Contemporary evangelicalism, as I understand it, started out as a populist movement. It was, therefore, not primarily concerned with theology but with practice – and theology tended to be tacked on as something of a necessary evil. As a populist movement, its virtues were simplicity, repeatability and method. A specific kind of evangelicalism, forged in the revivals, has developed a value system that is primarily unbiblical, where savvy rhetoric, church competition and the ability to “rate” ministry based on numerical analysis have become the norm.
For many who grew up in this movement, they recognize both the great virtues as well as the vices, and seek to purify evangelicalism through a broader engagement with the Bible, church history, theology, etc. If my brief comments about evangelicalism are true, this, in a real way, undermines its very foundation. The problem, as I see it, is that those of us who seek greater biblical and theological clarity are still evangelicals. We still identify as such, except our vision for being evangelical means that we must continue to reform rather than simply circling the wagons.
This brings me to fundamentalism. There has been some renewed interest in defining fundamentalism in some blogs lately (here and here). I personally have struggled to define fundamentalism for a while now, and was hoping to come up with something that would cover “conservative” and “liberal” fundamentalists alike. Therefore, in my mind, a fundamentalists is someone who believes that those who disagree with them are morally/spiritually inferior. In other words, fundamentalists are those who remove themselves from the prophetic judgment of Christ, and who determine “in” and “out” based on their own theological agendas. This is why fundamentalists, conservative or liberal alike, disregard other positions wholesale and refuse to, as it were, “play fair.” The fundamentalist move is simply to turn any of their “opponents” into an “evil” movement (e.g., liberal, “Arminian” or whatever else), thereby refusing to deal with another brother or sister standing before the prophetic judgment of Christ, seeking to be faithful to the Word of God.
That being said, in light of unity, issues like the “weaker brother,” and the nature of theology as an act of the church, how do we respond to fundamentalists? Maybe you have a better definition, but if I am right, the problem is that there is no actual ground for dialogue. But to ignore them entirely, which is the most tempting option, is, it would seem, to disregard the prophetic task of theology. My worry is that evangelicals who learn theology and church history just leave evangelicalism, broadly identifying with it at times, and become the conservative voice somewhere else (which is certainly fine), but neglect to speak meaningfully into their background. Is it simply a waste of time? Any thoughts?