Lines in the Sand Redux: A Plea to Type A Fundamentalists

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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:

  1. 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!
  2. Link up with the A+ guys!
  3. 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.

[node:bio/joel-tetreau body]

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There are 73 Comments

Steve Newman's picture

Joel,

I appreciate your lucid thinking on taxonomy, but I'm not sure what I think about it.

First of all, there are two types of people, those who put people in categories, and those that don't! Smile

Even if I agree that there is some validity to this, and I think there is some, what is the value in my pushing it? There's no one in my church that I pastor who cares anything about it. I don't really go to conferences, other than that of the fellowship of churches I belong to. Because there is pushing on both sides of this question in the fellowship (by A, or A+ and by B-), it is going to split. And that will be a bad thing. The work of God will suffer because of it. Institutions will fall, and while I'll admit many institutions should be temporary, they will still be missed. 

I'm going to be recommending a year of Christian college for my teenage kids pretty soon. And because of this pushing at fault lines, the effect is going to be that the choice could make a radical difference in how their lives go, for the better or the worse. I can give my viewpoints on things, but I feel like the movement that I desired to follow is being divided in a most unhelpful way. 

I want to move "straight ahead", but I don't know what curves are coming around the corner!

In Christ,

Steve Newman

Joel Tetreau's picture

Steve,

I'm not worried about this  and I don't think you should worry about this. I'm just thinking with you and others "out loud."I'm not sure this is as much a decision as it is a direction (of course I understand a direction means you've made a variety of decisions). Actually I'm sure it's possible to love Christ, honor his Word and end up somewhere "off the Tetreau scale." The two little points were just "add on" thoughts. A response to your response:

1. I can appreciate the context of thinking your way through all of this in regards to your young adults headed to Christian college. I'd encourage you to get their involvement in the decision. You might go ahead and explain the two or three top choices and why you feel that way.

2. I don't think the "abc" distinctions have to result in hard-edged fighting and non-cooperation. IMO too many Type A's (and B's and C's) have turned the differences into that - but I'm with you Steve - doesn't have to be that way. The major purpose behind the various "abc articles" in the beginning was to say 1) We are different but 2) we can have koinonia even with the differences.

Thx for the comments my brother - God bless you as you influence your young adults in this important time in life. Our eldest son is headed off to study at Arizona State University to study engenering. We are aware that he will be headed into a context of serious humanism in his humanity classes. What perhaps is even more important than a Christian College for a year is our involvement as parents, his personal and continued growth in the Word and his continued commitment and body-life in a local church. I'm sure you agree with all of that.

Shalom and Straight Ahead!

jt

Dr. Joel Tetreau serves as Senior Pastor, Southeast Valley Bible Church (sevbc.org); Regional Coordinator for IBL West (iblministry.com), Board Member & friend for several different ministries;

Steve Newman's picture

There are already battle lines being drawn in state fellowships, regional associations, etc.  We are already seeing it in terms of what institutions are getting recommendations, financial support, etc. and what new institutions are coming on the scene and what older institutions may be "reinventing themselves." It is only a matter of time. I don't have any doubt about it.  It will hopefully just involve going the best direction and maintaining a good spirit toward those who don't see eye to eye with me.

Because "the squeaky wheels get the grease", those who make the most noise sometimes get the most attention. 

Glad to hear you are involved with your son's education at a secular college. It is a great mission field for the Christian young person that God calls to it. On the other hand, Christian kids can be completely overrun. I agree the personal walk with God and the involvement of the local church (over the involvement of parachurch campus ministries, though they are well-meaning) are foundational over that time. 

Pastor Steve

Joel Tetreau's picture

Pastor Steve,

Well said.....I like your spirit here. The divisions do come and a question we have to ask ourselves is "which of those divisions are necesary and which ones are not?" As parents and pastors the road here is at least two-fold: 1) We equip so those under our care are encouraged to follow Christ with integrity no matter what comes at them which is anti-Christ. 2) We seek God's wisdom to know when is it right to simply pass on with grace even though we have differences or when is it right to confront unBiblical error or unGodly schism.

Straight Ahead!

Pastor Joel

Dr. Joel Tetreau serves as Senior Pastor, Southeast Valley Bible Church (sevbc.org); Regional Coordinator for IBL West (iblministry.com), Board Member & friend for several different ministries;

Ed Vasicek's picture

Hi Joel,

 

Thanks for your great work with the ABC taxonomy.  Human reason is based upon generalizing.  Loosely held generalizations save a lot of time and energy in discussions.  For example, the extra-biblical term, "Trinity" saves us from redefining the concept every time we refer to the Three Person-0ne God being that we worship.  The word "Bible" saves us from saying, "The 66 book collection of Scriptures, the 39 books of Hebrew Scripture and 27 of Greek Scripture recognized by most Protestantism as their authoritative writings."

