conversing with evangelicals

In this space, we devote a good deal of attention towards the concerns of current fundamentalists, especially the concerns that stem from the push for a closer tie to ‘Conservative Evangelicals’ by some who call themselves Fundamentalists. Some would probably characterize my stance towards that proposal as wholly negative. That characterization would completely misunderstand my position. I am all for closer ties between conservative evangelicals and fundamentalists. But…

But there are many hurdles to be overcome before real rapprochement can occur. Further, the current infatuation with popular writers and speakers is not, it seems to me, the answer to the problems infesting both movements. New leaders and a new approach will have to emerge before change can occur. But more on that later…

One of the blogs I follow is Cowboyology, written by a pastor I have yet to meet in my home province, Alberta. Clint is a pastor-rancher, a combination that seems ideal to me, as a wannabe cowboy (I was raised in town, but my cousins are ranchers). Lately, Clint has written on the state of Bible-believing pastors in the midst of Evangelical denominations in Canada. Here are Clint’s three posts:

The theme of Clint’s articles is the tension between fidelity to faithful Christianity and loyalty to broader denominational structures. One would think this tension need not exist, but all too often it seems to be the overriding characteristic of the last century of Western Christianity.

The tensions Clint speaks of reflect many of my own conversations with evangelical pastors over the years. Here are a couple of Clint’s statements that I’d like to highlight (but do read the whole thing):

Rather, it is in the evangelical denominations that a deliberate evangelical finds himself increasingly isolated, marginalized and out of step with the majority. Canadian evangelicalism, which is dominated by ‘baptistic’ denominations is increasingly uneasy with confessing evangelicals.


For these pastors, they are perplexed. The men that I know do not view themselves as being particularly combative. They are simply seeking to uphold their denomination’s doctrinal distinctives. They are merely trying to stay faithful to their ordination vows.

Clint’s phrase, “deliberate evangelical” reflects, I think something of what I am getting at in my post about vigorous Christianity, although perhaps not in terms that Clint would use. But more than that, it seems that the tensions Clint writes about reflect or are parallel with the tensions that led to the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy in the 1920s and 1930s. Consider as evidence in this regard a paper by Gerald Priest on A. C. Dixon. It may be that the state of all evangelical denominations are not as desperate as the mainline churches of Dixon’s day, but in some cases the decay of orthodoxy is just as pronounced. Certainly in almost every evangelical denomination today, there is widespread evidence of decay in practice, or what some refer to as orthopraxy.

In his second post, Clint refers to an example of the problematic Christianity he sees, then comments:

This example supplies a ready motive for pastors to seek fraternity outside of their denominational circle. And the place that these pastors look to first is the internet. Like so many lonely people, these pastors look online for others who actually believe the gospel, esteem doctrine, and wish to resist the tide of worldliness flooding the church. They read blogs, bulletin boards, online book reviews. They listen to sermons, lectures and seminary courses online. Invariably today, therefore, when you find a pastor who is out of step with his denomination, but is seeking to be biblically faithful to his Lord, you will probably discover that he is into conservative (and likely more Reformed) blogs, mp3’s and the like.

In the days leading up to the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy, pastors sought this kind of relieving fellowship in the Bible Conference movement. A. C. Dixon, with the help of the aid of the Stewart brothers of Union Oil Company fame, began the publication of The Fundamentals, which served in many ways as a polemical basis around which fundamentalist pastors could rally. (Did The Fundamentals serve as that era’s blogs?)

So we say all that to highlight these points:

  1. There are similarities between today’s conservative evangelicals and early fundamentalists.
  2. We who are fundamentalists are sympathetic with the tensions expressed and are hopeful that these tensions might produce a stronger and more militant version of evangelicalism.

In fact, it is for these reasons that I am quite happy to have conversations with evangelicals and to build friendships with them. But there remain significant differences as well. Until those differences can be resolved, I don’t think we will see a satisfactory new movement emerging from the current mess.

In my next post, I would like to discuss what those differences are.

May God bless the work of all faithful pastors as they preach the Word in these days.



  1. Not to toot my own horn, Don, I had long seen a shift, a little pendulum swing of movement by mainstream evangelicals toward a more conservative direction, mainly because they are the ones that write books and I’ve seen it in their books. I have enjoyed the shift right and rejoiced in it. When I have said that I noticed it, they won’t say they’ve moved at all. They say that lots of others have just moved further left and it makes them look more right. Do you think that’s true? I think some of the evangelicals who believe Scripture is inspired by God are criticizing some of the compromise in evangelicalism and they don’t like what they see happening and those are the right-wingers. They write books against the compromise, hoping that a book will bring things their way. They don’t separate; they just write books.

    I have found that conservative evangelicals like positive dialogue, but they cannot handle any criticism, at least coming from the right. I have seen them, however, continue long conversations with those on their left with people who are way out in left field. I do believe that when people change toward the right, they don’t announce it, it just happens. When they change toward the left, they seem to be proud of it and let lots of people know. Most people don’t care when someone loosens up or turns left. They’ll get many kudos from that.

    I look forward to you second article on this subject explaining the differences.

  2. Well, I am not primarily talking about the guys that write books. I think they are still thoroughly committed to the New Evangelical ideal and think it is possible to maintain orthodoxy without militancy.

    The fellows I am talking about are pastors and people who I come into contact with locally and now via the internet. They are beginning to see that the New Evangelicalism is a failed strategy (at least, I think they are). As such, we can have profitable discussions.

    However, there are still hurdles to overcome. Many of those with whom I have had conversations have been unable to overcome one or more of the hurdles I’ll mention tomorrow. (Or at 1 am Pacific Time if you just can’t wait!)

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3