A Delicate Balance in Fundamentalism

I came across this powerful passage in a book by Dr. Doug McLachen, "Reclaiming Authentic Fundamentalism;"

Too many evangelicals have opted for unholy love; and too many fundamentalists have opted for unloving holiness.

This statement expresses so much of what I see in church today. I am a "young" fundamentalist, a lowly Youth Director, 28 years old and just escaped from a decade in the military. I did not grow up as a Christian. I grew in my Christian walk from the right wing of the fundamentalist camp. Before attending seminary, I would have told you being a fundamentalist simply meant women wore skirts and preachers used the KJV. This is a sad state of affairs. I now understand what authentic fundamentalism is, but my concern with fundamentalism going forward is that the majority of the churches may not reflect that reality.

I would like some input from some experienced hands here - the majority of my experience with fundamentalism thus far has been of the "skirts/KJV" stripe. Are there balanced fundamentalist churches out there!? Are they the exception instead of the rule? My concern is that if balanced fundamentalism, as expressed by Dr. McLachan above, is not reflected in reality - then isn't the skewed form of fundamentalism the real reality, for all intents and purposes?!

If we are able to achieve the balance Dr. McLachan suggests, we will go a long way towards getting back to what real fundamentalism is.

 

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Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

Are there balanced fundamentalist churches out there!?

Not in Dayton OH, at least not within reasonable driving distance. My dh and I visited several IFB churches in our area, and we were enduring long, drawn out altar calls, 10 minutes of exposition and 30 minutes of story-telling, and hearing about great men of faith like Bob Gray and Jack Hyles (they obviously did not get the memo).

Some traditions are deeply ingrained - you'd think passing the offering plate was a sacrament akin to the Lord's Supper... except that they pass the plate every week and have the Lord's Supper once a year, if that. Makes you go hhhmmmmmmm.  Smiley

It is going to take time and effort to bring authentic, historic Fundamentalism back to center. 

TylerR's picture

Editor

That is indeed very sad. It is ironic that the past giants of fundamentalism would be branded as liberals by many alleged fundamentalists now. News flash - they didn't all use the KJV, and they were not all Baptist. Spurgeon, the great man himself, himself was a Calvinist. Gasp. . . . !

On another note, where do you get your interactive smileys?!

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Charlie's picture

"Balanced" Fundamentalism is almost impossible. I say that for historical and sociological reasons.

First, let's talk about group polarization. Basically, group polarization tells us that in a group of people who knowingly share a similar trait, the group will enhance their preexisting tendencies, or in other words, strengthen their average tendency. This shift is noticeable after very short amounts of time. For example, there were studies on French students which revealed that some of them had weak to moderate anti-American sentiments in their politics. So, they put these students together in a discussion group that had to do with French-American politics. By the end of the discussion, the anti-American sentiment had intensified considerably, so that the group was more anti-American than any of the individual members had been previous to the group discussion. Group polarization has been pretty well known and supported by studies for a few decades. 

But group polarization isn't always that dangerous. After all, sentiments subject to quick intensification can also de-intensify quickly. People shift their attitudes all the time. But let's say we put those French students back into that discussion group 5 days per week for half an hour. Over time, the polarization may become more intense and more permanent. But there's still a complicating factor. These students have lives outside the group. They may have other friends who don't share their anti-American sentiment, and when they engage in conversations, it provides a counterbalance. Likewise, the students might watch news or read papers that don't have an anti-American sentiment, and this moderates the effects of polarization.

But let's go one step farther. What if we forbade those students to discuss politics outside the group? Also, any political news or commentary could be read or viewed only with the group. Once counterbalancing influences are eliminated, there is nothing to prevent a feedback loop of intensification. Over time, this could get ugly. The anti-American sentiment might be expressed in harmful words and actions. Indeed, group polarization is one of the more popular explanations for terrorism.

At first, it might seem ridiculous to link a phenomenon used in the explanation of terrorism (among many other things) to fundamentalism. But it isn't. Just Sunday one of my friends played for me part of a sermon he had picked up while driving through Georgia. This Baptist pastor was talking about Islam and said, and I quote: "Shoot em! Nuke em! Nuke em till they glow and then shoot em in the dark!" And the congregation roared with amens and applause. Now, I ask, how does a Georgia pastor advocate mass murder from a pulpit and Christians respond with cheers? Group polarization.

Fundamentalism, since the middle of the 20th century, has stressed separation as a primary characteristic. That means that fundamentalist churches are, by design, groups that have little interaction outside the group, and thus very little defense against group polarization. As the ability to hear outside criticism fades, so does the ability to be self-critical. Thus, any fundamentalist church is headed in one of two directions: either toward a weakening of its separatist identity, or toward an increasingly unhealthy extremism. 

Now, I have been in churches that call themselves fundamentalist and yet seem to me to be healthy. I have friends who are this way. But I've noticed some interesting things about them. When I look at my friends' bookshelves, they're  being influenced primarily either by Reformed(ish) evangelicals such as Tim Keller and John Piper or by dispensationalist evangelicals such as David Jeremiah and Darrell Bock. They also tend to get outside the fundamentalist bubble to go to conferences such as Together for the Gospel or the Evangelical Theological Society. Some of them are taking a class or two at a non-fundamentalist seminary. So, my conclusion is that my healthy fundamentalist friends are really not practicing much separation at all, and consequently, are balanced because they're not really that fundamentalist. By continuing to accept influences from people outside the group, they resist the danger of group polarization.

