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Cyrus Scofield and Dispensationalism

Saturday, June 20, 2015 0:19
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Here’s an excerpt from The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture: Religion which explains how Dispensationalism was created in the North and was exported to the South during the early 20th century:

“The Fundamentalist movement, as distinct from fundamentalism as a theological orientation, appeared around 1900 among conservative northern Protestants concerned about the development of liberal theology, the social gospel, Darwinian evolution, and secular trends in American culture. With the exception of concerns about the promotion of Darwinian evolution, these trends were largely quiescent in the South until after World War II. The movement made limited progress in the South prior to mid-century because of southern evangelicalism’s conservatism. When the social, intellectual, and cultural upheavals that kindled the northern movement began to alter southern culture in the postwar decades, Southern evangelicals believed their regional Zion was becoming more like Babylon, and organized Fundamentalism prospered accordingly.

Northern fundamentalism’s earliest forays in the South began with Bible conferences held by members of its core constituency, most notably, premillennialists associated with evangelist Dwight L. Moody’s interdenominational revivalist network. Moody’s proteges, particularly Amzi C. Dixon, Reuben A. Torrey, James M. Grey, Cyrus I. Scofield, and Lewis Sperry Chafer, played significant roles in shaping Fundamentalism and exporting it to the South. They were participants in the prophecy and Bible conference movement, which began in 1876 when northern Bible teachers, typically Presbyterians and Calvinist Baptists, met at Swampscott, Mass. In 1878 James H. Brookes, the movement’s founding father, produced a 14-article creed depicting embryonic Fundamentalism’s central theological concerns. Significantly, this creed included dispensationalist premillennialism, which taught that the historical eras depicted in the Bible represented distinct ages culminating in Christ’s second coming to establish a millennial kingdom. The movement’s annual assemblies settled at Niagara, N.Y., between 1883 and 1898 and were thereafter identified as the Niagara Bible Conference. Other high points of the movement’s infancy were the publication of The Fundamentals between 1910 and 1915, 12 booklets providing a broad and temperate defense of Protestant orthodoxy, and the 1919 founding of the World’s Christian Fundamentals Association to conduct an offensive against theological liberalism and Darwinian evolution.

Southerners contributed little to organized Fundamentalism as it coalesced prior to 1917. Only four of the contributors to The Fundamentals were from the South: President Edgar Y. Mullins of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Professor Charles B. Williams of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Presbyterian ministers Alexander W. Pitzer of Salem, Va., and Hiram M. Sydenstricker of West Point, Miss. Nor were there many southerners among the movement’s early leaders. The exceptions were Amzi C. Dixon and J. Frank Norris. Dixon, a Baptist pastor and author from North Carolina, was actively involved in the northern prophetic Bible conference movement, served as pastor of Moody Memorial Church in Chicago from 1906 to 1911, and was the first of three editors of The Fundamentals. Norris, the controversial pastor of First Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Tex., launched a Fundamentalist paper entitled The Fence Rail in 1917, shared his pulpit with leading northern Fundamentalist speakers, and became an early leader in the World’s Christian Fundamentals Association.

While few southerners were leaders within the Fundamentalist movement, some pastors became, like Norris, conduits through which the northern conference movement penetrated the South. Baptist pastor Leonard G. Broughton, who was converted in 1880 at a Dixon revival service in Raleigh, N.C., established one of the earliest and most significant links between northern fundamentalists and southern evangelicals. In 1898, with Moody’s encouragement, he launched the Tabernacle Bible Conference in Atlanta, Ga., hosting annual meetings that featured prominent northern fundamentalist speakers who attracted large crowds of people representing every Southern state. Between 1900 and 1917, numerous conference centers similar to Broughton’s arose in urban areas throughout the South and played key roles in the dissemination of northern fundamentalist beliefs and concerns in the region.

Perhaps the most significant northern Bible teacher to enter the South prior to the 1920s was C.I. Scofield’s protege, Congregational minister Lewis Sperry Chafer. While serving as song leader alongside Ira Sankey for Moody’s Northfield conferences, Chafer used Northfield as a model for organizing the Southfield Bible Conference Association at Crescent City, Fla. Annual conferences continued there into the 1940s. In 1911 Chafer moved to New York to continue to lead Scofield’s Oral Extension department in the newly established Scofield School of the Bible. He took responsibility for conducting conferences in the South, and in 1926 he transferred his ministerial credentials to the Southern Presbyterian Church (the Presbyterian Church in the United States). Chafer’s writing, approved and promoted by Scofield, were second only to the Scofield Reference Bible in spreading dispensationalist premillennialist though in the South and in creating a perceived need among southern evangelicals for ministers and teachers trained in the dispensationalist understanding of the scriptures …”

Update: Dispensationalism originated in the UK with a group called the Plymouth Brethren and was brought to America by John Darby in the 1860s. It was Darby who converted James Brookes while he was a Presbyterian minister in St. Louis.

Note: Southern evangelical Christianity wasn’t “Judeo-Christian” or “Christian Zionist” or “Dispensationalist” in the 19th century. This is an alien tradition that can be traced back to the northern Bible conference movement.


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