The Logical Connection Between Old Fundamentalism and Premillennialism

“In reaction to the Modernists’ optimism the Fundamentalists, convinced that the war presaged the end of the world, placed their hope upon the Second Coming of Christ. This tenet explained the evil days to their satisfaction, for it envisaged, so far as most Adventists were concerned, a period of devastation before the Return. But since the doctrine of Christ’s reappearance on earth was one of the beliefs which the Fundamentalists felt to be jeopardized by the higher critics’ tinkering with the Bible, the emphasis on millennialism demanded of them a spirited defense of the old faith and bitter opposition to the new. It was significant that many fervent champions of religious orthodoxy after 1918 were premillennialists.”

-Norman F. Furniss ‘The Fundamentalist Controversy”

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“Christ in Creation” by Augustus Hopkins Strong

Strong’s title article in Christ in Creation, is a preparatory opening salvo in his discussion of his views on ethical monism. It associated the second person of the trinity with the creation in such a way that the creation is a direct manifestation of God. It is not merely the evidence of his handiwork, rather, it is a presentation of who God is in much the same way as a face is to the mind behind it. One can easily see in this article, along with the two following articles on ethical monism, how some would come to see Strong’s views on Christ and his relationship to creation as tantamount to pantheism. This is, however, a charge that Strong would vehemently deny, in spite of the fact that one of the well worn analogies for pantheism and even process theology is the world as God’s body. Strong only uses the face of God for his analogy, but one would be hard pressed to see this as a significant difference between Strong’s theology and pantheism.

Our Denominational Outlook by Augustus Hopkins Strong

Strong’s address to the Baptist Denominational meeting held on May 19, 1904 finds its spokesman opining about the successes of Baptists in the past numerically, financially, and progressively. He does note that Baptist growth in numbers has tapered off and that they could be a bit more giving. But these are all the stock and trade of a typical Baptist minister. Strong, however, was neither typical nor, strictly speaking, a minister. He was a Baptist seminary president who had been a pastor. He was such a man who would divide his allegiance between a progressive outlook for the future and a staunch orthodoxy from the past. This makes Strong a unique character: a sort of chimera – neither fish nor fowl.

In other works, Strong would subscribe to no single theory of inspiration while still claiming biblical authority on matters of faith and practice. He would hold that scholars make too much of alleged discrepancies in the text of Scripture even as he himself subscribed to a sort of theistic evolution. Strong takes the opportunity, in this address, however, to promote his ethical monism and his unique view of the atonement.

Here Strong delivers a not so subtle message that the laws of the universe are nothing more or less than “habits of Christ” (14). Furthermore, Christ is intimately related to man in that all men were in him before they were in Adam. This leads to an atonement that is at once substitutionary and also sharing. Christ shares in the sin of the race. Christ is in humanity and humanity is in Christ. In fact, Christ is providing the good impulses in unregenerate man by indwelling them (15). The substitution of Christ is merely the manifestation of Christ’s erstwhile sharing in humanity’s suffering from sin (17). Of course this raised more than a few eyebrows in orthodox circles. This was more than mere realism; it was an extreme form of realism.

Other than the promoting of Strong’s rather unique views about Christ, humanity, creation, and atonement, the address is rather pedestrian. It cites successes in the past, challenges in the present, and largely a promising future. Among other things, Strong believes that a more serious worship is in order (23), that evangelism ought to be commonplace among the rank and file membership (24), and that Christians ought to involve themselves in public service (25). He implores his listeners to take heed in view of the coming Christ, but he fails to give a clue as to his views on the millennium. We know from elsewhere that he was really postmillennial but claimed to also be premillennial.

The future outlook for the church and the challenges of the present find Strong promoting timeless truths. This address could be preached today with little change for his concerns of yesteryear are the same as ours today. They only interesting item is his creative injection of ethical monism into his address.

