A Brief History of Fundamentalism

Republished from Voice, Jan/Feb 2020.

Back in the 1970’s when I was teaching at a Bible college, one of my students asked me, somewhat tongue in cheek, what descriptive terms he should use to describe his ministry views in order for him to be, in his words, “the top dog.” He meant, like “fundamentalist.” So I, also somewhat tongue in cheek, listed “fundamentalist,” “Baptist,” (this was a Baptist college after all), “separatist,” “dispensationalist,” “premillennialist,” and “Republican.” We both chuckled then. But fifty years later I wonder if these descriptive terms are still appropriate. I teach in a nondenominational seminary, but our doctrinal statement is baptistic. I identify myself as a separatist—that it is unbiblical to work together with theological liberals in order to fulfill the Great Commission. I continue to be delighted to call myself a dispensational premillennialist. But what about “fundamentalist”? That seems to be the elephant in the room for some of us.

As a starting place for our brief analysis, let’s define historic fundamentalism as the religious movement within American Protestantism that stresses the literal exposition of the fundamental doctrines of the Bible and the militant exposure of any deviance therefrom. If this definition is acceptable, we can be more specific and investigate three key concepts in the definition.

The Fundamentalist Movement

Some historians have said that the term, “fundamentalism,” began to be a “go-to” word with the publication of a series of books from 1910 to 1915 called The Fundamentals. In the view of William Bell Riley, one of the most important fundamentalist in the first half of the twentieth century, The Fundamentals were step one in the naming of the movement. Riley says that he and the editor of The Fundamentals, A. C. Dixon, were together for several days at a Bible conference in Montrose, Pennsylvania in 1919. There, “we agreed to call the initial meeting that brought into existence ‘The World’s Christian Fundamentals Association.’” After the first conference of the WCFA in May of 1919, attended by over six thousand fundamentalists, Riley says, “The Fundamentalist Movement was a new-born infant, but a lusty and promising one.”1 In Riley’s view, he was the one who named and inaugurated the fundamentalist movement.” Indeed, the WCFA became the foremost non-denominational fundamentalist organization in the 1920’s.

A year later, July 1, 1920, Curtis Lee Laws, the editor of The Watchman Examiner, wrote an article about a recent gathering of Bible-believing Baptists who had convened to plan how to oppose theological liberalism in the Northern Baptist Convention. Laws proposes three names for these Baptists in his article, but discards two. Shall we call them conservatives, he asks. No, that is too broad. Shall we call them premillennialists? No, he answers, this is too narrow. He concludes, “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.” The Fundamentalist Fellowship of the Northern Baptist Convention was formed at this time. Thus, by 1920, one hundred years ago, this year, the name, “fundamentalism,” was being applied to both non-denominational and denominational organizations created to oppose theological liberalism and other evils, such as evolution.

Fundamentalism therefore became a movement. Historian, Ernest Sandeen, states that “the Fundamentalist movement was a self-conscious, structured, long-lived, dynamic entity with recognized leadership, periodicals, and meetings.”2 Fundamentalism, in other words, has had structure: a doctrinal stance, a time period, a cause, fundamentalist leaders, fundamentalist churches, and fundamentalist schools.

The movement has been modified during its hundred-year history. The first generation of fundamentalists did not practice ecclesiastical separation. They believed that the best way that they could defend the faith was to oppose theological liberals in the major denominations. Beginning in the 1930’s, the fundamentalists began to separate from the major denominations and form their own fundamentalist association of churches, mission organizations, and educational institutions. Another development occurred in the 1940’s and 1950’s when fundamentalists and new evangelicals went different directions on a number of issues, especially over the doctrine of separation.

Interestingly, in the 1970’s, some fundamentalists debated with each other over who had the right to use the term. The “pseudo-fundamentalists” debated the “neo-fundamentalists,” and vice-versa. It also became popular to categorize fundamentalist leaders and ministries as to whether they were militant, or moderate, or modified fundamentalists. I remember writing an article during that time entitled, “Will the Real Fundamentalist Please Stand Up.” My impression in 2020, however, is that many strong Bible-believing Christians are hesitant to call themselves “fundamentalists”—at least without explaining what they mean by the term. The word has taken on a lot of baggage, some of which is unwarranted, some warranted.

