Fundamentalism and the New Conservative Evangelical Identity

//Fundamentalism and the New Conservative Evangelical Identity

Fundamentalism and the New Conservative Evangelical Identity

000. new lifeIn previous articles I have tried to address some of the problems with fundamentalism. I have not been—nor should anyone be—afraid to face these hard issues head-on, to admit the difficulties, and to attempt to correct them. Five of the seven churches in Asia Minor had rebuke-worthy faults mingled with virtues in Revelation 2 and 3. The task that the Lord burdened those churches with is the same task that we are burdened with: to recognize our corporate faults and correct them. Failure to do this only compounds our sin.

In analyzing fundamentalism, however, it has not been my intention either to take potshots at or to trash the whole kit-and-caboodle. I am not about to join the band of evangelicals among whom it “has become fashionable … to join in criticism of fundamentalism,” as Iain Murray puts it. Those who do so reveal their own narrow prejudice, identify themselves with other movements with similar faults, and forget that fundamentalism is indeed part of the church of Christ. They may in fact be guilty of what W. H. Griffith Thomas accused B. B. Warfield of when Warfield criticized the Keswick movement:

“the absence of any recognition of the fact that the movement he criticizes and condemns expresses a spiritual experience and not merely a theological theory.”

Over the years there has been some traffic between fundamentalism and the broader evangelical church. Some have left fundamentalism for other groups and some have come into the fundamentalist fold. Of those, some have studied at fundamentalist colleges and universities for an education or a conservative experience that they could not get elsewhere.

In recent years, however, the landscape of evangelical Christianity in North America has changed considerably. The gap between fundamentalism and conservative evangelicalism is narrowing and a new conservative evangelical identity is beginning to emerge. The defection from fundamentalism continues despite the fact that there is a definite corrective among many fundamentalist leaders. In addition to this, there is a growing tension in the broader evangelical church creating a more conservative right-wing evangelicalism that one writer has identified as a “resurgent fundamentalism.”

Consider, first, the current defection from fundamentalism. The past ten years have witnessed a sharp increase in defections from fundamentalism. Some of them can be chalked up to the general malaise of the church and the trend toward secularization in the west. Much of the bleeding of fundamentalism, however, has been precipitated by the awareness that there are other ways—and better ways—to be a fundamentalist.

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  1. Camille K. Lewis January 2, 2016 at 5:41 am - Reply

    Where has Steve Pettit “acknowledge the corporate fault and recognize that some of the methods and manners of the past were misplaced, over-emphasized, and in some cases downright wrong”? I haven’t seen that.

    • Aaron Dunlop January 5, 2016 at 7:43 am - Reply

      The article deals with the general trends of fundamentalism, but you ask a fair question. The “acknowledgements,” etc. are evident, in part, in the changes that are being made – small things, perhaps, but significant, and encouraging.

  2. John Banks Sr. January 2, 2016 at 11:41 am - Reply

    Hi : I found the articles on Fundamentalism both refreshing and helpful. The key to fundamentalisms demise is the way the doctrine of ecclesiastical separation was abused and misused over the years. In may parts of the movement it was simply imbalanced. It did not start out this way with the exception of just a few. This more than anything has prevented the movement as a whole from doing all the good it could have done.

  3. dr. james willingham January 3, 2016 at 6:24 pm - Reply

    A balanced, thoughtful, and forthright presentation of a difficult subject. You seem to have hit the right stance. Our biggest problem after the return to the theological norms of the Reformed Faith is the that we have yet to discover how much liberty there actually is sin it. We also must face the issue of producing a theology with a future for mankind about to go into space (actually going there, and I mean to other stars, if the truth be told). John Owen mentioned that the atonement of Christ was of such excellency that it could redeem the populaces of many world. And John Robinson of Pilgrim and Dordt fame recognized the asymmetrical nature of the Sovereign Grace motif. There is more, but I am weary.

  4. Kirk Dickerson January 5, 2016 at 7:24 am - Reply

    Nice Job Aaron!

  5. Don Johnson January 5, 2016 at 12:38 pm - Reply

    Aaron, really? Courage? Conservative Evangelicals? Baloney. Their kind of courage we can do without. Piper has the courage to mollycoddle the likes of a Mark Driscoll and a Rick Warren and we are supposed to look up to him as a leader? MacArthur joins hands with Mahaney and we are supposed to respect his “strong stand” on charismatism? Give me a break.

    The conservative evangelicals talk tough but do nothing. I’m waiting for them to repudiate the pro-homosexual speakers they recently allowed at the ETS meeting. Not holding my breath, though.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  6. Ryan Elliott January 5, 2016 at 4:08 pm - Reply

    Best one yet, Aaron!

  7. John A January 6, 2016 at 5:58 am - Reply

    “Conservative Evangelicals” seems like a broad and undefined label. Many, perhaps most, former Fundamentalist will certainly disagree with a significant segment of those who self identify as conservative and evangelical. There are differing views on Lordship, “gifts”, and cooperation with Catholics even among some of those you have named here. Failing to acknowledge this reeks of the old fundamentalism and makes me wonder just how significant this “change” really is. It seems Fundamentalists have broadened their definition only by a few degrees and made incorrect assumptions about the consistency of views in the broader church.

    I am also concerned that the term “conservative evangelical” aligns the church too closely with the GOP. The Old school “God and Country” mentality runs rampant in many conservative and evangelical churches. On the other hand groups like the SBC Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission promote a more biblical view of the relationship between faith and politics. This is one group that self identifies as both conservative and evangelical yet doesn’t seem to fit your definition.

    Im afraid this group of “Conservative Evangelicals” which the former Fundamentalists have gladly joined hands with is not as broad or unified as they would hope and is mostly a figment of their imagination. Perhaps they are moving in the right direction but they seem to feel like they have already moved as far as they ever will. It’s the same old Fundamentalist mentality with slightly redefined boundaries.

  8. Jerry January 6, 2016 at 2:06 pm - Reply

    Did you mean Catholic in the sense of universal o?r that actual church itself?

    • Aaron Dunlop January 7, 2016 at 10:42 pm - Reply

      The word “catholic” comes from the Greek meaning “general” or “universal.” This use of the word “catholic” should not be confused with the Roman Catholic Church.

  9. Kent January 6, 2016 at 4:56 pm - Reply


    It was interesting reading. Why can’t we be satisfied with a church and obedience to the Word of God? Why does a larger coalition matter so much, that is, conservative evangelicalism or fundamentalism? Is there a scriptural basis for this for you? It looks like it tends toward creating coalitions by diminishing the important of biblical teaching and practice. I don’t read Jesus or the Apostles do this in the New Testament. It seems an addition to scripture, speaking of actual exegesis, that you mention above. Besides the Bible, what basis does a church have for accepting any unbiblical teaching or practice?

    • Aaron Dunlop January 7, 2016 at 10:38 pm - Reply

      Hi Kent, I am not suggesting that we have coalitions, I am simply making observations of what is already in place, not stating the rights or wrongs of movements. In an ideal Church these would not exist of course, but the Church militant and visible is not the ultimate ideal of the Church.

  10. dr. james willingham January 6, 2016 at 5:16 pm - Reply

    Just because one agrees with a group in general, that does not mean they have to approve every thing that goes on.

  11. Kevin T. Bauder January 7, 2016 at 7:07 am - Reply


    My attention was just directed toward your blog. Thanks for the work and thought that you have put into this subject. I don’t want to detract from its many fine ideas, but I’d like to address two things.

    First, I think that you are giving me too much credit as an innovator, and conversely that your portrait of fundamentalism (whether past or future) lacks a comprehensive view. The faults that you describe certainly have been true of some fundamentalists, but hardly of fundamentalism in general. For example, the version of fundamentalism in which I was schooled some forty years ago was very careful about distinguishing levels of fellowship, about recognizing Gospel fundamentals as the boundary of Christian fellowship, and about precision in labeling. Where do you think I learned these things? I did not hear fundamentalists (or even moderate evangelicals) called neo-evangelical, and I did not near neo-evangelicals called liberals or apostates–not by my mentors. What I am trying to do now is not to invent a new fundamentalism, but to encourage more of the less-careful fundamentalists to adopt the very fundamentalist values that I saw modeled when I was a young man.

    Second, thank you for your willingness to defend me from unfair attacks, but I think that defense is misdirected against the ACCC. What happened there was an unfortunate misunderstanding that was quickly put right. I am still a member of the ACCC and, in fact, the ACCC is still my endorsing agency for military chaplaincy. I maintain these connections because I believe in what the ACCC stands for and in the work that it is doing.

    The ACCC executive secretary (if that is the right title), Ralph Colas, just went to be with the Lord. He was an outstanding Christian statesman whom I was pleased to call a friend. I also greatly appreciate the ACCC presisdent, John McKnight, who is one of the finest Calvinistic (Whitefieldian) Methodists whom you will ever meet. The current secretary, Jerry Johnson, has proven himself to be a balanced and faithful pastor over many decades. Treasurer Kevin Hobi is a good pastor who has done a faithful work in New England. These men are not enemies. They are no even opponents. They are friends of the gospel and the truth, and I wish to claim them as my friends.

    There is a lesson here. We must not be too quick to take offense, even at those who disagree with us. Many times it is possible to address legitimate concerns without a rupture or a public fight. We don’t need to get a pound of flesh every time somebody slights us. And we don’t need to abandon a good work just because it manifests human imperfection. You are a Calvinist, no? Then you should know that fundamentalists are still subject to the effects of original sin. We not only believe in total depravity–sometimes we practice it [HT to Ralph Warren for that observation].

    I hope that my little interruption does not become too much of a distraction from your fine blog.


    • Aaron Dunlop January 7, 2016 at 11:39 am - Reply

      Dr. Bauder,

      Thank you for your comments. Having mentioned you in this and previous articles I want to address some of your comments. I certainly don’t want to misrepresent you. Let me address the two points you make.