The Modernist Impulse in American Protestantism

The Modernist Impulse in American ProtestantismHutchison provides for the reader a concise, if not easily readable, summary of the history of modernism within American Protestantism. He traces the earliest modernist impulse back to the old Unitarians. His narrative maintains a distinction between liberalism and modernism. All modernists are liberals, but not all liberals are modernists. Liberalism could make headway within religion without the input of modernity. Modernism, however, made use of the modern Zeitgeist. Of course, this does not mean that liberalism and modernism are sealed off from one another. Very early on liberalism and modernism would become subsumed under the single referent, modernism. Hutchison primarily traces the American form of modernist Protestantism beginning with the Unitarians and ending with the Niebuhrs. As such, it makes a tacit statement that the modernist form of religious liberalism is primarily a bygone thing. Hutchison offers barely a hint of Process Theology or the ethnic-gender-socio-economic theologies. His scope seems limited when compared to Gary Dorrien’s ponderously exhaustive three volume history of religious liberalism. Hutchison’s treatment, however, seems to be an improvement on Kenneth Cauthen’s seminal work on American religious liberalism. I hope to be able to examine both of these works in the future. As such, Hutchison’s work stands prospective to Cauthen and retrospective to Dorrien.

Hutchison finds early religious modernism taking root under the auspices of what Marsden would call old evangelicalism. The denial of biblical authority in any orthodox sense and the entertaining of higher critical views with respect to the Bible first occur, in any lasting sense, within the fold of evangelicalism. The evangelical desire to affect culture not only connects it to the Social Gospel, but also aids in disguising a significant renovation of theology that was going on just beneath the surface of its social piety. This could, perhaps, explain why so many fundamentalists are still wary of any social component in the gospel or related to the gospel, and why later evangelicals would confess an uneasy conscience with respect to its neglect of the same. Hutchison relates the usual sordid details of the altercation. He relates events from the Presbyterian heresy trials to the slow takeover by modernists of all the mainline denominations and their service organizations. First individual pulpits, then seminaries, then mission boards file successively into the modernist fold. Hutchison takes time to differentiate between types of modernists. He demonstrates how different liberals may present their views. A particularly disheartening narrative is Hutchison’s depiction of the reaction of modernists to the fundamentalist uprising. Despite evangelicals and fundamentalists opining about the disruption brought about by the fight, Hutchison develops a narrative that leaves the fundamentalists as largely ignored. He does not deny that they had talent and that they had valid arguments, but by the time they mounted any real offence, modernists had largely moved on. I tend to think that those living at the flashpoints of the debate probably saw more than mere disinterest by liberals in the fundamentalists’ contentions, but Hutchison’s broad sweep of the events in retrospective does seem to provide a procrustean bed for his assertion. For all of this, Hutchison lacks interest in providing an ample description of the roots of American modernism within Europe. That seems to be his point. American modernism, to a certain extent, was a domestic brand. European thought may have influenced it, but American modernism was unique in its own right. In like manner, Hutchison depicts the next stage of religious theology

Carl F. H. Henry on A. H. Strong

Henry’s dissertation at Boston University, entitled Personal Idealism and Strong’s Theology, was worked into this volume which maintains its scholarly style. It was fitting that Henry, the Baptist, would write a dissertation on the Baptist theologian, A. H. Strong. This book entails a correlation of Strong’s ethical monism with the personal idealism of the sort prevalent at Boston University during the tenure of Borden Parker Bowne. Personal idealism of the Bowne variety, however, is commented upon very little. Instead, a description of Strong’s ethical monism ensues from Henry’s pen. It can be argued that Strong’s ethical monism shares important affinities with Bowne’s personal idealism. Strong’s monism combines with the idealism in which Christ becomes the nexus for the personalities which make up reality.

In actuality, Henry spends most of his text describing Strong’s ethical monism, where it shows up in his corpus, and how it is worked through the various strands of Strong’s doctrinal thought. Strong held, somewhat paradoxically, that God is the constituent ground of everything observable and known to exist, material and immaterial, but that God exceeds this as well, making him also transcendent. Strong’s believes that Christ’s connection with humanity antedates his incarnation, beginning at Creation. Thus, Christ as God of the universe has been suffering with the sin of mankind ever since the fall.

Henry’s method of investigation is simple enough. First he traces the evolution of Strong’s theology up to his conception of monism in 1894 (Henry 95). Then Henry examines the remaining extant corpus of Strong highlighting anything that Strong says about monism and idealism. Especially helpful is Henry’s analysis of the editions of Strong’s Systematic Theology and the seminal works on monism found in Christ and Creation and Philosophy and Religion.

