Confessions of a Calvinist Fundamentalist
See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ (Colossian 2:8)
The exhortation from Paul is clear; do not let anyone enslave and carry you away by philosophy, empty but deceitful words, or human traditions according to the zeitgeist of the age. The Bible, which is God’s revelation of Himself to man, stands in stark contrast to the shifting winds of public opinions, the novel notions of the day, and popular consensus. There are some, however, who seek to steal away the church and carry it off from our Redeemer and his Holy Word. We must resist these powers as sinister strategies of no one short of Satan himself, and his servants, who were prepared long ago for destruction (Romans 9:22).
Since the divergence of two powerful streams of Christianity out of liberalism and Neo-Socinianism, known popularly as “fundamentalism” and “evangelicalism,” there has been a strong spiritual battle to place both movements back into the hands of those principalities and powers that constructed America’s original shift into Downgrade in the early 18th Century and later in the theological abomination known as the Second Great Awakening in the 19th Century. Rising up to challenge doctrinal compromise and to represent authentic Christianity, both evangelicalism and fundamentalism fought to hold on to the essentials of the Christian faith, albeit in different ways.
Fundamentalism sought to maintain the “old paths” of historic Christianity, often resisting aspects of what they called “modernity” without clearly articulated reasons why such aspects of modernity should be resisted. The posterity of fundamentalism has led to the culotte-wearing stuffy “fundies” railing about card-playing and “mixed bathing.” Today, fundamentalists of this variety have been relegated mostly to the punchlines of jokes. Ironically enough, in spite of a sometimes-infatuation with altar calls and an unfortunate fixation on revivalism, the fundamentalists have by and large done a better job at holding onto the essentials of the Christian faith than the other stream to come out of the Downgrade whose origins can be traced to the Ivy League institutions in the American northeast. Partly because of the very reason they have become social pariahs, the fundamentalists really have held onto the fundamentals of the Christian faith, although they’ve picked up a few eccentricities like KJV only-ism (which is true for some, but not all, fundamentalists).
On the other hand, evangelicalism – as opposed to fundamentalism – took a path of least resistance. Although it certainly seemed like the surer bet for the future of Christianity, this movement proved to be compromised in the mid-20th Century. As seen in the battles between Martin Lloyd-Jones and John Stott, centering on the controversy of evangelical torch-bearer, Billy Graham, evangelicals sought to hold onto the very same fundamentals of the Christian faith as the so-called fundamentalists, but they consistently adapted their methodologies and changed their culture to reflect the changing of the times. In an attempt to be relevant, evangelicalism has become nothing but irrelevant in America, as it is now the breeding ground for every false teaching and collecting pool for every kind of false teacher under the sun. A home for notoriously bad Bible teachers like Steven Furtick, Andy Stanley, and Rick Warren, evangelicalism has provided a tent wide enough to prohibit it entirely from being considered the straight and narrow path of authentic religion.
In the end, the battle between fundamentalism and evangelicalism in America seems to have been won and won soundly. Evangelicalism – and not fundamentalism – controls the vast majority of Christian media outlets, from contemporary Christian radio to publications like Christianity Today and Relevant Magazine. Those who have identified with the evangelical stream who maintain a fairly sound theological pedigree are now looking around at what is known as “evangelicalism” and finding themselves not at all at home. After all, how can Allistair Begg and Beth Moore really be considered as proponents of the same religion, let alone the same theological camp? There is nothing remotely similar between Dr. John MacArthur and Steven Furtick. What similarities were truly shared between R.C. Sproul and Robert Schuller? And yet all would be called – whether they prefer(ed) it or not, “evangelicals.”
What is happening now – and you are witnessing all around you – is that many who have lived their lives and served their ministries in the camp of evangelicalism have looked around at the circus it has become and wondered if perhaps the fundamentalists were right all along. Culottes and KJV only-ism aside, perhaps super-modesty and Textual translation misunderstandings aren’t as dangerous as evangelicalism’s open window to any new philosophy that seems to provide a tool or vehicle to evangelize the “unchurched”. While fundamentalists are still casting the tired old net of (relatively boring) Gospel preaching, evangelicals are using the latest sparkly lures. But frankly, most fish caught by today’s big-box evangelical megachurches should be thrown back anyway. People are starting to realize that evangelicalism’s incessant lusting after fadology has wrought a legacy of constant theological compromise. Now, we displaced evangelicals are looking for a camp in which to pitch our tent. Most of us are too prideful to ask to get let back into the fundamentalist circle.
