Friday, November 12, 2010

Sticks and Stone May Break My Bones...

So get this.  The Gospel Coalition, is by most accounts, going very well.  To those who are more confessional it comes across as "Reformed Theology Light."  

Recently the Gospel Coalition released a 10 minute video discussing "New Calvinism."  Seated at the table were Al Mohler, Kevin DeYoung, and Ligon Duncan.  Nothing particularly earth-shattering was said and I came away with an appreciation for the fact that there is a significant move afoot among evangelicals who are discovering some of what I hold dear.

Imagine my surprise when I came across the story:  Is New Calvinism Really New Fundamentalism?
Click on the link and you can watch the video and read one person's take on the movement.

I remember J.I. Packer saying in his little book, The Fundamentalism and the Word of God, that the term fundamentalist was basically perjorative.  The word conjures up images of William Jennings Bryant and the Scopes Trial.  Evangelicals shed that image by playing nice and minimizing theological differences amongst its various branches. 

A couple of questions come to mind.  First, I wonder what men like Tim Keller, Bryan Chapell, and others think about being called 'fundamentalist'?  Perhaps they never thought in their wildest dreams that someone would stick that label on them. 

Second, if many see The Gospel Coalition and New Calvinism as Fundamentalism in new clothes, I wonder what they think of those who embrace confessional reformed theology?  Would they call them Neanderthals?  Would they categorize their beliefs to be on par with Wahhabism? 

Broad evangelicalism is the problem, not New Calvinism or fundamentalism of any sort.  Sadly, broad evangelicalism cannot carry on a conversation with any person or traditon except itself.  Worse, it has forgotten what being Protestant is all about.


Anonymous said...

Hi David --

I get called 'fundamentalist' constantly, and have all my life, not only by secular people, but by many who consider themselves thoroughly evangelical. I expect it and do not find it surprising in the least. And as for your second question. Those who think Don Carson is a fundamentalist would not really see much difference between him and, say, Scott Clark.

Tim Keller

Joe said...

For some, "fundamentalist" seems to be shorthand for "someone who takes their faith very seriously". The term can be used this way by Christians and non-Christians alike, as Tim Keller notes above.

But another use is afoot. I noticed shortly after 9/11 that some hard-line secularists (including some I used to work with in DC) seemed to delight in linking U.S. Christians with radical Islamists by using the "fundamentalist" label.

They suggest that the danger caused by Islamic fundamentalists is not so much rooted in Islam, but rather in fundamentalism. Therefore, the logic goes, fundamentalism of any stripe is dangerous or at least suspect.

To many secularists this might make a certain amount of sense. (All serious Christians are fundamentalists. All religious faith is irrational. Islamic fundamentalists are bent on destroying us. Serious people with irrational beliefs are all dangerous.) But to me it seems more like an attempt to cleverly marginalize Christians' influence in public life.

Ken Pierce said...

I find Fitch's analysis irritating in the extreme. It saddens me because I do appreciate his thoughtfulness on other issues. His book The Great Giveaway is a provocative read, and very helpful in some areas.

His main sticking point seems to think that Calvinists believe that they are right.

Of course, I have no doubt that David Fitch believes he is right, too. Maybe I should critique him for that.

Calvinists need to be humble and appreciative of all that is good in wider Christianity, and, frankly the Gospel Coalition embodies that. They, most likely, are Calvinists who read Chesterton with profit, like Lewis, and may even occasionally find something profitable in Newbigin, just to name a few.

I imagine when Kevin De Young mentioned that evangelicalism had its roots in Reformed thought he was probably thinking of the mid-century project to add brains to fundamentalism, and maybe as well Warfield's work on the Fundamentals project, the early Edwin Orr, certainly Carl Henry, Francis Schaeffer, Joe Bayly, Donald Barnhouse, and Edwin Palmer, as well as the vast majority of the evangelical publishing houses (many, if not most of which were birthed by CRC people).

Pejorative labels are just that, and we oughtn't to pay them much mind.

Dave Sarafolean said...


Sorry for the delay. I left at 3:00 AM the next day for presbytery and got home late the same night. Sunday was very busy as usual and yesterday was opening day for deer hunting in Michigan.

I guess I'm not surprised to hear you say that you've been called a fundamentalist. I would expect that from skeptics. What surprised me was the source - another evangelical representing a fairly large stream of evangelicalism. That Leadership would allow the post says something about them too.

This leads to a larger point - if even moderate expressions of Calvinism are viewed as extreme, narrow, and sectarian by large swaths of evangelicalism, why does the PCA want to continue to affiliate with The National Association of Evangelicals? That we would propose severing ties with NAPARC (folks who warmly embrace our theology) while simultaneously running to broad evangelicalism (much of which hates our theology) is hard to comprehend.

Dave Sarafolean said...


Well said. Sadly, I think that this is the author's intent.

Dave Sarafolean said...


This is my first encounter with the author so I have nothing else to measure him by.

I agree that we should affirm what is good and true in the broader evangelical church. Yet, that is a hard thing to do when so many are a-historical.

As a former Catholic who came to faith in college I longed for someone to 'connect the dots' from broad evangelicalism back to the Protestant Reformation. That never happened during my years as a student or even when I was a staff member with Campus Crusade until I stumbled into a pretty traditional, plain vanilla, PCA church. There I encountered reverent worship, a confession of sin, a declaration of pardon, we professed the Apostles' Creed and sang the Glory Patri. As I interacted with the pastors and others I was able to begin piecing together why we are Protestants. Sadly, most evangelicals cannot do this including many associated with new "New Calvinism."

So on the one hand I want to applaud such people for their zeal and their learning. However, I am not satisfied if they only embrace reformed soteriology. In this I find myself echoing Scott Clark who likens it to "only getting on the entrace ramp to the freeway." I'd like to see them keep going to interact with the historic reformed creeds and confessions and not simply follow Piper, Carson, et. al.

Anonymous said...

David --

No need to apologize!

I personally would be happy to stay in both NAPARC and the NAE. To NAPARC we look pretty broad, and to the NAE we look pretty narrow. As you know, I think the PCA has a role to play by being inerrantist, unabashedly Reformed, ecclesial, complementarian--and yet including a fair variety of different historic Presbyterian approaches (Old Side/ New Side; Old School/New School.) Some PCA-ers fit in more with mainstream evangelicals and others fit in better with NAPARC. I think its good that our denomination has this breadth, as I've tried to argue.

As for David Fitch: he seems to identify 'fundamentalism' with a haughty and disdainful attitude toward others. That's one fair way to use the term. But he's being too sensitive to put that tag on Kevin, Ligon, and Al's discussion. Like Ken says, they are making the case that Reformed theology is evangelicals' best hope. But from what I can tell, David thinks that the Anabaptist approach is evangelicals' best hope now. What's the difference?

Tim Keller