A Student’s Thoughts on D. A. Carson

I have been privileged to sit under the teaching ministry of Donald A. Carson during my studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in suburban Chicago. Dr. Carson’s skill as a teacher was one of the reasons I chose to enter the Doctor of Ministry program at Trinity. After two all-day, week-long courses under his tutelage—not to mention attendance at a number of conferences where he was the keynote speaker—I have come to deeply appreciate this unique servant of Christ. Although Dr. Carson is a man who deserves a tremendous amount of respect, I don’t want to merely adulate. What follows are my honest observations.

Dr. Carson is perhaps the most brilliant man I have ever met. I can say by experience that feelings of inadequacy proliferate among his students. He is a gracious man, but not particularly sensitive. I once asked a question in a way he did not appreciate, and he was neither slow nor gentle in letting me know it. He told our class one day, “I do not much care what people think of me.” I suppose he exaggerated, but not much. God has graciously equipped him with the thick skin requisite for those who contend for the glory of God in the arena of intellectual battle. Wearing that thick skin in the classroom, Dr. Carson does not waste much time worrying about how his students feel. He is, however, quite anxious to influence how they think. And for this I will forever remain in his debt.

Like many brilliant men who are also gifted leaders, Dr. Carson can prove less than patient with anyone who lags behind his theological position, as well as with all who move beyond it. Those who lag behind (typically the more conservative) seem to bear the brunt of his sternness; those who run ahead (typically the less conservative) tend to rile his genius. Neither position is very comfortable. Yet Dr. Carson has a well deserved reputation for relating to both his critics and to those he criticizes with fair, accurate, thorough, respectful, level-headed, self-controlled, God-honoring dialogue.

Dr. Carson reads over 500 books per year—you fill in the blanks! In an innocently casual aside I heard him refer to the 300 books he read while researching for one of his books. (I’m hoping no one heard me gasp). Dr. Carson sleeps approximately four hours per night—sometimes less. He has written a book on Greek accents that is unsurpassed in the field (at least I believe this is the case; I’ve seen no evidence to the contrary, and this is one of his books I have decided plans never to read myself, much less to compare against other offerings in the field).

Though Dr. Carson is a top student in science and mathematics, he has a deep appreciation for poetry and is known, in the midst of a lecture, to recite from memory an extended passage from the works of some great poet. One day in class he complained that there simply are not enough theologians writing hymns. I scoffed a bit, wondering what on earth he had done about it. I was duly humbled when I walked into the Trinity book store during a class break only to find a published collection of hymns written by none other than Donald Carson! In the midst of his many endeavors, you will occasionally find him on public television defending the historicity of Jesus and the fidelity of the gospels against America’s most learned antagonists. (And as graciously as I can bring myself to say it, he makes each one look like a monkey in the process).

Despite his obvious acumen, I would have far less interest in Dr. Carson’s teaching if it were not for his earnest desire to shepherd souls. Carson is no ivory-tower theologian. He spends roughly half of every year traveling throughout the world to minister the Word in virtually every imaginable situation and location. He has a particular love for shepherds who minister in difficult places. He faithfully evangelizes at secular universities. He is also an able and sought-after counselor—often recruited to minister to prominent Christian leaders who have ruined their lives and devastated their ministries.

Dr. Carson also possesses a warm, devotional orientation. He is a man of prayer. His faithfulness to the truth of God’s Word is legendary. He has fought many theological battles without compromising his position. When the critics of Scripture start shooting, Carson is the guy Bible believers want in their fox hole. Nonetheless, his zealous defense of the faith does not emit primarily from a passion to engage in theological debate. His zeal flows from a genuine passion to honor his Lord.

Dr. Carson loves to talk. What is so unusual is that almost everything that comes from his mouth exudes wisdom. This wisdom is not always packaged in serious tones, mind you. Carson has a quick wit and routinely takes an almost boyish delight in telling a humorous story. He is a scholar who knows how to laugh.

Dr. Carson was raised in French Canada in a pastor’s home during a stretch of history in which evangelicals there were persecuted. This upbringing profoundly influenced Carson and he speaks of it often—earnestly, sometimes with tears. He saw pastors jailed. He saw the persecution lift. He saw response to the gospel explode in glorious triumph. During these formative years Dr. Carson’s rudder was set to defend the faith against strong opposition.

