Fundamentalism and “An Evangelical Manifesto”

Os Guinness, Richard Mouw, Tim George, David Neff, and others have released “An Evangelical Manifesto: A Declaration of Evangelical Identity and Public Commitment.” Justin Taylor has already provided a good summary (with little comment). I thought I would comment on just one salient features, the manifesto’s treatment of fundamentalists.

(North-American Protestant) Fundamentalism in the Evangelical Manifesto

As Alan Jacobs points out in the Wall Street Journal, it really seems as if the very purpose of this (rather weak, Jacobs says) manifesto is to say, “We’re not fundamentalists!” Os Guinness’ remarks about fundamentalism (and throughout I mean the North-American Protestant Christian variety) in the recent 9 Marks eJournal issue closely mirror the words of the Evangelical Manifesto: fundamentalism is “an essentially modern reaction to the modern world.” Fundamentalism, he says, “tends to romanticize the past, some now-lost moment in time, and to radicalize the present.”

So fundamentalism becomes little more than a “Christ of Culture” position—namely, Christ of 1952 American culture.

Are fundamentalists no better than Protestant liberals (who currently canonize, say, 2006)? Do fundamentalists truly fit in Niebuhr’s “Christ of Culture” paradigm?

No, I believe not. On a few accidentals many fundamentalists do fit that paradigm. I include among these accidentals no-pants-on-women, the King James Version, excessive patriotism… and perhaps fear of modern art?

But fundamentalism, in its essentials, is a… is a… Christ-against-in-paradox-transforming-culture position! What in each of these hyphenated positions resonates with fundamentalists?

  • Christ against Culture: Yes, there’s a real us vs. them mentality in fundamentalism, especially in the U.S. culture wars—and that mentality can be problematic because it can lead to vitriol. But most of the same fundamentalists who will denounce secularism will gladly share Christ in love with the secularist in the next cubicle. That brings us to the next paradigm in which fundamentalists fit…
  • Christ and Culture in Paradox: The fundamentalist knows both that this is his Father’s world and that he’s just-a-passin-through it. He’ll sing both with gusto.
  • Christ the Transformer of Culture: A fundamentalist who knows his Bible knows that Christ will one day rule the whole world. No, fundamentalists are not typically optimistic about the progress of world history prior to the cataclysm that puts all things under Christ’s feet. But now on an individual level—and one day on a universal one—Christ will rule.

I offer this post as an exploratory discussion. I have to confess to only recently having begun to understand Niebuhr’s paradigms.

Mark Ward

PhD in NT; theological writer for Faithlife; former high school Bible textbook author for BJU Press; husband; father; ultimate frisbee player; member of the body of Christ.

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