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

By George M. Marsden | Go to book overview

This Age and the Millennium

IV. Prologue: The Paradox
of Revivalist Fundamentalism

Fundamentalism was a mosaic of divergent and sometimes contradictory traditions and tendencies that could never be totally integrated. Sometimes its advocates were backward looking and reactionary, at other times they were imaginative innovators. On some occasions they appeared militant and divisive; on others they were warm and irenic. At times they seemed ready to forsake the whole world over a point of doctrine; at other times they appeared heedless of tradition in their zeal to win converts. Sometimes they were optimistic patriots; sometimes they were prophets shaking from their feet the dust of a doomed civilization.

Their attitudes toward intellect, ideas, and systems of ideas reflected this pervasive ambivalence. On the one hand, a major element in the movement, well developed in nineteenth-century revivalism, was the subordination of all other concerns—including concern for all but the simplest ideas- to soul-saving and practical Christianity. Dwight L. Moody stood in this camp. To Moody most formal ideas seemed divisive and hence all but the least controversial were to be avoided. 1 The stance of some of his closest associates, however, was strikingly different on this point. The differences came out clearly in a survey conducted in 1899 by The Record of Christian Work, a Moody publication. A number of prominent evangelists were asked, "What was the teaching of Christ regarding his disciples' attitude towards error, and towards those who held erroneous doctrines?" Reuben A. Torrey, one of Moody's best known lieutenants, responded with an unmistakable fundamentalist answer:

Christ and His immediate disciples immediately attacked, exposed and denounced error. We are constantly told in our day that we ought not to attack error but simply teach the truth. This is the method of the coward and trimmer; it was not the method of Christ.

-43-

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