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.