Toward a Positive Agenda for Young Fundamentalists

Being up to my ears in SharperIron.org doesn’t qualify me to speak for Young Fundamentalists or try to prescribe an agenda for them. A scan of my bona fides doesn’t reveal anything that would especially commend me for the job either. But I do care, so I offer here some thoughts on a question that is on some minds these days (examples here, here, and also to a degree here). The question is this: what should Young Fundamentalists* be doing?

The challenges

It’s a great question and we’re deep into the right season for asking it. The fact that a large number of younger Fundamentalists have different emphases, attitudes and aims than many of the older generation is now no longer in doubt. And the steady (and apparently still increasing) disappearance of many young leaders from the Fundamentalist grid is also no longer shocking news. Younger leaders who want to keep identifying with “Fundamentalism” in some sense are interested in what shape that might take. Those who want to keep YFs from “jumping ship” are interested in what reasons can be found to make them stay on board.

An exciting, attractive and unifying agenda for the YFs would seem to be just the thing. But some pretty big challenges face those who aim to develop this agenda.

1. The era of productive self-criticism is just about past

Of course, the time never comes when believers or ministries—or even movements—no longer need to reflect, face weaknesses and errors honestly and seek to correct them. But the time when Fundamentalists were unable or unwilling to identify major flaws in the movement is behind us, and the work of identifying Fundamentalism’s root problems has been thoroughly undertaken not only by numerous amateurs, but also by men with a great deal of learning and skill behind their efforts. A few examples in no particular order:

Arguably, the turning point was Doug MacLachlan’s 1993 publication of . In the wake of that act of courage, increasing numbers of Fundamentalist leaders were willing to stand up and say “we’ve been wrong” in reference to various attitudes and practices.

Kevin Bauder’s analysis of the deeper philosophical and theological undercurrents of the Fundamentalist movement (“Fundamentalism: Whence? Where? Whither?”) delves into some negative influences in the movement previously unexamined by Fundamentalists. But that series of essays will reach its conclusion relatively soon, and it’s hard to imagine what ills could be left to uncover after that. We’ve about done all the diagnostics (if you see the movement as alive) or postmortem analyses (if you see it as dead) that one sick body—or corpse—can sustain.

I can almost hear some objecting, “But there are still so many Fundamentalists who are so messed up—most of them! Surely, they need to honestly face the diseases in the movement!” Yes. But the key word there is “they.” It’s increasingly apparent to me that just about every Fundamentalist who is willing to face Fundamentalism’s flaws has already done so, and that the rest are not listening, and probably never will.

One thing is for sure. Whatever a YF is exactly, he is not a Fundamentalist who is unwilling to criticize Fundamentalism.

The result is that a lasting YF agenda cannot consist entirely—or even mainly—of enumerating the errors that characterized Fundamentalism’s past and which continue only in its non-YF present. Unless more YFs are truly in a position to influence the rest of the movement (or its decaying fragments), they will be rehashing old complaints and preaching them to the choir.

But, on second thought, does the era of productive Fundamentalist self criticism have to be over? What if YFs begin an era where the self-criticism is truly self-criticism. That is, what if YFs aimed to identify and correct the weaknesses of YFs? (There are some signs of willingness to do this. For example, Christian Markle’s recent article.)

2. Positive expressions of purpose often lack uniqueness

YFs who are working on an agenda for the future have not been purely negative. They have also labored to identify positive aims worthy of Fundamentalist’s energies. Several of the “Standpoint Declarations” express positive goals.

Furthermore, affirmations of the centrality of the gospel and the task of communicating it are frequently identified as today’s battlefront. And who can argue with that?

The fight to uphold the gospel is indeed the highest and best agenda any of us could embrace (though some of us would prefer to frame it strongly in a “glory of God” context). But as a positive agenda for YFs, this, too falls short. How so? Because we are talking about an agenda for Fundamentalists as distinct from others. The fight for the pure gospel of grace is precisely the same agenda as that of T4G and the Gospel Coalition (and, for that reason, their efforts are worthy of respect and cause for rejoicing). But if the YF agenda is identical to that of an existing conservative evangelical agenda, why not simply join these efforts and the drop the “F” from YF? (On these points, see also Chris Anderson’s “Fundamentalist Deja Vu.”)

The goal of greater unity with conservative evangelicals suffers from a variation of this problem as well. In addition to the fact that the evangelical right is not particularly interested in ties with Fundamentalists, it’s unclear how forming such ties (or working toward them) could serve as a rallying point for sustaining a Fundamentalist identity. Though, arguably, a more nuanced practice of separation could result in some increased cooperation while not—in itself—erasing the distinct identity of the Fundamentalists involved, this greater unity cannot provide young Fundamentalists with any long-term reason to remain Fundamentalists.

