Lesson 37B Preview: Early Twentieth Century Fundamentalism and Pentecostalism: Billy Sunday Videos and Aimee Semple McPherson Videos; Video on “The Secret Rapture”

Twentieth Century Fundamentalism

From Wikipedia we learn that,

“William Ashley “Billy” Sunday (November 19, 1862 – November 6, 1935) was an American athlete who, after being a popular outfielder in baseball’s National League during the 1880s, became the most celebrated and influential American evangelist during the first two decades of the 20th century.[1]

Born into poverty in Iowa, Sunday spent some years at the Iowa Soldiers’ Orphans’ Home before working at odd jobs and playing for local running and baseball teams. His speed and agility provided him the opportunity to play baseball in the major leagues for eight years, where he was an average hitter and a good fielder known for his base-running.

Converted to evangelical Christianity in the 1880s, Sunday left baseball for the Christian ministry. He gradually developed his skills as a pulpit evangelist in the Midwest and then, during the early 20th century, he became the nation’s most famous evangelist with his colloquial sermons and frenetic delivery. Sunday held widely reported campaigns in America’s largest cities, and he attracted the largest crowds of any evangelist before the advent of electronic sound systems. He also made a great deal of money and was welcomed into the homes of the wealthy and influential. Sunday was a strong supporter of Prohibition, and his preaching almost certainly played a significant role in the adoption of the Eighteenth Amendment in 1919.

Despite questions about his income, no scandal ever touched Sunday. He was sincerely devoted to his wife, who also managed his campaigns, but his three sons disappointed him. His audiences grew smaller during the 1920s as Sunday grew older, religious revivals became less popular, and alternative sources of entertainment appeared. Nevertheless, Sunday continued to preach and remained a stalwart defender of conservative Christianity until his death.”

A brief introduction to Billy Sunday’s life story:

Here is a sample of Sunday’s preaching. Note the gestures as he uses the movements of a ballplayer:

Billy Sunday and Whiskey

Wikipedia tells us that,

“…Pentecostalism is an umbrella term that includes a wide range of different theologies and cultures.[4] For example, many Pentecostals are Trinitarian and others are Nontrinitarian.[5] As a result, there is no single central organization or church that directs the movement. However some Pentecostal denominations are affiliated with the Pentecostal World Conference.

Pentecostalism’s emphasis on the spiritual gifts places it within Charismatic Christianity, a broad grouping of Christians who have accepted some Pentecostal teachings on Spirit baptism and spiritual gifts. Pentecostalism is theologically and historically close to the charismatic movement as it significantly influenced that movement, and sometimes the terms Pentecostal and charismatic are used interchangeably.

“Aimee Semple McPherson (October 9, 1890 – September 27, 1944), also known as Sister Aimee, was a Canadian-American Los Angeles, California evangelist and media celebrity in the 1920s and 1930s.[1] She founded the Foursquare Church.[2] McPherson has been noted as a pioneer in the use of modern media, especially radio, which she drew upon through the growing appeal of popular entertainment in North America.”[Wikipedia]

Aimee Semple McPherson’s innovations in radio-based preaching set the stage for televangelism which arrived after her death.

The Rapture is a central belief for many contemporary Fundamentalists. Below is an influential video, viewed by more than 350,000, that outlines this doctrine. What is the Lutheran position on the Rapture doctrine? Consider the following excerpt from Wikipedia.

In Wikipedia we learn “The rapture is a reference to the “being caught up” referred to in 1 Thessalonians 4:17, when the “dead in Christ” and “we who are alive and remain” will be caught up in the clouds to meet “the Lord“.[1]

The term “rapture” is used in at least two senses in modern traditions of Christian eschatology; in pre-tribulationist views, in which a group of people will be “left behind”, and as a synonym for the final resurrection generally.[2][3][4]

There are many views among Christians regarding the timing of Christ’s return (including whether it will occur in one event or two), and various views regarding the destination of the aerial gathering described in 1 Thessalonians 4. Some denominations, such as Roman Catholics (as described in the Catechism of the Catholic Church 676 and 677)[5] and Orthodox Christians, believe in rapture only in the sense of the resurrection generally. The pre-tribulation rapture theory was largely developed by American evangelists from the 17th century onwards, although some Catholics had espoused similar ideas before.”

For examples of timeless Fundamentalist preaching, our Bonus Lesson offers Classical Fundamentalism: Sermons of Billy Graham

Quote for Your Consideration: “Fundamentalism stumbles at the consubstantial relation between the free continuous act of God’s self-communication and the living content of what He communicates, especially when this is applied to divine revelation in and through the Holy Scriptures. It rejects the fact that revelation must be continually given and received in a living relation with God ­ i.e., it substitutes a static for a dynamic view of revelation. …The practical and the epistemological effect of a fundamentalism of this kind is to give an infallible Bible and a set of rigid evangelical beliefs primacy over God’s self-revelation which is mediated to us through the Bible. This effect is only reinforced by the regular fundamentalist identification of biblical statements about the truth with the truth itself to which they refer. …The living reality of God’s self-revelation through Jesus Christ and in the Spirit is in point of fact made secondary to the Scriptures.” (Thomas F. Torrance, Reality and Evangelical Theology. Westminster Press. 1981. pgs 16,17,18).) Concerning this author: Thomas F. Torrance was “an ordained minister in the Church of Scotland… he served as Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland from 1976-1977, as did his son Iain from 2003 to 2004. As a Reformed churchman and theologian Torrance worked tirelessly toward ecumenical harmony with Anglicans, Lutherans, Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholics throughout his career.” [Wikipedia]

Lutheran Satire

The “How To” Show: How to Be a Biblical Scholar

Your Friends and Neighbors: Kenny the Sacramentarian Kindergartener

The Feast of the 156th Fruits

Bible Verses for Reflection: 1 Thess 4: 13-18; Matthew 24: 31; Matthew 24: 40-46

Discussion Questions:

1.What were some of the major critical judgments made of Billy Sunday by people of his era?

2. What were Sunday’s achievements? Why was he so successful?

3. What do you believe contributed most to Aimee Semple McPherson’s success as an evangelist?

4. What were Aimee’s doctrinal commitments and her denominational affiliation?

5. Considering our previous lesson on Charles Finney, what affinities with Finney do you discern in Aimee’s ministry and preaching?

6. Why was Aimee considered by some to be a charlatan?

7. Bob Shuler, an evangelical pastor, wrote a pamphlet castigating what he called “McPhersonism”. What were his specific concerns?

8. The video on the Rapture cites numerous passages of scripture to bolster its claims about the “Great Tribulation” as well as the Rapture. How do you as a Lutheran respond to these claims? [See “Do Lutherans Believe in the Rapture?” by clicking here or commentary from The Lutheran Churches of Calvary Grace by clicking here. ]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s