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On Fundamentalism Past: A Progress Report

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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.

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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.

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from A Litany
John Donne (1572-1631)

XXI.

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.

XXII.

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.

Kevin T. Bauder

About Kevin Bauder

Kevin T. Bauder is 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 this post expresses.

6 Responses to On Fundamentalism Past: A Progress Report

  1. I researched baptist church history in our area of southwestern PA for Flatwoods Baptist Church's 175 anniversary. I became very curious about how the growing liberalism among Northern Baptists affected small church politics. Acrimonious battles are not the stuff for celebratory programs, but make very interesting reading and perhaps are more significant than people realize.

    The church was started after Campbell's preaching (here in our little Franklin township!) split the Baptists. Much later, around 1920, Flatwoods Church saw the deacons and pastor pitted against each other in a nasty civil trial. It appeared to be just a power struggle, but there may be doctrinal as well as personal battles involved, The pastor wanted to build the ecumenical mission program and the denomination. The deacons were not so inclined. They may have just been tightwads, but they declared their loyalty to the New Hampshire Baptist Confession and the "old ways" as their justification. Shenanigans abounded, including dishonest voting led by the pastor and Klu Klux Klan intimidation by deacons. There was a church split with both sides claiming the building. Bitterness reigned in the community. Both sides were admonished by the judge to behave like Christians and settle their disagreements according to the Bible.

    As far I can tell, there was never any public repentance. The church finally left the American Baptists in the 1950s. That move again brought controversy. At the time of the anniversary I would have liked to see a confession, "We and our fathers have sinned." Bitterness still rules our area and the work of Christ is not as important as family politics. I am glad the church is independent from the denomination, but I think the HOW of the process matters.

    One clue I would like to follow: Phillip Dennis, a young preacher called from Flatwoods Baptist Church, was the pastor in Butler who preceded Pastor Ketcham. While at Butler, Ketcham led the church out of the Northern Baptists.The Dennis family here joined with the deacons group. I wonder if they were influenced by doctrinal concerns? Their brother disappeared from my research radar after he was pastor in Butler. I have wondered how the controversy among the Northern Baptist affected him.

    Willing to email or chat by phone with those interested in this research. It is not of national import, but may be a microcosm of how these issues played out in people's lives.

    God bless your writing project.

  2. If you're end date is 1979, make sure you include B.M. Cedarholm and company (the FBFI). They tend to get lost in GARBC-centric histories.

  3. Robert,

    While the history will be published by Regular Baptist Press, our intention is to cover the whole gamut of Northern Baptist fundamentalism. In fact, the project got started as a history of the Conservative Baptist movement, written by Delnay. He lived through most of CB history and knows something about it. So yes, the FBF will show up in it, as will the NTAIBC. So will the FBFA, providing I can find enough documentation to tell the story well. So will Baptist fundamentalism's most famous female evangelist, Amy Lee Stockton. Lots of fun stuff.

    Kevin

  4. Sounds like a book worth buying. I'll be an interested customer when it comes out. I'm currently reading Marsden's Fundamentalism and American Culture. He is covering the story from a unique viewpoint in that book, looking more at the ideas than the men and events, I think.

    Maranatha!

    Don Johnson

    Jer 33.3

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