3. What’s left is not very cool

So we come to the question of what’s left. If the self-critical work cannot provide a sustainable YF agenda, and the positive gospel-centered and unity goals are shared by most evangelicals, what is left for YFs to work together to accomplish as Fundamentalists?

There are almost certainly additional possibilities I am not yet seeing, but two possibilities suggest themselves immediately. I fear they are not likely to be to be embraced by many YFs, though. Perhaps I give them (“us”?) too little credit. I would sincerely love to be able to apologize for that.

Two items YFs could add to what conservative evangelicals are already pursuing are these:

  1. Compassionate, but thorough and unembarrassed separatism
  2. Thoughtful, but aggressive and unembarrassed application of Scripture to cultural issues

That neither of these are strengths of the current conservative evangelicalism shouldn’t require much proving. Though a few exceptions are noteworthy (C. J. Mahaney’s book , for example), evangelicals have generally not given a great deal of attention to what it means to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts and live soberly, righteously and godly in this present age. And evangelicals of all stripes continue to show a noticeable gravitation toward the cool and an amazing quickness to embrace the latest trendy gimmick.

The Fundamentalist movement of my childhood was often reactionary and arbitrary about cultural issues. I’m not talking about returning to (or clinging to) that. But the solution to that problem is not to affirm that Jesus is Lord of all life then declare—in teaching or just by neglect—that in entertainment, fashion, speech patterns and the like, anything goes. Perhaps the most valuable thing Fundamentalists can add to the goals of conservative evangelicalism is a prophetic voice in the areas of holy living (as an example of what I’m talking about, see Bixby, “Phil Johnson on Worldliness… Hmmm”) and separatism.

Replacing authoritarian leadership with biblically authoritative leadership is certainly an excellent goal. Promoting faithful exposition in our pulpits is as well. Certainly, we need a strong emphasis on the gracious, transforming, inner work of the Spirit in believers’ lives. And yes, we need to wisely discern the difference between comfortable customs and biblical mandates and to work together better where Scripture allows and wisdom commends. But a YF agenda that has any reason to exist as something Fundamentalist must find unique emphases that speak to our times in ways that others are not speaking.

Notes

*For the purposes of this article, “young Fundamentalists” are those who still identify with Fundamentalism in some way but want to see what remains of the movement go in a new direction. For the most part, they are middle aged or younger. Most emphasize that more love and unity and better handling of Scripture are desperately needed. Some interesting links on the subject from a few years ago: Mark Perry (2005), Ben Wright on Convergence (2005), Colin Hansen (2007).


Aaron Blumer, SI’s site publisher, is a native of lower Michigan and a graduate of Bob Jones University (Greenville, SC) and Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Plymouth, MN). He, his wife, and their two children live in a small town in western Wisconsin, where he has pastored Grace Baptist Church (Boyceville, WI) since 2000. Prior to serving as a pastor, Aaron taught school in Stone Mountain, Georgia, and served in customer service and technical support for Unisys Corporation (Eagan, MN). He enjoys science fiction, music, and dabbling in software development.
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There are 21 Comments

timbdavis's picture

It would seem that a proper starting place for the YF's positive agenda is to go back to their roots. What is the reason for the existence for the older fundamentalism that seems so easily criticized and disdained? In the midst of all of the discussions concerning the ills of older fundamentalism (and I'm not denying that those exist) that many YF have no historical appreciation for the battles that the older fundamentalists fought on behalf of the truth of God. While the Lord has always chosen to use flawed men (save of Lord, of course), the flaws of the men of the past do not invalidate biblical principles those men taught and lived by. Every great movement of God in the advancement of truth has employed flawed men who have been willing to stand firm on the truth at a particular (or many) point(s) (e.g., Luther, Calvin, Edwards, Spurgeon to name just a few outside the fundamentalist debate). Because God chooses to use flawed individuals there will always be areas that need correction and are open to criticism, but YF should not throw out the history because because of the flawed men God has chosen to use in the preservation of truth. Were it not for the "unloving," "division causing," "topical preaching," "authoritarian" men who were willing to articulate, practice, and defend the Scriptural doctrine of separation in days gone by we would have no significant truth to concern ourselves with today (and this is not a argument for being unloving, divisive, authoritarian, and especially not topical). Where is the truth in the softer, gentler, engagement New Evangelicalism of years past (e.g., Fuller Seminary)? We should listen to the laments of the older New Evangelicals concerning the bankruptcy of truth in their movement and thank God for the men of the past who have, despite all of their flaws, been willing to stand for God's truth. Where is a place for the YF to start? We could start by expressing as much appreciation for our older fundamentalist leaders as we do pointing out their failures. We can certainly learn from their flaws, but are we willing to learn from their sacrifices and fidelity as well? YF would do well to spend time studying and honoring those who have passed the fundamentalist label to us. This would be a good place to start, lest our softer, loving, unity, anti-authoritarian focus lead the YF to be the NNE (New New-Evangelical).
Tim Davis

