Neo-Fundamentalism

Mike Clawson, PhD student at Baylor, had a paper of his published on Roger Olsen’s site, and I am clipping his first two paragraphs. I agree with Mike on this: this movement in America can be described — analytically, historically, reasonably — as neo-fundamentalism. That designation, while for many seen as a slam, is not so much a critique as a warning sign of what is happening in American evangelicalism.

I contend that this growing concern expressed by MacArthur and many other evangelicals represents a new movement within evangelicalism toward what I have termed neo-fundamentalism.  This is not simply a return to the original Protestant fundamentalism of the early-twentieth century, though it is analogous to it. Instead, I argue that some conservative evangelicals are reacting to the contemporary influences of postmodernity in much the same way that the original fundamentalists did towards the influences of modernity a century ago – namely through hostility towards the broader culture, retrenchment around certain theological doctrines, and conflict with, or separatism from others within a more broadly defined evangelicalism.[2] Because of these similarities, I want to suggest that fundamentalism as a scholarly category (as opposed to its more derogatory uses in the popular media) is a useful framework within which to understand this contemporary phenomenon.

The driving force behind neo-fundamentalism, as with historic fundamentalism, is a “remnant mentality.” Neo-fundamentalists believe they alone are remaining true to the fullness of the gospel and orthodox faith while the rest of the evangelical church is in grave, near-apocalyptic danger of theological drift, moral laxity, and compromise with a postmodern culture – a culture which they see as being characterized by a skepticism towards Enlightenment conceptions of “absolute truth,” a pluralistic blending of diverse beliefs, values, and cultures, and a suspicion of hierarchies and traditional sources of authority.[3] Because of this hostility toward postmodern ways of thinking, neo-fundamentalists have little tolerance for diversity of opinions among evangelicals on any issues they perceive as essential doctrines – which are most of them – as opposed to the broader evangelical movement which historically has allowed for a much wider range of disagreement on disputable matters.[4] Neo-fundamentalists thus respond to the challenges of a postmodern culture by narrowing the boundaries of what they consider genuinely evangelical and orthodox Christianity, and rejecting those who maintain a more open stance.

 

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • http://thoughtstheological.com Terry Tiessen

    I found that article interesting too. My post “Is inclusivism evangelical?” (http://thoughtstheological.com/is-inclusivism-evangelical/) illustrates what is happening in some quarters, I think. The definition gets tighter and more and more people get left out.

  • http://MannsWord.blogspot.com Daniel Mann

    While I think that Clawson’s description is fairly accurate, I also detect a pejorative note: “little tolerance for diversity of opinions.”

    Let me try to express this in a more humane and perhaps acceptable way. While we can be willing to love and to interact with people holding a diversity of views, we are passionately concerned that we, our children, our grandchildren and our churches remain faithful to Scripture, thereby remaining faithful to our Lord who requires that we abide in His Word.

    What is the matter with such devotion? Do we not want our politicians to be devoted to truth and our judges to justice? Do we think that it is cute when they deviate or do we believe that they should be held to account?

    We are routinely described and diminished as narrow-minded bigots, but aren’t there certain things that we should be narrow-minded about – rape, genocide, and extortion? Sadly, it isn’t just in the media where we are demeaned, but also in many churches. You may dismiss us as “intolerant,” but I think it important to inquire whether you too live in a glass house.

  • Michael D. Bobo

    Thanks Scot for sharing this. I have been a leader in a neo-fundamentalist community that basically self-destructed. The distinctions were so narrowly defined that virtually every one except for the pastor a his fans were left. A once vibrant church of 600 has lost over 3/4 of its members as a result. As you can tell my experience taints my perspective on neo-fundamentalism, but I appreciate this analytic treatment.

  • Rick

    I have to agree with Daniel #2. With Clawson being so closely tied to the Emergent Village gang, I think he would have a hard time with where some lines are drawn. Just sayin’.

    Also, Clawson said:

    “I argue that some conservative evangelicals are reacting to the contemporary influences of postmodernity…namely through hostility towards the broader culture, retrenchment around certain theological doctrines, and conflict with, or separatism from others within a more broadly defined evangelicalism.”

