Home > History > fundamentalism vs. evangelicalism 2

fundamentalism vs. evangelicalism 2

As I mentioned in an earlier post, we came out of a background that was a mixture of native fundamentalism and Bob Jones fundamentalism, and I think party for this reason we were never 100% in any one camp and willing in principle to leave should conditions warrant. When I started at Liberty it was still nominally fundamentalist, as far as any university can be fundamentalist, anyway, and the ministry still published The Fundamentalist Journal, about which more later.

Jerry never really broke up with the fundamentalists; he just sort of changed gradually over a period of several years. For this reason I don’t think he ever announced that he was no longer a fundamentalist, and so as far as I can find there’s really nothing written from Liberty’s perspective with a title like “Why We’re No Longer Fundamentalist” or whatever. Instead all I can find is stuff like this

  • Charles Woodbridge’s 1969 book The New Evangelicalism, published by Bob Jones University Press
  • William Ashbrook’s pamphlet The New Neutralism, published in various editions over many years
  • John Ashbrook’s revision The New Neutralism II, now probably in its final form and available on the Web

And while the younger Ashbrook at least mentions Jerry, his focus is Harold Ockenga, founder of Fuller Theological Seminary, the National Association of Evangelicals, etc. and who was responsible for the coining of the term “Neo-Evangelicalism.” Ashbrook’s criticism of Ockenga et al was pretty much this:

In the late 1940’s Harold Ockenga, the architect of the New Evangelicalism launched the movement that rejected the Biblical doctrine of separation from apostasy and from the world and replaced it one of acceptance and infiltration.

There’s a lot to unpack in his description of the Neo-Evangelical movement, and only some of it has anything to do with us at Liberty, since we weren’t really the children of Ockenga and Fuller but were sort of going our own way. But it’s as good a place to start as any: Ashbrook makes separation (doctrinal and cultural, more or less) his distinctive, and accuses evangelicals of trying to find a middle path between fundamentalism and modernism. Ashbrook makes the argument that there’s really no middle ground, and attempting to find some sort of common ground with the outside world inevitably leads fundamentalists to modernism, rather than leading people from the outside world to the truth, or whatever. And whether he’s right or wrong, this sharp distinction casts a shadow over the question of whether there can ever be such a thing as a “fundamentalist university,” or whether fundamentalists can only have teaching colleges while modernists have universities. In other words, it’s an open question whether fundamentalists can ever discover anything new, or whether they can only accept and teach received information and leave the modernists to pursue the novel, whether it turns out to be right or wrong.

I think it’s a fair criticism that modernism necessarily abandons the true for the novel or fashionable, and roughly equally fair to criticize fundamentalism for never asking an open question. And these tensions shaped a lot of what was going on at Liberty (and may still be going on) as the school looks to define itself as it grows.

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