Monday, December 23, 2013

John Carnell - What really was fundamentalism?

Carnell was the second president of Fuller Seminary, forced out after he wrote The Case for Orthodoxy. The following quote from that book gives a fair sense of how the word fundamentalism was being used in 1959. You can see why he seems to have been forced out of the presidency of Fuller by some of its key funding streams, not to mention some of the Machen fans on the faculty at that time. In some cases, I have had to guess at what was said, since this version of the text is corrupted at some points in its scanning.
Chapter 8: Perils
ORTHODOXY is plagued by perils as well as difficulties, and the perils are even more disturbing than the difficulties. When orthodoxy hits difficulties, it elicits criticism; but when it slights its perils, it elicits scorn. The perils arc of two sorts: general and specific. The general perils include ideological thinking, a highly censorious spirit, a curious tendency to separate from the life of the church. The specific peril is that with which orthodoxy converts to fundamentalism. It is orthodoxy gone cultic.

1. Fundamentalism
When we speak of fundamentalism, however, we must distinguish between the movement and the mentality. The fundamentalist movement was organized shortly after the turn of the twentieth century. When the tidal wave of German higher criticism engulfed the church, a large company of orthodox scholars rose to the occasion. They sought to prove that modernism and Biblical Christianity were incompatible. In this way the fundamentalist movement preserved the faith once for all delivered to the saints. Its "rugged bursts of individualism" were among the finest fruits of the Reformation.

But the fundamentalist movement made at least one capital mistake, and this is why it converted from a movement to a mentality. Unlike the Continental Reformers and the English Dissenters, the fundamentalists failed to connect their convictions with the classical creeds of the church. Therefore, when modernism collapsed, the fundamentalist movement became an army without a cause. Nothing was left but the mentality of fundamentalism, and this mentality is orthodoxy's gravest peril.

The mentality of fundamentalism is dominated by ideological thinking. Ideological thinking is rigid, intolerant and doctrinaire; it principles everywhere, and all principles come in clear tones of black and white; it exempts itself from the limits that originally sat in history; it wages holy wars without acknowledging the elements of pride and personal interest that prompt the call to battle; it creates new evils while trying to correct old one.

The fundamentalists' crusade against the Revised Standard Version illustrates the point. The fury did not stem from a scholarly conviction that the version offends Hebrew and Greek idioms, for ideological thinking operates on far simpler criteria. First, there were modernists on the translation committee, and modernists corrupt whatever they touch. It does not occur to fundamentalism that translation requires only personal honesty and competent scholarship.

Secondly, the Revised Standard Version's copyright is held by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ. If a fundamentalist used the new version, he might give aid and comfort to the National Council; and that, on his principles, would be sin. By the same token, of course, a fundamentalist could not even buy groceries from a modernist. But ideological thinking is never celebrated for its consistency.

2. Gresham Machen
The mentality of fundamentalism sometimes crops up where one would least expect it; and there is no better illustration of this than the inimitable New Testament scholar, J. Gresham Machen. Machen was an outspoken critic of the fundamentalist movement. He argued with great force that Christianity is a system, not a list of fundamentals. The fundamentals include the virgin birth, Christ's deity and miracles, the atonement, the resurrection, and the inspiration of the Bible. But this list does not even take in the specific issues of the Protestant Reformation. Roman Catholicism easily falls within the limits of fundamentalism.

While he was a foe of the movement, he was a friend of the mentality, for he ran on a related path and a wrong one at that, his prominence with the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. If the church has modernists in it and its official missionaries, a Christian has no other choice than to withdraw support. So Machen promptly set up "The Presbyterian Foreign Missions," and with equal promptness the General Assembly ordered the Board dissolved. Machen made the order on the conviction that he could from the General Assembly bring amendments to the Constitution of the church.

But this conviction traced to ideological thinking, for if a federal system is to succeed, supreme judicial power most be vested in one court. This is federalism's answer to the threat of anarchy. Wrong by a court are not irremediable; but until due process of law effects a reversal, a citizen must obey or be prosecuted. Machen became so fixed on the evil of modernism that he did not see the evil of anarchy.

This prompted him to follow a course that eventually offended the older and wiser Presbyterians. These men knew that nothing constructive would be gained by defying the courts of the church. Perhaps the General Assembly had made a mistake; but until the action was reversed by due process of law, obedience was required. No individual Presbyterian can appeal from the General Assembly to the Constitution, and to think that he can is cultic.

