The connection between Fundamentalism and premillennialism has become a commonplace of Fundamentalist historiography. Ernest R. Sandeen’s book, The Roots of Fundamentalism, is sub-titled British and American Millenarianism, 1800-1930. Timothy P. Weber writes extensively about the relationship between Fundamentalism and premillennial eschatology in Living in the Shadow of the Second Coming. To suggest that premillennialism has strongly influenced Fundamentalism is nothing new.1
To suggest that Fundamentalism and premillennialism were one and the same, however, is far too simplistic. T. T. Shields, pastor of Jarvis Street Baptist Church in Toronto, was one of the most visible Fundamentalists of his day, but his eschatology was strongly amillennial and anti-dispensational. The most prominent of the Presbyterian Fundamentalists was J. Gresham Machen. While Machen argued for a form of “eschatological liberty” that would permit premillennial views in his Presbyterian Church of America, he himself rejected premillennialism and emphatically opposed dispensationalism.
Shields and Machen were widely acknowledged as leaders by their Fundamentalist contemporaries. Even a rather populist Baptist such as David Otis Fuller could look to Machen as a model, as his correspondence reveals. If premillennialism is a sine qua non of Fundamentalism, it becomes difficult to explain the prominence of these leaders.
Nevertheless, premillennialism was such a powerful influence among Fundamentalists that the two can be difficult to disentangle. Granting that some within Fundamentalism did not accept premillennial eschatology, the fact remains that even they were forced to respond to premillennialism. Harry Hamilton, first president of the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches, once complained of Shields’s tendency to “rave against the Scofield Bible.” Machen saw his fledgling church run into deep controversy over the issue of premillennialism.
Evidently, one can be a Fundamentalist without being premillennial. Equally evidently, no one can explain Fundamentalism without taking premillennialism into account. Even those who rejected the eschatology often imbibed its spirit.
The proto-fundamentalist period runs roughly from 1870 to 1920. The period opened with the vast majority of American Christians holding a postmillennial or an amillennial view. By the end of the period, however, premillennialism had become by far the most important eschatology within American evangelicalism. Read more about Proto-Fundamentalism, Part 2