Becoming Conversant With Fundamentalism

I have been asking for some fundamentalists to explain and define their version of fundamentalism because:

1. its much better to let people define themselves with their own words than do it for them which often leads to inaccuracies and personal attacks.

2. There is a lot of good stuff in fundamentalism that is covered up by some ugly excesses . . . and love believes all things

3. Over the past year, the fundamentalists have turned up in the backyard of text-driven blogdom, and many emerging church bloggers are having their first interaction with them – lots of heated discussions and fiery darts coming from both groups. But also room to learn from each other, if we do it right. Time to talk about it so we can move ahead together, as much as is possible this side of eternity.

I may pontificate on another blog post about my days as a wild fundamentalist street preacher, and boast of my youthful, zealous acts for God such as leaving gospel tracts inside Catholic hymnals, and on the windshields of their cars while they were in mass, and preaching through John MacArthur Jnr’s “Charasmatic Chaos” at my Baptist church, and rebuking Christians for listening to rock group Petra . . . and also my fantastic experiences in the Word of God that are still with me – hey, i had a really good time as a fundamentalist and really don’t hold any grudges. In fact, I still turn up and preach in their churches. But before I write that post . .

Here are some links to start the journey (and you can recommend others)

– I posted “Are “Fundamentalists in the Emerging Church?” which kind of kicked off this series.

– CaptainSacrament has a good post entitled “Facing Opposition: An Open Letter to Emergent Christians” I like his tone.

– Challies, who once called himself a funkdamentalist, posted “The Fundamentals of Fundamentalism

PryroManiac is one of the best looking fundy blogs (actually, it beats the emerging church blogs also) and its a helluvalot better designed than mine. Heck – I feel graphically challenged everytime i visit – a severe case of pixel envy! Anyway, this fine looking blog became the unofficial gateway for John MacArthur’s thoughts a few days ago under “Recovering the Spirit of Early Fundamentalism.

“Certainly any list of fundamentals would have to begin with these doctrines Scripture explicitly identifies as nonnegotiable: the absolute authority of Scripture over tradition (sola Scriptura), justification by faith alone (sola fide), the deity of Christ, and the Trinity. Since the Apostles’ Creed omits all those doctrines, it clearly cannot be regarded as a sufficient doctrinal basis for building ecumenical bridges.”

I felt that John MacArthur was avoiding the centrality of eschatology in early 20th century fundamentalism – back in the days when your view on the tribulation and the millenial period dictated your allegiance to either the liberals or the fundies. I might be wrong on that, but I left a little comment on Pyromanc,

“john’s list does not include premillenialism – one of the original 5 marks of fundamentalism from Princeton in the 1920’s.

Do you think John is opening the door for some flexibility in fundamentalist eschatology, or is that issue already open to various interpretations without the accusation of aligning with liberals?

Nobody has come back on that one yet . . which doesnt really matter. I just want to stay in the conversation long enough until I am a little more conversant with the new version of fundamentalism which is taking shape on the blogosphere. I am quite open to be admonished and learn from the group that I had fellowship with more many years, and I have a strong feeling that there is a reason for them here in the blogosphere.

Andrew

Andrew Jones has been blogging since 1997. He is based in San Francisco with his two daughters but also travels the globe to find compelling stories of early stage entrepreneurs changing their world. Sometimes he talks in the third person. Sometimes he even talks to himself and has been heard uttering the name "Precious" :-)

20 Comments

  • If you look back through some of Phil’s earlier posts on PyroManiac, he’s advocating for what might be called a minimal fundamentalism (which he also identifies closely with a minimal evangelicalism). He wants to affirm fundamentalism as a historically ecumenical movement, and therefore wants to avoid tying it too tightly to non-essential doctrines. While most fundamentalists share eschatological views, I would venture that most of them also view that as a non-essential feature of fundamentalism. The core beliefs that MacArthur and Johnson are promoting would be the last high hill that fundamentalists would die on.

