Theodore Parker and Christianity

Theodore Parker conceived of himself as a minister primarily, and because he was an inheritor of the Puritan prophets he also believed that in his century the pulpit should and could be used as a way to transmit to the public national and cultural concerns. Parker was second to Emerson in his demand to lecture up and down the land, as he was a new voice to a traditional people.

As an example Of Parker's new voice on a traditional subject we can consider his sermon, "A Discourse of the Transient and Permanent in Christianity," and why this particular work makes him a permanent fixture in the transcendental movement. Without a doubt this sermon--as it was delivered at a church—caused much commotion among the ministers as well as lay-people of the day. Respectable Boston declared Parker an outcast. If not for his own congregation and a few pastor friends—eight or nine that either stood by him or didn’t condemn him for his free thought—he would have been truly a condemned man. Of the Unitarian church Parker said, "I once thought them noble; that they would be true to an ideal principle of right. I find that no body of men was ever more completely sold to the sense of expediency. . . .I will go eastward and westward, and northward and southward, and make the land ring."

Parker, upon delivering his speech, was considering the fact that he was in Boston and it was the nineteenth century and surely people were ready for new ideas. He never thought he would be ridiculed and abandoned by his dearest friend, Convers Francis.

The question of Parker's message is what is transient in Christianity and what is permanent therein? Very simply put, Parker asked the people of that day to consider Christianity of the past as dead and gone. He was ready to promote a new kind of Christianity, one that always speaks of the day and is current. He frankly and precisely said that some people were living a ghost type of religion in Christianity and there was more to God than what the old dogmas allowed. Thus the forefathers of such a religion were merely fathers of the dark ages. In his message Parker basically claims people are allowing theology to stand between themselves and God. He asked that the transient be contemplated as the God that existed then and now is always the same whether acknowledged or not.

Lee Gentry, Virginia Commonwealth University
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