Fundamentalism and American Culture: 2nd Edition Audible Audiobook – Unabridged
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Many American's today are taking note of the surprisingly strong political force that is the religious right. Controversial decisions by the government are met with hundreds of lobbyists, millions of dollars of advertising spending, and a powerful grassroots response. How has the fundamentalist movement managed to resist the pressures of the scientific community and the draw of modern popular culture to hold on to their ultra-conservative Christian views? Understanding the movement's history is key to answering this question.
Fundamentalism and American Culture has long been considered a classic in religious history, and to this day remains unsurpassed. Now available in a new edition, this highly regarded analysis takes us through the full history of the origin and direction of one of America's most influential religious movements.
For this new edition, a major new chapter compares fundamentalism since the 1970s to the fundamentalism of the 1920s, looking particularly at the extraordinary growth in political emphasis and power of the more recent movement. Never has it been more important to understand the history of fundamentalism in our rapidly polarizing nation. Marsen's carefully researched and engrossing work remains the best way to do just that.
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|Listening Length||14 hours and 20 minutes|
|Author||George M. Marsden|
|Audible.ca Release Date||September 24 2019|
|Best Sellers Rank|| #132,248 in Audible Books & Originals (See Top 100 in Audible Books & Originals) |
#187 in Christian Fundamentalism (Books)
#266 in History of Christianity
#448 in Anthropology (Audible Books & Originals)
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Overview of the Book
Marsden divides his book into three sections (these sections are different in intent than the above themes. Marsden uses these sections to expand on his themes), Evangelicalism before Fundamentalism, the Shaping of Fundamentalism as a Movement, and the Crucial Years in which it gained popularity and its subsequent exodus of public life. In understanding the rise of Fundamentalism at the end of the nineteenth-century one must understand the backdrop from which it arose-nineteenth-century evangelicalism.
Marsden concludes the book by re-emphasizing his definition of Fundamentalism as a militant anti-modernist conservative force. For Marsden this should be the starting point for defining the movement. Militant anti-modernism applies to all types of Fundamentalism and any definition that goes beyond this must have qualifiers so that false stereotypes are not applied to the wrong group. As an Evangelical I enjoyed this book as I saw where the mind-set of conservatives and liberals developed. I also learned to what extent my own beliefs were influenced by this movement. I suggest that this book be read alongside another book on the shaping of American Christianity for a full understanding. I would also like to see an analysis of Fundamentalism from a more mainline perspective, although I believe Marsden is objective in this work. My main qualm with this book is in Part Three. In discussing the peak and soon-to-come fall of Fundamentalism, Marsden tried to put too many ideas into too few words. To keep up with him I had to re-analyze several chapters. However, due to the length of the book already, I can understand his attempt to save space. I would recommend this book to people of all political and religious persuasions so that they may have a fair understanding of this branch of early twentieth-century American religion.
In the last thirty years, however, this consensus was challenged by a number of historians. The two most influential monographs were written by Ernest Sandeen and George Marsden. In his "Roots of Fundamentalism: British and American Milleniarianism 1800-1930", Sandeen rejects the primacy of sociological interpretations, emphasizing the importance of theology. He views Fundamentalism primarily as a combination of premillenialism (particularly dispensational premillenialism) and the theology of Biblical inerrancy defended by Princeton Theological Seminary, with leadership of the movement located primarily in Northeastern urban areas.
Marsden agrees to some extent with this perspective, but he believes that Sandeen's interpretation ignores other important contributions to the Fundamentalist movement. Marsden argues that a proper methodology will begin by examining Fundamentalism in 1925 and then will trace Fundamentalism back to its sources, instead of beginning with British and American millenarianism in 1800 and charting how the Fundamentalist movement grew out of them. Marsden asserts that Fundamentalism should be defined as "militantly anti-modernist Protestant evangelicalism."
