Emerging Middle

Lines in the Sand Redux: A Plea to Type A Fundamentalists


The majority of the healthy remnants of historic fundamentalism today have settled into a kind of co-belligerency. That is, the theological sons and grandsons of the first generation of fundamentalism have perched onto one of two branches of the fundamentalist family tree. These two branches are what I call Type B and Type C fundamentalism. I noted several years ago that a third branch, namely the Type A branch often believe and act as if they, and they alone, represent the entire tree! Thankfully more and more are flying over to the part of our ecclesiastical bush that respects a certain heritage while at the same time respects an allowable diversity.

This kind of C/B relationship was on display this last year when Mark Dever shared a platform with leaders such as Kevin Bauder, Dave Doran and Tim Jordan. Another example of how that relationship continues to emerge is the incredible overlap of what a healthy and biblical evangelicalism looks like as defined by Kevin Bauder and then by Al Mohler in Four Views on the Spectrum of Evangelicalism. One more example of this has been the explosion of interaction between Type B and C fundamentalists at conferences such as Shepherds and T4G. Certainly there continues to be a few differences between a Type B and Type C fundamentalists, but frankly there are far more differences between Type A fundamentalism and the B/C co-belligerency than there are differences between the B and C brethren themselves.

Lines in sand

Years ago I developed and presented a kind of taxonomy primarily for those within my own ministry. At the time I was wanting to hold on to the fundamentalist label but, for a variety of reasons, felt I needed to distance myself from many who used the same tag. I believed the taxonomy helped me do that in a way that could be understood by both those who grew up in the movement as well as newcomers (or onlookers). The result was the identification of Type A, B and C fundamentalism. I explored these categories several years ago in a series of articles entitled, “Three Lines in the Sand.” An earlier article entitled, “A Line in the Sand,” focused on the differences between Type A and B fundamentalism. “Three Lines” expanded to include Type C fundamentalism.

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Now, About Those Differences, Part Two


Outside the Boundary

A few months ago I wrote an essay entitled “Let’s Get Clear on This.” That essay argued the following: (1) conservative evangelicals are not neo-evangelicals; (2) conservative evangelicals are making a substantial contribution to the defense and exposition of the Christian faith; (3) substantial differences continue to distinguish conservative evangelicals from fundamentalists; but (4) fundamentalists must not treat conservative evangelicals as enemies or even opponents. These points are, I think, as clear in reality as they were presented to be in the essay.

What “Let’s Get Clear on This” did not do was to explore the differences between conservative evangelicals and fundamentalists. Such an exploration would have been beside the point in that essay. Nevertheless, those differences remain important. What I have proposed to do is to examine the ways in which fundamentalism differs from conservative evangelicalism.

Partly, this is an empirical evaluation based upon an examination of the two movements as they actually exist at this point in time. But only partly. In my examination of the differences, I am deliberately opting for an a priori definition that excludes some self-identified fundamentalists.

My reason for this decision is simple: words refer to ideas, and ideas are anterior to things. This discussion will recognize as fundamentalists only those who approximate the idea of fundamentalism. Of course, none of us perfectly implements the idea. Whenever ideas are incarnated in human institutions, movements, and persons, they display the effects of human finiteness and fallenness. No ideal fundamentalist (or conservative, or Baptist, or even Christian, for that matter) has ever existed, and none ever will. We judge ourselves by the idea. In the present discussion, I shall consider only those versions of fundamentalism that are closer to the idea.

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Now, About Those Differences, Part One


Why This Discussion?

Some weeks ago I wrote a piece expressing appreciation and even admiration for the contributions that conservative evangelicals are making to the Christian faith. Many people have replied, both publicly and privately, both agreeably and disagreeably. Leaving aside the most hysterical evaluations, responses have generally fallen into four categories.

First, some have questioned whether particular individuals or institutions should have been listed as conservative evangelical. According to this response, some of the evangelicals whom I listed are not so conservative after all. To this criticism I reply that my direct knowledge of some individuals and organizations is less complete than my knowledge of others. It is entirely possible that a few of these people may be less conservative than I had understood them to be.

Since my main concern was with conservative evangelicalism as a movement, however, the inclusion or exclusion of a few names does not fundamentally alter my conclusions. In other words, the first criticism is not directed against the argument itself. The remaining criticisms, however, go to the heart of the matter. Let me put them on the table, and then I can evaluate them together.

Second, some have praised my essay for what they took to be its blanket endorsement of conservative evangelicalism. These respondents seem to believe that no appreciable difference exists between conservative evangelicals and fundamentalists. In my article they read agreement. They welcomed my observations as a legitimization for abolishing whatever barriers inhibit fundamentalists from fully cooperating with conservative evangelicals.

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