Over the past two weeks I have written two semi-academic articles on the dangers of fundamentalism. (See the Weekly Messenger, May 23 and May 30, at www.reformationrevival.com. You may sign up for these free weekly e-mails if you do not currently receive them.) Another article, "The Dangers of the Fundamentalist Ditch," will be published on June 6, as the third and final installment in my series.

A writer is sometimes biased about his own work. I feel these three articles are some of my more important written work over the past five years. Now, it may not be my best work. I leave that to my readers to decide. However, I sense it is important work precisely because the ideas expressed in these articles are needed to help readers understand why the evangelical movement cannot afford to keep falling back into the traps of fundamentalism, either that of method or theology. What is needed is a fresh recovery of healthy evangelical orthodoxy that embraces the whole church and its Great Tradition.

Almost every week I hear more horror stories of how fundamentalism has helped to wreck another life, another church, another marriage, or another family. I experienced this on a flight from Seattle to San Jose recently when I heard a woman tell me of how a debate in her family between Christian Reformed and Orthodox Presbyterian members over the "literal" twenty-four hour day interpretation of Genesis 1-2 had destroyed unity among her relatives. Members of her family now avoid one another because of this "important" issue. This kind of fundamentalism creates the same old schisms through what I call "hyper-orthodoxy." What is stressed by this emphasis goes well beyond the core of Christian faith. The way disagreement is processed invariably leads to schism.

The truth of the matter is this–few who think and lead ministries as fundamentalists will ever admit that they are actually fundamentalists. Most who hear the label used will deny that they ever get that close to the reality of the thing itself. I find that my own admission to having fallen into this trap, via very conservative Reformed Christianity, has been good for my mind and soul. I am now a truly free man, free to live in Christ and to eat and drink to God’s glory, and free to love all Christians in new ways that I never knew previously. This freedom has not made me a libertine but rather a more faithful follower of Jesus as Lord.

Fundamentalism, it seems to me, sets people up to fall and fail, again and again and again. I have witnessed rigid and narrow conservative Christianity produce some very bad fruit in my thirty-five years in the ministry, both spiritually and morally. As a system, and as a confessional form of the faith, fundamentalism simply promises what it cannot deliver.

I believe that one of the most important aspects that I cite about fundamentalism is the "cultic" way it influences others to believe and follow churches, movements, and powerful persons. Churches that have a healthy emphasis on sacramental life will almost always avoid this. But then fundamentalists consistently despise sacramental theology and practice so they are rarely spared of the problem.

I hope many readers who respect my thoughts will ponder this material very carefully. I would dearly love to see an earnest discussion of this particular content break out in numerous places. I believe this could help to foster a genuine reformation. It will also help any who are interested to better understand my personal direction. I am not a fundamentalist! I am a Protestant, Reformed, and evangelical Christian minister who loves the Great Tradition and the writings, prayers and liturgies of the early church. This explains who I am and where I am going, in case you want to know.

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  1. Pat L June 3, 2005 at 8:25 am

    I look forward to reading those articles.
    Technical note: the link to reformationrevival.com above has a couple typos in the “a href” tag.

  2. David Bahnsen June 3, 2005 at 4:57 pm

    John –
    The Fundamentalism pieces are among the very best you have written (and that is saying something) …

  3. NewCovChr June 4, 2005 at 12:13 am

    I can’t say I’ve been a big fan of yours because although I had heard of you, I have never really read your writings until the ones on the spirit of fundamentalism. I must say that I think you are right on, and I look forward to reading more.

  4. Brandon Withrow June 4, 2005 at 5:14 pm

    I’ve also enjoyed your articles on fundamentalism. Fundamentalism always leaves a mess in its path. I guess that’s why there are ex-fundamentalist support groups. Fundamentalists do not respect the Great Tradition, because fundamentalists often are ignorant of its history and their inescapable connection to it.
    Keep on writing. I’m looking forward to seeing more.

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