Fundamentalism and creationism

Young-Earth creationism isn’t a necessary part of Christianity, even to those of us who have a very high view of the truthfulness and authority of the Bible.

Here’s another quote from The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, by Mark Noll:

Despite widespread impressions to the contrary, [young-Earth] creationism was not a traditional belief of nineteenth-century conservative Protestants or even of early twentieth-century fundamentalists. The mentality of fundamentalism lives on in modern creation science, even if some of the early fundamentalists themselves were by no means as radical in their scientific conclusions as evangelicals have become in the last forty years. For instance, during the century before the 1930s, most conservative Protestants believed that the “days” of Genesis 1 stood for long ages of geological development or that a lengthy gap existed between the initial creation of the world (Gen. 1:1) and a series of more recent creative acts (Gen. 1:2ff) during which the fossils were deposited. As we have seen, some conservative Protestants early in the century — like James Orr of Scotland and B. B. Warfield of Princeton Theological Seminary, both of whom wrote for The Fundamentals (1910-1915) — allowed for large-scale evolution in order to explain God’s way of creating plants, animals, and even the human body. (As it happens, their position closely resembled official Roman Catholic teachings on the subject.) Popular opponents of evoution in the 1920s, like William Jennings Bryan, had no difficulty accepting an ancient earth. [pp. 188-189]

Some observations:

  • Once again, this demonstrates that one can accept an old age for the Earth, and even evolution, and still hold to the truthfulness of Scriptures. B. B. Warfield, for example, was an earnest advocate for the truthfulness of Scriptures and a founder of the fundamentalist movement.
  • The present domination of young-Earth creationism in our churches and Christian schools hasn’t been around forever.
  • The original meaning of “fundamentalist” was someone who held to the five fundamentals of Christianity taught in the series of books The Fundamentals. The five fundamentals were 1) The deity of Christ, 2) The virgin birth, 3) The substitutionary atonement of Christ, 4) The bodily resurrection, 5) The inerrancy of Scriptures. These points describe my core beliefs, though I would add a couple more from the Nicene and Apostle’s Creeds.
  • The word “fundamentalist” is almost useless now. I don’t consider myself to be a fundamentalist because now the word means something like “ignorant, anti-scientific, narrow, religious extremist.” The stereotype, often true, is that fundamentalists are separatistic (don’t have much to do with non-Fundamentalists), don’t drink alcohol, and hate gays. None of these describe me.

Grace and Peace

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