Monday, May 10, 2010

Fundamentalist Crisis

I delivered my paper at the AAR this past weekend. I was looking at the early 20th century Fundamentalist movement as a self-exile. In the process I've been listening to Randall Balmer, who is an Episcopal historian. He has a very interesting take on the history of evangelicalism in the US. The more I read the more I see how serious an undertaking Fundamentalism was - and the more I see why it is so hard for us to climb out of its shadow. That's the analogy that fits - Fundamentalism was a dark shadow, we welcomed because we thought it solved our immediate problem, but like any dark shadow we realized too late it was sapping our life. I feel like we've been trying to crawl out from under this shadow since the 60s (if not from earlier).

But the other side is that this particular shadow is attractive. In a "the devil you know" sort of way. That is why we got there in the first place. It was not a naive, anti-intellectual movement in the beginning. It was calculated and meant to address a host of anxiety creating problems for evangelicals. Not the least of which were the move towards social sciences and the traction of the social gospel. The Fundamentalist provided an inner logic that seemed to hold up, at least for a while. Shift happened in the mid-20s, but by then the Fundamentalist movement had given itself over to dispensationalism and uncritical literalism. Those two things are a plight still in evangelical culture.

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