David C. (David Clarence) Torrey.

Protestant modernism : or, religious thinking for thinking men online

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,OGiCAL Library









^be Iftniclscrbocfter press




Copyright, 1909



Copyright, 1910


(For revised and enlarged edition)

Ube Iknicltecbocker press, flew ISovb








A A 7' AYS of thinking have a history. The
paternal grandparents of the author
of this book were tried for heresy, for not be-
heving in foreordination to eternal torments,
and were expelled from the Baptist church in
Williamstown, Massachusetts, known as " the
stone church." As a result the author's father
was estranged from all churches, but was ac-
customed to discussions of theology as his daily
intellectual exercise. The discussions led to
wide reading and much thinking, to a devout
spirit and an untrammelled mind. The au-
thor's mother early led him to the Methodist
church, and he was reared in its theological
atmosphere. When he decided to prepare for
the ministry, his father, then suffering from
mortal disease, placed upon him one injunc-

VI Preface

tion, that he should never teach anything which
he had not investigated for himself, and which
he was not convinced was reasonable. The
injunction was accompanied with the state-
ment by his father, that his own lifetime of
study and thinking had led him to the con-
clusion that a large part of the doctrine of
the Christian church had no authority in scrip-
ture, and was not true in fact; and with the
earnest hope that his son would never fall into
the way of teaching anything simply because
the church believed it, or because any men
believed it.

The author selected Harvard University as
the place for his preparation for the ministry,
because he expected to find there the largest
freedom in religious thinking and expression.
Holding faithfully to his allegiance to the
evangelical church, he opened his mind fully
to hear and faithfully to consider to the ex-
tent of his ability all so-called progressive and
liberal ideas presented in the university and
out of it. The procedure resulted in the shak-
ing of his early religious convictions, and in

Preface vii

a strain of mind often incident to the process.
Another outcome of the years of strenuous
study was the exhaustion of nerve force, and
the clouds of despondency closed about him.
When light again broke in, the whole struc-
ture of faith had disappeared so completely
that his recognition of himself was as an
atom floating in space. Soon he found other
atoms like himself demanding recognition, and
gradually the whole world of created things
came back as realities to be accounted for.
Such an accounting compelled a return of re-
ligious faith. As the train of former beliefs
came back, each under critical examination as
to its reasonableness, many of them were re-
jected altogether, and others were made to
stand aside and await their proving before
they were given a place. The ideas reason-
ably admitted formed a working constitution
for living, established peace and joy, and were
put back with a reasonableness which carried
conviction that they were to stay as long as
reason should sit on the throne.

The author gladly found that his simplified

viii Preface

tenets of faith were in general accord -with the
faith of the evangelical church. His experi-
ence at the university led hini to the decision
that his hfe should be given to positive and
constructive teaching. He is glad to have
found splendid hberty and unlimited oppor-
tunity among the Christians who exalt Jesus
the Christ as the incomparable revelation of
the character and purpose of God.

If the theories and the convictions of this
book prove of profit to any., it will be because
they have been shaped on the an\41 of experi-
ence. The author has resisted the temptation
to cite other authors, either for favourable or
adverse criticism.

The book is published with the hope that it
may help men unaccustomed to speculative
thinking, to some clear ideas of the funda-
mental things of rehgion. It is therefore
written in the language of the daily papers,
rather than in the language of the schools.
The author has even hoped that the book might
reach the minds of some of the multitude of
the unchurched, and lead them to religious



thinking and to religious action. A reading
of the book may possibly help some profes-
sional religious teachers to know better what
they already know.


The Parsonage,

Bedford, Mass.,

June 16, 1910.