    He then goes on to try and put Driscoll in that camp, but then describes how Driscoll is not real hostile to culture, and does not separate from broader evangelicalism. He seems to be more concerned with Driscoll’s style and comments, rather than any neo-fundamentalism.

    Finally, Scot you said, “That designation, while for many seen as a slam, is not so much a critique as a warning sign…”

    Is not saying there is a “warning sign” about a movement automatically a critique and/or slam? I do not see the use of “warning sign” as meaning a positive devolopment.

  • Amos Paul

    What about ‘Neo-Evangelical’ to distinguish the Evangelicals that are demanding a more exclusive and specifically Neo-Fundy definition of an historically broader movement?

  • Norman

    It’s an examination of the reasons behind us having had 38,000 denominations through historic times. And accordingly it appears that number is not enough for the “remnant few” who believe they are the one and only. I quess world wide then the “body of Christ” has been reduced down to that small American segment that track properly.

    I do realize we could nuance this discussion any direction we would like but it seems valid that some still believe that they alone hold the keys to the Kingdom.

  • John W Frye

    When I was converted I was first groomed as a Christian in a fundamentalist, Bob Jones University loving church. Billy Graham was an apostate. I went off to Moody Bible Institute, a fundamentalist school in the historic sense of ‘the fundamentals.’ It was in this nondenominational school that my appreciation grew for the wider variety of theological stances and orthopraxies. In my continuing growth and exposure to other theological points of view, the attitude was that you could disagree and agree to disagree but you did not have to fight. Conservative evangelicalism was a much bigger tent than the neo-fundamentalists will now allow. Second level, even third level beliefs are being elevated to core doctrinal issues and fights are not only happening, they are encouraged. I am concerned that the neo-fundamentalists (as Clawson describes them) will become the Essenes of our time, hunkered down as the only ones left who are “rightly dividing the Word of Truth.”

  • Aaron

    John – the problem is that they are not “hunkering down.” They are reaching masses of young people.

  • http://www.intothedesertblog.blogspot.com Nate

    Reminds me of the list of Christian books parodying their authors, including “Everyone is going to hell except me” by John Macarthur.

  • Nathan

    Wow.

    A community that positions itself in almost every public arena with stances of hostility, confrontation and antagonism complains that the response they get back is marked by hostility, confrontation and antagonism.

    Irony. How post-modern.

    Sounds like the measure with which some measure has been measured to them.

  • Rick

    Nathan #10-

    So any criticism of the thesis equals “hostility”?

    I am not seeing it, but it is interesting that you do.

  • TJJ

    John Mac has always been who and what he is. I don’t think there is anything new in what he is saying/teaching or some movement. What is recent is the emergent church movement. Some segments of it do push many traditional boundries of the evangelical/fundamentalist church movements. That elements of the emergent church is getting push back is niether surprising or novel.

    Seems to me it is elements of the emergent church that has been pushing the envelope and boundries. when they get the predictable push back, why cry and puch back with words like “fundamentalist”, “narrowness”, etc.

    Give me one example where John Mac or his ilk that have “narrowed” some theological “boundry” in reponse to culture or the emerging church?

    If the teachers/preachers of the emergent church think their ideas and direction and theology is correct and right, then defend it rationally and gracefully and tactfully, but stop with the name calling and labeling.

  • Pat Pope

    And some neo-fundamentalists can be found in churches that are not fundamentalist, but some leaders are neo-fundamentalists and they are making their presence felt by decisions that they make. Some people do not know enough about theology to realize that it’s happening and just go along because they make feel like the decisions are to be left to a certain select group. Thus, a leadership body may make decisions that many of its members are not in agreement with, but because of lack of knowledge, lack of confidence in stepping up and speaking out, the desire not to get entangled in hot-button issues, etc., these individuals often lead unchecked.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Rick#11 said “I am not seeing it[criticism being hostility], but it is interesting that you do.”

    Rick#4 said “Is not saying there is a “warning sign” about a movement automatically a critique and/or slam? I do not see the use of “warning sign” as meaning a positive devolopment.”

    in response to Scot’s statement

    this movement in America can be described — analytically, historically, reasonably — as neo-fundamentalism. That designation, while for many seen as a slam, is not so much a critique as a warning sign of what is happening in American evangelicalism.

