pin the tail on the fundamentalist

I’ve observed a phenomenon in the erstwhile fundamentalist blogosphere. It’s called the game of pin the tail on the fundamentalist. It’s played this way:

  1. Everybody plays with their eyes open (the better to seem sincere and disingenuous).
  2. The root philosophy of fundamentalism is described as having been taught to the player at some point in his training (whether accurately stated or no, it makes no difference).
  3. An error of some fundamentalist(s) is shown to contradict the root philosophy of fundamentalism, as described.
  4. Fundamentalists and fundamentalism is branded as being hypocritical and inconsistent.
  5. A cacophony of ‘Amens’ and ‘Spot Ons’ follow in the blogosphere, the voices of an aggrieved multitude, citing this cause as being responsible for turning off and turning away a cast of thousands.
  6. A comparison is sometimes made of evangelicals who don’t share that particular error, sung to the sound of the background chorus, ‘O, to be like thee’.
  7. All thus ‘pinned’ fundamentalists are expected to hang their heads in collective shame, resolving to be henceforward more like the sainted evangelicals whose errors are few and heights of God-centeredness are sublime.

The game is on right now at a blog post near you.

One instance of it that I recently read began something like this: fundamentalists teach that we are to separate from error, but then fundamentalists are guilty of sharing platforms or preaching with people who are guilty of certain errors. This hypocrisy is so disgusting to the pure minded that it is a major cause of leaving fundamentalism.

However, we should be clear about what fundamentalism is and is not. Fundamentalism isn’t an organization. Fundamentalism isn’t a movement and, it could be argued, never has been one. Fundamentalism is a position or state of mind or philosophy taken by Bible-believing Christians in active opposition to certain but not all error.

If fundamentalists were to maintain that their philosophy demanded active opposition to all error, there would be no possibility of any cooperative effort between any Christians. It would be quite likely that there couldn’t even be a sufficient unanimity for any local church to successfully maintain itself.

On the contrary, fundamentalism is a philosophy that insists on active opposition (up to and including full separation) against certain theological errors. The position has been summed up quite well elsewhere, a fairly recent example can be found here.

When pointing out the alleged inconsistencies of fundamentalists, one would have to determine first of all whether the errors tolerated rise to a denial of “essential doctrines of the faith” or whether they are just doctrines the observer really really doesn’t like. If they are in fact denials of essentials of the faith, then the charge might stick.

But That’s Not All…

Even the presence of real inconsistency or hypocrisy on the part of fundamentalists, however, can’t possibly be a legitimate reason for someone to ‘leave’ fundamentalism.

Here’s why:

If I am right in describing fundamentalism as a mindset or attitude or philosophy, then the errors of other fundamentalists don’t matter. They don’t matter, at least, to my own persistence in fundamentalism or my activity as a fundamentalist.

So some fellow (claiming to be a fundamentalist) cooperates with or actually participates in something I consider to be an error – so what? What difference does someone else’s error make to my own philosophy or position? It may have an effect on my relationship with that fellow. In fact, I may well distance myself from him to a great degree. But my personal philosophy remains unchanged.

Instead, what we see is the game of ‘pin the tail on the fundamentalist’ being played. The participants say, ‘Yeah, it’s stuff like that that led me out of fundamentalism’ or ‘move me to leave fundamentalism’. So… they have pinned us, and they have left… left to what?

Well, in large measure the ‘leaving’ is to go to a branch of evangelicalism which is rife with cooperation with all kinds of error.


This is the rationale: Fundamentalists are hypocrites at separating from error, so I’ll separate from them and join the guys who have very little compunction against separation from error. In fact, to them, separation is a dirty word.

Yeah, that’ll show them!

Instead, I suggest that those who ‘leave’ fundamentalism are doing so because they never were fundamentalists in the first place. If they were, they would simply stay in (whatever ‘in’ is) and do their part to make fundamentalism better. And they wouldn’t get bitter about it.

Instead, we have a crowd of angry bitter people carping and criticising and claiming the high moral ground.

Oh well. I’m a fundamentalist. And I guess I’m just pinned – maybe they missed the tail and hit me in the head and I can’t think straight.


UPDATE: My response to the last five comments were delayed due to illness so I have put my responses in a follow-up post here. Comments will be closed for this post, if anyone cares to continue the discussion, please do so in the comments to the follow-up post.


  1. Don,

    I appreciate the way in which you have disected the little game being played…you call it “Pin the tail on the Fundamentalist.”

    Your comments are spot on right! I like the way you are able to analytically expose these phoney fundamentalists for what they really are.

