Now About Those Differences

Now, About Those Differences, Part Sixteen

NickImageThe entire “Now About Those Differences” series is available here.


No study of the relationship between fundamentalism and conservative evangelicalism would be complete without a discussion of separation. Since 1947 at the latest, the doctrine and practice of separation has been the single factor that has most distinguished fundamentalists from other evangelicals. For that reason alone, we need to ask whether separation is also a difference between fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals.

How we answer this question is going to depend upon how we define both fundamentalism and conservative evangelicalism. Solidifying those definitions is a more complicated business than an outsider might assume. From a secular or theologically liberal point of view, anyone who treats Scripture as normative and authoritative is a fundamentalist—up to and often including the Evangelical Left. At the opposite extreme is the following resolution, passed by the Fundamental Baptist Fellowship in 1979:

The Fundamental Baptist Fellowship recognizes the danger of the movement known as pseudo-fundamentalism, sees it as new evangelicalism in embryonic form, and calls upon all local Bible-believing churches to reject pseudo-fundamental activities as those of the Jerry Falwell ministries.

Strengthened versions of this statement were adopted by the FBF for several years. Other fundamentalists have made even more extreme pronouncements. The result is an odd situation. Liberals often see evangelicals as fundamentalists, while some fundamentalists have accused other fundamentalists of being incipient or actual neo-evangelicals.

Of course, Falwell and his sympathizers objected to being called “pseudo” anything. They insisted that they represented true, “historic” fundamentalism, tracing their pedigree to the authors of The Fundamentals. They took the position that one became a fundamentalist simply by affirming the fundamentals. According to this revision, historic fundamentalists believed in separation from unbelievers and apostates, but rarely or never from other believers.

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Now, About Those Differences, Part Fifteen

NickImageThe entire “Now About Those Differences” series is available here.

To Bauder—a Surrejoinder


Even granting that there is no real difference between us, we have not yet finished with this topic. To this point you have emphasized the importance and the fundamental nature of the gospel. You have also indicated that Christians cannot stop with the gospel alone but must move on to other aspects of the faith-once-delivered. Well and good. If we end the conversation here, however, we risk leaving the impression that the rest of the Christian faith is an entirely separate thing from the gospel.

To anticipate an objection, I certainly agree that Christianity includes something besides the gospel. If we make Christianity equal to the gospel alone, then we are likely to fall into one of two errors. The first is to depreciate everything in the faith that does not fit our definition of the gospel. The second is to expand our definition of the gospel to include other forms of Christian belief and activity.

The first error is committed by those who wish to limit biblical inerrancy to the Bible’s saving message. Doing so allows them (as they see it) to affirm inerrancy while also affirming that the Bible makes mistakes in matters of science and history. Since science and history are supposedly not part of the Bible’s saving message, they do not count against inerrancy.

The second error is committed by varieties of people who wish to “front-load” the gospel with their pet doctrines and theories. An example is those folks who insist that we do not have God’s Word unless we have all of God’s words, and that we have all of God’s words only in their particular version of the Bible. At the opposite end of the theological spectrum, representatives of the emergent church make a similar mistake when they try to include social, psychological, or environmental concerns as part of the gospel.

Some doctrines and practices are essential to the gospel. Others are not. Error in the essentials constitutes apostasy. Error over non-essentials does not. If we fail to maintain this distinction, we will end up charging with heresy anyone who disagrees with the details of our doctrine or practice. Such a charge is clearly not warranted: a person who holds the wrong view of the sons of God in Genesis 6 is not an apostate.

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Now, About Those Differences, Part Fourteen

NickOfTimeRead Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10, Part 11, Part 12, and Part 13.

A Rejoinder from Bauder


Your response to my essay has been received and noted. It is certainly the most unusual reply that I’ve received—not to mention the most provocative and thoughtful!

By way of rejoinder, let’s start with what we clearly agree upon. For example, we agree that the gospel is supremely important. It is the most important thing in the world. Its importance does not lie in the fact that it works to our benefit, as if it were permissible to love God only for His gifts rather than for Himself. No, it is important because it is inseparable from God’s own person and from God’s quest for His own glory. The gospel is precisely what reveals God to us as He is.

We also agree that the gospel is assumed in all of Christianity. We further agree that the gospel is supremely worthy of proclamation to those who need it, and supremely worthy of defense against those who attack it. We agree that we need more of the gospel, not less. So far, so good.

Where, then, do we disagree? The short answer is that we do not! Any putative disagreement between us should be ascribed to the short-sightedness of those who delight in false dilemmas and who wish to pit us against each other.

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Now, About Those Differences, Part Thirteen

NickOfTimeRead Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10, Part 11, and Part 12.

