Yet Saints Their Watch Are Keeping: Fundamentalists, Modernists, and the Development of Evangelical Ecclesiology, 1887-1937.
This book makes a modest contribution to our understanding of twentieth-century Protestantism. The argument is based on solid primary source research but provides little in the way of new discovery. The author covers events that have been discussed in the literature for a long time, at least since the 1970s and early 1980s when William Hutchison's The Modernist Impulse in American Protestantism (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1976) and George Marsden's Fundamentalism and American Culture (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980) appeared. Utzinger essentially retells the fundamentalist-modernist controversy with an eye toward what the controversy meant for ecclesiology. A central feature of his project is to further the deconstruction of the two-party paradigm for understanding Protestantism in modern America.
Utilizing categories previously employed by theologian Roger Olson, Utzinger argues that "centered set" movements such as fundamentalism and modernism overlapped with "bounded set" denominations, forcing fundamentalists and modernists to develop and articulate different eeclesiologies. Centered-set movements such as fundamentalism and modernism have a fairly clear center but fuzzy boundaries. This makes it difficult to say precisely who is a fundamentalist and who is a modernist. Denominations, by contrast, are bounded sets, meaning that one is either in or out, a member or non-member. In the early twentieth century, as fundamentalists and modernists squared off in the Northern Baptist Convention, the Presbyterian Church U.S.A., and the Disciples of Christ denominations, there ensued an ecclesiological crisis, which was a contest to define what it meant to be a good Baptist, Presbyterian, or Disciple. While the fundamentalists sought doctrinal purity and clearer definitions of what constituted an orthodox Protestant, the modernists touted tolerance, which led to an inclusive ecclesiology, at least on the surface. Modernists, however, were also the party of denominational centralization. This was the result of their broad and expansive ecclesiological vision that saw the church as a vehicle for inaugurating the Kingdom of God in this world. Fundamentalists responded to the centralization of modernist power by forming the transdenominational World's Christian Fundamentals Association, in part to protest modernist centralization. Utzinger argues that this clash of ecclesiologies strengthened the denominations in question, but his argument is not persuasive on this point. It is hard to accept that these denominations emerged stronger from the controversies of the 1920s.
While modernists sought to make their denominations more centralized, they too engaged in transdenominational efforts to pool resources. In particular, modernists, with the initial support of some fundamentalists, formed the Interfaith World Movement, which Utzinger shows to have been a colossal failure. As modernists centralized in an effort to save the world, fundamentalists sought to save individuals and charged that centralization restricted freedom to live out the gospel according to scripture.
Also playing a role in this contest were different views of how the Holy Spirit worked and different views of eschatology. Modernists believed denominations and vast transdenominational agencies had to be strengthened because they were tools the Spirit used. Fundamentalists believed that the Spirit worked primarily through individuals, and they were accordingly suspicious of centralized power. On the issue of eschatology, modernists believed the Kingdom was dawning in this age and that centralized bureaucracies were helping the Kingdom come on earth, while fundamentalists became premillennial in many cases, believing that centralization was actually a sign of the degeneration of the world that preceded Christ's literal return. The premillennialists who gravitated toward fundamentalism, and the social gospelers who gravitated toward modernism, each had a sense of what the author calls "apostolic succession." Premillennialists sought to show that the apostles taught the literal Second Coming of Christ. Fundamentalist apostolic succession was, therefore, doctrinal. Social gospelers stressed that even though the early church had been in error in its doctrine of the imminent return of Christ, early Christians experienced the same living and evolving faith that modernists experienced two millennia later. The doctrines had changed, but the same Spirit guided the progressives of the social gospel as guided the earliest apostles.
While all of this sounds pretty two-party-ish, Utzinger shows that in the contest between the fundamentalists and modernists there was at least a third party, which usually consisted of people who were theologically conservative like the fundamentalists but inclusive and tolerant like the modernists. This is in keeping with earlier renditions of the fundamentalist-modernist controversy by Marsden and others. Moreover, Utzinger views fundamentalists and modernists as both being broadly evangelical in their shared emphasis on the importance of religious experience, opposition to state-supported churches in favor of voluntary religion, desire to sustain and revitalize American democracy, and efforts to engage culture. On this particular note, the book is at times confusing, especially when the author speaks of fundamentalists, modernists, and evangelicals. The reader must keep reminding oneself what Utzinger means by evangelical, and he admits to using all three terms loosely. The strength of the book is in retelling a history that is already familiar to historians of American Protestantism while emphasizing its ecclesiological implications. That said, the argument and terms used make it suffer at times from a lack of clarity. The reader is often left to figure out just what the evidence means and why these ecclesiological implications are significant.
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|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jun 1, 2008|
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