There is a crisis in Fundamentalism today and it is a crisis of credibility.
To boil it down, generally, the young men don’t want what the older men are giving.
The older men want to pour their lives into training young men for ministry, but the brightest and best of the young men are walking away—not from God, but from Fundamentalism (or at least the kind of Fundamentalism that the older men are offering).
As evidence of this, consider the declining enrolment in our colleges, the declining interest in our fellowships, and the explosion of conservative evangelical influence among our young men.1
The emerging middle2 is one of the biggest things happening in Christianity today.
Why is this happening?
I would suggest that part3 of what is driving this credibility gap is what could be termed a cross-generational gap. Here’s what I mean:
“Generation gap” is a label given to the difficulty two chronologically adjacent generations have in relating to each other due to cultural differences.
Fundamentalism does not have a generation gap. Fundamentalism has a cross-generational gap.
Sometime in the mid-to-late twentieth century, much of Fundamentalism began to canonise Christianised American cultural norms and to equate them with Christianity itself. This manifested itself in strong stands on things like prohibition, dress codes, attitudes toward certain social activities, etc.
Since that time, Fundamentalists have tended to change only in small and slow steps, particularly in certain areas. Many Fundamentalists gloried in their growing distance from the broader culture and were happy to be considered “peculiar.”4
This excessive commitment to cultural manifestations of Christianity has resulted in a Fundamentalism that, in many ways, still thinks like someone from the middle of the twentieth century. In America.
That’s why I say we have a cross-generational gap.
Many young Fundamentalists reject the thinking that has driven this commitment to culture over Scripture. They believe, instead, that we should carefully exegete both the Scriptures and the culture and seek to apply the former to the latter in order to reach a geoculturally contemporary expression of Christianity.
Unfortunately, such a young person will find himself not one generation away from the thinking of his parents, but three or four generations away.
This cross-generational gap is making even the most basic communication between the two groups difficult if not impossible.
Is this bad?
Let me be clear. I am not saying the emerging middle is a bad thing. I believe it is necessary. In fact, I believe it is the emerging middle that is doing the vast majority of the “contending for the faith once delivered”5 in our day.
But I do think it is sad that much of Fundamentalism has become an impediment to the spiritual well-being of its own children by elevating culture above God’s word.
In order to safeguard the gospel of Jesus Christ in our churches, Fundamentalism must cling to truth over culture. We must repent of our idolatrous traditionalism and re-establish a firm commitment to the truth no matter what its implications may be in our contemporary setting.
Our God demands nothing less.
1 These are my observations of Fundamentalism in general. Some apply more in the United States and others more in Australia.
2 I am referring to an article by Bob Bixby in which he referred to the young fundamentalists as part of the emerging middle. This reference has no connection whatsoever with Emergent Theology which is the seed of much error.
3 Other elements would include chronic mishandling of the Scriptures, a tendency toward man centred theology, erroneous doctrine, an overemphasis on externals, etc.
5 Jude 3.