Fundamentalism is Dead, Long Live Fundamentalism: Part 5 Towards Resurrecting a Successor Fundamentalism

When people think of the first world war, they often think of the soul-devouring trench warfare of the western front (this indeed is the inspiration for the name of my blog, “Truth in the Trenches”). Yet, at the end of the war, the tactical supremacy of the defensive position was effectively countered by the development of the storm-trooper. The storm-trooper entered into the enemies trench system by stealth, and used speed and efficiency to neutralize an enemy position.

As a Christian apologist, I view myself as a person who is involved in a war, not a war of guns, gas and explosives on a physical battlefield, but a war in the hearts of men and nations, which uses ideas, emotions and the questions of our age. This is not a war with men, but with principalities, powers, and the rulers of the darkness of this present age.

Christian apologists are highly focused on the problems presented by atheists and naturalists that we have not noticed the rapid development of a new kind of enemy to the Christian faith – the emerging church, which is a remarketing of theological liberalism (or to use the older term from part two, modernism) to Evangelicals. This is why I think as apologists we can and should draw from the Fundamentalist movement.  In fact, I believe the emerging church[1] is Satan’s squad of stormtroopers.

I can summarize where we have been in this discussion quite easily: Fundamentalism is not what many moderns believe it to have been. Fundamentalism was the attempt to live out Jude’s polemic, “earnestly contend for the faith.” Secondarily, I argued that while the New Evangelicalism was founded on compromise with the liberal “mainline” denominations, Evangelicalism today is strong because they abandoned that strategy and picked up the Fundamentalist spirit during the battle for the Bible.

If the old Fundamentalism died, the spirit of fundamentalism is needed again; the battle for the Bible and Christianity is never actually over, after all. During the Fundamentalist modernist controversies the enemy was the religious liberals who tried to understand Christianity through the lenses of modern philosophy, particularly religious naturalism. Today, the emerging church seeks to interpret Christianity through the lenses of postmodern philosophy, drawing heavily from the same tactics of the religious left. Incidentally, the religious left itself is strong in academic circles and many atheists are also using their arguments.

I want to end this series with concrete lessons that the old fundamentalists teach us. This will end this series, but these are ideas I plan to develop over time further.

  1. The reproach of Christ.

There is no evidence to indicate the first fundamentalists were anti-intellectual. They opposed the speculative theology of the modernists, but this was due to a commitment to truth, not a rejection of modernity. It was also the grounds for the charge that they were anti-intellectuals. These men were readers of the great theologians of the past and were deeply influenced by the Princeton Theology (the Princeton Theological Seminary was a conservative Presbyterian center of learning, and someone who describes these men as anti-intellectual betrays only that he has not read their works). Yet this criticism did not move them to abandon Biblical Christianity, they simply bore the criticism as the reproach of Christ.

The world still comes after believers with character assassination and Ad Hominem attacks. This is the central strategy of many New Atheists; don’t be swayed by this. This strategy will grow. Focus, however, not on the slander but on building a case. We should not love the praise of men too much.

  1. Fundamentalist views of separation were rooted in the Unity of the faith.

One of the words that is used in discussions of Fundamentalism is separation, but this term is often misunderstood, particularly by many later Fundamentalists who separated over the wrong issues. Separatism was always rooted in unity with Christ. This seems paradoxical, but think of it in terms of a marriage. A husband and wife are united with each other but this unity entails separating from all others.

2 John 10 and 11 warn of welcoming those who do not bring the doctrine of Christ, that is John is arguing they are to be excluded from the Church. If later Fundamentalists fought over everything as Christians, the opposite extreme is not necessarily desireable either. I believe modern Evangelicals should adopt a creedal statement (similar to the early Fundamentalist acceptance of the Five Fundamentals[2]) as a defining point of the new fundamentalism. The Bob Jones University Creed is a useful starting point in developing such a creedal statement.[3]

  1. Ultimately, this is a battle for the Bible.

The enemies are using variations of the old historical critical views of the Bible. We need Christian apologists ready to defend the faith on the grounds of the infallibility of the Bible, its final authority in faith and practice. We need to be ready to answer the questions raised by historical criticism of the New Testament. Older writers have already well plowed this field, and it is wise to acquaint ourselves with their work.

[1] I will later discuss the emerging church in greater detail. For our purposes here, however, the Emerging Church is defined as those who maintain outward professions of being Evangelicals but deny core historic doctrines in favor of post-modern interpretations of the Bible.

[2] The five fundamentals are,

  1. The inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture
  2. The deity of Jesus Christ
  3. The virgin birth of Christ
  4. The substitutionary, atoning work of Christ on the cross
  5. The physical resurrection and the personal bodily return of Christ to the earth.

[3] The BJU Creed reads, “I believe in the inspiration of the Bible (both the Old and the New Testaments); the creation of man by the direct act of God; the incarnation and virgin birth of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ; His identification as the Son of God; His vicarious atonement for the sins of mankind by the shedding of His blood on the cross; the resurrection of His body from the tomb; His power to save men from sin; the new birth through the regeneration by the Holy Spirit; and the gift of eternal life by the grace of God.” (copied from the BJU website). I suggest this is a starting point because we need an explicit statement of infallibility (or perhaps even better inerrancy) and an explicit statement that man is justified by grace through faith in Christ.

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