Archive for ‘Fundamentalism’

August 25, 2015

Is Fundamentalism Chasing Its Own Tail?

by Aaron Dunlop

A Dog Chasing TailSee Pt.1Pt.2Pt.3Pt.4 & Pt.5

For the past forty years or more fundamentalism has struggled with its own existence. During that time fundamentalists have been discussing the nature and the future of a movement that was intended to defend the truth, but that has—some would argue—developed into a cold, impotent, and isolated subdivision of the evangelical church. This might sound harsh, but this is, in essence, what many fundamentalists have been saying of themselves for a long time.

Again, we must remember that fundamentalism is not a monolithic movement. George Marsden said “fundamentalism was a mosaic of divergent and sometimes contradictory traditions and tendencies that could never be totally integrated.” In these articles I am speaking of a certain category of individuals within the broader movement. Dr. Bauder, a prolific fundamentalist writer and a professor at Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Minneapolis,  calls them “the most visible representatives,” the “noisiest” and, he thinks, “perhaps even a majority.” In the next article I will deal with what I believe is the “silent moderate majority” and why the “nosiest” and “most visible” appear to be the majority.

In his 1986 book, In Pursuit of Purity, Dr. David Beale, professor of history at Bob Jones University, wrote of the “neo-fundamentalist defection into broad evangelicalism” which, he said, began about 1970. There were, of course, reasons for this “defection” and Beale identified one of them in another part of his book:

Excesses and vagaries have frightened some Fundamentalists from the fountain of living waters, so that, rather than have wild fire, they have chosen to have no fire at all.

I know in other parts of the book Dr. Beale writes like a very moderate man. This statement however, is astounding and it betrays the deep-seated fundamentalist mentality. I will get back to this a little later; suffice it to say at this time that for many years now fundamentalist leaders have recognized that there were major problems in the movement. If you look through the last forty years of the movement you will discover that there have been some attempts at correcting these “excesses and vagaries,” but they have been minimally successful. Ten years after Beale’s book came out Dr. David L. Burggraff, who was then the academic dean of Calvary Baptist Theological Seminary in Lansdale, Pennsylvania, predicted that the “centrifugal forces” driving people out of fundamentalism would only accelerate. He was right, and the problems underlying those forces have not yet been corrected.

read more »

August 14, 2015

The Fly in the Fundamentalist Ointment

by Aaron Dunlop

The Practice of Sin of the Principle of SeparationSee Pt. 1Pt. 2Pt. 3 & Pt. 4

A few years ago, when Dr. Paisley made, what some saw as uncharacteristic political choices, the whole of Britain and Ireland, indeed the world media, buzzed with the news. I also was surprised, and, like a good Ulsterman and expat, I had my opinions. Ironically, I was in Northern Ireland at the time doing research on fundamentalism and preached for Dr. Paisley in his church in Belfast. Some wondered how I could disagree with Dr. Paisley and still preach for him.

To my mind the answer was very simple. Unlike many who publicly and vigorously disagreed with him, I found that my differences with Dr. Paisley did not impinge on my relationship with him and did not diminish my respect for him as a preacher of the gospel. Although I still had many questions, I could disagree with him without separating from him.

The question of what biblical ecclesiastical separation is has become pivotal in fundamentalism. Along with its “war psychology,” mentioned in a previous article, fundamentalism’s view of separation has become one of its most unfortunate characteristics. It has taken separation to outrageous lengths, failing to analyze it in the light of history or to base it on sound biblical exegesis, instead constructing its foundation on a number of misused scripture “proof texts.”

Furthermore, with many fundamentalists, separation has become the first and only choice for dealing with the slightest differences. In the fundamentalist mentality, disagreement on any level and on any issue constitutes a good reason for ecclesiastical separation. They disregard the possibility that some areas of separation could, and should be, dealt with on a case-by-case basis.

In some cases personality clashes and power-struggles even became the impetus for separation. This is why fundamentalism as a movement evolved from a coalition of churches holding mutually to the core doctrines of Scripture into a group of factions within a broader movement. This is the fly in the ointment.

The place to begin to understand the fundamentalist mentality on separation is the 1920s and 30s. The teaching of the church on separation prior to this time was very different. Read Calvin’s letters and see the spirit of catholicity; notice Whitefield’s acceptance of John Wesley; observe the Anglican J. C. Ryle during his bishopric in Liverpool. Read the life of Spurgeon and see the inter-church relations practiced in London during his tenure in the Metropolitan Tabernacle. How was their practice of separation different from what we know today?

