You’ve probably noticed regular new labels and terms popping up. One of these, I’ve seen, is “cultural conservative.” I don’t know when that terminology was first used, but I know it differentiates certain conservatives from the “fiscal conservatives.” Whether you would have the “cultural conservative” label or the “fiscal conservative” one probably depends on why you vote for who you do. The latter would vote with his so-called “pocketbook.” Fiscal concerns may bring people together that do not see eye-to-eye on the culture. The two terms, culture and fiscal, divide conservatism.
What Is Cultural Fundamentalism
I believe that this division in conservatism between cultural and fiscal has now become the basis for a new division that I have read only in the last few years, that is, the cultural fundamentalists and the theological or doctrinal fundamentalists. With just a little looking, I have found that “cultural fundamentalism” has been around for awhile as a technical terminology for something entirely different than how Christian fundamentalists have used it. “Cultural fundamentalism” has referred to a usually violent antipathy to a change of culture. That label is often hung on the jihad of Islamic countries who desire one Islamic culture. So “cultural fundamentalism” has been around for awhile, but only recently has it been used, mainly as a pejorative, to color a certain brand of Christian fundamentalism.
In 1999 a professor at the University of Wisconsin, William P. Tishler, referred to “cultural fundamentalism” existing in the U. S. in the 1920s. He described it like this:
The 1920s was a time when many adherents of “Cultural Fundamentalism” attempted to ensure that all Americans followed the right patterns of thought: quest for certainty and predictability in social relationships; an order in human affairs that was at once familiar, comfortable, and unthreatening; and nostalgia for the idealized, non-industrial society of their parents.
Tishler’s syllabus reads like sheer propaganda, assigning motives to people without evidence. David G. Bromley in his 1984 book, New Christian Politics, calls the “new religious right” (NRR) “cultural fundamentalism.” He, like Tishler, would say that “cultural fundamentalism” supports things like right to life and male headship.
The first “cultural fundamentalism” struck me as an identifiable label was when I read what Tim Jordan said at the latest GARBC national conference. He warned:
If we produce ‘biblical’ reasons for cultural fundamentalism, they [the young Fundamentalists] know you are lying. And why do they know you are lying? It’s because you are!
So you see his usage of “cultural fundamentalism,” differentiating himself from that. I started looking for other usages and I read this from Bob Bixby on his blog in January 2008:
These first-generation Calvinists embrace Calvinism in order to embrace what they really want: contemporary worship, a swig of beer, or the sheer pride of life that gratifies the egos of those who, embittered because of everything they could not have in cultural fundamentalism on the basis of dumb argumentation, now have an indisputably better biblical argument for anything they want.
I don’t know exactly who Ben Wright is talking about at 9 Marks in Mar-April 2008 when he says cultural fundamentalists are atheological fundamentalists. He writes:
In addition, the theological Fundamentalism of Bauder and Doran represents a matured strain of Fundamentalism that intends to expose and disassociate from the atheological (sometimes called cultural) Fundamentalism that has dominated many segments of separatist Fundamentalism in recent decades.
Here’s how someone named Charlie defined “cultural fundamentalism” at SharperIron:
I have heard the term “cultural Fundamentalism” applied to those described as hyper-Fundamentalists. I like this term at least somewhat better, because it communicates that the real areas of controversy are not “doctrinal” in the sense of disputes about systematic categories (which some cultural Fundamentalists wouldn’t even be able to explicate), but rather cultural in the sense of affecting the look, feel, and function of church life. For example, you can sing vapid songs, but not CCM songs. You can murder the meaning of a Bible passage, but you have to have the correct initials on the binding. You can preach all sorts of bizarre allegory, but you need to be in coat and tie when you do it.
Kevin Bauder dealt with this way back in 2005 in his essay “A Fundamentalism Worth Saving,” especially in these two paragraphs:
This, I think, highlights the limited usefulness of a distinction between “historic” and “cultural” fundamentalism. Biblical obedience is never acultural for the simple reason that human beings are never acultural. We must always obey God at a particular time, in a particular place, situated in a particular culture. We do not really care whether George Carlin’s words were obscenities in 1560, nor whether their cognates are obscene in German or Norwegian. We care about what they mean in English at the beginning of the 21st Century.
In short, the only way to be a historic, biblical fundamentalist is to be a cultural fundamentalist. The only alternatives are, first, to say that cultures are beyond the Bible’s ability to critique and correct, or second, to argue that fundamentalism is concerned only with doctrine and not with obedience. I doubt that any of us really wants to take either of those steps.
It’s interesting to consider that Ben Wright says that Bauder is not a cultural fundamentalist, and wants to distinguish him from one, when Bauder himself says that a historic fundamentalist must be a cultural fundamentalist. I think I’ll go with what Bauder says about himself rather than what Wright says about Bauder to help his article along. It would do Ben well to also check out a certain paper produced by Mark Snoeberger, who teaches at Detroit, Doran’s seminary, and his words about cultural fundamentalism:
It is often suggested that there are two kinds of fundamentalism—doctrinal fundamentalism and cultural fundamentalism. The former is to be embraced as a defense of the orthodox core; the latter to be eschewed as a counter-cultural set of archaic, arcane, and even pharisaical traditions some of which are downright silly. There is some validity to this distinction. At the same time, since theology always informs our view of culture, it is impossible to completely divorce the two.
We have already noted above that in the specific issue of evangelism, fundamentalists have typically eschewed both the ―Christ of culture‖ approach (practiced broadly by liberalism and new evangelicalism) and also the holistic ―Christ transforming culture‖ approach (practiced in Kuyperian Reformed circles). I would suggest that this understanding has extended beyond evangelism to a whole plethora of cultural issues.
Snoeberger says you can’t divorce the theological fundamentalism from the cultural.
Why are doctrinal and cultural fundamentalism being divided? I believe there are those who want to hang on to the doctrine of separation. They think it’s in the Bible. But they only want to separate over certain theological issues. They want to allow much more room to maneuver on the so-called cultural issues. Therefore, if there exists doctrinal fundamentalism, they can still be a fundamentalist without associating with the fundamentalists who disassociate over violations of the right cultural practices.
Why I’m Not a Cultural Fundamentalist
I really do identify with these people who don’t mind being and being called “cultural fundamentalists.” But I’m not one. Most would make me a poster boy for cultural fundamentalism. I refuse it. I reject it. Don’t lay that label on me. However, I also don’t like that this division is occurring in fundamentalism. I see what it is, and it’s not good for fundamentalism in my opinion, really for the same reasons Bauder states in his “Fundamentalism Worth Saving” article.
But again, I’m not a cultural fundamentalist because, first, I’m not a fundamentalist. Fundamentalism is a movement that gets along and gets together based upon agreement on a short list of doctrines. I don’t see that as scriptural unity or biblical separation. To obey the Bible, I can’t be a fundamentalist.
I add to the above first reason that I’m not a cultural fundamentalist because I don’t separate based upon culture. I don’t unify based on culture. I refuse that designation by others. I will not allow that to stick. The name “cultural fundamentalist” is just being used to discredit a biblical belief and practice. It is sliding that scriptural doctrine and practice to something that is just cultural, really only opinion. That isn’t the case. I don’t believe and practice opinions. I am sanctified by the truth. My church will be sanctified by God’s Word to every good work.
Male headship isn’t cultural. It is biblical. Heterosexuality isn’t cultural. It’s scriptural. Gender designed distinctions in appearance isn’t cultural. They are biblical. Modesty isn’t cultural. It’s in God’s Word. Complementarianism isn’t cultural. It’s in the Bible. Spiritual, sacred worship isn’t cultural. It is scriptural. Dress that is distinct from the world isn’t cultural. It’s biblical. Patriarchy isn’t cultural. It is Scripture. I’m to preach the whole counsel of God’s Word. I’m to teach the saints whatever God has said in His Word. I’m not going to have those teachings diminished for the convenience of those who prefer to fit into an unbiblical way of life. Take the world, but give me Jesus.
The Bible is lived in the real world. The Bible reacts to culture. The Bible guides how we will live. The Bible tells us what is the right music, the right art, the right marriage, the right fashion, and the right family.
Everything is about God. God is the narrative, the thinking, the lifestyle, and the meaning. And God is One. He doesn’t deny Himself. God is consistent. The gospel is about God. It solves man’s sin problem, but it is about God receiving the glory He deserves. It is about God being God. We don’t say where He is God and where He is not. Man does not submit to God and then deny God in music, in art, in science, in education, in literature, in government, or in philosophy. Since God is One, if you deny God in art, for instance, you’ve denied Him. You don’t get to segment God into parts and choose where He is God. He is either God or not. He is a God of non-contradiction. There are not two truths. God created everything and everything with His purpose. Everything, therefore, has His meaning. The meaning must fit God or it is wrong, it isn’t the truth, and it is part of the lie.
Enter fundamentalism. God gets to be God of the fundamentals. Everything else is up for grabs. Fundamentalists would say “no,” but actually “yes.” It’s just “no” on paper. In reality, “yes.” In lifestyle, “yes.” In particular works they allow the denying of Him. That is as much a lie as if we denied all of God. God is all or nothing. He is not God when He is just God of the fundamentals. Fundamentals are about us. About what we think we need to get along with each other. We shrink God’s domain to allow for more people. It’s chariot counting even though God “burneth the chariot in the fire” (Psalm 46:9). The fundamentals are not and never have been God’s will for getting along. They couldn’t be. It would be to say that God created everything, but He’s only made that clear in part of what He created. But that’s not what God said. Since God created everything, He reveals Himself in everything, and the meaning relates to God. We interpret everything according to God.
Now fundamentalists say some of God’s world is non-essential. Some of my Father’s world is not as important. Several “truths” are permissible in certain continents of His creation. And yet everything fits into God and God is as important as important is. We cannot remove God from a segment of His reign. He reigns in music. He reigns in fashion. He reigns in leisure. When we remove God from any part of His reign, we dethrone Him. We don’t actually dethrone Him. That can’t happen. But He isn’t God to us anymore when we shrink his reign to the domain of fundamentals.
Some have shrunk fundamentalism even further. They’ve reduced God’s world to the gospel. They say that the limitation of the boundaries to the gospel pleases God. One man uses foul language, but he has the gospel. He is included. Another man sprinkles infants. But he has the gospel. They say they are elevating God’s world to the gospel. They diminish God and they use the gospel to do so. This is travesty. No one should be celebrating. Everybody should mourn. God does not limit Himself to the gospel. Sure, the gospel touches everything in God’s world, but His world isn’t the gospel. The gospel is the hub or the axle upon which man’s view of God’s world can succeed. The gospel enables rebellious men to see God in His world. And rebellion is the problem. The gospel succeeds everywhere, not just in the gospel and not just in the fundamentals. It enthrones God over all of His creation. The whole story is His. All practice is His. All thinking is His. All relationship is His.
When God is excluded from much of His actual reign, a form of religion exists, but the power of God is denied. Of course, we cannot limit the power of God. God’s power does what it does whether we recognize it or not. So when we do not receive God’s power over all of His world, we deny all of His power. He isn’t glorified when His power is denied even when we say it’s about the gospel or the fundamentals. So it’s not even the gospel but a denial of the power of God. The lie limits God to man’s domain, to his preferred boundaries, holding off or suppressing the truth.
Let God be God and every man a liar.
Since the Bible is practical, when you preach what it means, you get application. However, it’s obvious that a lot of what the Bible says requires making application to every day life. We could even call this “wisdom,” that is, the proper application of Scripture. Not all of the Bible tells you exactly how to apply it. A lot of it assumes that you are going to have to apply it. This is where the guidance of the Holy Spirit comes in, in addition to the text of Scripture.
For example, in 2 Timothy 2:22, Paul commanded Timothy, “Flee youthful lusts.” Preaching should include ‘what it is to flee’ or ‘how to flee.’ That is partly where application comes into the right kind of preaching. After Paul told Timothy to “preach the Word” (2 Timothy 4:2), he also said to “reprove, rebuke, exhort.” The goal would be to have actual fleeing youthful lusts to take place. When that’s the goal, you want to give the audience some ways that fleeing should occur. You could go to parallel passages to expand upon what it is to flee, but explaining that is a means by which someone would apply God’s Word. It might take very little time to describe what “flee youthful lusts” means and a lot of time to explain how to do it. In those cases, the application would last longer than the interpretation.
The inclusion of more of this kind of application with interpretation is a major way that fundamentalist or separatist preaching differentiates itself from evangelical preaching. It is possible, even probable, that the popularity of many evangelical preachers comes because they do not apply the Bible with proper authority. And then they may do very little reproving and rebuking that Paul told Timothy was required in preaching.
For instance, Paul instructs Timothy in 1 Timothy 2:9 concerning the proper dress “that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety.” What is adorning with shamefacedness? A preacher should show that the term “modest” relates to extravagance. “Shamefacedness” is what corresponds to our modern term “modesty.” Is there a scriptural standard for modesty? Are certain lines drawn in the Bible? This is where a separatist or fundamentalist has historically given specifics to the audience, while the evangelical often has not. And you’ll see far more immodesty in evangelical churches. That kind of evangelical preaching, however, is creeping into fundamentalist churches and so now their practice looks more and more the same as evangelicals.