A Response to Bauder


Your last essay raised the question of the gospel as a basis of fellowship. I think you would agree that the gospel is essential to all Christian fellowship. The question that you raise is how much cooperative effort is possible on the basis of the gospel alone.

By the way, who do you think you’re addressing? Are you trying to convince conservative evangelicals of the error of their ways? Are you trying to persuade young fundamentalists to stay in the FBF? What’s going on here?

I appreciate the fact that you phrased your essay in terms of testing ideas rather than positing absolute conclusions. The form that you chose invites response. If you meant to construct an argument that would satisfy all enquiries and answer all objections, however, then you have fallen seriously short of your goal.

Having acknowledged the importance of the gospel—unquestionably it is the most important thing in the world—you then seek to diminish its importance by arguing that Christians do not pay attention to it except under certain circumstances. The two circumstances that you mention are evangelism and polemics, i.e., when the gospel is being offered or when it is being defended.

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Now, About Those Differences, Part Twelve

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Together (Only?) for the Gospel

The differences between fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals include considerable disparity in their attitudes toward miraculous gifts. Fundamentalists are almost universally and vigorously cessationists. Conversely, many conservative evangelicals are continuationists, and those who are not can still function comfortably with the ones who are. From a fundamentalist perspective, this difference is rather a significant one.

Nevertheless, fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals do hold much in common. What they hold in common is properly designated as koinonia or fellowship. It would be hypocritical to pretend that this fellowship does not exist, just as it would be hypocritical to pretend to enjoy fellowship where none existed.

Most fundamentally (the word is deliberate), both groups are united in their affirmation and exaltation of the gospel. None of the differences that we have examined to this point results in a denial of the gospel. Both fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals believe the gospel, preach the gospel, and defend the gospel.

This mutuality in the gospel leads to a question. Since conservative evangelicals and fundamentalists are united in their allegiance to the gospel, should they not be able to cooperate at the level of the gospel? To put it positively, should fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals get together for the gospel?

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Now, About Those Differences, Part Eleven

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Weighing Cessationism

Among other things, fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals differ over the question of miraculous gifts. Nearly all fundamentalist leaders insist that miraculous gifts ended with the apostolic age. Several prominent conservative evangelicals have argued for the continuation of those gifts. Just as importantly, fundamentalists do not pursue public ministry or cooperation with continuationists. Many conservative evangelical leaders, however, are willing to downplay their differences over miraculous gifts in order to perpetuate certain forms of public cooperation.

Doctrines and practices differ in their importance. Therefore, errors differ in their gravity. In the debate between cessationists and continuationists, one party must be in error. The question is, How serious is the error?

To put it a different way, fellowship centers upon something that is shared or held in common. Continuationists and cessationists clearly do not hold certain things in common, which means that they do not have fellowship in those areas. Given that their fellowship has been limited objectively by those differences, how far-reaching are the implications for public cooperation?

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Now, About Those Differences, Part Ten

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Miraculous Gifts

Are fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals really the same thing under different labels? In order to answer that question, we must investigate the apparent differences. So far in this series we have looked at two.

First, we asked the extent to which each favored dispensationalism. We discovered that fundamentalists tend to be dispensationalists while evangelicals tend to be non-dispensationalists. In evaluating the significance of this difference, however, we found that it really did not mark out a major division between fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals.

Second, we explored the accusations that (according to some evangelicals) fundamentalists tend toward legalism and (according to some fundamentalists) evangelicals tend toward worldliness. In trying to understand these mutual recriminations, we found that they tended to focus upon revivalistic taboos, concessions to the counterculture, the acceptance of extra-Scriptural second premises in moral argument, and the degree to which churches adapt their congregational life to popular culture. These differences are sometimes matters of degree, but they are nevertheless real. I am willing to argue that more often than not, fundamentalists have been more right than evangelicals on these matters, including most conservative evangelicals.

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Now, About Those Differences, Part Nine

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Assessing the Worldliness

How different are fundamentalists from conservative evangelicals? We have now examined two answers to that question. The first answer had to do with dispensationalism. We concluded that, although fundamentalism has a higher percentage of dispensationalists, this difference creates no greater tension between the two groups than it does within each group.

The second difference that we examined was the putative legalism of fundamentalists (according to evangelicals) and the supposed worldliness of evangelicals (according to fundamentalists). We have tried to discover what these accusations mean. Our working hypothesis includes the following factors. First, fundamentalists tend to observe certain revivalist taboos more frequently than evangelicals. Second, fundamentalists are more reluctant to adopt the accouterments of the counterculture that emerged during the 1960s. Third, fundamentalists are more likely to accept second-premise arguments when the extra-scriptural premise relies upon a judgment. Fourth, evangelicals tend to employ more recent versions of popular culture in their church life, while fundamentalists tend to hang on to older and now obsolete manifestations of popular culture.

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