Don Johnson on Roger Olson's Patheos: Evangelicalism, Fundamentalism, and New Evangelicalism
“At that time, between approximately 1930 and 1957, the terms ‘evangelical’ and ‘fundamentalist’ were virtually synonymous, descriptors of conservative Christians.” - Patheos
- 412 views
Fundamentalism at this time carries too much baggage. I am always appreciative of the historical context of fundamentalism. And I hold to many of the original values that it stood for. But when we were looking for a church in the South where we recently moved to, the churches that now identified with fundamentalism were focused on tertiary issues. I know there are still good fundamentalist churches out there. I have seen them. But it is increasingly retaining churches that are focused on fringe issues. I know we say this a lot and many people brush it under the rug as that is just a small percentage of them, but I would say that was the case for 9 out of the 10 churches I visited. It has gotten to the point that I just don't use the term.
Every movement carries baggage.
And since they are movements and not organized bodies, they are hard to pin down. My piece is meant to speak in broad strokes to describe a variegated reality. How do we pin down an evangelical? There is an incredible array of differences among them, though we can broadly say, "this man (or group) is evangelical" because they display certain characteristics.
The same is true of fundamentalism. There are groups within groups, movements within movements.
It can be quite maddening.
For me, it is important to understand what I am, why I make the choices I make, and how to conduct my ministry in light of that. I am informed (and formed) by history and make choices based on presuppositions that I think are biblical.
I agree that many fundamentalists are focused on the wrong things (mostly the KJV). Nevertheless, within the broader category, we can describe them as fundamentalists.
People have different ideas of what "fringe issues" are. Many believe music is a "fringe issue". I do not. Many believe how people dress for church/worship is a "fringe issue". I do not. Many believe alcohol is a "fringe issue". I do not. Many believe Billy Graham's philosophy of cooperative evangelism is a "fringe issue" (especially since he has died). I do not. Don has written a good article.
Charity Baptist Church
WallyMorris wrote: -
I would say all of those issues are important. What I say is fringe is the way that they have taken each of those issues. So I will give you examples. I have visited fundamentalist churches where women must wear a headcovering. I have been in a fundamentalist church where you can only sing from a psalter. And it hasn't been just one. A lot of the ones that I have visited are militant and border on preaching "heresy" on how they are interpreting the text. I was born and raised in fundamentalism. Four generations. I would still identify with many aspects of it from the past. I have stopped identifying with the term because it carries too much baggage today and I don't really identify with what much of it has turned into.
I agree, Don, it is hard to pin down. So I just say that I am Baptist. I go to a conservative SBC church which is very strong theologically and preaches the gospel faithfully. Most of the labels have gotten to be such a mess. I appreciate what fundamentalism did. I know there are good churches out there. I have seen them and I have visited them. My kids go to a fundamentalism college. But the good is becoming more and more infrequent, unfortunately. When I was younger we always sought out a good independent fundamentalist church to attend or visit when we were on vacation. And those terms meant something at that time. Today, I had to teach my kids to focus on Baptist, good solid preaching and teaching that is gospel centered (expository), and good music. And I can tell you the good music is exceptionally hard to find.
Well, the whole situation is a mess. I am going to offer something Roger Olson said in the comment section of his blog from a post last week:
Roger Olson to John Middleton
It depends on which historian one believes. George Marsden thinks the dissolution of the evangelical movement in America began with a controversy at Fuller Seminary that then had a “ripple effect” throughout evangelicalism. I don’t remember the year he mentions, but I think it may have been 1978–the final death of the American evangelical movement. I remember one of my seminary professors, Sam Mikolaski, telling us about a secret meeting of evangelical scholars and leaders that took place at Gordon-Conwell Seminary. He called it “The Wenham Conference.” He attended it. I think it was held around 1975. I’m someone will correct me. He told us it was secretive to the extent that the windows were papered over so no students or others could look in to see who was speaking and attending. It was about inerrancy and whether evangelicals could agree about it. He reported that they could not. So, tentatively, anyway, I would say the American evangelical movement began to dissolve during the 1970s, but the roots of its dissolution go way back to the formation of the NAE where evangelicals of very different persuasions, theologically, attempted to unite for cooperation but only papered over their differences. Donald Dayton talked about how there were two main paradigms of evangelicalism. He called them the Pentecostal and the Presbyterian paradigms whereas I would call them the Pietist and the Puritan paradigms. The difference between them is the “enduring essence of Christianity” and whether it is primarily experience of God through Jesus Christ (conversion-regeneration) or doctrine. Of course, I think this is a false either-or. But evangelicals do tend to lean more in one direction or another. The two paradigms really could not be combined; they were bound to break apart. Having said all that…I think the retirement of Billy Graham had more to do with the dissolution of the American evangelical movement than anything else. While he was active he held it together.
