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American Religious Movements - Fundamentalism and Its' Influence on Evangelicalism

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American Religious Movements:

Fundamentalism and Its' Influence on Evangelicalism

American fundamentalism and American evangelicalism seem to go hand in hand. Evangelicalism and fundamentalism both stress life based on the bible, repentance, and a personal relationship with God. No one would deny the massive influence that fundamentalism had on evangelicalism or the similarities between the two. Although some historians would suggest that evangelicalism was experiential and sectarian while fundamentalism was conservative and anti-modernist, it is clear that fundamentalism would never have survived as long as it has if it was not able to adapt to modernity and exist within a pluralist society.

American Protestantism struggled in the 1920's with the issues of biblical criticism, sources of authority in Christianity, and the theory of evolution. Presbyterians and Baptists experienced splits in their denominations as the events of this decade began to chip away at fundamentalism. For example, John T. Scopes was put on trial for the teaching of evolution, which violated a Tennessee state statute. The growing controversy between Fundamentalists and Modernists as to biblical criticism and evolutionary theories is not what is important in analyzing American Fundamentalism. What is important to analyze is, "in view of the acknowledged impact of these forces, why a minority of Christians responded in one fashion while the majority reacted in another"(Sandeen xi). It was this split in Christianity that made many people believe that fundamentalism should have died out seventy years ago. But fundamentalism survived and there has been a recent resurgence in its' popularity.

Moving to the post World War II era, the evangelical coalition began to appeal to the older generations, to the Hollywood population, and to leaders in Washington D.C. Soon after the war, the religious conflicts that infected fundamentalism in the 1920's were no longer relevant. Protestantism, in its mainline form, had become much more evangelical in its' nature and its' sects became much more interested in becoming recognized publicly. Many historians agree that, "what has not often been recognized, however, is that one of the most important driving forces behind the postwar resurgence of religion was a cadre of 'progressive fundamentalists'"(Carpenter 223). Pentecostalism, which fundamentalism was an offshoot of, and Southern Baptism were two of several other religious influences existing after the war, but it was mainly the fundamentalists who led the postwar religious revival.

The modern interpretation of religion is that it is always in decline because of modernization. As most people agree, modernity leads to secularization and secularization leads to religious apathy in certain circles. This belief is caused by the experience that history has taught us. Christianity was once the intellectual, spiritual, and ethical guidebook for all of life. The church used to play an essential role in almost all public affairs. The secularization of faith has forced Christianity to compete with other powerful religious and nonreligious worldviews. An analysis of the revival of American fundamentalism is the key to understanding why this common belief is false and that, through the years, religion has survived quite well in a pluralistic setting. Evangelical Christianity should not be viewed "as a religion of consolation for those who cannot accept the dominant humanist, modernist, liberal, and secular thrust of mainstream society"(Riesebrodt 47). Instead, it should be seen as a religion that can adapt to the changing ideals of modernity. Protestantism uses evangelicalism and fundamentalism as their way of relating to modernity. For example, modern society has placed an emphasis on choice making and individuality, while at the same time, evangelicalism preaches a personal religious experience and fundamentalism stresses freedom, usually from government. As we emphasize voluntarism, evangelicals respond by recruiting more followers and creating institutions to ensure the development of the church's place in everyday life.

Evangelical movements, in the past, have consistently adapted to the world in which they were operating. In fact, they have even benefited from the forces of social change. The Puritan and Pietist awakenings that took place in the seventeenth century stressed a personal experience of God during a time of growing literacy, literature, and experimental science. The evangelical movements during the Great Awakening in the eighteenth century "experimented with new forms religious association and communication in the marketplace at



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