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Yesterday’s post examined 19th century fundamentalism in America, which was more open to philosophy and science than the 21st.

Continuing with more observations from Dr Roger Olson on the subject, he states (emphases mine):

The term “fundamentalist” has evolved over the years … Something changed around 1920. (This history is well recounted in a variety of books about the history of fundamentalism and evangelicalism.) A fundamentalist leader, William Bell Riley, added premillennialism to the list of fundamentals of the faith. After the Scopes trial in 1925 many, if not most, self-described fundamentalists adopted “biblical separationism” and later even “secondary separationism” (John R. Rice, Bob Jones, Carl McIntire, etc.). The “neo-evangelicals” were fundamentalists who disagreed with the separatism and militancy of the leading fundamentalists and founded the National Association of Evangelicals. They invited the leading fundamentalists to join, but they refused because the NAE included Pentecostals. Especially after that (1941/1942) “fundamentalism” has had the connotation of separatism from even fellow evangelicals who are not considered doctrinally pure. Mike’s [author of the piece excerpted and discussed below] point is that SOME of that mentality is creeping back into mainstream evangelicalism. He calls it “neo-fundamentalism.” I call it “conservative evangelicalism with a fundamentalist flavor.” “Neo-fundamentalism” is pragmatically better. In one sense, all conservative evangelicals are fundamentalists–going back to the original meaning of the label. But so much has happened between then and now I’m not sure that first meaning can be useful.

This comment refers to an article by a friend of Olson’s — Michael Clawson — from Baylor University’s Department of Religion. The article is called ‘Young, Restless, and Fundamentalist: Neo-fundamentalism among American Evangelicals‘.

Clawson states:

The driving force behind neo-fundamentalism, as with historic fundamentalism, is a “remnant mentality.” Neo-fundamentalists believe they alone are remaining true to the fullness of the gospel and orthodox faith while the rest of the evangelical church is in grave, near-apocalyptic danger of theological drift, moral laxity, and compromise with a postmodern culture – a culture which they see as being characterized by a skepticism towards Enlightenment conceptions of “absolute truth,” a pluralistic blending of diverse beliefs, values, and cultures, and a suspicion of hierarchies and traditional sources of authority.[3] Because of this hostility toward postmodern ways of thinking, neo-fundamentalists have little tolerance for diversity of opinions among evangelicals on any issues they perceive as essential doctrines – which are most of them – as opposed to the broader evangelical movement which historically has allowed for a much wider range of disagreement on disputable matters.[4] Neo-fundamentalists thus respond to the challenges of a postmodern culture by narrowing the boundaries of what they consider genuinely evangelical and orthodox Christianity, and rejecting those who maintain a more open stance.

While similar, this new movement’s primary concerns are typically not the same as those of more traditional fundamentalists. In regards to behavioral standards, for instance, neo-fundamentalists are less concerned about the sort of moral restrictions that animated conservatives of a century ago: drinking, dancing, card playing and the like.[5] Instead they typically focus on contemporary social issues like gender roles or sexual orientation. And while they would still agree with earlier fundamentalists on issues of scriptural inerrancy or anti-evolution, their theological arguments more commonly focus on the nature of truth and Calvinistic soteriology. Institutionally, this movement is not arising from the older bastions of fundamentalism – Bob Jones University, Moody Bible Institute, or even Liberty University – but within mainstream evangelical circles – from Gordon-Conwell, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School; from well-known and influential mega-church pastors in the Twin Cities, Seattle, and Southern California; and from massive worship festivals and ministry conferences popular with tens of thousands of evangelical college students as well as numerous pastors and lay-leaders. Leading voices associated with this trend include scholars like David Wells, DA Carson and Albert Mohler, Religious Right media-personalities like James Dobson, and well-known pastors like John MacArthur, John Piper and Mark Driscoll.

I could be wrong, but it seems as if Clawson is Arminian as his thrust appears to be anti-Calvinist. Someone in the comments helpfully points out that Arminians are also involved in neo-fundamentalism.

Indeed, James Dobson — whom Clawson names — is a member of the Church of the Nazarene, a Wesleyan holiness church. As such, Dobson is an Arminian.

Dobson is the founder of Focus on the Family ministries, and many fundamentalist Protestants will be familiar with his advocacy of harsh parenting methods.

