During the past decade or so I have occasionally played around with a rather perverse theological fantasy. I have thought of announcing the formation of yet another "neo" movement within evangelicalism—this one I would label "neo-fundamentalism." I hasten to repeat: It is a mere fantasy, and admittedly a perverse one. But there is nonetheless a germ of seriousness for me in the idea.
The thoughts that sparked the fantasy came shortly after current Notre Dame professor George Marsden published his much-acclaimed history of Fuller Seminary titled Reforming Fundamentalism. A person who was quite fond of Fuller told me he liked the Marsden book very much but found the title "embarrassing." This wasn't a word I would have thought to use, so I pressed him for clarification. He explained that he had rejected his fundamentalist upbringing and now looked to Fuller for "a more sophisticated evangelicalism." But to make a big thing about Fuller's connection to a fundamentalist past, he said—well, it was for him "embarrassing." Much better, as he viewed things, to reject fundamentalism altogether than to be associated with any effort to "reform" it.
Prior to this conversation, I hadn't thought much about the Marsden title. But now I began to muse about what it means to "reform" something. It would be very strange, for example, to give the title "Reforming Roman Catholicism" to a book about the Protestant Reformation. When the sixteenth-century Reformers set out to change things, they broke completely with the Roman church. They were re-forming (re-making, re-establishing) the church as such-a church that, as they saw things, had gotten completely messed up in Catholic hands. When a group within a particular political party, on the other ...1