Save OBU: A Brief History of Fundamentalism

Part two of my Understanding Fundamentalism series is live at Save OBU.  Today, I give a brief history of fundamentalism, especially as it relates to distinctive aspects of Baptist theology.  Here is an excerpt:

George Marsden identifies two fronts for the fundamentalist movement of the 1920s:  pre-millennial dispensational theology and a militant opposition to the theory of evolution in American society [15].  In the late nineteenth century, science was undergoing a change that would separate it from the authority of the Bible.  Soon, a commitment to the authority of science and the accuracy of the Bible—as understood in a post-Enlightenment ideology—would not be possible or tolerated by many Christians and modernists.  When individuals were confronted with this dichotomy, their typical response was an extreme devotion to one side or the other [16], and as the other cultural foundations of the evangelical worldview became progressively more independent of Christianity, a new theology began to emerge among evangelicals known as premillennialism, part of an interpretation of history called dispensationalism.

The dispensations of human history, as designed by Charles Larkin

…Premillennial dispensationalism, then, held to a radical form of supernaturalism and a hyper-literal reading of the Bible that removed all human elements from the inspiration process.  Not only was the Bible accurate and reliable, but all of reality was subject to its scrutiny—including science.  From the fusion of dispensational premillennialism and of Baconian science, a new conceptualization of biblical authority emerged—the inerrancy of the Bible—, becoming the chief rallying cry for fundamentalists [19].  (The early-Enlightenment philosophy of Francis Bacon was a cultural assumption both fundamentalists and modernists held in common.)

World War I was the impetus that transformed the fundamentalist movement into a militant, anti-modern phenomenon.  Prior to World War I, premillennialists opposed all social reforms, but in the wake of the hyper-patriotism of the post-war years, they became convinced that to preserve Christianity, they must preserve America, the bastion of Christ on earth [20].  Certain that the new liberalism among Christian ranks was apostasy—especially since since recent developments in biblical scholarship were German in origin—the newly-christened fundamentalists became radically opposed to it and to evolution—also tied to Germany through Friedrich Nietzsche’s use of social Darwinism [21].  They became convinced that that the only way to preserve the morals of a Christian nation was in the schools, and, as a result, fundamentalism reached its height in the 1920s [22].

I hope that you will click over to Save OBU for the full story.  Understanding is vital to empathy—perhaps the highest virtue.

God bless OBU.


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