Can Fundamentalism survive? Even those who answer in the affirmative recognize that it will not happen if things continue as they are. What are some of the things that must change for Fundamentalism to survive, or, even thrive?
First, the name will have to be abandoned. The term “fundamentalist” is poisoned by Islamists and Christians alike. Whether the fundamentalist has explosives strapped to his chest and is preaching on the evils of the great Satan; or has a KJV in hand preaching on the evils of pants on women; one thing the world knows is that fundamentalists are nut jobs.
This seems like a bitter pill: how can fundamentalism survive if it is not even known as fundamentalism? But the biblical fundamentalist should be committed first and foremost to truth, not the labels that are applied to truth. This is not to say that we can simply call evil “good” and good “evil.” Names, labels, terms are important, but unless designated as such by Scripture they are not inerrant or eternal.
Secondly, there must be a greater emphasis on obedience to Scripture than interpretation of Scripture. Fundamentalism has been a house built on sacred cows and shibboleths. All this was well and good when the surrounding culture still held to more-or-less the same values. Such externalism is no longer sustainable, and that is a good thing. No longer should spirituality be measured by the length of hair or hem. No longer should a drink of alcohol be condemned while frequent visits to Old Country Buffet are ignored.
This in no way denigrates the importance of believing right doctrine. Quite the opposite, this sharpens the focus on right doctrine. Fundamentalists would never go along with the argument of Christopher Hitchens that one can be devoted to the pursuit of truth, but never have a claim on it. Yet they must realize that belief in an infinite God demands that truth can only be apprehended, not comprehended. Dispensationalism is not a fundamental of the faith. Which is more biblically necessary: the belief that Jesus will rapture the church before a seven-year tribulation; or the pursuit of personal holiness in the light of Christ’s return? There are plenty who seek the second while having nothing to do with the first. But who is more likely to accepted in a fundamentalist church: a worldly pre-tribulationist or a spiritually growing post-millennialist?
Third, the independent church model must be radically overhauled. Christ did not die for a bunch of little churches each with her own peculiarities. He died for only one church. All the churches were to obey the decision of the Jerusalem counsel (Acts 15). The Corinthians were admonished to consider the custom of the whole church (1 Cor. 11:16). What Paul (Col. 4:16) and John (Rev. 2-3) wrote to one church was good for all. Fundamentalism has sacrificed the nurture and accountability of true ecclesiastical fellowship so that each church can have her own voice. As a result fundamentalism has no voice. What can fundamental churches and pastors do when other self-professed fundamentalists teach deviant doctrine or practice sexual predation? Nothing, except say we are not like them, we just call ourselves the same thing. As a result, the group is judged and known by its most vulgar species. Why can 20/20 lump together Hyles fundamentalism and BJU fundamentalism? Because they both claim to be fundamentalists.
Fourth, effectual change must be led by pastors. Christ has not promised to build his college, university, or seminary. Christ has not promised to build his missionary board or evangelistic crusade. Christ has promised to build his church. For fundamentalism to survive it must do so as a church movement led by the leaders Christ has ordained for his church.
In each of these things, the one needed thing is a focus upon biblical truth. I have written these things as an outsider. Yet as an outsider who wants to see biblical fundamentalism reform and thrive. I did not grow up in a church that identified itself within the fundamentalist movement. I do not pastor a church that identifies itself in the fundamentalist movement. To some, this serves as a disqualification for such judgments. I understand the sentiment. Yet I went to college and seminary at two of fundamentalism’s flagship institutions. Why? I did so in part because I wanted to learn the Bible in places that at least claimed to honor the Bible as God’s infallible word to mankind. In many ways, or at least in the most important ones, the survival of fundamentalism is as simple as just living up to what the name represents: belief and practice of what the Bible explicitly commands and teaches.