Personally, I believe that we should honor the historic movement and the courageous leaders of fundamentalism that have done “battle royal” for the Word of God. But I also believe that we can agree with historian George Marsden who wrote in 1980 that “the meaning of ‘fundamentalism’ has narrowed considerably since the 1920’s.”3 I don’t think that we have to call ourselves “fundamentalists” in order to fulfill the stern admonitions in Scripture to teach the whole counsel of God and contend for the faith.

The Fundamentals of The Faith

Another important question to ask is, what are the fundamentals of the faith? Actually, the term, “fundamentalism,” implies that we know what the fundamentals of the faith are. Often five doctrines are described as the fundamentals of the faith: (1) inerrancy, (2) the virgin birth of Jesus Christ, (3) the substitutionary atonement, (4) the bodily resurrection of Christ, and (5) the authenticity of miracles. Later, the authenticity of miracles was often combined with another doctrine, and the Second Coming of Christ is listed as number five.

Where did this list come from? It came from the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. in a document entitled “The Doctrinal Deliverance of 1910.” When the New York Presbytery ordained three men who refused to agree with the virgin birth of Christ, the General Assembly of 1910 instructed a denominational committee to draw up a statement which all future candidates would have to affirm in order to be ordained. The Doctrinal Deliverance that the committee constructed established these five articles of faith that were “essential and necessary.”

These Five Essentials, however, cannot be all of the fundamentals of the faith, can they? They say nothing specific about justification by faith alone, for example. Of course, the conservative Presbyterians in 1910 had the Westminster Confession of Faith to support these five essentials and would have agreed that justification by faith alone was an essential of the Christian faith. But they apparently did not think that justification was an issue at that time. The list of five doctrines was intended to be a line drawn in the sand to keep the denomination from being taken over by theological liberals.4

Unfortunately, an early historian of fundamentalism, Stewart Cole, incorrectly stated that the Niagara Bible Conference created this doctrinal statement of five fundamentals in 1895.5 This error has trickled down to contemporary studies of fundamentalism. The Niagara Bible Conference did adopt a confession of faith, but it had fourteen-points. It was accepted by the Conference in 1878, and later legally incorporated in 1890 under the laws of Canada. The Niagara Confession is a Calvinistic, non-denominational, premillennial statement that was intended to be the doctrinal requirements for those who participated in the Conference. So, are there five fundamentals of the faith, or fourteen?

Or, maybe there are nine. The World’s Christian Fundamentals Association mentioned above had a nine point doctrinal statement. Riley asserts, Fundamentalism undertakes to reaffirm the greater Christian doctrines…It does not attempt to set forth every Christian doctrine with the elaboration that characterizes the great denominational Confessions.”6

If we were to examine the three confessions side by side, we might find that they do cover many of the same doctrines. But it can be confusing to proclaim that some doctrines are fundamentals of the faith while ignoring other doctrines. And if we say that certain doctrines are “essential,” we need to be clear about essential to what: for salvation, or for ordination, or for church membership, or for affiliation in a religious organization, or for unity in a movement, or to participate in a city-wide evangelistic crusade, or to be a faculty member, or for whatever. The Presbyterian Five Essentials were essentials with which a candidate for ordination to the Presbyterian ministry had to accept. Believing the fourteen point Niagara Bible Conference was essential to participating in the Niagara Conference. Accepting Riley’s nine “greater Christian doctrines” was essential to becoming a member of the WCFA.

Christian churches and para-church organizations do need to determine what doctrines are essential for being a member or participating. We may even be able to think of some guidelines for determining the basic doctrines of the faith: (1) Clearly taught in Scripture: (2) Explain who God is; (3) Describe what salvation is and how to be saved; (4) That we are warned not to deny. But I am still uneasy about declaring that certain doctrines are the fundamentals of the faith, and others are not. I know it’s naïve of me to say this, but my heart’s desire is to be known by God as a Biblicist. The Lord says, “This is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word” (Isa 66:2 ESV).

Militancy

“Militancy” is not a biblical word and also comes with some baggage. So, we have to be careful with this concept because it can be used to cover up fleshly actions. We learn from Scripture “to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people (Tit 3:2 ESV). Pastors are not to be pugnacious, but gentle and peaceable, (1Tim 3:3 NAU). Ernest Pickering, who served as the Executive Director of the IFCA in the late 1950’s, and later ministered as a pastor, a president of seminaries, and a missions executive, was a gracious man of God in person as well as a strong fundamentalist. In his booklet, Biblical Separation, Dr. Pickering defended separatist fundamentalism, but also listed six pitfalls of the movement that are, in my understanding, characteristics of unbiblical militancy: (1) An improper spirit—bitterness and acrimony, (2) over-occupations with the issues, (3) uncontrolled suspicion, (4) hasty rejection of offenders, (5) caustic language, (6) public instead of private rebuke.

