The “Gospel” of Harry Emerson Fosdick

By Warren E. Berkle

A bewildered mother wrote to Ann Landers for advice in raising her children. The essence of her inquiry was this: How can a person tell right from wrong? The answer appeared in Ann Landers’ syndicated column as follows:

Dear Mother: A few years ago I heard a sermon by the beloved pastor of the People’s Church of Chicago, Dr. Preston Bradley. He discussed this very subject and quoted Harry Emerson Fosdick’s six-point test for deciding what is right and what is wrong. I asked Dr. Bradley if he would send me his distilled version and he did so at once. Here it is:

One: Does the course of action you plan to follow seem sensible and honorable to you? Never mind what anyone else has to say. If it does, it is probably right.

Two: Does it pass the test of sportsmanship? In other words, if everyone followed this same course of action, would the results be beneficial for all?

Three: Where will your plan of action lead? How will it affect others? What will it do to you?

Four: Will you think well of yourself when you look back at what you have done?

Five: Try to separate yourself from the problem. Pretend for a moment that it is the problem of the person you most admire. Ask yourself, “How would THAT person handle it?”

Six: Hold up the final decision to the glaring light of publicity. Would you want your family and friends to know what you have done? The decisions we make in the hope that no one will find out are usually wrong.

Dr. Fosdick’s “Six-Point Plan” as described by Dr. Preston Bradley is, in my opinion, as fine a guide for decision making as I have ever heard. I hope your children will find answers they are seeking. They’re all right there (Taken from The Southwest Times Record, Fort Smith, Arkansas, Sept. 17, 1974).

Our aim in this article is to review and evaluate the kind of thinking here represented. Our first observation concerns the kind of preaching Ann Landers heard at The People’s Church in Chicago (our remarks will show ,he fitness of “People’s Church instead of “Christ’s church!).

Bradley – Typical Modern Preacher!

The “beloved pastor” of the People’s Church of Chicago is a typical modern preacher! To an audience of starved souls who need moral guidance, Bradley quotes-not Christ or Paul-but Fosdick! And it’s a sad commentary on our times that Bradley would be quite welcome in most pulpits across the land.

We are fully convinced that such preaching as this is not gospel preaching. And, since the gospel is God’s power to save (Rom. 1:16), these modern preachers are no! addressing themselves to the spiritual needs of man. They may be pleasing their audiences and “seeking the favor of men,” but they are not gospel preachers!

Let us hear from the Bible on this matter. Paul wrote: . . . If any man preacheth unto you any gospel other than that which ye received, let him be anathema. For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? or am I striving to please men? If I were still pleasing men, I should not be a servant of Christ. For I make known to you, brethren, as touching the gospel which was preached by me, that it is not after man. For neither did I receive it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came to me through revelation of Jesus Christ” (Gal. 1:9-12). That settles it!

But Bradley would have to say: “For I make known to Von, brethren, as touching the gospel which was preached by me, that IT IS AFTER MAN. For neither did I receive it from God’s word, but it came to me FROM HARRY EMERSON FOSDICK!”

Fosdick’s “Gospel”

The “gospel” according to Fosdick is nothing but sheer humanism! Humanism is a school of though based on the crumbling premise of man’s essential goodness and perfectability. The whole emphasis of humanism is on man’s viewpoint and human ability to arrive at sound moral decisions with no aid from above. “This wisdom is not a wisdom that cometh down from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish” (Jas. 3:15).

While our limits will not permit us to enter upon an extensive examination of Fosdick’s six-point plan, a few observations are in order:

1. Arriving at a sound method of distinguishing heiween right and m,rong is infinitely beyond the capacity of sinful men! If we consult the opinions of men in an effort to measure moral worth, we will be lost in a sea of contradiction and weakness. Jeremiah reminds us that, “the way of man is not in himself; it is no, in man that walketh to direct his steps” (10:23). Man needs moral guidance, but “in himself” cannot accuralely respond to that basic need. God can, and does !hrough His Son, Jesus Christ (Matt. 17:1-5; 28:18-20; Heb. 1:14; Col. 2:8; Eph. 2:10; Phil. 1:11). Harry Emerson Fosdick, Preston Bradley and Ann Landers are noi qualified to propose any kind of moral plan, but CHRIST IS! Follow Him.

2. Human plans of “righleousness” are self-serving. A basic question we need to answer is whether the moral standards we promote are actually encouraging and sirengthening our own selfish appetites and impulses (notice the prominence of “you” in Fosdick’s plan)! The ,ru!li is, men who have sinned will be inclined to think in terms of self. For this reason, Christ calls upon sinners to deny self (Matt. 16:24-26). Could we practice self-denial while following the Fosdick plan? And, does Fosdick really know what is best for man? That brings us to our next point. . . .

3. Fosdicks plan exciudes God! Under point one he observes, “Never mind what anyone else has to say.” He might well have said, “Never mind what God has to say,” because that is exactly what he did! But God has a plan. The gospel of Christ is God’s plan for making men right through obedient faith (Rom. 1:16,17) – and right men and women (Christians) will be able to make right moral decisions. This is so because, “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them vou may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desire” (2 Pet. 1:3,4 in New International Version). God has given us “everything we need,” so who needs Fosdick’s plan?

4. He fails to exalt the example of Christ. In fact, he assigns no importance to the example of Christ by excluding such from his discussion of how to arrive at “hat is right! Point five says: “Pretend for a moment that it is the problem of the person you most admire. Ask yourself, ‘How would THAT person handle it’?” But, fortunately, we do not need to rely upon the examples of imperfect men (remember, Fosdick is a humanist!). Christ “is the only man who ever perfectly discerned every problem and every issue of life. He ‘was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin”? (Heb. 4:15). The devil and all his friends, the combined forces of the opposition, hounded him, tested him, tried him, tempted him, persecuted him and crucified him, but he was able to take everything they could hand out, answering every question and handling every matter and every circumstance with perfection. To the extent we follow the principles Christ laid down, we shall be wise discerners” (Quoted from The Christian’s Everyday Problems, by Leroy Brownlow, page 24).

Other observations could be mentioned, but these are deemed sufficient to demonstrate the godless humanism characteristic of modernists such as Harry Emerson Fosdick. How unwise to place our confidence in such men! Our faith “should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God” (1 Cor. 2:5). “Therefore, my Christian brothers, fix your thoughts on Jesus, the Messenger and High Priest whom we profess to follow” (Heb. 3:1, Williams’ Translation).


Beneath all the verbal nonsense and technicalities, there are only two moral alternatives to which we can pledge loyalty: ONE IS HUMAN, THE OTHER DIVINE! Either we will respect the standards set by our Creator in determining what is right and wrong, or we will formulate our own. Which will it be? Dear Ann Landers, or Dear God?

Truth Magazine XX: 46, pp. 733-734
November 18, 1976