In this landmark 1922 sermon, Harry E. Fosdick, Pastor of First Presbyterian Church in New York, called for an open-minded, “tolerant” view of Christian fellowship. He delivered this address in the midst of the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy. As is plain from his sermon, he did not want the fundamentalists to win!1
This morning we are to think of the fundamentalist controversy which threatens to divide the American churches as though already they were not sufficiently split and riven. A scene, suggestive for our thought, is depicted in the fifth chapter of the Book of the Acts, where the Jewish leaders hale before them Peter and other of the apostles because they had been preaching Jesus as the Messiah. Moreover, the Jewish leaders propose to slay them, when in opposition Gamaliel speaks “Refrain from these men, and let them alone; for if this counsel or this work be of men, it will be overthrown; but if it is of God ye will not be able to overthrow them; lest haply ye be found even to be fighting against God.” …
Baptist bodies had a new enemy—theological liberalism ... Soon these ideas were being presented at denominational gatherings or published in denomination papers and books ... By 1920, the Northern Baptists, in particular, broke out into an all-out war over theology that came to be called “The Fundamentalist-Modernist” controversy. This is the fifty-year history behind that controversy.
In this short article, I’ll briefly present an analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of Baptist fundamentalism in 2018. This assessment is entirely my own, and it reflects my own particular experiences and education. Of course, my observations are limited by my own context — just as yours are.
Any movement has different flavors, and Baptist fundamentalism is no different. Over the years, several prominent Baptist fundamentalists have offered their own taxonomies of the movement. Here is my own simplified chart which broadly outlines the lay of the land as I see it today:
In the spring of 1959, Ernest Pickering wrote an article for the Central Bible Quarterly entitled “The Present Status of the New Evangelicalism.”1 This was only one of the first in an eventual avalanche of articles written by passionate and articulate fundamentalists, beginning in the late 1950s, as the breach between the “New Evangelicalism” and “Fundamentalism” became, for many men, a bridge too far.
Elsewhere, Robert Ketchum wrote to GARBC churches and pleaded with them to not participate in Billy Graham’s crusades. To do so, he warned, would be “the same in principle as going back into the [American Baptist] Convention for a season.”2
In the summer of 1959, William Ashbrook (also writing for the Central Bible Quarterly) solemnly warned his readers about the “New Evangelicalism.” He thundered forth, “First, it is a movement born of compromise. Second, it is a movement nurtured on pride of intellect. Third, it is a movement growing on appeasement of evil. And finally, it is a movement doomed by the judgment of God’s holy Word.”3
In this excerpt, Carnell concludes his critique of fundamentalism from his book The Case for Orthodox Theology (1959). Here, he has two criticisms. First, he believes the fundamentalist places an overemphasis on soul-winning at the expense of doctrine and Christian love. Second, he charges that fundamentalists, like well-meaning but delusional latter-day Don Quixotes, revel in their supposed “purity” while ironically demonstrating the worst sort of self-righteousness.1
The Chief End of Man
Whereas orthodoxy says that the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever, fundamentalism says that the chief end of man is to win souls. This conversion of final causes did not come by accident. Lest we be misunderstood, however, let it be clearly and forcefully said that evangelism is an incumbency on the church. Woe to the minister who has no compassion for lost souls! If we are united with Christ’s cross and resurrection, we must also be united with his tears for Jerusalem.
But when the fundamentalist elevates evangelism above other Christian tasks, or when he conceives of evangelism in terms of techniques, he is no longer true to his own presuppositions. While evangelism is a sacred duty, it is by no means our only sacred duty.