Fundamentalism

Theology Thursday - Carnell on the "Perils" of Fundamentalism (Part 3)

In this excerpt, Carnell concludes his critique of fundamentalism from his book The Case for Orthodox Theology ​(1959). Here, he has two criticisms. First, he believes the fundamentalist places an overemphasis on soul-winning at the expense of doctrine and Christian love. Second, he charges that fundamentalists, like well-meaning but delusional latter-day Don Quixotes, revel in their supposed “purity” while ironically demonstrating the worst sort of self-righteousness.1  

The Chief End of Man

Whereas orthodoxy says that the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever, fundamentalism says that the chief end of man is to win souls. This conversion of final causes did not come by accident. Lest we be misunderstood, however, let it be clearly and forcefully said that evangelism is an incumbency on the church. Woe to the minister who has no compassion for lost souls! If we are united with Christ’s cross and resurrection, we must also be united with his tears for Jerusalem.

But when the fundamentalist elevates evangelism above other Christian tasks, or when he conceives of evangelism in terms of techniques, he is no longer true to his own presuppositions. While evangelism is a sacred duty, it is by no means our only sacred duty.

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Theology Thursday - Carnell on the "Perils" of Fundamentalism (Part 2)

Edward Carnell continues his infamous broadside against fundamentalism, from his 1959 work The Case for Orthodox Theology. ​Many fundamentalists may not agree with his characterizations. Others may still see relevance for Carnell’s criticisms. No matter what you think of his writing here, it is a fascinating look at an evangelical’s view of the fundametnalist movement in the late 1950s.1

J. Gresham Machen

The mentality of fundamentalism sometimes crops up where one would least expect it; and there Is no better Illustration of this than the inimitable New Testament scholar, J. Gresham Machen.

Machen was an outspoken critic of the fundamentalist movement. He argued with great force that Christianity is a system, not a list of fundamentals. The fundamentals include the virgin birth, Christ’s deity and miracles, the atonement, the resurrection, and the inspiration of the Bible. But this list does not even take in the specific issues of the Protestant Reformation. Roman Catholicism easily falls within the limits of fundamentalism.

While Machen was a foe of the fundamentalist movement, he was a friend of the fundamentalist mentality, for he took an absolute stand on a relative issue, and the wrong at that.

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Theology Thursday - Carnell on the "Perils" of Fundamentalism (Part 1)

Edward J. Carnell was a major figure in the evangelical world in the 1950s. He became President of Fuller Theological Seminary in 1957, and wrote a little book entitled The Case for Orthodox Theology two years later. At only 168 pages, this was a short, introductory book intended for an interested, but general audience. In a chapter from this book, which he ominously entitled “Perils,” Carnell unleashed a pitiless broadside against fundamentalism.

In this article and the next, I’ve included nearly his entire chapter. It provides a fascinating look into what a conservative evangelical thought about fundamentalism at mid-century. Carnell writes with passion; indeed, at some points his passion gives way to scornful contempt. Some of his critiques still sting today.1

Orthodoxy is plagued by perils as well as difficulties, and the perils are even more disturbing than the difficulties. When orthodoxy slights its difficulties, it elicits criticism; but when it slights its perils, it elicits scorn. The perils are of two sorts; general and specific. The general perils include ideological thinking, a highly censorious spirit, and a curious tendency to separate from the life of the church. The specific peril is the with which orthodoxy converts to fundamentalism. Fundamentalism is orthodoxy gone cultic.

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Theology Thursday - Is Evangelical Theology Changing? (Part 2)

This article was published in the March 1956 issue of “Christian Life” magazine. It was seen by fundamentalists as a direct repudiation of the movement. One fundamentalist scholar wrote that the contributors were “crystallizing new evangelical discontent with fundamentalism.”1Still another observed that fundamentalists “viewed the leadership of new evangelicalism as a group of compromisers who were abandoning the fundamentals of the faith in order to be accepted by the larger theological world.”2 

This is Part 2 of the article.

A More Tolerant Attitude Toward Varying Views on Eschatology

Used to be that most fundamentalists were pre-millennial and pre-tribulation. That is, they believed that Christ was coming again to begin a thousand-year reign of peace. Furthermore, that the church would be “raptured” – (taken up to Heaven) – before the “tribulation” (seven years of trouble) the Book of Revelation says will come before Christ’s return.

But for the last ten years debate has been raging on these subjects. Some evangelicals have taken an “amillennial” position (no actual thousand-year period). Some are saying that the Bible doesn’t teach that the church will escape the tribulation.

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Review - The Church of the Fundamentalists

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Larry Oats prefaces his new book, The Church of the Fundamentalists, by noting “While much has been written on the histories of the fundamentalist and evangelical movement, the theological basis of that division has frequently been overlooked. The purpose of this book is to examine how the ecclesiologies of mid-twentieth century fundamentalists and evangelicals affected their views of ecclesiastical separation and how those views led individuals to establish, abandon, or modify their views of ecclesiastical separation.” In other words, the controversies swirling around the fundamentalist issue center on the question, “What is the church supposed to be?”

The book contains four chapters with an introduction and conclusion in its 176 pages. The first chapter surveys “Varieties of Ecclesiologies,” really a survey of the “primary historical views of the nature of the church.” (25) This background is necessary in order to understand the theology driving the fundamentalist-vs.-evangelical answers to this central question.

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Biblical Fundamentalism, Part 2

From Think on These Things, Mar/Apr 2016. Essentially the same article also appears in Voice magazine. Read Part 1.

The Second Great Divide

The colossal differences between liberals and conservatives were crystallized around the turn of the century with the subsequent division of the two camps occurring in the 1920s and 1930s. At this point the conflict was often referred to as the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy but, as the years rolled by, another division was looming, this one among the Fundamentalists.

By the 1940s the question of cultural and social engagement had arisen within the Fundamentalists’ camps. The original Fundamentalists, perhaps oversensitive to the social gospel that was at the heart of liberalism, often pushed away from any form of social action. In time, some felt that they had gone too far and needed to become more involved with the culture and improve society, as well as preach the gospel.

This ultimately led to a split within the conservative camp. The Fundamentalists would take on more separatist views, that is, they would separate from any who taught false doctrines and, rather than try to infiltrate society, they would live as lights of the gospel calling people to Christ. On the other hand, the opposing position would be termed new (or neo) evangelical.

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