The Need for Healthy Fundamentalism

"There are some who may say that fundamentalism is a failed movement. I do not believe so. But I do believe that pastors must learn the lessons of the past, and even from others in mainstream evangelicalism who are noting their own problems." - P&D 

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Ed Vasicek's picture

The article does a great job of summarizing Olson's perspective on evangelicalism, but does little to allay concerns that fundamentalism is failing.

The truth is that individual churches (whether labeled evangelical or fundamental) may be succeeding or failing (neither to 100%, but mostly), but the combined average, in my view, is that we are on a downward path.

I view the job of future pastors to take the pieces that are still relatively undamaged and create an island of Biblical submission in the sea of man-centered religion, whatever the label.  I compare the task of new pastors like that of rebuilding Jerusalem in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah,  The focus was on godliness and obedience and thus building a generic temple (the best they could do) -- but with devoted worshippers.  This stands in contrast to Solomon's beautiful temple, often populated by compromised worshippers. Which pleases God more?  That is at the crux of the issue.

"The Midrash Detective"

TylerR's picture

Editor

First-stage fundamentalism was built on advocating for a broad biblical orthodoxy in the face of apostasy. It's heirs are the conservative evangelicals. It's why the people who still do this today are evangelicals.

Second-stage fundamentalism is what we typically mean when we use the term, and its ethos is on separation from conservatives who aren't conservative enough. That is why second-stage fundamentalism is a cut-flower movement that's dying in the vase on the countertop. It has no real distinctive, positive presentation other than separation. Ask a self-described fundamentalist why he's not an evangelical and he'll say "separation." There is your proof.

Properly understood, fundamentalists should be conservative evangelicals. I discuss here. Finis.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Bert Perry's picture

I'm actually in agreement with Joos on a lot of this, as the extent of "touchy feely" lyrics in today's CCM does seem to derive from the same (perhaps to a lesser extent) in camp meeting songs.  That noted, I'm at a loss to name an old school fundamental church that doesn't use a TON of those camp meeting songs, to the point where I'd have to suggest that when many in the fundamental or "old music" camps talk about "hymns", they're really talking more about revivalistic songs instead of the hymns I grew up with as a Methodist, which are in general a century older and more theologically robust.

That said, I'm with Tyler on what a "real" fundamentalist is, and calls himself, these days; "conservative evangelical".  I use the fundamental name because of the historic five fundamentals and scholarship that initially supported it, but there are times I also understand peoples' reluctance to use it because of the baggage connected with it.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Jim's picture

Bert Perry wrote:

I'm actually in agreement with Joos on a lot of this, as the extent of "touchy feely" lyrics in today's CCM does seem to derive from the same (perhaps to a lesser extent) in camp meeting songs.  That noted, I'm at a loss to name an old school fundamental church that doesn't use a TON of those camp meeting songs, to the point where I'd have to suggest that when many in the fundamental or "old music" camps talk about "hymns", they're really talking more about revivalistic songs instead of the hymns I grew up with as a Methodist, which are in general a century older and more theologically robust.

That said, I'm with Tyler on what a "real" fundamentalist is, and calls himself, these days; "conservative evangelical".  I use the fundamental name because of the historic five fundamentals and scholarship that initially supported it, but there are times I also understand peoples' reluctance to use it because of the baggage connected with it.

I identify as a "conservative evangelical". I could say "historical fundamentalist" but most don't know what that means. I appreciate P&D and Don Johnson and the like.

 

dgszweda's picture

This is a great article.  I also commend the desire to drive and sustain a more robust fundamentalist movement that addresses Olsen's concern.

My fear, that any type of fundamentalism like that is only left in pockets.  I live in a fairly large city and in the end practically every "fundamentalist" institution is aligned to the problems that Olsen highlights.  It is getting very, very hard to find a good one.

