When Secondary Issues Become Core Issues

John ArmstrongThe Church

My recent three-part series on fundamentalism (Weekly Messenger May 23, 30 and June 6) has drawn some expected response, both pro and con. I will respond to several comments, on this blog spot, in the next few days. The following comment is a good place to begin:

He (i.e. me) seems to have more trouble with people making secondary issues core issues of the faith, i.e. how you view the gifts of the Spirit, women’sroles, etc. This is a real problem. But the problem of fundamentalism has typically been an anti-intellectualism and adding of traditions to Scripture that are held to have equal authority with Scriptural teaching, i.e. no drinking of alcoholic beverages, no dancing, dressing drably, etc.

I find this comment fairly typical of the response I expected. People who do not "see" the modern evangelical world as I outlined it do not, of course, think that there really is a problem. Is the writer of this comment ready to say that making secondary issues into core issues is, as he admits, a "real problem"? If he says "yes" then why is he not ready to see how this thinking is linked with the tenor and spirit of fundamentalism itself? Whatever this "problem" is my critic doesn’t seem to desire to call it fundamentalism. I do, for the reasons given in my series.

This writer further sees that the greater problem in fundamentalism is "anti-intellectualism." I disagree. Most modern Protestant fundamentalists (e.g., Bob Jones, Jerry Falwell, etc.) are no longer anti-intellectual. In fact, Bob Jones University is a first-rate academic school, though without formal accreditation. Many modern fundamentalists are serious scholars, with credible academic credentials. Though fundamentalist scholarship seeks to protect a particular vision (or corner) of the Christian faith in a symbiotic way you can’t say that it remains anti-intellectual, at least not in the way it was in the 1950s and 1960s.

The problem this writer seems to miss is that fundamentalism is, by definiton, sectarian. This writer apparently does not see that "core" issues define what is historic, orthodox faith, not secondary issues. When the non-essentials become essential, as I argued is now true in much conservative evangelicalism, then the result is some kind of fundamentalism, whether the name is used or not. That was the very point I made in my three-part series.