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Lloyd Douglas’s Views on Christ

by Ronald R Johnson (

Lloyd Douglas believed that Christian faith ought to be centered on Christ himself. (Note: in the passage I’m about to quote, he uses the word “hypothecated.” He may have meant “predicated,” or perhaps he was thinking about some form of the words “hypothesis” or “hypothetical.” Or maybe he knew exactly what he was doing but the word isn’t used like that anymore; if so, I haven’t found a dictionary that supports his use of that word.) At any rate, as he told his Akron congregation:

You will remember that I have attempted to preach the gospel of a Jesus who presents an ideal portrait of perfect living. I have not hypothecated his divinity on any biological miracle which—instead of distinguishing him—would merely assign him to a place alongside the populous list of saviors whose origins were thought to have been had through miraculous generation. I have not requested you to believe—as actual, veridical facts—the traditional nativity stories. I have preached that he offered himself as our example. And, to be an example for us humans, he would—one thinks—have to live under much the same conditions which surround us.

You have been given full liberty to believe as much or as little as you liked about the magical and mystical element in his recorded career.

If you wanted to believe that he turned water into wine—actually—and thought better of him as a worker of such magic, that was your right, and I hoped you found him greater and more lovable, in your esteem, for having done this strange thing. If you wanted to believe that this was just a poet’s way of singing that Jesus’ personality was so altogether lovely and healing and comforting and comradely, that when he came to their table it was as if the water in their cups had turned to wine—if you wanted to believe that, I saw no reason why you shouldn’t.

If you wanted to believe that he quieted the winds and waves on Galilee, I wanted you to do so—and find your Christ a peace-inspiring power thereby. If you preferred to believe that the magic words he spoke were addressed rather to the troubled hearts of these fishermen, so potently that they became, under his command, greater than their fears, I wanted you to think that!

But I did insist that the Galilean gospel—the Inasmuch declaration [Mt 25:40, 45], the Golden Rule [Mt 7:12], the whole Sermon on the Mount [Mt 5-7]—deserved your full attention and attempted practice.

Lloyd C Douglas, “Five Years of Akron,” in The Living Faith (Boston: Houghton-Mifflin/Riverside Press, 1955)

This was the most important part of Douglas’s theology: his insistence on knowing and following the things Christ taught. On his view, Christians weren’t just people who believed in the biblical accounts of Christ’s miracles. Professing that Jesus was a miracle worker did not imply that anyone would go on to become Christ-like. If one had to choose between the stories about Jesus and the things Jesus taught, then Douglas was on the side of Jesus’ teachings. (It’s debatable whether such a choice has to be made, but Douglas clearly thought so. He said that the miracles distracted us from the really important thing about Jesus: that his words lead to life.)

In fact, Douglas believed that the entire history of Christianity, and especially of the splintering of denominations, was rooted in creeds and formulas that tried to explain who Jesus was. The focus was entirely on talking about Jesus, not on knowing and doing the things he taught.

Douglas saw it as his mission to turn the tide. He wanted to educate his Akron congregation in what he called “Spiritual Culture”: a way of life based on the teachings of Jesus. He believed that this was how people could find God and have, as a permanent possession, the presence and peace and power of God available in every moment of their lives.

He also believed that this way of life was consistent with the modern (and especially scientific) frame of mind. I’ll tell you about that in the next post.

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

What Do You Want for Christmas?

woman with christmas gifts beside decorated fir tree
Photo by Laura James on

by Ronald R Johnson (

Quotable Quotes from Lloyd C. Douglas

From a sermon entitled, “What Do You Want for Christmas?” preached at the First Congregational Church of Ann Arbor, Michigan, on Sunday, December 14, 1919:

How would a wish like this strike you? To wish for some added grace of character that would make people love you, not for anything you had on, or for the house you happened to live in, or the material possessions you were known to command, but just because you are you.

So that, if the clothes go out of style, or the moth eats them up, or the house burns down, or panic upsets business, and rust corrodes your machinery – you will still be possessed of a grace of character that will make people respect you, and have confidence in you, and be glad when you come into the room where they are, and sorry when you leave.

The ability to wake up every morning with a smile and go to sleep every night with peace of mind and satisfaction of heart.

How would you like a gift that would ensure your happiness, in all kinds of weather; that would hold you independent of the inroads of little disappointments – a sort of perpetual guarantee against despair and dissatisfaction?

Somehow, I believe that if we might today choose, for a Christmas gift, absolutely anything we really wanted, to last us for life, this gift that I have been talking about would meet the demand.

Well, you may have it! Take it, and welcome.

Lloyd C Douglas, “What Do You Want for Christmas?” in Lloyd C. Douglas Papers, Sermons [4], Box 3, Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan.

