The Confessions of a Puzzled Parson

by Bishop Charles Fiske. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons. 1928. 8vo. 273 pp. $2.00.
PROTESTANTISM has always encouraged individual expression, and in this day and age frankness is a virtue that all of us, even the most well bred, must cultivate if we would be respected and heard. For this reason these Confessions of a Puzzled Parson are both typical and significant, and since they are also eminently readable and engaging, the thoughtful citizen can ill afford to pass them by.
One idea dominates all the essays that go to make up this book: ’The heart of God is as the heart of Jesus.’ Bishop Fiske follows a personal leadership, and to him the character of Jesus must be the central point of the Christian religion. It is this note that he strikes in his occasional triumphant passages. But for the most part his book and, we suspect, his own mind are troubled. The opening essays, with their attacks on the professional uplifter, bear immediately on the purely political utterances that have lately been issued from many pulpits in connection with the campaign. ‘The minister,’ says Bishop Fiske, ‘to my old-fashioned mind is a man used by God to reveal God’s truth, speaking as God’s representative and as the authorized teacher of a church which holds the deposit of faith, not uttering his own passing fancies and furthering his own fads, not passionately championing the latest cause and setting forth the newest moral issue, but declaring the mind of the church as an ecclesia dooms.’ It is from this point of view that he attacks Anti-Saloon League agitators, League of Nations enthusiasts, and all the ‘go-getter’ element in religion that provides Mr. Sinclair Lewis with such enviable royalties.
When the author comes to deal with problems more peculiar to the church itself, his tone remains much the same. In his opening pages he confesses that the unworthy activities of many wearers of the cloth sometimes make him ashamed of being a clergyman, and similar frankness pervades his discussion of the church’s dwindling prestige, which he attributes to the decline in the spirit of worship. Here again he calls for a return to Christ, and takes up a few theological points that bother the uninitiate. ‘Take, for example,’ he says, ‘the question of the virgin birth of Christ, about which there is such frequent doubt and difficulty. Of course, faith in Christ’s divinity does not rest upon faith in his virgin birth. On the contrary, we believe in the virgin birth because we believe in Christ. If we have definitely made up our minds about Christ’s divinity, then we know that his entrance into human life was something without equal in the annals of the earth.’ Orthodox Fundamentalists may be shocked by some of the Bishop’s modern opinions and by his frank criticism of organized religion, but his virile belief in the identity of the Father and the Son is a welcome tonic after the diluted Unitarianism of Ludwig and Bruce Barton.
If one were to attempt an attack on any of the author’s views, the last three chapters provide material. When a Bishop takes such cognizance of companionate marriage, many laymen will feel that the anomalous relationship which owes so much to Judge Lindsey receives more respectable attention than it deserves. It would, of course, be impossible for so alert and honest a man as Bishop Fiske to avoid such controversies — as a Protestant individualist he finds himself disturbed by some of the materialist difficulties of this materialist age. Indeed, the very fact that he denounces other clergymen for participating too much in everyday affairs is itself an indication that his church cannot confine itself to problems of worship alone. To reconcile religion with contemporary civilization is no easy task, and it is refreshing to find a true Christian gentleman who confesses himself puzzled.