- Hocking, William Ernest
- ( 18 7 3 - 1966 )American theologian and missiologistWilliam Ernest Hocking was a philosopher and theologian whose controversial ideas on the Social Gospel and the global spread of Christianity had a substantial impact on the Protestant missionary endeavor.Hocking was born in Cleveland, Ohio. He received his B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. (1904) degrees from Harvard University, where he taught from 1914 until his retirement in 1943. As a teenager, he had experienced conversion at a Methodist gathering, and as a philosopher he devoted considerable attention to personal perceptions of the divine, the subject of his first book, The Meaning of God in Human Experience (1912). He returned to the issue in later writings as well.His early METHODISM also left Hocking with an interest in the missionary enterprise. He wrote about the commonalities of religious experience between Christians and followers of other faiths. In an early work, Human Nature and Its Remaking (1918), he argued for a need to reshape human consciousness, and saw the Christian world mission as the means to accomplish that task. In his 1932 volume, Re-Thinking Missions, he criticized the exclusive claims of Christianity, and tried to address the challenges presented by secular worldviews. He also suggested that missionaries should deemphasize the search for converts and put more emphasis on social and medical needs.Hocking's approach provoked considerable controversy in ecumenical circles, and finally prompted a response from missiologist Hendrick Kramer, whose 1938 volume The Christian Message in a Non-Christian World criticized syncretism (mixing Christianity with elements from other religions). Kramer emphasized the discontinuity with one's religious past that came with the decision of faith in Christ.Within more conservative circles, Hocking became a symbol of all that was bad in modernism and liberal Protestantism. For example, his name surfaced in the controversy over missions that so engaged the Presbyterian Church (USA) in the 1930s. On the other hand, in 1966 Kramer contributed to a volume honoring Hocking, writing that the two had moved closer since their views were published in the 1930s.In 1957, Hocking produced one of his last studies on religious life, The Meaning of Immortality in Human Experience. He died in 1966.Further reading:■ William Ernest Hocking, Human Nature and Its Remaking (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1918); , Living Religions and a World Faith (New York: Macmillan, 1940); , Re-Thinking Missions: A Layman's Inquiry after One Hundred Years (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1932)■ Leroy S. Rouner ed., Philosophy, Religion and the Coming World Civilization: Essays in Honor of William Ernest Hocking (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1966)■ ----, Within Human Experience: The Philosophy of William Ernest Hocking (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1969).
Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Gordon Melton. 2005.