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Richard Mouw, The Smell of Sawdust; What Evangelicals Can Learn From Their Fundamentalist Heritage (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000)

Few things today are more fashionable than a condescending dismissal of all things fundamentalist. True, there is legitimate material there, but Mouw reminds believers that there is much in that tradition for which we ought to be thankful. He should know. He grew up with impeccable fundamentalist credentials, tent meetings and all, and so he remembers the sweet smell of sawdust. Since that deeply personal heritage he has moved quite a distance and now serves as president of Fuller Theological Seminary. He is a regular participant in cutting edge religious issues with a broad and deep spectrum of conversation partners—Muslim dialogue, the Orthodox church, faith in the public arena, and so on. So, he is well placed to come full circle, from the popular sport of rejecting fundamentalism to reaffirming what is good in that tradition.

Mouw quotes two people in his final chapter to explain what he is after. Paul Ricoeur once referred to what he called a “second naivete.” Oliver Wendell Holmes put it this way: “I do not give a fig for the simplicity that is prior to complexity; but I would give my right arm for the simplicity that lies beyond complexity” (p. 151). It is all too easy to see things in black and white, in uncomplicated, simplistic terms. Like any movement, though, fundamentalism is far too complex for such a dismissive attitude. But when you engage all the critical questions which fundamentalism deserves, there can be no romantic return, but there can be an honest appreciation for all that is good in the movement—radical commitment to the Gospel, a commitment to the Biblical story, and a sense of wonder in God’s great grace.

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