Full Text for Church History 3 - Volume 41 - Fundamentalism (Video)

ROUGHLY EDITED COPY CH3-041 PROFESSOR LAWRENCE RAST PROFESSOR WILL SCHUMACHER Captioning Provided By: Caption First, Inc. P.O. Box 1924 Lombard, IL 60148 800-825-5234 ***** This text is being provided in a rough draft format. Communications Access Realtime Translation (CART) is provided in order to facilitate communication accessibility and may not be a totally verbatim record of the proceedings. ***** >> DAVID: Today we hear a lot about fundamentalism. What is fundamentalism? How did it develop, and who are the leaders of the movement? Are Lutherans fundamentalists? I was actually asked this question during a Bible study I was leading a couple of nights ago. And I was surprised by my hesitancy in answering. I'm particularly confused regarding fundamentalism as it might be defined theologically and as it might be defined politically. If you could help me answer this question in the future, I'd appreciate it. >> SPEAKER: Well, David, thanks for the question. You're taking us into some pretty deep waters for several reasons. For one thing, I completely understand your ambivalence about how to answer the question: are Lutherans fundamentalists. We'll need to talk about that a little bit. There's been actually some debate about that even today. The other aspect of your question that comes up at the end, if I'm not mistaken, is the implications in political jargon for talking about fundamentalism because nowadays, it�s current to talk about Islamic fundamentalism and various kind of fundamentalisms in the world that are usually associated with some kind of political activism or sometimes even political violence. That's clearly not what we're talking about when we talk about fundamentalism as a movement in Christian religious history in America. Let me sketch out for you a little bit of the background of this term fundamentalism and the movement of fundamentalism in American religious history. In the late 19th century, several things began to change the way some Christians looked at their faith and looked at the scriptures. A new approach to the Bible began to develop in academic circles, especially in Germany, but it was soon imported to America in theological seminaries and so forth, and universities, that looked at the Bible more as just another human document and said that it was taking a more scientific view of the Bible and that one of the assumptions of such a scientific view, a so-called scientific view, was that it excluded elements of the supernatural, and it would not regard the Bible in any way as divine or inspired, but rather began to analyze biblical documents as they would any other ancient literature. This approach to the scriptures was touted as a modern and scientific way to read the Bible and was seen to be more in harmony with modern ideas of scientific progress. Among other things, this so-called modern scientific approach allowed Christians to harmonize their understanding with the current scientific view of the world. Remember, about the middle of the 19th century, Charles Darwin had published his, "Origin of the Species" which sent shock waves through the world in how we understand ourselves and the origins of human beings, not as creatures of God, but rather as animals that had evolved from other species, lower species of animals. Darwin's ideas were, of course, picked up by the biological scientific community and developed in various ways. But in an effort to accommodate the views of Christianity to the so-called scientific view of life, an effort was made to reinterpret the Bible according to a modern or scientific understanding. Now, this of course, was at odds with many of the primary tenants that not only Lutheran churches taught but that Christian churches had traditionally taught in all confessions. This wasn't a Lutheran issue primarily; although some of the German scholars were associated with Lutheran churches. In Germany at least, Lutheran churches were a place where these ideas took root very early. In reaction against this encroachment of the modern so-called scientific ideas in theology, a movement arose in America that emphasized the divine authority of the Bible and the theological integrity of the bible. This movement was labeled with the term fundamentalism because it stressed the biblical authority as the fundamental doctrine of Christianity. This had many popular proponents. The great revival preacher Billy Sunday was perhaps the most well-known popular preacher of this. But it also had an intellectual side to this movement. The most important theologian in the movement we call fundamentalism in the early 20th-century was J. Gresham Machen. Machen was a Presbyterian professor at Princeton Theological Seminary. And because of his dispute with the so-called modern theology, he wound up splitting off from Princeton seminary and starting a new conservative Presbyterian seminary, that is, Westminster Theological Seminary in 1929. Machen was an articulate opponent of this so-called scientific approach. I think it's worthwhile letting him speak for himself by reading a short section of one of his writings from the debate between modernism and fundamentalism. This is from a writing called, "Christianity and Liberalism." Actually, it would probably be more accurate to call it Christianity or liberalism because of the way Machen accents the differences. "Two lines of criticism," he says, "are possible with respect to the liberal attempt at reconciling science and Christianity. Modern liberalism may be criticized: One, on the ground that it is unchristian; and two, on the ground that it is unscientific. We shall concern ourselves here chiefly with the former line of criticism. We shall be interested in showing that despite the liberal use of traditional phraseology, modern liberalism not only is a different religion from Christianity," a rather startling claim, "but belongs in a totally different class of religions. But in showing that the Liberal attempt at rescuing Christianity is false, we're not showing that there is no way of rescuing Christianity at all. On the contrary, it may appear incidentally, even in the present little book, that it is not the Christianity of the New Testament which is in conflict with science, but the supposed Christianity of the modern liberal church. And that the real city of God, and that city alone, has defenses which are capable of warding off the assaults of modern unbelief. However, our immediate concern is with the other side of the problem. Our principal concern just now is to show that the liberal attempt at reconciling Christianity with modern science has really relinquished everything distinctive of Christianity so that what remains is in essentials only that same indefinite type of religious aspiration which was in the world