Are you Reformed or fundamentalist or both?


by Mike Ratliff

The “emergent” or “emergence” movement in the visible church began as an opposition to Right-Wing Conservatism or “Fundamentalism” in the Southern Baptist Convention that took over that denomination beginning in the early 1970’s and becoming mostly successful in 1980’s and 1990’s. Of course, that movement into “right-wing” conservatism was in response to an earlier push in the denomination that was taking it to the left into liberalism. The result was “fundamentalism.” Since this ministry has existed I have been called many names by angry people who disagreed with the message here. One the “emergents” liked to throw at me was, “you are just a “fundamentalist!” However, I have also heard the term used in a positive way.

If we are honest and think through things like this from a Biblical perspective, a Christian world-view, we should come to understand that to some being a Christian fundamentalist is a positive thing while to others it is the next thing to being a self-righteous Pharisee. Also, this word is used in the news media in a negative context to describe religious people who commit acts of terrorism or retreat from society into cultic communes. The emergents, as do all Christian liberals, view fundamentalists with anger and resentment. They view them as backward and mired in dead religiosity. However, is that what fundamentalism is?

I hope this doesn’t come as a shock to anyone, but I do not consider myself to be a fundamentalist, that is, if the definition of that term describes a form of religiosity that is marked by varying degrees of self-righteousness contained within a theological structure that is shallow. Below is an article by John Hendryx.  Please read it then I will continue below.

Fundamentalism Vs. Reformed Theology

In general, most modern fundamentalists take the Bible at face-value within their own socio-political context, and they usually subscribe to a form of premillennialism. However, since the term fundamentalist is often a vilification when used by outsiders, some fundamentalists now call themselves evangelicals.

Fundamentalists are often those who are reclusive and estranged from the religious establishment, which they sometimes perceive as needing an overhaul or even replacement. The first time that any group of Christians proclaimed themselves to be fundamentalists was in a meeting that took place in the early 1900s in the United States. At the time there was not the clear association of fundamentalists with militant or religious fanatics (an association people might often ascribe to them today). The gathering was merely a response, in the Church, to the huge infusion of modernism and the liberalizing trends of German biblical criticism. This tendency of modernism and unbelief in the Church gave rise to a group resistance, among religious conservatives of various stripes, to the loss of influence traditional revivalism experienced in America during the early years of the twentieth century. At this time, the “Fundamentalists” were Calvinists united together with Dispensationalists and other conservative Christians to do battle with this dramatic theologically liberal turn from historic Christian orthodoxy. They distributed a series of pamphlets, free of charge, among pastors and seminarians (published between 1910 and 1915) entitled “The Fundamentals: A Testimony to the Truth”.

These were a set of basic truths to which all the conservatives were united in agreement and still are to this day. The following is what came out of the meeting and what Reformed Theology and Modern Fundamentalism still hold in common:

Fundamentalism and its Similarities with Reformed Theology

1) The inspiration and verbal inerrancy of Scripture
2) The Deity of Christ and the virgin Birth
3) The substitutionary atonement
4) Justification by faith
5) The physical resurrection
6) The bodily return of Christ at the end of the age.
7) Christ performed miracles

But over time the original reasons for uniting began to fall apart and the differences between the Reformed and other camps began to show. The following are significant differences that we can see today between modern Fundamentalists and those with a Reformed heritage:

Fundamentalism (and its Differences with Reformed Theology)

1) The absence of historical perspective;
2) Ignores the Scriptures highly diverse literary genres;
3) The lack of appreciation of scholarship; aversion toward any secondary theological training; anti-intellectual;
4) The substitution of brief, skeletal, superficial creeds for the historic confessions;
5) The lack of concern with precise formulation of Christian doctrine; highly averse to theology;
6) Pietistic, perfectionist tendencies, often moralistic (i.e., major upon “issues” such as protesting Harry Potter movies; separating with Christians who are not KJV only);Guilt-Centered (Fundamentalism) Vs. Gospel Centered (Reformed) Sanctification
7) One-sided other-worldliness – reclusive: church separate from the culture – the holy huddle (i.e., a lack of effort to impact their communities & transform culture);
8) A penchant for futuristic chiliasm (or: dispensational pre-millennialism);
9) They embrace some form of Manicheanism (or Greek dualism);
10) Often demonize their opposition and are reactionary;
11) Envy modernist cultural/political hegemony and try to overturn the powers that be through political brute force rather than persuasion; Thus are often viewed by outsiders more like a political lobby than representatives of Christ;
12) Arminian tendency in theology (synergistic)

