Month: June 2011

Things I’ve learned from Fundamentalism and American Culture

book cover

George Marsden Fundamentalism and American Culture New ed. (Oxford: OUP, 2006).

This book’s been a page turner for me, partly because of my morbid fascination with fundamentalism and partly because it is well researched and smoothly written.

It’s a historical study of the origins of fundamentalism in late 19th and early 20th century USA. I’ll share some things which have stood out for me so far:

  • The significance of revivalism as the mindset out of which fundamentalism emerged. Yet Marsden paints revivalists favourably, as a group with a positive agenda for individual piety and lacking the strong emnity toward the academy, liberalism and modernism which was to escalate in the 1920s.
  • The significance of ‘Scottish Common Sense Realism’ as the philosophical mindset of fundamentalism. I encountered this a lot growing up – the idea that the Bible (and the world) made ‘plain sense’ to any common person with the willingness to read it correctly. It was easy to hold this kind of approach in the early 19th century when there was what Marsden calls a ‘broad evangelical consensus’; everyone a believer knew probably did read the Bible and the world in the same way. But the increasing splintering of Protestant Christianity and non-Protestant immigrants made the consensus harder to hold up. You could walk into many churches in Perth today and find this mindset, though. No need for an understanding of culture, genre and context – just believe what it says.
  • The phrase ‘let go and let God’, which was surely on my fridge as a child at some stage, has been kicking around for over 100 years. One of the revivalists Marsden discusses may have coined it.
  • In the USA during WWI, within Christian circles the loudest opposition to the war came from premillennialists; while the loudest support came from liberal postmillennialists who felt that victory could move the world one step closer to lasting peace. Those premillennialists may not have embraced the Left Behind series.

‘We do not endorse the subject matter and stock it [100+ copies] purely as a service…’

Interesting disclaimer on the website of one Australian Christian bookstore concerning Love Wins:

Despite stocking it only as a service, there are quite a few copies available:

I haven’t noticed any other books with a warning like this on their website. I suspect there may be slightly more dangerous books in there though…

Still, I understand their dilemma. They hardly want to be ostracised by the evangelical community or tarred with the same brush as Rob “Antichrist” Bell.

For the record, I do not endorse the contents of any of the books by John Piper on the shelves of my library. I stock them purely as a service for people who want to know what the author is writing about. Same goes much more strongly for Richard Dawkins, just in case you thought I was an atheist.

(Actually, I do not necessarily endorse the contents of any of the books on the shelves at all – they’re all there purely as such a service.)

Why you shouldn’t read this…

A great quote in the Anabaptist Assocation mailing from Mark Hurst today:

“[The Internet] creates a permanent puberty of the mind. We get locked in so much information, and the inability to sort that information meaningfully limits our capacity to understand. The last stage of knowledge is wisdom. But we are miles from wisdom because the Internet encourages the opposite of what creates wisdom—stillness, time and inefficient things like suffering. On the Internet, there is no such thing as waiting; there is no such thing as stillness. … This culture is on an extraordinary pace toward needing things to be more efficient. But that is a value that is ultimately antithetical to the gospel. I’ve never heard of efficient wisdom, efficient love, efficient suffering or efficient compassion.” — Mennonite pastor Shane Hipps, Flickering Pixels: How Technology Shapes Your Faith