Barry L.'s picture

I've seen this come full circle in my lifetime. When I was very little our church in PA was truly independent. It was full of noncollege educated coal miners but still knew alot of theology because they fervently read the Bible. They were fundamentalist, without knowing they were fundamentalists. Never part of any denomination, college group, or association. Then their kids, like me, when off to Bible college, pastors came in from those colleges and all of a sudden we were part of certain fundamental camp based on a Christian college. It was really the college that dictated our separation standards, who we associated with, etc. rather than being determined from within like it used to be. Our fundamentalism was centralized.

Now, with the breakdown and weakening of all these institutions, including those in the evangelical camp, churches are now back to charting their own individual course based on their study of scripture, etc. Not pegging themselves as fundamentalist this or evangelical that. 

  Like it should be.  

TylerR's picture

Editor

This was a good article. Taigen is a good guy. I must say this because we're DMin students in the same program ... ! Olson's recent articles about his experiences trying to find a new church honestly shock me. Are things REALLY that bad, out there? Scary if true.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Larry's picture

Moderator

It has no real distinctive, positive presentation other than separation. Ask a self-described fundamentalist why he's not an evangelical and he'll say "separation." There is your proof.

I am not sure what a better answer would be to that particular question. Separation is the major distinguishing mark that would put one in one category and not another. There is a more positive presentation, but most evangelicals would largely agree with that positive presentation. It isn't distinguishing. So when the question is why are you A and not B, you don't answer with the things A and B have in common but with what distinguishes them from each other.

Remember, historically, the New Evangelicals distinguished itself from the Old Evangelicals (the Fundamentalists) over the relationship with theological liberals or modernists. The NE's did not want to separate over issue of apostasy and disobedience. So in a sense, separation was a core distinctive of Old Evangelicalism. It is hard to trace the lines exactly, but the conservative evangelicals of today seem to me to be staking out a middle ground between the New Evangelicals and the Old Evangelicals. Historically, the doctrines would have been largely the same. It was the view of culture and relationships that were different.

There were a number of whacky fundamentalists who separated over the wrong things, but that does not impugn the necessity of separation or the distinctiveness of it though it is often, IMO, wrongly applied. KJVO was a troubling doctrine of some of fundamentalism, but is it really more troubling than continuationism? Both are cut from the same cloth. Fundamentalism did have a heavy emphasis on a rejection of certain cultural trends, and there is a good case to be made that, at least in certain areas, time has borne out that they were on the right side. So, IMO, it's not as cut and dried as some might pretend. Evangelicalism did attempt to maintain relationships with modernism, but is evangelicalism better off because of that? 

One of the benefits of the "old days" was that the lines were clearer and the term hadn't been hijacked both by churches and culture. Now, there is a great deal more fluidity in issues. I think the categories of old are no longer of much help.

Ron Bean's picture

The historic fundamentalists emphasized and practiced separation from liberalism and apostasy. Many of today's fundamentalists are known by their militant separation from other Christians sometimes over their failure to separate from liberalism, apostasy, charismatics. suspected new evangelicals, and convergents. Historic fundamentalists would name apostates like Fosdick and Peale as "dangerous".  Today's fundamentalist applied the dangerous label to Graham and Falwell.

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

josh p's picture

“ KJVO was a troubling doctrine of some of fundamentalism, but is it really more troubling than continuationism? Both are cut from the same cloth. ”

This is an interesting point that I often ponder. In the end I would say yes because it is bibliogical error/heresy. It goes to the definition of inspiration itself; whereas continuationism affirms the original inspiration as well as what we have preserved. It is an tough call though since we are equally warned against adding to and subtracting from the scriptures.

KJVONLYISM is also more schismatic. It separates the wheat from the chaff on Bible versions. I’m not aware of a self-professing fundamental church in my area that is not some form or KJVOnly. One is TROnly. It is pure rot in the church, as I know you agree.

Larry's picture

Moderator

Historic fundamentalists would name apostates like Fosdick and Peale as "dangerous".  Today's fundamentalist applied the dangerous label to Graham and Falwell.

