The New Fundamentalism

Several have asked me here to explain my meaning of “fundamentalism.”  That’s difficult to do in a nutshell.  Like “evangelicalism” one has to distinguish between the Fundamentalist Movement (or “movement fundamentalism”) and the fundamentalist ethos.

The Fundamentalist Movement is well understood; scholars such as Marsden and Carpenter have recounted its history and distinguishing features.  I have interacted with movement fundamentalists over the years by having them visit my classes.  One of those speakers (from Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Minneapolis) emphasized that fundamentalism is marked off from other types of Christianity (including neo-evangelicalism) by its militant (not violent) defense of biblical orthodoxy and its doctrine and practice of biblical separation including secondary separation.

The Fundamentalist Movement, in spite of itself, has no definite boundaries because it is a movement and not an organization.  It includes organizations such as the American Council of Christian Churches founded by Carl McIntire which became an evangelical rival on the right to the National Association of Evangelicals.

Billy Graham started out in this Fundamentalist Movement but was ostracized from it because of his inclusion of Catholics and “liberal” Protestants in his New York evangelistic crusade in the late 1940s.  (All of this is described in detail by Marsden and Carpenter in their books to which I have alluded several times before.  Look them up on

Harold John Ockenga’s “new evangelicalism” emerged out of the Fundamentalist Movement in the 1940s and 1950s.  The major differences had to do with cultural engagement (as opposed to separation), a broader perspective on who is evangelical (Ockenga and the NAE included Pentecostals), a greater emphasis on the good of education (even outside of fundamentalist Bible institutions) and an attempt to rebalance the Christian beliefs that properly belong in the “essential” and “non-essential” categories.  (Many in the Fundamentalist Movement had come to view premillennialism as an essential of Christian faith.)

The NAE’s statement of faith illustrates well the shift: It does not include the inerrancy of Scripture (although it does use the term infallible for the Bible) or the substitutionary atonement (it says “vicarious sacrifice) or premillennialism.

Throughout the 1950s and 1960s and into the 1970s the new evangelicalism, largely focused on Billy Graham and his ministries (including Christianity Today), and the Fundamentalist Movement went their separate ways with occasional clashes.  Both sides took delight in criticizing the other side.  Fundamentalists criticized the new evangelicals for being “compromised” (with secular culture and liberal theology) and for seeking respectability.  The new evangelicals criticized movement fundamentalists for being narrow minded, anti-intellectual, too separatistic and for majoring in the minors of doctrine and practice.

To make a long story short, during the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s movement fundamentalists such as Jerry Falwell began to call themselves “evangelicals” and the media began to call them that (much to the chagrin of some movement fundamentalists and some new evangelicals).   Billy Graham began to decline as the glue holding the new evangelicalism together.  The NAE’s influence began to wane.  Fundamentalism began to bleed out of its normal zone of separatistic isolation into culture and into evangelicalism.  Many conservative evangelicals began to sound more and more like fundamentalists. 

One major turning point in this blurring of traditional differences between movement fundamentalism and the new evangelicalism was Harold Lindsell’s 1976 book The Battle for the Bible that fell like a bombshell on the playground of the evangelicals.  It argued that biblical inerrancy (rather narrowly defined) is an essential of evangelical faith if not of Christianity itself.  Even Carl F. H. Henry, the “dean” of the new evangelical theologians, disagreed and was dropped as a columnist from Christianity Today.  (Henry had been the founding editor of CT; Lindsell was one of his successors.)

However, numerous evangelical pastors, denominational leaders, parachurch organization leaders and administrators of evangelical colleges, universities and seminaries either agreed with Lindsell or were cowed into seeming to agree with him by pressure from constituents.

A personal, illustrative anecdote.  When I enrolled in an evangelical seminary in 1975 it did not have a statement on inerrancy and, to the best of my knowledge, none of the faculty believed in biblical inerrancy.  They talked about biblical infallibility but distinguished that from inerrancy.  They talked about inerrancy as a fundamentalist view of the Bible and preferred to adhere to the Bible’s full authority for faith and practice.  This was a mainstream evangelical seminary, not at all to the “left” or influenced by liberalism.  It did have a Pietist background, however, which inclined it toward a more generous orthodoxy (not a term coined by McLaren!).

After The Battle for the Bible was published, while I was still in seminary, the denomination’s pastors pressured the seminary to adopt a binding statement of the Bible’s inerrancy in the original autographs.  The faculty were asked to sign it.  I noticed that several of my professors who had criticized inerrancy in class signed it to keep their jobs.  One resigned and went on to a stellar career in American and Canadian Baptist seminaries.  The ethos of the seminary changed.  A chill came over the classrooms and student-faculty lounge and chapel.  At my graduation a fundamentalist pastor and radio preacher delivered the commencement address, much to the chagrin of most of the faculty and students.

