Neo-fundamentalism (excellent but somewhat lengthy essay)

Below is an essay written by a friend. I have only altered it to correct spelling and mechanical errors (e.g., to put a space between words where one was missing). I judge this an incisive explanation of something significant happening among evangelicals today. In fact, I have said here before that I now believe there are really two evangelicalism–the one focused on in this paper and traditional, mainline, moderate evangelicalism (the “Billy Graham coalition” including the National Association of Evangelicals, etc.). 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. I believe Mike Clawson is a regular visitor here, so feel free to direct questions to him.

Young, Restless, and Fundamentalist:

Neo-fundamentalism among American Evangelicals

 

Michael Clawson

Baylor University – Department of Religion

A New Fundamentalist Reaction

In his 2007book The Truth War: Fighting for Certainty in an Age of Deception, influential evangelical pastor and author, John MacArthur wrote the following:

[Quote] The evangelical movement as we speak of it today is already doomed. It stands roughly where the mainstream denominations were in the early part of the twentieth century when those denominations began formally excommunicating conservative voices of dissent from their midst – and sounder evangelicals began actively separating from those denominations en masse… It is time for the faithful remnant to redraw clear lines and step up our energies in the Truth War – contending earnestly for the faith. In light of all the biblical commands to fight a good warfare, it is both naïve and disobedient for Christians in this postmodern generation to shirk that duty.[1] [End Quote]

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.

While similar, this new movement’s primary concerns are typically not the same as those of more traditional fundamentalists. In regards to behavioral standards, for instance, neo-fundamentalists are less concerned about the sort of moral restrictions that animated conservatives of a century ago: drinking, dancing, card playing and the like.[5] Instead they typically focus on contemporary social issues like gender roles or sexual orientation. And while they would still agree with earlier fundamentalists on issues of scriptural inerrancy or anti-evolution, their theological arguments more commonly focus on the nature of truth and Calvinistic soteriology. Institutionally, this movement is not arising from the older bastions of fundamentalism – Bob Jones University, Moody Bible Institute, or even Liberty University – but within mainstream evangelical circles – from Gordon-Conwell, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School; from well-known and influential mega-church pastors in the Twin Cities, Seattle, and Southern California; and from massive worship festivals and ministry conferences popular with tens of thousands of evangelical college students as well as numerous pastors and lay-leaders. Leading voices associated with this trend include scholars like David Wells, DA Carson and Albert Mohler, Religious Right media-personalities like James Dobson, and well-known pastors like John MacArthur, John Piper and Mark Driscoll.

Of course those to whom I am referring as neo-fundamentalists would not self-identify with that term. I should note that I am here using the term “fundamentalist” historically and descriptively, with no particular value judgment implied. It is an open question as to what they would call themselves, or even whether they currently see themselves as a distinct movement apart from evangelicalism.

Historical Background

Protestant fundamentalism originated in the early twentieth century in response to broad changes in American society, and especially in reaction against the liberalizing effects of modern scholarship in historic Protestant denominations. Fundamentalists defined and defended what they believed were the fundamental orthodox beliefs under attack by the modernists: biblical inerrancy, the reality of miracles such as the virgin birth and resurrection of Jesus, the deity of Christ, as well as his substitutionary atonement and pre-millennial second coming. They also resisted liberalizing trends in the realm of personal moral behavior, and the spread of evolutionary teaching in the public schools. The loss of battles for denominational control in the 1920s led many fundamentalists eventually to withdraw into new denominations or conservative enclaves. Separation from liberals and modernists as well as antagonism towards the broader culture became hallmarks of historic fundamentalism.

Neo-evangelicalism arose in the mid-twentieth century in deliberate contrast to this attitude of hostility and withdrawal. Led out of fundamentalist isolationism by leaders like Billy Graham, Carl Henry, and Harold Ockenga, these new evangelicals argued that conservatives must engage their culture constructively while still holding to the fundamental doctrines of the faith without dividing over secondary issues.[6] This approach enabled them to found countless cooperative ministries, evangelical schools, and publishing enterprises.

Despite the success of this evangelical movement, a resurgence of fundamentalist attitudes began in the late 1970s and 80s in reaction against the massive cultural shifts of the 1960s.[7] As the “culture wars” heated up, evangelicals began increasingly to reclaim the “fighting” spirit of their fundamentalist forebears. Key to this development was Dr. James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family ministries. While more traditionally fundamentalist leaders like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson had only limited appeal among mainstream evangelicals, Dobson’s status as a parenting guru, the broadly evangelical nature of his ministry, and his brilliant command of the medium of talk radio, gave him access to a much wider religious audience and enabled him to bring millions of evangelicals along when he joined the culture wars in the early 1980s. Dobson served as a bridge between traditional fundamentalism and contemporary evangelicalism and at the same time laid the seeds of a neo-fundamentalist movement increasingly hostile to the broader culture.

But even as conservative evangelicals became increasingly negative towards culture, the culture itself shifted. While the enemy for the Christian Right in the 70s and 80s had been secular humanism, a philosophy born out of the scientific rationalism of late-Modernity, by the 1990’s secular humanism itself had been relativised by the growing postmodern ethos of pluralism, diversity and tolerance. These became the new villains for neo-fundamentalist evangelicals. For instance, in 1998 well-known Christian apologists Josh McDowell and Bob Hostetler published The New Tolerance: How a cultural movement threatens to destroy you, your faith, and your children.[8] McDowell also went on to create the “Beyond Belief Campaign”, a series of national youth conferences equipping teens to take a stand for the “absolute, objective truths” of the Christian gospel against the pluralism of a postmodern culture.[9] Not to be outdone, Focus on the Family created their own DVD curriculum and training conferences called The Truth Project, whose first session taught participants how to defend “absolute and eternal truth.”[10] James Dobson’s son, Ryan Dobson, also published his own book in 2007 entitled Be Intolerant: Because Some Things Are Just Stupid, which encourages teens to be intolerant (“in love”) of “stupid” ideas like homosexuality, environmentalism, and liberal politics.[11]

The Neo-Fundamentalists

While Dobson and McDowell were among the first to identify this new enemy of postmodern pluralism and relativism, other leaders have constructed a genuine neo-fundamentalist alternative to any evangelical accommodation with postmodernity. Today, I will focus on three of the most influential – John Piper, Albert Mohler, and Mark Driscoll.

John Piper & the New Calvinists

John Piper is the long-time pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, a mega-church in the Baptist General Conference, a broadly evangelical denomination. However, his greatest influence comes through numerous books and well-attended speaking engagements, leading to his position, according to former Christianity Today editor Collin Hansen,as “the chief spokesperson for the Calvinist resurgence among young evangelicals.”[12] This Calvinist resurgence, while not exactly synonymous with neo-fundamentalism, is very closely related in that nearly all of the current neo-fundamentalist leaders are militantly Calvinist in their theology.

In his book, Young, Restless and Reformed, Hansen elaborates on the New Calvinism, describing how college-aged evangelicals often encounter the Reformed teachings of John Piper and others at events like the Passion conference, an annual worship gathering attended by thousands of young adult Christians. At such events Piper and others introduce young people to Calvinist doctrines of absolute divine sovereignty and total human depravity. However, far from the usual stereotypes of Calvinists as the “frozen chosen,” unmotivated, at best, regarding evangelism, the Passion conferences combine their Calvinism with cutting edge, emotionally stirring worship music and a passionate call to missions and evangelism.[13]

Piper’s theological message also includes a strong commitment to double imputation and penal substitution as the only normative atonement theory; to scripture as completely inerrant and solely authoritative; and to exclusive male headship in the family and in the church. While many young Passion attendees may be attracted initially to the grandeur of Piper’s transcendent and all-sovereign God, they are soon drawn to these further commitments as part and parcel of Piper’s seemingly fully integrated Reformed worldview.  Hansen suggests that the confident certainty of the Calvinist framework attracts young evangelicals who feel besieged in their Christian beliefs by the pluralistic postmodern culture around them and are left unsatisfied by what they feel is the “dumbed down” approach to the gospel found in the seeker-oriented mega-churches of mainstream evangelicalism.[14]

Of course a strong commitment to Calvinist doctrine alone does not make one a neo-fundamentalist. That further step comes when Piper and other New Calvinists assert that theirs is the only legitimately evangelical and orthodox interpretation of the gospel. For instance, at a Neo-Calvinist event in 2008 Piper identified Arminianism or Wesleyanism (which he claims is held by most evangelicals) as a “false gospel” and asserted that Arminians can only be saved if their “heart belief” (in their utter dependence on God) unwittingly contradicts the theology they hold to consciously/intellectually. He went on to assert that Arminian church members should not be excommunicated, but that anyone responsible for leading or teaching others in the church should. He also recommended separating from denominations that allow Arminianism to be taught (despite the fact that he and his church remain within the Baptist General Conference, which takes no official stance on the issue and does allow both perspectives).[15] This sort of theological narrowness and willingness to separate over issues most mainstream evangelicals would consider “nonessential” is a major similarity between those New Calvinists who follow Piper’s way of thinking and earlier forms of fundamentalism.

Al Mohler and the Church Militant

If Piper wants more inclusive evangelicals kicked out of the camp metaphorically, Al Mohler did it literally. When R. Albert Mohler Jr. was appointed to head Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1993, his message to faculty was simple: sign a statement of faith affirming biblical inerrancy or find employment elsewhere.[16] At the time Southern was still a refuge for moderate and liberal professors, and ninety-six percent of the faculty left or were driven out when Mohler began to enforce his demand.[17]

As America’s largest Protestant denomination, the Southern Baptist shadow looms large in the evangelical world, and Mohler is one of their most influential leaders, calling both Southern Baptists and evangelicals in general to greater political and cultural militancy. A regular spokesperson on CNN and other major media outlets, Mohler has urged the church to get back on a “wartime footing” in its relation to the broader culture,[18] especially in relation to issues of abortion and LGBT rights which he sees as a major threat to Christian values and a key sign of the decline of Western civilization. Mohler, for instance, has declared the teaching of diversity in public schools as a sign that they have become an essentially “pagan and ungodly system”, and advises Christian parents to withdraw their children from them.[19]

Like other neo-fundamentalists Mohler blames the postmodern view “that truth is relative or socially constructed” for this cultural decline, and believes such views are a “direct challenge to the Christian gospel.”[20] And like fundamentalists, both old and new, Mohler sees evangelical Christians as a besieged and faithful remnant, in his words “a cognitive minority,” within this larger society.[21]While Mohler still calls for Christian activism and militancy, overall his outlooks seems to be one of growing pessimism, seeing little hope for the re-establishment of a conservative moral center in America.[22]

Though Mohler stands squarely in line with other leaders of the Religious Right on such issues, his significance for the neo-fundamentalist movement is his ability to impact the next generation of Christian leaders though his position as a media personality and as the president of one of the world’s largest seminaries. Only in his early-fifties and already possessing a significant national platform, Mohler is a natural successor to aging neo-fundamentalist spokesmen like Dobson or Robertson. Such influence strongly indicates that both the Religious Right and neo-fundamentalism will remain a significant presence within mainstream evangelicalism for some time to come.

Mark Driscoll and Masculine Christianity

Besides a rejection of postmodernity, an embrace of Calvinism, and a continuation of the culture wars, a final key characteristic of neo-fundamentalism is a strong emphasis on traditional gender roles in an attempt to reclaim a more “masculine” version of the faith. No one illustrates this tendency better than Mark Driscoll, founder of Mars Hill Church, a rapidly growing mega-church in Seattle, as well as the Acts 29 church planting network. Driscoll is known by many as “the cussing pastor,”[23] and his penchant for rhetorical vulgarities, along with his open embrace of certain practices usually shunned by conservative evangelicals – drinking beer, getting tattoos, and appreciating secular entertainment for instance – makes him a controversial figure to other neo-fundamentalists.  Indeed, he seems to lack the level of hostility towards secular culture typical of fundamentalists, at least regarding the aforementioned issues of behavior and entertainment.

