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Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism Paperback – December 26, 1990
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From Library Journal
Marsden (American church history, Duke Univ.), who is considered an expert on fundamentalism, here looks at the interrelated movements of fundamentalism and evangelicalism. Part 1 gives a readable and informative overview of the rise of fundamentalism from 1870 on. It then examines evangelicalism as a separate phenomenon. Part 2 deals primarily with the views held by these groups on politics and science with a special analysis of why creation science is so important to them. This section also includes a close look at the career of J. Gresham Machen, a controversial fundamentalist scholar of the early 20th century. The author is especially good at showing the development of the conservative versus liberal controversy and the surprising appeal of modern fundamentalism for our technological age. Anyone who is interested in understanding this rapidly growing element in today's society will want to read this excellent analysis. Recommended for academic and public libraries.
- C. Robert Nixon, M.L.S., Lafayette, Ind.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc.
"In the history-of-fundamentalism business, George Marsden remains on top."
"The work will be useful as a supplementary textbook. The clarity, organization, and detail of Marsden's opening historical overview provide excellent introduction to an extraordinarily lively subject."
"There is perhaps no one better able to facilitate an understanding of American Protestant fundamentalism and evangelicalism than George Marsden. . . The volume provides a helpful introduction to and interpretation of the Protestant fundamentalist movement of the 20th century and the evangelicalism that grew out of that movement. . . Marsden is successful in communicating his research and interpretations in a style that is clear and readable, even for those with little background in the subject. Recommended for both academic and public libraries."
Religious Studies Review
"It can serve as a review for specialists in the field and as a wonderful introduction for those who are not. Professors can put it into the hands of undergraduates with the confidence that they will profit from it."
"Anyone who is interested in this rapidly growing element in today's society will want to read this excellent analysis. Recommended for academic and public libraries."
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For Marsden Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism are on a continuum with considerable overlap, whereas certain Fundamentalists would like that line drawn hard and fast. He starts off with a historical overview, covering E/F's roots and the conflict with "modernism" (1870-1930). He then explores how the the movement diverged into a more discernable E and F, though noting where they did converge.
He discusses politics and science, and ends with a chapter on J. Gresham Machen.
I enjoyed the book, and found it helpful in understanding the history of my own "stream" (a nice E/F mixture). I was a little surprised and disappointed with Marsden's treatment of the Young Earth Creationism issue. Usually Marsden is the epitome of cool disinterest - the neutral scholar without a dog in the fight. Though it was subtle, he seemed anxious to paint Creationists in a negative light, sometimes as "undeducated" other times as "looking for a fight." This was subtle, and I did find the 3 chapters on "science" to helpful and enlightening overall. Things are not as cut-and-dried as they may initially appear!
This is a good book, but of course, if you want the full treatment, you'll need to read his main book on Fundamentalism, as well as the other books Reforming Fundamentalism, and The Soul of the American University.
UFE's 208 pages are divided into two parts. Part one, "Historical Overview' (pp. 7-81), documents from 1870 onward the ideological rift in American Protestantism that spawned what came to be known as "fundamentalism," a species of evangelicalism determined to confront secularism and all manner of Christian apostasy--and in no uncertain terms. Part one of UFE is divided into two chapters. The first chapter (9-61) chronicles the growing dissatisfaction of conservative, evangelical Protestants with their "modernist" brethren who appeared ever willing to sacrifice any and every long-cherished Christian belief and practice on the altars of academic and political correctness. Chapter two (62-82) focuses mainly on fundamentalism's complicated relationship since 1930 with that much broader subcategory of Protestantism known as evangelicalism, a multi-denominational group characterized by its belief in "(1) the Reformation doctrine of the final authority of the Bible, (2) the real historical character of God's saving work in Scripture, (3) salvation to eternal life based on the redemptive work of Christ, (4) the importance of evangelism and missions, and (5) the importance of a spiritually transformed life" (4-5).
Part two, "Interpretations," examines the long history of evangelicalism's involvement in American politics (chap. 3); the seeming ambivalence of evangelicals toward the affairs of this world, its modern epistemology and technology, and group dynamics, generally (chap. 4); the surprisingly close--even dependent--relationship of evangelicalism with Enlightenment science (chap. 5). Chapter six discusses how fundamentalism has succeeded in marginalizing itself by dismissing out of hand all but the Young Earth Creationist's (YEC) conclusions regarding paleogeology and biology. The concluding chapter, "Understanding J. Gresham Machen," briefly examines the personality and thought of the extremely controversial Princeton theologian generally agreed to have been the most academically-accomplished fundamentalist of his day (1881-1937). The below will examine and offer brief comment on all of UFE's seven chapters.
Chapter one, "The Protestant Crisis and the Rise of Fundamentalism" (9-61), describes how from 1860-1900 the traditional evangelical worldview and ethic lost a great deal of its power and prestige in America at the same time the major Protestant denominations were tripling in size. Marsden cites several factors capable of accounting for this paradoxical development: (1) a series of serious intellectual assaults on biblical reliability, particularly from German Higher Criticism and Darwinism; (2) immigration and its resultant religious pluralism, a phenomenon highlighted by the American Catholic church, which quadrupled in size; (3) the virtual disappearance of conservative evangelicals from the faculties and administrations of the oldest and most well-respected American universities; (4) fundamentalism's several public relations debacles in the second half of the 1920s, e.g., the infamous "Scopes Monkey Trial." Marsden details how the external success of the Protestant Church in America during the late 1800s as witnessed by its tremendous numerical growth as well as an unprecedented interest in Sunday schools and foreign missions masked a growing and eventually indefensible threat from a much larger and thoroughly disinterested segment of the American public. Summarizing the great reversal of fortune since 1870, Marsden observed that "[a]lthough rearguard actions were fought [after World War I] to keep America Protestant, the fact of the matter was that the age was over when the United States was in any significant sense a bastion of `Christendom'" (51).
