A LETTER TO A MODERNIST
A Plea for Charity and an Argument
Reprinted from the LIVING CHURCH
Transcribed by Wayne Kempton
Archivist and Historiographer of the Diocese of New York, 2012
THIS letter is actually part of a correspondence with a clergyman whom I love, but with whom I differ. It was printed in The Living Church. There have been so many requests for it that it has now been revised, a few sentences added, and reprinted for general circulation.
Copies will be sent, at six cents each, twenty copies for one dollar, by applying to The Diocesan Secretary, 67 Martin Building, Utica, N. Y.
A Letter to a Modernist
MY DEAR ______:
I THANK you for taking me so fully into your confidence about the present unfortunate controversy in the Church; and thank you also for sending me the full text of your sermon on the Bishops' Pastoral. I do wish the whole discussion could be carried on in the spirit you have displayed. Can you not do something to persuade your brethren to show the same fairness and charity? I am doing my best to get others to appreciate your difficulties and to avoid all bitterness of attack and denunciation.
Perhaps I have not always succeeded in being perfectly fair myself; it is not easy to be carefully poised when one's deepest convictions are involved. But I do know that in the recent outbreak those who have led the attack against the traditional faith have been exasperatingly aggressive. Your own sermon was reverent, uncontroversial, and sympathetic; others have not always shown the same straightforwardness in their public utterances. Sometimes they seem deliberately to seek to confuse the issue. For example, they must know that those who are defending the fact of the unique birth of Christ are not "Fundamentalists." There are not more than a score of clergy in the whole Church, if that many, who are "Fundamentalists" in the accepted popular use of the term. Bishop MANNING, as you are aware, has repeatedly disavowed such a position, and in public print has signed a declaration of principles which asserts that there is no controversy between religion and science such as "Fundamentalists" insist upon. We all know that there are "Fundamentalists" and "Fundamentalists," just as there are "Modernists" and "Modernists." A "Modernist" may be a man like myself who tries to interpret Christian truth in the language of today, to present it in terms of modern thought, in the endeavor to appeal to the modern mind and to meet modern doubts and difficulties; one who has accepted the assured results of historical criticism, both of the Old Testament and the New; one who tries to understand the thought of the present generation and realizes how tragically futile it is to preach or teach in the manner that was popular and effective in other days. But—a "Modernist" may be a man who interprets the Christian faith in terms of a passing [3/4] philosophy or with too ready acceptance of dominant psychological teaching, and consequently (so at least some of us feel) really explains away, instead of explaining; and denies, rather than interprets. So also men may be classed as "Fundamentalists" because they are calling the Church back to fundamental principles and are insisting on the full acceptance of what have always been declared to be the foundation facts of Christianity. But to declare that such men are "Fundamentalists" in the same way as WILLIAM JENNINGS BRYAN or JOHN ROACH STRATON, e.g., or like others who confuse Christianity with a particular theory of Biblical inspiration, or with human theories about the Atonement or the Resurrection, or with a supposed conflict between religion and science—that is really to cloud the issue.
Again, the effort to identify the opposition to radical Modernism with indifference to questions of social justice, is unfair, if not dishonest. I suppose there are more men calling themselves Catholics who are keen on social matters than of any other school in the Church. The mass of the Modernists are men in very comfortable positions in Church or academic circles.
Would that all this might be stopped and that there could be imported into the discussion your fairness, honesty, and sympathy!
No doubt there are men on the other side who are too free in charging your people with dishonesty. I can hardly believe that Christian clergymen consciously indulge in misrepresentation. If they wrongly state their opponents' case it is probably because they misunderstand it. Most of us have "single-track" minds; we read into others' words what is in our own thought; we color their arguments with our own prejudices.
