Now, About Those Differences, Part Sixteen

NickImageThe entire “Now About Those Differences” series is available here.


No study of the relationship between fundamentalism and conservative evangelicalism would be complete without a discussion of separation. Since 1947 at the latest, the doctrine and practice of separation has been the single factor that has most distinguished fundamentalists from other evangelicals. For that reason alone, we need to ask whether separation is also a difference between fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals.

How we answer this question is going to depend upon how we define both fundamentalism and conservative evangelicalism. Solidifying those definitions is a more complicated business than an outsider might assume. From a secular or theologically liberal point of view, anyone who treats Scripture as normative and authoritative is a fundamentalist—up to and often including the Evangelical Left. At the opposite extreme is the following resolution, passed by the Fundamental Baptist Fellowship in 1979:

The Fundamental Baptist Fellowship recognizes the danger of the movement known as pseudo-fundamentalism, sees it as new evangelicalism in embryonic form, and calls upon all local Bible-believing churches to reject pseudo-fundamental activities as those of the Jerry Falwell ministries.

Strengthened versions of this statement were adopted by the FBF for several years. Other fundamentalists have made even more extreme pronouncements. The result is an odd situation. Liberals often see evangelicals as fundamentalists, while some fundamentalists have accused other fundamentalists of being incipient or actual neo-evangelicals.

Of course, Falwell and his sympathizers objected to being called “pseudo” anything. They insisted that they represented true, “historic” fundamentalism, tracing their pedigree to the authors of The Fundamentals. They took the position that one became a fundamentalist simply by affirming the fundamentals. According to this revision, historic fundamentalists believed in separation from unbelievers and apostates, but rarely or never from other believers.

The word “revision” is deliberate. On the one hand, Falwell’s reading of fundamentalist history was flawed. On the other hand, those who opposed Falwell were sometimes guilty of misreading that history themselves.

Omitting the last twenty years, the history of fundamentalism can be organized in three stages. The first stage begins with the emergence of fundamentalism as a self-identified movement in 1920. In the wake of the First World War, orthodox Christians became suddenly and acutely aware that theological liberals had gained positions of power within their denominations. Many attempted to thwart the influence of liberalism by organizing a protest movement. Their goal was to see liberals leave the mainstream denominations.

Some organizations, like the World’s Christian Fundamentals Association (1919), capitalized on the extra-denominational network that had been erected during the preceding fifty years. Others tried to work within the denominations—the Fundamentalist Fellowship of the Northern Baptist Convention (founded 1920) is an example. Whether denominational or not, however, the spirit of the first fundamentalists was captured in the original definition, given by Curtis Lee Laws when he coined the term: “We suggest that those who still cling to the great fundamentals, and who mean to do battle royal for the fundamentals, shall be called ‘Fundamentalists.’”

In other words, fundamentalism was always about more than belief in the fundamentals. It was about doing battle for the fundamentals, an attitude that came to be called militancy. The battle that the original fundamentalists envisioned was doctrinal and intellectual, but it was more than that. It was ecclesiastical. The original fundamentalists were determined to end their ecclesiastical connection (which they saw as a form of fellowship) with theological liberals. In other words, from the very beginning, fundamentalism was about separation.

At first, the fundamentalists hoped that the liberals would leave the Christian denominations peacefully and quietly (a hope that, in retrospect, seems astonishingly naïve). Later, the fundamentalists attempted to purge liberal influences from their denominations by expelling the liberals. Failing in that, the fundamentalists themselves severed contact with the liberals by leaving the denominations. In all three forms, however, fundamentalism was about separation, i.e., ecclesiastical non-cooperation with apostasy.

One of the greatest errors that these early fundamentalists made was to assume that everyone who was orthodox (i.e., everyone who believed the fundamentals) shared the fundamentalist agenda. This mistake proved fatal. Liberals, who were never in the majority, managed to control the denominations by forging friendships and alliances with some who were orthodox. The orthodox comprised Bible believers who, for whatever reason, found more to fear in the fundamentalists than they did in the liberals. They were willing to make peace with liberalism and to extend Christian fellowship to liberals. Their indifference to the fundamentals and, indeed, to the gospel itself (a fundamental is only fundamental because of its connection to the gospel) led J. Gresham Machen to label this party the “Indifferentists.”

When the fundamentalists walked out of their denominations during the 1930s and 1940s, the Indifferentists either stayed in or left reluctantly. They resented the fact that the fundamentalists were forcing them to choose between orthodoxy and successful ecclesiastical careers. They yearned for the respect and recognition of the ecclesiastical and scholarly mainstream.

Indifferentism erupted into a new movement in 1947. Coincidentally, it opened the second chapter in fundamentalist history. This movement called itself the “new evangelicalism.”