In spite of these abuses, however, we must not throw out the baby with the bath water. As one of my friends has written, “The corrective is not an abandonment of militancy, but, rather an ethical, careful, kind and yet firm outspokenness which stand for the truth and is willing to defend it against error.”7 The Bible mandates us “to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3 ESV).

Conclusion

Ultimately, the purpose of Jude’s command to contend for the faith is for the benefit of the people in our local churches. The religious world is saturated with ignorance of Scripture and false doctrine and maybe we can’t solve these world-wide problems. But when ignorance and apostasy threaten the people in our local churches, this is our problem—and responsibility. So the Apostle Paul instructs us, “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert (Act 20:28-31 ESV).

Notes

1 W. B. Riley, The Conflict of Christianity with Its Counterfeits, 130.

2 Ernest Sandeen, The Roots of Fundamentalism (University of Chicago, 1970; reprint Grand Rapids, Baker, 1978), xvii.

3 George Marsden, Fundamentalism and American Culture (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980), 5.

4 Regrettably, in 1927 the General Assembly invalidated the Deliverance declaring it could not mandate certain doctrines as “essential and necessary.”

5 See Stewart Cole, History of Fundamentalism (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1931), 34.

6 Riley, 132.

7 George Houghton, “The Matter of Militancy,” Faith Pulpit, May, 1994), n.d.

(Photo: Postcard from 1910)


Larry D. Pettegrew is the Dean and Provost, Emeritus, of Shepherds Theological Seminary and the Research Professor ofTheology. He is a graduate of Bob Jones University, Central Baptist Theological Seminary of Mpls., and Dallas Theological Seminary. He is the author of The New Covenant Ministry of the Holy Spirit, and the editor of a forthcoming book, Forsaking Israel. Over the last fifty-two years, he has taught at Central Baptist Theological Seminary, Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary, The Master’s Seminary, and Shepherds Theological Seminary. He is married to Linda, and they have three married children and eight grandchildren.

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There are 25 Comments

Don Johnson's picture

"militant exposure" is what many conservative evangelicals do, often speaking up and "exposing" error, then participating in conferences/sharing platforms with people who support the error they "exposed". MacArthur and charismatics come to mind as an example.

since the definition isn't quite right, his section on "militancy" isn't quite right either. It's also the briefest, more work needs to be done here.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

TylerR's picture

Editor

No matter how careful any author is, the definition of "fundamentalism" in a written work is rarely quite "good enough" to please some people. This simple reality epitomizes why the movement is dying. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Don Johnson's picture

his definition is inaccurate, it could as easily be used to describe Conservative Evangelicals who would most likely not wish to be labeled "Fundamentalist". Even in the early years of the Fundamentalist movement, his definition isn't adequate. The early Fundies hadn't developed separation at that point, it is true, but they were acting, trying to root out liberalism, not just "expose" it.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

"Exposing" is a bit of an understatement, but "militant," and the examples of use of doctrinal lists for the purpose of exclusion and separation, certainly fills in the gaps.

Jim's picture

The problem with some fundamentalists on militancy is that they were / are grossly inconsistent:

  • Racism 'in house' OK (the old BJU position and they were not alone at this!)
  • KJVO 'in house' Ok

 

 

Don Johnson's picture

Are you?

Your "problem" isn't really an argument. Just an ad hominem attack.

Back to the article, the definition is wanting because what it describes can be said to be true of non-fundamentalists. It's weakness is that it doesn't say enough. That's the only observation I am making here, I think the article is OK as far as it goes, but even in its brief treatment doesn't tell the story properly.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

TylerR's picture

Editor

Baptist fundamentalists are seeking one articulate, persuasive Baptist fundamentalist to write about Baptist fundamentalism. The ideal candidate will agree with the Baptist fundamentalists who are hiring him on all matters of faith and practice; including but not limited to the precise definition and expression of the particular flavor of Baptist fundamentalism the hiring panel espouses.

The candidate's education and practical ministry experience in Baptist fundamentalism and the broader conservative evangelical world, even if it includes multiple degrees from multiple fundamentalist institutions and 52 years of teaching experience at many of these same institutions with a particular specialization in American fundamentalism (see link, above), is hostage to the sectarian leanings of the very particular flavor of Baptist fundamentalism advocated by the hiring panel.