BELIEF IN THE GOSPEL ESSENTIAL
NOW let me see whether I have read your sermon without prejudice or misunderstanding. What I understand is that you yourself accept the Gospel story of the Virgin Birth of our Lord; but that (1) you sympathize with those who cannot accept it, and (2) you feel that acceptance should not be required either of lay members of the Church or of those who are going into her ministry. Your reasons for not so requiring acceptance of our Lord's unique birth are: (1) that faith in the Incarnation does not depend upon it; (2) that the testimony in support of the fact you suppose to be weak; you speak of accepting the "tradition," as if that part of the Gospel story [4/5] did not come on the same authority and by the same witness as the rest of the story; (3) that, since to your mind it is not essential to real faith in our Incarnate Lord to require acceptance is putting a stumbling block in the way of many earnest people who might come into the Church's fellowship and make valuable personal contributions to its life and work. You feel that to keep men out of the Church's communion by demanding a test like this is a serious mistake, and you go further in saying that the keenest young men who are looking forward to the ministry will not come, if they must submit to such tests. You would allow the freest possible personal liberty of interpretation in reciting the words of the creed. You go still further, and urge that all doctrinal tests of membership in the Church should be abolished, and the only terms of admission should be "belief in the Lord Jesus Christ, and a desire to follow Him"; perhaps you would go so far as to put it, as does a college Y. M. C. A. whose membership card came to me the other day: "I believe in the aims and principles of Jesus Christ." You would make the test one of earnestness of life, rather than correctness of belief.
Is that a fair statement of your position? Let me take up your points, then, in order. But before I begin, let me say that I, too, have the sincerest sympathy for those who have difficulty in accepting the miraculous element in the Gospel. I have gone through the painfulness of doubt myself, and I hope I shall never fail in deep appreciation of the difficulties of others. In my own case, however, the issue was quite plain; if my doubts had not been resolved, I could not have gone on to study for the ministry. Today, if I could not believe in the Gospel story of Christ's birth I could not continue in the ministry. I do not want to be harsh in condemning others, but I am quite sure that I could not, for example, use the Proper Preface in the Communion service on Christmas, if I did not believe in the Virgin Birth; nor would I think it consistent with loyalty to omit or change it. There are numerous Collects, especially those of the Christmas season and for the Feast of the Annunciation, which I could not use and would not alter. There are appointed passages of Scripture, for the Epistles and Gospels, which I could not read; not to speak of portions of the creeds which I could not repeat.
For me the supreme requirement in the ministry is absolute reality. I could not go on doing and saying things which did not ring true and might in the least call into question my sincerity. [5/6] It seems to me that the real difficulty people have in their relations with the clergy, the greatest hindrance against their finding our sermons helpful or the Church services spiritually uplifting, is a haunting doubt about the reality of the minister's faith and practice. Therefore, for myself, there could be no question as to what must be done if I could not accept the Church's position unequivocally. You must not feel that I am laying down a course for any one but myself—though I find it hard to understand how any other course is possible—but if I wished to continue in the ministry, having lost my present certainty of belief, I would ask to be received elsewhere, as a Unitarian perhaps, or a Congregationalist. As a matter of fact I suspect that I should cease to be any kind of a minister, because, with so much left out, the Gospels would become for me the records of a life-philosophy which did not work in practice, a swan-song of gracious kindliness from an Idealist and a Mystic who was a visionary lover of mankind.
Please do not refuse to read any further because I have said this—it is something I felt had to be said, even though it might prejudice my whole argument with you.
MANY THINGS TAKEN FOR GRANTED
Now to go on:
I. Let me begin with your declaration that one may honestly say the words of the creed, "I believe in JESUS CHRIST . . . who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary," though actually denying the Virgin Birth, or doubting it; just as we say that Christ "ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father," though we do not believe that He has gone up somewhere beyond the blue sky and is sitting on a throne next to another on which the Father sits.
This, I must confess, is quite beyond me; I cannot see that the fluidity of interpretation of such articles as the resurrection of the body or the ascension is comparable with the looseness of interpretation as to the unique birth. In the one case the language is quite clearly the language of figure and symbol; in the other it is plain statement of fact.
