Monday, April 17, 2006

American Revivalist Fundamentalism and the Demise of Spurgeon's Metropolitan Tabernacle (Part 1)

This will expose my shameful ignorance of "too many things Spurgeon," but until I made it to the last chapter of Iain Murray's The Forgotten Spurgeon, I was completely unaware or completely forgetful of the influence of American Fundamentalism on Spurgeon's Metropolitan Tabernacle in the years following his death. A.T. Pierson and A.C. Dixon, two prominent American Fundamentalists, were among the early and influential successors of Spurgeon's pastorate.

To Iain Murray, this was not a happy development. To illustrate Murray's perspective on the implications of their influence, I'll offer in this post and a couple more to follow a few extended quotations from the last chapter, "The Aftermath at the Metropolitan Tabernacle":
Dixon's ministry illustrates how different from Spurgeon's was the new evangelical outlook. In the vocabulary of the Puritan school, revivals were extraordinary manifestations of the power of God, and, by definition, not produced by human labour. But under C.G. Finney, and later Moody, so many 'results' attended campaigns that these also came to be spoken of as 'revivals'. Indeed Finney deliberately treated evangelistic endeavour and revivals as synonymous, and encouraged the philosophy of 'the more effort the more revival.' This was the thought-pattern of Dixon's background, put into words by his own father in the advice he gave him on going to his first pastorate, 'My son, have as many prayer-meetings as you can, and as few church meetings as possible.' But unlike the old revivals, the yard-stick of campaigns was not primarily the evidence of the changed lives—admitting men and women to the discipline and duties of church membership—it was, more simply, the number of 'decisions'. To obtain 'decisions' an opportunity for a public response to the message was essential and this practice thus became the practically universal hallmark of 'evangelistic preaching'. 'He always closed his sermon with an appeal to accept Christ,' wrote one observer of Dixon, and another accorded him this testimony; 'Evangelism was the passion of his life. Even after lecturing on "Abraham Lincoln", I heard him close with an appeal, and souls came to Christ.'
text and footnotes (omitted here) from pp. 220-221.
The next two posts in this series will address two specific reasons Murray believes the Metropolitan Tabernacle failed to stand by its historic doctrine and methodology.


Dave said...

I suppose I should wait till the next posts, but I don't think they will affect my comment too much. I believe you are missin or distorting Murray's point when you state as "the influence of American Fundamentalism on Spurgeon's Metropolitan Tabernacle."

Your title for the post has it better--"American Revivalist Fundamentalism." The issue that Murray addresses is the influence of Finneyism and Revivalism, not Fundamentalism. The carriers just happened to be men who were part of the emerging fundamentalism of the day. There wasn't, and isn't, any inherent theological connection between revivalism and fundamentalism.

Given your title I believe we are probably agreed on this, but I could not resist the impulse to seek clarifcation. Am I off base?

Ben said...

I actually think I'm being kind in adding the clarification. My sense is that Murray equates fundamentalism with revivalism, which I would agree with you is a broad generalization. I don't think he ever limited his critique to revivalist fundamentalism, but it's clear that revivalist fundamentalism is his target. On the other hand, was there a "non-revivalist American fundamentalism" in the early 1900s, apart from the Presbyterians?

Ultimately, the point is that the persistence of revivalism in fundamentalism is a bad thing, and Spurgeon would have agreed. I don't think most contemporary American fundamentalists have a clue where Spurgeon actually stood.

Dave said...

But the real point is whether the problems were the result of fundamentalism or revivalism (unless one wants to make the case that these two are one and the same).

And one should filter some of Murray's critique by the fact that Spurgeon embraced Moody, so CHS's stance on this isn't as hardcore as Murray's. While I essentially agree with Murray, I do think that he overstates some of this critique.

Further, I believe that the minsitries of those two men and whether they were a good mesh for Metropolitan Tabernacle is a little more complex than Murray's answer. Revivalism was a problem, but I am not convinced that it is the lone factor at work.

