Right Jabs and Left Hooks
In 1925 just after the Scopes trial, social critic H. L. Mencken wrote with typical flair, "Heave an egg out a Pullman window, and you will hit a fundamentalist anywhere in the United States"—a comment implying that fundamentalism was a large and monolithic movement. But who exactly were the objects of this imaginary egg?
Some scholars have portrayed them as southern, rural, uneducated folk pitted against northeastern, urban, academic elites. Yet a number of fundamentalists, such as Presbyterian theologian J. Gresham Machen, were well educated, and some important conservative institutions and pulpits were located in northeastern cities. More recent studies stress theology as the key distinctive: early fundamentalists were primarily dispensationalists or champions of biblical inerrancy. Other studies identify still other keys.
One characteristic common to all fundamentalists was a militant opposition to modernism—which made fundamentalism as diverse as the modernism it opposed. Some fundamentalists objected primarily to the liberal understanding of the kingdom of God—the idea that Western civilization was establishing Christ's earthly rule. Others found evolutionary teaching most reprehensible. Others still were troubled by the increasing cultural disarray in the United States. Still other fundamentalists identified biblical criticism as the chief culprit.
In spite of the complexity of the movement, though, it is possible to see three major strands in fundamentalism—and each is exemplified in the life and ministry of a fundamentalist leader.
The culture warriors
Many people think early fundamentalists withdrew from social and political concerns. But a closer look reveals that many prominent fundamentalists denounced the social ...