    Rick, Scot went out of his way to say that the label is objectively correct, and then you say that it does not have positive intent, then you throw up your hands and claim you do not see it. I contend that you did it.

  • http://www.faithinireland.wordpress.com Patrick Mitchel

    Looking in from the outside (of America), what’s being described here is intrinsic to the messiness of evangelical identity.

    I’m more familiar with UK and Irish evangelicalism, but any serious study of the movement (if it is coherent enough to be a movement) pretty well always seems to comes up with some sort of spectrum – from ‘open to closed’, from ‘right to left’, from ‘retrenching to engaging’, from ‘fundamentalist to liberal’ (small ‘l’), ‘oppositional to dialogical’ or ‘traditional to mediating’ … and so on.

    Seems to me that the essence of evangelical fragmentation is when we begin to insist that everyone else in the spectrum should be where we are if they are to be authentically evangelical.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Rick#4, says “With Clawson being so closely tied to the Emergent Village gang, I think he would have a hard time with where some lines are drawn.”

    Really?

    I find Mike to be rather objective. And it is downright wrong for you to attack him for his conversation partners.

    What exactly are you trying to say about Mike? Are you saying he cannot think rationally about this because of his friends? That is how I interpret what you are saying.

    Perhaps you should provide an alternative framework instead of neo-fundamentalism, or perhaps you could say how what he is saying is wrong. Your commentary seems to fit exactly with the typology he is talking about and exactly what Nathan#10 was talking about when he said

    A community that positions itself in almost every public arena with stances of hostility, confrontation and antagonism complains that the response they get back is marked by hostility, confrontation and antagonism.

  • TJJ

    *******”neo-fundamentalists have little tolerance for diversity of opinions among evangelicals on any issues they perceive as essential doctrines – which are most of them – as opposed to the broader evangelical movement which historically has allowed for a much wider range of disagreement on disputable matters.[4] Neo-fundamentalists thus respond to the challenges of a postmodern culture by narrowing the boundaries of what they consider genuinely evangelical and orthodox Christianity, and rejecting those who maintain a more open stance.”**************************

    Can anyone give me an actual example where some alleged neo-fundamentalist leader or church movement that is currently narrowing a broader historical/traditional evengelical boundry? Please don’t say John Mac or Mohler, because there is nothng that they are saying that was not also said 40/50 years ago in the historical traditional evangelical church movement.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Daniel Mann#2,

    I sympathize with the desire to protect your progeny from the pits of hell and also understand that you firmly believe in what you believe. However, I think the line that gets crossed is that the characterization of those who do not share you beliefs become those who are going to go to the pits of hell and who are against the word of god, and that is simply intolerant of a diversity of opinion.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    TJJ, why can’t we use Mohler? I would contend that he has special warrent in this conversation since he is expressly in a position to shape the minds of the future.

    Take Piper (please), he is a great example. Do you really not see what is being said here?

  • Rick

    DRT #14-

    Sorry if I misunderstood. I assume when a “warning” is needed in discussing a movement, that it is not a complement.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Rick#20, I took it as a warning sign to evangelicalism, not neo-fundamentalists. The warning is of a split, a bifurcation. Isn’t that what it is? Is that a critique?

  • Larry S

    TJJ #17

    Does this seem like a fair example: The Reformed Resurgent movements and the emphasis on specific gender roles both within home/church and the equating those roles as the (only) way to portray the relationship between Jesus/Church – as an expression of faithfulness to the gospel. Piper seems like a good example of this.

  • AHH

    TJJ @17,

    I believe Clawson’s post itself gives the example of Piper making Calvinism effectively an evangelical essential, saying that those with Arminian theology don’t belong in the camp.

    There are also many examples of “inerrancy” being used as a boundary marker for Evangelicalism, when 40 years ago those saying inerrancy was an essential tenet would have been called “fundamentalists”.

