This week’s mail brought one of the first copies of Four Views on the Spectrum of Evangelicalism, edited by Andy Naselli and Collin Hansen. The book is a contribution to Zondervan’s Counterpoints series. It has been in the making for just under four years.
Andy Naselli was the one who came up with the idea for this “four views” book, suggesting the topic to series editor Stan Gundry during the meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society in 2007. Naselli already had his Ph.D. in theology from Bob Jones University and was working on another in New Testament from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He was also working as D. A. Carson’s researcher.
Though his educational background is with Bob Jones University, I’m not sure whether Andy would want to be identified as a Fundamentalist today. Even if not, however, he is definitely not an opponent of Fundamentalism. From the beginning, one of his main concerns was to have a credible presentation of the Fundamentalist position included in the volume. Several names were discussed: Mark Minnick, John Hartog III, Dave Doran, Mike Barrett, and both of the Houghton brothers (Myron and George). It was thought that all of these writers would defend approximately the same vision and values in their presentation of the Fundamentalist perspective. At one point, the editors even considered the possibility of featuring more than one Fundamentalist author.
When all was said and done, I was chosen to write the chapter (though any of the others would certainly have done as well). In accepting the opportunity, I was especially motivated by the prospect of subjecting a defense of Fundamentalism to the criticisms of representatives of other positions. On my view, Fundamentalism is suffering from a kind of ennui today, partly because we have been content to talk only to ourselves. My opinion is that the idea of Fundamentalism has merit and we ought to be eager to share it with the rest of the world.
Staking out the other positions and putting labels on them was problematic. The label conservative evangelicalism was considered to be too pejorative, so eventually the position was designated as confessional evangelicalism. The stream of thought that used to be called neoevangelicalism was relabeled generic evangelicalism. Perhaps the most problematic position was the evangelical Left, which represents rather an amorphous collection of variations on evangelical themes. Eventually the editors settled on post-conservative evangelicalism, a label that may denote both more and less than the evangelical Left.
Other authors were recruited along the way. Roger Olson (Truett Theological Seminary) was chosen to represent post-conservative evangelicalism. Finding a speaker for generic evangelicalism was problematic, but finally John Stackhouse, Jr. (Regent College) agreed to take this responsibility. Among the capable representatives for confessional evangelicalism, the editors finally settled on Al Mohler (Southern Baptist Theological Seminary).
From that point, the debate was on. The authors had several months to complete the presentations of their individual perspectives. After a couple of bouts of editing, each author was given the opportunity to respond to the other authors. One could wish that we had been given a chance to respond to the responses, but Zondervan has to draw the line somewhere.
On my view, Fundamentalists are distinguished from other evangelicals primarily by their understanding of primary and secondary separation. At the same time, most evangelicals (and many younger Fundamentalists) are allergic to the word separation. As I saw it, my task was to argue for biblical separation—including secondary separation—without laboring over the terminology of separatism. I also wanted to distance Fundamentalism from two influences that are often mistaken for it: hyper-fundamentalism and revivalism. These are decidedly not Fundamentalism, though Fundamentalists are sometimes characterized by them.
Interacting with the other authors was a genuine pleasure. The most interesting thing about other people is how their minds work, and this book gave me the opportunity to try to get inside the minds of three very competent representatives from other versions of evangelicalism. All of the other authors were gracious, but each was also very pointed in his view of the evangelical spectrum. Overall, the conversation between the authors was a healthy one, and I hope that some of that dynamic shows up in the printed text (which, obviously, I cannot read with unprejudiced eyes).
Perhaps the greatest surprise came from Al Mohler. The authors were asked specifically to evaluate Evangelicals and Catholics Together and of the Manhattan Declaration. Of course, Mohler was one of the signatories of the Manhattan Declaration, a decision for which he has received sharp criticism. He takes time in the book to reflect upon his involvement, and his conclusion is summed up in the following words.
I had great hope that the document and the movement would steer a new path that would accomplish a brave moral consensus without confusing the theological issues at stake. Nevertheless, in the light of subsequent statements, I came to believe that the Manhattan Declaration had also crossed the line into an unwarranted and unbiblical recognition of the Roman Catholic Church. We should not be embarrassed to state that we stand together when indeed we do—and on these crucial issues of concern it is especially important that we stand together with courage. But no sense of cultural crisis should blind us to the priority of the gospel.
This may be one of the most important statements in the book. It definitely represents a shift in Mohler’s attitude toward the Manhattan Declaration. Providentially, it may prove to be a kind of intellectual antacid for the heartburn that Mohler’s signature has given to some of his friends.
In his conclusion to the book, Naselli argues that the four positions really merge into only two. Post-conservative and generic evangelicalism favor a broad tent, while both confessional evangelicalism and Fundamentalism favor definite (and similar) boundaries. While this evaluation is true to a point, I think that it underestimates the remaining differences between the latter two perspectives.
No one can claim to speak for all Fundamentalists, and I do not claim to do so. I do believe that the time has come—and probably passed—for a new, credible, public exposition of the idea of Fundamentalism. Whether my chapter contributes to such an exposition is a matter that readers will have to judge for themselves.
John Marckant (fl. c. 1560)
O Lord, turn not away thy face
From him that lies prostrate,
Lamenting sore his sinful life
Before thy mercy-gate;
Which gate thou openest wide to those
That do lament their sin:
Shut not that gate against me, Lord,
But let me enter in.
So come I to thy mercy-gate,
Where mercy doth abound,
Requiring mercy for my sin
To heal my deadly wound.
Mercy, good Lord, mercy I ask,
This is my total sum;
For mercy, Lord, is all my suit:
Lord, let thy mercy come.