The Fundamentalist Challenge for the 21st Century: Do We Have a Future? Part 1

The following is a paper Dr. Straub read at the Bible Faculty Leadership Summit last summer (He also read a variation at the Conference on the Church for God’s Glory last May). It appears here with light editing. The paper will appear here in four parts. -Editor

Today I wish to address fundamentalism at the beginning of the 21st century. I was invited to a Pastor’s Conference in Illinois in May to address this issue and I forwarded the folks here in Ankeny for consideration to be read here this week. I have revised the original paper slightly for today’s deliberations.

We are met this week as a group of professors representing the Bible faculties of various colleges and seminaries across our movement. We are somewhat diverse—Arminians and Calvinist; Baptists, Presbyterians, Wesleyans, and Bible church men. There are many others not here represented who associate with the wider movement of fundamentalism who would not associate with us here today because of our diversity—on Bible translations, on theology, on ecclesiology. Nevertheless, we represent what I will call the core of “historic fundamentalism.” I want to take a few minutes and reflect on the state of our movement and try to suggest where we are at and where we are headed.

The century is less than a decade old. It is hard to guess where we might be at the quarter century, much less at the beginning of the 22nd century if the Lord tarries His coming. So what challenges do we currently face? Where are we today and where are we going? This is a tall order and admittedly, I am no prophet. But I am a historian. A historian studies the past as a window into the present. He also studies the present as a guide to the future. I speak today as a historian within the tradition of self-identified fundamentalism.

For the record, I came to fundamentalism in college and without prejudice. As a first generation Christian, I had never heard Bible preaching until high school. I began attending a moderately conservative Southern Baptist Church where I was baptized and in which my discipleship journey began. Within a few months, I switched to a more conservative SBC church pastored by a man with roots in fundamentalism. My pastor’s pastor was a Bob Jones University (BJU) graduate. My own pastor attended Columbia Bible College and then Southern Seminary in the 1950s. He was in the early 1970s and still is today a conservative within the SBC.

When I set foot on the campus in Greenville, I had never visited. I had no idea what I was getting into. “What’s wrong with Billy Graham?” I would soon ask. I sang in his Atlanta crusade choir about 1973 with my church youth group. Was I in for an awakening! I was soon exposed to a Bob Jones Jr. form of fundamentalism. Bob Sr. had been dead a few years, so I never sat under his preaching. Bob Jones III had only recently become president of BJU. Jr. was still the central figure in leadership, or so it seemed. He was nothing if not controversial. Regarding some of his more interesting statements, I personally heard most of them as a student in chapel. I was there when my ministerial colleagues protested the World Council of Churches in Greenville. They were interesting days.

I hardly knew the state of fundamentalism at that time. The only thing I knew about the GARBC (General Association of Regular Baptist Churches) was that it was a large Sunday school class that met on campus before the morning “church service.” I remember when Bob Ketcham died. Gilbert Stenholm made an announcement and regaled us with stories about his preaching and faithfulness. But his name meant little to me. I also knew John R. Rice, Jack Hyles, Curtis Hutson, Bob Gray and Tom Malone. I had heard them at a Sword conference in 1974 in Indianapolis. I still have the Bible they all signed! And I knew Ian Paisley! I heard Carl McIntire on the BJU radio station but paid him little attention. I was after all, a freshman.

Such was my introduction into fundamentalism. I went on to earn several degrees at BJU. My first class in church history was at BJU where Dr. George W. Dollar thundered out the history of fundamentalism. “The creeps crept in,” we were told in a sermon on fundamentalism he preached out of Jude at my first Bible conference. Now there was a colorful pair—Bob Jones Jr. and George W. Dollar. Dollar personally signed my copy of his history! Fifteen years after I finished at BJU, I completed the M.Div. at Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary and ten years after that, I completed a PhD at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. I have been at Central Seminary ever since. In the past 35 years, I have walked the length and breadth of fundamentalism—from the BJU crowd, the Tennessee Temple University crowd, the Southwide Baptist Fellowship crowd, the Sword of the Lord crowd, the GARBC crowd, and even the Baptist Bible Fellowship (BBF) crowd. While working on the PhD, I was a deacon in a BBF church in Georgia. The pastor was a longtime associate of A. V. Henderson and served as the chairman of the board at Baptist Bible College, Springfield.

