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Home » Church History » Chapter 22: Europe Re-enchanted or Disenchanted? (1815 – 1914) – Part I – First-wave feminism, Ultramontanism, and Hegel » Chapter 22: Europe Re-enchanted or Disenchanted? (1815 – 1914) – Part II: Biblical criticism, the Rise of Fundamentalism, and Nietzsche

Chapter 22: Europe Re-enchanted or Disenchanted? (1815 – 1914) – Part II: Biblical criticism, the Rise of Fundamentalism, and Nietzsche






Describe the rise of biblical criticism during the 19th century. Discuss the works of pastors and missionaries, like David Strauss and Albert Schweitzer, in their quests for the ‘historical Jesus’. How did perceptions of the Bible change because of higher criticism?


Albert Schweitzer (1875 - 1965)

Albert Schweitzer (1875 – 1965) , Nobel Peace Prize 1952

The rise of science (especially evolution) to counter and seemingly contradict the Church forced the church to up its game and be rigorously serious in its biblical scholarship.   There was the school of thought that the Bible was more allegorical than literal or historical.  David Strauss was the first to argue this for the New Testament.  He felt that most of the New Testament was told as mirrored from the Old Testament which was a familiar medium for Jews than a historical telling. He felt this was not a deception, but simply the accepted method of the times.


Albert Schweitzer was even harsher.  He felt that the historical Jesus was a failure who believed the world was on the verge of ending and his death would speed its coming up.  Archeology showed that Israel wasn’t as grand as claimed in the Bible and that many stories and ideas were borrowed extensively from other religions and cultures around.


Some feel that we should steadfastly hold onto the Bible as unchanging regardless of new information or evidence as summed up flippantly by Cardinal Manning, that history must be overcome with dogma.  Oppositely, MacCulloch feels that dogma must be purified by history.








Discuss the development of ‘Fundamentalism’ during the 1870s. What was it a reaction against? How and why did it form? How did it get its name? Discuss the roles Ira Sankey and D. L. Moody played in its rise. What are the central tenets of Fundamentalism?



Christian Fundamentalism began in the late 19th- and early 20th-century among British and American Protestants as a reaction to theological liberalism and cultural modernism. Fundamentalists argued that 19th century modernist theologians had misinterpreted or rejected certain doctrines, especially biblical inerrancy, that they viewed as the fundamentals of Christian faith. Scholars debate how much the terms “evangelical” and “fundamentalist” are synonymous.


Fundamentalism is a movement manifested in various denominations with various theologies, rather than a single denomination or systematic theology. It became active in the 1910s after the release of The Fundamentals, a twelve-volume set of essays, apologetic and polemic, written by conservative Protestant theologians to defend what they saw as Protestant orthodoxy. The movement became more organized in the 1920s within U.S. Protestant churches, especially Baptist and Presbyterian. Many such churches adopted a “fighting style” and combined Princeton theology with Dispensationalism.


Since 1930, many fundamentalist churches in North America and around the world have been represented by the Independent Fundamental Churches of America (renamed IFCA International in 1996), which holds to biblical inerrancy, the virgin birth of Jesus, substitutionary atonement, the literal resurrection of Christ, and the Second Coming of Christ, among other doctrines.


Fundamentalism came from multiple streams in British and American theology of the 19th century. The first important stream was Evangelicalism as it emerged in the revivals of the First Great Awakening and Second Great Awakening in America and the Methodism movement in England in the period 1730-1840. They in turn had been influenced by the Pietism movement in Germany. A second stream was Dispensationalism, a new interpretation of the Bible developed in the 1830s in England. Darby’s ideas were disseminated by the notes and commentaries in the widely used Scofield Reference Bible, published in 1909. Dispensationalism was a millenarian theory that divided all of time into seven different stages, called “dispensations”, which were seen as stages of God’s revelation. At the end of each stage, according to this theory, God punished humanity for having been found wanting in God’s testing. Secularism, liberalism, and immorality in the 1920s were believed to be signs that humanity had again failed God’s testing. Dispensationalists believed that the world was on the verge of the last stage, where a final battle will take place at Armageddon, followed by Christ’s return and 1,000 year reign.


A third stream was Princeton Theology, which responded to higher criticism of the Bible by developing from the 1840s to 1920 the doctrine of inerrancy. This doctrine, also called biblical inerrancy, stated that the Bible was divinely inspired, religiously authoritative, and without error. This doctrine, also called biblical inerrancy, stated that the Bible was divinely inspired, religiously authoritative, and without error. Biblical inerrancy was a particularly significant rallying point for fundamentalists.


