Baptist minister and theologian. Born in Cazenovia, New York, Clarke graduated from Madison (now Colgate) University and Theological Seminary in New York. He pastored Baptist churches in Keene, New Hampshire (1863–1869); Newton Center, Massachusetts (1869–1880); and Montreal, Quebec (1880–1883). He then taught New Testament interpretation at the Baptist Theological School in Toronto (1883–1887). After a brief pastorate in Hamilton, New York (1887–1890), he became professor of theology at Colgate Theological Seminary (1890–1908), where he became a leader in the New Theology.
Unable to use any available textbook, Clarke wrote America’s first systematic theology from a liberal perspective (An Outline of Christian Theology, 1898). Following Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768–1834), he believed that the starting point for theology was “religious sentiment,” not the irreducible facts of Scripture. Since all theology grew out of religious experience, all the world’s religions contain some truth. He rejected older views of biblical inspiration and condemned orthodoxy’s “proof-texting” method. He claimed to take the Bible “as it is” and argued that the Scriptures should inspire theology, not be its source (The Use of the Scriptures in Theology, 1905, and Sixty Years with the Bible, 1912).
Though his Outline included traditional categories, he often replaced technical terms with simpler, more dynamic ones and redefined historic doctrines in accordance with his scientific and critical approach to the Bible. Underlying his method was the assumption that the ultimate arbiter of theological truth was the Holy Spirit working in individuals, culture and all humanity. Clarke also showed a keen interest in foreign missions, as evidenced in A Study of Christian Missions (1900). Rejecting traditional motives for saving the lost, he suggested that missionaries should call the world to Christ and Christian civilization because of their superiority over other alternatives.
Bibliography. E. S. Clarke, William Newton Clarke (1916); DAB II; DARB; NCAB 22.
T. P. Weber
Fuente: Dictionary of Christianity in America