Once again, I was planning to write a post, and someone helpfully supplied some context for it. Mark Snoeberger notes that, even if there are some people who are clearly fundamentalists, and some who are clearly conservative evangelicals, there are also people who don’t seem to fit clearly in one category or the other. If this is true, then fundamentalism and conservative evangelicalism are not sufficient categories for making fellowship decisions.
In what I post here, I don’t think I’m necessarily disagreeing with Mark; let’s just say we’re advancing the discussion, pursuing even greater clarity. In this post, I’m going to offer two claims.
First, we must take into account our motivations for distinguishing us and them. In my presentation at Troy, I offered an aggregate list (from Snoeberger and Bauder) of five commitments that tend to distinguish fundamentalism from conservative evangelicalism:
Snoeberger offers four commitments as a continued reason for the existence of fundamentalism: a more restricted understanding of the church’s social agenda (tied to a particular understanding of the Kingdom), a kind of cultural conservatism, cessationism, and young earth creationism. The latter two, in Snoeberger’s judgment, are consistent with historic fundamentalism, but deserve increased emphasis as they are increasingly unpopular in wider evangelicalism.
Bauder’s list overlaps significantly with Snoeberger’s; contrasting fundamentalism with conservative evangelicalism, Bauder maintains that fundamentalists are not anti-dispensational, are less friendly to continuationism, and are more restrictive in their employment of pop culture. Additionally, and “[m]ost importantly, fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals still do not agree about what to do with Christian leaders who make common cause with apostates.”
Thus, depending how we parse these lists, we have at least five commitments (dispensationalism, cessationism, young earth creationism, separatism, and cultural conservatism) which, if held conjointly, are capable of marking off a distinct group of evangelicals. None of the five are uncontroversial; any one of them could sustain its own conference, with papers and panel discussions. Nonetheless, because I believe that each of the five is nontrivial and biblically defensible, I believe in the possibility of a fundamentalism worth saving.
But why try to develop such a list? Here’s where we must question our hearts. If I develop this list for the sole purpose of dividing people into an us and a them, so that I can continue to justify withdrawing fellowship from them, I probably am merely schismatic. I need to repent.
Those of us tied to institutions must give special scrutiny to our hearts, because we, of all people, are especially vulnerable to this temptation. We must make sure that our motive for articulating any kind of us and them is not driven by the desire to create allegiance to (or enrollment in) our institutions. Dr. Doran’s comments about seminary education in the panel discussion at PTT were right on target in this regard.
Is there, then, any warrant for developing a list like this? It seems to me that there is, and that by doing so, we avoid some of the very problems about which Dr. Doran is rightly concerned. A list like this, if it is developed carefully and accurately, allows us to articulate criteria for making distinctions, rather than asserting distinctions on the basis of genuinely nebulous labels.
So (putting off my second point for a later post) that is my thesis for discussion here: if we can define a set of characteristics typical of us, rather than defining us by organization allegiances, we have a better basis for assigning labels.