New-Image Fundamentalism (continued)
So if hyper-fundamentalism adds to the essential core, should we then speak of hypo-fundamentalism? Well, maybe, but I think “new-image” is a better term. A new-image fundamentalist does not like the negative image that older fundamentalism carries and wants to create a new category that will allow them to be seen in a better light by their fellow evangelicals.1 As such, some of the things that have given other parts of fundamentalism a bad image are jettisoned outright or quietly abandoned.
What are the characteristics of a new-image fundamentalist? Well clearly new-image men are evangelical in the classic sense of the term—committed to the core of Reformation truth summarized at least by the five solas: Scriptura, fides, gratis, Christus, and Deo Gloria. Part of the new image is pointing out their close affinity with other evangelicals in these important doctrinal views. “We believe what you believe—we cannot be that bad!” By saying this, I am not at this point meaning to exclude non-Calvinists necessarily from the term evangelical. But I am suggesting that there is, despite current revisionist notions within evangelicalism to the contrary, an essential body of truths that represent historic evangelicalism, including the nature of God, the reality and eternality of eternal punishment, etc. Little separates the new-image men who sometimes self-identify as fundamentalist from their conservative evangelical cousins. Both hold to some level of separation, primary at least, and even to some extent, so-called secondary separation. But the new-image men are tired of the hyper-fundamentalists and are looking desperately for something more balanced. They find that balance in the evangelical right.
Some have rejected the term “fundamentalist” simply because of the radical image that fundamentalism conjures up in the minds of the secular world. This negative image has come from two principle directions: from within the movement as self-professed fundamentalists act in erratic or unbiblical ways,2 and also from without, from the secular or wider religious world who speak of religious fundamentalism and terrorism in the same breath. This latter problem is due in no small part to University of Chicago historian Martin Marty whose Fundamentalism Project identifies a diverse list of religious fundamentalisms among whom are some very extreme groups.3 Examples of these are well known in our modern world. Muslim fundamentalism can be seen in the Taliban of Afghanistan and Hindu fundamentalism is currently wreaking havoc in India, especially among professing Christian groups.4
Because of these negative associations, new-image fundamentalists tend to identify themselves as fundamentalists infrequently, if at all, though they participate in public forums like Sharper Iron, the website dedicated to discussing fundamentalism. Often these men have come up through hyper-fundamentalism and are on a trajectory that will carry them ultimately completely out of any branch of fundamentalism. New-image fundamentalists also tend to reject outright, even if they practice implicitly, the concept of so-called secondary separation. Admittedly, secondary separation is hard to practice consistently. Many who do practice it are hard-edged, cantankerous and mean-spirited. However, I will argue in a moment that few in new-image fundamentalism or even in the evangelical right reject separation from Christian brothers absolutely. Most evangelicals on the right, and their new-image cousins, are de facto secondary separatists. They simply disagree with historic fundamentalists on who should be separated from and when that separation should occur.
New-image fundamentalists have been around for many years, well before the survey of so-called “Young Fundamentalists” done in 2005.5 There were men at BJU during my days who winced at some of the more strident declarations of our leadership. They tired of the shallow preaching and the loud pontificating. Today, the new image is less a group than a mood within fundamentalism. Many want to put distance between themselves and the hyper-fundamentalists with whom they share a common identity. They want a more balanced Christianity, which they see only in the evangelical right. Frankly, many historic fundamentalists feel equally embarrassed by the extremes of the name-sake cousins—the hyper-fundamentalists. However, for historic fundamentalists, abandoning the idea of fundamentalism for evangelicalism is not the answer. A coalition between the evangelical right and a balanced fundamentalism would be a nice prospect if the stakes weren’t so high—for both groups. It seems that one side or the other or perhaps both would have to make some core changes. While the evangelical right and new-image fundamentalists practice some secondary separation, the practice is not well-defined.
Getting back to my fundamentalist taxonomy, I am left with one category to define—historic fundamentalism. Historic fundamentalists are centrists. They are mainstream fundamentalists focusing on the important issues that have long characterized the fundamentalist movement since its beginning. Not the least of the issues is the gospel itself.6 Fundamentalists have long been concerned that the good news of Jesus Christ, including issues of his person and work and his future return to finish what he started—the so-called five fundamentals—are not lost in the quest for theological unity. Moreover, those in the center are concerned to distance themselves from individuals at the fringes of the movements on the left or right. It all must be addressed as unbiblical behavior, but in various ways.
Two fringe groups should be identified. The first are the indifferentists. These men are willing to make common cause with gospel deniers, thinking some greater good will result. They adopt an end-justifies-the-means philosophy. Billy Graham was a prominent example.7 The historical record of the weakening of evangelicalism is well documented. The second group contains individuals who partner with the indifferentists. They may not directly partner with the Gospel deniers but they turn a blind eye to their indifferentist friends’ disobedience. They tolerate the disobedience of evangelicals who make common cause with enemies of the Cross of Christ.