One might therefore assume that Driscoll is not in fact a neo-fundamentalist. And yet Driscoll often shares the stage at national conferences with other neo-fundamentalist leaders. And while many of the older leaders often have gentle criticisms for him (especially in regards to his language choices), Piper and others have made it clear that Driscoll’s doctrine is acceptable to them and that they are unwilling to kick him out of the camp over stylistic differences.[24]Indeed, Driscoll theology is completely in line with the older generation of neo-fundamentalists on everything from gender roles, to biblical inerrancy, penal substitutionary atonement, and opposition to same-sex relations.[25] In addition, Driscoll is very much a New Calvinist and preaches this doctrine often and strongly, though unlike Piper, he does not advocate separating from non-Calvinist evangelicals over the issue. Despite this somewhat more conciliatory attitude towards other evangelicals and his more flexible behavioral code, critics of Driscoll point out that his embrace of culture appears only skin deep. While rejecting legalism in regards to certain behavioral practices, Driscoll is still openly hostile to the deeper ethos of a postmodern culture and any Christians who might embrace it, dismissing their relativistic views as no more than thinly veiled excuses for sexual sin, and warning that the “demons” of postmodernity will ultimately result in “pandemonium” if the church does not guard against them.[26]

Emphases on sexual ethics and gender roles also feature frequently in Driscoll’s preaching, as they do among neo-fundamentalists in general. Driscoll frequently decries gender equality as the source of many ills in both society and the church, preaching that men are to be breadwinners and the heads of their households and that a woman’s God-given role is raising kids and supporting her husband within the home.[27] He sees feminism and what he deems to be “feminine” modes of piety as the source of much decline in the modern church, and seeks to reverse the trend by reclaiming a supposedly more “masculine” approach to Christianity, which for Driscoll almost invariably involves displays of violence.[28] For instance in a 2007 interview Driscoll explained:

Some emergent types [want] to recast Jesus as a limp-wrist hippie in a dress with a lot of product in His hair, who drank decaf and made pithy Zen statements about life while shopping for the perfect pair of shoes. [But] In Revelation, Jesus is a prize fighter with a tattoo down His leg, a sword in His hand and the commitment to make someone bleed. That is a guy I can worship. I cannot worship the hippie, diaper, halo Christ because I cannot worship a guy I can beat up.[29] Driscoll’s justification for such violent rhetoric is that winning men back to the church requires a faith that glorifies violence and power as expressions of masculinity.

Driscoll’s influence among the next generation of neo-fundamentalist leaders is considerable. His hip, sharp-edged style is mimicked by many young church planters who look to him and his church as a model for effective, innovative and culturally relevant ministry, and his balance of this approach with an affirmation of neo-fundamentalist doctrines and gender norms is likely to become the dominant trend among neo-fundamentalists in the years to come.

Are They Fundamentalists?

George Marsden has defined the fundamentalism of the early 20th century as “militantly anti-modernist Protestant evangelicalism,” and argues that this militant opposition to the cultural and theological trends of their day was what most clearly set off fundamentalists from other evangelicals.[30]And while cultural and theological trends have moved on since that time, some Protestant evangelicals still find themselves militantly opposed to the current culture of postmodernity, and this open hostility is likewise what sets them off from other evangelicals today. It is not just postmodernism in the secular culture against which neo-fundamentalists are reacting, however. More significantly, they are concerned about the ways in which postmodern ideas seem to be filtering into the evangelical church, both in subtle manifestations like the consumer-oriented Christianity of the “seeker-driven” mega-churches, as well as more explicitly postmodern forms of faith like the emerging church movement. And just as the original fundamentalists separated themselves from other evangelicals they felt had accommodated too much to modernity, the neo-fundamentalists seem to be at the beginning stages of a similar separation from those evangelicals they feel are too much influenced by postmodernity.

Drawing such a comparison between old and new fundamentalists can be useful in a number of ways to the historian and other contemporary observers. First among these benefits is the ability to distinguish between different types of evangelicals in America. Media commentators and even many scholars often seem unable to recognize the difference between fundamentalists and evangelicals, much less the numerous other distinctions within the multifaceted evangelical movement. For this reason, identifying neo-fundamentalism as a distinct movement should be helpful in gaining a more nuanced picture of contemporary evangelicalism.

Positively identifying this reactionary movement as a type of fundamentalism is also useful in allowing comparisons between the neo-fundamentalists and other forms of fundamentalism, both historic and contemporary. The Fundamentalism Project for instance, directed by Martin Marty and R. Scott Appleby, compared multiple fundamentalist-type movements across every major religion and made a strong case for “family resemblances” which occur among most of these movements.[31] Greater understanding of fundamentalism in general and of neo-fundamentalism in particular may be reached by analyzing this new movement in comparison with or in contrast to these other fundamentalisms.

Finally, understanding this neo-fundamentalist movement as analogous to historic Protestant fundamentalism may be useful, though reservedly so, in predicting possible future developments and trajectories for the movement. It will be interesting to see, for instance, whether neo-fundamentalists will in fact follow the separatist path of their fundamentalist forbears – creating new institutions separate from the mainstream of evangelicalism, or whether they will find a way to remain within the evangelical movement even while critiquing it. If current trends hold, they may even become the dominant force within North American evangelicalism over the next decade and beyond.


[1] John MacArthur, The Truth War (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2007), 172-173.

[2] While much excellent work has been done in recent decades in the field of comparative fundamentalisms across numerous religious traditions (see especially the work of The Fundamentalism Project led by Martin E. Marty and R. Scott Appleby, as well as the ground-breaking book by Bruce B. Lawrence, Defenders of God: The Fundamentalist Revolt Against the Modern Age [Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1989]), I am not here attempting to correlate neo-fundamentalism with these other contemporary trends. Instead my emphasis is on describing this singular current trend among American evangelicals, and making a historical comparison between them and their own direct ancestors in the original conservative Protestant fundamentalism of the early to mid-twentieth century, especially as described by scholars such as George M. Marsden (cf. Fundamentalism and American Culture, 2nd Ed. [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006]) and Joel A. Carpenter (cf. Revive Us Again: The Reawakening of American Fundamentalism [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997]) among others.

[3] Scot McKnight, a theologian at North Park University and long-time participant-observer within evangelicalism, was among the first to name and describe this neo-fundamentalist trend in a pair of articles published on his heavily-trafficked weblog: “The Rise of Neo-Fundamentalism,” Jesus Creed blog, August 25, 2006, http://www.patheos.com/community/jesuscreed/2006/08/25/the-rise-of-neo-fundamentalism/; “The Rise of Neo-fundamentalism 2,” Jesus Creed blog, August 28, 2006,

http://www.patheos.com/community/jesuscreed/2006/08/28/the-rise-of-neo-fundamentalism-2/.

[4] Scot McKnight, email message to author, November 30, 2008.

[5]Ibid.

[6] Carl F.H. Henry, The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1947)

[7] Robert Wuthnow, The Restructuring of American Religion (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1988).

[8] Bob Hostetler and Josh McDowell, The New Tolerance: How a cultural movement threatens to destroy you, your faith, and your children (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale Hose Publishers, 1998).

[9] Josh McDowell, Beyond Belief to Convictions (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2002), 11-18.

[10] Focus on the Family, “The Truth Project Lessons”, The Truth Project website, http://www.thetruthproject.org/events/A000000068.cfm/.

[11] Ryan Dobson, Be Intolerant: Because Some Things Are Just Stupid (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2007).

[12] Collin Hansen, Young, Restless, Reformed (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2008), 29.

[13]Ibid, 17.

[14]Ibid, 126.

[15] John Piper, “How I Distinguish Between the Gospel and False Gospels”, Desiring God website, February 26, 2008, http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/ConferenceMessages/ByDate/2008/2637_How.

[16]Mohler, “Two Inaugural Addresses”, AlbertMohler.com, August 31, 1993, http://www.albertmohler.com/documents/TwoInauguralAddresses.pdf.

[17] Hansen, 2008, 72-73.

[18]Mohler, “Two Inaugural Addresses”, AlbertMohler.com, August 26, 2003, http://www.albertmohler.com/documents/TwoInauguralAddresses.pdf.

[19] Mohler, Culture Shift: Engaging Current Issues with Timeless Truth (Colorado Springs, CO: Multnomah Books, 2008), 65-72

[20]Ibid, xiii. Albert Mohler, “Ministry is Stranger Than it Used to Be: The Challenge of Postmodernism”, AlbertMohler.com, July 15, 2004, http://www.albertmohler.com/2004/07/15/ministry-is-stranger-than-it-used-to-be-the-challenge-of-postmodernism/.

[21] Mohler, “Transforming Culture: Christian Truth Confronts Post-Christian America”, AlbertMohler.com, http://www.albertmohler.com/article_read.php?cid=1.

[22] Mohler, “Keeping The Faith In a Faithless Age: The Church As The Moral Minority”, AlbertMohler.com, http://www.albertmohler.com/article_read.php?cid=6.

[23] A descriptive appellation coined by Donald Miller in his book, Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2003), 133-134.

[24]John Piper, “John Piper on Why He Invited Mark Driscoll”, online video, Desiring God website, June 19, 2008, http://www.desiringgod.org/Events/NationalConferences/Archives/2008/Podcast/95/.

[25]Hansen, 139.

[26] Driscoll (2004): 53, 176.

[27] Grace Driscoll and Mark Driscoll, “Should I be a stay-at-home Dad?”, online video, TheResurgence.com, September 28, 2008, http://theresurgence.com/should_husbands_be_stay_at_home_dads.

[28]Ibid, 146.

[29]Relevant Magazine, “Seven Big Questions: Seven leaders on where the church is heading”, January/February 2007, 74-79.

[30]Marsden, 4.

[31]Gabriel A. Almond, R. Scott Appleby, and Emmanuel Sivan.Strong Religion: The Rise of Fundamentalisms Around the World (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002).

  • https://plus.google.com/u/0/105458862744390212304/posts Henry Michael Imler

    Great essay, thanks for reposting it here. I have to wonder if the NeoFundamentalists will end up co-opting the “rules of the game” of Postmodernity the same way the Fundamentalists did those of Modernity.

    • rogereolson

      That raises an interesting question. Does postmodernism have rules? :)

  • http://thesometimespreacher.blogspot.com/ Andy Holt

    Spot on. Thank you for sharing! I worry about the future of evangelicalism, especially with all of this war metaphor being thrown around. A major split seems inevitable. :(

    • rogereolson

      I think it has already happened–de facto.

  • Aaron

    “He went on to assert that Arminian church members should not be excommunicated, but that anyone responsible for leading or teaching others in the church should.” – Piper

    Who does he think he is?

    Sounds like Theological Palaginism – Saved by your own theological correctness

    • rogereolson

      The last time I talked with Piper about this he assured me that he did not believe being Arminian alone excluded a person from being Christian. But he said that it is “on the precipice of heresy.” Arminians can be members of his church, but only Calvinists can serve on the pastoral staff (and I think of the boards of deacons and elders). I’m not sure exactly what “excommunicated” means in this context. Baptists don’t really have “excommunication.” We (Piper is a Baptist) have “disfellowshiping.” I take it that what Mike Clawson is referring to is the policy that Arminians should not serve in teaching or leadership positions in churches that truly desire to be fully biblically and theologically correct.

      • JDE

        “Arminians can be members of his church”

        Why would they want to be?

        • rogereolson

          Some of them (that I knew in the past) grew up in that church and consider it their home church.

      • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

        As a former Acts 29 church staff member, I know that most of the A29 churches I encountered requiring a “signing off” on “traditional” gender roles and Calvinism doctrine for church leadership and even, for some, membership.

    • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

      Here is the direct quote from Piper that I was referring to:

      Here’s my rule of thumb: the more responsible a person is to shape the thoughts of others about God, the less Arminianism should be tolerated. Therefore church members should not be excommunicated for this view but elders and pastors and seminary and college teachers should be expected to hold the more fully biblical view of grace.

      Do you separate from a denomination that allows pastors and seminary teachers to believe and teach this error? You can. We do. Oh, how we need discernment concerning how helpful you might be to the cause of Christ and his truth.

      So the “excommunicated” language is Piper’s. I’m also not sure what Piper means when he says “we do” in regards to separating from denominations that tolerate Arminianism, since as far as I can discover, Bethlehem Baptist is still part of the BGC (or “Converge Worldwide”) which does not officially take a stand on the issue.

      • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson
      • rogereolson

        Very interesting. Of course, Piper doesn’t have the final say about whether Bethlehem Baptist Church remains in the BGC/Converge Worldwide denomination. That would be up to a vote of the congregation. But I wouldn’t be surprised if the church left the denomination some day. On the other hand, I think Piper enjoys having a group of pastors (I’ve heard about one fourth to one third of the BGC) who look to him for guidance and probably hope some day to sway the denomination in their direction. What’s so ironic about all that is that the BGC was founded and led by Swedish Pietists who prided themselves on being “irenic.” For the most part I think the denomination has retained that ethos, but I wonder how long that will be the case.

        • http://danwh Dan Jr.

          I hope Converge stays open to Arminians. I just planted a church with the help of Converge and have enjoyed their generosity in doctrinal issues. Converge intentionally does not call themselves a denomination (BGC) anymore, instead they call themselves a movement. I think part of the reason for that change is to get away from heavy-handed theological stuff from the past. I am more Anabaptist/Arminian even though a lot of pastors in our network look up to John Piper as the hero in our affiliation. I sometimes have to bite my tongue when they are praising JP for his biblical preaching. But I am committed to unity and grace with my more reformed brothers.

  • Robert A

    A well measured piece. It is important to make a differentiation between the evangelical camps. Through my own research I am continually startled at how the fundamentalist-modernist controversy of the first quarter of last century still echoes into our contemporary society. It is compelling that neo-fundamentalism has figured out which arguments are more realistically tenable and which aren’t (e.g. few attempt to argue for a KJVOnly position anymore.) Yet they still are masters of media.

