Description : Baptist Fundamentalists and all those interested in twentieth-century Baptist history owe a debt of gratitude to Bauder and Delnay for this superb, thorough, and interesting account of American Baptist Fundamentalism in the first half of the twentieth century. They tell a story that had not been told at this level of detail or documentation, and it is a story Baptist Fundamentalists should know.
To set the context for the central story line, the authors review the history of the founding of the Northern Baptist Convention. Such a survey involves explaining the rise of theological liberalism in northern Baptist circles and the initial responses of Baptist conservatives to this alarming development. To those who are conversant with the treatments of this topic by Beale, Sandeen, and Marsden, this is a familiar story. Nevertheless, the authors tell it efficiently, clearly, and with reference to original sources. The freshness and originality of their writing—whether telling a new story or recounting a familiar one—ring throughout the volume.
The second chapter, which zeroes in on Baptist concerns after the founding of the NBC in 1907, gives a fresh slant on the subject by telling the story from the perspective of Oliver van Osdel. Van Osdel is somewhat neglected in the histories referenced above, and the authors rectify that by showing how pivotal he was to the unfolding drama of Baptist Fundamentalists wrestling with the question of nonconformity versus separation. While not perfect—the authors are brutally honest with every character they portray—van Osdel emerges as a hero of the book because of the clarity with which he perceived, as early as 1909, that Baptists would be better served to separate from the convention rather than attempting to reform it. He was twenty years ahead of his time, but his wise and patient leadership style gradually helped many younger men to sort out the real issues involved. He was a key founder of the first major dissent from the NBC—what became MOBA, the Michigan Orthodox Baptist Association; of the Baptist Bible Union, usually associated with bigger names like Riley, Shields, and Norris; and of the GARBC, when he was in his 80s. The authors say that van Osdel’s “influence would be difficult to overstate” (11); readers should be thankful that Bauder’s previous work on van Osdel—or much of it—is now available in this form.
The story of the BBU is extremely well told in Delnay’s dissertation, which was subsequently published as a book without documentation. One in Hope and Doctrinesummarizes that material admirably. While doing so, it clearly distinguishes the “convention Fundamentalists,” who wished to curb liberalism but had as their highest goal the preservation of the convention, and the BBU members, who were determined to drive the liberals out of the convention whatever that might take. The resulting battles got ugly at times, but the authors amply demonstrate that the liberals, while smiling and acting gentlemanly at the public meetings, played a very dirty style of politics behind the scenes. The standard histories report that the BBU was not a separatist but rather a reforming institution. Bauder and Delnay point out, however, that Neighbor and van Osdel, who conceived the BBU, envisioned a cleaner break with the convention and thought the logic of the battle would lead to separation, and the sooner the better. Their program was counteracted by Riley, Shields, Norris, and others who relished the fight, but were by no means inclined to surrender revenues, buildings or anything else to the liberals.
The book’s balance and honesty is refreshing. On the one hand, the authors show the necessity of the fierce battles that were fought. The gospel was at stake. The liberals had abysmal theology—a social gospel bereft of true, biblical doctrine—but were perfectly willing to temporize, obfuscate, and even lie in order to maintain their power in a convention that was made up of churches, the vast majority of whom were still conservative. Fundamentalists will find themselves filled with gratitude for the men and women who were willing to stake everything on the battle with these infidels. On the other hand, the authors are willing to give full portraits of the main Fundamentalist leaders, warts and all.
While the authors did not delineate the characters in quite this way, the main Fundamental Baptist leaders fell roughly into three categories. Some struggled mightily with the difficult issues of separation, confrontation, compromise, and unity, and they failed miserably. They valued cooperation over fidelity, union over truth, “love” over holiness, and they ended up buttressing the liberal cause against their conservative but more militant brethren. Massee, Laws, and Pierce especially represent this strand. Some struggled almost equally with these difficult issues that led to agonizing decisions, but they manfully opposed liberalism, sometimes at great cost, and did the hard things in a humble, self-sacrificing way. Van Osdel, Neighbor, Ketcham, and others fit this mold. Others, finally, seemed to relish the fight, enjoy the conflict, exacerbate tense situations, and build personal empires. Such leaders, while fighting the right fights (usually), could display attitudes and use language that was intemperate and un-Christlike, and almost invariably ended up turning their guns on erstwhile allies. Norris is the supreme example of this (the authors give reports about Norris that turn one’s hair), but Shields and Riley do not emerge unscathed. The lessons to be learned from each of these profiles are profound and worth meditation for anyone engaged in spiritual leadership.
Does the volume have any weaknesses? The thoroughness of some of the discussions may be wearisome to general readers. For instance, the authors document in excruciating detail (267-280) the war Norris waged against the GARBC and Ketcham in particular. It is a most unedifying spectacle, and one could almost wish it had been summarized in a few paragraphs. The authors, however, would no doubt justify the detail on several counts. First, recovered as it is from the actual correspondence of the time and from personal interviews with Ketcham and others (interviews form a significant part of the documentation for the book), this is the surviving record of this exchange. Details not included were potentially details lost. More significantly, however, is the fact that the reader needs to feel the pain of the barrage experienced by Ketcham and others, and he will not do so unless he must wade through page after page of Norris’ sub-Christian behavior. Other discussions similarly often slow to a snail’s pace, tracing controversies almost letter by letter between the antagonists. One feels slightly soiled at the end of some of these exchanges, but history teaches all kinds of lessons, and there are many lessons to be learned from these narratives. As Baptist Fundamentalists themselves, the authors are to be commended for their candor in telling the story as it really was.
Finally, the authors specifically focus on Baptist Fundamentalism, and, while they briefly mention the ACCC in connection with the GARBC, they avoid discussions of interdenominational Fundamentalism. This is understandable in a volume already pushing four hundred pages. Nevertheless, it raised a question. On pages 298-301, the authors present a very interesting comparison of “Southern Fundamentalism” (the World Baptist Fellowship, the Baptist Bible Fellowship, the “Sword crowd,” and Jack Hyles [this last individual anticipates the second volume]) and “Northern Fundamentalism” (Regular Baptists and, perhaps, Conservative Baptists). The authors clearly align themselves with the latter, and one wonders whether or not the description of Northern Fundamentalism is somewhat idealized. There is no question that the authors present Northern Fundamentalism as much more balanced and biblical than its Southern counterpart. The question for this reviewer relates to Bob Jones University, mentioned only once in the volume. The authors note that Rice in the Sword consistently promoted Bob Jones College (later, University), even to the neglect of Baptist institutions. Granted that the authors could not devote space to BJU, as a bastion of interdenominational Fundamentalism, one wonders that some nod was not given to the fact that BJU trained an enormous number of Baptist pastors during the time period in question. Did the BJU ethos support “Southern Fundamentalism” or “Northern Fundamentalism” in the authors’ estimation? BJU is obviously a southern institution and may have sent many pastors into Baptist pastorates across the South, and yet after 1950 the relationship of BJU to “the Sword crowd,” the Southwide Baptist Fellowship, and the BBF is going to be anything but fraternal. Perhaps, the second volume in the series will devote some space to how to place BJU’s influence on Baptist Fundamentalism in perspective.
Overall, this book tells an important story extremely well and is well worth the attention of all who value their Baptist and/or Fundamentalist identity. One eagerly anticipates the balance of the story in the planned second volume.