On Adventist Identity: When Did the Fundamentalism Begin?

October 14, 2022

I have deeply appreciated recent conversations and reflections on the connection between fundamentalism and Adventism. Widened perspectives help more adequately inform our understanding. Not knowing the time and circumstances of one’s arrival into the world is not conducive to healthy self-identity. The same might be said about a religious community’s theological origins and heritage. The convening of a scholarly conference on Adventist identity at Andrews University this month highlights the relevance of the topic. This article attempts to set out in more detail the case for the assertion that Seventh-day Adventism was “fundamentalist” in its core convictions from its beginnings in the 1840s and ’50s. It is a quest to understand rather than to deconstruct or reconstruct.

From its birth, Seventh-day Adventism, with its laser-like focus on an imminent advent, anchored its interconnected doctrinal system in the foundational belief that Scripture was reliable and absolutely trustworthy because it was divinely inspired and infallible. Inspiration ensured inerrancy, which provided assurance and the certainty of an “unassailable foundation” in a post-enlightenment world.[1] The Bible was Adventism’s only creed, and this belief was linked to a commitment to biblical literalism that constituted the movement’s basic hermeneutical framework. These convictions provided the presuppositional foundation for the movement’s historicist system of interpreting prophecy. They also constituted the theological grounding for the specifics of its key teaching on the literal return of Christ at the second advent and such doctrines as the ministry of Christ in a literal heavenly sanctuary and the seventh-day Sabbath.

Such theological presuppositions about the nature and authority of Scripture, as the author of The Roots of Fundamentalism: British and American Millenarianism 1800–1930 (1970) Ernest Sandeen notes, had long constituted “common belief” widely shared in American Protestantism. This implied error-free original texts. Sandeen argues that the emphasis on error-free autographs of Scripture was developed by “innovators” in the 1880s at Princeton Theological Seminary in New Jersey.[2]  On this point, however, Sandeen is critiqued by two evangelical scholars, John D. Woodbridge and Randall H. Balmer, who clearly document that the concept of error-free autographs of Scripture was widely shared across denominations in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.[3]  For example, they cite the popular two-volume Union Bible Dictionary, published multiple times for Sunday school teachers beginning in the late 1830s. It declared that “facts stated and doctrines taught” in the Bible were stated and taught “without the possibility of error.”[4] Its editors asserted that their definitions were not in any way sectarian. Among numerous other sources, they also point to Swiss theologian Louis Gaussen’s Theopneustia: The Plenary Inspiration of the Holy Scriptures, which argued the “plenary” inspiration of Scripture, meaning that inspiration applied to every word of the Bible. This book went through multiple editions in America after being translated from the French original in 1841. Gaussen became so popular because he clearly and logically expressed an already accepted understanding. According to Kenneth Stewart, Gaussen’s book became “the handbook of the rising fundamentalist movement.”[5] Gaussen’s plenary inspiration concepts dominated Adventist understanding of the inerrant authority of Scripture in the mid-1890s.[6]  Mark Noll observes in reference to Darbyite premillennialism—another historicist system of prophetic interpretation becoming popular in evangelical churches during this period—that biblical inerrancy was also “a critical presupposition” for that “dispensationalist effort to interpret prophetic Scripture literally.”[7]


“Fundamentalism,” a historical term coined in the early 20th century, described a specific Christian movement formed to vigorously defend traditional Protestant beliefs, with a central focus on an imminent premillennial eschatology and a parallel emphasis on the divine nature and authority of an inerrant Scripture. The movement emerged after World War I as a particularly militant inter-church crusade-like undertaking. But it had deep sociological and theological roots in the 19th century. The central themes of the movement had been nurtured by annual millenarian-sponsored meetings such as the Niagara Bible Conference (1876–97) and the notable 1878 International Bible Conferences in New York. Evangelical historian Matthew Sutton identifies the New York conference as marking “the public debut of a new expression of American premillennialism,” although its influence “remained fairly marginal” for a time.[8]  Such conferences focused on end-time prophetic fulfillment reinforced by convictions of the Bible as an absolutely trustworthy authority. Increasingly, the conference discussions reacted to and protested developments in the social and natural sciences, particularly evolutionary theory that threatened the erosion of traditional Christian beliefs and confidence in Scripture. The developments were identified as “modernism.”[9] While biblical literalism and convictions of the reliability of Scripture in all its statements had long been accepted as common Protestant belief in America, during the 1880s, in response to the modernistic trends, Princeton theologians such as A. A. Hodge and B. B. Warfield achieved prominence for carefully articulating a more systematic theological justification for the belief in an inerrant Scripture and a hermeneutic of biblical literalism. Fundamentalism as a movement built on these further developments.

