Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism

Topics: Fundamentalist Christianity, Fundamentalism, Evangelicalism Pages: 5 (1468 words) Published: February 29, 2012
Critical Book Review of Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism George Marsden, University of Notre Dame Professor of History and noted authority on American Fundamentalism, provides a salient series of essays divided into a historical survey of American Fundamentalism to include key events and personalities on the movement, in particular the years 1830 through the late 1980s as well as interpretative essays of the movement focusing specifically on the themes of “politics and views of science.”[1] The overall strength of this work can be observed in Marsden’s apt historical overview of fundamentalism, its continual critique and battles against modernism and theological liberalism, while its only weakness arguably resides in Marsden’s somewhat untenable comments regarding the modern creation science movement. Marsden unfortunately initiates his historical discussion of Fundamentalism beginning with Post-Civil War era. While Marsden makes references to the Puritan heritage of the American fundamentalist movement, these references are scattered through the initial section of the book. Given the first section of the book is a historical overview, the inclusion of even a short essay on the importance of the Puritan and Colonial period on Fundamentalism to include the impact and entrenchment of issues such as Common Sense Realism, the Holiness Movement or Baconianism might have served to provide the reader with a more holistic perspective on the roots of the American Fundamentalist ideal. Marsden does develop more fully the foundational nuances of fundamentalist beliefs in his previous book Fundamentalism and American Culture and to a large degree Marsden sufficiently discusses these foundational issues as needed thus this is not a huge detractor from the value of Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism. The strength of Understanding Fundamentalism is present in Marsden’s treatment of fundamentalism from the conclusion of the Civil War to the late 1980s, a time period of significant shifts within the fundamentalist movement, both in its level of popularity in American culture as well as in its overall focus. Marsden masterfully notes both the issues fundamentalism as a movement engaged in as well as how various fundamentalist leaders chose to confront these issues. Of particular note is Marsden’s emphasis on the dichotomy between modernism and liberalism’s concerted attacks on fundamental Christian beliefs and the Fundamentalist movement’s entrenchment against those attacks. Marsden rightly focuses on the impact of Darwinism on society correctly commenting “Darwinism and higher criticism were challenging the authority of the Bible and the new historical, sociological and Freudian psychological ways were revolutionizing thought at almost every level.”[2] An additional element of perspicuity by Marsden can be found in his statement “Wars are the catalyst of history…World War I had an especially momentous impact on American life.”[3] For many Fundamentalists, the ills of society could be traced back to German rationalism. Marsden rightly notes the “central symbol organizing fears over the demise of American culture became biological evolution”[4] to include its connection with World War I Germany. While other fundamental issues such as those espoused in the Five Fundamentals of 1910 were vitally important for fundamentalist, beliefs which Marsden also makes repeated mention of and rightly so, to a large degree, the confrontation over evolution became one of the more public aspects of the Fundamentalist fight against modernism and theological liberalism. To that end, Marsden appropriately focuses much of his discussion on the engagement of fundamentalism with evolution and science. Moreover, he reveals the often divisive nature of evolution particularly in regards to noted fundamentalist scholars such as B. B. Warfield and Charles Hodge with their affirmations of some aspects of...
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