Posts Tagged Movements

Agreement on Principles, Disagreement on Applications

In the last post I argued that we must see the difference between principles and their applications. Principles are timeless and absolute, whereas applications necessarily are timely and relative to the context in which the application is being made. I would also contend that failure to recognize the distinction between the two inevitably leads to trouble. Debate about biblical principles should always be controlled by the text of Scripture—what does it say and how should it be properly understood? Applications, however, require us to look outside of the Bible and reflect on how the biblical truth relates to life. That means we have to understand aspects of the world around us so that we can discern what significance particular biblical truths have to any particular piece of life. A simplified (hopefully not simplistic) way of thinking about it might look like this: The Bible says this, how does it relate to that?

Sometimes the relationship between principle and application is very clear, a relationship we could describe as this is that. Most believers agree with each other in such cases. There are times, though, when the relationship isn’t as clear, perhaps it could be described as this is like that. While there might be mainly consensus, this is where believers begin to disagree with one another, simply because they don’t all agree as to how much this and that are alike. What I’d like us to remember is that they do not disagree on the principle (this), but regarding its application (that). Unless we have legitimate reason to question the sincerity and integrity of those who disagree at the application level, we should allow for differences of application.

Another kind of relationship between principle and application introduces even greater variety of viewpoint into the equation. Sometimes people develop a position that could be described as that leads to the violation of this. Personally, I think this is a valid concern and represents a wise perspective on the danger of sin and the potential for dangerous self-confidence. There is Scriptural warrant for being more careful than careless about the pursuit of holiness and obedience. Yet, we must recognize that two people may agree on the principle (this) and not agree with each other on what might lead to its violation (that). The very fact that we say it might lead to its violation is precisely where the rub is. Again, believers should discuss and even debate the wisdom of their applications, but they must not do so with the dogmatism that is only proper for a valid, exegetically-derived biblical principle itself.

When we attribute the same weight to our applications that we do to the Scriptures (unless this is actually that), we are guilty of what the religious leaders in the Lord’s day where doing (Matthew 15:1-9). They were concerned about violations of “the traditions of the elders” more than they were violations of “the commandment of God” (vv. 2-3, 6). While I would never advocate being anti-tradition, we must never become traditionalists. This is where we legitimately can use the term Biblicist, i.e., the Bible is the source of our authority, not tradition. We of all people should have such a thorough commitment to the authority and sufficiency of Scripture that we refuse to allow man-made traditions to threaten the functional control of the Word over all of our lives, including our separation and fellowship decisions.

The application of biblical truth is a matter of wisdom and discernment. It often requires us to make a judgment call. It is quite clear to me that we’ll never have universal agreement on judgment calls in this life! It won’t happen, so I see no point in pursuing it as a goal. A better approach would be to pursue relationships that have a basis in shared principles—relationships that agree on what stands as written by God and is non-negotiable. It would seem that if we are sure that we agree on principle, then we can have open, constructive debate about our applications. If, however, we confuse the difference between the two, it usually leads to questioning the motives of those who apply the Word differently than we do. Because we think doing something different than what we would do is actually a violation of the principle, we tend to assume it must be rooted in sinful desires.

It might be, but it may simply reflect a lack of discernment (not a good thing, but certainly better than evil motives). It also may reflect other factors of which you are unaware. It might even mean that your application is not as clear as you think it is.

I am not asking for something strange or new, but perhaps something that we’ve taken for granted too long. The first step in talking through our differences is to turn to the Scriptures to talk through the biblical principles which we believe are at stake. It is that discussion which is most significant, for if we disagree there, then talking about applications becomes somewhat irrelevant. If we agree there, then we have an objective reference point from which to evaluate the differing applications. We may not get past our disagreement on some issue of application, but at least we will know why this brother has made the judgment call that he has. How much room we will allow for differing applications is then the judgment call that we’ll have to make.