I do not agree with every theological position Dr. Carson holds, nor with some of the decisions he makes in the outworking of his Christian life. But I have found in him a man of fervent faith, fidelity to Christ, and a man of kindred spirit. I trust his heart and have been profoundly influenced by his mind. He has taught me how to read the Bible. For this I will remain forever grateful.

I have no doubt Dr. Carson’s influence will be felt for generations to come, should the return of Jesus be delayed. I have no doubt Dr. Carson will hear, “Well done good and faithful servant” from his Lord. Knowing what a thrill it has been to study at Dr. Carson’s feet, my heart thrills all the more with the prospect of sitting together with him at the feet of our Master in glory. (I still hope Jesus puts Carson in his place a time or two, though. His former students would enjoy that immensely!)

Editor’s note: D. A. Carson is Research Professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, IL. and author of many articles and books. A few important recent volumes are
Christ and Culture Revisited

,
Evangelicalism: What Is It and Is It Worth Keeping?

, and
Scandalous: The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus (Re:Lit)

. He does not claim to be a Fundamentalist.


Dan Miller has served as the Senior Pastor of Eden Baptist Church since 1989. He graduated from Pillsbury Baptist Bible College with a B.S. degree in 1984 and his graduate degrees include a M.A. in History from Minnesota State University, Mankato, and the M.Div. and Th.M. from Central Baptist Theological Seminary. He is nearing completion of D.Min. studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Dan is married to Beth and the Lord has blessed them with four children: Ethan, Levi, Reed and Whitney.

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There are 26 Comments

R Glenny's picture

Thanks, Dan, for the comments on Carson.

I have benefited from everything I've read from him. That includes the Sonnets, the hymns, the commentaries, and challenges like the Call to Spiritual Reformation. I appreciate the gifted balance of scholar and shepherd. His classes were the highlight of my DMin work at Trinity. May God raise up more gifted and committed servants. May God keep us all faithful.

Richard Glenny

Richard Glenny

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Someone asked why I felt the need to observe that he does not claim to be a fundamentalist. Short answer: just wanted to provide more context for those who might be hearing of him for the first time. It’s important to read and listen to him with the understanding that he is coming from a more mainstream evangelical POV.
That said, he’s been a thorn in the side of a great many evangelicals because his commitment is to the Scriptures as he understands them, not to evangelical fashion. So he’s a conservative evangelical to be sure and continues to be a very valuable force.

I personally benefited greatly from Exegetical Fallacies . It was a life changer in many ways for me and I hope to use it in the future in teaching opportunity that may open up.

Anyway, as for D.A., I’d love to see him embrace Fundamentalism, but regardless, may his tribe increase.

Ed Vasicek's picture

Dan, Thanks for this insight into one of the greatest evangelical scholars of all time.
Carson is truly an amazing man of God, a David-type who stands up to the Goliaths.

The only bad point, however, is that he makes the rest of us look bad!

"The Midrash Detective"

Joel Tetreau's picture

For the three of you who care,

I would see Carson as a classical Type C Fundamentalist! 4 years ago I postulated three "types" (or moods) of fundamentalist/fundamentalism that historically stem from the original batch of fundamentalism in the early 1900's.

Type A would be fundamentalists that care the most about the "movement." They see fundamentalism as a noun ("It is what we are, or who we are"). To them you are either a fundamentalist or you are a newevangelical. Nothing in between. For most here, separation is "all or nothing." Type A's will not have co-ministry with conservative, militant evangelicals....because they don't see separation as the Type A does. This makes the conservative evangelical not just different but disobedient in their eyes. Secondary issues such as music genre, worship style, polity are often placed as a "first level issue" right along core doctrine such as the fundamentals. In my view the FBF would be a group that has represented this approach (in fairness that may be changing with new leadership but that is the FBF I remember from the 80's and 90's). This group has had a kind of a George Patton approach to militancy.

Type B would be fundamentalists that see fundamentalism as an adjective. It describes a portion of what they are. We would not be as loyal to the movement as our Type A friends would be. For us, separation is not "all or nothing." Unity and separation is to a large degree connected with the type of agreement/disagreement one has. Differences are not viewed as being automatically "disobedient." Type B's could have some co-ministry with some conservative, militant evangelicals. In my view the GARBC has been a group that has represented this approach. This group has had more of a George Washington approach to militancy.