I. Introduction — Primitive Keligious

Ideas 1

II. The Reasonable Belief in God . 14

III. Is God Good? . . . . . 30

IV. What Shall We Think of Jesus? . 49
V. Revelation 78

VI. Freedom and Responsibility . . 92

VII. The Kingdom of God .... 123

VIII. The Essential Things . . . 154


Protestant Modernism



T^HE introductory statement of the He-
brew scriptures is that, "In the beginning
God Created the heaven and the earth." At
just what period in the world's history this
conviction became established in the thinking
of any considerable group of men is uncertain,
but we may consider it as marking a stage in
the development of religious ideas. Though
it occurred many centuries ago, yet in com-
parison with the ages preceding it in which
primitive men groped after knowledge, it is
a modern conviction, and a tremendous ad-
vance upon the ideas which had been held.

2 Protestant Modernism

We have no written record of the confused
ideas of men, slowly verging to conviction and
expression, in the ages which intervened be-
tween the first dawning of self -consciousness
and this formulated conviction that one per-
sonal God is the author of all things. The
word here translated God is in the Hebrew in
the plural form, and since men conceived of
many gods long before they conceived of one
God, they probably long thought the world
was the work of many gods before they came
to think of it as the work of one. Undoubt-
edly primitive men were very many thousands
of years reaching even the former conviction,
and we can judge of the process by which
they reached it by the study of the religious
ideas of those races of men who in various
parts of the world have been belated, and are
still primitive in mind. An examination of the
primitive conceptions of our own minds, which
primitive conceptions are not wholly erased by
instruction in the inherited religious concep-
tions of our day, will also help us. In the
study of the development of these primitive

Primitive Religious Ideas 3

religious ideas, we may note that we are deal-
ing exclusively with processes of the human
mind. We can judge of the influences upon
the mind from without only by their fruits in
the conceptions and convictions of the mind
itself. This is simply saying that if revela-
tion exists we can be aware of the fact and
of the results only by the ideas and convic-
tions which we find in men's minds. Facts
can be revealed only to the mind; and
only by the contents of the mind can we
know whether anything has been revealed or

To affirm that religion is wholly a mental
operation does not mean that it is a matter
of pure reasoning, for the mental processes
include also the imagination, the emotions and
the will. In order to follow effectively the rea-
soning of this book it is necessary to under-
stand that mind, as here used, is comprehensive
of the intuitive faculties and of the emotions
commonl}'^ ascribed to the heart. It is legi-
timate and necessary to include all these, for
we know things without knowing how we know

4 Protestant Modernism

them, and we pity and symj)athise and love
only as we know. It is, however, only
through the mind that information comes, and
emotion is a mental operation. We therefore
exclude all sensuous feelings from religion, for
though they may be generated by religious
thinking, they are to be treated as physical
facts. Religion is not only confined to the
mind, but from the very nature of mind it is
a necessary result of mental activity. A
necessary outcome of serious thinking on the
meaning of life is a religion of some sort.
All races of men are religious, though some
individuals even in civilised communities are
so intellectually inert, or their minds are so
occupied with trivialities, that no religion is
discernible. Among all races, however, there
are some active minds, and these produce for
every race a religion. This is because the very
conditions of mental activity necessitate re-
ligious conceptions.

The human mind is unable to solve satis-
factorily the problem of its own existence, and
the meaning of the things of which it is cogni-

Primitive Religious Ideals 5

sant. The mind asks where it itself came
from, where it is going, and what it is here
for. It is not able to answer satisfactorily
any of these questions. The mind is not only
a mystery to itself, but it is also in mysterious
relations with things exterior to itself. It
is hemmed in by mystery. Its sole ac-
tivity consciously and unconsciously is ex-
pended in attempts to solve that mystery.
The mind craves knowledge of all things. It
is also aware that there are things to be known
which it cannot know, and it is out of this
insufficiency for its tasks that its religious
theories arise.

It is because all minds have limitations that
all minds are religious. It is j)robable that
in a final analysis each man has a peculiar and
individual religion of his own, no two men
holding exactly the same conceptions, or en-
joying the same experiences. But while minds
vary in details of thinking, their general con-
tents are alike, and the interchange of ideas
through the use of language serves to conform
mind to mind, and to produce groups of men

6 Protestant Modernism

who hold similar religious conceptions. Thus
religious systems arise.

