Much Ado About Something: A New Christian Fundamentalism for 2022

A new fundamentalism has arrived on the scene in the evangelical world. It’s kinda like legacy fundamentalism, but also kinda not. In this video essay, I review components of generic, faithful Christianity, define and give examples of second-stage legacy Baptist fundamentalism, then make some observations of and connections to the 2022 evangelical scene to decribe this “new fundamentalism.”

If you don’t want to watch the video, you can find the notes from my discussion here. They include a bit more nuance than what I managed to convey in the video.

  • 0:00 - 00:45: Introduction
  • 00:45 - 03:57: Generic, bible-believing Christianity. The “Stackhouse hexagon”
  • 03:57 - 11:32: Brief survey of second-stage, “legacy fundamentalism”
  • 11:32 - 14:52: Introducing “fundamentalistic evangelicals”
  • 14:53 - 21:27: Pressures that have created this new fundamentalism
  • 21:28 - 26:07: Hamilton’s “political quadrilateral” and its implications
  • 26:08 - 28:07: The shifted battlespace for fundamentalism compared to 1920
  • 28:08 - 35:56: Observations about this new fundamentalism
  • 35:57 - 43:26: Sketching part of the new fundamentalist landscape
  • 43:27 - 45:23: A “convergence” between elements of legacy fundamentalism and the new?
  • 45:24 - 51:03: Why you should care

For the podcast version of this video, see here. The song “The Proof of Your Love” (by For King & Country) captures my fears about the danger of a militant ethos coloring the Christian faith–where is the love of Christ?

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T Howard's picture

Tyler, in your podcast you assert that fundamentalism and the new fundamentalism both tend to suffer from groupthink and to be "anti-Berean." In other words, there is a tendency to reject new ideas out of hand without listening and searching the Scriptures.

I just finished reading a new book by Travis Dickinson entitled Logic and the Way of Jesus. In it, he discusses the need for Christians to model the intellectual virtue of open-mindedness. Some Christians, Dickinson asserts, are narrowly stuck in their own "plausibility structure." A plausibility structure acts as a filter where certain familiar ideas seem automatically plausible while competing ideas seem automatically implausible. He writes,

Travis Dickinson wrote:
When we are unwilling to evaluate our plausibility structures, to the extent that we are resistant to considering even the possibility of an alternative view, we thereby have a closed mind, and a completely closed mind is an intellectual vice (p. 292).

Dickinson goes on to acknowledge that open-mindedness can be a bad thing if taken to the extreme: "Once we have surveyed and evaluated the most rational views on some matter, we should not stay open-minded any longer" (p. 292).

Overall, however, open-mindedness is a virtue because it is "the willingness to consider the possibility of all views in a sense of honestly considering the evidence presented for a view, even views that strike us as initially implausible" (p. 293).

So, question for you: If an individual or group has honestly considered the evidence presented for egalitarianism, CRT, biblical inerrancy, etc. and still rejects these views do you consider them to be "anti-Berean"? For example, although there are a slew of new books attacking complementarianism (or a strawman of complementarianism) and promoting egalitarianism, most of the arguments presented in these books are not new. They are recycled arguments (historical, theological, and exegetical) that have already been evaluated and addressed by complementarian scholarship. So, when another book is published that basically recycles these same arguments, why is it being "anti-Berean" to summarily reject it?

TylerR's picture

Editor

THoward asks:

So, when another book is published that basically recycles these same arguments, why is it being "anti-Berean" to summarily reject it?

It isn't, necessarily. Only the person can honestly judge whether he is running with the crowd, or following a self-conscious conviction based on reflective study. The confirmation bias aspect of this is sociological, and profound. Everyone you know and everyone you read agree with you ... so you must be right ... right?

One is pro-Berean to the extent he reads the other side, understands its arguments, and comes to an informed conclusion that Scripture supports --- whether or not that conclusion gels with his inherited tradition or incurs the wrath of his peers.

To the extent this DOES NOT happen, one may well be on the road towards personifying one unfortunate aspect of the new fundamentalism.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government.

