Is the PCA fundamentalist?

(Tim) Ross from New Zealand, by way of Scotland, comments: "I have just come from a Fundamentalist list which looks and sounds remarkably like this one. Would it be fair to call the Presbyterian Church in America the fundamentalist wing of the broader Presbyterian & Reformed tradition? "

Ross, here in America, 'fundamentalist' is used in a variety of ways, most commonly for those who hold a religious belief in life after death and act accordingly. Although he'd deny it, this is the best way to understand the Fundamentalism project of the elder dean of American church history, Martin Marty.

There's another sense, though, that hearkens back to the early decades of the twentieth century when Christians first starting fighting with some zeal against modernism's heresies and got a bad name for it...

Known still today as “fighting fundies,” the demarcation line between these folks and evangelicals is the heart of George Marsden’s stellar work, Fundamentalism and American Culture (New Edition): The Shaping of Twentieth-Century Evangelicalism 1870-1925.   This is the single work you’d need to read as background to the present day alignments.

As for David and me, our Dad was one of the leaders of evangelicalism’s growth as he and other Wheaton grads from the forties founded a whole host of religious entrepreneurial parachurch ventures. Most of these men wanted to hold on to their fundamentalist commitments, theologically, without suffering the cultural opprobrium fundies suffered.

But Dad was a little different. He knew that true Christian faith always bore the world’s scorn, and that those who sought the world’s approval could not be trusted to honor God, first. So he was always sympathetic to fundamentalists in a way that most evangelicals would shrink from in horror, having defined themselves as “not-fundies.”

Back when David and I were in seminary, we had a church history prof who made much of the discontinuity between fundamentalists and evangelicals, claiming that evangelicals had not come out of fundamentalism, but had sprung from the ground with no seed sown, as it were. When I told Dad of this man’s historiography, he quickly responded, “Before we were evangelicals, we were fundamentalists.” In other words, he was not ashamed to be associated with the fundamentalists.

David and I follow in his footsteps. We call our churches “reformed and evangelical,” but if someone forces us to choose between the mollycoddling syncretism of “Christianity Today” and the counter-cultural Christian witness of fundamentalism, we’ll take the fundamentalists every time.

Both sides have strengths. Both sides have weaknesses. But one side has no tolerance for “bearing shame and scoffing rude,” while the other side is not ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

As for the degree to which David's and my commitments are or are not representative of the PCA, time will tell. But it's complicated by the fact that ecclesiology is non-existent within both the evangelical and fundamentalist worlds. The doctrine of the church is one thing both camps agree on: They have none. This is one reason David and I don't fit in either.

Still, if we had to assign labels to presbyterian denominations in America, the Presbyterian Church (USA) is the heretical modernist denomination; the Evangelical Presbyterian Church is modernist/evangelical; the Presbyterian Church in America is mainstream evangelical; and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church is fundamentalist, but trying to repent.

By the way, the prof's name was Richard Lovelace.


Good post. But you forgot the truly fundamentalist Presbyterian denomination, the Bible Presbyterian Church (Carl McIntire). See their web site at

How would you classify the "old light" denominations like the ARP and RPCNA Tim?

It is hard to recognize the OPC in the taxonomy of your penultimate paragraph. Sure, there were fundamentalists that left with the OPC in 1936, but they lasted but a year, and bolted for the Bible Presbyterian Church to which Mr. Fernandez refers. The OPC has generally demurred from fundamentalist affinities for dispensationalism, abstinence from alcohol and tobacco, and the like. (Marsden himself chronicles this ably in his ground-breaking work on the "division of 1937.")

Much of the 1937 fundie pull-out from the OPC migrated eventually into the PCA (from BPC to EPC to RPCES to PCA), most famously Francis Schaeffer. So arguably the PCA, or at least portions of it, are more fundamentalist than the OPC. Better to label OPC "confessionalist," it seems to me.

Tim, as one of your fundamentalist occasional 'co-belligents', I hope you will expand on the point about 'ecclesiology' at some point. Many throw this term around as if it is the key to the puzzle, but I am not sure they have a real understanding of what they mean since they never explain it. I am left puzzled.

So I'd appreciate further from you on that point.


Don Johnson

Jer 33.3

Hi, Don,

As another fundamentalist confrerer, I'd certainly say something about ecclesiology as Pr. Tim has said. I too await his fuller exposition. I'm going to guess, Don, that whatever he says here, you're not apt to concur.

But, let's see what surfaces ...

>>It is hard to recognize the OPC in the taxonomy...

Yes, it's true. There are so many ways to define 'fundamentalist." Bible Presbys are definitely ground zero of fundamentalist presbys, but they're almost nonexistent. OPs are exotic enough, without adding the BPs. For broad purposes, particularly for Kiwis like Rob, getting into the teetotaling, dispy Machen/Buswell/McIntyre split chronicled so excellently by Daryl Hart in "Defending the Faith" would mostly confuse, I thought.

For my purposes, one of the central matters in determining who is and isn't fundamentalist is their willingness to fight for the faith without apology to our effeminate age. (And no, I don't mean McIntryre's kind of fighting--that was simply pride and pugnaciousness in toxic combination.) On that scale, I'd put the OP further down the fundamentalist side of the continuum than I'd put the PCA.

As for my off-the-hand comment on ecclesiology, I'm in a hurry just now. My brush strokes are, admittedly, quite broad.

Like my friend Mr. Glaser, I'm curious where you'd put the ARP and RPCNA...

And how would you classify the CREC-affiliated churches?

"For my purposes, one of the central matters in determining who is and isn't fundamentalist is their willingness to fight for the faith without apology to our effeminate age."

This is very close to what modern fundamentalists would say about themselves (right, Pr. Don?). I regularly read and sometimes comment on a dozen blogs whose bloggers style themselves fundamentalists. If I'm reading them correctly, one may not be a fundamentalist if he is not eager to separate from what is doctrinally heterodox.

But, I see two problems with modern fundamentlism.

(1) Unlike original Fundamentalists, who fought a newly regnant liberalism in previously orthodox institutions, who also had a core fundamentalist "confession" of sorts (the original Fundamentals), I find modern fundamentalists quarreling among themselves on just what is "off the reservation."

(2) In an effort to define themselves, first against liberals, later against evangelicals, the modern fundamentalists have fallen into a cherry-picking posture toward Holy Writ. What would have saved them from this is a link -- even a tenuous link -- with the Church catholic (note the small "c"). But, their eagerness to be separate has caused them to expell virtually any and all professing Christians and Christendom that does not comply with their very narrow (and, often, cherry-picked) notion of what the deposit of Apostlic faith professes.

In this second point, Don, is where I find that fundamentalist have no practical ecclesiology. It's simply an ethereal and highly abstracted notion that leaves "church" on earth to be this: a purely voluntary association of individuals who affiliate with one another so long -- and ONLY so long -- as they can maintain sufficient common assent to belief and action. Departure from the local norm of either -- belief or practice -- requires separation.

It might be interesting for some readers to review what Dr. Richard Lovelace (professor of church history at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary) wrote in 1979 on the relation between the evangelical movement and the origins of fundamentalism. The following three paragraphs are headed

"Roots of the Evangelical Movement", excerpted from Richard F. Lovelace: Dynamics of Spiritual Life: An Evangelical Theology of Renewal. Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press (1979) p, 27

"The Evangelical movement has the deepest historical roots of any contemporary renewal movement. Its theological origins begin with the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century, but its spiritual lineage traces back even further into the mystical and ascetic countercultures of the medieval and early church through Bernard, Anselm, Augustine, Athanasius and Irenaeus. Since the Reformation it has enjoyed periodic seasons of growth and influence within Protestantism, striving to conserve and propagate the theology of grace in periods when legalism and secularism have surrounded and invaded the church. In the Great Awakening of the eighteenth century in united Protestants of all denominations into an international, ecumenical renewal movement centered on the experiential application of live Reformation orthodoxy. In the Second Awakening at the beginning of the nineteenth century, it consolidated and augmented the efforts of earlier evangelicals toward an expanding world missionary witness and launched many impressive programs of social reform including the abolition of slavery. In the latter half of the nineteenth century "revivalism" was still a dominant voice in the leadership of most American churches.

"It was at this point that American evangelicalism began to suffer one of those periods of attenuation and loss of identity which afflict every part of the church from time to time. Revivalism, redefined now as a movement centered on mass evangelism rather than as a comprehensive renewal movement affecting the whole church and the surrounding culture, became Fundamentalism, a desperate attempt to hold on to the consensus of Reformation orthodoxy and to enforce it politically within the major denominations. This effort failed. The evangelical stream divided, and the components involved in its original wholeness were distributed in varying combinations among "liberals", "moderates" and "conservatives." For almost a generation conservative Fundamentalism became a minority protest movement, viewed by the rest of the church as a vestigial remnant of folk religion destined to die out as the century progressed.

"But it did not die out. Instead, it went into enclaves of pastoral and educational resistance and sought to consolidate its position. It developed scholars who began to make tentative efforts toward the recovery of the original evangelical synthesis. In midcentury it developed an ecumenical council, the National Association of Evangelicals, and rallied its troops around a popular leader, the mass evangelist Billy Graham. A wave of growth followed in the next several decades which was readily dismissed by the surrounding culture and much of the church as a resurgence of civil religion but which added converts, leaders and new organizations with a vigorous outreach. The church and the surrounding culture learned new ways to adjust to the growing movement, to file it under older categories, to tolerate it and perhaps to immunize themselves against it. And then in the early 1970s popular Evangelicalism seemed to make another quantum leap which brought it under new surveillance in the media in what was called the Jesus movement, an explosion of Christianity in the midst of a new societal frontier formed by the mutating youth culture of America."