So what does the evangelical say in response to a criticism for the lack of application? He would say that the preacher should allow the Holy Spirit to “guide them in the application of that truth to their individual lives and circumstances.” This is exactly what John MacArthur has said is the role he strives to take in preaching as it relates to application of a passage. He has said that “it is the work of the Holy Spirit to make the most personal, individual applications of the truth of Scripture in the heart of the hearer, and He does that infallibly, in a way [that] a preacher cannot.”
But what passage of Scripture itself says that the preacher should allow the Holy Spirit to make the application to the hearer? Shouldn’t the preacher be making the application to the hearer? Isn’t that part of the responsibility of the preacher? I think so. Again, I think it is part of the role of reproving, rebuking, and exhorting. The Apostle Paul told the Corinthians to imitate Him (1 Cor 11:1), and I think especially in the application of the principles of Christian liberty. As the man of God, you have wisdom from God that He wants you to use in your preaching.
In a sense, the ‘fallibility of the preacher,’ as a reason for not applying Scripture, is just an excuse. It is a cop-out. The passages left unapplied are often the ones most difficult to keep because their application is the most offensive to the world. This is one major reason, I believe, for the larger size of many evangelical churches. Their pastors offend fewer people with their preaching, because they don’t make pointed applications. What they say is “waiting on the Holy Spirit” is actually just fear of man.
When MacArthur says he doesn’t apply because of his fallibility, this sounds humble. Uncertainty is quite in fashion today. The emergents can’t even interpret because of fallibility. They think they’re even more humble. I say that all this is “voluntary humility” (Col 2:18). We can interpret and apply. God wants us to do that. This doubt about application is akin to the doubt about truth found in the world. Truth is relative. Application is relative. None of this is good.
The preacher leaves the people ignorant of the application and then uses the Holy Spirit as his excuse for doing so. If the people don’t make the application, ‘I guess the Holy Spirit must not have wanted them to do that.’ I believe this is what Paul had in mind with Titus when he called on him to “speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority” (Titus 2:15). Sure the younger women were to love their husbands (Titus 2:5), but what does that look like as it is fleshed out in the life of a younger woman? Preachers should exhort and rebuke in the particular shortcomings of love in the life of those women. The “aged men” were to be “temperate” (Titus 2:5), so certainly application is called for.
Preachers can be prey to fallibility in interpretation just as well as application, so if fallibility is the “reason” for not applying, then perhaps nobody should preach. After all, they might make a mistake in preaching due to their fallibility. This is why the preacher is not the “pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). “The spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets” (1 Cor 14:32) and the congregation, though not to despise prophesying (1 Thess 5:20), is to “prove all things” (1 Thess 5:21). The church is the pillar and ground of the truth. The protection against fallibility is the Holy Spirit and the church, which is the temple of the Holy Spirit.
I’ve heard many evangelicals say that they “don’t want to get in the way of the Holy Spirit.” I contend that they are getting in the way of the Holy Spirit by not making the application for the hearer. The Holy Spirit works in the heart of the preacher, but he quenches the Spirit by not applying the verse as the Holy Spirit would have him. The Holy Spirit wants the preacher to make application. When he doesn’t obey the Holy Spirit, why would He think that those to whom He is preaching will obey the Holy Spirit? Can individuals take the application a little further? Yes. Should they? Yes. But that doesn’t alleviate the responsibility of the preacher to apply.
When the preacher doesn’t apply, and leaves that to the hearer, and then the hearer doesn’t apply, the preacher doesn’t have to be responsible for that. After all, it’s the Holy Spirit’s job, right? And so he doesn’t have to confront anyone about not applying the Bible either. And how can he? He’s fallible, isn’t he? This type of thinking is very normal in evangelicalism. Evangelicalism mocks and criticizes fundamentalist preaching because of their overemphasis on application. In several cases, they might be right. However, the evangelicals are wrong in their lack of application.
In the end, God wants us to do what He says. Without application of Scripture, we won’t do what He says. If you have fundamentalist churches that do what God says, even though they are not quite as instructed in what Scripture means, they still are doing more of what God says if they are doing more of what God says. And then when someone in a fundamentalist church is confronted for not doing what God says, so starts doing what God says, while a person in the evangelical church continues not doing what God says because everyone is waiting for the Holy Spirit to do the job of making an application, the fundamentalist person is doing what God says and the evangelical is not. The evangelical might say that telling someone to do what God says is actually replacing the Holy Spirit. That whole “replacing the Holy Spirit” doctrine is not in Scripture anywhere, either interpreted or applied. Whoever tells someone to do what God says is doing something that someone ought to do. It results in more people doing what God wants them to do, and we do want that. Don’t we?
From the very beginning, men have taken liberty both with what God has said and with His grace. In Genesis 3 Satan made a way for Eve to justify eating the forbidden fruit. God’s grace is great. It is wonderful. It is mankind’s only basis for salvation. And yet what? Men who even call themselves Christians turn “the grace of God into lasciviousness” (Jude 1:3). They use their liberty as “an occasion to the flesh” (Galatians 5:13).
Knowing the potential abuse of the grace of God, Paul immediately after so beautifully describing salvation by grace alone in Romans 1-5, starts Romans 6 by asking, “Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?” And his answer in v. 2 is the strongest in the Greek language, translated in the KJV, “God forbid.” Then asking, “How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?” God’s grace isn’t license to sin. So Romans 6:1-2 provides evidence that grace will be perverted in this way, used as a reason for behavior that dishonors God. It signals a need for awareness of potential corruption or cheapening of grace.
1 Peter 2:16 says:
As free, and not using your liberty for a cloak of maliciousness, but as the servants of God.
Here is another place that confronts the use of liberty as license. The context is obedience to government, but the principle is axiomatic. Those to whom Peter is speaking are free. They’ve been redeemed. He doesn’t want them, however, to use that freedom as a covering for evil. The cloak is a veil or a mask, and the mask is covering wickedness. In other words, Christian freedom is never to be used to cover license. Just because we have liberty in Christ doesn’t mean that we get to just do what we want. Someone truly righteous will conform to God’s Word because it says your freedom should be used as a bondslave of God.
Criticism of Adherence to God’s Word
One indication of licentiousness is criticism of a more strict adherence to God’s Word. You see this type of behavior described in 2 Peter 2 and it will often take on the nature of ridicule (2 Pet 3:3). A common, modern criticism coming from the more licentious is one of “legalism.” They label anyone a “legalist” who has stronger standards of holiness and righteousness than what they have. This strategy may have been around longer, but what marked the official beginning in my memory is the publication of the book “The Grace Awakening,” by Charles Swindoll. As Christianity has looked and behaved more and more like the world, new defenses are crafted to justify that kind of living. What drew my attention toward writing this post was a recent essay by Phil Johnson, the executive director of Grace to You. I want to diagnose his piece as a basis for assessing a type of defense of license.
Johnson chooses to paint separatists with this carpet roll sized brush:
[W]e have attracted more than our fair share of very vocal legalists who are convinced that the person with the weakest conscience (or the Bible college with the strictest rules) should get to define holiness for everyone—rather than letting Scripture define it for us. They believe it is their prerogative to dictate to everyone else what’s acceptable and what’s not, rather than following the principles of Romans 14 with regard to matters that aren’t altogether clear. Those people surface at every opportunity, and they seem to love making a fuss. Sometimes it’s fairly humorous (as in the “Chiquita” kerfuffle a few years ago).
I can assure that what Johnson writes here isn’t true. With a meanness in the spirit of a fundamentalism that Johnson decries, he slanders well-meaning and godly-seeming folks. I was involved in the “Chiquita kerfuffle” that Johnson mentions in this paragraph. He used a picture on his blog of a girl, who was wearing biker shorts. He has used a few other pictures with women with full thigh. What was “fairly humorous” to Johnson was his own ridiculing of the men who protested very lightly. It only got a little rougher for Johnson after he mocked those who said anything. I wrote this comment:
I’m wondering what I’m supposed to do when I get to the woman in the hotpants standing on the pyromaniacs logo. She seems to be pyro of a different kind.
And Johnson answered immediately with this:
For all the fundamentalist lurkers whose minds are in the gutter, the girl in the picture is wearing shorts, not a miniskirt or hotpants. The dog is the one in the miniskirt.
This is the kind of “legalism” that Johnson had to face, which he describes in this latest post. To that, he jumps to the idea that we, the legalists, have our minds in the gutter.
Here is how Johnson confronts this “legalism”:
But another kind of legalism is the legalism of the Pharisees. It’s the tendency to reduce every believer’s duty to a list of rules. This is the kind of legalism that often seems to surface in our comment-threads. At its root is a belief that holiness is achieved by legal means—by following a list of “standards.” This type of legalism doesn’t necessarily destroy the doctrine of justification like the legalism of the Judaizers. But it does destroy the doctrine of sanctification, and it is certainly appropriate to call it what it is: legalism—i.e., a sinful misapplication of law; an attempt to make law do work that only grace can do. Like the Judaizers’ brand of legalism, it brings people under a yoke of bondage Scripture has not placed on them.
I’ve read some of these comment threads to which Johnson refers, including the one, of course, that he makes his prime example. Really he tells a blatant lie. Perhaps he thinks he has liberty to tell such a lie. I think it is possible for a kind of legalism to destroy the right view of sanctification, but Johnson doesn’t know at all that the ones he is criticizing hold to such a view of sanctification as he represents. That doesn’t seem to matter to him.
Look at the last sentence Johnson writes—”it brings people under a yoke of bondage Scripture has not placed on them.” What? Scripture doesn’t place anyone under a yoke of bondage. Scripture can’t do that to anyone. Scriptural standards, even Scriptural lists of rules, don’t place anyone under bondage. They could, but God’s law is good. It is good if it is used lawfully. That should be the concern, whether it is used lawfully or not. And immodest dress is bad. Telling someone about that doesn’t put someone under some kind of legalistic bondage. God’s grace tends toward modesty. Informing a conscience with a scriptural standard of modesty will help someone’s conscience. That’s all good too and all helpful toward biblical sanctification.
Left Wing Legalism: Making God’s Word of None Effect
Johnson assumes that separatists, whom he calls “fundamentalists,” recognize only a kind of legalism that applies to salvation, the type of Galatians 1:6-9, adding to the gospel, what he calls the legalism of the Judaizers. He says, however, that these same separatists miss another kind of legalism, that of the Pharisees. He uses Galatians 5:1 as a text to expose this type of legalism, that he asserts that these separatists, “fundamentalists,” are guilty of, for which “fundamentalists” are “notorious,” and what has essentially destroyed fundamentalism. Be sure that this is a simplistic, very selective criticism of the troubles of fundamentalism.
Galatians 5:1 does not give any hint at a kind of legalism that adds to the commandments of God. Johnson twists the verse for his own licentious purposes. The “yoke of bondage” with which the Judaizers of Galatia would entangle men was the actual law (5:3-4), and circumcision specifically (5:2, 6, 11). Circumcision wasn’t a problem. Keeping the law wasn’t wrong for believers. It was making righteousness, whether justification or sanctification, based on human merit. All righteousness comes by grace through faith, even after salvation. However, it is still righteousness that comes by grace through faith. Nothing is said about adding anything to the law in Galatians 5. Johnson reads that into the text in order to criticize people with higher standards of holiness than he has.
It is true that Pharisees were guilty of adding to the law. Johnson mentions that. And it is possible for fundamentalists and evangelicals both to add to God’s Word. Mark 7 is a good passage in this, because Jesus there reveals two types of Pharisaical behavior. The first is the type to which Johnson refers, the adding kind, which is in vv. 7-8. However, he doesn’t talk about another kind of Pharisaicalness, taking away from what God said, which is in vv. 9-13. Jesus sums it up in v. 13: “Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered: and many such like things do ye.” Making the word of God of none effect is the Pharisee behavior of the evangelicals.
You can call reducing the law to a group of rules that you can keep on your own its own brand of Pharisaism, a left-wing kind of legalism. We are sanctified through the truth and God’s Word is truth. Jesus was sanctified by everything the Father told Him to do. In the same way, we are sanctified. If we reduce scripture to something less than scripture, like Johnson chooses to do, that will destroy sanctification.
The Grace of God
Salvation is by grace through faith alone. No amount of works will bring justification to anyone. In the sanctification of believers, it is God who works in them both to will and do of His good pleasure. God works all things together for good. God conforms to the image of His Son. But God is working. The grace of God will look like God. The grace of God teaches us to deny worldly lust, not expose ourselves to it and relish in it.
What upset Johnson enough for him to write what he did was the reaction to a certain blog post by one of his partners. That essay was discussing Lost, a television series that his teammate professed to have watched start to finish. A few criticized a publication that might encourage others to watch such a television show. That’s what bothered Johnson enough to write a “legalism” column. Does the grace of God teach us to watch Lost? That’s a question. And I think it’s worth thinking about. I understand that the Bible doesn’t say, “Thou shalt not watch Lost,” but there might be enough Scripture to guide us as to what kind of watching would honor God. A criticism of Lost is what Johnson thinks is the greatest kind of destruction of sanctification in human existence (according to his essay).
We don’t stop watching television to be saved. We don’t wear modest clothing to be saved. We don’t abstain from alcohol to be saved. We don’t communicate in a pure and righteous manner to be saved. But if we’re saved, we will want to live according to God’s Word, to conform to His will.
More to come on this subject.
This last week two huge evangelical and fundamentalist events concurred: Independent Baptist Friends International in Knoxville, TN (April 11-16, 2010) and Together for the Gospel in Louisville, KY (April 13-15, 2010). Obviously, these two groups didn’t get their calendars together to make sure that they wouldn’t be competing for attendance. It’s probably a very small group who had to decide which one to attend. But it was possible. And actually, when you consider the speakers at these two conferences, you aren’t too many steps away from almost the entire spectrum of evangelicalism, including fundamentalism, being represented, except for a very small number.
