Monday, May 21, 2018

The Convenient Repudiation of Fundamentalists by Evangelical Leaders Now Less Convenient

When I look at the spectrum of evangelicalism (not the book), and I've been watching it the over 35 years of my entire adult life, I see what seems to be a new fondness of especially conservative evangelicals for fundamentalism.  I even hear them calling themselves fundamentalists like they never would before.  You can now read something like the following from evangelicals (from a series about fundamentalism---parts one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine):
Fundamentalism was never conceived as an outlet for Christian hardliners and extremists. It’s not a dirty word, or at least it shouldn’t be. There are fundamental biblical truths that must be defended and contended for (Philippians 1:16; 1 Peter 3:15; Jude 3). And defending those precious truths is just as vital today as it was a century ago.
Even though the series to which I linked is 2015, believe me when I say this is new.  You would hear dozens of bad things about fundamentalists and fundamentalism before this recent new penchant from conservative evangelicals.  If you did a search, you would find yourself reading or hearing nothing good about fundamentalism.  It would be mocked.  Evangelicalism, however, has reached a tipping point, to where some evangelicals have begun to rethink evangelicalism and whether they want to be fundamentalists.

Even John Piper recently has been positive about fundamentalism, where he would not have been in his formative years and later (here one, two).  With Billy Graham's death, I was fascinated to read about his dad's split with Bob Jones University over Billy Graham's New York City crusade.  By the world and by moderate to left evangelicals, John MacArthur more so (for instance, here) and John Piper (he says, here) some are both called fundamentalists.  C. S. Lewis was called a fundamentalist:
I have been suspected of being what is called a Fundamentalist. That is because I never regard any narrative as unhistorical simply on the ground that it includes the miraculous.
I don't think Macarthur, Piper, or Lewis were or are fundamentalists.  To be, even a historic fundamentalist, someone must believe, teach, and practice a doctrine of separation.  Even if it is not a biblical belief and practice of separation, to be a fundamentalist you've got to separate over the fundamentals.  I still don't read separation from these men.  For that reason, I don't know where they and men like them would and will end.  Perhaps they are preparing to be fundamentalists.

On the other hand, fundamentalism itself is shrinking.  MacArthur leans toward fundamentalism and fundamentalists slide toward MacArthur.  Fundamentalists are less fundamental than ever.  I understand both.

Conservative evangelicals believe the fundamentals and see the value of protecting them.  They aren't separating yet, but they see that's what will be necessary.  Fundamentalists can't defend fundamentalism, so they pitch toward evangelicalism.  The convergence of these evangelicals and fundamentalists has been described as a third way.  I don't believe there is a hopeful future for either of them or their third group, if it emerges.

If evangelicals see themselves as fundamentalists now, then why did they repudiate fundamentalism?  Evangelicals in part built their churches, attracted their numbers, by distinguishing themselves from fundamentalists.  They would have explained it as an evangelistic advantage, but it was a success and numbers advantage, even luring the new additions of the Jesus movement.  It was a convenient repudiation to grow a coalition of worldly Christians.  At that juncture in the history of the United States, worldliness was worldly, but, you know, acceptably worldly.  It's grown unacceptably worldly, and so now it's convenient again to be a fundamentalist.

The moderate or former fundamentalists headed toward evangelicalism are where MacArthur was when he repudiated fundamentalism.  Conservative evangelicals have a successful blend of Christianity with worldliness.  Worldliness itself looks smart, not too stupid to the world.  It's a modern Finneyesque new measure, to make Christianity explainable, less a bunch of losers.  This is combined with an appropriate intellectualism, embracing an acceptable degree of historicism and rationalism.  Modern education stresses diversity and the former fundamentalists push theological and practical diversity, accenting unity over unanimity, allowing for divergence in their convergence in matters eschatological and ecclesiological and methodological.  The adherents are comfortable with the other's lack of dogmatism and consequential non-judgmentalism.  Chalk up the differences to uncertainty, coalescing around willing admission of ignorance, however or whatever they want to call it.


Lance Ketchum said...

There does not appear to be a great deal of difference practically between the title Convergent Evangelicals and Convoluted Fundamentalism.

Bill Hardecker said...

It really is something else to watch the heirs of Fundamentalism establish a rapprochement with Evangelicalism. As an "old" Fundamentalist saying goes we just don't know where this train is going.

Jack Lamb said...

It seems to me that conservative evangelicals are the fundamentalists of the early 1900s, but they aren't the fundamentalists of the 1950s. They contend for the faith but are slow to separate.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Thanks Lance and Bill.


Thank you too. I discovered in my late twenties, perhaps very early thirties, I wasn't a fundamentalist. I couldn't explain fundamentalism from scripture, but it is closer to scripture. I think the 1900 fundamentalists would roll over in their graves with today's evangelicals, so something had to give there as time progressed and evangelicalism got worse and worse. Separation is still part of what it means to be a fundamentalist, even if they don't have a biblical idea of what separation is.

Colin Maxwell said...

Hi Kent,

Conservative evangelicals believe the fundamentals and see the value of protecting them. They aren't separating yet, but they see that's what will be necessary.

What doctrines must we necessarily separate over? What doctrines must we not necessarily separate over? IOW: What doctrines are seen to be fundamental and what doctrines, by contrast, are not?

Colin Maxwell

Kent Brandenburg said...

Hi Colin,

I always appreciate your commenting and your visits here.

I don't think that the idea of fundamentalism is a scriptural one, but it is a better idea than what evangelicalism has for it. Scripture teaches unity and separation. In fact, no real unity occurs without separation. In a day where men don't think they can know the truth, one can't separate over the truth, so there isn't real unity either.

I've never seen anyone agree on what the fundamentals are, which is a major problem if not the most significant problem for fundamentalists. They had their list of fundamentals and then same sex marriage comes along. How is that a fundamental? It's non-stop "ooops."

I believe we should have a scriptural doctrine of separation, which separates over any habitual violation of scripture, in belief or practice. That's the only defensible separation from scripture and it is laid out in A Pure Church. Our Book on Separation and Unity.

Evangelicals on the other hand don't mention separation. They "contend for the faith," which to them means statements, books, and sermons. Preach against strange fire and then invite strange fire to be with you.