Tuesday, April 18, 2006

American Revivalist Fundamentalism and the Demise of Spurgeon's Metropolitan Tabernacle (Part 2)

For purposes of clarification, the point of this series is not that fundamentalist principles caused the demise of the Metropolitan Tabernacle after Spurgeon's death. The point is that American fundamentalists imported revivalism into English evangelicalism in general and the Tabernacle in particular, and revivalism ultimately led to the Tabernacle to abandon its historic doctrine, methodology, and even its constitution. The essential idea of fundamentalism was not the problem, but the American fundamentalist movement was the host of the revivalist virus that infected the Tabernacle as well as much of English evangelicalism. Fundamentalism doesn't have to be revivalistic. It just seems that it is, more often than not.

So without further ado, today's post will deal with the fact that some revivalistic influences were creeping towards the Tabernacle even while Spurgeon was alive, according to Iain Murray' The Forgotten Spurgeon. As Murray says it,
[T]he influences which brought the change were at work in Spurgeon's own life-time. Even in the wider circle of some of the institutions which he had commenced, practices and methods had gained a footing which he had not authorized and yet which he did not forbid (p. 222).
I think it's fair to characterize Murray's argument as saying that Spurgeon was uncomfortable with the new methods Moody and Ira Sankey had introduced to England in their evangelistic campaigns, but Spurgeon was inclined to permit some methodology in evangelistic campaigns associated with his ministry that he would not have tolerated in his church. These campaigns consisted of "special services" that adopted American revivalistic strategies that were prevalent in American fundamentalism. Those strategies included "the belief that music is an essential attractive influence, the appeal for public decisions for christ, the apparatus of the inquiry-room and the subsequent announcement of numbers" (p. 223). Murray quotes Spurgeon in the following passage that characterizes his attitude towards these new methods:
The readiness to regard music as a vital part of evangelism he also condemned. 'Dear friends, we know that souls are not to be won by music,' if they were, he goes on to say, it would be time for preachers to give way to opera singers. In 1882 he declared, 'The heaving of the masses under newly invented excitements we are too apt to identify with the power of God. This age of novelties would seem to have discovered spiritual power in brass bands and tambourines . . . The tendency of the time is towards bigness, parade, and show of power, as if these would surely accomplish what more regular agencies have failed to achieve. Again, in 1888: 'Jesus said, "Preach the gospel to every creature." But men are getting tired of the divine plan; they are going to be saved by the priest, going to be saved by the music, going to be saved by theatricals, and nobody knows what! Well, they may try these things as long as ever they like; but nothing can ever come of he whole thing but utter disappointment and confusion, God dishonoured, the gospel travestied, hypocrites manufactured by thousands, and the church dragged down to the level of the world' (p. 226).
When I first read this critique of revivalistic theology and methodology contributing to the deterioration of the Metropolitan Tabernacle, I wondered if this wasn't just Murray's Calvinistic bias talking. But then I saw these comments from my favorite Arminian, A.W. Tozer.


Ryan Martin said...

Preach it, brother.

Keith said...

Well written Ben.

I still can't see any good reason why, in historical discussions, some want to defend fundamentalism on the basis of some never realized "idea."

It smells like territory marking.


Jon Bell said...

Interesting article. However, why do you call this fundamentalism. Fundamentalism has been guilty of many things but it did not start until the early part of the 20th century. To talk about 19th century issues and lay them at the feet of fundamentalism seems to be incendiary.
I liked the closing quote. It certainly speaks to a lot of what is going on in the contemporary church. My former pastor always said, "What you win them with is what you win them to." We have certainly made many converts to music and programs but I am not sure how many are being changed by the Gospel of Jesus Christ simply proclaimed.
Thanks for you work

Ben said...


I see where you're coming from, but I think it's appropriate to use the term fundamentalism for several reasons.

1. I'm quoting Murray, and it's the term he uses (obviously a cop-out reason).

2. I don't think anyone would argue that Pierson and Dixon were NOT fundamentalists, even if it wasn't until 1920 or so that the name was applied to the movement.

3. The movement was what it was both before and after Laws stuck the name on it. The movement (or idea, whatever) didn't start when it was named. The reason Spurgeon invited Pierson into his pulpit in the first place was because he knew that Pierson was militantly opposing modernism, and there just weren't many other people he could trust. I think his relationship with Dixon developed similarly.

4. The historical literature on fundamentalism recognizes that fundamentalism existed before 1920. I can't say I've done an exhaustive survey, but I just glanced at Beale, and he's clearly seeing militant responses to modernism in the mid-to-late 1800s. Marsden would do the same thing.

For purposes of clarification, the time period Murray is talking about is from when Pierson became the pastor in 1892 until Dixon left in 1919.