Frankly, I want nothing to do with Critical Race Theory, which has taken over evangelical institutions like Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. I tire of George Soros and James Riady giving millions to The Gospel Coalition, Reformed Theological Seminary, Westminster Philadelphia and the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission without so much as a peep from those who should be guarding the sheep pen. I’m tired of the agenda of Together for the Gospel, 9 Marks, and SBC seminaries being plotted by leftist Beltway think-tanks. I tire of the “open but cautious” view towards Montanism-Charismaticism that leaves open the “Charismatic Window” to virtually every kind of heresy in existence. I tire of “Reformed” leaders like Matt Chandler and Francis Chan partnering in ministry with the worst Charismatic false-prophets on the planet, from Mike Bickle to Brian Houston. I tire of the endless line of Mystichick prophetesses, from Beth Moore to Christine Caine, blathering their mommy-blogger mythologies and Scripture-twisting narcigesis from the platforms of evangelical conferences (in fact, I wish they would sit down and learn from their husbands, but their husbands seem as absent as their seminary degrees). I tire of Cultural Marxism promoted by Tim Keller, which isn’t even poorly disguised. I tire of the philosophies of the Frankfurt School invading our institutions. I tire of the vain and deceitful words – like “Social Justice” – lose or change their meaning. I tire of men like Albert Mohler who change their opinions on subjects like sexual orientation, reparative therapy, and Social Justice to the extent that they’re precisely the opposite of where they were a mere ten years ago. And I’m really dang tired that this all is happening and being told I’m the crazy one for noticing.
So then, many of us are turning our eyes to fundamentalism. Can we get let back in? Do we want back in?
Nothing makes me want to sing old-fashioned hymns like listening to Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) for five minutes. After Hillsong’s latest theoerotic love-song to God, I’m ready for ‘A Mighty Fortress,’ for sure. I can live with that. After watching girls in basically what amounts to lingerie writhe sexily on stage while singing the redux of a Jesus Culture anthem, I’m thinking that maybe a little bit more modesty wouldn’t hurt. Watching professedly evangelical young ladies wear Daisy Dukes at Lord’s Day worship should have all of us wondering if culottes maybe aren’t that crazy. And given the birth-rate of illegitimate children brought to conception during youth “lock-ins” and poorly chaperoned church camps, maybe “mixed bathing” isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. I mean maybe – just maybe – those old codgers who are quoted in Sword of the Lord aren’t that nuts after all.
But we don’t only have to overlook their quirkiness. We know that most fundamentalists think Charles Finney was a saint and John Calvin was a heretic. We know they act as though altar calls are the third ordinance of the church. We know that the fundamentalists would not tolerate some of the Christian liberties (like square dancing or cigar smoking) that we’ve come to enjoy. We know that they often think that Decisionism is a part of the Ordo Salutis. Maybe we don’t want back in that camp after all. Heck, my church has drums and more than a few guitars; they probably wouldn’t even let us back in.
And yet, there’s something mystical and innocently magical – alluring even – about not having to pretend that we have any confederacy with Tim Keller whatsoever. There’s something endearing about not having to worry about the latest vain philosophy invading the church because the doors are barred and windows are locked.
But, we Calvinists who are sick and tired of having to combat the spirit of the age masquerading as the immutable Spirit of God have to find a home. Nonetheless, we find ourself in neither camp, with modern evangelicalism being repugnant and fundamentalism being stuffy and mostly dead. Where shall we go? The worldliness of most evangelicals is on par with pagans and the anti-Calvinism of the fundamentalists make us worried they’ll do to us what they say Calvin did to Servetus.
For some of us, pride is why we don’t seek to reclaim the title “fundamentalist” and reform it. Fundamentalists are famously uncool. And while evangelicals are cool, they’re mullets-and-M.C.-Hammer-pants-in-the-1990s cool. They’re cool, but only by adopting whatever asinine fad is momentarily popular and tomorrow is mocked. Others argue we shouldn’t return to fundamentalism because, after all, why reform something at all? But, I would argue, what Bible-believing evangelical doesn’t acknowledge that American evangelicalism equally needs to be reformed? Why not reform that which has proven itself infinitely more faithful to the Word of God over the last 150 years? Fundamentalism seems less broken than evangelicalism, and therefore should be an easier fixer-upper.
Perhaps that’s why I love 1689 Baptists (Baptists whose churches hold to the Second London Baptist Confession of 1689). They are fundamentalists, plain and simple. While avoiding the pitfalls of decisional regeneration, revivalism, and KJV only-ism, they are famously devoted to personal holiness. Furthermore, they eschew (typically) the philosophies of the age and have no use for the vast majority of novel ideas that are passed off as ingenious by the Evangelical Intelligentsia because they have an innate disinterest in being cool (praise God). While there is a host (many thousands) of frat boy Baptists who think tattooing “1689” on their knuckles or hashtagging it on Twitter makes them Confessionally Reformed, they also think that Tim Keller, John Piper and Matt Chandler are somehow in their theological camp (they are not). These doctrinal posers are usually not members of authentic 1689 churches. Most truly Reformed or Particular Baptist churches maintain better order and discipline than to let their members mess around with that level of spiritual Downgrade.
I spent the first half of my 18-year-long ministry denouncing fundamentalism altogether. I’ve spent the last half of that ministry – after watching evangelicism chase after every fad and gimmick like teenage girls chasing after Justin Beiber – wishing fundamentalism would let me back in.
So then, let’s make our own home. Let’s build our own camp. There’s no law that says we can’t be both a fundamentalist (avoiding the bizarre and often unnecessary eccentricities) and a Calvinist. All we have to do go back to the pre-Reformed Resurgence days and practice our faith like they did before it was hijacked by megachurch pastors who suddenly determined that Calvinism was cool.
[Contributed by JD Hall]