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The Kind of Religion We Need

by Ronald R Johnson (

Quotable Quotes from Lloyd C. Douglas

From an article entitled, “That 100th Sheep,” published in The Lutheran Observer, July 6, 1906.

(A word of advice: read this passage a phrase at a time, pausing just as you would if you were reading it from the pulpit.)

A religion must now be taught that means more than Sunday and solemnity and hymn-books and the church confession; something vital, virile, living, to be harnessed to every day of the week; not an ideality, not a theory, not a multiplication of complexities; but a seven-day-in-the-week affair that can be passed over the counter in the store and through the wicket at the bank and along the keen-edged tools in the shop. A Gospel must be preached whose warp will stand the strain of being woven into the woof of every-day living on the slow-plodding loom of human experience; and any other doctrine than this will not make the church evangelical, or assist in the restoration of That One-Hundredth Sheep.

For a free PDF copy of the booklet, The Secret Investment of Lloyd C Douglas, fill out the form below:

The Importance of Sportsmanship within the Church

by Ronald R Johnson (

Quotable quotes from Lloyd C. Douglas

From a farewell sermon entitled, “Five Years of Akron,” delivered at the First Congregational Church of Akron on October 31, 1926. (He was on his way to a pastorate in Los Angeles.) This is reprinted in Living Faith, pp. 77-92.

He’s summarizing some of the things he tried to teach them during his time as their pastor:

I have talked considerably about the value of Christian sportsmanship. I saw no good in churches that quarrel – either within their own ranks or with others outside their gates. I proclaimed that whatever spirit it was that made people mean, and critical, and captious, and fault-finding, and petulant – you could be sure it was not the Holy Spirit; that if their lives were haunted with the shades of outworn fears and inexcusable ignorances and moldy superstitions – you could be sure their grisly ghost was not the Holy Ghost.

For a free PDF copy of the booklet, The Secret Investment of Lloyd C Douglas, fill out the form below:

A Highly-Educated Minister and a Member of His Flock

by Ronald R Johnson (

Quotable Quotes from Lloyd C. Douglas

From his novel, Magnificent Obsession, chapter 18.

The Rev. Bruce McLaren, PhD, has just finished a sermon that, as usual, has gone over his parishioners’ heads, and one of the members of this unfortunate flock shakes his hand on his way out the door:

Deacon Chester, warmly gripping his pastor’s hand, shouted above the shrill confusion of the metal-piped postlude that he guessed it was the most profound sermon ever delivered in Grace Church! The statement was entirely correct; nor was the word “guess” used in this connection a mere colloquialism. Had Mr. Chester been a painstaking stylist—he was a prosperous baker of cookies by the carlot, and not averse to admitting that he had left school at thirteen—he could not have chosen a word more meticulously adequate than “guess” to connote his own capacity to appraise the scholarship disclosed by that homily. Had a photographic plate been exposed to Mr. Chester’s knowledge of the subject which Doctor McLaren had treated, it could have been used again, quite unimpaired, for other purposes.

This passage is important because it shows us his sense of humor and how down-to-earth he was. But it is also important because it shows us what he tried very hard to avoid doing from the pulpit. He himself valued education and wanted to convey to his people the importance of staying informed, especially when it came to scientific research.

Even from his earliest days in the ministry, he had an impressive vocabulary and could be quite eloquent when the occasion demanded it. But he tried never to speak over people’s heads. For the most part, he accomplished that goal. Even when his hearers disagreed with him or considered him too liberal, nobody ever complained that they couldn’t understand him.

But I love this passage because he’s poking fun at his own profession, and at the tendency for Modernist preachers (people like him, in other words) to try to wow their congregations with their worldly knowledge. The fact that he was aware of this tendency seems to have helped him avoid it.

For a free PDF copy of the booklet, The Secret Investment of Lloyd C Douglas, fill out the form below:

Instead of Counting Sheep

by Ronald R Johnson (

This is from a sermon entitled, “Cross Country with a New Idea,” preached in Montreal on January 26, 1930. You can find it in The Living Faith, pp. 134-143:

Sometimes, late in the night, when sleep is tardy, instead of counting imaginary sheep jumping over a fence – which, for some reason, never did me any good, no matter how many sheep kept coming – I close my eyes and permit myself to be dizzied by great crowds of hurrying people.

Now I am standing on a corner in Munich – near the Rathaus – crowds – I can see them hurrying to the day’s work. Now I am standing on a corner in Naples – more crowds.

I skip about in fancy, from city to city – letting the rushing crowds bewilder me.

Now I am at the edge of the sweeping current of humanity on Champs Elysees – now on the Strand – now on Fifth Avenue – now on Michigan Boulevard – now on St. Catherine –

Now I am letting myself be milled about in great stations – Paddington, St. Lazare, Grand Central, Windsor –

Oh these highways!

