HARRY EMERSON FOSDICK: Preacher, Pastor, Prophet by Robert Moats Miller

HARRY EMERSON FOSDICK: Preacher, Pastor, Prophet

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Too long (ca. 600 p.) and too leisurely, this biography nonetheless shares with its subject a certain mellow charm; and though Fosdick's very long life (18781969) was short on drama, it serves as a prism for displaying the spectrum of social, political, and religious issues preoccupying 20th-century America. Miller (History, UNC, Chapel Hill) never knew Fosdick or heard him preach (he was generally acknowledged to be the prince of the American pulpit, at least before the coming of Billy Graham), but he obviously feels a strong affection for the genial, even-tempered, supremely decent Fosdick. He finds much to admire in Fosdick's liberal Christianity (he refused to recite the Nicene, or any other, Creed), his campaign against the Fundamentalists in the 1920s, his hugely successful tenure at Riverside Church (1930-46), his brave pacifist stance during WW II, his devoted, prolific career as a seminary professor (Union Theological, 1908-46), author (47 books), radio preacher, and spokesman for ecumenical cooperation, civil rights, (moderate) feminism, labor, etc. At the same time Miller carefully measures Fosdick's shortcomings: his feeble ecclesiology, his ignorant dismissal of Freud, his lack of originality (Fosdick himself confessed to having a ""third-rate mind""), his casual assumption of black cultural inferiority, his fear of tarnishing his splendid public image. ""One misses in his life an element of Dionysian joy, a dash of wackiness, a touch of spontaneity, a splash of vulgarity, a hint of casual disarray. One doubts if he ever did anything for the hell of it."" A sort of minor-key Emerson, a prosperous (friend of John D. Rockefeller), happy (perfect wife and daughters), late-Victorian WASP (educated at Colgate and Columbia) whose heart and mind were big enough to transcend, pretty much, his environment. A rambling, readable, responsible account.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1984
ISBN: 0195035127
Publisher: Oxford Univ. Press