In 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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