  • Aaron

    TJJ @ 17:

    John Piper is a perfect example when he lists arminianism as a false gospel and wants those who teach arminianism to be excommunicated from christian institutions. Sounds like a narrowing of the boundaries to me. You can find it here:

    http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/ConferenceMessages/ByDate/2008/2637_How

  • Karl

    IMO Clawson does a pretty good job in the neofundamentalist essay. I think there’s a lot of truth in what he says. I appreciated though, Roger Olson’s caveat: “I have said here before that I now believe there are really two evangelicalisms–the one focused on in this [Clawson's] paper and traditional, mainline, moderate evangelicalism. The difference is that, in contrast to the neo-fundamentalism described in this paper, traditional evangelicalism is broader, more inclusive, more irenic and less separatistic and militant with regard to those with whom they disagree.”

    That point by Olson is one I have often tried to make. It seems like many post-evangelicals have been primarily exposed to, and are primarily reacting against, neo-fundamentalism without really acknowledging the existence of or engaging with the *other* evangelicalism that Olson identifies. I don’t have a problem with their critique of neo-fundamentalism – it deserves challenge and critique. But I do object when they critique “Evangelicalism” as if it consisted solely of and was synonymous with, neo-fundamentalism.

  • TJJ

    Piper’s statements about Arminian theology is not new. There have been calvanists who have been saying that since the time of the reformatiom, not to put too fine a point on it (I mean, some were burned at the stake) But I have heard that for the past 40 years too from various wings of Calvinism. Gender issues are not new either. Catholic Church haw been holding the same position for…well, along time. Piper is not saying anything new on that either.

    Inerrancy has been a boundry marker for a long time too. Remember Harold Lindsell? If not, read his book and see where the debate was then. He was in the 70s/early 80s, and he tried to establish a fairly narrow view of the standard then. This is not a “new” narrowing. In my experience of being in the evangelical church movement, things have loosened up in that regard significantly(Inerrancy and authority of scripture)for the most part, not narrowed, although there have always been those with a very narrow view.

    I do not agree with the thesis as excerpted in post #17. It is IMHO hyper-analysis at best, mythology at worst. Because the notion that the historical/traditional evangelical church in the US had broader and more inclusive notions of enerrancy/authority of scripture, homosexuality, gender roles, Arminianism, that now are being narrowed out of reactionism or whatever, is simply a myth.

  • Aaron

    Pipers statements on Arminiaism may not be new in the history of protestantism but american evangelicalism has always had a big enough tent for both calvinists and arminians. Billy Graham the figure head of evangelicalism in America is an arminian!

  • http://leadme.org Cal

    I find it strange we’re straining gnats out of gender roles (no ‘egalitarian is advocating women start being men) but yet American flags are posted in all of these congregations.

    Can you imagine the early Church having Legion standards posted inside?

    I find it peculiar that allegiance to Christ is flippant but how a woman ‘submits’ (I never seem to read about a man SERVING his wife) is the most important thing in the world!

  • Larry S

    TJJ #26 –what about people like Piper Driscoll and the talk about the need for male leadership to combat trends in society and the church. Maybe TJJ its not so much something brand new; but reactionary waves. How about the pastor who had all his theological reasons for male only bible reading during a church service? It seems reactionary – even if in the past only men read the bible in during church services. He has to give his thesis about why his churches practice is right.

  • D. Foster

    I don’t think so. I think this is Fundamentalism’s last stand before the flame dies. There’s too much information available to the public for Fundamentalism to survive.

    ~Derek

  • Michael Fox

    I am honestly confused. There is often an unpleasant sense of hostility and exclusivity expressed in both the posted quotations and the replies of these blogs–the very attitudes that are being criticized in others. The reality is that fundamentalists and progressives alike have a tendency to loathe in others what they are unwilling or unable to see in themselves.

  • Michael Fox

    Forgive me, one more thought, please. . .

    Among those who follow Jesus, there are some with a preference for religiosity and others with a preference for spirituality. The words “religiosity” and “spirituality” are often defined and employed with bias: those with a preference for religiosity sometimes, contemptuously, regard those with a preference for spirituality as lacking in conviction; those with a preference for spirituality occasionally, condescendingly, regard those with a preference for religiosity as too rigid.

    Let’s instead, for the sake of this post, define these terms with neutrality–without bias, without judgment. Might it be reasonable to broadly identify those with a preference for religiosity as believers drawn to concepts such as truth, “doing,” form, conformity, and organization, while those with a preference toward spirituality as believers drawn to concepts such as spirit, “being,” function, diversity, and transformation?

    Those with a preference for religiosity tend to measure themselves and others in terms of strength; those with a preference for spirituality tend to measure themselves and others in terms of enlightenment. Although there is value in both religiosity and spirituality, the two preferences can prove polarizing. Many believers of both preferences have found themselves estranged from, alienated by, other believers who regard them as either not sufficiently strong or not sufficiently enlightened.

    Such alienation among believers is regrettable, for it dishonors a core value of Jesus’ ministry: the “ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18)–of building, restoring, maintaining relationship with both God and neighbor.

  • Diane

    Often the church suffers from being too small. Liberals and neo-fundamentalists are mirror images of the other. Each tends to exclude, judge and condemn, though I doubt either side sees themselves that way. I wish we could all sit down, talk and listen without such fear of being diluted and led astray by the ‘other side.’ False doctrines will collapse–Christ is stronger than such things. Neither post-modernism nor fundamentalism, as the other side caricatures these things, is really a threat. Division, hatred, not loving the enemy–these are the threats.

  • Jeremy

    I tend to see it in a Reformation/Counter-Reformation way, without assigning the negative connotations. The Emergent “Reformation” is spurring a Neo-Calvinist/Restless Reformed “Counter-Reformation” that is reacting somewhat violently to what some of the other side’s worst traits (and in some cases, to some of its best). I’m hopeful that this will settle into a happy middle sometime in the next 10-15 years. It’ll take some of the influential younger voices deciding to step away from the harsh rhetoric, but it’s doable.

  • Jeremy

    I use “violently” in the non-physical sense. Also, I agree Diane, though part of the problem is that we’re even having to invoke the “Love your enemy” clause when speaking of brothers and sisters in Christ.

  • Chip

    Michael, #32 –

    Your thesis breaks down because both sides being discussed react against so-called religiosity. That’s been an American evangelical standard since the Jesus Movement, when “religious” became a dirty word. And “spirituality,” conversely, is claimed by both sides to some degree. That term generally doesn’t have the negative connotations it once had among evangelicals in general.

    Jeremy, #34 –

    Religion reporter Julia Duin has contended (persuasively, to me at least) that both emergents and young Calvinists in their beliefs are largely reacting against the American charismatic renewal movement that influenced so many evangelicals. Emergents reject the emphasis on doctrine and conservative political stances, while young Calvinists reject not the emphasis on doctrine, but the shallowness they believe marks the charismatic.

  • Hannes

    I am not a trained theologian, scholar or American. From my perspective the differences between ‘liberals’ and ‘neo-fundamentalists” are about secondary issues. I am from Africa, and believe me there is precious little time to be wasted on these type of arguments. Hold fast to the basic tenants of orthodox Christianity and pursue King Jesus and his kingdom.

  • Michael Fox

    I found this comment among the posts ironic, and delightfully arrogant: “I think this is Fundamentalism’s last stand before the flame dies. There’s too much information available to the public for Fundamentalism to survive.” I recently heard a fundamentalist express this same thought toward liberals/progressives.
    Jesus appears to have had a measure of tolerance for doctrinal differences. What Jesus could not abide was hypocrisy and arrogance across the religious spectrum that hindered people from coming to him.
    Scot, I have profound respect for you and your writings, though I do not always agree with your conclusions. This blog, however, appears to often bring out the worst in people. What would it look like to discuss attitudes for a while, as opposed to “doctrine.” This blog particularly seems to become incendiary when a progressive “softball” is tossed out on to the field of discussion, usually in the form of a provocative quotation from another.
    Except for the differences in doctrines, there appears to be little difference in the attitude of a progressive and a fundamentalist. I’m weary of it.
    Years ago, Bill Moyer made a profound insight, one which he might not offer today. He said, “Conservatives believe no one is right but them. Liberals, aka progressives, believe everyone’s ok–except those who disagree with them. Where’s the difference?”

  • scotmcknight

    Michael Fox, I’m not entirely sure even what you are getting at … but Michael Clawson’s post is a reasonable statement; others have said the same thing about demise (and you are right, from both sides the same statements are being made). Time will tell. When you say “This blog” do you mean “this post” or a “a post on this topic” or are you saying that of the blog itself, in which case you’d surely meet some remonstration from many of us.

