Church History | Christianity in America (Part 5)

This week we’ll be continuing the series by Dr. Dan van Voorhis entitled Christianity in America. This series covers American Christianity from the Puritans through the modern-day Emergent Church. We don’t usually go through such a long series but I’m learning so much from these lectures that I simply don’t want to stop short. The goal of this series is to figure out how the American church in its present state came to be… how did we get to where we are today?

Daniel van Voorhis, PhD, is an Assistant Professor of History and Political Thought and Assistant Dean in the school of Arts and Sciences at Concordia University, Irvine. He has a BA in Theology and earned his PhD in Modern History from the University of St. Andrews (Scotland) in 2007. (source)

Lesson #5 – Fundamentalism and Modernism Early 20th Century

Ths video hosted at the website Unfortunately the webmaster at FaithCapo has not been able to get digital copies of the remaining handouts in this series, so we’ll have to do some of our own note taking and research. I’ve taken the time to jot down the notes posted in the slide presentation for those who choose to listen to the mp3 rather than watch the video.

Listen to mp3 of the lecture

Notes from the slides in the presentation:

A very brief Recap

      English Colonies in the 17th Century

John Winthrop “A Model of Christian Charity”

Roger Williams “The Bloody Tenent of Persecution”

        America as the New Israel?A radical separatism (yet corporate)Conditioned IndividualismCalvinism / Puritanism / Covenant Theology

Rationalism and Revivalism in the 18th Century

        John Wesley, Jonathan Edwards, George WhitfieldWhy the lack of “explicit Christianity” in the founding documents?The Enlightenment drove a wedge between “rationalists” and “revivalists”Church and State questions became a question that emphasized the “State” as this was the era of state buildingWho’s afraid of “Enlightenment”?Radical Revivalism — a wolf in sheep’s clothing?

Romanticism and Radicalism in the 18th & 19th Centuries

      Schleiermacher, Henry Ward Beecher, Charles FinneyRomantic Individualism and the rise of cults (Seventh Day Adventists, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witness, etc) The question of heresy or schism (which is worse? The role of truth and unity)The Niagra Bible Conference, Dispensationalism, the centrality of eschatology

Today’s Topic

  • Fundamentalism
    • A Fundamentalist is an evangelical who is angry about something (suggested by George Marsden)
    • “The Fundamentals”
      Series of booklets in 1909
      5 points –

      • Inspiration and infallibility of the Bible
      • The Deity of Christ
      • The substitutionary Atonement of Christ
      • The Bodily Resurrection of Christ
      • The miracles of Christ (some have inserted the personal second coming of Christ)
    • Modernism
      • Good luck defining this (and then try defining post-modernism)
      • Generally, any movement or climate of ideas, especially in the arts, literature or architecture, that supports change, the retirement of the old or traditional, and the forward march of the avant garde.
        • adoption of a critical view of the Bible developing in the 19th & 20th century (anti-supernatural)
    • The crucible of America in the early 20th Century
      • Virginia Wolf: “In or about 1910, human character began to change”
      • Willa Cather: “The world broke in 2 in 1922, or thereabouts”
      • Jacques Barzun: (by 1918) “Heaven storming was cut off by the wall of the war”
    • Shift in American Culture
      • A shift in populations toward urban centers
      • Cultural divide between agrarian and urban ethos
      • A shift in mental attitudes (and tastes and habits) with regards to producing vs. consuming
      • A distinct “American” urban / popular / mass culture was emerging
      • A distinct ambivalence towards the past was created by the authors of “Lost Generation”, “Southern Agrarians”, “Utopians”, etc…
    • The Church and Culture Collide
      • The Presbyterian Church (USA) held in 1923 held that the 5 “Fundamentals” must be affirmed for ministers to be ordained
      • A document spread about coming from Auburn Seminary arguing against the necessity of the Fundamentals
      • This “Affirmation” asserted that the church must:
        • Safeguard liberty of thought and teaching of its ministers
        • Prohibit restricting the church to rigid interpretations of scripture and doctrine
        • Refuse to rank ecclesiastical authority above the conscience swayed by the Holy Spirit
      • “Shall the Fundamentalists Win” sermon by Harry Emerson Fosdick 1922 at First Presbyterian Church in New York City. Fosdick championed the Modernists.
        • Distinguished between “Fundamentalists”, “the Evangelicals”, and the “liberals”
        • Gladly played the “Liberal” (the great switch)
        • Called for Spiritual unity despite differences in doctrine (regarding the nature of Scripture, miracles, and salvation)
        • The church must confront “modern” issues
      • J. Greshem Machen, The Unlikely Fundamentalist
        • Born 1881 (Studied at Johns Hopkins, Princeton, and in Germany)
        • Professor of Theology at Princeton Seminary
        • Unlikely? Anti Prohibition, against school prayer, and lamented the confusion of Christian piety and civilization
        • Published Christianity and Liberalism in 1923. Perhaps the most significant Christian book in American History. (Link)
          • “Modern Liberalism not only is a different religion from Christianity, but belongs in totally different class of religions”
          • “The God of Liberalism as the universal father is weak and the Christ of Liberalism is merely a mortal example that cannot save you”
          • “Liberalism is the most pernicious of all heresies as the language it uses apes that of historic Christianity”
          • Machen praised by Walter Lippmann and H.L. Menken
      • Tennessee 1925: The Scopes case
        • John Scopes, a biology teacher in Dayton, Tennessee broke a state law that regulated that no teaching about creation can conflict with the teaching of a seven day creation.
        • Scopes was found guilty (the case took only a few days)
        • Scopes was fined $100
        • That fine was repealed as “excessive”
        • This would become one of THE cases of the 20th century (represented in Inherit the Wind)
        • Conservatism caricatured
    • The Impact
      • Did the fundamentalists win? Yes. No. Who are the fundamentalists today?
        • Split, taken various platforms
      • How did “liberalism” win the day? (Language, dictated the conversation)
      • What happened to the majority of the “mainline” church bodies?
      • Where do we go from here? If you can’t win… put on a good show (Billy Sunday, Sister Aimee, and the Church hits the airwaves…)


We will continue this series to its conclusion. After that, we’ll get back to sharing sermons on Fridays.

Hebrews 13:20-21 (ESV)

Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will,working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.

In Christ Jesus,

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