Nor can I feel any force in the so-called argument from the silence of ST. MARK'S Gospel and ST. JOHN'S. The former is the story of Christ's ministry; it begins with the preaching of JOHN THE BAPTIST. It tells nothing of our Lord's early life; nothing of anything but His ministry—as if I were to write [6/7] the story of PHILLIPS BROOK's brief episcopate, not the story of his long ministerial preparation for it, or of his early life and training. St. John's Gospel is supplementary to the others, and in the main is an interpretive account of our Lord's teaching.
To lay so much stress on the silence of two of the Gospels is not really plain common sense. We ourselves are silent about many things, because we take them for granted, or because we know that they are generally accepted as the background of something else about which we are talking. The substance of the apostles' teaching was the great fact of Christ's advent here on His errand of love ("Though He was rich, for our sakes He became poor"), and the further fact of His life of sacrifice and willing surrender that the purpose of His coming should be fulfilled ("Being found in fashion as a man He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death"). I do not constantly reiterate the story of Bethlehem when I preach those two great truths, nor do you. Save at Christmastime, I do not even read the story in the Church's service. The fact that one may come to church fifty times without hearing of the Virgin Birth would not, however, be proof that I knew nothing of it or cared nothing about it. Nor, when I preach the third great truth—the Resurrection—do I drag in the story of the mystic Birth; I am content to say, with ST. PAUL, that our Lord was "declared to be the Son of God with power, by the resurrection from the dead." Why expect ST. PAUL to use a different method? No; the argument from silence is absurd when judged by the rule of every-day common sense.
And is it not significant that the language which is usually alleged as showing our Lord's natural parentage of JOSEPH, is in the very Gospels which safeguard the issue? It is ST. LUKE who records the Mother's words, "Thy Father and I have sought Thee sorrowing," in the very part of the Gospel which tells of the divine parentage. It is ST. MATTHEW'S Gospel (where the other account of the miraculous birth is recorded) which speaks of "the carpenter's son," just as ST. LUKE has, "Is not this the son of JOSEPH?" Of course this first expression is quite natural language to be used under the circumstances by the Mother, and even more plainly are the other sentences the language we should expect to be used by others. The curious fact is, that ST. LUKE and ST. MATTHEW record the words, when they have just told the facts about the miraculous birth. Shall we not say they may safely record the actual words just because they have given the facts? And is it not evident that [7/8] this is the case, when we discover that ST. MARK, who has not told of the unique birth, alters the language and makes the question, "Is not this the carpenter, the son of MARY?"
As plain matter of fact, and using every-day, homely common sense, there are not two sides to the question, at all; there is no room whatever for debate. This is still more evident when we come to examine ST. JOHN'S Gospel. The "silence"? There is a "silence" that speaks with clear tones, when we remember that the Gospel opens with the tremendous prologue on the Word made flesh. In something the same way there are expressions in the Epistles difficult of explanation if there were no miraculous birth and wholly congruous with such a birth; not to speak of the fact that ST. PAUL'S theology of the new Adam, sinless Himself and breaking the chain of sin, is in line with the Gospel story.
II. All this leads me to believe that the real difficulty about acceptance of the Virgin Birth is due to two things, and only to these two: (a) to an a priori refusal to accept any miraculous events: (b) to a lack of definiteness of thought about the fact of the Incarnation. Let me explain what I mean.
(1) It seems to me clear beyond the possibility of doubt that the apostles found in Christ what GORE with careful desire not to overstate calls "all the values of GOD." They found "the light of the knowledge of the glory of GOD in the face of JESUS CHRIST." They felt that they had in Christ an absolute unveiling of the heart of GOD.
Of course they did not elaborate any metaphysical explanation of their faith. They were living in daily amazement at the wonder of their experience.