It isn’t so much that movement fundamentalists switched sides or joined new evangelical organizations.  It’s that some among the new evangelicals began to sympathize with SOME features of fundamentalism and regret evangelicalism’s movement away from it. 

The Fundamentalist Movement still exists in relatively clear distinction from the post-WW2, postfundamentalist evangelical movement.  The distinction still has to do with separationism and especially secondary separation.  Even the most conservative, neo-fundamentalist evangelicals rarely practice secondary separation.  Billy Graham is still their hero and they claim him even if some of his specific views are not popular among them.

However, what I call a fundamentalist ethos has bled out of movement fundamentalism and begun to have a pernicious influence among people who are heirs of the original postfundamentalist evangelical founders and leaders.  I call this “neo-fundamentalism.”  It is beginning to coalesce as a distinct movement within evangelicalism and is attempting to take over the entire evangelical movement (as it did the Southern Baptist Convention).

What are the distinguishing features of neo-fundamentalism?

  First, a certain militancy in defense of perceived evangelical doctrinal tradition.  Self-appointed spokespersons for neo-fundamentalism are actively seeking to get those evangelicals they consider doctrinally impure or compromised fired from evangelical organizations and not published by evangelical publishers.  They congratulate each other and give each other pats on the back for pointing out heresy or heterodoxy where it has not yet been recognized.  Their practice of theology is almost exclusively critical; they see no value in constructive or reconstructive theology even if it is based on fresh and faithful biblical research.  They are militant defenders and promoters of something they call “the received evangelical tradition” (or by another name).

Second, a certain mean-spiritedness toward fellow evangelicals who disagree with them.  Many of these neo-evangelicals see nothing wrong with misrepresenting their opponents’ views in order to marginalize them.  (I have myself been subjected to this frequently and could cite names, but that’s not my goal here.)  One well-known and highly regarded neo-fundamentalist evangelical theologian tried to get a colleague fired for allegedly not believing rightly in the resurrection.  (According to him it has to be “physical,” “bodily” is not enough.)  The same man wrote a book claiming that open theism borrows from process theology and cited pages in an open theists’ book to prove it.  Anyone who looked up those pages could easily see the open theist author denied influence by process theology while only admitting similarity on one point–God’s knowledge of the future.

Third, a tendency to fill up the “essentials” (dogmas) category of Christian beliefs with non-essentials.  For example, many neo-fundamentalists are claiming that substitutionary atonement is an essential of Christian faith.  Even the NAE statement of faith doesn’t mention it!  Some are claiming that inclusivism is in direct conflict with basic Christian doctrine.  (They conveniently overlook that C. S. Lewis was an inclusivist as is Billy Graham.)  I could go on mentioning secondary doctrines that neo-fundamentalists within the evangelical movement are contending for in a somewhat militant manner even to the point of questioning the salvation of those who do not believe them.

Fourth, a new version of separationism.  Neo-fundamentalists don’t often practice secondary separation.  But it is beginning to raise its ugly head among them.  One example is the Southern Baptist Convention’s withdrawal from the World Baptist Alliance.  Neo-fundamentalists are doing their best to take over organizations traditionally related to the broader “new evangelicalism” movement, but when they can’t, they are beginning to found their own separate organizations to compete with evangelical ones.

What I see emerging, that in my opinion is not being recognized by most evangelical leaders, is a third way–a via media between movement fundamentalism and the postfundamentalist evangelicalism.  People from movement fundamentalism are emerging out of their isolation into this third way and calling it “conservative evangelicalism.”  People from postfundamentalist evangelicalism are adopting this third way and calling it “conservative evangelicalism.”  THIS is why I call myself a postconservative evangelical.  It has NOTHING to do with being liberal; it has everything to do with not wanting to be confused with these people creating and populating this third way via media.  I simply refuse to give up the label “evangelical,” but because of the growing influence of this third way I have to use some adjective to distinguish my own way of being evangelical from that.

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  • Gavin

    It seems to me that \fundamentalists\ are often categorized as either (1) the conservative Christians I don’t like, or (2) anyone more conservative than me.

    So what happens is that the deciding factor of who is \fundy\ or who is not, very much largely depends on who is deciding, and where that person stands on the conservative/liberal spectrum.

    In Dr. Olson’s case, he clearly wants to stick the new reformed folks in with \fundamentalism\ (i.e., Mohler, Piper, etc.). This, in my view, is a low blow.

    The reasoning goes like this: Fundamentalism is bad. It is bad in the following ways (as Dr. Olson so conveniently lists above). According to me, the new reformed folks demonstrate these (hand-picked) characteristics. Therefore these folks are fundamentalists, and therefore bad. Of course I won’t name names. But you know who they are… wink, wink.