Hi Bill and Tim

First, yes, I expect that I would probably disagree with Tim's expression of ecclesiology. That's why I styled myself as a 'sometimes' co-belligerent!

But I hear others make the same complaint - fundamentalists and evangelicals have no ecclesiology, or poor ecclesiology - and these complaints are coming from widely divergent sources. I am just wondering what to make of the complaint since each complainant [likely] is going to define ecclesiology quite differently. Hence my question.

As to Bill's assessment of weakness... You are right about the general mood fundamentalist hold to. We generally intend to be unafraid of battling for the faith, though perhaps we don't always succeed. It's always easy to talk, the actual fight is something different.

The internal squabbles of fundamentalism are a matter of weakness if one is trying to establish a movement or broad-based force. It is hard to have a national or international voice when no system for unity exists. However, the goal of the fundamentalist is not to sway the world by the might of the church but by the witness of the saints. At least, that's the way I think it should be as I understand the Scriptures.

I am not sure I would agree with you on the "cherry-picking posture", but I suspect that the ecclesiology you are talking about is exactly what most fundamentalists today would reject. In Baptist circles there is much debate over the universal vs. the local church, with some denying a universal church at all in this age. I suspect that the local emphasis dooms any prospect of anything approaching catholicity, even a small, sub-script "c" kind.

Anyway, I hope we can encourage Tim to post more on this when he has some time.


Don Johnson

Jer 33.3

Just out of couriosity: (Tim) Where do you and David disagree?

Alan, Ockenga was still alive when I matriculated at Gordon-Conwell. During our years there, the place oozed disdain for fundamentalism, combined with smugness over our sophisticated and irenic evangelical heritage. One of my electives was Lovelace on Edwards and it was during that course, shared with only six or seven others, that I came to know him best.

Properly nuanced,I agree with John Muether for the most part, however, the term has been constantly invoked in not only the mainstream media but in academic circles as well in a very perjorative sense to describe anyone who holds that the Bible is inspired by God and its teachings are infallible. Mormons, Jehovah Wittnesses as such are labelled 'Fundamentalists'. Evangelicals ,going back to the post-war types like Carl Henry and Harold Ockenga, tried to rehabilitate the image and shed the unpleasant associations-but in the public eye an Evangelical is still perceived to be nothing more than a fundamentalist all duded up so as not to look like the hayseed he really is.

My pastor once joked that "An evangelical is a fundamentalist who can read".

I would say at the start of the PCA it was very fundamental in two ways. One is the sense that the five fundamentals were very important to the "fathers" who started the PCA. It was also fundamental in the sense of the "southern culture" being baptistic with the don't smoke drink or chew or go with girls who do mindset. for those who do not get it or are to young it is outward conformity is more important than inward growth in grace.

>>The OPC has generally demurred from fundamentalist affinities for dispensationalism, abstinence from alcohol and tobacco, and the like.

As a classification, teetotalling dispensationalism has its utility, but it’s far from everything. So yes, in the sense that the OPC split from the McIntyre/Wheaton crowd, it wasn’t fundamentalist. But in the sense that it believed in the last things and acted in such a way as to confirm that belief—most particularly by standing with courage against heterodoxy and heresy--the OPC was classic fundamentalist.

It’s this latter definition that most of the world would understand. If a single book defines the OPC, I’d nominate “Christianity and Liberalism.” And let’s be honest and admit that, since Buswell’s ousting, the CT/Graham/Wheaton crowd would never give birth to such a book--as they’d also never ever give birth to Galatians, for instance.

Some want to emphasize the alchohol/tobacco/dispensational angle, demonstrating that the OPC isn’t pig-ignorant, legalistic, or narrow, culturally. Fine. But the heart of the OPC isn’t scotch-drinking, cigar smoking, kilt-wearing, aesthetes. There are many, many simple humble Christians who believe that the church must always be reforming, and most of them have never smoked or worn a kilt or said a word against dispensationalism. They know it’s a dirty word, but they’re not sure why and they don’t think it’s necessary to find out.

Of course, I can’t speak to the OPC with the same authority today I could have twenty-five years ago when David and I were at First Pres. (OPC) in South Hamilton, MA (where Meredith Kline Sr. and Jr. held their membership).

>>How would you classify the "old light" denominations like the ARP and RPCNA

The RPCNA seems similar to the CRC in being an ethnic denomination. It’s not so much defined by theological, as by ethnic (or rather, Covenanter) commitments. Take away their Psalter-only pitch pipe (US) and drums (Africa) led music and it’s hard to see why they wouldn’t fit perfectly into the more conservative half of the PCA or OPC.