Toward the end Henry records the reaction to Strong’s monisim. It was not well recieved by liberal or conservative. To the liberal he did not go far enough in imposing the idealism over his view of reality as Bowne had done. To the conservative, Strong’s insistence on monism raised suspicions of a form of pantheistic liberalism. The old Calivinistic orthodoxy of Princeton and Caspar Wistar Hodge did not sit well with Strong’s novel ideas.

In the end, Henry himself doubts whether Strong’s monism is compatable with orthodox Christianity (Henry 228-229). He concludes that: (1) Strong’s monism went beyond the bounds of orthodoxy by proposing a new method and means of knowledge; (2) Strong only partially subscribed to the principle of knowledge, thus incurring the doubts of both liberal and conservative. (3) Strong’s own writings suggest the influence of Ezekiel A. Robinson, Hermann Lotze, and Borden Parker Bowne; (4) Strong’s odd mixture of liberal ideas and orthodox ideas placed his “ethical monisim” in both the orthodox realm and the personal idealist realm, but not without discontinuities with both of them; (5) Bowne’s personal idealism moved farther away from orthodox bibliology than Strong because Strong did not incorporate as radical an immanentalism as Bowne; (6) Strong insisted on an orthodox trinitarianism which put him at odds with the personal idealistic school; (7) Strong’s orthodoxy kept him from fully embracing the outcome of his monism. This is evident in his view of the atonement in which he espouses both substitution and sharing as the ground of the atonement.

Augustus H. Strong and the Dilemma of Historical Consciousness

Grant Wacker writes this little book on A. H. Strong not so much as a biography in the traditional sense, but as an intellectual biography. He traces the inclinations of Strong from the standpoint of Strong’s progressive tendencies which he sees reaching their zenith at the turn of the century and digressing from that time to the end of Strong’s days.

The mode that Wacker uses is Strong’s sense of historical consciousness. This term,”historical consciousness,” is Wacker’s euphemism for modernism. Modernism is the quintessential form of thought that incorporates the concept of a historical consciousness. This historical consciousness is the sense that events, thoughts, and, to a large degree, perceived reality are progressing toward a goal. As such, the general course of history is one of betterment. The ideas of yesterday are replaced by the better ideas of today which will, in turn, be replaced by the even better ideas of tomorrow. In short, historical consciousness is the cult of the ever progressing present and the ever hopeful future.

To be sure, Wacker has Strong caught in a dilemma. Strong wants to remain open minded toward the scholarship that has developed up to his day. This fact is evidenced in a good many articles in Christ and Creation, Philosophy and Religion, and his two volumes of Miscelllanies. Strong constantly wages a campaign that all the new ideas somehow be reconcilled with the old ideas.

Strong’s dilemma happens precisely at the point of his acceptance of monism, which happens to be the overarching philosophy du jour for his time period. In the course of his mid-to- late career, Strong argues for a newer and better philosophical-theological nexus, the proper use of higher criticism, theistic evolution, an accommodating of criticism view of inspiration, and the progress of doctrine.

Interestingly, most orthodox theologians would agree with the progress of doctrine. Strong, however combines the power of the progress of doctrine with an almost Thomistic view of natural revelation in order to provide a modern theological outlook that is at once modern and orthodox. In the end, both the modernity and the orthodoxy are strained. Wacker argues that this dilemma winds down to a stress on orthodoxy toward the end of Strong’s life. Apparently, the end game of modernism proved to be too much of a “second Unitarian defection” for Strong’s taste. Ironically, the most progressive edition of Strong’s magnum opus, his Systematic Theology, carries with it the sternest warning against the theologically progressive.

Book Review: Avery Dulles, S.J., Models of Revelation

Avery Dulles, S. J., Models of Revelation (Garden City, New York: Image Books, 1985).

