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Is New Calvinism Really New Fundamentalism?

This is the question that David Fitch asks over at Out of Ur.  Now, you must understand from the outset that the question is loaded with implication. This is very much like asking

  • Red Sox fans if their local police are the new Yankees?
  • African-American if  the Republicans are the new Klu Klux Klan?
  • Liberal Democrats if the Blue Dogs are the new Tea Party?

You get the point. Before the discussion has even begun, the well is poisoned. The very fact that the question is posed suggests that there are enough similarities that it merited a thoughtful reflection. Superficial thinkers will freak out and flee at the slightest resemblance of the caricature that they so despise without taking the time to ponder deeper distinctions. Not everyone that has a silly mustache is Adolph Hitler.

Having said that, I don’t think people with silly mustaches should be upset if someone notices similarities between them and Adolph. But quite honestly Fitch’s claim that New Calvinism is the New Fundamentalism in a pejorative sense is utterly ridiculous because of the way he characterized fundamentalism. It should be common sense that you can’t define a thing by the similar characteristics it has with another thing even if it is granted that the similarities are real. It is even more ridiculous if you use characteristics that are universal.

  • It was characteristic of Saddam Hussein to eat three meals a day. Barack Hussein Obama eats three meals a day and has the same name. Barack Obama is therefore an Americanized version of Saddam Hussein.
  • The Nazi Germans characteristically had blond hair and so do many liberal Democrats that I know. Let’s write an article entitled, “Are Liberal Democrats the New Nazis?

Fitch characterizes fundamentalism with three categories:

  1. Insularity. There’s a mentality of insiders over against those who don’t believe.
  2. Distrust toward culture as a place where God is at work.
  3. An “us against them” mentality.

You will be forgiven if you think that 1 and 3 overlap. I think you could also be forgiven if 2 makes you scratch your head and wonder how anything could be more meaningless and inapplicable to the people that he is criticizing, Al Mohler and Kevin DeYoung. But perhaps I don’t understand the sentence. After all, while I know many people who do in fact trust culture, one rarely meets a person who, like Fitch apparently, would boast in having a “trust toward culture” even if it is a “place where God is at work.” What in the world does that mean?

If he is saying that Mohler, et. al. do not believe God can work in culture and the culture is a “place where God is at work,” he needs to read a few more things besides his own blog.
If he is saying that there is an evident suspicion of culture then he is merely highlighting a characteristic that is common to all religions and the atheistic professor in the local community college. Of course, we don’t even know what culture he speaks of. The supposedly defining characteristic is useless because of its meaninglessness.

But he also assumes that there is something dastardly about believing that some are saved and others are not saved (1) and that affirmation and denials of certain propositions equals an “us against them” mentality which is, in his mind, always wrong.

The whole poorly written and thought out post reeks of someone trying to guarantee some traffic to his blog and for that he must be credited with a job well-done. I decided to venture an answer, but I probably should have followed the example of one commenter that said reductionist questions should get reductionist answers after he answered as one of “them,” yes, yes, yes.

Here is my attempted to give a non-reductionist response on his blog:

I would agree. I think I agree with your conclusion, but I’m not sure I agree with your analysis. Having grown up in fundamentalism and still being accused of being such (even though most in my own circles have repudiated me with the dreaded “conservative evangelical” label), I personally think that it is irrational for anybody to disagree with your conclusion that the New Calvinism is a new fundamentalism.

However, I am thinking of fundamentalism in a denotative way and ignoring all of its bad connotations. Since most think of its yucky connotations, most in New Calvinism will vehemently and rightly resist the label.

Since “fundamentalism” is a pejorative term in the eyes of most people (excepting radical fundamentalists) it complicates reasonable discussion because it puts the accused on the defensive.

But I see both pros and cons with the resulting conclusion of your analysis although I think by using the term “fundamentalism” only in a pejorative way as you have done has prejudiced the discussion.

What do you mean by “fundamentalism”? Are you speaking of the J. Gresham Machens of the 20’s who, (though he specifically was uncomfortable with the term), were accused of the very same things that you indicate in the above video? Or are you speaking of the post-Ockenga fundamentalists?

If you are accusing them of being like the earliest fundamentalists, fine. I would agree with you and I would also concur that there was a definite “we/they” mentality which you seem to think is wrong. But (and I’m not trying to be combative), what is wrong with a “us vs. them” mentality when it comes to the conflict of ideas? In fact, aren’t you enjoying the same kind of mentality when you talk about “them”?

I’m not offended by that. You think that “them” are wrong and your article is clearly appealing to those respondents that will find comfort in being a part of the “us” who are put off by the New Calvinism. That’s all perfectly fair. But does that make you fundamentalists?

It is God who invented the us/them dichotomy and it is impossible to avoid it. Some are his children; some are not. I think it is almost silly of people to accuse “fundamentalists” for being “us vs. them” when their accusation effectuates the very same result. Furthermore, while it is not ungodly or “fundamentalist” to suggest that “we” are right and “they” are wrong about any area of doctrine. It is wrong to be wrong, but one is not wrong simply because he has the temerity to think that others are wrong especially if he happens to be right! And if he finds some one to agree with him suddenly they are now an official “us.” What’s wrong with that?

To disagree is fine. To argue over right and wrong is necessary. To say that Mohler and DeYoung are absolutely wrong would be much more impressive to me than to conjure up an evocative connotation that muddies the water simply because they have the spine to say that some people are right and others are wrong.

Having said that, I think that the New Calvinism is a good thing and, yes, in my mind it does very much give the impression of being similar to the earliest fundamentalists. Sadly, I would also have to agree that there is an insularity (particularly the hero worship) that smacks of the post-Ockenga fundamentalism that I have grown to deplore.


One Response

  1. Good job, Bob!

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