In religion, imagination plaj^s an import-
ant and legitimate part. Though often treated
contemi)tuously, imagination is as worthy a
factor of the mind as are the reasoning powers,
the affections or the will. To attain a relig-
ion each person must of necessity form his
own conception of superhuman beings, and of
his relations to them, for no man has seen these
beings at any time. Consequently, a religious
faith of any sort is a faith in superhuman be-
ings which are given form and attributes by
imagination. As the discussion proceeds we
shall have to judge how far this fact affects
the value of religious ideas.

The mind finds that with each attainment
of knowledge there is opened up a new and
larger field of mystery. In figure the mind
joyfully climbs one mount of difficulty, only
from its summit to discover many more heights
of which it had no conception, half discernible
in the cloudland of mystery. From this re-
gion which lies beyond its capacity for ex-

Primitive Religious Ideas 7

ploration, it sees specific powers manifesting
themselves. We may mention the storm, the
drouth, the pestilence, as examples, because
the mind notes first the sensational and
the baleful; but the mysterious powers are in-
numerable. Baffled and harassed by these
mysterious powers, the mind acknowledges
them, and in fear and dread it makes its
acknowledgment supplicatingly. Because re-
ligion begins in fear, its most primitive form
of expression is placating demons, and the
element of fear is scarcety eliminated in the
highest forms of religious expression. This
supplicating acknowledgment of powers be-
yond man's understanding and control is the
beginning of all religion. Religion, then, is
man's acknowledgment that he lives in condi-
tions beyond his understanding and beyond
his control, and an attempt to establish har-
monious relations with these conditions. As
the manifestations of power in the mysterious
are many and varied, the primitive minds have
always conceived of the powers as many.
The next step in religious development is

8 Protestant Modernism

that by which the mind of man endowed the
powers of mystery with personahty, and came
to consider them as having intelhgent purpose,
and love, and hate, and choice. The primi-
tive man was early conscious that he himself
and his enemies and friends had powers which
they could direct at will and with intelligent
purpose, as they were moved by love or hate.
They and their enemies could even project
these powers into space by hurling the stone,
or club, or javelin. And they could harness
natural forces to accomplish their purposes by
setting a trap for their enemies or for their
prey. It was most natural that they should
believe that the manifestations in nature which
they beheld innumerable on every hand were
the projected powers of hidden beings having
attributes like their own. So in their concep-
tion of the unseen powers they endowed them
with the attributes of mind, and often with
the impulses of the body, which they them-
selves possessed. So the unseen powers be-
came personal, to their conception, and men
believed in gods.

Primitive Religious Ideas 9

Since these gods who peopled the environ-
ment of mystery were purely conceptions of
the mind, their powers could not be estimated,
and there w^as no reason why the mind should
limit them in any respect. To them as causes
were naturally ascribed all phenomena, so
naturally came the assertion that they were
the creators of the heaven and the earth.

Again it was many steps from this mental
conception of creative gods to the idea and
conviction that there is only one God. The
Hebrew nation was the pioneer in this pro-
gress, though individuals in other nations
reached the same conclusions independently.
In Hebrew literature we have suggestions
that these steps were taken logically. As men
grew in social dependence, the family becom-
ing more cohesive until the larger family be-
came the clan, and clans the tribe, and tribes
the nation, each man found that his own good
was merged in the good of the whole. His
solicitude ceased to be so much for himself
individually as for his nation. He came to
think of the powers unseen as interested in

10 Protestant Modernism

nations rather than in individuals, and as the
conflicts in hfe became ever more between
nations than between individuals, there nat-
urally arose the conception of the gods as in-
terested in, and championing the cause of,
particular nations, until each nation came to
adhere to its own particular god and to pay
its vows and offerings to him and to look to
him for favour.