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On Principles and Applications

I am convinced that a very significant issue at stake in present discussions about ecclesiastical relationships and the practice of separation is recognizing the distinction between biblical principles and their application in specific contexts. I can’t recall if I’ve blogged on this before, but I know I’ve spoken on it tons of times over the past two and half decades. It probably warrants a string of posts to explain fully, but let me do the risky thing of boiling it down to an axiom—principles are absolute and timeless, applications are relative and timely.

If you’ve properly identified a biblical principle (through solid exegesis), then it stands as God’s Word regardless of time and place. But you still have to apply it to specific times and places, and because time and place introduce variables, the application needs to be fitted to each particular time and place. The biblical call for children to honor their parents is timeless and transcends all cultures, but what obedience to that looks like will vary from culture to culture (and sometimes even within the same culture). And it may even change within the same culture as time passes and the culture itself changes. The principle, being absolute, remains fully intact, but the application, being relative, adjusts so that the principle is truly honored.

This holds true to the application of the biblical principles regarding separation from false doctrine and compromise with it. Those principles never change, but the application of them must be done in real time. We generally concede this when we look back in time. For instance, we applaud the early, original fundamentalists for pursuing separation first by trying to remove the liberals from their ecclesiastical fellowships, but then, realizing that the leaven had spread too fully, deciding to pull out in order to have no fellowship with liberalism. They held to the same principles, but different circumstances demanded different applications.

It is the application side of the equation that introduces so much complexity to our discussions. I hope to address a few aspects of that complexity as time and interest allows, but there is one that I think is germane to a few recent posts (and the present ecclesiastical landscape). I would contend that we will actually compromise our commitment to biblical principle if we do not periodically review our applications to make certain that they still fit. This is where I see the connection to the issue of labels. If the labels are imprecise, then they don’t help the application process and may even hinder effective application. Part of the imprecision comes from the changes that take place over time—changes in the people or ministry with the label, but also changes in the landscape.

I’m going to risk an analogy from history, so please work with me here. Let’s assume, for discussion, that we embrace as a governing principle this idea, “We must not treat our enemies as if they are our allies.” In 1943, Japan was labeled an enemy while the Soviet Union was labeled an ally, but in 1963 it was clearly the opposite. Obviously, the alliance with the Soviet Union was pragmatic in that we had common enemies. Once those enemies were neutralized, the alliance was over. By 2003, there was no Soviet Union and our relationship to the countries that composed it varied—some favorable and positive, some not so much. Wouldn’t it be short-sighted and unproductive for the USA to look at the Ukraine as if it were still a Soviet satellite? My point is that the principle remains intact even though its application changed in significant ways over those six decades.

Let’s think about the situation with Japan a little too. Clearly there was enormous conflict between the USA and Japan and even though the United States emerged victorious, the tensions of that war were not immediately erased. Officially, and in reality, Japan moved from enemy to ally over the years following the end of WWII. The two nations generally stand together against the same enemies, share many of the same objectives, and view each other as partners in tackling problems in the world (except competition in the automobile industry!). Clearly the situation has changed so that our principle, while still true, would not apply with regard to Japan any longer.

Here’s part of the rub—we acknowledge that last sentence in our heads, but that’s easier than accepting it in our hearts. Years ago I was visiting the Pearl Harbor Memorial and was very surprised to see so many Japanese people there—it just felt very odd. That’s all it felt for me, odd, but I’ve talked with some folks who were older than me, people who were children or young adults during WWII and it felt worse than odd to them. They were actually indignant about it. My guess is that my sons, being so far removed from the actual events, wouldn’t even think about it (9/11 is the new December 7th for them). I don’t think anybody in my story would deny that Japan is really no longer our enemy, but they would all feel differently about how we should relate to the Japanese people and government.

So, back to my point—to keep treating former Soviet bloc countries or Japan as enemies even though they no longer are is to actually invalidate the principle, not honor it. Failure to update the application results in disregard for the principle itself. Further, persisting in that application is more likely rooted in prejudice, not principle.