It would be interesting to get the perspective of Peter Masters on this subject--maybe you should see if Phil Johnson has any insight into it. I will ask Gerald Priest for his (doctoral dissertation on A. C. Dixon).

Keith said...

Logic does not require the two to be the same, but history records that they were, for the most part, the same.

There is no point in talking about some platonic ideal of fundamentalism. The fundamentalism that might have been. We know what it was.

I would argue that even the presbyterians who were/are comfortable being called fundamentalists were/are revivalistic.

Machen and his cohorts preferred fundamentalism to libralism (which isn't Christianity in Machen's thinking). However, Machen wasn't comfortable being called a fundamentalist.


David C. Kanz said...


I look forward to the next two posts. I think you have hit at the core of one of the problems with American fundamentalism---which has gone to seed before our eyes.

Ben said...


I'm not making the case that revivalism and fundamentalism are one and the same. Historically, revivalism encompasses much more than fundamentalism, certainly including Pentecostalism at the very least.

But I think you're intending to raise the question whether all of fundamentalism is revivalistic. I can't recall reading of a fundamentalism in the early 1900s that was distinctly not revivalistic, but that doesn't mean it didn't exist.

Obviously, not all fundamentalism today is revivalistic. You're not. I'm not. I know a couple other people who aren't. But let's face it. Most of the boats in the cartoon—not just the big boat—still have a pretty healthy load of revivalism in the hold.

And by the way, Murray acknowledges that Spurgeon paved the way for the harmful influence because he opened the door to the American fundamentalists when he saw them as cobelligerents in the battle with modernism. He also documents some things Spurgeon said or wrote that articulated his discomfort with them.

Keith said...

Why do you think pentecostalism was a completely different entity than fundamentalism?

Fundamentalism was a transdenominational movement. It included pentecostals. Even the flagship Bob Jones University had Sunday school for pentecostals.

It is only recently that fundamentalism has come to be a term and movement claimed only by baptists for baptists.


Ben said...

I really don't think pentecostalism was a completely different entity. I know there were close ties between early fundamentalist leaders and Pentecostalism. I don't remember reading whether any of those fundamentalists considered themselves Pentecostals. But I don't think all Pentecostals considered themselves fundamentalists, which is why I think revivalism was broader than fundamentalism.

I wonder if anyone has video of those SS classes. Could be interesting.

Dave said...

I must not be communicating clearly. I am not saying that fundamentalism was or is not very influenced by revivalism. You're original post seemed to state the cause-effect as fundamentalism-bad things at Metro Tab, while my point was to say that it is revivalism--bad things at Metro Tab.

The implication of your statement("the influence of American Fundamentalism on Spurgeon's Metropolitan Tabernacle") is that fundamentalism was the cause. It was technically revivalism carried by a early fundamentalists. Is this straining at gnats? I don't think so, since (1) there were revivalists who predated the fundamentalist movement, (2) there were parts of the fundamentalist movement that rejected revivalism, and (3) there exist fundamentalists who do not embrace revivalism.

Why fuss about it? Precisely because there are people who will immediately use any lack of precision to discredit fundamentalism when the real problem is revivalism.

As you say, I don't know that Murray distinguishes the two, but that may be a flaw in his assessment of things (and a revelation of his sympathies).

Keith said...

Which parts of the fundamentalist movement rejected revivalism?

I'm sure there were some parts that were less, um, enthusiastic in using the revivalist techniques, but which parts rejected revivalism AND remained in the fundamentalist movement?


Dave said...


I really don't want to go down this path, so please don't feel obligated to answer. You have, however, asked a question that begs for a preliminary question as to what constitutes revivalism. Without common agreement on that, we won't get anywhere in discussing what parts of fundamentalism did or did not embrace it.

I don't think this is handled as simply as some are inclined to think and do. My earlier reference to Spurgeon's response to Moody is indicative of the fact that hard dichotomies are easier to maintain from the view of history, but not as easy to maintain at the time.

