What Can We Learn from Christian Fundamentalists? Michael Haykin Responds

Editor’s Note: 9Marks Ministries recently dedicated their recent eJournal issue to discussing Fundamentalism. SharperIron has received permission from them to reprint the articles here for discussion. We will post ten articles over the next two weeks. If you would like the complete eJournal or would like to subscribe to further editions, please go to www.9marks.org.

Michael Haykin

haykinThe term “Fundamentalism,” for many in our culture a word with exclusively negative associations, was birthed in the 1910s and 1920s in connection with a desire to affirm the Fundamentals of the Christian Faith in the face of the 19th and early 20th century liberal denial of various orthodox doctrines. As such, Fundamentalism points us to the important task that confronts the Church in every generation, namely, the vigorous assertion without compromise of such key truths as the Trinity, the deity of the Lord Jesus Christ, his bodily incarnation and resurrection from the dead. The passion for the Truth gripped the early Fundamentalists and it needs to grip us as well.

Alongside a passion for the Truth, early Fundamentalism was also shaped by a desire to know the reality of that text in Ephesians 5, where we read that Christ’s great work includes the sanctification and purification of the Church (verses 25-26). Early Fundamentalists were keenly aware that purity of doctrine was a key part of our Lord’s sanctifying and purifying work and that Christians cannot walk hand in hand with those who flagrantly deny the essentials of the Faith. In this connection, they were also desirous of heeding another related text, namely, that “pure and undefiled religion in the presence of God, even the Father, is this…to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:27). These desires—seeking purity of doctrine and church reform as well as living holy lives—should also be central to our Christianity.

Yet, as Fundamentalism pursued these passions, all too frequently it found itself getting sidelined in debates about tertiary issues and becoming a movement that fostered schism rather than reformation. At times it seemed to forget that theological orthodoxy in and by itself cannot revitalize Christian communities: the coals of orthodoxy are vital, but there must be the life-giving flame of the Spirit as well.

Michael Haykin is Professor of Church History and Biblical Spirituality, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky & Research Professor of Irish Baptist College, and the author of The God Who Draws Near (Evangelical Press, 2007).

March/April 2008, ©9Marks

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