When I was a teenager, the most visible fundamentalists in America were Carl McIntire and Lester Roloff. McIntire was feuding with the American Council of Christian Churches, the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches, several leaders within his own Bible Presbyterian Synod, and the federal government of the United States—virtually simultaneously. Lester Roloff was feuding with the state of Texas. I can remember him sending life-size cardboard cutout pictures of himself to our church in Iowa. He was trying hard to get enough public support to force the Texas regulators to back away from his ministry. The impression that I had of fundamentalist leaders was that they were hard-bitten, bellicose, and arrogant.
This impression had been reinforced through the years by the traveling preachers to whom I had been exposed. These men usually called themselves evangelists, but they were essentially hired guns whose job was to inflame the fears and the sense of shame of the faithful. They could be very personable, laughing and joking one moment, but then the next moment they would be screaming at you because the Communists were going to take over the United States before 1972 unless you went to the altar RIGHT NOW.
I would never have dreamed of criticizing any of these men. Were they not paragons of spiritual insight? Were they not models of Christian virtue? Who was I to call them into account?
Because of their influence, however, I was quite sure that I did not want to be a fundamentalist. Even after experiencing a call to vocational ministry and returning to a fundamentalist Bible college for training, I remained unpersuaded of the value of fundamentalism. During my early years as a college student, it seemed to me that the main activity of fundamentalism was to manufacture unreasonable ways of regulating personal conduct.
This was my frame of mind when I found myself in George Houghton’s summer module on the history of fundamentalism. I had signed up for the course only because nothing else was available to fill the hours. Within a week, Houghton completely reoriented my thinking. read more