These are not the movements you’ve been looking for…

I am going to grab my sticks and beat this drum again—as we stand here in 2010 there is no such thing as a fundamentalist movement. There is also no single conservative evangelical movement and no coherent and distinctive new evangelicalism either. There are remnants of the older movements, but many of them are severely mutated and, therefore, clearly different than the original movements. The constant need to affix modifiers to whatever “movement” we are addressing should be clear enough indication that we’ve got a taxonomy problem.

If you don’t get ulcers easily, take a few minutes to work through the comments that follow Kevin Bauder’s essay at SI. Here’s what stands out to me: (1) it is impossible to make accurate categorical statements about such a broad collection of people and ministries; (2) there is no agreement on what principle would serve as an effective means for categorizing people and ministries (hence the introduction of things like Lordship Salvation, cessationism, translations, gimmick-driven ministry); and (3) the glaring hypocrisy of what is tolerated under the banner of fundamentalism (though I applaud the comments that called on folks to reject this).

For sake of argument, let’s suppose I attempt to rally the troops to the fundamentalist movement. What happens then? Bob and Lou think I teach a false gospel. Jeff Fugate believes I use a perverted Bible. Ron Comfort thinks I’m the poster boy for Calvinism. I could go on, but I am sure you get the point. And I haven’t stated it in terms of my concerns (which are many!). There will never be unity in a group like this. Never.

You say, “Right, so work with the guys you do agree with.” I reply, “Correct, that’s what we’re doing. But why even bother trying to argue for something larger than that which is a pipe dream? Why waste the time and energy chasing an illusion?” In reality, I think the answer to that is that too many folks are using fundamentalism as a means to an end. They are concerned that something specific which matters to them (a mission board, an educational institution, a fellowship) will die if the concept of a fundamentalist movement dies. So they have to keep making everything about fundamentalism so that they can rally people to what they think is the true expression of it. IOW, it is more like a faux call to fundamentalist unity and really a call to support whatever entity is issuing the call. And the same thing can be done by those who are constantly in attack mode on fundamentalism, i.e., they aren’t really interested in some broad based unity like historic fundamentalism, but are after some more narrow theological or ministerial agenda.

Let’s be clear about this—I don’t have a problem with anybody wanting to promote a ministry or idea that they believe in. Go for it. But I think it is time to stop couching it in terms of saving the fundamentalist movement or as forming some new emerging middle. Restore the local assembly to the center where God intended it to be. When your local assembly engages in Great Commission work outside its walls, find some folks you agree with and get busy doing it. Unity is built on agreement about the truth, not by politics. Few things are as political as trying to preserve movements once they have fragmented theologically.

As far as I’m concerned, you can have the movements. I want friends and ministry partners who agree on what the Bible teaches about itself, the gospel, the nature and mission of the church, and separation. Time to move along.


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