I think we could probably agree that the Dan to Beersheba at the IBFI conference is best represented by the one side of John Vaughn, former president of Fundamental Baptist Fellowship International, and Mike Schrock, a staff evangelist for Bob Jones University, stretching to another side with Jack Schaap, pastor of First Baptist Church of Hammond. It’s harder to find the outer boundaries of Together for the Gospel, because there’s the Charismatic, C. J. Mahaney, the Southern Baptists, Mark Dever and Albert Mohler, and then the Presbyterian, Ligon Duncan. Also there’s John Piper, who is having Rick Warren come to speak at his Desiring God Conference later this year. Some of the conference speakers of IBFI also fellowship with Southern Baptists.
Several fundamentalists, who would associate with the FBFI, would also attend Together for the Gospel. They have. They do. So you move from Bob Jones to Jack Schaap and you can make it all the way through the Southern Baptist Convention to John MacArthur to Rick Warren in the connectivity. Nothing is that far removed. And just for a little sidebar: they all say they represent the historic Charles Spurgeon, all of them. If you take it one step further, you get Rick Warren with Robert Schuller and the Crystal Cathedral. I think that the theme for IBFI, Truth-Friendship-World Evangelism, would work for Together for the Gospel too. Both of these conferences are saying, let’s put down differences to get together.
What does all this mean? What is it that the leadership of these conferences are saying to those following, including the people in the churches? And is there anything wrong with it? What brings these people together? Should anything that any of these believe and practice result in some kind of separation between them?
As I start to consider this, the typical reaction to any kind of analysis or questioning is that it is “critical” and “divisive.” In that way, the ironic critics of the analysis would say that it is also “unchristian.” They might even say it is “heretical.” Oh, and “unloving.” Or something like this: “You’re just trying to impose your opinions on others.” And “that’s what gives fundamentalists a bad name.” Or, “you’re why everyone is turned off with fundamentalism.” And just in case, a little psychobabble, “You’re just jealous!” Wait a minute, one more: “While you are writing your blog, people out there are dying and going to hell.” OK, now we can move on.
Getting together like these two groups means deciding that certain differences in belief and practice don’t matter enough. They must be overlooked, ignored, or deemed non-essential, too minor. When it comes to the T4G guys, paedobaptism and continuationism are two obvious of the supposed tertiary differences—together despite them. For the IBFI conference, the gospel itself is at stake with a denial of some that repentance is necessary for salvation. A few of the primary participants are the poster boys of the 1-2-3 pray-with-me method of evangelism. Within both groups the range of acceptable music for worship among the participants ranges from contemporary to southern gospel to very conservative. John Piper’s affirmation of Rick Warren makes a concession to his methodology. IBFI wouldn’t use all the techniques and strategies of Warren, but the basic philosophy between many of these IBFI and Warren are the same. Both conferences are purposefully minimizing certain doctrines and practices for the purpose of cooperation and fellowship. An emphasis of both is that they aren’t going to be judging based on too strict a standard, making concessions in several areas for the sake of unity or friendship.
Several of the conflicting beliefs within these conferences are mutually exclusive from one another. Both could not be at the same time pleasing to God. Two irreconcilable doctrines could not both be congenial to the nature of God. To say so or to act as such is to suggest that God has no particular favor for either truth or error.
I understand that these men would not say that they are indifferent to the contrasting doctrine and practice, just that they are willing to overlook it for the sake of the alliance. The alliance itself becomes sovereign. The idea is also that the value of the gospel in T4G and friendship and world evangelism in IBFI surpasses the value of the differences in belief enough to merit indifference toward those conflicting doctrines and practices.
Unity and fellowship, in contrast with what scripture says, have become more about toleration. Evangelicals and fundamentalists don’t wish to be reduced to an insignificant number to the world, which will happen if one elevates all of Scripture to a basis of fellowship. The key then is to reduce doctrine to a manageable level, that will allow the conflicting factions to get along. The new heretic is the dogmatic, someone who thinks he’s certain on too many teachings. He endangers the harmony and cohesiveness and ruins the togetherness. Or in other words, he violates the most sacred tenet to the whole, getting along.
Whether evangelicalism or fundamentalism likes it or not, or whether they agree or not, they have surrendered to the uncertainty and ambiguity of the meaning of Scripture. They concede the perspecuity of God’s Word. At the root of this is a fundamental awareness of permissible doubt. We cannot assume that all truth can be known. They are saying that God hasn’t been plain and that we cannot sort things out. As much as they say they love the truth, the truth is the casualty of indifference.
Nobody is really neutral. Paul writes in Romans 1:18: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness.” The word “hold” means “suppress.” Whoever does not receive the truth suppresses the truth. Everyone starts from a position of knowing the truth. Paul elaborates a little further in v. 25 by saying that these truth suppressors “change the truth into a lie.”
You might be thinking, “well, they suppress the truth about God, but they don’t suppress all the truth.” Wrong. When you suppress the truth about God, you have also suppressed all the truth. Why? Without God there is no absolute truth, no objective truth. Without God, everything is random and haphazard. Someone may say that he believes the truth about something, but he cannot qualify it as truth without some standard of truthfulness, a standard that does not exist without God.
Now you might be thinking, “well, someone can say that an object is the color red without God.” Wrong again. There would have to be the idea of color, and someone can’t know there is color and that a color is red unless an idea can exist and that someone could think. Without God, everything is essentially molecules indiscriminately meeting and bouncing off of one another. Why is that color? And how could it be red? Without God, everything is subjective. What’s happening on earth is of no more consequence than what is occurring on Neptune. Chemical processes and colliding matter can’t think or make value judgments. They’re just accidents moving toward ultimate entropy.
So for all truth, we start with God. And everybody knows that even if they do suppress it. Since God began everything, He defines everything, and He determines reality. We know God and we know because of God. We don’t really know without Him, so what we know, including what is true, beautiful, and good, is based on Who He is. And there is no neutrality. We all begin with God. It’s just that one admits it and the other suppresses it.
Evangelicalism and fundamentalism, however, have embraced neutrality. This is a trick of Satan, a shell game that he plays with men, so that they will begin to look at life on his terms. He would like men to think, in contradiction to God’s Word, that everyone starts out on even ground or with a blank slate in the development of his beliefs and the determination of what is true or false. With neutrality, revelation is personal so theological knowledge is ambiguous, requiring a response to evidence.
WHERE WE SEE AN EMBRACE OF NEUTRALITY IN EVANGELICALISM AND FUNDAMENTALISM
This embrace of neutrality is seen in the evangelical and fundamentalist explanation of beauty. Beauty has been reduced to a mere mechanical response to sensory input. This neutrality denies intrinsic or inherent beauty or any absolute standard of beauty outside of man’s personal choice. While once Christianity accepted an objective standard of beauty that started with God, evangelicalism has fallen prey to the world view espousing man as the arbiter of beauty. This is manifested today in the evangelical embrace and fundamentalist acceptance of anything-goes in music. Objective beauty, sacred and unprofaned, has been sacrificed on an altar of modern and post-modern culture.
I expect evangelicals to deny this, which, of course, they’ll especially have the right to do in their contemporary realities, dogmatic in their tolerance. Modernism broke down traditional institutions through secularization and urbanization, giving numerous opportunities of pleasure and self-fulfillment. Men then looked at life on their terms. Instead of concentrating on what God expects, churches focused on what people thought or felt they were missing. As modernity stripped life of meaning, which begins and ends with God, men have turned to self to explain. The individual became the ultimate adjudicator of what is beautiful. Evangelicals have accepted this.
In many ways conservative evangelicals and fundamentalists have objected to doctrinal relativism. They have held the line to a certain degree at certain fundamental truths. They seem to be proud of this. However, they have embraced neutrality in relationship to aesthetic values—what is beautiful—and all absolute truth to maintain their credibility in a post modern world. This embrace of neutrality is seen in the rampant subjectivity in music for worship both personal and corporate, in the casual and coarse, often immodest, apparel, the vast slippage in the realm of entertainment values, and in the wide-ranging acceptance of doctrinal ambiguity, which includes a shunning of the doctrine and practice of separation. God has been marginalized by having far less importance in man’s actual life.
When you watch evangelicals and fundamentalists talk about doctrine, you hear the damage that their own embrace of neutrality has caused. They pander post-modernity with their theological reductionism, relegating truth to essentials and non-essentials. This plays right into the attack on meaning and the self-autonomy of interpretation. Men are on a quest for knowledge, whose progress is slowed by the oppressiveness of unequivocal and authoritative conviction. Certainty violates personal viewpoint and self as source of meaning. This has reduced the church to a shop for religious consumers. The message must be contextualized to the shopper for accomplishment of mission.
With a conformity to post-modern culture, unity has become the highest value of evangelicalism and fundamentalism. You hear this narrative in today’s political speech, the era of post-partisanship. Political operatives vie for the admiration of the independent voters, a mass of humanity in the ambiguous middle, who are proud for not having made up their minds. Uncertainty is elevated to a sacramental place in American culture with few exceptions, such as food and celebrity. Evangelicals and fundamentalists won’t hold your differing belief and practice against you. You can join in by agreeing to disagree and all getting along based on the supreme injunction of unity in the body; well, with the exception of a few essentials that even in those it’s probably just going to be a matter of interpretation. The embrace of neutrality is witnessed in the compliance to this view of unity.
THE RESULTS OF THE EMBRACE OF NEUTRALITY IN EVANGELICALISM AND FUNDAMENTALISM
Evangelicals and fundamentalists proclaim the supremacy of the gospel. I don’t mind an emphasis on the gospel. But the point of the gospel, the worship of God, is often lost with this embrace of neutrality. God is seeking for true worshipers (John 4:23-24). The profane, desecrated music that evangelicals especially, but also fundamentalists, offer as worship results from their aesthetic neutrality. They have forsaken an objective beauty and worship is the casualty. God doesn’t accept the ugliness they have decided is acceptable to Him because they have forsaken an absolute standard of beauty.
Evangelicals and fundamentalists have devalued aesthetics, resulting in heteropathy. And as they relate to God, they can’t separate doctrine and practice from affections. Without the proper affections, our relationship to the Lord can’t be right, even if we happen to be doctrinally and practically orthodox. The imitation affections, actually passions, desires mistaken for love, are more blasphemous to God than if He had received nothing, no affection, no passion, no nothing.
The product that is devised and delivered by churches today and called worship blasphemes God by its deviation from beauty. It is often profaned by its fleshly stimulation, its banality, or its kitsch. Like animals churches have become driven by their desires, needs, and appetites, and have treated God and worship itself as an instrument to fulfill those things. God is to be the end in itself of worship, the worship to be governed by devotion to Him and not those things that are the means to us. In his book, Beauty, Roger Scruton has called this profanation that he has seen the “Disneyfication of faith.” He has also written, and I agree (pp. 176, 182):
Desecration is a kind of defence against the sacred, an attempt to destroy its claims. In the presence of sacred things our lives are judged and in order to escape the judgment we destroy the thing that seems to accuse. . . . One cure for the pain of desecration is the move towards total profanation: in other words, to wipe out all vestiges of sanctity for the once worshipped object, to make it merely a thing of the world, and not just a thing in the world, something that is nothing over and above the substitutes that can at any time replace it.
What people really love is themselves and the world. They know that’s not right. Their true love they profess is about God is really still about them.
Almost all evangelicals and fundamentalists would say they love the truth. But truth can’t survive their embrace of neutrality. Some truth, sure, but truth as a whole won’t make it with the accession to modern and post modern culture. It does start with certainty about the Words of God. Evangelicals and fundamentalists can’t know that because they have elevated reason above faith in line with modernism. And then meaning of Scripture comes crashing down close behind, because how can we know what words mean if we aren’t sure what they are.
The next victim of the embrace of neutrality is discernment. With the forsaking of objective beauty, what is goodness and true must also necessarily fall by the wayside as well. The certainty here all comes from the same source. When you change the basis of your conclusion to make way for your own opinion, you lose the ability to decide with any authority. Various factions of evangelicalism and fundamentalism stand at various stages of deterioration, but none will survive their embrace of neutrality.
In the end, perhaps what is lost more than anything is obedience to God. God is not pleased. His truth is not respected. His ways are not kept. And the churches are not so concerned.
If your whole life has been lived in a bunker, it will be hard to see the world with any other perspective than the bunker in which you live. That’s what will make this essay hard to accept for evangelicals and fundamentalists. Most will likely never understand because they will refuse to separate themselves from the bunker. If they hear this in a post-modern way, influenced by the world and the Satan’s work to that extent, they will hear this about how Bill Clinton listened to Ken Starr during the Monica Lewinsky scandal. I’ll be the villain like him for attempting to impose my oppressive and narrow moral narrative on their unity and their freedom. I’m pretty sure I’ll be thought to be kooky right wing fringe who attempts to dictate my personal preferences to others.
The barbarians are not standing at the gate any longer. In many ways, we’ve become the barbarians. We have allowed the Philistines to have their way. Churches have lost their will to contend. We’re at a very serious time for the truth, for Scripture, for obedience to God, for true worship, for what is true, what is good, and what is beautiful. Please do not dismiss this. Do not take it lightly. Don’t marginalize it. Don’t be fooled. I ask that you consider whether it’s me or it’s you.