    Bad form, Dr. Olson. We can do better than this.

    • Roger

      I reject your caricature of what I have done. I hope you do better next time. :)

      • Gavin

        Interesting how people from different sides of a fence can see things from TOTALLY different perspectives. It’s sad, really. I see what I see clearly, and you see what you see clearly. You think I’m wrong. I think you don’t see what you’re doing. Oh well. Good day, sir.

        • Roger

          Yes, the matter of what philosopher R. M. Hare called “bliks”–fundamental perspectives on reality. The only way to bridge between them and live peacefully together in spite of them is generous dialogue including real listening to each other. That is what I have called for with no response from the other side.

          • PM

            Not when one has an insane blik.

          • Roger

            As postmodern philosophers have shown, what constitutes an “insane blik” is debatable. I grew up in a Pentecostal church where we really believed that God still speaks to people–for guidance and direction and correction. Answering one question on the MMPI about that will get you marked mentally unstable.

    • Joshua Carney


      this might help me consider what you are saying. Would you mind defining fundamentalism. Perhaps point to a source that helps you derive your opinion of what it is. Cite a few contemporary folks doing theology that matches that description and then build your case how they are differentiated from Piper and Mohler (the two you have listed).

      that would be helpful.


      • Gavin

        Josh, the reality is that it is not incumbent upon me to define fundamentalism – I don’t use the term, and didn’t use the term here. Dr. Olson is using the term, defining it, and even introducing a new term, “neo-fundamentalism.” I don’t need to say, “It’s not this, it’s that.”

  • Jon Rising

    Thank you, Roger! I imagine many will find this helpful — I know I did, and look forward to the follow-up.

  • Tom

    Thanks, Roger, for this. It’s a bit scary to me how widespread this neo-fundamentalism actually is. I’m not sure if it’s just that their voices are loud or that they truly represent a large number of evangelicals. I feel it is a little bit of both.

    • Roger

      I agree. And what is truly scary to me is that they are exercising real influence over non-fundamentalist evangelical administrators and decision-makers.

  • Randy Boswell

    Dr. Olson-

    Thanks for your always clear and cogent thoughts on the world of evangelicalism. It is because of people like you and Scot McKnight that I still call myself evangelical at all.

    The recent Rob Bell controversy has caused neo-fundamentalistism to become even more noticeable, with many of the features/traits you noted on full display. This is especially disheartening for one who is involved in the Reformed stand of evangelicalism where much of this develops. I am deeply saddened when the words heresy, heterodox, and heretic are thrown around without measuring carefully the full weight and consequence of these terms.

    Two questions from the above for me. Would you say that the cause of neo-fundamentalisms doctrinal policing is spawned from a commitment to naive realism over against critical realism? For me, this is the crux of this particular problem. They fail to adequately account for the interpretive nature of hermeneutics. Just because Scripture is inerrant for them, it doesn’t mean that their interpretation is inerrant (or close to it!) This group fails to see that their is a range of valid interpretations in Scripture that need not be deemed heresy. Not an everything goes kind of relativism, but an allowance for a diversity of interpretations without pulling out the heresy card. I’m thinking along the lines of John Franke’s thesis in “Manifold Witness.”

    Second, and more closely related to the Rob Bell situation (and loosely related to this post), what are your thoughts on all forms of universalism being deemed a heresy by Second Council of Constantinople (553)? My understanding is that this is a disputed issue and that the formal council never condemned universalism a heresy, but that Justinian and a disputed group of anathemas against universalism were issued which were not part of the council proper. On my reading, only Justinian’s anathemas (issued at a local council and not church wide one) condemn universalism per se as a heresy, while even the disputed group of anathemas from the council only condemned Origen’s form of universalism. This is important for me as neo-fundamentalists are outright calling all forms of universalism a heresy. I don’t think the issue is as simply as they’ve made it out to be.

    • Roger

      One thing I wonder is why neo-fundamentalists care what the Second Council of Constantinople or Justinian said about anything? I guess paleo-orthodox evangelicals care, but most evangelicals, with the Reformers themselves, draw the line of “authority” at the Council of Chalcedon with everything afterwards deemed questionable. I’ll have to go back and re-study Constantinople 2 on this. It’s been too long. But I know the Catholic church today considers universalism a heresy. I agree that one major feature of fundamentalism (including neo-fundamentalism) is failure to distinguish properly between the Bible itself and their interpretation of the Bible.

      • A.M. Mallett

        Dr. Olson, how do you distinguish between the Bible itself and your interpretation of the Bible?