The hiring panel is excited to consider the many applicants who are no doubt lining up to apply!

UPDATE

After months of interviews and diligent prayer, the hiring panel has decided that it will write about Baptist fundamentalism itself, as no suitable candidates were found. We thank you for your prayers. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Bert Perry's picture

I know about Deming's and Woodrow Wilson's, but I'd be interested to see if someone can post the 14 points from the Niagara Conference.  I'm guessing I'd agree with them, but might quibble over whether I'd decide that someone who disagreed was a brother in error, a brother with whom I might withhold fellowship, or someone who is not a brother at all.  Tried to Google it and my google-fu is not working today.

For my part, my statement of necessary orthodoxy would start with the Trinity, the Solas, and the five Fundamentals.  I would further introduce most of the Apostle's Creed, while admitting some debate over the meaning and necessity of descendit ad inferos, either "descended into Hell" or "descended into Sheol."

On another issue of consistency, and to Don's point that a definition is insufficient because conservative evangelicals would accept it,  my responses is that such a definition is precisely what I would desire.  I want the theology, I want the significance of the theology....and none of the sinful, cultural baggage like KJVO and BJ2's comments endorsing segregation.  (among other things)

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

dgszweda's picture

Don Johnson wrote:

Are you?

Your "problem" isn't really an argument. Just an ad hominem attack.

Back to the article, the definition is wanting because what it describes can be said to be true of non-fundamentalists. It's weakness is that it doesn't say enough. That's the only observation I am making here, I think the article is OK as far as it goes, but even in its brief treatment doesn't tell the story properly.

I agree.  It started interestingly, but left me disappointed quickly on.  Also, I think the term "fundamenalist" has changed over time, just as the overall landscape has changed.  I liked the layout of where the term was first coined, but it lacks precision, and it lacks how it has changed.  As you stated, in the beginning it wasn't about separation.

Ron Bean's picture

dgszweda wrote:

 

 

 

 

  As you stated, in the beginning it wasn't about separation.

 

I would agree that in the beginning fundamentalism wasn't about separation but that separation from apostasy and false doctrine was a natural consequence of their stand. There are some who would say that there is a brand of fundamentalism today that would require separation, not only from apostasy and false doctrine, but from "disobedient brethren" to be called a fundamentalist.

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

Don Johnson's picture

Is this definition:

 the religious movement within American Protestantism that stresses the literal exposition of the fundamental doctrines of the Bible and the militant exposure of any deviance therefrom

Fundamentalism was never about "exposure" alone. At its heart, fundamentalism is the commitment to militant action against false doctrine. By false doctrine, I mean denial of the fundamentals, or those doctrines which are essential for Christian faith. The various lists Pettegrew cites point to the kind of doctrines I mean. The original fundamentalists were activists, attempting to root out those heretics that were in their midst. Failing that, their activism led to separation. 
 

The call for separation against disobedient brethren is a logical outcome of fundamentalist militancy. If you won't act against the errors, you've given up the ethos. 

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Jim's picture

Don Johnson wrote:

The call for separation against disobedient brethren is a logical outcome of fundamentalist militancy. If you won't act against the errors, you've given up the ethos. 

https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/how-open-theism-helps-us-conceal-ou...

Was John Piper militant about the error of open theism? Rhetorical question! 

Guys like him often not credited for militancy!

Don Johnson's picture

What is your point about the men listed as speakers at the Niagara Bible Conference? I know a little bit about some of them, have profited from the writing of some of them, but have little to say about them. Perhaps you can tell me what you think. I don't know enough about them to comment.

As for Piper, I think he might fit Pettegrew's definition of "militant exposure" in that he talked about Open Theism as a "bad thing" but what did he really do about it? His closing sentence in the article you link is this:

Thus Open Theism, against all its conscious designs, tends to undermine a means of grace that our deceptive hearts need.

"Tends to" ???? Is that the best he can say against it? Come on, Open Theism denies Bible truth about God.

Some of the most prominent Open Theists were part of Pipers denomination. Did he do anything about it? Did he attempt to have them removed? Failing that, did he remove himself? Answers: No, No, and No.

So... I guess he was militant because he concluded that Open Theism "tends to" be a bad thing. What a resounding battle cry! There's a guy who means business.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

pvawter's picture

As I was reading the OP it struck me that the number of fundamentals isn't really that important to the idea of fundamentalism, rather it's the fact that one believes there are such things as fundamentals, without which one cannot even be a Christian that's key. Wasn't a denial of any real sine qua non of Christianity at the heart of the liberalism they were rejecting? Thoughts?

