February 8, 2011

Old and New Fundamentalism Explored

The following is an article by Dr. Thomas Nieman, from the Northwest Baptist Assistance Ministries Weekly Update, October 23, 2010. Reprinted with permission.
Dear Men,

We continue to face issues as fundamentalists that are cyclical. Recently I re-read a message that was preached by a friend of mine at a conference in 1987. My brother pastor, John Kain, is now with the Lord—yet his message is timely in view of those who are once again trying to change or redefine the faith. I give you the substance of that message:

Pastor J. M. Kain

“At the end of 1985, Fundamentalism is in the process of profound change. Both the condition and the process will become more obvious as we near the end of the century, but we are certainly at the end of an old era and the beginning of a new.” (Truman Dollar, “Can Fundamentalism Survive” Fundamentalist Journal, December 1985, p. 74)

In the September 2, 1985 issue of Time magazine a half-page picture of a large tree appeared. It is included in a lengthy article entitled “Thunder on the Right—The Growth of Fundamentalism.” Though it is not possible to reproduce the picture in this publication, let me describe its message. The tree was pictured growing out of an open Bible. The large trunk was labeled “American Conservative Prot­estantism.” Extending from the large trunk were several branches. Moving from left to right, they were labeled as follows: Pentecostals; New Pentecostals; Mainline Evangelicals; Southern Baptists (straight up the center); Non-mainline Evangelicals; and the last branch on the right divides into two – with the one closest to center labeled New Fundamentalism, and the most extreme right branch, of course, is labeled Old Fundamentalism. The caption under the drawing reads: “Out of an unshakable Bible faith grow seven branches of the Protestant right, including Falwell’s New Fundamentalism.” . . . It seeks to shed the reputation for bigotry and cultural narrow­ness without giving an inch on the Bible issues.” (Richard N. Ostling, “Thunder on the Right: The Growth of Fundamentalism,” Time, 2 September 1985, p.50)

Throughout the Time article a clear distinction is drawn between Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism. In the above quotation, our attention is drawn to a New Fundamentalism in contrast to the Old Fundamentalism… It is my assignment for this conference to examine the “New Fundamentalism” to find how it may differ with the “Old Fundamentalism.”

It is apparent that the objectives of those espousing a “New Fundamentalism” are:
1. That the Old Fundamentalists and the Evangelicals should come together into closer cooperation.

2. That assent to the traditional fundamentals of doctrine be sufficient ground for closer cooperation.

3. That we adapt a stance that is more comfortable and less offensive to permit a broader base of cooperation.

4. To “deny” the radicals or extremists from both groups that stand in the way of broader participation.

5. To practice the policy of “co-belligerence.” . . . “Co-belligerency” represented the position that it is permissible for Christians to cooperate with people of other or no religious convictions in order to attain some desired political goals. It is extremely difficult for churches to engage in co-belligerency without compromising their identity.
While Dr. Jerry Falwell is identified as the “leader” of a “New Fundamentalism” in the aforementioned Time magazine article, much of the articulation of this new position has come from the pen of Mr. Edward Dobson. . . .He is also author of a recent book entitled In Search of Unity—An Appeal to Fundamentalists and Evangelicals.*

In appealing for cooperation between the Old Fundamentalists and the Evangelicals to bring about a New Fundamentalism, it is wise for us to inquire into their past. Why did they originally develop as two separate positions? There were issues that divided us in the past—are they no longer relevant?

Another area of marked difference has been the emphasis on personal separation. The Old Fundamentalist insisted that sound separated living should characterize the Christian who holds a sound doctrinal position. Those who founded the Evangelical movement found this position offensive. Richard Quebedeaux writes that “. . . they were no longer convinced that the world is that bad after all—at least, not as bad as the fundamentalists had maintained.”(Richard Quebedeaux, Worldly Evangelical, p.13 )

Writing further on evangelicals, “. . . they would have to become respectable by the world’s standards. And in this effort the evangelicals have been most successful.”(Ibid)

He further observes, “. . . evangelicals have become harder and harder to distinguish from other people. . . . Furthermore, evangelical business people, professionals, and celebrities gradually found it necessary (and pleasant) to travel the cocktail-party circuit . . ..”

The Old Fundamentalism did not move into cooperation solely on the basis of agreement on basic doctrines. For the sake of brevity, let me mention but one illustration. They have historically declined cooperation with Pentecostals even though they might have been in agreement on the fundamentals.

The Word of God has always proved to be offensive to fallen man. In fact, the Christian is exhorted: “Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate. Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach,” Hebrews 13:12-13.

The search for a message without reproach has proved disastrous to Evangelicals. There is no reason to believe that the New Fundamentalism can embark on this journey without eventually arriving at the same destination.

We share the concern expressed by Dr. Pickering: “Many of our young pastors and leaders are not schooled in the Biblical principles and historic context of our separatist movement.” (Ernest Pickering, “Should Fundamentalists and Evangelicals Seek Closer Ties?,” The Baptist Bulletin, March 1986, p. 36) He further observes, “In many cases our separatist churches and schools have failed to give our youth a structured, Scriptural and historical defense of our position.” (Ibid) [End of Kain article]

Many of the men who receive this note are younger. They do not know of the move to rename Fundamentalism in the past. So the refusal to defend historic Fundamentalism and to accept the Conservative Evangelical nomenclature is confusing. Those of us who are older have seen some of these cycles in previous times.

Thankfully, some men are not simply accepting the new calls to jettison the historic faith. If you would like to be on a mailing list or check out some blog sites, check out the following.

• A blog site developed by Pastor Brian Ernsberger: Parsings of a Preacher

• Shepherdstaff2@juno.com This is a regular mail out from Dr Clay Nuttall. Simply ask that your name be added to his mail list.

• Pastor Lou Martuneac has developed a blog site [In Defense of the Gospel] that examines many of the writings of those who purport to be the leaders in these times.

I will attempt to give more information to you as available.

I lament that many good men are so busy that they are not aware of the current battles. Hopefully, we can help each other to be more effective for our blessed Lord.

Your fellow servant,

Thomas Nieman

Site Publisher’s Addendum:
*For an answer to Edward Dobson’s In Search of Unity see Dr. Ernest Pickering’s Should Fundamentalists and Evangelicals Seek Closer Ties? There are remarkable similarities to what Dobson called for in 1985 to what men like Kevin Bauder, Dave Doran, Matt Olson and Tim Jordan are headed toward themselves today and trying influence others to embrace with them. Both calls for unity are answered by Dr. Pickering.

Are We Recognizing the “NEW” New Evangelicalism? This article includes select excerpts from Dr. Ernest Pickering’s, The Tragedy of Compromise. This is a vital read in a day of loosening militancy and shifting applications of biblical separatism being introduced to this and the next generation by apologists, for so called conservative evangelicalism, operating within Fundamentalist circles.


  1. Dear Lou,

    Pastor's Kain assessment back then as now reminds us that there is "no new thing under the sun. "Whether we use the first century term of "Christian" given to us in Acts 11 or the twentieth century term "Fundamentalism," or anything else in between that stood for and defended the faith once delivered, there have always been those who sought to compromise, to change the course. The same will hold true a hundred years from now if the Lord tarries His coming that long.
    I thank the Lord there were those in the past that stood firm and I pray that there will be those who stand firm now so that future generations will have the truth to embrace.

  2. Insightful post, thanks for sharing:)

  3. I'm pleased to know you found this helpful.