Just wanted to call your attention to Justin Taylor’s brief history of Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism that he recently shared on his blog. A key section in this brief history, which focuses on the years 1920 through 1962, is Taylor’s thoughts about “three approaches to separation.”
Three Approaches to Separatism
Emerging from this 1957 division, and continuing through the intra-denominational controversies of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod and the Southern Baptist Convention into the 1980s, there was conservative agreement that personal holiness was a necessity and that separation from moral sin was required. But beneath this general principle, there were three overlapping approaches to separation within fundamentalism.
First, there were denominational reformers who believed they should stay within a denomination and fight for its doctrinal and moral purity.
Second, there were denominational separatists who believed that faithful Christians should extricate themselves from denominations and professing Christians influenced by modernism and therefore apostasy.
Third, there were ecclesiastical separatists who were also secondary separationists, refusing to have fellowship with fellow conservative dissenters who did not withdraw from apostate denominations.
What must be noted here, and is often overlooked in discussions of fundamentalism, is that the original fundamentalists were in categories 1, and sometimes 2. But category 3 was largely the result of post-1957 fundamentalism and represents a new phase of development. (Read Taylor’s whole article)
I agree that historically, the third viewpoint on separation gradually grew over time. What fundamentalist critics of John Piper, Mark Dever, Tim Keller and others fail to note, is that often these conservative evnagelical leaders have a lot in common with historic fundamentalists who held to the first approacth to separation. The conservative turnaround of the SBC is testament to the fact that the second and third approaches to separation are not always necessary.