Last Friday we took an initial look at what I am calling Neo-Fundamentalism. Today we will look at the core driving force to Neo-Fundamentalism, but before doing that, we need to see its relationship to Fundamentalism.
Fundamentalism, of the American variety — and I’m not talking about Fundamentalisms in general (Islamic et al), was a response at the turn of the 20th Century to both socio-cultural conditions as well as to changes in the theological scene. George Marsden’s books have told this story well. It had to do with defending Christian orthodoxy in the face of modernistic challenges.
Neo-Fundamentalism, of course, is not unlike that movement but this has to be said: Neo-Fundamentalism is something new in the American Evangelical scene. It is neither the old Fundamentalism waking up nor the return by some to the old Fundamentalism. No, Neo-Fundamentalism is something new in the American Evangelical theological scene.
Here’s my question today: Do you think the “core driving force” below gets at the heart of new developments in the American Evangelical scene? I’ve talked with some scholars and some pastors over the last two years and I’ve found that they think there is something genuinely new going on in Evangelicalism.
(By the way, if you want “names” and “places” and “institutions” and “books,” I’ll not give them today [maybe I’ll do so eventually]. I’m concerned with the movement in general, not specifics — and individuals themselves nearly always are more complex and variegated than a singular category like “Neo-Fundamentalism.” And I’m concerned with whether or not you are sensing shifts like this in the American scene.)
Here’s my thesis: the core driving force of Neo-Fundamentalism (like the old) is a remnant mentality. That is, it believes the following:
1. That it alone remains true to the fullness of the gospel and the orthodox faith.
2. That the Church worldwide is hanging on a precipice and will soon, if it doesn’t wake up, fall from the faith.
3. That the solution to this nearly-apocalyptic church situation is to tighten up theological stands and clarify what is most central and most important for the Church today.
4. That the major problems are theological drift, church laxity, and evangelical compromise with either modernity and/or postmodernity.
5. That it is “Neo” because it arises within Evangelicalism today and will either break from it or seek its widespread reform — and therefore its particular characteristics are determined by contemporary Evangelicalism. E.g., it isn’t really concerned about dancing and movies and “mixed bathing.”
Sociologists tend to use the word “sectarian” for what I am calling the remnant mentality, but such a term — besides being inflammatory — is prejudiced because it assumes the “sect” is wrong. We need to use more neutral categories. I suggest that “remnant mentality,” because it is a thoroughly biblical category, better expresses the rise of Neo-Fundamentalism. I am aware that “Fundamentalism” in and of itself is inflammatory to some — but there are good reasons to use a term like this because not only is it embraced by some but it has a well-known profile that is useful for helping each of us understand the Church today.