Dr. Rolland McCune Message – The Definition and Conception of Fundamentalism

In 1996 Dr. Rolland McCune was president of Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary and the first editor of Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal. The journal’s first issue came out in the spring of 1996, and I distinctly remember that. I brought that clean, fresh, crisp journal to work with me and read every word (I worked on a press at a corrugated box company in the area called Laimbeer Packaging). By the time I finished the journal was quite dirty and marked up.

The first article of that first issue was by Dr. McCune titled, “The Self-Identify of Fundamentalism,” and he started right out of the gate:

Dr. William R. Rice was trained for the ministry in the 1930s and 40s at Bob Jones University, a [then] clearly militant fundamentalist institution, and at Grace Theological Seminary, then also an outspoken fundamentalist school. He began his pastoral ministry in the post-World War II era when fundamentalism’s identity was not only self-assured but recognized outside its own confines as well. Over the years he witnessed many of his friends and former classmates leave the ranks of fundamentalism for the more congenial and inclusive camp of new evangelicalism. But his identity as a fundamentalist and that of his ministry of well over forty years were never in doubt nor questioned.

Today, fundamentalism is said to be in an identity crisis. It is allegedly trying to discover what it is. New self-definitions are being heard which say that a fundamentalist is one who is faithful to expository preaching, practices church discipline, repudiates easy believism, and is aggressive in evangelism. Or some imply that a fundamentalist is one who believes in inerrancy and does not cooperate with Roman Catholics, or is one who believes the “fundamentals” but is less militant and separatistic than formerly thought. The truth is that these are things that new evangelicals and self-proclaimed non-fundamentalists also believe and practice, leaving a distinctly fundamentalist self-identity completely vacuous. This all points up the fact that many are simply confused, and this includes would-be leaders as well as followers and well-wishers. Judging by some of the prevalent ambiguity, one is sometimes tempted to ask, Will the real fundamentalist please stand up?

The purpose here is to address some reasons for the present confusion, define fundamentalism as a bona fide religious movement, delineate a complex of doctrine around which the movement has rallied, and demonstrate that there are some other distinctives that make it what it is. In other words, I propose to set forth what I consider to be the real, historic identity markers of fundamentalism and thus to bring some sense of order out of the developing chaos on this question in certain sectors of the fundamentalist ranks.

As I mentioned yesterday, during that spring Dr. McCune gave seven messages on the history of fundamentalism. The second message is “The Definition and Conception of Fundamentalism,” and largely reflects his first journal article. As I also mentioned yesterday, what you get in the audio that is lacking in the journal are his anecdotes, humor, and asides.

Regarding the term fundamentalism Dr. McCune said we ought not to back away from the title; indeed, he said, “I will not give up the title” (4:40).

This message largely relays the historical facts of what led up to and the birth of the fundamentalist movement. I wonder if this history is taught much at all in educational institutions that (at least at one time) are in the vein of fundamentalism. I know I am who I am today because Dr. McCune and others did teach this. He mentions at the end of the message two men who were likewise influential in his life, Alva J. McClain and Richard V. Clearwaters. I thank the Lord for these men.

Alva J. McClain, 1888-1968
Richard V. Clearwaters, 1900-1996

Dr. McCune closes (40:15) by exhorting students to give thanks to God for fundamentalists of the past, and to “pledge in your own heart you’re going to uphold those ideals, you’re going to stand for the thing that they stood for, and you’ll take the heat and you’ll take the abuse sometimes it comes. It may be from your own friends and your own countrymen and your own churchmen, but don’t be afraid to do it.”

Click here to listen or download:

The Definition and Conception of Fundamentalism