Primary Sources for the Presbyterian Masses

The Modernist Controversy through a Journalist’s Eyes, Parts I and II (1933)

In Modernism, Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., Samuel G. Craig on 14/06/2009 at 21:52

In 1933, the Rev. Frank H. Stevenson wrote this tribute to the Rev. Samuel G. Craig, editor of Christianity Today and owner of the Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing Company.  While the article is intended to establish Dr. Craig’s place in the history of the Presbyterian conflict, it also provides us with an interesting account , and for modern readers, new insight into the modernist controversy that so occupied the first three decades of the twentieth century.  I say “new” because Dr. Craig is largely overlooked in most contemporary accounts.  So too for the author of this article, the Rev. Frank H. Stevenson, who was the first president of the Board of Trustees at Westminster Theological Seminary. Their story has not been properly told in recent years and I trust that the republication of this account will make a good start.
The original article, as it appeared in Christianity Today, was divided into thirteen sections.  I will be posting these in serial fashion, but will not necessarily divide the article into a full thirteen posts.

Samuel G. Craig, Editor of Christianity Today:His Record and The Work at Hand
by the Rev. Frank H. Stevenson, D.D.
[excerpted from CT, 4.1 (Mid-May 1933): 5-14, in 13 parts.]

[The Managing Editor has taken the responsibility of the publication of this brilliant piece of writing. In doing so it is only fair to say that he has not sought the comment or advice of Dr. Craig, whose modesty, in such an event, would doubtless have caused him to forbid its appearance. The Managing Editor hopes that he will be forgiven. Dr. Stevenson needs no introduction to the international constituency of Christianity Today.]

Children, according to an imperfect adage, should be seen and not heard. Editors reverse the precept, which remains imperfect however, and endeavor to be heard and not seen. Usually the very editors we want to know about are most scrupulous in observing this unwritten law of journalism, printing columns about ditch-digger and king, but never a word about themselves.

Two contemporary magazines, Time and Fortune, offer an example of the peculiarity of many of their kind. One is a news weekly candid to the point of excess about matters and people; the other a magazine de luxe whose jewelled pages display, in a wealth of illustrations and text, the romantic personages of the world’s business and commerce. Mr. Henry Luce presides over both publications with such originality and ingenuity that if either Time or Fortune were to vouchsafe a few words about his walk and conversation every subscriber would be interested. But although they describe men and women of all degrees of importance and news value, neither magazine spares a line for the slightest hint of the character and habits of Mr. Luce; he is sacrosanct.

Editors of leading newspapers are equally sensitive to publicity. How many readers of The New York Times know even the name of its editor? I do not refer to Mr. John H. Finley, the member of the staff whose duty it is to make public addresses, but to the editor-in-chief. He is the Rev. Rollo Ogden, once a prominent Presbyterian pastor in Cleveland, Ohio, and subsequently a rather well known missionary in Mexico. When he entered journalism he dropped out of sight completely. On the powerful New York Herald-Tribune the chief editorial writer happens to be a Mr. Geoffrey Parsons who is that phenomenon in Manhattan, a native New Yorker in command of a paper in his own city. But in a remote room of the Herald-Tribune Building on West Forty-first Street he molds the opinions and judgments of half a million people, very few of whom will learn what manner of man he is before his obituary is printed at some, let us hope, distant day. Several years ago it was the writer’s privilege to meet a professor of history in a university near New York City. I knew him in a casual way for months before discovering that from 1918 to 1923 he had been an editor of The New York Sun. The career of the best editors is a tunnel of oblivion with rare exits to the light.

There is no guarantee therefore that the editor of Christianity Today will violate the custom of his profession and permit the use of his story and his portrait in his own paper. He was not consulted when the article was prepared and when he sees it he probably will recall how Charles A. Dana said that a forehead of brass is necessary to an editor who features himself in the news columns he controls. But an exception can be made even in the sacred traditions of the press, and for the sake of a cause which he always has valued above convention, Dr. Craig may be induced to yield this one time.

