Fundamentalism is dead, Long Live Fundamentalism Part 3a: The Great Evangelical Disaster.

Today, Evangelical churches appear to be thriving, and Fundamentalism appears to be a relic, often an unwelcome one. A few decades ago, this was not, however, the case.

I’m going to cover the Evangelical-Fundamentalist controversy in two parts, first dealing with Evangelicalism (which will take two articles due to its growing length) then with Fundamentalism. This controversy began as the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy was winding down. Fundamentalists began to adopt “separatism”[1] from the major denominations when it became apparent they would not win the battle and began forming their own, new denominational bodies. This separatism then was neither new, nor strange – a number of similar movements have taken place over the centuries.

Modern Evangelicalism was originally known as the “New Evangelicalism” (Sometimes referred to as Neo-Evangelicalism). The term “New Evangelicalism” was coined by Harold Ockenga in 1948, and part of his emphasis was (1) the repudiation of separatism from the mainline denomination, (2) an attempt to reopen a dialogue with the religious left with a new openness to liberal ideas about the Bible, particularly involving issues related to the book of Genesis and the doctrine of inerrancy. This was founded on a repudiation of Fundamentalist anti-intellectualism,[2] and in some quarters, might have led to an over-emphasis on the role of intellect among believers.[3] The New Evangelicals would grow into prominence, however, when Billy Graham’s large campaigns began featuring theological liberals and Roman Catholic clergy on his platform. This would inevitably lead to a split between the Fundamentalists and the Evangelicals, splitting the National Association of Evangelicals along the way.[4]  Francis Schaeffer and others after him traced the defections of the faith to the intellectual compromises along the way.

The Great Evangelical Disaster

Francis Schaeffer’s last book, The Great Evangelical Disaster discussed the Evangelical side of the controversy. Schaeffer’s book was the book that ultimately shaped my views on this controversy for decades – it is still, a profound work about the dangers of intellectual/theological compromise.[5]

And the effects of compromise at the time were dire.

Fuller Theological Seminary had slowly abandoned the faith over decades.[6]

Charles Templeton, a long time Evangelical Evangelist became an atheist.[7]

Major conflicts began in the 70’s referred to as “The Battle for the Bible” in Evangelical Seminaries.

Perhaps to my mind, one of the lesser-known tragedies, that of Bernard Ramm, was the most shocking. Ramm wrote one of the standard introductions to Christian Hermeneutics,[8] yet, in 1983, on relatively flimsy grounds he adapted his thinking[9] to a theological system of existential theology known as Neo-Orthodoxy,[10] or more precisely, he like Briggs sought to combine Evangelical belief with theological liberalism.

Thus, Evangelicalism was not turning into the promised panacea that had been anticipated. Yet, we also know Fundamentalist assumptions that Evangelicalism was dead were also not panning out. Next time, I will posit my theory as to why – Evangelicals were borrowing from earlier fundamentalism as they decided to earnestly contend for their faith within their denominations, and this time, at least some of them would win.

[1] In my years at BJU, one often heard discussions of the “Doctrine” of separation, but this, I believe is highly misleading; it frankly sounds almost monastic. Despite this, separation is ultimately not a separate doctrine persay, but an application of Scriptural principles. The terminology is based on the idea of being holy (which means being set apart), and provides an undergirding theology for discussions of separation. However, the passages cited in discussions of separation themselves are actually discussing discipline for members living in sin, or who repudiate the faith. In this sense, the doctrine of separation is simply the application of Biblical teaching on dealing with the stubbornly errant on a level beyond merely single individuals.

            [2]Fundamentalism was not an anti-intellectual movement, but there were pockets of anti-intellectualism within the movement. This was largely because the theological left was associated with the philosophical elitists of the day.

            [3] There are a lot of discussions about intellectualism when it comes to the faith as a whole. John K A Smith, in his work Desiring the Kingdom for example, discusses this problem, though his approach ultimately seems to descend back into approaches that history demonstrates have failed (such as his ideas about monasticism and a new alternative economy), and while claiming not to want rebuild an anti-intellectualism of the past, is ultimately doing precisely that type of approach.

