4. It clearly roots the phenemenon in its proper time.
Fundamentalism is a paradox. Its partisans—of any faith—call for the return to an imagined arcadia in which God’s voice boomed plainly from scripture. Yet as a historical phenomenon, fundamentalism is wholly modern. It is a set of reactions against the aftershocks of the Enlightenment and the evolution of global capitalism: the breach between faith and reason, the rise of the secular public square, and the collapse of traditional social hierarchies and ways of life. Creatures of modernity, fundamentalists have happily availed themselves of modern technology. Fundamentalists ranging from separatist Baptist preachers to Al Qaeda propagandists have demonstrated a genius for employing the latest media and political (or military) weaponry to spread their message and accomplish their aims. To fundamentalists, history, too, is a technology: a trove of data to be strategically deployed.
Nowhere have the uses of history been clearer than in the clashes between conservative and progressive evangelicals for control of their denominations throughout the 1970s and 1980s. In the Southern Baptist Convention, many conservatives would have objected to the “fundamentalist” label as a Yankee epithet, a synonym for a barefoot bumpkin sorely lacking in southern grace. But if their self-perception was not fundamentalist, many of their goals and tactics were. The decisive battles over the meaning and role of the Bible in modern society did not, primarily, unfold in the form of dueling proof texts or Sunday pulpit ripostes, but in skirmishes for control of the machinery of intellectual authority: seminaries, missions boards, denominational presses, and authorized church history. The personal magnetism of gurus was not sufficient to stanch the secularist tide. Just as thousands of volunteers at Billy Graham’s crusades worked to settle new converts into local churches before their enthusiasm could evaporate, conservative activists knew that the fervor wandering sages left in their wake would fizzle unless channeled into institutions and sustained by an infrastructure built to teach and train future generations.