Charlie's picture

I see no reason to believe that there will ever be "an" agenda for Fundamentalists of any kind. Simply put, you can't build a whole theology, philosophy, and praxis from your stance on separation. Think of it this way. If Josh Harris and Covenant Life Church were to announce officially a stance on ecclesiastical separation that sounds just like BJU's, would BJU be comfortable with Harris? Not likely. Or, what about Rick Warren? Or R.C. Sproul? Or N.T. Wright?

At the end of the day, people united over a view of separation is just silly. It's far too insubstantial a cause to serve as a primary identifier. So, there can be Dispensational Baptist Fundamentalists, but they're drawing their theology and practice far more from their Baptist and Dispensationalist convictions than from their "fundamentalism."

[Hyperbole ] To me, the whole idea of contemporary Fundamentalism is sort of like me going around and finding all the people who are dichotomists rather than trichotomists. Then, I start gathering all the dichotomists together and having conferences. We start naming our churches "Independent Dichotomist Baptist Church" and joining the "Dichotomist Bible Fellowship." We grumble at the hyper-Calvinists and the Semi-Pelagians, but try to remain civil, because, after all, we're all committed dichotomists and that's what's really important. The big issue, though, is what to do with the dichotomists who are talking to the trichotomists. How much talking is ok? Some seem to think that the trichotomists are really saying pretty much the same thing as we are, it sort of looks and sounds different. They're the Type-C dichotomists. [/Hyperbole ]

OK, so the doctrine of separation is probably a little closer to the top than dichotomy/trichotomy, but I don't see it as being nearly enough to name a movement for. When it meant, "Not liberal," yes, it made sense. When it means, "Not conservative evangelical," the distinguishing factor starts to look insignificant.

So I hope there are Reformed people who hold solid doctrine of separation, and I hope there are Baptists and Dispensationalists and free churches and whatever else. I just think that people need to consider what doctrine is really important to them and label themselves appropriately. I would much rather walk into a conference where everyone is united about the nature of saving faith than into one where everyone is united about separation.

My Blog: http://dearreaderblog.com

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

Jay's picture

Aaron, good article. I think I agree with just about everything there.

Charlie wrote:
I just think that people need to consider what doctrine is really important to them and label themselves appropriately. I would much rather walk into a conference where everyone is united about the nature of saving faith than into one where everyone is united about separation.

Charlie, that's well said.

I think that one of the root causes of the 'fracturing' of the 'movement' was that everyone paid homage to separation, yet they weren't agreed on all it's nooks and crannies. When they couldn't agree, the importance of 'separating' trumped anything else and it tore itself apart. That's kind of why I wrote that piece on unity a couple years ago.

"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

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Charlie... I don't think I disagree that there will always be multiple agendas to some extent. The question I'm wrestling with right now is what overlap there can be and how large... if there is something that can give the movement renewed reason to exist and renewed focus and unifying force. The alternative is a completely non-movement future in which people and ministries who believe in Fundamentalist principles and practices each apply them as the need arises with no visible coherence with others who are doing the same.
But it seems to me that as long as there actually is an idea of Fundamentalism (followed by action) there will be benefits in networking and gathering for solidarity.
I don't see why the movement should die if the ideas live.
(Edit: though, arguably, "movement" is no longer precisely the right word)

Charlie wrote:
I see no reason to believe that there will ever be "an" agenda for Fundamentalists of any kind. Simply put, you can't build a whole theology, philosophy, and praxis from your stance on separation. Think of it this way. If Josh Harris and Covenant Life Church were to announce officially a stance on ecclesiastical separation that sounds just like BJU's, would BJU be comfortable with Harris? Not likely. Or, what about Rick Warren? Or R.C. Sproul? Or N.T. Wright?.

What you're missing here is that separation doesn't stand alone. It's separation from something and the something derives from Scripture. So if Josh, Rick, RC, NT and the rest were to truly embrace separatism and practice it, they would have to be using Scripture as the standard and would invariably move closer to those who are trying to do the same thing (though never reaching total agreement on absolutely everything, of course). So whenever people passionately pursue the faith and strive for purity, a real unity develops, regardless of what is going on officially or outwardly.

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.