Type C's would be conservative, militant evangelicals. Think Dever and MacArthur-ish. Fundamentalism to these guys is an action verb because they actually do "stuff" with their fundamentalism. That is they actually contend in a context (larger evangelicalism) where the gospel is threatened to one degree or another. I suppose in one sense that makes these guys the closest type of fundamentalism to the original group. Now see the Type A's don't like that statement....but I stand by it! These "C-guys" contend from the inside of groups such as the NEA, SBC, CBA, etc....In my view groups like FIRE represent well the spirit of this approach.

So....the reason I believe all three groups can historically and legitimately be viewed as part of the "Fundamentalist Family Tree" is that the original group were committed to two major ideas: 1) Orthodoxy 2) Militancy. The original group contained both "stay in and fight" types as well as "fight from the outside" types. These two groups while different respected and even had occasions of co-ministry. After the development of New evangelicalism (late 40's throughout the 50's), Fundamentalism for the most part determined that militancy should be expressed with a certain approach to secondary separation. I believe that was the right decision then and the wrong decision now. Why? It was right then because evangelicalism in the main was demonstrating a consistent "non-discernment" about Billy Graham Ecumenicalism. Why is wrong now? It's wrong now because a growing majority within conservative evangelical circles are going militant. That is they are admitting that Billy Graham type of Ecumenicalism was wrong and the separatist approach to ecumenicalism was right. (Parenthetical Thought - Many of these guys are new to ecclesiastical separation so at first it's a bit messy. Most of the Type A's will not venture a relationship with these guys until they act and look like them. More of us will be quicker to reach out and encourage them in the direction they are headed). So once again, just as we had in the 20's and 30's, we have a growing group of evangelicals who are contending earnestly and militantly from the inside of groups for the gospel. The differences between A - B and C are enough that it would be difficult to have a continual close working relationship. But the differences are not enough to warrant total separation from each other.

I said all of that to say, Carson (in my view) is a Type C fundamentalist. He's in the club! Well, He's at least in God's club. The one that matters.

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;

tlange's picture

Except for one sentence that bothered me..

" He is a gracious man, but not particularly sensitive. I once asked a question in a way he did not appreciate, and he was neither slow nor gentle in letting me know it. He told our class one day, “I do not much care what people think of me.”

How does this attitude reflect what the Scriptures say in 2 Timothy 2:24 (NKJV)

"And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient,"

Just curious?

I guess when you are an evangelical bigshot, you can act however you please and you are given a free pass....

Joel Tetreau's picture

I'm sure Brother Carson has not gotten a free pass. What happens at this level of leadership is that you get nailed no matter what you say. If you are unfairly "dinged" and respond with any emotion then you are "quarrelsome." Even if you've not tried to respond in a wrong way, if you disagree with a student or even another leader, someone will read something malicious into that. That comes with leadership and I'm sure after a few decades D.A. has just determined to move on. Probably not a bad way to go. I'm sure he cares about people.....but I understand that last part: "I do not care what people think of me." Frankly if you don't have at least some of that approach, you might go nuts trying to please everybody. Frankly in my own ministry I used to spend too much time trying to keep everyone happy. I've given that up over the last few years. It's been wonderful!

Staight 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;

tlange's picture

Joel,

I understand what you are saying. Reading that account reminded me of a story told by one of my current professors who was soundly rebuked by another well-known professor for asking a question. It was a turn-off and that account that I quoted reminded me of it. I am definitely not an advocate of being a people pleaser, but I think that there is room for being a Christian gentleman and being gracious and kind to those whom you are tasked with the responsibility of teaching. I think these situations strike a nerve with me because I have seen this happen all too often within Fundamentalism.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Joel, you may well be correct about "type C" if the short definition is something like "someone who believes in the fundamentals of the faith and believes in fighting for them, but hasn't really identified with the fund. movement." I'm not sure he'd want to be classed as anything with the word "fundamentalist" in it though. Maybe I'll get a chance to ask him one of these days.
...not that it really matters all that much. But it would be interesting.

Joel Tetreau's picture

Hey you guys are both right!

I understand the nerve hit when leaders are not careful about response.

I would also agree that even though I call guys like Carson A Type C, they themselves would not claim the movement.

Straight Ahead guys!

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;

Charlie's picture

Joel, this is partially in jest, but I think your definition of type C amounts to, "Someone I wish were in my group." In other words, the cool kid in school. I think D.A. Carson is a type C Reformed.

