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What’s wrong with modern fundamentalists?12 min read

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I’m sure I’m sounding like a broken record, but as long as I get significant feedback and engagement on this issue, I will address it, because I believe that neo-fundamentalists, while carrying the excellent traditions of their forefathers, are also carrying over their errors, and I don’t want these errors to re-infect the ‘growing’ part of the church (evangelicalism and charismatic/pentecostal churches).  I’ll be responding to the comments of Jim, from the post Why do I even visit hyperfundy sites?

Jim, thanks for your comments, here’s some more response if you can stand it ;)

1. “It’s pretty clear that fundamentalism is the “bogey man” here; it’s all over your various posts.”

Yes, I have a bee in my bonnet about hyper-fundies who, while trying to hold to the excellent fundamentals of the faith, are also carrying over the mistakes of the 20th century fundamentalists.  I think my post The Rise of Neo-fundamentalism is a good overview of what’s wrong with neo-fundamentalism.  I also praise what I think is worthy of such.

I have come to realize that, even within fundamentalism itself, there are serious discussions of these issues.  I’ve also realized that there are those within the movement “exploring proactive fundamentalism,” i.e. reforming it from the errors I mentioned.  Many (but not all) of my concerns are reflected over at the Neofundamentalist, but since he is an insider, and knows and loves fundamentalism, as well as being a full time pastor and active student of the bible and history, you may find his approach to the problems I outline much more palatable to you – perhaps even more balanced ;)

2. “Please realize that “Fundamentalism” is a 20th century movement that was in response to Christian Liberalism.”

Though a neophyte in Christian history, I begin the M. Div. program at Gordon Conwell next spring, so watch out!  My understanding is that in the early 1900’s, self-named fundamentalists, in response to doctrinal liberalism from outside and inside the church, broke away to embrace the fundamentals of the faith, including  especially biblical inspiration, which was under attack from higher criticism.

However, two unfortunate trends also took root in the fundamentalist movement – those of anti-intellectualism (in response to higher criticism) and social isolationism (rejection of modern culture and cultural forms – I’m not sure what the correct term for this is).  This latter error is a typical religious (in the bad sense of the word) response to worldly values; instead of rejecting merely the worldly values, they rejected the FORMS that those values expressed themselves in – like card playing, movie attendance, and social dancing.  If memory serves me right, the Puritans were also against social dancing, since it was and is very sensual.

Now, I don’t entirely disagree withe the claim that sensuality is rife in much social dancing – just visit a club and see what amounts to simulated copulation on the dance floor.  Nor do I think that there is much redeemable about card playing.  However, while focusing on these non-essentials, I must also mention that many fundamentalists had no problem with smoking (in fact, Deacons that smoke  were a kind of running  anecdote), and of course, even to this day, fundamentalists have ignored the sin of gluttony, nay, even encouraged it, thinking it less sinful than other sins of the flesh.  But I digress.

However, in the 1940’s or so, a group of what came to be known as evangelicals broke away from the fundamentalists, in order to abandon the twin errors mentioned above.  Most modern trustworthy biblical scholarship, I believe, came as a result of this abandoning of the anti-intellectualism of fundamentalism.  In fact, vestiges of this anti-intellectual trend still exist in fundamentalist circles that insist on using the “King James Only.”

Rejection of culture and cultural involvement, however, has probably caused more harm than any other conservative doctrine in the 1900’s (the liberal ones, of course, have also caused much damage to society).   The fact is, until the likes of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson stepped up, we had ceased being salt and light, and had ceded the major organs of cultural formation and power to the liberals due to the errant separationism of the fundamentalists.

Specifically, we lost influence in

(1) The University System – started by our Puritan forefathers to spread the gospel and create virtuous, biblically trained leaders in every intellectual discipline, in modern times, American universities have become unabashed bastions of liberalism.  Fundamentalism’s isolationist doctrines and anti-intellectualism have caused us to leave the very institutions that our forefathers intended for the gospel. 

(2) Government – the reductionist mindset of fundamentalists basically says “if it’s not preaching the gospel, it’s a waste of time” and “why spend time trying to change the culture when Jesus is coming soon – it’s just polishing brass on a sinking ship.”  Where has this led us?  To government decisions that are unbiblical and antithetical to God and His purposes – we can lay part of the blame for our culture’s putrefaction at the feet of the fundamentalists, who used their doctrines to convince us to stop being salt and light, and to withdraw from the culture.  The result?  WE are partly to blame for the awful policies of abortion on demand, entering into unjust wars, and anti-family legislation.

