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.

Fundamentalism is Dead, Long Live Fundamentalism Part 4: The Death of the Fundamentalist Movement

The old saying goes, those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it. The saying itself implies the central lesson of history itself: people universally die, nation states are dissolved, and nothing survives under the sun. This is true of Church history as well, and will remain true until He comes.

The sad fact of life is that all human beings have feet of clay. Church history records numerous movements that begin with great promise, despite human frailties and failings. In the end, however, that promise often appears unfulfilled. This is in fact the case with “Old Fundamentalism.”

If a vase falls to the ground and shatters, the various shards do not change their composition – the shards are still made of the same material – but what you have is no longer a vase. Fundamentalism, as I noted in part two was a “big tent” movement, focused on the defense of the faith, itself. Many Fundamentalists were still “earnestly contending” but it was difficult to say it was the faith as a whole they were contending for. After the Fundamentalist/Evangelical controversy started, it devolved into a series of camps, many at war with one another over secondary and tertiary issues. This is not to suggest that all fundamentalists were the contentious, anti-intellectual bigots of popular mythology – this is a stereotype, and the only reason why this particular stereotype persists is that American rejection of stereotypical thinking is highly selective. Nevertheless, there were numerous battles in the late period of Fundamentalism, the period in which my own exposure to Fundamentalism began.

Many of these battles were over issues that were secondary, discussions of issues such as music, some of the less extreme discussions of the version debate,[1] etc. Even worse, some camps of Fundamentalism devolved into personality cults, some Fundamentalist leaders, such as Jack Hyles even encouraged this kind idol worship. Secondary issues similarly led to discussions of who was an “authentic” fundamentalist, discussions of Pseudo-fundamentalism and hyper-fundamentalism also began to appear. Many argued that real Fundamentalists must reject all forms of Calvinism, others, equally vehemently, argued only five point Calvinists were real fundamentalists.[2] In the end there were numerous discussions of restoring a more authentic Fundamentalism.[3]

In the early twentieth century, Fundamentalism was a rejection of the growth of theological liberalism, in the late twentieth century it was about Church music. This is not to say a conservative approach to music is wrong,[4] but a conservative approach in issues such as music is not central to the Christian faith; one cannot discuss a movement founded on chiefly peripheral things.

There are many good fundamentalists left, perhaps, but it is no longer possible to speak of a Fundamentalism. This article is not a repudiation of all who stand within the later Fundamentalist tradition, or of the underlying nature of Fundamentalism itself.[5] When I discuss the death of Fundamentalism I am suggesting that the vase is broken, and there is no longer a Fundamentalist movement, as such.

History lessons are fun, but they must have a point to be useful. I’ve discussed why the old Fundamentalism is dead. Now its time to finally shift gears and see why we need Fundamentalism again.

            [1] I say less extreme because some of the more aggressive elements of the King James Only movement have crossed the line into heresy. To argue that the King James is “reinspired” or “corrects the Greek” is to either argue that God did no inspire it correctly the first time or argue that He did not, in fact, preserve His Word for a millennium or so.

[2] A classmate of mine in my graduate school years, in his father’s newspaper ran a series of articles claiming that Bob Jones had departed from the faith. Two of the major contentions underlying this charge was that BJU was not using the Textus Receptus in Greek classrooms and that BJU was not Calvinistic enough.

[3] Douglas McLachlan wrote a book entitled Reclaiming Authentic Fundamentalism which caused a lot of discussion when I was a student at Bob Jones. The title itself suggests something has been lost, and needs revision.