Chapter two, "Evangelicalism Since 1930: Unity and Diversity" (62-82), describes evangelicalism's great diversity of opinion on numerous political and theological issues. Marsden observes that by the late 1970s the venerable religious coalition was so divided it was not possible to determine which wing of evangelicalism's ideological spectrum the great Dr. Billy Graham occupied (76). While so many "Neo-Evangelicals"--i.e., believers in traditional, fundamental Christian tenets who wished to avoid offending non-believers whenever possible--agonized over issues like inerrancy, the growth of the federal government, and the war in Viet Nam, their more pugnacious fundamentalist brethren spoke with comparative perspicuity. Charles E. Fuller, Francis Shaeffer, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, et al had their faults, to be sure, but a tendency to equivocate on highly controversial political/cultural/theological issues was not among them. This is not to say that since 1930 fundamentalism has spoke with one voice on every hot button issue (Marsden cites Falwell's devastating rejection of Robertson's '88 bid for the presidency ), but fundamentalism's place on the theological and political spectrum could usually be easily located--on the right.
In chapter three, "Evangelical Politics: An American Tradition" (85-97), Marsden discusses at some length the long shadow evangelicalism has cast over American politics. Marsden notes the anti-Catholicism of evangelicals in the 1850s; Republican nominee Blaine's 1884 claim that the Democratic party of Grover Cleveland was the party of "rum, Romanism, and rebellion;" the evangelical split over Democratic fundamentalist W. J. Bryan's three attempts to win the presidency. Marsden's point--that evangelicalism's interest in politics did not begin with Jerry Falwell--is well made. Conservative evangelicals have had and continue to have an enormous amount of clout in American electoral politics, as prominent Massachusetts politicians like Senator John Kerry and former governor Mitt Romney can well attest.
Chapter four, "Preachers of Paradox: Fundamentalist Politics in Historical Perspective" (98-121), recounts the ongoing discussion within evangelicalism as to what the Gospel of Jesus Christ has to say concerning the numerous difficult issues confronting contemporary American society, and how it should say it. Marsden cautions that making generalizations about the views of Evangelicals on political and theological issues are "particularly hazardous" (110). Marsden also takes issue with the time-honored myth that evangelicalism is inherently anti-intellectual. Marsden assures that at least "one side of the fundamentalist mentality is committed to inductive rationalism" (118).
Marsden expands on these thoughts in chapter five, "The Evangelical Love Affair with Enlightenment Science" (122-52). Marsden enumerates four phases of the Enlightenment era and concludes the first--Newton and Locke's "ideals of order, balance, and religious compromise"--and the fourth, similar, and based on Scottish Common Sense Realism, "had major lasting effect on the United States" (129). Marsden contrasts the turn-of-the-century epistemology of a conservative Reformed theologian from Holland, Abraham Kuyper, with that of another conservative theologian, Princeton's champion of biblical inerrancy, B. B. Warfield. Warfield ridiculed Kuyper's claim that science for believers differed substantially from science for atheists. For Warfield et al, science was the ally of religion--provided of course the discipline was not redefined so as to limit all inquiry to natural causes and effects. Marsden goes on to document how most evangelicals laboring in the natural sciences were open to old earth interpretations of the first two chapters of Genesis. The "warfare" between science and religion was begun by missionary atheists like Draper and Huxley long after Darwin published in 1859 (139-40).
Chapter six, "Why Creation Science?" (153-81) discusses how YEC took root in fundamentalist circles even though quite a number of prominent conservative Christian theologians (e.g., the above-mentioned Warfield) were quite open to considering seriously other explanations. Marsden suggests the Premillennialists' dependency on exact biblical numerology combined with the South's knee-jerk resistance to any and all intellectual innovations generated from the North succeeded in elevating YEC dogma very nearly to the exalted doctrinal status of the virgin birth.
The final chapter, "Understanding J. Gresham Machen" (182-201), is devoted to the controversial protégé of B. B. Warfield, who coincidentally (or not) founded Marsden's alma mater in 1929, Westminster Theological Seminary. Acknowledging Machen's several personal and ideological foibles, Marsden nonetheless presents Machen as a thinking man's fundamentalist, a praise-worthy, serious academic whose razor-sharp mind produced a number of intellectually rigorous arguments in support of the traditional views of Christianity he had inherited from his esteemed Princeton predecessors. Machen clearly saw the ideological ditch modernism and postmodernism were driving Christianity into, and made a number of cogent arguments based on the above-mentioned Common Sense Realism, e.g., historical facts, upon which traditional Christianity is based, are in fact objectively real, and obtainable by historians.
Marsden's chapter on Machen is the only one in which Marsden's opinion of the subject is easily discernible. Marsden is clearly an admirer of Machen, undoubtedly because of the courageous way in which Machen imparted his own considerable academic abilities and respectability in support of the principle tenets of Christian fundamentalism, not entirely unlike Marsden himself.