Many years ago, someone taught me an acrostic that listed the historic marks of a New Testament church. The first was “B,” Bible sole authority for faith and practice. A Bible believer, the converted person, will alter his course to the direction of the teaching of Scripture. This is also contained within the mark of “P,” priesthood of the believer, or if you may, “S,” soul liberty. We are first responsible to God and are free to move at the promptings of the text of God’s Word.
God’s men have a responsibility before God. They’re bought with a price. They’re not their own. They must give an account to God. The big conference to which they are attuned is the one at the bema seat with the Lord Jesus Christ. The Greek term for “preacher” in the New Testament is kerux. The kerux was a herald. He gave only the message of the king without regard for popular opinion. He was the representative of God and all that mattered was that he say exactly what the king wanted. This concept is found in other New Testament terms, like “ambassador.” An ambassador represents the country from which he comes and gives only the message from where he possesses his citizenship. The believer is from heaven, hence a message conformed to God. As 2 Timothy 2:4 teaches: “we please him who has chosen us to be a soldier.” We’ve got one Commander-in-Chief in this war to which we’ve been recruited.
Preachers should have a kind of independent attitude of the Old Testament prophet. We’re not working for anyone else but God. He’s the One Who signs our paycheck, so to speak. This relationship with the Lord gives the man of God the freedom to say what needs to be said. We’re looking for our approval from Him. Even pastors in one sense, although under the authority of the church like the rest of the congregation, still have an office that carries with it a separate authority that is all about saying the thing that needs to be said to that assembly of people. The office of the pastor is a unique organizational role that both submits to and yet rules the church. The pastor’s ruling status allows him to maintain an independence from the people of the church for the purposes of telling the truth and pointing out error. You get the essence of this job in the great passage on preaching in 2 Timothy 4. “Preach the Word.” “Reprove, rebuke, exhort.” They are going to have “itching ears” and won’t “endure sound doctrine,” but be “long suffering” and finish your course whether it is popular or not.
What I see as one of the biggest problems in evangelicalism and fundamentalism manifests itself in where men look for approval and in their fear of independence. Both of them are related. Built into man’s nature by God Himself, I believe, is an appetite for approval. That hunger is intended to be directed toward the right bestower of approval, God Himself. However, it requires living by faith to accept an only legitimate source of endorsement. Instead of waiting for divine confirmation, men seek to gather tangible support on earth to satisfy the craving.
The replacement system of approval on earth has become very complicated. The world itself will offer notoriety or popularity in many different forms. Sometimes it comes in the small time stuff at a school or in a community. If that’s not enough, there is national celebrity and even worldwide fame. Some look for what Andy Warhol called the “fifteen minutes of fame.” You can get that today on youtube if you find a way to get people’s attention. It is often enough for one boy or girl to fit into his little group of friends and get acceptance from them. That might require talking in a certain cadence or dressing with a certain style, but you will likely have to adapt your behavior to the preferences of the group. In the context my son lives in at West Point, the people around him aren’t necessarily going to reward with a higher ranking those who manifest biblical behavior. The young men pick up the cues for what types of actions will bring commendation from peers and from command. Some of the types of actions that might impress the company won’t impress the Lord Jesus Christ. You do have to decide what your life is about.
It is almost impossible for a Christian both to live worthy of God and find approval from the world. But the temptation is great for believers to prove themselves to the unsaved crowd. The sense is that you can’t really find out how good you are unless you can compare your relative skill to what’s happening in the world. How do you stack up next to them? Will they think you’re good? And you’ll probably not ever show up in the history books unless you accomplish something the world can find impressive in whatever niche you might be—music, sports, politics, business, and more.
THE PROBLEM AS IT APPLIES TO EVANGELICALISM AND FUNDAMENTALISM
For pastors, scripture has isolated the Lord as the one to please. Yet, you won’t likely feel that approval of the Lord. You have to accept it by faith. But sometimes that isn’t easy. So what has developed to replace the confirmation of the Lord has been a very complex system of endorsement and sanction that would rival any organization on earth. It has become its own giant entity with tentacles reaching all over the place—fellowships, boards, conferences, conventions, schools, colleges, publishers, and seminaries. I believe that this is what has, more than anything else, propped up evangelicalism and fundamentalism.
We have the church. That’s Christ’s institution. And it is sufficient. But that doesn’t satisfy the hunger that many have for approval. Fundamentalism has developed its own orbs of sanction. Evangelicalism has its too. Both of them are similar in their organizational systems. They both revolve around associations and conferences, boards and meetings. Now you’ve got the internet as a tool to spread even more notoriety. How many hits does your blog get? What kind of online presence do you have?
Fundamentalism is the ugly step brother as a platform for approval. And young men especially know how dorky they look being a fundamentalist. At one time fundamentalism was bigger. It could contend with evangelicals in that way. But the fundamentalists always did have boundaries that evangelicals never had that would keep the world from being impressed. Both sides have their cast of characters, but now evangelicalism has the biggest religious celebrities, wherever they might fall on the theological spectrum. They are better at drawing a crowd and using the mediums that will gain the most attention. Fundamentalists find this alluring.
To present ourselves to God as a living sacrifice, that is, to worship God, we must not be conformed to this world (Romans 12:1-2). Being conformed to the world is not just the outward forms of the world, but also the same types of ambitions and appeals of the world or as 1 John 2:16 says, “the lust of the flesh” and “the pride of life.” Because of the structures set up in evangelicalism and fundamentalism, you don’t have to go outside of those affiliations to gratify your desire for earthly approval. Evangelicalism and fundamentalism can offer its own mini-versions of what the world offers all over the place. In so doing, it influences behavior just like the world too. Men will be stifled on the things they ought to be saying and constrained to go along with wrong methods and activities by the inducements of the group. Men hunger for approval and they will alter their behavior to fit evangelical or fundamentalist scruples or lack thereof.
So now the lines that were drawn between fundamentalism and evangelicalism have become blurred. The two are getting together more than ever. Many times they say they’re getting together for the gospel, overlooking other biblical differences in order to fill an immense auditorium or convention center. The size is a heady thing. Makes you feel at least somewhat big time. Maybe we all do have it going after all. And you can feel the approval. It seems like it might even be filling that appetite.
I think that evangelicals and fundamentalists should consider whether they’re together for the gospel or even together for the fundamentals or for loyalty to an evangelical or fundamentalist institution, or whether they really are together for approval. I see fundamentalists today that are cozy with men they would have never been twenty years ago and for biblical reasons. If these parachurch groups were in scripture, I would think that there might be something legitimate there, something God-designed. But no. I do believe that this is almost entirely about the feeling of legitimacy that men want to experience.
WHAT SHOULD HAPPEN
When we look for approval from God, what His Word says takes the preeminence. If the church is good enough, the only scriptural institution, we retain an independence to say the truth to anyone. We aren’t attempting to cobble together a coalition. We don’t need one. What we need, what we crave, is to please Jesus Christ. He is our all in all. He designed that to be accomplished on a local level. That’s why he left the little flocks as the pattern for His mission.
We have to remember that Scripture does say we aren’t going to be liked. We won’t be approved of on earth. “Take up your cross” does not speak of goodwill. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 4:13, “We are made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things unto this day.” Not being popular doesn’t bother the galley slave who’s only responsible for keeping is oar going. We’ve got to be OK with faithfulness in this world. Don’t be surprised if the persecution you get comes from evangelicalism and fundamentalism. They don’t like feeling disapproval from you. Your separation from them won’t be tolerated, especially when the disapprobation comes with quoted scripture. You are “complete in” Christ (Col 2:10), not in an evangelical or fundamentalist association. So you can handle it in Him.
I see so much acceptance of false worship and doctrine, the multiplication and the spread of it, and I believe that it all relates to this hunger for approval that men have in evangelicalism and fundamentalism. I play basketball still on a regular basis. There is a phrase that basketball people will understand: “Let the game come to you.” True fellowship isn’t anything that we have to force. That fellowship has just come to me. Men of like faith and practice will gravitate toward one another as long as they don’t try to force it. I’ve got great fellowship outside of fundamentalism and evangelicalism in churches of like faith and practice. They don’t even show up on the radar of fundamentalism or evangelicalism. They are unaffiliated. I’ve never been more greatly refreshed than being around men who weren’t interested in anything bigger than the church. If it was good enough for Jesus, it is good enough for them.
Men who are just fine with just the church don’t minimize the basis for gathering to only the gospel. They fellowship based on the truth. They’re more interested in the truth than they are in getting along. In the end, Christ is honored because His Word is exalted. If I do get together with these men, and they do exist, I’ve found that discussions about the Bible are occurring all over the place and without limits. We’re not getting together with a diminishing of the truth. We know our approval is in Christ. I don’t care that it is a small group. It doesn’t surprise me that it is. I’m not intimidated by the fact that we don’t fit into either evangelicalism or fundamentalism. I don’t feel any pressure from my friends, from these men, to say anything but whatever God would have me.
I suggest to you to get out of fundamentalism and evangelicalism. Don’t worry about it. It isn’t scriptural unity. That’s found in the church. You endeavor or strive for unity in the church. The church has been given the tools to have unity. If you have any unity outside of the church, let it come in the context of the truth that your church believes. And then satiate in the approval you have from God. Be truly independent like God designed. You’ll love it
Approval is found in that “B” that distinguishes New Testament churches. God wants belief in and obedience to His Word. Priesthood is not just a privilege, it is also a responsibility. When I’m interested most is my fellowship with Him, then I get the kind of fellowship too that is right in the world. I’ve never had the liberty to do what I wanted, but to be and do what the Lord wants. I want my life and my worship to be acceptable to Him. Let us restore a right thinking of approval and a true spirit of independence in the man of God.
Salute Apelles approved in Christ. Romans 16:10a
When I received Jesus Christ, I gave up my life. I surrendered my ambitions, my time, and my possessions to the Lord. I could have kept my life for myself, but I didn’t. Like Paul, I counted everything loss. I gave up any possibility of worldly success and popularity and even riches for this way I take. Why? I know how it ends. I know.
I understand how men judge success. I really do get what career choices are impressive to people. I have a good knowledge of how one reaches worldly fame. But no. I fully comprehend the reproach and hatred and rejection that comes with biblical Christianity. So why go the latter direction and avoid the former? I know what real success is, I know what pleases God, and I know that worldly fame is worthless.
Again, I know. I’m certain. I’m sure. When we read the Bible, we read faith and certainty. The language of God’s Word smacks of full assurance. Paul said in 1 Timothy 1:12, “I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded.” Luke wrote so that those reading would have certainty (1:4): “That thou mightest know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed.” Paul told Timothy that “we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.” John wrote 1 John (5:13) “that ye may know that ye have eternal life.” Not hope so. Know so.
How can we say that we know something that we cannot see? We know because God’s Word can be trusted. “Let God be true, but every man a liar” (Romans 3:4). Paul to Titus (1:2) wrote: “In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began.” We can count on God’s promises, because God does not lie. So we know. He does not lie. His Word is Truth (John 17:17). It is knowledge we can count on, not knowledge falsely so-called.
More than I’ve ever seen, men do not have the certainty of which God’s Word speaks. As it applies to faith and theology, many call this postmodernism, where skepticism and lack of objective truth prevails. Belief takes a back seat to feelings. Doubt reigns as authentic with certainty as closed and totalitarian. Nuance abounds. Dogmatism is not tolerated.
One would think that, of all things, Christianity would contradict postmodern philosophy. Satan wants doubt. He questions God. He attacks truth. Now Christianity cooperates with that plan and uses theology to explain, affirming the doubt that Satan and the world system spawns. Most responsible, I believe, are evangelicalism and fundamentalism for codifying uncertainty and doubt.
We live in a day of assault on meaning. We’re now arguing about the words and symbols that are used to communicate. Few can be sure anymore. Is that modest? I don’t know. Is that foul language? Maybe. Probably not. I don’t know. What’s the man’s role? Maybe this. Could be this. I don’t know. What’s male dress? (laughter) What we are sure about is how unsure we should be. Being sure is not only impossible, but it’s mean. It’s insulting. It’s disunifying. But I didn’t offend you? But you did. How? Why? You did. So stop. OK? Alright. There’s something to believe in.
You can see how masculinity disappears in such an environment. Or whatever we once thought it was to be a man. I don’t want to be dogmatic. In the absence of manhood, we get the replacement manhood found in harsh, loud music, denim, shaved heads, two days of facial hair, salty speech, and man hugs. And lots of “dude.” Dude this and dude that. Like dude.
I’m saying that evangelicalism and fundamentalism have retreated to uncertainty and doubt, leaving everyone who wants certainty nowhere to go. If you choose certainty, evangelicals and fundamentalists will mock you. Evangelicals have been doing this for a long time. Fundamentalists have gotten started a little more recently.
Alright, so what do I mean? By the way, I’m contending that I can mean something. I’ve got to do that for the sake of argument. You might laugh, but that’s where we’re headed, if we’ve not already arrived, with no offense to those who think no one can arrive, but can only take the journey. Where does this all break down? It breaks down primarily in three ways that are major components now of evangelicalism and fundamentalism.
