Foster, George Burman, 1858-1918

Alternative names
Birth 1858
Death 1918

Biographical notes:

Theologian, writer. Born 1858. Studied at Shelton College, 1876-1879. B.A. from West Virginia University, 1883. Ordained to the Baptist ministry, 1879. Theological training at Rochester Theological Seminary, 1887. Taught at McMaster University and University of Chicago. Died 1918.

From the description of Papers, 1897-1917. (University of Chicago Library). WorldCat record id: 52247931

George Burman Foster was born on April 2, 1858, in Alderson, West Virginia, to Oliver Harrison Foster and Helen Louise Skaggs. He studied at Shelton College from 1876-1879 and received his B.A. from West Virginia University in 1883. In 1879, he was ordained to the Baptist ministry, and in 1883-1884 he was pastor at Morgantown, Pennsylvania. Foster married Mary Lyon, daughter of Professor Franklin Lyon of West Virginia University, on August 4, 1884.

After completing his theological training at Rochester Theological Seminary, where he graduated in 1887, Foster served as pastor in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., from 1887 to 1891. Essentially of scholarly rather than a ministerial disposition, Foster resigned his pastorate in the latter year in order to carry on theological studies in Germany. From 1891 to 1892 he spent most his time in the universities of Gottingen and Berlin. Shortly after Foster's return he was granted a Ph.D. from Denison University.

The rest of Foster's career was devoted to teaching and writing. He was professor of philosophy at McMaster University, Toronto, Canada, from 1892 to 1895; associate professor and professor of Systematic Theology at the University of Chicago from 1895-1905; and professor of philosophy of religion at the University of Chicago from 1905 until his death on December 22, 1918.

George Burman Foster was one of the most influential American theological writers of his time. Because of his liberal interpretation of the Bible, Foster was also the subject of much controversy. He was a powerful force for the liberalizing of orthodox Christianity. For this reason he was bitterly attacked in 1909 by the Rev. Johnston Myers, fundamentalist pastor of the Immanuel Baptist Church in Chicago. Delighting in debate, Foster sought rather than shunned controversy. In 1917 and 1918 wide attention was given to his public debates with Clarence Darrow on the subjects "Is Life Worth Living?" and "Resolved: That the Human Will is Free."

Foster battled consistently against authority and tradition and rejected the rationalistic arguments for religion, but defended eloquently the personal faith of the heart. Religion he regarded as something experimental, growing or declining with the age, but essential to man's nature, and in form, completely expressed in the life and legend of Christ.

Foster's writings include: The Finality of the Christian Religion (1906); The Function of Religion in Man's Struggle for Existence (1909); The Function of Death in Human Experience (1915); "The Contribution of Critical Scholarship to Ministerial Efficiency," in G.B. Smith, Guide to the Study of the Christian Religion (1916); and Christianity in its Modern Expression (1921).

From the guide to the Foster, George Burman. Papers, 1897-1917, (Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library, )


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