The two pioneering historians of the Fundamentalist movement, Ernest Sandeen and George Marsden, have different emphases in explaining the origins of the movement. Ernest Sandeen saw Fundamentalism as primarily focused on an imminent parousia undergirded by convictions of an inerrant Scripture as articulated by the Princeton theologians. This “Princeton theology,” he argued, became “the most influential theological support” for biblical literalism in the 20th century through the Fundamentalist movement. George Marsden, on the other hand, saw Fundamentalism more sociologically, as a complex “militantly anti-modernist” phenomenon—a “federation of co-belligerents united by their opposition to modernist attempts to bring Christianity into line with modern thought.”[10] World War I alarmed evangelicals, and they attributed it at least partially to Darwinism. But the war also promised Armageddon and heralded the imminent advent. The discombobulation arising from the massive disruptions to the established social order occasioned by the war served as a sociological tripwire for church leadership to formally organize as a protest movement. The more recent historian Matthew Sutton affirms Sandeen’s view that it was premillennialism, with its strong sense of imminence sharpened by the war, that constituted the new coalition’s “distinguishing feature.”[11] Social and cultural factors undoubtedly helped shape the movement, but central to its many theological and sociological concerns was the defense of the traditional authority of Scripture—its absolute error-free reliability and the hermeneutical approach of biblical literalism. Sutton reports that the key “radical evangelical leaders” saw that “the root” of liberals’ resistance to an imminent premillennial Advent lay in the way they viewed the Bible. They did not see Scripture as “scientifically and historically accurate” or as an “immutable and infallible guide.” The “competing methodological approaches to and presuppositions about the Bible” was the core problem confronting the radical evangelicals. “A more faithful, more literal reading of the Bible” would, they argued, solve the problem and lead inevitably to premillennial convictions.[12] Even George Marsden itemizes the belief in “the divinely guaranteed verbal inerrancy of Scripture” as first on his list of Fundamentalism’s “most distinctive doctrines.”[13]

The descriptor “fundamentalist” derived specifically from a series of 12 pamphlets funded largely by oil tycoon Lyman Stewart and published between 1910 and 1915, written to defend specified traditional Christian beliefs called “the fundamentals.” Twenty-eight of the 90 articles in the pamphlets related to the “authority, accuracy, practicality, and sanctity of the Bible.” Six articles dealt directly with the doctrine of inspiration.[14] In the end, the pamphlets avoided discussion of the details of premillennial interpretation because of so many differences of opinion, and they focused instead on the root issue of Scripture’s authority and a tight range of other doctrines.[15]  Presbyterians later identified five more select “essential” beliefs, representative of others, which specifically needed defending against erosion by biblical higher criticism and the use of modern science, but in general, Fundamentalism’s concerns were broader than these. The ferment aroused by the mass distribution of the pamphlet series eventually led to the establishment of the World’s Christian Fundamentals Association in 1919 and the increasingly common use of the term fundamentals in connection with those who identified with the movement. In July 1920, Curtis Lee Laws, editor of the Baptist Watchman-Examiner, coined the term “Fundamentalist” as the name for adherents, and “Fundamentalism” became descriptive of the movement.[16]

The movement drew together numerous Christian denominations and groups in a highly aggressive approach to defending traditional Christian doctrines. It was militant in language and attitude. It was also a complex phenomenon, as George Marsden stresses, with different emphases and intensities but with a common passion to protect and preserve “traditional Christian values” and a range of cultural practices and customs represented by those values. In common with other similar fundamentalist traditions, large parts of the movement reflected a sense of alienation from the surrounding culture and an impulse to separatism. This response to disconcerting changes in the intellectual and cultural environment reflected a reactionary mindset resistant to change in numerous areas.[17] Nevertheless, as Sandeen notes, the “neglected theological affirmations” prioritized the second advent teaching, the authority of an inerrant Scripture, and a more faithful biblical literalism. These themes provided the “structure and identity” of the movement and its motivation.[18]

