This is a continuation of this article and this article–all of which come from a talk I gave to a group of medical residents at a Twin Cities hospital. Portions of what follows are adapted from the essay on evangelicalism in the excellent Dictionary of American Christianity (Intervarsity Press). This part of the article sketches fundamentalism, the “neo-evangelical” movement of the 40s, and developments since then.
The Fundamentalist movement, 1920-1960
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, vast immigration of non-Evangelicals, including millions of Catholics and Jews, worked a demographic change, especially in America’s urban centers, where many of these immigrants settled. Political power, ethnic pluralism, industrial strength, media coverage, and liberal lifestyles were all concentrated in the cities.
Trends in scholarship and higher education also contributed to the social and intellectual dethronement of evangelicalism in America. The two chief trends here were the German historicist to biblical scholarship called “higher criticism” and Darwin’s naturalistic theory of evolution, that called into question God’s both designing providence and indeed the need for a personal, creating God at all. From interpreting their lives in Christian terms of creation, miracles, and new birth, millions of Americans began instead to see their place in the world in naturalistic terms of process, progress, and evolution.
This all came to a head famously in the clash between the old, rurally-concentrated evangelical order, and the new, urban secularized order at the so-called “Scopes Monkey Trial” in Dayton, Tennessee. Here, battle lines were drawn over the teaching of evolution in America’s public schools. Continue reading