Clawson observes Dobson’s rise to prominence and contrasts the recent fundamentalists with earlier evangelicals, such as Billy Graham:

Despite the success of this evangelical movement, a resurgence of fundamentalist attitudes began in the late 1970s and 80s in reaction against the massive cultural shifts of the 1960s.[7] As the “culture wars” heated up, evangelicals began increasingly to reclaim the “fighting” spirit of their fundamentalist forebears. Key to this development was Dr. James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family ministries. While more traditionally fundamentalist leaders like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson had only limited appeal among mainstream evangelicals, Dobson’s status as a parenting guru, the broadly evangelical nature of his ministry, and his brilliant command of the medium of talk radio, gave him access to a much wider religious audience and enabled him to bring millions of evangelicals along when he joined the culture wars in the early 1980s. Dobson served as a bridge between traditional fundamentalism and contemporary evangelicalism and at the same time laid the seeds of a neo-fundamentalist movement increasingly hostile to the broader culture.

Dobson’s son, Ryan, wrote a book five years ago

entitled Be Intolerant: Because Some Things Are Just Stupid, which encourages teens to be intolerant (“in love”) of “stupid” ideas like homosexuality, environmentalism, and liberal politics.[11]

This is why we need thinkers again — theologians with a mastery of philosophy as well as theology. None of the Calvinists Clawson names are thinkers as were the Princeton Theologians of the 19th century. However, today’s pastors John Piper, Al Mohler and Mark Driscoll are popular. I agree with Clawson that they have a following among younger Protestants.

I suspect that some of the anxiety about this development is that Arminians wonder why they don’t have the stars that Calvinism does. To that, I have no answer but it is an ironic development, given that Arminians were forceful and populist preachers in the 19th century.

However, his article got me thinking about what happened after 1920, so let’s return to what Dr Olson said.

Wikipedia explains the development of Christian fundamentalism around this time:

Fundamentalism was especially controversial among Presbyterians. Although it began in the North its greatest popular strength was in the South, especially among Southern Baptists. By the late 1920s the national media had identified it with the South, largely ignoring manifestations elsewhere.[18]

The leading organizer of the Fundamentalist campaign against modernism was William Bell Riley, a Northern Baptist based in Minneapolis, where his Northwestern Bible and Missionary Training School (1902), Northwestern Evangelical Seminary (1935), and Northwestern College (1944) produced thousands of graduates. Riley created, at a large conference in Philadelphia in 1919, the World’s Christian Fundamentals Association (WCFA). It became the chief interdenominational fundamentalist organization in the 1920s. Although the fundamentalist drive of the 1920s to take control of the major Protestant denominations failed at the national level, the network of churches and missions fostered by Riley shows the movement was growing in strength, especially in The South. Both rural and urban in character, the flourishing movement acted as a denominational surrogate and aimed at a militant orthodoxy of evangelical Christianity. Riley was president until 1929, after which the WFCA faded in importance and was never replaced.[19]

In 1923, Riley

set up the Anti-Evolution League of Minnesota, which blossomed the following year into the Anti-Evolution League of America (later run by T. T. Martin). While the anti-evolution crusade is often thought of as a Southern phenomenon, two of its foremost leaders, Riley and John Roach Straton, were from Minneapolis and New York City respectively. In the early 1920s Riley promoted a vigorous anti-evolutionary campaign in the Northwest and it was Riley’s World Christian Fundamentals Association that wired William Jennings Bryan urging him to act as counsel for the association in the Scopes Trial.[1]

Riley and Bryan tried to remove all teaching of evolution from public schools. One of the creationists in their movement, T. T. Martin claimed that German soldiers who killed Belgian and French children by giving them poisoned candy were angels compared to those who spread evolution ideas in schools.[2] Riley also claimed that “an international Jewish-Bolshevik-Darwinist conspiracy to promote evolutionism in the classroom”[3] was behind the changes in curriculum occurring in the 1920s. Riley advocated a form of “Day-Age Creationism.[1]

Note that not even Riley believed in a literal six 24-hour-day period of creation. He also held to the Old Earth theory.

William Jennings Bryan, the devout Presbyterian who was the prosecution lawyer in the Scopes Monkey Trial at Riley’s request, even held to the Old Earth theory of creation:

Bryan opposed the theory of evolution for two reasons. First, he believed that what he considered a materialistic account of the descent of man through evolution undermined the Bible. Second, he saw Social Darwinism as a great evil force in the world promoting hatred and conflicts, especially the World War.[35]

According to author Ronald L. Numbers, Bryan was not nearly as much of a fundamentalist as many modern-day creationists, and is more accurately described as a “day-age creationist: “William Jennings Bryan, the much misunderstood leader of the post–World War I antievolution crusade, not only read the Mosaic “days” as geological “ages” but allowed for the possibility of organic evolution—so long as it did not impinge on the supernatural origin of Adam and Eve.[43]

That I didn’t know, but when I was a teenager in the 1970s, fundamentalist Protestants were already accepting the literal 24-hour day interpretation, so I assumed Bryan had so many years ago.