  2. Keith says:

    I’d say your last sentence is spot on. Amen

  3. Gary,

    Thanks for your comment. You forgot

    Thank you for your passion Don. Right on. Spot on. Amen and Amen. Great post. Can I have a witness! Good stuff. You are right on target. This post was well overdo. THIS SO GOOD! Thanks for telling it like it is. Excellent. Thank you. Well put. Wonderful advice. Totally agree with you. Good on ya, Don. Yesserriee! Wow.

    Thouught I’d just help you out there.



    I thought of simply deleting your post since it really is kind of a snide remark that doesn’t advance any discussion. But I decided to let it slide this time.

    But really, you can do better than that.

    Don Johnson
    Jerimiah 33.3

  4. Calling for strong, serious, biblical, Christ-centered preaching is a “little game” from “phoney fundamentalists”? Really?

    How sad this is.

    • Chris, do you think I was specifically thinking of your post when I wrote this? The post that got me thinking on these lines was the one on Scott’s blog regarding music as a symptom not a cause. (I agree with that basic point.)

      But I think there is much too much readiness to say, ‘These observable problems in fundamentalism are the reason young people [and others] are leaving’ when in fact the problem is a lack of commitment to fundamentalism in the first place. What I am trying to get at is that there is a lot of blameshifting going on. It would be more honest to simply say that I don’t believe the Bible calls for separation than to say, ‘you hypocrits drove me to it.’

      Some of that was going on in the comments to your post, I am quite sure, but it wasn’t what got me started.

      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

  5. Don:

    At Chris’s Two Cents blog you wrote, “Further, I am complaining about the way complaints like this are used to slam fundamentalism and justify leaving it… Complaints like these are pretty shallow justifications of leaving the fundamentalist position.

    Most of those who complain about fundamentalism have left for evangelicalism already. They keep a presence in fundamentalism, they try to retain the “fundamentalist” label; why I do not know. Maybe they think they can embrace the practices of the so-called “conservative” evangelicals and call it “fundamentalism.”

    In any event, last summer just before the FBFI annual conference I was speaking to one of its leadership. We discussed the angst and anger of some YF guys. He wondered what could be done. I said, if they want to leave for the ce camp, let them go.

    You wrote, “Fundamentalism is…defined by a commitment to defending the gospel against its denial or betrayal.” A good partial definition. And here we have men who want to identify with fundamentalism, but they have already begun to embrace, promote and attend conferences sponsored by certain evangelicals who hobnob with the “enemies of the cross of Christ” (Phil. 3:18), i.e. those who deny the Gospel.

    Is it possible that their problem is not so much with the preaching in fundamentalism? Isn’t it possible they are attracted to evangelicalism, want to be evangelicals, are committed to evangelicalism and simply need to legitimize the shift, and complaints about preaching ease the transition for them?


  6. Keith says:

    “I thought of simply deleting your post since it really is kind of a snide remark that doesn’t advance any discussion.”

    Don. It was a joke. Lighten up. And, for goodness’ sake, is your entire post really anything more than a snide remark? You weren’t being snide mentioning background choruses of “O to be like thee”?

    But, since you asked for better . . .

    Your position that “Fundamentalism is a position or state of mind or philosophy taken by Bible-believing Christians in active opposition to certain but not all error,” and the way you apply it, is fairly worthless in regards to the larger discussion. Here’s why:

    1) It could be applied to evangelicals too. Which essential doctrines of the faith do they deny?
    2) It could be a description of various denominations.
    3) But mostly, because it basically amounts to, “Those who oppose the right things are fundamentalists.” While, of course, the whole discussion is over what should be opposed. Should goofy preaching be opposed, or only the debils music? Should KJVO be opposed, or only the dread neos? Etc.

    You say “Fundamentalism isn’t a movement.” Why the “ism” then? And, you sure do spend a lot of time defending this non-existent movement. You sure do seem to give guys who are a part of this non-movement much benefit of the doubt while giving guys who are not a part of this non-movement little to no benefit of the doubt. You talk about things like “close fellowship” and “branches” and “camps”. Those all seem like movement language. One can’t leave or be “out” if there is no “in”.

    Furthermore, even if you aren’t a part of movement fundamentalism, I don’t see how you can with a straight face claim that there is no such thing as movement fundamentalism. There is clearly a recognizable, describable sub-culture that can be labeled Christian Fundamentalism. Are you saying that no one is allowed to comment upon it or challenge it — even from within? That too sounds like movement mentality.

