what is my objective?

Dave Doran wrote a post in response to my ‘phantom movements’ post. He continues to hold that there is no such thing as a fundamentalist movement any longer, and I continue to hold that there is an identifiable movement. (My claims should not be misunderstood to mean that I think the Fundamentalist movement is brimming with health, just that it exists.)

Dave’s major criticism of my piece centers on the way I expressed myself. First, he quotes my take on the objectives of both evangelicalism and fundamentalism:

The evangelical objective is cooperation with as many as possible while maintaining in some fashion the integrity of the gospel.

On the other hand, there is a group of churches, individuals, and Christian institutions that pursue separatism as an objective.

It really hurts to see your own words in pixelated print! Especially when your quoted words are followed with this critique:

More importantly, I believe he misses the mark on the objective of fundamentalism by making separatism the objective rather than the means to the objective.

I hate it when Dave is right like that! My statement of fundamentalism’s objective not only misses the boat entirely but it contradicts some things I have been saying here recently about separation plus non-cooperation.

Dave also criticizes my words ‘in some fashion’ with respect to evangelicalism’s objectives. I think my statement is somewhat awkward and unclear, but I don’t think it is as far off as my second statement with respect to the objective of fundamentalism.

First I’ll explain ‘in some fashion’ and then I’ll re-address both objective statements, hopefully with greater clarity on the one hand and greater accuracy on the other.

In using the words ‘maintaining in some fashion the integrity of the gospel,’ I am attempting to include a wide variety of people under the overall umbrella of the evangelical movement. While there are some evangelicals who seem more adept at maintaining the integrity of the gospel themselves, I think the characteristic mark of their evangelicalism is that they are open to supporting and including others in their circles of fellowship who are less concerned with the integrity of the gospel. I used Mark Dever as an example, since he is the man of the hour with respect to recent announcements. Dever is one who I see as having a pretty high level of integrity. But he is ready to open his arms in support and fellowship to a broad group of people who have much less integrity than he does. See my example in the ‘phantom movements’ post with respect to his connections to Mark Driscoll and the Acts 29 organization.

As a result of Dever’s kind of openness, I use the words ‘in some fashion’, because evangelicals seem to have an overriding principle which leads them to a broader tolerance of people who actually are less concerned with the integrity of the gospel.

This leads me to my understanding of the distinctive ends of evangelicalism as opposed to fundamentalism. The Scriptures really only give so many goals or objectives to the Christian church as a church. Other personal goals are given to individuals. I would suggest the prime directive, the number one objective is the Great Commission:

Matthew 28.19-20 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.

Of course there are other statements of this objective, but we are all so familiar with them that I think this will suffice. There is a corollary to this, one the apostle Paul gives us to expand on the disciple making aspect of the Great Commission:

Ephesians 4:11-16 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.

So far I think these passages give us the primary objectives of the local church. This is our business. I think that evangelicals and fundamentalists by and large accept these objectives for their own and are marked as movements by setting about their business to attain these objectives. Because we share these objectives, some want to call Fundamentalists a subset of Evangelicalism. I disagree with that notion, Evangelicalism does not equal Biblical Christianity. These two objectives mark Biblical Christianity, which makes both Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism subsets of Christianity, not the one of the other.

Another reason Fundamentalism isn’t a subset of Evangelicalism is the historical reality that Evangelicalism departed from Fundamentalism, not the other way around.

The reason Evangelicalism departed from Fundamentalism to form a distinct movement was disagreement over the third objective of the local church, the objective to be on watch and on guard for error. This is stated succinctly (and famously) by Jude:

Jude 1:3 Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.

This doctrine is a church doctrine and a church responsibility, as the apostle Paul pointed out in his ‘farewell’ message to Ephesus:

Acts 20:28-31 Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears.

The Christian church has an obligation to watch those on the outside who would threaten the flock of God and lead them into error or corrupt their Christian testimony. The Christian church also has an obligation to watch those who arise from within and give diligence to protect God’s flock from such errors and such teachers. Paul gives us instructions to that effect:

Romans 16:17 Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.

