The majority of the healthy remnants of historic fundamentalism today have settled into a kind of co-belligerency. That is, the theological sons and grandsons of the first generation of fundamentalism have perched onto one of two branches of the fundamentalist family tree. These two branches are what I call Type B and Type C fundamentalism. I noted several years ago that a third branch, namely the Type A branch often believe and act as if they, and they alone, represent the entire tree! Thankfully more and more are flying over to the part of our ecclesiastical bush that respects a certain heritage while at the same time respects an allowable diversity.
This kind of C/B relationship was on display this last year when Mark Dever shared a platform with leaders such as Kevin Bauder, Dave Doran and Tim Jordan. Another example of how that relationship continues to emerge is the incredible overlap of what a healthy and biblical evangelicalism looks like as defined by Kevin Bauder and then by Al Mohler in Four Views on the Spectrum of Evangelicalism. One more example of this has been the explosion of interaction between Type B and C fundamentalists at conferences such as Shepherds and T4G. Certainly there continues to be a few differences between a Type B and Type C fundamentalists, but frankly there are far more differences between Type A fundamentalism and the B/C co-belligerency than there are differences between the B and C brethren themselves.
Lines in sand
Years ago I developed and presented a kind of taxonomy primarily for those within my own ministry. At the time I was wanting to hold on to the fundamentalist label but, for a variety of reasons, felt I needed to distance myself from many who used the same tag. I believed the taxonomy helped me do that in a way that could be understood by both those who grew up in the movement as well as newcomers (or onlookers). The result was the identification of Type A, B and C fundamentalism. I explored these categories several years ago in a series of articles entitled, “Three Lines in the Sand.” An earlier article entitled, “A Line in the Sand,” focused on the differences between Type A and B fundamentalism. “Three Lines” expanded to include Type C fundamentalism.
Several aims motivated that effort. First, I wanted to explain the similarities and differences within the fundamentalist heritage. Second, I wanted to defend the idea that there were occasions when A, B and C fundamentalists could have a meaningful koinonia (fellowship). I also believed (and still do) that there might be other times when (in the words of Mark Dever) a particular group should stay within its fence, while keeping that fence low enough to shake hands over. A third purpose was to explain to friends and family why I had departed the frigid ice-caps of Type A fundamentalism for the warmer waters of Type B—and why I wanted them to do the same!. Finally, I wanted to offer a kind of public rebuke against certain forms of Type A ecclesiastical nonsense that had wounded sheep near and far. I supposed this would probably be my only chance to lovingly smack the offenders all at once. I worked hard to speak truth in love but I’d been slightly irritated at certain Type A behavior for years.
From my earliest days in ministry training, and then vocational service, I had issues with the Type A status-quo. First, I have always been a Baptist who loves the doctrine of individual soul liberty and who is something of a maverick. I’ve always felt that this combination caused conflict with the Type A guys. They often want leaders coming up to follow the primary leader’s thoughts about this and that, and they frankly frown on mavericks who develop their own ideas. I had long been a believer in biblical authority—that is, when a leader tries to lead with authority that does not come from Scripture he is someone to be avoided. About the same time I began learning about the reformers and puritans and began to compare what I saw in Type A fundamentalism with a version of Christianity that was consistent with the sola’s of the reformation. The result was growing suspicion toward certain sub-culture norms in the movement of Type A fundamentalism.
Over the last few decades of ministry I have become convinced that the Type A fundamentalist’s aim to separate from all evangelicals or evangelicalism carte blanche is at best, biblically unhealthy and, at worst, sinfully schismatic to the body of the Christ. Not only have they thrown the poor baby out with the bathwater; but they’ve also condemned the whole nursery as if it was contaminated with some kind of an ecclesiastical leprosy! You slapped the initials “NE” (New Evangelical) on the poor baby’s forehead just knowing that eventually he’d be the next Billy Graham!
