In one of his books, Jack Hyles identified three varieties of fundamentalism. One was interdenominational fundamentalism, represented in his day by such institutions as the International Council of Christian Churches. The second was Northern Baptist fundamentalism, represented primarily by the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches and the groups that came out of the Conservative Baptist hard core. The third was Southern Baptist fundamentalism, represented largely by the heritage of the World Baptist Fellowship, the Bible Baptist Fellowship, and the Southwide Baptist Fellowship (the so-called “Independent Fundamental Baptist” movement). Of course, he identified himself with the last variety, even though he spent most of his ministry in a northern church. He actually led First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana, out of one variety of fundamentalism and into another.
Wrong as he may have been on many issues, Hyles was on to something in his taxonomy of fundamentalism. The three versions differ in many ways. They preach differently. They see Christian life and church leadership differently. They value education differently. They view the church differently. They practice separation differently. They have different heroes and different histories. In spite of their frequent overlap and interaction, all three versions remain identifiable to the present day.
Thanks to the interest of Regular Baptist Press and the cooperation of Robert Delnay, my special project these days is Northern Baptist fundamentalism. Delnay published the history of the Baptist Bible Union and has written up the history of the Conservative Baptist Movement. Years ago, I wrote several thesis-length studies in fundamentalist history, including a biography of Oliver Van Osdel, a history of the founding of the GARBC, and a history of the conflict between Carl McIntire and the American Council of Christian Churches. Now Delnay and I have contracted with Regular Baptist Press to produce a history of Baptist fundamentalism in the North.
The story will begin with the rise of liberalism among Northern Baptists after the end of the Civil War. It will end in 1979, just before fundamentalism exploded into conflict over the Moral Majority, Baptist Fundamentalism ’84, and the rise of what was sometimes labeled “pseudo-fundamentalism” or “new image fundamentalism.” Of course, opinions differ as to whether this version of fundamentalism (represented most clearly by Jerry Falwell and Jack Van Impe) had anything new or pseudo about it. We intend to end our story at a point before that question needs to be answered. Perhaps a future volume can trace the history of fundamentalism from 1980 onward.
Thus far, several fundamentalist organizations have been remarkably helpful in providing documentation. The GARBC has granted very generous access to its archives. The president of the New Testament Association of Independent Baptist Churches has gone out of his way to help with documentation on his organization. This kind of assistance is really irreplaceable.
We are also relying upon the work of several fundamentalist scholars who have produced excellent dissertations in fundamentalist history. For example, George Houghton’s dissertation on A. J. Gordon is a gem. Jerry Priest did his dissertation on A. C. Dixon, publishing some of his findings in the Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal. One work that stands out is Jeff Straub’s dissertation, The Making of a Battle Royal. Straub traces the steps by which liberalism arose among Northern Baptists, eventually gaining complete control of the denomination through the founding of the Northern Baptist Convention. His is a first-rate piece of original research, and he tells a story that badly needs to be told. Somebody really needs to publish Straub’s dissertation.
Fundamentalism emerged as a self-aware movement in 1920, but the preceding half-century is also important to its history. The fundamentalist reaction of the 1920s seems perplexing and perhaps overstated until one understands how liberalism insinuated itself into Baptist life, and how it eventually managed to control all of the most important structures that the Northern Baptists had erected. Understanding the fundamentalist reaction of the 1920s also requires a grasp of the responses that orthodox Baptists had attempted during the previous fifty years.
In fact, one cannot understand how Baptists, and later Baptist fundamentalists, reacted to liberalism without understanding a good bit about liberalism itself. Most of what is now taught about liberalism is terribly shallow. Though in retrospect their beliefs seem naïve, the liberals were educated men (theology was still a man’s game) and sophisticated thinkers. The earlier liberals in particular were often humble churchmen who were willing to accept thankless tasks, gentle teachers who inspired their students, selfless humanitarians who spent themselves for the wellbeing of their fellow humans, and seemingly-devout pietists who were genuinely interested in living out what they thought to be the spirit of Jesus. This combination of virtues was just what allowed them to insinuate themselves so completely into Baptist life, eventually opening the door for the more obnoxious and outspoken modernists. Incidentally, their success should stand as a warning to contemporary fundamentalists and other evangelicals who might be inclined to evaluate leaders only on the basis of similar criteria, to the detriment of doctrinal fidelity.
Few saw liberalism for what it was, and fewer were in a position to do something about it. Some opposition came from within the denomination. More came from the Bible conference movement. These two influences combined in Adoniram Judson Gordon, then later in Oliver Willis Van Osdel, Amzi Clarence Dixon, and William Bell Riley. These leaders represent a line of continuity from the Baptist orthodoxy of the 19th century into the fundamentalism of the 20th century. All four made significant contributions to the movement that became fundamentalism.
You don’t know who you are if you don’t know where you’re going. You don’t know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve come from. We learn who we are by locating ourselves within a story. Too often fundamentalism has been plagued by a selective amnesia about its own past, with the consequence that many fundamentalists no longer have any clear sense of who they are. The time has come for a retelling of the story of Baptist fundamentalism, including some parts that have never been told. This project will be a beginning.
This essay is by Kevin T. Bauder, Research Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology at Central Baptist Theological Seminary. Not every one of the professors, students, or alumni of Central Seminary necessarily agrees with every opinion that it expresses.
from A Litany
John Donne (1572-1631)
When senses, which Thy soldiers are,
We arm against Thee, and they fight for sin;
When want, sent but to tame, doth war,
And work despair a breach to enter in;
When plenty, God’s image, and seal,
Makes us idolatrous,
And love it, not him, whom it should reveal;
When we are moved to seem religious
Only to vent wit; Lord, deliver us.
In churches, when th’ infirmity
Of him which speaks, diminishes the word;
When magistrates do misapply
To us, as we judge, lay or ghostly sword;
When plague, which is Thine angel, reigns,
Or wars, Thy champions, sway;
When heresy, Thy second deluge, gains;
In th’ hour of death, th’ eve of last Judgment day;
Deliver us from the sinister way.