While initially strict in its orthodoxy, the new evangelicalism deliberately repudiated separatism. Led by a constellation of evangelical luminaries, the neo-evangelicals adopted the policy of tolerating liberals wherever they already existed, cooperating with liberals in ecclesiastical endeavors, and infiltrating organizations that had been given up to liberal control. This policy was formally articulated by such notables as Harold John Ockenga and Edward John Carnell.

The new evangelicalism came to dominate the National Association of Evangelicals (founded in 1942). Its flagship institution was Fuller Theological Seminary (founded in 1947). For a decade, fundamentalists and neo-evangelicals lived in considerable tension. That tension erupted into open hostility during the preparations for Billy Graham’s New York City crusade (1957).

From the late 1950s onward, Graham became the popular leader of the new evangelicalism. He sought liberal sponsorship for his crusades. He put liberal churchmen on his platforms and asked them to pray. He sent converts into liberal churches. He did these things deliberately and defended them publicly.

Continued Next Week

A Hymn upon St. John’s Day
Jeremy Taylor (1613-1667)

This day
We sing
The friend of our eternal King,
Who in his bosome lay,
And kept the Keys
Of his profound and glorious Mysteries:
Which to the world dispensed by his hand,
Made it stand
Fix’d in amazement to behold that light
Which came
From the Throne of the Lamb,
To invite
Our wretched eyes (which nothing else could see
But fire, and sword, hunger and miserie)
To anticipate by their ravish’d sight
The beauty of Celestial delight.
Mysterious God, regard me when I pray:
And when this load of clay
Shall fall away,
O let thy gracious hand conduct me up,
Where on the Lambs rich viands I may sup:
And in this last Supper I
May with thy friend in thy sweet bosome lie
For ever in Eternity.

[node:bio/kevin-t-bauder body]

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There are 11 Comments

Steve Newman's picture

I think what Kevin has written is pretty accurate, and that the pointing out of some of the basic issues, such as militancy and indifference, are helpful in the present context. I'm interested to hear more of where this is going. Of course, developments since the times spoken of complicate the issues, but I'm interested to see how we keep "an eye on the ball" from past times amd keep in the historical flow of separatist fundamentalism and how that works out today.

Paul Matzko's picture

Dr. Bauder,

Most of your summary is accurate. I would suggest a revision. Fundamentalists did not always voluntarily leave their denominations once they realized their inability to force out theological liberals. For example, Gresham Machen made every attempt to remain in the PCUSA. He even tried to have his memberships transferred from the modernist-friendly New Brunswick Presbytery to the fundamentalist-friendly Philadelphia Presbytery in order to avoid the pending ecclesiastical trial. Through a bit of clever parliamentary manuevering, the modernists prevented Machen's transfer, held the trial, and kicked Machen out of the denomination. The point of this example is to note that some fundamentalists tried to remain in the denominations. So there is not as clear a division between those who chose to remain in the denominations and those who left as you are portraying.

Secondly, during the 1930s and 40s there was a period of cooperation and unity between groups we now think of as fundamentalist and new evangelical. Bob Jones Sr. was a member (and President elect) of the National Association of Evangelicals during the 1940s. Charles Fuller, Billy Graham, Bob Jones, and a host of other leaders participated in IVF youth rallies during and after WWII. While fundamentalists and new evangelicals had a parting of the way in the mid- to late 1950s, we shouldn't obscure the interconnectedness of the two movements for the two decades prior.

Thanks for your series,


Don Johnson's picture

Paul, you would do well to read ]Cornelius Van Til: Reformed Apologist and Churchman . Of course, this is a biography of Van Til, but you will see that neither he nor Machen thought of themselves as fundamentalists. They kept their distance.

Also, there were not two movements in the 30s and 40s. It is anachronistic to suggest there were. Circumstances changed things.

So your 'correctives' of Bauder need correcting.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Paul Matzko's picture


I think you misread my intentions. I intended to show - as you put it - that "there were not two [distinct ] movements in the 30s and 40s." My language ("during the 1930s and 40s there was a period of cooperation and unity between groups we now think of as fundamentalist and new evangelical") was intended to show that fundamentalists and new evangelicals were not truly distinct from one another prior to the 1950s. I am not completely sure how to express it more clearly.

There are few books that I wouldn't do well to read. As to Machen's self-imposed distance from fundamentalism, you are correct in a narrow sense. Machen did not like the label fundamentalism because he associated it with dispensational premillennialism. But he grudgingly allowed the label if fundamentalist was defined as opposition over against naturalism. Also, while Machen did not enjoy the label, he certainly made common cause with fundamentalists in the battles over control of Princeton Seminary and the PCUSA. He also mentored the young Carl McIntire.

