The 1970s are widely recognized as a period of American social and economic unrest. Economically, the decade opened with high inflation. Richard Nixon responded to this problem in 1971 with a freeze on wages and prices, among other measures. His interference in the economy led directly to the recession of 1973, which combined high unemployment with even higher inflation (the so-called “stagflation”). Socially, the nation was mired in the Viet Nam conflict, leading to widespread protests. Thirteen protesting students were shot by National Guardsmen on the campus of Kent State University in May of 1970. Three months later, protestors upped the ante by bombing Sterling Hall at the University of Wisconsin. Woodstock, bastion of peace, joy, and love, was a recent memory, but so was Altamont with its violence. The hippie and yippie movements were in full swing. For those who don’t understand the difference, hippies were about love, peace, and nature, while yippies were politicized, radicalized, and more prone to violence (though the distinction was often blurred). As if the foregoing weren’t enough, the Manson murders were fresh in everybody’s memory, and Charles Manson would finally be convicted in 1971.
These were the years during which I came of age. During this decade I received my high school diploma, married, learned what my vocation would be, took my bachelor’s degree, entered seminary, and held my first pastoral positions. As I remember the 1970s, the decade was as turbulent for American evangelicals and fundamentalists as it was for the rest of the nation. Here are some of the events as I remember them.
I was still in high school when, in 1970, Carl McIntire attempted a takeover of the American Council of Christian Churches during its Pasadena convention. He simply stepped to the podium during a break and had himself “elected” president by his followers, whom he had stationed throughout the room. This act of organizational piracy provided my earliest impression of institutional fundamentalism.
Further impressions arrived the next year when Bob Jones, Jr. had a very public falling out with John R. Rice over the issue of secondary separation (though Jones would not have used the word secondary). The conflict began because Rice wanted to include two conservative Southern Baptists in a national conference on evangelism. Jones objected, partly because one of the conservatives (W. A. Criswell) had spoken rather derisively about Bob Jones, Sr. As the conflict grew more acrimonious, Rice removed Bob Jones, Jr. and Bob Jones III from the board of his paper, The Sword of the Lord, and replaced them with Jerry Falwell and Curtis Hutson. In 1978 Hutson would become associate editor of the Sword, and would take over full editorship when Rice died in 1980.
The whole decade of the 1970s was a period of unparalleled growth for Christian Day Schools. Christian elementary and secondary schools were nothing new, but alarm over “secular humanism” (a term that evangelicals popularized during the 1970s) turned these individual schools into a movement and propelled huge growth, both in the number of schools and in the number of students enrolled in them. I’ve looked up a few statistics here to verify my recollections. In 1968 the Association of Christian Schools International had 102 schools with fewer than 15,000 students. By 1973 it had 308 member schools enrolling nearly 40,000 students. Besides these, an entirely new coordinating agency was founded in 1972: the American Association of Christian Schools. Over the next decade it would gain a membership of 1,000 schools and a total enrollment of around 160,000. It is no exaggeration to suggest that the 1970s swept hundreds of thousands of students out of public schools and into private, Christian institutions.
The 1970s was also a decade of Bible translation and publication. Many evangelicals had reacted strongly against the Revised Standard Version, which was completed in 1952. Over nearly two decades of labor they completed an alternative translation of Scripture, the New American Standard Bible, which was published in 1971. The NASB was welcomed by most fundamentalists at the time. It not only updated many of the archaisms of the King James Version, but it was also considerably more precise in its representation of the original languages. I grew to love this version, and I still consider it to be without peer as an English Bible for study and reading.
The same year—1971—also brought another version of the Bible, this one a paraphrase rather than a translation. It was Ken Taylor’s The Living Bible, which built on his earlier, published paraphrases such as Living Letters. The Living Bible became wildly popular because of its readability and its hip, green leatherette cover. Unfortunately, some of Taylor’s paraphrases were wildly inappropriate. In any event, most conservative pastors objected to using a paraphrase as if it were the Bible, so the popularity of The Living Bible sparked controversy among their churches.
One pastor whose church had used Taylor’s earlier volumes in its ministry was David Otis Fuller. By the beginning of the 1970s, however, Fuller had reached the conclusion that the King James Version was the only English translation that could rightly be called the Word of God. He articulated this position in a series of three volumes: Which Bible? (1970), True or False? (1973), and Counterfeit or Genuine? (1978). The first volume was essentially a regurgitation of the thought (and perhaps language) of Seventh-Day Adventist Benjamin G. Wilkinson. Where Wilkinson was a cultist, however, Fuller was a popular evangelical preacher who served on the board of Wheaton College and the Association of Baptists for World Evangelism. The publication of Fuller’s books launched the King James Only movement in American evangelicalism. (It is worth noting that an earlier and more responsible figure, Orthodox Presbyterian Edward F. Hills, had written much that would eventually contribute to the KJO movement, but he was not widely read until after Fuller’s works were published, and cannot be credited with beginning a movement.)
These are a few of my memories of fundamentalism and evangelicalism during the 1970s. I’ll continue this narrative next week. In the meanwhile, I’m curious. You older guys: what are your most vivid memories of American fundamentalism and evangelicalism during this decade?
This essay is by Kevin T. Bauder, Research Professor of Systematic Theology at Central Baptist Theological Seminary. Not every one of the professors, students, or alumni of Central Seminary necessarily agrees with every opinion that it expresses.
Ho! Ye That Thirst
Scottish Psalter, 1880
Ho! ye that thirst, approach the spring
where living waters flow;
free to that sacred fountain all
without a price may go.
How long to streams of false delight
will ye in crowds repair?
How long your strength and substance waste
on trifles light as air?
My stores afford those rich supplies
that health and pleasure give;
incline your ear, and come to Me;
the soul that hears shall live.
With you a cov’nant I will make
that ever shall endure;
the hope which gladdened David’s heart
My mercy hath made sure.
Behold He comes! your Leader comes,
with might and honor crowned;
a Witness who shall spread My Name
to earth’s remotest bound.
See! nations hasten to His call
from ev’ry distant shore;
isles, yet unknown, shall bow to Him,
and Israel’s God adore.
Seek ye the LORD while yet His ear
is open to your call;
while offered mercy still is near,
before His footstool fall.
Let sinners quit their evil ways,
their evil thoughts forego,
and God, when they to Him return,
returning grace will show.
With joy and peace shall then be led
the glad converted lands;
the lofty mountains then shall sing,
the forests clap their hands.
Where briers grew ‘midst barren wilds,
shall firs and myrtles spring;
and nature, through its utmost bounds,
eternal praises sing.