Paul J. Scharf's picture

Aaron,

Very thought-provoking article. I have no "global" answers for the questions you raise. The biggest thought that comes to my mind as I read it, however, relates to this statement:

"But the time when Fundamentalists were unable or unwilling to identify major flaws in the movement is behind us, and the work of identifying Fundamentalism’s root problems has been thoroughly undertaken..."

Not sure on that one. It's been only 20 years since major elements of the Fundamentalist movement were willing to overlook, if not actively cover-up and cooperate with, some fairly egregious and scandalous material. What I have seen happen in the last 10 years or so is some institutions changing their ways in some of these regards, if for no other reason than they had no choice but to adapt.

But is a fresh, new positive agenda springing up hither and yon under the face of "Young Fundamentalism?" Not in my experience. I see many fundamentalists my age and younger abandoning the movment altogether (as you allude to) once they graduate from said institutions -- usually moving in one of two directions: Reformed theology or whatever-the-latest-trend-is-at-the-moment. I am not excited about either of those two options.

I would love to be part of a fresh, new, positive YF-type movement, and certainly there are some places where the ground is laid for that more than others. On the whole, however, in the average little "country church" (a term which I do not use with a positive connotation), there remains a tremendous amount of work to be done before that type of thing could really take hold. In the meantime, I will invest my theological energies in areas of greatest concern -- dispensationalism, creationism, etc. -- and will do all I can to help those are truly interested in Truth.

As an aside, I listened to a new GTY CD this weekend by MacArthur and Johnson on apostasy. I thought it would be a bummer...boy was I wrong! It was a wonderful, energizing reminder of the power of Scripture and the need for the believer to be part of a positive spiritual environment. I would commend it to all as an example of the type of thinking which needs to be woven into any kind of new "YF" movement.

Church Ministries Representative, serving in the Midwest, for The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry 

TOvermiller's picture

Regarding YF self-criticism: this is something anyone who is young (whatever that means) and considers themselves a fundamentalist needs to seriously consider. Without an accurate diagnosis and healthy awareness of our own needs, we will not ever find a real solution (until the next generation criticizes us :)). As clarification, self-criticism should not be introspective. But just as David transparently asked the Lord to search his heart, so we should ask the Holy Spirit to shine light on our own failures and needs. This is the pathway that leads to God's demonstration of grace in our lives (Jam. 4:6-10), something that fundamentalism desperately needs, especially us young guys.

You said, "Two items YFs could add to what conservative evangelicals are already pursuing are these, 1) compassionate, but thorough and unembarrassed separatism and 2) thoughtful, but aggressive and unembarrassed application of Scripture to cultural issues." I heartily agree with both of these points. As the call for a declarative gospel voice increases, both of these points should increase to the same degree. The re-emergence of "unity over the gospel" message sounds an awfully lot like the beginnings of the New Evangelical movement. That message alone does not seem to be very durable.

Genuine separation, definite application of Scripture to cultural issues, and the access of God's grace is definitely the need of the hour. Thank you for this article.

Thomas Overmiller
Pastor | StudyGodsWord.com
Blog & Podcast | ShepherdThoughts.com

WilliamD's picture

Separation and it's practical consistant application in all areas of life is so difficult to get everyone to agree on, that it by nature has to spiral down to what the hysteric fundamentalists have made it to be. They are the only ones who are consistent in their separation. They separate from everyone and everything that is in disagreement with what they think is essential, which is everything! Other than first degree separation which is clear enough, the rest of how we apply it will have to be taken with grace toward one another and we all know how gracious fundamentalists are! That leaves us almost in a position of no difference between us and Conservative Ev's, which I predict will be what YF's will end up becoming anyway. All that will be left of Fundamentalism will be the great majority of wackos on the far right and a few balanced guys who will not have the influence to make Fundamentalism of any significance as we would like to make it.

I ultimately see YF's defecting to Conservative Evangelicalism and fundamentalism going down in smoke.
I hope I'm wrong.

Anne Sokol's picture

is it possible that YFs can dialog about separation in a way that one can express why s/he separated from so-and-so and on what levels (personal, organizational, etc), and still be OK that another YF who's in a different situation and hasn't separated from so-and-so in the same way? maybe more of that kind of dialog is what's needed? I"m not sure that separation can necesarily be a one-rule-for-all kind of thing. I can give examples if needed Biggrin

