Monday, December 23, 2013

Evangelical Authority on the Edges 3

I've been reviewing Molly Worthen's, Apostles of Reason: The Crisis of Authority in American Evangelicalism.

Chapter 1 (Birth of Neo-Evangelicalism)

Now on to Chapter 2: "The Authority Problem"...

Once again, I found it a little hard to process this chapter in my current categories. I've tried to capture what this chapter is about by thinking of neo-evangelicalism "at its edges." My working narrative goes something like the following.

The 1920s saw a fairly strong reaction to several challenges of the day (e.g., evolution, German higher criticism) among a group of mostly mainline scholars. They wrote The Fundamentals. Many of them felt pushed out of their churches and ended up leaving to form new churches and institutions. Most were Presbyterian/Reformed. The most famous incident is when J. Gresham Machen and others left Princeton Seminary to form Westminster Theological Seminary.

By the 1940s, some of these "fundamentalists" were ready to strike back and try to reclaim "the faith" in the public sphere. Harold Ockenga facilitated the start of the NAE, the National Association of Evangelicals in 1942. The goal was to bring together and unite America's conservative Protestants, to form an ecumenical evangelicalism. In the post-war era, when individuals like C. F. H. Henry and Harold Lindsell got involved, it would become "zealous" as befit the Cold War era of McCarthyism.

1. Chapter 2 begins by noting that Pentecostals were invited to the formational meeting of the NAE and that, immediately, a Presbyterian minister questioned whether they belonged there. Some things never change. Again, I found Worthen confused (maybe I am) because she glides back and forth between using the the word "fundamentalist" in the way I do above and "fundamentalist" in reference to groups like the Nazarenes who had been around before The Fundamentals and were not formed as a reaction to modernism.

So the Mennonites refused Ockenga's invitation and the Nazarenes did not join the NAE until the 80s. Southern Baptists considered words like "fundamentalist" and "evangelical" to be Yankee words. Worthen spends much of this chapter talking about the "other evangelicals" who were more or less on the periphery of the movement.

So she talks a bit about H. Orton Wiley and the Nazarenes. Again, I found this section pushing me toward Nazarene sources because the word fundamentalism seemed to refer to two different things--inerrancy on the one hand and cultural separatism on the other. Did Wiley resist both? Apparently so, but they are two quite different things. To hear Nazarenes talk about Wiley, he was wary of Calvinist inerrancy, wanting instead to focus on the centrality of Christ.

Worthen also talks about the Mennonites in this chapter and Harold Bender. His struggle, however, was to help Mennonites maintain their pacifist beliefs at a time when WW2 pushed strongly against them. Again, throughout this section I found the blurred confusion of what a fundamentalist was. Is a fundamentalist a holiness, Pentecostal, dispensational type who isolates him/herself from the world for purity reasons? Or is a fundamentalist someone who separated from a mainline denomination over issues like German higher criticism.

Thus the Marsden/Noll hangover continues...

2. The next section comes to the founding of Fuller Seminary. Fuller was apparently to be the golden child of the new evangelicalism. It was founded by evangelist Charles Fuller but staffed by the founders of the new evangelicalism--Henry, Lindsell, Wilbur Smith of Moody.  "Almost to a man, the founders of Fuller Theological Seminary were J. Gresham Machen's students or admirers" (47).

The story of Fuller is fascinating. John Carnell, second president of Fuller, got into big trouble for writing a book called The Case for Orthodoxy. I hit pay dirt here that I hope to revisit on how a key player in the 1950s saw these religio-social struggles of the day. I will probably post an excerpt on fundamentalism from that book later today.

Carnell was forced out as president for pushing orthodoxy over what he called a fundamentalist mindset. Carnell's book decries the idealism of fundamentalism that "would not even buy groceries from a modernist" (Orthodoxy, 114).

Ultimately, Henry, Lindsell, and friends would lose at Fuller. Fuller would favor a big tent evangelicalism over the separatism that would become the standard fair of the Evangelical Theological Society, founded in 1949. "Some members, like Harold Lindsell, made it their business to smoke out anyone who blinked at the mention of inerrancy" (52). What exactly did the word even mean? Fuller in the end would choose not to use it in its faith statement.

3. Although I am finding Worthen's book a bit muddled, it is serving as an excellent jumping off point into the primary sources, many of which are available online. Carnell's book looks to be a treasure trove and I have ordered it off of Amazon. Right now it seems to me that American Christianity in the 1950s was a mixture of:
  • mainliners, "liberals" 
  • traditional sects like Wesleyans, Pentecostals, Baptists, Mennonites
  • new evangelicals on the rise
But these new evangelicals were of two sorts.  Some were the inclusionists. These were people like Billy Graham, Harold Ockenga, and Charles Fuller. They wanted a big tent of conservative Protestants and were charitable toward other groups.

But there was also the Henry, Lindsell faction who were more ideological purists. They would push inerrancy as the binding principle and would be oriented more toward exclusion of those who didn't agree. They would prevail in the Evangelical Theological Society.

That's how it's looking to me at the end of chapter 2.


Susan Moore said...

Your posed question, “Is a fundamentalist a holiness, Pentecostal, dispensational type who isolates him/herself from the world for purity reasons?” reminded me of a time soon after I was healed when I reconciled with my parents and moved into their condo to care for their aging souls. Months later my mom used the name of God in vain, and I bolted. I was sure a lightning bolt would strike her dead, and me as well because of my proximity to her. I bolted away from her to show Him that I was separate from her and did not follow her principles.
But I have since learned that God has perfect aim. And He hears our thoughts and knows the contents of our hearts. That means we can be in the thick of the mess, as Jesus was, and remain pure. He never condemns us. Our purity is internal and comes from Him; it does not come from any act of human will. When we become saved by grace through faith and indwelled with the Spirit we become His; and we are thus, by definition, automatically separated from those who are not His and become aliens in their world.
I found that the problem with following a theology that separated me from others for purity reasons, is that I ended up violating His first and second commandment, “Love God above all else…Love your neighbor as yourself.”
When I followed my purity theology I ended up playing into Satan’s giggling hands by becoming cynical and oppressive of others, instead of praying for them and serving them and loving them by grace through faith; as Jesus prayed for, serves and loves me.

Ken Schenck said...

So glad to hear how God has and continues to work in u our life.

Susan Moore said...

Me too!!

John Mark said...

I think I will have to print your review in its entirety and keep it with my copy of the book :)