These last objectives certainly mark the Fundamentalist movement as a group. Whatever other failings we may have, Fundamentalists do see that churches have a responsibility of watching and guarding the flock.

It is these objectives that the New Evangelicals specifically rejected, opting instead for an emphasis on the other objectives in hopes of winning respect for their position and winning the souls of some apostates for Christ. Their compromise co-opted the majority of the conservative Christian church in North America and created a landscape where ‘never is heard a threatening word’ amongst the churches. This has led to all kinds of excess and error creating a hodgepodge of confusion and weak, ineffective Christianity.

It is undeniable that some Evangelicals have come to realize the folly of letting their guard down and embracing the wolves who would rend the sheep. But have these Evangelicals abandoned the movement begun by the New Evangelicals? You still hear them, even the most conservative of them, speaking against Fundamentalism and in praise of their New Evangelical forebears. They may criticize New Evangelicals by saying that they went too far or were too tolerant, but you will hear them praised as offering a necessary corrective to Fundamentalism. Some of these conservatives are now speaking about how they appreciate the seriousness of Fundamentalism, but you will never (or at least not so far) hear them say that Fundamentalism was right.1

As such, it seems that New Evangelicalism has thoroughly indoctrinated the Evangelical mind and that Evangelicals have largely adopted the New Evangelical goals: an attempt to accomplish the Great Commission with a open policy towards errors that will corrupt the church, either in doctrine or in practice.

On the other hand, Fundamentalism has many permutations within its ranks. Some emphasize certain peripheral doctrines more than others. Some are willing to contend for certain peripheral doctrines and thus miss the genius of Fundamentalism. When Jude exhorted us to earnestly contend for the faith, I don’t believe he was urging us to contend for cultural applications of Fundamental principles or for particular interpretations of preservation, but rather for the body of doctrine which comprises the core of the Faith.

Nevertheless, those who are Fundamentalists can be discerned by their willingness to contend for those doctrines against teaching and practice that attack the essential core of Christianity. The objective of the purity of the faith and the safeguarding the spiritual life of the sheep is one that leads Fundamentalists to make divisions with and issue warnings against other Christians who either are in error themselves or are undiscerning about the errors of others.

Dave is arguing that there is no movements any longer. I don’t know if I have proved the opposite to anyone’s satisfaction (I doubt that I will persuade Dave), but I think that it is quite clear that there are groups committed to core Evangelical or Fundamentalist ideals who are trying to promote those ideals within their circles and to recruit others to join their circles. Are such groups and efforts evidence of some kind of ongoing movements? I think they are.

Having said all that…

Does it matter that there are movements or not? Should we make decisions about fellowship, cooperation or non-cooperation, or separation on the basis of the label someone wears?