Number One Way Evangelicals and Fundamentalists Codify Uncertainty
I don’t want to give my point away with my divisional word. Evangelicals and fundamentalists will stop reading because they think it is too funny. At least, lol. Evangelicals and fundamentalists gave away certainty when they transferred certainty from the text of the Bible they held in their hands, the apographa, and moved it to only the original manuscripts, the autographa. At one time evangelicals, which were then also the fundamentalists—they were the same group—believed what God inspired, verbal-plenary, they possessed. They believed God’s promise of preservation. They believed that they had every Word of God in their possession by which they could live.
Now they don’t believe that. They’ve explained it away. So now we’re not sure anymore about what God’s Word is. We’ve now got dozens and dozens of English translations, and people have waned in their confidence in Scripture, and ultimately in God. God said He would preserve every Word, but they say, “No.” Their position is not what Christians have believed through history. God had promised, so they believed in what they called “providential preservation” of Scripture. Now evangelicals and fundamentalists say we’ve got the “Word” (not the Words) and the “Message” (the particular Words don’t matter so much). We’re supposed to be satisfied with that even if God promised to preserve every Word.
Since we can’t be sure about the Words of God, then we can’t be certain about the promises of God. We lose seriousness and stability in Christianity. The Bible is one part God’s Word and the other part human speculation, and a new edition of Scripture could come out any year. I believe this is the most foundational of these three. We’re basing the biggest decisions of our life on a book that is now wrought with uncertainty because only the original manuscripts were the very Words of God—so says evangelicalism and fundamentalism.
Number Two Way Evangelicals and Fundamentalists Codify Uncertainty
The new doctrine, which you won’t find in Scripture, that is now not only a doctrine but a major belief for evangelicals and fundamentalists, is that all believers unify only over “essential” doctrine. They say we give liberty in the non-essentials. And the essentials are an ever shrinking list and the non-essentials are a mounting, growing, gigantic list of doctrines. Because we have liberty in the so-called non-essentials, it ‘essentially’ doesn’t matter what you belief and practice in those areas. We’ll still have unity with you if you disagree only in the non-essentials.
Now if you disagree on the essentials, which, by the way, is a very amoebic, fluctuating list, then evangelicals supposedly can’t unify with you. The dirty little secret is that evangelicals don’t separate even over the essentials. They don’t separate–that’s only fundamentalists. And mainly fundamentalists and sometimes conservative evangelicals constantly argue over what the essentials and non-essentials are. They have stopped arguing over the very doctrine of essentials itself. You’ve got to believe that we unify only over the essentials. Why? Well, there’s no way you could “separate over everything.” You just can’t. Why? Cause that would be a lot of separation. Nobody separates that much. That’s just way too much separation.
This “essential”/”non-essential” doctrine has become a major doctrine in and of itself. Of course, that allows for uncertainty. You only have to be certain about the essentials. Everything else is sort of up for grabs. And if you are uncertain about a lot, that probably means that you get along with more people and you’re probably going to be liked more. And being liked is, well, big in evangelicalism and fundamentalism. Standing only on the “essentials” probably also makes you “gentle,” which has risen in importance as a trait to have. And if you are still struggling along, attempting to get a grip on what Scripture says, not quite getting it, but really trying, you’re more intellectual and definitely more authentic. And what this does is exalt uncertainty.
I’ve noticed evangelicals and fundamentalists scouring historic materials, looking for people who communicated this essential-non-essential doctrine, quoting anybody that gives a possible whiff of it, trying to establish its historicity. And now it is preached quite a lot. And the ones pushing it are saying that this is the way to “unity in the church.” By doing so they redefine scriptural fellowship, church discipline, and many other doctrines. Uncertainty can triumph in the environment of “only essentials.”
Number Three Way Evangelicals and Fundamentalists Codify Uncertainty
Evangelicals and fundamentalists teach a new uncertainty in the application of Scripture. Historic applications of Scripture to culture are now doubtful. The old standards are thrown out as Pharisaical and legalistic. Because of this, there is very little that you can see or hear that differentiates Christians from the world. This is doubt as it relates to the interpretation and application of the Bible. If we don’t even know what the Words are, how could we expect to know what it means. The latter seems far more elusive than the former.
At one time, we knew what male dress was. Now we don’t. We knew what modesty was. Now we don’t. We knew what fleshly lust and worldly lust were. Now we don’t. We know what worldliness was. Now we don’t. And even if we do, revert back to number two—it’s a non-essential.
All of these three combined result in a tremendous amount of disobedience to God, an extreme volume of unholiness, and a gigantic quantity of dishonoring the Lord. And above all these, uncertainty abounds. Because evangelicals and fundamentalist have codified uncertainty in these three ways, professing Christians are uncertain as to what Scripture is, what Scripture says, and how Scripture applies. And even if they are, it doesn’t matter, because you need only be certain about the essentials, which they are actually uncertain about.
One of my favorite songs to sing is “Blessed Be the Ties that Bind.” I know that when I was in college where a necktie was required in the dress code, the song title was used for a bit of a joke, but the six verses that we sing in our church when we take the Lord’s Table are always great. A story goes with the song, the writer staying at a small church instead of moving on to the bigger one because of, well, the ties that bound him there. We have two different similar tunes in our Trinity Hymnal, Baptist Edition, for that hymn, and we sing the one with the ties in the notation. “Blessed be-ee, the tie-ies that bind, our hea-earts in Chri-istian love.” I smile at the irony.
I do believe that the ties that bind the hearts of our church members, those body parts, in Christian love are a blessing. Certain ties bound John Fawcett, the author of the hymn, to his church. He didn’t move on to another church because of them. The ties that bind hearts in Christian love, actual Christian love, scriptural Christian love, that is, the only true love, not dumbed down sentimentalism, will be a benefit to a church member. But what about the ties that bind someone to a parachurch organization, an alliance, a league, a denomination, a convention, or something called a fellowship, but might be the furthest thing from fellowship?
Some ties are more like chains that really, really bind. They’re not blessed even if someone thought they were. The ties that bind men together into these extra-scriptural alliances are often not scriptural. Just the opposite, the ties are ties for ties’ sake. They don’t accentuate biblical doctrine and practice, but deemphasize it for the sake of the ties. These ties that bind are several, as I see it.
1. The Tie of Insecurity
Men need more confirmation than the Bible and a church can give. They’ve got to feel more importance than a singular church offers. The alliance tells them that they are significant. They belong. They matter. Their creeping doubts might be assuaged. How could someone be wrong when he’s got so many with him on his side? Or at least he feels like he does. When he stands before God, he’ll be able to turn to his alliance and they’ll have his back.
2. The Tie of Pride
Men often crave recognition. I know so and so and so and so knows me. I was there; were you? We all had a great time, didn’t we? Men come together in search for appreciation, something they may not feel where they’re at. They can go to find it.
3. The Tie of Mysticism
Men maintain a mystical church, an invisible body, a loyalty to a platonic unity. The elusive unity of the universal church must be somewhere, so let’s just make it up, invent it out of whole cloth. Is it about Jesus? No. If it were, doctrines would be featured, but biblical teachings must be placed in the refrigerator to make room for the hot oven of unity.
4. The Tie of Tolerance
Men cry out about the age of political correctness. But now we’ve imitated it with a more harmful and insidious theological correctness. It is called love. It is called balance. These are the ways that it deceives. And then if you point out doctrinal or practical error, you’re even said to be wasting people’s time. They could be out soulwinning, but you have taken up their time bothering them with a scriptural issue. It isn’t love. Love rejoices in the truth. It’s a replacement for Christian love that can be practiced in the flesh.
These ties not only bind, but they also blind. They forsake perspecuity and plainness for ambiguity and nuance. They abandon application and meaning for camaraderie and togetherness. We are not blessed with these ties.
By Hugh Dathunk
Murfreesboro – Readers were bemused, and a few downright outraged recently when Lord of the Sword publisher Hilton Heath decided to sprinkle a little honesty into his otherwise tame and very predictable “Editor’s Notes” article. “I realized that most of my reports in that section were little more than flattery designed to get me more meetings in more churches. Since my schedule was overloaded already, I decided to prune some future meetings.”
“Prune some meetings? I’ll say,” said Dr. Winslow Neasy, senior pastor of Hamilton Boulevard Baptist Church and regular featured speaker in the annual Lord of the Sword Convention. “More like he wacked them off and threw them into the river.”
Other pastors expressed concern at the tone of some of Dr. Heath’s comments in the LOTS. “He seemed a little judgemental. It seems to us that he should be more gracious when he reports on the churches where he preached… churches that sacrificed to give him a nice fat honorarium.”
Pastor Phil Pew of Winston-Salem, North Carolina thought these kinds of comments might be out of bounds for publishers like Heath. “My granma always taught me, ‘if ya cain’t say nuthin’ nice, don’t say nuthin’ atall.’ I ain’t susure that Dr. Heath mightn’t o’ crossed a line or two with that last article.”
“I was just trying for a little authenticity. Every year at the LOTS Convention, we get at least one message on being real, on not being fake. I just thought I’d try it out for size. See how everyone liked it.”
But others think that perhaps Heath was a little beyond authentic. “I spent the third Sunday of December at Main Street Baptist Church of Bloomburg, Pennsylvania. Just a handful of people showed up for the meeting, most of them late, and most of them slept through my preaching. I tried to keep a straight face when they complemented my preaching, but a couple of times I had to get out my hanky and blow my nose,” said Heath in his article.
“I really couldn’t wait to get out of there,” Heath continued. That Saturday, I headed for Phoenix, Arizona, and the (supposedly) red hot, on fire, Brighter Vision Baptist Church. What a disappointment. These people obviously believe their press releases. They haven’t really grown much since the last time, just a lot of new faces, and almost none of the people who were here when I came last year. This place is all hype.”
“After Sunday, I had a quick bite to eat in the airport, and headed out to Barnseville, Georgia, and the Snooty Hills Baptist Church. Of all the compromising Independent Baptist Churches that plague our movement, this one might be the worst. Sure, they are big, and growing. What would you expect. Their music is racy, their girls dress like sluts, they turn a blind eye to sin, and their pastoral staff is each one neighing after his neighbor’s wife. I preached on sin, and you could have heard a pin drop. The altars were empty after the message. Pastors, we’ve got to get back to sin-hatin’, devil-spittin’, world-gratin’ hell-fire preachin’, or our movement is G-O-N-E gone!”
Pastor Drew Crowders was outraged. “I can’t believe he would print this,” he said, crumpling and uncrumpling his latest edition of the Lord. I’ve supported the Lord of the Sword for years and years. We just finished a subscription drive. I travel to the Convention every year. I have him preach here every year. He has a standing invitation to fill my pulpit whenever he wants to come. And now this.”
Crowders stops to control his quivering lip. “He won’t be back again in my church,” he said emphatically.
Meanwhile, other pastors were somewhat amused. “That LOTS crowd has been a ‘good-ole’-boy network’ for some time now. Nice to see a change.” One pastor, who has never been invited to speak at the LOTS Convention, but who has spent some time writing about their “Mutual Admiration Society of Compromise” was cheered by the article. “This does my heart good,” said Dr. Jack Hammer. I might even think about reading this paper, if he keeps it up.”
A spokesperson for the Lord of the Sword had no comment about how the editor’s candor has affected subscriptions. “We operate by faith, and stand for truth. We don’t measure our success by subscriptions.”
I caught sight of curious patrons staring through tinted windows at the convoy of beef streaming from all directions toward the two glass doors of the single entrance into one herd. They had to wonder what motivated suits of all shapes and sizes in the middle of a Tuesday afternoon to invade their Roy’s. I smiled at how ridiculous it must look. It couldn’t have been anything on the menu, typical of any number of cafes dotting highway exits throughout the heartland. Two words: Patty Melt. It would take awhile to explain a conference of fundamentalists to these natives. Chit-chat with the locals, however, was not on the agenda today, so they would have plenty of free entertainment without risk of an awkward introduction.
The trail of cars on the short stretch of interstate looked like a funeral procession that then made a wrong turn into a restaurant parking lot. I had ridden shotgun to someone else who was trying to look like he knew what was going on. That morning he was sitting alone on an aisle seat toward the back when I climbed over him to claim the cold, unwanted middle pew, a risky venture that included with it uncomfortable small talk with church members on my other side, who had arrived early enough to claim their inherited location at the end of the row. Jim had served about two hours away for the last five years and his church was not growing. He had taken a congregation in an association to which he had never belonged, and had struggled to get along with all the entrenched personalities and rituals of a long-established institution.
I followed the sway of the pine-tree air freshener dangling from his rear view mirror, wondering all of the incentives for making the original purchase and whether its brown edges should have long ago signaled to Jim the end of its artificial aroma. I checked out the prices on the gas signs to see how they compared to those in my area. As he explained some of his difficulties, I turned and looked at the shape of his longish side-burns, surely a little message to everyone of the truly independent thinking with which he was involved. Jim was not a climber in fundamentalism. His tie looked to be something still in style during his five undistinguished years at a large fundamentalist university. His pilgrimage to this conference maintained an identity to which he was accustomed, giving him a sense of belonging.
Jim mentioned again his small numbers and the lack of success in attracting visitors to attend and especially to stay once they came. I never assumed that unbelievers would want to just come to church. I asked him what he did to evangelize his community.
“I joined a local band,” he answered. “I play trumpet.”
“Hmmmm,” I said with feigned interest, my lips curled with Mona Lisa approval. “I go out and evangelize door-to-door every week. It gives me many opportunities to preach the gospel to people.”
Jim didn’t look comfortable with my comment, but he still replied. “I’ve not seen that type of evangelism to have much success.”
