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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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


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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Reflections on "The Book" - Four Views on The Spectrum of Evangelicalism

Image of Four Views on the Spectrum of Evangelicalism (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology)
by Kevin Bauder, R. Albert Mohler Jr., John G. Stackhouse Jr., Roger E. Olson
Zondervan Academic 2011
Paperback 224
The new Four Views on the Spectrum of Evangelicalism is being discussed in various venues such as Mark Snoeberger’s blog and by Kevin Mungons at Sharper Iron. In a few days, ETS will host a discussion on the book and its theme at the 2011 Annual Meeting in San Francisco. Carl Trueman will be there serving as moderator along with coauthors Kevin Bauder and Al Mohler, both of whom I know and respect. Too bad Roger Olsen and John Stackhouse Jr. won’t make it, but they have their reasons.
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A Young Fundamentalist, on Fundamentalism


It is a periodic priority for the leaders of fundamentalism to attend to the mindset of their young folks. This essay is another contribution to that discussion, although I must acknowledge at the outset that it is based on a survey of no one but me. I therefore begin by defending the significance of these observations, despite the paltry sample size.

I grew up in some of the very best neighborhoods of fundamentalism. I’ve become convinced of this in recent years as I’ve found that, unlike many of my peers, I have precious little in my ecclesiastical upbringing to react against: neither scandal and abuse, nor outlandish authoritarianism, nor anti-intellectualism, nor pervasive mishandling of Scripture, and not even an intolerable measure of crisis-inducing revivalism. Friends whose experiences in fundamentalism have been nothing so benign as mine have decided that theological conviction—if not common decency—compels them to abandon the movement. But I am not of their disillusioned number.

Not only have I had few bad experiences in the movement of fundamentalism, but I’m still wholeheartedly committed to the idea of fundamentalism. The most important distinctive of fundamentalism remains its willingness “to do battle royal” for the fundamentals (recalling Laws’s definitive expression). Christian fellowship cannot exist with anyone who denies a fundamental of the faith. Those who extend such fellowship have erred, and not insignificantly. As the regular author of this publication insists, compromise on this point is scandalous, and those who advocate and perpetuate scandal are derelict of duty and patently untrustworthy. Separation is both theologically and historically justifiable.

In addition to boilerplate separatism, I also adhere to a litany of other common fundamentalist shibboleths: cessationism, young-earth creationism, dispensationalism, cultural conservatism. That last item merits special attention in establishing my traditional fundamentalist credentials, as it makes me something of a demographical oddity. (As I write this, I’m wearing a tie. Voluntarily.)

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"One of the ways to distinguish the authentic fundamentalists from the inauthentic fundamentalists is to get assorted participants to compile a list of the names of the kind and gentle men they knew"

Evangelical Spectrum: Four Views or Two Views?

Image of Four Views on the Spectrum of Evangelicalism (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology)
by Kevin Bauder, R. Albert Mohler Jr., John G. Stackhouse Jr., Roger E. Olson
Zondervan Academic 2011
Paperback 224

Just when readers think that the evangelical “four views” genre has covered every possible angle, editors Andy Naselli and Collin Hansen have come up with a book that explores evangelicalism itself. Zondervan’s Four Views on the Spectrum of Evangelicalism succeeds in presenting four engaging essays that describe the range of positions within evangelical thought. But the book leaves readers with a question. Are there really four views, or can they be boiled down to two?

More specifically, are we headed toward a convergence between mainstream fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals?

Sorting out the positions

Kevin Bauder presents mainstream fundamentalism as an idea worth saving, but not a movement worth saving. While many readers within fundamentalism are familiar with his views, the other three authors seemed somewhat surprised by his measured tone and his willingness to critique his own movement. Bauder contrasts his position with hyper-fundamentalism and populist revivalism, which he identifies as “deficient forms of the movement.” Bauder even worries that these two forces are now more prevalent in fundamentalism, with his own position losing influence. But for those who think that mainstream fundamentalism is identical to conservative evangelicalism, Bauder clearly states that it is not. For Bauder, there are still doctrinal differences related to the definition of the gospel, and practical differences related to separation. (Kevin Bauder’s chapter is excerpted as “Defending the Idea of Fundamentalism” in the November/December Baptist Bulletin.)

Al Mohler chose the term confessional evangelicalism to describe his own position in order to emphasize evangelicalism’s doctrinal center. He could have chosen the more popular title “conservative evangelicalism” (and in conversation he acknowledges they refer to the same movement), but the word “conservative” carries its own political baggage. Unlike the two authors who follow him in the book, Mohler wants an evangelicalism with clear, gospel-defined boundaries. His “first level theological issues” sound a lot like “fundamentals,” which he confirmed to me in a later Baptist Bulletin interview. For that matter, Kevin Bauder also affirms that they are talking about the same essential doctrines. But the difference between their two positions remains a matter of discussion.

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