A fourth stream—the immediate spark—was the 12-volume study The Fundamentals, published 1910-1915. Sponsors subsidized the free distribution of over three million individual volumes to clergy, laymen and libraries. This version stressed several core beliefs, including:


  • The inerrancy of the Bible
  • The literal nature of the Biblical accounts, especially regarding Christ’s miracles and the Creation account in Genesis
  • The Virgin Birth of Christ
  • The bodily resurrection and physical return of Christ
  • The substitutionary atonement of Christ on the cross


Like Princeton Theology, The Fundamentals reflected growing opposition among many evangelical Christians towards higher criticism of the Bible and modernism.


A leading organizer of the Fundamentalist campaign against modernism in the United States was William Bell Riley, a Northern Baptist based in Minneapolis, where his Northwestern Bible and Missionary Training School (1902), Northwestern Evangelical Seminary (1935), and Northwestern College (1944) produced thousands of graduates. At a large conference in Philadelphia in 1919, Riley created the World Christian Fundamentals Association (WCFA), which became the chief interdenominational fundamentalist organization in the 1920s. Although the fundamentalist drive of the 1920s to take control of the major Protestant denominations failed at the national level, the network of churches and missions fostered by Riley shows the movement was growing in strength, especially in the U.S. South. Both rural and urban in character, the flourishing movement acted as a denominational surrogate and fostered a militant evangelical Christian orthodoxy. Riley was president of WCFA until 1929, after which the WFCA faded in importance.


Much of the enthusiasm for mobilizing fundamentalism came from Christian seminaries and Christian “Bible colleges” in the United States. Two leading fundamentalist seminaries were the Dispensationalist Dallas Theological Seminary, founded in 1924 by Lewis Sperry Chafer, and the Reformed Westminster Theological Seminary, formed in 1929 under the leadership and funding of former Princeton Theological Seminary professor J. Gresham Machen. Many Bible colleges were modeled after the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. Dwight Moody was influential in preaching the imminence of the Kingdom of God that was so important to Dispensationalism. Bible colleges prepared ministers who lacked college or seminary experience with intense study of the Bible, often using the Scofield Reference Bible of 1909, a King James Version Bible with detailed notes interpreting passages from a Dispensational perspective.


Although U.S. fundamentalism began in the North, the movement’s greatest popular strength was in the South, especially among Southern Baptists, where individuals (and sometimes entire churches) left the convention to join other Baptist denominations perceived as “more conservative” or to join the Independent Baptist movement. By the late 1920s the national media had identified it with the South, largely ignoring manifestations elsewhere. By the 1970s Christian fundamentalism was deeply entrenched and concentrated in the U.S. South. In 1972–1980 General Social Surveys, 65% of respondents from the “East South Central” region (comprising Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Alabama) self-identified as fundamentalist. The share of fundamentalists was at or near 50% in “West South Central” (Texas to Arkansas) and “South Atlantic” (Florida to Maryland), and at 25% or below elsewhere in the country, with the low of 9% in New England. The pattern persisted into the 21st century; in 2006–2010 surveys, the average share of fundamentalists in the East South Central Region stood at 58%, while, in New England, it climbed slightly to 13%.





Discuss the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. Describe his ‘God is dead’ philosophy. Discuss how his Lutheran upbringing molded some aspects of his anti-Christian rhetoric.



Friedrich Nietzsche (1844 - 1900)

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844 – 1900)

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844 – 1900) became one of the most influential philosophers of the 19th century, whose influence spanned well into the 20th century. He challenged much of the accepted philosophical and ethical approaches of his time, and many of his ideas, in particular his view of truth and moral values ultimately being relative, would set the course for later existentialist thinkers. He rejected most, if not all, the philosophers before him who had tried to interpret the world, believing that all philosophies were just subjective opinions on the world, with none of them containing any absolute truth. All that the philosophers were trying to do was to make others see things the way they see them, all in an attempt to gain power. Reason was nothing more than a product of our (instinctual) drives, desires and passions. Any hope for ever attaining absolute truth, certainty, or fixed moral principles must be totally abandoned. After his death, he would be considered a forerunner of existentialism and postmodernism, and even a major influence on Nazism and fascism in the twentieth century.