Emerging from its Millerite beginnings in the 1840s, Sabbatarian Adventism framed its doctrinal understandings, convictions of an imminent advent, and its mission solidly on similar assumptions about Scripture’s authority as the infallible word of God. This was coupled with a hermeneutic that interpreted the text literally on beliefs that were important to Fundamentalists, such as miracles and the virgin birth of Jesus, the sacrificial nature of the atonement, and the record of a six-day fiat creation ex nihilo, among other related beliefs.[19]

Important Caveats

To say that Adventism was “Fundamentalist” (with a capital F) at its beginning in a narrow technical sense is anachronistic and inappropriate. But is it legitimate to describe early Adventism as “fundamentalist” (using a lowercase f) with a more generic broader meaning? In the decades following the 1925 Scopes Trial over the teaching of evolution in schools, some evangelical leaders felt uncomfortable using the descriptor because it was becoming a “pejorative term.” They felt it had been discredited by the performance of William Jennings Bryan, counsel for the prosecution. Nevertheless, “the faithful,” Sutton observed, tried “to reclaim the term” and refurbish it. [20] In the 1970s, there was still much discussion in the evangelical world as to who could and could not rightfully use the term.[21]

As an alternative, can Adventism be described more appropriately as a “proto-Fundamentalist” community, as suggested by historian Jonathan M. Butler?[22] In recent times “proto-Fundamentalism” has become a more widely used term to discuss and identify the 19th-century antecedents of the 1920s self-described movement.[23] This more nuanced term, if used to describe Adventism, avoids the anachronism while it underscores the fact that the theological/hermeneutical concerns that spawned the 1920s “Fundamentalist” movement were essentially the same convictions embedded at the heart of early Adventism. Such convictions not only framed early Adventism’s theological understanding and formed its presuppositional base but they also fed the confidence for early Adventist evangelists’ aggressive militancy toward first-day Adventists over the Sabbath question. Such militancy also gave ardor to early Adventism’s anti-Catholic interpretations of the book of Revelation and was reflected in its impulse to separatism from modernizing society and its norms. Adventists also aggressively denounced saloons, theatres, dance halls, and other licentiousness. Such beliefs and practices define the identity of Adventism and helped ensure its rapid growth.[24]


Seeing Adventism as “proto-fundamentalist” links the core beliefs shared between the two movements, remembering, as Woodridge and Balmer document, that the antecedents that would constitute such proto-Fundamentalism reach much further back into the 19th century than Sandeen initially thought. In a similar way, it may be observed that Seventh-day Adventists were Young Earth Creationists (YEC) long before the creationist movement of the 1970s. However, historian of evangelicalism Grant Wacker suggests that the term fundamentalist (lowercase f) is appropriate and avoids confusion.[25] Thus, in spite of the usefulness of the term proto-Fundamentalism, simply describing early Adventism as fundamentalist (with a small f) is entirely appropriate and understood in scholarly circles.

Later in the 20th century, the term fundamentalism acquired a broader and more generic usage for the description of religious movements that demand a very strict behavioral code and a strict adherence to a literal reading of the biblical text. Scholars of religion and sociology contributed to the expansion of the meaning of the term as they sought to understand similarities in ways of being religious. Parallels were observed in Catholicism, Hinduism, Islam, and Buddhism, as well as in Protestantism.[26] From 1987–95, for example, religion scholars Martin E. Marty and R. Scott Appleby undertook what was called The Fundamentalism Project, a 5-volume collection of essays funded by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.[27] In cross-cultural and comparative religion studies, the “primary meaning” of the term fundamentalist pointed to a basic, unifying, presuppositional conviction about a literal interpretation of authoritative sacred texts and that this kind of reading must be used in all social, economic, and political aspects.[28]