[4] For decades I rejected the central argument raised for changes in our approach to music in corporate worship partially on the grounds that the major argument raised by those associated with “CCM” (arguments that music was amoral or that it was merely a matter of taste) was an example of the logical fallacy known as “begging the question,” and because our culture had a long-running association between “rock” and a lifestyle of illicit sex, drug/alcohol abuse, and rebellion – attitudes that are not fit company to Christian worship. This was shaped by a number of unbelievers who argued Christians were hypocrites for listening to “Christian Rock,” including a few editorials I read in the 90s. My approach changed as I engaged Millennials on apologetics boards on facebook who clearly did not understand the association between “Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll,” in this sense then, this connection no longer exists. Cultures change. I do not believe one can still effectively argue that the values of the Rock subculture are any different from the values of society as a whole. From this point, my major concern in music would be the conscience of believers, as Paul discusses in 1 Corinthians 8-10 and Romans 14

[5]In most senses I still consider myself a Fundamentalist. My approach to certain aspects of life has changed not because my theology has changed – there has only been one significant shift in my Systematic theology in the past decade, and it is a shift most people would likely not understand since it is in the obscure discussion of the basis for theology in the first place – but my practice and application of that theology has changed due to what I believe to be rapid changes in Western culture over the past two decades. My argument in rejecting a war with Evangelicals, as noted last time, is not a rejection of Fundamentalist teaching on separation, I believe Fundamentalists were probably right to reject Ockenga’s new Evangelicalism in the 50’s, rather it is the realization that Fundamentalists have misunderstood Evangelicals since the 70s. The Evangelicalism of today is significantly different from that of the 50’s and must be treated as such. This article took additional time to write, first because I’m preparing for classes at Southern Seminary and this takes up a lot of my time. But, secondarily, and more importantly, saying Fundamentalism has died in any sense is intensely personal, I am, after all, an heir of that movement.

Fundamentalism is dead, Long live Fundamentalism Part 3b: The Great Evangelical Recovery

Last time, I noted discussions surrounding “The Great Evangelical Disaster,” but that doesn’t bring us to the present.

If one reads Francis Schaeffer’s last book, one might have thought Evangelicalism was on the ropes. Yet that does not match our present experience. There is a renewed vibrancy and fervor in many quarters of Evangelicalism. So what has happened?

Fundamentalists were likely wrong about Evangelical’s in part because they examined Evangelical’s in light of 1948-53. But the position of Evangelicals in the 70s, 80s and 90s was significantly different than the first generation of Evangelicals. During the early years of the Fundamentalist/Modernist controversy.

But second generation “neo-Evangelicals” were significantly different from those of Ockenga’s generation; they fell into what is perhaps the most common misconception about denominations: most people, including many preachers do not choose their denominations on the basis of a creedal statement, they choose their creedal statements based on their denominations. Many believers remain with the denomination they were raised in, or if they change denominations, it is often over other issues (such as being tired of infighting). What many Fundamentalists should have understood, even from the beginnings of the conflict, is that some Evangelicals were not necessarily favoring compromise as a strategy, they were Evangelicals by default.

I think the answer to the question of the Evangelical recovery is found in the “battle for the Bible” at Evangelical seminaries. Those fighting these battles were not fighting a “sham” battle for the Bible, rather they picked up the battle that the Fundamentalists weren’t fighting – they were too busy fighting about Evangelical capitulations to theological liberalism to actually spend much time or resources battle theological liberalism, itself.

In this regard, Evangelicals engaging in the battle for the Bible actually used the tactics of an earlier generation of Fundamentalists (for example, requiring professor’s at Evangelical schools to sign creedal statements, expelling those who taught heresy, etc) instead of those used by Evangelicals at the beginning of the controversy. The first Fundamentalists, afterall, did not begin by separating from liberals, they rather fought the liberal takeover of their denominations from within until such time as they thought they could not win. Separatism was  the Atom bomb of the Fundamentalist/Modernist controversy, the final tactic left when the battle for the denominations seemed over.

Similarly, Evangelicals were fighting the fight of the faith within the denominations they had been raised in, or had entered into with a spiritual mentor. Thus, even if they did not use the name, “Fundamentalist,” they’re relationship to fundamentalism was similar to that of Gresham Machen.