What a diversity of interests travel over them! What an ocean of major and minor tragedies sweep over them! Not just once in awhile; but ever and always – by day and by night. . . .

For the Life of the Spirit has a hard struggle on the highways – in the congested cities – where, for so many, many thousands, there is all too little chance for quiet moments – for undisturbed attention to the still, small voice; where the rasp of steel flange against steel rails, and the rat-a-tat-tat of rivet hammers, and the grind of gears hurl the weight of their raucous racket against us until, for sheer self-preservation, we erect neural defenses against them – and literally wall ourselves in.

How many thousands of people these days have just been tramped on and walked over and ridden over – and over – by the crushing loads of economic burdens and an assortment of little tragedies – until the Great Idea can’t get through to where they are. High time we Christians prayed:

Oh Master – from the mountain-side,

Make haste to heal these hearts of pain;

Among these restless throngs abide;

O tread the city’s streets again.

For a free PDF copy of the booklet, The Secret Investment of Lloyd C Douglas, fill out the form below:

An Ironic Twist on ‘They Know Not What They Do’

by Ronald R Johnson (

Quotable Quotes from Lloyd C. Douglas

From These Sayings of Mine (1926), pp. 32-33. He’s talking about the crucifixion of Christ:

In that seemingly pitiful moment, as he died, he freely forgave his persecutors. ‘They know not what they do,’ said he. It was true. Had they known, they would not have done it. For whereas, up to that hour, this new ideal had been a localized aspiration that went about in the keep of a certain individual, now it was released. Now it was free to go its way. Now it was a thing that had wings at the top and roots at the bottom. Any chance breeze would carry it and any soil would reproduce it. So it was borne, by slave-galley and barge and caravan, to the outposts of civilization; and then, not content with the sluggish pace of mystics who carried it for its own sake, the new ideal took passage with pioneers and adventurers, riding with them across uncharted seas, over trackless deserts, and through unblazed forests, until it had girdled the world!

It spread until the story of its founder was known in countless homes wherein the far-flung fame of Alexander, Plato, and the Caesars had never received so much attention as a single syllable of scorn. It spread until the names of the squalid little hamlets through which he had walked on his errands of mercy were household words among multiplied thousands who had never heard of Athens or Memphis or Phoenicia. It spread until even the humble fisher-folk who had trudged at his side in Galilee were figures to be enshrined in marble by the world’s master sculptors.

Religion and government had put him to death as a disturber of the peace. No man then living survived long enough to realize just how great a disturber of the peace he was…

For a free PDF of the booklet, The Secret Investment of Lloyd C Douglas, fill out the form below:

Wanted: ‘One Solid Hour’ of Peace and Quiet

by Ronald R Johnson (

Quotable Quotes from Lloyd C. Douglas

From “Nonconformity,” Atlantic Monthly, March 1928, pp. 306-317:

If the churches only knew it, great material prosperity – by no means despised among them – would instantly accrue to them were they able to guarantee a man one solid hour on Sunday morning exclusively devoted to spiritual recovery. As the case stands, while they excoriate the pleasure-mad, sensation-seeking, frantically excited public that refuses to come in and be saved, the depressing fact is that they have little to offer – according to their own paid space in the newspapers – but an attenuated solution of the same strychnia whose use they so stoutly deplore when administered elsewhere. They appear to believe that the public wants its water of life carbonated.

For a free PDF of the booklet, The Secret Investment of Lloyd C Douglas, fill out the form below:

The Church Could Lead the Way to Serenity… But Won’t

by Ronald R Johnson (

Quotable Quotes from Lloyd C. Douglas

From “Nonconformity,” Atlantic Monthly, March 1928, pp. 306-317:

Beyond question, the greatest need in contemporary American life is for the recovery of a lost serenity. The churches have the capacity, but not the disposition, to meet that demand. No other institution has either the disposition or the capacity. . . .

In its unadulterated form, Christianity is as quiet as yeast. Its energy is that of catalysis. No distinction could have accrued to Jesus had he shouted, ‘Join me, and we will go to war!’ He set his cultus apart from every other inspirational appeal when he said, ‘Come unto me… and I will give you rest.’ This is an alluring promise; never more so than now. It is strange that the churches, possessed of an inducement so intriguing to the human imagination, and maintained in their exclusive keeping, should have it stowed away, preferring to fill their windows with poor imitations of such gaudy delectables as other institutions are infinitely better equipped to display and distribute. It is an incomprehensible state of mind that leads our churches to conceal the one benefit of which they have an undisputed and enviable monopoly.

