George Marsden Speaks Incorrectly On Fundamentalism’s Voice Essay

AbstractGeorge Marsden, in his recent lecture on Fundamentalism, addressed a number of issues surrounding the Fundamentalist movement, and its growth in political influence. This author believes that Marsden is wrong about his explanations of this “voice” in that he fails to realize that fundamentalism should have such a voice, and that it has always had a voice – one which has been needed more or less according to the times. And finally, Marsden overemphasizes the fact that the Fundamentalist has largely been indifferent because of his beliefs in the doctrines of Premillennialism and salvation, rather than in the word of God overall.George Marsden Speaks Incorrectly On Fundamentalism’s VoiceThe Fundamentalist movement of America, as many have called it, did not have its origin in the 1920’s, as some, including George Marsden, would suppose.

There has always been an element of Fundamentalism in the history of America, even at its origin. At that time however, it was not called Fundamentalism, but merely consisted of a group of people who were convinced that the Bible was the Word of God. Along with those convictions comes the necessary unwillingness to deviate from that belief or the practices that they understood that the blessed Book taught them. What many overlook is that what is now called Fundamentalism in this great country of ours, is merely an evidence of what has always been here, every now and then, sticking its head out, and making its voice be heard – when the occasion arises.While George Marsden proposes that the normally silent Fundamentalist has now learned that he has a voice in politics, the truth is that the times have demanded a reaction, and that Fundamentalists have always risen to the occasion – sometimes very weakly, however.The Word of God, which true Biblical Fundamentalists consider to be their governing policies (because it is God’s Word, and not man’s), demands that its (Christ’s) followers “live a quiet and peaceable life” (I Timothy 2:2).

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And this they very well seek to do, unless, as has always been true of those that tenaciously hold on to dogmatic Divine truths, there comes a need for those to stand who have been brought to “the kingdom for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14). They also realize, however, along with Mordecai, in that same verse, that “If thou altogether holdest thy peace at this time, then shall there enlargement and deliverance arise… from another place…

“It has always been the lot of Bible believers to stand for something, and, just as importantly, against something, too. It is this motivation of standing for truth that motivates thetrue Fundamentalist, rather than political empowerism. Although, there may be a mixture ofsome self-serving parties, and ignorant followers, too.            This paper will now deal with a number of reasons Marsden gives whereby, he claims, shows that Fundamentalism is now very much concerned about being a politically activist group, whereas before they were largely silent.Marsden Avoids Scripture As Being The Underlying Motivation Behind The FundamentalistIt is interesting that George Marsden, as smart as he is, does not bring into his speech a single verse of Scripture. By this act, he seems to refuse to see that Fundamentalists are indeed seeking to be followers of the Word of God – in plainness and sincerity. Instead of recognizing the basis of Scripture that the Fundamentalists possess, and claim as their authority, Marsden repeatedly points to the doctrines of Premillennialism and redemption. While both of these are vital to the Fundamentalist position, the Fundamentalist only adheres to them because he believes them to be the teaching of Scripture.

Marsden Fails To Understand That Fundamentalism Was Born Speaking OutFollowing Marsden’s logic, if we accept that Fundamentalism started in the 1920’s, then even he would have seen that it was formed with a voice made to oppose. At that time there were two things that the Fundamentalist stood against: the liberalism of the day, and evolution. Fundamentalists were considered to be those that openly took a stand against some things, and at the same time, established some things which they felt they could not compromise.

All around them, they believed, the churches and denominations of the day had largely embraced liberalism, and they had enough. They felt that they could no longer walk side-by-side with rank unbelievers. The result, those who knew the truth, and held to it, came out – after they spoke out about it.

Marsden does, however, admit that “Fundamentalism has always had politicalimplications.” (Marsden, p.1). The focus of his paper is that Fundamentalists have been more political lately, than ever, and have gained power in influencing the political process in America.

            While it is true that the beliefs of the Fundamentalist does lead partly to a life that has a tendency toward reclusiveness – it is not one that seeks to keep its head buried in the sand – nor should it. As explained by Harvey Cox, in his book, Religion and the Secular City, 1984:In addition to its tendencies toward splitting, fundamentalism has certain theological features that have led it to a posture of withdrawal and a suspicion of those who try to influence society. One is its imminent eschatology. If Jesus is indeed coming soon, then why bother? Every minute not devoted to reaching lost souls (who will be left behind by the Rapture and then go to hell if they do not repent) is a minute wasted – and a soul lost for eternity.

The logic of Jesus-is-coming-soon theology is not that of long-range planning or of ameliorating stubborn social ills.”            The focus of a true believer, often referred to by others as a Fundamentalist, is one whose focus should be on Christ. Largely indifferent to the events surrounding them, the Fundamentalist sees their position as being one with more important things to do – like soul-winning. Thus – their seeming indifference.

But, when political events either directly interfere, with the practices of conscious believers, who also, have a strong sense of where their freedoms came from, then they stand up once again.            Marsden Admits That There Is More To Stand Against Today, Than Before            Every believer understands that they are to be light in a dark world. While many may be more disobedient to these purposes than obedient, many have joined on the bandwagon at times – because it does feel good to be part of something that either makes a difference – or tries to.The encroaching evil and worldliness of our day demand that the normal preaching which largelystays in the pulpit, for those inside the walls of the church, has moved outside and voices its message to the very halls of Congress, and into the White House.            Marsden declares that the political activism that may be there, is not the drawing card of the churches.

He says “Most people in churches, even in those with strong political agendas, are not political activists and have been attracted to these churches for reasons other than political.” (Marsden, p. 9).  If this is true, then, how can he say that Fundamentalism is now so politically activist? By saying this, he testifies to the fact that the Fundamentalist movement, although having a political voice, still is active in its original purpose – that of worshipping God, and winning the lost.Marsden Is Right About Fundamentalism Being Very PatrioticHe testifies that American Fundamentalists do have a very strong sense of belonging to the past culture of America. This past awareness of God’s blessing on the founding of America, still shows itself, in the Fundamentalists view that:”the American nation is certainly distinguished from the church and is in principle seen as much less than Christian, in practice it is often treated with a reverence as though it were Christian and as an agency used by God in literal warfare against the forces of evil.” (Marsden.

p.9)While becoming more politically active, the Fundamentalist of today is often not soAppreciated – in fact barely tolerated because of that voice. In a paper written years before Marsden’s lecture, Ernest Sandeen, in an article entitled, Fundamentalism and American Identity (p. 65), agrees with Marsden about the patriotic attitudes of Fundamentalism, and says:At this point in the twentieth century, the Fundamentalist continues to insist that he is theinheritor, guardian, and advocate of the central truths of the Christian faith.

And at thispoint in the twentieth century, one might ask if he does not also represent the archetypal and modal American – the man who while losing his country has found it.ConclusionWhile Marsden may be wrong about Fundamentalism being largely a silent group that has now gained its voice, he seems to fail to understand that the times demand a louder voice. The evils of our day have increased and the Fundamentalist movement must shine with a brighter light in a darker world. He is correct, however, in saying that the world does seem to have an attraction for the Fundamentalism of this day, that may be darkening the windows of the lamps of Fundamentalism, and causing it to lose its needed soul-winning fervor.

ReferencesCox, Harvey, (1984).As seen online, Religion and the Secular City; as quoted at

Marsden, George. Lecture. How “Otherworldly” Fundamentalism Became A Political Power.Sandeen, Ernest, (1970). Fundamentalism and American Identity, Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 387, 56-65.


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