Indeed, Machen is fascinating precisely because he embodies both later movements in his person. He has been claimed by both fundamentalists and new evangelicals as a predecessor. This is true precisely because fundamentalism and new evangelicalism were not distinct movements until two decades after Machen's death.

Aaron Blumer's picture


Marsden seems to think Machen was a fundamentalist. And I don't have a copy handy, but I suspect D. Beale would claim that also in Pursuit of Purity. Maybe somebody can look that up.

George Marsden in Fundamentalism and American Culture, p.5 wrote:

This [broader national ] movement included William Jennings Bryan, J. Gresham Machen, and Billy Sunday, in addition to millenarian organizers such as William Bell Riley, Frank Norris and John Roach Stratton.

George Marsden in Fundamentalism and American Culture, p.174 wrote:

Although Machen maintained cordial relations with many premillennialists and revivalists, he was not typical of fundamentalists in a number of ways (the best known was his opposition to prohibition), and was sometimes uncomfortable with the title of the movement for which he was a leading spokesman.

Reading his views on culture and intellect, though, it sounds to me like he might better fit in the category of today's "conservative evangelical."

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.

Pastor Dan Henwood's picture

I pulled out my copy of In Pursuit of Purity. Here's what Dr. Beale wrote:
"Furthermore, J. Gresham Machen (1881-1937) and his orthodox Princeton colleagues disliked the label 'Fundamentalist.' Yet they would become, in effect, some of twentieth-century Fundamentalism's ablest leaders, cooperating with premillennialists against a common enemy; and they would do so in the face of severe criticism from both liberals and tolerant conservatives within their own denomination."

Don Johnson's picture

Paul Matzko wrote:
I think you misread my intentions. I intended to show - as you put it - that "there were not two [distinct ] movements in the 30s and 40s." My language ("during the 1930s and 40s there was a period of cooperation and unity between groups we now think of as fundamentalist and new evangelical") was intended to show that fundamentalists and new evangelicals were not truly distinct from one another prior to the 1950s. I am not completely sure how to express it more clearly.

Paul, re-reading Bauder's post and your post, I think we are all saying the same thing, although I think Bauder's wording may be unclear as to the beginning of New Evangelicalism. There were some rumblings about the New Evangelicalism in the late 40s, see Fuller Seminary, and... what about Christianity Today? I don't have access to data at the moment, don't know exactly when it was founded.

I was objecting to language that seemed to say there were two different groups in the 30s and 40s who were getting along. That wasn't really the case. There was a whole group of believers, many of whom had come out of the mainline denominations who were loosely referred to as Fundamentalists and as Evangelicals, the terms were virtually synonymous. Some (like Machen) didn't want the Fundamentalist label, but we had no divisions as such, formal or informal, prior to the Graham-led compromises of the 50s.

I suspect Bauder will clear some of this up in next week's post.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Paul Matzko's picture

Don, I do think we are in agreement on the matter. My goal was to emphasize that the division between those who voluntarily left the denominations and those who did so reluctantly cannot be used as direct corollaries for who would later become fundamentalists and evangelicals, something implied by Bauder. Things were much messier than that.

I used Machen as an example because he did not leave voluntarily, but he certainly wasn't an indifferentist. There are a host of other examples. Bob Jones Sr. did not leave the Southern Methodists until relatively late, and even then he did so reluctantly under pressure from his son Bob Jones Jr. Like I mentioned before, Sr. and Jr. - prominent members of twentieth century fundamentalism - were once leading members of what would become the flagship new evangelical organization, the NAE.

All that to say, drawing clear lines between fundamentalists and new evangelicals prior to the 1950s is an exercise in fiction. I thought Bauder's presentation was too neat in that respect.

Kevin T. Bauder's picture


Thanks for the interaction. While your observations about Machen are strictly accurate, they are incomplete and may consequently be a bit misleading. Machen was defrocked and expelled from the PCUSA. That was merely the final separation, however. He had already separated (and rather dramatically) from Princeton Seminary, where he marched out with banners waving. He had also separated quite publicly from the foreign mission board of the PCUSA to found the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions.

It was this last act that earned him the ire of the PCUSA, and his refusal to disband the IBPFM was what got him expelled. He knew in advance what was going to happened and actually planned on it happening. He knowingly left the PCUSA with one choice: either deal with liberalism or else expel him. It is not correct to say that his separation was not voluntary.

On Machen's view, a church (in this case, the PCUSA) was apostate when its councils were controlled by apostates. He taught that under those circumstances, God's people are morally obligated to leave their churches and to organize new fellowships. He remained in the PCUSA only as long as he thought that orthodoxy had a fighting chance against liberalism. He had nothing but contempt for evangelicals (Erdman, Stevens) who were willing to extend Christian recognition to liberals. He never intended to remain in a permanent state of liaison with them.

