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What to Do with “Everyday” Life

by Ronald R Johnson (

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:

The Family Drudge

by Ronald R Johnson (

Quotable Quotes from Lloyd C. Douglas

From Invitation to Live, chapter 4.

Dean Harcourt of Trinity Cathedral is commiserating with young Katharine Drake on the misfortune of becoming ‘the family drudge.’

‘In many a home,’ the Dean was saying, ‘some one member of the family carries the whole load; serves as the official clock-watcher, tells them when it is time to get up, when it is time to start if we are to catch the 8:19 car; serves as the official calendar, telling them that next Tuesday is Emma’s birthday, and we mustn’t forget that the Chester wedding is on the nineteenth; serves as the official errand-boy, whose duty it is to turn the night-latch on the door, put out the porch-light, check the furnace, call the cat, and drape a towel over the birdcage. Nobody knows or cares how you happened to be appointed to these thankless positions; but, once you’re recognized as the incumbent, there’ll be no other nominations as long as you live…

‘Sometimes people come to talk with me about the flatness and staleness of their lives, and how difficult it is for them to achieve happiness; and mostly it turns out that they have been harried by just such trifling cares. It wasn’t the costly renunciations that wore them down. It wasn’t the big sacrifices that made them unhappy. It was the aggregate of all the small things they were expected to do. It may not be much of a care to cover the canary every night; but you’ll find that the same person who covers the canary rebaits the mousetrap, tightens the tap that someone left running in the kitchen, puts the half-filled milk bottle back into the refrigerator, and closes the window in the pantry. The official bird-cover-up-er is the same person who tells Grandma it is time for her pill, and Father that he has a loose button on his overcoat. I maintain that whenever one member of the household discovers that he has been appointed – for life – as the family drudge, he should resign without delay, for the sake of the whole tribe.’

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

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:

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:

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: