Love-Hate Relationship with Fundamentalism pt. 1
I like to tell people that I’m a fundamentalist by dictionary definition. I adhere strictly to a standard. Look it up in the dictionary. You’ll see that makes me a fundamentalist. Anyone who adheres to Scripture is one, so if you do, in that sense you’re more of a fundamentalist, I think, than most who profess to be fundamentalists.
I’m not a movement fundamentalist. I don’t belong to the fundamentalist club, which is increasingly more an old boys club. I can’t even buy into the “idea of fundamentalism,” recently advocated by Kevin Bauder, dean of Central Seminary. Some of what he writes I agree with, but other parts I hate. And I mean hate.
Fundamentalists argue about whether fundamentalism is worth saving. You hear professing fundamentalist men talk about fundamentalism already ‘thankfully’ being beyond repair, so that we’re now in a post-fundamentalist era in which former evangelicals and former fundamentalists will form a new group. Joel Tetreau calls these his type b and type c fundamentalists, essentially moderate fundamentalists coming together with conservative evangelicals, whom he and others would call fundamentalists in the original sense. Tetreau’s evaluation mirrors what J. I. Packer wrote in 1958 in his book, Fundamentalism and the Word of God (p. 19):
“Fundamentalism” is just a twentieth-century name for historic Evangelicalism, though not, in our judgment, a very good or useful name. . . . Fundamentalism (in so far consistent Evangelicalism is meant by this term) is nothing more than Christianity itself.
Phil Johnson, executive director of John MacArthur’s Grace to You, in his now renowned analysis of modern fundamentalism, Dead Right: The Failure of Fundamentalism, makes this same evaluation, that real fundamentalism is nothing more than old evangelicalism. These thoughts meld with what Bob Bixby and then David Burgraff are calling “the emerging middle.” Kevin Bauder might say that, based upon what they have written, they’re missing the idea of fundamentalism.
Some say that fundamentalism equals belief in the five fundamentals of the faith. That truly is a spin both on the movement of fundamentalism and the dictionary definition, sheer revisionist history. The Presbyterians originated the idea that the “five fundamentals” alone tested orthodoxy. Jerry Falwell was the first I heard of five fundamental fundamentalism and his view was cover for rejecting separatism, which came in handy to build up his university and gain a greater national following (moral majority). In a lot of ways, he hijacked fundamentalism for his own cause. G. Archer Weniger, longtime fundamentalist Baptist pastor, quoted in the Calvary Contender in 1994, wrote:
The five fundamentals have only to do with the Presbyterian aspect of the struggle with modernism. . . . The bulk of Fundamentalism, especially the Baptists of every stripe who composed the majority by far, never accepted the five fundamentals alone. The World’s Christian Fundamentals Association, founded in 1919, had at least a dozen main doctrines highlighted. The same was true of the Fundamental Baptist Fellowship, which originated in 1920. A true Fundamentalist would under no circumstances restrict his doctrinal position to five fundamentals. Even Dr. Carl F.H. Henry, a New Evangelical theologian, listed at least several dozen doctrines essential to the Faith. The only advantage of reducing the Faith down to five is to make possible a wider inclusion of religionists, who might be way off in heresy on other specific doctrines. It is much easier to have large numbers of adherents with the lowest common denominator in doctrine.
Growing up in a small town in Western Indiana, I didn’t know we were fundamentalists. I never ever heard that term used. I thought we were saved and Christian and Biblical and Baptist. That was it. Where I attended high school, college, and graduate school, there wasn’t a huge push about fundamentalism. It was emphasized that we were Baptists and that was enough. Along with a very small group of men, I did take a class in graduate school called, The History of Fundamentalism, taught by B. Myron Cedarholm. We read History of Fundamentalism by George Dollar. I was interested in fundamentalism then, because it was full of names with which I was familiar. I thought the associational battles were fascinating. I related to the good guys, the conservatives who separated and became independents. Rod Bell came and spoke an entire week warning of the pseudo-fundamentalists. So I figured I must be a real fundamentalist.
What Is Fundamentalism?
Fundamentalism came on the scene in the early twentieth century. Historian Larry Pettegrew in 1982 in the Central Testimony, a Central Seminary publication, wrote:
Actually, the term, “fundamentalist,” was first used of a movement in the July 1, 1920, issue of The Watchman Examiner. The editor, Curtis Lee Laws, was suggesting possible terms to describe a group of Bible-believing Baptists in the Northern Baptist Convention which was opposing a growing apostasy in the Convention. He concluded his search for a good name by saying: “We suggest that those who still cling to the great fundamentals and who mean to do battle royal for the fundamentals shall be called ‘Fundamentalists.'”
“Fundamentalism” is a movement starting in the early twentieth century as a reaction to liberalism invading and influencing several different denominations. It started as an interdenominational movement. It may have been a nod to a series of articles published in several volumes from 1910 to 1915 by conservative evangelicals, entitled The Fundamentals. Those who grabbed hold of the mantle of these men, associating with their stand against apostasy, became the fundamentalists.
That’s how it started. But what is it? In the Spring 1996 edition of the Detroit Baptist Theological Journal, DBTS professor Rolland McCune enumerated three major elements in Fundamentalism today—“crucial doctrine,” “the distinctive of militancy,” and “the distinctive of ecclesiastical separation.”
Fundamentalism is definitely not monolithic. There are several branches of it. What those appendages have in common are beginnings in separation. The Bob Jones line of fundamentalism was a separation from liberal colleges. After a conversation with William Jennings Bryan at a Bible Conference in 1924 and then the result of the Scopes Trial of 1925, Bob Jones Sr. started Bob Jones College in Florida in 1927. Now Bob Jones University has been a major leader in the fundamentalist movement.
In the North, the General Association of Regular Baptists began as a withdrawal from the liberal Northern Convention during the 1930s. Another break-off in the North from the Northern Convention were the Conservative Baptists in th 1940s. Then churches became totally independent when they broke from the Conservative Baptists in the 1960s. Out of that separation came a fellowship of pastors today called Fundamental Baptist Fellowship International. The Minnesota Baptist Association separated from the Minnesota branch of the Northern Baptist Convention in the 1950s.
Westminster Theological Seminary started in 1929 under J. Gresham Machen out of a fundamentalist break from Princeton Seminary. The Free Presbyterians broke from the Presbyterian Church in Northern Ireland in the 1950s under the leadership of Ian Paisley. The relationship of Ian Paisley and Bob Jones Sr. and Jr. led to the World Congress of Fundamentalism, first meeting in 1976 in Edinburgh, Scotland.
In the South, J. Frank Norris left the Southern Baptist Convention in the 1930s and started the World Baptist Fellowship out of which came the Baptist Bible Fellowship in the 1950s. Several men led their churches out of the Southern Baptist Convention and other associations and conventions to become totally independent. Men who left the Southern Baptist Convention are well-known names in the revivalist branch of fundamentalism—John R. Rice (Sword of the Lord), Jack Hyles (Hyles-Anderson), and Lee Roberson (Tennessee Temple), among others. Almost all of the churches affiliated with these acts of separation are fundamentalist, even though they’re in no way uniform.
Let me tell you a little of what I have figured out about fundamentalism since I first thought about it in the late 1970s, what has become a love-hate relationship with fundamentalism, that I know is similar thinking with many others across the country. Let me start with the love.
Love for Fundamentalism
Outside of unaffiliated, separatist Baptists, I have an affinity for fundamentalists. I can’t be a part of the group, which I’ll explain later. And I don’t want anyone else to be a fundamentalist either, that is, unless they’re just evangelicals. Then I’d rather they be fundamentalists. I’d rather talk to fundamentalists exponentially more than new evangelicals. We have much more in common. Whatever love I have for fundamentalism is because:
- Fundamentalism has separated and separation is a major doctrine and practice in Scripture.
- Fundamentalism has helped preserve a Christian culture in many ways.
- Fundamentalism has stood against liberalism.
- Fundamentalism has been hated by the world.
- Fundamentalism has shown outrage to compromises of Christian doctrines.
- Fundamentalism normally has a solid world view.
- Fundamentalism has emphasized confrontational evangelism.
- Fundamentalism generally has taken solid positions on social issues—almost exclusively complementarian in gender roles, creationist, capital punishment, etc.
- Fundamentalism has opposed the Charismatic movement.
- Fundamentalism shunned ecumenical evangelism.
- Fundamentalism has rejected the social gospel.
- Fundamentalism hasn’t been afraid of espousing a real hell and doctrine of eternal punishment.
- Fundamentalism has warned against worldliness.
- Fundamentalism hasn’t kowtowed to fleshly worship.
- Fundamentalism tends toward faithful church attendance.
- Fundamentalism has done more to keep alive biblical child training and discipline than evangelicals.
I’m not an enemy of fundamentalism. I’m a harsh critic, but I like them better than almost anyone else. Almost. I’ve got my reasons—they are my hate for fundamentalism.
Stay tuned for part two and hate for fundamentalism.