All he had to do to avoid expulsion was to dissolve the IBPFM--in other words, to abandon his separatist stance. That is precisely what he refused to do.

As for whether it is possible to draw a direct line from Machen's opponents (the indifferentists) to the neo-evangelicals, you don't have to take my word for it. The one to make that connection was Cornelius Van Til, who, as it happens, knew something about Machen. There was not an identifiable new evangelical movement until after 1947, just as there was not an identifiable Fundamentalist movement before 1920. Fundamentalism emerged on the Right of the old Proto-Fundamentalism, while, at a later date, neo-evangelicalism emerged on the Left of the older movement. It was the parent movement that actually held together and, for a while, kept Fundamentalists and neo-evangelicals in contact with one another. But Van Til insisted that the tactics of Billy Graham (e.g.) were Indifferentism redux.

Was Machen a Fundamentalist? He had two reasons for feeling uneasy with the term. The first was that he was committed to the whole Reformed system of faith, not just to the Fundamentals. He displayed this commitment as soon as he began to organize the Presbyterian Church of America. He insisted upon its strict adherence to Reformed faith and order, even if that meant disbanding the (self-contradictorily) INDEPENDENT Board of PRESBYTERIAN Foreign Missions. That's one element in his conflict with McIntire.

Machen's second reason can by found by reading his early essay on Christianity and culture (1912?). He valued culture, which he understood primarily in terms of high culture (philosophy, arts, letters, etc.). In the essay he explicitly rejects the populist and revivalistic versions of Christianity. And Fundamentalists were nothing if not populist and revivalistic. This, too, played into his conflict with McIntire.

He later became distressed over dispensationalism, though not necessarily with premillennialism. Wooley was premil, and so was Griffiths (his friend and ecclesiastical lawyer at his trial for insubordination). Between John Murray and R. B. Kuiper, however, such a furor was stirred up over dispensationalism that premillennialism was dragged into the argument. Buswell tried to moderate the argument, but was never really heard by those whose minds were already made up. This was the third element in Machen's conflict with McIntire.

Before any of the conflict could be resolved, Machen was dead of pneumonia in North Dakota. Griffiths had fallen into adultery and should have been disciplined, but Machen protected him on condition that he get out of ministry. McIntire, however, offered Griffiths a way back in, on condition that Griffiths lead that charge against Machen. It was one of the worst betrayals in ecclesiastical history, and it ousted Machen from his position in the IBPFM.

Shortly before Machen's death, Griffiths wrote to him asking for money (it was the Depression, remember). It seems that McIntire was not following through on his promise to pay Griffiths. Machen sent him some hundreds of dollars--a princely sum in those days! But Machen also told him that their friendship, which had been based on their common vision, was over. Griffiths must never appeal to Machen again. Machen mailed the letter and left for North Dakota. His heart and will were broken.

Machen articulated a sophisticated theory of ecclesiastical fellowship and separation, but he did not invent that theory. The theory was elaborated in detail by Charles Hodge and the other (A. A. Hodge, B. B. Warfield, C. W. Hodge) Princeton theologians. Precursors of it can be found in Turretin and, ultimately, in Calvin himself. It is worth the exploration.

Sorry for the ramble. It's been years since I did much with Machen. It's fun to talk about.


Jay's picture

I love this history stuff...the story about Machen really helps me visualize and understand the early Fundamentalist dynamic so much better. Could you do some more of it in the "Nick" Series whenever you finish the "Differences" series?

Or maybe you can arm-wrestle some of the Historians at Central to do some for us?

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin 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

Paul Matzko's picture


You obviously have a deep knowledge of Machen's life and work. I was unaware of the deal between Griffiths and McIntire, though having some familiarity with McIntire's later ministry, I can't say that I'm overly surprised. Not paying employees became rather a habit for him.

What I wanted to convey through Machen was that "coming out" of the denominations was not a uniform experience for fundamentalists. Some left their denominations earlier than others. It's possible, I suppose, that Machen may have, as you said, "never intended to remain in a permanent state of liaison with them [modernists ]." But at the time of his ecclesiastical trial he showed every intention of wanting to remain in at least a little while longer. Otherwise, why try to avoid prosecution by changing presbyteries?

In comparison to Machen, many fundamentalists put up with a whole lot less and got out a whole lot sooner.

I do have to admit that I'm a Machen-phile. I admire his intellectual chops, theological rigor, and his libertarian political philosophy. John Frame wrote that great article "Machen's Warrior Children," but he ignored Machen's fundamentalist children, including Allan MacRae and Carl McIntire. Kevin, perhaps we can call you Machen's Grandchild. (-;


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