The ARP strikes me as identical to mainstream PCA, except that they have pride in their heritage and are loathe to let it go. Hence I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for union.

>> Better to label OPC "confessionalist," it seems to me.

Well sure, but now we’re moving away from my original classification scheme, the willingness of any ecclesiastical work to be identified with, let alone lead, the work of reform. And on that matter, I have little to no confidence in the OPC at this late date. I do have some in the PCA, but I think the two most recent iniatives at the general assembly level have not portended well for our future. There are a large and influential group of men who are confident in their own ability to police the boundaries of biblical faithfulness and see men with the prophetic gift as interlopers. Or worse, gangsters.

This is one of the reasons David and I, while being opposed to the at-least incipient sacramentalism and Oxford-movementish nature of some of the Federal Visionists, have not been happy with some of the tactics used against them. Does anyone really think Machen or the Apostle Paul would be tolerated within the PCA today?

Disagree with me over this—I’m fine with that. But leaving Machen and the Apostle Paul behind, I’m hopeful we all recognize that strict subscriptionists and those who opposed Cedar Springs and those seeking to prophetically address our southern or evangelical Baptist ethos within the PCA are precisely those who are very much needed within the PCA today and tomorrow. And if anyone thinks that they’re being opposed simply because of their theological errors, and not their commitment to the church reformed and always reforming, I’ve got some nice pond-side real estate in Gary, Indiana to sell.

You "can't speak to the OPC today" since you are 25 years removed and yet you hold "little or no confidence in the OPC at this late date" in its willingness to identify with reform? I am confused.

>>I am confused.

I've changed what I wrote to be more accurate. The experience David and I have had with the OPC extends far beyond seminary days, but it's been less intimate in more recent years.

I don't mean to sound stubborn, but I still don't get it. On the one hand, you write: "There are many, many simple humble Christians [in the OPC] who believe that the church must always be reforming." On the other hand, you have little to no confidence it OPC's commitment to reform. So which is it?

And if the point of your original classification system is "the work of reform," why do you regard confessionalism as beside the point? If the goal is to be reformed according to the Word of God, doesn't confessional integrity come into play?

>>So which is it?

Both, John; the difference between the sheep and the shepherds.

>>doesn't confessional integrity come into play?

Of course. But confessional integrity is not dead orthodoxy or vain repetition, and both sides are present within our communions.

>This is one of the reasons David and I, while being opposed to the at-least incipient sacramentalism and Oxford-movementish nature of some of the Federal Visionists, have not been happy with some of the tactics used against them. Does anyone really think Machen or the Apostle Paul would be tolerated within the PCA today?

Couldn't be more right...

Gentlemen - thank you for responding to my original question.

It dawned on me about five minutes after the original post that I had forgotten a key distinction in any treatment of American fundamentalism; that between the Northern, Presbyterian variant of the 1930s (associated with Gresham Machen and, in the way he reacted to it, Francis Schaeffer); and the Southern, baptistic variety. Some of you above have teased that out for me, which I appreciate as my main familiarity with Fundamentalism is with its southern genus. The website is as good an introduction to this as anywhere.

On my reading of things, and I would value people's comments: the split between the evangelicals and the southern fundamentalists, as it worked out during and after the 1940s, very much turned on the question of how to engage in the culture as it began to change in the postwar period. The evangelicals thought they could engage more with the culture and the fundamentalists attacked them for that, saying that the result would be increasing worldliness in the evangelicals' ranks. The fundamentalists were right, but then they had problems of their own; in that in attacking the evangelicals for the latter's 'compromise', they forgot just how much their own church culture owed to the split in American culture post the Civil War. Hence the anti-intellectualism and suspicion of modernity; it was reflecting a lot of (then) key values in the Southern culture, without quite understanding what it was doing. And then, as one young fundamentalist, a BJU grad no less, found out: southern fundamentalism was as compromised to its culture as any northern evangelical. Such is the history of Philip Yancey.

The other problem with southern Fundamentalism was that it became isolationist as well, meaning that its efforts to reach into the changing culture with the Gospel ended up wasting a lot of energy. Certainly this is my frustration with the Fundamentalists I have read, that they seem unable to communicate with the 'outside world', meaning anything beyond the rural South.

Ross, I think your regional distinction has much merit. The irony, though, is that Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson became much more successful (as the world counts success) than Carl Henry or Harvie Conn in transforming the culture. Of course, Falwell had to make an about face on the church's political mission. But even so, the Republican strategists who thought about a Reagan victory were far more interested in southern anti-worldly fundamentalists than the evangelical guardians in Wheaton (I really mean, Carol Stream).

