The Enlightenment Age was seen as a time of emancipation from ignorance and blind submission. The church authorities had long dictated the truth as they saw it, and this period would mark the break from faith and the shift to reason. Science replaced the miraculous and natural morality replaced dogma (Grenz, & Olson, 1992). Man became the center of the universe rather than God.
These progressive mindsets threatened to displace orthodoxy all together, which led to the rise of fundamentalist Christians sworn to preserve the unsullied doctrines of Christianity as they interpreted them. The struggle between these two would continue far beyond this era and ultimate reshape Christianity. On the back side of an era that demanded absolute agreement and submission to Christian dogma emerged a radical reform. Even as early as Luther, a break can be seen from orthodoxy.
This push from rigid doctrinal control continued through the ages coming fully into its own during the Age of Enlightenment and Reason. Philosophers began to question the absolutes of the universe as depicted by the Church, and came to the conclusion that men, not God, were to be the focal point. People began to look to science and logic to guild them reasonably. The enlightenment worldview understood that no longer could man lean upon and trust in that which could not be explained and fully comprehended. Many Christians during this time took on a liberal view of God, the Bible, miracles, and even Jesus Himself.
Nature became the primary expression of God rather than special biblical revelation. The Bible could no longer be taken as the final authority, and Jesus was downgraded to a moral teacher rather than the Son of God. Those teachers of reason and liberal thinking convinced society that they could self govern, and that though there was within man a tendency toward evil the application of the universal moral code would prevail against immorality. (Grenz, & Olson, 1992) Not everyone was ready to abandon the old religious ways.
In fact there were Christians who fought vehemently against the attacks on Christian doctrines. As the voice of reason reached into even the Christians educational institutions fundamentalists, as they came to be known, fought hard to keep them out; however their best efforts were not enough. It became apparent soon enough that the fundamentalist was the odd man out. The main problem with the liberal doctrine was that it removed the power and authority that are held in atonement, the resurrection, the forgiveness of sin, and the infallible word of God. Grenz, & Olson, 1992) They made these trivial issues that blended together and became merely verbiage rather than pillars of faith and issues of eternal salvation. The Fundamentalists, in an effort to protect the pure Christian faith, attacked science and all forms of biblical criticism in such an unreasonable way that it only served to strengthen the voice of enlightened reason. It was fear that led too much of the fundamentalist rigid over reactions. One such overreaction that wounded the Fundamentalist cause was the total rejection of evolution.
Certainly there were great errors present in the early scientific assertions of missing links in the chain of humanity. Had fundamentalists applied their own scientific studies they could have brought light, but they reacted by closing themselves off all together. Protesting and trying to enforce the biblical account of creation. This did not prove to be a successful approach, and they theory of evolution grew in popularity. The liberals clung to all ideas that enabled them to wrap their minds around the illusive mysteries of humanity and the universe.
They often refused to acknowledge the transcendent nature of God that made it possible to observe and believe the unexplainable aspects of life (“Lecture 1,” 2013). While the Fundamentalists refused to explore the way God reveals Himself through science and nature, and poetry, and philosophy. The Liberals were willing to change their understanding of God in order to reconcile that with mans experience, while the Fundamentalist was unwilling to deviate from the literal expression of the scriptures in any way.
As William Hordern points out the Liberals thought that fundamentalists had become so concerned with doctrine that they forgot to live the life of Jesus (Hordern, 2002). The self-centered position of liberalism makes all things extend from the individual outward to society. This means that subjects like sin were no longer looked upon with the same perspective as it had in the past. They focused on ridding man of social injustice like racism, exploitation, and political corruption (Hordern, 2002).
Where the fundamentalist held to the innate sinful nature of man that extended from the fall in the garden. The remaking of orthodoxy by the liberal worldview was accomplished, because it appealed to the carnal nature of man. Conservatives and Fundamentalists were considered narrow-minded and dated in their views of Christianity and the world. The Liberal Christian could incorporate psychology, philosophy, and even other religions into their thinking without any conviction or controversy. They placed little value on theology, and thus were in a constant state of re-making.
It is true that Christians were in need of some re-vamping as the church entered the enlightenment age, but the changes that needed to be made were more structural rather than doctrinal. The teachings of both the Old and New Testaments have been and will always be relevant to any age or culture, as they are applied in love and grace. As is with anything that is operated out of control and dominance, it eventually reacts in an effort to escape. Liberalism is a mastery of escapism. When something comes their way that does not fit, they simply change the requirement.
The fundamentalist reacted with fear and separatism that often isolated and alienated them from their generation. Both sides have a portion of the truth, but insist that theirs is the fullness. References Grenz, S. , & Olson, R. E. (1992). Twentieth-century theology: God & the world in a transitional age. Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press. Hordern, W. (2002). A layman’s guide to protestant theology. Eugene, OR: Wipf ;amp; Stock Publishers. Lecture 1. (2013). CWV-101: Christian Worldview. Phoenix, AZ: Grand Canyon University