My Blog: http://dearreaderblog.com

Cor meum tibi offero Domine prompte et sincere. ~ John Calvin

Ed Vasicek's picture

I love the way Joel thinks. Words -- like fundamentalist, for example -- have certain meanings at certain points of time. When we study the NT Greek, for example, we want to look at the koine' Greek of the first century, not modern Greek, for our definitions.

Whether we call Carson a type-C fundamentalist, a militant conservative evangelical, or Charlie's jestful "type C Reformed," Carson is what he is. Thus, it boils down to how we define the term "fundamentalist." Although Carson would not label himself as such (and I perosnally do or do not, depending upon who I am talking to -- and Charlie probably is the same way), but by the "agreed upon" SI definition of fundamentalist, Carson IS a fundamentalist, whether he likes the term or not.

If you recall your church history, Gregory the Great is considered the first pope, but refused the title.

This is why I love Joel's A-B-C classification. It does the job. And who else fits the "type C" category better than Carson?

"The Midrash Detective"

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Quote:
who else fits...
Maybe you, Ed? Not "better," but I'll bet Joel would put you on the cool kid I'd like to have in my group list. Wink

As an aside, some folks have expressed great irritation to me (and in other forums) about the whole business of classifying people. But it's one of those things where if you find it useful and don't mean to impugn, why not classify? And some of us just sort of enjoy it. Not like "I enjoy slapping a derogatory sticker on you" but we enjoy the analysis. So... to those who find it tedious, it's OK, just ignore us and let us have our fun (we're not trying to hurt anybody).

Charlie's picture

The nice thing about the type C label is that no matter how much the so-labeled may deny it, his or her denial is, by definition, irrelevant. Smile

Welcome Ed Vasicek and Aaron Blumer, type-C Reformed. Joel T. has elders at his church and some kind of inter-church fellowship, so he is now officially type-C Presbyterian.

(I'm thinking this type-C thing is functionally similar to an honorary degree.)

My Blog: http://dearreaderblog.com

Cor meum tibi offero Domine prompte et sincere. ~ John Calvin

Brian Jo's picture

Charlie wrote:
The nice thing about the type C label is that no matter how much the so-labeled may deny it, his or her denial is, by definition, irrelevant. Smile

Welcome Ed Vasicek and Aaron Blumer, type-C Reformed. Joel T. has elders at his church and some kind of inter-church fellowship, so he is now officially type-C Presbyterian.

(I'm thinking this type-C thing is functionally similar to an honorary degree.)

What would you call me, then? Smile

Ed Vasicek's picture

Charlie wrote:
Brian Jo wrote:

What would you call me, then? Smile

The uneasy Baptist.

That sounds like a good title for a movie!

"The Midrash Detective"

Brian Jo's picture

Ed Vasicek wrote:
Charlie wrote:
Brian Jo wrote:

What would you call me, then? Smile

The uneasy Baptist.

That sounds like a good title for a movie!

I was thinking a blog or a monthly publication of some sort, but a movie works too.

Ed Vasicek's picture

Charlie wrote:
The nice thing about the type C label is that no matter how much the so-labeled may deny it, his or her denial is, by definition, irrelevant. Smile

Welcome Ed Vasicek and Aaron Blumer, type-C Reformed. Joel T. has elders at his church and some kind of inter-church fellowship, so he is now officially type-C Presbyterian.

(I'm thinking this type-C thing is functionally similar to an honorary degree.)

I think this is the greatest compliment, to be called a type-C Reformed. I'll take the label with joy! Thanks, Charlie.

"The Midrash Detective"

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Since I'm deeply unreformed on several points, I think I can't claim it for myself, though. It would sully the term... I'm too dispensational and anabaptistic. And probably more of type B (even type A on some things), too. Just for the record.

Charlie's picture

Aaron, I understand. I was just calling you a cool kid.

On a more serious note, I am deeply dissatisfied with this Type-C terminology, (except for you Ed). The idea that every good Christian must really down deep be a Fundamentalist, whether he knows it or not, undermines the reality of Fundamentalism as a historically conditioned British-American phenomenon anchored in particular social and intellectual distinctives. I think if someone would bother to ask D.A. Carson why he does not call himself a Fundamentalist, his reasons would illuminate the very real divide. What Joel's taxonomy shows is that a Fundamentalist has awoken to the realization that there are people outside of "Fundamentalism" who are contending for the faith, and quite skillfully. Unfortunately, it also shows that Joel does not realize that "contending for the faith" is not the sole defining characteristic of Fundamentalism; at least, no social or intellectual historian would define it so.