>> Does anyone really think Machen or the Apostle Paul would be tolerated within the PCA today? Disagree with me over this—I’m fine with that. But leaving Machen and the Apostle Paul behind, I’m hopeful we all recognize that strict subscriptionists and those who opposed Cedar Springs and those seeking to prophetically address our southern or evangelical Baptist ethos within the PCA are precisely those who are very much needed within the PCA today and tomorrow.

I agree with the needed for stricter subscriptionism in the PCA. I could even agree with the need for full subscriptionism if the PCA would show the willingness of the early American Presbyterians to revise the WCF at the few points on which I and many presbyters find it lacking. (Sabbath rules and the 2nd commandment, for instance.) But to say that the Apostle Paul would not be welcome in the PCA... aren't you a PCA minister? I can't imagine staying in a denomination which I felt was so astray that it would reject an author of Scripture.


Paul would be a tough sell in a great many of our churches. But, then, he was often a tough sell in the churches he founded.

I think we can agree more readily on this than on the possibility of reframing the standards to suit even a plurality within the PCA. For instance, the minute I read your suggestion that the standards are deficient on the Second Commandment, I agree and think, "Yup, they entirely miss the heart of idolatry." But, of course, I think they miss by defining it far too narrowly. You, on the other hand, might be inclined to accept an even more permissive interpretation. I know that many within the PCA defend images of Christ. And even the Apostle Paul would have had nothing to do with that.

Your brother in Christ,


>>>And then, as one young fundamentalist, a BJU grad no less, found out: southern fundamentalism was as compromised to its culture as any northern evangelical. Such is the history of Philip Yancey.<<<

Ross, I think you are misreading something here. I don't believe Yancey is a BJU grad. I am almost certain that he is a graduate of Columbia Bible College, now called Columbia International University.

I have read some of his diatribes against fundamentalism, but I think he is reacting to his experiences at Columbia more so than with 'southern fundamentalism'. That is not to say that southern fundamentalism and what he is describing are not entirely different, but Columbia was in a different orbit than BJU et al even when Yancey was there, at least as I understand it.


Don Johnson

Jer 33.3

>>aren't you a PCA minister?

Yes, and my brother and I both brought a church into the PCA, mine from the PC(USA) and his from the United Brethren.

>>I can't imagine staying in a denomination which I felt was so astray that it would reject an author of Scripture.

Surely you jest. Can you possibly think the Apostle Paul would be welcomed in the PCA today? Or Luther? Or Knox? Or Machen?

Yes, all things are possible with God, but the steady state of even the most orthodox and lively denomination is entropy. Otherwise, why "the church reformed, always reforming?" And how many reformers have been welcomed by those the Holy Spirit sent them to reform?


The crossing lines in this debate are both fascinating and, I think, indicative of the challenge we face in the PCA.

You view the loss of Cedar Springs (and presumably City Church San Francisco) as a good thing --gender egalitarian issues, but presumably the loss of Auburn Avenue as a bad thing. Moreover, you indict those who see the threat of the FV as being politically motivated --a purge directed against the prophetic in our midst.

It strikes me that this is precisely the argument made by the pro-egalitarians in our midst. How tragic we lose the Shermans and Harrells and Woodses because these men are prophetic.

To me both of those positions sound curiously like the "Christ" party in Corinth --setting themselves above the fray in judgment on the motives of others who follow just "men."

Having grown up, and fled, the RCA over primarily egalitarian and BIblical authority issues, I can inhabit a pretty big tent fairly comfortably. I would probably be happy in a denomination that included both Calvinistic baptists and charismatics.

But, I cannot abide either egalitarianism or the FV! To me the issues are equally ultimate.

Egalitarianism is wrong primarily because it sets man in authority over God's word, and secondarily because it perverts what that word reveals about the natural order.

FV is wrong primarily because it is a distortion of the gospel --taking what is internal to the heart and placing it in the hand.

One group subverts the Scripture; the other subverts the gospel. Which is more serious? That is like picking between cardiac arrest and cancer.

Just because Wilson and company have been prophetic (and often right), on issues like education, child rearing, and the like does not make them reliable teachers. Whatever is profitable in them has largely been garnered from other sources. They were just the convenient donkeys given to bray the truth (a Biblical allusion, not an insult!).

Incidentally, this is also true of Tom Wright. What is profitable in his writings is not new, and what is new is not profitable.

Why are we forced to pick which error is more deadly? Both arrows are flying in our direction, and both need to be deflected.


From your view from a distance at the shepherds of the OPC, what prompts less confidence in them on your part than the shepherds of the PCA?


You beat me to it. Amen.

FV is wrong primarily because it is a distortion of the gospel --taking what is internal to the heart and placing it in the hand.

This statement is, in my opinion, confirmation that the errors FV originally sought to address are, in fact, real.

I don't mean to be rude or arrogant, but that statement, something assumed to be obvious to all I take it, is actually itself filled with serious theological problems, indeed, gospel problems.

