Comments on “Fundamentalism and American Culture”

Sorry for the long overdue responses to your comments. I originally intended this to be a comment for my earlier review of George Marsden’s book on fundamentalism. My response has grown to such a length that I thought it would be better to post it as it’s own blog post.

Marsden does comment on how some fundamentalists adopted more liberal practices than others. He doesn’t really elaborate or add much to this area though. He does discuss it some in his book Reforming Fundamentalism. I highly recommend both books as they provide many valuable insights into the history of fundamentalism and “new” evangelicalism.

In regard to Baptist and Presbyterian intellectual pursuits, Marsden does have a section where he discusses the impact of Presbyterian intellectualism. I would say that the transition to Baptist leadership in fundamentalism has harmed (at least until recently) the intellectual force and productivity of fundamentalism. Historically Presbyterians have placed a greater emphasis on having an educated clergy. Even today denominations such as the OPC and PCA require their ministerial candidates to have an advanced seminary degree (I believe they still require an M.Div.). Baptists have traditionally had fewer educational requirements for their ministers. Over time this has meant that Presbyterians have had to produce more scholars to train the next generation of ministers. Corollary to that, they have not grown as large or as quickly as the Baptists because fewer men these days are willing to take the time to pursue advanced seminary degrees.

The idea that the ties between the Methodists and Baptists could influence them toward anti-intellectualism has merit. There has been a serious drought of serious fundamentalist scholarship regardless of denomination in the last few years. Many are trying to change this, but most of the definitive conservative works are still being written by conservative evangelicals.

There are two books that I would recommend to those interested in pursuing the topic of intellectualism and fundamentalism. The first is Theology in America by E. Brooks Holifield. I just finished reading it this summer and he traces Christian intellectual history from Colonial America to the Antebellum Era. While his work covers a time period before the fundamentalist era, he does an excellent job of discussing all of the major Christian intellectual movements. Besides the sheer breadth of his work, he spends a good portion of the book discussing the tension between learning and piety in American church history. I would recommend this book to any serious student of American Christianity and fundamentalism/evangelicalism. The other book is The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind by Mark Noll. Noll is a leading evangelical intellectual and teaches at Wheaton College. He criticizes fundamentalism and promotes the acceptance of evolution by evangelicals. Despite these and other areas where I disagree with him, Noll does offer some insightful comments about conservative Christianity and intellectual pursuits. While I don’t necessarily wholly endorse it, his defense of Christian intellectualism is stirring and quite persuasive.

I hope you find this useful and not too off topic. As always, please share any questions or comments.

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