Fundamentalism and conservative protestantism in Australia, 1920-1980

Parker, David (1982). Fundamentalism and conservative protestantism in Australia, 1920-1980 PhD Thesis, School of History, Philosophy, Religion, and Classics, The University of Queensland.

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Author Parker, David
Thesis Title Fundamentalism and conservative protestantism in Australia, 1920-1980
School, Centre or Institute School of History, Philosophy, Religion, and Classics
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 1982
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Open Access Status Other
Supervisor -
Total pages 846 (2v)
Language eng
Subjects 220401 Christian Studies (incl. Biblical Studies and Church History)
Formatted abstract
The upsurge of conservative Protestantism (or "fundamentalism") in some parts of the world and the consequent scholarly interest in it, suggest the necessity of a study of the corresponding movement in Australia within the terms of its own nature as a religious phenomenon. The research embodied in this thesis builds upon the author's earlier work in "neo-evangelicalism" in North America* with a view to deciding whether it is valid to refer to any sections of conservative Protestantism in Australia as "fundamentalist", and if so, in what sense of that term.

This study breaks new ground first by documenting and defining the religious character of Australian fundamentalism in the period ca. 1920- 1980 (thus supplementing other studies which have examined the defence of Christianity in the nineteenth century); by offering a perspective by which Protestantism and its literature may be viewed in relation to the paradigms established by the study of fundamentalism as a religious movement elsewhere (especially in North America and in the United Kingdom); finally, by suggesting factors which account for certain outstanding features of the movement (especially the lack of serious fundamentalist-modernist controversies).

Accordingly, the area covered by the research falls into two major sections. The first covers denominational Protestantism, including the older mainstream denominations which have been part of Australian religious life since the establishment of white settlement, and the newer conservative denominations, many of American origin, which were established in the final two or three decades of the period under review. In this part of the study, interest focused upon the evidence for the existence of fundamentalism, locating it variously in whole denominations, sections of denominations, organised fellowships operating within them, individual leaders and associations of churches and denominations. While there were many cases of classic fundamentalism which sought to maintain the essentials of evangelical Protestant orthodoxy without undue polemicism, it was usually only in some of the smaller, often recently established groups, and occasionally in individuals, that examples of consistent fundamentalism in its militant or separatistic form were found. Apart from specific Australian social and historical factors, the dominant characteristic which accounted for this situation was the strength of pietistic evangelicalism which was part of the Australian Protestant heritage from its British stock. Contrary to the situation in America in the 1920s (and later), there was evidence for only a limited number of controversies of a fundamentalist-modernist type; several of these were examined in detail as case studies, the results of which comprise a major section of the thesis.

The other major section of research was institutional or para-church fundamentalism, comprising missiona2ry agencies, evangelistic organisations, prophetic and deeper-life conventions, Bible colleges and polemic organisations. This wing of fundamentalism was found to be responsible for a significant part of the movement's strength, but even so, there were relatively few instances of open controversy to be found, for similar reasons as were noted before.

In the concluding sections of the thesis, it is proposed that, despite the lack of overt controversy of a fundamentalist-modernist type, fundamentalism has existed in Australia throughout the period as a relatively virile and coherent movement of considerable significance. However, it has often escaped attention because it has flourished separately from other traditions of Christianity, a situation which was facilitated by the secular and pluralistic features of Australian society, and by the "self-enclosing" nature of fundamentalism. Accordingly, the pietistic elements developed freely, unopposed by critical or contrary forces; hence, the polemic character of the movement has been usually more incipient than overt. However, whenever suitable conditions have arisen, mature militant fundamentalism proper has regularly emerged, although a general lack of a clearly-defined, self-conscious theological liberalism in Australian Protestantism has provided fewer such occasions than would otherwise be anticipated.

Rather than drawing upon the nineteenth century movements defending orthodox Protestantism for its stimulus and direction, Australian fundamentalism has depended upon its overseas counterparts which, therefore, form the primary context of the Australian movement. Accordingly, the local movement can be categorised successfully in terms of the paradigms already established in the literature of fundamentalism research, with due allowance for the influence of the distinctive Australian environment.

Because of its derivative nature, Australian fundamentalism has little significance as an innovative movement; because of the strong influence of pietism, it has made no impact as a school of theological thought. Its main significance lies in its function as a religious movement, having manifested a relatively homogeneous pietistic evangelicalism (which is only incipiently fundamentalist) throughout the first four decades of the period. In the final two decades, significant changes in the social and religious environment of Australia, and various developments in other parts of the world (not the least in conservative Protestantism), produced corresponding changes in fundamentalism in Australia. As a result of these changes, there have appeared in Australia several rather clearly defined streams within the overall "fundamentalist" movement, similar to those found in North American Protestantism (although not as highly developed or as aggressive). This development has altered the composition and dynamics of the movement, which has important implications for its future.

* "Revelation and Scripture in Neo-evangelical Theology", M.A. Thesis, University of Queensland, 1978.
Keyword Fundamentalism
Protestant churches -- Australia
Australia -- Church history
Additional Notes This study has been uaidertaken essentially as a contribution to social history, to the exploration of facets of the Catholic sub-population in Queensland over the years 1910 to 1935. It is not an ecclesiastical history, nor a political or economic one, though considerations of prior concern for each such history impinge centrally on its subject matter. It will be argued that around both the years 1910 and 1935 new kinds of consciousness were emerging, both v/ithin the Church in Queensland and in its wider environment. This interval has been seen, therefore, as a unit permitting of a degree of discrete study. The author has given permission for this thesis to be made open access.

Document type: Thesis
Collection: UQ Theses (RHD) - Open Access
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