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

By George M. Marsden | Go to book overview

The Defense of the Faith

XII. Tremors of Controversy

Both dispensationalism and holiness teachings developed into significant movements in the context of a troubled culture that had always thought of itself as Christian and was now rapidly becoming secularized. As in every age, evidence of moral decline was readily at hand; in the decades spanning the turn of the century the spectre of teeming cities, the immorality and irresponsibility associated with urban poverty, the disruptiveness of industrialization, and the strangeness of non-Protestant immigrants gave particular credence to suspicion that this might be the end of an era—the Christian era.

Although not fully explainable in terms of their social causes, dispensationalism and holiness teachings were partially a response to cultural conditions. Neither of these movements was co-extensive with fundamentalism. Yet each contributed important elements to the emerging fundamentalist outlook. What made them part of fundamentalism as such was the direct and explicit reaction against one aspect of the apparent secularization—the rise of theological liberalism.

In almost every major American denomination, sometime between the late 1870s and World War I, serious disagreements broke out between conservatives and liberals. In these struggles the traditionalists were not necessarily fundamentalists in any strict sense. They were first of all denominational conservatives who had their own distinct traditions and characters. Some, like the traditionalists among the Disciples of Christ, were regarded as a part of the fundamentalist movement largely because their aims were parallel and in certain of their attacks they had common opponents. What made others more fundamentalist was their combination of militant anti‐ modernism with participation in a larger movement that, despite its mix of separable elements, possessed some degree of conscious unity. The active cooperation of denominational traditionalists with the theologically innovative dispensationalists and holiness advocates in the battle against modernism was particularly important in shaping a distinct fundamentalism. These

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