If the definition of a fundamentalist is from the first list only then I have no problem being called one. However, if that definition is also marked by the tendencies in the second list then there is a problem. I had to go through these points one at a time to see if I leaned towards any of these things. I think that most of us have struggled in this area from time to time. The one that glared at me the most was point 3. I really am not anti-intellectual nor am I against men being trained to rightly handle the word of truth. I love Bible study and I love teaching so I highly value the ability to dig into the original languages behind the scriptures and place the books of the Bible into correct context. No, I have no problem with any of that. My problem is when liberal theologians corrupt the process and produce clones of themselves who no longer hold to the authority of Scripture.

I am Reformed in my theology and I agree with J. Greshem Machen when he teamed up with the Fundamentalists of his day to stand against the rise of liberalism (modernism) in the Church while also being very careful not be identified with them in any other area. He saw the negative influences that the Fundamentalists were having on the Church such as the things outlined in the second list above. I grew up as a Southern Baptist in Oklahoma. When I look back on how my theology developed in all those years and compare it to my understanding now it angers me to some degree. I read an article a few years ago which quoted a Scottish evangelist who had been preaching in the United States and was preparing to return home. He was asked for his evaluation of the American Church. He said it was mostly Protestantism without the historical context of the Protestant Reformation.

As I became more educated in theology I began to understand what this man was talking about. God saved me in 1986. Thinking back on that time from then until 2006, more than 20 years, if anyone had used the term “Means of Grace” in my presence I doubt if I would have understood what they were talking about. I would have shuddered if they had used the term “Sacraments.” I viewed the Protestant Reformation as just part of history that had little or no impact on the Church now. However, since 2006, as I studied Church History, read the writings of the Reformers, and studied Theology, I finally began to understand why Machen refused to be counted amongst the Fundamentalists. I understood why such gifted theologians such as James Boice and R.C. Sproul could be Reformed and still preach the Gospel and have ministries that God used in a mighty way. The liberals and emergents may still view them and all Calvinists as Fundamentalists, but they are mistaken if they they are insinuating that we all are wrapped up in self-righteous legalism. In fact, I haven’t yet met a brother Calvinist who I would consider to be in that vein.

Several years ago, in Kansas where we were living at that time, my wife and I visited a local church in our city for a few Sundays. We were warmly welcomed at first. We could tell that God had some of His people in that Church. However, some of those there held to a form of Christianity that contained many unwritten, extra-biblical rules. When it was discovered that I was Reformed in my theology then the cold shoulder really became obvious. I talked with the Pastor. He is a great guy and I loved him, but he told me that the Fundamentalists in that church did not really understand what it meant to be Reformed and were quite hostile towards it. We never went back.

My brethren, let us not make idols of our religiosity. We must examine ourselves to see if there be any self-righteousness there. If we find ourselves reacting towards other professing believers within the context of some of those things on the second list above then there is a problem. Let us contend earnestly against the Pelagians and semi-Pelagians who preach works theology. We must stand firm against these corrupting influences, but we must not allow self-righteous tendencies to become any part of our motivations.

Let us pursue the knowledge of God and His ways. Let us understand the necessity of being orthodox in our theology because anything outside of that is a corrupt form of Christianity and does not honor God nor does it edify the saints. Let us insist that our Pastors feed the sheep by opening the Word to them as much as possible. Let us resist all wolves in sheep’s clothing. This means that we must know our stuff. To recognize bad fruit we must know what good fruit is. Let us make disciples instead of converts. Let us never forget that Christians are New Creations and this world is not their home. Therefore, let us focus on the Eschaton by living this life in such a way that our treasure is in Heaven rather than here.

Soli Deo Gloria!

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