Reclaiming Fundamentalism: Harold Lindsell, Inerrancy, and the Fragmentation of Postwar Evangelicalism, 1935-82
Date of Award
Master of Theology (Th.M)
A latter twentieth-century debate over biblical inspiration divided American evangelicals and Southern Baptists into conservative and liberal, inerranists and non-inerrantist factions. Harold Lindsell, at the time editor of leading evangelical magazine Christianity Today, led the conservative charge by releasing The Battle for the Bible in 1976. In the book’s sequel, he announced his decision to give up the label “evangelical” for “fundamentalist,” thus reversing the evangelical establishment’s twenty-year precedent of limiting association with the militant movement.
While Lindsell—along with fellow theological conservatives—is often portrayed as an unsavory controversialist, this thesis argues that it took roughly two decades for him to reclaim the militant mindset and methodology characteristic of fundamentalism. An analysis of personal correspondence, speeches, and published works not only traces his journey but reveals its roots: concern over the future of missions and the church’s spiritual health. Like several prominent neo-evangelical leaders, Lindsell’s path began in the 1930s fundamentalist subculture of Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois, which exposed him to Higher Life revivalism and Reformed apologetics. When he joined Harold John Ockenga and Carl F. H. Henry in the formation of Fuller Seminary, Pasadena, California, he focused his energies on world evangelization rather than doctrinal polemics. In his writings, he situated neo-evangelicalism between combative fundamentalism and compromising ecumenism.
Lindsell’s neo-evangelical optimism faded once Fuller abandoned biblical inerrancy in the early 1960s; it nearly disappeared in 1969 as America’s socio-cultural upheaval threatened to supplant orthodoxy altogether. To prevent evangelical theology and missiology from succumbing to post-modern relativism and mainline-Protestant humanitarianism, Lindsell used his CT editorship to champion inerrancy in the 1970s. This led to his 1976 manifesto, in which he argued that any self-identified evangelical who rejected the doctrine was not worthy of the label. The debate sparked a conservative renaissance in the Evangelical Theological Society and a sweeping takeover in the Southern Baptist Convention, with Lindsell demanding resignations of non-inerrantist scholars and professors in both groups. By the early 1980s, his writings and activities clearly demonstrated he had reclaimed fundamentalism—the moniker and the method.
Thomas, Amber R., "Reclaiming Fundamentalism: Harold Lindsell, Inerrancy, and the Fragmentation of Postwar Evangelicalism, 1935-82" (2010). Master of Art Theology Thesis. 72.