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Fundamentalism. By Fisher Humphreys and Philip Wise. Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2004. 113 pp.

Fundamentalism has affected Baptist life in this country in significant ways since the early 1900s; therefore, every Baptist in the United States should read this book. In plain and simple language, the authors capture exceedingly well the general thrusts of a complex movement. The writers use guarded and honest language in talking about fundamentalism: "We do not feel contempt for fundamentalism." "We think fundamentalism is too shallow." The authors dedicate the book to the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and to President Jimmy Carter.

The book has three objectives: to provide modern Christians with "an informed understanding of fundamentalism"; to convince persons considering becoming fundamentalists that "fundamentalism is not the only authentic expression of Christian faith"; and to help readers "understand fundamentalism well enough to be empowered to relate to fundamentalists in a healthy way."

Chapter 1 describes nine traits of generic fundamentalism: religious origins, a selective use of tradition, reaction to modernity, belief that their identity is under siege by modernity, militancy, authoritarian male leaders, a view of history that sees the past as better than the present, boundaries between true believers and others, and a totalitarian impulse.

Chapter 2 identifies four enemies that fed the development of original fundamentalism in the early nineteenth century: the Enlightenment, biblical criticism, evolution, and liberal theology; shows how fundamentalists responded to these enemies; and describes early stages of fundamentalist development.

Chapter 3 focuses on the theology of fundamentalism. First, it discusses The Fundamentals, 90 tracts published from 1910 to 1915. Then it assesses "the five fundamentals": biblical inerrancy, the Virgin Birth of Christ, the substitutionary atonement, the bodily resurrection of Christ, and the historicity of miracles, noting that lists of fundamentalist beliefs in the 1920s replaced the historicity of miracles with an affirmation of premillenialism.

Chapter 4 deals with four attitudes of fundamentalism: suspicion, fear, anger, and separation. The chapter then lays out alternative attitudes to consider.

Chapter 5 shows the relationship of fundamentalism to Southern Baptists. First, it discusses J. Frank Norris, noted fundamentalist in the first half of the 1900s. Then it assesses new directions in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), beginning in 1979, concluding that the SBC today is fundamentalist.

Chapter 6 identifies ways to relate to fundamentalists: being secure in one's faith, viewing fundamentalists as fellow Christians, being kind, exercising forgiveness, allowing time for healing, practicing nonviolent resistance, engaging in conversation, and transcending the controversy theologically.

The Conclusion asserts that "the way of progressive Baptists is a better way of following Christ today than that of fundamentalism." A thirteen-page "Guide for Individual Study or Group Discussion" is filled with thought-provoking questions.

I would suggest a possible addition to any future revised edition of the book. Chapter 4 zeroes in on four attitudes of fundamentalism: suspicion, fear, anger, and separatism. I would add a fifth attitude to that list: threat. While the book implies this attitude at places, it does not deal with threat directly. While working on the staff of the SBC Historical Commission in 1973-94, I saw in eye-witness fashion unbelievable patterns of threat directed by fundamentalists toward SBC agency leaders. I was present the day, in 1990, when the SBC Executive Committee wrecked the careers of Al Shackleford and Dan Martin of Baptist Press. I was present the night, in 1991, that Sunday School Board trustees railroaded the illustrious career of Lloyd Elder. I was in the room, in 1993, when Paul Pressler verbally abused Lynn May, Historical Commission executive director, and threatened to destroy the Historical Commission (that destruction was consummated in June 1997) because the commission had released a pamphlet that mentioned the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. SBC versions of fundamentalism have thrived by using techniques of threat. Ask dismissed seminary presidents and faculty members and scores of terminated missionaries.

In addition, while I appreciate the suggestions in Chapter 6 of ways to relate to fundamentalists as persons, I believe that Baptists who know better should aggressively undercut SBC fundamentalism as a movement. Its views of the Bible are wrong. Its history is wrong. Its theology and attitudes are wrong. And its ethics are wrong. More than just another version of Christianity, it is a complete distortion of Christianity and an irresponsible way to be Baptist.

Isaac Backus, noted eighteenth-century Baptist pastor, historian, and church-state separationist, struggled mightily over how to deal with the Standing Order, or state church of New England, that tended to persecute nonconformist Baptists and others who opposed infant baptism and refused to obtain licenses to preach or pay church taxes. In 1768, after reading Joseph Fish's defense of that state church and his attack on freedom-based Baptists, Backus hit Fish hard by writing more than 100 pages ("A Fish Caught in His Own Net" in Isaac Backus on Church, State, and Calvinism, edited by William G. McLoughlin, 1968). Backus claimed that "When I read it [Fish's book] no doubt remained whether it ought to be answered or not ... yet to do the subject justice would be nothing less than to lay open the religious constitutions of the whole country and many transactions which deeply affect the characters of many noted men. Yet to omit it now could not be done with a clear conscience.... To be silent now would be a letting many things pass for truth, which I knew were not so" (173).

All individual Baptists who would write about fundamentalism would approach it differently; our conditioning processes vary. This Humphreys/Wise version of the movement is a strong, healthy, and enormously valuable theological version of the story.--Reviewed by Charles W. Deweese, executive director-treasurer, Baptist History and Heritage Society, Brentwood, Tennessee.
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Author:Deweese, Charles W.
Publication:Baptist History and Heritage
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 2005
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