“The Crisis of Modern Fundamentalism” – Colin Hansen in CT

“What concerns me more is that we have needlessly invited criticism and even ridicule, by a tendency in some quarters to parade secondary and sometimes even obscure aspects of our positions as necessary frontal phases of our view.”

That is from “The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism” written in 1947.

Sadly, this is still true in 2007. Rather than theological distinctions, secondary and even obscure positions of conviction that fundamentalists hold dear are still the distinguishing marks of modern fundamentalism today – and proudly.

To help people understand why this is so, I’ve written a series of blogs here on “Inside the Legalist Mindset,” with still more to come, where I have sought to address some of the problems with the mentality of legalistic fundamentalists, having myself come out of that movement.

Colin Hansen writes in Christianity Today that the fundamentalists are still at it: denouncing good men that God is using mightily, such as John Piper, and calling for separation from him since he associates with those from different theological perspectives (Presbyterians, Southern Baptists, etc.).

In a day when some of the most fundamental doctrines are under attack, namely, justification by faith alone, their biggest worries are still standards and separation. The extent of their theological concern is expressed in terms of separation from “theologically accommodating Christian movements.” This, while men like Piper are laboring intensely to combat serious theological dangers lurking about in the church, having recently written a book carefully correcting N.T. Wright’s unbiblical and dangerous statements on justification.

I don’t bring up Piper to necessarily make a defense of him in particular, but rather to show the misguided concerns that perennially concern many fundamentalists, as is so clearly illustrated in their recent denunciation of Piper in particular. Rather than theology being their central concern, it is personal standards and ecclesiastical associations that continue to be their chief concern. That’s not to say that how we live or who we allow to influence us doesn’t matter, but those are not nearly as significant as defending biblical theology with precision, care, thoughtfulness, grace, and conviction.

In other words, too often fundamentalists feel that they have come to God’s defense when they have attacked or separated from people they deem “liberal” (a broad brush in their hands), rather than carefully, reasonably, and effectively dealing with doctrinal error itself. It sounds tougher and bolder to holler against someone and denounce them than to graciously and carefully reason from the Scriptures in defense of the truth – apart from personal attacks.

This approach too often has no effect in actually instructing people in the truth or clarifying and exposing error, only deepening the fundamentalist’s isolation and Pharisaism – an approach that will only serve to reduce their influence on the wider church, and thus number their days as a movement.

Hansen writes in conclusion, “The difference between evangelicals and fundamentalists hasn’t been theology, though some fundamentalists would refuse to compromise on dispensationalism, for example. Fundamentalists have a strategy problem: Do they clamp down on these youngsters, risking a deeper generation gap? Or do they reconsider strict separation and cultural isolation? By choosing the latter, they may save their youth and lose their cause.”

I know that some in fundamentalism have begun to see through this erroneous way of thinking, and misplaced priorities, and have begun to gravitate away from it. This, in my opinion, is not only good news, but biblically warranted. Fundmentalists themselves recognize that “many in the newest generation of fundamentalist leadership were still committed to fundamentalist theology but uncomfortable with some of the more extreme positions on secondary separation, association, worship music, extra-biblical standards, and other issues.”

Praise the Lord for a new generation of thinking and biblically-reasoning people within fundamentalism. That is a cause for hope. Too bad the entrenched leadership’s response is to warn this new generation to be faithful to fundamentalism’s historic commitments to legalism and secondary separation.

That’s exactly the wrong response. It is a good thing that the new generation is seeing through the erroneous emphases of fundamentalism, and longing for a return to the emphasis of Scripture.

That’s what happened to me. I got tired of being so dogmatic about things the Bible is so non-dogmatic about. I got tired of not being able to ask honest questions without being called a heretic. I got tired of emphasizing anger over love. I got tired of condemning people God was so obviously using. I got tired of the focus on extra-biblical personal standards and the disdain for scholarly understanding of theology. I got tired of the harsh legalism and the low emphasis on love. I got tired of the comparison of spirituality among Christians. That kind of religion is a ministry of death, not life. Law, not grace.

I have left the movement, and I haven’t looked back. That may not be what everyone should do, because God may yet deliver fundamentalism from itself through this new generation of leaders. I pray He does just that.

(HT: Andy Naselli)

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One Response to “The Crisis of Modern Fundamentalism” – Colin Hansen in CT

  1. hughstan says:

    Well said, and good that brothers and sisters in Christ are able to discuss such things in harmony with the basic facts of Jesus Christ.

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