(3) The Arts and Sciences – As Franky Schaeffer outlined so well in his book “Addicted to Mediocrity: 20th Century Christians and the Arts”, a hyper-utilitarian view of the gospel that says “if it ain’t good for evangelism, it ain’t no good” has caused Christians to abandon both the sciences and the arts to the heathens.  No wonder we have a scientific community bereft of ethics and beholden to the anti-God, anti-reality theory of evolution.  And as I discussed in Is Man Basically Good or Evil, fundamentalists make the error of hating anything that “glorifies man,” that is, all beauty and truth that is not directly associated with the new man, and that smacks of created man’s abilities (art and science), which is derided as “man-centered.”  Again, the fundamentalist mistakes of cultural isolationism, anti-intellectualism, and anti-humanism, have brought us to the place where God has no place in science and the arts.

The net result?  These doctrinal errors again have the possibility of disengaging the church from culture (through isolation) and, out of unhealthy fear and religious, judgmental posturing, essentially bringing Christians back under the law’s slavery, neutering the power of the glorious gospel.  You wonder why I harp on these things?  Because just as dangerous as the compromises fundamentalists try to rightly warn us away from is the narrow, biblicist view that hinders the gospel and the profound freedom that Christians have to enjoy what God has given, and to love those outside the faith.

3. “Reason from the scriptures with Victorian era Christians, learn about 18th century Great Awakening and what kind “cultural relevance” was involved with it, read what the Reformers had to say, and go back even further.”

I absolutely intend to – I am a fan of the reformers, but interestingly, prefer Erasmus to Luther in some arguments – at least, I prefer his temperament, though I pretty much stand with Luther on free will.

But I want to say this – as a former Charismatic Arminian (Boettner’s Reformed Doctrine of Predestination changed my view and life), I am fond of Reformed theology.  However, I am also of the mind that while some theologians and historical Christian movements may have been closer to the truth than others, NONE were perfect, including the Puritans.  Just because they may have believed in the Regulative Principle does not make it true.  And to boot, it is a secondary doctrine as best, surely not part of the fundamentals, but an extrapolation of them, and perhaps an invalid one.

4. “Resist living in a vacuum of: we are right, and everybody back then was wrong (or is irrelevant for today).”

This is an unfair accusation, and not my mindset at all – I am making what I consider to be reasoned, theological arguments against the doctrines which make Slice and it’s ilk so poisonous.  I note that in general, most calcified Christian movements resist the new wine of God, be they the Pharisees resisting Jesus, the Catholics resisting the Reformers, or the fundies resisting the Pentecostal movement.

I am, for example, always amazed at how the anti-charismatics (mostly made up of modern fundamentalists) are blind to how powerfully God has used the Pentecostal and charismatic movements to transform worship, create the entire genre of music we now call CCM, spearhead world missions, save Catholics, and the like.

Instead, they glower from their doctrinal mountains like those who hated Jesus for healing on the Sabbath, quoting their “strange fire” doctrines, and citing the mistakes made by those who are passionate for God and willing to make mistakes akin to David’s uncovering of himself in abandon to God.  Fundamentalist pontificate to their brethren from their doctrinal palaces, in order to try to cow people back into abeyance to their way of doing things, rather than moving with God’s spirit.

But, to return to the slight you made, it is really just the same as me saying of you “Resist living in a vacuum of: we are right because we have history behind us, and everybody that does anything new is  wrong (or is worldly).

5. “Don’t be like the Athenians in that chapter who are always going after something new.”

I believe you are misapplying this passage.  People using new and innovative methods for reaching the lost are not “always looking for something new.”  That was really in reference to people (unbelievers) always looking for some new idea, but not for truth.  That is NOT what is going on here.

While the fundamental truths are eternal, I believe that my use of Paul’s “becoming all things to all men in order to reach some” is much more applicable here.  Ed Young and others like him are not looking for new titillating ideas, but merely looking to reach the lost with innovation, while ignoring the self-imposed limits of The Regulative Principle (or the abuse of it) that says “if it ain’t expressly in the bible, we don’t need it.”  That would exclude modern medicine, modern language and music, and a host of other modern forms that God wishes to use to communicate the gospel.

Fundies say they have a fear of God, but their understanding of such is misplaced.  They should fear their own narrow tendencies that have the appearance of Godliness, but deny the power thereof.  The should fear that in their zeal for doctrinal and church purity, they are actually sitting in the seat of the scornful, and focusing on non-essentials (see Romans 14), unnecessarily and sinfully judging others while thinking they are discerning, and in doing so, hindering the gospel.

I am not saying that God isn’t interested in purity, both in terms of practical holiness and doctrine, but I am saying that those who focus too much on doctrine become Pharisees hindering the spirit of God, not a light to the world.

I am not trying to insult you, just telling you how I see it.  I hope the shoe doesn’t fit.

With an attempt at humility and good intentions,