    I appreciate the post.

    • AHH

      It is so true that the fundamentalist-modernist controversies still echo in so many places today.

      In the impending schism of the PCUSA, a leader of the conservative faction that appears to be about to break away distributed a document listing 10 theological differences, casting his positions in stark contrast to those of “progressives” who were painted with a broad brush with little middle ground acknowledged. Even though I am probably 90% in agreement with the positions of this conservative pastor, I found the document disturbing in (among other things) its “us versus them” tone.
      At some point the realization hit me — the document looks like it was written by J. Gresham Machen in 1930.

      • rogereolson

        Then I wonder why he doesn’t just join the PCA?

        • AHH

          Because he and this group are, to their credit, strongly committed to full participation of women in church leadership and ministry. Opposition to which is a defining feature of the PCA (and a common but not defining feature in the EPC which some conservative PCUSA churches are joining).
          So on that one count, they would depart from Machen. I was referring as much to attitude and tone as to specific positions, although many positions would coincide.

  • James Swift

    Fantastic essay! Thanks for posting this, Roger. And thanks for writing it, Michael. I’ve found the actions and attitude of the “neo-fundentalists” to be unethical and not in keeping with the biblical commands to love one another. Essays like this show a prevalent truth that they don’t want to recognize: they are very much a product of their culture and time as is everyone else.

  • Scott Gay

    They are neo-reformed. Did that term get used in this essay? It is their tendency to need a trend or an opponent upon whom they can be adverserial(and even demonize) that makes them so similar to the graceless, exclusive historical types of fundamentalism.

  • Joshua

    “Leading voices associated with this trend include scholars like David Wells, DA Carson and Albert Mohler.”

    Don’t forget Wayne Grudem

  • K Gray

    Mr. Clawson has suffused this essay with word associations which invite some analysis:

    Conservative evangelicals: negative toward culture, naming ‘villians’, enemies,
    increasingly hostile to the culture
    John Piper/New Calvinism: militantly Calvinist, hostile, hostility, retrenchment,
    conflict and separation
    Al Mohler/Church Militant: enforce his demand, militant, calling for militancy
    Marc Driscoll/Masculine Christianity: violent, violent rhetoric, describing Jesus
    with “displays of violence,” wooing men to “a faith that glorifies violence and
    power as expressions of masculinity,” dismisses, decries, etc.

    Are these stereotypes?

    • rogereolson

      Are they? Or are they simply descriptions? I’ll let Mr. Clawson respond if he chooses to.

      • K Gray

        Now that I have read more elsewhere from Mr. Clawson, I understand his perspective as a self-described (his terminology) liberal Christian from a (his term) liberal mainline seminary but a conservative background before that. This helps.

        • rogereolson

          Again, that’s ad hominem argumentation. I disagree with Mike about many things, but that doesn’t invalidate his research and argument about everything. Should I dismiss everything every Calvinist says because I disagree with his or her Calvinism? Please. Be reasonable and fair.

        • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

          To clarify my own background and self-description, I prefer terms like “postmodern” or “emergent” over “liberal,” since I don’t actually fit very well within the classical liberal mainline tradition either. I grew up conservative evangelical and have remained within that world until very recently (probably still there, depending on how one would classify Baylor’s religion department). I did attend a liberal mainline seminary, enjoyed it and have a deep respect for all the people there (though to be fair to them, they were more neo-orthodox than classically liberal). At the same time, as an emergent, I was always mostly an observer and outsider there, trying to learn the ways of the “liberal mainline.”

          So these days I am more than comfortable calling myself a “liberal” if by that one simply means, “not a conservative evangelical.” However, if we are being more specific and historically accurate, I am not definitively within the theological tradition of Schleiermacher, Harnack, Bultmann, et al. (though I have respect for it). Again, I am more of an emergent postmodern who has no qualms about picking and choosing from among many different traditions, both conservative, liberal, neo-orthodox, liberationist, and whatever else.

          But my own personal history and views should hopefully not detract from my ability to write about other movements and views charitably and accurately. No, I am not a fan of the Neo-Fundamentalists, but I do feel that I have represented them fairly. I have listened to them in their own words, and spoken with a number of their leaders. I’m sure they would not like the term “fundamentalist” being applied to them, but again, I have explicitly clarified that I am using that term in a specific scholarly sense, and not as a derogatory slur. And if it walks like a duck and talks like a duck… So ultimately my hope is that this paper would not be received as an attack but simply as a description of what I see happening. If you like the neo-fundamentalist movement, what they stand for and what they are doing, then there should be no reason to get offended by my portrayal of them.

          • K Gray

            No, and indeed the term liberal as you used it is not emotionally laden or offensive in my book, as long as one does not stereotype. :) Even ‘postmodern emergent’ seems to have a variety of strains of belief; I wonder which leader’s words and actions would ‘represent’ that movement if a similar article were written about it.

    • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

      Yes, those are negative word associations, but I don’t believe they are stereotypes. Much of this language of militancy, violence, hostility, etc. is found extensively throughout their own writings, as I documented. The longer version of this paper documents this rhetoric even more thoroughly.

      I think we have to keep in mind that while outside observers might see this language as extreme, the ones using it probably do not. Mohler doesn’t apologize for his militant political rhetoric – he says we need to be more militant. Piper doesn’t apologize for being aggressively Calvinist – he thinks more Christians ought to be. Driscoll doesn’t apologize for his (both metaphorical and sometimes literal, e.g. UFC/MMA) use of violence in his ministry – he touts it.

      In other words, my hope is that these folks would actually recognize themselves in my description and see it as fair. It is only to people who are not themselves neo-fundamentalists that such rhetoric seems troubling.

      • K Gray

        Thanks Mr. Clawson. I appreciate your point; no ad hominem intended at all. The one which troubles me is Driscoll, but I admit I haven’t read/heard a well-rounded sample, mostly the more provocative stuff.

        Sometimes I can see how the Bible’s language, even the New Testament, troubles outsiders, especially Revelation. Once I even made a chart of everything Jesus said — red letter only — and put a general “positive” or “negative” beside each statement, using today’s standards. (Simplistic, I know, but I am a layperson). The result was pretty eye-opening! Of course, He is Jesus and we aren’t, and we are told in general that gentleness will more often win hearts. But I also wonder what will wake us up!

        • bluecenterlight

          I think it is difficult times that wake us up. I do not think it is a coincidence that a schism in the church has become more pronounced as times get harder. God has a way of turning the heat up on the church, usually through external pressure. I guess it is my hope, that as times do get harder ( which I believe they will ), that the church will begin to take it’s job seriously ( it’s job specifically, being Jesus to a broken world), and put aside arguing over silly theological stances.

      • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

        Seriously, look at these images:
        http://www.crossway.org/blog/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/church-planter.jpg

        And, from a conference (that I was the director of):
        http://www.edstetzer.com/blogimages/advance.jpg

        They WANT these associations to be made.

    • http://michaellanderson.com/blog Mike Anderson

      simple descriptions

    • Kyle

      I agree. The article seems overly negative and stereotypical. This type of essay furthers division and its lack of charity shows two things: (1) a lack of willingness to engage in conversation and understand the other, and (2) rhetoric that unintentionally goes from frustrated to derogatory in the path between writer and reader. Clawson is clearly frustrated with the movement, but somewhere the tone seems to move beyond this frustration to a derogatory tone as the examples above show.

      I neither find it helpfully informative of the movement(s), nor a faithful representation of it. I’m not happy with everything it stands for or does either, but I’m not sure this helps us get anywhere.

      • rogereolson

        Maybe you’d like to be specific?

      • John Inglis

        Where does Clawson indicate that he is “frustrated with the movement”? He is providing a description of a movement that he believes those within it would agree with. His description and analysis does help us get somewhere, because it provides a clearer analysis and understanding of the components and currents within current evangelicalism and insight into where it might go (or not).

        John

      • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

        This is a typical response to the movement – annoyance at anyone “sinning through questioning” (Driscoll’s phrase), AKA “describing” – with no actual points to discuss.

        • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

          (My post was not worded well – I meant a typical response FROM WITHIN the movement, not TO the movement.)

  • Patrick

    Thanks for sharing this essay! Definitely worth the time to read it.

  • Zach

    Thanks for sharing this, I will too! I think many people want to be generous and say these people aren’t fundies; it’s important that someone be a “truth teller” and call a spade a spade. Thanks Dr. Olson!

  • http://www.churchonenow.com Jim Turner

    Having passed through “liberal”, “fundamental”, “evangelical”, church, para-church, university, seminary, fellowships of all kinds – and having dear and truly born again brothers and sisters identified in each of these categories I have to ask, “What is the Biblical value of labels?” Are there any articles by godly, learned men defending the use of labels as a holy, loving, unifying, truth defending practice within the Body of Christ? Point me to those articles please.

    • rogereolson

      They seem to be a necessary evil. They’re even in the New Testament (e.g., “Nicolaitans”).

    • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

      Jim – I understand your concern, but please keep in mind that this is a scholarly article, and the whole thrust of my argument is that “neo-fundamentalism” is a useful historical/sociological category of analysis for understanding this movement. The whole last section of the paper is dedicated to arguing why I think this is the case.

      In other words, I’m not simply name-calling – I’m trying to put this phenomenon within a framework (i.e. the study of types fundamentalisms) that has long been a useful analytical category for scholars of religion.

  • http://HoxeyvilleNorthofNirvana Eric

    I’ve heard reference to Mark Driscoll’s “I cannot worship a guy I can beat up.” Well, I suspect Jesus was about 5’5″, 130 lbs, somewhere around there if he was about average for that era and location (compare his size to contemporary Kenyan marathon runners). Not that I would incite violence against Jesus, but I am pretty sure Driscoll could at least beat Jesus in arm wrestling.

    • Tim Marsh

      Just made me think of that famous quote in the 80′s movie Major League: “Are you saying Jesus Christ can’t hit a curve ball?!”

    • PSF

      Yes, seems like a silly comment to me. Jesus WAS beat up, pretty brutally too. His glorification in Rev. 5 is as the Lamb who was slain.

    • Percival

      All that fasting can really wreak havoc with your muscle tone too. After fasting so much, I’m sure Jesus must have hit the weight room pretty hard when he got back into training! ; )

  • Kenny Johnson

    “Fundamentalists defined and defended what they believed were the fundamental orthodox beliefs under attack by the modernists: biblical inerrancy, the reality of miracles such as the virgin birth and resurrection of Jesus, the deity of Christ, as well as his substitutionary atonement and pre-millennial second coming. They also resisted liberalizing trends in the realm of personal moral behavior, and the spread of evolutionary teaching in the public schools. ”

    Is this accurate? It was my understanding that early 20th century Fundamentalists were actually not as rigid as his description. For example, I believe some actually accepted evolution.

    • rogereolson

      The term “fundamentalist” has evolved over the years. Your description is correct of the earliest fundamentalists. James Orr, who did not believe in the inerrancy of the Bible, was published in The Fundamentals. Something changed around 1920. (This history is well recounted in a variety of books about the history of fundamentalism and evangelicalism.) A fundamentalist leader, William Bell Riley, added premillennialism to the list of fundamentals of the faith. After the Scopes trial in 1925 many, if not most, self-described fundamentalists adopted “biblical separationism” and later even “secondary separationism” (John R. Rice, Bob Jones, Carl McIntire, etc.). The “neo-evangelicals” were fundamentalists who disagreed with the separatism and militancy of the leading fundamentalists and founded the National Association of Evangelicals. They invited the leading fundamentalists to join, but they refused because the NAE included Pentecostals. Especially after that (1941/1942) “fundamentalism” has had the connotation of separatism from even fellow evangelicals who are not considered doctrinally pure. Mike’s point is that SOME of that mentality is creeping back into mainstream evangelicalism. He calls it “neo-fundamentalism.” I call it “conservative evangelicalism with a fundamentalist flavor.” “Neo-fundamentalism” is pragmatically better. In one sense, all conservative evangelicals are fundamentalists–going back to the original meaning of the label. But so much has happened between then and now I’m not sure that first meaning can be useful.