Whatever concerns folks have over the systematic explanation of imputation, and I admit those issues are both important and extremely difficult, a spiritual/physical dichotomy in this respect is a more basic concern. Indeed, this is one of those first three to five councils sort of issue.

I understand that I'm a nobody and there is no reason for anyone to take my opinions with any sort of authority, but I would implore all to seriously take up the challenge of making Reformed theology compatible with Nicea, Ephesus, and Chalcedon, including their various implications on soteriology and ecclesiology. The Church Fathers were certainly doing this.

I am reacting to the original post less than to the current thread of comments. Having recently begun pastoring in Greenville, SC, I have only recently made acquaintance with the Bob Jones style fundamentalists. (I really have no past with fundies, having been raised in a liberal presby context and having been nurtured since my conversion in the Northern Old School -- Tenth Pres and WTS). While I have certainly learned a lot about fundamentalism in the last 8 months, my main reaction has been quite positive. Why? Becuase I have a higher affinity with what they stand for than I do with broad evangelicals. The BJU fundamentalists take the Bible seriously, they trust in the blood of Christ, they are committed to the pursuit of personal holiness, they are zealous in witnessing the gospel, and they have stood firm against the morasse of gender egalitarianism.

(As an aside, I find that the main problems of the BJU fundamentalists are 1) an erroneous doctrine of sanctification, 2) a doctrine of separation from other Christians that is truly outrageous and extremely detrimental to themselves, and 3) a feudalistic ecclesiology of institutional control that is largely the result of #2. These are features of "fundamentalism" that seem to have been dominant of late, and explain the general reticence of conservative PCA types to be described as fundamentalists.)

(As a second aside, as a strong PCA opponent of the FV, I have always admitted that I am also against what the FV is against. But whereas we have argued that repentance and reformation are needed in our churches, the FV has taken the approach of doctrinal redefinition. For my own part, and for the part of the many anti-FV activists that I know well, the core issue with the FV has always been the doctrine of justification. To this day I have more affinity with the FV folks than with antinomian, egalitarian broad evangelicals. But the doctrine of justification must be defended.)

Getting back on track, my main point is that there are many in the fundamentalist camp with whom Reformed Christians have much in common. I have many differences with the sincere, God-honoring, excellence-pursuing, and honest fundamentalists of Greenville. But at least we talk a common language and have a shared commitment to the Bible as we each understand it. I would dearly love to have an influence among them for Reformed theology, and I say, "God bless them."

Steven W., Huh? Could you please explain how FV's views owe more to the church fathers than to Jim Jordan and John Milbank?

Dr. Hart,

I didn't say anything about FV being especially patristic, so much as I asked current non-FVers to give the patristics a read so as to avoid this whole heart/hand antimony. To say that the gospel is a move from body to soul or outer to inner is bad mojo.

And I don't know about "owing more" to the church fathers, but it doesn't take much reading in Athanasius, Cyril, the Cappadocians, and even Augustine to see that union with Christ was a real, ontologically-participatory union, and not a strictly moral/forensic one for them.

Furthermore, FV is closer to Rushdoony than Milbank. Rushdoony wrote a bit on the early church fathers, focusing of course on Chalcedon. I think he got some of it wrong, but the important thing is that he got folks reading it.

Jim Jordan's theology is very patristic, which is ironic since he himself often seems so anti-patristic. His definition of covenant is more compatible with the fathers, as well as his use of the Trinity, and of course, his hermeneutics =) He's also been arguing for theopoesis for a decade or so.

Final justification, one of the big bad issues now, is clearly taught in the Athanasian Creed.

FV and NTW (different entities with overlapping interests) have also tried to unite God's character with his salvation in ways that are closer to the church fathers. The FV and NTW version of postmillennialism isn't too far from recapitulation.

Many of the high-calvinists tended towards nominalism, even allowing for God to be ex lex. Muller notes that Calvin rejected the possibility of this in his PRRD, but he doesn't explore the distance that this puts Calvin from the later Calvinists on that point. Covenant of Redemption formulas often allowed for God to be ex lex in himself, but bound to the law due to the pactum. This leads certain Reformed thinkers to develop atonement views that at times exclude some of the older patristic views. This is certainly the case in the present era.

One of the FV's big "problems" according to many, not the least of which are the Klineans, is that they expand what ought to remain a moral issue into an ontological one as well. But in their doing this, the FV is moving closer to the early church theology.

But that's more than I originally meant by my comment.

Dear Ken,

I think the issue is simpler and clearer than you would have it. We are to judge on the basis of fruit. In the realm of FV teaching we share some of your concerns about the potential nature of the fruit. Perhaps it will prove as bitter as you suggest. Tim and I are less willing to pronounce judgment with such certainty because we believe FV theology is: 1) in flux; 2) though not a home run, a solidly-hit ground ball--it could lead to an out, even a double-play, but it could also prove a solid base hit; 3) led by a number of men whose fruitfulness and trustworthiness is far greater than many are willing to give them credit for.

