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Reforming Fundamentalism

April 19, 2010

Institutional histories are strange beasts.  To the outsider, they can seem incredibly irrelevant.  However, if one desires to understand history, the truth is the exact opposite.

I am often asked what books are important to read if one desires to understand particular eras of church history.  When it comes to American church history since 1850, the first book I recommend is Fundamentalism and American Culture by George Marsden.  The second book I recommend is Reforming Fundamentalism, also by Marsden.

Reforming Fundamentalism is the history of Fuller Theological Seminary.  In summarizing the key themes of the book, I would suggest that in Fuller Theological Seminary we see an example of what happens as the control of institutions not bound by denominations or tradition pass on from one generation to the next.  In the case of Fuller, the “new light” of one generation was superseded by the “new light” of the second generation, as the second generation was not bound by the battles of the first generation.  With Fuller, the new evangelicals saw separatism and anti-intellectualism as the extremes of the fundamentalists and fought to rid the movement of these extremes.  The second generation, the progressive evangelicals, saw inerrancy as the extreme of the new evangelicals and fought to rid the movement of this extreme.

Many things are significant in this.  First, we see how the first generation of evangelicals responded to the perceived errors of the fundamentalists.  Second, we see how the second generation of evangelicals responded to the perceived errors of the evangelicals.  Third, all of this highlights the fundamental weakness with evangelicalism in general: the lack of confessional oversight.

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