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Fundamentalism and American Culture: The Shaping of Twentieth Century Evangelicalism 1870-1925 Hardcover – February, 1981
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"Marsden reveals a great deal of history, showing the origins, development and growth of evangelicalism and fundamentalism. His is a focused yet broad scholarly work that has stood the test of time, a worthwhile history resource on fundamentalism in America."--Congregational Libraries Today
About the Author
George M. Marsden is the Francis A. McAnaney Professor of History at the University of Notre Dame. He is the author of Jonathan Edwards: A Life.
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Top Customer Reviews
As the author makes clear, American fundamentalism was not originally a southern phenomenon. Nor is evangelical fundamentalism closely related to the "fundamentalism" found in the Middle East and various parts of Asia. There was nothing mean-spirited or even anti-intellectual about its earliest leaders, who held to a logical, Newtonian approach to science and were frequently well-educated. However, outside events gradually caused many of them to feel under siege and to overreact against cultural changes they couldn't control.
I found this work invaluable in understanding the present state of American Christianity. Some of the excesses of 1920s fundamentalism subsided in time. Due to that, a much more respectable evangelicalism is predominant today (though even it is frequently misconstrued as a political movement). In the meantime, denominations which rejected historical, biblical theology have continued to decrease in influence and overall vitality. Given that fact, it's little wonder that Christians who hold to the exclusivity of Christ and other traditional beliefs tend to send the most missionaries abroad.
One additional insight I gleaned from reading this concerns why a great cultural divide exists between rural and urban America today. News coverage for the Scopes Trail spurred stereotypes of rural dwellers (especially southerners) as uneducated hillibillies who reject all modern innovations. In turn, it caused those from rural areas to be distrustful of the people and ideas of the big cities (particularly in the Northeast). One hopes this division will lessen in the future, though there are indications that this will not be the case.
it's scholarly content leads to many other sources of information related to an American religion based on supernatural beliefs. The dualism underlying fundamentalism and its masochist vividly stand out as presented here.
As an early fundamentalist leader, B.B. Warfield emphasized that faith must be grounded in right reason. True to the demands of Common Sense, Warfield saw the effects of the Fall on human consciousness as pervasive but quite limited. Warfield carefully balanced his appeals to objective evidence with the subjective witness of the Holy Spirit. (Marsden, 115, 121) At Princeton Seminary, J. Gresham Machen struggled to preserve both his inherited Presbyterian faith and his intellectual integrity in a world in which the leading intellectuals, and even many theologians, ridiculed traditionalist Christianity. "The Church," he said, "is perishing today through the lack of thinking, not through an excess of it." For Machen, liberals subordinated Christianity to culture while evangelicals seemed to ignore culture in order to maintain a pure Christianity. He believed that since the cultural crisis was rooted in the intellectual crisis, an attempt to bypass culture and intellect, the arts and sciences, would simply make the situation worse. Machen's solution was the consecration of culture. Machen eventually assumed Warfield's mantle as chief intellectual spokesman for conservative Presbyterians. Francis Schaeffer studied briefly under Machen at Westminster Theological Seminary. Schaeffer was an effective popularizer of the Reformed idea that Christianity had powerful implications as a cultural critique. Yet, conservative Reformed scholars were finding it increasingly difficult to remain Renaissance Christian humanists. (Marsden, 137-8, 245)
The Reformed traditions encouraged more positive attitudes toward intellect, the organized church, and the ideal of building a Christian civilization. Fundamentalist ambivalence about these subjects can be better understood if seen as reflecting not only immediate experience, but also the conflict between the pietist and the Calvinistic traditions. Within the Calvinist tradition, politics was a significant means of advancing the kingdom. Between 1865 and 1900, the view of social and political order transitioned from a postmillennial to a premillennial (or Pietistic) view of political action as no more than a means to restrain evil. By the 1920s, political conservatism consisted of pietists who would use government merely to restrain evil, of Calvinists preserving Christian civilization, or of Anabaptists opposing all Christian involvement in politics. (Marsden, 7, 86, 92)
During the 1920s, fundamentalists were often regarded as anti-scientific and anti-intellectual." Their anti-intellectualism and paranoid style was "shaped by a desire to strike back at everything modern - the higher criticism, evolutionism, the social gospel, rational criticism of any kind." As a result, fundamentalists were losing much of their influence and respectability. Given the various views of eschatology, keeping premillennial teachings in the background became necessary for establishing a respectable and self-consciously conservative coalition against modernism. (Marsden, 7, 119, 199)
Traditionally, American evangelicalism viewed God's redemptive work as manifested in the spiritual and moral progress of American society. Within fundamentalism, different beliefs concerning eschatology resulted in two very different worldviews. (Marsden, 38, 47-9, 63) Whereas premillennialists were less hopeful concerning progress, postmillennialists were optimistic about the spiritual progress of the culture.