No. Here I agree with Dave. There are some Fundamentalists who I don’t want to work with very closely, if at all. Can I say the opposite about Evangelicals? Can I say that there are some Evangelicals I could work with because they are closer to my ideals than some Fundamentalists? No, not at all. I have yet to see the Evangelical with whom I could join in some cooperative effort. As long as they remain committed to promoting works and men who are destructive to the faith or walk of Christians, I can’t work with them. And given the Evangelical commitment to openness towards the erring, I doubt that will ever change, no matter how much I like what individual Evangelicals might do or say.

~~~

Finally, I have to say that I have appreciated this exchange between Dave and I. I know that at least one of us can be prone to sarcasm which is an ineffective tool in the pixelated press, it seems. Hopefully we can keep our discourse on a gentlemanly level. I’ve appreciated the way Dave has disagreed with me and hope that I have maintained the same level of discourse.

don_sig2

Notes:

  1. As evidence of this, please listen to Al Mohler’s recent address to Southern Seminary as he opened the school year on August 24, 2010. []

Comments

  1. Keith says:

    “Evangelicalism departed from Fundamentalism, not the other way around.”

    Well, that’s actually an oversimplification. Yes, New Evangelicalism was intended as a corrective to the excesses of Fundamentalism. However, if Evangelicalism goes back to Wesley/Whitefield and the Great Awakenings, which is how it is often dated, then both Fundamentalism and New Evangelicalism are subsets of that Evangelicalism. Plus, there are many Bible believing churches and Christians who never were, and still aren’t, clearly a part of either the New Evangelicalism or Fundamentalism. They weren’t/aren’t “card carrying” (in Marsden’s lingo) members of either group. Furthermore, Bob Jones Junior was a member of the National Association of Evangelicals, and when he and his party lost control, he left for more fundamentalist groups.

    But I quibble. Plus, I agree that all these groups are subsets of Christianity.

    “There are some Fundamentalists who I don’t want to work with very closely, if at all.”

    If they don’t attack the core of Christianity, if they don’t promote works and men who are destructive to the faith or walk of Christians — WHY NOT?

    If they do, in what sense are they fundamentalists?

    And, as to the evangelicals, all the ones I know would accept the Jude, Romans, and Acts passages you cite. They just disagree with you on the implementation. In fact, they’d probably cite Romans 16 as justification for the New Evangelical response to Fundamentalism.

    • Hi Keith,

      With respect to the quibbles, I think we all have our interpretations of events that may or may not be entirely accurate. I agree that Evangelicalism is often said to go back to Whitefield/Wesley (anyone for a new label? “Classic Evangelicalism”???). But I contend that New Evangelicalism was so profound in its influence that the term Evangelical is entirely co-opted by New Evangelical ideas. Today’s Evangelicalism exists as a development from New Evangelicalism almost totally. The few groups that have never been part of New Evangelicalism or Fundamentalism would be very small and largely out of the mainstream. I see you use the word “many”, but I would see it differently, as only a few, not many.

      As to why wouldn’t I work with some Fundamentalists – largely because they won’t work with me. They would be so hyper-separatistic that they would consider anyone who doesn’t hold to their view of the versions as being liberal. There are others who are so Calvinistic that they consider anyone who doesn’t agree with them not even to be Christians (not a lot, but there are some who use language like this). Some others have betrayed less than stellar moral behaviour and may claim fundamentalist beliefs, but their practices belie their words.

      Finally, in disagreement over the implementation, I think you find the distinctive objectives of the two movements.

      Maranatha!
      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

  2. Keith says:

    “New Evangelicalism was so profound in its influence that the term Evangelical is entirely co-opted by New Evangelical ideas.”

    Yes, New Evangelicalism abandoned self-destructive separatism, and what do you know, it influenced people. Hmm.

    Regardless of the nose count, there are significant groups today who were a part of neither the largely northern baptist and presbyterian denominational struggles over modernism nor the southern revivalism. If they are not a part of the overwhelmingly baptist fundamentalism today, they probably have been influenced by New Evangelicals, but being influenced by is different than “coming from”. Again, probably a quibble.

    “They would be so hyper-separatistic that they would consider anyone who doesn’t hold to their view of the versions as being liberal. There are others who are so Calvinistic that they consider anyone who doesn’t agree with them not even to be Christians (not a lot, but there are some who use language like this). Some others have betrayed less than stellar moral behaviour and may claim fundamentalist beliefs, but their practices belie their words.”

    Every item in your list sounds like either a violation of core Christian beliefs or works that are destructive to the faith or walk of Christians. So, again, in what way are these folks fundamentalists by your definition? In fact, in what way are they even “as good as” evangelicals?

    • Hi Keith,

      Well, perhaps I should use the word ‘professing’ when attached to people in this list? And I guess my list of examples involves extremes.

      There are some who would be co-belligerents over a fundamentalist issue but who wouldn’t cooperate with other fundamentalists because they don’t agree on some secondary doctrines. I don’t have a problem with that, they are free to cooperate or not to cooperate as they see fit. But if I am looking at them and analyzing their practice, they would still be considered fundamentalists and broadly speaking as part of the fundamentalist movement.

      Maranatha!
      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3