2008 Conference - The Battle for the FaithDeep in History

The Roots of Fundamentalism – Richard Chacon

March 1, 2017 One Comment

The word “Fundamentalism” gets tossed around a lot these days, often used to describe anyone who is a strict adherent to any religious belief. Historically speaking, however, “Fundamentalism” refers to a specific type of Christianity adhered to by early 20th century Protestants. Richard Chacon looks at the history of Christianity in the American Colonies, the Great Awakenings, and other factors that led to the development of this particularly American form of Christianity.

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Study Questions:

-What was colonial religious life like before the First (Colonial) Great Awakening?

-What effect did the Age of Enlightenment have on Protestants in the American colonies?

-What influence did old-world “pietism” and class conflict have on the colonial Great Awakening?

-What were the successes of the Great Awakening and what effects do you think they have had on American Christianity?

-How did the Great Awakening of colonial America lead to Protestant Fundamentalism? How does this groundwork help you better understand Fundamentalism?


Christian fundamentalism: “A Fundamentalist,” as defined by Dr. Chacon, “is a biblical literalist who believes that one must be a biblical literalist in order to be ‘saved.’” The Christian fundamentalist movement was a reaction against theological and cultural modernism.

Age of Enlightenment: The 18th century European movement, based on the premise of the innate goodness of humanity; that through the hard work and effort, humanity could build a better society. Characterized by optimism and popular among the educated, wealthy, and establishment clergy, but not prevalent among the common people.

Pietism: A reaction to perceived legalism in the Protestantism of Europe. Pietists set the stage for the Great Awakening.

First Great Awakening (1739-1745): Also referred to as “the Great Revival.” A movement experienced by one out of every three American colonialists. Characterized by the belief in the inherent depravity of human kind, stressed emotionalism over intellectual pursuit, anti-established Protestantism, and the rejection of sacramental theology.