Nevertheless, premillennialists and postmillennialists regarded the state of American civilization with a mixture of hopeful loyalty and increasing alarm. Fundamentalists saw the fundamental issues as theological. In order to unite evangelical America, a new combination of revivalist, conservative, and premillennial traditions emerged. By 1925, the theological aspect of fundamentalism merged with its concern for the social and moral welfare of the nation. The battle for the Bible developed into a battle for civilization. Combined with changing mores in the culture, fundamentalists experienced profound ambivalence toward the surrounding culture. Marsden pointed out that fundamentalism of recent decades differs from that of the 1920s due to its "deep involvement in mainstream national politics." (Marsden, 153, 161-4, 231-2) Marsden examined the extraordinary growth in political emphasis and power of the more recent movement.
As the era of faith in science and progressive consensus ended, the countercultural upheaval of the 1960s intervened. "In the 1970s distress over rapidly changing public standards regarding sexuality and the family combined with longstanding anti-communist patriotism to make fundamentalistic evangelicals ripe for political mobilization." Without much reflection on how practical political campaigns fit in with continuing predictions that the Rapture and end-times would commence in a few years, an ideal of cultural transformation reemerged as one of the most conspicuous traits of the movement. The central cultural paradox of fundamentalism was thus even more dramatically pronounced then ever. . . . America was simultaneously Babylon and God's chosen nation. Premillennial doctrine and postmillennial rhetoric mixed, reflecting a longstanding cultural ambivalence in the American evangelical heritage. As implicitly postmillennial political rhetoric was flourishing; premillennial end-time scenarios became more popular than ever." (Marsden, 241-249, 256)
Modern historiography assumes that human and natural forces shape the course of history and its basic model is something like a biological concept of development.
Prone to a more literal interpretation of Scripture, premillennialists begin with the assumption that ongoing warfare between God and Satan shapes history. On the other hand, postmillennialists saw human history as reflecting an ongoing struggle between cosmic forces of God and Satan, each well represented by various earthly powers, but with the victory of righteousness ensured. These totally opposed views of history lay at the heart of the conflict and misunderstanding between theological liberals and their fundamentalist opponents. (Marsden, 38, 47-9, 63) Considering context of evidence is one guideline for good historical writing. Marsden met this guideline by pointing out that the dispensationalist view seems less eccentric if placed in the context of the whole development of Western historiography.
Marsden concludes, "[I]dentification of cultural forces, such as those with which this book is concerned, is essentially a constructive enterprise, with the positive purpose of finding the gold among the dross." Since we are limited by our culturally determined experience, Marsden states that we should ask God for grace to recognize our limitations as we "carefully identify the cultural forces which affect the current versions of Christianity." (Marsden, 259-260) In his work, Marsden described numerous events within the context of American culture that provided insight concerning the growth and development of fundamentalism during the last century. Marsden's description of fundamentalists as "militant" seems to describe the fundamentalism of my childhood. In his description of fundamentalists and their political activism during recent decades, Marsden provided relevant evidence, or immediacy, meeting a second guideline for good historical writing.
In his discussion of B.B. Warfield, J. Gresham Machen, and Francis Schaeffer, Marsden identified causal connections. As a cognitive historian, Marsden met a third guideline for good historical writing by considering intellectual influence, wrestling with questions in history of ideas.
Avoiding assumptions, Marsden met a fourth guideline by providing positive, specific evidence concerning events during the last century. Marsden addressed numerous issues within American culture, including the fundamentalist view of Scripture, the Reformed view of culture, as well as the role of differing eschatologies in political activism.
In his work, Fundamentalism and American Culture, Marsden demonstrated a thorough, objective understanding of fundamentalism as a cultural phenomenon. Marsden's work would be a valuable addition to the personal library of anyone who seeks a deeper understanding of fundamentalism.