Scot McKnight of Jesus Creed, a prominent author and scholar, claimed last friday that “neo-fundamentalism” is on the horizon. He followed it today with a list of what he thinks motivates this movement. McKnight has been bold enough to identify the movement, without identifying any of its leaders, preferring instead to discuss it on a purely abstract plane. Here’s hoping he names names! Anyway, without further ado, “neo-fundamentalism” believes:
1. That it alone remains true to the fullness of the gospel and the orthodox faith. Check. I’m very suspicious, along with S.M. Hutchens, that evangelicals in general will get the gender issue wrong and consequently neuter the gospel. Despite my recent questioning about how patriarchalism looks in practice, I am quite convinced that it is true.
2. That the Church worldwide is hanging on a precipice and will soon, if it doesn’t wake up, fall from the faith. Well, if by “worldwide” we mean America and Europe, then yup, I qualify here too. There are a lot of reasons for that, chief of which is the implicit adoption of a secular/naturalist/consumerist mindset.

3. That the solution to this nearly-apocalyptic church situation is to tighten up theological stands and clarify what is most central and most important for the Church today. Close–I am less persuaded about clarifying “what’s most important” for the Church, but fairly convinced that the evangelical church must institutional “tighten up theological stands.” Three for three!!!

4. That the major problems are theological drift, church laxity, and evangelical compromise with either modernity and/or postmodernity. See 1 and 2.

5. That it is “Neo” because it arises within Evangelicalism today and will either break from it or seek its widespread reform — and therefore its particular characteristics are determined by contemporary Evangelicalism. E.g., it isn’t really concerned about dancing and movies and “mixed bathing.” That would be me too. My interest is in reforming evangelicalism (semper reformanda!) because I think it’s the only branch of Christianity with the energy and strength to be reformed. At least of the branches that are in need of reform (see mainline Protestant, Catholic, and Episcopalians–the Orthodox are small, but still, well, orthodox). And I think the evangelical tendency to leave when things go bad is one of those evangelical characteristics in need of reforming!

It’s not a bad list to own, actually. I haven’t read McKnight’s work much (shame on me, I know) so perhaps he explains why these are bad beliefs elsewhere, or maybe it’s forthcoming, but in the interim, I’ll sleep happily tonight knowing that my tiny group (maybe it’s just me!) has a name.
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Posted by Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.


  1. Welcome to the club! There are many more than McKnight would like to see…


  2. I’m curious about evangelicals’ tendency to leave when things go bad–and why MatthewLee thinks this itself is bad.

    When I look over my own experience (Calvary Chapel aged 11-18, conservative Episcopalian church from 19 on, yet while attending evangelical bastion BIOLA), I wonder what it is that I would be leaving if I became, say, Roman Catholic or Anglican…wait…I am Anglican, which gets to the heart of my question: what is it to be evangelical? When someone like John Mark Reynolds, an Antiochan Orthodox church member, can identify himself in public as an evangelical, I wonder what the evo tag refers to. Or if I believe in the sacraments and go to an Episcopalian church, yet am still “within the evo-fold” (so long as certain questions aren’t asked), I wonder what it is that unifies me with evangelicals from other churches. Is it that we are sincere in our belief? Is it that we really believe that Christ rose from the dead and that scripture is still authoritative? If tenets like these are the unifying factors, what excludes Anglicans, Roman Catholics, and Orthodox from being (in principle) evangelical and thus neo-fundamentalist?

    But if there is some ambiguity about what it means to be evo, then neo-fundie theses 1, 4, and 5 are unclear. For example, an evangelical who goes to an Anglican or Lutheran church might have different views about the “fullness of the gospel” than one who goes to a Vineyard or Calvary Chapel or EVFree church. Just as “evangelical” is denominationally ambiguous, therefore, so too is “neo-fundamentalist”.


  3. Tom,

    I agree that the evangelical identity is at the heart of the issue, and that it is denominationally ambiguous. However, I don’t think it’s as amibiguous as you infer. I’m quite sure I don’t think of most Anglicans as evangelicals, unless they are in fact “evangelical Anglicans” such as J.I. Packer. Not all the Anglican Church is anglo-catholic. And one tenet that sets evangelicalism apart from Anglo-catholicism, Catholicism, and Orthodoxy is (I think) a non-sacramental theology and a firm adherence to sola scriptura. That might admit Presbyterians to the fold, but probably not Lutherans (sacramentalism).

