Since scientific theories change so rapidly, Modernists have great difficulty in keeping up with the times so as to appear really scientific. And, in fact, most of them are at least 25 years behind the times. Thus Rev. Charles F. Potter in his debate with Rev. John R. Straton defended the evolution theory with arguments which had been abandoned 30 years before in advanced scientific circles. And so he fully deserved to be beaten in the debate as he was. Modernists no sooner get their theology worked out on a “scientific basis” than they have to start all over again, or else be convicted of an unreasoning dogmatism. Personally, we fully expect to see Modernism cave in as a result of losing its breath, so to speak, in the race to keep up with Science — even though it has some glib-tongued representatives, like Fosdick, who can contradict himself several times in a single sermon, and still apparently “get by” with the American public, from John D. Rockefeller down to the Negro Bolshevist on the New York Bowery. The explanation for the success such Modernists have had to date, in spite of the illogical, unreasoning, and purely negative, destructive character of their teachings, is to be found in the circumstance that our modern generation has “itching ears and cannot endure sound doctrine,” but would rather listen to “fables.” Like the people of Athens in St. Paul’s day, they “spend their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing” (Acts 17:21). Anything called new, modern, or up-to-date is sure to attract attention. Anything old is by that fact alone discredited, considered out-of-date and unsuited to the “modern world.” Modern false prophets harp continually on this string, whether they come with new “divine revelations,” like the Mormons, Christian Scientists, Russelites, etc., or appeal to “modern science” in support of their attacks on the old faith. But thus the question arises:
IV. Is Modernism Modern?
55. The wise “Preacher” says: “The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done; and there is no new thing under the sun. Is there anything whereof it may be said, See, this is new? It hath been already of old times, which was before us. There is no remembrance of former things; neither shall there be any remembrance of things that are to come, with those that shall come after” (Eccles. 1:9–11). “I know that whatsoever God doeth, it shall be forever; nothing can be put to it, nor anything taken from it; and God doeth it, that men should fear before Him. That which hath been is now; and that which is to be hath already been; and God requireth that which is past” (Eccles. 3:14–15). Especially in the field of ethics and religion is it true that there is nothing new under the sun. The same sins afflict the race of men today as afflicted them in the earliest times on record. The same moral principles and laws are required to instruct men and curb their passions as in the very first ages. The world has never risen to higher views of religion than Moses and the prophets proclaimed; and the same Gospel is needed for us today as Adam and Eve required to be saved from their sin against God. The Lutheran slogan: “The Changeless Christ for a Changing World,” then, grants a little too much to the popular theory that everything changes in this world. For the changes take place only in minor things, in external appearances, and not in the great essential things, in the fundamental realities. “There is no new thing under the sun” is as true today as it was in the day of the Preacher of Ecclesiastes.
56. Applying this truth to the question before us, we must say: In its fundamental assumptions and attitudes, Modernism is as old as the first apostasy from the revealed truth of God. In its chief features it is readily recognizable to the church historian as a re-hash of old heresies, resurrected and presented as new by men who think they are new mainly because they are unfamiliar with the old. As we have just heard from the Book of Ecclesiastes: “There is no remembrance of former things; neither shall there be any remembrance of things that are to come, with those that shall come after.” Thus Prof. More says concerning the leading evolutionists: “The predominating trait of the leaders of evolution was an intense egotism and self-confidence that in them lay the truth. They brushed aside the work of earlier philosophers and teachers of ethics, or rather they made hardly· any reference to them. Darwin had a naive ignorance of the work of even his immediate predecessors; Spencer read no hook whose fundamental ideas differed from his own; and Huxley was the strenuous opponent of classical education” (“The Dogma of Evolution,” p. 320). And Modernists who proclaim their teachings to be something modern could be characterized in the same way as Prof. More characterizes these patron saints of Modernism. They reveal their ignorance of the Bible and orthodox religion every time they open their mouths; and for all their professed learning, their ignorance of church history is equally great. What else can be expected when they devote no real study to either the Bible or Church History, but waste their time instead in fruitless attempts at harmonizing evolutionary science with Christianity? They present these old heresies, indeed, in new ways, with a different vocabulary than the ancient heretics used, to a large extent. But that does not prove that they are essentially anything new. We Lutherans preach and teach the same eternal truths that Paul and the apostles did; yet our method of presentation may be quite different, in fact, everyone of us has a method, a style of his own. In this, as in the world of nature, there can be infinite variety of form or expression for something that re mains always fundamentally the same.
57. It is significant that Modernists themselves recognize that their teachings have a “genetic connection” with other religions than Christianity. And the fact is that it is in anti-Christian religions and philosophies alone that their teachings have their real roots. For Biblical Christianity never has been the syncretistic product of all kinds of heathen religions that the Modernists claim it is. It has always been rigidly exclusive, from the time when Abraham was commanded to leave his home and his people and go to a land which the Lord would show him, down to the present day. The Modernist attempt to connect Christianity with other religions is, therefore, in itself the strongest proof that Modernism is not Christianity, but that very same false “synthetic” religion, that syncretistic Baal-worship and idolatry, which the prophets and apostles denounced.
58. The basic principle of Modernism, the evolution theory in the general form which here alone concerns us, is nothing new, but is found in the most ancient philosophies. Empedocles in Greece was an empiricist who came with a “clear prevision of Darwin’s philosophy, that fit and unfit arise alike, but that what is fit to survive does survive, and what is unfit perishes” (Prof. D’Arcy W. Thompson in “Legacy of Greece,” p. 157). The idea of an evolutionary development of the universe is found in practically all heathen philosophies and religions, sometimes in a mythological form, as in the Chinese myth of the giant Pan-ku, whose body developed into the world as we see it, while the lice on his body became men, etc.; sometimes in abstruse philosophical discussions, (as in the Chinese “Book of Changes”), that are fully as learned and unintelligible as the most “scientific” writings of modern times, from Darwin to Einstein. The heathen world knows of no Creator who created the world out of nothing. Therefore it necessarily has replaced him by evolutionary theories of various kinds. “In both the Egyptian and the East Indian mythology the world and all things in it were evolved from an egg; and so in the Polynesian myths. But the Polynesians had to have a bird to lay the egg, and the Egyptians and the Brahmans had to have some sort of a deity to create theirs. The Greek philosophers struggled with the problem without coming to any more satisfactory conclusion. Their speculations culminated in the great poem of Lucretius entitled, “De Rerum Nature,” written shortly before the beginning of the Christian era. His atomic theory was something like that which prevails at the present time among physicists. Modern evolutionary speculations have not made much real progress over those of the ancients” (Prof. Geo. T. Wright, “The Passing of Evolution,” in Fundamentals, Vol. VII., p. 18–19). The fact that Modernism adopts such heathen theories of the origin of the universe is thus prime proof that it is only a revamped paganism and not a modern form of Christianity at all.