Some Type A’s might object that this means I must be for ecumenicalism, because they have been trained to think in the “us vs. you” mentality. They demonstrate the fallacy of the excluded middle. There is a third option that is better than “we separate from everybody or we separate from nobody.” That third option is we cooperate with brothers who love the gospel and are walking in obedience to the teachings of Scripture, even if they aren’t in our “camp” or “group.” You would think this reality would be near the Christianity 101 level.
After the articles appeared several years ago, I realized there had been some unintentional “friendly fire,” so I gently apologized where my taxonomy overlapped edges that they should not have. Looking back at my attempt, I’m actually grateful I was able to say what I needed to say. All in all, I remain in basic agreement with my presentation as it appeared then. Bob Bixby made a similar appeal about the same time in his discussion of “The Emergent Middle.” For the sake of those who are unfamiliar with my taxonomy, the following is a limited presentation of the position.
Type A fundamentalists are those fundamentalists who emphasize a first and second degree separation with militancy. Typically with these brothers, fellowship or separation is an “all or nothing” proposition. Another common characteristic with this group is a kind of sub-culture identity that not only separates them from the secular world but from the rest of evangelical Christianity. There is very much an “us vs. them” identity. Type A men would in the main not view Type C men as fundamentalists. This is probably the chief difference between Type A and Type B fundamentalists. Type A fundamentalism holds that it needs to not only protect the gospel but a specific set of sub-Christian ecclesiastical practices and forms that are especially clear in the typical Type A congregation’s corporate choice of music.
Type B fundamentalists like myself, while growing up under and holding on to much of the heritage found in Type A fundamentalism, do not believe the Scriptures teach an “all or nothing” approach to separation and unity. Type A’s generally feel that there simply is really no arena where they could have any kind of real ecclesiastical co-work with a conservative evangelical. Type B’s disagree. We believe there a variety of occasions where fundamentalists can and should have co-ministry with those that self-identify as conservative evangelicals. This is especially true of those evangelicals who are militant and even separastistic. The recent flap over the Elephant Room “second edition” demonstrates that many conservative evangelicals know how to be both militant and even separatistic from other evangelicals when the gospel or orthodoxy is blurred!
Type C fundamentalists are evangelicals who, while not participating in the more Type A or Type B fellowships and not calling themselves fundamentalists (mainly because of the way many in Type A and Type A+ fundamentalism believe and behave), are in fact part of the fundamentalist heritage because of their gospel militancy, their clear commitments to the fundamentals of the faith and the veracity of Scripture, and their willingness to do “battle royal” against an ecumenical agenda. Examples of this approach include men such as John MacArthur, Phil Johnson, Mark Dever and a host of younger men who are clear on the gospel, clear on truth and willing to stand especially against evangelicals who are spineless—or clueless—on theological veracity.
In some ways the modern Type C fundamentalists remind me of the earliest of the fundamentalists. In 1920 the Fundamentalists Fellowship was comprised of a group of militant evangelicals who contended for the faith on the inside of the Northern Baptist Convention. Some of these men eventually left, but some men (such as W. B. Riley and the First Baptist Church of Minneapolis) stayed within the NBC and fought for the sake of the gospel on the inside of the denomination. The recent victory of the conservative resurgence in the SBC demonstrate that indeed God can and does use men who are true to the faith and choose to stand and fight for the faith. So the Type C fundamentalists remind us more of the original fundamentalists that we who are already ministering outside of any real formal ecclesiastical connections with evangelical associations.
Today there seems to be little difference between the Type B and Type C fundamentalist. There are some differences. Kevin Bauder has mentioned a few differences that I think are helpful. The biggest difference seems to be that the Type B fundamentalists have fundamentalist-movement roots and the Type C fundamentalist has evangelical roots. There continues to be a little suspicion when the two groups come together. In the back of his mind, the Type B guy remembers that his Type A friends just know that this Type C guy is a compromiser! In the mind of the Type C guy looking at the Type B guy, he remembers that his evangelical friends are very sure that this Type B guy (because he still “sort of” connected to fundamentalism) must be an idiot! Other than that, there really is little difference. For the most part Type B and C ministries pretty much use the same teaching material, have the same theology, practice similar approaches to leadership, enjoy similar taste in Christian music and have a similar mind-set about how a Christian can be committed to Christ and His Kingdom and yet live in this society and culture at the same time.