Ideological thinking prevented Machen from seeing that the issue under trial was the nature of the church, not the doctrinal incompatibility of orthodoxy and modernism. Does the church become apostate when it has modernists in Its agencies and among its officially supported missionaries? The older Presbyterians knew enough about Reformed ecclesiology to answer this in the negative. Unfaithful ministers do not render the church apostate.

Dreadful are those descriptions in which Isaiah, Jeremiah, Joel, Habakkuk, and others, deplore the disorders of the church of Jerusalem. There was such general and extreme corruption in the people. In the magistrates and the priests that Isaiah does not hesitate to compare Jerusalem to Sodom and Gomorrah. Religion was partly despised, partly corrupted. Their manners were generally disgraced by thefts, robberies, treacheries, murders, and similar crimes. Nevertheless, the prophets on this account neither raised themselves new churches, nor built new altars for the oblation of separate sacrifices; but whatever were the characters of the people, yet because they considered that God had deposited his word among that nation, and instituted the ceremonies in which he was there worshiped, they lifted up pure hands to him even in the congregation of the impious.

If they had thought that they contracted any contagion from these services, surely they would have suffered a hundred deaths rather than have permitted themselves to be dragged to them. There was nothing therefore to prevent their departure from them, but the desire of preserving the unity of the church. But if the holy prophets were restrained by a sense of duty from forsaking the church on account of the numerous and enormous crimes which were practiced, not by a few individuals, but almost by the whole nation it is extreme arrogance in us, if we presume immediately to withdraw from the communion of a church where the conduct of all members is not compatible either with our judgment, or even with the Christian profession.

Machen thought it would be easy to purify the church. All one had to do was to withdraw from modernists; the expedient was as simple as that. "On Thursday, June 11, 1936," said Machen to his loyal remnant, "the hopes of many long years were realized. We became members, at last, of a true Presbyterian church." It was not long, however, before Machen's true church was locked in the convulsions of internal strife. The prophecy of the older Presbyterians was fulfilled.

Since Machen had shaken off the sins of modernists, but not the sins of those who were proud they were not modernists, the separatists fondly imagined themselves more perfectly delivered from heresy than the facts justified. This illusion spawned fresh resources of pride and pretense. The criteria of Christian fellowship gradually became more exacting than Scripture, and before long Machen himself was placed under suspicion. He had not taken his reformation far, the church not yet free. This was not Christian liberty. And quarrel boded, no true church founded.

Still, no classical effort to the continuity of the church. This is how the mentality of fundamentalism operates. Status by negation, not precise inquiry, is the order of business. When there are no bodies from which to withdraw, fundamentalists continue by withdrawing from one another. Machen tried to bleed the classical view of the covenant with a separatist view of the covenant people. He affirmed Reformed doctrine, but not the Reformed doctrine of the church.

This inconsistency had at least two effects: first, it encouraged Machen's disciples to think the conditions of Christian fellowship could be decided by subjective criteria; secondly, it planted the seeds of anarchy. If Reformed doctrine could not define the nature of the church, how could it define the nature of anything else? The result was a subtle reversion to the age of the Judges: each man did what was right in his own eyes. Rebellion the courts of the church converted to rebellion against the wisdom of the and the counsel of the brethren...
I might post more later...


Susan Moore said...

I sense some truth in those words, I’ll have to get that book, too.
It seems true: when we don’t submit to the authority of the church, one of two things will happen –freedom or anarchy.
So, if Charles Wesley had his way, we would all be Anglicans?

Ken Schenck said...

I have not thought about schism as much as some of my colleagues but here are some of my biases:

1. I like the fact that Luther and Wesley were more forced out than sought to separate.

2. I like that some of the key founders of the Wesleyan Methodist Church went back into the Methodist Episcopal Church after the Civil War--I don't come from that side of my church so I don't have to be embarrassed by the fact that those who stayed were more separatist. :-)

3. I like that my side, the Pilgrim side, was created by a collection of mergers rather than separations, not least the 1968 merger that created The Wesleyan Church.

Susan Moore said...

Ok, thanks!
Look what happens when we submit to the authority of the church -if I had my way, I'd still be non-denominational evangelical, but, not wanting to create a further stumbling block to their faith-tradition, I submitted to their authority and by the grace of God here I am.

Susan Moore said...

Which just goes to show that Jesus has a profound sense of humor.

Susan Moore said...

Are you going to write something tomorrow or Wednesday? I have a present.

Ken Schenck said...

Not sure but I do have a habit of posting...