  • Theophile

    Hi Roger,
    So many denomination! I have wondered if the notion of the inerrant word of God, being applied to the 66 books of the Bible as a continuous sentence spoken by God is a Calvinistic one, in it’s roots. The oldest book contained therein(Job) has plenty of quoted wrong philosophy about God’s nature, by Jobs friends, which if it is to be considered the inspired word, means God had to inspire the wrong statements by Jobs friends, so that He could reprove those statements, is God the author of confusion, does he need to inspire a straw man argument to reprove it ? Heaven forbid!
    I have been wondering(for awhile now), if there is a recognized “Christian” denomination that believes the Bible contains God’s word’s (Moses, the prophets, Christ’s(God’s word in the flesh), and man’s words, which focuses on the former rather than the later? Didn’t we learn anything from the garden of God’s MO? About how God tells man something, and in God’s assumed absence He allows the serpent to question what He said, so man can choose between obeying God, or trying to be one on his own, imagining who God really is? Didn’t Saul stop to think about why Samuel might have had delayed his arrival? Did Saul do all he was told, or did he decide for God what was to be saved or destroyed? Did Saul consider that making the sacrifice was usurping Samuel’s office as God’s prophet as well? I was wondering why, since Jesus condemns the traditions and doctrines of men, nearly all the denominations I research, seem to cling to them? Where is the scriptural indication for a annual birthday celebration at December 25? Does the scripture record anyone in the years of Christ or His disciples ever celebrating annual birthdays at all, other than Herod who hearkened to the voice of his wife in thanks to a birthday present, by killing John the baptist? Didn’t Christ say do this in remembrance of me concerning Passover? Wasn’t it Herod(the pagan) again that celebrated Easter while planning to kill Peter? If Jesus said 3 days 3 nights(72 hours) in the grave like Jonah in the fish, and He died at 3pm, doesn’t that give a 3pm resurrection? Doesn’t that mean it was the day before the Sunday the unbelievers arrived at daybreak, with dead body spices for a dead body, to find an EMPTY tomb, that Jesus had risen? on the Sabbath? Didn’t every Christian keep the Sabbath for 300 years after Christ at Laodicea?

    • rogereolson

      In answer to your final question–no. As a church historian I can assure you that’s not correct. I’m not even sure what “Christ as Laodicea” means!

      • Theophile

        Hi Roger,
        Sorry that’s the Council of Laodicea, Canon 29 where Sabbath keeping was synonymous with Judaizing, which makes one anathema from Christ(according to those men).
        Here’s a link to the complete Canons:
        http://reluctant-messenger.com/council-of-laodicea.htm

  • http://rickvia.org Rick via

    Im grateful for the leadership of godly men like Dr. Al Mohler, Josh McDowell and others who are keeping many from ship wreaking their faith.
    Sincerely,
    Dr. Rick Via

    • Percival

      If they had true faith, how could it be shipwrecked? According to those preachers, I mean.

    • Joshua

      According to men like Al Mohler (if they’re consistent with their theology), it’s impossible for the elect to shipwreck their faith. Whom God calls, he perseveres.

  • The Roger Olson on-looker

    I am surprised that this article does not acknowledge the huge role Ecumenicalism has had in deepening the divide between Fundamentalist Evangelicals and Neo-Evangelicals. Protestants who hold the historic view that Roman Catholicism is a false gospel surely are not in the mainstream of Evangelicals. But mainstream Evangelicals who treat Catholicism as Christian are compromising the Evangel the Reformation clarified. This article has motivated me to abandon the term “Evangelical” all-together and embrace the term “Protestant” instead. Its almost like this article was written on behalf of the Pope himself. Call me a paranoid Protestant Fundamentalist but if so its only because Im convinced the trajectory of Arminianism is a Counter-Reformation. Thank you for posting this article Dr. Olson.

    • rogereolson

      I guess “on-looker” doesn’t mean “fan,” huh? :)

    • http://michaellanderson.com/blog Mike Anderson

      At the risk of being off topic here… Arminianism is counter-Reformation? Only if you think our choice to respond to God’s grace means we save ourselves rather than allowing God to save us. There is a difference between earning salvation (e.g. Catholic sacraments) and responding to God with His help.

  • Steve

    “Some emergent types [want] to recast Jesus as a limp-wrist hippie in a dress with a lot of product in His hair, who drank decaf and made pithy Zen statements about life while shopping for the perfect pair of shoes. [But] In Revelation, Jesus is a prize fighter with a tattoo down His leg, a sword in His hand and the commitment to make someone bleed. That is a guy I can worship. I cannot worship the hippie, diaper, halo Christ because I cannot worship a guy I can beat up” Mark Driscoll.

    hmmm, to me this seems like a person who has re-made Jesus to be like himself. I understand that I’m supposed to both do whatever I can & rely on God to become more like Christ. The version of Christ that Mark Driscoll describes makes it sound like he’s already almost 100% Christ-like. This would be great, except it doesn’t sound like the descriptions Jesus gives of Himself. The Driscoll version sounds like Jesus is calling tough people to himself, or maybe calling weak people who He will toughen up. Now, in a sense the second one might have a bit of truth in it, but to me the black & white statements in the bible don’t go this way. A list of statements:

    “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Eph 6:12
    - so there is a battle, but it is absolutely not against people, even enemies! It’s a spiritual battle.

    “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matt 11:28-30

    So again, a bit different to the warrior version presented by Mark Driscoll. I’m not a trained bible scholar, but I do know that Jesus said these words, whereas the words that Mark quotes from Revelation are written in a style universally accepted to be non-literal & meant to convey something else. It seems to me that this is proved by the fact that the first followers encountered Jesus after He’d risen from the dead, and he was still of the same character that He’d been before.

    The thing about not being able to worship someone you can beat up fails on all kinds of levels. Jesus encouraged non-violence & practiced it. He encouraged getting rid of anger & contempt for people. He got angry once or twice, but He doesn’t come across as an angry person. There is a difference. An angry person needs little or no provocation to blow up. All it takes is someone making a small mistake or doing something differently to how they would do it. However when a humble person gets angry, you tend to take notice, because it happens rarely & only when something is genuinely wrong. Like when they think it might upset God for Jesus to heal someone on the ‘wrong’ day. I think you’d have to stretch the temple clearing scene to make it into beating someone up!

    It seems to me that a religious & violent person transported back to the time of the crucifiction of Jesus would quite possibly be one of the ones who was disillusioned enough by Jesus lack of agression towards the Romans that they’d join in with the violence against Him. That may seem a bit harsh, but church experience shows that some people would have quite a problem with Jesus if He were to show up & start interfering with their beliefs or way of doing things…

    I think it’s a good practice to focus on the black & white, i.e. statements that are clear & obvious. The grey areas (by which I mean the things that are difficult to understand, or maybe prophecy, or are only mentioned once or twice, or are very difficult to translate) should be reflected on. I shouldn’t feel the need to make myself feel important by giving an absolute statement on the meaning.

    I could go on, but that’s probably plenty for now… Hope it’s useful to someone. I’m, not intending to have a go at Mark Driscoll as I know people are helped by some of his teaching. I also think we should take the good stuff that someone speaks even if we disagree with a lot of stuff. And remember what Paul says about when we think we know something! That’s the time to remember that while what we know might be true, there’s a great possibility that it’s not the whole picture & we have more to learn. When I say ‘know’, I mean that we’ve learned something & proved it as reality by living it.

    Grace & peace!

  • http://healtheland.wordpress.com Job

    I must instead ask – of you and Clawson – for a working definition of the term “evangelical.” To put it another way: is there anything that Clawson – and by your endorsement of his essay, you also – would consider nonevangelical? For Clawson and similar, what constitutes being outside the bounds of “genuinely evangelical and orthodox Christianity”? Unless that issue is addressed, then such things as modernism, post-modernism, gender roles, Calvinism (?), and personalities are mere distractions.

    For example, let us take the sentence “At the time Southern was still a refuge for moderate and liberal professors, and ninety-six percent of the faculty left or were driven out when Mohler began to enforce his demand.” Did Southern have boundaries when it was a refuge for moderate and liberal professors? If so, what were they, and what was the basis for them?

    • rogereolson

      I have discussed the issue of “evangelical boundaries” a great deal here and in my writings. “Evangelical” is a centered set rather than a bounded set. There is no consensus about boundaries around it, so they are meaningless. However, like many good categories, it is not compatible with anything and everything (and I don’t see anything in Mike’s essay that implies that). Take a look at my The Westminster Handbook to Evangelical Theology or the briefer Pocket History of Evangelical Theology (IVP). Either one will inform you about the many (at least six) definitions of “evangelical” and how I use it.

    • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

      From a historian’s perspective, the definition of “evangelical” is a complex one, depending on whether one wants to take a historical, sociological, or theological approach. I didn’t have the space here to elaborate on it more. However, I will clarify that my purpose here is entirely descriptive. It’s not up to me to say where the boundaries of evangelicalism ought to be, only where they are in relation to where the Neo-Fundamentalists themselves think they ought to be. Whether or not you agree with their opinions on that is entirely up to you.

  • Joshua

    Correct me if I’m wrong: I thought 96% of the faculty left or were asked to leave Southern, not because they didn’t believe in Biblical inerrency, but because they didn’t affirm every single line of the Westminster Confession. Mohler said something to the effect that if they didn’t affirm every single line, they were being “dishonest,” because that was part of the seminary’s confession of faith.

    • rogereolson

      It isn’t the Westminster Confession (which is Presbyterian) but the Abstract of Principles, written by SBTS’s founder James P. Boyce, that Mohler asked SBTS professors to adhere to. It had long been SBTS’s official statement of faith but had not been treated as a creed for much of the 20th century. I have talked with current and former professors at SBTS who affirm that few professors (if any) were actually fired for theological reasons. However, as a seminary dean I once knew said to a tenured professor “I may not be able to fire you, but I can make your life so miserable you’ll want to leave.” In the end, tenure doesn’t mean much if the administration of an institution really wants to get rid of someone. I don’t know where Mike gets the 96% statistics; its seems like an approximation or even a cipher for “the vast majority.”

      • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

        The 96% figure comes from Collin Hansen’s book “Young, Restless, and Reformed,” page 72. I don’t know where Collin gets that number from as he doesn’t cite his source. I suppose I could try to confirm it if necessary, though since Hansen is a former Christianity Today editor, since he is sympathetic to Mohler and the New Calvinists himself, and since the number is remarkably specific, I’m inclined to just trust that he did his homework.

        • rogereolson

          Thanks. I had forgotten that Hansen uses that statistic. I am trying to think of anyone professor at SBTS who was there before Mohler became president. Right now I can’t think of any, but it is a big place. You might find it interesting that soon after Mohler became president, one of my Bethel colleagues who moved to SBTS (Marv Anderson who is now deceased) called me and asked me to join him and the other former Bethel people who had gone there. I didn’t know much about SBTS or the whole controversy at that moment, but I felt very checked in my spirit (my Pietism coming out!) and said no. I’m so glad. I doubt that I would have lasted a year!

        • Joshua

          Okay, great, thanks for clearing that up. I don’t remember where I read that but I am aware that the vast majority of the faculty at SBTS left when Mohler arrived (whether they did so by their own volition or his).

      • http://real.uwaterloo.ca/~mboos Mike Boos

        I believe it can be found in a Christianity Today article from 2006:

        That’s not surprising, since no more than 4 faculty members—from more than 100—stayed with Southern after Mohler arrived.

      • http://billhaynes.org Bill

        Mohler did not require the adherence to “every line” of the Abstract of Principles . . . the school’s charter did. It had simply been long neglected, with some professors saying they “held their nose” while singing, or did it with “crossed fingers.” Mohler merely said we should follow the charter of the seminary . . . something that should have been said years earlier.

        I serve as a trustee of the SBTS, and it is not the hotbed of Calvinist profs and/or administrators that it is portrayed to be.

        • rogereolson

          An institution certainly has the right to enforce its charter (or whatever its basic set of governing principles is called). But I do think (this is my opinion, of course) there is something wrong with suddenly enforcing one that has been dormant for a long time such that people’s careers and livelihoods are jeopardized. If that’s not what happened, then please share what did happen–from a trustee’s point of view. And if it’s not a hotbed of Calvinist profs and/or administrators, what would be? I’m also curious if the Abstract of Principles or anything else in SBTS’s charter says anything about women?

  • Jordan Litchfield

    “For instance, at a Neo-Calvinist event in 2008 Piper identified Arminianism or Wesleyanism (which he claims is held by most evangelicals) as a “false gospel” and asserted that Arminians can only be saved if their “heart belief” (in their utter dependence on God) unwittingly contradicts the theology they hold to consciously/intellectually. He went on to assert that Arminian church members should not be excommunicated, but that anyone responsible for leading or teaching others in the church should.”

    Though Arminians may not go as far as excommunicating someone in a church from leadership/membership because of Calvinist views, most Arminians would probably oppose a Calvinist being in leadership in their church. This is not because we think they aren’t Christians – we are simply aware of the influence they can have in such a position.

