A Blast from the Fundamentalist Past!

A Blast from the Fundamentalist Past!

When a used book arrived in the mail yesterday, I realized I had accidentally struck gold. It was George Dollar’s A History of Fundamentalism in America (Greenville: BJU Press, 1973). It was autographed by the author. It looks like it has sat on a shelf, unread and untouched, lo these past 49 years.

Tucked inside the inside flap of the dust jacket were two sparkling diamonds. First was a long list of “Influential Leaders in Contemporary Christendom,” compiled by Archer Weniger, a hard line Baptist fundamentalist leader of yesteryear. This list reflects the northern Baptist fundamentalist emphasis on secondary separation. You must categorize people and organizations, so you know from whom to separate. Note especially a category labeled “Blacks.”

Finally, I found a short pamphlet updated and published by Dollar in 1983 titled “Facts for Fundamentalists.” It provides a taxonomy of fundamentalist organizations, schools, radio ministries, camps, etc. The rationale for its existence is the same as Weniger’s list.

This is a fascinating and truly amazing time capsule into a flavor of Christianity that has largely passed away. Pockets of it still exist; you can find representative echoes of it in some corners of the Foundations Baptist Fellowship International.

Here are some pictures of these documents. Clearer, PDF versions of the same are at the hyperlinks, above.

Much Ado About Something: A New Christian Fundamentalism for 2022

Much Ado About Something: A New Christian Fundamentalism for 2022

A new fundamentalism has arrived on the scene in the evangelical world. It’s kinda like legacy fundamentalism, but also kinda not. I believe the various evangelical scenes are on the precipice of a newer fundamentalist-modernist split. In this video essay, I review components of generic, faithful Christianity, define and give examples of second-stage legacy Baptist fundamentalism, then make some observations of and connections to the 2022 evangelical scene.

If you don’t want to watch the video, you can find the notes from my discussion here. They include a bit more nuance than what I managed to convey in the video.

  • 0:00 – 00:45: Introduction
  • 00:45 – 03:57: Generic, bible-believing Christianity. The “Stackhouse hexagon”
  • 03:57 – 11:32: Brief survey of second-stage, “legacy fundamentalism”
  • 11:32 – 14:52: Introducing “fundamentalistic evangelicals”
  • 14:53 – 21:27: Pressures that have created this new fundamentalism
  • 21:28 – 26:07: Hamilton’s “political quadrilateral” and its implications
  • 26:08 – 28:07: The shifted battlespace for fundamentalism compared to 1920
  • 28:08 – 35:56: Observations about this new fundamentalism
  • 35:57 – 43:26: Sketching part of the new fundamentalist landscape
  • 43:27 – 45:23: A “convergence” between elements of legacy fundamentalism and the new?
  • 45:24 – 51:03: Why you should care

For the podcast version of this video, see here. The song “The Proof of Your Love” (by For King & Country) captures my fears about the danger of a militant ethos coloring the Christian faith—where is the love of Christ?

On Ken Ham and Fundamentalism

On Ken Ham and Fundamentalism

I opened the mail the other day to discover a letter from Answers in Genesis (“A Note from Ken Ham”). This wasn’t unusual. What was unusual was what Ken wanted. A color brochure fell out of the envelope. A new “Statement of Faith” from AiG. What was this about?

Ken had a challenge for me. He asked me to review “our updated statement of faith.” Then, he asked me to compare it to “your church’s/college’s statement of faith.” Ken encouraged me to provoke a discussion with leaders about why the church’s Statement didn’t match AiG’s. To be fair, Ken warned me “this could result in some hostility.” But, he declared, such a sacrifice was necessary to “help uncover compromise.”

My first reaction was purely ecclesiastical. Why does a man who runs two amusement parks believe it’s proper to incite doctrinal strife within local churches? His parachurch organization is not an agent of the Gospel. His organization disciples nobody. It baptizes nobody. It marries nobody. It eulogizes nobody. Ken is not there when a marriage is on the rocks, or when a family has no money and needs a new washing machine. Yet, here his letter sits, inviting Christians to accuse their churches of “compromise.”

My second thought was that I hadn’t realized, until that moment, how fundamentalist AiG really was. The flashpoints are Genesis 1-11, abortion, evolution, and sexual mores. But, especially Genesis. The letter declared, “[t]here are only a few Christian colleges/universities that will stand with Answers in Genesis today.” If you don’t “stand” with Ken on Genesis, you’re a “compromiser.”

AiG’s isn’t “fundamentalist” because it believes what it does about Genesis. It’s fundamentalist because it has no room for generous orthodoxy. It engages in what Michael Bird calls “doctrinal mummification.”1 Its theology is frozen. Set in concrete, just like Reagan’s feet.2 No matter whether you have a different, well-articulated view―there can be no détente. Such would be weakness. These compromisers are “very liberal,” Ken warns. They must be crushed.

Fear sells. Nigh on 22 years ago, Cal Thomas and Ed Dobson wrote a sad book reflecting on their experiences with the Moral Majority. The issue of fund-raising letters came up. Thomas explained these letters always have the same four traits:

First, they identify an enemy: homosexuals, abortionists, Democrats, or ‘liberals’ in general. Second, the enemies are accused of being out to ‘get us’ or impose their morality on the rest of us or destroy the country. Third, the letter assures the read that something will be done: We will oppose these enemies and ensure they do not take over America. Fourth, to get this job done, please send money (and the letter often suggests a specific amount).3

This is precisely what dear Ken does. He suggests a $50 donation and promises a copy of his latest book in return. It’s regrettable to see AiG live up to fundamentalism’s worst impulses of “intellectual rigidity and obscurantism.”4 Scot McKnight laments that people often weaponize “inerrancy,” and “more often than not they are affirming some authority for a specific interpretation that is part of their tribe.”5 Thus, if you disagree with AiG, you’re surely not on God’s side.

Long ago, in 1980, journalist Frances Fitzgerald did a profile of Jerry Falwell and the then-new Liberty College. She observed:

For Thomas Road people, education—in the broad sense of the word—is not a moral and intellectual quest that involves struggle and uncertainty. It is simply the process of learning, or teaching, the right answers. The idea that an individual should collect evidence and decide for himself is anathema.6

That is the approach Ken displays in his letter. It’s also in the new Statement of Faith, which contains this declaration:

The concepts of “social justice,” “intersectionality,” and “critical race theory” are anti-biblical and destructive to human flourishing (Ezekiel 18:1–20; James 2:8–9).7

It provides no definitions for these terms. Ken just says they’re bad. This is troubling, because in his letter Ken assured me the new Statement was carefully worded to “stop people” from using it “to justify compromised positions.” He even declares AiG will “monitor” to see how folks “can get to justify not believing God’s Word.” To disagree with Ken is to disagree with God.

Again, the doctrinal mummification, the feet in concrete, the intellectual rigidity. Of course, one can be against all those things, but what does Ken think they mean?

Emil Brunner wrote about evil as a social phenomenon; an infection that spreads throughout society “and then breeds further evil … the evil which is incorporated in social institutions, and the evil which becomes a mass phenomenon, waxes great and assumes demonic forms.” He declared, “Evil which takes the shape of social wrong, or is incorporated within institutions … is worse than evil in any individual form, in isolation.”8

Surely Brunner has a point? Does not evil lurk in society at large as a force, an impetus, an orientation? Does it not shape-shift depending on context? If, as Carl Henry wrote, every society has its myth, and that myth is the framework in which the society chooses to invest its notions of meaning and value,9 can evil really be an individualized phenomenon?

Wolfhart Pannenberg rejected transmission of sin through a social nexus, but he acknowledged society was a vehicle that produced sin in the individual.10 Surely this is correct?

Donald Bloesch wrote that “sin has social as well as personal dimensions. It can appear in the form of racism, sexism, ethnocentrism, classism, ageism, religious bigotry, ecological pollution and genocide … sin can poison the structures of a society as well as the heart of individuals.”11 Even Millard Erickson has a discussion on “the social dimensions of sin” in the latest edition of his systematic theology.12

Are these men all too woke?

Like many people today, conservative Christians often exist in an information echo-chamber. They’re socialized into it by their particular media, their peers, their schools, their families13 … their churches. Perhaps social justice, intersectionality, and critical trace theory are “anti-biblical” and “destructive.” What the thinking Christian mustn’t do is take Ken’s word for it.

Michael Bird warns about a “naïve biblicism” personified by Wayne Grudem, who doesn’t interact with non-evangelical theologians (like, say, Brunner, Bloesch or Pannenberg) and seemingly has no awareness of the sociocultural factors that have shaped him. The result is a theology that’s “open to being press-ganged to justify political agendas of the far left or far right.”14 The dangers need not be politics masquerading as theology―they can also be an unwitting intellectual and cultural isolation.

This echo-chamber can make a certain kind of Christian smirk when he reads President Obama reflect on the struggle to pass the Affordable Care Act: “I saw no way to sort out people’s motives, especially given that racial attitudes were woven into every aspect of our nation’s history.”15 The assumption is this cannot be true. But … what if it is true?

The legacy of racist and evil Jim Crow laws throughout the South is real. It’s an unfortunate fact that de facto “segregation academies” sprang up across the country, particularly in the South, after the Brown v. Board of Education decision declared “separate but equal” un-Constitutional.16 Bob Jones University didn’t ban interracial dating until 2000, and then only after suffering embarrassing media attention after George W. Bush made a campaign appearance at the school.17

On the very day Brown v. Board of Education was announced, a Senate sub-committee held hearings on yet another proposed “Christian Amendment” to the Constitution.18 The fact that some of the same Christians opposed Brown, whilst simultaneously advocating for a Christian Amendment, and then later supported and established private Christian schools (read “white schools”) to avoid the implications of forced de-segregation … is quite bizarre. It’s almost as if social structures, systems and cultural mores produce individual sin in people’s lives.

Be that as it may. I’m not arguing for the “evils” against which dear Ken is railing. I am arguing against the theological populism and obscurantism that are fundamentalism’s worst impulses. The fear of something new. Something different. Fear of a doctrinal introspection that bursts the bonds of a very narrow orthodoxy. Something that might shake those feet set in concrete or disturb the doctrinal mummy.

One historian has observed that early white fundamentalists spent their time fighting cultural battles, while their black counterparts often focused on racial advancement.19 This mania for the culture wars continues today in Ken Ham’s letter. Fear is the key. Christian historian John Fea observed “it is possible to write an entire history of American evangelicalism as the story of Christians who have failed to overcome fear. Evangelicals have worried about the decline of Christian civilization from the moment they arrived on American shores in the seventeenth century.”20 William Martin has noted the same phenomenon.21 At least one historian has made this “evangelical fear” the subject of an entire book.22 Remember Cal Thomas’ remarks about the prototypical fundraising letter? He recalls one operative admonishing him, “You can’t raise money on a positive!”23 Evangelicalism has always thirsted for the man on horseback to destroy enemies and save society. Therefore, AiG declares “social justice” (whatever that means!) is “destructive.”

People live by stories. “The cultural enterprise rests invariably on a secret or explicit faith.”24 These shared stories are what shape a people and bind a society together. Henry warns us that Christians are foolish to reject other people’s stories “as mere myth-spinning.” They are, all of them, a “quest for a comprehensive overview of reality”25―a reflection of the “I-Thou” relationship we were all made for and want.26

So perhaps, rather than not defining competing “stories” then dismissing them as “destructive,” Christians should start telling our own story?27 Is that not what evangelism is about? Shall we be always on the defensive, sniping from the ramparts while calling for our brothers to bar the gates? If so, our message is simply “We hate you! Believe in Jesus or die a compromiser.” Mark Yarhouse rightly criticizes this approach in the context of evangelism to homosexuals.28 He calls for “alternative scripts” that tell a better story, the Christ story.

Clodovis Boff writes about a friend, a bishop, who cried as he recounted seeing a woman dying from hunger, unable to produce milk for her dying infant child.29 It’s experiences like these that gave rise to Latin American liberation theology―the quest to use the Gospel as impetus to change social conditions … social structures. Such a salvation is mediated by liberations “that dignify the children of God and render credible the coming utopia of the kingdom of freedom, justice, love, and peace, the kingdom of God in the midst of humankind.”30

Social structures, social justice―is this “destructive?” An unthinking Christian may reflexively dismiss this as babble from a “liberal.” He will turn to his trusted gatekeeper and receive assurance that, yes indeed, this is “liberalism” and therefore “bad.” He will look no further.

A thinking Christian will engage, push beyond the echo-chamber. Perhaps you’ll end up agreeing with AiG, but surely we must all raise an eyebrow or two when Ken Ham boldly tells us what truth is … without any evidence he himself understands what he maligns. We must do better.

Or I suppose you could just send Ken the $50 he’s asking for. After all, he’ll send you an autographed copy of his latest book.  


1 Michael Bird, Evangelical Theology, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2020), p. 41.  

2 If you appreciate this reference, 50 bonus points for you …  

3 Cal Thomas and Ed Dobson, Blinded by Might: Why the Religious Right Can’t Save America (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999), p. 58.

4 William Martin, With God on Our Side: The Rise of the Religious Right in America (New York: Broadway, 1996), p. 16.

5 Scot McKnight, “Inerrancy or Inerrancies?” 01 June 2021. Retrieved from https://scotmcknight.substack.com/p/inerrancy-or-inerrancies.

6 Frances Fitzgerald, “A Disciplined Charging Army.” The New Yorker. 18 May 1981. Retrieved from https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/1981/05/18/a-disciplined-charging-army.

7 Answers in Genesis, “Statement of Faith,” § “Man.” Retrieved from https://answersingenesis.org/about/faith/.  

8 Emil Brunner, The Christian Doctrine of Creation and Redemption, in Dogmatics, vol. 2, trans. Olive Wyon (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1952), p. 96.  

9 Carl F. H. Henry, God Revelation and Authority, vol. 1 (Waco: Word, 1976), p. 156.  

10 Wolfhart Pannenberg, Systematic Theology, vol. 2, trans. Geoffrey Bromiley (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), p. 255f.  

11 Donald Bloesch, Jesus Christ: Savior and Lord (Downers Grove: IVP, 1997), p. 45.  

12 Millard Erickson, Christian Theology, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2013), pp. 584-599.

13 Two sociologists label these as “agents of socialization” (Kerry Ferris and Jill Stein, The Real World: An Introduction to Sociology, 6th ed. (New York: Norton, 2018), pp. 109ff).

14 Bird, Evangelical Theology, pp. 88-89.  

15 Barack Obama, A Promised Land (New York: Crown, 2020), p. 405.

16 “After the Supreme Court handed down its decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka in 1954, Southern public schools—sometimes entire school systems—shut down rather than desegregate. Private “segregation academies” sprung up to replace them. In some states, governments provided grants to subsidize tuition. The movement accelerated following passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prohibited segregation in schools receiving federal assistance and authorized the government to file suit in federal court to enforce Brown,” (Rick Perlstein, Reaganland: America’s Right Turn: 1976-1980 (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2020), p. 346). See also Martin, With God on Our Side, pp. 168ff.

17 “Bob Jones University Drops Interracial Dating Ban.” Christianity Today. 01 March 2000. Retrieved from https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2000/marchweb-only/53.0.html.  

18 Kevin Kruse, One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America (New York: Basic Books, 2015), pp. 95ff.  

19 Daniel Bare, “The Unearthed Conscience of Black Fundamentalism,” in Christianity Today. May/June 2021, p. 64.  

20 John Fea, Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2018), p. 66.   

21 Martin, With God on Our Side, p. 2.  

22 Jason Bivins, Religion of Fear: The Politics of Horror in Conservative Evangelicalism (New York: OUP, 2008).

23 Thomas and Dobson, Blinded by Might, p. 58.  

24 Henry, God, Revelation and Authority, vol. 1, p. 156.  

25 Ibid, p. 155.  

26 Brunner, Creation and Redemption, pp. 55-56, and Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, 3.1 (reprint; London: T&T Clark, 2004), pp. 184-185.

27 Joshua Chatraw, Telling a Better Story (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2020).  

28 “What the church can help people with—regardless of whether orientation changes—is identity. We can recognize that a gay script is compelling to those who struggle with same-sex attraction, especially when they see few options emerging from their community of faith. Therefore we can help develop alternative scripts that are anchored in biblical truth and centered in the person and work of Christ,” (Mark Yarhouse, Homosexuality and the Christian (Minneapolis: Bethany, 2010), pp. 54-56).

29 Leonardo and Clodovis Boff, Introducing Liberation Theology, trans. Paul Burns (reprint; Maryknoll: Orbis, 2006), pp. 1-2.  

30 Ibid, pp. 8-9.  

Baptist fundys and the church of sepia

Baptist fundys and the church of sepia

Here is an article from a fundamentalist Baptist organization. The author writes:

There is no doubt that biblical Christianity is under attack as it never has been before not only in this country but around the world. The mentality with which we face the battle is revealing the underlying weaknesses of our respective movements.

The first sentence is absurd, historically. The second is perceptive, but likely not in the way the author intended. The great tragedy of the corpse that fundamentalism has become is that its only distinctive contribution to the broader evangelical conversation is sectarianism. This negative ethos has diminishing returns, which is why Baptist fundamentalism is a corpse as a movement, even as its ethos (rightly understood; see this article) is a pearl of great price:

  1. First-stage fundamentalism was built on advocating for a broad biblical orthodoxy in the face of apostasy. It’s heirs are the conservative evangelicals. It’s why the people who still do this today are evangelicals.
  2. Second-stage fundamentalism is what we typically mean when we use the term, and its ethos is on separation from conservatives who aren’t conservative enough. That is why second-stage fundamentalism is a cut-flower movement that’s dying in the vase on the countertop. It has no real distinctive, positive presentation other than separation. Ask a self-described fundamentalist why he’s not an evangelical and he’ll say “separation.” There is your proof.
  3. Thus I say that, properly understood, fundamentalists should be conservative evangelicals.
  4. Fundamentalism as a movement has mission drift. It has forgotten its purpose. Long ago, its original ethos of “that isn’t Christianity, this is Christianity, and let me tell you the real story of Jesus and His love!” largely degenerated to “those Christians are compromisers, so stay away from them and be pure, like us!”
  5. It all doesn’t have to be this way, but it is, and so it’s all very sad.

So it is with our article and the organization from whence it came. Even as he tries to urge introspection, our author can’t help but rehash the old story of lost battles from last century. The frame of reference is stuck in neutral; in a sepia tone from the Truman/Eisenhower era. Fundamentalism’s own proponents are often incapable of framing their movement without reference to evangelicalism; that wealthier and successful cousin of whom they’re always jealous. This chip on the shoulder is ever-present, stalking the movement’s hopes, fears, and dreams—shaping its very essence. The mindset is akin to the “lost cause” myth of the South, complete with its own stable of heroes, villains, and the call to interpret defeat as honor in the context of a perpetual martyrdom.

Fundamentalism, as a movement, is that church that spends its time pining for the good old days, looking back with proud smiles at yellowing scrapbooks. It has no positive presentation. Even as it tries to muster the strength for forward motion, it’s all framed with reference to the past. And, as with that stereotypical dying church, you try to be polite and say the right things, but it’s all really a bit sad.

It didn’t (and doesn’t) have to be this way, which makes it sadder still.

An example of cultic fundamentalism

An example of cultic fundamentalism

I want to share some very hurtful correspondence I received the other day from a man I thought was a friend. I have not seen he or his wife for some time. We used to be stationed together when I was on active-duty in the Navy. We were both members of an independent, fundamentalist Baptist (“IFB”) church that believed the Word of God was preserved in the 1611 King James Bible. I have moved far, far away from that. This man has not.

The IFB movement is only one flavor in the broader Christian fundamentalist camp. It’s likely the most cultic, most extreme, most legalistic flavor. Not all IFB churches are like this, but many are. I was a member of two fine IFB churches with loving pastors.

Today, Christian fundamentalism is a dying, insular movement that’s characterized by a quest for personal and church holiness. By a desire for separation from those who “compromise” in their doctrine or associations. This is its consuming passion. At the hands of its worst people, it can live up Edward Carnell’s description of “orthodoxy gone cultic.” Christian fundamentalism, in its original and proper form, is alive and well in conservative evangelicalism. I wrote about this here.

Now, back to my former friend. Here’s what happened. I posted this excerpt from a sermon on Facebook:

Here is the full sermon. Ironically, it’s about brotherly love, from 1 Corinthians 13:4-8:

My friend responded thus:

Tyler, I tried to listen to your preaching and it was painful, I’m telling you this because it hurts to see someone who was grounded in the word, be now so wrong, deviating from the teachings of the Bible, confusing an entire congregation with fables and lack of understanding.

I would highly recommend you to attend Bible institute at a truly fundamental Baptist Church. Do not allow your pride to get the best of you. One of the requirements for the office of the pastor is not to be a novice, and right now that is exactly what you are. I am not trying to offend you, but I would highly recommend you to consider what I have told you, not because of me, but because it may just be that God is trying to reach you through this text, pray about it and do what’s right.

In the end you will reap what you sow.

I am at a loss to understand what he found objectionable from the sermon excerpt, which is what incurred his wrath. Consider what he says:

  1. It is apparently a fable to explain and apply Paul’s admonition that love “does not envy.”
  2. My explanation was “painful.”
  3. I am “deviating from the teachings of the Bible.”
  4. I am “confusing an entire congregation.”
  5. I should get theological training at “a truly fundamental Baptist Church.” This is necessary because, you see, in cultic fundamentalism you may not be a Christian unless you are in their orbit.
  6. The man cautions me to “not allow your pride to get the best of you.”
  7. He calls me a “novice,” which is a citation from 1 Tim 3:6 (KJV, of course). This means he feels I am unqualified to be a pastor because I do not know enough.
  8. He assures me that he is not trying to offend me. I think he sincerely believes this. According to his cult, I am in grave danger of “falling away” from the truth of the IFB way, and must be rescued. Desperate times call for desperate measures.
  9. He suggests he is God’s agent, trying to reach me.
  10. He warns me “[i]n the end you will reap what you sow,” which means God will punish me if I do not heed his advice.

I did not respond to the man. I blocked him on Facebook. He was one of the last of my old IFB, King James Only friends from those old days. Now, he is gone.

My point is that here, in all its glory, is the combative spirit, the cultic mentality, the superior air. Here, in short, is everything Carnell warned about so long ago. Here is “orthodoxy gone cultic.” This is why I do not identify as a fundamentalist, and why I never will again. I have one graduate degree from a balanced fundamentalist seminary, and am a doctoral student at still another. Yet, I left behind all the baggage from the worst excesses of this movement long ago. But, one last time, it all reached out to give me one last slap.

It was a fitting coda to a closed chapter in my life!

Fundys, Evangelicals and the Eye of a Needle …

Fundys, Evangelicals and the Eye of a Needle …

This article was updated on 26 December 2021

I minister in a church sub-culture that has no understanding of the fundamentalism/evangelical debates. I received graduate theological training from an excellent fundamentalist seminary. I’m a doctoral student at yet another fundamentalist institution. But, the church I serve has no self-conscious fundamentalist identity, even though it’s a member of an association that hails from Northern Baptist fundamentalism–the GARBC. I minister in an “evangelical” church, though many members might not know exactly what that means.[1]

Recently, a church member asked me what an “evangelical” is, what a “fundamentalist” is, and how they’re different. This article is basically how I answered. It’s a short answer. But, I think it captures the essential distinction between the two groups.

About fundamentalism

Fundamentalism in America began as a protest movement within conservative Christian circles in the late 19 century. Christian leaders in churches, bible colleges, seminaries and denominations began to be aware of a revisionist, unorthodox approach to the Bible and theology. There was a willingness to reevaluate the integrity of the Bible, how it was transmitted and preserved, whether Adam and Eve were real people, whether Moses really wrote the Pentateuch, whether Isaiah really wrote all of Isaiah, whether Jesus was really conceived by a miracle of the Holy Spirit, whether miracles really happened, and more. This openness to “new ideas” began in seminaries and gradually filtered down to the pulpits in local churches of many denominational stripes. See Jeffrey Straub’s wonderful book The Making of a Battle Royal: The Rise of Liberalism in Northern Baptist Life, 1870-1920, for more context.

Fundamentalism was a movement that fought against that. It marshaled brilliant men; pastors, theologians and laymen, to make the case for orthodoxy. Working in very loose, often disjointed concert, men from many denominations fought this revisionist approach in the denominations, bible colleges, seminaries and churches. They fought them for several decades.

They lost.

Increasingly, throughout the mid-1920s and 1930s fundamentalists faced a choice–stay or go? The forerunners of what became the Conservative Baptist movement stayed within the Northern Baptist convention for about two further decades. Others led their churches out of the denomination much sooner, in protest. The Baptist Bible Union (now the GARBC) and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church are examples.

Until the 1940s, fundamentalists generally thought of themselves as “evangelicals.” The words were synonyms. They meant something like “conservative, bible-believing Christian.” It meant you believed generic Protestant orthodoxy and were probably somewhat loud about it.

So, why are the terms different, today?[2]

About evangelicalism

They’re different because the conservative Christian movement split in the mid-1940s through the late 1950s. It didn’t split over doctrine per se. It split over mood, over approach, over mindset. It split because two camps arose within this big tent, and each had very different approaches to Christian life and ministry. These two camps were fundamentalism and evangelicalism. Roger Olson explains:[3]

The difference between early fundamentalism and later fundamentalism is not so much one of doctrine as of mood. The single most important distinction between them has to do with late fundamentalism’s adoption of a militant stance toward exposing the ‘heresies’ of other Christians and of a policy of separation not only from liberal Christians but also from fellow evangelicals who do not separate from liberal Christian denominations and organizations

This “mood” is indeed different, and so is the mission. First-stage fundamentalism (Olson’s term) was a protest movement to preserve generic Protestant orthodoxy. In its modern form as evangelicalism, this remains part of its core ethos. The overwhelming amount of literature and media designed to protect and equip the church against heresy is produced by “evangelicals,” today.

However, second-stage fundamentalism is less about combating theological revisionism and more about separation from perceived heresies and “disobedient brethren.” Fundamentalist literature preaches avoiding perceived compromise and emphasizes personal holiness. It spends little time combating heresy, and the movement’s influence and reach is so small that even if it did commit the resources to do so, its message likely wouldn’t reach much beyond its own constituency.

For example, historian Kathleen Wellman writes this about Bob Jones University:

Its faculty and the policies the university requires of them preserve its consistent character and ideology. Faculty are not granted tenure and must espouse and support fundamentalist views. For example, science faculty members must now subscribe to Young Earth creationism, the belief that the earth is less than 10,000 years old. The university neither promotes research nor allows academic freedom. Its students must “live obediently under authority.” Not surprisingly, there have been several purges of faculty for disloyalty. Unaccredited for much of its history, Bob Jones University is now accredited by the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools.

Bob Jones University and its chancellors have had a long history of insisting on theological purity and have regularly fallen out with other evangelicals and even other fundamentalists, condemning them as lax or insufficiently committed to the truth. The university claimed a “purest of the pure” status, defined itself in staunch opposition to modern culture, and rigorously separated itself from it

Hijacking History: How the Christian Right Teaches History and Why It Matters (New York: OUP, 2021), p. 24

Tellingly, its best scholars are often educated at evangelical institutions. The doctrine is largely the same. The mood is different. David Beale called pre-1930 fundamentalism “non-conformist,” and post-1930 fundamentalism “separatist.”[4] The ethos changed. Some agreed, and others didn’t. Thus, the split. In many cases, the heirs of first-stage fundamentalism refer to themselves as “evangelicals” today. Likewise, many second-stage fundamentalists own the “fundamentalist” label proudly.

Some examples may help:

  • The Orthodox Presbyterian Church is a first-stage fundamentalist denomination and is a decidedly “evangelical.” It engages the culture and pushes aggressive orthodoxy. It does not focus on separation from allegedly “disobedient” brethren.
  • The Conservative Baptist movement left the Northern Baptist convention in the early 1940s. It later split into various factions amidst sustained and unfortunate infighting; it was a fundamentalist/evangelical split in microcosm. The heirs of this split include, respectively, the FBFI and CBAmerica. Some readers may be aware the FBFI is a solidly fundamentalist organization. CBAmerica is evangelical.
  • The GARBC, formerly the Baptist Bible Union, left the Northern Baptist Convention in 1923. Whatever it used to be, it is a solidly evangelical association of churches today. It recently changed its purpose statement to drop legacy language from the fundamentalist/evangelical split

The difference in mood is even clearer if you example mission or vision statements:

  • CBAmerica (evangelical): Its vision is “Gospel-centered transformational churches in every community.”
  • FBFI (fundamentalist): “FBFI’s Vision is to perpetuate the heritage of Baptist Fundamentalism complete, intact, pure, and undiluted to succeeding generations of fundamentalists.”
  • GARBC (evangelical): It’s mission is to “champion biblical truth, impact the world for Christ, perpetuate a Baptist heritage” and to “advance the association churches.”

Telling “evangelical” from “fundamentalist,” today

So, what is the difference between “fundamentalism” and “evangelicalism,” today? We can draw some general observations.

Fundamentalism, at its best, is generally concerned with personal holiness and local church purity in practice and doctrine. The content of this holiness and church purity will vary according to the particular flavor of the movement to which the group or church belongs. Its doctrinal emphases are often framed through a prism of separation from compromise and combined with a remnant mindset. Its rhetorical foe is often not theological revisionism, but evangelicalism – those who are believed to have “compromised.” The movement’s essence, according to Beale, is “unqualified acceptance of and obedience to the Scriptures.”[5]

However, the worst elements of the fundamentalist movement can be caustic, arrogant, and extraordinarily legalistic. Edward Carnell, an evangelical scholar with hard feelings about fundamentalism, wrote that the movement had degenerated into an entirely negative mentality with no positive ethos, similar to the mood Olson spoke about. Carnell wrote:[6]

The mentality of fundamentalism is dominated by ideological thinking. Ideological thinking is rigid, intolerant, and doctrinaire; it principles everywhere, and all principles come in clear tones of black and white; it exempts Itself from the limits that original sin places on history; it wages holy wars without acknowledging the elements of pride and personal interest that prompt the call to battle; it creates new evils while trying to correct old ones.

This mentality, Carnell argued, is marked by externalism:[7]

When the fundamentalist develops his ethical code, he is somewhat prompted by a quest for status in the cult. Consequently, he defines the good life as the separated life – separated, that is, from prevailing social mores. Whereas Christ was virtuous because he loved God with all his heart and his neighbor as himself, the fundamentalist is virtuous because he does not smoke, dance, or play cards.

In short, Carnell says “fundamentalism is orthodoxy gone cultic.”[8] In some quarters (but not all), Carnell is right.

Evangelicalism, at its best, is concerned with evangelizing the world and preserving generic Protestant orthodoxy. Its scholars produce mass amounts of literature and media to equip the church to navigate a complex and changing world. Its name is synonymous with “conservative Christian.” Roger Olson explained, “[t]he genius of evangelicalism is its combination of orthodox Protestantism, conservative revivalism, and transdenominational ecumenism.”[9]

Fundamentalists often criticize this movement as having lax doctrine and a diluted sense of personal holiness. However, as noted above, this can produce a “remnant mentality” mindset; a drive to “sound the alarm” against alleged apostasy.[10] You can get a sense of this from fundamentalist Ernest Pickering’s book The Tragedy of Compromise:[11]

All over America and the world at this hour there are churches that are drifting into New Evangelicalism without the remotest knowledge that they are doing so. They are being carried along by the shifting winds of compromise and have long since departed from the solid biblical position established by their predecessors. Young pastors, many without firm doctrinal underpinnings, have led their churches to believe that in order to reach the masses they must abandon the strict biblical principles of yore and embrace more fluid and attractive positions. They have changed, but they do not realize that they have changed.

More recently in 2016, the FBFI devoted an entire edition of its magazine to warn of the threat from so-called “Convergents” who were evangelicals in disguise. One author’s article warned of “long-established churches that are being changed through the hidden agenda of Convergent leadership.” The author declared he was warning Christians to not have their hearts “stolen” by these evangelicals, whom he described as conspiratorial, hypocritical and crafty. He used Absalom, who planned and executed a palace coup against King David, as his foil to describe evangelical pastors.[12]

When I was at seminary, I recall one seminary professor lamenting that Andrew Naselli had “left our movement.” Naselli is a professor at a conservative evangelical seminary, but has a PhD from Bob Jones University (a fundamentalist institution). You can see the “remnant” mindset behind that statement from my former professor.

So, to generalize a bit:

  • Fundamentalism is about purity and holiness. It wants you to obey the Bible, and it wants you to stay away from folks who allegedly don’t.
  • Evangelicalism is about the Gospel and protecting the faith from those who want to re-define it

Many conservative Christian groups in America today are heirs of the fundamentalist-evangelical tradition. Most of these took a side during or after the big split. Where you find yourself is not so much a matter of doctrine, but of mood, approach and emphasis. Of ethos. Both movements try to do good things, necessary things, biblical things. Evangelicalism today takes many forms. Fundamentalism is dying as a movement, but its ethos may well live on.

What does it mean to be “evangelical?”

Many books, many pages, and many gigabytes have been expended to answer that question. In a different generation, Bernard Ramm defined “evangelicalism” as “the historic Christian faith as reflected in the great creeds of the ancient church, and in the spirit and writings of the Reformers,” (The Christian View of Science and Scripture (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1954), preface, p. 4). Nowadays, a more common definition is the so-called “Bebbington Quadrilateral,” which posits four characteristics of the label. The National Association of Evangelicals discusses these four traits, and more. One excellent, recent book, that can help flesh this out further is authored by Christian historian Thomas Kidd: Who is an Evangelical? A History of a Movement in Crisis.

For my part, I’ll stick with the Anglican pastor J.C. Ryle, who gave his summary of the “evangelical religion” a long time ago, in a different context. He had five headings:[13]

  1. The first leading feature in Evangelical Religion is the absolute supremacy it assigns to Holy Scripture, as the only rule of faith and practice, the only test of truth, the only judge of controversy.
  2. The second leading feature in Evangelical Religion is the depth and prominence it assigns to the doctrine of human sinfulness and corruption.
  3. The third leading feature of Evangelical Religion is the paramount importance it attaches to the work and office of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the nature of the salvation which He has wrought out for man.
  4. The fourth leading feature in Evangelical Religion is the high place which it assigns to the inward work of the Holy Spirit in the heart of man.
  5. The fifth and last leading feature in Evangelical Religion is the importance which it attaches to the outward and visible work of the Holy Ghost in the life of man.

This encapsulates the Christian faith and message so well. It doesn’t distort a good thing out of proportion by framing the Gospel and the Christian life through a prism of separation from error, real or imagined. It’s a balanced expression of divine truth. I admire that old Anglican, and that admiration forces me to align myself with “evangelicalism” today.


[1]  This is not a comprehensive history of either movement, and it doesn’t pretend to be. It doesn’t malign Billy Graham. It doesn’t mention Billy Graham. It’s a very brief, 500 mph drive-by discussion to orient a reader to the general “lay of the land” who knows nothing about this chapter in American religious history. Those who have ears to hear, let them hear. To those that don’t, well … what else do you expect from a “convergent!?”

[2]  Roger Olson lists seven different ways the term “evangelical” is used in contemporary culture (Westminster Handbook to Evangelical Theology [Louisville: WJK, 2004], 2-10). The etymology is fascinating and instructive.

[3] Ibid, p. 36.  

[4] David Beale, In Pursuit of Purity: American Fundamentalism Since 1950 (Greenville: Unusual Publications, 1986), 5.

[5] Ibid, p. 1.  

[6] Edward Carnell, The Case for Orthodox Theology (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1959), 114.  

[7] Ibid, p. 122.  

[8] Ibid, 113.  

[9] Olson, Evangelical Theology, p. 10.  

[10] See especially Rolland McCune, Promise Unfulfilled: The Failed Strategy of Modern Evangelicalism (Greenville: Ambassador International, 2004).  

[11] Ernest D. Pickering, The Tragedy of Compromise (Greenville: BJU Press, 1994), 155.

[12] Dan Unruh, “Why I Left My Fundamental Baptist Church,” in Frontline (Sept/Oct 2016), 11-14.  

[13] J.C. Ryle, Knots Untied: Being Plain Statements on Disputed Points in Religion from the Standpoint of an Evangelical Churchman, 10th ed. (London: William Hunt, 1885), 3-7

Some Advice for Younger Fundamentalists

Slide1
Jim is having a deep discussion with Carl about predestination

Baptist fundamentalism is a very particular sub-culture in the evangelical Christian world. I’m a member of this small sub-culture. It’s a movement with a rich and worthy legacy. What on earth is fundamentalism? Here is my brief definition:

Fundamentalism is a philosophy of ministry characterized by a militant apologetic defense and passionate, unashamed proclamation of the Christian faith from the Scriptures in the face of pagan unbelief, theological revisionism and compromise.

The “movement” was a largely American reaction against apostate theological revisionism in the later 19th century. Depending on who you ask, and where they come from, fundamentalism developed along different lines, in different denominations. The general idea was that the “rule of faith,” the core doctrines which make Christianity what it is, are worth fighting for.

During the first decades of the 20th century, these individual movements lost ground in their various ecclesiastical orbits and bureaucracies. Gradually, these men realized they’d better pull out of these apostate bureaucracies, and form their own organizations. So, pastors and their churches across our fair land did just that.

The problem

But, over the decades, this movement has ossified in some quarters. It’s inevitable, I suppose:

  • The first generation goes forth on its own, to conquer new ground and blaze a glorious trail for reformation.
  • The second generation takes the helm, anxious to continue in the proud and honorable tradition of their fathers.
  • The third generation is focused more on perpetuating the organization, and less on the theological issues which actually created the movement in the first place.

It can become this way in any organization. The original ideals are still spoken of with respect, and the right phrases are trotted out at just the right times. And yet … there’s something wrong. The focus is now on the organization, not the original issues. This is why, for example, Al Sharpton is such a joke when you compare him to Booker T. Washington.

In the fundamentalist sub-culture over the past decade, we have seen an identity crisis. Some younger fundamentalists have fled the movement, shrieking in terror (oh, the humanity!) for parts unknown. Others have left for the confessional, Reformed world. Some are just … different. Still others have remained, anxious to reform a movement worth saving. And, some have mounted a desperate rear-guard action, anxious to fight against any notion of reform. These are (for lack of a better term) the Company Men.  However, unlike the heroic defenders at Rorke’s Drift, they shall not prevail.

The Company Men control some outlets in the fundamentalist world. Their influence is slowly waning, and their numbers are steadily shrinking. I believe a major reason for is because some have lost their sense of mission. In short, they have ossified.

The great parallel

Let me frame this in a way that might be helpful. Some readers have been, or are, leaders in local churches. This may help folks to understand where I’m coming from:

  • Some fundamentalist para-church organizations are like dying churches.

Here is what I mean:

  • A dying church lives in the past, idolizes it, and generally neglects its most basic functions of robust discipleship and active evangelism. Instead, dying churches tread water and gradually die out. As the end draws nearer, some church members often react with extreme defensiveness, and pine away for the “good old days” of the Nixon era, when they ran 500+ and had multiple bus routes.
  • In these churches, there always are some younger, reform-minded folks who see the problem, but are rarely given free reign to actually tackle these issues. Eventually, some of them get fed up, and leave. The younger exodus begins, and you’re left with a small congregation of (sometimes) embittered older saints who dig their heads into the sand, and convince themselves they’re suffering for righteousness’ sake.
  • Indeed, some of those who remain take to slandering the younger men as inexperienced, inept, “new-fangled,” and immature. This is generally (but not always) pride and arrogance talking – borne out of defensiveness.

This is a remarkable parallel to what has been happening in some fundamentalist para-church organizations for some time:

  • They’re dying.
  • They live in the past, idolize it, and generally neglect their most basic functions of fighting to defend the faith against theological revisionism and outright apostasy, at an intellectual and popular level. Instead, some of these dying organizations tread water and will gradually die out. As the end draws near, some fundamentalists often react with with extreme defensiveness, and pine away for the “good old days” of the Nixon era, when they had meaningful influence in the larger Christian sub-culture.
  • In these organizations, there always are some younger, reform-minded folks who see the problem, but are rarely given free reign to actually tackle these issues. Eventually, some of them get fed up, and leave. The younger exodus begins, and you’re left with a small organization of (sometimes) embittered older saints who dig their heads into the sand, and convince themselves they’re suffering for righteousness’ sake.
  • Indeed, some of those who remain take to slandering the younger men as inexperienced, inept, “new-fangled,” and immature. This is generally (but not always) pride and arrogance talking – borne out of defensiveness.

Do you see the parallels? Many of the godly saints in these para-church organizations can correctly diagnose these problems in local churches. Can they do it in their own organization? Will they do it? We’ll see.

This great divide, this great ossification, is tearing Baptist fundamentalism apart at the seams. Many younger men refuse to be formally identified with the movement out of disgust at what it’s become in certain quarters. Some older men are only too happy to see them go. Clearly, the thrill is gone …

The advice

This kind of talk can make a fella feel downright sad. So, I reckon I’ll share a few tidbits of advice for younger fundamentalists. I may add more to this list, as time goes by. But, for now, I think this is some pretty good advice. It’ll help put things into perspective. This advice is deliberately blunt, so flee now if you must.

So, here’s some advice when it comes to fundamentalist identity politics:

  1. Write about fundamentalism, if you wish – just don’t ever discuss it online. It will destroy your soul and you will accomplish nothing. I’ve verified this over years of careful testing. (Note – I actually added this last bit of “advice” after the fact, after extensive interaction in an online forum about this very article).
  2. If you usually blindly support a particular flavor of Baptist fundamentalism, without any introspection or constructive thought, that means you’re a Company Man. It also means you’re a “Yes Man.” Don’t be a “Yes Man.”
  3. Don’t be a Company Man. Think for yourself, even if that means disagreeing with the godly folks who trained you. You have a brain, so use it. If your congregation wants artificial intelligence, it can turn to Alexa or Siri.
  4. It’s ok to disagree. If you blindly tow the line on everything your ecclesiastical sub-culture’s powerbrokers say, you’re foolish and shouldn’t be a leader. Step down and make room for someone else.
  5. Your fundamentalist heroes could be wrong about something. Yes, it’s true. But, then again, you could be wrong, too …
  6. Nobody cares about fundamentalist politics but other pastors. That means it’s not important.
  7. Most members of your church don’t care about the FBFI, IFCA or the GARBC. They care about Christ, the Gospel, and living holy lives. That means fundamentalism isn’t very important.
  8. If “the movement” is more important to you than the original philosophy and impetus which inspired the movement in the first place (i.e. militant defense and offense against apostasy), then you’re unbalanced and unstable. Go buy yourself a life on Amazon and get some perspective.
  9. Fundamentalism isn’t a confessional, pseudo-denomination. Anybody who acts like he, or his organization, is the enforcer for a narrow and very particular flavor of “fundamentalist orthodoxy” is a Company Man.
  10. Think of historic fundamentalism as a philosophy of ministry, not a traditional movement. You’ll be happier.
  11. Read the Bible, and love the people in your church. Don’t love fundamentalism. It won’t love you back.
  12. If it’s an explicit or clearly implicit teaching of Scripture, it’s worth fighting over. If it’s a personal preference, get a life and deal with it. But, before you either launch polemical broadsides or plan an ecumenical lovefest, make sure you’ve done the exegetical and systematic work to figure out the difference between a clear teaching and personal preference.
  13. Don’t be afraid of other pastors, and what they might think.
  14. Before you disagree with somebody, honestly try to understand their position. This means you have to actually think critically, and be introspective (see #2, above).

We (Do Not) Confess – A Further Response to Bro. Johnson

This post concludes my response to Don Johnson on the fundamentalist movement (see here and here for some background on this kerfluffle). I could say a whole lot more here, but after a month or so of puzzling ‘till my puzzler was sore, I finally thought of something I hadn’t before.

I’m only responding to one point he made, which is really the essence of his disagreement. I asked him what the “marks” of a so-called convergent were. He replied, in part,

Anti-separatism (or at least non-separatism) . . . The most important characteristic is anti-separatism, and a disdain for separatists.

I agree with this distinction, insofar as it goes. Separation is a Biblical concept, and those who oppose it are in error. However, it is clear Johnson means something rather more than “anti-separatism.” I believe he, Unruh and others are actually taking aim at fundamentalists who have different ideas of separation.

John Vaughn, in his editorial from the Sept/Oct 2016 issue of Frontline, wrote,

In seeking to stay in touch with the ever-changing culture, churches can think themselves separate from it while moving away from their moorings. They can soon occupy the space that belonged to the world not long ago, no longer secure on the foundations on which they were built (3).

Dan Unruh, in his unfortunate article from the Sept/Oct 2016 issue of Frontline, entitled “Why I Left My Fundamental Baptist Church,” asked,

How is it possible for a church to get to the place that it is being controlled by those who seem to have little appreciation, and in some cases even disdain, for the strong separatist Fundamental position upon which it was founded? (12)

Again, I agree with this statement, insofar as it stands. The problem with both Johnson and Unruh’s comments is they do not define their terms. Every true fundamentalist agrees that separation is a vital Biblical doctrine. So, we ask them, what exactly are you talking about?

I can only suppose they’re referring to people who have a “disdain” for biblical separation. They don’t agree with the doctrine, and they don’t seek to apply it. More than this, they hate the doctrine. However, Unruh and Johnson have made clear these brigands are still trying to claim the label of “fundamentalist.” They have a “hidden agenda.” They seek to “converge” with evangelicals through stealth, secrecy and cunning.

Johnson explained a bit more about these “convergents” in another blog piece:

. . . they must jettison the idea of separation from worldliness at many levels (music, alcohol and other social issues, are examples) and the idea of separation from broader levels of cooperation with error. In this latter category, they will have to be open to cooperation with charismatics and their sympathizers who promote ongoing revelation and they will have to be open to ecclesiastical entanglements that are represented in the Southern Baptist Convention, Together for the Gospel, and The Gospel Coalition among others.

I share these concerns. If this is what Johnson is worried about, then so am I. However, I believe he fails to distinguish between (1) people who disdainfully jettison the doctrine of separation like an escaped convict casting aside his shackles, and (2) those fundamentalists who have different interpretations on certain biblical issues. But, on an even more fundamental level (pun intended), Bro. Johnson and I are worried for very different reasons:

  • I’m only worried if these activities are in contradiction to their local church’s doctrinal statement.
  • Johnson and Unruh seem to be worried because these seditious activities violate an assumed Baptist fundamentalist confession of faith.

Here is the problem – Johnson, Unruh and others in the FBFI seem to think “fundamentalism” should function as an explicitly confessional association. This is not the case. It has never been the case. It will never be the case.

Fundamentalism is a philosophy of ministry characterized by a militant apologetic defense and passionate, unashamed proclamation of the Christian faith from the Scriptures in the face of pagan unbelief, liberal theology and doctrinal compromise. As such, it has always been a “big tent” concept. It has never been an explicitly confessional movement.

I understand the passion for maintaining doctrinal purity. I share it. This is the very concern which fueled the fundamentalist movement. However, Johnson, Unruh and others have committed two errors with their latest criticisms:

  1. They seem to view Baptist fundamentalism as a pseudo-denomination, with all the confessional standards and expected theological conformity that come with such a label, and
  2. Having elevated Baptist fundamentalism to a confessional movement, they launch polemical broadsides against those who have broken these “confessional” standards . . . which do not actually exist.

Convergents are not “anti-separatist.” They’re just different than you. Johnson’s idea of “church,” in practice, would probably look almost precisely like mine. But, his criticisms about fundamentalism will continue to miss the mark as long as he (and others) continue to view fundamentalism as a tight, confessional movement. It never has been, and it never will be. That is not its function or purpose. That is what the local church is for.

Response to Bro. Johnson (pt. 1)

Don Johnson was gracious enough to respond to the most pressing questions from my article entitled “Questions for Dan Unruh, John Vaughn and the FBFI from a Confused Brother.” This is my overdue response to continue this important discussion.

What is a Fundamentalist?

It is clear this issue of “Convergents” is an important one for some in the FBFI. Johnson wrote, “In my view, someone who is convergent is not a fundamentalist. He once may have claimed to be a fundamentalist, but he has changed his views and really exhibits disdain for fundamentalism now, regardless if he continues to claim the label.”

This cannot be more clear, and I appreciate it. If you are a “Convergent,” then Johnson does not consider you to be a fundamentalist. It doesn’t matter if a man still claims the label and travels in fundamentalist circles; if he exhibits the marks of a “Convergent” then he is not a fundamentalist. He is claiming membership in a movement he doesn’t actually belong to.

This naturally leads us to ask, “What on earth is a fundamentalist, in this context?” This is really the crux of issue. Before we start mentioning movements and assessing claims to titles, we need to understand what we’re talking about. Let me offer my own definition:

Fundamentalism is a philosophy of ministry characterized by a militant apologetic defense and passionate, unashamed proclamation of the Christian faith from the Scriptures in the face of pagan unbelief, liberal theology and compromise.

This is a mouthful, so here is the bottom line:

  1. If you believe the Bible and actively seek to defend it against unbelievers, liberal skeptics and theological compromise, and
  2. if you believe the Bible and seek to passionately and unapologetically proclaim all of it to the world, and
  3. if all this motivates and shapes your entire approach to Christian ministry and everyday Christian life,
  4. then you are a “fundamentalist.”

People within the fundamentalist realm will immediately recognize this as a “big-tent” definition of the movement. I suspect this is a dividing line for some people. Please note I did not make mention of the so-called “fundamentals” of the faith. This list of fundamentals came out of the 1878 Niagara Bible Conference, and was later shortened to the infamous “five fundamentals” of the faith:

  1. The virgin birth of Christ
  2. The inerrancy of the Bible
  3. Substitutionary atonement of Christ
  4. The bodily resurrection of Christ
  5. The authenticity of miracles

I don’t find this list particularly useful, because it creates an artificial hierarchy for Bible doctrines. For example, the Trinity is not even mentioned! Those who cling to “The List” as the defining document of the fundamentalist movement have actually got it backwards.

The fundamentalist “movement” grew out of the conflict with theological liberalism and apostasy in the mid to late 19th century. Bible believers were willing to stand and fight back against this liberalism and apostasy in Bible Colleges, Seminaries and local churches across America. During the course of this conflict, certain doctrines came to the forefront as particular “flash points.” The “list” arose out of this context, but it really reflects a basic fidelity to all of the Bible and a willingness to militantly defend the Scriptures and passionately and unapologetically proclaim what the Bible teaches.

This movement has always been interdenominational. Dr. Larry Oats provides this brief definition of the movement:[1]

Fundamentalism as a definable movement is the organization of primarily American Bible believers who between the late nineteenth century and the mid-twentieth century strongly opposed and resisted the progress of modernism within the major denominations of America and thus tried to keep those denominations orthodox.

From the middle of the twentieth century on, fundamentalism may be defined as those Bible believers who desire to maintain a purity of doctrine and personal life and stand in positional and doctrinal opposition to various forms of compromise.

Likewise, Dr. Fred Moritz has written:

 At its best fundamentalism is a ‘back to the Bible’ movement to proclaim and contend for the truth. Fundamentalism is therefore a theological and militant movement. It was interdenominational by definition. Fundamentalists also allowed each other latitude in the use of Bible versions and in their understanding of Calvinism and Arminianism.[2]

So, when we consider what Bro. Johnson has written, we need to understand where the other is coming from. Is a “fundamentalist” necessarily a Baptist, premillennial dispensationalist? I asked Bro. Johnson this question:

 Q: Do you believe in “big-tent” fundamentalism; that is, is this movement bigger than Baptists? If so, how do, how would these “big-tent” fundamentalists avoid being “Convergent” from your point of view.

This was his response:

Fundamentalism is a philosophy that transcends denominations. There are fundamentalists among the Presbyterians and among other groups, though the majority of fundamentalists today are probably Baptists. Convergence isn’t denominational, like the New Evangelicalism, it is a mood or philosophy that affects how the ministry is conducted, what issues and ideas are promoted, what actions are taken individually and through church ministries (assuming the convergent is in a leadership role in the church).

The most important way to avoid being convergent is to be committed to personal and ecclesiastical separation. That commitment will manifest itself in various ways, but the other marks I mention above will dissipate if that biblical commitment is made and applied consistently.

Bro. Johnson agrees fundamentalism is interdenominational. However, he zeroes in on a mood or philosophy which he believes is opposed to everything fundamentalism stands for. He believes this mood or philosophy is primarily characterized by ignoring the Bible’s commands for personal and ecclesiastical separation.

We appear to agree on what a “fundamentalist” is. It is an interdenominational movement which stands for Biblical truth against pagan unbelief and theological compromise. However, Bro. Johnson has also written that a “convergent” is not a fundamentalist. Therefore, we should expect his “marks of a convergent” to reflect some basic defection or capitulation to apostasy and/or theological compromise – the very thing the fundamentalist movement has always fought against.

If a Christian is not committed to personal separation from unholy influences, activities or associations, then he is in sin. If a local church does likewise, its leadership is in sin. It is certain that some men have left fundamentalism and “fled” to the broader evangelical sphere, jettisoning the doctrines of personal holiness and personal separation along the way. This is tragic, and it is wrong.

However, there are also other men who still identify themselves as fundamentalists, but who have made some common cause with the most conservative elements of right-wing evangelicalism. Larry Oats, a true authority on Baptist fundamentalism, has observed:

I suggest that a fifth stage [of the fundamentalist movement] is now present: the separation of conservative evangelicalism from the left wing of evangelicalism, along with the reunion of some elements of fundamentalism with the right-wing of evangelicalism.[3]

He is correct. Is this necessarily a “bad thing”? I suspect Bro. Johnson and many others agree that it is. It is unclear how, given his acknowledgement of a “big-tent” fundamentalism, the most conservative right-wing evangelicals should not simply be considered fundamentalists in philosophy and practice.

We will turn to that issue, and discuss Bro. Johnson’s “marks of a convergent,” in the next article.

Notes

[1] Larry Oats, “Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism,” unpublished class notes (Watertown, WI: Maranatha Baptist Seminary, n.d.).

[2] Fred Moritz, “Maranatha is Fundamentalist,” in Maranatha Baptist Theological Journal (MBTS 01:01), Spring 2011. 65.

[3] Larry Oats, The Church of the Fundamentalists (Watertown, WI: Maranatha Baptist Press, 2016), 68-69, fn. # 8.

Questions for Dan Unruh, John Vaughn and the FBFI from a Confused Brother

cover-pictureIn the September/October issue of Frontline magazine, the Fundamental Baptist Fellowship International (FBFI) published a number of articles critical of what it called a “Convergent” form of fundamentalism. One article in particular stands out for its bluntness and its tone. That article is entitled, “Why I Left My Fundamental Baptist Church,” by Dan Unruh, Pastor of Westside Baptist Church in Greeley, CO. The FBFI observed Bro. Unruh’s article was “provocative.” Indeed!

Bro. Uhruh published his article openly, so I feel free to openly post these honest questions to him, John Vaughn (President, FBFI) and to the FBFI as an organization as a whole. These are honest questions, asked without malice or scorn. They are sincere questions from one Christian brother to another. They are questions from one Pastor to another. If you do not travel in fundamentalist Baptist circles, these questions and the linked teaser editorial (above) may not make too much sense to you. My apologies; this post is very much an “in-house” discussion.

The following questions are directly based off of Bro. Unruh’s article.

  1. What, precisely, is a “Convergent” fundamentalist? That is, what are the “marks” of a “Convergent” fundamentalist? Could you provide real-world examples, including names of men and their ministries?

You wrote, “How is it possible for a church to get to the place that it is being controlled by those who seem to have little appreciation, and in some cases even disdain, for the strong separatist Fundamental position upon which it was founded?”

  1. Does this indicate your complaint is directed only against churches which were deliberately founded as “fundamentalist?” If so, please describe what “fundamentalism” looks like, from your point of view. Would a Bible Presbyterian Church, for example, fit this category?
  2. What do you mean when you mention “strong separatist Fundamentalism?” Separation from what people, what groups and what organizations?
  3. When does a Pastor begin to have “little appreciation” for the separatist stand you mention? That is, when is the line crossed, from your point of view?
  4. At what point does a Pastor begin to have “disdain” for “strong separatist fundamentalism?” That is, which alleged compromises must occur before this line is crossed?

You wrote, “Some of the answers may be found by comparing those doing the ‘controlling’ with the Old Testament character of Absalom. His father, David, after many years of great trials, hard work, numerous battles, and miraculous victories, was used of God to unite and establish the great nation of Israel. And yet that which took him years of blood, sweat, and tears to establish was taken away from him by someone very close to him who, ‘stole the hearts of the men of Israel’ (2 Sam. 15:6b). To this day when Bible students hear the name ‘Absalom,’ they associate it with a heart-stealer.”

  1. How, precisely, does a “Convergent” Pastor “steal” hearts within a congregation?
  2. Does the use of the word “steal” indicate you believe a “Convergent” Pastor’s actions are deliberately motivated by deception and wickedness?
  3. How do you tell the difference between Biblical reformation (as understood by the autonomous congregation and their Pastor) and alleged “heart-stealing”? How can your readers better understand your distinction? Your critics?
  4. Absalom deliberately rebelled against the anointed King of God’s theocratic Kingdom. In this parallel, do you intend to suggest “Convergent” fundamentalists are rebelling against Jesus Christ? If so, how?

You wrote, “The purpose of this article is not to warn the heartstealer but rather to warn those who are susceptible to having their hearts stolen—a warning that must oft be repeated even as the apostle Paul ‘ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears’ (Acts 20:31) about those of their own assembly who would arise to attract disciples to come behind them. If there were heart-stealers in David’s day and in Paul’s day, it is certain they exist today.”

  1. In the passage you cited from Acts 20:29-31, the Apostle Paul was warning the Ephesians about false teachers, “fierce wolves” who will teach “perversions of the truth.” This “truth” is generally understood to be a synonym for “the Gospel.” Do you intend to suggest “convergent” fundamentalists are false teachers who pervert the Gospel?
  2. Do you intend to suggest “heart-stealing” and influencing congregations away from a particular flavor of Baptist fundamentalism is a perversion of the Gospel?

You wrote, “A fitting lesson is provided in the story of Absalom, a man whose methods seemed to be virtues but were actually vices. Absalom employed at least four vices that had the face of virtues.”

  1. By comparing “Convergent” fundamentalists to Absalom, you seem to be implying that, like Absalom, “Convergents” are motivated by deceit, wickedness, and a sinful lust for power which they do not have any legitimate claim to – is this correct? If so, why do you assume this?

Under the heading “The Vice of Laziness as the Virtue of Integrity and Privilege,” you wrote, “Absalom therefore had the privilege of growing up with perceived integrity and surrounded by royalty, facts that he effectively used as a means to avoid having to face difficulty.”

  1. Is this alleged “vice” only applicable to “Convergents” who have grown up in Baptist fundamentalism, since childhood? What about “Convergents” who were never raised in a Christian home and became believers and entered Baptist fundamentalism as adults?

You wrote, “It is often observed that one who has a life of privilege strives to avoid work, struggle, and difficulty. One of the self-admitted characteristics of some of the misnamed ‘young fundamentalists’ is that they ‘are products of Christian schools’ and, as used in an illustrated case, ‘have no idea how to relate to lost people.’ Sadly, the spirituality they were perceived to have possessed from the privilege of having a lifetime of Christian education was also the cause of many of them being isolated from the difficulty of head-on confrontation with sin and brazen sinners, an adversity that previous generations of Fundamentalists met, with the welcomed reinforcement of their Fundamental churches, by having to take a noticeable stand in secular schools.”

  1. Again, it seems as if you are only targeting “Convergents” who were raised in Baptist fundamentalism. What about “Convergents” who came to Baptist fundamentalism as adults?
  2. What do you say to “Convergent” fundamentalists who work in the secular world every single day, maintain a godly testimony and Christian witness among these “brazen sinners,” and yet still honestly disagree with you? For example, as an insurance fraud investigator, I interview criminals on a daily basis, speak to victims on a daily basis who have had their life savings swindled from them, and still maintain a historic fundamentalist philosophy to ministry and my Christian life.
  3. Why do you capitalize “fundamentalist’? Does the movement function as a defacto denomination, from your point of view?

You wrote, “The fact that a lot of these privileged individuals did not have to challenge worldliness during their growing-up years may explain why today, as adults, they are so eager to experiment with and sometimes defend the beverage use of alcohol, accept any style of music in home and even in worship, join hands with rebels in so-called ‘social justice’ causes, consider the battles against sexual perversions as ‘lost,’ and generally poke fun at the practice of biblical separation that was so clear-cut to their predecessors.”

  1. Please explain what a “privileged individual” is, in this context.
  2. Again, it seems you assume all “Convergents” grew up in Christian homes. What do you say to “Convergents” who did not grow up as Christians, and yet still “challenge worldliness” in their own lives and in their local churches on a daily basis?
  3. Please explain who the “rebels” are, in this context.
  4. Which “social justice” causes do you refer to?
  5. Which self-identified “Convergent” fundamentalists consider the battles against sexual perversions as ‘lost’?
  6. How do you define “biblical separation,” in this context? Separation from what, precisely? What aspects of biblical separation do the “Convergents” poke fun at?
  7. Do you distinguish between the practice of biblical separation in general, and your particular implementation of this doctrine? That is, is it possible for men to believe in the doctrine of separation but apply it differently than you do?
  8. Have you, the FBFI, or Dr. Vaughn publically condemned the heresy of (for example) the re-inspiration view of the King James Bible, semi-pelagianism, or Charles Finney? If not, why not?

Under the heading, “The Vice of Hypocrisy as the Virtue of Transparency,” you wrote, “Absalom’s second vice was hypocrisy, a hypocrisy he concealed behind efforts to give the impression that he was transparent. Absalom did not state his intentions up front. He had a hidden agenda . . .”

  1. Do you mean to imply all “Convergent” fundamentalists are motivated by deceit and wickedness? Why do you appear to assume that is the case?
  2. Is it possible, from your point of view, to legitimately and honestly disagree with your position? If so, why do you appear to assume all “Convergent” fundamentalists are hypocritical?

You wrote about Absalom, “From this strategic location Absalom was able to send his spies throughout his father’s kingdom to incite a successful rebellion.”

  1. Do you mean to suggest all “Convergent” fundamentalists are strategically plotting to incite rebellions in local churches?
  2. What, precisely, is the alleged orthodoxy “Convergent” fundamentalists are inciting rebellion against? Where can one go to find a concise statement of this alleged orthodoxy to weigh suspected “Convergent” fundamentalists against?

You presented a hypothetical “unethical” Pastor, and wrote, “Instead of truly being transparent up front by honestly informing a church or institution about his philosophy of ministry and the changes he would make, a candidate for a leading position can couch his hidden agenda with boisterous talk of ‘transparency.’”

  1. Please explain what you mean by your hypothetical “Convergent” fundamentalist hiding his alleged “hidden agenda,” and provide real-world examples.
  2. Do you mean to suggest all “Convergent” fundamentalists deliberately hide their “hidden agendas” behind a smokescreen of alleged “transparency?” Why do you assume their motives are sinful?
  3. How would the reader you seek to influence distinguish whether a Pastor is motivated by (1) an ongoing spiritual growth and maturity through study and prayer, or (2) an alleged “hidden agenda” intended to deceive the congregation?

Under the heading, “The Vice of Conspiracy as the Virtue of Concern,” you wrote, “The fact that a heart-stealer cannot accomplish his work alone brings us to Absalom’s third vice: conspiracy with the virtuous face of concern. Absalom’s concern for his father’s subjects was a camouflage for the formation of a conspiracy.”

  1. Absalom was involved in a criminal conspiracy against God’s appointed theocratic King. In this parallel, do you intend to suggest that, by disagreeing with the FBFI, “Convergent” fundamentalists are engaging in a criminal conspiracy against Jesus Christ?
  2. One of the elements of the criminal offense of conspiracy is deliberate intent; the conspirators intend to collude together to commit an act they know to be against the law. Do you mean to suggest all who agree with “Convergent” fundamentalists, and disagree with the FBFI’s particular flavor of Baptist fundamentalism, are criminal conspirators in active rebellion against Jesus Christ and His Father’s law?

You wrote, “There are those within churches and institutions who are easily flattered into facilitating the installation of a heart-stealer . . . Any of these types of people are ripe fruit for the picking by the heart-stealer.”

  1. Do you mean to suggest all people within autonomous local churches and Christian institutions who agree with “Convergent” fundamentalists do so only because they have been deliberately seduced (i.e. “flattered”) by these “Convergents” for sinful reasons?
  2. Do you mean to suggest somebody who disagrees with the FBFI’s particular flavor of Baptist fundamentalism has sinful and wicked intent?

Under the heading, “The Vice of Craftiness as the Virtue of Patience,” you wrote, “Lastly, Absalom was a man of patience, a virtue that allowed him to craftily scheme for two years until he found opportunity to murder his half-brother Amnon.”

  1. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “crafty” as “clever in usually a deceptive or dishonest way.” Did you intend to suggest “Convergent” fundamentalists operate with a philosophy and mindset of deliberate dishonesty and deceptiveness? Why do you assume sinful intent?
  2. By use of the adjective “craftily,” did you intend to make an implicit comparison between “Convergent” fundamentalists and Satan as the serpent?

You wrote, “A heart-stealer never comes at his victim displaying who he really is. He will wear the garment of patience to make others think he has intentions of peace. And then once he is in power his patience morphs into impatience with those who are obstacles to his agenda.”

  1. Who are the victims, from your point of view?
  2. Why do you assume wicked, sinful intent on the part of “Convergent” fundamentalists?

You provide several quotations from an article Jason Janz wrote, then you remarked, “Then he becomes impatient to make the changes quickly. By not stating his intentions up front he can take the time to steal the hearts of as many people as possible, and when it is his time, his ‘moment in the sun,’ he can begin to institute his fundamental transformation.”

  1. Why do you assume sinful, wicked intent? That is, why do you not assume “Convergent” fundamentalists want to grow and learn from both sides and use their influence to effect positive change?

You wrote, “The Convergent can pretend he is sorry to see them go because he will by then have confederates like Shimei who will on their own shame the ‘old-time religion’ adherents for being hateful, intolerant, and men ‘of Belial’ (2 Sam. 16:7) . . . In essence they are saying, ‘You, your viewpoints, and your ways are old and worn out.’”

  1. Do you believe it is possible to disagree with you, and not be considered wicked and sinful? If so, what would that disagreement look like?
  2. Do you believe it is possible for a “Convergent” fundamentalist to not think your views are old and worn out, but to simply honestly disagree with you on some points of doctrine? If so, why do you appear to assume sinful and wicked intent on those who do disagree with you?

After explaining that you do not feel it is necessary to attempt to “keep” younger fundamentalists in the movement, you wrote, “Rather than letting them leave to endure on their own the hard work of founding their own ministries, there has instead been an ongoing, never-before-seen pandering that has resulted in their eventual installation in and transformation of Fundamental ministries.”

  1. Please define “pandering,” in this context.
  2. Please define “transformation,” in this context.
  3. Which fundamentalist ministries have been transformed, in your opinion?
  4. Who are the men responsible for this alleged “pandering,” which has resulted in “transformation” of certain fundamentalist ministries?

You wrote, “On the campaign trail in June of 2008 Barack Hussein Obama declared, ‘This is our moment. This is our time, our time to turn the page on the policies of the past . . . to offer a new direction for this country.’ Then five days before the election he spoke, not of restoring America, but of ‘fundamentally transforming the United States of America.’ How sad that Convergents have become to Fundamental churches and institutions what Barack Obama has become to the United States of America.”

  1. Why did you use President Obama’s middle name?
  2. Why do you believe “Convergent” fundamentalists are motivated by deliberate cunning, craftiness, deceit and wickedness?

Brethren, you wrote:

However, if anything in this issue comes as a rebuke to those who are dividing their churches over changes they promised not to make when they were called, or to those who have brought their churches to the brink of ruin with premature change, we pray it will be taken as a loving rebuke to be considered carefully.

I pray you’ll answer some of these honest questions, and help a confused brother better understand where you’re coming from. Bro. Unruh graciously agreed to have a telephone discussion with me in the next few days, and I look forward to it.