  • Sorry, Andrew; I meant to reply to your comment when I had time but then neglected to do it.
    One of my criticisms of the early fundamentalists is that they didn’t do enough diligent thinking about which doctrines are truly fundamental and which ones are merely important yet not of the essence of Christianity itself.
    Still, I doubt many (if any) of the early fundamentalists–especially those from Princeton–really would have insisted that premillism is fundamental in that sense. Premillennialism even to this day is not usually listed in anyone’s short-list of fundamental issues.
    So the answer to your question is that although MacArthur is committed to premillennialism, he would would not regard premillism as a cardinal doctrine (and he never has). He discusses that issue in the opening section of his book on the Second Coming. The omission of that item from his list was deliberate, but it doesn’t really reflect any change in his thinking.
    He often participates in ministry with amillennialists or postmillennialists. Some prominent ones include including R. C. Sproul, Iain Murray, Sinclair Ferguson, and many others.
    And, in response to Michael Lee’s comment: I wouldn’t exactly say that that “fundamentalism [is] a historically ecumenical movement.” Rather, my point was that the best men in early fundamentalism were as committed to evangelical unity as they were to the principle of separation from teachers who corrupt essential Christian truths. Their mistake lay in skipping the step of carefully defining what’s essential and showing a biblical rationale for why those particular doctrines are fundamental and others are not.
    My full thouoghts on this were originally given in a seminar titled “Dead Right: The Failure of Fundamentalism,” and subsequently discussed in detail at sharperiron.org. The archives of that whole discussion are probably still available there.

  • Ah Petra, now I’ve not heard of them for years.
    I can understand people complaining on the basis that they weren’t very good, but I wonder what the main problem was.
    Funny how we turn into the very things we find most offensive in others, isn’t it?

  • thanks phillip
    nice of you to drop by. i was wondering if your readers would bite . . and they might later on. or maybe its not that important.
    its great that you are tackling this prickly subject – more power to ya!!! (Petra song)
    i think the 5 points of the “Presbyterian School” 1895 statement listed the bodily resurrection of Christ (number 5) but by 1910 the addition of “premillenial” was added to beef it up. It wasnt until much later when number 5 was replaced with something non-eschatological.
    It might have been the west coast folk with their series of panphlets (1910-1915) called “The Fundamentals” that shifted the focus of number 5 over to – i think – the fact of ‘supernatural revelation’.
    Maybe a historian could help out here. But if that is true, then i would see it as a response to the liberals saying that the supernatural is unscientific more than a connection with Azusa Street. (1906) and the birth of pentecostalism.
    if i was a fundamentalist blogger, i would be preparing to do a 100 year anniversary series of “The Fundamentals” beginning in 2010 – with a historical new media republishing of the original booklets and a rethinking of the necessary fundamentals for todays world.

  • joe? where the heck did you come from?
    Petra? yes. a Christian rock band that is due for a retro-80’s comeback. But back in the day, there was a big anti-rock thing going on – Brother Bob Larson giving good reasons for record burnings (which we did) and drumbeats being of the devil because they sounded too African . . . you had to be there. It all made sense to me back then.
    But then I travelled.
    And found other Christians who did things i didnt do (like shop on a sunday) and I had to learn about grace and unity and adopt the Jesus prayer that we might be one.
    BTW – i still dont like to shop on a sunday, and avoid it if at all possible, but my wife is American and that was not part of her background . . . so we find middle ground.

  • Slightly off topic-
    “Its a helluvalot better designed than mine. Heck – I feel graphically challenged everytime i visit – a severe case of pixel envy!”
    I actually like your design a lot. Not sure what that says about me…

  • I was one of the ones that Andrew asked to write a “something” about fundamentalism. I have managed to complete my first attempt, for whatever it is worth.

  • no problem larry
    here is the link to your post – what is fundamentalism
    i like what you say
    although I agreed with the doctrinal points you mentioned rather than disagreed – so if i am not a fundamentalist, it is not because of my view of doctrine or Scripture but perhaps what i do with that view in relation to others who do not share it.
    and i think there are others out there like me.

  • I think fundamentalist is a misleading term and I think MacArthur recognizes this and that is why he went back to the original propagators of the term. In the 50’s it was hijacked by men like J. Frank Norton and more recently it is used more often to describe those in Independant Baptist Churches, whose soteriology is more than likely not Reformed. People used to say that the difference between a fundy and an evangelical was that fundys didn’t like Billy Graham and evangelicals did. When the evangelical movement swept through America under men like Graham, Harold Ockenga, and Carl F.H. Henry. Incendentally Henry produced a great book during those early years called “The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism.” It spells out the differences between the groups fairly well, most of which hover around the idea that Evangelicals attempt to engage culture with philosophical argumentation and historical facts, while fundamentalists retreat from culture in a sort of radical fideist mentality.
    To me the difference between the modern Evangelicals, which you are calling fundamentalists (unless of course you are referring to the type mentioned above), and the Emerging crowd to me seems to be their view of how to engage the culture. Evangelicals want to engage from the platform of Modernistic philosophy, while the Emerging groups want to shift toward postmodernistic philosophy. The debate comes when those in Emerging groups play down (or “not high-beam”) the propositional truths that Evangelicals see as essentials of belief in the Christian faith. That is why more open conversation and give-and-take needs to happen between the two groups.

  • Sorry, I didn’t finish one sentence above. Here is how it should read:
    “When the evangelical movement swept through American under man like Graham, Harold Ockenga, and Carl F.H. Henry,” fundamentalism was suppressed and eventually virtually silenced as the main expression of Christianity.

  • Andrew said >>> although I agreed with the doctrinal points you mentioned rather than disagreed – so if i am not a fundamentalist, it is not because of my view of doctrine or Scripture but perhaps what i do with that view in relation to others who do not share it.
    My response >>> Exactly. What sets fundamentalism apart in many ways is not the doctrine that it holds. Many new evangelicals (the name they gave themselves upon departing from historic fundamentalism) professed to hold the same doctrine. They simply wanted to relate to those who did not hold it in a different way than the fundamentalists.
    D.R. Randle’s comment about the way in which the respective groups engage culture is a significant point, and one worthy of address. To me, the fundamentalists typically are wary of culture because of the non-neutrality of the human mind and the tendency for the non-redeemed mind to produce sinful forms of culture. The evangelicals are slightly less wary, and in some cases, whole-heartedly absorbed in the use of cultural expressions that find their root in secularism. The emerging folks, to me, are a completely different mindset. In fact, to me, in my study of the emergents, there seems a fairly radical paradigm shift that makes comparison difficult. In their use of culture, they are much like the evangelicals. But the way that they approach it is very different.
    At the heart of this discussion is the extent of the effects of sin on various expressions of life and thought in culture. Along with the extent of sin, there is necessary consideration of the nature of the gospel and how the various forms of cultural media convey the gospel message.
    That would be a topic worthy of further thought before I go taking up the whole page here rambling about something I have not spent time formulating my thoughts on enough to be reasonably coherent.

  • Andrew
    I think it would be interesting to do an anthropological study on fundamentalism, that is, investigate it as a ‘culture’ rather than a ‘theological position’. After all, world view presuppositions are often well below the articulated level.
    Another thought. Although the emerging conversation if full of people exploring the interaction between postmodernity and Christianity, how many have approached it as “Christians who’ve been challenged to look deeper into post-modernity” in comparison to “post-moderns who’ve been challenged to look deeper into Christianity”? It strikes me that you and me have approached the conversation from complete opposite ends of the spectrum (you fundamentalist past, me New Age past) which probably explains a lot in terms of what issues grab out attention. From my experience post-fundamentalists are in the majority but I’ve never seen a formal study exploring where we’re all coming from.

  • “I have been asking for some fundamentalists to explain and define their version of fundamentalism.”
    I think the biggest separation about Fundamentalists is that they hold to the idea that God is a god of order, who penned the Bible with ONE meaning in mind. And typically this is where they go systematically nuts by trying to order all theology into tight neat little boxes.
    Now, to get a group of Fundamentalists in the same room (let’s say a Baptist, Preby, and Charismatic) and to have them AGREE on the same ‘fundamentals’, this is where you have a problem.
    Fundamentalists are the new Evangelicals (because what does evangelical mean anymore anyways? I go to ‘Evangelical’ churches who don’t hold to inerrancy of the Bible.)

  • What If God Was One of Us?

    Joan Osborne posed this question in a song a few years back. Of course, I believe God was one of us. But what I think I lot of us (as followers of Christ) struggle with now is in pondering what if God was one of us – living here on earth today – in …

  • I thought I posted a message in this present thread… What happened ? Did it get deleted? I also wanted to see a response post from a fellow named iggy who —unfortunately advocates elements of postmodernism . Where did the messages he posted go ?

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