Because the jury is out on the fruit of FV theology I don't regret our concern over it as a denomination. But we're not dealing with demonstrably bad fruit. We're worried about potential fruit.

To confuse the straightforwardly malevolent fruit of egalitarian/feminist disobedience to the Word with speculation about the ultimate fruit of the FV movement is crazy. You're comparing a still-growing crop on the one hand with rotting, corrupt, dead-on-the-ground disobedience on the other.

I'm sorry, but unless we learn that the Scriptural command is actually, "by what ye fear of their ultimate fruit ye shall judge them," I'm thoroughly unwilling to lump FV theology with egalitarian/femninist rebellion.

In Christ,



Regarding opposition to the FV, you said above,

“if anyone thinks that they’re [the FV] being opposed simply because of their theological errors, and not their commitment to the church reformed and always reforming, I’ve got some nice pond-side real estate in Gary, Indiana to sell.”

I always wonder how people who say such things gain such omniscience into the motives of others. I have been one of the early opponents of the FV, dating back to our face-to-face dialogue at the Ft. Lauderdale colloquium. Since then, I have had personal conversations with most of the public opponents of the FV. Therefore I know for a fact that the opposition to the FV is overwhelmingly based on its theological errors and not on other axes to grind. Might there be people who are happy about the troubles of FV leaders like Steve Wilkins because of his broader conservative agenda? I suppose that this might be one reason behind the landslide votes taken at GA, but it has not played any significant role that I am aware of among those who have carried the water against the FV. Many of the most active opponents of Wilkins and the FV have been men who were their comrades in previous fights and, in many cases, personal friends. Likewise, the opponents of the FV that I know are themselves taking stands against the kinds of things you have in mind, such as gender egalitarianism. So it is beyond me how you can be so sure that the anti-FV movement has really been about the FV's “commitment to the church reformed and always reforming” and not to the stated theological issues. Whether or not some people have been happy over the PCA's stand against the FV because of distaste to their conservative zeal, it simply is not the case that those carrying the banner against the FV have been so motivated. I really wish you and others would stop speaking the way you have, unless you have some specific information that I do not have.


If I might say, the fruit of the FV down here in TX, LA and MS is much clearer than the fruit of egalitarianism. I have a suspicion that is because of regional tendencies, but having live for a good while in both your (OH/MI/IN) world and now mine (TX and the deep south), I have been able to observe a good deal of that.

I would also remind you that once the FV controversy started heating up in the PCA, the FV advocates had no problem slandering men like you with comments like: "you better stop these guys from picking on us, because they are going to go after the egalitarians soon, and you know that isn't nice."

Blessings from Houston,


I guess I beg to differ. For one thing, you (or Tim), likened the FV to the 19th century Oxford movement. Even if we say it is something less than that --maybe more akin to middle-high Anglicanism of that same century, what were the baleful fruits of that movement?

Or, what about the FV's love affair with Schaff and Nevin? What were the fruits of that movement? Where is the German Reformed church today (exempting the EUreka Classis)?

I would encourage a thorough reading of Knots Untied.

My friend Fred is on to something. There are fruits already in evidence. Let's remember too this is simply Steve Wilkins's latest incarnation. One of the previous ones was as an unapologetic member of the League of the South. Ought the cause of Christ to be mingled in a simplistic, romanticist, and "anglo-Celtic core of the South" (their words, not mine). As far as I know (and please point out where I am wrong), he has never publicly repudiated his affiliation with this group.

I could also point out here, about Doug Wilson in particular, that sarcasm directed at brothers in CHrist is hardly a pleasant-tasting spiritual fruit.

I bring that up because it is all of a piece. When the gospel becomes a means to the end of cultural domination, and it becomes apparent that such a means is not "working," it is only natural to try something else. The latest incarnation is a linking of arms with Catholics and "mainline" Christians (born of Schilder-ism --look at Holland to see its baleful fruit)to try and rebuild some romantic Christendom which, in reality, never existed.

Phariseeism is just as rotten (if not rottener) fruit as antinomianism, though the stench takes longer to develop. IT can look to all the world like serious Christian commitment, but the heart isn't in it. How ironic that the granddaddy of the FV movement doesn't even believe in an internal renovation of the heart.

I agree with you RE the fruits of egalitarianism, but it is just another symptom of the same disease. Just because one arm has already rotted off, doesn't mean we ought not to be concerned about the gangrenous spots on the other.

"Therefore I know for a fact that the opposition to the FV is overwhelmingly based on its theological errors and not on other axes to grind."

Its how opposition to the 'errors' is framed. Its not always a case of "You are clearly wrong because the text of the bible says X"

Its more often "You FV are wrong because the confession isn't written that way."