Among the Hebrew people, with the grow-
ing conception that their nation was the chosen
nation which was to overcome all others and
possess the earth, there went as a correlative
the conception that their God who designed
them for this elevation, and in whom they
trusted to bring it to pass, must be a God
above all gods. Thus in their thinking the
Hebrew people gradually exalted their God
and correspondingly belittled the gods of
other nations, until they thought of their own
God as omnipotent, while the gods of the other
nations were idols. From consideration of
their own moral consciousness men were led
to the lofty conceptions, first limited to lead-

Primitive Religious Ideas ii

ing minds, like those producing the Psalms
and prophecies, that God is just and merciful.
There still remained as a climax to the whole
process the conviction, reached fully through
the historic Jesus, that God is love.

Such treatment of the development of re-
ligious ideas raises the question of their reality.
Is not the whole process a matter of progres-
sive imagination? Is not its result in religious
faith a purely mental creation, a fiction, pleas-
ing in its outcome, but deceptive ? All the pre-
liminary steps, by which the conceptions have
gained credence, have been outgrown and dis-
carded as incomplete if not untrue. Is not
this fact presumptive evidence that the whole
process is fictitious, and its results worthy of
no credence? It is these questions which the
succeeding chapters of this book will attempt
to answer.

blinds trained to approach theology from
the side of spectacular or mechanical revela-
tion may at first thought assume that revela-
tion has been denied. Such minds may come
to see, however, that this process of develop-

12 Protestant Modernism

ment of religious ideas is simply the record in
the human mind of the continuous efforts of
God to make himself known. In this process
he reveals first his power, then his personality,
his unit}^ his ascendancy, his righteousness,
his mercy, and finally his love.

The underlying issue between the progres-
sive and conservative thinkers on religious
subjects is whether God makes himself known
only through the processes of the mind, or
whether he reveals himself in spectacular ways,
in signs and wonders. This is the issue be-
tween the group of men called Modernists
who are being disciplined in the Roman
Catholic Church, and the Pope and the hier-
archy who are intent upon that discipline.
The Modernists contend that God is vitally
immanent, that is, indwelling, in his world,
and is revealing himself ever to all men
through their natural mental processes; while
the Roman Catholic Church holds to the tran-
scendence of God, and teaches that God has
revealed himself through means transcending
reason, in miracles, in dramatic appearances,

Primitive Religious Ideas 13

in special confidences to chosen men, in
mechanical inspiration; and it rests religious
authority in the hierarchy of the Church, a
divinely constituted custodian and interpreter
of these supernatural revelations. As men's
minds work much the same whether the men
adhere to the Protestant wing or the Roman
Catholic wing of the church, this same issue,
whether God reveals himself to the mind onlj^
through natural reasonable processes, or
whether he reveals himself spectacularly and
by mechanical inspiration, is the issue between
the progressive and the conservative men in
the constant intellectual unrest of the Pro-
testant world. To aid in clarifying men's
thinking, a brief treatise on Protestant INIod-
ernism seems to be in place. The argument
of this book is that religion is confined to
mental processes and that in the contents of
men's minds are the only sanctions for relig-
ious faith. The book seeks to raise for each
man the question whether the sanctions found
there are adequate and compelling.



T^O the young of every generation the re-
ligious problems of the ages are new.
In the growth of the religious ideas in each
individual there may be a shadow of the his-
toric development as outlined in the preceding
chapter. In all Christian communities this is
interrupted and superseded by religious in-
struction. Each generation is blessed by the
intellectual religious inheritance from its pre-
decessors; but since religious ideas and con-
ceptions are incomplete, the blessing is not
perfect, and since no scheme of religious think-
ing is entirely free from error, the blessing of
imparted truth is intermingled with the curse
of imparted falsehood. As it is true that the
majority of minds are incapable of much
speculative inquiry, such majority of minds