A further important caveat is necessary. It is important to stress that seeing Adventism as grounded in and shaped by such distinctive epistemological, biblicist convictions does not deny that Adventism has developed into a complex, dynamic, and theologically innovative movement with many varied strands of theological reflection. From the beginning, the Adventist movement was also distinctively characterized by a dynamic openness to “present truth,” and it was willing to accept a contemporary manifestation of a prophetic charisma in its midst in the person of Ellen White. This acceptance would enable the movement to respond dynamically to new mission challenges and to doctrinal initiatives that would expand its theological horizons (e.g., health as a religious duty and new developments in soteriology and Christology). This commitment to doctrinal innovation has continued to challenge the movement. Nevertheless, this openness to “present truth” stood in tension with and was constrained by the movement’s core convictions about an inerrant, text-based, authoritative Scripture interpreted literally. This constraining theological perspective was reinforced by the prophetic revelations of Ellen White.

Fundamentalist Early Adventism: The Evidence

1.  Historicism as a prophetic hermeneutic is rooted in the presupposition of an error-free, verbally inspired, and authoritative view of Scripture. Individual words are critically important to the interpretive schema. Early Adventist historicism as a system depended on the authority and error-free nature of specific words and sentences. Mark Noll observes that a similar presupposition was necessary for the Scofield (dispensationalist) version of historicism.

2.  When leading Adventist authorities in the early 1920s described their movement as the “real” Fundamentalists, or the most “fundamentalist of the fundamentalists,” or “the only true Fundamentalists today,” they were not asserting that suddenly Adventists had become something new or something different, something that they had not been before and that they were the better new arrivals with new light and a clearer view of things.[29] Rather, they were asserting that they had always been this way. They were not alone in this understanding. Shortly after the term “Fundamentalism” had been introduced, James M. Gray, the president of the Moody Bible Institute had similarly argued that “there is nothing new in Fundamentalism except maybe its name.”[30] Adventist leaders believed they were the authentic, original, more refined example of Fundamentalism. They were thus ready to respond to the new need for militancy in defense against modern science and higher criticism. If becoming Fundamentalist in the 1920s had been something quite new in the doctrinal arena, such assertions would, in all likelihood, have been seriously challenged and rejected by church authorities for whom any form of ecumenical relationship was anathema to the prevailing sense of Adventist identity. Adventists, with their sense of faithful remnanthood and separateness, were hyper-sensitive to any organizational or corporate linkages or formal identification with other Christians.

3.  Questions about the nature of the inspiration of Scripture (and the nature of Ellen White’s inspiration), which in popular Adventism assured error-free authoritative texts and the associated emphasis on a literal interpretation, have undoubtedly been the most difficult of Adventist theological problems to resolve. The effort has extended over many decades. The doctrine of inspiration has been the longest-running theological area of contention in the church, and the matter is still largely unresolved. This arises from the fact that the issue of a literal interpretation of a word-based inspired text was so firmly rooted as a presupposition for the church from the beginning. The doctrine of the Sabbath as the seventh day, a literal second coming of Jesus, a clear historicist-based “imminent” second coming, and a historicist reading of Daniel and Revelation (e.g., the “cleansing” of the Sanctuary) were made possible by Adventism’s emphasis on the word-based authority of Scripture and its inspiration. Ellen White at times reinforced this view of the authority of Scripture by resorting to the use of “dictation language” to underscore Scripture’s authority and the source of her own authority as noted in the excellent, comprehensive study by Denis Kaiser.[31] To move away from this understanding seemed to threaten the origin stories and experience of early Adventists and to undermine Ellen White’s own authority. Moderating this “high” rigid view of inspiration has been one of the most difficult of theological challenges for the church because these fundamentalist principles were so essential to the original framing of its doctrinal structure.

4.  The reason that the Adventist church has had such difficulty coming to terms with the phenomenon of “flaws” in Ellen White and that she may have been capable of expressing erroneous ideas or conveying incorrect historical data is because such phenomena do not fit with the residual presuppositional theological framework of an inspired error-free text out of which the movement derived its teachings. Even adopting the idea that inspiration applies to thoughts rather than specific words does not solve the problem. Because when thoughts are inspired, they are expressed in words. And even with inspiration operating at the thought level, according to the consensus of early Adventist leaders in their landmark 1883 statement, the thoughts were still inerrant. Verbal imperfections could be changed but “without in any measure changing the thought.”[32] This makes the shift from words to thoughts a red herring. This concluding part of the sentence in the consensus statement is often left out when the theological position about inspiration imbuing the thoughts is cited. The problem is still inerrancy, and it remains an unresolved problem in large parts of the church because of the epistemological conceptions that were embedded in its theological DNA from the beginning.