Avery Dulles’ work on revelation exists as a sort of companion volume to his Models of the Church which I believe was published about five years later by the same publisher. The format is very familiar to any educated reader of theology. “Any educated reader” implies a broader audience than the profession of theology. Certainly, theologians have and will make use of it, and clergy as well; but Dulles seems to be writing to all those interested in religion, not just to the guild. The format follows that of H. Richard Niebuhr’s classic Christ and Culture in that it seeks to abstract types or species out of a morass of possible entities. It seems that these sorts of books, a staple for the middle to late Twentieth century, come with three or five distinct possibilities. Dulles provides five, and, all things considered, his methodology fits his project much better than Niebuhr’s ever did. Niebuhr’s types or models never fit any one thing and Niebuhr decided to argue for one model to take precedence over the others despite a lukewarm commitment to even that. Niebuhr set out to do what really he could not do because of a plenitude of variables contained within his project. Dulles remedies Niebuhr’s shortcomings by applying the method to something it can encompass. Dulles’ models of revelation have relatively obvious points of demarcation. They tend to be distinct even if adherence to one model or another is not consistent. Dulles provides a two-pronged approach to his project. First, he outlines the available options in the field. Second, he synthesizes the options in the field under what could arguably be called a sixth model, but Dulles presents it as a common denominator of all the models as they stand. As a test for this common denominator, Dulles places this concept of revelation through all the salient aspects of Christian faith and practice in order to determine whether or not the proposed common denominator maintains its integrity in helping to define and communicate the essence of the faith and its incarnation in conduct. He applies this test not through merely his proposal, but his proposal as found in each of the previously reviewed five models of revelation. His success at this, to a certain degree, will depend on the judgment of the reader. In brief compass, Dulles’ approach is essentially empirical. Indeed, it is arguably Baconian, following his rough outline in observation, hypothesis, and testing. The following is a description of Dulles’ process and a review concerning his effectiveness.

Dulles, at the beginning of the book lays out the issue for his readers. He rehearses the basic difficulties for revelation such as epistemology, psychology, historical theology, and comparative religions just to name a few. He briefly considers a revelation-less Christianity of Karl Jaspers and F. Gerald Downing promising to deliver an answer through the remainder of the book. Dulles also sets up criteria by which to attest the models of his project. These are considered to be “relatively neutral” (Dulles:17), indicating that Dulles, at this point, belongs to the intellectual frontier between modernity and postmodernity. Dulles moves from the past into the future, and, while sensitive to criticisms voiced by a nascent postmodernity, nevertheless retains his modernist methodologies. His criteria includes “faithfulness to the Bible and Christian tradition, internal coherence, plausibility, adequacy to experience, practical fruitfulness, theoretical fruitfulness, and value for dialogue (Dulles:16–17).” The reader should notice that almost all of his criteria are subjective; only giving the illusion of being objective much like we find in sociology.

Following his foundation for the study and methodology for embarking on his enterprise, Dulles takes the reader through a history of the doctrine of revelation, summarizing briefly the premodern period of Christendom only to go into great detail concerning eight modern trends in Christian theology concerning revelation. Clearly this pluriform teaching concerning revelation spanning only about 200 years is the agitation providing a raison d’être for this study.

The next five chapters give exposition to the five models currently in play within modern Christendom. I will treat these briefly. The first model is revelation as doctrine. This roughly corresponds to Lindbeck’s positivist cognitive approach to doctrine, but Dulles does not treat it with disdain. He describes two varieties: conservative evangelicalism and Catholic Neo-scholasticism. The first variant tries to allow Scripture to interpret itself while the second allows the life of the church to aid in interpreting the Scriptures. Dulles is careful to recognize the intellectual congruence of both inerrancy and propositionalism. Inerrancy makes sense within the model and propositionalism is not to be misunderstood as leveling the text to mere propositions. Nevertheless, Dulles finds this model falling short of the criteria mentioned above.

The second model is revelation as history. Whereas the first model placed the locus of revelation in a text, the second model places it in acts and deeds found in history. Dulles places C. H. Dodd, the Heilsgeschichteschule of Cullman and von Hofmann, and Pannenberg within this model. For these theologians, God primarily reveals himself through his mighty deeds, often for his people and against his foes. Dulles finds this model to be biblical and plausible, but it fails in its coherence because many of the historical deeds are related in a text. Dulles notes in somewhat negative finality that the Hebrew “dabar” may refer to both word and event (Dulles:67).

