Cover via Amazon
The late nineteenth century was characterized by upheaval. The War Between The States caused much disturbance in the nation. At the same time there was much disturbance to the state of Christendom in the U.S.A. Darwinism was being accepted by many leaders in Christian churches and universities. Attempts were being made to reconcile the Bible and Darwinism. Shifts were occurring that were subtle, and some that were not so subtle.
George Marsden, in Fundamentalism And American Culture, speaks of divergence at this time. There was the Protestant ethic and reverence for the heritage of Protestantism. There was also the romantic, emotional sentimentality of the day.
Henry Ward Beecher was one who was a preacher, writer, progressive, and one whose thinking was greatly influenced by the sentimentality of the day. He was also greatly influenced by the new, Darwinistic thought. One thing he was not, was a theologian. Beecher softened truth without totally denying it. He began to accommodate those who did deny truth saying, “..we are neither to disown them as Christians, nor discipline them for believing as they do…” (Marsden, Fundamentalism And American Culture, NY, Oxford, 1980 pg 24)
Later Beecher fully embraced evolution. Marsden claims that Beecher interpreted God through human experience and sought to subordinate even Scripture itself to the authority of the modern age.
By this time “theology was no longer viewed as a fixed body of eternally valid truths. It was seen rather as an evolutionary development that should adapt to the standards and needs of modern culture.” (ibid pg 25)
Truth was being attacked by three things: evolutionary naturalism, higher criticism of the Bible, and an idealistic philosophy and theology which seems to have divided God and science by putting God beyond the realm of reason and rationality while putting science out of the reach of God.
Sadly, at this time, it seems that morality mattered more to many of the conservative evangelicals than the life of the mind and theology. This seems to be one of the reasons that fundamentalists later separated from culture instead of seeking to redeem it. Moralism without theology can only be maintained by separating from negative influences. A Biblical theology, however, leads to Christian practice and morality that will have a positive effect on culture without separating from it altogether.
In 1895 the Niagara Bible Conference issued a statement in support of “five ‘essential’ points of Christian doctrine- the verbal inerrancy of Scripture, the deity and virgin birth of Christ, the substitutionary atonement, the physical resurrection of Christ and his bodily return to earth.” (Hudson, Religion In America, NY, Scribners, 1965, pg 283) In 1909, The Fundamentals was published. In 1910, the Northern Presbyterian General Assembly issued a statement similar to that of the Niagara Conference.
It is against this backdrop that historic Fundamentalism must be viewed.