Book Review: Fundamentalism and American Culture by George Marsden

Fundamentalism and American Culture by George Marsden

by Brad Anderson

[amazonify]0195300475[/amazonify]In case you haven’t noticed, there are competing strains of theological conviction within fundamentalism. There are traces of Billy Sunday-style tent revivalism, higher/deeper life pietism, Calvinism, Arminianism, Puritanism, and mysticism, to name a few. Why are such divergent views reflected within fundamentalism? To find out, read George Marsden’s book Fundamentalism and American Culture (Oxford, 1980). Although written nearly twenty years ago, the book cogently answers such questions.

Marsden starts all the way back in 1870 to get at the roots of the fundamentalist movement. Fundamentalism was the result of theological conservatives from various backgrounds coming together to contend for the faith. He traces the movement as it battles Darwinism, higher criticism, philosophy, and liberalism.

One of the many strengths of the book is the perceptive descriptions of early fundamentalist leaders, such as Moody, Riley, Torrey and others. It’s also interesting to see how writers like Darby, Scofield, and even Francis Bacon influenced the movement. Also fascinating is what Marsden calls “The Great Reversal” (85f), explaining how fundamentalists changed from active engagement in civic reform to disengagement.

The primary benefit of this book is that it helped answer the question, “Who was the true fundamentalist? I or the guy whose views are hostile to mine?” Marsden points out that fundamentalism has historically embraced a variety of theological tenets. As he suggests, “Fundamentalism was a mosaic of divergent and sometimes contradictory traditions and tendencies that could never be totally integrated” (43). Fragmentation has been the norm historically. Everyone from Reformed/Calvinist traditions to Keswick deeper life advocates, from Warfield to Moody to Billy Sunday, have been represented within the fundamentalist fold. What bound them together was their common enemy: liberalism. Those who read Marsden (and other histories of fundamentalism) will better understand the current state of fundamentalism and can come to their own conclusions regarding the future of the movement.

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