I'd also like to add that the more minimalist the definition of Fundamentalism, the less suitable it is to be used by anybody as a primary identifier. That's why the SI "idea of Fundamentalism" is just as defunct as "movement Fundamentalism." By calling yourself someone who "believes in the Fundamentals of the faith and is willing to fight for them," you are saying almost nothing. So, Mark Driscoll is a Type-C Fundamentalist. Norman Geisler is a Type-C Fundamentalist. Tim Keller is a type-C Fundamentalist. In a twist of irony, Fundamentalism has ceased to be a word distinguishing a group from evangelicalism, and has instead become synonymous with its more conservative elements.

The move back to "historic Fundamentalism" sets one up for failure. There is no reason why some of these new "historic Fundamentalists" won't go through the same crisis that really happened in the 1950's; one wing of the group thinks the other wing is compromising too much and needs to form a new movement.

So, "Fundamentalism" doesn't inform me as to my doctrine, except in a few points. It can't define my polity. It doesn't model for me a praxis. Any person or church who relies on "Fundamentalism" as a primary identifier is leaning on a broken reed of a staff, to use a biblical image. The idea is simply too "thin" to support the weight of your Christianity, as is the term evangelical. I would like to see people who currently think of themselves as Fundamentalist or evangelical relabel themselves with weightier, fuller names. Words like "Baptist," understood in a historical, confessional sense can support the weight of identification. Then, following Mike Horton's suggestion, we can stop viewing evangelicalism (and I will add Fundamentalism) as a big tent, and start viewing it as a common green. So, there are no fundamentalists; there are no evangelicals. There are Baptists, and Presbyterians, and charismatics, etc. who leave their villages and come meet with each other on the common green - without leaving their identity behind.

My Blog: http://dearreaderblog.com

Cor meum tibi offero Domine prompte et sincere. ~ John Calvin

Ed Vasicek's picture

Dear Charlie,

When you talk about a word defined in the Bible, you can pinpoint its meaning at the time of writing. With a word that is not defined in the Bible nor anchored to one point in time, you have to take into account that the meaning of that word varies over time.

The term "fundamentalism" was at first a broader term that included conservative Reformed, Baptist, Presbyterian, and Methodists who advocated the fundamentals and were willing to put teeth to their beliefs. J. I. Packer wrote a book, "Fundamentalism and the Word of God," thus including himself in the term! Yet he was part of the United Church of Canada. That's how broad the term was!

Then the term narrowed. In many areas, it narrowed so much that it became synonymous with the Jack Hyles "Sword of the Lord" crowd -- and no one else. In other areas, it was the Bob Jones crowd (secondary separatists). This is why I pitched the word "fundamentalist" when describing myself, because those viewpoints do not reflect mine; yet I always advocated and used the phrase, "I hold to the fundamentals of the faith." And I always believed in separating from apostasy and heresy. And I did so at personal cost.

Charlie wrote:

Quote:
By calling yourself someone who "believes in the Fundamentals of the faith and is willing to fight for them," you are saying almost nothing. So, Mark Driscoll is a Type-C Fundamentalist. Norman Geisler is a Type-C Fundamentalist. Tim Keller is a type-C Fundamentalist. In a twist of irony, Fundamentalism has ceased to be a word distinguishing a group from evangelicalism, and has instead become synonymous with its more conservative elements.

I like SI's definition, because it reclaims an earlier (pre-Sword of the Lord takeover) version of fundamentalism. Charlie, I disagree that one is not saying much It is saying a lot. It is saying that the fundamentals are a priority over polity, praxis, etc. By making the fundamentals the basis for fellowship (and this is my opinion as to the original viewpoint of fundamentalism), we are acknowledging our fellow fundamentalists as true servants of God, though we may disagree on secondary points. The distinction between primary points (the fundamentals) and secondary points (truth that is not among the fundamentals) results in our distinctive denominations and fellowships (and, I believe, should). The fundamentals, on the other hand, unite us in very broad ministry. Thus we are saying that some truths are more crucial than others, and that it is these truths that unite us. That is a potent proclamation.