      First, I am not an enemy of fundamentalism, or of the ACCC. I am aware of your association with the ACCC. I also identify with those in the ACCC that I would call my friends, including John McKnight whom you have mentioned and one of our own ministers, David Mook. As I said in the article “it has not been my intention either to take potshots at or to trash the whole kit-and-caboodle. I am not about to join the band of evangelicals among whom it “has become fashionable … to join in criticism of fundamentalism,’” to quote Iain Murray.”

      I would add to that another category of critics from whom I would distance myself, i.e. disgruntled fundamentalist like Franky Schaeffer and others, less public and less extreme, who have a vendetta against the whole movement or certain parts of it or people in it. Ironically, these become guilty of that which they detest in fundamentalism.

      Second, I have repeatedly stated throughout the series that fundamentalism is not a monolithic movement. I realise that. You will know that even in America there was in the past a difference between northern fundamentalists and their counterparts in the south. There was a difference between the more irenic fundamentalists and what were called the “fighting fundamentalist,” and between more moderate fundamentalists and hyper-fundamentalists.

      It is this later category of fundamentalists that I am dealing with. Even within this category that you correctly refer to as “the noisiest” the “most visible” and “perhaps even the majority” I would say there is a good many moderate men, as I deal with in an article called “The Silent Moderate Majority.”

      In the articles I have tried to be honest and to acknowledge the faults. I have also tried to be fair and recognize the values. I would, like yourself, distance myself from those critics who see no good/value in the fundamentalist movement. Later articles, I trust, will make this clear. I want to avoid practicing my total depravity – thanks for the reminder.


      • Don Johnson January 7, 2016 at 1:53 pm - Reply

        Aaron, you are still missing the point of fundamentalism. “Irenic fundamentalists?” What are those? You seem to be advocating for non-militant fundamentalism, ie, no fundamentalism at all. The distinguishing characteristic between fundamentalism and evangelicalism has been the willingness to do battle for the fundamentals.

        I grant that in doing battle, fundamentalists have sinned at times in the way they have conducted themselves. But you can’t have fundamentalism without militancy. It is just words if you claim to hold to the fundamentalist doctrines but will do nothing about the grievous errors of those who deny by word and/or practice.

        I raise again the issue of the ETS. This year they allowed pro-homosexual views to be propagated in their meetings. Nothing has been done. What would a fundamentalist do? Would a fundamentalist be willing to stand aside and do nothing? Why aren’t professing fundamentalist members of the ETS raising this issue publicly? What are they planning for the next business meeting of the organization? If they can’t succeed in rebuking and repudiating these actions, what will they do then? Quietly stand down and continue to “present papers” and conduct forums at ETS meetings?

        You appear to be taking the stand of the moderates who caused the Baptist and Presbyterian denominations to lose the Fundamentalist-Modernist battles of the 1920s.

        Don Johnson
        Jer 333.

        • Aaron Dunlop January 7, 2016 at 2:39 pm - Reply

          Don, fundamentalism was irenic before 1920, and there were separatist fundamentalists after this date who were also irenic. The best example of this is found right here in BC where the first official Church split in North America in the fundamentalist / liberal controversy occurred in July 1927.

          There were other reasons – and unfortunately non-theological reasons – why parts of fundamentalism took on militant characteristics. I believe in “militance,” and I believe in separation, but parts of fundamentalism held to it as an ideology, an essential character of Christianity and at times defined and practiced ecclesiastical militance in terms that were not biblical. I think this was part of the problem.

          All I’m calling for, Don, is a re-evaluation of where we are and how we think of others. I am as conservative as I always was, perhaps more so in areas. But I want to know what I am trying to conserve and how best to conserve it.

  12. Wally Morris January 7, 2016 at 7:22 pm - Reply

    Are you suggesting that the future of Fundamentalism is in Reformed theology or Calvinistic theology?

    • Aaron Dunlop January 7, 2016 at 7:40 pm - Reply

      I am not suggesting either way, I am simply commenting on what I observe. I know what I would like to see happen.

  13. […] 3. Fundamentalism and the New Conservative Evangelical Identity (Link) […]

  14. Kevin Short October 3, 2017 at 6:47 pm - Reply

    My own two cents, very late perhaps, I am a Bob Jones graduate in a Southern Baptist church, studying at Southern Baptist Seminary in apologetics, and someone who considers himself abandoned by BJU a very long time ago.

    In many ways the SBC is considered an Evangelical group. My seminary profs sometimes use the term fundamentalist in the pejorative sense. But in many ways, the SBC and the Southern resurgence better captures the early spirit of Fundamentalism, even militant fundamentalism than do many fundamentalists I know. The English Separatists eventually were reabsorbed into Puritanism, in part due to changes in both movements, perhaps the same is true today. Interestingly enough, some ares in theology seem to be developing a new theological liberalism within Evangelicalism, a movement that I don’t think those who have not seen things from the fundamentalist view of things. Ultimately God is in control of history and swings a pendulum through it, and perhaps it is time to examine things from the churches sitz im leben in 2017 rather than 1957.

    • Aaron Dunlop October 3, 2017 at 7:12 pm - Reply

      Thx Kevin for the comment…never too late, it’s an ongoing discussion.

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