  • http://timgombis.com/ Tim Gombis

    Michael Fox (#38), I disagree with your comment that “This blog, however, appears to often bring out the worst in people.”

    Scot throws a range of topics out there for discussion and the back-and-forth is often lively and helpful. I’ve discovered, however, that no matter how graciously and plainly anyone puts forth a discussion about the neo-fundamentalist phenomenon, the discussion is rancorous.

    I think that’s entirely due to the defensiveness of many neo-fundamentalists and not to those who are simply trying to grasp some of the dynamics up and running in evangelical culture.

  • AHH

    I only 80% agree with Tim G @40 about the source of rancor on some of these blog topics:
    I think that’s entirely due to the defensiveness of many neo-fundamentalists …

    I would disagree with the “entirely” there. I think there is also a contribution to the rancor from some who in various ways have been burned by neo-fundamentalism, and harbor hard feelings against the movement.
    Much like how I, as a Christian in science, can have a hard time being gracious when the topic is something like Ken Ham or the Discovery Institute.

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    Thanks for linking to my post Scot! I appreciate it.

    Hopefully your readers will note that a lot of the questions and concerns they are raising about the piece have already been answered in the comments on Dr. Olson’s blog. They are welcome to participate in the discussion there, though unfortunately Roger likes to moderate comments, so they don’t always show up there until about a day later.

  • http://timgombis.com/ Tim Gombis

    That may indeed be overstated, AHH (#41). Everyone’s coming from somewhere, though all are responsible to communicate well and charitably.

  • Kenny Johnson

    I think the difference between the criticism by Mike Clawson (and some who agree with him) and the neo-fundamentalist criticism is that the neo-fundamentalists are setting boundary markers for secondary issues — often not just for Evangelicalism, not just for orthodoxy, but often for Christianity itself. Look at all the internet Watch Blogs and Watch sites out there — most which seem to come from the neo-Calvinist perspective that question the faith of even people like C.S. Lewis.

    I may disagree with Piper and Driscoll about these secondary issues. They may even anger me sometimes. But they are my brothers in Christ — and I don’t question that at all.

  • Dana Ames

    Aaron @8 wrote:
    “They are reaching masses of young people.”

    Well, maybe. Some young people may be attracted to it for various reasons. Young people are, by virtue of being young, without much life experience, which tempers some people, and they are usually at a maturity level which may not allow them to think well about how they are being appealed to.

    Back in the day, the Jesus Movement was seen to be “reaching masses of young people”. I wonder what percentage of my contemporaries who were swept up in the various aspects of all of that are still faithful Christians.

    What, exactly, does “reaching” mean?

    Dana

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    In response to a number of the comments and questions here, I want to reaffirm and remind y’all that this essay was not intended to be “critical” at all. I am not personally a fan of the neo-fundamentalists, and I have been critical of them at times elsewhere. This essay, however, is intended to be entirely descriptive, not evaluative. I made that explicitly clear within the paper itself.

    Keep in mind, for instance, that descriptors like “narrow” or “hostile,” or “intolerant” can only be considered negative if one thinks it is a bad thing to be narrow, hostile or intolerant towards the issues about which the neo-fundamentalists are concerned. But clearly the neo-fundamentalists do not think being narrow on certain doctrinal issues, hostile towards postmodernism, or intolerant towards liberal ideas are bad things at all. They openly advocate for all of these (the title of Ryan Dobson’s book, “Be Intolerant (because some things are just stupid),” is refreshingly straight forward in this regard.) So again, I am not being critical, just honestly describing what I see and what these neo-fundamentalists themselves say. There is nothing about this paper that is an apologetic for my own views, nor am I trying to pick a fight, or set up the neo-fundamentalists as “bad guys” or enemies. One could conceivably come away from this paper liking everything the neo-fundamentalists say and wanting to identify with the movement as I’ve described it – and judging from some of the comments here, obviously some do.

  • DanO

    Mike, late to the party but hopefully you will make one more drop in.

    FWIW, from what I have been hearing about you it seems to me you could be described as narrow, hostile, and intolerant. Now, you really shouldn’t feel bad about that kind of a reputation.

    I appreciate your not wanting to pick a fight but you seriously cannot use these sort of terms and not expect there to be some blow back. These are not the sort of things we call others and expect them to just nod and smile.