Marsden believes that Sandeen's analysis is important, and that is a helpful corrective for an excessive focus on the sociological roots of Fundamentalism. Certainly, premil-lenialism and biblical inerrancy are two very important "roots" of Fundamentalism. The problem with Sandeen's analysis, Marsden argues, is that "he mistook the roots he uncovered for the source of the entire movement." Marsden asserts that "what was called 'fundamentalism' in the 20s sprang from equally complex and tangled roots in nineteenth-century tra-ditions of revivalism, evangelicalism, pietism, Americanism, and varied orthodoxies."
Marsden overemphasizes the extent to which Common Sense Realism buttressed the Princeton Theology. His analysis tends to make the Princeton Theologians appear more rationalistic than they really were. Also, it seems likely that someone like Warfield would be much more heavily influenced by his immersion in the Reformed tradition and his intense study of Augustine and Calvin than by Common Sense Realism. Finally, while Marsden does not go as far as does Sandeen in describing "inerrancy" as a nineteenth century innovation, his analysis tends to focus too much on Common Sense Realism as the source of inerrancy. There have been many inerrantists throughout the history of the church who have held to different epistemologies.
These, however, are a few minor complaints about an obviously superior piece of historiography. Although Sandeen's "The Roots of Fundamentalism" helped correct an excessively sociological emphasis in the study of Fundamentalism, it, along with every other account of Fundamentalism, has been surpassed by Marsden's "Fundamentalism and American Culture." It is es-sential reading for anyone interested in the past and the fu-ture of American evangelicalism.
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This is not my field and I wouldn't know a dispensational premillennialist if I tripped over one, but for the most part I was able to follow Marsden's chronology and analysis. The details of the doctrinal factionalism among the major Protestant denominations in the 19th century left me bewildered for a while but eventually I got the hang of it - and I was glad I did.
For a semi-secular urban type like me, fundamentalism has always been associated with the south and epitomized (for better or worse) by William Jennings Bryan at the Scopes monkey trial. So I was surprised to learn that its roots lie in learned theological disputes among Presbyterians and Baptists in the north after the Civil War. And unlike the fundamentalism of today, the fundamentalism of 100 years ago largely avoided engagement with the political process.
Documenting and explaining this century-long transformation is Marsden's task and he does a terrific job. The writing is clear, the approach is fair, and the occasional flashes of dry wit are welcome.
The original book was published in 1980 but the new 2006 edition has an additional chapter that ties the recent rise of the Moral Majority and its companions to the larger history. If you would like shed some preconceptions and understand more about the culture, theology, and politics of fundamentalism, I can't imagine there is a better place to start.
As an early fundamentalist leader, B.B. Warfield emphasized that faith must be grounded in right reason. True to the demands of Common Sense, Warfield saw the effects of the Fall on human consciousness as pervasive but quite limited. Warfield carefully balanced his appeals to objective evidence with the subjective witness of the Holy Spirit. (Marsden, 115, 121) At Princeton Seminary, J. Gresham Machen struggled to preserve both his inherited Presbyterian faith and his intellectual integrity in a world in which the leading intellectuals, and even many theologians, ridiculed traditionalist Christianity. "The Church," he said, "is perishing today through the lack of thinking, not through an excess of it." For Machen, liberals subordinated Christianity to culture while evangelicals seemed to ignore culture in order to maintain a pure Christianity. He believed that since the cultural crisis was rooted in the intellectual crisis, an attempt to bypass culture and intellect, the arts and sciences, would simply make the situation worse. Machen's solution was the consecration of culture. Machen eventually assumed Warfield's mantle as chief intellectual spokesman for conservative Presbyterians. Francis Schaeffer studied briefly under Machen at Westminster Theological Seminary. Schaeffer was an effective popularizer of the Reformed idea that Christianity had powerful implications as a cultural critique. Yet, conservative Reformed scholars were finding it increasingly difficult to remain Renaissance Christian humanists. (Marsden, 137-8, 245)
The Reformed traditions encouraged more positive attitudes toward intellect, the organized church, and the ideal of building a Christian civilization. Fundamentalist ambivalence about these subjects can be better understood if seen as reflecting not only immediate experience, but also the conflict between the pietist and the Calvinistic traditions. Within the Calvinist tradition, politics was a significant means of advancing the kingdom. Between 1865 and 1900, the view of social and political order transitioned from a postmillennial to a premillennial (or Pietistic) view of political action as no more than a means to restrain evil. By the 1920s, political conservatism consisted of pietists who would use government merely to restrain evil, of Calvinists preserving Christian civilization, or of Anabaptists opposing all Christian involvement in politics. (Marsden, 7, 86, 92)
