Posts Tagged Evangelicals

Movement regarding Movements

I’ve got a few loose strands hanging out from earlier posts, so let me attempt to tie one up. Some of you no doubt noticed the difference of view on the matter of fundamentalism as a movement between the 2005 presentation and what I’ve written lately. This led one emailer to write:

I’m interested to know what changed your perspective from pursuing a renewal of fundamentalism to abandoning the remnants of the movement in favor of the local church. Did fundamentalists miss the opportunity (is there still hope)? Did the movement deteriorate too quickly since your address (or was it already to far gone)?

I’m referring to these two statements:

“We should aggressively pursue the renewal of Fundamentalism through development of a confessional movement within it.”

“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. (from: “These are not the movements you’ve been looking for…”).

Here’s part of my response to his question:

Thanks for the note. I had a feeling that posting this would raise this question–I was struck by the difference in my stance!

I guess the basic answer is the one that you allude to, i.e., I think the effort in 2005 was something of a final shot at restoring a theological center. I did two sessions at that conference and Kevin Bauder did two, one of which was his “A Fundamentalism Worth Saving.” We did not plan it ahead of time, but it ended up that both of us were making a pretty aggressive case for decisive action. I think it is fair to say that both of us came away somewhat disappointed, and that disappointment has only deepened since then. In many ways 2005 was a pivotal year. It was that year that Phil Johnson did his Dead Right session at Shepherds and then we had a long exchange over it. I think the tide turned on my hopes of seeing any kind of movement-wide renewal among fundamentalists. Too much political baggage.

I am sure you noticed, though, that there is a similarity between the two statements that you cited. Both call for theological agreement (“folks you agree with…agreement about the truth”). So, what I’ve really done is give up on trying to renew or reclaim any of the existing movements and have begun calling for the formation of new networks that partner together to fulfill the Great Commission.

Another factor I would probably toss into the “basic answer” paragraph is that I also read D. G. Hart’s Desconstructing Evangelicalism sometime after that conference and found its basic premise quite convincing. Putting it in my own words, Hart argues that the evangelical movement was more myth than reality since it had no coherent theological center or, even, clear theological boundaries. I think he was right about evangelicalism and most of what he says can be applied to the current concept of a fundamentalist movement. I believe this is different from the early days of fundamentalism, but precisely because fundamentalism began as a movement within denominations to defend the faith. For instance, the famous Five Fundamentals were not viewed as the sum of fundamental doctrine, but as litmus test items within the Presbyterian Church (along with all of the other doctrinal implications of this).

I’m inclined to think that the minute the movement began to reduce its theological convictions to lists like this was the same moment it began to unravel. New Evangelicalism accelerated the problem by setting aside separatism and attempting to build the broadest coalition possible by seeking the lowest common denominators theologically. Sadly, some fundamentalists responded by making separatism the only thing that mattered. Net result is that both “movements” have experienced a horrible theological slide downward. Ironically, portions of both now try to avoid theological precision because it inevitably leads to distinctions and distinctions can lead to separation. Did anybody else notice that the conferences in both Wheaton and Knoxville were minimizing theological distinctiveness in favor of a unity agenda? 

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