    Since your post has become so popular will you run it by some of those so labelled and see how they might respond? It is one thing to call Piper or MacArthur neo-fundamentalists at sites they probably don’t visit but do they view themselves the way you describe? Would they agree with a label they themselves would not use to describe their positions? (For example, try calling someone a liberal here on this blog and all sorts of objections are thrown up to protest. The preferred term is progressive).

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    Unfortunately I do not have the connections to be able to run this by any of these leaders, nor do I think they would give me the time of day. They are far too busy and important. However, I have “run it by” their own writings (that’s the point of citations after all) and I think based on what they have explicitly said in the sources I looked at, they would in fact agree with these characterizations. These are not just my own words, these are their own (again, cf. Dobson’s book, or Mohler when he writes about the need for conservatives to “get back on a wartime footing” against the postmodern culture, or MacArthur or Piper when they warn about doctrinal laxity among evangelicals, etc.)

  • Chip

    Mike, I guess that one thing above all else bothers me from reading your paper/post: Who do you consider to be “mainstream evangelicals”? You describe neo-fundamentalists as having a strong commitment to the inerrancy of Scripture, but that was true of Christianity Today (recall that Harold Lindsell was editor of CT) and revered evangelical intellectual leaders (e.g., R. C. Sproul, who had a huge influence upon Chuck Colson)throughout the ’70s and ’80s. Biblical inerrancy was often (and probably usually) seen to be *the* most important plank of American evangelicalism. Even today, inerrancy is so much a hallmark of American evangelicalism that the dividing line is not whether you can disbelieve in biblical inerrancy and be evangelical (the general consensus outside of the Emerging Church segments seems firmly to be “no”), but how you define inerrancy. The Chicago Statement from the ’70s is still routinely cited as an important evangelical position paper. (See, e.g., Packer and Oden’s One Faith: The Evangelical Consensus.)

    And while you believe that neo-fundamentalism hearkens back to fundamentalism (and there may be some truth there), the leaders themselves tend to not only distinguish themselves from fundamentalists, but cite other inspirations. In particular, MacArthur and others look up to D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, whose stance concerning churchmanship and separation from aberrant (to Calvinists, at least) gospels seems to heavily influence and inspire them. (The Lloyd-Jones/John Stott division over whether you could be a faithful evangelical and remain in the Church of England seems critical here.)Additionally, the Reformed branch of Christianity historically has stood against Arminianism and other beliefs as minimally seriously flawed and often as false gospels (although the latter term has often been reserved more for, say, the Roman Catholic Church). Consequently, to describe such stances as “neo-fundamentalist” because they relate to secondary matters is historically untenable, from what I can see — unless one takes the position that Reformed Christianity’s typical firm stances are fundamentalist.

    Mike, to this reader it seems that the treatment of your subjects sometimes counters your desire for your essay “to be entirely descriptive.” You paint your subjects as outside the evangelical mainstream (again, who makes up this mainstream?), portray them as setting up “villains” (a term that seems excessive given that apologetics against postmodernism are pretty much standard evangelical fare), and compare them with Falwell and Robertson in their firm stances when such beliefs pretty much predate American fundamentalism. I’m an Anglican who falls along the Stott end of the churchmanship controversy, but for all of my disagreements with my more Reformed brothers and sisters, I cannot see their positions as being heirs to American fundamentalism. They’re essentially just continuing in the Reformed line (although with some distinctives, of course), it seems to me.

  • http://www.MannsWord.blogspot.com Daniel Mann

    DRT, #18

    I think that we are all opinionated here. I think that it is wrong to slur us by suggesting that we believe that everyone who doesn’t believe like us is going to hell. I think that perhaps you need to examine whether you in your opinionated-ness are demonizing me and those who believe like me.