During the 1920s, fundamentalists were often regarded as anti-scientific and anti-intellectual." Their anti-intellectualism and paranoid style was "shaped by a desire to strike back at everything modern - the higher criticism, evolutionism, the social gospel, rational criticism of any kind." As a result, fundamentalists were losing much of their influence and respectability. Given the various views of eschatology, keeping premillennial teachings in the background became necessary for establishing a respectable and self-consciously conservative coalition against modernism. (Marsden, 7, 119, 199)
Traditionally, American evangelicalism viewed God's redemptive work as manifested in the spiritual and moral progress of American society. Within fundamentalism, different beliefs concerning eschatology resulted in two very different worldviews. (Marsden, 38, 47-9, 63) Whereas premillennialists were less hopeful concerning progress, postmillennialists were optimistic about the spiritual progress of the culture.
Nevertheless, premillennialists and postmillennialists regarded the state of American civilization with a mixture of hopeful loyalty and increasing alarm. Fundamentalists saw the fundamental issues as theological. In order to unite evangelical America, a new combination of revivalist, conservative, and premillennial traditions emerged. By 1925, the theological aspect of fundamentalism merged with its concern for the social and moral welfare of the nation. The battle for the Bible developed into a battle for civilization. Combined with changing mores in the culture, fundamentalists experienced profound ambivalence toward the surrounding culture. Marsden pointed out that fundamentalism of recent decades differs from that of the 1920s due to its "deep involvement in mainstream national politics." (Marsden, 153, 161-4, 231-2) Marsden examined the extraordinary growth in political emphasis and power of the more recent movement.
As the era of faith in science and progressive consensus ended, the countercultural upheaval of the 1960s intervened. "In the 1970s distress over rapidly changing public standards regarding sexuality and the family combined with longstanding anti-communist patriotism to make fundamentalistic evangelicals ripe for political mobilization." Without much reflection on how practical political campaigns fit in with continuing predictions that the Rapture and end-times would commence in a few years, an ideal of cultural transformation reemerged as one of the most conspicuous traits of the movement. The central cultural paradox of fundamentalism was thus even more dramatically pronounced then ever. . . . America was simultaneously Babylon and God's chosen nation. Premillennial doctrine and postmillennial rhetoric mixed, reflecting a longstanding cultural ambivalence in the American evangelical heritage. As implicitly postmillennial political rhetoric was flourishing; premillennial end-time scenarios became more popular than ever." (Marsden, 241-249, 256)
Modern historiography assumes that human and natural forces shape the course of history and its basic model is something like a biological concept of development.
Prone to a more literal interpretation of Scripture, premillennialists begin with the assumption that ongoing warfare between God and Satan shapes history. On the other hand, postmillennialists saw human history as reflecting an ongoing struggle between cosmic forces of God and Satan, each well represented by various earthly powers, but with the victory of righteousness ensured. These totally opposed views of history lay at the heart of the conflict and misunderstanding between theological liberals and their fundamentalist opponents. (Marsden, 38, 47-9, 63) Considering context of evidence is one guideline for good historical writing. Marsden met this guideline by pointing out that the dispensationalist view seems less eccentric if placed in the context of the whole development of Western historiography.
Marsden concludes, "[I]dentification of cultural forces, such as those with which this book is concerned, is essentially a constructive enterprise, with the positive purpose of finding the gold among the dross." Since we are limited by our culturally determined experience, Marsden states that we should ask God for grace to recognize our limitations as we "carefully identify the cultural forces which affect the current versions of Christianity." (Marsden, 259-260) In his work, Marsden described numerous events within the context of American culture that provided insight concerning the growth and development of fundamentalism during the last century. Marsden's description of fundamentalists as "militant" seems to describe the fundamentalism of my childhood. In his description of fundamentalists and their political activism during recent decades, Marsden provided relevant evidence, or immediacy, meeting a second guideline for good historical writing.