The Reasonable Belief in God 15

are able to accept the creeds which are taught
them. Each man accepts the particular creed
which by happening is that of his parents,
and is able with some measure of peace and
assurance to build thereon his religious life
structure. That all ought to do this is the
teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, and
the idea holds also a large place in the teach-
ing of the Protestant churches. Indeed all
Protestant teaching is full of the striking
paradox of exaltation on one hand of indi-
vidual liberty of thought, and of appeal on
the other hand to accept the authority of

With the advance of knowledge, and the
general dissemination of ideas among all
classes of men by printing, there is an increas-
ing proportion of minds which rise to the
plane of speculative inquiry. These minds
employ themselves in critical examination of
the foundations on which religious ideas and
convictions rest; and, alas! find that many
ideas and convictions are planted in the shift-
ing sand, while even the most stable have

i6 Protestant Modernism

under them elements uncertain, if not insecure.
It is for these latter minds that we propose
to mark the natural path by which they may
assure themselves of the reasonableness of be-
lief in God. We feel certain that this is the
best path because it starts with the finite ex-
istence we are sure of, and travels by the
generally accepted law of all intellectual ac-
tion, toward that infinite which is beyond com-
plete intellectual conception. The starting
point with each is his own individual exist-
ence; the law of the mind is the law of cause
and effect.

A word of emphasis concerning the laws of
thought may not be amiss. The mind defines
things by comparing them with other things;
and it claims to understand things when it
comprehends in some measure what causes
them, and what they, taken as causes, will ef-
fect. B}^ far the larger part of the activity of
the mind is in tracing causes and effects. From
the time when a baby in the cradle reaches his
hands into the air to grasp his toes, until the
mind subsides in death, each mind spends its

The Reasonable Belief in God 17

conscious moments in a ceaseless round of
asking the same two questions: What causes
this? What will this effect? There are such
infinite blendings of causes and effects, and
such intricate relations, and the realm of facts
the mind deals with is so relatively large, that
there is never monotony. The mind is so
completely subject to this law that it cannot
conceive of anything as existing without a
cause. At the same time it is aware of sur-
rounding conditions, the causes of which are
shrouded in mystery. By the law of its own
action the mind has to accept the fact of un-
known causes, if not of unknowable causes.
With its acknowledged limitation its accepts
the unknowable.

As stated above, that of which a man is
sure above all else is his own existence. A
man cannot doubt his own existence and be
sane. Again, logically, it is impossible for a
man to believe in his own existence and to
deny existence to his fellows. We are con-
strained to believe our fellows have an exist-
ence like our own. Although a man knows

i8 Protestant Modernism

that he differs much from his dog, if he at-
tempts to acknowledge that he has a real ex-
istence and to deny that his dog has the same,
he faces a task impossible because absurd. So
men believe in the lower orders of life. Men
are also as sure their bodies have a real exist-
ence as they are that their minds have. Even
if we grant the possibility that these bodies
are subjective to the mind, merely thought
forms, even then, as thought forms, they are
existent things, to be accounted for by causes.
Our bodies then are existences. All ani-
mal bodies are existences. The mind cannot
accept this fact and proceed to deny that the
ground we walk on is existent. The world
is undeniable : the land, the sea, the clouds, the
stars, the heaven and the heaven of heavens,
the universe and all in it, has existence, mys-
terious as it all may be. If it has not exist-
ence independent of our processes of thinking,
it has existence in them. The law by which
we reason also dictates to us the necessity of
believing that all these things have antecedent
cause or causes. So without for the time say-

The Reasonable Belief in God 19

ing anything about these causes except simply
this, that they are causes of things, we may
affirm that all men who have the intelligence
to grasp facts, and who reason by the com-
mon law of cause and effect, since they know
not all causes, believe in unknown powers.
The conviction that all things which exist must
have causes necessitates such belief. JSIen
once by common consent called the powers

Now the more progressive minds trace back
all causes to one cause, since they are con-
vinced of harmony and unity in all creation.

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Online LibraryDavid C. (David Clarence) TorreyProtestant modernism : or, religious thinking for thinking men → online text (page 1 of 9)