This is my concern about a lot of contemporary discussions regarding separation. Labels, because they are application-oriented, run the risk of serving prejudice more than principle. IOW, rather than really looking at what that man believes and practices, I judge him on the basis of a label. “He’s a fundamentalist” is used as the shorthand for he’s okay or he’s a kook (depending on who’s talking). “He’s an evangelical” is used for shorthand for he’s cool or he’s a compromiser (again, depending on who’s talking). I would argue that kooks and compromisers come with either label. That means neither label really helps me know who is okay. I can only make that call when I look at things in light of biblical principles. Bottom line: applications that turn into traditions can be a dangerous thing if they are allowed to rival or supplant the Scriptures.

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After Movements Die…

I want to address one aspect of Don Johnson’s post on movements separately from my larger answer posted last week. Part of my argument then was to suggest that Don did not give sufficient weight to Webster’s use of organized in its definition of movement. One way in which Don downplays the organized aspect is by appealing to the example mentioned by the dictionary:

However, in the sample phrase the dictionary gives (‘the civil rights movement’), tight organization is not much more evident than we have seen in fundamentalism or evangelicalism, so I suspect the emphasis of the definition should fall on ‘activities working toward an objective’ or ‘effort to promote or attain an end’ rather than on the word organized.

This is one of those strange situations where I think Don’s example actually supplies more evidence for my point than for his because it shows the kind of presentism that misreads history by reading the way things are now back into the way they were. In its present state the civil rights movement is actually no longer a movment since it is not organized and lacks clear objectives, but that wasn’t always the case. Back in its heyday there was very clear and careful coordination of activity and effort aimed at advancing a definite agenda. Protests and marches were planned and executed. Legislation was introduced and achieved. Leaders were known and recognized as directing and speaking for the movement.

That does not mean that it was a single organization, but it would be fallacious to equate being organized with being an organization. In this regard, Don has set up his argument by using a qualifier—tight organization—that makes it hard to refute his point because there are varying definitions of tight.  But, the fact is that the reason the description “civil rights movement” could be applied to it was that there was a definite objective and the parties interested in that objective worked together toward it. Each may have had a particularly slant or sub-agenda (e.g., labor issues), but it was all part of the overarching objective. There is no doubt that the major portion of the movement was the objectives, but we cannot properly deny that there was organized effort to achieve these objectives.

When their goals were largely achieved and the collectiveness of their efforts began to break down, the movement stalled and died. That’s why most histories of it have a specific set of dates for the civil rights movement. They don’t all agree, as is common in these kinds of historical, sociological assessments, but they have an end date. This is why I think Don’s example, borrowed from Webster, actually reinforces my point, not his. The movement existed where there were clear objectives and organized effort to accomplish those. The same was true about the fundamentalist movement.

The dark side of drawing analogies between the civil rights movement and the fundamentalist movement is that it raises the question of whether some of what we see and detest about the vestiges of the civil rights movement actually has parallels in the vestiges of the fundamentalist movement. In its worst present day moments some heirs of the civil rights movement grandstand in order to build a following for themselves and feed on old grievances in order to advance current agendas (and sadly they usually have Rev. before their names!). Something tragic happens and they seize it to stir up trouble. Someone misspeaks or makes what looks like a bad decision and they pounce on it as an opportunity to score points. In the absence of real, significant objectives, the focus shifts toward keeping themselves relevant and recognized.

Frankly, it makes me very unhappy and uncomfortable completing the analogy. A movement has to be for something and it has to be working in coordination (even if loosely) to achieve it. When it loses its reason for existence and fragments into competing agendas, then it ceases to be the movement it once was. Subsets of the once strong movement begin to compete to be the true heirs of the movement, each adding some unique twist to identity markers and boundary questions. Rival voices try to prove their bona fides by taking on some opponent (real or imaginary). Loyalty is built by demonizing the others. Doubts about the need for and existence of the movement are met with them versus us talk rather than explanation of contrasting ideas and animating beliefs.

