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In Christian theology, Modernism is a hostile term used by its enemies to attack the tendency of Liberal Christianity toward revision of certain Christian doctrines such as the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection of Christ, or subjecting the Bible to the Higher Criticism. Modernism was the target of the Fundamentalists after 1910, and was an especially bitter issue in the 1920s.


Different views of the role of Christianity in the face of the growth of modern science and research methods fueled the conflict between the liberal modernist and conservative fundamentalist factions of the Presbyterian Church during the 1920s-30s. Modernists such as Harry Emerson Fosdick, Henry Sloane Coffin, and Robert E. Speer promoted inclusiveness and denied the inerrancy of scripture, while fundamentalists such as J. Gresham Machen, Clarence MacArtney, and William Jennings Bryan defended traditional doctrine. The fundamentalist cause, popularly identified with antievolutionism, was damaged during the [[Scopes Trial|trial in Tennessee of biology teacher John Scopes in 1925 for teaching eolution. In 1929, fundamentalist leaders Machen and Macartney left their positions at the Princeton Theological Seminary to found the Westminster Theological Seminary to defend the reformed faith.[1]

Disciples of Christ and Church of Christ

The break between the Disciples of Christ and the Churches of Christ was due to much more than disagreements over the use of music in worship or over missionary societies; it was fundamentally a division between Stonite primitivism and Campbellian modernism. Alexander Campbell believed in progress toward the Kingdom of God and was both optimistic and not hostile toward the secular world. Barton Stone, on the other hand, wanted a radical separation from the world, was pessimistic about the human nature and prospects for progress, and looked toward restoring the authentic primitive church. From the end of the Civil War to 1917, David Lipscomb dominated the Churches of Christ and managed to balance the views of Campbell and Stone. After his death, the Churches of Christ moved away from the premillennialism of Stone and Lipscomb and embraced modernism. Foy Wallace, whose views prevailed among the Churches of Christ from the 1930s through the 1950s, led the movement away from the thought of Stone and Lipscomb.[2]


  1. Bradley J. Longfield, "For Church and Country: The Fundamentalist-Modernist Conflict in the Presbyterian Church". Journal of Presbyterian History 2000 78(1): 34-50. 0022-3883
  2. Richard T. Hughes, "The Apocalyptic Origins of Churches Of Christ and the Triumph of Modernism." Religion and American Culture 1992 2(2): 181-214. 1052-1151

See also