    • rogereolson

      True. I think Mike’s main point about Piper is his gradual pulling away from Arminians and evangelical institutions that harbor them and his intention of founding his own school of theology. I was on the faculty of a college and seminary (now a university) that was “under the gun,” so to speak, of Piper and pastors who agreed with him. I met with Piper and he told me he would never try to get someone fired merely for being Arminian. Perhaps he’s changed his mind since then; I’m not sure. But he was actively trying to get two f my colleagues fired. In one case the professor was fired and in the other case the professor eventually left on his own but partly because of the long, dragged-out inquisition about his beliefs. He was and is an open theist. When I talked with Piper about these matters, he asked me if I was an open theist. I said (exact quote) “No, but I am open to open theism.” He looked straight into my face and said, very grimly, not smiling, “I will not let you do that.” The context of our conversation made clear it was an inquisition and that consequences for me may very well follow (just for being “open to open theism”). He told me he would report on our conversation to “pastors” (constituents of the college and seminary) who knew we were having lunch that day. He had not told me he was going to do that when he invited me to lunch. In fact, on the way to the restaurant he told me that our meeting was not an inquisition but just an opportunity for him to find out what makes me tick. Needless to say, I felt sucker punched. (Except that I suspected it and so was very guarded.) Now I haven’t heard of any Arminians behaving that way toward Calvinists in their denominations. I suppose it’s possible, but I have not heard of it. I will say, however, that Piper did say he would not try to get me fired just for being Arminian. He added that Arminianism is “profoundly mistaken.”

      • Chase

        Wow! That’s a great story.
        I enjoyed this post by the way. Very applicable on a personal level as I finish my undergrad in Religion. There is a growing “Neo-fundamentalist” movement in my school due in part to many of these men discussed in the paper. This paper helped me put things into perspective a lot better.

      • jesse

        “I will not let you do that”. That is the saddest thing I have ever heard. I’m almost positive that the open theist you are talking about is Greg Boyd. Nobody has done more to deepen my walk with Jesus than Greg has through his teaching, preaching and books. John Piper seems to be acting like the god he believes in, controlling and manipulating others to do things against their conscience and will. I know my voice may not count for much but Roger, please keep speaking out against this kind of neo-fundamentalist nonsense. The one who is “profoundly mistaken” in the way he treated you and Boyd and others is Piper.

        • Andy

          I agree it is very sad. It also seems ignorant of the many valid ways God reaches hurting people, almost substituting their own thinking (maybe even hubris?) for the Holy Spirit. The writings of Boyd and others are legitimately helping hurting people.

      • Si

        How is this not gossip?

        • rogereolson

          In what sense do you think it is “gossip?” Cite a dictionary definition of gossip that fits the article. I can’t find one.

    • Jeremy

      I don’t think that’s true. I am a member at an SBC and my pastor is a Calvinist and I don’t mind. He’s open about his beliefs but is not militant. The SBC makes room for both Arminianism and Calvinism (at least for now) and so I don’t mind a mix. It worries me that in denominations that are traditionally made up of both sides there are Calvinists trying to push folks out, as Piper seems to want.

  • http://none Charles Hodges

    It is hard to make a tatooed, cussing pastor in to a fundamentalist. Fundamentalism in the 1920′ revolved around defending the integrity of the scriptures. Mohler was doing that at Southern Seminary in the 1990′s. The men he ran out were not “evangelical.” There were liberals who refused to admit the Bible is the inerrant, inspired word of God. A non Calvinist could sign that statement of faith without a problem. It was inerrancy that was the issue.
    The statements about Piper are interesting, but I wonder how true?

    • rogereolson

      So please name a “liberal” professor who was run out of SBTS by Mohler and explain what makes you call him or her “liberal.” If you think refusing to admit the Bible is inerrant makes one “liberal,” then James Orr, the great Scottish Presbyterian theologian who wrote in The Fundamentals and was a good friend of B. B. Warfield, was “liberal” which is nonsense. I am sure none of the professors of SBTS who left denied the Bible’s inspiration. By the way, I know very well and work closely with a number of people who were “run out” of SBTS. They are evangelicals in my book.

      • Russ

        I don’t know who you have in mind, but it should be noted that Glenn Hinson and other Southern Baptist moderates from the pre-Mohler SBTS sharply distinguished themselves from evangelicalism.

        • rogereolson

          Yes, they did. I have read their reasons. usually they did that because they equated “evangelical” with a Northern movement led by men they considered rationalists such as Carl Henry. It wasn’t because they weren’t really evangelical in the broad sense of the word.

    • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

      Please note that I’m not trying to make Driscoll (or any of the others) out to be “Fundamentalists.” I’m arguing that they are Neo-Fundamentalists and I am very clear that I see this designation as analogous to, but not just the same as historic Fundamentalism. So yes, you’re absolutely right. Fundamentalists would not tolerate tatoos or cussing, but apparently Neo-Fundamentalists do. The two movements are similar but not just the same.

      And the statements about Piper are not merely interesting, they are also cited. You can look them up yourself. Please do so before questioning their veracity.

    • Joshua

      I’ve listened to Mohler and read many things he’s written. In my opinion, much like Duane Litfin, former president of Wheaton College (and many other fundamentalists), he has a very specific and narrow interpretation of innerancy. If you disagree with his interpretation on just about anything, it seems he would probably not say something like, “Well, I disagree, but that is certainly a legitimate interpretation based on the evidence you have used to support your view.” He would more than likely say, “That’s a challenge to the innerancy of scripture, and it’s a slippery slope down to liberalism.” Pay attention to him, and I think you’ll find that is probably true of almost any conversation he has with anyone who doesn’t think exactly like him.

  • Bob Brown

    Looks like the Pharisees, the Zealots and the Nicolaitans are alive and well.

  • http://joysthoughtsonstuff.wordpress.com Joy F

    As an Arminianist, who has grown weary of Calvinist doctrine and Calvinist influence in the church in recent years, this has been a helpful blog at pointing out what the agenda has become and who the players are. Piper, Mohler and Driscoll seem to be upping the militancy and us vs. them recently. I’m glad for the insight you provide. I’m a little concerned as members of my own denomination (Assemblies of God) have started referencing more and more of their writings – traditionally, we are Weslyan Arminianist, and tend to lean more progressive – but it’s as if we have been told we won’t be invited to play with the “religious right” if we don’t buy into the Calvinism, militancy and hierarchy that someone else decided was suddenly the US church. I hope upper leadership is prepared to stand up to it, but have been worried that it’s seeping in to our congregations to as we “try to work with others” – which is good and we should but maybe we should be more leery of the neo-reformed and less of the emerging church as we seem to have more in common with the latter than the former?

    • rogereolson

      I can assure you that AG’s upper leadership are concerned about creeping Calvinism among the rank and file. What I find interesting is that every year every AG licensed and ordained minister has to sign a statement re-affirming certain doctrines. One of them is the possibility of apostasy, that is, that a person can lose their salvation. I don’t know how any honest Calvinist could sign that. Obviously whoever designed that annual statement MEANT it to rule out Calvinism, but from what I am hearing it isn’t working. I know a pastor of a large AG church in Texas who is a Calvinist (by his own testimony to me). I’m not going to “out” him. For one thing, I’m not AG anymore. (I was once during my college days). Also, I think he is having a great ministry in his city. But I don’t know how he signs that card every year (assuming he has AG credentials which I assume as he pastors an AG church).

      • http://joysthoughtsonstuff.wordpress.com Joy F

        I’m more associated with the missions groups now as I live overseas and this is the confusing part – I know what we have to sign! I know that AG missionaries are supposed to be Arminianist, I went through an AG college with my friends who are now on the field (I am overseas as an expat) and the older generation is definitely still Arminianist. It is my generation that is posting stuff from Piper, Mohler, Driscoll and the gospel coalition – missionaries that are my age and who sat in theology classes with me. (We would all be late 20′s to early 30′s) I can’t figure out how they aren’t recognizing this! Or if they a ignoring it? The only I can think of is the desire to be accepted by “mainstream” American Evangelical Christianity…..or thinking that maybe we are wrong? A lot of it sounds good – but AG has always been Arminian and pro-women in ministry it is these two areas that I am most concerned about with my peers – because it is those two areas that seem to be under attack from the younger generation. Why can’t we just say “no, we are AG, we don’t buy complementarianism or Calvinism, accept us as we are?” I am very bothered by this seeping into our churches!

        • rogereolson

          I agree with you, but, then, I’m not AG (except still in some inner recesses of my heart and mind). I know this phenomenon is causing a great deal of concern among AG leaders. But they are also reluctant to clamp down on enthusiastic young Christians who will probably leave a lot of that theology behind as they age. It’s similar to the way Pentecostal denominations handled the “Shepherding/Discipleship Movement” and the “Prosperity Gospel” and way, way back the “Latter Rain Movement.” Pentecostals have always been reluctant to risk quenching the Spirit. I admire that, but I think in this case, as in those, there will need to be some house cleaning at some point.

          • http://joysthoughtsonstuff.wordpress.com Joy F

            Excellent point! We as a denomination (or should I say “fellowship of churches” haha) have always had trouble with discerning whether to interfere when something was not what we affirm doctrinally, but the Spirit was moving and touching people. You are right in that it is a dilemma for us – I think though maybe its one of the good things in the AG that can be taken to an extreme – the ability to hold two things we believe in tension. At the same time, I can’t help but wonder, what will come along next that some of us will stand on the sidelines wondering “Is this a true move of God and should we speak out?” I think it’s past time to start speaking up about Calvinism though. And Hierarchy.

  • Tim Marsh

    I wonder if we can cease using the term “conservative” to describe Piper, Driscoll, Mohler and the like. Even “fundamentalist” and “neo-fundamentalist” seems to suggest to casual readers and auditors that these guys are preserving Christian truth, even though they do so with a wrong-headed attitude.

    Though I seek fellowship with Calvinists, Arminian, New Perspective and other various movements that cross traditional denominational divides, sometimes I think that it is best to call someone wrong when they are wrong.

    Piper’s Calvinism is based upon an a-historical reading of Paul, as well as theology derived from shoddy literary criticism of the text. In other words, I do not think that Luther, Zwingli, Calvin and other reformers demonstrate awareness of the Jewish and Graeco-Roman historical backgrounds of the New Testament, a good understanding of the Hebrew Bible, and a good understanding of the literary genre of the New Testament works. This is clearly demonstrated in the Piper-NT Wright debates through their works on justification. Piper demonstrates his commitment to Calvin (probably purported at this Talbot School of Theology) and other Reformer’s reading of Paul. He shows no capability of dealing with the historical context and literary genre of the New Testament.

    Yet, he continues to “preach” this gospel as fundamental. And we continue to use the word to label him.

    I wonder about Luther and Calvin. Would they have written what they wrote if they understood Judaism and other backgrounds necessary to interpreting scripture? And, would they have continued to fight for their interpretations had this information been revealed to him?

    Sometimes, I think Pastors and Professors lack humility to say, “I was wrong” or “this was wrong.” Those who scream the loudest for their positions, opinions, and interpretations are often least sure of their positions and feel that they themselves have the most to lose.

    Just some rambling thoughts…

    • rogereolson

      Good ramblings. But, of course, Piper is indebted to Edwards whom even Hodge criticized as going too far with idealistic speculation.

  • David Rogers

    I don’t know if others have this problem but in my browser there is a white square of space obscuring part of the text in the paragraph that contains footnote four. Also, in the first full sentence in the essay, a space needs to be inserted within “2007book”.

    Just being nit-picky.

    Thanks for posting this.

  • http://michaellanderson.com/blog Mike Anderson

    The first time I heard Mark Driscoll preach was in a small rented church on Earl St (Seattle) around 1999. The audience was almost all college age or just over, and Driscoll was preaching from Romans 5:3-4 (I think) but somehow managed to say that all real men are “breast men.” I think a lot of those attending came because it legitimized, even glorified their desires for sex and domination.

    I’m not one to quickly judge a man, so I’ve been to the Seattle Mars Hill campus (Driscoll’s church) about eight more times since then (but not recently). Every time I went Driscoll said things that disturbed me, the kind of statements that would bring to my mind several Bible verses contradicting what he was saying, but there was never any opportunity to confront him in person; his church had grown too large and he wouldn’t tolerate dissent, anyway. What disturbed me was mostly his intolerance. He would give very little room for freedom in Christ (to follow the Holy Spirit) on issues such as divorce, birth control, gender roles, political orientation, and many other matters that I’ve since forgotten.

    I think the only reason I did not see him as a fundamentalist (but merely a conservative) was because he wasn’t fighting the culture war, or at least not directly. Perhaps because of his Calvinism, he accepts that the world is going to Hades and it isn’t worthwhile to preach to them, but only to those who come to church. I suppose he advocates more of a personal holiness, which I appreciate. In any case, take my observations with a grain of salt because I haven’t been there in a while.

  • Zach

    I don’t know why I didn’t ask this before, but I wonder what your thoughts are on Driscoll? He’s so paradoxically and ironically idiotic, funny, almost heretical, violent, etc., all at the same time, and I don’t recall any posts from you about him.

    • rogereolson

      I have few thoughts about Driscoll as I’ve never read anything he has written. I’ve only watched a few youtube videos of him. I like to think I’m a scholar who specializes in historical theology. I find it impossible to concentrate on every popular phenomenon that appears on the American religious scene. I may be wrong, but I kind of dismiss Driscoll as nothing more than a hip popularizer of Piper. I’m open to correction if I’m wrong. Now Piper I take seriously. He has a Ph.D. from the University of Munich and is a serious scholar. He knows Edwards forwards and backwards. And he’s a great communicator. From the few clips of Driscoll I’ve watched on youtube I can’t say the same about him. In fact, as an old fogey, I just don’t get his appeal. He reminds me of some of the pop preachers of the Jesus Movement who, in my opinion, specialized in shocking audiences.

