Words are meaningless without definitions. Vocabulary is the foundation of all communication, and unless the meaning of words is properly defined, effective communication is impossible. Such is the word "Fundamentalism."
John Piper's newest book Contending for Our All highlights the life of Dr. Gresham Machen, Professor of New Testament at Princeton University in the early part of the last century. Dr. Machen was fired at Princeton, and later stripped of his ordination in the Presbyterian Church USA for "insubordination." It seems he questioned various policies of the Presbyterian USA Mission Board, which led to his censure and eventually the formation of an alternative missions sending agency begun by Machen.
Dr. Machen also founded Westminster Seminary just a few months before his unexpected death on New Year's Day, 1936 at the young age of 55. He died a hero by the Fundamentalists of his day because of his "insistence on defending great doctrines that had come under particular attack by vigorously defending the truth."
However, Machen did not like being called a "Fundamentalist." Listen to his own words:
"Do you suppose that I do regret my being called by a term that I greatly dislike, a "Fundamentalist?" Most certainly I do. But in the presence of a great common foe (liberalism), I have little time to be attacking my brethren who stand with me in defense of the Word of God." (Stonehouse, J. Gresham Machen, p. 337).
Piper gives seven reasons why Machen never spoke of himself as a Fundamentalist.
To Machen, Fundamentalism meant. . .
(1). The absence of historical perspective;
(2). The lack of appreciation of scholarship;
(3). The substitution of brief, skeletal creeds for the historic confessions;
(4). The lack of concern with precise formulation of Christian doctrine;
(5). The pietistic, perfectionist tendencies (i.e., hang-ups with smoking, drinking alchohol, etc . . );
(6). One-sided otherworldliness (i.e., a lack of effort to transform the culture), and,
(7). A penchant for futuristic chiliasm (or: premillennialism).
Machen was on "the other side" of all seven of these issues, yet God used him greatly to preserve conservative evangelicalism within his beloved Presbyterian denomination. He is the epitome of a conservative evangelical who could not be considered a "Fundamentalist."
May God grant the grace and wisdom needed to see that within our Southern Baptist Convention there are thousands of pastors and people who share the same spirit of Machen --- warmly conservative and fervently evangelical --- but not "Fundamentalists" as defined by Machen.
The SBC is large enough for all of us who are conservative and evangelical to cooperate together. Will our Fundamentalist brethren within the SBC, with whom we sided in the liberal debates of yesteryear, stand willing to cooperate with those of us who disagree with them on periphery issues?
We should know more where we stand as a convention by June 15th.
In His Grace,