Mark_Smith's picture

If by "fundamentalist" you refer to the battles of a hundred years ago, and then from the 40s and 50s, the term is pretty much meaningless today. The battles of whether Jesus was born of a virgin, or whether Jonah actually entered a whale, or whether the written Scriptures are God-breathed are over, at least in the sense that the battles were fought back then.

Today's battles for the heart and soul of Christianity are at once more subtle, and more gross and far reaching. The first main battle I see is the utter apparent victory of the "charismatic" view of Christianity. I know many of you won't admit it here at SI, but they have carried the day so far. The way they have done it is through music. In most evangelical churches they almost exclusively sing "charismatic" songs. Why this matters is the charismatic looks elsewhere than Scripture for their connection to God. They find it in feeling. Or an experience. Or a song. When they work at a food line. This causes reading the Bible, studying the Bible, and hearing the Bible preached to become secondary or tertiary practices. Worship has replaced the sermon as the centerpiece of the Christian gathering. It is happening all over the place. Now, here is the difficulty for fundamentalists. Is this a violation of a fundamental? I say yes, but many seem to say no. Either way this movement has had dramatic influence on how contemporary Christians relate to God, or at least think they are relating to God. Much like Israel of old I an concerned many are seeking the Lord at a high place rather than at the tabernacle or temple.

Second, influenced by the charismatics  as well as rejecting the "stuffy religion of old", they have placed "love" at the center of Christian belief. This problem is more subtle than the first, and will get you in major hot water if you mention it.... I know from experience. God is love.Yes! But what does God mean by "love"? He means two things. First, "loving" God means obeying Him (John 14:15). That is for the believer. Second, for the unbeliever God's "love" means He sent His Son to die for the sins of the world, and that in response they need to repent and be converted (John 3:16). This is what the "love " of God means.

Modern Christians have a whole different definition. They will give lip service to the two I listed, but to them love means that God gives them purpose. A warm fuzzy. A hug. That they can do what they want and God is ok with it. Love is synonymous with grace in their eyes, so a loving God ignores sin in favor of giving people a second chance, even when they don't mean it. In other words, God's love is a touchy-feely emotion with no teeth. No call to repent. There is no room for God's wrath or otherness. He pines away in heaven hoping, just hoping you give Him worth by coming to Him.

I could go on, but I need to wrap this up and get to work. To me, the modern battle is worse than the battle of old because the very nature and worship of Christians is at stake.

josh p's picture

pvawter wrote:

As I was reading the OP it struck me that the number of fundamentals isn't really that important to the idea of fundamentalism, rather it's the fact that one believes there are such things as fundamentals, without which one cannot even be a Christian that's key. Wasn't a denial of any real sine qua non of Christianity at the heart of the liberalism they were rejecting? Thoughts?

I agree that liberalism did (and always does) seek to minimize doctrinal clarity and distinction. The number is not necessarily essential but I think we would all agree that there is a minimum which must be believed to be saved. 

Joel Shaffer's picture

There are many other times where Piper strongly condemned Open Theism.  You can find them in other articles at Desiring God, books that he's contributed to and debates he participated in against Boyd. Taking one excerpt from Piper as his representative view is actually misrepresenting his strong position against it.  He's actually fought the battles in the late 1990s and early 2000s on this so you might want to do a lot more research on Piper, Open Theism, and the BGC before you comment on it to make conservative evangelicals who fight theological battles look much worse than what is really going on.  

Actually only 1 significant person/theologian (Greg Boyd) in the BGC/Converge denomination embraced Open Theism (not some). There was a time where Greg Boyd was trying to recruit others into the denomination, but that failed when the BGC/Converge came out with a very strong resolution against Open Theism in 2000 (this strong resolution was influenced by Piper).  Because I have family and friends that are in the BGC/Converge, when the resolution passed against Open Theism, I know of several people and a few pastors that left the BGC/Converge because they felt that their denomination had been taken over by Piper "Cubbies" and they wanted nothing to do with it.  The only liberal/progressive in BGC/Converge is Boyd. And he has been isolated.  In fact, he has been in talks with switching their church over to Mennonite/Ana-Baptist because it better reflects their doctrine and practice.