Have I missed any part of Baptist fundamentalism? Oh yes, I even walked in Southern Baptist fundamentalism. I attended Southern after the conservative resurgence gained a victory and their broad-minded antagonists pejoratively called them “fundamentalists.” I even have friends among the Free Presbyterians and among the Ohio Bible Fellowship. I know something first hand about most of self-identified fundamentalism.

The Taxonomy of Fundamentalism

But that is all personal history. My task is related to the fundamentalism of today—fundamentalism in the 21st century. Where are we today and whither are we headed? In order to begin, it seems that we need to clarify exactly upon whom we are reflecting. Fundamentalism is hardly monolithic. We have neither a central office nor an annually elected president. No one man or even a group of men speak for us. We are diverse and opinionated. What fundamentalism is depends on whom you ask. Today, I offer my observations. I see fundamentalism existing in three large groups, though with numerous subgroups.

George Dollar attempted a taxonomy in 1973 when he came up with the terms “militant,” “moderate,” and “modified.”1 Dollar’s taxonomy created categories which those identified did not always appreciate and his definition of fundamentalism itself was weak. He was severely criticized by some softer fundamentalists. In like manner, Bob Jones Jr. identified a “pseudo-fundamentalism.” This moniker was especially aimed at Jerry Falwell, whom Jones believed was moving toward the new-evangelicalism.2

The reality is that fundamentalists themselves have created certain categories de facto. We congregate and cooperate with those who are most like us in groups that have common features. When I first entered the ministry, John R. Rice was still alive. There was a very definite Sword of the Lord “crowd.” They attended his annual meetings, advertised their churches in his paper, which in turn they passed out to their church members. There was also a Southwide Baptist Fellowship crowd, and another that made common cause with the Fundamental Baptist Fellowship, not to mention those associated with the Baptist Bible Fellowship. We could also add the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches—almost all of whom still happily identify themselves as fundamentalist—and a host of smaller fundamentalist groups. All of these groups still exist today, and while there are some areas in which they overlap with each other, individuals who associate with these particular groups tend to not associate closely with members of the other groups. In Minnesota, for example, we have the MBA, the Minnesota Baptist Association, and the Minnesota Association of Regular Baptist Churches. There is little mutual association though both identify themselves as fundamental.

Difficulties of Taxonomy

It seems unavoidable to repeat what Dollar did so long ago, and making his mistakes. I am likely to hear objections of individuals who I place in wrong groups or whose group descriptions they think I misrepresent. I am not sure how to avoid this if we are to speak clearly about fundamentalism. I have neither the wish to offend, nor the desire to speak arrogantly. Of course, my group is the proper group. Why wouldn’t it be? If you don’t come to my conclusions regarding certain biblical issues it is because you are not being honest with the text! But then, don’t we really all think this way? Who of us would say, “Undoubtedly I am wrong here, but this is my view anyway!”? More likely we are confident that our position is the best view of everything, including fundamentalism.

Therefore, I will offer a simple, three-tiered taxonomy for fundamentalism and fit that into a larger theological spectrum by means of a chart.3 The chart shows relationships, but it is severely limited. There are many individuals who simply do not neatly fit into these categories. They may have some characteristics of a group but not others. My taxonomy differs considerably from Dollar’s for several reasons, not the least of which is the obvious fact that the movement, if it can still be called one, in now thirty five years older. Hopefully I will offer a more reasoned explanation for my categories than he provided for his, but you will have to be the judge of that.


