In a later sermon, “Conservative and Liberal Temperaments in Religion,” he described religion as akin to courtesy: an inward spirit that expresses itself in many forms. Preaching about Joshua falling on his face before the ark (Josh. 7:6), Fosdick argued that “arks pass away, but religion remains.” For many Christians, Fosdick explains, their “ark” is a special doctrine or specific denomination, some bit of ritual, some miracle in history, a special theory of the atonement, a belief in fiat creation or the virgin birth. “Such things may have been very precious in your experience,” Fosdick allows, but we mustn’t confuse keeping the faith with keeping the ark. Christians are too easily separated by creeds and rituals when we can find common ground in our prayers and hymns.
That was the essence of Fosdick’s message, the essence of 20th-century liberal Christianity. “If, then, you ask what a true liberalism is, I should say that it is one that pays little attention to the arks that divide, but cares with all its heart about the religion that unites.”