(2) ST. PAUL gave definiteness to the belief. He is full of it. His whole theology is the theology of the Incarnation: belief that our Lord, who was in "the form of GOD," humbled Himself to be manifest in human form. ST. JOHN is full of it—and I do not think the question of the authorship of the Gospel lessens the strength of that witness. It seems plain beyond words that the early disciples felt that in their relations with their Lord they had gazed upon and actually handled the Word of Life. There is to me a reverent awe and breathless devotion in the way this is put that makes it impossible [8/9] not to accept the words as the expression of the experience of those who were near to Christ.
READING THE GOSPELS DEEPENS FAITH
Since this controversy began, I have read all four of the Gospels three times over, and each time with deepened faith. A like reading in that simple way brought GIOVANNI PAPINI to the light.
(3) I do not regard the ecumenical councils as elaborating this simple faith or seeking to express it in metaphysical language. It seems to me that the story of the councils plainly shows that their decrees were the result of an effort to shut out and reject the metaphysical explanations of others, and that these metaphysical explanations were rejected because the instinct of the Christian body of believers (a Spirit-guided instinct) showed that such explanations were inconsistent with the great Fact in which their whole hearts believed.
I urge this because the councils give very clear statements as to the Person of our Lord which deserve serious study rather than impatient criticism.
III. This leads me to feel that the rejection of the Virgin Birth—or readiness to minimize its importance—springs out of indefiniteness of understanding as to the meaning of the Incarnation itself. If the Church's faith is true, and the coming of Christ was an entrance into human life of an eternally preexisting Personality, I find in this something so without equal or likeness in all history, that the traditional account of the manner of His entrance seems natural and reasonable. It would be unthinkable that such an event should be brought about through the marital intercourse of two human persons. Why stumble at the story of the Virgin Birth if we accept whole-heartedly the fact of the Deity of Christ? Why hesitate at the lesser miracle, if we have accepted the stupendously greater miracle of the Incarnation itself?
This is not to say that the Virgin Birth establishes the Incarnation, or that we believe in the Deity of Christ because of the miraculous story of His birth. Rather, it means that because, through other experiences and by our impression of the wonder of Christ's words, His works, His life, His love, His claims, His conscious understanding of His own person—because through all this we have come to accept the Church's belief in His Deity, we find the account of the method by which Deity became manifest in humanity reasonable and of expectation. [9/10] The story seems singularly in keeping with the Great Event of the advent of the SON into human life. Of course we can separate the two things in theory, and we may say that the advent of the SON of GOD might have been accomplished without the miraculous birth; but in fact the two go together and are practically inseparable.
(1) And is it not true that rejection of the Virgin Birth usually ends in rejection of the Deity of Christ? Does not an examination of the history of the Modernist movement show this? The German theologians began as the Modernists do, by denying the unique birth; they soon traveled to the end of the road and denied the Deity. English and American Modernists have taken the first step, and yet express confidence that they will not take the second. But:—
(2) Is it not true that the words with which they declare their faith in the Divinity of Christ are already confused and uncertain? What they call His divinity is only something higher in degree than what they find of divinity in men.
(3) Is it not true that the expressed belief of many Modernists is not belief in an eternally existing Person, who was in the form of GOD and became man, but is rather the conception of a (perhaps) perfect and sinless man who somehow became exalted into the divine? So I am not wrong in thinking that English and American Modernists of the radical school, in denying the Virgin Birth, have started on the road to denial of the Incarnation. As a matter of fact, KIRSOPP LAKE seems to have reached the end of the road already, and I cannot but feel that BETHUNE-BAKER and others have also reached the journey's end without knowing they have arrived!
All this is what I mean by saying that the present denials are the result of indefiniteness of thought as to the Person of Christ. If we truly grasp the fact of the Incarnation in the fulness of its mystery, it will be difficult to refuse acceptance of the explanation of the method by which the Incarnation took place. The birth of Christ was a miracle, whether He was born of a Virgin or not. In the presence of the stupendous miracle of Christ Himself, a lesser miracle need cause no difficulty. Bishop Gore records the fact that he drew such an admission from HUXLEY. While, therefore, one cannot rest one's faith in the Incarnation on the Birth Story, one finds that difficulty about accepting the story of the birth disappears if we have already been convinced of the meaning of the [10/11] Incarnate Life. Doubts about the birth, I am sure, arise from indefiniteness in our ideas about the Incarnation.