Later, in the 1950s, Billy Graham broke with the fundamentalist movement because he wished to embrace ecumenism and work with leaders of other denominations as part of his ministry.

In the 1960s, fundamentalists became closely identified with political conservatism. In the 1970s, they began incorporating more social messages into their public activism. You can see a timeline of the Christian Right’s development for more detail.

Now, unfortunately, fundamentalism is the public face of Protestant Christianity and has been for at least the past three decades. Fundamentalists will not have a problem with this, but the rest of us will as a whole generation of Western onlookers have grown up thinking this is how all Christians think.

Even the word ‘Christian’ becomes problematic. When I was growing up, we identified ourselves by denomination. Everyone knew where each other was coming from, so to speak. I would still prefer to identify by denomination, because we would all then know the beliefs behind it.  When I hear the word ‘Christian’, I automatically think ‘Evangelical’, which isn’t always helpful.

The other difficulty is the neo-fundamentalist focus on gender roles, as Clawson points out in his essay. Unfortunately, this is popular in both Calvinist and Arminian circles.  Olson has a number of posts which examine this development with a measured yet critical eye.  Men are becoming more macho in their expressions of faith and how it extends to the home; women, as a result, are being sidelined. Federal headship is a hot topic among a number of younger husbands and fathers who believe that things were always this way. Women should be quite careful of how much of this they accept because much of this could become something akin to a Christian Taliban perspective, for lack of better words.

This leads to dysfunctional children and marriages, not to mention cult-like congregations. Young people and abused wives will want to leave the Church full stop.  I read a blog post three years ago which said that women were made to suffer and that abused wives should just suck it up; it would all count towards their merit on Judgment Day.

On a related post from 2006 which discusses the ‘remnant mentality’, a male reader has this to say:

… ultimately I had a wonderful grace experience where God revealed that my Fundamentalist Christian upbringing turned God the Father into an abusive parent. I think the one aspect of Neo- Fundamentlism that you neglect to adress is this sense of God having forsaken people …

Another man points out the dichotomy between the original, measured fundamentalists and today’s:

I see Fundamentalism as at the turn of the twentieth century as different than what Fundamentalism became after the R.A. Torrey, Machen, Warfield days. It seems to become strident and militantly separatist later, in ways that it was not originally.

Another chap writes:

Jesus called for people to follow him and and with clarity laid out what he was doing. Fundamentalism, neo or otherwise has a need to define the enemy, and more often than not this enemy is found within their ranks, those who will not agree with them. There is an anger and a fear that you just do not see in the gospels.

Having seen the statements of faith of some of the fundamentalist organizations (neo or otherwise) it is the detail that grabs your attention. They cover every point – far beyond the classic creeds of the church.

A woman notes:

I have been among and a part of fundamentalist communities. I admire their commitment, the willingness to put personal feelings aside in service of higher ideals, and the desire to lead lives of integrity and moral uprightness.

I do find some of the results of their scrupulousness dangerous, though, and not just to themselves. Too many children raised in these homes have been damaged by the enclave culture they are reared in. The vast array of ex-fundamentalist websites, books, support groups and discussion groups reveal commonalities of mistreatment that these now-adults find unconscionable.

So for me, I’m not one to point fingers too strongly at beliefs since most of us are doing the best we can with limited information. But when those beliefs are damaging to others, then I start to wonder if there shouldn’t be some uncovering of what has been hidden and cloistered for the sake of those who are a part of those communities without much choice (namely kids).

This comment expresses my reservations about today’s fundamentalism:

What is wrong with it? In my opinion the issues are in many cases not obvious. Common sense does not lead everyone to the same conclusion. God’s scriptures, while the inspired authority for the church, are not nearly as clear as proposed. It rejects a great deal of the rich history of the church. Most importantly it sets up fences that can serve to drive many from God and provides many others with an excuse for not even being willing to consider the Christian story as reasonable view of the universe, as one worth exploring.

In that regard neo-fundamentalism is accomplishing its purpose in playing to the ‘remnant mentality’.

The people thinking they are helping the Church might be the ones doing Her the most harm.

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