For a free PDF copy of the booklet, The Secret Investment of Lloyd C Douglas, fill out the form below:

Douglas’s Long Road to Fame

by Ronald R Johnson (

Lloyd C. Douglas self-published his first book-length work of fiction in 1905, but it took almost thirty years for him to become known as an author of fiction. Through all the intervening years, he produced a steady stream of non-fiction articles, books, and booklets, as well as writing morning and evening sermons each Sunday and speeches during the week. (Douglas always wrote out his sermons and speeches even though he delivered them as if they were extemporaneous.)

That first work of fiction was More Than a Prophet, and it was unlike anything else he ever published. The book abounded in dialogues between angelic beings, and it was more of a prose poem than a novel. (And yes, Douglas wrote poetry as well as prose.) He borrowed the money to self-publish it, but few people were interested in buying it and it took him years to pay back the money he borrowed. Since Douglas was the kind of man who always preferred to be on the giving rather than the receiving end of loans and gifts, the failure of More Than a Prophet was deeply humiliating to him. He is often quoted as saying that More Than a Prophet was “less than a profit.”

But while the book was gathering dust, Douglas was making a name for himself as a frequent contributor to the Lutheran Observer. His articles on biblical subjects were thought-provoking, down-to-earth, and eloquent. Mostly because of the reputation he had earned through his writing, Luther Place Memorial Church in Washington, DC, made him their Senior Pastor in 1909, although he had only been an ordained minister for six years.

From DC he went to Champaign-Urbana and headed the religious side of the YMCA on the campus of the University of Illinois. While there, he wrote a weekly column in the campus newspaper, as well as some features in a monthly magazine. Next he moved to the University of Michigan, and as Senior Pastor of the First Congregational Church of Ann Arbor, he wrote articles for the North American StudentThe Congregationalist, and other periodicals. He also self-published a new Advent booklet each Christmas season, exploring different aspects of the Christmas story.

In the summer of 1920 his writing career advanced considerably when he entered a writing contest sponsored by the Christian Century and was chosen as one of the semi-finalists. Although he won second place, the editor of the Century, Charles Clayton Morrison, liked Douglas’s writing and asked him to contribute another article. Douglas responded by sending not one but a series of articles on what we would now consider “church growth.” The series was provocative, and when it was finished, Christian Century Press published a book-length version of it under the title, Wanted: A Congregation. (The articles were non-fiction, but the book version presented the same material as a set of dialogues among a cast of characters.)

Not only did Douglas continue on as a frequent contributor to the Century throughout the 1920s, but he now became known as an author of non-fiction books about the ministry and/or about Christian faith: The Minister’s Everyday Life, These Sayings of Mine, and Those Disturbing Miracles. During these same years he submitted several articles to the Atlantic Monthly that were published without a by-line.

But Douglas had always wanted to write a novel, and in the late 1920s he did so. It was turned down by two publishing houses (one of which had published his non-fiction before), but was accepted by Willett, Clark, and Colby in 1929. Magnificent Obsession took a few years to catch on, but when it did, it made Douglas a household name, and his subsequent novels dominated the bestseller lists throughout the 1930s and 40s.

Headlines proclaimed him a novelist who didn’t start until he was 50 years old, but that’s inaccurate. He was always at his typewriter, from very early in life, tapping away. The volume of his published work is impressive, considering the fact that he was a full-time minister until after his second bestselling novel, Forgive Us Our Trespasses, was published. But what is most impressive is the fact that he didn’t quit, even though he felt the pain of More Than a Prophet every time he moved from one locale to another and had to carry all those boxes of unread books with him, storing them in the attic each time.

For a free PDF of the booklet, The Secret Investment of Lloyd C Douglas, fill out the form below:

Introducing the Lloyd C Douglas Page

by Ronald R Johnson (

Lloyd C Douglas was a bestselling novelist in the 1930s and 40s. For three decades before that, he was a minister, a lecturer, an author of non-fiction books, and a frequent contributor to Christian CenturyThe Congregationalist, and other publications.

I have been studying Douglas’s private papers for a number of years. Those papers, including scrapbooks and correspondence, are housed at the University of Michigan’s Bentley Historical Library.

At this site, I will share what I have learned from my many trips cross-state to Bentley (from Kalamazoo, Michigan) over the past 14 years.

Lloyd Douglas and I don’t agree about everything, but he asked the right questions – or at least the ones that I believe are important for well-educated Christians in the twentieth (and now the twenty-first) century to consider. I have also found him endlessly entertaining, thought-provoking, and a wonderful companion. As you get to know him through these pages, I hope you will understand why I keep coming back to his writings for inspiration, solace, and human warmth.

For a free PDF of the booklet, The Secret Investment of Lloyd C Douglas, fill out the form below: