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The Evangelical and Fundamentalist Churches
Strictly speaking, there was no fundamentalism before 1915. Informal reaction to modernism began in the 19th century, but the true polarization did not harden into more or less fixed positions until about 1915. (It should be noted that it is extremely difficult to give exact definitions of the terms “fundamentalism” and “evangelicalism.” The differences between the two are often more matters of emphasis, attitude, and ethos than of doctrine.)
The Rise of Premillennialism and Dispensationalism
In the emergence of fundamentalism, premillennialism played a significant role in uniting otherwise often very divergent people. The church has always believed in the return of Jesus (the Second Coming); the problems lie in the specifics. Revelation 20:2 says that Satan will be bound for 1000 years. Most churches through the ages have held to an amillennial view—there will be no literal 1000-year period; rather, Satan has been bound and God will work through the church to bring about the kingdom of peace on earth.
Premillennialism, by contrast, is the belief that Jesus will return and institute a literal reign on earth of 1000 years. Most premillennialists believe that this kingdom will be preceded by a general apostasy, wars, famine, earthquakes, the appearance of the Antichrist, and a period of tribulation. Although Christ will rule during the millennium, there will at the end be a battle, the Battle of Armageddon, between Christ and His saints and those who have rebelled against Him.
From the mid-1870s on, evangelicals organized Bible conferences to study the Bible and especially prophecy. These prophetic conferences, as well as the writings of the speakers at these conferences, were premillennial in outlook; they were eminently successful and helped make premillennialism a core belief. At the 1898 Niagara (N.Y.) Conference, a statement of faith was adopted that was essentially identical to the five points adopted by the Presbyterian Assembly (see The Mainline Churches), except that the last point (the reality of miracles) was replaced by the millennial return of Christ.
But further refinements were adopted by some in the form of dispensationalism. This is a theological system that divides time into seven periods or dispensations, which are stages in God’s progressive revelation. The key point in dispensationalism is that in the church age God’s plan for the Jews is different from His plan for the church. Thus the Jews will go through the Great Tribulation and will turn to Christ during that period, while the church is taken away (raptured) before the Tribulation. In the end, of course, both Jews and Gentiles will stand before God together.
This dispensational system was developed by John Darby, an Englishman who was a leader of the Plymouth Brethren. Darby’s views on the pretribulational rapture split the Plymouth Brethren but migrated to America in the 1870s and spread via Bible and prophetic conferences. Dispensationalism became entrenched after C. I. Scofield published the Scofield Reference Bible in 1909. This Bible shows in detail how the dispensationalist system works. It had wide appeal and still sells well today. In 1924, Dallas Theological Seminary was founded with the specific goal to train men in dispensational theology.
The Emergence of Fundamentalism
Informal networks had thus been developing through Bible conferences, through books and pamphlets from publishers such as Fleming H. Revell (Moody’s brother-in-law, who founded his publishing house in 1870), and through the many Bible schools that were established. At one point there were several hundred, many of which disappeared without a trace, but others still exist today—for example, Moody Bible Institute (1886) and the Bible Institute of Los Angeles (1908; now Biola University). The core of the curriculum at these schools consisted of Bible and theology, with an emphasis on the inerrancy of the Bible and premillennialism.
Then, between 1910 and 1915, a group of men published a set of 12 small volumes called The Fundamentals, to which “old-school” Calvinists such as B. B. Warfield as well as Dispensationalists such as C. I. Scofield contributed. These pamphlets articulated the basic truths and values of the Christian faith and were mailed out free of charge to more than 300,000 people. Various groups and denominations in turn drew up their own lists of the essentials of the faith; all of them contained the inspiration of the Bible and the substitutionary atonement of Christ and His bodily resurrection.
The term “fundamentalist” was coined in 1920 as a name for those who were willing “to do battle royal for the fundamentals of the faith” in the face of theological modernism. It became a badge of honor for those inside the movement and a derogatory term to others, especially after the 1925 Scopes Trial, which dealt with the teaching of evolution in public schools. Until 1925 the Fundamentalist movement had made strides toward being a force in American religious life and culture, but the Scopes Trial effectively dashed any hopes the fundamentalists had of achieving the dominance that the modernists now held.
Eventually fundamentalism sorted itself into two camps: “closed” or “separatist” fundamentalism, which emphasized separation, not only from non-Christians, but also from other Christians who did not agree with them in every detail, and “open” fundamentalism, which had a more positive orientation and broader vision of winning the world for Christ. The first group made separation (even from orthodox fellow Christians with whom they were not in full agreement on all points) an absolute requirement for church membership; the second was more inclusivist, choosing to work with groups espousing basic orthodoxy to achieve the larger evangelistic goals. This second camp went on to become the evangelicals of today.
The Emergence of Contemporary Evangelicalism
In Great Britain, evangelicalism had not gone through the same historical developments; it was more open and academic than its American cousin. But during the 1940s and ’50s a movement took hold in the United States that also pushed for a more open and intellectually grounded evangelicalism. (Many separatist fundamentalists were distinctly anti-intellectual and saw any kind of academic training as at best a waste of time and at worst a tool of the Devil to lead the church astray.) This movement is often referred to as “neo-evangelicalism” to distinguish it from the earlier and less open and academically inclined evangelicalism. Men such as Harold Ockenga, Carl F. H. Henry, and Francis Schaeffer; schools such as Fuller Seminary (founded 1947); and periodicals such as Christianity Today (1956) moved toward open and direct engagement with the issues of society and the contemporary world. A landmark book was The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism (1947) by Carl Henry, which was a call for evangelicals to participate in social reform.
In the past decades, evangelicalism has created its own support structures: evangelical publishing houses, bookstores, recording companies, concert and lecture circuits, and its own Bible versions, such as the Living Bible, the New American Standard Bible, and the New International Version.
Black and White Churches
Throughout the late 19th and the 20th centuries, we observe a rich history of black churches emerging primarily in the southern United States. As black Africans were forcibly brought to the States and sold as slaves, it is surprising that they would have anything to do with their oppressors’ religion. But upon arrival, the slaves were immediately taught Christianity (especially and repeatedly Paul’s exhortation “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear”—Ephesians 6:5), and slaves were deliberately kept illiterate. The part of the Bible that spoke most directly to them was the Gospels. And thus, over the years, a black Christianity developed.
While white churches tended to be theological and focus on issues such as justification and atonement, the black churches drew their strength from the Jesus who came to liberate, heal, and restore. For most white churches the New Testament letters, especially those of Paul, were important. For the black churches the Gospels were their lifeline to God, who in Jesus had come to stand beside them, who alone “knew the trouble they were in,” and who would bring them to the other shore, to life everlasting. After the Civil War, the white and black churches never successfully integrated, and when around the turn of the century the Supreme Court articulated the doctrine of “separate but equal” for schools, the “Jim Crow” laws seemed to carry over so that churches were also separate. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, white denominations would found new black churches with the understanding that they would be separate, and eventually the black churches founded their own denominations.
Over time, white and black evangelicals have begun listening seriously to their fellow Christians and have discovered that these two different emphases are in effect two necessary aspects of the Gospel. We need each other’s strengths and must help each other in our weakness.
 Henry Hampton Halley, Halley’s Bible Handbook with the New International Version., Completely rev. and expanded. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 2000), 1010–1013.