George Knight observes concerning Ellen White’s enduring influence after her death that the inerrant White became the final word in every theological discussion.[33] Jonathan Butler perceptively notes that to some extent, Ellen White muddles the discussions in Adventism about inerrancy and infallibility. This is because, paradoxically, she reinforced a practical inerrancy while at other times she assertively undermined the understanding. But as Butler also notes, by the time of the 1960s and ’70s, Ellen White’s “net effect on the movement was to intensify its fundamentalism, not rescue the church from it.”[34] Nevertheless, in a significantly ironic way, it might be observed that the presence of both strands of emphasis in her writings and the flaws in her personal life helped protect the church against schism. Both sides in the discussion could find support for their emphasis—thus the need not to insist on a division in fellowship. 

5.  The ongoing Adventist conflict over biblical literalism, the doctrine of inspiration, and the nature and authority of biblical texts are mirrored in the experience of other conservative Protestant churches in North America during the mid-20th century and into the 21st century. For example, both the Southern Baptist Convention and the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS) experienced turmoil over rapid social change and the challenges posed by modern science. Like Adventists, both communities resorted to a defense of the core issue of biblical inerrancy and biblical literalism, which together became a “litmus test” of fundamentalist orthodoxy.[35] In the latter part of the 20th century, the authority and inerrancy of Scripture became a major theological battleground among conservative Christians, resulting in publications such as The Battle for the Bible and the convening of a council in Chicago in 1978 for the framing of a confessional statement on inerrancy, which was considered the essential foundation for securing Christian orthodoxy.[36] The issues of biblical literalism and an inerrant text continue to foster theological ferment and schismatic pressures among Southern Baptists, the LCMS, and Seventh-day Adventism.

Why Does it Matter?

Understanding and valuing the foundational ideas and influences that birthed and shaped the Advent movement is important. Speaking now as a pastor, it seems to me that acknowledging the time and place of our birth and our theological heritage strengthens rather than weakens identity. Denying our roots is not healthy. Adventism flourished in its commitment not to ancient creeds but to an inspired errorless Scripture where it found its hope of a soon-returning Lord and a call to faithfulness in Christian discipleship. Its fundamentalist hermeneutic of strict biblical literalism with a word-based, proof-text study methodology was formative in its development of a strong sense of identity and mission and was critical in structuring its distinctive doctrinal teaching—doctrines it presented as fundamental beliefs.

During the mid-20th century, however, this fundamentalist hermeneutic with its flat, often simplistic literalist reading and assumptions of inerrancy in its authoritative texts (both Scripture and Ellen White) proved inadequate for Adventist scholars as they grappled with the historical realities of the texts and tried to relate to the massive social changes, explosion of knowledge, rising educational standards, and emergence of new scientific understandings of the world. Problems for the fundamentalist doctrine of inspiration had been accumulating over decades, and for many Adventists, the tenants of traditional biblicism broke down under the weight of both internal and external evidence exposing the inadequacy of the framework.[37] Adventism’s fundamentalist biblical literalism was unable to readily accommodate new information, and the church experienced serious conflict and tension as it struggled to adjust to theological change and to the new paradigms shaping understandings of the world we live in.

All along the Adventist journey, but increasingly during the late 20th century and in the first decades of the new century, Adventist voices have called on the movement to draw new sustenance from that other parallel dynamic of early Adventism: its commitment to dynamic present truth. Some of these informed and committed Adventist seers point to the need for a broader, richer way of understanding Scripture.[38] They call Adventists to read literarily rather than just literally, acknowledging the reality of Scripture’s cultural and historical context while still cherishing it as the transcendent, transforming Word of God. Anchoring Seventh-day Adventist faith in Scripture as inspired, sacred literature rather than a flat, context-less collection of words is a critical change that must be achieved. How to have open, non-threatening discussion of the topic on a wider scale in the church presents a real challenge. Perhaps future Adventist historians will note how, during the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020–22, new group communication technologies such as Zoom Sabbath school classes widened participation in the conversations and facilitated more frank and open discussions and the enriching of a more inclusive fellowship. Successfully navigating the next part of the pilgrimage while continuing such vital conversations will maintain and strengthen Adventist identity, renew the movement’s sense of mission, help believers to accommodate new information, and refresh the church’s gospel proclamation, giving it new relevance for a world that continues to change. Adventists have already learned much about how to share God’s good news as they await in hope the breaking in of the kingdom of God. Further learning and witnessing continue to beckon.