He ought to yield. Defenders of the old Faith and the old Book are too few in number to stand on formalities with each other. Following the violent controversies and misrepresentations of recent years, some of the men and women who are his friends will be reassured if they are given a glimpse of his frank Cromwellian face and it will be helpful to others if they are furnished with a more intimate knowledge of his background, motives, and attainments than they can find in his extremely impersonal writings, self-revealing as these occasionally are. I am submitting this sketch largely on the assumption that the sound wisdom of the staff of Christianity Today will availl to see that it is printed unabridged, with a not too inconspicuous photograph attached. Together we may render a considerable service to the Presbyterian Church.

Part II.

craigDr. Craig is a son of the prairies of Illinois and Missouri and his youth was spent on the farm. He is as familiar with seed-time and harvest, with hazards of weather, uncertainties of markets, over and under-production and the rest of agricultural economy good and bad, as he is with the troubled progress of Christianity in this perplexed and cynical generation, and that takes in an unusual amount of territory.

Tales such as he might tell of boyhood experiences on the plains of the Middle West are the stories of rugged pioneering to which countless popular books testify. Distinguished citizens brought up in the same region continually are laying claim to virtues secured from the prairie soil, or failing to make the claim for themselves, their biographers do it for them, as Carl Sandburg did for Lincoln. General Pershing ascribes a portion of his prowess to a boyhood spent in a Missouri rural community where the environment taught him to meet recurring emergencies, and to endure hardness, as a patriot and Christian should. A volume of ex-President Hoover’s campaign speeches shows the effectiveness of allusions to the blacksmith shop and farm at West Branch, Iowa. The open spaces of the country are commendable places for Presidents and Generals–and Editors to come from. Dr. Craig hails from this hardy hinterland and has had occasions to thank God for it. At times he has needed the patience and persistence which only the most rigorous discipline in youth could give him.

From the farm he went to college; first in Missouri and then in Princeton, New Jersey. Quite accidentally this winter I found an article on intercollegiate football at Princeton University in an issue of The Cosmopolitan magazine. In the center of a picture illustrating the article is the figure of Samuel Craig, unmistakable in proportions, appearing as resolute and dependable in the football armor of 1899 as he does in a business suit at his desk in the office of Christianity Today. That picture really suggested the writing of this attempted appraisal of his life.

The article compares the modern game with the style of play used thirty years ago, and contrasts the open and closed methods of attack. Yale and the other universities were as hard to beat then as now, but the Princeton eleven of 1899 went through to victory with the flying-wedges and the bone-crushing devices in vogue in football’s Homeric age. According to old graduates’ accounts, those fabulous players had the strength, speed and skill which are commonplace among athletes; but in addition they had qualities which are not commonplace among athletes or elsewhere. They had a willingness to bear pain without undue display of wounds, and a do-or-die determination available for desperate situations.

If it is interesting to see the Princeton pictures and to read the record, it is especially gratifying to associate hard-earned victory with Dr. Craig. The arena’s corruptible crown is not a chief objective in life; its lustre is temporal and its glory passes away. But there now must be substantial cheer for a man engaged in a struggle seemingly endless, to be able to recall far-off happy days and battles long ago when contests were neither draws nor defeats, but were won. In early manhood God was preparing His servant for his future just as surely as He prepared him when a boy.

After completing five years of study at Princeton in the University and Theological Seminary and enjoying a share of play, the academic education of Dr. Craig was concluded in the rigid intellectual atmosphere of Germany, at the University of Berlin. His pastorates were in Ebensburg and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. From the North Presbyterian Church, the neighborhood church of Western Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh, he was called in 1915 to be associate editor of The Presbyterian, at the time the militantly conservative journal of our denomination. Since then with scarcely an interruption he has been a Presbyterian journalist.

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