Based on past interaction in the comments, you and I see things quite differently on the subject of fundamentalism, and I am doubtful that we will convince each other to change our views. I do not believe there is an inherent link between revivalism and fundamentalism; you seem to (while making some concessions). We disagree. If you're right, my point to Ben falls. So be it. If there is some validity to my point, then great.

I fear that this may not be coming across as I desire, namely not to be dismissive, but to save us both from a fruitless exchange that is heading off topic.

Ben said...


I agree with you that the idea of fundamentalism was not responsible for what happened at the Tabernacle. Clearly, however, the fundamentalist movement was a vehicle (the primary one?) for introducing revivalistic theology and methodology. Revivalism is not an essential characteristic of fundamentalism. It just seems pretty rare that we bump into one without the other.

The point of this series is not that fundamentalism needs to die, but that it needs to repudiate the defective theology and methodology that it has already adopted. I suspect that both you and Keith would agree with that.

Fundamentalism is not the virus, but it is the host. Pointing out how fundamentalism introduced a virus to Spurgeon's ministry and (in coming posts) to define further what that virus is might cause a few folks to stop and think about the implications of continuing to tolerate that virus.

Dave said...

Last comment and then I really need to move on. Ben, I think it is wrong to say that fundamentalism introduced these things to the Tabernacle. Are you suggesting that Thomas Spurgeon was an American Fundamentalist? Murray clearly lays much of the blame at his feet. Dixon's arrival (1910) is described as the final arrival, not the source.

Murray's description of the problems have, in my mind, nothing to do with fundamentalism per se. The changes which he decries marked virtually all of evangelicalism and were not rooted in fundamentalist impulses. Revivalism is older and broader than fundamentalism, so why isn't it more accurate to say that revivalism did this to the Tabernacle? And, if your point really is to warn fundamentalism about the influence of revivalism, then say, It is also doing it to fundamentalist churches. As it stands, the mistaken (in my mind) cause-effect relationship seems to lead to the conclusion that fundamentalism does this to churches.

This all is very clear inside of my bubble, so I will now return to it.

Ben said...

Murray does lay much of the blame at Thomas Spurgeon's feet, but he also argues that Moody had powerfully influenced Thomas. And, of course, Thomas only came to the pulpit after Spurgeon's first successor, revivalist American fundamentalist A.T. Pierson.

Dave said...

Okay, so I am undisciplined...


Moody was a fundamentalist.

The fact that Pierson was a Presbyterian filling the pulpit (at the inventation of CHS himself) and then being seriously considered to pastor a Baptist church doesn't point toward the fact that there was a lot more plaguing the Tabernacle?

Could it be possible that Murray is riding something of a hobby-horse here? Even though I basically agree with his theology on this issue, isn't it possible that he is looking for an answer he is convinced must already be there? I think it is more than possible; quite probable.

Ben said...

Well, Murray is a Presbyterian. Surely we shouldn't expect him to see that as such a plague, should we?

Keith said...


My question was not intended to be inflamatory. I would honestly like to know what segments of fundamentalism rejected revivalism -- by any definition.

Of course it is possible that we are using different definitions of that term and that our currently different perspectives are a result of our definitions. And, as you say, this probably isn't the forum to sort all that out.

I just can't think of any legitimately defined revivalism that was rejected by any significant portion of fundamentalism.

Bob Jones didn't reject it, the GARBC didn't reject it, the Conservative Baptists didn't reject it, the Independent Baptists are all but defined by it, one could argue that the Bible Presbyterians didn't reject it. Moody's heirs obviously didn't reject it. The Wheaton circles didn't reject it. The Southern Baptists didn't reject it. A good portion of the Southern Presbyterians didn't reject it. So, who did?

Yes there were revivalists before there were "Fundamentalists". And there are revivalists who are not fundametalists. But were there fundamentalists who didn't at least put up with revivalism?

I agree with you that these trends/practices were characteristic of American evangelicalism generally. However, it is important to remember that until Graham, there was no clear separation between the fundies and the gelies.