In his discussion of B.B. Warfield, J. Gresham Machen, and Francis Schaeffer, Marsden identified causal connections. As a cognitive historian, Marsden met a third guideline for good historical writing by considering intellectual influence, wrestling with questions in history of ideas.
Avoiding assumptions, Marsden met a fourth guideline by providing positive, specific evidence concerning events during the last century. Marsden addressed numerous issues within American culture, including the fundamentalist view of Scripture, the Reformed view of culture, as well as the role of differing eschatologies in political activism.
In his work, Fundamentalism and American Culture, Marsden demonstrated a thorough, objective understanding of fundamentalism as a cultural phenomenon. Marsden's work would be a valuable addition to the personal library of anyone who seeks a deeper understanding of fundamentalism.
Marsden focuses on three major themes. First, he highlights a tension within fundamentalism--the tendency at times to preserve the perceived identity of American culture (viewing America as Israel), and at other times to take on the identity of a separatist minority sect (viewing America as Babylon). Second, he studies the prominent movements of Christian thought in American evangelicalism before the emergence of fundamentalism. He sees deep roots in America's revivalism, pietism, the popularity of holiness, and middle-class Victorian values. Third, Marsden observes a wavering stance among fundamentalists regarding science and the intellect. On one hand, the scientific "common sense" type of principles of 17th century philosopher Francis Bacon allowed the average person clearly to see the plain facts of God evident in Scripture. On the other hand, this same scientific approach allowed proponents of Darwinian evolution to discard the unrealistic, supernatural, miraculous accounts found in the Bible. Naturalism and evolution were powerful enemies of Christians who wanted to maintain the fundamental supernatural tenets of the faith. Increasingly over the years, anti-evolution became a more unifying passion than even adherence to Christian orthodoxy. Marsden comments, "Many people with little or no interest in fundamentalism's doctrinal concerns were drawn into the campaign to keep Darwinism out of America's schools... The more clearly [fundamentalists] realized that there was a mass audience for the message of the social danger of evolution, the more central this social message became" (170).
After chronologically recounting the origins of fundamentalism, its peak in 1920-1925, as well as the subsequent gradual growth of fundamentalist ideology through denominations and universities, Marsden shares his interpretation of the movement. Fundamentalism was initially a religious assertion against the threat of modernism, but the event of World War I gave fundamentalism crucial characteristics. War-related crisis provided an occasion for paranoia and militant defense of religious views. Marsden compares evangelicals experience of encroaching modernism to the "traumatic cultural upheaval" of cross-cultural immigration (204).
I find quite helpful Marsden's reluctance to paint the fundamentalist movement as either purely theological or purely social. By resisting extremes, Marsden's eyes are open to the great and sometimes even contradictory complex issues informing fundamentalism. He says it is "a mistake to reduce religious behavior to its social dimensions" and admirably acknoweledges the power of spiritual forces and deep-seated convictions (203). I wish he had made some value judgments, even if tentative and qualified, and used a biblical standard to grant the reader practical ideas for how to move forth with knowledge of historical fundamentalism. What traps and misconceptions did fundamentalists fall into that contemporary evangelical may be vigilant to avoid? For what elements of fundamentalism can we be grateful and which can we even strive to emulate? This desire of mine, though, is just because I'm more interested in ideas than events. I prefer philosophy to history. People who love history may have more fun reading this than I did. Marsden's objectivity seems appropriate to a scholarly book in the genre of history.
As the author makes clear, American fundamentalism was not originally a southern phenomenon. Nor is evangelical fundamentalism closely related to the "fundamentalism" found in the Middle East and various parts of Asia. There was nothing mean-spirited or even anti-intellectual about its earliest leaders, who held to a logical, Newtonian approach to science and were frequently well-educated. However, outside events gradually caused many of them to feel under siege and to overreact against cultural changes they couldn't control.
