Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Big Tent Fundamentalism [or] Has the Movement Ever Been Serious?

Kevin Bauder believes that fundamentalism needs to get sober if it is to be worth saving. Fundamentalism must be serious about doctrine, the human condition, learning, meaning, piety, and separatism.

He’s made a believer out of me, and it seems that his ideas rang true with a healthy number of others from backgrounds similar to mine. He influenced me enough that I began to apply myself more seriously in some of the areas he outlined. Now, I still have quite a long way to go. Praise the Lord for His patience and His promise of progressive sanctification.

Nevertheless, in the first steps of my move toward seriousness, I’ve given some thought and study to fundamentalist history, and one big question has taken root in my mind: Has the fundamentalist movement ever been serious in the way that Bauder advocates? I have no doubt that there have been individuals who fit his criteria, but the movement as a whole seems to have been a constant mish-mash of diverse sub-groups.

For example, the early fundamentalists differed substantially in a wide variety of doctrines and practices, including (but I suspect not limited to) immersion, premillennialism, church government, denominationalism, tolerance of Pentecostalism, use of alcohol, hermeneutics, soteriology, secondary separation, and Finneyistic evangelistic methodology. The authors of The Fundamentals were not even unified in their willingness to combat theological liberalism in the denominations.

This information was largely new to me. It destroyed a vision in my mind of a fundamentalist utopia from decades past in which leaders agreed on the better part of their theology and attacked a false gospel with a unified voice. I now learn how ignorant I was. I’ve become increasingly aware that early fundamentalism was trying to respond to a specific threat (modernism) in a specific historical context, not trying to define the full range of New Testament Christianity. Their agreement and cooperation were far more limited to the immediate enemy of modernism than I had perceived.

Now, those of you who have read Bauder’s article may be thinking that his standard for seriousness about doctrine recognizes that not all doctrines are of equal importance. I’m looking forward to seeing further discussion of the proper rubric for prioritizing doctrine. To this point all I’ve seen is Bauder’s general reference to what is “essential to the gospel itself,” and what has been offered by the self-professed-but-not-approved fundamentalist Phil Johnson. (Phil is not approved because he associates with MacArthur who associates with Mohler who associates with Graham who associates with all kinds of apostates. If it matters, I’m typing this with a smile, not a sneer.) As I'm writing this, Phil's blog, Pyromaniac, is down, but I hope to provide links to his thoughts when it is up again.

Bauder’s point about a hierarchy of doctrine is well taken, but many people in Bauder’s general segment of fundamentalism would not tolerate nearly so much diversity as the early fundamentalists. If sober fundamentalism demands a reasonable hierarchy of doctrine that puts the gospel at the top of the pyramid but allows for differences on other doctrines, they do not qualify.

So, has fundamentalism ever been serious about doctrine and meaning? If it has been authentically serious, why has diversity on unconditional election been more tolerable to many than diversity in musical styles and the timing of the Rapture? How can unconditional election not be “essential to the gospel itself”? If fundamentalism as a movement has never been serious about the gospel in this way, then Bauder’s call is not for a return to something old but for a pilgrimage to something entirely new. This new think, as he describes it, certainly seems to me to be a good thing, but it is not a thing that seems ever to have existed before, at least in the movement that has called itself fundamentalism. Were one to suggest otherwise, it would seem to me to be revisionist history.

The inescapable implication of the big tent fundamentalism of generations past is that co-belligerence made for some strange bedfellows in the battle against modernism. If fundamentalism is to convince rising generations that its ideas are right, some of these uncomfortable sleeping arrangements that were tolerated for decades will face radical upheaval. Twenty-first century fundamentalism will need to define its doctrinal hierarchy with a primary emphasis on a sound definition of the gospel if on that basis it is to formulate a refined fundamentalism. Only through that process will we improve on the big tent fundamentalism of the past hundred years.


Phil Johnson said...

Actually, the blog is still there. I'm just not posting for two weeks because I had a book to edit. The links I think you are referring to are here, here, and here.

Keith said...

Dear Paleoevangelical,

Bauder is a very interesting fundamentalist. I hope he succeeds in reforming fundamentalism (even though I disagree with his baptist and dispensationalist distinctives). However, partly because of things you mention in your post, I think it's a long shot at best.

I do have a question for you about Bauder's speech/article:

Over and over again he prods fundamentalists to impact culture. For example, he writes: "We cannot claim that we are good Christians if we are not even good people. Good people are not contemptuous of poetry, history, law, government, and the other humane disciplines. Rather, they invest themselves in such activities, using these tools in the effort (however misguided and sinful) to enrich the world. It is noble to fashion a beautiful object or an intricate idea. It is a splendid thing to lead a nation well or to challenge an injustice. Why should people believe that we love the greater good of the gospel if they see that we despise the lesser good of the truly humane?"

