Backed by John D. Rockefeller, Jr., Harry Emerson Fosdick's New York City congregation determined to build a new church which was to be beautiful beyond words. The Riverside church was the outcome.
Harry had agreed to lead it on three conditions:
(1) The only requirement for membership will be affirmation of faith in Christ.
(2) The church must be interdenominational.
(3) The church must be a very large building with a more expansive ministry in a neighborhood crucial to the livelihood of the whole city.
This day, October 5, 1930, saw the celebration of the first service at Riverside Church, New York City. To mark the occasion, Harry wrote the hymn "God of Grace and God of Glory."
God of grace and God of glory,
On Thy people pour Thy power.
Crown Thine ancient church's story,
Bring her bud to glorious flower.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
For the facing of this hour,
For the facing of this hour.
Although some of the verses of his hymn mentioned Christ ("Lo! the hosts of evil 'round us, Scorn Thy Christ, assail His ways..."), Harry's Christ was hardly the Jesus of Christian history, for he denied the virgin birth and a literal second coming in the clouds.
In fact, the Riverside church was constructed after Harry left a Presbyterian church in which he had ministered for many years. His teachings had strayed too far from his denomination's doctrine. The leading liberal pastor of his day, Harry flatly rejected all of the tenets of fundamentalism in a sermon titled "Shall the Fundamentalists Win?" Early in his ministry, Harry rejected the type of preaching which explains the Bible verse by verse, or which traces a topic through the Bible. Having read a book during his school days which claimed that the Bible had held back progress, Harry did not accept Scripture as God's infallible word.
He concluded that sermons were not to deliver or explain God's word. Instead, "Every sermon should have for its main business the head-on constructive meeting of some problem which was puzzling minds, burdening consciences, distracting lives..." Those who attended his sermons were almost certain to hear him say things like, "I would rather live in a world where my life is surrounded by mystery than live in a world so small that my mind could comprehend it," or "He who chooses the beginning of a road chooses the place it leads to. It is the means that determines the end."
Harry had chosen his road. It was a road of the social gospel and of sermons that owed more to psychology than to spirituality. He wrote over forty books distilling his liberal views, which included acceptance of Darwin's evolutionary ideas.
Coincidentally, Harry died on this day, October 5, 1969, thirty-nine years to the day after the dedication of his Gothic cathedral.
- Anker, Roy M. "Fosdick, Harry Emerson." Dictionary of American Biography. New York: Scribner, 1958-1964.
- Ferm, Dean William. "The Living of These Days: A Tribute to Harry Emerson Fosdick." http://www.religion-online.org/cgi-bin/ relsearchd.dll/showarticle?item_id= 1788
- "Harry Emerson Fosdick." http://www.cyberhymnal.org
- Kunitz, Stanley J., editor. "Fosdick, Harry Emerson." Twentieth Century Authors, First Supplement. New York: H. W. Wilson, 1955.
- Retarides, James. "The Riverside Church." http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/medny/retarides.html
- Various encyclopedia and internet articles.
Last updated July, 2007