Or "sure, you guys are brothers! but wouldn't you be happier deviating from the confession over in the CREC" (that argument, made often, belies the purity of the theological error argument)

or "if the NPP says the reformation wasn't 100% correct, and we need to fix things, then Luther wasn't justified in breaking with Rome and what did people *die* over?"

David and Tim,

I hope you listen to Ken Pierce's and Rick Phillips' wise words. They express well (and better than I) what I tried to express to you some months ago, until we reached an impasse. I (perhaps obviously enough) continue to disagree pretty strongly with your assessements on these matter. Thanks, fellows. I'll butt back out now.

Steven W.: Can you explain why the early church fathers are more authoritative than the early modern church fathers? Isn't it conceivable, that given the different intellectual trajectories of the West and the East, that the Reformed tradition would look different from Eastern Orthodoxy? And why wouldn't someone who identifies with the Reformed tradition eventually have to admit that he might have to abandon parts of the early church?

Dr. Hart,

This is a discussion that I'd love to have, but I'm afraid that it will leave the initial point of this post and get bogged down amidst the other comments. I do appreciate the interaction though, and I'll try to be very brief.

You ask, "Can you explain why the early church fathers are more authoritative than the early modern church fathers?"

If you mean by this the patristics and the Reformed scholastics, I'd say that the Reformed scholastics themselves argued that their views were consistent with and founded on an accurate reading of the patristic thought. Some did a better job than others. John Owen's appendix to the Death of Death is pretty bad, but Zanchius and Vermigli's work is quite commendable. In order to lay honest claim to the "Reformed Catholic" title, like Perkins and Baxter often did, the continuity needs to actually be true.

We also have to think about how we are building our systems. If soteriology is founded upon theology proper and Christology, which I would think most all Reformed dogmatics affirm, then we need to know theology proper and Christology first before we start building on them. It is no coincidence that Gordon Clark ended up being a Nestorian. His system was moving that direction all along. In Kingdom Prologue, Kline said that the Father is analogous to a Suzerain and the Son is analogous to a Vassal within the covenant of redemption. If you push that back into the operations ad intra (as some are currently doing), how will that affect our theology proper? In other words, what direction are the current systems moving?

Also, you ask Isn't it conceivable, that given the different intellectual trajectories of the West and the East, that the Reformed tradition would look different from Eastern Orthodoxy? And why wouldn't someone who identifies with the Reformed tradition eventually have to admit that he might have to abandon parts of the early church?

We've got to be careful here. Our current understandings of Eastern and Western trajectories are very suspect. Indeed, with the work of Barnes, Ayres, and others, the 19th and 20th century historiography is crumbling fast. None of the Reformers would have allowed Athanasius, Nazianzus, or even John of Damascus to be relegated to the "Eastern" school. Zanchius and Polhill cite the Damascene profusely.

There will be areas of disagreement, to be sure, but not on the foundational principles (like the nature of God's entering into fellowship with humanity).

Again, I think this is where the real meat of the discussion ought to go, but I understand that most will not have the interest or time to pursue it. It does seem completely backwards to me for folks to balk at Nicea yet demand full allegiance to Westminster. I can't imagine that going over very well historically.

Regarding fundamentalism and the PCA...

In my opinion wistful moralism is as much the fabric of fundamentalism as it is broad evangelicalism, and in the end is why both will end up at the same destination whether or not they are on the same team today (wistful, feminine, gnostic moralism).

Weighing in at the 11th hour, I would agree with Rick that there are fundamentalists with whom we can "walk" a long way. However, I do appreciate much of what Dr. Hart has written about the demise of evangelicalism and to that extent prefer not to be called a fundamentalist. What we find in modern evangelicalism is that it is more and more amorphous to the extent that it means everything to everyone, which ultimately means that it means nothing to no one. That Clark Pinnock can still be a member of the ETS is a case in point.

I want to be close to my Christian brothers and sisters whenever and wherever I can be. I understand why Ursinus and Olevianus asked in Lord's Day 12, "Why are you called a Christian." At the same time, there ought to be some very clear distinctive aspects of being PCA that do comport with historical Presbyterianism.

I should have said, "do" comport with historical Presbyterianism in differentiation to, say, general evangelicalism. Sorry, it's late.

Don't you love it when people who have yet to graduated from seminary confidently pass judgment on the work of someone the caliber of John Owen?

Yes. I do love it. Because otherwise we're fossilized.


No you don't-you only love it when the someone in question lines up on your side of the ball.

Steve W: I'm curious to know how you think that folks who take issue with FV balk at Nicea. For instance, Nicea is quite explicit in affirming forgiveness of sins and says nothing about "obedient faith" or "covenant faithfulness." I read Nicea's affirmation of forgiveness as being at odds with FV's inherent neo-nomianism. Any thoughts?


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