        • Roger

          Easy. Just as any judge’s interpretation of the U.S. Constitution is his or her interpretation and subject to appeal or reversal by a higher court (or later court). The Constitution stands over and above every court decision or opinion.

  • David Rogers

    Are you equating the label “conservative evangelicalism” with what you call “neo-fundamentalism”? I don’t know whether a spectrum should be proposed, but would this be an approximation?

    fundamentalism—neo-fundamentalism/conservative evangelicalism—classic evangelicalism—post-conservative evangelicalism

    Corrections, dismissals, clarifications are welcome.

    • Roger

      I don’t equate all conservative evangelicals with neo-fundamentalism. My point is that just because someone calls himself or herself a conservative evangelical does NOT mean he or she is not a fundamentalist.

      • Gavin

        Dr. Olson, may I press further, just for clarification?

        What I see is that you are putting the “new reformed” folks in a camp that you are now broadly calling “neo-fundamentalism.” Is this correct.

        And, in addition to that, you are using the term “fundamentalism” in almost purely a negative sense. So anyone you put in that camp, you are viewing in a negative light, and almost exclusively in a negative light (as evidenced by your list of characteristics above)…

        Please clarify.

      • David Rogers

        I think I understand your point. Thanks.

  • Joseph Olstad

    I’m not familiar with some of your terms. Could you quickly define
    “separationism” and “secondary separationism.”

    • Roger

      Secondary separation is refusing to have fellowship with people who have fellowship with false Christians.

  • Scott Arnold

    Could you clarify the term “secondary separation?” What is “primary” separation, then?

    • Roger

      Primary separation (not a term used by fundamentalists but helpful to distinguish it from secondary separation) is refusal of fellowship with false Christians. Secondary separation is refusal of fellowship with Christians who do not practice primary separation.

      • Scott Arnold

        Thanks, that was most helpful. I assume the word, “false,” should include quotation marks? I found this in Wikipedia and wondered if it would provide some context:
        Christian Fundamentalists believe in:
        1. The inerrancy of the Bible
        2. The literal nature of the Biblical accounts, especially regarding Christ’s miracles, and the Creation account in Genesis.
        3. The Virgin Birth of Christ
        4. The bodily resurrection of Christ
        5. The substitutionary atonement of Christ on the cross
        I think I would expand #5 to say that the New Fundamentalists require a belief in the “penal” substitutionary atonement of Christ on the cross. To what extent do you think these are accurate and/or complete? Also, is the term, New Fundamentalist, essentially a synonym for Calvinist, or am I missing something?

        • Roger

          Those 5 doctrines were the usual ones promoted as essentials of the Christian faith by the original fundamentalists. After 1925 (according to Marsden, Noll, Carpenter, Balmer and other historians) fundamentalism took a turn. For one thing, many of the leading fundamentalists added premillennialism as a fundamental of the faith. I once taught with an amillennialist who was constantly under attack for being “liberal” even though the college’s statement of faith said nothing about the millennium. Most scholarly treatments of fundamentalism include the pre-1925 and post-1925 phases noting that after 1925 “biblical separation” and even “secondary separation” became hallmarks of fundamentalism.

  • EricG

    I have noticed this problem of neo-fundamentalism in many (but not all) leaders of The Gospel Coalition. (I’m not saying all Calvinist are like this, or all TGC members are like this). Have you noticed this neo-fundamentalism outside that group?

    • Roger

      I have noticed it in many “places” among evangelicals.

  • Peter G.

    “THIS is why I call myself a postconservative evangelical. It has NOTHING to do with being liberal; it has everything to do with not wanting to be confused with these people creating and populating this third way via media.”

    Hmmm… sounds like you’re retaining a key feature of both fundamentalism and evangelicalism in all their stripes: a tendency to define yourself by your opposition.

    • Roger

      And who doesn’t do that to some extent?

    • Carson T. Clark

      I read ‘Reformed & Always Reforming’ after graduating from a conservative Bible college, and restored my hope for what the task of theology could be. Yet I was confused by the nomenclature of “postconservative.” Why not just use the term “moderate”? Not conservative. Not liberal. Drawing on element of both. Rejecting elements of both. Sounds moderate to me.

      • Roger

        I have found “moderate” too broad. I know people who call themselves “moderate Baptists” who are out-and-out liberals. (That’s not true of all who call themselves moderate Baptists, of course, and I use that label for myself in contexts where it will be correctly understood.) Originally, I thought I had coined the adjective “postconservative” and I meant it as sort of a parallel with “postliberal”–not that I agree with everything postliberals believe. The whole idea of “postconservative evangelicalism” was to get off the “right-left” spectrum that still bedevils most of our evangelical theological debates. Postconservative evangelicals are neither right nor left nor somewhere in the middle on that spectrum. The right-left spectrum is inextricably tied to modernity.