The quandary of the Christian intellectual is, for the relatively modern world, still answered best in a sermon, Learning During Wartime by C S Lewis, in which he discusses the Christian intellectual in terms of service to God and His Kingdom. Lewis argues the Christian scholar’s work is ultimately no different from anyone else in the truly spiritual economy – his works value is measured in terms of its being an offering to God. Lewis does this on the Pauline analogy of the body of Christ, we all have our place and function within that body.

            [4] This is sometimes presented as a very sudden split, but there is extensive, extant correspondence between Dr. Bob Jones Senior/Dr. Bob Jones Junior and Billy Graham for about two years before the split actually happened.

[5] I was educated at Bob Jones University, one of the central schools of Fundamentalism of the time. While BJU has largely abandoned me, my feelings of my alma mater are at times very mixed. Some of its recent decisions continue to break my heart – and I have many fond memories of a number of my professors. My one profound disagreement with Schaeffer is not in his discussion of Evangelicalism, it is his assumptions about the Fundamentalists of the era. I had the opportunity to meet some of the men of that generation, while some were the stern curmudgeons of popular imagery, many more were cordial, kind and exuded a Christian spirit that is rare except among those who after a lifetime of devotion to the King have lives that have been saturated with His Spirit. Indeed, the kindest man I have ever met, Dr. Stewart Custer, was the Fundamentalist that taught a seven week course on “cults and trends,” including our discussions on Evangelicalism.

[6] See Reforming Fundamentalism: Fuller and the New Evangelicalism.

[7] Charles Templeton, Farewell to God, My Reasons for rejecting the Christian Faith.

[8]Bernard Ramm, Protestant Biblical Interpretation.

[9] Bernard Ramm: After Fundamentalism: The Future of Evangelical Theology. As a rare second personal note, I wept a little after I read this work.

[10] Neo-Orthodoxy is associated with Karl Barth, who was a theological liberal that felt theological liberalism, in dissecting the Bible provided nothing that was worth communicating. He then posited the possibility that the Bible provided a point of encounter between God and men. His thinking along with two other existentialist thinkers (particularly Emil Brunner and Rudolf Bultmann) changed the nature of liberal theology.

Fundamentalism is dead, Long Live Fundamentalism part 2: The Fundamentalist Modernist controversy

