Saturday, January 13, 2007

Calling Many Fundamentalists "Fundamentalists" Is a Misnomer

Greg Linscott links to an article by a Southern Baptist, who argues that calling the "overwhelming majority of Southern Baptists" fundamentalists is a misnomer.

The author of the article acknowledges the proper historical distinction between theological conservatives and fundamentalists. That distinction is grounded on the practice of separation from unbelief. Even the theological liberal Harry Emerson Fosdick recognized that distinction in his famous sermon, "Shall the Fundamentalists Win?", preached way back in 1922. He loved the "conservatives," who were content to affirm the historic, orthodox faith of Christianity, except for the part that required repudiation and separation from false teachers.

I am in no place to comment on what portion of Southern Baptists are mere conservatives, and how many are militantly repudiating and separating from apostasy. The direction of the Convention as a whole is undeniably toward the former.

What does seem clear to me is that not all within the fundamentalist movement meet this definition of historic fundamentalism. Obviously, affirmation of the five fundamentals are not all that define fundamentalism. I think we’ve all learned that by now. Even the willingness to separate based on those five fundamentals alone is insufficient. Those points were merely a reflection of a particular set of issues most prominent and reflective of apostasy at one particular period of time.

But I wonder, how many fundamentalists would be willing to apply that separation test to folks within the “fundamentalist movement”? Would there not then be many “Fundamentalists” who are not true fundamentalists? Are there not many Fundamentalists who not only practice but tolerate aberrant doctrines and practices? Are there not associations of Fundamentalists that have refused to affirm the plain meaning of their own historic confessions of faith? Was that tolerance not the common practice of the denominations on their long, slow, certain slide into theological liberalism? Would it not be quite simple to make this paragraph much longer if one chose to do so?


Bruce McKanna said...

Part of the problem in labeling here is due to the fact that most people don't recognize the middle ground (or no man's land?) of conservative evangelicalism. To a liberal, if you believe the Bible in the way it has been understood historically, you are a fundamentalist. To a fundamentalist, if you are not as conservative in your practice of the faith as he is, you must be a liberal.

This is why, to an audience of liberals, some conservative evangelicals do not distance themselves from the label "fundamentalist" even when a true Fundamentalist would never recognize them as such. It gets trickier when you are talking to non-Christians, because you have to figure out their definition of "fundamentalist" before you can explain why you do or don't fit into that category.

As to whether or not fundamentalists apply separation to other fundamentalists, I think a lot of evangelicals see them doing it all the time, and that's part of what they try to distance themselves from fundamentalism. Too many fundamentalists are separating over music, dress codes, translations of the Bible, and finer points of eschatology. Sadly, evangelicals miss the boat too when they shy away from any form of separation at all in their attempt to avoid extremism. Both sides need a clearer understanding of what constitutes a "separable" offense.

Having been outside of Fundamentalist circles for a while, could you give me some examples where there have been doctrinal deviations from historic statements and a failure to separate appropriately in historic Fundamentalist groups?

Anonymous said...

Ben, I would like to join Bruce in calling for specific examples of inconsistency in fundamentalist tolerance of 'aberrant doctrines and practices.' It would help to understand what you mean.

I suspect that no one is absolutely free of aberrant beliefs at some point, but to me the question comes down to this: do the beliefs/practices truly compromise the gospel and what should I do about it? Sometimes that means total separation. Sometimes that means no cooperation. Sometimes it means cautious fellowship. And sometimes it just means I have some weirdo friends.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Ben said...

I'm not advocating a comprehensive doctrine of when everyone should separate and when everyone shouldn't. I don't think I'm in any position to develop that even if it exists. I'm simply asking for a consistent application of whatever whatever principles one professes.

People don't like the shallow gospel in many SBC churches. Fundamentalism has a shallow gospel all over the place. People don't like the SBC's unwillingness to expel all errantist churches. Many Fundamentalist churches still widely tolerate KJVO institutions, which is an aberrant bibliology. Many Fundamentalist churches practice revivalistic theology and methodology while criticizing variations of it in the SBC and other groups. And independent fundamental Baptist association in one state refused to uphold (as I've heard it from numerous sources--I may still have copies of the docs in NC) its confession of faith (NH) in the matter of soteriology. Some churches left on principle. Others refused to stand for the historic (and plain) understanding of that confession.

Don, I'm not arguing that any of us are completely consistent. As Bauder has said, "We are all redeemed by our capacity for inconsistency." But I think that whatever level of consistency is demanded of the SBC must also be demanded of movment Fundamentalists. Fair enough?

Anonymous said...

Ben writes: "I am in no place to comment on what portion of Southern Baptists are mere conservatives, and how many are militantly repudiating and separating from apostasy. The direction of the Convention as a whole is undeniably toward the former."

Ben...first, you say you are in "no place to comment on what portion of SB's are mere conservatives" then you say "the direction of the Convention as a whole is undeniable toward the former." Seems like a contradiction. It also seems to defy the facts.

I'm no SBC apologist, but the SBC's I know and have watched have done things like vote theological liberals out of their local and state associations. I have watched the SBC walk away from millions and millions of dollars in investments they have made in schools like Baylor, Sanford, Stetson, etc... rather than to continue to support their liberal positions. I have watched people like Mohler and Patterson go in to 3 different seminaries and absolutely do WAR with liberals, reshaping the boards, kicking out students, terminating professors and paying a huge price in order to turn their seminaries around. I can give other examples, but I think I make my case. I would say that unless you and I hold different positions on what is "separation" or what is "separation worthy", then I think you overstated your opinion.

Joel Tetreau said...


I'm sure Ben can answer for himself. Let me give one example of fundamentalists that should be separated from for anti-fundamental belief. Those that teach the of Christ was al have violated the human nature of Christology. Not sure you many there in Canada that hold that view - we mave more than a few self-declared fundamentalists that hold such a view.

Blessings Don!


Joel Tetreau said...


Sorry - I tried to use the "B" word and the blog apparently won't let me say the name of the red fluid that flows when our skin is cut.

My point was that those fundamentalists that believe that red fluid was al without 100% human agency is heretical.

To say that red fluid was less than human makes Jesus less than the Messiah.

A problematic view to say the least.


Wow - I see we have a full-blown discussion. My thanks to Ben and Mr. Anonymous! Would love to know who you are Mr. Anonymous - I mean we're all friends here! :)

Straight Ahead!

Ben said...


I'd be more than happy to interact with your comments, but you're going to need to provide something more than merely "anonymous" for me to do so.

Fine for a comment. Not enough for interaction.

Paul said...

Spurgeon said:

"Never write what you dare not sign. An anonymous letter-writer is a sort of assassin, who wears a mask, and stabs in the dark. Such a man is a fiend with a pen. If discovered, the wretch will be steeped in the blackest infamy."

Though Spurgeon's context is obviously different, it is interesting to consider the relevance of his words to our day.

I am in no way attacking you, "Mr. Anonymous", for all I know you forgot to put your name as I have done in the past.

Carry on with this stimulating discussion.

Dan Burrell said...

I guess I should have put my name in the text when I couldn't remember my Blogger username/password. ;-) Gotta' have a little mercy on us guys who have hit the big 45. ;-P But I think I remember it now.

Anonymous = Dan Burrell

Ben said...

Thanks Dan. No problem at all. I don't disagree with anything you say, except that I overstated my case. Remember, I'm essentially responding to a Southern Baptist who's saying that the vast majority of Southern Baptists aren't separatists=fundamentalists.

On that grounds, I make the statement that the directions of the convention is towards militancy and separatism more than it is towards tolerant conservatism (as it was up until 1979).

But at the same time, I can't say just how many SBCers are personally militant. Clearly they've elected a militant leadership for 28 years. But in addition, I think there are degrees of militancy. Some battles may or may not be fought. That remains to be seen.

In any case, it's the SBCer who's saying they aren't fundamentalists. He may be right or he may be wrong. I'm just not too keen on fundamentalists making fun of the naked guy when they don't have any pants on themselves, if you will.

Ben said...

P.S. In other words, I think we're on the same side, Dan.

Dan Burrell said...

Thanks for the clarification, Ben, and I would concur in that I believe we are on the same side of this issue. (By the way, I think bringing up the whole topic is great and has been thought provoking. I've "chewed" on it off and on quite a bit today.)

I would only add that I think that some fundamentalists have the tendency (and I'm not assigning you to this category) to confuse "militancy" with "stridency". In other words, a firm separation is not enough for them, but it must be followed by additional overt actions such as public denunciation, intimidation and a secondary level of isolation for and from others (which is where I believe that some of our secondary and terciary separation brethren tend to stroll) and perhaps a level or volume or tone of rhetoric which sometimes clouds the principle that motivated the separation.

I believe in separation over theological issues and I believe in militant separation. However, I am sometimes accused of being "new" or "neo" something or the other because I do not believe in being strident about my reasons for separation or following up my act of separation with additional demonstrations of my disapproval. From my perspective, I have no desire for exacting a pound of flesh during the process of separating, but rather view separation as a matter of Biblical obedience and practical refusal to walk with those who deny Biblical fundamentals.

Just a few random thoughts and I hope I don't end up high-jacking this very interesting vein of discussion.

Chris Anderson said...


If your "naked" objection is addressing comments which I made (or Greg or Scott, for that matter), I've been pretty vocal about the need for fundamentalists to practice separation from less-than-orthodox "fundies."

To your question in comment 3, I say "fair enough."

Ben said...

Dan and Chris,

I agree with you both straight down the line. And I'm going to bed now.

Right after I say that this post wasn't intended to contradict anything either you or Greg or Scott said, but to slip in a reminder that we live in a glass house.

Ok, one more thing. (I'm not tired enough.) I do think the title of your post implies that the quote refers to all SBC, but Pierce was only referring to the "overwhelming majority." He may or may not be right on that point, but it would be wrong to infer that he meant "all," would it not?

Anonymous said...

Well, I'm ready for tomorrow AM by 9:20pm Pacific time tonight... Amazing... So here goes:

Ben, thanks for the reply. Your list helps to clarify what you are thinking. I think I may go through them in more detail at my own site, but I would like to ask you more questions about them.