T Howard's picture

TylerR wrote:
One is pro-Berean to the extent he reads the other side, understands its arguments, and comes to an informed conclusion that Scripture supports --- whether or not that conclusion gels with his inherited tradition or incurs the wrath of his peers.

One of the groups you call out in your podcast are those associated with JMac and Masters Seminary. I would certainly agree that JMac tends to be one of the most "fighting fundamentalist" types within conservative evangelicalism. However, JMac has also been the most contrarian of the big name conservative evangelicals. Whether the issue has been charismatic chaos, Lordship salvation, Mark Driscoll, strange fire, dispensationalism (or "leaky dispensationalism"), or the church's response to COVID, JMac appears to "[read] the other side, [understand] its arguments, and [come] to an informed conclusion that Scripture supports." Further, because of his positions on these issues he certainly has incurred the wrath of his peers.

Now, you and I may certainly disagree with the positions he takes, but I don't think you can argue (based on your own criteria) that he is guilty of groupthink and an "anti-Berean." Or, can you?

You also mention the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. You do recognize that this was not the majority opinion in evangelicalism when it was written, correct? The positions made in the statement were in response to reading and understanding the other side and coming to an informed conclusion that Scripture supports, correct? But, now, it's a product of groupthink and the "anti-Berean" mentality to hold to and affirm this statement?

Perhaps I'm misunderstanding what you said? If so, please forgive me.

TylerR's picture

Editor

I mentioned groupthink (and its frequent corollary, a weaponization of inerrancy) as merely one PRESSURE (not a marker) among several which creates this new fundamentalism, which I defined as the Stackhouse hexagon + militancy (the topic of the militancy varies).

I am less interested in discussing names than I am (1) the definition of, (2) pressures which create, (3) and results of this new fundamentalism, and (4) the apparent convergence (at some level) of disparate elements of legacy fundamentalism with some flavors of the newer, more trans-denominational fundamentalism.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government.

T Howard's picture

Tyler, as I think more about the militant ethos and enumerated pressures which you argue created new fundamentalism, I think it comes down to having a biblical understanding of how to contend for the faith. How does the believer obey the Scripture's commands to contend for the faith (Jude); be alert against wolves (Acts 20); rebuke those who contradict sound doctrine (Tit 1); reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching (2 Tim); warn the disobedient (2 Thes 3; Tit 3); purge the evil person from among you (1 Cor 5); etc. in today's church and society and still be viewed as loving?

I agree that social media is not the best place to have these interactions. Memes, mic drops, and one-liner tweets certainly produce more heat than light. However, I would guess that most people today don't view any form of confrontation as loving. Further, the church is saturated with postmodern beliefs and morality and has become more guided by emotion and feelings than by truth.

So, how does one biblically address important issues of orthodoxy and orthopraxy in the church and in society without being seen as exemplifying the problem within fundamentalism (legacy or new)?

TylerR's picture

Editor

First, I believe the political quadrilateral has shifted the battlespace such that strictly theological concerns are not the only (or perhaps even primary) drivers of the new fundamentalism. See video timestamps for more.

Second, speaking as a Baptist, I recall a scene from "The Sting." Paul Newman is preparing a con game, and flubs his trick card shuffle. Robert Redford, who is also in on the con, stares incredulously and accusingly. Newman's character smirks and says, "Just worry about your end, kid ..."

So, one portion of my answer would be to say my responsibility is the church where I'm at, not the world.

My concern is about a militant ethos infecting one's heart, doctrine, and practice. That is the great spiritual danger. See last timestamp in video.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government.

T Howard's picture

Tyler, first, I appreciate the time you're taking to interact.

Second, faith and politics do overlap. What you describe as "the political quadrilateral" may very well be at heart a theological concern or issue. At least, we should be willing to listen and seek to understand why these individuals frame it as such.

Third, and respectfully, if my only responsibility is to my church, why would I feel the need to write about and speak about this outside of my church?