A centrist or historic fundamentalist finds it difficult to fellowship with any who tolerate error, and those who fellowship with the apostates are in error. Therefore, at some point, he must break with the hyper-fundamentalist on the right, who hold either unorthodox positions like the infallibility of a Bible translation or who hold their position stridently so as to make common cause with anyone all but impossible. To fail to do so would be inconsistent with the spirit of the Bible. The historic fundamentalist separates from all disobedience which jeopardizes a clear gospel witness. We (historic fundamentalists) cannot not make common cause with men whose position on Bible versions is divisive and rancorous. We also disassociate ourselves from gospel deniers and those who support them.
I offer a personal illustration at this point. A few years back, I was a part of the Independent Baptist Fellowship of North America. At its annual meeting in Detroit, several of us argued that we had little choice but to break with D. A. Waite because he simply could not allow us the freedom to use a well-translated modern version. We had no personal objection to the King James and some used it preaching. But we felt that the use of modern version was equally within our liberty. For us, Bible versions were simply not an issue—why should it be? Moreover the IBFNA had an officially neutral position on Bible versions. Yet Waite was antagonistic as were other individual members. Gratefully, the KJV-Only men left. The fellowship is smaller today but better off without the hyper-fundamentalists.
About the same time, I was at a meeting of the FBF where a good friend said publicly that he was “NIV-positive.” Frankly, I thought that was a poor choice of words. I had no problem with a man who wished to use the NIV, but I thought the statement was a poor choice of humor. Fortunately he did not make this a test of fellowship and even regretted his words. We need to be careful not to be divisive over a non-essential issues. We would do well to heed the admonition attributed to Augustine: “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.” This does not preclude us from withdrawing from those whose position on the text is unbiblical. KJV-Onlyism is unbiblical and warrants withdrawal of fellowship.
A historic fundamentalist wants Bible truth wedded to biblical obedience. At the same time, we recognize that not everyone is at the same point in their growth in godliness. But at some point, disobedience becomes flagrant and willful. The problem is how is this demonstrated? Would we need to prove that the disobedience is willful before it can be censured? Or can we ask what a person should know to be right because he has a Bible? Consider again Billy Graham. Would he have said, “I know I am about to sin but I am going to do so anyway?” Perhaps, but I take him to be a sincere man. I question his wisdom and commitment to the biblical text. He had the Bible and he should have known better. The fact that he could not see what the Scripture said on this issue may be little more than pride, but whatever the reason, his influence corrupted the Church and needed to be addressed. Mark Driscoll is another example. He has been given time to repent and he has (apparently) refused! MacArthur did right in publicly rebuking him recently [See “The Rape of Solomon’s Song.” -Editor]. I think he also did right in publicly questioning the good judgment of his friends C. J Mahaney and John Piper. They ought to know better.
1 I use “evangelical” in this paper in two ways. In its classic sense, all post-Reformation, classical theists are evangelical—we hold to the gospel. But in a narrow sense, “evangelical” has come to mean gospel-centered but not separatist. Therefore all fundamentalists are evangelical but not all evangelicals are fundamentalist.
2 Some of Jerry Falwell’s antics might be a good illustration such as his infamous takeover of the Jim Bakker PTL Heritage USA. Cf. Susan F. Harding, The Book of Jerry Falwell: Fundamentalist Language and Politics (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000). Or consider the harsh criticism he received after 9/11, when he blamed the terrorist attacks on America on gays and lesbians, suggesting the bombing was an act of divine judgment. See “Falwell apologizes to gays, feminists and lesbians” CNN.com 14 September 2001. Available online here. Accessed 27 April 2009. Another illustration would be Topeka, KS pastor Fred Phelps, pastor of Westboro Baptist Church whose extreme views on homosexuality have led him to stage numerous public protests at funerals of homosexuals and more recently at the funerals of American soldiers killed in Iraq or Afghanistan. See Mary Vallis, “Fundamentalist U. S. church could picket McLean funeral,” The National Post, 5 August 2008. Available online at http://www.nationalpost.com/news/story.html?id=702577. Accessed 27 April 2009. Phelps received some of his training at Bob Jones College at the time the college, which was located in Cleveland, TN, relocated to Greenvile, SC. See “Brief Bio of Pastor Fred Phelps.” Available online here. Accessed 27 April 2009.
3 See for example, Fundamentalisms Observed, ed. Martin E. Marty and R. Scott Appleby (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991).
4 In January 1999, Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two sons were burned alive in their vehicle while they slept by a group of radical Hindus, upset by his Christian missionary work. See a follow-up article on Staines’ wife in which his death is still described as taking place at the hands of “fundamentalists.” Nirmala Carvalho, “Wife of Missionary Murdered by Fundamentalists Back in India,” AsiaNews 24 June 2006. Available online at http://www.asianews.it/index.php?l=en&art=6526. Accessed 24 April 2009.
6 A good illustration of this is the 2009 meeting of the Fundamental Baptist Fellowship International held in June. Three sermons stand out as excellent examples of the gospel centeredness of these men. Mark Minnick discussed the glory of the Gospel in the person and work of Jesus Christ; Kevin T. Bauder’s message dealt with the centrality of the doctrine of justification and John Hartog III preached on the sacred trust of handling the gospel. These sermons may be found here. Accessed 09 July 2009.
7 For a recent critic of Graham from a man on the evangelical right, see Iain H. Murray, Evangelicalism Divided (Carlilse, PA: Banner of Truth, 2000).