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PROTESTANT LIBERALISM American Protestant Liberalism grows out of German scholarship of the late 1800s. German scholars came to deny Scripture's power and they undercut the church's effectiveness. Their thought permeates European culture much sooner than it does the American. Because of the Civil War many American scholars were unable to travel abroad for study. Liberal reflects attitudes in continuity with Enlightenment thought. It reflects an attempt to incorporate modern thinking and developments, especially in the sciences, into Christianity. Liberals tend to emphasize ethics over doctrine while stressing man's freedom--humanism. I. Darwinian science Charles Darwin wrote The Origin of the Species in 1859. It did not impact America because of the Civil War. His book found acceptance in the United States after the war. Just a few years later, 1871, Darwin added his Descent of Man to his writings. The latter work traced human descent while the first work was more general. Darwin's work circulated among the scientific community but Herbert Spencer popularized it. Spencer took Darwin's work beyond the biological realm to the social realm. He coined the phrase "Social Darwinism" to describe his ideas that even social structures evolve. Eventually this idea captures most American intellectual thought during the 1800s. It stresses the idea that you can perfect society. Man, using his own intellect and ability, can produce a perfect society--a utopia. Within a decade, by the mid- 1870s, evangelical Protestantism generally accepts the idea. James Fiske , a historian and nominal Congregationalist, next develops the concept of "theistic evolution." Theistic evolution soothes the consciences of those finding it difficult to harmonize evolution with Christianity. Fiske said evolution
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is God's way of doing things. Many Christians see evolution as God's providential hand in history working change and alterations over lengthy periods. Fiske insisted Genesis is poetic and contains creation's basic order with being historically accurate. Christians find this reasoning far more acceptable than the idea of evolution guided only by blind chance. Lyman Abbott , Henry Ward Beecher's successor at Brooklyn's Plymouth Congregational Church, brings Fiske's ideas into the church. The influential Abbott's acceptance of "theistic evolution" makes it easier for other preachers to advocate the same idea. By the end of the 1880s, preachers assert that Christianity can assimilate evolutionary concepts without compromise. II. Biblical criticism The questioning of biblical truth coincides with the growth of evolutionary thought. During the mid-1700s, Jean Astruc , a French scholar, suggests the Pentateuch should be divided by the various editors who he supposed to have compiled it.
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