Notes & References:

[1] John Webster notes how the doctrine of inspiration played an important role in establishing the Bible as the authority for truth as an intellectual response to the epistemological challenges of the enlightenment. “The Doctrine God: The Word of God,” unpublished paper (1986) 4. “Inerrant” is a direct synonym for “infallible” i.e. error-free.

[2] Ernest R. Sandeen, “The Princeton Theology: One Source of Biblical Literalism,” Church History, 31.3 (September, 1962), 319. See also  Ernest R. Sandeen, The Roots of Fundamentalism: British and American Millenarianism 1800-1930. (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1971).

[3] John D. Woodbridge and Randall H. Balmer, “The Princetonians and Biblical Authority: An Assessment of the Ernest Sandeen Proposal, in Scripture and Truth, eds D. A. Carson and John D. Woodbridge (Grand Rapids MI: Zondervan, 1983), 264, 271. The authors found 35 important references, many widely read, even in just their limited survey of the literature.

[4] “Inspiration,” Union Bible Dictionary, (Philadelphia, PA: American Sunday School Union, 1937). It is still available as an historical reprint series. Woodbridge and Balmer, 264.

[5] Kenneth J. Stewart, “A Bombshell of a Book:  Gaussen’s ‘Theopneustia’ and its Influence on Subsequent Evangelical Theology,” Evangelical Quarterly, 75.3 (2003) 237.

[6] Denis Kaiser, Trust and Doubt: Perceptions of Divine Inspiration in Seventh-day Adventist History (St. Peter am Hart: Seminar Schloss Bogenhofen, 2019) 235-244. W. W. Prescott was a strong advocate of “plenary” inspiration  though as Kaiser and Valentine point out, he did not introduce the idea to Adventism. See Gilbert Valentine, “’The Church Drifting Toward a Crisis’: Prescott’s 1915 Letter to William C. White,” Catalyst 2.1, (November 2007, 54, 55.

[7] Noll argues that the preoccupation with biblical inerrancy may have become a “distinctive” feature of American Evangelicalism but it is not “essential” to Christianity. It was not as important in British Evangelicalism. The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2014) 122, 244, 245. Ernest Sandeen also makes the connection between an inerrant, verbally inspired text and historicism observing that the historicist system of Dispensational theology “presupposed, a frozen biblical text in which every word was supported by the same weight of divine authority.”  See Sandeen, “Toward a Historical Interpretation of the Origins of Fundamentalism,” in Modern American Protestantism and Its World: No 10, Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism, ed. Martin E. Marty (Chicago: Walter de Gruyter, 1993) 23.

[8] Matthew Avery Sutton, American Apocalypse: A History of Modern Evangelicanism (Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 2017), 24.

[9] For a succinct overview of developments see https://www.britannica.com/topic/Christian-fundamentalism See also Michael Campbell, 1922: The Rise of Fundamentalism, (Nampa, ID: Pacific Press, 2021) 25, 29. (Kindle)

[10] George Marsden, Fundamentalism and American Culture, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2022) Third Edition, 2.

[11] Sutton, xii, xiii.

[12] Ibid 84, 85, 102, “At its root, the divide between fundamentalists and modernists reflected a difference in presuppositions about the Bible’s design and function.”  According to Sutton, the dawning of this particular understanding on oil tycoon Lyman Stewart led him to fund the mass circulation of a new set of publications defending fundamentalist beliefs.

[13] George Marsden, “Fundamentalism as an American Phenomenon: Compared with British Evangelicalism,” in Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism, ed Martin E. Marty, (Munich: K. G. Saur, 1992) 37, 49. Marsden notes that this issue became “a test for the purity of denominations” in the fundamentalist movement.

