Fundamentalism And Social Involvement -- By: Preston Mayes

Journal: Maranatha Baptist Theological Journal
Volume: MBTJ 02:1 (Spring 2012)
Article: Fundamentalism And Social Involvement
Author: Preston Mayes


Fundamentalism And Social Involvement

Preston Mayes1

Carl Henry’s The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism occupies a surprisingly influential place in the history of both Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism considering its length (eighty-seven pages). That influence can probably be traced, however, to two factors. First, its publication occurred at a critical juncture in twentieth century church history. It was something of a call for reform from within a Fundamentalism that included elements that were starting to desire an increased influence in society in the wake of the Great Depression and World War II. Furthermore, this call was eventually both heeded and rejected with equal fervency on both sides of the issue. Second, Henry lucidly articulated the major issues that eventually came to divide theologically conservative Christianity into two of its larger present-day factions. Though Henry did not exhaustively lay out his conclusions in his brief work, he did discuss all of the issues on which the two camps disagreed.

One of the more important issues for Henry was Fundamentalism’s lack of influence in social and political issues. He felt that though the time for bringing such influence to bear on the pressing issues of the day was optimal, Fundamentalism was ignoring its responsibilities to society at large. He states,

During the past two generations, creative ethical thinking was done by those whose ideology was divorced from New Testament supernaturalism. . . . Nothing is clearer today than that the Fundamentalist was dismissed with an almost perverted lightness, when he warned that the non-evangelicals were not delving deeply enough into the nature and destiny of man to prevent a dark disillusionment. After all, the judgment of two world wars stands now with the appraisal of the Fundamentalist.

The troubled conscience of the modern liberal, growing out of his superficial optimism, is a deep thing in modern times. But so is the uneasy conscience of the modern Fundamentalist, that no voice is speaking today as Paul would, either at the United Nations sessions, or at labor-management disputes, or in strategic university classrooms whether in Japan or Germany or America.2

Henry concluded that Fundamentalism had abdicated this role in society due to a desire to avoid confusing biblical Christianity with the liberal social gospel.3 Though Henry was a premillennialist, the largely dispensational Fundamentalism from which he eventually broke was supposedly encouraged toward a disinteres...

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