I have already noted one difference in a previous article: unlike their predecessors, the fundamentalists “failed to connect their convictions with the classical creeds of the church.” There’s another difference. The church splits of the late 1920s and early 30s were so novel, so ground-breaking, and so traumatic that many of that generation never recovered from the trauma. Christendom had not seen such a divisive period since the time of the Reformation. Whole ministries were shaped by the battles of the 1920s and by its atmosphere of antagonism. The antagonism of that period became the animas of fundamentalism in later years and shaped the way many fundamentalists viewed others in the broader Christian church.

read more »

August 12, 2015

Understanding the Powerful Personalities of Fundamentalism

by Aaron Dunlop

B5344R Northern Ireland Sept. 1969. Reverend Ian Paisley seen here with his wife and Dr Carl McIntyre. They were speaking at the Intern

Dr. Carl McIntyre and Dr. Ian Paisley (Sept. 1969). Copyright, Trinity Mirror.

On Easter Sunday evening in 1990 when I was a zealous seventeen year old, a few friends and I made the fifteen-minute drive to a more informal after-meeting for the youth in Dr. Paisley’s church in east Belfast, Northern Ireland. That was a big year for us young fundamentalists. In July the World Congress of Fundamentalists would meet in London, England, and I was planning to attend it with hundreds of fundamentalists who would converge from around the world to celebrate their orthodoxy.

At Dr. Paisley’s annual Easter Convention, however, a sampling of fundamentalists were gathered from the United Kingdom and the U.S. The event, after the Easter Sunday evening service, was a question-and-answer session, something like the Jewish practice of sitting at the feet of the rabbis “listening to them and asking them questions.”

One of the questions that evening had to do with fundamentalism, in particular the distinction between first- and second-generation fundamentalists. I remember in particular two things about that answer. The first thing was a little humorous and awkward—at least I thought so—for one man. Dr. Paisley implied that this man was a “second-generation” fundamentalist while he believed himself to be a “first-generation” fundamentalist. “First-generation” status was obviously a badge to be worn with pride.

The second thing I remember about that evening was the emphasis that Dr. Paisley put on the need for young people to know the history of fundamentalism and the sacrifice it had taken to be a first–generation fundamentalist. He emphasized the cost and the sacrifice that first-generation fundamentalists had to make. This application to us young people was a regular occurrence when Dr. Paisley was on the subject. Preaching in 1981 at the thirtieth anniversary of the first Free Presbyterian Church in Crossgar, Dr. Paisley said,

I would say to the young people here…, we are leaving you a great heritage. Be faithful to it! Remember the sacrifices that were made that you might have a church free from apostasy and popery, and free to serve the Lord Christ.

Dr. Paisley was correct when he said that they left a “great heritage.” That heritage is the gospel, the Reformed faith (in the Northern Ireland context at least). For that we salute them. But that heritage was not without its problems; it was in some respects a poisoned chalice. It is this that has occupied the public conversation of fundamentalists now for decades.

Ironically, the character traits needed to build and defend the walls of fundamentalism were the same as those that did so much harm within the walls. Dealing with the lives and legacy of some of these leaders is not easy. Some of the things that went on and the things that were said are shocking. Some can be chalked up to pulpit rhetoric, and others, while inexcusable, can be explained in their context. I want, in this article, to try to work our way through the maze. We may not get through to the end, but I hope we will get set in the right direction.

T_T_ShieldsThe legacy that many of these men left was not as endearing as they might have hoped and some of it has already been recorded in these articles. Arnold Dallimore, who held Dr. T. T. Shields in very high regard, concluded his biography of Shields with these striking words:

read more »

August 5, 2015

The Dangers of the Fundamentalist Mentality

by Aaron Dunlop


See Pt. 1 & Pt. 2.

A number of years ago I was speaking in a church on the subject of salvation. I made the point, as a side note, that salvation is not a one-time event, but that it is a process. In fact, the New Testament speaks of salvation using all of the tenses—past, present/continuous, and future, “I was saved,” “I am saved” (justification), “I am being saved” (sanctification), and “I will be saved” (glorification).

A few days later as I sat in a restaurant with two fundamentalist preachers who had been present in the meeting and who were much older men than I, one of them cautioned me about speaking of salvation in this way. His fear was that it could confuse people. I admitted that I may have caused confusion by the way I framed my thoughts, but I underlined the importance and benefit of seeing the full biblical perspective of salvation from the Scriptures. Thankfully, the other gentleman came to my defense.

In some church circles it is customary to preach specifically to Christians in the morning worship service and to preach a dedicated “gospel” (i.e., evangelistic) message in the evening service to the unconverted. This practice developed in cultures in which the unsaved would attend the evening service rather than the morning, which is no longer the case. On two occasions now after Sunday evening services I have been questioned as to why I did not preach “the gospel”!

On one occasion, just prior to the service, the minister asked my subject matter. I gave him the title of my sermon and he said, “Do you not preach the gospel on a Sunday evening?” I replied, with a light-hearted smile, “I preach the gospel every time I preach” and we made our way to the pulpit.