59. The most interesting parallel to Modernism is found in the Gnosticism that flourished in the second century of the Christian era. Like Modernism, it sought to clothe pagan theories and beliefs in Christian language; to combine these two opposite systems of belief into one grand system of thought. Like Modernism, “it appeared only as a system of teaching, and formed no church organization” (Lövgren, Church History, p. 41). In the following, we shall quote Prof. Kurtz’s characterizations of Gnosticism, from his Church History, (Vol. 1, p. 99ff.), and point out the similarities to Modernism: “In most Gnostic systems Christianity is not represented as the conclusion and completion of the development of salvation given in the Old Testament, but often merely as the continuation and climax of the pagan religion of nature and the pagan mystery worship.” So Modernism represents Christianity as the evolutionary product of the religions prevailing in the Graeco-Roman world after the time of Christ, rather than as a continuation of the only true religion of the Old Testament; and the pagan mystery religions are credited with being the chief source of many fundamental Christian teachings. “The attitude of this heretical Gnosis toward Holy Scriptures was various. By means of allegorical interpretation some endeavored to prove their system from it; others preferred to depreciate the apostles as falsifiers of the original purely gnostic. doctrine of Christ, or to remodel the apostolic writings in accordance with their own views, or even to produce a Bible of their own after the principles of their schools.” This might serve as a description of what Modernists have been doing to the Bible. “With the Gnostics, however, for the most part the tradition of ancient wisdom as the communicated secret doctrine stood higher than Holy Scripture.” Put the modern faith in the “esoteric wisdom of Science” in place of the “secret doctrine” of the Gnostics, and this applies directly to Modernism, as we have seen. “In solving the problems of the origin of the world …, the Gnostics borrowed mostly from paganism the theory of the world’s origin.” So Modernism rejects the Bible’s account of the origin of the world and goes to an infidel Science or the heathen world for its theory of that origin. “In working out the theosophical and cosmological process it is mainly the idea of emanation that is called into play, whereby from the hidden God is derived a long series of divine essences, whose inherent divine power diminishes in proportion as they are removed to a distance from the original source of being.” Put Spencer’s “The Unknowable” in the place of this Gnostic “hidden deity,” and the term “evolution” in place of the term “emanation,” and we have essentially the same teaching in both. Gnosticism is, however, both more logical and more intelligible than Spencer’s theory and the theories of most pantheistic Modernists. Gnosticism also recognized the need of redemption from this evil world, while Modernism is so foolish as to believe in a redemption of this present world, by its own powers. But they are alike in that the Gnostic “redemption consists in the conquest and exclusion of matter, and is accomplished through knowledge (gnosis or science) and ascetism. It is therefore a chemical, rather than an ethical process.” Thus Modernism hopes to redeem and conquer the world by Science, knowledge, and to save men from sin by improving their diet, removing their adenoids and bad teeth, and by the enforcement of prohibition laws! In general, Gnosticism was an alleged “scientific religion,” a synthesis of all the knowledge that the “best minds” had been able to produce to date; and so is Modernism.
60. There are many similarities, too, between the Rationalism of the 18th century and present-day Modernism. Rationalism was, indeed, more logical and self-consistent than most Modernism is. For Modernists follow Darwin and evolutionists in general in being thoroughly muddle-headed in their reasoning and logic — and rather pride themselves on it, mistaking their opaque thinking for philosophic depth of thought, or a mystical communion with the Absolute, or something equally absolutely “absolute,” — if you know what that means! (Cf. Webster on Absolute and note on “The Philosophy of the Absolute”). The Rationalists made their “Reason” the judge of truth. Modernists make scientific experiment or experience the chief test of truth. That which works out right is considered true, whether it may seem reasonable or not. But in reality both principles come to the same thing. For our experiments and experiences will always be interpreted in accordance with the “mental spectacles” through which we view them, the theories or assumptions which we apply. The old Norwegian “bondekone” may have been entirely certain that she had seen “trolde” or “huldrer”; her “experiments and experiences,” interpreted by her reason, proved it satisfactorily to her. The Negro porter may be “scientifically certain” that he has seen ghosts or that his rabbit’s foot has brought him good luck. His experiments and experiences, colored by his “reason,” prove it to him. And so Modernists, although their method may seem quite different, are in reality basing their religion, like the old Rationalists, on their own subjective reason and not on objective facts at all. They are only less logical than the old Rationalists were, because they claim to be guided by objective facts alone rather than by preconceived theories or “a priori reason,” while they in reality are not. And so they disregard the historical facts of Christianity entirely in order to put in their place their own subjective theories and fancies and speculations, and then call them “scientific fact”!