Joseph Leavell's picture

Hi Aaron,

Good questions and considerations in this article. This is been a subject that has been close to my heart. As a 28 year old YF pastor, I've been around long enough to know what I DON'T want to be or be a part. That being the case, my exposure to what I DO want to be has been very isolated and I'm not sure what to do about it. I've not left fundamentalism as of yet, but frankly I think there are many of us who are left only because we don't know of a good Biblical alternative. Using myself as an example: I'm baptistic in my beliefs and polity, but am frustrated with how IFB churches are defining themselves in ways I believe to be unScriptural, and being defined by others as radical (some accusations being legitimate). I'm fundamental in my doctrine, but my loyalty is to Christ - not a movement or a label. I have a high priority on God honoring worship, but am not convinced that the answer is found in my hymnbook alone or in the piano and organ. I believe respectful to God is a Biblical principle but believe that often a suit and dressing up on Sunday often works more towards pride than worship. I believe in preaching from a formal translation, but believe the era of the KJV (a great translation for its day) should be over. I see great Biblical need for preaching but still don't understand the Biblical reason why we have a massive pulpit and an "altar." I see the Biblical mandate to reach the lost, but don't see the mandate to win them to my traditional culture. I see the need to obey Scripture's command to be separate from the world, but do not see the command to be isolated from culture either. I see a great need for Biblical literacy and education, but wonder why many of us are loyal to a 7:00 Wednesday prayer meeting when hardly anyone comes and seen many who are pretty well opposed to small groups (this is quickly changing-I know small groups isn't as big of a deal anymore). I'm a 4 point Calvinist, but am sickened by the venom of both sides towards one another and the loyalty to the label of Calvinism. I am not into entertainment in worship but I love technology and would love to integrate it more into our services. I could go on...

You've read enough from others to know that I'm not alone in a lot of these points. Do you see the dilema for YF's? Where do we go? What do we do? Do we have the freedom in our Fundamentalist churches that we're beginning to pastor to address these issues when the people have been taught for generations to hold to traditions is being loyal to Scripture? How many would walk out if the pulpit was gone the next Sunday? Are our ideas welcome or are we seen as a threat? I have so many more questions than answers - typical for a YF, I know. Smile What I do know though is that I have personally experienced much resistance to these concerns and thoughts on multiple fronts, none of which have been for Biblical reasons but have been sourced in tradition and logic.

I believe that there is at least one thing that us YF's need to consider. One of our "beefs" has been (at least mine) that Fundamentalism has been by and large defined not by what we stand FOR but what we stand AGAINST. That being the case, us YF's need to be careful not to fall into the same trap and be defined by following Christ, standing up for truth, and sharing the Gospel. I think many YF's are being defined as those who are AGAINST traditional Fundamentalism and separating over this issue. It's not that we're FOR something, it's that we're discontent with the errors of what we know and are seeking other places that do not have those same errors (even though our new friends may have a host of others) where we have the freedom to express our ideas. Isn't that the same thing that we were upset with an older generation for doing - leaving a movement or a denomination and being defined by being "we're not those other guys" rather than "for Christ." We need to be careful not to be "we're not those old time Fundamentalists" and work on BEING a faithful follower of Jesus and have His imprint on our lives be our definition, not just that we're AGAINST something.

That being the case, I would also encourage YF's to state their grievances yes, but then move on in what Christ would have you to do. I've seen a lot of embittered fundamentalists at the errors/people/denominations that they separated from. I've seen much ungraciousness and venom directed towards erring bretheren, but brethren none the less. In some cases, I've been given many accusations against even conservative evangelicals (like they're all about entertainment, they don't preach with any depth, etc) and have since found those accusations to be in error. However, I would encourage us YFs to be gracious and to not be bitter against those whom we disagree and speak the truth in love. I don't want to see YF's lose their zeal for Christ and Scripture because of bitterness.

Thanks again for your post Aaron!

Todd Wood's picture

With so much in America seemingly becoming more dark, loving light will not be taken for granted or be considered boring. The light of Christ will shine so vivid and so beautiful in the famine. And this is what we want to shine with piercing brilliance - not us, our plans, our dreams, our organizing, and anything else.

And it will happen.

Yes. These new decades in this new millennium in America carry incredible opportunities for upcoming young men who will be the Timothy and the Titus for Paul. And pure Gospel grace will be their trainer as they live their lives for the glory of the three-Personed God of all.

Aaron, thanks for the article and refreshing my mind on all these past links.