      • Zach

        Certainly he isn’t to be taken seriously, and I think your generalizations are correct. I’m just deeply disturbed that he is so popular and that so many young people are flocking to him, a concern I assume you share concerning the other figures in this “movement”.

        • Zach

          Oh, I forgot the main point. Some of his stuff borders on heresy, at least in my book, such as saying Jesus was a cage fighter and being in favor of violence. Imagining the prince of peace ultimate fighting is ludicrous (and maybe a little funny). It’s pretty sad but also kind of funny.

  • http://wesleyanarminian.wordpress.com Kevin Jackson

    The author doesn’t necessarily imply this…but one thing to note is that fundamentalism is not not necessarily synonymous with Calvinism. There are plenty of non-Calvinist fundamentalists. Especially historically. As far as I know, Falwell, Bob Jones, DL Moody, Dobson and McDowell are (were) all non-Calvinists. Although it could be the case that non-Calvinists get kicked out as fundamentalists continue to separate and “purify” their ranks. That seems to be the case in the SBC.

  • Bren

    By my quick count the James Orr card has been played at least twice in these comments. Orr was brought into the discussion to demonstrate that at one time he was considered a fundamentalist (even though he wasn’t an inerrantist) simply because his writings appeared in The Fundamentals and because of who his friends were. His name was also invoked to refute the charge that “liberals” do not hold to the inerrancy of Scripture and thus prove that a denial of inerrancy does not make a person a liberal or else Orr himself would have been branded a liberal and his writings would not have been included in The Fundamentals.

    Orr did not address his views of inerrancy in The Fundamentals except to say that he wasn’t going to talk about it. The purpose of The Fundamentals was not to identify the essayists as fundamentalists (the term hadn’t even been coined yet); it was to identify fundamentals. Orr’s included writings addressed certain fundamentals of the faith (not including inerrancy). Other writers did address inerrancy. I believe it was Gray who mentioned that the Bible was inerrant in its original autographs.

    The inclusion of Orr’s writings in The Fundamentals and his close friendship with men such as Warfield do not seem to be criteria that on their own can identify him as a fundamentalist and thus not a liberal. And, I’m not so sure that the way Orr defined inerrancy in his writings outside of The Fundamentals is enough evidence to foul the waters of fundamentalism and/or foil the attempts of others to link a denial of inerrancy with liberalism.

    I do not know if inerrancy was Mohler’s litmus test for identifying “liberal’ faculty members. If it was it would be helpful to know how Mohler defines inerrancy. And, I agree, if that was the case it would be helpful to have names of those professors.

    • rogereolson

      I don’t know any historical theologians who would consider Orr a liberal. He wrote a major book against Ritschlianism–his term for liberal Protestant theology. He was a conservative Scottish Presbyterian. My point was that he was considered by everyone an evangelical. I don’t remember saying he was a fundamentalist except perhaps as that term was generally understood by most people in circa 1910.

  • leah

    fascinating article! i learned a lot.

    one critique: one of the current major criticisms of evangelicalism and fundamentalism is that this mindset is absolutely wedded to the modern mindset. 1920s fundamentalism wasn’t so much a reaction against modernism as it was against specifically liberal modernism. the attempt to assert that the bible records objective, scientific truth or the defense of “absolute truth” and christianity as “reasonable” reflect these modernist commitments. it also explains why current neo-fundamentalists (an excellent word/label, btw) are so threatened by postmodernism.

    • rogereolson

      I’m re-reading Hodge’s Systematic Theology right now. In Vol. 1, around pages 40-50 he sure sounds modern.

  • Russ

    I agree with the general thrust, but I think he’s off on several points which weakens the argument. I’ll at least try to be brief:

    - In some ways, I think the contrast of Neo-Fundamentalism and Neo-Evangelicalism is overstated. For example, he cites David Wells and Focus on the Family’s “Truth Project” as examples of a change in evangelicalism, to a new focus on absolute truth. But is there anything in either example that Carl F. H. Henry, in many ways the theological center of the Neo-Evangelical movement, wouldn’t have enthusiastically endorsed? Or Francis Schaeffer and his awkward emphasis on “True Truth”? In the same way, he notes Piper’s strong commitment to penal substitution as if it’s a distinctive of neo-fundamentalism, though he noted a few paragraphs earlier that substitutionary atonement was a central issue in the original fundamentalist movement.

    - Some of what I would take to be some of the most significant differences are overlooked. Dispensationalism was a defining feature of old Fundamentalism, but it’s increasingly hard to find, and certainly doesn’t define the movement Clawson is talking about (are any of them dispensationalists, other than MacArthur?)

    - Clawson wonders if “neo-fundamentalists will in fact follow the separatist path of their fundamentalist forbears – creating new institutions separate from the mainstream of evangelicalism…” But it’s an entirely different context. Fundamentalists separated from the mainline denominations of the day to form independent churches and to form replacements for denominational missions agencies, seminaries, etc. And certainly Mohler isn’t going to be withdrawing from his denomination. How does one withdraw from “mainstream evangelicalism”? Where is it? what is it? where’s the door?

    - Finally, can we please reserve the term “Neocalvinist” for what it has meant for over a century, the movement that had its origins with Abraham Kuyper and includes figures today such as Richard Mouw and Nicholas Wolterstorff, who are clearly not in the same camp as Piper, et al.?

    • rogereolson

      You make good points. I think the one main thing Mike was pointing to (to compare the movement he’s labeling neo-fundamentalism with the older fundamentalism) is separatism from fellow evangelicals. That Mohler doesn’t separate from the SBC isn’t the point. Separatism can also include expelling people from institutions you control. What makes something fundamentalist (in relation to separatism) is breaking fellowship or refusing to have fellowship with fellow Christians over secondary matters of doctrine. In my opinion, as a church historian, what we generally have known as Fundamentalism began when William Bell Riley and his friends added premillennialism to the list of fundamentals of the faith. Before that, “fundamentalism” was simply a strong assertion of Protestant orthodoxy against the encroachments of liberal theology. The vast majority of people calling themselves fundamentalists accepted Riley’s addition and separated even from non-premil evangelicals. (I know when I was growing up in the thick of Fundamentalism anyone who was not premil was considered automatically liberal.) Gradually the label “fundamentalist” came to be used of all evangelicals who like Jones, Rice and McIntire advocated separatism (refusal of Christian fellowship) from fellow evangelical Christians considered doctrinally impure. Among church historians that is is the sine qua non of Protestant Fundamentalism. E. J. Carnell called it “orthodoxy gone cultic” because of its elevation of secondary doctrines to tests of Christian fellowship. Sure, the media has stepped in and so have some scholars (e.g., Marty and Appleby) and redefined “fundamentalism” much more loosely and broadly. But historically-theologically it was throughout much of the 20th century the label for those ultra-conservative Protestant evangelicals who refused fellowship and cooperation with fellow evangelicals who they considered somehow doctrinally polluted. (By “fellow evangelicals” I mean, for example, people who belonged to or agreed with the National Association of Evangelicals.)

      • Russ

        Agreed; there was a parallel in Britain, with D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones arguing for separatism against evangelicals like John Stott and J. I. Packer. What I actually find most interesting in this is someone like MacArthur, who is in every way that I can think of an old-line fundamentalist, who now eschews the term. When “fundamentalist” became a term of derision, fundamentalists started calling themselves evangelicals, which in many circles is now becoming term of derision.

        • rogereolson

          Exactly the point I have been making for years now. I was alarmed the first time I heard Jerry Falwell call himself an evangelical. This has been one of the biggest PR coups ever pulled off in religious circles–fundamentalists getting away with hijacking the label evangelical.

    • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

      Thanks for your critiques Russ. A few responses:

      - I’m 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 doctrines like penal substitution or a belief in “Absolute Truth.” 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 historic Fundamentalism.

      BTW, re: Francis Schaeffer, I think many would consider him more of a Fundamentalist than a Neo-Evangelical, though in the longer version of this paper I personally treat him as a transitional figure leading many Neo-Evangelicals back towards greater militancy and hostility towards the broader culture of “secular humanism.”

      - Re: how they will separate from evangelicalism, let me say that I’m not yet sure they will, but it is possible, though, as you noted, more complex in that evangelicalism is more diffuse than the denominations from which historic Fundamentalists separated some 80+ years ago. I think in some instances, as Dr. Olson pointed out, they will not need to separate – instead they will win control of their institutions and simply take over, as has already happened in the SBC. Indeed, I think today’s Neo-Fundamentalists are far more likely to win their battles for institutional control than historic Fundamentalists were – they are better situated and smarter about it this time around. Plus, their opposition are much less vocal, organized, or powerful than were the Modernists of 100 years ago.

      Some of these current battles will likely be played out in denominations, as they were back then. Others will be for control of seminaries and Christian colleges. Others will be for parachurch and publishing ministries, as well as the evangelical conference circuit. Evangelicalism may be less centralized, but it still has it’s important institutions, and whoever controls those, controls much of the movement. In the battles the Neo-Fundamentalists win, look for them to start excluding dissenting voices by firing certain faculty or administrators, refusing to invite certain speakers, refusing to publish certain authors, and passing more specific and more strictly enforced doctrinal statements within their institutions (as Mohler has done at SBTS). When they lose, look for them to begin establishing alternative institutions (as Piper has begun to do with his Bethlehem College and Seminary, right in the backyard of his denominations own Bethel University and Seminary).

      - I too would like to reserve the term Neocalvinist for Kuyperians, which is part of the reason why I called Piper and his fans “New Calvinists,” not “Neo-Calvinists.” That is still confusing, I admit, but the confusion is not of my making. The current movement already uses “New Calvinists” to refer to themselves, and it seems to be one of the more common designations. Another option would be “Neo-Reformed,” and I may default to that term in future writings in order to avoid the confusion you pointed out. However, I have been told that that term too sometimes belongs to the Kuyperites. If that is true, which do you think would be less confusing?

      • rogereolson

        Good, helpful clarifications, Mike. Thanks for this. By the way, as a footnote, I happen to know about an overt attempt to take over a major evangelical publisher by people you would classify as neo-fundamentalists who would call themselves conservative evangelicals. They were partly successful. But I doubt they will quit until they are wholly successful. One way in which they were partly successful was that the publisher in question would no longer publish anything by Stan Grenz. (Don’t try to guess…he published with a lot of publishers!)

      • Russ

        I mention it because you used Neo-Calvinist once in reference to Piper (“For instance, at a Neo-Calvinist event in 2008…”). Time magazine muddled things up by using the term “New Calvinists,” so I’d say that’s what we’re stuck with, though it’s not ideal. But, the difficulty with this term just highlights the importance of clarifying our terms as you are doing in this essay.

    • John Inglis

      Note that Clawson pointedly states that neo-fundamentalists are not the same as the earlier fundamentalists. This lack of sameness occurs with respect to particular beliefs as well as other matters. The key features he focusses on are militancy, opposition to culture, etc. and not matters like dispensationalism, penal substitution or True truth.

      John

  • Jon Altman

    I left the Southern Baptist Convention (as it left me) in 1980. I missed almost all of these developments (aside from Al Mohler’s purge of SBTS). Now I’m glad I did.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    I know that I am perennially late, but…

    It seems to me that there are two alternatives to having an impure church, one that is not either A or C.

    1. Don’t teach theology – then we are left with the moralistic therapeutic deism that has been written about elsewhere.
    2. Be explicit with people that they have to decide on their own which theological backdrop is correct – I have never seen anyone express this view.

    How does it work otherwise? I believe 2 is correct, but people as a whole seem to have a problem with that.

  • http://theitinerantmind.wordpress.com A. W.

    “It will be interesting to see, for instance, whether neo-fundamentalists will in fact follow the separatist path of their fundamentalist forbears – creating new institutions separate from the mainstream of evangelicalism, or whether they will find a way to remain within the evangelical movement even while critiquing it.”

    I wonder if this isn’t a false dichotomy. In a culture, especially a youth culture, which is becoming increasingly disenchanted with all forms of institutionalism, it seems equally likely to me that neo-fundamentalists will find ways to distance themselves from current evangelical power structures while consciously avoiding creating analogous institutions. It seems possible that they will attempt to find ways for like-minded people to coalesce in less concrete ways and ways which are deliberately fashioned to avoid the appearance of any kind of institutionalism. Perhaps this belief springs from an assumption on my part that post-denominationalism is the modus operandi for all the upcoming millennials. If, however, it is like other fundamentalist movements, it may have strong currents of populism and anti-intellectualism built in. The founding of institutions, if history is any indicator, would then belong to the second generation of neo-fundamentalists.

    Regardless, this is a great essay. I enjoyed reading it. Thank you for sharing.