I couldn't agree more.

So, it surprises me that he then adds: "I do not believe that any supposed cultural mandate is the mission of the church."

If here he is merely indicating that he believes in "Sphere Sovereignty" (The organized Church has different areas of authority and responsibility than the Family or the School or the State) then I agree. Lord's Day worship is for Word and Sacrament not concerts, art shows, or parliamentary debates.

However, if he means that the people of God have no cultural mandate, then on what basis does he prod his people to cultural involvement? On what basis does he determine that "Good people are not contemptuous of poetry, history, law, government, and the other humane disciplines."?

Who says these things are good? If God has not declared them good, why are they good. And, if God has declared them good, then aren't we mandated to "think on them"?

Bauder goes on to say: "Still, we must not despise such pursuits. We must recognize in the lawyer, the statesman, the historian and the artist genuine callings of God."

If these things are callings of God are they not mandated? Callings aren't just suggestions or good ideas are they?

I mean no disrespect in my questions. I am asking.


Dave said...

THis really has to be quick since a big day lies ahead (aka conference with the theme "Guarding the Gospel"). Two thoughts:

(1) Paleo, perhaps the best thing is to consider whether this big tent was an inherent flaw in fundamentalism from the beginning, i.e., by trying to unite a very diverse coalition it has hampered our seriousness about sound doctrine. I can understand why it happened, but the net result of full-fledged interdenominationalism has not been good (for fundies or evangelicals). Since your are reading this history, I would encourage you to read Hart's book, Deconstructing Evangelicalism, for an assessment of evangelicalism that makes this case. The parallels are interesting.

(2) Keith, I will have an opportunity to talk with Kevin today, so I will see if he has time to answer you, but if I can offer my perspective on this, the answer is that there is no inherent connection between personally aiming to reflect the glory of the Creator and want is often detailed out as the cultural mandate.

Got to go.

P.S. Phil, wish you could be here for the conference--Minnick, Bauder, Sam Horn, DBTS profs--some serious fundamentalist anomalies happening.

Ben said...


Thanks for the links. Pyro was apparently down briefly when I was posting yesterday. Maybe it was a Blogger issue. Thanks for the links. I'll plug them into my post soon. It makes my job easier.


I noticed these statements as I was reviewing his address. The way I see the distinction may be too fine for your definitions, but I'll do my best. I think there's a difference between Bauder saying that Christians need to be good people in culture and saying that Christians need to make impacting culture their objective. That's my guess, and I'm sure it falls short. If we're fortunate, Dave will get him to pay us a visit. For what it's worth, I don't like the term "calling" applied to vocations (including ministry vocations), but I know I'm swimming against the stream on that point. Call it semantics, but sometimes semantics are important.


Thanks for mentioning your conference. I had planned to e-mail you and see if you could direct me to any sessions that are relevant to what I'm talking about here. I would love to hear and review any that get into the sticky stuff thoughtful fundamentalists are working through. Unfortunately, I can't find the conference schedule on your web sites right now. It could be because I'm on a Mac and they aren't very Mac-friendly.

Thanks for the recommendation on Hart. I'll check it out. I've wondered about that very point about too much interdenominationalism, but I've also wondered if there was too much love for denominationalism as well. Maybe it is not paradoxical for both to have been true.

Keith said...


I'm not sure what you have heard detailed often as the cultural mandate. What I have heard would include personally reflecting the glory of the Creator for the good of the creation.

I'm less concerned with emphasizing "personal" than you may be, but whether the emphasis is on the individual eggs or the entire omelet, it's still breakfast.

I'll look forward to hearing Bauder's comments. and I am curious about the conference you mention.

Where is it? When is it? Who is sponsoring it? Is Mark Minnick really speaking on the same schedule with current Dallas Seminary teachers? That would be an anomolie.


keith said...


I think you are right that I find your distinction too fine.

How is "needing" to be good people in culture significantly different than "making it one's objective" to be good people in culture?

I don't see any distinction of import between those two statments.

Perhaps, again it comes down to the issue of whether or not the culture will or can be impacted even if we are good in it?

I do look forward to hearing from Bauder. And, thanks again for the interaction.


david said...

I imagine Dave meant the other DBTS, Detroit Baptist.

I'm curious, Dave, what fundamentalism anomalies happening you refer to. As far as the people go, looks pretty normal to me.

Ben said...


You're putting words in my mouth. I didn't say there is a difference between being a good person in culture and making it a priority to be a good person in culture. Here's what I really said: "I think there's a difference between Bauder saying that Christians need to be good people in culture and saying that Christians need to make impacting culture their objective."

Your reasoning is that "being a good person in culture" is equivalent to "impacting culture." I simply do not accept that they are equivalent. The former may cause the latter, but I do not think it is necessarily the case. I also disagree that the motivation for each is equivalent. The former is motivated by and measured by obedience; the latter is motivated by and measured by outcomes.