The first group of self-identified fundamentalists4 are the hyper-fundamentalists. I start with those who least characterize this meeting. A hyper-fundamentalist is simply someone who adds to the essential doctrinal core of historic fundamentalism. Originally fundamentalism was centered around doctrines that defined orthodoxy such as the Virgin Birth, the substitutionary atonement and the like.5 Historic fundamentalism was concerned about the supernatural character of the Word of God as well as its infallibility and inerrancy. Hyper-fundamentalism has added extraneous doctrinal perimeters, most notably, preservation of a Greek text type or a particular Bible translation, to the essential core of theological truths that must be believed to be a fundamentalist.6

I think a case could be made that when the word “fundamentalism” is used today, this is what comes to the minds of most people. While pursuing my PhD at Southern, many on campus I interacted with assumed “fundamentalist” referred to the King James Bible, opposition to women wearing pants, opposition to television and the movies, no drinking, etc. To them, a fundamentalist viewed Southern Baptists, even in 2000, as new evangelicals at best and as liberals at worst. Many at Southern thought it odd that I would even attend there and that I must be a “fundamentalist in denial.” Among my peers, there was an assortment of ex-fundamentalists. One man was a Hyles-Anderson grad who earned his PhD from Southern and pastors a Founder’s friendly church. There were two Central grads, only one of which is today even remotely identified with fundamentalism. There was a BJU grad who left Greenville and never looked back, a BBC (Springfield) grad who became a Lutheran and whose wife was a pastor. And of course, there were several bona fide Southern Baptists! The archivist at Southern was also a BJU grad who, after adopting Calvinism, became a Presbyterian, earning a PhD from Westminster and has recently accepted a call to a prestigious Presbyterian church in the south. There were ex-fundamentalists all around me, many of whom left the movement with memories of bitter experiences.

I had been in the SBC during my teenage years. My colleagues wanted to know when I was planning to return formally to the fold. After all, I was getting a PhD from a one time a bastion of old SBC liberalism. It must be that I was on my way back into the Convention. Surely I was holding on to fundamentalism loosely and I just needed to admit that I was no longer one. I demurred. While I appreciated much that had transpired within the SBC since 1979, I simply did not see it possible to return. In fundamentalism, I knew who my friends were (both of them) and I did not think I had enough life left to live to figure out those sorts of things within the SBC. While I appreciated the conservative resurgence, there was still much that needed to be done before I could join. There were still things I simply could not abide. The SBC was enamored with the Rick Warren approach to ministry and Billy Graham, who in the early 2000s came to Louisville for his last large campaign, is still highly revered.

So to my colleagues at Southern, we were all hyper-fundamentalists. Those who weren’t hyper left the movement entirely. For what it’s worth, it was then common among Cooperative Baptists, the splinter group who broke away from the SBC after the conservative resurgence, to dub the winners as “fundamentalists.” R. Albert Mohler, who would never use “fundamentalist” of himself was considered one by folks who left Southern about the time he and his colleagues came to power.7 But in the mind of the folks at Southern, that title did not rightly belong to them because fundamentalism was what I am here defining as hyper-fundamentalism.

What is a Hyper-fundamentalist?

The question that arises then is “what is a hyper-fundamentalist,” at least as I use the term? By this term, I am describing someone who has added something more to the historic essence of fundamentalism. I think the classic example of hyper-fundamentalism is the Bible-translation debate. I was a student at BJU in the mid-1970s when this issue was just beginning to heat up. I remember Dr. Stewart Custer of the Greek faculty occasionally discussing with us assaults he was receiving in the pages of The Bible Believer’s Bulletin, the periodical of the Bible Baptist Church of Pensacola, FL, where Peter Ruckman was pastor.8 Ruckman, a PhD recipient from BJU, was one of the early leaders in KJV-Onlyism that grew to a veritable conflagration by the mid-1990s with the production of the Pensacola Christian College video series on the King James version featuring Dell Johnson and Theodore Letis.9 The position today is promoted most popularly by David Cloud (a graduate of Tennessee Temple) of Way of Life Literature, among others.10 Though many hyper-fundamentalists now distance themselves considerably from Ruckman,11 their views are similar to his, though perhaps not as extreme.