Fundamentalism has always been maligned, and even more seriously misunderstood, as often by its adherents as by its opponents. Many Evangelicals have outright repudiated it, in part, because Fundamentalism like all institutions in which human beings take part is imperfect. Yet, my contention is that what we need is not a repudiation of Fundamentalism, but an understanding of it. The terms, “Fundamentalism” and “Fundamentalist goes back to debates for the heart of the Northern Baptist Convention, and is related to a series of pamphlets on essentials for the faith entitled, “The Fundamentals”[1] as well as the “five fundamentals”[2] of the faith, one of the rallying points in the early debates against what was then called “Modernism” and is now described as theological liberalism – the “grandfather” of the modern “emerging church,” liberation theology, and similar movements. Some people define Fundamentalism in terms of millennialism and dispensationalism – and for this reason, many of the early anti-modernists did not want to be referred to as Fundamentalists, though they are claimed by many Fundamentalist thinkers, these include Gresham Machen, the founder of Westminster Theological Seminary.[3] The reason for this discrepancy might be the definition itself – Machen rejected Fundamentalism due to its association with dispensationalism, and yet Curtis Lee Laws, [4] the man who invented the term “fundamentalist” did so because he wanted a term that focused on the larger issue of the defeat of the “Modernist” take over of the NBC, rather than a partisan doctrine. The early Fundamentalists emulated the true soul of the Fundamentalist movement – and can be summarized in the words of Jude, “Earnestly contend for the faith once delivered to the saints.”[5] They were defined, and I believe will be forever defined, by the “Fundamentalist-Modernist Controversy.” The controversy with modernism in America[6] goes back to the 19th century,[7] but became headline news during the 1893 Briggs Heresy Trial.[8] Liberalism had begun to seep into the major denominations, and the believers sought to push back the forces of darkness, contending for the faith, until they finally felt that these groups were no longer viable and left. During this time, they formed transdenominational organizations, joining hands across denominational lines on the grounds of belief in the basic building blocks of the faith. While, sadly, later generations of men would reignite these debates, sometimes to build petty fiefdoms, the early Fundamentalists were a big tent for those who maintained belief in the infallibility of the Bible, the Deity of Christ, and salvation by Grace through Faith. Fundamentalism in this sense is not an anti-intellectual faith, but rather upholds the tenet of non-contradiction. One cannot accept Christianity and reject it at the same time; one cannot fundamentally change the faith without ceasing to actually be Christian. What these men emulated was backbone – a willingness to accept the censure of the world, they were maligned then as backwards, uneducated, unlearned fools. They bore the reproach of Christ, and cared more about what He thought of them, than what the world thought was true. [1]David O Beale, In Pursuit of Purity: American Fundamentalism Since 1850. (Greenville, SC: Unusual Publications, 1985), 39-45. [2]Beale, 149.             [3] I will leave people to decide for themselves if they think men like Machen were, or were not Fundamentalists, or more to the point if they believe Machen’s repudiation of the label was based on an accurate or inaccurate assessment of Fundamentalism. In many senses, however, Machen exemplified and inspired the early Fundamentalist spirit, particularly in his book Christianity and Liberalism. Yet, Machen and the earlier Princeton theologians (such as Charles Hodge, A A Hodge, and B B Warfield) interacted with Fundamentalism, inspired early Fundamentalists and ultimately, if they are not to be called Fundamentalists, they at least formed a similar and related movement. History is more complicated than we sometimes believe. [4] The Term “Fundamentalist” was probably coined by Curtis Lee Laws in the July 1, 1920 Watchman-Examiner, to discuss a “preconference” for the general conference of the denomination over the denominations drift away from the historic doctrines of the faith. Beale, 195. The Northern Baptist convention would eventually be renamed the American Baptist convention, but the preconvention group would splinter, and form the General Association of Regular Baptists and the Fundamentalist Baptist Fellowship. [5] Jude 3 [6] Modernism developed, in large part, in Germany. The major point of modernism was the attempt to combine the study of the Bible with modern philosophy, based in part on an outright rejection of miracles. Modernism developed theories about the origin of the Bible based on the Hegelian Dialectic – while many other tenets of the early modernists are no longer discussed these days, the Hegelian understanding of the origins of the Bible are still a major contention of most unbelieving students of the Bible, and sadly some Evangelicals. [7] Some have connected Liberalism with 18th century Universalism and the New School Presbyterians. However, these approaches were significantly different from Modernism, and should be considered a separate controversy. [8] Charles E Hatch The Charles A Briggs Heresy Trial; Beale 144-7. Hatch writes from an unbelieving perspective and is heavily involved in the name-calling approach we noted last time. It should be noted that the Briggs Heresy trial was not a legal trial in US courtrooms. The trial was within the Presbyterian General Assembly, and was an attempt to remove him from Union Theological Seminary over serious doctrinal deviation from the faith.

Fundamentalism is Dead – Long Live Fundamentalism Part 1: Embracing an insult

A few weeks ago, an article was posted by a blogger for Psychology Today suggesting that the shooting in Charleston was, at root, caused by anti-intellectualism and ultimately fundamentalism. I have not, due to current events, had a chance to answer this objection until now.

It has become a common ploy among many anti-Christians (particularly among the extreme members of the political left), to use the long running “snob appeal” method of propaganda in an attempt to silence debate. This article is, in and of itself, perhaps the epitome of irony, when one considers that it is a good example of anti-intellectualism. The article does not feel the need to discuss the support for its position,[1] it rather assumes the truthfulness of its point and assaults any disagreement with rhetorical impunity; on this grounds it is an example of why some Christians have referred to as the New Atheists as a type of Fundamentalism.

This is not new, these charges of anti-intellectualism actually go back to the Briggs Heresy trial, when most people began paying attention to what would eventually become known as the “Fundamentalist/modernist controversy.” Today, the term “Fundamentalism” is an almost  meaningless insult, built on false assumptions of the the historic Fundamentalist movement, distortions that are partially made possible through studies that rely heavily on cherry-picking the evidence.

Yet, in many senses, these unreasoned charges of being a “fundamentalist” are perhaps a modern example of the reproach of Christ. The name Christian itself likely began as an insult, and Christians in the early church were accused of eating babies and incest by Roman society. We are indeed in good company if the world hates us.