Ben said...

By the way, here's the conference info. A mysterious fellow named Greg e-mailed it to me.

Dave said...

Keith--it is DBTS (not DTS) and refers to Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary.

David--the anomaly comment was connected to the identification by Phil of Kevin, Mark, and me as being anomalies in terms of fundamentalism. My was an ill-fateed attempt at humor--we are all here at the same time was all I meant.

I haven't mentioned anything to Kevin yet, but will try to remember when I see him at the evening service. Keith, I am don't really buy the egg and omelet analogy, but haven't time right now to do much explaining. More pressing needs are my presentations for tomorrow...

NeoFundy said...

I think you are correct that fundamentalism had some problems at the start, but this is not an easy pill for most to swallow. One of our biggest weaknesses as a movement has been the inability to self-evaluate. Happily, there is movement in fundamentalism, but I am not sure that DBTS are leading it.

Kevin T. Bauder said...

Dave mentioned that I was wanted here, but I'm afraid that I can only spare a moment.

When I say that there is no cultural mandate, I mean that as a response to the technical Reformed definition that finds a fundamental mandate for humanity in Genesis 1. That mandate (fruitfulness, multiplication, dominion) is generally taken to entail the creation of culture, and the creation of culture therefore becomes the responsibility of the human race.

I don't see it as a mandate at all. In context, it is a blessing, not a command. God blesses us with the capacity to do these things, and if we ignore them then we are despising His good gifts.

As for "big tent" fundamentalism, the movement (to the extent that it ever was a single movement) as a whole has never been serious about most of the things I listed. Some parts of the movement have been. The Princetonians were serious about most of them. Some of the Regular Baptists were serious about some of them.

What I dream of is an affirmation of the idea of fundamentalism, but an incarnation of that idea in a shape that is older and better than most of the fundamentalist movement has been. That is why I insist that the label "fundamentalist" only defines part of who I am, and not the most important part at that.

Sorry for the brevity.

Kevin T. Bauder

Keith said...

Dear Paleo,

I didn't mean to put words in your mouth. It appears I did so because, as you correctly note, I see "being a good person in culture" as equivalent to "impacting culture."

You don't accept that they are equivalent. So, we have pinpointed an item for discussion.

By "impacting" do you mean something like: "succeeding at completely controlling and sanctifying culture"?

If so, then once again, our disagreement is over a term.

I use "impacting" to mean something like: "influencing or positively affecting." In Piper's words: seasoning and preserving.

Our calling is always to obedience not to outcomes. Outcomes are God's responsibility. However, I believe that obedience will produce certain outcomes -- in God's good timing.

A godly minister preaches in order to be obedient, and God's Word will not return void. That doesn't mean everyone that hears will immediately turn to God. But it does mean that the obedience of preaching WILL have a certain outcome -- in God's good timing. Culutral impact or being a good person in culture is similar in my estimation.


Keith said...


My dylesxia . . . I mean dyslexia is acting up again. Sorry I missed the B in DBTS.

Why does Phil think the guys you mention are anomolies?


Keith said...

Dear Dr. Bauder,

Thanks for taking the time to reply.

I don't know if you'll be able to interact more here, but if you can, here are some follow up questions.

For discussion, let's assume you are right that the cultural "mandate" would be better understood to be the cultural "blessing". Is it a blessing we are at liberty to forgo?

Marriage is a blessing, but it is not one that all believers must take advantage of -- some can take advantage of the blessing of celibacy. On the other hand, Church membership is a blessing, but it is a blessing that all true believers are mandated to take advantage of. In which category do you place the "cultural blessing"?

Surely, at minimum, you would agree that we are mandated to not despise God's good gifts.

Finally, would you agree that the Princetonians would have acknowledged a "cultural mandate"? If so, is there any chance that it is one of the reasons they were serious about most of the things you would like to see in fundamentalism?

Thanks again for your time.


Keith E. Phillips

Dave said...



Ben said...


I think we've narrowed down the argument to the point where you and I have very little left to disagree about. I don't have a quarrel your definition of impacting culture. But then, your use of the term is far more narrow than the common usage of the term in Christianity as I was critiquing it beginning six or eight posts ago.

Being a good Christian (being salt and light) will produce the outcomes that are planned by God in His timing. I agree. But the common evangelical nomenclature of impacting/winning/redeeming culture is far more audacious, optimistic, and comprehensive than I believe Scripture gives us reason to expect or even pursue.

My point is and has been that too many Christians' priorities seem more oriented toward redeeming culture than redeeming souls. Semantics? To some degree, yes. But the implication is that many people become more infatuated with advancing the trappings of a redeemed culture (family-friendly government, music, TV, and movies) than with advancing the number of redeemed people who live, move, and have their being within culture.