Learning from “Last Century’s Fundamentalists”

Don Johnson

Very interesting article over at the Gospel Coalition by Joe Carter, “What Last Century’s Fundamentalists Can Teach Us About This Century’s Apostasy.” The apostasy Carter is referring to is the rapid rise of evangelical acceptance of homosexuality and related issues. Citing Pew Research, he says:

In 2011 only 13 percent of white evangelicals favored same-sex marriage. By 2016 support had doubled to 27 percent. But that number obscures the generational divide. While 23 percent of older evangelicals (born before 1981) favor same-sex marriage, the support rises to 45 percent for millennial evangelicals (born between 1981 and 1996). Additionally, more than half (51 percent) of young evangelicals say homosexuality should be accepted by society.

He points out, however, that this is not the beginning of apostasy. Apostasy creeps in much earlier, as key doctrines are abandoned or neutered. Questioning such doctrines as “the bodily resurrection, or dismissed the reality of hell” or even wondering whether or not there “must be more paths to salvation other than Christ” are markers (among others) that precede the visible and shocking defection in an area that seems so clear-cut in the Scriptures.

After describing how great denominations in the old fundamentalist-modernist controversy suffered (for the most part) severe and irrevocable splits, he observes this difference in modern times:

In contrast, modern evangelicalism is more decentralized and so the split is likely to occur rapidly. Today, a non-denominational megachurch can flip from orthodoxy to apostasy and never have to go to court to fight for control of their church building. It’s even easier to split when the assets are blogs, book deals, and mailing lists.

The fractured state of Christendom is getting more fractured by the hour in today’s world. One wonders how this state of things appears to the lost world, and how effective our proclamation of truth can be to them. The church is in such a mess, how can the lost be assured that our version of the story is the true version of the story? No wonder post-modernism reigns in so many hearts and minds.

In conclusion, Carter says:

As the fundamentalist-modernist controversy showed us, there can be no unity where orthodoxy has been abandoned. That’s why we should stop pretending we still share the same faith.

That is a rather remarkable statement, coming from an evangelical. It puts the lie to the old new-evangelical philosophy that assumed accommodation would give a wider audience to the gospel. Carter is optimistic that in time, God’s truth will once again prevail. I am not so sure of that, unless the Lord Himself returns. In the meantime, all Bible believers ought to pray the prayer of the early church, “And now, Lord, behold their threatenings: and grant unto thy servants, that with all boldness they may speak thy word” (Acts 4.29).

Don Johnson is the pastor of Grace Baptist Church of Victoria, Victoria, BC, Canada.