While I don't want to contest your memory on how Fosdick and Peale were labeled :D, I am not sure this is an argument or a valid comparison. There was no Graham or Falwell of the early part of the 20th century, so far as I can recall. They were a product of the New Evangelicalism. So it seems a bit anachronistic to compare these two groups. Secondly, I think Graham (and to perhaps a lesser degree Falwell) were dangerous. Was there anyone in the 20th century who did more to span the gap between Catholicism and Christianity and thus confuse the gospel than Graham?

M. Osborne's picture

I benefited from attending BJU for undergrad and first grad degree. I don't regret it a bit. Would be happy if my children went there too.

Once I left Greenville, I stopped caring about "Fundamentalism" and labels and defining separation.

But I kept caring in a pastoral way. You could say in an "all things are lawful but not all things are expedient" sort of way. The pastoral-care decisions vary on a situation-specific basis depending on the spiritual maturity and theological discernment of the flock. If anything I've become more cautious in a context where there are a lot of new believers or believers without good teaching in their background. These are people who require a lot of explanation even to differentiate prosperity teaching from the gospel. Sending mixed signals by using less-than-reliable resources risks setting you back.

Michael Osborne
Philadelphia, PA

TylerR's picture

Editor

I also stopped caring a long time ago. My church has no memory or understanding of the fundamentalist-modernist controversy. We don't self-identify as fundamentalists. We identify as evangelicals, and so does the regional GARBC. The movement forms no part of anything we do. The proper ethos, that of first-stage fundamentalism, does.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Bert Perry's picture

I am also a "convergent" who would dearly love to dispense with cultural fundamentalism and second/third degree separation and the like, but it strikes me that even in the best churches, you've got cultural fundamentalism going on quietly in certain areas, and it pops up when you'd least expect it.  I would dare say some of this needs to be confronted head on if leadership feels that it is wrong.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

josh p's picture

I became a believer and stayed in evangelicalism for many years. Eventually moved into a hyper-fundamentalist church (which ironically had the best teaching around). In a (very) conservative evangelical church now but I still identify as a fundy to those that know what I mean when I say it. I still believe "secondary" separation is biblical. I wouldn't use the term when talking to someone who sees it as an evil, unless I had time to explain. 

Larry's picture

Moderator

It goes to the definition of inspiration itself; whereas continuationism affirms the original inspiration as well as what we have preserved.

My intent was more along the lines of a closed canon and the cessation of supernatural revelation. I think both share an affinity for that.

I am not sure that KJVO is more schismatic. I think it is more vocal and more dogmatic in some cases. 

I don't know. Just a thought.

M. Osborne's picture

I have tended to evaluate KJVO and continuationism--and what is said in their name--in terms of how much they might undermine the sufficiency of Scripture as biblically defined. When they start drifting into the, "How can I rely on God's Word unless He delivers it to me in [such and such] a manner?" it calls into question what would happen to their faith if they learned that actually, God hasn't delivered His Word ins [such and such] a manner.

FWIW, I consider myself to be a soft cessationist and skeptical of claims of continued gifts like tongues.

That said, I at least see where in Scripture continuationists derive their teaching from. KJVO seems made up out of whole cloth and a few verses that don't really say anything about textual preservation.

Michael Osborne
Philadelphia, PA

Bert Perry's picture

I've been around a fair amount of charismatics and pentecostals, and unfortunately, it is too often (mostly IMO) true that they do tend to, in their enthusiasm for the early church gifts, take a certain amount of liberty with the Scriptures.  

KJVO does this as well, but they do so, as Michael also notes, by taking verses way out of context, but also problematically by using some very vicious guilt by association arguments, generally including the insinuation that Alexandrian Bible copyists were taking their orders from Origen, and continuing to slander pretty much every person associated with the eclectic text through the ages, from Westcott & Hort to Kurt Aland.

In doing so, it trains Christians to use poor logic and personal attacks, which is why KJVO is incredibly schismatic--you have to accept a LOT of genetic fallacies to accept any of the streams of KJVO that I've seen.  It's Godless.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.