how organized to you need to be?

This will be the first part of my response to Dave’s critique of my last post. This part of my response will deal with an aspect of his critique that I think is incorrect. He does make a valid criticism that I will address in a subsequent post.

The first thing I would like to address is this point:

Ironically, both Don and I quote Webster dictionary as the basis for making our assessment. He does it in his post and I do it to make the opposite case in a post in October 2009. So, at least we can say that we agree that for a movement to exist there must be some unifying objective.

First, the reasons why Don and I can both use Webster to argue opposite points is that Don drops part of Webster’s definition. Now, to be sure, he acknowledges this—“Based on this definition, one could dispute whether there has ever been much of a fundamentalist movement, especially if the word ‘organized’ is emphasized”—yet dismisses this as a non-problem. But it is a serious, thesis refuting problem! A thousand people at the shopping mall to buy clothes for school all have the same objective, but nobody would consider them a back-to-school clothes buying movement, would they? Without organization and coordination of effort, there is no movement. When you drop the word organized from the Webster definition you actually change the meaning.

Dave is contending that my dismissal of the word ‘organized’ changes the definition of movement into something else.

My contention is that the word ‘organized’ in the definition doesn’t mean some kind of formal organizational structure across the length and breadth of a movement – it is impossible for such to be the case and I doubt that it has ever happened. That is not to say that there isn’t some organization that galvanizes, leads, influences, or directs movements, but that one really can’t expect a movement to have an over-arching organization.

From Dave’s Oct 2009 post, we see what he means by organization in the Fundamentalist movement of the past:

It seems that the very definition of movement would need to include some objective or purpose. In fact, Webster defines movement as “a series of organized activities working toward an objective” and “an organized effort to promote or attain an end.” Fundamentalism was brought together by its opposition to liberalism—it moved in the direction of “an organized effort to promote or attain the end” of defending the Faith against modernism. Later, its energies were catalyzed by opposition to New Evangelicalism. As time has passed, though, no one objective or end has proved compelling or unique enough to hold the movement together.

That is not to say that fundamentalism doesn’t exist. I think it does, but I think it does so more like a belief system than a movement. IOW, it is more like dispensationalism than it is home education. Dispensationalism has a core set of beliefs which distinguishes it from other hermeneutical approaches, but I think one would be hard-pressed to argue that there is “an organized effort to promote or attain the end” of establishing dispensationalism as the dominant approach to Scripture among believers (though I’d personally sign up for that movement). The home school movement, on the other hand, clearly represents “an organized effort to promote or attain the end” of advancing home education.

Let’s look at the four examples in these two paragraphs, plus one more that Merriam-Webster provided:

First: the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversies

What organization occurred in these controversies? There was some organization among the Northern Baptists in the form of the Fundamentalist Fellowship and the efforts of leaders in that group to achieve political ends within their convention. There was also organization amongst the Presbyterians which ultimately led to the formation of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and Westminster Seminary. Earlier there was the organized effort that led to the publication of The Fundamentals. Other examples could be cited.

However, how coordinated were these efforts? What connection did they have with each other? Was there ever some kind of over-arching fundamentalist cabal, plotting the various moves of their minions and orchestrating the fundamentalist side of the controversy? Hardly.

Second: the New Evangelical challenge

I am not sure how fundamentalism was exactly organized in its response to New Evangelicalism. By this time Fundamentalism was much more independent than in its first decades. To be sure, the leaders of Fundamentalism had some communication with one another and they all read each others writings and heard each other’s sermons. But what structure and organization existed? There were also famous falling outs between leaders in this phase of fundamentalism – John R. Rice vs. Bob Jones is an example. So how organized was the Fundamentalist response? I submit not very, although Dave does acknowledge that we could describe the fundamentalism of that day as a ‘movement’.

Third: Dispensationalism

Dave rightly sees that there is little or no movement to dispensationalism – that is, it is a philosophy of Bible interpretation but it is not characterized by organized efforts to promote it. The days of the prophecy conferences are by and large a thing of the past. There are, however, some who spend some time and effort trying to promote dispensationalism. This is led largely by schools characterized by it, by theologians committed to it, by a few evangelists who still preach prophecy conferences. But as a movement with a groundswell of support, it has had its day.

Fourth: Home Schooling

Just how organized is the home schooling movement? No one denies that such a movement exists, but after having had seventeen years of direct experience with home schooling, I can assure you that there is no over-arching organization directing the movement. There are all kinds of conferences, publishers, advocates, groups, etc, promoting home schooling. Many of them are rivals of one another, some of them think the others are nuts and won’t have anything to do with them. There is no one-size-fits all organization, it is incredibly diverse and independent (much like present day fundamentalism). So… Movement, Yes. Organization? Not much.

Fifth: the Civil Rights movement

This comes as the example used in the Merriam-Webster definition. The civil rights movement involves a whole lot of different people, events, directions, organizations, and efforts. I don’t think it can be said that there was some kind of unified organization. All in the movement were pushing for the same goal and some of them organized themselves into various different groups, promoted different events and different rallies, etc. One could argue that the NAACP is one such organization, a part of the civil rights movement, but would you argue that it is the only part of the civil rights movement, everything else is outside the movement? I don’t think so.

Finally, organized efforts in Fundamentalism today

For better or for worse, there is quite a bit of diversity in the fundamentalist movement. That diversity is expressed in a variety of organizations, led by differing groups of leaders in some cases. (I submit that they are pursuing an identifiable fundamentalist goal, but that is a matter for my second post of response.) Organizations like the Fundamentalist Baptist Fellowship, the American Council of Christian Churches, the Canadian Protestant League (admittedly small, mostly Free Presbyterian) and others are promoting the ends of Fundamentalism. There are some conferences from the Bob Jones University Bible Conference to Clarence Sexton’s “Baptist Friends International” and others. All of this involves loosely organized efforts with some links and ties between different groups, but no overall organization.

I ask, in order to fit the Webster definition:

How Organized do You Need to Be?

I answer, Not Very.

About as much as Fundamentalism is currently organized. About as much as the New Calvinist movement is currently organized. That is, Not Very.

So this part of Dave’s critique I simply disagree with. There is enough organization within the Fundamentalist movement today to qualify it as a movement in my opinion. I would suggest that there is about as much organization as there ever has been. Which isn’t a lot…



  1. Keith says:

    Don, you’re right that a movement is definitely something different than an organization or an institution. If it weren’t, then there’d be no use for the term.

    Nevertheless, there does need to be a coherent destination for the movement to move to. There needs to be a core “organizing principle” maybe we could call it.

    Among those who wish to claim the title “fundamentalist” is there a core organizing principle?

    For homeschoolers, it would be schooling at home (even with all of the conflicts about how to do that), for civil rights it was equal access to the privileges of citizenship (again with all of the conflicts). What do all those who want the name fundamentalist share?

    • What is the organizing principle? Well that will be the point of my second response to Dave which will hopefully appear within the next 36 hours. I do have other responsibilities!

      My point in this article is that the term “organized” in the definition of “movement” doesn’t mean “that organized” and that fundamentalism today is “organized enough” so that it fits the definition.

      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

  2. There is enough organization within the Fundamentalist movement today to qualify it as a movement in my opinion.

    Agreed. With the FBFI for example we are no less organized than that T4G/GC movements, which those who are shedding the “fundamentalist” label are gravitating toward and embracing its movement.