Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Quirks of Fundamentalism Distract from Its Real Problems

My life story begins on the shores of the Wabash River in a little farming town in Western Indiana.  I don't remember hearing the word "fundamentalism" in a small independent Baptist church.  It was all God and Bible.  My term in the bowels of fundamentalism covered 1974 to 1987 after a move to Watertown, Wisconsin.

While in fundamentalism, I didn't understand it, because I was, as I say, living inside the barrel and when someone is living there, his world looks like a barrel.  I've heard another metaphor that sounds bad, but it does depict a true quality, and that's "incestuous," according to the specific meaning:  "characterized by mutual relationships that are intimate and exclusive to the detriment of outsiders."  You also hear a fishing analogy, "small pond," where a certain little fish could seem and self-identify as big.  Living in fundamentalism was Siam before foreign invasion, hindered by a lack of outside perspective.

Some current analyses of fundamentalism by former fundamentalists misdiagnose its defects.  What I read is overreaction to the extent of pendulum swing.  Those, who have ejected headlong into evangelicalism or new evangelicalism, convey their myopic impressions with focus on idiosyncratic scruples instead of biblical and theological exposition.  Fundamentalism has problems, but now, hemorrhaging its next generation, it elevates to advice the asymmetrical screeches of its most noxious detractors, conforming policy and practice to their complaints, very often eliminating vital distinctions at the same time as overlooking its essential, root problems.

As an example, both present and bygone fundamentalists dissect the escapades of a latter in now part eight of his series.  The banner of his blog, called adayinhiscourt, features a bottle of alcohol and a vinyl record spinning on a turntable, apparently two crucial components for present Christian success, foretelling a future well-done from God in His heavenly court.  Many comments discuss an era of fundamentalist aversion for the chained leather biker wallet, symptomatic of the slide toward Gomorrah.  An aversion to such association stands as the sort of issue emblematic of awfulness, supplying a caravan of refugees from fundamentalism.  The solution would be, of course, to terminate all such judgment, fueling a meteoric rise of missing authenticity.

Fundamentalism's repudiation of worldly fads that associate with ungodly philosophies had been one of its blessings.  Fundamentalism acknowledged that things really do mean things.  Appearances and sounds carry with them a message and meaning sometimes more powerful than any doctrinal statement.  If you isolate any one of these items, quirks, and treat them like they are or have been indispensable markers of true conversion, you might have something to talk about.  I've noticed this to be a constant battle in any church, because it is easier to reduce the Christian life to circumcision like the Galatians instead of fruit of the Spirit, a notable difference being that circumcision wasn't required, but, for instance, a standard of modesty is.

The real problems in fundamentalism aren't standards.  Galatians doesn't teach lowering standards.  A saved person obeys the father out of love as a son and not a slave.  He's not tutored by standards but internally impelled by the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit still, however, doesn't produce the works of the flesh, those of whom do such will not inherit the kingdom of God.  The problems of fundamentalism relate first to the imprecision of its doctrines of salvation and sanctification, and those same problems, that anyone reading and watching knows, exist all over professing Christianity.  They are far worse in evangelicalism.  They just get to drink alcohol while they have those same problems.

The quirks of fundamentalists just distract from its real problems, ones never to be solved by and in fundamentalism if they won't admit them.  I'm not expecting it, especially with the focus on the quirks as the real problems.  The false doctrine and practice and growing pragmatism of fundamentalism will destroy it along with all the young people, whether they are wearing straight legged, flared, or pleated pants.  Both evangelicalism and fundamentalism are infatuated with abstractions that portend the worst for their futures.


Mark Thompson said...

Kent, no need to beat up on "fundamentalism." Nobody wants to use that designation anymore. Even the FBFI who you would think would be staunch defenders changed their name from "Fundamentalist" to "Foundations." Why? Because the term is misused or misunderstood? So is "Baptist." Guess that one is next.

You bash fundamentalism from the right, and Sharper Iron bashes it from the left. Thing is, it's extremely hard to find anyone who IS a fundamentalist anymore. Personal and ecclesiastical separation both are repudiated by those who would have claimed the name years ago.

You probably have something in your blog archives about it, but it would be interesting to see a post from you explaining what you think a fundamentalist is and why you aren't one. I would guess the doctrine of preservation is your big difference. Any others? And who are you calling a fundamentalist today who actually identifies with that word? Names, please.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Hi Mark,

I write these things because there is an alternative to fundamentalism that isn't evangelicalism and new evangelicalism. Whatever the problems with fundamentalism, that isn't the only direction to go, but there are problems.

You've got two main factions in fundamentalism, and they haven't given themselves a title but you've got the bigger group, the Sword of the Lord crowd, on might call them, and then the BJU crowd. There is some blurring on the edges.

Fundamentalism is a modern historical movement in reaction to liberalism that does include a doctrine of ecclesiastical separation. I don't see personal separation as a definitional part of it, because it is a doctrinal movement, based upon doctrines essential to the gospel (supposedly) or fundamentals.

If you put "what is fundamentalism" in the search function of this blog, you'll get a lot of stuff. I didn't check to see whether I had written a post just on defining it, but I would say it's in there many times.

The doctrine of preservation is not the big difference between me and fundamentalism. The difference big enough to say it is the difference between me and fundamentalism, and why I can't be one, is that fundamentalism has a different boundary. I believe the boundary is the truth and fundamentalism says it is the gospel or the fundamentals. You can't practice scripture with that view.

Who are fundamentalists? I think the Sword of the Lord or revivalist types would consider themselves to be fundamentalists. I've read articles and I'm saying most of the Sword of the Lord type churches, Crown College, etc. consider themselves fundamentalist. Bob Jones still does. Maranatha does. Faith in Ankeny does. Central does. Detroit probably still does, but they would say they are historic fundamentalists. Kevin Bauder writes about the idea of fundamentalism, and many self-identify based upon that idea. They don't mind.

I'm on a road trip, so gotta go.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Oh, PCC probably thinks it's fundamentalist. That's big too.

Ryan Hayden said...

I found this article fascinating. I'm one of the young guys who used to write a blog bashing fundamentalism for it's quirks. Then I actually gathered with a bunch of young IFB pastors and was absolutely shocked at how much baby went out with the bathwater. Now I'm just trying to mind my own business and pastor my church, preaching and teaching the Bible faithfully.
I think there are a good number of us younger pastors (I'm 34) who are stuck in the middle. We are unapologetically fundamentalist, but came up in churches with zero exposition where every single sermon was boiled down to standards or soulwinning. At the same time, I've spoken to a lot of young pastors who are shocked at the direction of young independent baptists and have no desire to get on the Andy Stanley light or John Piper light train.

Kent Brandenburg said...


I agree with everything you've written in your comment.

We're not going to be judged by God for being a fundamentalist or an evangelical, but according to God's Word. Kevin Bauder writes about the idea of fundamentalism, and I agree as far as it goes with the idea. It's not far enough to be obedient to scripture, but the idea is better than evangelicalism, even with expositional preaching. Many problems in fundamentalism, especially on the revivalist side, relate to a lack of exposition, not being squared away in theology. There is a lot superficiality, pragmatism, and mysticism. I don't want to touch it with a ten foot pole.