CHANGES INVITE CONFUSION
You may well, therefore, accept what you call "the tradition"—though I do not like to grant you the word. The birth stories are no more "traditions" than the rest of the Gospels. We have the word of one of the greatest of modern scholars, HARNACK, that the authenticity of ST. LUKE is practically certain. I have often wondered whether some people have ever noticed its strong social teaching; if so, whether they would justify throwing aside all of this which they might not like! You cannot reject, on critical grounds, those first chapters, whether you like them or not. And most people love them and will not let them go, unless they must. The wondering Mother, the singing angels, the worshipping shepherds, the growing Boy, the scene in the temple—if you begin dropping it all out, at least consider the effect; and at least think of the people who are already sufficiently disturbed and confused and grieved at the loss, without having their anguish doubled by the flippancy of some of those who are rushing into print with their doubts!
IV. This brings me to my other statement, that rejection of the Virgin Birth is due to inherent unwillingness to accept the miraculous. If the greater miracle of the Incarnation has honestly been accepted, then the whole question of the possibility of miraculous interventions on the part of GOD is settled. Why stumble at the Birth, unless—and this is the searching question—one is really stumbling at the larger faith?
It would be impossible here, of course, to go into the question of the miracles generally. The accepted critical view of the Old Testament disposes of many of the difficulties about pre-Christian miracles. The Gospel story stands on another level. Even accepting fully the critical view of the New Testament, we have in its story a plain, moving, compelling history so stupendous in character that (in general, at least) the idea of the possibility of miracles seems established. And the fact of lesser miracles cannot be a question of much debate, as I have already said, in the presence of the standing miracle of Christ Himself.
I wish the men who are attacking the traditional attitude toward the creeds would be frank to face this consideration. I would not attribute their hesitancy, however, to lack of [11/12] sincerity (certainly I could not in your case), but rather to the fact that they have been more influenced and moulded by the spirit of Protestant theology than by the spirit of Catholic theology. The attitude of Protestantism seems, in general, to be that of fresh inquiry, ab initio, with the discarding of any preliminary hypothesis. The attitude of Catholicism is that of confident recognition of the value of the hypothesis which has been worked out in the consciousness of the whole Church in its long and varied experience, and then a free examination with a view to discovering whether the hypothesis works now and whether any other explanation can possibly satisfy the facts.
BISHOP GORE MISUNDERSTOOD
I think the value of Bishop GORE's work lies in the fact that he adopts, to a certain extent, the Protestant method (as far as it is possible for any one to put aside one's preconceptions), and yet arrives at the conclusion which the Catholic theology sets forth and to which it has always witnessed. His conclusion, reached by the modern method, is reinforced by the older process.
You understand, of course, that by the Catholic theory and method I do not mean modern ultra-montane Catholicism, which early won the victory in the struggle for supremacy in the Roman Church. It seems absurd to stop to explain that—but we have to explain almost every phrase we use in these days, do we not?
Having said this, let me add that my own mind is wholly with the Catholic theory of the Church. Not that I accept things simply on authority. There is always the appeal to reason, in that I must be satisfied as to the authority itself, and indeed cannot be content until the faith "finds me." But I go back to a larger experience than my own, to a wider examination than that of a passing philosophy, and so to a faith that has stood the test of time.
