Sunday, January 27, 2013

Evangelicals and the "New" Fundamentalism

As per usual, Brandan offers up an incisive critique of the new fundamentalism, broadly defined as Mark Driscoll and others involved in the Reformed movement. He offers the following definition of what fundamentalism is. Before I comment on this, I want to emphasize that I think I more or less agree with him. We had a wonderful little back and forth a while back so I enjoyed his post a lot.

"Fundamentalism was a movement that arose in the late 19th and early 20th centuries within American Protestantism reacting against “modernist” theology and biblical criticism as well as changes in the nation’s cultural and social scene... During the 1920s, fundamentalists waged a war against modernism in three ways: by (unsuccessfully) attempting to regain control of Protestant denominations, mission boards, and seminaries; by supporting (with mixed success) Prohibition, Sunday “blue laws,” and other measures defending traditional Protestant morality and sensibilities; and (fairly successfully) by attempting to stop the teaching of evolution in the public schools." (Wheaton ISAE)
To expand upon the movement itself, Fundamentalism has generally accepted the following list of theological propositions:
  • The inerrancy of the Bible
  • The literal nature of the Biblical accounts, especially regarding Christ's miracles and the Creation account.
  • The Virgin Birth of Christ
  • The bodily resurrection and physical return of Christ
  • The penal substitutionary atonement of Christ on the cross
 Before I add more of what Brandan wrote, I want to respond a bit to this. I think fundamentalism (1920s and so one) arose out of the modernist controversy, spearheaded by multiple fronts: 'errors' in Scripture, archeology and evolution. The split from Princeton (done by J. Gresham Machen and others) was seen specifically as a reaction to these issues. Whereas folk like B.B. Warfield accommodated the threats and worked to adapt theologically.

This was seen by many as apostacy and evangelicalism ever since has been working out it's faith with much fear and trembling. Fuller Seminary worked within this controversy to find a third way, and it looks like they have succeeded.

Here we get to the meat of Brandan's response. He writes:
So what are your thoughts? Is New Fundamentalism truly a new movement? Let me know!
Frankly, no.

I don't think Mark Driscoll, D.A. Carson or the Gospel Coalition are saying anything new within fundamentalism (and I only use those names because they are easily recognized, not because I'm currently on an anti-Driscoll binge). I don't think this fundamentalism is new simply because they aren't saying anything new. Dress up a puppy dog in jeans and give him a faux-hawk and he's still a puppy dog.

Much of what the current fundamentalists (which could be considered evangelical but I'm not certain they really want the label) are saying is primarily sectarian. Case in point, see Rob Bell. The difference between much of fundamentalism, both classic and modern, is primarily superficial. Carson and Driscoll emphasize gender roles and eternal conscious torment just as much as John Calvin, John Rice and others.

Allow me to conclude that I could be wrong. From my research, there are nuances to be sure but by and large much is what is written and said by Driscoll and others falls directly in line with the fundamentalism in the modernist controversy. I wouldn't call this the "new" fundamentalism simply because, to my knowledge, it isn't "new."



  1. Nick-

    I think I agree with everything you have said here. I think I would argue it is in fact "new" in the way it looks- not on the theological level, but on the superficial level. Mark Driscoll certainly doesn't fit in with classic fundamentalists- ie John MacArthur- he is very "contextualized". He embraces postmodern appearence but a thuroughly fundamentalist theology.

    Like you comic too. It's pretty much spot on!

    Thanks for responding, Nick. Your brilliance is greatly admired.

    1. I think your distinction "new in appearance" now makes far more sense to me. I concur.

      Thank you for commenting. God bless. :)


  2. Nick,
    I can't comment on the state of fundamentalism in the US, but I'm interested in the third step of the cartoon - man not made in God's image. That one seems completely out of sync with the others to me.