61. Then, Modernists like Rationalists are more interested in this world than in the next. Just as the old Rationalists preached on how to raise potatoes or improve the breed of domestic animals, so Modernists today are instructed, in Theological Seminaries like the University of Chicago Divinity School, in the application of “Social Christianity” to agricultural problems in country districts. In many details, their arguments and their criticisms of the Bible and orthodox Christianity may sound exactly alike. Modernism, in short, is an improvement upon Rationalism only from the standpoint of its originator, Satan, in that it is less honest and outspoken, more unscrupulously deceptive and hypocritical than the old Rationalism ever was, and hence also more dangerous to the Church. Thus Modernism is nothing new in reality, but the old familiar anti-Christian teachings in a newly patched-up dress; it is only a new variety of the same old species that has existed from the time when Eve listened to the first lie in the Garden of Eden.
62. The Gnostic syncretism, however, was in due time sloughed off by the Church. The pagan superstition and rationalistic traditionalism which had crept into the Catholic Church met its death blow by the work of Martin Luther. The Rationalism of the 18th century was overcome in the revivals of evangelical religion which inaugurated the “century of missions” and brought Christianity out to the farthest isles of the seas. We can believe that this modern Christianized rationalism, this Neo-Gnosticism, with its alleged scientific basis, will also go the way of these earlier heresies. For theories and heresies come and go, they have their little day and disappear. But “the Word of God liveth and abideth forever”; as the work of God it “shall be forever: nothing can be put to it, nor anything taken from it” (Eccles. 3:14).
63. This does not mean, however, that we are in no danger of being affected by Modernism. For the movement may not yet have reached its highest point, although it has captured most of the Reformed Churches and many of the Lutheran Churches in Europe, and has made serious inroads upon the membership of the Catholic Church. We need, therefore, to consider also our last question:
V. Are We in Danger of Modernism?
64. The Lutheran Church in America has hitherto been signally blessed in that it has been almost entirely saved from Modernism which has rent the Reformed Churches asunder. But there are many signs which point to an increasing spirit of apostacy also in its circles. The English-speaking United Lutheran Church is honey-combed with, and hag-ridden by, Lodgery. And the Lodges do for their members what the “Higher Critics” and “scientific theologians” do for pastors and students. They familiarize them with such Modernistic, pagan principles as “the Fatherhood of God and Brotherhood of Man”; the essential validity of all religions and systems of belief; the reliance upon human reason rather than upon the Word of God. They inoculate them with the virus of idolatry and paganism as effectively as most Universities and Reformed theological schools today inoculate their students with pagan skepticism and false religion. Modernistic principles have also been given expression in books published by, or within, this church. It has for years been connected with such Modernist-controlled organizations as The Federal Council of Churches, the Foreign Missions Conference, etc. Its president, Dr. Knubel, is to appear as one of the radio preachers of the Federal Council, in company with such Modernists as Dr. Sackman, Cadman, Fosdick, etc. Even if his own sermons are entirely orthodox, he helps to make confusion only worse confounded by thus appearing as,a representative of an organization which sponsors such unmitigated paganism as Fosdick, Cadman, etc., continually preach.
65. The Swedish Augustana Synod welcomed the rioted Modernist, Bishop Soederblom, with open arms as a brother in the faith. And other Lutherans in these circles have fraternized with such aggressive Modernists as Fosdick, apparently without meeting any serious criticism from their own brethren. In the Norwegian Lutheran Church, articles have appeared in its official organs which show, either that some of its leading men have acquired the “modern; scientific spirit” themselves, or at least that they have become so confused in their thinking that they no longer can distinguish properly between light and darkness, truth and error, Christianity and Modernism. Thus in the articles referred to above, as well as in an article on “Confucianism and Christianity,” which appeared in the Theological Forum, 1930, and in Prof. Stolee’s book on “The Genesis of Religion.” Another article in Theological Forum bears the significant title: “What Concession, if Any, must We in the Interest of Truth Make to the Evolutionists?” Although the author, Rev. Byron C. Nelson, takes a more conservative stand than many in his church, thus even accepting the six days of Genesis 1, he still confuses the issue by labeling as “concessions” things which Christians “conceded” long before there was any danger of attack on their faith from Evolutionists; and by accepting Darwinism as valid “within limits,” while the only teaching that can properly be called Darwinism at all is that “causa-mechanical explanation of adaptation and species-transforming” (Kellog, op. cit. p. 2), which gave the theory of evolution its modern form and impetus. And that Darwinism was pronounced by competent scientists on its death-bed over 30 years ago; so that now even the attempts to revive it have ceased.
66. It has been reliably reported that Evolution is taught in some of the colleges of the Norwegian Merger. St. Olaf and President Boe were subjected to a public attack in “Lutheraneren,” for the and-Biblical teachings that some of the teachers at that leading Norwegian Lutheran institution were bringing their pupils. President Boe’s answer was not such as to remove suspicion from his school. The Norwegian Merger has also affiliated with Modernistic churches and organizations, especially in the Foreign Mission work and fields. Undoubtedly there are many in that church who still are contending against Modernistic influences in every form. But the Merger, being/ itself a unionistic organization, has no principles by which it can separate the truth from the error taught openly within its ranks, with the result that even the most conservative become dulled and soon are quite satisfied to fraternize indefinitely with men who depart ever more and more boldly from the rule of the Word.
67. The modern union movement, as pointed out in the quotation from Dr. Gates above (par. 13–9), has received its chief impetus from that religious indifferentism which no longer distinguishes between truth and error. (“The modern Christian mind has grown more tolerant toward the religious beliefs of other Christians and more appreciative of the religions of non-Christian people. Christian co-operation and union are taking the place of sectarian ostracism and controversy.”) Wherever, then, unionism becomes rampant, there the way has already been prepared for Modernism. The Lutheran Churches outside of the Synodical Conference have frankly joined the ranks of those for whom Union is a chief objective in church work. Not satisfied with ever widening schemes of Union here at home, they must reach out to all the world and spend time, money, and energy on a “Lutheran World Union movement,” which may increase the worldly pride of Lutherans, but never their real strength. Thus they are opening the doors wide in the American Lutheran churches to that Modernism which has practically engulfed the European Lutheran churches. And, but for some miracle of God’s grace, it is only a question of time till these Lutheran churches will find themselves in the same situation as most European Lutheran and American Reformed churches do now.
68. With Modernism already at such close quarters, it would be folly for us to imagine that we are not in danger from its insidious influence. The radio is bringing Modernistic preaching into almost every home. Newspapers, magazines, and books dish up evolution and Modernism to our people day after day, year after year. Our friends and relatives, perhaps, are affected by it, or may even be devotees of this modern paganism. It may be that we in the Synodical Conference are in more danger, as our church opponents say, of going the Roman Catholic road and of setting up an external authority in the church which, in practice at least, is credited with virtual infallibility in all matters of doctrine and life. But we cannot deny that we also are endangered by the anarchistic Modernism of our clay. The Synodical Conference has not been unaffected by the modern union spirit, as its recent history proves, which unionism is the entering wedge of Modernism. We have been closer than most people may realize to establishing connections with the Modernistic organizations which control the Foreign Mission enterprise of Protestant churches. We have not in all places taken a clear-cut stand against the Lodges, those modern successors of “the mystery religions” of the ancient heathen world. We have not always borne clear witness against the syncretism and compromise with heathenism that prevails in such heathen lands as China and India. In short, we also stand precariously on the verge of going the same Modernistic road as other Protestants. It is not for us, at any rate, to thank the Lord too loudly because we are not as other men are. We need humbly to recognize our shortcomings and to pray God keep us in His Word and Truth, steadfast and strong against all “the oppositions of science falsely so-called,” willing to “count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus, our Lord.”
69. There are especially two places that we must watch for the first outcroppings of the Modernistic spirit. The one is, our higher institutions of learning; the other, the foreign mission fields. It is history that modern, as well as ancient, apostacies have made their entrance into the church from the top down; they have begun with leaders in the church, and through these leaders the masses have been misled. These false prophets have, indeed, often found the way prepared for them by the ignorance and indifference of the people, who knew little about the Truth of God and cared less. But still the main responsibility for the heresies that have afflicted the Church of Christ has always rested upon the leaders. If our Church is to be saved from such false prophets, we must, like Luther, be ready to take up arms against them, whoever they may be, to “stand in the gap before the Lord” (Ezek. 22:30), and cry out against those “who divine lies and say, Thus saith the Lord, when the Lord hath not spoken” (Ezek. 22:28).
