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

By George M. Marsden | Go to book overview

cern for the social and moral welfare of the nation. The battle for the Bible was a battle for civilization.

By the end of 1920 most Americans had recovered from the most extreme manifestations of crisis mentality and were set on course for a return to "normalcy." Fundamentalists too were committed to a return to the status quo ante bellum, but they wished to revive an evangelical theological consensus that had in fact been gone for at least a generation. Such a quest for normalcy could hardly be satisfied by a vote for Harding. Moreover, while the postwar sense of crisis was apparently only a temporary disruption for most Americans, for fundamentalists it was the beginning of a crusade. They began to organize precisely at the time of the crisis in 1919 and 1920, and as a result they institutionalized and preserved important parts of the outlook of that era of intense feeling and opinion.


XVIII. The Fundamentalist Offensive
on Two Fronts: 1920-1921

Between 1920 and 1925 fundamentalism took shape as a movement distinct from its antecedents and representing more than just the sum of the submovements that supported it. It flourished on two fronts. In the major denominations fundamentalists battled against those who denied, or would tolerate denials of, the fundamentals of the traditional faith. In American culture as a whole they fought to stop the teaching of evolution in the public schools. By the early summer of 1925 fundamentalists appeared to be on the verge of winning major victories that would legislate reversals of longdeveloping trends away from evangelical orthodoxy in both churches and culture. Yet as the movement came closer to effecting such a revolution, the main body of its adherents hesitated to follow those radicals who would tolerate no compromise. During the following year the mood of the country swung sharply away from the uncompromising radicals, and their movement was left in a shambles. From 1920 to 1925 fundamentalism was a broad and nationally influential coalition of conservatives, but after 1925 it was composed of less flexible and more isolated minorities often retreating into separatism, where they could regroup their considerable forces.

The issues that shaped fundamentalism during this critical five-year period were most fully developed in ecclesiastical debates, although these cannot be separated from the context of the anti-evolution movement. Fundamental

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