My Blog: http://dearreaderblog.com

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

TylerR's picture

Editor

I am struggling myself to figure out how to maintain a proper view of separation. I am very enthusiastic about apologetics, but there no literally no fundamentalist apologists out there. Many are more Arminian in their theology, which works itself out in their more man-centered apologetical approaches whereby they agree to not mention Scripture, and argue people to Christ based on philosophical reasoning. The only apologists with a high view of Scripture and God's sovereignty are Reformed! I have a lot of their material, and (gasp!) even systematic theologies by Horton, Berkoff and Reymond on my shelf along with dispensationalists. I think I am a stronger, more balanced Christian because I am aware of their views. How does this square with personal separation? I know some Pastors who would NOT be happy with me for daring to read outside the bubble.

Balanced fundamentalism is impossible to achieve if a perfect balance is your goal. If we can keep in mind the two sides of this ditch (unholy love vs unloving holiness) and try to balance the best we can, we are still moving forward.

We don't need wishy washy love fests in churches where sin is de-emphasized. We also don't need pulpit police who measure the length of ladies skirts, do Bible version checks and demand slavish obedience. I am exaggerating a bit here, but you get the idea.

 

 

 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Ron Bean's picture

There are balanced fundamentalist churches out there. They are separated from apostasy, liberalism, false doctrine and sinful living. They just don't call themselves fundamentalists.

I think that some of the imbalance comes from those who believe that separation from disobedient brethren is as important as separation from false doctrine. Their practice of separation from disobedient brethren is not intended to "gain a brother" but seems to be a means of defining their own identity.

In my life I've seen Fundamental Baptists disdain Fundamental Presbyterians. I've seen fundamentalists separate from each other over non-Biblical issues. Recently I discovered a fellowship of fundamental churches whose primary cause for existence is separation from false doctrine AND disobedient brethren. (As a side note, in listening to them they continually confuse apostates (i.e. Robert Schuller with men like Mark Dever.) The current state of affairs fins them somewhat distrustful with each other (aren't all of us disobedient brethren?) over things like Patch the Pairate, AWANA, Getty music, schools they recommend, ......the list could go on.

 

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

Charlie's picture

Ron Bean wrote:

There are balanced fundamentalist churches out there. They are separated from apostasy, liberalism, false doctrine and sinful living. They just don't call themselves fundamentalists.

So, if the balanced fundamentalists don't call themselves fundamentalists, then all the churches who do call themselves fundamentalist are imbalanced. Or, one can be a balanced fundamentalist only by severely attenuating one's fundamentalist identity. That's pretty much what I said. (But it raises the question, what do these churches call themselves?)

My Blog: http://dearreaderblog.com

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

Ron Bean's picture

I didn't mean to imply that all self-called fundamentalist churches are imbalanced.

While these churches don't call themselves fundamentalist, the acknowledge they have a respect for historic fundamentalism and will gladly explain their beliefs and practice to anyone. They just don't use the label.

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

Larry's picture

Moderator

There are balanced fundamentalists and tchurches out there. But much of it will all depend on the definition of balance. For instance, Charlie has defined it in such a way that leads only to his conclusion (separation primarily, and those that are healthy don't actually practice separation as evidenced by the books on their shelves). That works well for his point, but doesn't work well if you happen to know or recognize fundamentalists outside his definition. It is true that fundamentalism was recognized precisely because it didn't depart from separation as a key issue whereas the new evangelicalism did. It is also true that many claiming to be fundamentalists are wrong in these issues. Ron Bean is right that there are those who continually confuse issues and men. But there are others who do not. There are some who make issues out of things like version, kids' clubs, etc. But there are many who do not.

I doubt most fundamentalists would have any issue with reading people outside their particular orbit. So I would lose a lot of sleep worrying over it.

In the end, I think the pursuit of "balanced fundamentalism" is the wrong one. I think we pursue the Scriptures and obedience, and when we do, we will look very similar to fundamentalism in the best sense. And because we are fundamentalists, we will have a legitimate grounds for separation from those who do not walk with us.

Steve Newman's picture

I have used the quote of Dr. Mac a number of times from the pulpit to illustrate a balanced ministry. If one examines Scripture, it seems that truth is combined with various character qualities, such as mercy and truth, or grace and truth, or love and truth. We can extend love, mercy, or grace until the truth becomes compromised.

I do believe that the past has taught us to have a healthy skepticism of evangelicals, and that it continues to be borne out today. We may find individual ministries which we can more fully support, whether it is evangelicalism or fundamentalism, but that we ought to be careful as to what we really can support wholeheartedly. Do we give our allegiance to individuals and ministries too easily? And shouldn't we be concerned as leaders of ministries in particular that we demand and expect truth be honored and exalted? The test of time is one of the best way to qualify and/or filter out those that we choose to partner with or associate with.