on comparing evangelicals with young fundamentalists

In a recent on-line conversation [note, in a software upgrade, the conversation comments were lost] I brought up points made by Ernest Pickering in his book The Tragedy of Compromise. Here are the points:

Pickering cites 6 factors that spurred the rise to NE in his book, The Tragedy of Compromise. They are:

1. A reaction to what was perceived as excessive negativism on the part of fundamentalists.

2. A desire to be accepted by the scholarly world.

3. The influence of training in liberal institutions.

4. The general mindset and spirit of the age.

5. A reaction to the criticism that fundamentalism lacked a vision for social action.

6. A growing ecumenical spirit which viewed fundamentalism as too separatistic. [Pickering, pp. 8-10]

In bringing up these points, I was comparing the attitudes which gave rise to Evangelicalism to the spirit that seems to animate a good deal of what is called ‘the Young Fundamentalists’ today. My contention is that with some modification, the attitudes of the YFs are essentially the same as those of the New Evangelicals. I suggested changing the word “scholarly” in #2 and the word “liberal” in #3 to “evangelical”.

In the conversation, Ben Wright of Paleoevangelical disagreed with me. Here is the challenge he issued at the end of the conversation:

I would like some specific examples from you (since you asked for such from me) of how YFdom has been influenced by those factors, particularly #s 2 and 3, even with your replacement of “evangelical.” I’m really curious who you’re talking about. And that doesn’t imply that I think your replacement of “liberal” with “evangelical” maintains the validity of the analogy. I really don’t.

When I cited the points, I didn’t have anyone in particular in mind, but since Ben recently graduated from Southeastern Theological Seminary, I realize that he may have thought I was directly attacking him on that score. Ahh… I really didn’t think of that when I mentioned Pickering’s points, Ben, but if my contention is correct, the application may be warranted.

But let me talk about similarities in the YF world to each of these points:

1. A reaction to what was perceived as excessive negativism on the part of fundamentalists.

I grew up in a little evangelical church on the prairies of Alberta. I went away to Bob Jones University in the mid 1970s and became a fundamentalist. I have many friends [and know others] from my school days who reacted to the negativisim in fundamentalism then. They ended up as evangelicals. The YFs today are singing the same song. I really don’t see how there is ANY difference between the attitude of the evangelicals of the 50s and later in the 70s and the YFs today. Same song, different verse.

2. A desire to be accepted by the scholarly world.

The parallel here is not exact. I suggested replacing the word ‘scholarly’ with ‘evangelical’ above, but that isn’t quite right. There does seem to be a desire by young fundamentalists to be accepted by the evangelical scholarly world, which isn’t quite the same, at least in application, as the desires of the evangelicals of the 50s. Nevertheless, I don’t see a difference in philosophy, simply a difference in direction. When I posted the list I had in mind my friends who were all enamoured with Dallas Theological Seminary in the 80s, for example, or the many young fellows I hear of these days heading off to Masters. Southeastern would fit the category also, as would many others.

That is not to say that the motive for attending such schools is purely for acceptance in the evangelical scholarly world, or that there may be legitimate reasons for pursuing such training for a fundamentalist. I suppose that one would have to know the motivations in each case to be able to completely certain for any one person, but it does seem odd for young men heading for a Fundamentalist pastoral ministry to spend precious years and dollars in the training of men whose pastoral philosophy is not the same as that of Fundamentalism. I suspect that most young fellows who leave a fundamentalist church background or fundamentalist undergraduate program for such training aren’t planning much in the way of a fundamentalist ministry career.

3. The influence of training in liberal institutions.

Again, the parallel is not exact. I acknowledge that the YF men are antagonistic towards liberalism, and that they are not training in liberal institutions. But in keeping with my comments above, I don’t see how training in evangelical institutions will tend towards producing men with a fundamentalist philosophy of ministry. In addition to the institutions, I would suggest that today young men are reading evangelical authors and being tremendously influenced by their teaching. One can’t ‘ban books’ but the young men today should be cautioned concerning discernment and should probably be developing their abilities for critical thinking rather than becoming enamoured with the current stars of evangelicalism because they seem to be conservative and they might happen to tout my favorite theological points.

So, no, YF men are not being influenced by liberal institutions, in this they are different from the evangelicals. But who can deny they are being more influenced by evangelical institutions than fundamentalist institutions? How are they likely to end up as fundamentalists with that kind of influence?