Thankfully, there are heirs of the fundamentalist movement who have retained their commitment to the ideas and animating beliefs, and that are motivated by a desire to guard the gospel and the purity of the church, not merely position themselves as the true defenders against all the pretenders. The fact, though, that there is very little unity and virtually no organized effort toward a common objective makes me firmly convinced that we cannot look to the movement to do what needs to be done. Really, we never should have made so much of the movement in the first place since the centerpiece of the battle is the church, not the movement.

Churches which agree regarding sound doctrine and separatist commitments should work together as they deem fitting to advance the mission of Jesus Christ. We don’t need anything bigger than that.

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Phantoms or Straw Men?

Don Johnson has written a post that provides a helpful contrast to what I have been writing here lately. I think this because he: (1) challenges my basic argument that there are no distinct and coherent movements at this stage of the game; (2) sets forth an argument that there are movements with differing objectives; and (3) raises questions about either the commitments or wisdom of those who gather together from what he considers to be the two movements. I think that’s a fair summary, but read it for yourself to check.

It seems to me that everything hangs on that second point, so let’s examine that. Ironically, both Don and I quote Webster dictionary as the basis for making our assessment. He does it in his post and I do it to make the opposite case in a post in October 2009. So, at least we can say that we agree that for a movement to exist there must be some unifying objective. Where we part, obviously, is that I don’t believe this to be the case anymore. He does. So what are the unifying objectives for evangelicalism and fundamentalism according to Don:

The evangelical objective is cooperation with as many as possible while maintaining in some fashion the integrity of the gospel.

On the other hand, there is a group of churches, individuals, and Christian institutions that pursue separatism as an objective.

I have two main objections to Don’s view of things. First, the reasons why Don and I can both use Webster to argue opposite points is that Don drops part of Webster’s definition. Now, to be sure, he acknowledges this—“Based on this definition, one could dispute whether there has ever been much of a fundamentalist movement, especially if the word ‘organized’ is emphasized”—yet dismisses this as a non-problem. But it is a serious, thesis refuting problem! A thousand people at the shopping mall to buy clothes for school all have the same objective, but nobody would consider them a back-to-school clothes buying movement, would they? Without organization and coordination of effort, there is no movement. When you drop the word organized from the Webster definition you actually change the meaning.

Secondly, I think he has missed the mark on the statement of objectives too. Let me start with Don’s statement of evangelicalism’s objective. I think it unfortunate that Don inserts the words “in some fashion” as a means of calling into question their commitment to gospel integrity. Those words prejudice the sentence terribly and if they were dropped, one might legitimately wonder whether any early fundamentalists would actually have objected to it. Read the early history of the fundamentalist movement and you’ll quickly see that they were working hard to forge “cooperation with as many as possible” in order to counter the modernist threat.

That sentence not only prejudices the discussion, it also seems completely ineffective in summarizing the evangelical movement. It grants way too much for many professing evangelicals—maintaining gospel integrity doesn’t even seem to be on the radar for them. And it sells short some of the men that Don clearly thinks are evangelicals by ignoring their very strong defenses of the gospel.

More importantly, I believe he misses the mark on the objective of fundamentalism by making separatism the objective rather than the means to the objective. Fundamentalism formed for the defense of the faith, not for the purpose or objective of separation. Separation was seen as a necessary response to the denial of fundamental truths by the modernists (in the first round of fights) and to the embrace of ecumenicism by the new evangelicals (in the second round of fights). Never was the objective to separate. Laws said it was to do battle royal for the fundamentals of the faith. Pickering said it was to struggle for a pure church. Moritz called it contending for the faith. Beale said it was the pursuit of purity. Nobody that I know of said it was for separation’s sake. The difference between viewing separation as a characteristic versus an objective is huge.

Why is this important? If the point of fundamentalist separation was the purity of the church or the purity of the gospel (take your pick in my mind), then the place where one departs from the fundamentalist movement’s objective is when one abandons the purity of the church or the defense of the gospel, right? We must separate from those who deny the truths which are fundamental to the church’s faith, and we must separate from those who grant Christian recognition and fellowship to those who deny those truths (in belief or practice).