Charlie's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:
Charlie... I don't think I disagree that there will always be multiple agendas to some extent. The question I'm wrestling with right now is what overlap there can be and how large... if there is something that can give the movement renewed reason to exist and renewed focus and unifying force. The alternative is a completely non-movement future in which people and ministries who believe in Fundamentalist principles and practices each apply them as the need arises with no visible coherence with others who are doing the same.
But it seems to me that as long as there actually is an idea of Fundamentalism (followed by action) there will be benefits in networking and gathering for solidarity.
I don't see why the movement should die if the ideas live.
(Edit: though, arguably, "movement" is no longer precisely the right word)

Here's a great point for discussion. I do think that there should be networking, and perhaps there can be some organization, but the issue needs to move to the periphery. For example, I am all for church planting. I think individuals should talk about church planting. I think churches should work toward church planting. I think church planters should network and hold conferences and help train each other and all kinds of stuff. However, I've never seen a church sign that reads, "Church-planting Bible Church." I've never met a pastor who identified himself as an "Independent Church-Planting Baptist." I've never asked someone what kind of Christian they are and heard the answer, "Church-Planting."

So, church planting does not currently serve as a primary identifier. My argument is that neither should Fundamentalist. It does not communicate substantial enough information to serve in that capacity. You should be a fundamentalist in the way that you are a church planter or an expository preacher - it contributes to your Christian identity but doesn't describe or circumscribe it. You may go to an expository preaching conference, but I doubt you see the people assembled there as "the movement."

To my way of thinking, this is similar to what Bauder is talking about. For the last several years, the thrust of his critique is that Fundamentalism's lowest common denominator approach to unity is unsuccessful. Rather, a significant amount of theological critical mass is necessary to drive unity, cooperation, and purpose. The KJVO wing of fundamentalism is struggling with this. As much as they might agree about this one issue and rant and rave about it, two pastors who share a conviction concerning the KJV can nevertheless have totally different perspectives on Christianity, ministry, and worship. The KJV issue cannot be "the tie that binds."

I think you would be interested in what is going on in the conservative Reformed world right now. I think the NAPARC denominations are a few years ahead of where YF's are right now. They realize that they want to be a dynamic movement, and that dynamism comes only from shared core values. Now, we are in the process of shaping the vision of NAPARC's future as a confederation of confessionally Reformed churches. I believe you would find Recovering the Reformed Confession by R. Scott Clark very stimulating. It might be considered the Reformed analogue to Reclaiming Authentic Fundamentalism.

My Blog: http://dearreaderblog.com

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

Mike Durning's picture

Thanks, Aaron, for this balanced article, written with such a great attitude! As one of the contributing members of the Standpoint Conference group, I can tell you that much of our discussion has been about how to make our discussion positive – especially to avoid making our discussion groups at the conference mere gossip sessions. We want to build, not tear down.
___

Regarding Separation as a movement-maker…
I do agree to some extent with Charlie. Separation is important, but it’s not enough to base an entire movement on. In fact, this underlying weakness is probably why the movement degenerated into what it did for awhile. Garrison Keillor has a quote about Separatism…something about it being like a dog in the chicken coup. Once we get a taste in our mouths for being the only ones who are right, we’re just no good anymore.

It’s not that I’m not a separatist. I just think it shouldn’t be in the driver’s seat. Unity is the default position among true New Testament believers. Separation is the sad exception, always done mournfully, with a view toward repentance. It’s a last resort. Last resorts can’t be the basis for a movement – at least not one that is intended to last.

Aaron says Charlie is missing the point, but he’s on to something here. Most of the reasonable Fundamentalists seem concerned that the Fundamentalist idea that must live on, regardless of what happens to the movement, is separatism. But separatism is only meaningful as it is inter-relates with other ideas.

Regarding “the time when Fundamentalists were unable or unwilling to identify major flaws in the movement is behind us”…
I agree self-criticism is happening. I agree that it cannot be stopped. I agree that some leaders have surrendered to the inevitable. I’m not sure “willing” is the right word for some of them.

The big change that brought this self-criticism to the forefront was the internet. People can now communicate other than at their alma mater’s reunions, and anybody with a good point can communicate it to thousands, whether they are a “big name” or not. The impact of this “leveling” of the discussion has been, on the whole, healthy.

timbdavis wrote:
In the midst of all of the discussions concerning the ills of older fundamentalism (and I'm not denying that those exist) that many YF have no historical appreciation for the battles that the older fundamentalists fought on behalf of the truth of God.

I would argue that it depends on the battle. The war against Theological Liberalism is much appreciated by the YF’s that I know. If you’re talking about the war against slacks on women, well, there’s a bit of ambivalence.

Perhaps this is why many YF’s relate more with historic Fundamentalists than with the more recent vintage movement loyalists.

Ron Bean's picture

I suppose I'm old enough to be a father to a lot of you "kids", but I'm not so old that I can't learn and as I've followed interactions on SI and listened to my sons who are both YF's, some thoughts on my own experience come to mind.