I found this work invaluable in understanding the present state of American Christianity. Some of the excesses of 1920s fundamentalism subsided in time. Due to that, a much more respectable evangelicalism is predominant today (though even it is frequently misconstrued as a political movement). In the meantime, denominations which rejected historical, biblical theology have continued to decrease in influence and overall vitality. Given that fact, it's little wonder that Christians who hold to the exclusivity of Christ and other traditional beliefs tend to send the most missionaries abroad.
One additional insight I gleaned from reading this concerns why a great cultural divide exists between rural and urban America today. News coverage for the Scopes Trail spurred stereotypes of rural dwellers (especially southerners) as uneducated hillibillies who reject all modern innovations. In turn, it caused those from rural areas to be distrustful of the people and ideas of the big cities (particularly in the Northeast). One hopes this division will lessen in the future, though there are indications that this will not be the case.
Marsden’s analysis of the intellectual roots of fundamentalist ideology builds on previous historians’ attempts to explain the phenomenon. While the Scopes trial portrayed fundamentalism as a belief system built on anti-intellectualism and anti-scientific backwardness, Marsden argues that the ideological roots of fundamentalism stem from “an intellectual tradition that had the highest regard for one understanding of true scientific method and proper rationality.” In this sense, Marsden is building on the works of Ernst Sandeen, George W. Dollar, and C. Allyn Russell, who rejected social explanations of fundamentalism in favor of examining the movement as an important element of American religious and cultural history. While Marsden agrees with Sandeen’s conclusions that dispensational premillennialism and conservative Princeton theology were the precursors to fundamentalist ideology, he also emphasizes the influence of nineteenth-century revivalism, the holiness movement, “Scottish Common Sense Realism,” Calvinism, and the ideas of the seventeenth century philosopher, Francis Bacon. His analysis of these early influences led Marsden to define the fundamentalism which emerged after World War I as “militantly anti-modernist Protestant evangelicalism.”
By examining the lives and works of many individuals within the early fundamentalist movement, Marsden seamlessly weaves this intellectual history of fundamentalism with a social history of American culture. Marsden underscores the contributions of Henry Ward Beecher, Charles Blanchard, Dwight L. Moody, Arthur T. Pierson, and Nathaniel West, among others, in order to personalize the various intellectual influences of the movement. This methodology works well for Marsden’s book, for it allows his overall argument to flow so smoothly that even readers with no academic background would be able to digest the complex theological and intellectual characteristics of the fundamentalist movement.
Marsden’s analysis of the role of fundamentalism in American culture not only distinguishes this book from previous scholarly attempts to define and historicize the movement, but it also reveals the periodization of the book. As Marsden explains, this particular Protestant response to modernity is almost uniquely American. Although Marsden points to social, intellectual, and religious-cultural explanations, he holds to the contention that fundamentalism should be understood as a “sub-species of American revivalism.” This may be a flaw of the book, since it limits the scope and influence of the fundamentalist movement to America. However, this is likely due to the timing of the publication. Marsden’s book was first published in 1980, at the beginning of resurgence in American fundamentalism. Since then, similar religious movements (in particular, the rise and spread of Pentecostalism, which Marsden acknowledges as a close cousin of fundamentalism) have risen in other parts of the world which now merit scholarly attention. In particular, the militant, anti-modern aspect of fundamentalism remains to be fully evaluated in the light of 21st century events. Marsden’s analysis nonetheless provides the foundation for future research in the study of fundamentalism in other contexts.
By placing fundamentalism within a broader American historical context, Marsden is able to illuminate the background of contemporary American evangelicals “whose common identity is substantially grounded in the fundamentalist experience of an earlier era.” Not only has Marsden rectified the relative lack of scholarship on an aspect of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century American religious movement, he has also illuminated the cultural, intellectual, and theological roots of contemporary fundamentalism within American culture.