The questionable issue with BGC/Converge is Bethel College and Seminary.  Bethel College and Seminary treated Open Theism as a secondary issue in their eyes (like cessationism vs. continuationism). You would think that the Bible graduates of the college and seminary would negatively affect BGC/Converge as a denomination.  But that has not happened because the overwhelming majority of pastors/church planters in BGC/Converge in the last 25 years come from other conservative evangelical and even some fundamentalist institutions. This would include TIU, Cedarville, GRTS, and BBS/Summit University,   I remember very well the main head of the Midwest BGC/Converge saying in a church planting class I took at GRTS almost 20 years ago that they don't really recruit at Bethel like they do at other seminaries.  Plus, those who were ministry graduates of Bethel and were liberal-leaning wanted nothing to do with BGC/Converge and instead went to mainline denominations and liberal progressive churches (formerly emergent) like Doug Pagitt's Solomon's Porch.   

In response to Bethel's soft approach to Open Theism, And Piper took it upon himself in 1998 (when the Battle of Open Theism was at its peak, especially at Bethel) for his church to start an alternative college and seminary.  

I am not some Piper-Cubby defender, but I do offer this push-back to you Don because your caricature only offered one little slice of the facts as an overall representation of what actually happened with Piper and Open Theism when Piper was actually much more aggressive against this false doctrine than you are giving him credit for.    

Don Johnson's picture

Joel Shaffer wrote:

I am not some Piper-Cubby defender, but I do offer this push-back to you Don because your caricature only offered one little slice of the facts as an overall representation of what actually happened with Piper and Open Theism when Piper was actually much more aggressive against this false doctrine than you are giving him credit for.    

Sorry, Joel, your spin doesn't change the fact that Piper was quite willing to remain in denominational fellowship all these years with Greg Boyd. Open theism isn't a minor issue. Do you think Spurgeon, for example, would have handled it Piper's way?

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

TylerR's picture

Editor

I see two contrasting visions of "authentic fundamentalism" playing out in this thread, and in the larger fundamentalist world (what little is left of it, that is):

  • Option #1: militant defense of the faith from revisionists.
  • Option #2: militant defense + separation from all revisionists

For some, separation is the sine qua non; the essential element. For others, separation might be necessary if all lesser means have failed. Even then, it might not be necessary. This difference in ethos is critical to understanding the disparity in fundamentalist philosophies of ministry.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Joel Shaffer's picture

Don.  No I don't. But maybe more like William Bell Riley, who fought and stayed in the Northern Baptist Convention. But unlike Riley, Piper and his Cubbies won the battle in their denomination and Greg Boyd, the open theist, lost. You may not agree with Riley and you may not agree with Piper of him staying and how they applied Separation, but you may want to be more careful not to create strawman caricatures of Piper and the Open Theism controversy with Boyd to make Piper appear weak and soft against false doctrine.     

Bert Perry's picture

Don Johnson wrote:

 

Joel Shaffer wrote:

 

I am not some Piper-Cubby defender, but I do offer this push-back to you Don because your caricature only offered one little slice of the facts as an overall representation of what actually happened with Piper and Open Theism when Piper was actually much more aggressive against this false doctrine than you are giving him credit for.    

 

Sorry, Joel, your spin doesn't change the fact that Piper was quite willing to remain in denominational fellowship all these years with Greg Boyd. Open theism isn't a minor issue. Do you think Spurgeon, for example, would have handled it Piper's way?

Let's test the "necessity of separation" argument against Scripture.  When the infant Church was identifying as Jewish, did they separate from Judiasm to avoid fellowship with others in the synagogues, or did they remain until they were basically kicked out?  When Paul became aware of Judiazing elements in the Colossian and Galatian churches, did he separate from them, or did he write letters to them to bring them to repentance?  What about the apostle John when he became aware of what Diotrephes was doing?

There can be a tragic necessity of separating when you know you've lost.  I've been there--separating from both theological liberals and hyper-fundamentalists.  There is also a reality that sometimes the best thing to do is to stand and fight.  In the case of Piper and open theism, I think Piper chose wisely to fight a fight he likely knew he could win.  Same basic thing with our brothers in the SBC.  Thanks to their willingness to stand and fight, 14 million or so people are hearing more Biblical teaching than they would otherwise in more Biblically grounded churches.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Jim's picture

Specifically for Don - I'm presuming you wouldn't regard me as a fundamentalist. True?

  • Consider my doctrinal position (link below)
  • And that I am a member in good standing of Baptist Church in association with the fundamentlist Minnesota Baptist Association

 

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