The third model is revelation as inner experience. This model and the two treated subsequently reveal a more subjectivist slant than the previous two, perhaps highlighting the fault line that makes this study necessary. This view encompasses the liberal Protestant pietist theologians like Schleiermacher and Ritschl, as well as their Catholic counterparts like George Tyrrell, and Anglicans like Evelyn Underhill and Dean W. R. Inge. In fact, under this heading, Dulles lists a multitude of adherents. These theologians view revelation as an inner subjective feeling that may only be precipitated by the aforementioned words and deeds. Dulles’ definition and explanation is thorough and complete even if C. H. Dodd’s position now spans two categories. Dulles finds merits and deficiencies in this model as well. Its subjectivity undermines its value in the criteria of productivity.

Dulles’ fourth model is the ever popular revelation as dialectical presence. In this category, Dulles places all the variegations of crisis theology from Barth to Brunner to Bultmann. The revelation of God is inherently existential. It seeks to handle the difficulty of a series of contrapuntal theological propositions: the transcendence of God and his imminent revelation in Jesus Christ, the holiness of God, and man’s sinfulness. There just seems to be no real way to God from below, but human experience and the revelation of Christ seem to tell these theologians something different. The Bible becomes the locus of oracle, not the product of oracle. Dulles spends some text explaining the various themes found within this model and concludes with his standard catalog of merits and deficiencies. Particularly deficient is the recognition of word and deed revelation with no real means of allowing this to happen, so the revelation is veiled. Its significance is not recognized until the appropriate crisis arrives.

Dulles’ fifth and final model is revelation as new awareness. This wins the award for the most subjective, ephemeral, and ethereal. In this model, revelation does not occur in the specifics of words, deeds, feelings (although they come close), or crisis. Rather, revelation is a heightened awareness. This works in and through human abilities that may be latent, but are energized so that the subject experiences a new perspective. In this model, the external reality which the perspective communicates nearly dissolves in the heightened perceptions of the subject. Again, Dulles duly adjudicates merits and criticisms, most of which should seem obvious.

This ends the most useful portion of Dulles’ project. What he does in categorizing, summarizing, and critiquing provides useful information to any student of theology, but his goal to provide some common denominator by which all may fulfill the criteria he has set up seems a tall order. In fact, it seems to look an awful lot like the death rattle of a modernist methodology within the field of theology. Dulles seems to sense that modernist means of theological method have been and are being quickly supplanted by a new way of doing theology. His frequent references to Heidgegger, Polanyi, and anonymous allusions to Gadamer mark well that he has kept current in the field. His provision of the common denominator of symbol itself straddles the two worlds of modernity and post modernity. He describes symbol in such a manner so that it is flexible enough to remain relative, supplying whatever lacks in any of the previous five models, and, yet, it remains a neutral ground for discourse – a sort of Diltheyesque Holy Grail of common discourse. It stands as a modernist chimeric fantasy in capitulation to postmodern criticisms.

Dulles draws upon more aesthetically communicable ideas to promote his concept of revelation as symbol. Indeed, he calls Coleridge and Yeats as witness to the validity of his proposal. But, looking back, from the vantage point of 2009, Dulles’ proposal seems like a simplistic tautology. Language is symbol. Historical acts are symbol. Inner experiences may be reduced to symbols (sounds almost Jungian). The tension of dialectics may be captured in symbols. A heightened sense of perception may be best communicated in symbols. These are the proposals he lays before his readers, who, after the passing of some 25 years, find nothing new here regarding perceptions of how language and experience work. Derrida has so trumped Dulles such that reading this seems like reading Copernicus’ theory of a heliocentric solar system. It is no breakthrough for us now.

Dulles continues to apply the symbolic model to each of the other five models as they, in turn, grapple with the basic questions of Christian theology: Christ, Bible, Church, Revelation, and Eschatology. His treatments of these aspects are mixed. At best the symbol metaphor may help with dialogue, but it will never help theologians using a specific model to recognize others using a different model as legitimate Christians. Symbol may be useful for understanding how another model says what it says, but the diverse premises of the other models preclude harmony. Dulles’ understanding of how symbolic epistemology aids theology or works with theology is useful, but it will never put an end to critiquing theology on the basis of difference. It only puts an end to dismissing certain theologies as out of hand because it brings to light the authoritative presuppositions that lie close to the heart of the theological method of each model.