(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

The Problem of Christianity is based on a series of lectures that Josiah Royce delivered at Oxford University toward the end of his life. During these lectures he stated “the problem” in various ways, but his basic question was, “In what sense, if any, can the modern man consistently be, in creed, a Christian?” This question implies a potential contradiction between being a Christian and being a “modern” human. However, Royce, who recognized the desire for salvation as a fundamental human drive, had long since decided that Christianity was the human race’s “most effective expression of religious longing.”

In the book, Royce wishes to investigate what it means to belong to a Christian community—or, for that matter, any community. He rejects the notion that belonging means abandonment of the quest for living truth, unthinking adherence to static doctrine, or surrender of the will to a dominant individual. As essentially social beings, he says, people come together in a church to express their individual longing for salvation, and collectively they seek the truth that leads to salvation.

Royce amplifies on the Christian ideas of community, sin, atonement, and saving grace. That a community comes together to pursue shared individual goals implies that its members are loyal to one another for the sake of those goals. Further, a community of people exercising free choice is preferable to one made up of “puppets.”...

(The entire section is 520 words.)


(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Sources for Further Study

Clendenning, John. The Life and Thought of Josiah Royce, Revised and Expanded Edition. Nashville, Tenn.: Vanderbilt University Press, 1999. A biography of Royce, revised and expanded since its original publication, after the discovery of previously unpublished correspondence by the subject.

James, William. The Varieties of Religious Experience. In The Works of William James, edited by Frederick Burkhardt. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1985. Originally published in 1902. In a sense, this book by Royce’s good friend was a foil to Royce’s philosophy. James was concerned with the religious experience of exceptional individuals, while Royce focused on that of ordinary people.

Oppenheim, Frank M. Royce’s Mature Philosophy of Religion. Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1987. Tracing the evolution of Royce’s ideas from early life, this Jesuit scholar emphasizes the continuing relevance of Royce nearly a century after the philosopher’s death.

Peirce, Charles S. Reasoning and the Logic of Things: The Cambridge Conferences Lectures of 1898. Edited by Kenneth Laine Ketner. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1992. The American philosopher Charles Peirce presents his philosophy of semiotics, an important influence on Royce’s concept of the community of interpretation.

Smith, John E. Royce’s Social Infinite: The Community of Interpretation. Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, 1969. Discusses important influences, especially that of Charles Peirce, on the major element in Royce’s thought.