Are fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals really the same thing under different labels? In order to answer that question, we must investigate the apparent differences. So far in this series we have looked at two.
First, we asked the extent to which each favored dispensationalism. We discovered that fundamentalists tend to be dispensationalists while evangelicals tend to be non-dispensationalists. In evaluating the significance of this difference, however, we found that it really did not mark out a major division between fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals.
Second, we explored the accusations that (according to some evangelicals) fundamentalists tend toward legalism and (according to some fundamentalists) evangelicals tend toward worldliness. In trying to understand these mutual recriminations, we found that they tended to focus upon revivalistic taboos, concessions to the counterculture, the acceptance of extra-Scriptural second premises in moral argument, and the degree to which churches adapt their congregational life to popular culture. These differences are sometimes matters of degree, but they are nevertheless real. I am willing to argue that more often than not, fundamentalists have been more right than evangelicals on these matters, including most conservative evangelicals.
Now we come to a third difference. It has to do with the continuation of miraculous gifts. Historically, fundamentalists have declared with near unanimity that miraculous gifts were connected somehow to the ministry of the apostles, and that those gifts ceased with the end of the apostolic era. Incidentally, most fundamentalists have not ruled out the possibility of miracles, but even so they have insisted upon a distinction between occasional miracles and miraculous gifts.
Not all conservative evangelical leaders are charismatic. Some conservative evangelicals are firm cessationists. For example, John MacArthur has written rather pointedly against the charismatic movement. He has been identified publicly as a cessationist for a very long time. MacArthur, however, is the exception rather than the rule among the current crop of conservative evangelical leaders. Several prominent leaders within the conservative evangelical movement openly embrace aspects of charismatic giftedness. Among these are Wayne Grudem, John Piper, C. J. Mahaney, Sam Storms, and D. A. Carson.
So, although not all conservative evangelicals are charismatic, the most visible leaders—those associated with the Gospel Coalition and Together for the Gospel—are willing to downplay the importance of cessationism for the sake of a united front. This stands in contrast to fundamentalists and their forebears who, for a century now, have rejected public identification with continuationists on the grounds that continuationism is a serious error.
Rejection of continuationism does not mean that fundamentalists have rejected every form of fellowship with Pentecostals or charismatics. With the exception of extremists, fundamentalists have recognized continuationists as brothers and have been willing to enter into limited levels of fellowship. For example, the seminary over which I preside trained a good many Pentecostal students early in its history, and they sometimes ended up pastoring Pentecostal churches in the same towns where other alumni were pastoring Baptist churches. Still, fundamentalists have always been unwilling to enter into public cooperation with continuationists.
Evangelicals, in distinction from fundamentalists, have tended to welcome Pentecostals and charismatics. This was one of the bones of contention between the American Council of Christian Churches and the National Association of Evangelicals. Several factors led fundamentalists and evangelicals to establish distinct organizations, but one of the more important reasons was the willingness of the NAE to embrace continuationists.
To be fair, the current crop of “Third Wave” charismatics are different from old-line Pentecostals and even from the charismatic movement of the 1960s and 1970s. Older Pentecostals tended to ground their continuationism in a theory of the atonement. Third Wave charismatics ground theirs in a theory of the Kingdom.
Third Wave theology is all about Kingdom authority (which flows from His throne, unto His own…). It emphasizes an inaugurated Kingdom and argues that a Kingdom is not a Kingdom without the exercise of Kingdom authority. That authority is exercised primarily against disease and demons (and, in some versions of Third Wave thought, death).
Charismatics of the Third Wave can be more or less radical. The most radical are the “Toronto Blessing” crowd, from whom conservative evangelicals have carefully distanced themselves. Jack Deere is a bit more moderate (though still making some pretty outlandish claims). Charles Kraft of Fuller Seminary probably represents the middle of the movement. One of his students, David Oldham, wrote a dissertation arguing that church prophecy today is just as authoritative as the text of Scripture.1
Those charismatics who are conservative evangelicals also tend to be the most moderate in their theory and practice. Wayne Grudem is famous for his distinction between biblical prophecy (which was absolutely authoritative) and church prophecies (which operate at a lower level of authority and can be ignored or disobeyed). His position is followed by others. These individuals do not usually put their miraculous gifts on display before the general public. Some (D. A. Carson is a good example) are so moderate in their continuationism that they cannot be classified under any of the traditional charismatic “waves.” What all these have in common is that they advocate the continuation of one or more miraculous gifts.
Among fundamentalists, however, the most recognizable leaders are unanimous in their refusal to endorse miraculous gifts. As far as I know, no prominent fundamentalist is arguing for any form of continuationism (and I know most of them). Furthermore, in terms of public ministry, most (all?) fundamentalist leaders are still very reluctant to become involved with conservative evangelicals who are advocating continuationism.
The tolerance of continuationism certainly seems to be one way in which conservative evangelicals and fundamentalists differ from each other. How important is this difference, however? How closely does it come to the heart of the two movements? Stay tuned.
1 David H. Oldham, “A Biblical Model for New Testament Prophecy in the Local Church” (D.Min. diss.: Fuller Theological Seminary, 2000).
A Fourfold Exercise for the Believer in His Lodging on Earth (Part 2)
Ralph Erskine (1685-1752)
III. The GLORIOUS GOSPEL; Or, Christ the end of the law for righteousness, Rom. x. 4. And the absolute need of this remedy inferred from the promises.
Hence I conclude and clearly see,
There’s by the law no life for me;
Which damns each soul to endless thrall,
Whose heart and life fulfils not all.
What shall I do, unless for bail
I from the law to grace appeal?
She reigns through Jesus’ righteousness,
Which giving justice full redress,
On grace’s door this motto grav’d,
Let sin be damn’d, and sinners sav’d.
O wisdom’s deep mysterious way!
Lo, at this door I’ll waiting stay,
Till sin and hell both pass away.
But in this bliss to shew my part,
Grant, through thy law grav’d in my heart,
My life may shew thy graving art.
IV. The PRAYER of FAITH. Which may be conceived in the following words of a certain author:
Sim tuus in vita, tua sunt mea funera, Christe:
Da, precor, imperii sceptra tenere tui.
Cur etenim, moriens, tot vulnera saeva tulisti,
Si non sum regni portio parva tui?
Cur rigido latuit tua vita inclusa sepulchro,
Si non est mea mors morte fugata tua?
Ergo mihi certam praestes, O Christe, salutem,
Meque tuo lotum sanguine, Christe, juva.
[Jesus, I’m thine in life and death,
Oh let me conqu’ring hold thy throne,
Why shar’d the cross thy vital breath,
If not to make me share thy crown?
Why laid in jail of cruel grave,
If not thy death from death me free?
Then, Lord, insure the bliss I crave,
Seal’d with thy blood, and succour me.]
This essay is by Dr. Kevin T. Bauder, president of Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Plymouth, MN). Not every professor, student, or alumnus of Central Seminary necessarily agrees with every opinion that it expresses.