 

So I love labels, as long as they are accurate and loosely held, where people or movements are not prematurely labeled or find it impossible for differences or changes to be recognized.  It is how the human mind thinks. And, moreover, it is how God thinks. when he passes sweeping judgments on entire nations, characterizing the entire nation (although there are always people in even a bad nation who are not as evil as the generalization of the nation).  All nouns are labels, if you think about it. No labels, no communication and not much thinking.

 

So I agree that an evangelical taxonomy would be great and a real time-saver for communicating where people and groups stand.

 

Of course I like the 4 personality theory of Hippocrates popularized in the Christian world by Tim LaHaye.  I just don't overdo it.

 

I also agree that godliness supercedes some labels.

"The Midrash Detective"

Dan Miller's picture

Quote:
My man Shayne here will get a T-Shirt that says, "Joel rocks!"

When you hear that Shayne is wearing a T-Shirt that says, "Joel rocks!"...

 

You might be a Type A if you are grieved that Shayne is supporting Joel in his "rocking."

You might be a Type B if you disapprove of Joel's "rocking" but you won't judge Shayne for wearing the shirt.

You might be a Type C if you immediately do a YouTube search hoping to see Joel trying to dance.

Joel Tetreau's picture

Dan,

Your killing me - but I have a smile on my face.

No - no "You tube" of me dancing. I have a commitment to Heaven and Earth. No dancing this side of glory. Why? Well - it's not that I would be sinning to dance - but I would be sinning to dance. Let me explain that another way - you know when you go to the beach it's really wrong for many to dress like the world - with little that is. Then it's even more wrong for others of us to dress with less...but for an entirely different reason! oh my word!

So I'd love to dance - but honestly - I can't! being a baptist minister - My feet just don't work that way. I remember on a trip to Israel the dear Jewish people we're trying to teach me to do this Jewish dance (kind of like our square dancing only cooler)...so they kept on trying to teach me - finally the poor gal said something like "Oh-e-vah" and then with pity in her eyes looked at me and said something like - "Hey American - just clap!"

I'll have to have two new feet in heaven to be able to dance without being an embarrassment to all of creation.

Straight Ahead!

jt

Dr. Joel Tetreau serves as Senior Pastor, Southeast Valley Bible Church (sevbc.org); Regional Coordinator for IBL West (iblministry.com), Board Member & friend for several different ministries;

DavidO's picture

Seems to me to be a thin difference between claiming to be in the healthy remnant vs. the only remnant of fundamentalism.

Joel Tetreau's picture

That's actually a sharp thought you make. Perhaps in many sphere's your axiom would be right. However, if you speak to those that actually believe they are apart of the "only" remnant of fundamentalism compared with we who feel we are a part of a healthy remnant - you will hear a vast difference in the way we define fundamentalism. I think I've already posted a variety of those differences. The biggest one is that the "only" crowd speak of a fundamentalism which is inclusive if not even exclusive - (in other words fundamentalism is us and only us). Most of us who reject that view of fundamentalism believe in a fundamentalism that goes far beyond one single "movement" ... per se. Still that was a sharp and good response and you actually gave me pause. Appreciate your participation here.

Straight Ahead!

jt

Dr. Joel Tetreau serves as Senior Pastor, Southeast Valley Bible Church (sevbc.org); Regional Coordinator for IBL West (iblministry.com), Board Member & friend for several different ministries;

Shaynus's picture

Joel, 

 

I know via Facebook that you were recently in Alexandria VA. I wish we could have metaphorically rocked out together, if only metaphorically. Your posts made me laugh just now when I saw them.

 

Shaynus

Joel Tetreau's picture

Shaynus brother........next time baby!

 

Straight Ahead

 

jt

Dr. Joel Tetreau serves as Senior Pastor, Southeast Valley Bible Church (sevbc.org); Regional Coordinator for IBL West (iblministry.com), Board Member & friend for several different ministries;

Joel Tetreau's picture

So here's another additional explanation to describe the difference between ABC fundamentalists - at least in my mind. This is from January 2013:

Type A - conservative ministries that will essentially only fellowship/cooperate with ministries within the "self-named fundamentalist orbs."

Type B - conservative ministries that will have some fellowship/cooperation with ministries both in and out of the "self-named fundamentalist orbs,"

Type C - conservative ministries that are outside the "self-named fundamentalist orbs" but who also have some fellowship/cooperation with ministries both in and out of the "orb." 

Just a random thought.

Straight Ahead!

jt

Dr. Joel Tetreau serves as Senior Pastor, Southeast Valley Bible Church (sevbc.org); Regional Coordinator for IBL West (iblministry.com), Board Member & friend for several different ministries;

TylerR's picture

Editor

Several years on, this article is as fresh and helpful as ever! Straight ahead! (smile)

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?

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