This is the second post in the series entitled “A Middle Way.” For an introduction on fundamentalism and liberalism, refer to the previous post in the series.
The first question: what are their views on the gospel?
Fundamentalists & the Gospel
Now, fundamentalists were able to retain doctrinal commitment.
Due to fundamentalists’ grasp of premillennial eschatology, they were concerned with proclaiming the gospel to as many people as they could before Christ returned (Marsden 125). In essence, the church will be raptured soon, initiating what is commonly referred to as “God’s end time program.” At that point, the effectiveness of the gospel will plummet because the Christian witness will be diminished through the rapture and oppressed by the world during that time. Therefore, while the church is present and active, Christians’ sole goal should be the proclamation of the gospel.
In light of this understanding of the end times, there shouldn’t be much concern for the society because it will only be burned up by God in the end and it will distract the church from proclaiming the gospel and saving souls. This is not to say that the fundamentalists didn’t care about people themselves. However, if one were to do a good work it should be associated with the gospel proclamation, instead of just a good work apart from the gospel.
One of the ways to ensure that Christians could continue to proclaim the gospel was to be involved in politics (Marsden 132), specifically through advocating for specific political candidates. By ensuring candidates who protected the freedom of religion and didn’t deteriorate religious rhetoric, Christians could continue to proclaim the gospel safely. Plus, these candidates would protect certain morals, thus putting Christians in the “moral majority.” In effect, as iterated earlier, the only way to effect social change and to get culture to listen to Christians, they had to preach the gospel and teach the Word (Marsden 135).
Liberals & the Gospel
However, for the liberals, there was an abandonment of the tenants of Christianity.
Christians who valued the betterment of society over doctrinal commitments did so to remain relevant in the world, thus improving their societal impact. J. Gresham Machen, who lived in the heat of the fundamentalist and liberal controversy of the 20th century, quotes the prevailing liberal understanding of Christian doctrine:
“creeds [or doctrines] are merely the changing expression of a unitary Christian experience, and provided only they express that experience they are all equally good” (16).
Essentially, Christians can believe what they want, and disbelieve what they do not care for because Christian beliefs are more subjective than objective. This understanding of doctrine helped liberals gain a grasp in the world because they were able to remain more culturally relevant than the fundamentalists. They were able to do this better because they could suit their beliefs to the world’s understanding of everything.
This post was originally part of an academic paper submitted to Dr. Michael Freeman in Christian Perspectives: Sin & Culture at Lancaster Bible College | Capital Seminary & Graduate School. It has been modified from its original version. This paper also appears in The Front Porch magazine, published by The Row House in an abridged version.
- Machen, Gresham J. Christianity and Liberalism. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2009.
- Marsden, George M. Fundamentalism and American Culture. 2nd Edition. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.