The Fundamentalists Are At It Again
Most American fundamentalists stopped calling themselves fundamentalists years ago—around the time the media used that label to label non-Christian religious militants and terrorists. I was shocked when I heard the Ayotolah Khomeinei and his Iranian followers as “fundamentalists.” I had never before heard the label “fundamentalist” attached to anyone but extremely conservative but basically orthodox British and American Protestants.
*Here I speak only for myself*
Around that time many extremely conservative but basically orthodox American evangelical Protestants dropped the label “fundamentalist” and began calling themselves “evangelicals” and “conservative evangelicals.” One of the first examples was Jerry Falwell who appeared on the Phil Donahue talk show and put himself forward as a spokesman for American evangelicals. I had known OF Falwell before that and we mainstream “pro-Billy Graham” evangelicals considered him a fundamentalist.
Over the years since then many pastors, theologians and evangelical leaders who are really fundamentalists and would have called themselves that earlier have managed to become highly regarded spokesmen (very few women if any) for “evangelical Christianity.”
I’m not going to name names here but many readers will know who I am talking about when I mention that they are presidents of certain Christian universities, founders and leaders (some now retired) of evangelical organizations that have had tremendous influence, and pastors-speakers-authors of great renown and influence.
These men have taken it upon themselves to decide who is “in” and who is “out” of “evangelical boundaries.” And their boundaries are very narrow. I call them “small tent evangelicals” even though they have tremendously large followings. The “small tent” refers to whom they consider “authentically evangelical.”
Here is a list of their victims. By “victims” I mean truly, authentically evangelical men and women who these self-appointed but extremely influential neo-fundamentalist leaders have criticized (and I DO NOT MEAN “constructively”): Tony Campolo (one of their first targets way back in the 1980s), Jim Wallis, Clark Pinnock, Stanley Grenz, Beth Moore, Rob Bell, John Sanders, Greg Boyd, Andy Stanley, Richard Foster, Carl F. H. Henry, Bernard Ramm; I could go on and on.
Some of these attacks have been very public; others I know about because of my close connection with Christianity Today magazine during the 1990s. For example, after he retired as editor of Christianity Today Carl Henry wrote a guest column for the magazine but was dropped from that role when he dared to criticize the new editor for seeming to make biblical inerrancy the “super badge of evangelical identity.” In his memoirs Henry talked about this exclusion. He told a story about his youth as a part-time house painter (while in college or university). He said that he should have learned a lesson then—not to try to straighten a ladder while on it, especially when it leans too far to the right. It was clear what he was talking about.
Recently Lecrae was attacked by neo-fundamentalists for getting baptized in the Jordan River. This because he was already baptized. Was this possibly “payback” for announcing that he no longer considers himself “evangelical?” This criticism is just stupid. What possible harm did he do to anyone by being re-baptized in the Jordan River as thousands upon thousands of already baptized Christian Holy Land pilgrims have been doing for many years? Augustine condemned re-baptism because of the Donatists and somehow that “stuck” even among Protestants who really have no theological reason for believing that re-baptism is wrong. (But that is for another blog post.)
Beth Moore recently came under attack by someone I personally consider a prime example of neo-fundamentalism. He very publicly told her to “Go home” instead of preaching the gospel.
When are moderate evangelicals going to come out of hiding and condemn the vituperation of the neo-fundamentalists?
I remember years ago Eternity magazine (now defunct) published an excellent article about “The Hermetically Sealed World of Fundamentalism.” It was an all-out exposure of the excesses of American fundamentalism. The same magazine dared to publish an expose of a leading, extremely popular youth and family speaker to whose seminars thousands of conservative Christians flocked.
Who remembers the Wittenburg Door (purposely misspelled)? It didn’t exactly aim its ridicule at the neo-Fundamentalists I’m talking about here but at television evangelists who were an embarrassment to American evangelicalism. Or should have been.
Some of the neo-fundamentalists I’m talking about (without naming) are almost household names in the American evangelical subculture. And too few people know to take their pronouncements with a big grain of salt (if not deaf ears!).
In brief, what has happened is that people with fundamentalist temperaments and theologies have managed to mantle themselves with tremendous influence if not authority—as normative evangelical leaders. But they are the same people who fifty years ago would have been denouncing Billy Graham for being too inclusive and generous in his treatment of pastors (and others) who wanted to cooperate with his evangelistic crusades.
*If you choose to respond make sure your response is civil, relatively brief (no more than 250 words), on topic, and not inflammatory. Do not name names in any derogatory way.*