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Fundamentalism and American Culture in the Gilded Age
In the last quarter of the nineteenth century American evangelical Protestantism, facing both the social and intellectual challenges, tried to reappropriate its tradition in the new conditions. As a result, it gave birth to two major interdenominational movements; the Social Gospel and fundamentalism.
The fundamentalist movement was organized by the revivalist Dwight L. Moody, with the aim of evangelizing the entire society, particularly the labor class who had been alienated from the middle-class mainline churches. In the latter part of the 1870s Moody tried to reach the masses through urban mass revivalism, which utilized the means of big business. The overall effect of his revivals was, however, to attract middle-class regular church-goers, who saw in them a way to reconcile the preindustrial evangelical values and the new industrial ones. Troubled by the fact that his revivals had failed to reach the masses, he shifted his emphasis from directly awakening the urban poor to quickening the church members into going out among the masses as evangelists. Nonetheless, with the public enthusiasm for his revivals on the wane, Moody came to believe that the only way to reach the urban poor was through the Christian workers. Therefore, in the 1880s he concentrated upon founding the Bible schools and conferences designed to train laypersons as evangelists. The fundamentalist organizations are the product of the interactions between evangelicalism and American culture. The same can be said about the three new theologies fundamentalism adopted, i.e., "inspiration," "dispensational premillennialism," and "Keswick holiness." The fundamentalists incorporated parts of these doctrines with a view to promoting evangelism among the masses as well as the renewal of the formalistic churches. These theologies explained the "is" of American culture in the Gilded Age, while at the same time reorienting the fundamentalists toward the "ought."
Fundamentalism, contrary to the popular belief that it is committed to a fixed set of beliefs, has, in fact, been a more flexible movement, always responding to and being influeced by the changes in the general culture. The fundamentalist movement, like any other popular religious movement, has made use of historically and culturally conditioned concepts in order to make an impact upon the general culture. This has entailed, on the other hand, a mingling of the Gospel and culturally defined assumptions, ideals, and values.