  • Joshua Carney

    I was recently questioned about a certain someone’s book about Love and it’s detractors. My response is that the neo-reformed camp has officially become the neo-fundamentalist camp. Good post.

    • Gavin

      Yeah, I thought this is what y’all are doing. Resurrecting the term “fundamentalism”, or at least all the negative parts of it, and then slapping it on the “new reformed” folks, in order to label and dismiss (and slander).

      Dr. Olson, if this is not your intention, please clarify. But it’s what I smelled when I first read your post, and yet you initially disagreed. So perhaps those who are agreeing with your post and saying it with hearty “amen’s” are also misunderstanding your intent?

      • Roger

        I didn’t mention anyone by name. If the shoe fits….

        • Gavin

          Not quite fair. I’m operating under the knowledge of your writings and what you’ve said beyond this post. There are enough pointers in this post, though, to know of whom you speak. No?

          • Roger

            Sure. Guess away.

      • John I.

        I wouldn’t say that the term “fundamentalism” ever passed away such that current use of it could be considered a “resurrection”. Nor is it obvious that it necessarily is negative, or has such parts. It’s the fundamentalists who invented, used and reinforced primary and secondary separation, and they see it as a good and proper thing. It is those who are on the other side of the separation and who have a different conception of the body of Christ usually that see it as a negative.


  • Jeremy Patterson

    Thank you for this summary. I wonder if you could expand on the idea of secondary separation a bit? Why the new focus on it from within the “neo-fundamentalist” ethos? What is your take on the issue?


    • Roger

      I think this is one distinction between neo-fundamentalists and garden variety fundamentalists. Most who I call neo-fundamentalists do not practice secondary separation (refusal of fellowship with Christians who are not sufficiently separated).

  • Derek

    This is an interesting narrative and seems like an objective one for the most part. It does seem to me that you do your fair share of railing on opposing views here though – am I wrong? For instance, I think you’re oversimplifying the errancy debate because the battle lines were drawn by those who truly did want to undermine the authority of Scripture. I realize you had a “front row seat” to this debate, but perhaps that makes it harder for you to see the forest through the trees. Did some like Lindsell overreact and even use poor tactical methods? Sure, but many people did recognize that there was a very real threat to the credibility and authority of Scripture and this trumped lesser concerns about tactics.

    • Roger

      I don’t think the people Lindsell was attacking were threatening the credibility and authority of Scripture at all. His targets were not true liberals but fellow evangelicals who happened to believe in the inspiraton and authority of Scripture but not its technical inerrancy. One book he was responding to was Dewey Beegle’s Scripture, Tradition and Infallibility–a book difficult to refute. Beegle argued that one can (and should) acknowledge the authority of Scripture without affirming its technical inerrancy in matters historical and scientific. I find it interesting that in The Battle for the Bible Lindsell attacked fellow evangelicals such as Robert Mounce for their definitions of inerrancy with which he disagreed. He argued that Mounce’s definition of inerrancy (stated in Eternity magazine) was a denial of inerrancy because of its qualifications. Strangely, Mounce’s qualifications were taken up and affirmed by the Council on Biblical Inerrancy in its Chicago Statement on Inerrancy which Lindsell signed!

  • Aaron

    Dr. Olson,

    I know this is off topic – but as a fellow arminian I would love to hear you blog about how Gods foreknowledge works. Especially when it comes to how free will still exists in that framework & how Gods election is based on that foreknowledge.


    • Roger

      In classical Arminian thought God’s knowledge is conditioned by human decisions because he allows it to be so. Election is God’s decision to have a people (corporate and unconditional); predestination is God’s foreordination to save all who freely come to him in faith (individual and conditional).

      • Aaron

        Thanks Dr. Olson

    • Scott Arnold

      One resource I found helpful on this topic as the book by William Lane Craig entitled, “Only Wise God: The Compatibility of Divine Foreknowledge and Human Free Will.” (I may have reversed the order of those two compatibilities)

      It is essentially a treatment of the concept of “middle knowledge” of Luis de Molina. Craig argues that God was able to foresee the eventual outcome of all possible worlds He could create and chose the one that maximized those who freely chose redemption while minimizing those who freely rejected it.

      Open theists avoid this concept by arguing that the future is not knowable since it does not exist. I’ve opted for an alternative that renders the issue somewhat moot – I believe in universalism, as defined by Robin Parry in his book, “The Evangelical Universalist,” written under the penname Gregory MacDonald.

      • Scott Arnold

        Correction: “is” the book… not “as”.

      • Aaron

        Thanks Scott – I will check it out.