[14] Ernest R. Sandeen, “Toward a Historical Interpretation of the Origins of Fundamentalism,” in Martin E. Marty, Ibid p 23, 27. Ernest R. Sandeen “The Princeton Theology: One Source of Biblical Literalism,” Church History, 31.3 (September, 1962), 321.

[15] Sutton, 87-89.

[16] Watchman-Examiner, July 1, 1920, 384. Laws considered other terms.

[17] Campbell,  29.

[18] Sandeen, “Toward a Historical Interpretation of the Origins of Fundamentalism,” 20.

[19] Historians of Fundamentalism give scant attention to Seventh-day Adventists in spite of their similar premillenialism and high view of Scripture. Even Millerism is treated in a very cursory way, perhaps because the Miller movement was considered an extreme, and a failure. Seventh-day Adventism may have been overlooked in Fundamentalist histories because it was too fringe and considered as a sub-Christian sect because of its early fuzzy Christology and its legalistic soteriology and thus not a legitimate part of the seedbed of the movement. Matthew Sutton mentions Millerism only twice and Seventh-day Adventists not at all. Mark Noll in his more recent history of the Bible in America gives more attention to the role of Millerism and its interpretive schema. America’s Book: The Rise and Decline of Bible Civilization 1794-1911, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2022) 249-254. He notes that Millerite assumptions were “American to the core.”

[20] Sutton, 176, 177.

[21] Larry Pettigrew, “A Brief History of Fundamentalism,” VOICE Vol. 99, No. 1 (January / February, 2020). During the 1970s Pettigrew authored the article, “Will the Real Fundamentalist Please Stand Up,” see https://shepherds.edu/a-brief-history-of-fundamentalism/

[22] Kevin T. Bauder of the Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Plymouth MN notes that David Rausch uses the term “Proto-Fundamentalist” in his 1987 Kent State University dissertation “Proto-Fundamentalism’s Attitude toward Zionism, 1878-1918,” and that the term is “scattered through the subsequent literature.” https://sharperiron.org/article/proto-fundamentalism-part-1  Ernest Sandeen, earlier used the term when asserting that the nineteenth century “proto-Fundamentalists were frequently men of high esteem,” Ibid 83. Mark Noll more recently sees “proto-fundamentalism” antecedents in the nineteenth century Holiness Movement and in strands of nineteenth century Methodism. America’s Book: The Rise and Decline of a Bible Civilization 1794-1911, (New York, Oxford University Press, 2022) 516. See also, Matthew Avery Sutton, American Apocalypse: A History of Modern Evangelicalism (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1916),

[23] Jeffrey P. Straub, for example, identifies nineteenth century Baptist editor, George William Lasher (1830-1920) in this way. “George William Lasher-Baptist: Proto-Fundamentalist,” Dallas Baptist Seminary Journal 11.1 (Fall, 2006) 136.  Paul Wilson uses the term “proto-Fundamentalist” to describe antecedent movements and influences in Canada in “Identity and Ideology: An Overview of Canadian Baptist Fundamentalism, 1878-1978,” in Canadian Baptist Fundamentalism 1878-1978 eds Taylor Murray and Paul Wilson, (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2022), 17.

[24] Those who see “militancy” as the distinguishing mark of twentieth-century Fundamentalism and consider that early Adventism did not exhibit this characteristic overlook important elements of early Adventist writing and preaching. The sharp style of John Andrews’ writing in his aggressive attacks against opponents such as first-day Adventist preaching couple, Mary Seymour and her husband in the 1850s and against other first-day Adventists and the “Age to Come” are noteworthy. See Gilbert Valentine, J. N. Andrews: Mission Pioneer, Evangelist, and Thought Leader (Nampa, ID: Pacific Press, 2019) 141.

