We are promoting FrontLine this week. We offered a look at the latest issue with its opening editorials and contents on Monday. Yesterday we published the lead article by Mark Ward, “Why I’m Still Here.” The articles in this issue of the magazine consist of testimonials from younger fundamentalists speaking to their reasons for remaining in the fundamentalist orbit. To give a brief summation, I think it is safe to say that they remain because they see things of value in the fundamentalist approach to Christianity. They are not blind to fundamentalist faults, but the virtues keep them rooted in fundamentalism.
I, for one, appreciate their candor and their desire to make a difference in the world through their Christian leadership. We need to hear more from them and from others like them. I encourage you to get this issue of Frontline and read their testimonies. Below you will find excerpts from their work in this issue, hopefully it will whet your appetite for more. — Don Johnson
My Experiences in Fundamentalism
“I have observed all kinds of things to love about my corner of fundamentalism. Traveling as deputees to Mexico allowed our family to observe dozens of fundamental churches, and the experience was nothing short of a delight. We met joyful families, well-taught congregations, and godly, faithful pastors. Around the time we were traveling to these churches, a couple of conferences on the conservative end of the evangelical spectrum were hashing out how to deal with people who deny the inerrancy of Scripture. They were not defending the Bible against the world but against other self-professing evangelical ministers. In the churches we were visiting in fundamentalism, by contrast, the inerrancy of Scripture was beyond settled, and the pastors and people were able to focus on other things.”
Scope and Turn
“Applying principles of separation is a tricky task. Hashing that out for my generation must be done, but it is beyond my purpose—or my word count. I would like to bring to light just one Scripture and apply it in such a way as to show how I believe the historic fundamentalist position lends itself to the safest spot for me as a pastor. That is the essential question, Where are the safest parts of God’s pasture for me as a broken under-shepherd to feed and lead the flock of God?”
Holding Fast to Sound Words
“Nevertheless, the central tenets of fundamentalism— that the gospel as revealed in God’s very own words is to be guarded as treasure and proclaimed as truth and applied in distinctive, everyday living—continue to resonate with me. These are sound words that have been transferred to me ‘in [the] faith and love which is in Christ Jesus’ (2 Tim. 1:13). In the fundamentalist institutions with which I am most familiar, these tenets act as governing principles.”
Talking and Listening Better
“Fundamentalists do not agree on all the practical details of what ‘holy living’ entails, and some push too far into harmful forms of legalism. But when I glance elsewhere, I find what seems to be a more prevailing propensity toward license and worldliness that concerns me.”
Why Am I a Fundamentalist?
“Goheen’s observation means that Christians cannot simply adopt non-Christian cultural forms and infuse them with Christian content. Cultural forms carry meaning with them. Indeed, they often serve to catechize people into the ways of the culture, into the ways of the world. In general, those who identify as fundamentalists have been more sensitive to concerns about worldly culture. Often they are shamed for this concern by having the label ‘legalist’ applied to them. Doubtless, this charge is true of some, but in my experience, concerns about worldliness have been driven by real desires to live lives that are pleasing to God in every respect.”
Honoring My Heritage
“God doesn’t leave NT believers guessing how practically to go about reflecting His holiness. He commands separation from the world (1 John 2:15–17), false teachers (Gal. 1:8–9; 2 John 9–11), and disobedient brethren (2 Thess. 3:6, 14–15). And yes, ‘disobedient brethren’ would include professing believers who refuse to separate from the world or false teachers.
“As I see the emphasis Scripture places on the holiness of God, I can’t help it—I just find myself naturally identifying with the movement that has a proven track record of practicing imitation of God’s holiness.”
Loyalty to Fundamentalism
“Many evangelicals also take doctrine seriously. Indeed, institutional evangelicalism relies on the recognition of fundamentals, because evangelicalism is best identified by its allegiance to various parachurch ministries. These parachurch organizations cross denominational lines, and so evangelicalism (by and large) is characterized by a theological minimalism: adherence to the gospel is the de facto sole standard for recognition as an evangelical.
“But as a result, evangelicals have rarely given careful enough thought to the relative importance of those doctrines which, although not themselves fundamentals, change how the fundamentals are understood. In my estimation, the evangelical acceptance of the Charismatic Movement is the chief example of this. Those who expect continued revelation from God have a source of authority that is on par with the Scriptures. Such a position does not, in itself, entail the rejection of the gospel. But it endangers the gospel, because it undercuts the sufficiency of the Word that proclaims the gospel.”
Commitment to the Gospel
“In broader circles, the trend in missions seems to be on humanitarian efforts—on prioritizing physical needs over spiritual needs or to the exclusion of them. Compassion is Christlike, but the Great Commission is fulfilled fully only by getting the teaching of Christ to the unsaved. The truth must be told while being shown. From my observation, fundamentalist institutions balance this tension well. GFA’s focus, for example, continues to be fervent evangelism, church planting, and training nationals. Our missionaries are compassionate. They may use medicine (medical missions) to provide a platform for the gospel. They may meet physical needs of refugees to open the door for evangelistic opportunities. They may start small businesses to gain access to countries closed to traditional missionaries. Yet the goal is always overtly the same: evangelism, church planting, and discipleship.”
“I heard one younger pastor say recently that the reason he tends to align more with conservative evangelicalism than with fundamentalism is because all of his mentors are from the evangelical orb. I guess I would have to say the opposite. I think godly people are usually loyal to the those who have loved and invested in them.”
“Finally, we cannot ignore that fundamentalism is made up of flawed, sinful people. I have met some wolves in sheep’s clothing, but I have also enjoyed countless hours of worship and fellowship with Bible-believing, likeminded Christians who are ‘pressing toward the mark’ just as I am. We are striving together day by day, moment by moment, on the journey of becoming more like Christ.
“If fundamentalism were perfect, I would have no part of it. I would be rejected, for I am flawed. I align with fundamentalism because of what I see around me. As I mature in Christ, I invest in relationships with those who are committed to the accurate study of God’s Word and enjoy simple, Christ-focused worship. We act as whetstones, ‘iron sharpening iron,’ in our pursuit of the knowledge of God, growing to love Him above all else, because He first loved us and gave Himself for us.”
Simplicity of Christian Living
“I don’t think you can argue that the church in America is too separated from the world. God’s people are not filling up churches all week to spend more time in prayer and Bible reading. On the contrary, the church seems to have a healthy appetite for every trinket or diversion in Vanity Fair.
“I find that a simplicity of Christian living is extremely valuable for my own Christian growth and for the health of the local church. I find this emphasis, however imperfectly, common among fundamentalists. While I think conservative evangelicalism would share this emphasis, it seems that many evangelical tribes revel in all the ways they are just like the ungodly.
“Fundamentalism has its problems, of course. There are significant doctrinal weaknesses in certain parts of fundamentalism and a dearth of preaching that really matures the members of Christ’s body. I want to help respond to and correct those problems. But while I do that, I don’t want my own soul or that of my children to be drawn away by a world system that is bent on doing just that.”
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