I find to my disappointment that the men who are most prominent in the present agitation seem to close their minds against the work of any thinkers but those of the modern Protestant schools. Last year at _____ I found that they had not read GORE, sometimes did not seem to know of his books; had not read HARRIS, though his philosophical enquiry ought to receive attention because of his sound reputation; had not followed the work of such men as WESTON; did not want to know anything about any of these men or anything they had written. It is as if I were to confess that I had not [12/13] read FOSDICK, or the reports of the Cambridge conference, and had never seen or been willing to see the Modern Churchman or the Hibbert Journal. Some of the writers who are attacking the "traditional" view have repeatedly asserted that Bishop GORE declares belief in the unique birth as not necessary to belief in the Incarnation. He has said that in exactly the sense in which I have said it here and in no other sense; and I cannot feel that those who have made his words mean anything else have read enough of his books really to understand his method or to catch his spirit. Of course they have not deliberately misrepresented Bishop GORE; they simply do not read him carefully, as he himself seems to feel in his recent letter. Nothing that he said in his book, "Belief in God" is new; he said exactly the same thing over thirty years ago in his Bampton lectures on the Incarnation and in his "Dissertations" on kindred subjects. There he points out that while belief in the Incarnation is not based upon belief in the Virgin Birth, the two are so congruous that the Incarnation can hardly be thought of as taking place in any other manner.
Of course the story was not generally told. You can readily see why it would not be told by our Lord. It is obvious that it could not have been made known generally during the lifetime of the Blessed Mother. It ought to be equally clear that it could not be pleaded as a reason for accepting the faith in Christ. That had to rest, as Bishop GORE says, "on public events to which the apostles could bear witness within their own experience." We may go further and say that one cannot quite imagine the fact being told to the apostles until after their faith was established, any more than we can imagine our Lord abruptly announcing to them His Godhead. It was of the very essence of His method that the apostles should come slowly to their understanding of Him. He could not "tell them plainly" who He was. They had to learn for themselves. Had the knowledge been thrust upon them, instead of gradually "sliding into their minds," the naturalness of their life with Him would have been lost and one purpose of the Incarnation defeated, in that they could not have had close fellowship with Him. It was not until after His resurrection that the full meaning of His life broke upon them.
V. I have already written enough, and yet I feel sure I shall have your patient consideration for a few words more. [13/14] I could not close without asking your sympathetic consideration of a protest against a very grave injustice on the part of some of your fellow-controversialists. I mean the utter unfairness of contrasting zeal for doctrine with love for men and service of Christ, as if those who were defending the creed cared only for minutia of doctrinal statement and those who opposed them were alone consumed with zeal for souls.
I have hardly read an address from ______ and his followers, or seen any of their newspaper statements, which does not reiterate again and again the assertion that the devoted effort to follow Christ is of more worth than any careful statement of belief about Him. Of course it is. Who would deny it? Recently this notice appeared in the announcements of a New York church: "A man may stumble in statement, but follow Christ, and one may be orthodox on examination in formulae, but a hardened heretic when measured by the great heart of the Master." Certainly. We have always known it. The Master Himself told us so. But just what does it mean in connection with this issue? I know you would not mean that I am a hardened heretic, morally, because I hold the literal view, and that you were a more humble follower of Christ because you have a different attitude toward those who reject it. Both of us stumble too often and fall too low to permit either of us to classify ourselves with those whose practice is superior to their profession!
But if the statement doesn't mean such a classification, what does it mean? That Broad Churchmen are more zealous and self-sacrificing than Catholic Churchmen? The fact is, that the hard places, both here and in England, are largely held by the Catholic Churchmen, and the soft places by others. The fact is, that the Anglo-Catholic movement in England—whatever its serious faults—has been characterized by a self-sacrificing zeal, an intense love of men, and apparently a real devotion to our Lord, such as no other recent religious movement has begun to show.
Of course there are High Churchmen who lay stress on orthodoxy merely as orthodoxy—there are unpleasant dogmatists in all schools—but for the most part it may be said of the conservative Churchman who is in earnest about the present issue, that he is in earnest because he feels that behind denial lies (consciously or unconsciously) real unbelief in Christ as the Unique Son of GOD. And this seems vitally important because he does desire to love and serve his Lord, and any irreverence to that Lord hurts and shocks him.