Without being mean-spirited here, I would have to say I still prefer the Type B world to the Type C world. A clear example of that was my recent participation at Heart Conference with Northland International University. Frankly, as much as I love John MacArthur and the annual line-up at Shepherd’s Conference, I still prefer the bright lights of Type B fundamentalism that we enjoyed in Dunbar. The preaching by Dan Davey, Dave Doran, Kevin Bauder, Sam Horn, Tim Jordan, Matt Olson and Doug McLachlan was the best I’ve ever heard in any one conference. So while I really enjoy being with the Type C fundamentalists, and while I have more in common with the Type C guys than I do the Type A guys, (for the three of you who care), I still remain a Type B fundamentalist. I think our relationship with the Type C’s will continue to be something of a co-belligerency. It may be that eventually the B/C relationship will be one. I don’t think we are there yet.
To be honest, when I wrote “Three Lines in the Sand,” I pretty much had determined that both my view and my ministry would be rejected by the majority of the fundamentalist world. Now, just a few years later, my view is in the majority. Much to my surprise and thrill (and frankly shock) a consensus has formed amongst those of the balanced and non-KJV-only wing of fundamentalism to—to one degree or another—reach out to various conservative evangelicals. Most of the leaders of significant ministries within Type B churches, seminaries and other ministries are admitting either privately or publicly that some kind of a relationship is not only unavoidable but necessary for the day and age in which we live. I have no words to express how grateful I am for how things have developed.
This brings us to the challenge of the present article. I once again would like to urge our friends in Type A fundamentalism to consider (or reconsider) a better approach than your present trajectory. In one sense I don’t think any of us who are Type B or Type C fundamentalists have a problem with your not enjoying venues such as the Shepherd Conference or T4G. We don’t have a problem with your continued use of the KJV. It’s a beautiful translation of God’s Word! We don’t have a problem that you continue to use conservative music in your worship services. We are refreshed that you continue to encourage brothers and sisters to hold the line on modesty in the present Corinthian culture. The problem and puzzle is not really that you will remain more separatist than we are. The confusion is that you would reach out to the unhealthy branches of hyper-fundamentalism (A+ fundamentalism) as a place to hang your bird house.
What would be better is for you to allow us who are to your left to have an occasional cup of coffee and prayer time with some that you might not fully understand, than for you to run away from us and bolt towards those who are guilty of everything from Pelagianism, to sacramentalism (angels took the blood to heaven and sprinkled on a literal alter?), to a bibliolatry (the worship of the 1611—didn’t that include the apocrypha?), to “decisional regeneration” that rejects biblical repentance, not to mention the almost common occurrence of pastoral and spiritual abuse that takes place at the hands of these hyper-fundamentalists!
Here’s the appeal: It’s really time for you guys to choose which way you’re going to head! A well known national fundamentalist fellowship of Baptist separatists have recently been sharing their angst that some of us Type B fundamentalists are reaching out to the Type C’s. Meanwhile various leaders who have been connected with this group continue to reach out to ministries characterized by a Type A+ approach to ministry. OK—that’s just confusing, and frankly it undermines just about everything you guys say to us when we reach out to men like Dever or MacArthur. It looks like the Type A guys have three choices:
- Go ahead and separate from everyone (which some of you seem to enjoy!). Separate from the A+ guys (which is often right because many of them are not orthodox!). Withhold (or at least undermine) koinonia also from the Type B guys because we have some connection to the Type C guys. So there you are under your juniper tree with Elijah complaining everyone else is worshipping Baal!
- Link up with the A+ guys!
- Consider that perhaps The B/C guys really do love Jesus, His Word, His Church and in fact are co-belligerents with the gospel. (I would recommend option 3!).
One more note. This really isn’t meant to be incendiary, but in case you A guys don’t know, we B and C guys aren’t really worried or even waiting for you to make up your mind. We have a mission and there is an urgency and were moving on. But if you ever want to join us, you can expect a warm and genuine hug from at least one of us.