Uriah Smith often resorted to language that demonstrated the art of put downs, ridicule and incredulity at opponents’ assertions. There was often even more invective in dealing with errant groups who “attacked” Ellen White and the authenticity of her gift. James White was happy to publish John Andrews’ and Uriah Smith’s caustic replies. The language was strong and at times harsh. Such aggressive language and debating strategy were often prompted of course by “attacks” from those who opposed Adventist teaching. But the language of “attack” and “defense” was the common parlance of the early years in Adventism. It was the language of battle – and militancy. The 1920s might have taken the battle and struggle mentality to a more shrill level over different issues but the same ethos was clearly manifest in early Adventism as it struggled to establish its identity and assert the credibility of its teaching and biblical interpretations against hostile opponents. To this extent, defense and attack were part of the early Adventist DNA. The debating spirit became more exaggerated in the 1870s and 80s with many extended public debates until Ellen White called for a cessation of such strategies. But even through 1960s some public evangelists specialized in strong anti-Catholic rhetoric which included biting ridicule and incredulity expressed toward the Catholic stance on Sunday identifying it as the mark of the beast and Roman Catholicism as great evil apostate power. There was clearly a more militant edge to this even as late as the 1960s that was not true of other Christians who disagreed with Catholics over doctrine. The first day/seventh day issue was a life or death matter for Adventists.

[25] Grant Wacker, “The Rise of Fundamentalism,” http://nationalhumanitiescenter.org/tserve/twenty/tkeyinfo/fundam.htm

[26] “A History of Fundamentalism,”  https://teachinghistory.org/history-content/ask-a-historian/24092  Material for teachers of history is published on this website under the auspices of the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University with funding from the U.S. Department of Education.

[27] Ibid.

[28] See for example, Mohammad Razagh et al, “Religious Fundamentalism, Individuality and Collective Identity: A Case Study of Two Student Organizations in Iran,” Critical Research in Religion, 8.1  (1990) Sage Journals. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/2050303219900226#:~:text=Religious%20fundamentalism%20is%20the%20approach,%2C%20economic%2C%20and%20political%20aspects.

[29] See Rolf Pöhler, Dynamic Truth: A Study of the Problem of Doctrinal Development, (Mockern-Friedensau: Institute of Adventist Studies, 2020) 200. Pöhler notes, that non-Adventist observers of the church concurred in the assessment.

[30] Moody Monthly, November 1922, 2.

[31] Kaiser, 99.

[32] G. I. Butler and A. B. Oyen, “General Conference Proceedings,” Review and Herald, November 20, 1883, 741.

[33] George R. Knight, Ellen White’s Afterlife, (Nampa, ID: Pacific Press, 2019) 17.

[34] Jonathan M. Butler email to the author September 19, 2022.

[35] Gilbert Valentine,Resisting ‘Neo-Adventism’: Tensions between Seventh-day Adventist Traditionalists and Progressives” – 1966-1979. [2021] Unpublished Paper. For a comprehensive discussion of these issues see Nancy Tatom Ammerman, Baptist Battles: Social Change and Religious Conflict in the Southern Baptist Convention (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1995) and James C. Burkee, Power, Politics, and the Missouri Synod: A Conflict that Changed American Christianity (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2013).

[36] Harold Lindsell, The Battle for the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1976). For the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chicago_Statement_on_Biblical_Inerrancy

[37] John Webster, “The Doctrine God: The Word of God,” unpublished paper (1986) 5, 6.

[38] See, for example, Gunnar Pedersen, “The Bible as ‘Story’: A Methodological Opportunity,” in Exploring the Frontiers of Faith: Festchrift in Honour of Dr. Jan Paulsen, (Lueneburg, Advent-Verlag, 2009) 237-246 and Laurence A. Turner, “The Costly Lack of Literary Imagination in Seventh-day Adventist Biblical Interpretation,” Ibid, 261-276. The “Festival of the Sabbath” special issue of Spectrum 9.1 (Fall, 1978) is also a good example. See particularly Ottilie Stafford, “These Bright Ends of Time,” Ibid 21-24. See also Herold Weiss, Creation in Scripture (Gonzalez, FL:  Energion Press, 2012) and Kendra Haloviak Valentine, “The Irony of Orthodoxy,” Spectrum, 50.2 (Winter, 2022) 8-12.


Gilbert M. Valentine, PhD, recently retired, continues to teach as an adjunct professor in the H. M. S. Richards Divinity School at La Sierra University. His latest book Ostriches and Canaries: Coping with Change in Adventism, 1966-1979 was published in 2022.

Title image: Camp meeting of the Methodists in North America by Jacques Gérard Milbert, c. 1819 (public domain)

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