  • Aaron

    In other words Dr. Olson in other words one of the reasons Arminians object to calvinism is that the view that God unconditionally predestines the reprobate is inconsistent with Gods love – That if that is true one can not say that God really loves that person? However Arminians claim that God loves all people and truly desires them all to be saved and has saving love for them. But Arminians also believe that God does predestine people according to his foreknowledge of who will accept him. So can Arminians truly say that God has saving love for those who he knows will reject him and thus have not predestined for salvation? – Thanks

    • Roger

      Absolutely. There’s no conflict there.

  • Derek

    Harold Lindsell made some mistakes that can probably be seen more clearly through the passage of time, but I agree with Dr. Billy Graham who said “His stand on the authority of Scripture is one of his lasting legacies. His writings will be used of God for many years to come to help hold the church to the Scriptures.

    Regarding Beegle, is he beyond critique, merely because he articulated a middle position on inerrancy? I agree with Gleason Archer, who wrote: Suffice it to say that [Beegle’s] attempt to establish objective authority for the Bible, while deeming it guilty of error, is a total and complete failure. A Bible containing mistakes in its original manuscripts is a combination of truth and error and is therefore in the same class as the religious scriptures composed by pagan authors as expressions of their own search after God. As such, it must be subjected to the judicial processes of human reason, and in the effort to sift out the valid from the false, any human judge—whoever he may be—is necessarily influenced by subjective factors. All he can be sure of is his own opinion—and even that may change from year to year.

    Finally, I think it is important to note that Lindsell’s book was a critical moment, but not the definitive moment in the inerrancy debate of the 70’s – the Chicago statement was (Carl Henry was a signer, too), which again is why I say that you are leaving some important details out of your narrative.

    • Roger

      Nobody includes all the details of that sad and sorry episode of evangelical history. Watch for something about the irony of it all in a future post. As for Beegle…most of the things he called errors were included as non-errors in the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy. So much of this debate has been over a word.

  • John Metz

    These two terms, evangelical and fundamentalist, are very nebulous terms and made all the more so by the various sub-strata related to each. I think your earlier post with a definition of evangelical and this one of fundamentalist are very helpful. The definitions are, of necessity, broad generalities but ones I find to be legitimate.

    There is no doubt that there is a hardening of stance among many evangelicals who seem to have lost the ability to vigorously contend for the truth (as they see it) without becoming mean-spirited and exclusionary. There is also no doubt that some well-known and well-respected Christian figures are not above misrepresenting the views of others in ways that can only be described as dishonest.

    To be clear, I am not a universalist, not a liberal, not one to question the authority of the Bible. There are teachings that genuine Christians hold that are wrong. There are also “tares” in broader Christendom. The truth should be upheld. But, we should be able to do so without sinking to methods that discredit bout ourselves and our beliefs.

  • Francis J. Beckwith

    From philosopher Alvin Plantinga’s Warranted Christian Belief:

    “I fully realize that the dreaded f-word will be trotted out to stigmatize any model of this kind. Before responding, however, we must first look into the use of this term ‘fundamentalist’. On the most common contemporary academic use of the term, it is a term of abuse or disapprobation, rather like ‘son of a bitch’, more exactly ‘sonovabitch’, or perhaps still more exactly (at least according to those authorities who look to the Old West as normative on matters of pronunciation) ‘sumbitch’. When the term is used in this way, no definition of it is ordinarily given. (If you called someone a sumbitch, would you feel obliged first to define the term?) Still, there is a bit more to the meaning of ‘fundamentalist’ (in this widely current use): it isn’t simply a term of abuse. In addition to its emotive force, it does have some cognitive content, and ordinarily denotes relatively conservative theological views. That makes it more like ‘stupid sumbitch’ (or maybe ‘fascist sumbitch’?) than ‘sumbitch’ simpliciter. It isn’t exactly like that term either, however, because its cognitive content can expand and contract on demand; its content seems to depend on who is using it. In the mouths of certain liberal theologians, for example, it tends to denote any who accept traditional Christianity, including Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, and Barth; in the mouths of devout secularists like Richard Dawkins or Daniel Dennett, it tends to denote anyone who believes there is such a person as God. The explanation is that the term has a certain indexical element: its cognitive content is given by the phrase ‘considerably to the right, theologically speaking, of me and my enlightened friends.’ The full meaning of the term, therefore (in this use), can be given by something like ‘stupid sumbitch whose theological opinions are considerably to the right of mine’.”

    • Roger

      Plantinga is talking about the popular use of fundamentalism. But there are Christians who still call themselves fundamentalists. It is not solely a term of abuse. Virtually ever theological label has its misuses and its proper uses.

