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This article interprets the rise of Protestant fundamentalism through the lens of an influential network of business leaders and theologians based in Philadelphia in the 1910s. This group of business and religious leaders, through institutions such as the Philadelphia School of the Bible and a periodical called Serving and Waiting, popularized the apocalyptic theology of premillennial dispensationalism. As the world careened toward war, Philadelphia’s premillennial dispensationalist movement grew more influential, reached a global audience, and cemented the theology’s place within American Christianity. However, when the war ended without the anticipated Rapture of believers, the money, politics, and organization behind Philadelphia’s dispensationalist movement collapsed, creating a vacuum that was filled by a new movement, fundamentalism. This article reveals the human politics behind the fall of dispensationalism, explores the movement’s rebranding as fundamentalism, and highlights Philadelphia’s central role in the rise of Protestant fundamentalism.
Pennsylvania History is the official journal of the Pennsylvania Historical Association, and copyright remains with PHA as the publisher of this journal.