    That said, I think McKnight’s theses are in need of clarification, but then again he is going after a general intution and so I think asking for too much precision is unfair. Asking for names, though, might not be! : )


  4. In “‘Fundamentalism’ and the Word of God,” J. I. Packer argues that the salient feature of evangelicalism that separates it from other professing Christians is its view of Scripture. For the sake of simplicity, he breaks all of Christendom into three categories: Those who view Reason as finally authoritative, those who view Tradition as finally authoritative, and those who view Scripture as finally authoritative. Liberal Christians, especially those who had their heyday in the late 19th and the 20th century fit into the first category. Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and some Anglo-Catholics would fall into the second. Evangelicals would fall into the third. Granted, this distinction doesn’t break down neatly along all denominational lines, but it gives a good handle on the debate, and I think it is fairly accurate.

    Of course, part of the problem with labels is that they tend to promote exceptions, and also can be used in a ways that are other than intended (take the use of “fundamentalism”, for example).


  5. Tex,

    Yup, that’s what I was thinking. Packer said it better, though!



  6. It seems that the evo=non-sacramentalist description isn’t true in Packer’s case, or Reynolds’s, or mine for that matter. Proof: Packer, as a self-styled evangelical Anglican, would hold scripture as “finally authoritative,” AND uphold the 39 Articles, including 25-30 (concerning sacraments).

    Let’s assume that one can indeed believe in the sacraments and be an evangelical, based on the above. We might explore the Packer/Tex thesis, that viewing scipture as finally authoritative is what constitutes the defining feature of an evangelical. But one might do this in several ways. For instance, one thinks that scripture is where it’s at, and shucks to tradition, whereas another thinks tradition very important, but also thinks that there is some real possibility that scripture can and sometimes should correct tradition. These seem to be importantly different points of view, but both fall under the rubric of evangelical on the Packer/Tex thesis. An upshot of this line of reasoning is that two Christians might have very significant theological disagreements and still be evangelical together.

    I lean more toward the view that being evangelical has more to do with a certain style, than with doctrine. I think the evo style is constituted by seriousness about doctrine (that is to say, an evo actually believes that certain events and propositions confessed by the churches are TRUE events and propositions) as well as by enthusiasm about one’s personal faith and about sharing it with others. Thus, I think that Christians from any denomination can be evangelical, and indeed I think they should be. Therefore, I think the neo-fundy research project is fundamentally misguided.


  7. Tom,

    Good thoughts. I don’t think anyone is suggesting that people can’t have real theological disagreements and both be evangelical. The question is what the boundaries for such disagreements are. With respect to the role of tradition, it’s clear that an evangelical can think it crucial for theology–I do–but that is a very different claim than the Anglo-Catholic, the Catholic or the Orthodox, which view Tradition as another authority. I don’t think that we can both be evangelical if we think differently on that issue–if the tent is that big, it loses all meaning.

    To reduce evangelicalism to a style is, I think, to ignore the history and special flavor of the evangelical movement. Packer gives his demarcators here:
    They include doctrine.

    Finally, I don’t think the “neo-fundamentalist” movement excludes being co-belligerent for the cause of Christ. Timothy George’s “ecumenism of the trenches” still applies–in most cases, what we’re fighting for is available in Plato as in Scripture. In fact, one not need be a Christian at all to be co-belligerent on some of the crucial issues.

    Also, do you mean to say that searching for a neo-fundy evangelical-ism (as a denominationally identifiable group of people) is misguided, or what they believe is misguided?

    Finally, we’re wrestling with the core of evangelicalism, but of course “evangelicalism” is a mixture of wheat and tares, ideologically speaking. I would say that a sort of neo-gnosticism is prevalent in evangelicals, but I don’t think that is properly a part of “evangelicalism.” I want to keep everything that’s good AND that find the doctrines and practices that distinguish it from Anglo-Catholicism, Lutheranism, Catholicism and Orthodoxy.


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