So "fundamental" was and should return to being a broader term -- but it will not do so (don't worry about that). The type A fundamentalists have so colored the word that this is what people like Carson and most of evangelicalism view as "fundamentalism." They won't touch the name.

So, in the end, Charlie's viewpoint has won the popular definition game. In the evangelical world, type "A's" are the definition of fundamentalists. It is only on a forum like SI that a return to the original concept of fundamentalism is (somewhat) popular.

I think Joel's distinctions are accurate from the broader, original meaning of fundamentalist (a meaning, I believe, SI's doctrinal statement captures beautifully). But must a fundamentalist descend from a movement, or can one become a fundamentalist just from discovering and obeying God's Word? If one may develop into a fundamentalist purely from Scripture, then all the baggage of the past is not that relevant. If one may not become a fundamentalist apart from the heritage of a movement, then fundamentalism is nothing more than the tradition of men. Am I crazy, or what? I mean, "Am I crazy in this regard." In other realms, I already know the answer!

"The Midrash Detective"

Pastor Joe Roof's picture

Charlie wrote:
The idea is simply too "thin" to support the weight of your Christianity, as is the term evangelical. I would like to see people who currently think of themselves as Fundamentalist or evangelical relabel themselves with weightier, fuller names. Words like "Baptist," understood in a historical, confessional sense can support the weight of identification.

Charlie, I am not sure the word "Baptist" has that much magic to it, at least in this neck of the woods. The Baptist Church down the road from here has a lesbian minister with a liberal agenda.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Charlie,
I think you have some valid points but as I read the history, it sort of depends on how far back you go. For example, to use K.Bauder's recent history in Nick of Time, the "proto fundamentalists" were just conservative evangelicals slowly awakening to the infiltration of Liberalism, though yes, dispensationalism and Keswick thinking was a strong undercurrent. But it was fairly diverse, as having guys like Machen in the mix shows.
So, in a way, the "Type C" idea--if I understand it right--is something like "what fundamentalists were before they starting calling themselves fundamentalists... or had just begun starting to call themselves fundamentalists." Which would be pretty similar to the "idea of fundamentalism" concept, I think.

I think we're all agreed though that the essence is more important than the nomenclature, and we rejoice to see leaders who adhere to the fundamentals and are willing to fight for and--at least in some sense--separate over them. For my part, they can call themselves "The League of Florescent Striped Lamas" if they like and I'll still consider them "pert near the same thing I am."

Edit: If I understand Ed right, our views on the history would overlap a good bit, thought probably not quite the same.

Charlie's picture

I am speaking of how an individual, a church, or an organization conceives its identity. Whatever primary identifier someone chooses must be one with a good bit of depth, a sufficient amount of substance to guide doctrine, polity, and praxis. If that identifier doesn't serve that purpose, then whoever uses it is simply blowing in the wind. A good example of this is Fuller Seminary trying to be "evangelical." What did that word really mean, though? No one knew, and that was one factor in Fuller's move away from some of the positions upon which it was founded. The same problem bedevils calling oneself a Fundamentalist. What does fighting for the Fundamentals entail? There is no theoretical reason why a Fundamentalist church couldn't become a charismatic cell-group association incorporating elements of Eastern Orthodox liturgy into their services. They could still do that and "fight for the Fundamentals of the faith." Because Fundamentalism as an idea is so minimalist, so thin, people who adhere to Fundamentalism as a primary identifier really have no points of orientation other than their accumulated social forces.

Now, contrast that with confessional Lutheranism or Presbyterianism. These systems provide just that, complete coherent systems of faith. They each share a body of doctrine that dictates a polity that is capable of promoting a praxis, and they can keep all three elements aligned. Now, someone can of course reject these systems as being unbiblical, but they will at least know what they are rejecting. It's explicit. "Lutheran" and "Presbyterian," when understood in a confessional sense, are capable of being primary identifiers. They will bear that weight. I can reject Lutheran polity. I cannot reject Fundamentalist polity, because there is no such thing, except as an accident of history. I can embrace the Presbyterian doctrine of salvation. I cannot embrace the Fundamentalist doctrine of salvation, but there is no such thing - there are Fundamentalists ranging from Calvinist to Pelagian and neither of those extremes has the right to claim to be the "true" Fundamentalist position.

