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George M. Marsden

The Way We Were and Are


After Fundamentalism

It has become fashionable to claim, as a B&C reader recently wrote (Letters, Sept./Oct.), that "the term 'fundamentalist' is today no more than a code word that has little descriptive content." I can't help wondering if the people who make such claims have ever spent a Sunday in a fundamentalist church, or listened to the radio late at night on the way across Texas.

Yes, the term is often used with a sneer, but it need not be, and neither the manner in which certain people abuse it nor the endless arguments over its precise boundaries can alter the historical reality of fundamentalism as a religious movement—one that has had an enormous impact on the character of American evangelicalism.

The four essays that follow consider this legacy from diverse perspectives. George Marsden contrasts the world of 1947—when evangelicalism and fundamentalism were not yet clearly differentiated—with the world of 1997. Bruce Hindmarsh reviews Joel Carpenter's history of fundamentalism from the debacle of the 1920s to the beginnings of Billy Graham's ministry. Alister McGrath recounts the vital role of J. I. Packer in "the battle for the Bible" that threatened to divide the church in the 1970s. And Doug Frank argues that evangelicals are crippled by a rigidity of thought inherited from fundamentalism. "Just as it stultifies genuine love," Frank writes, "the command economy of evangelical rationalism stultifies genuine thought."

After fundamentalism? Or still wrestling with it?




Imagine a time when no one you knew had a television. You were far more likely to know someone who lived on a farm than in a mass-produced suburb. Travel by train was much more common than by plane. Interstate highways were two lanes, and most cars were black. The South was solidly Democratic, not quite sure it wanted to be in the Union, and not air-conditioned. Most Americans ...

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