I spent my teen years in old fundamentalism but the Lord didn't save me until I was in my late 20's. That was 30 years ago and I was introduced and indoctrinated to the same fundamentalism that put the burr under the saddle of the YF's. Separation was the primary doctrine that was taught and the list of issues, practices and people that "we" were to be separated from was immense and a person's fundamentalism was judged by his level of separation.

Thankfully, I wound up attending a church where I learned that separation "from" was not the whole story. Separation is also "to" Christ and it's purpose is not to achieve some Pharisaical level of personal purity but to be become closer to our Savior.

20 years ago, I was introduced to John MacArthur and appreciated his Christ exalting preaching and practical writing. It was preaching that built me up instead of beating me up. It was writing that addressed matters from a Biblical perspective. (BTW, a simple exchange of letters between him and me settled the "blood" issue.)

In the ensuing years, I've waited and prayed for fundamentalism to stop preaching on issues and start exalting Christ. I've waited and prayed for them to write in a manner that could be understood. Thankfully, I'm beginning to see it happen.

That being said, I'd like to close with a few words for you "young whippersnappers". Be patient with the older generation, some of them will listen and they're not all like the characters that are usually in the fundy spot light. Don't be afraid of showing some passion when you preach (I'm not talking emotion, shouting or wheezing.). Preaching is not just an exercise in academics--you gotta have heart! Finally, exalt Christ in everything you do. It's all about Him!

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

Aaron Blumer's picture

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Charlie: about primary identifiers, I don't think "Fundamentalist" has to be anybody's primary identifier for there to be a movement future (and obviously a non-movement future would not rquire that either). That is, I think most YFs and quite a few OFs too would view any kind of "Fundies getting together as Fundies" as a means to an end, not an end in itself. So it would be "something I do as I believe the Lord might use it for His purposes," those purposes being bigger things than movements and labels.
So... yes, there are still folks around who want to try to develop a "loyalty to Fundamentalism" etc., but the healthy currents in the movement have probably always sort of rolled their eyes a bit at that. Fundamentalism can't be about Fundamentalism and continue to have anybody involved with a biblical sense of priorities.
So... all that to say I don't think we disagree on that. (I actually have heard some guys identify themselves as "church planting Baptists" though)

Mike D.... you mentioned that separation doesn't have any meaning without reference to other truths. Absolutely agree. But, again, sensible Fundamentalists (and even most senseless ones) have always thought so. Separation for separation's sake was just about what all that was trickling down sometimes when I was in college, but things sure didn't begin that way. Maybe I just hang out in better places, but it's been a long, long time since I met anyone I thought might believe in arbitrary separation.
If meaningful separatism could largely define Fundamentalism in its early days, I think it can certainly contribute to a healthy identify for it in the future. But yes, it must be connected very much with "other truths."

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.

Aaron Blumer's picture

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Joseph Leavell wrote:
Good questions and considerations in this article. This is been a subject that has been close to my heart. As a 28 year old YF pastor, I've been around long enough to know what I DON'T want to be or be a part. That being the case, my exposure to what I DO want to be has been very isolated and I'm not sure what to do about it. I've not left fundamentalism as of yet, but frankly I think there are many of us who are left only because we don't know of a good Biblical alternative. Using myself as an example: I'm baptistic in my beliefs and polity, but am frustrated with how IFB churches are defining themselves in ways I believe to be unScriptural, and being defined by others as radical (some accusations being legitimate). I'm fundamental in my doctrine, but my loyalty is to Christ - not a movement or a label. I have a high priority on God honoring worship, but am not convinced that the answer is found in my hymnbook alone or in the piano and organ. I believe respectful to God is a Biblical principle but believe that often a suit and dressing up on Sunday often works more towards pride than worship. I believe in preaching from a formal translation, but believe the era of the KJV (a great translation for its day) should be over. I see great Biblical need for preaching but still don't understand the Biblical reason why we have a massive pulpit and an "altar." I see the Biblical mandate to reach the lost, but don't see the mandate to win them to my traditional culture. I see the need to obey Scripture's command to be separate from the world, but do not see the command to be isolated from culture either. I see a great need for Biblical literacy and education, but wonder why many of us are loyal to a 7:00 Wednesday prayer meeting when hardly anyone comes and seen many who are pretty well opposed to small groups (this is quickly changing-I know small groups isn't as big of a deal anymore). I'm a 4 point Calvinist, but am sickened by the venom of both sides towards one another and the loyalty to the label of Calvinism. I am not into entertainment in worship but I love technology and would love to integrate it more into our services. I could go on...

