By Taylor Murray
With the publication of Canadian Baptist Fundamentalism, 1878–1978 (the fourth volume in the CBHS Series), I thought it would be worth reflecting on the field and offering a few suggestions on possible future directions for the historiography of Baptist fundamentalism in Canada.1
One of the most promising and largely-unexplored areas of investigation revolves around the proto- and early-fundamentalist period. The current literature on fundamentalism among Baptists in Canada is focused primarily on T. T. Shields, the influential pastor of Jarvis Street Baptist Church in Toronto; however, historians should not so briskly move past the forerunners to the fundamentalist cause. Looking at these figures would provide insight into how the movement’s character developed during these formative years.
In a similar way, very little has been written on the development of the Canadian Baptist fundamentalist movement after the controversies of the 1920s and 1930s. Many of the expressions of fundamentalism continued in some form long after the events described in Canadian Baptist Fundamentalism. There is ample space to explore the second- and third-generation leaders and the turbulent legacies they inherited. Such studies would provide insight into how each group evolved and adapted, even as the Canadian socio-religious landscape changed so significantly in the mid-twentieth century.
There has likewise been a tendency among historians to focus on one or two prominent individuals in each region. Who were the other figures involved? In that same vein, if even secondary players have been overshadowed, the people in the pew have been entirely neglected. Identifying which particular aspects the average church-goer found most appealing or where they disagreed with their pastor would add depth and texture to our understating of the movement overall.
Perhaps the most egregious omission in the historiography relates to the absence of women. Upon a quick overview of the literature, it becomes clear that historians have afforded women very little attention. (In fact, judging from some writings, the casual reader might be forgiven for thinking that several prominent Baptist fundamentalists never even met a woman aside from his own wife!) Further exacerbating this oversight is the fact that not all Baptist fundamentalists in Canada were opposed to women in ministry.2 It could very well be, in the words of Margaret Bendroth, that “Adding women to the master narrative will inevitably change its meaning.”3
There is also room to expand the conversation on fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals that remained in the various convention bodies even after the events of the 1920s. After surveying the existing literature, for example, one might be left with the impression that all those who remained in the Baptist Convention of Ontario and Quebec were not as faithful to Baptist orthodoxy as those who left in 1927; however, that was certainly not the case. Many conservative evangelical Baptists—who also held the same doctrinal views espoused by Shields—chose to remain within the denomination. Their experience after 1927 certainly needs a more fulsome examination by historians.
The opportunities for future study are not limited to these few examples. Historians have focused primarily on Canadian Baptist fundamentalism as a white and English-speaking phenomenon. Widening the scope of investigation may reveal some as-yet-unknown details or additional questions. Likewise, little research has been done on the legal consequences of the fundamentalist controversies.
As this brief survey should make clear, there remain numerous areas in need of exploration in the historiography. For those who want a launching pad into this rich field of study, Canadian Baptist Fundamentalism provides a good starting point, but we hope that the field will continue to grow.
Canadian Baptist Fundamentalism is available online now.
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Taylor Murray is an Instructor of the History of Christianity and Creative Producer of Distributed Learning at Tyndale University in Toronto. He is a Member at Large with the Canadian Baptist Historical Society.
- This blog is adapted from the epilogue published in Canadian Baptist Fundamentalism, modified to fit this medium.
- One thinks of L. E. Maxwell of PBI, who was publicly in favour of women in ministry for his entire career and even published a book on the topic (co-authored by Ruth C. Dearing). See Maxwell and Dearing, Women in Ministry.
- Bendroth, “Angry Women and the History of American Evangelicalism,” 119.
**The views of this Blog represent those of the author, and not necessarily the CBHS.**