Many people today consider the Fundamentalist era of the Church to be over, but contrary to bloggers who use this label derisively, I believe perhaps we need a renewal of the Fundamentalist Spirit in our apologetics.

Many, accurately, would say the Fundamentalist era is over. Yet, while times change and expressions of the faith change, some things do not. Some people would have us abandon the faith on insufficient grounds, arguing the faith must simply adapt to the times and the culture; this is the fundamental root heresy of the emerging church, it seeks to subordinate the truth of God to the understanding of man.

Sometimes, my Baptist roots come to the fore; while the Old Fundamentalism may be gone, it is time for a new Fundamentalism to rise like the proverbial phoenix. It is time not to acquiesce to the winds of change, but to plant the flag of the Cross and say, “We will not be moved.”

Fundamentalism is dead, long live fundamentalism.

            [1] Take for example, the discussion of global warming. The author takes no time to discuss why human caused global warming is an assured result, he does not deal with counter arguments, and he does not demonstrate how this connects to “fundamentalism.” He later asserts “Corporate influence on climate and environmental policy, meanwhile, is simply more evidence of anti-intellectualism in action.” Thus he adds the ad hominem fallacy to his list of sins against reason, since he argues not against the counter-arguments raised on the question of global warming but against insinuated motives of those raising these arguments.

Similarly he argues that ignorance is at the root of racism, and largely dismisses intellectual racists. Yet, it is difficult to charge that the old Social Darwinism, the great instigator of mid-19th century through early 20th century racism as being anti-intellectual. One can certainly claim that social Darwinists were wrong, as genetic studies have demonstrated, one might note that they were intellectual elitists, but one cannot accuse them of anti-intellectualism.

The need for a Religious Freedom’s Protection Act

A second re-run article due to the Federal court’s idiocy.

Last time, I made the point that our religious liberties are in danger because of gay marriage. The wedding industry is already seeing a spat of Christians being fined for “discrimination” because they refuse to take part in gay themed events. As I noted, this is clearly not a matter of discrimination, I’ve not heard of a bakery refusing to sell gay patrons a birthday cake; rather it is the specific event – gay marriages – that conflicts with their religious beliefs, not specific patrons. So how do we respond to this matter given the climate of the times? Our first instinct, of course, is to pray for our country, our nation, and our leaders, but a second action in the political realm of affairs should be followed: we need a religious liberties protection act.

Of course, many will argue that this should be unnecessary – after all, that is the function of the first amendment, isn’t it? The problem, of course, is that too many in government have applied the first amendment as guaranteeing religious institutions, rather than citizens, with these protections. So your church has protections for their religious positions, but you or the other members of your church don’t. The arguments over the “separation of Church and State” further trouble these waters, as the left more aggressively interprets that separation in terms that allow them to ignore religious freedom, but this is a subject for another time. Many people will argue, as my Senator did in a letter to me on the subject of gay marriage, that this is a matter of the rights of the states, and therefore the Congress has no authority to act. This was also the rationale the US Supreme court used to overthrow the defense of marriage act, despite the issue of state’s rights not being wholly germane, and despite the fact that recent court decisions by Federal judges ignore the basis of the decision.

I am certainly friendly to the arguments for Constitutionally limited government, but the authority of congress extends beyond article 1 section 3; the fourteenth amendment for example gives congress the authority (and the implied responsibility) to pass legislation to prevent the various states from infringing on American civil liberties, the text is long and contains elements outside of the issue of individual rights related to the debates of the reconstruction era, but the key provisions are that no state may pass legislation that abridges the freedom of an American citizen, and the last line specifically states that Congress has the authority to enforce the amendment by legislation.

The specifics of what I am suggesting is an act that asserts that no American citizen will be compelled or coerced to commit an act that goes against their religious beliefs by threats of fines, economic deprivation, imprisonment or loss of property, privilege or life by any state, court or local municipality. Of course, this expands beyond the issue of gay marriage, numerous other issues exist that would be affected by this passage. Whether the issue is forcing catholic institutions to support insurance that includes birth control, stores being forced to buy policies that support abortions, mayors publicly refusing to allow certain companies to open stores in their cities or the issue of wedding planners, no public official should have this authority. So when it comes to the religious Liberties Protection Act, I’ve written my congressmen, have you written yours?