Despite protestations to the contrary, a particular Bible translation was never a part of the essential idea of historic fundamentalism. Quite to the contrary, early leaders of fundamentalism used and recommended modern translations. A good example of this occurred in 1952 in The Sword of the Lord. Editor John R. Rice ran an ad for the Revised Standard Version which claimed “Dr. John R. Rice uses it and recommends it.”12 One month later, Rice found himself the object of criticism for using, not a modern version per se, but that particular modern version. In writing a retraction, Rice asserted that, in fact, he did not use it in the pulpit or private devotions and “would not recommend anybody in the world to use it regularly instead of the King James Version or the American Standard Version.”13

Professor James D. Price, long-time faculty member at Tennessee Temple University of Chattanooga, TN, recounts the story from the early 1970s of being invited to participate on the translation committee of the New King James Version. Initially he was reluctant because of the rising concern over the use of the King James. His concerns were alleviated when the institution’s president, Lee Roberson, gave him verbal permission to participate as a translator.14 Even KJVO advocate David Cloud admits that using modern versions was the accepted practice at Temple in the 1970s.

While most of the teachers used only the King James Bible in the classroom and only the KJV was used in preaching, the United Bible Societies Greek New Testament was used in the Greek courses. Most of the teachers were either neutral on the subject of texts and versions, or they were openly sympathetic to the critical Greek text and modern versions. One of my teachers used the New American Standard Version in the classroom in the mid-1970s.15

The use of modern versions, particularly the New American Standard, was also acceptable at Bob Jones when I studied there in the 1970s. The KJV-Onlyism has been a part of the fundamentalist discussion for less than forty years and many fundamentalists rightly reject it as non-essential to historic fundamentalism.16 Richard V. Clearwaters, president of Central Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote about in 1973,17 as the KJV was becoming an issue, “honesty compels us to cite the 1901 American Revised as the best English version of the original languages….”18 Clearwaters later asserted that “those in the mainstream of Fundamentalism all claim the American Revised of 1901 as the best English translation.”19 KJV-Onlyism is clearly hyper-fundamentalism—an attempt to expand historic fundamentalism to peripheral, non-essential issues.

New Image Fundamentalism

So if I am not a hyper-fundamentalist, then what could I be? At the opposite end of the spectrum, but still within the broad category of fundamentalism is new image fundamentalism.20 Some might dislike the title, but let me justify it for a moment. I considered terms like “modified,” “soft,” “enervated,” or “pseudo-fundamentalism” or the like. While I might think that they are all apropos at some level, these terms have a decidedly pejorative connotation. Perhaps hyper-fundamentalism does also. To be sure, it could be pejorative, but as I am using it, I mean simply that a hyper-fundamentalist is one who goes beyond what fundamentalism was at its historical core in the same way a hyper­-Calvinist or a hyper-dispensationalist does with their respective doctrines. Calvinism as John Calvin would have articulated it was different from the strong Calvinism of John Gill and some of his contemporaries who defended such notions as eternal justification or debated the so-called “modern question.”21

Tomorrow…New Image Fundamentalism and Historic Fundamentalism


1 George W. Dollar, A History of Fundamentalism in America (Greenville: Bob Jones University Press, 1973), pp. 282-89.

2 Bob Jones, “Pseudo-Fundamentalists: The New Breed in Sheep’s Clothing,” Faith for the Family, January 1978, pp. 7, 16. Jones claimed the term Pseudo-Fundamentalism was coined by FBF leader Rod Bell. For yet another three tiered taxonomy, see Joel Tetreau, “Three Lines in the Sand,” posted on Sharper Iron, especially pt. 3. Available online at Accessed 29 April 2009.

3 See the chart here.

4 In setting forth this conversation, I am limiting myself to individuals who at some level consider themselves or would be called by others as fundamentalist. Admittedly this may even be a problem.

5 The best proof of this is the series of booklets published under the title The Fundamentals. The term “fundamentalist” likely arose from these publications, issued at the expense of Lyman (1840-1923) and Milton Stewart (1838-1923), between 1910 and 1915. (See Edward B. Pollard, “Baptists and Fundamentalism,” Homiletic Review 87 [April 1924]:265.) These were a series of twelve booklets containing ninety essays by sixty-four authors. They were scholarly and irenic in nature articulating the historic doctrines of the Christian faith. They were disseminated throughout the world by the hundreds of thousands and were subsequently reprinted in a four volume set by Bible Institute of Los Angles in 1917. For a discussion of the significance of these essays, see Ernest Sandeen, The Roots of Fundamentalism: British and American Millenarianism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970), 188-207; Beale, In Pursuit of Purity, 39-46; and DCA, ed. Daniel G. Reid et al. (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1990), s.v. “Fundamentals, The,” by George Marsden.

