Shailer Mathews (1863 ‑1941), professor of Historical and Comparative Theology at Chicago and dean of the Divinity School from 1908 to 1933, did not shy away from the term "modernism" ‑an epithet even more frightening than "liberalism." Believing that one must accept development in all things, even religious doctrines, and further affirming that the scientific method was the best avenue to truth, Mathews saw modernism not as negative and destructive, but as a positive religious force. A lifelong Baptist, the Chicago professor remained committed to the churches and to their important role in modern life.
The following passages are excerpted from his book The Faith of Modernism (1924), pp, 22‑ 23, 179‑ 82
What then is Modernism? A heresy? An infidelity? A denial of truth? A new religion? So its ecclesiastical opponents have called it. But it is none of these. To describe it is like describing that science which has made our modern intellectual world so creative. It is not a denomination or a theology. It is the use of the methods of modern science to find, state and use the permanent and central values of inherited orthodoxy in meeting the needs of a modern world. The needs themselves point the way to formulas. Modernists endeavor to reach beliefs and their application in the same way that chemists or historians reach and apply their conclusions. They do not vote in convention and do not enforce beliefs by discipline. Modernism has no Confession. Its theological affirmations are the formulation of results of investigation both of human needs and the Christian religion. The Dogmatist starts with doctrines, the Modernist with the religion that gave rise to doctrines. The Dogmatist relies on conformity through group authority; the Modernist, upon inductive method and action in accord with group loyalty . . . .
While by its very nature the Modernist movement will never have a creed or authoritative confession, it does have its beliefs. And these beliefs are those attitudes and convictions which gave rise to the Christian religion and have determined the development of the century long Christian movement. No formula can altogether express the depths of a man's religious faith or hope to express the general beliefs of a movement in which individuals share. Every man will shape his own credo. But since he is loyal to the on‑going Christian community with its dominant convictions, a Modernist in his own words and with his own patterns can make affirmations which will not be unlike the following:
I believe in God, immanent in the forces and processes of nature, revealed in Jesus Christ and human history as Love.
I believe in Jesus Christ, who by his teaching, life, death and resurrection, revealed God as Savior.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the God of love experienced in human life.
I believe in the Bible, when interpreted historically, as the product and the trustworthy record of the progressive revelation of God through a developing religious experience.
I believe that humanity without God is incapable of full moral life and liable to suffering because of its sin and weakness.
I believe in prayer as a means of gaining help from God in every need and in every intelligent effort to establish and give justice in human relations.
I believe in freely forgiving those who trespass against me, and in good will rather than acquisitiveness, coercion, and war as the divinely established law of human relations.
I believe in the need and the reality of God's forgiveness of sins, that is, the transformation of human lives by fellowship with God from subjection to outgrown goods to the practice of the love exemplified in Jesus Christ.
I believe in the practicability of the teaching of Jesus in social life.
I believe in the continuance of individual personality beyond death; and that the future life will be one of growth and joy in proportion to its fellowship with God and its moral likeness to Jesus Christ.
I believe in the church as the community of those who in different conditions and ages loyally further the religion of Jesus Christ.
I believe that all things work together for good to those who love God and in their lives express the sacrificial good will of Jesus Christ.
I believe in the ultimate triumph of love and justice because I believe in the God revealed in Jesus Christ.
Such affirmations are more than the acceptance of biblical records, ancient facts or the successive doctrinal patterns of the Christian church. They are the substance of a faith that will move mountains. Under their control no man can deliberately seek to injure his neighbor or distrust his God. They are moral motive and direction for social action.
To trust God who is good will is to find a cure for the cynical doubt born of war and its aftermath.
To be loyal to the sinless Son of Man is to gain new confidence in the possibility of transforming human nature and society from selfishness to brotherliness.
To discover in the death of Jesus that God himself shares in sacrifice for the good of others is to gain confidence in the struggle for the rights of others.
To know that the God of law and love has made good will the only source of permanent happiness is to possess a standard of moral judgment.
To follow Jesus in international affairs is to end war.
To find God in natural law and evolution is an assurance that love is as final as any other cosmic expression of the divine will.
To embody the spirit of Jesus Christ in all action is to enjoy the peace which can come only to those who are at one with the cosmic God.
To experience the regenerating power of God is to have new hope for the ultimate completion of the human personality through death as well as life.
The final test of such generic Christianity is the ability of the Christian movement to meet human needs. And of this we have no doubt. Whoever does the will of God will know that the gospel of and about Jesus Christ is not the dream of a noble though impracticable victim of circumstance, but the revelation of the good will of the God of nature, the Father of our spirits, the Savior of His world. And through that knowledge he will gain the fruit of the Spirit‑love, joy, peace, long‑suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, self‑control.