In high school, he had a 98.6 percent average, scored 100 percent in both math and science, placed second at a statewide spelling bee, and edited the high school paper (because he was put ahead one year, he finished high school at age 16). The warnings that Harvard University was inhospitable to southern Christians deterred him from his plan to apply there for college. Close to his 17th birthday, he entered a local liberal arts school where he made the Dean’s list and scored the highest mark in mathematics (he received the B.F. Goodrich “Mathematics Student of the Year” award). He transferred to Baptist Bible College in Springfield, Missouri where he graduated as the college’s top student with a degree in theology. His academic accomplishments were impressive, but his true genius was his effective use of the media to champion the fundamentals of traditional Christianity.
Baptist preacher Jerry Falwell (1933-2007) was one of the best known fundamentalists of the past three decades. The origins of fundamentalism go back to the early 1900s when Bible-believing Christians became alarmed with modern-liberal theology and its challenge to the basic tenets of Christianity. Darwinian science and German higher criticism of the Bible represented serious assaults on the authenticity of Scripture.
In opposition to this threat, business leader Lyman Stewart financed the publication of The Fundamentals (1910-15), a compilation of articles written by Christian scholars and writers who defended the fundamentals of Christianity. The five key fundamentals were: The inspiration and infallibility of Scripture; the deity of Christ (including His virgin birth); the substitutionary atonement of Christ’s death; the literal resurrection of Christ from the dead; and the literal return of Christ in the Second Advent. From The Fundamentals the term “fundamentalism” was coined in 1920. Protestant “fundamentalism” is distinct for its intense focus on evangelism.
The genius of Falwell was to expose the elitism of the liberal media in a manner that resulted in impressive fund-raising for evangelism. It was more-or-less a three step process. First, Falwell presented a biblical perspective on a particular issue in the news. Next, the liberal media (such as the New York Times) characterized Falwell as a buffoon with anti-intellectual and outdated views on morality. These hostile attacks on traditional Christian beliefs did not go unnoticed. Throughout America, Christians rallied around Falwell sending him money and their prayers.
What did Falwell do with this financial support? A decade before he was a national figure and attracting the attention of liberal critics, he desired to start an academically respectable Christian college that did not compromise on doctrine and standards. In 1971, there were 154 students in the first year of enrollment. Money that poured in the 1980s was put to good use. Today, Liberty University is the “largest Christian university in the world” with over 230 programs of study and 12,000 residential students. One example of Liberty’s academic success is its multiple debate national championships (against the major secular universities of the nation). Evidence of Liberty’s faithfulness to God and the fundamentals of Christianity include revival that swept the campus (one notable case saw entire dormitories fasting and praying).
All in all, Liberty University is “training young champions for Christ” from all across the United States and over 80 foreign countries. Some thanks should go to the liberal media.
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