6 A couple of examples are sufficient to demonstrate this. “Fundamentalists have always used and appreciated the King James Bible as the best of all the versions. Only recently have some of them veered off course to approve perversions such as the NIV, the NASV, or the NKJV.” D. A. Waite, Central Seminary Refuted on Bible Versions (Collingswood, NJ: The Bible for Today, 1999); idem, The King James Bible Defended (Collingswood, NJ: the Bible for Today, 19980, 5. Also David H. Sorenson, Touch Not the Unclean Thing: The Text Issue and Separation (Duluth, MN Northstar Ministries, 2001). Sorenson argues that one of the core ideas of fundamentalism is separation from apostasy and modern versions come from apostate Greek texts. Therefore a consistent fundamentalist will separate from corrupt texts and the translations that come from them.

7 See for example, Bill Leonard, God’s Last and Only Hope: the Fragmentation of the Southern Baptist Convention (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990), pp. 4ff. Leonard taught Church History at Southern from 1975-1991, less than two years before Mohler came. Also Grady Cothen, What Happened to the Southern Baptist Convention? A memoir of the Controversy (Macon: Smyth-Helwys, 1993), esp. pp. 67ff; idem, The New SBC: Fundamentalism’s Impact on the Southern Baptist Convention (Macon: Smyth-Helwys, 1995); and Walter B. Shurden, The Struggle for the Soul for the SBC: Moderate Responses to the Fundamentalist Movement (Macon: Mercer University Press, 1993).

8 These were later put in pamphlet form. See Peter S. Ruckman, Custer’s Last Stand (Pensacola: Bible Baptist Bulletin, 1981).

9 It should be noted here that PCC has no connection with Ruckman other than a purely coincidental geographic one. Moreover, Ruckman’s extreme positions on numerous things including the inspiration of the KJV caused many fundamentalists to disassociate themselves from his ministry.

10 The literature is voluminous. A small sample only can be offered here. See David H. Sorenson, Touch Not the Unclean Thing; D. A. Waite, Central Seminary Refuted; David Cloud, Myths about Modern Bible Versions (Oak Harbor, WA: Way of Life, 1999).

11 E. g. David Cloud, “What About Peter Ruckman.” Updated edition, 5 December 2007. Available online at Accessed 22 April 2009.

12 See framed Bible advertisement at the bottom of page 8, The Sword of the Lord, 17 October 1952.

13 Emphasis added. Rice furthermore elaborated. “Let me repeat, I have a copy of the Revise Standard Version of the New Testament and will have it available, as I do a number of translations, for reference and comparison. I think that scholarly men would be wise to have it near at hand.” John R. Rice, “Important Correction,” The Sword of the Lord, 14 November 1952, p. 2.

14 James D. Price, King James Onlyism: A New Sect (n.p.: by the author, 2006), p. xiii. Price also recounts that in the 1950s while he was a student at Los Angeles Baptist Theological Seminary, the use of modern versions was an accepted practice as it was during his doctoral work in the 1960s at the GARBC church he attended in the Philadelphia area. When he went to TTU in 1972, he had a colleague, Aubrey Martin, a blind professor with a PhD from BJU, who had memorized large portions of the New Testament from the ASV. His Sunday School class instructor at Highland Park Baptist Church, pastored by Lee Roberson, also made reference to modern versions including the J. B. Phillips translation.

15 David Cloud, “Bruce Lackey,” 27 July 2007, The Way of Life Literature. Available online at Accessed 22 April 2009.

16 See for example, Roy E. Beacham and Kevin T. Bauder, One Bible Only? (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2001); Michael A. Grisanti, ed. The Bible Version Debate: The Perspective of Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Minneapolis, MN: Central Baptist Theological Seminary, 1997); James B. Williams, ed. From the Mind of God to the Mind of Man (Greenville, SC: Ambassador-Emerald, 1999); idem. God’s Word in Our Hands: The Bible Preserved for Us (Greenville, SC: Ambassador-Emerald, 2003.

17 Richard V. Clearwaters, The Great Conservative Baptist Compromise (Minneapolis, MN: Central Seminary Press, n.d. [1974]). The Central Testimony lists the manuscript at the press in late 1973 and published by the summer of 1974. Cf. the Central Testimony issues September-October 1973, January-February 1974 and July-August 1974.

18 Ibid., 192.

19 Ibid., 199. For more on early fundamentalism and the KJV, see Larry Pettegrew, “Fundamentalism and the King James Only Position,” in Beacham and Bauder, One Bible Only? pp. 185-91. David Cloud attempts to offset this argument in his For the Love of the Bible (rev. ed., London, ON: Bethel Baptist Church, 1995). He offers evidence in two chapters. One chapter chronicles opponents of the RSV from 1950-1970. For the record, many fundamentalists including R. V. Clearwaters opposed the RSV but they did not oppose the use of modern versions per se. The opposition was directed against versions that reflected a liberal bias. In the second chapter, “Other Men who stood for the AV prior to 1970,” Cloud considers six men—Edward F. Hills, Alfred Martin, Zane Hodges, M. R. DeHaan, Samuel H. Sutherland, president of BIOLA, David Martyn-Lloyd Jones and a layman Everett Fowler. The list is hardly a “Who’s Who” of fundamentalism. Nor are the quotes necessarily proving that the authors absolutely opposed modern versions in every case. For example, Sutherland is quoted as lamenting the “downgrade” of the King James version at the time (1961) that many were opposing the RSV. (See ibid., p. 260). The RSV NT had been published in 1946 with the OT in 1952. Considerable attention was directed against the completed text because, among other reasons, Isaiah 7:14 was translated as “young woman” rather than virgin. For a scholarly treatment of the conflict over the RSV, see Peter J. Thuesen, In Discordance with the Scriptures: American Protestant Battles over Translating the Bible (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999). The long DeHaan quote also comes from 1962 and does no more than object to liberal versions which he names—the RSV and the New English Bible. When choosing between the RSV, the NEB or the KJV, DeHaan chose the King James. Given those choices, wouldn’t we all? (See Cloud, For the Love of the Bible, 256-59).

20 I am indebted to my colleague, Kevin T. Bauder, for this title.

21 “The Modern Question plainly stated is this: ‘Whether it be the duty of all men to whom the gospel is published, to repent and believe in Christ?’” Tom Nettles, The Baptists: Volume One Beginnings in Britain (Fearn Scotland: Christian Focus, 2005), p. 248.

Dr. Jeffrey Straub has served as adjunct professor at Central Seminary, as well as at Calvary Baptist Seminary in Moscow, the Ukraine, and Romania, at Piedmont Baptist College, and at LIFTS Institute, Kitchener, Ontario. He has been a senior pastor and church planter in Canada, and was a missionary among the Ojibway Indians in Wanipigow, Manitoba. He has had several articles published in the Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal, as well as in Frontline. Dr. Straub is a member of the Evangelical Missiological Society, the Evangelical Theological Society, and the American Society of Church History. Dr. Straub is married to Rebecca, and they have 3 children. He enjoys books, golf, hunting, and fishing.
5571 reads

There is 1 Comment

Aaron Blumer's picture


Please note that Dr. Straub uses "KJVO" in more specific sense than some of us would at SI. That is, in the paper, "KJVO"/ "KJV Onlyism" always includes the idea that you have to be KJVO to be a fundamentalist. He is not including those who believe KJV should be used exclusively but don't believe this position is required in order to be a fundamentalist.

(Sort of like many of us believe traditional music should be used in worship but don't believe you have to use traditional music to be a fundamentalist)

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Help keep SI’s server humming. A few bucks makes a difference.