My questions are not meant to be a personal attack, but a further probe of where you stand on these issues. In other words, how do you put separation into practice if it is warranted in the cases you cite?

For example, what have you done about the shallow gospel 'all over the place'? How have you separated from fundamentalist churches that are guilty of this? Or what about those churches in the state you mentioned who took a position you didn't approve of? What practical separation have you practiced there, if any?

As I think about these things, I think I agree with Bauder and Doran (and others I think) [don't hold it against them] on the notion that separation is not an all or nothing proposition. There may be some things I would do in my relationships with those who hold positions as you described, but not all of them. And I doubt that I would practice total separation over any of them.

Your practices might be different, and you might choose to separate from me for that (or any number of other reasons!!), but the reality is that such decisions come under the header of soul liberty and priesthood of the believer. Is this a bad thing in fundamentalism? I don't think so.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Anonymous said...

hey, Joel, I forgot that I was going to say something to you there...

Man, I thought your first post was an example of your notorious lexicographical issues. I could barely make any sense of it.

Red fluid, huh... well, I think that one falls under the category of one of my weirdo friends, see above.

I'll explain what I mean elsewhere.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Joel Tetreau said...


Sorry about that. I was trying to explain without using the word that didn't show up because the blog had blocked it (I'm assuming). Don, it may simply be I've lost my mind.

Later bro!


Anonymous said...

Interesting discussion fellas. I think Burrell is closer to identifying this than anyone. Coming out of the IFB world to a very conservative SBC church has shown me quite a bit about my own misconceptions about the SBC. The quoted Pastor may or may not be able to speak with authority about most SBCer's view of fundamentalism. It's kind of like saying " I'm proud of the US Army". Well, the army is such a huge community of diversified people, I would also be saying that I'm proud of homosexuals that serve in the US army. Am I proud of that or not. That Pastor may have a bitter spirit toward an IFBer who has wounded him. Hard to say really. My church is fundamentaly against sin, but we don't practice seperation filled with extremism to the point where we render ourselves ineffective for the Lord.

Just a few thoughts. Headed to church!

Bruce Countryman

Ben said...

Funny, I thought I had the blog set up to block Don, not "blood."

Ok, kidding Don. Here's an answer to your questions, which are valid even though they're rather personal. I want to answer them in a way that's helpful but also wise and prudent. Details of personal conversations related to separation in my church or place of employment probably wouldn't be best displayed in the internet.

Suffice it to say that separation issues entered hugely into my last two choices of churches. In the previous example, a church I might have seriously considered for some good reasons was not an option to me for doctrinal-separation type reasons. I'm also quite familiar with a situation in which an IFB church failed to uphold the proper church discipline of another IFB church. That has profound separation implications for me. Suffice it to say this is the tip of the iceberg in my immediate relationships.

Does that help?

I agree with you to a large degree on soul liberty and individual priesthood. However, I do think . . . check that, KNOW that there is still substantial pressure within fundamentalism that encourages people to conform to traditional group norms rather than exercise independent soul liberty within the context of militant separatism.

Anonymous said...

Hey Ben, I realize the questions were rather personal. And I fully support your responsibility personally to make choices as you did with respect to local church membership, etc.

However... is that militant separation? Are you confusing personal with ecclesiastical?

A church that failed to uphold the discipline of another church for example... if that were to occur in my local area, certainly that would put a strain on the relationship between our church (pure as the driven snow) and the offending church. At least, it should. But is this what we have in mind with respect to militant separation? And if it comes to membership in a much wider fellowship, how would I know about such a failure and what should I do about it?

What I am getting at is that these issues aren't the same thing as the issues that drive fundamentalism towards ecclesiastical separation. They are important issues and they do factor in to my individual choices on a local level, but they don't affect the wider fellowship. How could they? Are we going to have a reporting agency for every Baptist church that fails to exercise discipline properly? Who would we report to? How would we agree on who should and shouldn't be reported?

I am just being foolish with those last few questions. No one would accept such a situation, I don't think.

When it comes to the separation that defines fundamentalism, we are talking about combatting a particular error, the compromise of the gospel by either liberal denial of fundamental truth or evangelical compromise with said liberals.

All the other fights come under a different category. Some of them are legitimate, some aren't. May God give us discernment to know which are which.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Ben said...


Do we have a reporting agency right now for what fundamentalists do and do not separate from? I think the basis of militancy is dealing biblically with what you know and performing due diligence when you don't and you're considering some level of fellowship.

I don't think I'm confusing personal with ecclesiastical. That's where the conversations I'm not willing to discuss come in. I'm not a pastor or final decision-maker for some ecclesiastical body. That makes my comments and input limited. Suffice it to say, however, that the issues are ecclesiastical, not merely personal.

But I must strongly disagree that failure to uphold another church's rightly-administered discipline is unrelated to the gospel kinds of issues that are at stake. When one church says someone should be recognized as a Christian that another church has rightly said should not be, that is every bit of a compromise of the gospel. It has every bit as much to do with militancy and the old line issues of fundamentalism and liberalism. And that's one area in which some "non-fundamentalists" are out-fundamentalling "movement Fundamentalists."