    But, even if one were to concede your point that Fundamentalism is not a movement, your argument would fall apart. Because, you see, then the same thing applies to evangelicalism. On your terms, evangelicalism is no more of an organization or a movement than fundamentalism is. So, how in the world can someone “go to a branch of evangelicalism” as you say?

    Of course, maybe you have come over to the dark side yourself. You wrote: “So some fellow (claiming to be a fundamentalist) cooperates with or actually participates in something I consider to be an error – so what? What difference does someone else’s error make to my own philosophy or position?” Just swap in evangelical for fundamentalist and you sound just like a neo.

    And I say all of this without any anger or bitterness.

  7. David Barnhart says:

    Actually, my thinking was similar to Chris’ — although his post really didn’t exhibit what you were decrying, it did look to me as if his post (and the comments following) were the proverbial “last straw” that caused you to post. Obviously, I was reading into it, and it was just the timing that caused me to think that. I hadn’t even seen Scott’s post yet, though I now want to go read it.

  8. Don,
    I’ll take credit for the “good on ya” remark–that was mine. And it stands. Thank you for referencing it here–it brings no shame properly understood. I guess your post here didn’t address CA’s post, but your exegetical comments about your own post do address CA’s post?

    Men, young and old, leave associating with other men or churches, or movements–without leaving the idea of fundamentalism. I don’t run in your circles geographically, but I do by association (with the churches that support or have supported you.) I’ve heard enough of what CA was describing to make me stop associating with some men & churches & even movements, but never with the idea–in fact the kind of stuff he described drove me to know better and express better the biblical ideals of f’ism.

    The kind of stuff CA was writing about is not what defines f’ism (as an idea), nor is it part of what makes f’ism as a movement powerful and God-pleasing. It is what removes power, in some cases mocks the Spirit, and makes some men think twice about whom they will associate with. That is what many are expressing when they say they “left.” I.e., they are not leaving the idea, just the people who promote elements of the very thing they claim to be against.

    Setting aside whether this makes men “leave” or not, is it not good and right that we TAKE GREAT PAINS to examine ourselves, and those we claim to be in harness with, and see if we pass biblical muster? True, so many express their critique poorly, even self-centeredly, and as you noted, some are perhaps “blameshifting” but CA did not–and at this point, even if he had been guilty of that, [and he was not], is not the rigor of a biblical searchlight and examination ALWAYS needed? Whatever else others are doing “out there” we ought to look and act for excellence “in here.” If anything, f’ism ought to be the first to be hard on our method and message; i.e. hard on our men. The CE’s should be able to look to us and see a standard worth emulating–because it is a biblical standard–not some evidence of a lack of respect for the pulpit, the Word or God’s people. And CA seemed to be referencing men who often seemed to have ill regard for all three.

    If this isn’t what “got you started”, then why reference my and other’s “atta boys”? That makes it seem (at least to this slow-thinking guy) that you had CA’s post in mind somehow in the first place. If not, then I’m just not getting the subtleties, maybe I’m not postmodern enough :D. If I am wrong, then you pinned me and “good on ya”–and I need to learn something, and it’s not wrong, prideful, etc. to tell me I’m wrong if I am. Unless one sins in how that work is done. Maybe you agree with me, and I just don’t see that you are…

  9. Don,

    I don’t have a problem with pinning the tail on the fundamentalist. I do it all the time and I name names. Rather than leaving it to guess for better deniability (except for Andy Naselli, who puts a link to a BJU conference sermon—he doesn’t stand for that kind of criticism of evangelicals). But you’ll notice that I pin the tail on the evangelical far, far more. I’ve noticed that when I do, I get either attacked by or no support from fundamentalists. As a result, the adulation for evangelicalism grows in the midst of fundamentalists. When an evangelical has the tail pinned on him, he has a different sort of response. I would think some really great expositors, who preach right and well, would give you some exposition in answer. Instead, they attack you, usually with ad hominem. I noticed this to be the case with most of the fundamentalists that love them too. This is my honest evaluation. I really do hope the best for both groups, and like them better than most others, like …, etc.

    [Note: the elipsis refers to a ‘Rev.’ who is a well-known activist. I don’t want search sites to pick up this name or for the name to sidetrack in anyway so I have marked it out with the elipsis. Suffice to say that this individual would represent a very liberal form of Christianity, it it is legitimate to use the term ‘Christianity’ in this context. — DonJ.]

    • UPDATE: My response to the last five comments were delayed due to illness so I have put my responses in a follow-up post here. Comments will be closed for this post, if anyone cares to continue the discussion, please do so in the comments to the follow-up post.

      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3