Monday, June 15, 2009

Don't call me a Fundamentalist....I'm a fundamentalist!

Is it possible to be a fundamentalist without being a Fundamentalist? Let me try that question again… Is it possible to be a fundamentalist without being in Fundamentalism? I think that’s a better way of asking my question…

I think that people on both sides of the never-ending “IFB / CE” debate tend to forget some key points. We “young guys” for instance tend to forget that being a “fundamentalist” means something more than just an adherence to the Fundamentals whereas some tend to forget that being a “Fundamentalist” is more than just an issue of separation.

In the last 150+ years Fundamentalism has adopted separation as one of her major hallmarks. This is a righteous stance insofar as it coincides with biblical teaching. Too often those of us who have grown more and more enamored with Evangelicalism want to assign the moniker of “historic fundamentalist” to everybody we like regardless of whether or not they actually fit the bill (i.e., practice separation).

Now I realize that, in the beginning, Fundamentalism was a movement designed to correct and reform rather than to separate, but that ship has long sense sailed. The downward spiral of mainstream “religiosity” demanded a more robust response, and Fundamentalism responded appropriately with a stance of radical separation. Now this separation wasn’t from folks who just did things a bit “differently”; rather, it was from apostasy, doctrinal error, disobedient brethren, and theological compromisers. These days of course, “separation” has taken on completely different meanings. Some Fundamentalists refuse to acknowledge or fellowship with other fundamentalists based on things like: denominational affiliation (Fundamentalism was a non-denominational movement until the last 80 years or so), music standards, bible versions, and even issues of dress. These things notwithstanding, the doctrines of personal and ecclesiastical separation are both important and vital.

In recent years it seems to me that some groups who are decidedly outside of the Fundamentalist movement practice a more biblical separation model than many of those who are part of Fundamentalism. Taking it a step further, I think that there are as many groups outside of Fundamentalism who legitimately fit into the mold of “historical fundamentalist” as there are within the movement (btw, some of these groups aren’t even Baptists!).

I say all that to get to this point: the idea of “leaving Fundamentalism” is more about identification with a movement (or nonidentification) than it is about a change in philosophy and ideals. While I can make a statement to the effect that I will one day leave Fundamentalism (the movement), I will always remain a fundamentalist (the idea)…this is by conviction.

If our brothers who depart from Fundamentalism are still practicing fidelity to the Word, exhibiting separation from the world and worldliness, remaining sound in there doctrinal beliefs, practicing separation from apostasy and disobedient brethren, maintaining and exhibiting a belief in the inerrancy of Scripture, demonstrating a passion for souls and working to reach the lost for Christ, holding to an orthodox theology, and living a life that demonstrates a deepening relationship with the Savior, we need to encourage them, rejoice with them, and maintain a proper fellowship with them…..not spit on and separate from them!

I guess that this is the most frustrating part of this conversation as far as I’m concerned. Too many of us are more concerned with keeping guys in a loosely defined, non-structured movement than we are in encouraging them to remain faithful to the things that actually matter. Fundamentalism (the movement) may well shrivel up and die; however, fundamentalism (the idea) will not. As a matter of fact, fundamentalism (the idea) has been alive and well for much longer than has the movement…


Don Johnson said...

Hey, Ellis...

I'm not concerned with keeping anybody in anything. I am concerned with keeping watch on schools and other institutions that fundamentalists (loosely defined) support. I have children that I am sending to such schools and I want them to come out with the same philosophy I raised them with (although I understand they won't exactly be cookie cutter mimics of me). I send kids from my church to these schools. I want them to come out with basically the same philosophy.

Where the rest of the 'yfs' fall is up to them. They aren't my responsibility. But I don't want my labours to be in vain.

In the end, we may end up with a situation where it is better to send kids to secular schools right here in our city and keep them in our own church and ministry than to send them off to a supposedly fundamentalist school only to have their fundamentalism ridiculed and shamed out of them.

Does that make sense?

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Travis said...

I too have been frustrated by the Fundamentalist movement. By the time I entered high school I had a very bitter taste from the Fundamentalist movement. It hasn't been until this last year at college where I discovered it is possible to be a fundamentalist without all of the baggage of the Fundamentalist movement. I have enjoyed reading your blog and finding someone who feels the same way I do.

Ellis Murphree said...


Does this really happen? I attended a fundy college back in the early - mid 90's and never encountered a conversation where Fundamentalism was being put down. Granted, the "conversation" has changed significantly during the last 5 or 6 years....

The closest to criticism I ever encountered was in areas regarding methodologies being employed by the movements’ top evangelists of the day and the Bible version issue.

I suppose the "criticism" on the "campii" of fundy colleges would likely depend on the particular situation of the student. For instance, if you have grown up in "Hyles style" fundamentalism and you attend a GARBC type fundy college, I suppose that your brand of fundamentalism might be met with some criticism (and vice versa).

All that said, I get what you're saying and where your concerns lie. I can also see where certain "old school" philosophies might be met with some resistance in a typical fundy school. I would suggest, however, that if the philosophies are grounded in truth and the kids have a firm biblical understanding of "why" we do things a certain way, then they should be able to withstand criticism and defend their views with the Word.

I say all this with an admitted ignorance of what is currently taking place on the fundy college campuses....

Ellis Murphree said...


I don't know that I ever had a "bitter taste" in my mouth regarding Fundamentalism until I spent several of my adult years working in a Hyles-type church. The good thing that came out of that time is that I saw a TON of things that caused me to scratch my head and to start asking questions. What resulted (for me) was - for the first time in my life - a truly studious approach to the Bible and Theology. I came out of that time with a more firm grasp on what I believed and why than I had ever had.

All that said, the experience got so bad that I was ready to start my own home church when it was all said and done! (j/k). I nearly abandoned Fundamentalism for good right then and there (nearly 5 years ago).

In the years since I've come to realize that there are probably more "good guys" left than bad out there....

Thanks for your comment, brother. Stay grounded in the Word!

Don Johnson said...

Hi Ellis,

The things we have observed is often persecution of the more conservative young people in the dorms. Generally speaking the administration is on board with the old school, but certain individuals in the lower echelons may not be. Certainly we have seen kids who want to stand for holiness and godliness (and are not arrogant boors, but truly godly young people) have suffered at the hands of other students. The most egregious forms of this is when it comes from spiritual leaders in the dorms, or when the spiritual leaders take the side of the less godly.

There are also some disturbing signs coming out of various faculty at various schools, not an overt abandonment of fundamentalism, but comments etc in a fairly public way that are disturbing.

I realize that I am being very general here. I don't want to be specific because I don't want to identify institutions or individuals in any way. But just want you to understand why I am constantly contending in this area.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3