According to Clawson, the more recent instantiations of fundamentalism
typically focus on contemporary social issues like gender roles or sexual orientation. And while they would still agree with earlier fundamentalists on issues of scriptural inerrancy or anti-evolution, their theological arguments more commonly focus on the nature of truth and Calvinistic soteriology. Institutionally, this movement is not arising from the older bastions of fundamentalism – Bob Jones University, Moody Bible Institute, or even Liberty University – but within mainstream evangelical circles – from Gordon-Conwell, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School; from well-known and influential mega-church pastors in the Twin Cities, Seattle, and Southern California; and from massive worship festivals and ministry conferences popular with tens of thousands of evangelical college students as well as numerous pastors and lay-leaders. Leading voices associated with this trend include scholars like David Wells, DA Carson and Albert Mohler, Religious Right media-personalities like James Dobson, and well-known pastors like John MacArthur, John Piper and Mark Driscoll.
I’m quite familiar with this sub-culture within evangelicalism, but I hadn’t heard it described as neo-fundamentalist until Scot McKnight did so a few years ago. I agree with Scot and Mike that “neo-fundamentalist” better describes this movement than “neo-Calvinist” or “neo-Reformed.” There’s doubtless much more to be said, but here are just a few reasons why I say this.
First, there’s a strong anti-creation impulse that runs through this culture. I remember hearing one of the above-mentioned people making the flippant remark that Christians shouldn’t worry about stepping on the grass or killing dolphins since it’s all going to burn in the end. That sort of remark represents a deeper depreciation of creation and culture as expressions of worship. Further, one could make the case that John Piper’s call for Christians to delight in God tends to come at the expense of creation rather than in and through creation. While some elements of a Calvinistic soteriology are prominent within this culture, what is lacking is a broader and deeper Reformed worldview. Most crucially, the tendency to emphasize redemption from creation runs counter to the Reformed vision of God’s redemption of creation.
Second, the movement’s militant posture toward the wider culture is manifest also in its lack of genuine engagement with other viewpoints–even evangelical ones–and its inability to enjoy mutually beneficial conversations with other Christian traditions. This may be due to the movement’s exaltation of certain figures as “authoritative voices,” but there’s a strong impulse of suspicion toward fellow Christians who aren’t within the camp. Again, this runs counter to the Reformed vision of seeking to grasp God’s truth wherever it may be found. Further, it fails to heed the call to be “reformed and always reforming,” which happens through intellectual humility, self-reflection, and genuine conversation with others.
Just one example of this Reformed vision of vigorous learning and robust intellectual engagement: N. T. Wright is at Calvin College all this week, speaking at both the January Series and the Symposium on Worship.
I may be slightly understating things to say that N. T. Wright hasn’t been charitably engaged by many within the “neo-fundamentalist” sub-culture.
As I said, this movement does indeed draw upon certain elements of a Calvinistic soteriology, but it is largely disconnected from broader Reformed traditions and deeper Reformed theological resources.
For at least these reasons it seems more appropriate to describe the movement as “neo-fundamentalist” rather than “neo-Reformed.”