  • http://biblicalpersonhood.wordpress.com/ Retha

    There is a way in which most talk of (neo-)fundamentalism confuses me:

    It seems (to me at least) that writers, including this one, often conflate 2 ideas that are not the same thing:

    It cannot be just me who believe that a few things (Christ rose, Jesus died for our sins, etc.) are absolute truths and those who leave them leave the Christian faith, yet don’t find evolution, or even scripture inerrancy, that important. Who believe God calls Christians to moral – including sexual – holiness, yet reject the “neo-fundamental” views on environmentalism, politics, and gender roles.

    As such, I find a paragraph that starts “Josh McDowell said Christians should take a stand for the objective truth of the gospel” (I agree) and ends with” teens [should] be intolerant of “stupid” ideas like homosexuality, environmentalism, and liberal politics” rather baffling. Is the one the same as the other?

    In short, I believe some things are absolute truths and some not. Or do views like mine make me some rare breed of half-fundie?

    • rogereolson

      Take heart; you’re not a “half-fundie” (just for what you’ve described of yourself here :)

    • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

      You’re quite right that all those ideas are not just the same and don’t necessarily have to go together. However, they do go together for the people I was describing. So no, if you don’t hold to all of them, then you’re probably not in the same camp as most of these Neo-Fundamentalists.

    • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

      “a few things (Christ rose, Jesus died for our sins, etc.) are absolute truths and those who leave them leave the Christian faith”

      I’m someone who left “the Christian faith” a few years ago, but has since changed my mind about my own relationship with it. I still don’t “believe” any of the “fundamentals” – but I wouldn’t say that means I’m outside the Christian faith. If evangelicalism is to be defined pretty broadly, Christianity – in my understanding – should include even more people.

  • Michael Douglas

    Dr. Olsen-

    Thank you for a well-written critique and “state of the ________” concerning neo-fundamentalism/neo-Calvinism/neo-Reformism, etc. I am 29 yo who grew up in a large, Southern Baptist church in Birmingham, AL, very much in the tradition of Armenianism. Around my junior year in HS, I became very interested in Calvinism and reformed theology, thanks in large part to John Piper. The last 12-14 years I have maintained a belief that Calvinism, in my reading of the Bible, makes the most sense and is Biblically sound. I don’t for a second, though, believe that my Armenian brothers and sisters are not believers and will not be with me (or I with them) in eternity. While well-educated, I do not even have an undergraduate degree in religious studies, much less post-graduate work, and that makes me a layman and your junior in terms of this discussion. However, I can tell you that in many public and not so public sermons and talks, Piper (and Mohler and Driscoll, for that matter), are not quite the Reformed inclusivists that your essay makes them out to be. My guess is, if asked, they would hold as tightly as you the core beliefs of the Gospel -

    God’s literal creation, man’s rebellion and fall, God’s provision for man’s salvation, Jesus’ incarnation/life, death in full for forgiveness of sin, ascension, the Holy Spirit’s ministry for believers, God’s plan for Jesus’ return and dominion on earth, and a literal hell for those who do not believe in Christ’s saving work on the Cross.

    These I would say, as one analogy goes, the hand holds very tightly – not letting go and not allowing anything else in, while holding less tightly is the precise mechanics or roadmap to how you get there. Perhaps one of the reasons I believe this to be the case is that, while making many public appearances and talks in support of Calvinism, he doesn’t actively “proselytize” Armenians as he would “unbelievers.”

    If I misunderstood the premise of your critique (of Piper especially), I’m sure you will correct me, (and I would appreciate it), but I think I would see more active attempts at these leaders of the movement, as well as their followers, to actively share the Gospel with those who they think are presenting false gospels.

    As always, I am open to correction, especially as I have misinterpreted your premise or point. I believe, even as a Calvinist, there is room for “all who would believe” and as Isaiah says, “Come, ‘everyone’ who thirsts.” This call is not just for Calvinists, nor are the “hearers” just Calvinists. So I hope there is friendly dialogue between you and Piper/Mohler./Driscoll, etc. If you could share where they might have responded to you, I would appreciate that as well, so I might know how the story goes.

    Thanks for reading, and responding if you can.

    • rogereolson

      I’m assuming this is directed at Mike Clawson as he is the author of the paper that makes up the post to which you are responding. I’ll let him respond.

    • Percival

      Michael,
      But Armenia needs the gospel too!

      • rogereolson

        That’s funny. I noticed his use of “Armenian” rather than “Arminian.” I used to correct my students’ papers when I saw that, but I stopped once I realized that spell checkers automatically change “Arminian” to “Armenian” in many cases. It would be good for people who know they have automatic spell checkers (those that change words to the “correct” spelling automatically) to proofread and correct its errors. For example, I laugh when I see (as often) the word “pasturing” where the writer clearly meant “pastoring.” Most automatic spell checkers will change the latter work to the former. I don’t expect comments here to be that formal (ie., proofread and correcting). But I do often also hear people referring to Arminianism as “Armenianism.” Even theologians do it!

    • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

      Hi Michael,

      I have to confess that I’m not entirely sure I understand the point you are making or what exactly you are asking. Correct me if I’m wrong, but you seem to be asserting that Piper (and the others) are not actually separatist/exclusivist regarding their Calvinist beliefs because you don’t see them trying to proselytize or convert Arminians. Am I getting that right?

      If so, I would simply suggest that you may want to look a little more closely at what these folks (and Piper especially) actually are saying and doing. I have been following Piper for many years now, and I have heard him actively try to convert evangelicals to his brand of Calvinism on numerous occasions. For instance, Piper was a regular guest speaker (at least annually, often more) at Wheaton College while I was an undergraduate there, and his talks were quite often aimed at persuading us to adopt what he referred to as “Seven-point Calvinism” (I’m not quite sure what the extra two points were, but I’m pretty sure he wasn’t joking.) In fact, I think I have tape recordings of some of those talks on my shelves (yes, I was at Wheaton long enough ago that they were still using tapes, not CDs).

      At the time, I don’t recall him explicitly asserting that Arminians held to a false gospel, though perhaps he just didn’t want to offend his audience before he had a chance to persuade them, since, as I note in this paper, he did make this exact assertion later before a supportive audience of convinced Calvinists. Again, you can find the outline and recording of that talk here. Take especial note of the following part of what Piper says:

      Distortions and Denials of the Gospel as an Application

      1. Arminianism

      Arminianism (Wesleyanism) teaches that God helps all people overcome their deadness of soul and leaves to the decisive will of man whether to follow that grace and trust Christ and as a consequence be born again. In other words regeneration does not cause faith; faith, in an act of ultimate self-termination, chooses to agree with God’s grace and believe and thus be born again.

      How serious is this? Must one believe that faith is decisively caused by God through regeneration? Or can one be saved believing that faith causes regeneration?

      The issue comes down to this: Is the heart relationship to God one of utter reliance on God’s grace in Spirit-wrought humility, such that God gets the glory for all of my salvation, both accomplishment and application?

      Can the heart be truly humble and reliant in this way while the mind espouses a theology that claims that the human will is taking credit for what the humble heart is really depending on God to provide?

      Answer: There are those who totally rely on God in their heart but who fail to see with their minds that total reliance on God includes reliance on God for their reliance on God. Their hearts are better than their heads. They humility echoes the truth while their theology is out of sync with it. God is willing to look at their heart for the truth.

      If I understand him correctly, Piper asks whether Arminians can be saved, and his answer is that they can only be saved if the (unconscious?) attitudes of their hearts contradicts their consciously held beliefs. In other words, no, Arminians as such are not saved, but some might be fortunate enough to be saved anyway if they are, unbeknownst to their own selves, actually Calvinists down in their heart of hearts.

      So yes, Piper does apparently think Arminians do not hold to a true gospel, that they are in danger of damnation, and that they need to be evangelized. And, in my own experience at least, that is exactly what he has been doing for several decades now.

      • rogereolson

        This is interesting. I’ve had many conversations with John about Calvinism, Arminianism and evangelicalism. His line to me has always been consistent: 1) Arminianism (which he used to espouse) is “profoundly mistaken” and “on the precipice of heresy,” 2) Arminians are saved if they place their trust in Jesus Christ alone for their salvation even if their theology is wrong, 3) He would not try to get someone fired from a college teaching position “just for being Arminian.” He declined to call Arminianism “heresy.” He has friends and fellow pastors (of other churches) who are Arminian. My experience of John is that sometimes his statements run a bit ahead of what he actually thinks most of the time. But I have no doubt that he would like to convince all evangelical Christians (i.e., all true Christians) to embrace Calvinist theology. He does consider open theism a serious enough aberration from orthodoxy to try to get open theists fired from their teaching positions at an evangelical university that does not have a formal statement of faith that explicitly excludes open theism. I have heard a taped conversation between John and R. C. Sproul in which Sproul says Arminians can be Christians but open theists like Clark Pinnock are not Christians. Piper disagrees with Sproul and asks him why he allows Arminians to be Christians but not open theists. It’s a fascinating conversation with no definite conclusion. Overall, however, it seems that Piper then thought open theists, like Arminians, could be Christians even if their theology is very bad.

    • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

      Oh, and to respond to your final question, I am not aware of any response from any of these men to my article. I doubt they even know about it (though I do appreciate Dr. Olson helping to get it out to a wider audience.) I don’t know any of them personally, and, from what I’ve been told, most are not in the habit of granting interviews to just anyone – and certainly not an unsympathetic graduate school researcher. That being the case, I don’t have any expectation of being able to enter into dialogue with Piper, Driscoll or Mohler over any of this, though I would love to if it were possible.

  • John Metz

    Coming in late! Great article and a great discussion.

    Whenever labels such as fundamentalist, Calvinist, neo-fundamentalist, evangelical, etc. are used, it should be understood that no description can do justice to a varied and complicated situation. Such terms are generalities that strive to place real events and actual persons in an understandable context.

    It cannot be denied that there is a trend “out there” toward more intolerance and less understanding among those naming the name of Christ. This is regrettable. Thanks for the post.

  • Rick

    He says of neo-fundamentalists:

    “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 tries to put Driscoll in the neo-fundamentalist camp, but then goes on to say that Driscoll is not hostile towards culture and does not separate from broader evangelicalism. I think he is trying to fit Driscoll into that camp (perhaps because Mike is closely associated with Emergent Village and has bad feelings about him), but Driscoll does not fit there.

    • rogereolson

      I should let Mike respond, but I don’t see the problem. His claim about Driscoll’s hostility toward the broader culture has to do with things like egalitarianism, not pop culture. He makes that distinction quite clear.

    • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

      Yes, Roger clarified my point well. I apologize if my argument about Driscoll was less than clear. I actually had to cut a lot out of that section for this abridged/presentation version, and I fear that my point may have been lost. What I attempted to show is that Driscoll’s embrace of culture is really only skin deep – minor practices like drinking, cussing, entertainment choices, tattoos, etc. – but that he still shares the same antipathy towards the underlying philosophies and values of a postmodern culture as other neo-fundamentalists. In other words, I was trying to say that one should not be fooled by surface appearances – cussing and drinking and watching UFC do not necessarily make one a postmodern.

      As for Driscoll’s relatively more open stance towards other evangelicals – it certainly is the case that he is less separatist in his rhetoric than say Piper. I do think there are signs that this is changing for Driscoll, however, though it is too soon to tell definitively. Nevertheless, my argument is not that all of these men are exactly the same or “neo-fundamentalist” to the same degree. Some are more fundamentalist than others, and Driscoll probably less so than the rest. Nor am I saying that this trend is a fully formed movement yet. It is still very much in process, and it remains to be seen whether they will become just as separatist as their historic Fundamentalist forebears – a point which I clearly state in the final paragraph.

  • http://thoughtstheological.com Terry Tiessen

    After writing my post (“Is inclusivism evangelical? http://thoughtstheological.com/is-inclusivism-evangelical/) yesterday, it occurred to me that I had just been addressing an instance of the narrowing of the boundaries through identification of new critieria for evangelicalism.

    • rogereolson

      Interesting. But, of course, we apparently disagree about whether “evangelicalism” has boundaries. If it doesn’t have them, they can’t be narrowed, right? But, of course, people can state what they think is compatible or not compatible with the evangelical “center” and that’s functionally the same as positing boundaries. It’s just that when it comes to actually applying them there’s nothing to apply them to and nobody who has the authority to enforce them.

      • http://thoughtstheological.com Terry Tiessen

        Roger,

        I sympathize with your desire to focus on the center rather than the boundary in defining evangelicalism. I am happy, however, that you also acknowledge the connection between these. If one identifies the center of evangelicalism, it seems to me that discernment in regard to individuals, theologies and organizations will ultimately show the boundaries. There will come a point at which one is too far from the center to be adjudged evangelical. Where that happens, a boundary line is discernible.