Click here to find it, you'll have to scroll down to get to the comment.
He's writing from his perspective, of course, but there is a big problem in churches of all kinds. Both evangelicalism and fundamentalism are becoming overwhelmed in our culture.
Having said that, there are still churches where the gospel is faithfully preached and we can hope that their influence will increase. I think there are more among fundamentalist churches, but in some regions there are very few of them.
A non-fundamentalist, evangelical narrative of the divide | Roger E. Olson (patheos.com)
I think it's pretty fair. There is a disagreement over what the initial divide between Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism was all about, but his comments add to the conversation from an evangelical perspective. I think it is instructive to read what they say about us.
Don, thank you for sharing the quote from Olson about the "secret meeting." I was just a toddler back then so I had no idea what was going on. To a certain extent, the label "fundamentalist" doesn't give much more clarity to me today.
I minister in an area where a number of IFB churches have abandoned so many of the fundamentals of scripture for tickling the ears of personal preference. I have also found some North American Baptist Pastors who are fed up with the compromise in their seminary and are training the next generation of pastors themselves because they want them to follow the fundamentals of scripture. They are actually the true fundamentalists in the Biblical sense even though they do not use that label. I have come to the point of looking at what churches believe and teach rather than what they call themselves or what their historic background is.
Thanks for sharing that link from Olsen. My grandfather was a very staunch fundamentalist (https://bashamsbulletin.wordpress.com/2019/02/21/the-passing-of-giants-…), and he was in the middle of some of this. I have the 50 years of his newsletter at home here that I am trying to work through in digitizing, because there is a bit of a trail in that as well. I need to engage BJU students to see if they want to do that as a project. There is no fundamentalist newsletter that I am aware of that ran for over 50 years (almost 700 editions from the late 1940's to the 2000's) that has all of that history laid out. I am trying to get this out there just for posterity sake and to see what was taking place at certain points along the way.
JD Miller wrote:
To a certain extent, the label "fundamentalist" doesn't give much more clarity to me today.
In my discussions with Dr. Olson, he mentioned that the problem we have with definitions is that both evangelicalism and fundamentalism are movements, so it is very hard to define either one. They aren't denominations with a headquarters or a hierarchy. You can define "Catholic" or "Presbyterian" or (sorta) "Baptist," but "evangelical" and "fundamental" are amorphous. Someone said there are "fundamentalisms" not just fundamentalism. The same is true on the evangelical side: there are evangelicalisms, too.
I've attempted to define broad strokes in my article, I think you can see the basic essentials to see whether one is or isn't a fundamentalist.
Dr. Olson says the sine qua non of fundamentalism is "secondary separation." I think he is basically right, although I don't like the term.
I minister in an area where a number of IFB churches have abandoned so many of the fundamentals of scripture for tickling the ears of personal preference. I have also found some North American Baptist Pastors who are fed up with the compromise in their seminary and are training the next generation
Praise the Lord for the NAB pastors. We can only encourage such efforts to continue.
I'm not quite following this, David
dgszweda wrote: My grandfather was a very staunch fundamentalist (https://bashamsbulletin.wordpress.com/2019/02/21/the-passing-of-giants-…, and he was in the middle of some of this. I have the 50 years of his newsletter at home here that I am trying to work through in digitizing, because there is a bit of a trail in that as well.
Are you saying E. L. Bynum is your grandfather? I'd be interested in seeing some scans of those newsletters if you have time.