Seems like an abrupt ending, doesn’t it? Shouldn’t he have invited his listeners to come to Christ in that moment? But that was never his way. Douglas was always careful not to “stampede” people (his word) into making a commitment while under the emotional influence of the architecture, the music, and (yes) his own God-given eloquence. He wanted his listeners to continue thinking about it after the service was over, and to hear his question ringing in their ears above the noise of traffic as they headed home. If they truly didn’t know the next step, then he hoped they’d make an appointment with him to discuss it. But he trusted his material (the sermon he had been given) to continue doing its work after it was over.

So here it is, a hundred years later, still doing its work. What do you want for Christmas?

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

There He Stands

by Ronald R Johnson (

Quotable Quotes from Lloyd C. Douglas

From a Christmas booklet entitled, An Affair of the Heart (1922). Douglas is talking about the details of the Christmas story that may challenge the intellect, and he says that the fact of Christ’s influence on human history is far more miraculous than any of the stories surrounding his birth.

But we may think as we like about the process whereby this remarkable character was presented to humanity, there he stands! By all the rules, he is doomed to defeat; but there he stands – manger-born, peasant-bred, poverty-ridden, misunderstood, scorned, spurned, whipped, slapped, and crucified – there he stands! the supreme figure in the life of the race; all the history of nearly twenty centuries strangely interwoven with that crimson thread dyed with his blood!

There he stands – by all the rules, a failure! – by all the tests of logic and the requirements of history, defeated! – by actual demonstration, the greatest, gripping, binding, lifting, driving energy ever turned loose in this world!

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

The Influence of Jesus on Western Culture

by Ronald R Johnson (

Quotable Quotes from Lloyd C. Douglas

From These Sayings of Mine (1926), pp. 34-35. Douglas raises the question: What would be left of Western culture if we eliminated every trace of Jesus from our daily lives?

If it is suspected that the poets and prophets have sentimentally overrated the Master’s importance to civilization, let the critic put this overestimated teacher where he belongs by dropping his name and all allusions to his career from [the critic’s] own speech. Let him resolve that he will consistently refuse to enter any building in which there is an ascription of honor to this teacher; that he will not again look upon any statue or painting which has to do with this man or his message; that he will avoid hearing any music which involves this theme; that he will not read any more history in which the cause of Christianity is at issue. Let him proceed further and discontinue the use of any benefits, inventions, or energies produced as a direct result of education fostered by Christianity.

He will discover that long before he has finished deleting Jesus from his life, he has jeopardized everything he holds in esteem. Pontius Pilate, in an uncomfortable moment of perplexity, inquired of the crowd that sought Jesus’ life: ‘What, then, will ye do with Jesus?’ This query seems to echo through the centuries. Of course, any individual who stolidly refuses to recognize the question can contrive to live his whole life without giving it his attention; but only as a pensioner upon the people who do recognize it as worthy of a reply. No social group, however, can evade this query and continue to advance. Their answer to it will determine whether they propose to live in the fog of ignorance and enslavement to fear, or in the light of increasing knowledge and the liberty which knowledge confers; for Jesus is the light of the world!

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

Jesus’ Interest in Everyday Problems

by Ronald R Johnson (

From Lloyd C. Douglas, These Sayings of Mine (NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1926), pp. 55-56:

[A]ny man who desires friendship with Jesus should consider it a pleasant thought that the Master was so deeply concerned with the problems of men’s lifework. He knew where the fishing was best. He knew about the industrial problems of the vineyard. The little domestic cares of the homemaker were very real issues, in his regard. He had thought deeply about the problems of kings going to war, and ambitious men seeking to build tall towers with few brick. He could talk helpfully to shepherds; but that was not because he had the mind of a shepherd. He was not ill at ease in the presence of Nicodemus ben Gorion, probably the wisest old gentleman in Jerusalem. He who only yesterday was sitting on the edge of a fishing-boat, talking in terms of affectionate intimacy with a group of Galileans, this evening smiles at the mental chaos of the Holy City’s wisest seer and remarks: ‘Art thou a master in Israel, and knowest not these things?’ He was able to call the obscure Nathaniel by his name when he saw him sitting under the fig-tree. Jesus entered whole-heartedly into the problems of humanity.

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

On Following Jesus’ Teachings without Following Jesus

by Ronald R Johnson (

Although Lloyd Douglas emphasized the importance of following Jesus’ teachings, he did not believe it was possible to do so without the support and guidance of the Teacher. In These Sayings of Mine, p. 38, he says this:

We have no record of any attempt on the part of Jesus to exalt his message by self-deprecation. He and his words were one. They had been supernormally conveyed to him, he declared, and he was the living exponent and example of their truth. Whoever accepted his teachings, accepted him. Whoever accepted him, accepted them. There could be no such thing as an effective practice of his principles independent of a close and vital relation to his personality; and, in pursuance of that relationship, he said: ‘Ye are my friends if ye do whatsoever I command you.’

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