4. The general mindset and spirit of the age.

On this point, I think the young people called Young Fundamentalists are exactly like the evangelicals of yesteryear. The spirit of the age in the 50s was a confident, modern era. The evangelicals embraced it and expected to transform it by engaging it. Today the spirit is different somewhat, but the YFs are embracing the questioning, anti-authoritarian, worldly mindset of the age in large numbers. Witness the lengthy debates on the YFs favorite internet forum on the permissability of drinking alcohol or permissiveness concerning movie watching or any number of other topics. Notice how anyone who wishes to speak to them with a ‘thus saith the Lord’ is hooted down and laughed to scorn. The spirit of the age is upon us, and not in a little way.

5. A reaction to the criticism that fundamentalism lacked a vision for social action.

I suppose there ar varying degrees of reaction in this particular area. Some are more involved in social action than others. I also suppose that the jury is somewhat still out on whether or not the efforts of YFs in the area of social action are legitimate or detrimental to the cause of Christ. It is undeniable that some of the YFs have criticized fundamentalism at large for a failure to involve themselves in social efforts. We are not talking merely about a debate about appropriate methodology. That debate rages in the secular and evangelical spheres as well. The distinguishing mark made by this point is that there is a criticism of fundamentalism because of its supposed lack of compassion. For an example of this, read some of Bob Bixby’s comments in relation to his efforts. I am not critiquing Bob here, per se. But it is undeniable that he and others complain about fundamentalism’s lack of social vision. How are these critiques different from those of the evangelicals of the 50s towards fundamentalists?

6. A growing ecumenical spirit which viewed fundamentalism as too separatistic.

Ben didn’t like this point too much in our discussion as I recall. As I understand what he was saying, he seemed to resist the attachment of the label ‘ecumenical’ to young fundamentalists (or to conservative evangelicals for that matter). First, if we simply say ‘a growing broad spirit of openness’, we can get to the heart of this point. The evangelicals viewed fundamentalism as too separatistic. Can anyone deny that YFs criticise fundamentalists as being too separatistic? That is what this openness to MacArthur, Mohler, Dever, Piper, et al, is all about. In this area in particular, the YFs are most like the early evangelicals.

One thing further on this point… Ecumenism is as ecumenism does. Here is the Merriam-Webster definition of ecumenical:

1 : worldwide or general in extent, influence, or application
2 a : of, relating to, or representing the whole of a body of churches
b : promoting or tending toward worldwide Christian unity or cooperation

Merriam-Webster, I. (1996, c1993). Merriam-Webster’s collegiate dictionary. (10th ed.). Springfield, Mass., U.S.A.: Merriam-Webster.

