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Albert Lee


Fundamentalism

Four takes on evangelicalism.

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If a friend asked you what a Christian is, what would you say? After reading Kevin T. Bauder's chapter describing his fundamentalism in Four Views on the Spectrum of Evangelicalism, I have a good idea of what a fundamentalist would say. And I think it's a great answer to this question of Christian identity. For Bauder, this question and the related issues of unity and separation are at the heart of fundamentalism, and he proves to be a sagacious guide to fundamentalist answers to these questions and to the fundamentalist movement.

Bauder is restrained and careful, writing with a clarity and steady sensibility that echoes in his style the primacy of identification, distinction, and separation to the fundamentalist vision. He notes that this essay is less a scholarly treatment and more a personal perspective, albeit one informed by immersion in fundamentalist circles and conversation outside those circles. My review of Bauder's basic introduction to fundamentalism will carry a similar tone of personal perspective, beginning with a summary of the significant elements of fundamentalism as described by Bauder and ending with a few comments and observations I hope fundamentalists and evangelical readers might find edifying and helpful.

Fundamentalism

Bauder begins by describing what fundamentalism is primarily concerned for: the "unity and fellowship" of Christians grounded in the gospel. Belief in the gospel creates an invisible and inward unity that contrasts with the outward, external, and tangible unity of ethnic Israel. Bauder is careful to assert that the fundamental importance of the invisible and intangible unity of the church "does not imply that outward, visible unity is unimportant." But for fundamentalism, outward unity follows a prior invisible and inner unity which is constituted by belief in the gospel.

But what is the gospel? In summary, the gospel is the good news of the death and resurrection of Christ interpreted in an interrelated complex of essential doctrines (or "fundamentals") that generally must be known and accepted to believe the gospel. Not all the fundamentals must be explicitly known and affirmed to be saved, though some must. None of the fundamentals, however, can be denied without implicitly denying the gospel itself.

The fundamentals described by Bauder include sin as personal guilt before God; Christ's atonement for our sins through penal substitution; and forensic justification involving a double imputation of Christ's righteousness to his people and of their sins to Christ, resulting in retributive punishment for Jesus and a declaration of righteousness for his people. Further, the gospel presupposes a future second coming of judgment, the reality of hell, the personal union of Christ's fully human and fully divine natures, the virgin birth, Christ's perfect obedience to the Father, the ascension, salvation by grace alone through faith alone, and biblical inerrancy. For fundamentalists, these are the fundamentals of the gospel from which fundamentalism derives its name and to which the early church creeds testify.

Separation

The foregoing constitutes a straightforward platform from which fundamentalists decide how to interact with others. Those who accept the basic fundamentals and so believe in the gospel are to be considered Christians at minimum; those who do not should not be considered Christians. Among Christians, the greater the agreement on secondary and tertiary doctrines, the greater the level of unity, fellowship, and collaboration possible. For example, amillenialists and premillenialists would find it difficult to collaborate on promoting eschatology. At maximum, though, Christians may be united not merely by the fundamentals of the gospel but by the "entire system of faith and practice, the whole counsel of God."

Because maximal Christian fellowship (resting on complete agreement with the entire system of faith and practice contained in Scripture) is rare, a process of discerning separation is necessary. Bauder's version seems rather sensible to me: before joining together, Christians should ask themselves what they believe to be true, whether those beliefs are shared, and whether the degree of likemindedness permits the particular sort of cooperation and fellowship envisioned.

Fundamentalists apply these principles and processes of separation in a number of ways. Bauder argues that it is appropriate to separate not only from apostate teachers of a false gospel but also from Christian leaders who gain "a share in the evil of apostasy" by calling apostates Christian or encouraging or joining with them in the Lord's work. In particular, Bauder is concerned that recent evangelical collaborations with Roman Catholics like the Evangelicals and Catholics Together and Manhattan Declaration documents wrongfully recognize Roman Catholics as Christian. He is also critical of populist revivalism and hyper-fundamentalism (movements that overlap with fundamentalism), concluding that mainstream fundamentalism may need to "distance itself from the excesses of its worst exemplars." It seems more of the tried and true process of separation is in the future for fundamentalists.

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