Now, the main reason I think it is worth interacting with Don’s post is really more procedural in nature, i.e., how one goes about making separation/fellowship decisions. I will grant that Don represents one way of doing things and I am arguing for a different way of doing them. Don’s argument hinges on the existence of two movements, so he has to craft the case that they still exist. Once he has (or thinks he has) established that, then the case can be made that “people from each of the two movements” are joining together and that this might represent someone moving from one movement to another, or that some new objective is being pursued (which I take, given his definition, to be an implication of a new movement starting), or that confusion is being created. Everything hangs on his definition of movement and his supposition regarding objectives for the “two movements.” I would contend that he has built a straw man by redefining movement and prejudicing the discussion of objectives.

While I reject Don’s argument, I want to be clear that I do so for the sake of biblically defined and practiced separatism, not to reject it. What I have been trying to argue is that it is the movement mindset that obscures the issue, not clarifies it. Thinking in movement terms is what causes confusion, especially for those who trying to understand why we separate from some and not from others. 

Further, separation which is aimed at preserving a movement is fundamentally misguided and precisely why fundamentalism fragmented into its current state in the first place. Separation was never (or should never have been) about forming a movement. It was about the health of Christ’s church and the purity of the gospel. 

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On the Problems of Rejecting Labels While Retaining Separatist Commitments

Running short on time, but I do want to follow up on yesterday’s post, so I’ll do so in bullet style:

  • One of my greatest fears in openly challenging our over-dependence on labels is that some will fail to distinguish between the label and the content. When I say that I will not make separation and fellowship decisions merely on the basis of the label, it is precisely because I no longer have confidence that the label accurately represents the truths that matter to me in these areas. The truths believed and practiced are what matter.
  • Rather than de-emphasize separatism, my position actually seeks to maximize it by focusing attention specifically on that subject rather than assuming it. IOW, to say that the label Fundamentalist won’t be the basis for separation/fellowship decisions is not the same as saying commitment to orthodox doctrine and biblical separation won’t be.
  • One of the significant limitations in discussing this subject is that it is almost impossible to do without actually referring to the pre-existing labels. Even more significant is the fact that, in my experience, a lot of people think of it as erasing the lines between two groups of people. It has absolutely nothing to do with erasing any biblically drawn lines. My point is that wherever God has drawn the lines, those lines must be maintained and over-dependence on labels is actually obscuring the lines at some places and adding lines at other places.
  • Those first three points should make it clear that I am in no way trying to make a case for some kind of third party or middle movement between two movements. I don’t know how to be any clearer about the fact that I think that there are not two movements from which a third movement might emerge. It’s a combo of sloppy history and ecclesiastical mythology that shapes that paradigm.
  • It is vitally important for understanding my argument to distinguish between the movement concept and positions on separation. To say that there are not two movements is not the same as saying there are not two positions on separation. I reject the current binary labeling system because the labels have lost their value, but I actually embrace a binary taxonomy regarding separatism. IOW, there are separatists and non-separatists.

The bottom line is that our fellowship should be limited to those who are fundamental in doctrine and separatist in their commitments. Others, with more influence than me, have proposed alternative labels, but nothing has stuck. Even if something did, it would have a limited shelf-life and would face the same problem as the current labels. So, let’s look more deeply and carefully than the labels.

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On Movements, Labels, and Assumptions

I’ll not rehash my arguments here, but I’ve previously argued (repeatedly and rigorously) that there are no coherent and distinct movements that fit the Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism labels. I gladly concede that there are Fundamentalists, but there is no Fundamentalist movement. There are Evangelicals, but there is no Evangelical movement. As far back as the 70s people starting adding modifiers because of the breakdown of Fundamentalist unity, and the Evangelicals have experienced the same thing.

I think there are clear, distinctive markers by which one may identify both Fundamentalists and Evangelicals, but hardly anybody agrees about exactly what those are and some of that disagreement produces the modifiers and qualifiers. I spent a significant amount of time earlier trying to unpack the idea that we should, therefore, stop using those labels as the means by which we make separation decisions. One man’s Fundamentalist is another man’s Conservative Evangelical. And one man’s Conservative Evangelical is another man’s Fundamentalist. Also, one man’s Fundamentalist is another man’s Heretic (actually this one often is applied mutually).

My point has been to argue that the real issue is biblically defined separation since the biblical call to separation existed long before Fundamentalism. If I lived in 1915, my responsibility would be to understand and apply the biblical principles to the challenges of that day. Nobody made their fellowship decisions on the basis of whether someone self-identified by the label Fundamentalist or not. Since the Bible is the normative standard for our practices we must base our decisions on what it states, not traditions (as in traditionally held applications).

Let me sharpen my point a little. When I read or hear someone call for separation from another person or ministry on the basis that they are not Fundamentalist or that they are Evangelical, my first question is something like, “On what basis is that assessment being made?” Perhaps I’m a little gun shy since I’ve had people say that I am not a Fundamentalist because I preach from the NASB (or for any number of items from a list that ranges from what our girls wear to my soteriology). But it’s worse than being gun shy, it’s rooted in the horrible decisions of self-professing separatists to ignore serious theological error merely because someone wears the right label or has historically run in the right crowd. That someone like Jack Schaap calls himself a Fundamentalist means absolutely nothing to me in terms of whether I can have ministerial fellowship with him or not. That someone who grew up outside of the Fundamentalist orbit and never identified himself by that label doesn’t do so means almost nothing to me in terms of whether I can have ministerial fellowship with him or not.

If a man believes (and practices that belief) that there is no Christian fellowship outside of agreement on the fundamentals of the faith, and that man believes (and practices that belief) that it is wrong to grant Christian recognition and fellowship to those who deny essential Christian doctrines, then I really don’t care what he calls himself. If he chooses to call himself a Fundamentalist, so be it. If he chooses not to call himself that, so what. The issue is separation vs. non-separation, not wearing the right label.

This is where the assumption part comes into the discussion. It seems to me that one ramification of the over-dependence on the labels is that it makes assumptions about what really needs to be proven. Of course, that is actually part of how labels develop and function—we put tags on things in order to cut down on the time it takes to sort everything out. I pastor a Baptist church and that label—Baptist—is shorthand for some specific beliefs and practices. I love that label and think it still serves its purpose very well, but I don’t think the Fundamentalist label does that anymore. Think about it, if you kept visiting Baptist churches that didn’t believe in the immersion of believers, wouldn’t begin to think that the label Baptist was becoming less effective? You would no longer be able to assume what you used to assume.

My contention is that there are Fundamentalists about whom it would be dangerous to assume that by wearing that label they hold to historic Fundamentalist beliefs and practices. Likewise, there are Evangelicals about whom it would be dangerous to assume that they hold to historic Evangelical beliefs and practices. Not all who claim to be Fundamental are. Not all who claim to be Evangelical are. Here’s the tricky one—some who don’t claim to be Fundamentalists actually are. The bottom line is that to base one’s fellowship decisions on the labels would be a serious mistake.

A few years ago one of our seminary grads was preparing to plant a church in another state and wanted support from our church. We had a pretty straightforward conversation over lunch one day about the church he intended to plant as to whether or not it was going to be a Baptist church. The cause of the discussion was the fact that the word Baptist was not going to be used in its name. That didn’t really matter to me. I wanted to know what the doctrine and practices of the church would be. The funny part of the conversation, at least to me, was when he kept saying it wouldn’t be a Baptist church (because it wasn’t named that) but couldn’t tell me one thing that a Baptist church believed and practiced that this new church wouldn’t believe and practice. Because I was convinced that it was in fact a Baptist church, I lead our church to help significantly in the church plant. Now, I readily acknowledge that some of my Baptist brethren would not do so. That’s fine. Each assembly needs to do what it thinks best on these matters. For me, though, the label wasn’t the issue. The content was.

The same thing holds true regarding ecclesiastical separation. What does a man believe? Does he implement those beliefs clearly and with some consistency? I may be out on an island by myself, but I’ve put the label thing behind me–unless I can get everybody to embrace a new one that I get define! :)

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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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