The tendency towards wider Christian unity or cooperation is an ecumenical tendency. It is certainly not what a separatist is doing. To the extent one criticises separation, to that extent he is tending towards wider cooperartion. Though the YFs may not be full blown ecumenicals, seeking to unite the entire professing church world-wide, I submit that neither are the evangelicals. But the direction is the same. I am not against Christian unity, but I am also not for unity with all Christians, including many whom I consider to be true believers. The YFs are trending in the opposite direction.

~~~

I suppose these answers are not specific enough, although they have been specific in some cases. Nevertheless, I do see a parallel between the attitude of the Young Fundamentalists and the evangelicals of the 50s and 60s. I left the older bunch by choice. It appears this younger crowd is joining them by choice.

Regards,
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Comments

  1. Greg Linscott says:

    ————
    1. A reaction to what was perceived as excessive negativism on the part of fundamentalists.

    I grew up in a little evangelical church on the prairies of Alberta. I went away to Bob Jones University in the mid 1970s and became a fundamentalist. I have many friends [and know others] from my school days who reacted to the negativisim in fundamentalism then. They ended up as evangelicals. The YFs today are singing the same song. I really don’t see how there is ANY difference between the attitude of the evangelicals of the 50s and later in the 70s and the YFs today. Same song, different verse.

    ————

    Don,

    It’s not the same song with everyone. I would say that there are a number of people who are not so much reacting to the negativism of Fundamentalism as they are what Fundamentalism positively embraces and tolerates in its own ranks. Your assesment here seems to take the slant that Fundamentalism as a current movement (with its emphases, strongholds, politics, and piety) represents ideal Christianity, as opposed to the idea/concept.

    There are some who would fit the profile of which you speak- but certainly not all.

  2. Don Johnson says:

    Greg, I think I understand your point, but let me ask this:

    Are you saying that the complaints of some YFs are NOT about negativism but rather about failures to be ‘fundamental enough’?

    or

    Are you saying that the complaints of some YFs are NOT ONLY about negativism, but also about failures to be fundamental enough?

    It sounds like your comments here are similar to something Ben said on his blog a few weeks ago. I may have more to say on this later.

    Regards,
    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  3. Greg Linscott says:

    Don,

    Yes.

    :D

    I think there would be people who fit both descriptions in your preceding comment, as well as those who would be closer to what you describe in your post.

    Like I said, they’re not all singing the same song.

  4. Ben says:

    Don,

    Please note that I am only speaking for myself. I do not claim to have my finger on the pulse of YFdom. Here’s my response to your response:

    1. Replace the word “negativism” with the word “hypocrisy” and you’ll be a lot closer. Greg already addressed this point well. Fundamentalism the movement abandoned fundamentalism the idea long ago. It tolerates all sorts of things that scream out in opposition to the gospel.

    2. and 3. You have radically redefined Pickering’s points, and you’ve given no specific examples. Plus I completely reject the notion that any substantial number of people are trolling for evangelical props.

    4. Everyone is subtly influenced by the spirit of the age, whether old or young, fundamentalist or evangelical. David Wells would be one great author to read on this point.

    5. Fundamentalism has isolated itself to the degree that it has very little tangible impact outside its own walls. I blame the Christian school movement in large part, not because the kids aren’t in public schools, but because churches have become ministries of schools rather than vice versa. And the Christian school movement is as much a reflection of the neo-evangelical mindset as the fundamentalist mindset. Social action in the sense of mercy ministries aren’t the main issue.

    6. Fundamentalism is sometimes too separatistic. It is far more often not separatistic enough. See 1.

  5. Don Johnson says:

    Hi Ben,

    I really appreciate your taking the time to respond to this.

    First, I would like to suggest that a significant percentage of fundamentalist pastors of about my age group see the problems of “YFdom” essentially as I outlined, i.e., basically a reincarnation of the New Evangelical compromise.

    I also appreciate the input of both you and Greg regarding the idea of hypocrisy in point no. 1. I think I understand what you are saying. I hope to make another post later when I have some time (things are crazy right now) to explore this idea further.

    On points 2 and 3, I think I noted that the parallels were inexact, but I thought the examples of Dallas, Masters, etc., were specific enough. I don’t quite understand what you mean by “Plus I completely reject the notion that any substantial number of people are trolling for evangelical props.”

    On point 4, being influenced is not the same as embracing. When I read Pickering, I believe his criticism of evangelicalism on this point is that they were embracing the spirit of the age, which is what I see “YFdom” doing. Perhaps I am reading too much into Pickering, but that is what the point means to me. (How’s that for a postmodern answer!)

    I agree with your criticism of the Christian School movement. I believe it has sidetracked many fundamentalist churches. They have become schools that have churches and not the other way around. But when the evangelicals were criticising fundamentalism in the 50s for its lack of social action, they weren’t saying “You don’t have any schools.”

    On the point that fundamentalism is often not separatistic enough, that is another issue I would like to write about in the future. I think that you and I are going to remain in disagreement on this point. It is here that I think you completely misunderstand the fundamentalist idea. I don’t have the time to elaborate on this one now, so we will have to just agree to disagree here for now.

    I want to say again that I REALLY appreciate your taking the time to interact with me on this. Your perspective is helpful. The reason I read your blog and post there from time to time is because I find what you have to say interesting and helpful. I should also say that I don’t see you as representative of “YFdom”. You seem to be more serious than most, which I appreciate.

    Thanks for posting.

    Regards,
    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  6. Kent Brandenburg says:

    Why has the reaction to “not enought separation” over false gospels in the revivalist crowd become embracing of the worldliness in the evangelical crowd? Why not just be Scriptural? I’ve stood against the Hyles crowd almost since I left MBBC. Everyone who knows me knows that I stand against marketing and promotion. But then we have a new kind of worldly false worship that does as much damage to the gospel. Ben, do you remember when MBBC gave the pastor down at Trinity (Florida) an honorary doctorate. When I confronted them about it, I only got grief, and from the usual suspects.