Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

The Making of American Liberal Theology. Idealism, Realism, and Modernity, 1900-1950

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

The Making of American Liberal Theology. Idealism, Realism, and Modernity, 1900-1950

Article excerpt

The Making of American Liberal Theology: Idealism, Realism, and Modernity, 1900-1950. By Gary Dorrien. Louisville, Ky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003. xiii + 666 pp. $39.95 (paper).

This is the second book published in Gary Dorrien s ambitious threevolume history of theological liberalism in the United States in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. As he did in his first volume, which considers the period between 1805 and 1900 (reviewed in ATZi 85 [2003]: 748-749), Dorrien skillfully blends theological analysis with biographical accounts of major figures in the pantheon of American religious liberalism. he studies the writings of notables such as William Newton Clarke, Walter Rauschenbusch, Shailer Mathews, Harry Emerson Fosdick, and Benjamin E. Mays, and his narrative carefully surveys theological trends from the heyday of the Social Gospel prior to World War I through the ascendancy of "neoliberalism" (the term he applies to Reinhold Niebuhr and Paul Tillich) after World War II. According to Dorrien, "the essential idea of liberal theology is that all claims to truth . . . must be made on the basis of reason and experience, not by appeal to external authority" (p. 1)-a definition that unites the many theologians examined in this encyclopedic book.

Dorrien's subjects are mainly Congregationalists, Baptists, Presbyterians, and Methodists, and with one notable exception he barely mentions the theological work produced by Episcopalians during the first half of the twentieth century. Although the virtual exclusion of Episcopalians is not wholly surprising and reveals as much about the intellectual temper of the Episcopal Church as about the author's own judgments as a historian, the single Episcopalian on whom attention is lavished-Vida Scudder-is a somewhat curious choice. As an advocate of labor unions and socialist ideology, Scudder was clearly a political liberal, and as a young woman she identified with the Broad Church Anglicanism of F. …

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