  • Carson T. Clark

    This is fantastic. I’ve been unsettled by the fundamentalist element within the Neo-Reformed Movement for years…

    The question for me is this: How do we delineate between Classic Neo-Evangelicalism, to coin a term, and New Fundamentalism amidst a society that sees “evangelical” and “fundamentalist” as a tautology? Making matter even more complicated, young (true) evangelicals seem content on abandoning the term.

    • Roger

      Well, it’s probably impossible to educate secular people about these differences. But I gave several distinguishing characteristics that most knowledgeable evangelicals can understand and recognize.

  • Timothy

    If I have understood Roger correctly, fundamentalism is not so much a theology as a state of mind. Thus one might have the most conservative theology but not be a fundamentalist in Roger’s sense of the word or liberal but a fundamentalist. The key aspect of fundamentalism is how it interacts with those who disagree with it. So to take one issue, if it is able to interact graciously with disagreement then it is not fundamentalist but if it persecutes those with which it disagrees then it is fundamentalist.
    In my own experience, I know an extremely conservative Anglican minister (I live in England) who is quite able to dine with the rather liberal Archbishop Rowan Williams. Indeed, they both enjoy those surpisingly frequent occasions. Such a minister, if I understand Roger correctly, would not be termed fundamentalist. Nor would Gavin, above, be termed a fundamentalist assuming he also relates to those with whom he disagrees with similar charity.
    My observation is that often lack of charity is a function of immaturity. Thus very conservative speakers who are mature often have followers who are less mature and so exhibit the signs of fundamentalism absent from their doyens.
    Since fundamentalism in Roger’s sense is not primarily a theological category as a personality or moral category, what we need is a kind of checklist to see if one is drifting towards it. One cannot tell simply by looking at one’s theology. A follower of Bultmann could be just as much a fundamentalist as a follower of John Piper.
    One question we should ask ourselves is whether we can learn from those we disagree with. Bonhoeffer was someone that evangelicals regarded with distaste in the 1930s as being a liberal, or at least neo-orthodox. Time and martyrdom have lent a lustre to his reputation even among many evangelicals. But can we learn today from those outside our camp, successors if you like of Bonhoeffer?
    Another question might be is there a positive and edifying priority in our teaching. Sometimes one can be far more concerned to condemn error in others than to affirm and expound truth, whether from our own tradition or from another’s. This is a particular tendency among the followers of the “great men.” It is so much easier to master the criticism of others than the exposition of our own understanding.
    Roger rightly raises the issue of power plays. When we use power to enforce our views then I think we are up against something that if not fundamentalism is at least very distasteful.
    But all this means that one issue that needs to be teased out is how we go about refuting error (as we see it). We need to have ways in which we discuss, debate and reject various views and even campaign against them. Roger’s blog is an attempt to do so. But there is a need to work out how we can do this responsibly. Roger may have mastered the art of doing it himself but the elements of such an art need to be brought to light for others to follow.

    • Roger

      Thank you for that very interesting comment; it is one with which I substantially agree. I would say, however, that I only use “fundamentalist” and “neo-fundamentalist” for those on the right of the theological spectrum. It seems odd, to say the least, to apply these to those on the left, as they are tied to the original fundamentalist movement and especially its post-1925 manifestations in the U.S. and perhaps Britain. The great leaders of the fundamentalist movement throughout the 1930s and 1940s and into the 1950s and 1960s tended to be men who would sometimes sacrifice integrity or civility in order to make their points and keep their followers in line. We need a parallel word for liberal leaders who do the same; I’m not sure what it should be. One principle I try to follow to avoid that tendency is to always be sure I understand before saying I disagree and to measure the volume and intensity of my disagreement to my level of certainty about the disagreement. I think fundamentalists and neo-fundamentalists tend to jump the gun, so to speak, when reacting to perceived liberal or liberalizing moves made by fellow evangelicals. And they often allow the volume and intensity of their disagreement to grow way out of proportion to the importance of the matter.

  • Don Johnson

    Dr. Olson, I would have to say, as a movement Fundamentalist, that I think your analysis is accurate. I would quibble with some points, but in the main I think you are correct in your post.

    I wondered, though, if you had read any movement Fundamentalist works on the history, or are Marsden and Carpenter your main sources? I have read parts of them, and have them on my ever growing reading list, but I would suggest that Ernest Pickering Biblical Separation and David Beale In Pursuit of Purity would give the history from a fundamentalist perspective. I see that you are familiar with Central Seminary (I probably know the guy you had in), so I don’t think your description is uninformed. I just think that Marsden and Carpenter are writing from a perspective outside the movement and are bound to bring a certain ‘anti-fundamentalist’ bias to the discussion. Of course, the fundie writers will bring a different kind of bias.