before Christianity came on the scene." I think there's no mistaking where J. Gresham Machen comes out of the debate between modernism and a more traditional view of Christianity in which the authority of the Bible is emphasized, New Testament Christianity. Machen is saying this in the 1920's. And just shortly before this, this debate between science and biblical Christianity had become a very popular topic. You may have heard of the Scopes monkey trial which occurred in 1925 in which a high school science teacher was put on trial for teaching evolution in schools. And this gained a tremendous amount of national media attention. This was the lead story in many, many newspapers and was the occasion for this sometimes very acrid debate between biblical religion, biblical Christianity on the one side, and of modern science on the other was sort of articulated in the sharpest possible terms. This is where Clarence Darrow faced off against William Jennings Bryan. This has been captured in plays and film as a crucial moment in American life in general, not just in theological life. There still are echoes of this creation evolution debate that go on. And most of the time, the proponents of a creationist view, especially those who want that to be advocated in schools, a great many of those identify themselves theologically as fundamentalists. At the time, Lutherans, of course, were asking the same question that you posed in your question. And that is: Are Lutherans of fundamentalists. In the Missouri Synod, the theological leaders of the synod were able to answer and say, we are good Lutheran fundamentalists because if the question was: Do you accept the authority of Scriptures as God's own word or not, or do you regard the Scriptures, on the other hand, as a human book subject to our own scientific investigations, then the Missouri Synod sided clearly with those who had a higher respect for the authority of Scripture and saw the Scriptures as God's own word. So in one way, Lutherans in the Missouri Synod answer this question with a clear yes. Not all Lutherans answer this question the same way. There are Lutherans who reject entirely the label of fundamentalism. There's a whole school of Lutheranism, a whole stream of Lutheranism in America, which is much more comfortable with this modernist, liberal approach to the Bible that was opposed so strenuously by Machen and by the leaders of the Missouri Synod. The modernist fundamentalist debate draws the lines not as traditionally found between confessions. This is not a question where Lutherans are on one side, and Presbyterians are on the other, for instance. The modernist fundamentalist debate draws a line right across all denominations. And virtually every confession and denomination in American Christianity has faced the same debate which centers around the approach to the scriptures and the authority of the Scriptures as God's word. That being said, it's not quite enough to identify Lutherans simply as part of the fundamentalist camp. And that is because since the time of the Reformation, the Lutheran respect for the authority of the Scripture has been joined with an equal emphasis on the doctrine of justification by grace through faith for Christ's sake as the center and heart of theology. Another way of saying that is that if you would ask someone who readily identifies himself as a fundamentalist, what is the center of your theology. They might answer: The center of my theology is the Bible. If you ask a Lutheran theologian that question, they might include words about biblical authority and inspiration in their answer. But the center of their theology is the gospel, that is the doctrine of God's salvation, the justification of sinners by God's grace through faith alone. That is the center of theology; and biblical theology supports that but doesn't replace it. We don't believe the gospel simply because it's in the Bible. Historically, Lutherans have had this understanding at the center of their theology, and that's why Lutherans are not always comfortable wearing the label fundamentalist because it seems to imply that the center of our theology is the Bible itself, rather than the gospel. To convert someone to Christianity, you don't first have to convince them that the Bible is true. What you have to do is present them with the gospel and make sure they hear the good news of Christ. So there is some ambiguity, and I appreciate your hesitancy about how to answer the question: are Lutherans fundamentalist. A good way to answer a question like that might be as one of my own teachers has taught me, and that is to say, why do you want to know. If it's a question about do you accept biblical authority, then Lutherans, especially Lutherans in the Missouri Synod can answer with an unhesitating yes. If it�s a question about is the infallibility of the Bible the center of your theology, then I think Lutherans would have to say not exactly. Jesus Christ is the center of our theology. So there are some differences between a Lutheran understanding of scripture and a fundamentalist understanding. That's maybe more answer than you were looking for when you asked the question, but I wanted to return briefly at least to just one other aspect and that is the way this term fundamentalism gets thrown about today. It's very common in contemporary affairs to hear in the news, even, about fundamentalist Islam or Muslim fundamentalism or Hindu fundamentalism. And by that, I have to point out that that usage of the term fundamentalism is really kind of a misnomer. Fundamentalism, as a theological movement, developed in a specific context of American Christianity, not in Islam or Hinduism. There are activist extraordinarily conservative movements, sometimes even associated with violent action, associated with other religions. And those are labeled fundamentalist, but that's a kind of an imprecise term. That kind of fundamentalism has very little to do with anybody like the early leaders of the Missouri Synod or J. Gresham Machen. The contemporary popular usage of the term fundamentalism is more of a pejorative term and a way of dismissing a particular stance as religious fanaticism, especially religious fanaticism that leads to violence. And if that's what people mean by fundamentalism, then I think Lutherans can pretty confidently disown the term and deny that we are fundamentalists in that sense at all. So the term itself encompasses a broad range of meanings and is today used in an imprecise way. If somebody asks you: Are Lutherans fundamentalists, you may want to probe further what they mean by the question. ***** This text is being provided in a rough draft format. Communications Access Realtime Translation (CART) is provided in order to facilitate communication accessibility and may not be a totally verbatim record of the proceedings. *****