Futons and beds and chairs, oh my!

13 Jan

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.


Posted by on January 13, 2011 in Fundamentalism


7 responses to “Futons and beds and chairs, oh my!

  1. CAWatson

    January 13, 2011 at 2:40 pm

    I think that there are unfortunate exceptions to both lists. Our presbyterian friends out of Geneva would be vehement against dispensationalism – especially any classical expression of such (as opposed to progressive). I’m also not sure that YEC is as ingrained in fundamentalism as some would desire – it seems to be the issue on the horizon, not the issue of definition. We still have to fight that battle. Cessationism – yes. Separation – to some extent, yes. Cultural conservatism? I would want to say yes, but I think the younger generation of fundamentalists-those who choose to stay in organizationally-will move in a different, more progressive direction.

    • Michael Riley

      January 13, 2011 at 2:44 pm

      I’m inclined to say that a distinguishing mark of fundamentalism is that it is, in the main, not anti-dispensational. I certainly have no intention of making a commitment to dispensationalism a defining mark of fundamentalism. With rare exceptions, however, once one moves outside fundamental circles (especially in evangelical academics), dispensational theology is considered backwoods.

      As for conservatism, I concede in my presentation at Troy that I’m likely defending a lost cause.

  2. Mark Snoeberger

    January 13, 2011 at 2:47 pm

    Mike, My favorite part of your post is the Google ad:

    “Twin Futon Chair Bed: Shop”

    • Michael Riley

      January 13, 2011 at 2:49 pm

      That is a one and the many problem!

  3. David Crabb

    January 13, 2011 at 7:11 pm

    I do think that the emphasis on cultural conservatism has great potential to be the Achilles Heel of the idea put forward here and defended at the PTT Conference. Not looking to hijack the thread and debate cultural conservatism (perhaps over dinner at your house again, Mike)–simply putting forward an observation.

    It does seem though that an attempt to wed a theological Fundamentalism too closely with cultural conservatism has great potential for derailing the momentum of this “movement” (simply referring to the congealing around the commitments put forward at PTTC).

  4. Don Johnson

    January 14, 2011 at 2:27 am

    Mike the distinguishing marks are more retrospective than prospective. In other words, they describe fundamentalism as it has been for at least the last 50 years if not more. Whether these marks will describe any significant group in the future remains to be seen. And if the marks are significantly changed, one wonders if any future grouping can really legitimately lay claim to the title.

    So the cultural conservativism aspect of it is an accurate description of what Fundamentalism has been. I think that is inescapable. Part of the current… discussion (I was going to say fight) is whether you actually have Fundamentalism if you remove this mark. I would tend to say no, but you could probably guess that already.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  5. Mike Harding

    January 14, 2011 at 1:36 pm


    When you have opportunity, listen to Mark Snoeberger’s twin lectures on culture listed on the PTT website. Also, read Bauder’s paper on Conservatism listed there as well. To some degree we have to analyze meaning in culture in order to determine relevant application regarding the world. There are many different “aions” in the “kosmos” as Minnick points out. The world is always “passing away,” in a constant state of flux, given to change for its own sake, waxing worse and worse. I am not suggesting we don’t ever change. We do and we must. However, change has to occur with caution and discernment. That is a conservative approach and a necessary one.

    Joke: How many IFB’s does it take to change a lightbulb? Answer: “Chaaaaanngge?” Drum roll.

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