    One point of correction, Billy Graham’s New York Crusade, which marked his split with Fundamentalism, was in 1957, not the late 40s. The New Evangelicalism had been developing since the late 40s, but it was 1957 when Billy deliberately broke with his erstwhile Fundamentalist friends. BTW, I would recommend Billy’s autobiography, Just As I Am for many reasons, but certainly for his perspective of this discussion. You imply that it was the fundamentalists who broke with him, I think the feelings were pretty mutual.

    Well, that’s all for now. I appreciate your article. It articulates some things I have been saying for a long time in our circles. From my perspective it is very frustrating to say something is happening in our movement only to get stonewalling and denials… “Oh, no, we’re still fundamentalists, we’re still separatists.” Yeah, well not the way we have traditionally held.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

    • Roger

      Thank you for that. I stand corrected about the year of the Billy Graham New York crusade. I have read literature by self-identified separatist fundamentalists. A recent example is Kevin Bauder of Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Minneapolis; he has a chapter in the forthcoming Zondervan book Four Views on the Spectrum of Evangelicalism in which I also have a chapter. I have also read George Dollar’s History of Fundamentalism in America.

      • Don Johnson

        Thanks for the reply. I don’t entirely agree with Dr. Bauder’s perspective of the history, but he would be one example of the fundamentalist perspective. I haven’t actually read Dollar’s book, don’t know why.

        If you have time, I hope you can take in Pickering and Beale. (As if any of us needs more book recommendations!) I think their works are considered pretty significant from the Fundamentalist side of things.

        Don Johnson
        Jer 33.3

  • Russ

    Can “postconservative evangelical” be another term for a “conservative emergent Christian” or “orthodox emergent Christian” or, is it simply an “evangelical” not willing to regress into another level of “separatistic conservatism” and so, who is a “postconservative evangelical” but not necessarily “emergent” though perhaps sympathic to “emergents”?

    • rogereolson

      Yours truly? :)

  • marius

    could you define what you meant with “inclusivism”?

    • rogereolson

      Most broadly, any belief that salvation is possible for (at least some of) the unevangelized. There are many different explanations of it; it includes just about any view that isn’t universalism, pluralism or restrictivism.

  • Fading_Shadow

    Having been a teen in an independent, fundamentalist Baptist pastor’s household in the 70’s; the focus was on believing ‘correct theology’, ‘personal separation from the world’, and ‘being a testimony and witness’ to everyone, everywhere; every activity should be for the purpose of soul-winning; the church trumped everything – I utterly detest fundamentalism, don’t attend church, and don’t care about ‘following God’s will for my life.’ From what I was taught by many preachers, teachers; God created me to be used as a cog in His overall plan to redeem the universe and we are supposed to surrender our wills, our desires to His will. ie…we don’t matter, our wants, our personhood doesn’t matter, only following the church dogma matters.

    The basic premises of fundamentalism are illogical. If God is omniscient, omnipowerful, omnipresent, and created the world ex-nihilo, then He could certainly have never allowed Lucifer to cause a rebellion in heaven, He could certainly have fixed the universe ex-nihilo without involving the suffering of martyrs, etc…

    I have spent much of my life being a ‘testimony’, being ‘separated from the world’, witnessing, etc…and now I realize that nobody cared – I wasn’t following God, I was coerced into following a synthetic theology that has pretty much screwed my thinking up, stifled much of what I could have become, and now at 50 something, none of it really mattered to anyone.

    I think God should apologize to me for letting me get so messed up by pseudo-religious folks, because if God truly loves us individually, then He has a mighty funny way of showing it.

    If you saw your child about to step out into the street and get hit by a car, you wouldn’t ignore them, you would try to stop them from being hurt; but apparently Father God, not so much. Depending upon your view, God either ‘allowed’ the car to hit the child for some greater purpose that only He knows that will help HIS PLAN to come together, or He actively caused the car to hit the theoretical child for some obscure reason.

    In either case, God is painted as a task-oriented Being, who places His will, His tasks above our (my) personal worth and care. That’s what I learned from 70’s fundamentalism. God is high, holy, lifted up, and completely separated, unaffected by my personal trials here on earth. He concerns Himself with the fulfillment of HIS PLAN.

    I think the author is focusing more on his labels than on his relationship with God – who in the world really either cares or understands if you are a fundamentalist, a neo-fundamentalist, or a purple-polka-dotted-new-evangelical, 1611 KJV ultra-conservative post modernist fundamentalist anyway?

    None of this matters to anyone on a large scale.

    I see you moderate what appears or doesn’t appear on your website – make sense, I’ll be mildly surprised if you publish this live; that said, if you care to respond privately, I’ll be interested in reading your response as well.

    You are a good writer, and I enjoyed reading this article.

    • Roger Olson

      I hope you can overcome your reaction to fundamentalism (understandable) and find your way to a more moderate, mainstream form of Christianity.