On another occasion, after preaching on the subject of glorification from 1 John 3:1–3 and, incidentally, with an unsaved friend in the meeting, I was asked at the door by a young lady, “Do you not believe in preaching the gospel on a Sunday night?” My reply to her was, “What do you think you just heard?”

While these three incidents were in a congenial atmosphere, they betray a limited, if not an unbiblical use, of the words “salvation” and “gospel.” These incidents bring to the surface the idea that the gospel is a message for unbelievers and that believers need some sort of post-gospel message, a different message. In short, one might say, “I’ve heard the gospel; I’m saved. Now just tell me how to live as a Christian.”

On the face of it this statement might seem quite biblical. However, two problems arise out of it in the context of the fundamentalist movement: a shallow evangelism and a tendency to legalistic holiness.

Ironically, the early fundamentalist movement had a keen interest in the conversion of sinners and a high regard for personal holiness. However, perversions of these two virtues have become fundamentalism’s greatest danger. In many areas of the movement, both evangelism and personal holiness degenerated into empty forms without a sound and exegetical foundation. Holiness became a mere form, a list of “does and don’ts,” and evangelism became an invitation to “accept Jesus” without a clear understanding of the depth of original and personal sin or the glory and fullness of what sinners are invited to in the gospel.

Before I address these two areas of evangelism and holiness, let me say something about the reason for this shift from principles to empty form: the lack of exegetical foundation.

Fundamentalists have always been very principled people. The problem is that the movement became so principle driven that a fundamentalist mentality formed outside of a biblical framework. According to E. J. Carnell the “capital mistake” that converted fundamentalism from a “movement to a mentality” was that, “unlike the Continental Reformers and the English Dissenters, the Fundamentalists failed to connect their convictions with the classical creeds of the church.” E. J. Carnell again:

read more »

August 4, 2015

The Achilles Heel of Fundamentalism

by Aaron Dunlop

War on ModernismSee part 1, Fundamentalism: The Development of a Movement.

Fundamentalism never wavered from its original purpose to defend the faith. This was its greatest virtue and the reason for its success in leaving us “better days.” Despite the merits of fundamentalism, however, and its evident success, the movement developed quite a prominent Achilles heel.

As I said at the beginning, fundamentalism was an extremely complex movement. Historians differ on its crystallizing points. There are significant ecclesiastical considerations: its non-denominationalism was a contributing factor. There are also theological considerations: a strong dispensational pre-millennialism played a large part in its growth. Others see the core of fundamentalism forming around educational institutions (schools, colleges, and universities) or mission agencies, conferences, and the many fundamentalist periodicals that came into existence.

It is clear that fundamentalism was never a homogenous movement and it is equally clear that all of the factors mentioned above had their part to play in its growth. But what caused it to grow into the divisive movement that was marked by infighting and schism? What was the impetus of the aggressive isolationism that developed in its ranks when ecclesiastical separation became the preferred method of dealing with secondary issues?

Why did some fundamentalists—more “moderate” in their temperament—distance themselves from the more radical or militant fundamentalists? I’m thinking now of men like J. Gresham Machen, Francis Schaeffer and J. Oliver Buswell, Robert Reymond, and more recently, John MacArthur, Jr. There were also men in England like Martyn Lloyd-Jones and in Northern Ireland, like W. J. Grier. Ian Paisley had been preaching in the Evangelical Presbyterian Church before his ordination. Grier preached Paisley’s ordination sermon in 1946, which interestingly, was not considered constitutionally legitimate by many other Presbyterians. Just a few years later, in the early 1950s Grier actively distanced himself from Ian Paisley and eventually from Carl McIntyre in America also.

I cannot speak for all of these individuals, but it is well-documented history why a distance formed between some of these men despite the fact that they all defended and preached the same gospel and all were opposed to liberalism. By far the most common reason for this distance from fundamentalism was that many moderate men felt that their form of fundamentalism was too bombastic, clamorous, and abrasive, as Lloyd-Jones famously explained to T. T. Shields in Toronto. Some moderates also perceived the fundamentalist leaders to be power-hungry “ecclesiastical adventurers.”

There was also the fact that fundamentalism developed alongside political ideologies both in North America and in Northern Ireland. In North America fundamentalism became closely allied with the politics of the anti-communist movement and the struggle against America’s foreign policy regarding the Soviet Union and China. In Northern Ireland, militant “fighting fundamentalism” developed in connection with the political struggles and the threat of a united Ireland which coincided with an antipathy towards Roman Catholicism. In Canada William Aberhart from Alberta founded the Social Credit Party during the depression of the 1930s, and during WWII T. T. Shields became more political against the Roman Catholic Province of Quebec. Shields’s political aspirations did not come to anything.

read more »

%d bloggers like this: