- Christian Pragmatism: An Intellectual Biography of Edward Scribner Ames, 1870–1958 by W. Creighton Peden
For forty years, Creighton Peden has been engaged in significant scholarship to preserve the nineteenth and twentieth-century tradition of American empirical, pragmatic theology and in particular, the work of the Chicago School. He has edited or coedited several volumes of authors’ unpublished works including one with John Gaston on Edward Scribner Ames, also published in 2011. Further, he has created a series of intellectual biographies on leaders of this unique tradition.
Peden’s biography of Ames is organized in three sections. The opening two chapters (1–22) set the historical context of Ames’s work in the Disciples of Christ denomination and in his own personal autobiography. The middle section (23–219) consists of thirty-five synopses of books, journal articles, lectures, presentations, and sermons. The final section (221–35) summarizes and evaluates Ames’s thought.
In the first chapter, “Historical Context,” Peden sketches some main features of the Disciples of Christ, the denomination in which Ames grew up and in which he ministered throughout his life. Originating on the American frontier in 1830, the Disciples differed from other denominations that stressed supernaturalism and human depravity. The founders were grounded more in Renaissance and Greek thought than in the Protestant Reformation. They accepted modern science, naming the first Disciples college after Francis Bacon. They sought to build a noncreedal, democratic faith in which the person and life of Jesus determined the idea of an ever-present God.
In chapter 2, Peden draws on Ames’s own autobiography, published in 1959, to provide historical details from Ames’s birth in Eau Claire Wisconsin in 1870, through his education at Drake University, Harvard, Yale, and the University of Chicago. At Chicago he completed his Ph.D. in 1895, just after John Dewey had become chair of the department. He taught three years at Butler University near Indianapolis. In 1900 he became the minister of the six-year old Disciples congregation in Hyde Park, and shortly thereafter began to teach courses in the University of Chicago’s department of philosophy, which included psychology and education.
During his educational career Ames was attracted to the empiricism of John Locke and the psychology and pragmatism of William James. These provided a context for two sides of himself, as minister and university professor. Both [End Page 296] were grounded in science and the pragmatic perspective. In the church he found a “laboratory for cultivating and observing the processes of religion,” and in the university he could develop a “systematic study of these processes.” Both were also grounded in a premise that “we have reason to believe that the vast whole of which we are a part is responsive to what we do” (22).
The middle section of Peden’s book consists of synopses of the following: “Theology from the Standpoint of Functional Psychology” (1904), Psychology of Religious Experience (1910), Divinity of Christ (1911), “Mystic Knowledge” (1914), The Higher Individualism (1915), The New Orthodoxy (1918), “Beyond Protestantism” (1919), “Religion in the New Age” (1920), “Religion in Terms of Social Consciousness” (1921), “Unsectarian Membership in the Local Congregation” (1921), “The Validity of the Idea of God” (1921), “Religious Values and the Practical Absolute” (1922), “Letter to Alexander Campbell” (1922), “What is Religion” (1923), “The Religion of Immanuel Kant” (1924), “Religion and Philosophy” (1928), “What Salvation Can the Church Offer Today?” (1928), “Locke” (1928), Religion (1929), “Religious Values and Philosophical Criticism” (1929), “Imagery and Meaning in Religious Ideas” (1932), Letters to God and the Devil (1933), “Three Great Words of Religion” (1933), “Christianity and Scientific Thinking” (1934), “The Religious Response” (1934), “Man Looks at Himself or Personality Pictures” (1935), “The Philosophical Background of the Disciples” (1936), “A Pragmatist’s Philosophy of Religion” (1936), “Liberalism in Religion” (1936), “The Reasonableness of Christianity,” (1937), “This Human Life” (1937), “The Philosophical Background of the Disciples (1937), “A New Interpretation of The Will to Believe” (1937), “When Science Comes to Religion” (1938), “Religious Implications...