Fourth, I understand the concern about a militant ethos. I have seen it manifest itself with all sorts of pet doctrines and soap box issues in churches I've attended. When that happened, people assumed the worst about others, did not give the benefit of the doubt, made accusations of compromise, and elevated tertiary issues to matters of orthodoxy. As I'm reflecting on all of this, I keep going back to something Dave Doran preached recently: when contending for the faith, love Jesus more than you love the fight.

TylerR's picture

Editor

Briefly:

  • The "political quadrilateral" is from Hamilton (see footnote on my notes), and I think he is on to something--especially with his descriptor of tribalism as a Christian version of identity, grievance politics. In my video, I show a slide or two of examples (at least one). Some new fundamentalists may frame matters in a theological gloss, but it's worth considering whether theology is really driving their concerns. Marsden remarks that the battlespace has changed because "the enemy" is no longer liberals like Fosdick, but "unelected bureaucrats" at your State capitol. Because this is our way, we instinctively wish to theologize our objections ... but is theology really driving the frustration that produces this militancy? Perhaps in some cases, but likely not all.
  • Only one portion of my answer is to worry primarily about the congregation where I serve. There are other possible answers, but I won't go into them, here.
  • My primary concern is that this new fundamentalism is falling into the same trap as the old--seeming to love the fight more than they love Jesus. However, the controversey is not borne along in 2022 by newsletters or mimeographed bulletins. It's perpetrated by Twitter. One fundamentalist with ties to the fundamentalistic evangelicals (whom I shall not name here) has been slowly learning the dark art of Twitter trolling over the past six months. He has gone from measured, scholarly, infrequent postings to "gotcha" hot takes, and deliberately provocative statements--all designed (wittingly or unwittingly) to attract like-minded theobros and own his "opponents." I suspect this, because his peers have long mastered this dark art and appear to be instructing him more perfectly on this matter. 

The spiritual danger is my concern. Would a normal, reasonable outside observer think you love Jesus, or that you're just a real jerk? We can't confuse the second option with "suffering for righteousness' sake." It's entirely possible you will suffer persecution. It's also entirely possible we're using "contending for the faith" as a pretext to be real jerks. They're not the same thing.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government.

T Howard's picture

TylerR wrote:
My primary concern is that this new fundamentalism is falling into the same trap as the old--seeming to love the fight more than they love Jesus. However, the controversey is not borne along in 2022 by newsletters or mimeographed bulletins. It's perpetrated by Twitter.

 I agree that social media fuels this behavior. The instant feedback (likes, retweets, etc.) is like an addictive drug.

Quote:
It's also entirely possible we're using "contending for the faith" as a pretext to be real jerks. They're not the same thing.

I agree. I acknowledge that I have been a real jerk at times here on SI. It's easy to do. I regret that I've acted this way toward you in the past as well. Tyler, please forgive me.

TylerR's picture

Editor

I've written my share of cruel and unkind comments in the past.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government.

Jay's picture

One is pro-Berean to the extent he reads the other side, understands its arguments, and comes to an informed conclusion that Scripture supports --- whether or not that conclusion gels with his inherited tradition or incurs the wrath of his peers.

As someone who has been in the Conservative Evangelical sphere for a couple of years now, I don't think that many of the anti-social justice people (MacArthur, Strachan, Buck, Ascol, DeYoung, Smothers, CBN, etc) actually understand the arguments.  I think they're like dogs latched on to a bone and refusing to consider different points of view.  There is a reason why so many of these arguments boil down to "you don't believe in inerrancy" regardless of political, social, moral or theological opinions.

Aimee Byrd is the most obvious example of this.  A Presbyterian woman in good standing within the OPC, well known author and podcaster, and theologically sound teacher had no issues at all within the OPC until she challenged the stranglehold of ideas that CBMW has cultivated.  Then she was demonized and driven out by some of her own church leaders and those involved in the Genevan Commons with the full support and endorsement of many, including the leadership of CBMW.

The point isn't to rehash or discuss Aimee.  It's to illustrate that things were fine until someone raised a question, and then everyone lost their minds.  

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

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