Joseph... you just need to meet a wider variety of Fundamentalists. Really. You'll be encouraged. There are so many now that would not fault you for any of these things, though they might disagree with you on half of them.
There are conferences I could attend were I'd absolutely feel like some kind of worldly liberal. But there are others where I feel like an old stick in the mud. (Most days I feel like an old stick in the mud here at SI Biggrin ).
Anyway, don't be discouraged. Over time two things are likely to happen... one, you'll change your mind about some of the things you've mentioned and two, you'll meet more Fundamentalists who share your views... and I'll add a third: you'll meet guys who have the positions on these things that you used to have.
(I'm projecting myself a bit here... For example, I used to be passionately against the whole dressing up for church thing. Couldn't tell you when I changed my mind. It sort of grew in as my hair grayed, apparently. But there is zero chance that I'll ever see it as hugely important).

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.

Paul J. Scharf's picture

There is a lot of good stuff here out of Aaron's article, and I do not mean to diminish it. But I am left wondering, are we maybe just thinking too hard?
The first fundamentalists didn't set out to be fundamentalists because they thought it would be a great movement to start -- the acted out of self-defense when apostates were hi-jacking the Christian church.
Later fundamentalists weren't necessarily trying to put a new twist on things by coming up with secondary separation -- they saw severe compromises with the same liberals they had fought earlier happening all over and determined their response.
I would argue that both were Biblical to the extent that they sought to live out the Scriptures obediently in light of their historical circumstances -- not necessarily because of what movement they were part of.
It seems like we are now straining to find a way to keep fundamentalism going under a new banner or with some new angle. Is that really necessary? Is it even possible or wise?
I applaud efforts such as the conferences mentioned above which are trying to present a more Biblical, balanced version of fundamentalism -- but not necessarily because I want to see a new movement begin. I am just glad for the implemenation of Biblical truth. Since I am a conservative Christian who finds himself in the "fundamentalist world," I am glad to see Biblical and healthy influences breaking upon it.
Every conference, every school, every church, every ministry -- and ultimately every individual -- will really get to answer the question of what they want YF to look like, and God will be the judge, and for that we can all be thankful.
In the meantime the one who makes the most compelling and attractive argument will win the day. And who that will be or what it will look like -- or how it will affect old fundamentalists -- who can say???

Church Ministries Representative, serving in the Midwest, for The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry 

Aaron Blumer's picture

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Overthinking... certainly possible, but I think we've got a ways to go. We may not be thinking very well, but I doubt we're thinking too much. But I think what I hear there Paul, is that it's not like Jesus said "upon Fundamentalism I will build My church and the gates of Hell will not prevail agianst it." Agreed!
My own interest in seeing Fundamentalism live on in some "movement-like" form is that I think there are--and will probably always be--weaknesses in evangelicalism that only a few will be willing to name and seek to remedy, and these are likely to continue to be important weaknesses. At present, separation from disobedience is one of those. A willingness to be "counter cultural" (I use the term with reservations) is another.
And all the arguments that are amassed for greater unity in other areas apply as well to unity on these matters. There is some strength in getting together and encouraging and affirming one another in these convictions.
It's sort of popular right now to distinguish between the Fund. movement and the "idea of Fundamentalism" (and the distinction is valid), then say the former is dead or should die while the latter lives on. But given the pressures arrayed against even the idea, I wonder how likely it is to live on with any degree of influence without some movement-like, intentional, working together.
(True, it doesn't have much influence now, but this is because the movement got so off track. It doesn't follow that a movement off track cannot be replaced by a movement on track. It's a bit like saying "That train derailed so we're going to avoid all trains forever.")
So, if you'll all pardon a pagan analogy, why can't some kind of phoenix rise out of the ashes?

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.

Ron Bean's picture

I agree that fundamentalism got off track, but in your desire to separate yourselves from the hyper fundamentalism that seems to have hijacked the label, don't throw the baby out with the bath water. (Us old guys like our hackneyed metaphors.)

Look at fundamentalism the way you'd look at lumber when you're selecting boards to build a house. You're not required to use every board the way it is. Some are warped and will have be tossed and some will have to be trimmed. Be discerning as you construct your house. If you're not careful in construction you can wind up with something ugly or something that won't endure.

It's your turn. Don't just do something different----do something better.

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Ron Bean wrote:
It's your turn. Don't just do something different----do something better.

Yes, that's the challenge. Different is easy.

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.

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

Aaron Blumer wrote:
Ron Bean wrote:
It's your turn. Don't just do something different----do something better.

Yes, that's the challenge. Different is easy.

I had that light bulb go off about homeschooling a few years ago, and it helped me re-consider many things that seemed normal and even intuitive. I realized that home education wasn't about doing things better, but about doing better things- and so now I try to re-examine conventional traditions and habits in that same light.

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