 With those who think much on the matter, too, there is an intense conviction that the present generation is suffering from what STEVENSON called "fatty degeneration of the moral nature," because we have not really surrendered to Christ; we want to be regarded as Christians while living freely and carelessly, without much thought of the spirit of Christ's teaching; we are undisciplined, selfish, unconverted; we are not humble and teachable, with the spirit of "little children."
Why should we throw accusations against each other? Why should anyone assume that because a man thinks a right faith of importance he isn't concerned at all about a right life?
RIGHT LIFE NECESSITATES RIGHT FAITH
VI. For myself I may sum up the matter in these propositions:
(1) I do not believe that it is possible for very long to maintain (generally, and in the large) a right life without a right faith. This may seem contradictory to what I have just said about the character of controversialists in both schools; but notice what I say: "Generally, and in the large" the life depends upon the belief. As a man thinks, so is he. I have no doubt whatever in my own mind that the chief cause of the moral laxity of modern life runs back into indefiniteness of belief. It cannot be questioned, I think, that, taking people in the large, the way in which men behave depends upon their attitude towards spiritual verities. If there can be found no real authority in the teaching of Christ, it will have less hold on men than it has now—and GOD knows that is little enough. If Christ be regarded only as a human teacher, we shall have strange interpretations of His teaching—stranger even than some we have already.
(2) We come to ripeness of faith through humility of approach, and I believe humbleness of heart to be the Christian virtue we now most need. We all ought to be on our guard against a ready declaration of what can or cannot be accepted.
(3) I do not believe that the Christian ideal of life—for individuals, communities, nations, in industrial and international relations—will ever be seriously attempted unless we can get back the conviction that the ideal is of divine authority; and as I have said above, I fear that present denials, while claiming not to be denials of this central fact, are an entering wedge. "Aye, if He were GOD, He could say that; but if He were only man, He may have been mistaken like the rest of us."
 I find it so hard to believe in a loving GOD in this messy world of ours, that I would lose my faith altogether if I did not believe that "the heart of GOD is as the heart of JESUS." And my only ground for believing in the Christ-likeness of GOD is faith in the eternal Deity of Christ Himself.
(4) Well—if He was GOD, I shrink from denial of the Gospel story of His Birth; the Gospels are the source of all I know of His life, and I accept all they say about Him. When I find others picking and choosing, I cannot but wonder on what their faith rests. Those who defend the Virgin Birth believe in their hearts that the denial of it, or unwillingness to accept it, arises out of a lower view of Christ's person than satisfies their faith.
(5) I know there are difficulties. I know these difficulties keep some men out of the Church. I know they are sometimes the very men we most want in the Church. But I don't believe we win them in the right way by emptying discipleship of all doctrinal meaning. No organization can hold together but on the basis of a common understanding. We have too many people already of vague faith and vague practice. Even if we let down the bars to the laity, I think we need to be more sure than heretofore that the official teachers know in whom they believe, and when they plead with men on His behalf speak in such a way that their faith is seen to be so clear and their sincerity so transparent that there can be no question of their message. Of course the important thing is life, not correct doctrine. The reason for requiring some credal standard is not that we exalt creed at the expense of practice. No; it is because we feel that without a common basis of belief in Christ, the Christian ideal would soon evaporate. And we urge what seems to you unimportant because we feel that denial of it is a long step toward the loss of a common, vital belief in Christ.
VII. Please pardon this long letter. It is called forth by the fact that you have had confidence enough in me to state your own position frankly, and have shown a rare reverence in your public declarations. I feel that you will show therefore a larger patience and charity in considering our point of view.
I do wish we Churchmen might let recriminations drop and meet in friendly counsel. Why can it not be done among some men who really care more for the truth than for their own views—and more for the possible hurt to religion than for their own position on the front page of the daily press?
+ CHARLES FISKE