Fundamentalism

Hosted by Fundamentalists

waiterThis June is a month of changes for SharperIron. Several design changes are planned by month’s end. A restructuring of the Forums is in the works. Today we’re officially making a change that we’ve been describing for a while as “the identity tweak.” (See “Seven Years and Counting” and the ensuing discussion.) The key phrase in this adjustment is “hosted by fundamentalists.”

For some years—probably since ‘05—SharperIron has characterized itself as “a fundamentalist place” existing “for fundamentalists.” Though the language predates my involvement at SI, the intent was that those who register and participate in discussions should be people who consider themselves to be, in some sense, fundamentalists. Since we didn’t precisely define what a fundamentalist is, or put much effort into policing members’ fundamentalist status, we’ve always had some participants who were not fundamentalists in the estimation of some other members. As everyone knows, opinions expressed here have not always been “fundamentalistically correct” either.

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Churches Should Adopt a Modern Version of the Bible

In my previous post, I asked if churches should abandon the King James Version for a modern English translation. I answered, “Yes,” and suggested there were two main reasons…But the truth is that after 400 years it suffers a number of shortcomings when compared to modern versions. I will mention two.

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

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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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Coming Soon: "The Fundamentals" at SharperIron?

The Fundamentals was a series of articles first published between 1910 and 1915 as the fulfillment of an oil millionaire’s (Marsden, 118) dream. He didn’t dream of becoming a Christian publishing magnate. Rather, Lyman Stewart aimed to fortify Christian leaders in the fundamentals of the faith against the tide of unbelief—specifically the unbelief of higher criticism.*

Accordingly, Stewart and his brother Milton distributed the series, one volume at a time, free of charge “to every pastor, evangelist, missionary, theological professor, theological student, Sunday school superintendent, Y. M. C. A. and Y. W. G. A. secretary in the English speaking world, so far as the addresses of all these [could] be obtained” (Vol. I, Foreword). By the time Volume V rolled off the presses, the Stewart brothers were able to claim they had sent series volumes to “more than 275,000” of these Christian leaders (Vol. V, Foreword).

The full title was The Fundamentals: A Testimony to the Truth.

Over the coming months, it’s our intention to republish The Fundamentals one chapter at a time here at SharperIron. And, though we lack Stewart’s millions, we’ll follow his tradition and make them available for free.

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Why There Will Always Be a Fundamentalism

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In a recent blog post, self-admitted post-conservative evangelical theologian Roger Olson passed along an essay by a Baylor colleague, Mark Clawson, entitled “Neo-Fundamentalism.” Clawson compared and contrasted late 19th and early 20th century fundamentalism with the recent conservative evangelical luminaries like John Piper and Al Mohler, both of whom serve as exemplars of Clawson’s neo-fundamentalism.

Clawson suggests several reasons why it may be useful to delineate these men as neo-fundamentalists. Significantly, this comparison with the older movement, if carefully handled, can be useful “in predicting possible future developments and trajectories for the movement. It will be interesting to see, for instance, whether neo-fundamentalists will in fact follow the separatist path of their fundamentalist forbears—creating new institutions separate from the mainstream of evangelicalism, or whether they will find a way to remain within the evangelical movement even while critiquing it. If current trends hold, they may even become the dominant force within North American evangelicalism over the next decade and beyond.”

In response to Clawson, I suggest that it is naïve (at best) to think that fundamentalism is ever likely to die out and go away. Clawson never directly advances this particular thesis; he is simply comparing two movements and attempting to disparage the conservative evangelicals by associating them with others that deserve unbridled opprobrium. This is a common ploy among the theological left (and the right, for that matter): simply call your opponent a fundamentalist (or a liberal) and then dismiss his entire argument. In the recent Southern Baptist controversy, Al Mohler and his conservative colleagues have been regularly dubbed fundamentalists, though this is not a moniker they would ever take for themselves.

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