Isaac Massey Haldeman: Religous Imagination – Theology

Religious Imagination

Perhaps more attached to his fidelity and fueling his fighting and finishing, Haldeman’s religious imagination is of singular importance. A lifetime of sermons, books, pamphlets, and even architecture bespeak of a man who had more on his mind and heart than merely the religious empires of the likes of Riley and Norris. In fact, Haldeman’s pulpit faithfulness and fearless denunciation of error resemble most closely those lesser fundamentalists of R. E. Neigbour, Oliver Van Osdel, and R. T. Ketcham. While the accuracy of this assessment cannot be fully answered in this brief article, it points toward a question that should be asked and one that should be answered. Can significantly different motives be assessed to different early fundamentalist leaders or are they all of a piece? Do they all share in the same grimy and grubbing game of one-upsmanship to build empires as big as their egos? I believe that their may be reason to believe otherwise, and Haldeman’s life and ministry may be but one example of a significantly different motivation than empire and ego. The difficulty at present is that little extant materials exist that reveal the depths of Haldeman’s inner man. Scant if any correspondence is presently available to the researcher, but shortly a search for this holy grail may be underway. If research could establish a deep, abiding, and overriding motivation for Haldeman’s ministry, the fact may be established that here existed a fundamentalist of few pretensions and less ego than existed in his empire building fundamentalist contemporaries who flourished during the latter years of his life. Do any clues exist to give warrant to what may be an overly optimistic assessment of his character? Combining his biography with some aspects of his ministry may just lend us some clues that partially affirm this assessment. Clues exist in his theology and aesthetic temperament.

Theology

Beyond being just fundamentalist, Haldeman was also dispensational, premillennial, and pretribulational. It can be argued that he was the first to bring the full weight of dispensationalism devoid of spiritualized eschatology, against liberals who spiritualized the resuurrection of Christ. Nearly half of his monographic corpus is dedicated to eschatology. The other half is divided fairly evenly between dispensational teaching, modernism, and false teachings like Theosophy and Christian Science. While much, if not most, of fundamentalism  tended toward pretribulational premillennialism; the slightly more than novice student of fundamentalism knows there were other eschatological views. If  J. Gresham Machen cannot be called a fundamentalist, T. T. Shield can and was. He was also an amillennialist. Furthermore, If Cauthen took the time to divide between those in early liberal theology, would it be much of a stretch to suppose that fundamentalists did not possess similar variegation?. Even their transitional figures were of a different sort than their later exponents. Strong and Mullins were more accomodating to the new theology and more progressive than their later champions of orthodoxy. It also seems that some fundamentalists were more interested in promoting empires and conveniently used their conservative convictions to divide a market of churchgoers, donors, and circles of loyalty. Others, it may be demonstrated, remained faithful to their convictions, leveraging every fiber of the ministry against the swelling tide of liberalism and modernism. These were men who developed a message that overshadowed their personality. They developed a theology not a constituency.[1] This may only be speculation, but Haldeman’s insistence on a dispensational, premillennial, and pretribulational theology and his denunciations of anything less may explain his lack of significant involvement in the broader fundamentalist movement. While he seems to have been friends with quite a few within the fundamentalist fold, he was very clear on where his allegiances resided within the spectrum of doctrine allowed in that fold. His fierce denunciation of Philip Mauro, who abdicated his dispensational beliefs for amillennialism and then repudiated his former teaching in a book, indicates the degree to which Haldeman held and cherished dispensationalism.[2] Perhaps, his rigid repudiation of even a minority report within fundamentalism may have marginalized his influence in the movement. Nevertheless, his constant preaching, teaching, and writing in the service of promoting dispensational eschatology – to almost an excess, seems to point to some goal beyond mere empire. He preached and wrote in such a way so as to exclude his close fellowship within broad fundamentalism.

While Riley, Norris, and others may have used the old theology; they failed to promote its ability to capture imaginations outside the walls of their ministries. They seemed, rather, to draw people to their ministries by the controversies and curiosities they stirred up. In turn, they used the human capital built up from their ministries to fund schools, mission agencies, and conferences to their own liking. To be sure some of agencies they founded that were parallel to denominational agencies may have been necessary because of the pollution of modernism. Upon further reflection, however, especially in the case of the Northern Baptist Convention, these opportunistic fundamentalists only seemed to establish their many empires to confront the empire of the other. Oftentimes these many empires of fundamentalism pitted themselves against each other in struggles for control.

Haldeman, by way of contrast, had a theology to promote. In his early years of ministry it centered on the gospel. Then it grew into an exposition of the dispensational premillennialism of the Scofieldian sort. Following that, in a manner analogous to an oblique military maneuver, he made a minor directional change to take on modernism. He used an inerrant Bible to substantiate the supernatural biblical truth in view of a coming supernatural and empirically verifiable second coming and millennial kingdom. In his argument Haldeman usually asserting that the things that modernists will not believe now because of Lessing’s ugly ditch will be abundantly verifiable in the future. He provides a basis of such an assertion by relating narratives from the Bible that demonstrate that those who ignore the authoritative testimony given to them, no matter incredulous the testimony may seem, are always shown to be wrong in the end. In two of his famous diatribes against modernism, “Jericho Theology”[3] and the “The New Religion.”[4] he argues this line very effectively.

Whereas other fundamentalists used the empire that they had built as a platform to advance fundamentalism against the onslaught of modernism, Haldeman used his preaching and writing. Much of Haldeman’s preaching and writing co-opted the biblical historical accounts of divine and obviously supernatural events breaking into the past visible world of humankind with the biblical prophetic account of divine providence breaking into the future visible world. The former was empirically verifiable, and in like manner, the latter would be as well.


[1]Admittedly, my alleged fundamentalist taxonomy needs to be further developed and substantiated.

[2]Isaac Massey Haldeman, The Kingdom of God: What Is It?–When Is It?–Where Is It? An Answer to Mr. Philip Mauro’s “Gospel of the Kingdom” (New York: Francis Emory Fitch, 1931), 17–21.

[3]Isaac Massey Haldeman, The Signs of the Times (New York: Charles C. Cook, 1913), 95–122.

[4]Isaac Massey Haldeman, The Signs of the Times, 123–49.

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