Machen’s Warrior Children, Ed Stetzer, and Beth Moore

Stetzer invokes Frame to lump his critics with the fundamentalists and so to marginalize them.

It is not fundamentalist to affirm 1 Timothy 2. It is still God’s holy, inerrant, and infallible Word. It still norms the theology, piety, and practice of Reformed Churches. We still confess the biblical qualifications for the offices of minister, elder, and deacon (see Belgic Confession articles 31 and 31).


John Frame first published his essay “Machen’s Warrior Children” in 2003, in a Festscrhfit (a volume of congratulatory essays usually in honor of a 65th birthday or a retirement) for Alister McGrath. The essay was ostensibly a historical analysis of what happened to the movement Machen started. It was, in fact, what journalists call “a hit piece,” aimed at his confessionalist foes. As it turns out, this essay was just the first in a string of such pieces. As a piece of historical analysis it was sorely lacking—philosophers may or may not make up things as they go along but historians are supposed to attempt to describe accurate what really happened, when, where, and why. Frame’s essay did little of that but it did provide rhetorical ammunition for those unhappy with their critics, especially confessional critics.

The essay is before us again because last Saturday Ed Stetzer, who holds the Billy Graham Chair of Church, Evangelism, and Mission at Wheaton College (where I taught briefly), invoked the essay, J. Gresham Machen, and the category of “fundamentalist” ostensibly to explain but mostly to shame the critics of Beth Moore, a notable Southern Baptist author, speaker, head of Living Proof Ministries. She has been the center of a controversy among Southern Baptists, with whom Stetzer is also affiliated. Stetzer invoked the essay  in this thread. His point seems to have been that Southern Baptists criticizing Moore’s view and practice of preaching are the equivalent to the angry “fundamentalists” among Machen’s followers who, according to Frame, seem to be happier fighting than getting along and cooperating in the mission of the church. Stetzer himself had invoked Frame’s categories in a 2009 essay concerning internal dissension among Southern Baptists.

Whose Fundamentalism?

J. Gresham Machen (1881–1937) was an outstanding professor of New Testament at Princeton Theological Seminary, the leader of those in the old Northern Presbyterian Church who were denominated as “fundamentalists” by their liberal opponents, the founder of Westminster Theological Seminary (1929), when he left Princeton Seminary over its reorganization and marginalization of seminary faculty, and the leader of the formation of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in 1936.

One of the great problems in this discussion is the casual use of the adjective fundamentalist. When I last surveyed that literature for Recovering the Reformed Confession, I found that, in the academic literature it is very difficult to find an agreed definition. There is a reason it is so difficult. Like the adjective evangelical, fundamentalist is used to describe a wide-array of beliefs and practices. In the case of the abstract noun Evangelicalism, D. G. Hart has concluded that it does not actually exist. This conclusion has not gained a great deal of traction, in my opinion, because too many have too much at stake in evangelicalism to let it go. It represents a voting bloc, a market, and a fan base. It must exist. I argue that fundamentalism does exist and I characterized it, in the Reformed world, as the Quest for Illegitimate Religious Certainty.

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