He was born in rural Prussia, born into a family of Lutheran pastors (both his father and grandfather). He became Professor of Classical Philology at Basle University in Switzerland at the age of 24. Throughout his life and career he wrote a series of iconoclastic books that attacked the assumptions of Western intellectual traditions, i.e. God, Christianity, morality, truth and democracy. In many of his works he sought to propose an alternative philosophy, a ‘philosophy of future’, on which a new world could be built after the collapse of the current culture.


In his book The Genealogy of Morals (1887), he set to trace out the origin of our moral ideas and challenge our most basic assumptions about our notions of good and evil. He saw that what traditional (Western) morality considered to be ‘good’ was mostly based on Jesus’ teachings which focused on the qualities of meekness, compassion, and humility – what he would call ‘slave morality’ or an adoption of the mentality of a slave. Then on the other hand, those who adopted a stance on strength, power, and dominance – the mark of a ‘master’ mentality – were considered ‘evil’. For Nietzsche, this slave morality was unhealthy for the progress of humanity, a failure to be what we truly are and meant to be. Humility, love, and compassion are masks of our weaknesses, covering up our failures by diverting attention to those of others rather than ourselves. Master morality, by contrast, correctly accepts that the expression of an individual’s own desires and needs- the sign of a master- are necessarily good. This is a type of morality that is healthy and good; therefore any other approach to morality is bad. Slave morality is typified by the masses or the ‘herd’, while master morality is that of the ‘Superman’ or ‘Overman’. This ‘Superman’ was the true expression of what it is to be a human. He is a law unto himself and no other, supremely alive, asserting his boundless vitality and powers, not limited by any external constraints, and free to create and to impose his creations upon others. In order to be a true and real person, he must rise above all that expresses the values of the herd and assert his ‘will to power’ over all that is weak or belonging to ‘slave morality’. This ‘will to power’ is the source of living and the key to life; furthermore, the world and nature itself are also driven by this will that is manifested in its raw form through its desire to live by destroying/consuming others or surviving by asserting power. This drive to power drives all of us and controls all our actions and decisions. In his attack on Christianity, he claimed that even the Christian actions that seemed most loving and unselfish are in fact, at root, an expression of the will to power. They are simply a self-centered way of manipulating others for our own ends.


To Nietzsche, the main problem was that ‘God is dead’ which meant more than just that God did not exist. Despite the fact that he lived at a time when Christianity was spreading worldwide at an unprecedented rate, he appears to have believed that religion, especially Christianity, was on the decline and would cease to exist altogether. The phrase ‘God is dead’ was really a rallying cry to dispense with our need for God, to get rid of him from our lives, and then be on the path of true liberation and become fully human. However, this liberty comes with a cost. Nietzsche recognized that with the death of God, all ‘horizons’ have also been wiped away. There is now no up or down, no fixed points, no standards, no truth, no values, no morals, no meaning, no rationality. In fact, without God now, every foundation that human life had been built upon is gone. So in this vacuum, he concluded that the only way to assess anything now was the extent to which it benefited the individual in this life. Any meaning and values must now be rooted in humanity. But he had no time for humanity at large or for any form of democracy. He considered the majority of people (‘the common herd’) to be weak and inauthentic, being too saturated with the virtues of Christianity that he so despised. He believed in the elimination of the weak before they could hinder the progress of the strong.


It was interesting to note in this chapter where MacCulloch states that Nietzsche’s emphasis on the death of God was not original; he was in fact ‘standing in the logic of the Lutheran tradition which had moulded him, and so of Augustine and Paul beyond.’ (loc. 16787) In effect, he had ‘simply reversed the logic of the tradition from Paul to Augustine to Luther. He saw Christ as an example to be avoided, because Christ denied the world. God was not merely in the dock, but condemned to be executed.’ (loc. 16790) Here, MacCulloch stops short of going a bit more in depth as to how Nietzsche’s Lutheran upbringing further affected his philosophy. However, MacCulloch concludes this chapter by summing up what the general mood was throughout Europe at the end of the 19th century, where he describes it as ‘a century of disenchantment with Christianity and the supernatural in an age of science, a period of ebbing of European faith… It saw the beginning of a move towards virtual extinction for ancient non-Chalcedonian Christian Churches in their homelands, and the posing of profound questions for the authority of Western Christianity.’ (loc. 16799) It was a sentiment that was encapsulated within the thoughts of Friedrich Nietzsche all too well.





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