It is ironic that at the time of its founding, one of its visionaries, Arthur T. Pierson (1837–1911), had issued a warning in his book The Crisis of Missions about liberal theology which would ultimately become the undoing of the movement. At that very time modernistic rationalism was just getting a foothold in the seminaries and organizational structures of the major Protestant denominations of America. As the Spirit of God was working so mightily through Moody and his colleagues and in the student groups, Satan was sowing his destructive leaven of theological liberalism in the churches. Kenneth Kantzer has stated that in 1890 all of the major Protestant denominational seminaries in America, except Harvard, were evangelical, and by 1920 they had all become liberal.
It is not coincidental that 1920 was the highwater mark of the Student Volunteer Movement, and that by 1936, during the heyday of liberalism, it had virtually died. Liberal denial of the inspiration of the Scripture and the deity and resurrection of Christ cut the heart out of missions. Unfortunately Pierson’s warnings were not heeded by the Movement’s leaders, and they remained within the growing ecumenical movement.
C. Gordon Olson and Don Fanning, What in the World Is God Doing?: The Essentials of Global Missions, Seventh Edition, Expanded, Revised, & Updated (Lynchburg, VA: Global Gospel Publishers, 2013), 143–144.