by Ronald R Johnson (www.ronaldrjohnson.com)
One of the things I find so interesting about Lloyd Douglas is the insight he had early in his ministry (only eight years after graduating from seminary) that Christians in modern times were being forced to choose between two very different approaches to the world: the mindset and intellectual habits of “everyday life” in twentieth century society vs. the mindset and intellectual habits of the ancient Greek world. He got this idea from Shailer Mathews, Chair of the Religion Department at the University of Chicago, when Douglas and his wife attended a lecture series by Mathews on the east coast sometime between 1909 and 1911.
Douglas believed that faith in Christ should not require people to abandon the mindset and intellectual habits that served them well in their jobs Monday through Friday. He was thinking here of professionals especially. The state universities were increasingly producing waves of graduates who were taught to question assumptions, consider alternatives, and put ideas to the test. These habits were not only making the workforce more productive; they were also changing the way people lived their personal lives. On Douglas’s view, there was nothing either irreligious or antireligious about this way of approaching things; what made this new approach a threat to Christian religion was the fact that the church’s leadership was still largely committed to the mindset and intellectual habits that were common during the days of Christ: that is, the ancient Greek and Hebrew worldviews.
Douglas saw it as his personal and professional mission to divest Christian faith of the old secular philosophies and worldviews that had wrapped themselves around it and were threatening to choke the life out of it. There was nothing in the teachings of Jesus, he thought, that required people to believe in Aristotelian cosmology or biology or any other kind of -ology. Yet he saw leaders of the faith railing against the latest scientific discoveries because those leaders were still stuck in the old ways of viewing the universe and its history. Christ’s message, he felt, was for all time, and must not have its future tied so closely to ancient ways of thinking.
He therefore chose to spend ten years (1911-1921) ministering at two universities (the University of Illinois and the University of Michigan), where, he says, “I daily faced the new problem of a readjustment in religious thought, to make it consonant with the more recent disclosures of the philosophical and religious world.” (This is from a sermon, “Five Years of Akron,” preached at the First Congregational Church of Akron on October 31, 1926, and printed in The Living Faith, p. 80.) His objective was not to force the gospel to fit the culture, but to clear away the old cultural vestiges that were still clinging so tightly to Christian faith.
I believe that we Christians in America are still largely unaware of the problem that he saw so clearly one hundred years ago. That is one of the reasons why I feel it is so worthwhile – and even vitally important – for us to hear his voice again.
For a free PDF copy of the booklet, The Secret Investment of Lloyd C Douglas, fill out the form below: