Fundamentalism and American Culture: The Shaping of Twentieth Century Evangelicalism, 1870-1925

By George M. Marsden | Go to book overview

throughout the world appeared to be proceeding at a more rapid rate than was Christian advance. Whether such thoughts about the state of culture led to new ways of looking at Scripture, or whether the ways of looking at Scripture led to new ways of viewing the relationship of church and culture is not clear. Each factor, as well as the convergence of the two, however, can give us insight into the distinctive traits of the movement.


VI. Dispensationalism
and the Baconian Ideal

Dispensationalist thought was characterized by a dual emphasis on the supernatural and the scientific. Supernaturalism was a conscious and conspicuous organizing principle. Underlying dispensationalist thought, however, was an almost equally important set of ideas concerning how to look at things scientifically.

At a major prophetic conference in 1895, Arthur T. Pierson, one of the leading representatives of the movement, summarized the basic philosophical assumptions of dispensational thought—and indeed much of the thought of the anti-modernist movement generally. Speaking of various systematic theologies that he considered artificial because they did not have the Second Coming at their center, he said: "I like Biblical theology that does not start with the superficial Aristotelian method of reason, that does not begin with an hypothesis, and then warp the facts and the philosophy to fit the crook of our dogma, but a Baconian system, which first gathers the teachings of the word of God, and then seeks to deduce some general law upon which the facts can be arranged." 1

Whatever one might think of the accuracy of Pierson's claim to be a true representative of the method of the early seventeenth-century champion of the objective empirical method, his appeal to Francis Bacon sounded a note that still rang true to many American Protestants. At least throughout the first two thirds of the nineteenth century "LordBacon" was the preeminently revered philosopher for many Americans, especially those of the dominant evangelical colleges. This popularity of Bacon, in turn, was built on the strong support for the Baconian tradition in Scottish Common Sense Realism. 2

Mid- nineteenth-centuryAmerica is usually characterized, in literary history at least, by the full flowering of romanticism. Yet, especially among American college leaders, scientists, and theologians, transcendental and

-55-

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