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    Chip #49 – You’ve raised a number of good questions. I think perhaps we simply have differing perspectives as to what constitutes “mainstream evangelicalism.” In the paper I tried to identify it with the broad coalition of conservative Protestants led by people like Billy Graham, Carl Henry, and Harold Ockenga, and would further add that I see it represented by institutions like the NAE, Christianity Today, and Fuller Seminary, among many others. This coalition has always been more broadly inclusive than you seem to allow for, incorporating both Arminians and Calvinists who, despite their differences, were willing to admit the other as genuinely Christian and possessors of a “true gospel.” Furthermore, I do not see inerrancy as quintessential to mainstream evangelicalism. There have always been inerrantists and non-inerrantists within the evangelical camp. Lindsell’s book was so controversial precisely for this reason – because he was trying once again to narrow the boundaries. Even today, I think both Scot and Dr. Olson stand as excellent examples of the breadth that exists within mainstream evangelicalism.

    I also think you may have missed my point regarding the connection between neo-fundamentalists and historic fundamentalists. I am not arguing that they are the same in either their primary concerns or their influences. Nor am I claiming that they are even directly connected. In fact, I explicitly argue the opposite – that they are analogous but not directly connected. At the same time, I’m also not trying to draw sharp distinctions between historic Fundamentalists, Neo-evangelicals, and Neo-Fundamentalists. These are not discreet groups – they overlap and share many similarities. They also exhibit certain important differences. Of course many within each camp would affirm inerrancy or Reformed doctrine. The difference, for me, in Neo-Fundamentalism is precisely what I said in the opening paragraph of the paper, “hostility towards the broader culture, retrenchment around certain theological doctrines, and conflict with, or separatism from others within a more broadly defined evangelicalism.” These qualities of hostility, militancy, and separatism are what distinguish them from mainstream Neo-Evangelicalism and also make them analogous to (but not just the same as) historic Fundamentalism.

    As for their tendency to identify “villains,” I’m sorry if pointing out that they do so seems “excessive” to you, but I assure you, it can be well documented from their writings. Whether you think such villaininzing is the norm within mainstream evangelicalism as a whole again possibly reflects simply our differing definitions of what constitutes the mainstream. Not all evangelicals use the same degree of negative and demonizing rhetoric exhibited in the neo-fundamentalist writings. There are many who self-identify as evangelicals and yet do not exhibit the same attitudes or behaviors as the neo-fundamentalists. I am not claiming that neo-fundamentalists are thereby “outside” of mainstream evangelicalism, but rather pointing out that they are but one group within that broader tent, and that there are other groups who do not wish to shrink the tent to include only those who agree with the neo-fundamentalists.

  • Joshua

    Dana Ames,

    When you say, “Young people are, by virtue of being young, without much life experience, which tempers some people, and they are usually at a maturity level which may not allow them to think well about how they are being appealed to.

    This may be true, but it’s overstated. The very fact that the YRR is led by me like Joh Piper and Al Mohler ought to indicate that many older people are just as lacking in discernment as their children.

    What, exactly, does “reaching” mean?

    Directly influencing.

  • Chip

    Mike,

    For me, what can most be described as “mainstream” American evangelicalism is the popular-level evangelicalism found in large nondenominational churches and on Christian radio. Most of the sources that you cite, which I also love and read, are too academic for most of those in such environs, from my experience. In these quarters, inerrancy is normative. Even CT bemoaned in a ’94 (or so) cover story that C. S. Lewis couldn’t be called an evangelical due to his low view of biblical inerrancy! (I don’t know about the controversy regarding CT and Ockenga that you cite; I do remember from past research that CT ran editorials supporting inerrancy during his time period.)

    And I’m puzzled as to why you see “retrenchment around certain theological doctrines” as so out-of-the-norm; it’s been part and parcel of evangelicalism for centuries. People like Piper and MacArthur are no different from prior Reformed evangelicals such as Lloyd-Jones, Charles Spurgeon, J. C. Ryle, J. Gresham Machen, and many others throughout Reformed theology’s history. (I’d even argue that Reformed theology’s regulative principle makes it nearly impossible for Reformed theology to be inclusive in the sense that you discuss.) Are they really all analogous to fundamentalists? They are often far more academic than the populist evangelicalism I mentioned. And is it even “demonizing” to say that a certain theology is not fully (or even not at all) Christian? It’s a strongly stated view, certainly, but it’s also part and parcel of Reformed tradition.

    My “villains” comment was not to deny that they oppose many things; of course they do. But the very use of the term “villains,” it seems to me, keeps your piece from the objectivity you intended. (You could have simply said that they oppose x or y.)


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