Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Presbyterian Controversy / "Fundamentalism"

On "Fundamentalism", from The Presbyterian Controversy

Between 1910 and 1915 conservatives of various shades joined forces to publish a series of twelve volumes entitled The Fundamentals:  A Testimony to the Truth.  Financed by California oil magnates Lyman and Milton Stewart, the works contained a series of essays by British, Canadian  and American theologians on such issues as scriptural authority, sin, salvation, the virgin birth, missions, and sabbatarianism.  Approximately three million volumes were distributed to "every pastor, missionary, theological professor, theological student, YMCA and YWCA secretary, college professor, Sunday school superintendent, and religious editor in the English -speaking world."  These works were more important for their symbolic value than for their contributions to theology:  as historian George Marsden has argued, when the term  fundamentalist  was coined in 1920, "it called to mind the broad, united front of the kind of opposition to modernism that characterized these widely know, if little studied, volumes."  In contradistinction to post-World War I fundamentalism  however, the majority of the articles in The Fundamentals manifested a nonbelligerent tone.  In the midst of postwar polarization many moderates who wrote article for The Fundamentals, like Presbyterians Charles Erdman and Robert Speer, would find their position almost impossible to maintain.  (p.21) 

At Amazon.com we can see that the Fundamentals are still available, here.  Somehow, nothing is moving me to rush out and get a set, though I might some day see if the library has them.

As I said, in our growing up, the conflict was framed such that we were always waiting on tenterhooks to see what a pastor would preach on Easter and other holy days, to see if it resembled anything in the Biblical witness.  Being good, little citizens and church-goers we put up with the state employed, pampered official pastor, but taught ourselves other things in the homes and other Bible studies.  My confirmation classes were under such a liberal pastor and I can honestly say that the time spent was completely useless.  I still have my notes from such times.  There were discussions about spending money, such as, if we did not spend money on church buildings and maintaining congregations what could we all spend the money on and how would it be best spent.  We formed groups and debated this.   Then I remember there being something on Mother Courage by Berthold Brecht.  It is not really surprising that the state church is suffering much decline in Europe.

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