So, my claim is that people ought not to use Fundamentalist as a primary identifier. They ought to have some such identifier that can truly distinguish their beliefs. Then, they can in appropriate contexts add "Fundamental" to that as an adjective, describing a certain ecclesiastical stance they take. The problem is not being a Fundamentalist. The problem is acting or believing that Fundamentalism is sufficient on its own to be meaningful. It, like its sister evangelicalism, is too thin to provide a necessary basis for perpetuation. Confessional Baptists, Lutherans, and Presbyterians will automatically be "fundamentalists" in the SI sense, but they will be so much more. Those who try to be "just Fundamentalists" will end up like those who try to be "just evangelicals," shallow and spiritually impoverished.

My Blog: http://dearreaderblog.com

Cor meum tibi offero Domine prompte et sincere. ~ John Calvin

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

As a primary identifier... I think I'd agree. I'd claim "Christian" as primary, "Baptist" second (which makes 'protestant' unnecessary), then some other stuff including fundamentalist.
But don't you think you're overstating things a teeny bit here...

Quote:
There is no theoretical reason why a Fundamentalist church couldn't become a charismatic cell-group association incorporating elements of Eastern Orthodox liturgy into their services. They could still do that and "fight for the Fundamentals of the faith."

Unless the "fundamental" in "fundamentalism" means nothing, there would be lots of theoretical reasons why several of those things would be incompatible with the name.

Joel Tetreau's picture

Charlie,

I like your passion bro! Great discussion. I'm not sure that you are that far away from what I'm saying. I actually don't have a problem with your "Village Green" concept. Furthermore the early fundamentalists didn't either. As a matter of fact if you read the various interactions of the 20's - 30's and such, these guys primary identity was closer in line with your approach here - A kind of confessionalism (as you say Lutheran, Calvin, Baptist). And yet there were times when they were able to be part of a broader identity - Fundamentalism was a tool to suggest a coalition with Truth vis-a-vis modernistic &/or liberal-istic Protestantism. Why can't we both be right here.....We can have our cake and eat it too! Actually a variety of social historians outside and inside fundamentalism have agreed with my 2 prong definition of historic fundamentalism - that is 1) Orthodoxy and 2) Militancy. To answer a early question, no in my Taxonomy I'm not giving a "Type C" to every evangelical Tom, Dick or Harry. You have to earn it by being militant with other evangelicals, non-believers, Romanists and even rogue cultic Baptist Types (A+ - Ruckmanism and such). There is no way to avoid the crises of the 50's. As I read church history, every conservative movement had times of doctrinal and self-identity "soul searching." I don't have a problem with your being hesitant about being "tagged" primarily with the fundamentalist label. I actually agree that "that" isn't sufficient or even desirable (which is one of the differences IMO between my understanding of Type A, B and C). I also agree about the helpfulness to add other "descripts" for clarity sake. I would disagree with you and say that IMO it is a stretch to confine all those who only fly the fundamentalists flag as "shallow or spiritually impoverished." I understand your disagreement with that approach, but there are/were some solid leaders and great men of God who have rallied around the "fundamentalist cause" as a trams-denominational movement. This is what has characterized some good men in groups like the ACCC. Those men have not denied or given up their denominational identity. They simply understand a "larger" cause then even the various denominational distinctives. You make a charge that fundamentalism by itself is not meaningful. Fundamentalism is never by itself. It always has a context. There was a cause in the early days - Clarity and Authority of the Gospel and the Scriptures in the face of a liberal modernity. There is a cause today - Clarity and Authority of the Gospel and the Scriptures in the face of a pluralistic postmodernity. Sooooo as Ed pointed out, The Type A's in the past have so captured the term, Type C's like Carson, Mac, Dever, et al. are afraid to touch it. The more Type A's, B's and C's live out a healthy fundamentalism, the more militant evangelicals will consider the validity to fundamentalism vis-a-vis evangelicalism (especially as evangelicalism continues it's by theological cancer). I'm prayerful that Type B's will so demonstrate a healthy Biblical Christianity that the Type C's will continue their march away from evangelicalism and closer to a balanced fundamentalism. Some Type A's (I call them A-) are secretly hopeful about the Dever's and Mac's but they will not openly welcome them.....We B's are welcoming them. I'm using a megaphone!

Straight Ahead Charlie!

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;

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