        It is interesting to watch a similar exercise in regard to judgments of who worships the same God we do and whose God is other. Miroslav Volf’s recent book has put that issue on the table. When people disagree about what must be at the center to justify the conclusion that this is the “same” God, their disagreements end up drawing boundaries more or less broadly.

        Cheers,
        Terry

        • rogereolson

          I disagree. The boundary is not there. Sure, we all make value judgments about the authenticity of others’ evangelical commitments from time to time. For me that is based on whether and to what extent a person is moving close to the center or away from it. But I have no idea where a boundary line is. I compare this (my model) with an old fashioned tent revival meeting. (I attended a lot of those as a kid.) The sides of the tent were kept open so that people could sit outside it if they wanted to. Everyone knew the people close to the platform were the most committed to the revival, but nobody could say exactly who was “at” the revival and who was not. I remember one man sat in his car every evening watching the revival and listening to it without ever exiting his car to come to the tent. He was counted by the “counters” as at the revival.

          • http://thoughtstheological.com Terry Tiessen

            I still doubt that our difference is as large as you suggest Roger. Even in your illustration boundaries still exist. You were counted if you sat outside the tent and listened but you would not have been if you were not at least in that circle. Right?

          • rogereolson

            I interpret boundaries as absolutes. I would not have counted the man in the car watching the tent revival from the parking lot. Others would. Who decides? “Evangelical” is an ambiguous label; no one has the authority to decide who’s “in” and who’s “out.” I say it has no boundaries to distinguish it from, say, “Roman Catholic” where there is a magisterium to decide absolute boundaries. I’d say when it comes to “evangelical” it’s not absolutely clear who’s “in” and who’s “out.” It’s an essentially contested category.

  • http://lifeandbuilding.com kyle

    Thank you for clarifying many ambiguities. I had never considered framing this in a modern/postmodern context. For me, postmodern says more than emergent does.

    A question: with groups like Mars Hill, how does their Calvinist theology mesh with their attempts at being relevant. You briefly touched on this with “frozen chosen.” Why be relevant about something that transcends relevance? Does God’s will depend on man’s relevance? If you are predestinated won’t you be irresistibly saved regardless of how hip the Christians or the message is? Are they merging two things here for appeal? Thanks again for the helpful post!

    • rogereolson

      Excellent questions. I suppose they would say that being relevant is God’s way of drawing the young elect to himself?

  • Jared Hanley

    Joy F, I am also from an AG background. I was saved in an AG church when I was 16. I am an egalitarian but I am also Calvinistic. I prefer listening to Reformed thinking evangelicals who are more egalitarian like R.T. Kendall, Rich Nathan, and Andy Stanley.

    I currently serve as a Sunday school teacher in a Church of God (Cleveland, TN) and my pastor knows that I’m a five-point Calvinist. In fact, he has told me on numerous occasions that the pastor of the largest church in our denomination is a Calvinist.

    I hold to every other distinctive that the Church of God holds to. I believe that women can serve as pastors and preach to the congregation. I believe in a sanctification stage after salvation followed by the baptism in the Holy Ghost with the evidence of speaking in other tongues. And, like most Pentecostals, I am also a Pre-Mil, Pre-Trib Dispensationalist. I consider myself to be a true blue Pentecostal. Some of my favorite preachers are Paula White, Juanita Bynum, and T.D. Jakes.

    I am also WoF-lite and Prophetic-lite. I affirm the fivefold ministry. I also like T.D. Jakes approach to prosperity which he calls “empowerment”. And I agree with what he has to say about suffering and the sovereignty of God.

    I am 27 years old. Having said all of that, I don’t see why we can’t work alongside complementarians. Although I am an egalitarian I am not an evangelical feminist. I believe men should lead in the church and in the home just as other egalitarians like Bishop Paul S. Morton and Bishop Kenneth Ulmer do. We just have a different way of working that out than complementarians do.

    • rogereolson

      I think it’s sad that some Pentecostals are abandoning the faith of their fathers and mothers (all Arminians) and adopting a theology (Calvinism) that is at direct odds with fundamental Pentecostal impulses (e.g., God’s desire to save and heal everyone).

  • Jared Hanley

    And I think it’s sad that a lot of Pentecostal churches don’t do a good job of explaining stuff like this.

    At least my pastor knows what I believe and he is comfortable with me teaching at his church. It is actually his class that he’s letting me teach, an adult Sunday school class.

    I also think it’s sad that Pentecostals are so closed to the doctrines of grace. Every other Protestant tradition just about has a good number of Reformed-thinking members. There are even Calvinistic Methodists that trace their roots all the way back to George Whitefield.

    The closest Pentecostal monergists like me can come to tracing anything back to anywhere would be to Evan Roberts, the young Reformed Methodist who led the Welsh revival of 1904 that was a precursor to the Azusa Street revival in 1906. Then, I think it’s safe to say that much of the Pentecostal worship style was influenced by George Whitefield. Mr. Whitefield had a more dramatic preaching style that we would probably identify as being similar to the Pentecostal preaching style that is heard today. Of course, that rhetorical style was perfected by the slaves who heard him preach. Also, the tradition of the spiritual comes from slaves who heard Whitefield preach and on their way back to their living quarters, they would come up with songs to help them remember the sermon.

    • rogereolson

      You really need to study history more. There are no longer any Calvinist Methodists. The Countess of Huntington’s Connection (Whitefield’s denomination) merged with other groups a long time ago. Here in the U.S. the Calvinist Methodists merged with Presbyterians. So far as I know there are no longer any churches. Pentecostalism has many ancestors, but the vast majority were not Calvinists and ALL the founders of modern Pentecostalism were non-Calvinists. You use “the doctrines of grace” as if that’s a synonym for Calvinism; it isn’t. That’s just a way of attempting to stack the deck in a discussion. Few, if any of the slaves adopted Whitefield’s Calvinism. After all, if they did, they’d have to think their slavery was God’s will.

  • Jared Hanley

    Reformed theologian Thabiti Anyabwile points out that in much of the black church, there is a high view of the sovereignty of God. This is reflected for instance in spirituals such as “He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands” (I have heard self-professing Arminians speak disaragingly of this song), “Be Still, God Will Fight Your Battles”, and “God Is” (which contains the words, “He moves all things”). According to Thabiti (who is black), many in the black church see God’s providence in the slave trade because there wouldn’t be an African-American church otherwise, at least not as we know it today. Furthermore, many of them would have never been saved otherwise. It’s convenient to overlook that for the sake of being politically correct, but if we truly believe that there is salvation in none other than Jesus Christ, then we have to admit that it’s true.

    Many in the Emerging Church like to point to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as a great example of the Christian faith. Most Christians agree with that but they in particular like to point to him because he’s up there with Ghandi and Mother Theresa. But had it not been for the slave trade, there would have been no MLK. In fact, it was MLK himself who said “We may have come here in different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.”

    You say few if any slaves believed these doctrines. However, there are a few that come to mind. Phyllis Wheatley, Olaudah Equiano, and Lemuel Haynes.

    According to John Saillant, professor of English and History at Western Michigan University, Calvinism prevailed among the slaves from around 1770 to around 1820.

    Regardless, there certainly are some notable examples as I have pointed out. I think that more often than not, the theology is there for the most part in the black church, they just don’t quote Calvin, Edwards, and Spurgeon all that much.

    • rogereolson

      Please. You are stacking the deck of the discussion by identifying “a high view of the sovereignty of God” with Calvinism. Thank God the slaves rid themselves of Calvinism! A liberation before the emancipation proclamation. (I wonder who was taking those polls between 1770 and 1820 among slaves about their theology!?) As James Cone points out in A Black Theology of Liberation, what you are calling a “high view of God’s sovereignty” makes God responsible for slavery and genocides. He argues based on his deep and wide experience of African-American Christianity that it rejects such a view of God’s sovereignty (viz., meticulous providence). Major Jones in The Color of God even endorses open theism and claims it is a common belief among African-American Christians. To suggest that slavery was a good thing because it brought Africans to America to become Christians is absurd. That’s like saying the holocaust wasn’t all bad because it led to the founding of the Jewish state of Israel which might not have come about without it. It’s immature and dangerous to go back in history and identify horrible evils out of which some good came as if they were not really all that bad. But, I expect that from Calvinists.

      • Jared Hanley

        I’m listening to Marvin L. Winans sermon from Whitney Houston’s funeral. In it, he quotes Ephesians 1:11 which says God works all things according to the counsel of His will and ties that to God’s purpose for us. Is that something you would disagree with?

        • rogereolson

          Of course not. What made you think so? It’s in the Bible, duh! The issue is how to interpret it. I interpret it as referring to God’s ability to bring good out of evil and tragedy without in any way making them less evil or tragic.

          • Jared Hanley

            I guess I just don’t see the difference when someone is preaching. Maybe they would disagree with me if we sat down and talked about it but I don’t think there would be a hair’s breadth of difference between the way I would preach and the way a lot of the preachers preach that I listen to who would not maybe quote Spurgeon or Edwards as much as I would. Then again, some Pentecostals like Rod Parsley (who I seriously doubt is a Calvinist in any sense of the word) quote Spurgeon, Edwards, Luther, Wilberforce, Whitefield, and a host of other monergistic people.

            T.D. Jakes has this to say about predestination in his book “From The Cross To Pentecost”:

            “We don’t have to be theologians to understand that we are eternal. Science informs us that all matter is eternal, and that it continues to exist in one form or another. It then corroborates what the Bible validates: “Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations” (Jeremiah 1:5). That’s what God told Jeremiah:
            “Before you even got here, I picked you out. I had predestined you. I had predetermined you. I prearranged for you to be who you are and where you are at this particular window of time.””

          • rogereolson

            I’m sure that sounds like Calvinism to a Calvinist, but it doesn’t to me. I am certain he is talking about service, not salvation. Arminians also believe in predestination to service. Are you sure Parsley ever quotes those people? I’ve tried watching him just to see what’s going on there and all I can heard is angry shouting. Am I missing something?

  • Mark

    I realize this is a very delayed comment. What about Paige Patterson and others who have strongly taken issue with Calvinism within the Southern Baptist Convention? They were key players in the SBC conservative resurgence, but are not Calvinist. They share complementarian interpretations of Scripture with the individuals the essayist describes and they are strict inerrants.

    • rogereolson

      I’m not at all sure how “strict” their inerrancy is! I once had a protracted e-mail exchange with the dean of a Southern Baptist Seminary–one who (of course!) publicly affirms inerrancy. After all his qualifications of “inerrancy” he had killed it. But, more to your point, of course there are non-Calvinist fundamentalists. I have never denied that. In the current evangelical debate, however, MOST (not all) of the leading voices of neo-fundamentalism are Calvinists.

  • Mark

    How would you term the nature of the Bible? I am not an inerrantist. I am trying to decide. I believe that Scripture is divinely inspired, but the whole issue of original documents seems nonsense to me. Origins has always baffled. William Bell Riley would be considered a liberal today because he affirmed an age gap to explain away the seven days of creation. The earth wasn’t six thousand years of age in his mind. John Roach Straton would be considered a heretic because he thought females had the right to preach, at least he supported a female evangelist’s right to preach. These men were strident fundamentalists but they seemed more open minded than this present bunch — in some ways. I believe their tent was broader.

    • rogereolson

      Well, you may very well be right. I know at least one of the current crop of neo-fundamentalists who will not share the platform with a well-known female speaker at large Christian youth conferences. “Inerrancy” has a thousand definitions; it is meaningless until explained. If all it means is “perfection with respect to purpose,” as John Piper teaches, then I have no problem with it. But I have shown Piper’s definition of “inerrancy” to many inerrantists, including some leading evangelical theologians, and they have almost uniformly declared it inadequate. When I ask them what inerrancy means, however, they kill it with the death of their own thousand qualification. I teach that Scripture is infallible in the sense that it does not fail to communicate truth needed for salvation and Christian living pleasing to God.

  • Mark

    This brings up the splitting hairs issue of the inerrancy or infallibility of Scripture. What John Piper said to you sounds like infallibility as I understand it . In infallibility, there can be errors in scientific fact or other fact (a rabbits doesn’t chew its cud and the earth is not flat or the Bible teaches a geocentric cosmology), but it is as Piper describes “perfection with respect to purpose.” According to inerrancy Scripture is infallible, but it is also accurate according to scientific facts. Affirming the authority of Scripture in faith and practice is where I stand. It is God breathed whether its scientific information is disputable. To affirm that the Bible is a science book demeans what the text really is saying.

    • rogereolson

      I agree that Piper’s definition of inerrancy is better called infallibility. However, as you may know, he is regarded as a leading evangelical inerrantist.

  • rogereolson

    I’m on the “far left of Evangelicalism?” Please. Defend that. Tell me one doctrine that puts me there. If you mean just because I don’t believe in the inerrancy of the Bible, well, you’re still wrong. I believe exactly the same thing as many inerrantists believe (and can prove it) but I don’t think “inerrancy” is a good word for what we believe. How many “far left” evangelicals do you know who are premillennial? :)


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