70. It is also history that much of the unionism and indifferentism of the day has been bred on the foreign mission fields, and from there has spread to the home churches. It is surprising how many there are who lose their bearings when Foreign Missions are being considered, or who advocate and carry out policies and teachings there which they would never think of applying in the work at home. It is surprising, too, how many there are, even of those who would never think of yielding a disputed point to other Christians or to fellow-Lutherans, who become very conciliatory and ready to compromise when they deal with heathen religions and beliefs. Missionaries, who could see little good in other church denominations, find so many remarkably fine things in Confucianism or Buddhism or in their ancient gods! Note, e.g., the high praise given Confucianism by a Norwegian Merger Missionary, in the article, “Confucianism and Christianity Compared,” before referred to; and how Prof. Stolee finds a “pure monotheism” in that same religion. (Cf. his “Genesis of Religion,” Ch. 14). As our Foreign Mission work grows in extent and importance, we can expect to find similar influences being exerted on our church by many of its missionaries and most ardent mission supporters.
71. Yes, we also are in danger of Modernism. We can be saved from falling into it only by observing the admonitions to diligent use of God’s Word, given in such Bible passages as those quoted at the beginning of this paper; and by “earnestly contending for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.” Let be that we are few and of no account in the world! That does not excuse us from raising our voices, and this with every ounce of strength that is in us, against the false prophets who cry “Peace, peace,” when there is no peace. Only by exercising our faith can we grow in faith; and it is by contending for the faith that we are to strengthen our own hold upon it. We shall, therefore, “preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long-suffering and doctrine.” If we live daily in Christ, we will by the power of His Holy Spirit be enabled to do this, weak though we may be in ourselves. St. Paul says to the Colossians: “As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in Him; rooted and built up in Him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving. Beware lest any man spoil you with philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. For in Him dwelleth all the fulness of the God-head bodily. And ye are complete in Him, which is the head of all principality and power” (2:6–10). Complete in Christ — not seeking any light or wisdom or power in the rudiments of this world, its philosophy and vain deceit, but satisfied to live His life, to walk the narrow path, to carry the cross He gives us, to be despised as narrow-minded and “unscientific,” to be persecuted as disturbers of the peace, to be “cast out of the synagogues” as stubborn sinners who would teach when they should be taught (John 9:34), — thus may we by the grace of God be given strength to “hold fast the form of sound words,” even while better men than we are fall a prey to the “cunningly devised fables” of modern unbelief. For Christ promises us: “If ye continue in my Word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31–32), free from the power of sin and all the “damnable heresies” that false teachers bring in to the Church of Christ. And to such freemen in Christ there is nothing impossible. For it is not weak man, but the Almighty God who will accomplish it; “not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the Lord of hosts” (Zech. 4:6). “With might of ours can naught be done. Soon were our loss effected. But for us fights the Valiant One, whom God Himself elected.”
72. Then let us not in a false humility cringe before the proud attacks of an infidel science upon the eternal Word of God. Let us not, in defending that Word, do it apologetically and blushingly, as though it stood discredited by Modern Science — like we might defend some discredited and guilty friend; thus in reality damning it as much by our faint praise as the enemies of God do by their abuse and ridicule. Let us rather boldly and confidently use the sword of the Word, its science as well its ethics and religion, against anyone and everyone that attacks or denies or perverts it, be he pagan, Pope, Turk, or Modernist, friend, foe, or unionistic compromiser. Then shall we, having taken on the armor of God, be “able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand” (Ephes. 6:13).
God grant our Norwegian Synod and everyone of its members the grace to so to do, for His mercy’s sake. Amen.
Boston, Mass., June, 1931.