I will say, "Here, here" to Ben's post overall. I will also ask, though, "If one removes all the viruses from the fundamentalist host, is there anything left?"


Gerald Priest said...

Every historian brings bias to his subject. Iain Murray is no exception. The issue is not bias per se, but its legitimacy. Does it hold up under careful scrutiny? I think this is where Murray fails in his indictment of American evangelicalism. He tends to link much, if not most, of it with Finneyism. I admire and have often cited Murray’s insightful criticism of Finney’s revivalism. But he tends to identify anyone who gives a public invitation with Finney’s “new measures.” I believe he fails to see that there is nothing inherently wrong with a spirited call for people to trust Christ, but views any public demonstration of it as automatically suspect. To Murray’s credit, he does make a careful distinction between revivalism (man-manipulated) and revival (heaven-sent) but fails to recognize that distinction in the history of fundamentalism, a difference which can be attributed to the diversity of the movement.

There are several examples of fundamentalists who have practiced revivalism, and others who hoped for and realized genuine revival. Moody has generally been classified with the former and in fact been identified as a practitioner of Finneyism. But I have never been able to find any evidence to suggest that Moody ever consciously borrowed from Finney. He was a simple layman who was very evangelistic; Stanley Gundry even suggests Calvinistic (although inconsistently Calvinistic, Love Them In, pp. 123–27). But Moody and most early fundamentalist evangelists who followed him did not practice the highly-manipulative altar call techniques of Finney (ibid., p. 127). Finney’s new measures were driven by his Pelagianism, I believe. That would not be the case with Moody and other early fundamentalists. And this would include A.C. Dixon—another case in point reflecting Murray’s bias against American evangelicalism. In his Forgotten Spurgeon, Murray’s only real evidence of Dixon’s “corrupting” influence on the Metropolitan Tabernacle was a letter from one disgruntled church member (and that is shot through with problems; see Craig Skinner, Lamplighter and Sons, pp. 251-52). Nearly everything else is conjecture, and simply contrary to the estimate of others, including Charles Haddon Spurgeon himself, his sons, and the board of MT who welcomed Dixon to the church. Moody, of course, was also welcomed by Spurgeon, who defended the American evangelist when criticized by the London press (Lewis Drummond, Spurgeon: Prince of Preachers, p. 602).

The common denominator for all of these men was evangelism. Their techniques of invitation varied somewhat, but they all had a passion for lost souls and they generally supported each other in the effort. They were intensely passionate about it, and this has been characteristic of fundamentalism. And passion has sometimes been confused with compulsion and sensationalism. Even in the best of revivals you have evidence of the latter (e.g., James Davenport in the Great Awakening).

On the other hand, it is unfortunate that many so-called fundamentalist pastors and evangelists have adopted the Finneyite approach to evangelism and labeled it revival, when it is nothing of the sort. But this does not automatically make the public invitation illegitimate. After all, Christ himself invited his disciples to follow him. The gospel contains within it the quality of decisive invitation; this does not mean coercion. I think Murray sometimes fails to see this distinction.

G. Priest

Ben said...

Dr. Priest,

I'm inclined to grant Murray a little charity, given the content of his exposure to American evangelistic methodology. It's not difficult to imagine the connections he would be inclined to see between what Americans introduced around the time of Spurgeon and then later in the Graham crusades.

Also, I believe Murray points out that Spurgeon gave public calls for a response of faith at the end of his services--just not come-forward calls. I don't have TFS with me right now to confirm this though. Still, your point is valid that he does seem opposed to any form of come-forward invitation and inclined to critique it across the board. Again however, given the abuses he's seen, I'm wondering if the cold turkey he implicity advocates wouldn't be a healthy correction.

I appreciate your perspective on Moody. As you indicated, there is certainly no unanimity of opinion on him. Any publlished sources you'd recommend?

This question is more directly addressed on another post, but if you see this, I would love to know. Besides the Princeton theologians, which American funamentalists provided outspoken opposition to and leadership away from revivalism?

Thanks again for the interaction.