December 14, 2017

The Future of Fundamentalism?

John Vaughn

In his review of the book Evangelicalism Divided, by Iain H. Murray, which appears in this issue of FrontLine, the late Dr. Jim Singleton concludes with this question, “Will Fundamentalism remain true to its heritage, or will it produce from its ranks another generation of New Evangelicals?” Good question. Other articles in this issue provide food for thought on the subject.

For example, the excerpt from Nathan’s Young’s dissertation on the Fellowship Principle illustrated by the FBFI rightly demonstrates that “a Baptist fellowship is a loosely organized group of like-minded individuals, voluntarily united by a common faith and practice, for the purpose of mutual encouragement and the maintenance of doctrinal fidelity.” Dave Doran argues cogently that “maintaining and promoting doctrinal purity is … of primary importance, not secondary.” Clearly, the future of Fundamentalism is inseparable from its relationship to doctrine.

In another article, Don Harrelson appeals to older Fundamentalists to mentor those who are following them in the movement. A pastor’s wife asks those who are shopping for satisfaction in a local church, “Are we to serve the church, or is it to serve us?” These authors help us understand that people have legitimate needs, but it is all too possible to confuse needs with mere desires. The future of Fundamentalism will be affected by the spiritual conflict between serving and selfishness. We must have right doctrine plus self-denial.

But, what of Dr. Singleton’s pointed question? What is the future of Fundamentalism? Although New Evangelicals may rise from the ranks of Fundamentalism, I doubt that fundamentalism actually produces New Evangelicals. In a sense, New Evangelicalism may produce Fundamentalists. I think this can be demonstrated historically. It was liberalism and modernism that set the stage for the rise of Fundamentalism in the 1920s. But New Evangelicalism and its complicity with an increasingly secularized society defined the need for militant separatist Fundamentalism in the 1950s.

Today, the polarization of Bible believers could give impetus to a “third-wave” of Fundamentalism. On the one hand much of what clings to the name “Fundamentalism” has devolved into a mere cultural phenomenon. It is arrogant independence that is more militant about the name “Fundamentalism” than its principles. On the other hand we see an increasing number who are ashamed of the term while trying to defend its principles. There are plenty of indicators that many in the former group are just carnal. There are also indicators that some in the latter group may be “new” New Evangelicals.

Perhaps the future of Fundamentalism will be the result of its response to these two groups. Biblical Fundamentalism, particularly Baptist fundamentalism, is historical biblical Christianity. It is a matter of both content and character. Apostasy will no doubt continue its persistent erosion, and those who have lost hope for a major revival of Reformation proportions may be right. I hope not. This is no time to lay down our arms in surrender. Evangelism is still our mandate, and if the Lord should be pleased to give us enough souls, there could someday be a rational majority of right thinking people. But even if the cancerous corruption is terminal, Fundamentalism still has the salt and light to slow it down or expose it. Fundamentalism’s Biblical response to compromise and carnality is the driving force that guarantees its future.

The shallow carnality of arrogant independence has strengthened the resolve of the younger men toward better education and exposition. Perhaps the weakening standards and other excesses of some of the younger men may provoke a stronger stand among their more principled peers. In other words, it may be that older Fundamentalists will not “mentor” a new generation of men into being Fundamentalists as much as a new generation of Bible believers will become Fundamentalists as they have to cull the compromisers from their own ranks.

We all know the difficulty with continuing to call ourselves by a term that has a different meaning to us than it has to anyone else outside our movement. At issue is not what this movement is called, but what it is. We have a rich history, and we have made a difference. The Biblical position we hold has been a bright beacon in a murky world. It is as necessary in this generation as it was in past generations. My challenge to those who are in the “morning of their ministries” is simple. “We need you now more than ever — and we need you to be strong.”

The future of Fundamentalism is not to be found in the myopia of one-issue theology, or the simplicity of textual shibboleths. The integrity of a movement is in the spiritual character of its people. The answer to the question “What is the future of Fundamentalism?” will be found in the question “What is the future of Fundamentalists?”

John Vaughn is the President of the Fundamental Baptist Fellowship International.

(Originally published in FrontLine • January/February 2004 Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)

Please Note: references are made in this article to other articles not yet published on P&D. These may be found in the relevant issue of FrontLine, available on the main FBFI website.

Although Proclaim & Defend is the blog of the FBFI, the articles we post are not an expression of the views of the FBFI as a whole, they are the views of the author under whose name they are published. The FBFI speaks either through position statements by its board or through its president. Here at Proclaim & Defend, we publish articles as matters of interest or edification to the wider world of fundamentalist Baptists and any others who might be interested.

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