“So how have the evangelism opportunities gone with all the other band members?” I asked.
“It’s been good,” he said. “I haven’t given the plan of salvation per se to anyone yet, but it really does seem like an open door.”
My mind decided right then why his church wasn’t growing, even if door-to-door was as little effective as he had already determined.
This was my first of one of these meetings ever, so I really didn’t know what to expect. I had assumed that this was one of the things that pastors did, come to these—it was a bit of an experiment for me. The roster of speakers were big names in the fellowship that were penciled in to most of the regional line-ups across the country. Nothing to me had ever stood out with their preaching. When I say that, I don’t mean to say that I either got nothing out of it or that I just wasn’t entertained. It was neither entertaining like the revivalist preachers with their amazing stories nor was it substantial like many of the leading evangelicals I sometimes heard on the radio. Their major qualification seemed to be either their proximity to or their good favor with the same large Christian university from which Jim came. It didn’t seem that the host church had anything to do with the program except for the privilege of ranking high enough for the honor of hosting.
Tuesday morning started out strange. I parked my rental car and walked to a row of doors to the church auditorium. I grabbed the handle of one and ignored any happy welcome I thought I might receive as I scanned the lobby in search of the universal symbol for men’s room. Upon finding it, I strode that direction, following the urges of my natural instincts. I was stopped by a booming voice behind me, sending his earnest, authoritative command in my direction. “Son,” this mountain man said. I pivoted just enough to catch his image in my peripheral vision. There was no on else around so I knew he must be talking to me. There he was, his silver and black hair greased back in Memphis style, his body thick and wide, the president of the fellowship. “Son, could you go get me a glass of water?” The man was busy and thirsty. My subtle knowledge of church architecture changed my direction to two swinging wooden doors that led to a hallway. I kept walking until the kitchen appeared, the smell of coffee and the gurgling of its brewing leading my way. I began opening cupboards to find the elusive, available cup, twisted the cold handle, filled it straight from the tap, and then took the path back to deliver it to my solicitor. I remembered on my way a story that Jesse Jackson had told about working in a fast-food restaurant, spitting into some of the food of his customers before serving. Interesting thought. I considered whether Jesus had this in mind when He said, “A cup of cold water given in my name.” No. Maybe. Anyway, I located a duck tail on the back of a huge head, circled until I caught his attention again, and he reached out to accept my delivery, immediately draining its contents and then handing the empty cup back to me. He turned and kept talking, and I made my way back to the kitchen. I poured myself a cup of coffee before I headed back to the bathroom.
Two messages were preached that morning, first something allegorical from an Old Testament narrative. When Elijah promised rain, there appeared a cloud the size of a man’s fist. A man’s fist has five fingers. The number five means this, and so it meant this. He was my water drinker and single syllable words were spoken in two and three syllables, the past tense delivered with an emphatic, hard “-ed.” The second warned against ecumenical evangelism. I wondered how many men who traveled to this conference had been tempted by ecumenism. Zero, I guessed, but there were a lot of Amens. Nothing to bring us together like problems with other people. Amen! But at least we’d have some good Bible discussion at lunch. At Roy’s.
Jim seemed insecure and I felt sorry for him. I hoped that by tagging along the time I did I could make him feel a little better about being in the ministry. However, I had decided on the drive over that my time with him would be over once we scattered to our seats in the restaurant. We wouldn’t be doing lunch together. We did service and drive to Roy’s. As I exited Jim’s vehicle, no one separated me from the host pastor, who walked fifteen feet in front of me and who upon popping a stick of gum into his mouth, quickly wadded the wrapper and threw it into the shrubbery in front of Roy’s restaurant. I thought of that American Indian with the single tear running down his cheek positioned next to a face shot of Pastor Big Shot. I could see the metallic juicy-fruit cover stuck like an asteroid near a restaurant window. I took a deep breath of disgust and kept marching. I still held many strong illusions about the nature of these men that had not yet been shattered.
A big crowd of men stood together next to the “wait-to-be-seated” sign already in some type of pecking order. Even though I was the morning water boy, my knowledge of the authority of my office provided all the confidence I needed to talk to anyone I wanted, so I headed right into the brood of roosters to hear what they had to say. I stood and listened while we waited for an appropriate number of tables to open up for our crowd to be seated. I caught a story a little ways in that recounted a fight at just this type of restaurant in which the two fundamentalist leaders had each other’s hands around the other’s throat until a third had broken it up. I struggled to find the moral of the story, but it was highly entertaining, ending about the time our hostess arrived to lead us to our places.
When the music stopped, I was in a booth alone with two other guys I had met before, well-known in the fellowship who had both hosted one of these conferences. Neither of them knew me. I found that I didn’t know them either. I looked to my left at a bank of tables to see Jim sitting down in an empty seat right next to the fellowship president. Wow. Maybe Jim had more grit than I had imagined, or he was a loser in the contest of restaurant chairs. Alone standing up in back of a seat at the far end of the table was an elite fellowship man. I saw a situation developing. His eyes met the president’s. Then the president looked at Jim, then back at his elite friend, then back to Jim again, and then the fellowship president stood and with that booming voice said, “Jim, have I ever introduced you to a couple of my friends? They’re right over here.” He walks Jim to my table. I knew I wasn’t one of the friends. “This is Roy and Larry and….” “Moe,” I said. “Roy and Larry and Moe.” “I’m actually Bruce.” “Oh, Bruce.” That joke was obviously lost on him, but Jim was now sitting with us, actually right next to me again. I don’t think Roy and Larry were much happier about having such a little man right across from them. The fellowship elite now moved into Jim’s former seat to a giant back slap from the fellowship president and huge laughter.
I looked across the room to the adjacent booths where some of the locals were sitting and all of them were seeing the same drama unfold that I had. It was a little like watching an old television sit com with characters so above life to even be real. But these were real. Really real. Too real actually. Surreal.
As I picked up my own laminated copy of Roy’s food items, it occurred to me that one of the guys across from me was also Roy. Then I read the “Hello, I’m” sticker still stuck on his lapel, so I asked him, gesturing to the menu, “Any relation?” He was not amused. I thought, “Roy meet Roy,” wondering if one might be Leroy or the other Royal. We spent the next few minutes choosing what we wanted to order. A waitress came, we made our selections, me a patty melt, of course, and then handed in the menus. I had a couple of Scriptural discussions that had been percolating, so I brought one of them up. Larry and Roy just looked at me. A dramatic pause. Jim had more experience at conferences. He knew not to bring up Biblical discussions, especially ones that challenged the status quo of the fellowship. We came together especially based upon a few propositions that stated what our group was against. I had asked, “What do we do with churches in the fellowship that take in a member whom our church has disciplined out of the church?” Long silence. “Bruce, you’ve just got to get over it.” “Get over it?” I asked. “Yes, get over it, Bruce. Everybody has that happen to them.” “But isn’t that as much of a fellowship issue as there is?” No answer. Just smiles and looking at each other. Long sighs. Head wagging.
“So how’s their patty melts here, ya think?” Smiles again. Now there’s fellowship.
I want to remind anyone reading that I’m writing about the side effects of revivalism, not revival. Anyone who hasn’t perceived that, with all due respect, isn’t reading very closely. We can diagnose genuine revival, contrary to someone’s comment on part one. We use the Bible. The point a commenter made was that my post assumed that we wouldn’t know if a real revival occurred or not. No, my post opposed revivalism. You can know when an occurrence or activity is revivalism, because it is something not regulated by scripture. We are to make these types of evaluations. Paul did (1 Corinthians 2). Jesus did (Matthew 7:13-29), and you could say that John did (1 John) and James did (James). In the same fashion, we can know based upon the Bible whether we have seen revival too.
I hear justification for revivalism today according to the same old arguments used by its inventors. Men see results and they choose to attribute it to some kind of parallel with what they read in Acts. They prayed and saw what they thought were good results mixed with bad. The problem with revivalism is that more occurs than just prayer. If men prayed in faith, they would assume that they had done all they could do to prepare for revival. Prayer assumes that we’re helpless and we must wait on God. Revivalism assumes in practice that God needs a little help. He needs our techniques and strategies and marketing and emotionalism and choreography, in addition to prayer. The Bible isn’t enough either—we’ve got to add our stories and histrionics.
The philosophy of concocting man-made and extra-scriptural activities intended to initiate a burst of salvation decisions is revivalism. On the other hand, revival is a surge of genuine conversions disconnected from choreographed human efforts. Revivalism plans revivals. We can’t plan revivals. We obey God. We live by faith. Sometimes revivals occur. God gives them.
In this two part series, I am listing and explaining some of the side-effects of revivalism. These negative consequences demonstrate revivalism and debunk it.
Inordinate Human Ingenuity (cont’)
Bible reading and prayer can contribute to the sanctification of the believer. They also manifest that sanctification. However, these two disciplines are not sanctification. A revivalist Christian, who wants God’s blessing on his life, might think that a habit of Bible reading and prayer will align him sufficiently with God to generate a revival. This isn’t true.
A revivalist might not need to know what he read in his chapters. The Bible, he’s been told, is a supernatural book, and it will do something to you irregardless of understanding the meaning of the words. You let it speak to you. You pray for it to give you the message you need. That may not be what it is saying, but still “the Holy Spirit was able to use it in your life.” This isn’t true either.
The revivalist might think that God will reward him according to the number of hours of “soulwinning” he does. It could relate to how many verses he memorizes. He might commit hundreds to memory, and again, not know what they mean, but those English words bouncing around in his head, seeing that they are the same ones found in his King James Bible, will leave a spiritual effect in their wake. And this also isn’t true.
None of the above is said to discourage prayer, Bible reading, evangelism, and Bible memorization. All of these can be wonderful spiritual disciplines with their rightful spirit, understanding, and emphasis. They could be a means to an end. They might be part of the end in itself. But not necessarily.
Iain Murray in Revival and Revivalism writes (p. 201):
Revival is not something that men can plan or command as they will; the revivals in the Northeast, which occurred over a period of thirty years, followed no pattern or sequence . . . but why these were years of great harvest, rather than others no one can explain. It was certainly not because of ‘protracted meetings’ (special evangelistic services), for they were unknown in Connecticut before 1931.
David Benedict in Fifty Years Among the Baptists writes (p. 326):
The revival ministers, as they were called, soon became very popular; they were sent for from far and near, and in many cases very large additions were made to our churches under their ministrations.
The itinerant preacher, who travels from church to church, for a week of meetings, was not an office formed by scripture. It isn’t the “evangelist” found three times in the New Testament. Knowing what we see about Philip the Evangelist (Acts 21:8) in Acts 8, that office was more of a church planter, someone who evangelized a community with the possibility in time of an assembly gathering.
Today what is commonly known as “the evangelist” seems to be an invented office.
Many, if not most, programs in local churches are the fruit of revivalism. The operation of a church in the New Testament reads very simple. We should assume that this is how God wants us to operate, since the Bible is sufficient. Many inventions have come out of this movement to aid God through our new measures. Some have taken other legitimate aspects of church worship to manipulate men. The revival song, what once was a part of praise directed to God, now takes on the task of enducing men to a saving feeling. This has been taken to new heights with contemporary Christian music.
Recently popular evangelical pastor John Piper was asked what he thought about the coarse pulpit speech of Mark Driscoll. As a part of his answer, he excused Driscoll by saying:
These are weird people comin’ to his church . . . look at this . . . they wouldn’t come to hear me for anything. They wouldn’t go to my church, but they’ll go to his church. I’m cuttin’ him a lot of slack because of the mission. It’s kind of a both/and for me. You don’t need to go as far as you’ve gone sometime with your language, but I understand what you’re doing missiologically there and I have a lot of sympathy for, because I like to see those people saved.
John Piper calls himself a seven-point Calvinist. He’s the hero all over of professing young evangelical Calvinists. And yet you get this kind of revivalistic language in which missions has become so dependent on us. You see the conclusion here. Mark Driscoll does things in the way of course language and other strategies, completely detached from scripture and the Holy Spirit, that make him effective at seeing people saved. John Piper believes this. And in this case it is the worldliness of Mark Driscoll that he says is causing it.
This understanding of Piper is no different than Jack Hyles or other well-known revivalist fundamentalists through the years. Perhaps the gimmicks of Driscoll, congratulated by Piper, are more appreciated by the younger evangelical and fundamentalist of the day. These same would say that they despise revivalism. They just choose a different brand of it. Iain Murray writes (p. 412):
Whenever wrong methods are popularised, on the basis of a weak or erroneous theology, the work of God is marred and confused. Dependence on men, whoever they are, or upon means, is ultimately the opposite of biblical religion.
One almost unanimous characteristic of revivalism has been inaccurate assessment of results. Murray again comments (p. 215):
[T]hese leaders were against treating anyone as a convert simply on profession of faith. Beecher’s warning against ‘the hasty recognition of persons as converted upon their own judgment, without interrogation or evidence’, was echoed by all his brethren.
The revivalists are often anxious to quote post meeting successes as proof of the genuineness of the experience. In the same audio of Piper above in his answer about the methods of Driscoll, he mentions the “four hundred” whom Driscoll had “baptized” on Easter Sunday as reason for admiration. For Hyles, it may have been his 3,000 “new converts” on a Pentecost Sunday.
What is ironic about many of the false results of revivalists is that the methods produce the results and the results validate the method. This is a destructive circular reasoning that circumvents the Word of God as the authority for faith and practice. Ignoring the Bible leaves solely human evaluation, which falls short as a means of discernment (John 17:17).
Because revivalism depends so much on man’s methods and inducements, he gets the credit no matter how much he might protest it. This is in part why Paul said what he said in 1 Corinthians 2. We see the purpose of keeping man out of God’s work in v. 5:
That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.
God doesn’t want the results of His work to be understandable, we see that in the last several verses of 1 Corinthians 1:
27 But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; 28 And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: 29 That no flesh should glory in his presence. 30 But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: 31 That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.
God doesn’t choose things that seem to men like they will work. God chooses to use what looks like it would never work. It does work, not because of man’s cleverness, but because of the power of God.
Genuine Christians will be concerned when God isn’t glorified by what they do. They won’t fight to defend their own turf and reputations. They want something real. In the end, what we produce will produce a lot of us, yet telling people that it is God producing something of God. We’ve got to be scriptural, transparent, and honest about this. When we follow God’s ways, the world will despise it, but God will be pleased and praised.
Over at my blog, I have been writing a series of posts (a four part series: part one, part two, part three, part four) about the faulty epistemology of multiple version onlyism. I hope that doesn’t stop you from reading this post. Epistemology is in essence how we know what we know. The two major categories I have considered are presuppositional epistemology and evidential epistemology. We should be presuppositional and I tell you why, especially applying this to the issue of the preservation of Scripture, in those four posts. You should read them. I’ve made it easy with the links. My last post over there, which I uploaded on April 21, 2009, Tuesday, has been linked to by a couple of sites (here and here) that deal with textual criticism.
This entree would probably be my fifth in this series and I’ll probably retitle it and post it over there. I don’t want to do that yet, because I want that article to run a fuller gamot before I post over it.
I introduced the last in the epistemology series with an article that came out in USA Today in its opinion section called Fightin’ Words, which was a positive review of Bart Ehrman’s book, Jesus Interrupted. In the book, it seems that Ehrman uses the typical techniques of biblical criticism to undermine the authority of scripture, primarily by attempting to make the Bible look like it contradicts itself. The point, of course, is that if the Bible does do that, then it isn’t inspired or divine. The author of the USA Today article mentions that James White makes a personal attack against Ehrman by speaking of Ehrman’s unbelieving bias, to which he, Tom Krattenmaker retorts:
If criticisms of Ehrman veer toward the personal it’s because his evidence — the Bible’s own text — is what it is. And there is no denying the inconsistencies he surfaces between the various Gospels and letters that form the New Testament.
Bart Ehrman, the chairman of the Bible department at the University of North Carolina, is a significant liberal to deal with. To start, Ehrman himself is a one time “born-again” evangelical who attended Moody, then Wheaton, and finally Princeton when he said goodbye to his faith. Then much of the attack on scripture that you might hear used by atheistic scientists and from anti-Christian Islamics comes from the pen of Bart Ehrman.
What Ehrman has done, and in a way of marketing genius, is taken the very old, academic arguments against God and the Bible and written them in very simple, story-like terms, attempting to get graduate school material into comic book form and to make dusty, theological material very accessible to the average person. As I have gone door-to-door out here in California, I have many times heard points made that I knew came from Ehrman. Ehrman’s books often become NY Times bestsellers and are featured at the front of mainstream bookstores. They provide talking points to those who have or wish to push the eject button on Christianity.
From a human standpoint, it is to Ehrman’s credit that he has not just written the books and then hid out in his little hovel in Chapel Hill. He has traveled around, very much like Christopher Hitchens has done after writing God Is Not Great, and debated those on the other side who oppose his view. Part of Ehrman’s schtick is his ability to talk in everyman language and to appear to have no harmful agenda. If you listen to him closely, it’s easy to see that he’s actually dishonest. He presents content that cannot rise above the level of speculation and yet makes it sound like it is the most likely scenario. Some of that is seen in this part of the USA Today column:
If the Bible is the literal word of God, Ehrman asks, how could it be inconsistent on so many details large and small? Let’s start with an example appropriate to the just-concluded Easter season marking the Savior’s death and resurrection: As Jesus was dying on the cross, was he in agony, questioning why God had forsaken him? Or was he serene, praying for his executioners? It depends, Ehrman points out, on whether you’re reading the Gospel of Mark or Luke. Regarding Jesus’ birthplace of Bethlehem, had his parents traveled there for a census (Luke’s version) or is it where they happened to live (Matthew’s version)? Did Jesus speak of himself as God? (Yes, in John; no, in Matthew).
What about that paragraph? Ehrman presumes that the gospel accounts contradict one another in the sections on His death and birth accounts and that the words of Jesus on the cross are contradictory. What do we say about what Ehrman expresses as apparent inconsistencies? If you are reading this, it isn’t difficult to answer these biblical criticisms. Knowing the nature of Christ, it is easy for us to believe Jesus questioned God (in fulfillment of prophecy, by the way) about forsaking Him and prayed for His executioners. They both happened. Neither of the accounts contradict each other.
Each gospel has a unique, eyewitness point of view. Each has a particular theme. Altogether they don’t contradict, but present a full, panoramic, textured picture of the life of Christ. Matthew doesn’t say that Joseph and Mary were living in Bethlehem. Matthew also presents Jesus as God and he believed Jesus was God as much as John did. We call this answer “harmonization.” The various accounts do harmonize without contradiction, which is the nature of eyewitness accounts. If they were exactly the same, we would have a bigger problem, because then we might think that the witnesses just plagiarized one another.
Biblical criticism has been around since the books of Scripture were inspired by God. The present form that Ehrman is attempting to popularize is another mainly post-enlightenment invention. Wikipedia gives a fine synopsis:
Biblical criticism, defined as the treatment of biblical texts as natural rather than supernatural artifacts, grew out of the rationalism of the 17th and 18th centuries. In the 19th century it was divided between the Higher Criticism, the study of the composition and history of biblical texts, and lower criticsm, the close examination of the text to establish their original or “correct” readings.
During the Enlightenment, the role of reason was held above Scripture. Reason was then used to analyze Scripture because the Enlightenment philosophers believed that reason was more trustworthy. This is the basic presupposition that evangelicals and fundamentalists should not agree with but is found at the basis of all critical methods. The modern academy has not stopped at the threshold of reason. New forms of reader-response criticism allow any ideology to critique Scripture. As a result a person is able to find whatever he wants in Scripture.
Some of the famous names of higher criticism, which did what Ehrman does in Jesus Interrupted, are Thomas Hobbes, Benedict Spinoza, Julius Wellhausen, David Strauss, Karl Barth, and Rudolf Bultmann. The modern day Jesus Seminar is a recent example of this ongoing pursuit of de-supernaturalizing the Bible and turning Jesus into a regular person. One sure byproduct of these efforts will be the disappearance of the institutions from which they gain their paychecks. There will be no longer any use in studying such an impostor, what Jesus will have become once they’re through with Him and their writings about Him.
What Is the Difference Between the Biblical Critics and Us?
We both operate with different presuppositions. Of course, they say that they are dealing with the evidence, allowing it to lead them to the truth. But our presupposition is that the Bible is inspired, God’s Word, and that Jesus is God, Lord, and Savior of the world. Their presupposition is that the Bible is one of many ancient texts written by men.
I recognize that most evangelicals and fundamentalists attempt to create at least in perception a great distance between higher and lower criticism. However, Ehrman doesn’t see the great gulf between them. He shifts back and forth between lower and higher very comfortably. In one book, he attacks the text of Scripture (Misquoting Jesus) and then he smoothly shifts over to his disection of the content of Scripture (Jesus Interrupted). He has the same presuppositions and uses the same methodology with both.
What we do with the varied accounts of the gospels again is called harmonization. We harmonize the text based upon our presuppositions. We have a high view of God, of Scripture, and of inspiration. We choose not to see contradictions because we know that God does not deny Himself (2 Tim 2:11-13). So to recap: we harmonize differing accounts based upon our scriptural and theological presuppositions. This is how Christians have operated historically.
Because God is always true and every man a liar (Rom 3:4), we also harmonize what we see outside of the Bible with the Bible. We don’t harmonize the Bible with what we see outside of the Bible. The Bible is the final arbiter of truth, so every truth claim is tested by the yardstick of scripture. In other words, we aren’t integrationists. Biblical critics, because of the unbelieving presuppositions, place their own reason above the Bible and so rather than questioning their own opinons and conclusions, they question scripture.
Examples of Biblical Criticism in Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism
I’m going to give two examples where post-enlightenment, unbelieving rationalism has influenced evangelicalism and even fundamentalism toward biblical criticism. This is also the replacement of presuppositional epistemology with evidential epistemology. Fundamentalism was by definition to be hostile to biblical criticism in any form. Here are the two.
1. Despite the fact that God promised to preserve every Word and make it available to every generation of believers, so that there is only one Bible, evangelicals and fundamentalists have subjected the Bible to lower criticism to produce multiple Bibles, all of which contain errors.
This was not the position of pre-enlightenment Christianity. Sure they knew there were errors in copies, but they believed that God had preserved every Word and that they were all available to believers of every generation. When that was mixed with rationalism and science, that changed. Evangelicals and fundamentalists stopped harmonizing and started submitting to evidentialism, giving up presuppositional epistemology. I recognize that fundamentalists would say that they are not biblical critics as textual critics. That’s not the same conclusion that an objective outside source would make. Harriet A. Harris in Fundamentalism and Evangelicals writes:
Fundamentalism in fact accords with evangelicalism which, according to McGrath, ‘accepts the principle of biblical criticism (although insisting that it be applied responsibly).’ The difference between the two positions becomes a matter of what sorts of biblical criticism are accepted, and how its responsible application is defined. Here we will discover no hard-and-fast distinctions between fundamentalism and evangelicalism, but varying degrees of acceptance of different forms of criticism.
2. Despite the fact that the biblical account is a literal twenty-four hour day, seven day creation, and a young earth, biblical criticism in cahoots with secular science has influenced evangelicals and fundamentalists to accept a subjective, day-age, old earth explanation of creation.
This bow to rationalism or Darwinism submits God’s Word to external “evidence” as superior and final arbiter in this matter. Even fundamentalists have implied that this is acceptable.
So, just to review. Historically believers have harmonized their interpretation of the evidence with scripture, not vice-versa. They have also harmonized apparent biblical contradictions. They have done this based upon their high view of God, scripture, and inspiration. They have presupposed the Bible as the sole authority for all faith and practice.
The grass gets tall this time of year in Northern California. It is the end of rainy season. When I cut the tall grass, two things often happen. One, some of the grass doesn’t get completely clipped. Two, you’ve got to mow again really quickly just to keep up. I went back and forth with my mower in no special pattern to get the job done. Some of the long grass needs another run. The yard, of course, in this instance is non-revivalist fundamentalism (NRF). I made a pass over NRF several days ago with some random sweeps of my mower, that is, questions for NRF. I got some answers, but I would like to follow-up because of the eclectic nature of my interrogation.
In some good fundamentalist fashion, people read into me and my column. Some of that was due to how I mowed the grass the first time. I had a few lines in there that could have provoked some young Freuds to get me on their couch. Because of the link over at SharperIron, the nature of the comments seemed as though I may have written a column about SharperIron, when that was just one of my questions. As a result of that, some speculated that I must be trying to become a member again. Others assumed that I was pouting over a lack of attention.
I was in fundamentalism for a lengthy time. The point of fundamentalism I agree with, that is, purity of doctrine. If that is the major idea of fundamentalism, I like it and have sympathy with fundamentalism and fundamentalists on that. I also think I have now lived a little so that I can judge history a little better, so I wrote the first post. I would prefer to keep this all to the actual lines I typed, although the psychoanalysis was interesting.
I read comments that misrepresent what I wrote. They verge on more psychoanalysis. For instance, I haven’t said anything about stifling discussion on issues or “blocking out other views.” We should prove everything, hold fast to that which is good. Regarding SharperIron (SI), I’m saying only that I see it left-leaning on the fundamentalist (right)-evangelical (left) scale.
I think where the “stifling discussion” point segues with the essential-non-essential issue is that, I believe, evangelicals have been those who talk most about ranking doctrines. They do this to avoid separation. The truth is that the fundamentalism I grew up with wanted to talk about everything that might be scriptural. I find it is the evangelical side that “blocks out views.” They don’t want to talk about cultural issues unless it suits their fancy (“smutty pulpit speech”—see Phil Johnson and John MacArthur). This isn’t anything that I had heard in fundamentalism, while I was in it. Everything in scripture was important in the fundamentalism I knew. Maybe that’s what McCune and I have in common—he and I are old school in this way.
Hopefully you, like I, have a biblical grid that screens all that you read and hear. If we do have one of those, we should all leave it in the “on” position, evaluating everything in light of scripture. I’m curious at least when professing fundamentalists don’t use the Bible to judge. Perhaps it is what I should expect today. I don’t think I read any comment here or in the filings thread at SI that exposed my post to God’s Word. The only valid criticism of fundamentalistic positions should be biblical, shining light on error.
Someone wrote this:
But are there not degrees of separation, just as there are degrees of agreement and degrees of practical importance? (cf. Mohler’s triage) Brandenburg’s (and McCune’s it seems) view of pan-importance is true in one sense, but I don’t believe that we ought to be separating over baptism in the same way that we separate over the virgin birth. Haven’t some evangelicals been a little more discerning – and hence a little more biblical – in their application of separation when they have paused to identify the exact level of disagreement?
The answer to this should come from scripture. Some, it seems, think that asking the question qualifies as an argument. Or, someone should be shamed by even bringing up the topic. Or, that the question alone shows the lack of common sense involved in taking a different view. I’ve never thought of these tactics as replacing biblical authority. You still need “thus saith the Lord.” And I don’t think anyone should trust common sense.
I haven’t found evangelicals will separate at all. I don’t even hear them talk about separation. It is as if it has dropped out of scripture. By the way, where is that criticism of evangelicalism and this dearth of biblical teaching at SI? Show one good dealing with separation by an evangelical, when they are supposed to be the master exegetes of scripture. Young fundamentalists don’t like some of the positions of older fundamentalism and their criticism of fundamentalism, even saying that evangelicals are “more biblical” than fundamentalism. It really is a matter of personal comfort on where the line is drawn; it isn’t a matter of trying to find out what the Bible says about why and how to separate.
Keep on your biblical thinking caps. Consider this again that Joel Tetreau writes: “We could get more accomplished because our partnerships would be larger.” Where do you get a scriptural basis for “larger partnerships” as a motive for what we do as Christians? How are we guaranteed at all through this pragmatic approach in getting “more accomplished” either? I see scripture teach the opposite. Think Egypt. You think you’re safer, but not only is it wrong and it doesn’t trust God, it doesn’t end in more being accomplished.
This statement made in response to my post is typical of a fundamentalist argument today:
That camp makes little distinction (beyond lip service) between the fundamentals and rural, turn of the century American culture. . . . The real force of true fundamentalism is a loyalty to the Word of God, not a canonization of any particular culture or era of time. If it is otherwise, I want nothing to do with it.
This has already been standard fare for evangelicals. To start, it is incredibly simplistic on the matter of culture. Second, it is no argument or at least an illogical one. Third, it is dangerous and ignorant (1 John 2:15; Rom 12:2).
What Issues Are Important to God
Some talked about the issues that are important to God. We don’t have to guess on that. We can go to scripture and see how God operates with regards to what He said. He wants us to take seriously everything that He said. Now I can hear the response: “No one is saying we shouldn’t.” It is what I read from fundamentalists and evangelicals now.
Joel Tetreau wrote:
Well for starters Brandenburg would separate from all of us….oh yeah he’s already done that….my bad, I forgot. Sorry Kent! What would that do for fundamentalism’s MO?
I’m not a fundamentalist. It’s true. Greg Linscott got it right. It’s because fundamentalism is too ecumenical, that is, it is ungodly in this way. However, what I’d like to point out here is the last statement. Look at it. I believe that sentence is tell-tale. It really does explain the biggest issue: what will other people think of us? Oh my! It should be: what does God know about us? We’re not walking by faith when we’re concerned with how the evangelicals view us. There are reasons they are more popular and get published by major publishers, and we shouldn’t admire them for it.
Some of the discussion about my first point veered off topic regarding my beliefs. One person said that my beliefs were rejected by most of fundamentalism a long time ago. I don’t think that fundamentalism takes the time to consider an exegetical defense of biblical ecclesiology. I also believe they haven’t sorted through historic bibliology, which is why, I believe, we have a mutating doctrine of inerrancy today in addition to major attacks on meaning, interpretation, and application of scripture that has eroded the authority of God’s Word.
Like God is Truth, God is perfect in the unity of His attributes, all in an irreducible and unseparable whole. He isn’t holy at the loss of love or loving to the detriment of holiness. Joel Tetreau writes this:
Fundamentalism because it has become fixated on “separation first” instead of “unity first” has become….well, ill. . . . (Don’t you think Biblical evidence suggests we start with unity first, and then separate instead of starting with separation? I don’t think this should be that hard. I mean count up the times the NT writers speak to unity and then count up the times they mention separation.).
Both separation and unity are taught in the NT. Both should be obeyed, neither to the exclusion of the other. Since God cannot deny Himself, we can practice both according to Scripture. Our position is correct only if we can be consistent in obedience to both unity and separation. Something JG wrote at SI sheds light:
Seems to me that if unity is first, rather than holiness, you’ve got a major problem. Unity is always within the confines of truth, or it is not real unity.
A major part of my first post was about a wrong evaluation of fundamentalism. To give a proper view of fundamentalism, you have to consider it in its cultural and historic setting. People say accurately that fundamentalism isn’t monolithic. That’s true, but it also applies to the setting for the various eras of fundamentalism. It isn’t like early 20th century fundamentalism has some grand stamp of approval from God. We see it for what it is.
I’m not a fundamentalist because I can’t justify fellowship with disobedient brethren anywhere in Scripture. I believe infant sprinkling constitutes that. However, I am a fundamentalist in spirit and by dictionary definition. I adhere strictly to a standard. I believe that we love God and others by battling for that which is of the greatest benefit: the truth. I believe there is an idea of fundamentalism that is worth saving.
I don’t see a valid historic argument to beg for a paleo-fundamentalism that includes conservative evangelicals. I know we don’t have a biblical basis for fellowship with them. However, we are judging fundamentalism at the time of a more singular American culture. Not only has fundamentalism changed, but so has evangelicalism. The issues have changed since that time. There is a lot more toleration of false doctrine and practice now than there was then. The culture has eroded. We would do well to keep this in mind in this discussion.
This talk of unity is more in common with the onset of new-evangelicalism than the oldest brand fundamentalism. I get the idea of “looking for unity.” I don’t see it in scripture. I’ve found that you don’t have to look for unity. You find it and it’s based on what you believe and practice. Unity happens with people and churches with the same positions and application of those positions. The way to find unity that you might be looking for is through reconciliation. Reconciliation, however, only occurs based upon scripture. We aren’t right to “reconcile” by ignoring the truth. We attempt to reconcile by preaching the truth, very much like someone who is reconciled to God. That occurs when the nature of a lost person is converted to line up with God, not when God approves of something less than Who He is.
Based on the terms for reconciliation that I mentioned in the last paragraph, I think that I work at unity more than fundamentalists and evangelicals. Rather than give up on evangelicals or fundamentalists, I am often talking to them with the purpose of helping us come to the same doctrine and practice. This is love. We ought to be patient. We ought to take some grief along the way. At some point we may need to determine that future contact will not be the right way to go. I don’t think we get unity by ignoring our differences in the matter of fellowship. We honor God by taking seriously what He says.
New-evangelicals were the ones who denigrated militancy and favored getting together. They were more concerned with how they were perceived by the world, its academic institutions and its scholarship. We should have one goal: the pleasure of God. Our labor is not in vain in Him.
You can buy Oxy 10 (strong zit cream) now that performs two tasks—dries up the pimple and covers it with a flesh tone coloring. It’s both a medicine and a make-up. Teenagers, no more need for those unsightly bandaids waiting for a bad blemish to heal. This essay will also multi-task by delivering my break-down of the Fugate-Schaap fight and finish up the actual topic of the month—Ranking Doctrines. The first will surely bring the largest crowd (fitting for Fugate and Schaap) and the latter will draw the most commentary. This month our blog has had more readers in its bathroom than other blogs have had in their auditoriums. Jeff Fugate and Jack Schaap are google gold.
Fugate and Schaap
I still get The Church Bus News, once printed by Wally “Mr. Bus” Beebe, and since his death, the domain of Jeffrey Fugate of Lexington, KY. I get the major mailings, including The Voice, from First Baptist in Hammond, now headquarters for Jack Schaap. Like most of you, first I received the special edition of the Fugate magazine (23 pp) and a little later Schaap’s answer (16 pp). The same day as Schaap’s reply to Fugate, I got the surreal letter to Jack Hyles written by Russell Anderson. I’ve never been in the Fugate/Schaap loop, but I was happy to have them tell me what they thought about the doctrine of preservation and the King James Version.
Fugate and Schaap represent the Hyles’ branch of fundamentalism. Schaap took the mantle from Hyles. He refers to the moment on p. 2:
On his (father-in-law, Jack Hyles) deathbed he took my hand and stated pointedly, ‘I love many people, but I don’t trust them all.’ He paused, squeezed my hand, and continued, ‘I trust you, Jack, with everything I have.’ It was a holy and sacred moment for me.
Schaap has done a phenomenal job in keeping the Hyles’ circus going. I would not have thought anyone could do it. He has. Fugate had to settle, it seems, for getting Russell Anderson, which is a feather in his Hyles cap, but he is a simple Hyles’ grad with a Hyles honorary doctorate, which can’t compare to being in Hyles’ family and getting the Hyles’ death bed handshake.
For those who haven’t seen the mailings, let me start with the Fugate one. Around a huge, half page picture of himself, Fugate explained and justified his mailing on pp. 2-3. On pp. 4-5 he presented quotes from Jack Hyles on the subject from Hyles’ book, The Need for an Every-Word Bible. Fugate printed a chapter from a recent Ms. Gail Riplinger book from p. 6 to p. 12. Fugate wrote a chapter called “The Inspired, Preserved Word” from pp. 13-17, and then reproduced his “Open Letter to Dr. Schaap” from p. 18 to p. 23.
On the top fold of the newsprint style Special Pastor’s Edition of The Voice read in giant red letters, “Dr. Jack Schaap Speaks on Inspiration and the King James Bible.” On the top 1/3 of the first page, but numbered p. 2, in about 25 pt. font, Schaap stated what he believes, and after that an open letter to no pastor in particular, p. 3 an answer to eight different questions that he said he had received from various people, pp. 4-5 his Jack Hyles pages, quoted for his own defense, pp. 6-7 excerpts from two different booklets in which he deals with this subject—Why Stand against the King James Bible? and Dr. Jack Schaap Answers, p. 8 the doctrinal statements of seventeen different Baptist schools to support his position, and pp. 9-11 letters from deacons, staff, Charles Colsten, Wendell Evans, and Ray Young in full support of Schaap. The last three pages were miscellaneous defenses of the Schaap position—one the letter to the readers by the KJV translators, dictionary definitions of “inspiration,” lexiconal entries for theopneustos, and ending with observations and conclusion.
Both of them quote Hyles for their own purposes. Ironically, I believe that it was possible to defend more than one position with Hyles’ words. Hyles would say that he always took the same position, but if you read his early Revelation commentary, you’d see that he commonly corrected the KJV in that book. Then later he turned to the position that said someone could not be converted except through the KJV. In between there, he made many varied and contradictory statements on the subject, so much so that men with different positions both use him to defend themselves.
Fugate and Schaap make convoluted or inaccurate statements. In the large font on p. 2 Schaap wrote what is his official position:
I believe the King James Version of the Bible is the divinely preserved translation of the inspired Word of God for English speaking peoples.
What’s wrong with that? It isn’t easy to understand. I can’t tell what he believes about the underlying Greek and Hebrew text by that statement. I don’t know what he believes about inspiration or preservation from the statement. Someone asked Schaap this question: “If we believe in divine preservation, don’t we then believe that the inspired words were preserved in their inspired state?” As part of his answer, he made this statement: “We have copies of an English translation that came from copies of other translations, etc., etc.” By the time he was done, I couldn’t tell what he believed.
When you read the official position of the church and college, you find the same indecipherable type of statement (p. 9):
Furthermore, we believe the Scriptures were translated, copied, and preserved under the watchful care of divine providence and that the English speaking peoples of today have in the King James Version of the Scriptures an accurate, reliable, divinely preserved translation of the Scriptures.
It says the Scriptures were translated, copied, then preserved. Isn’t copying the way they were preserved? Wasn’t the copying or preservation of Scriptures done before they were translated? Nothing else that was written by Schaap or any others from Hyles-Anderson cleared this up.
Gail Riplinger took up the bulk of the space for Fugate, carrying the doctrinal water for him. She wrote on p. 6:
The actual ‘originals’ have not been the recipient of the promise of preservation, as they have long since dissolved.
I haven’t read anything that Riplinger has written until this paper. She made the above inane statement in the second sentence of her presentation. She said there was no “promise of preservation” of the ‘originals’ because they have long since “dissolved.” How does a promise of preservation relate to whether we still possess the originals or not? The absence of originals doesn’t change what Scripture promises or doesn’t promise. And how do the “originals” receive a promise anyway? God wrote promises to people, not to manuscripts of the Bible. The next sentence brings confusion to what she even means by “originals”:
As is demonstrated in detail in the previous chapters of Greek and Hebrew Study Dangers, all currently printed Greek and Hebrew editions contain errors.
From that statement you can see where we’re headed with Riplinger, but you can also see that when she says “originals,” she doesn’t mean “original manuscripts” but “original languages.” So she is saying that Scripture doesn’t promise original language preservation. So what does it promise about preservation? We’ll get there.
On top of that, how does Riplinger know that every Hebrew and Greek text has errors? She doesn’t possess the original manuscripts, so she doesn’t know that. She can’t compare any of the editions of the Hebrew and Greek text of Scripture with their original manuscripts, so she can’t even come to that conclusion. What she should conclude, based upon a biblical view of inspiration and preservation found in God’s promises in His Word, is that we do have all of the Words without error in the Hebrew and Greek text of Scripture.
But that isn’t where Ms. Riplinger is headed as she teaches us her bibliology. She claims to know that we don’t have a perfect original language Bible, but what we do have is a perfect translation of the Bible. So a perfect translation came from a corrupt text. And she based that upon what?
The answer to the question, ‘Where is the living word of God’ lies in God’ s promise given to Isaiah 28 and fulfilled in Acts 2. “With men of other tongues and other lips will I speak . . . saith the Lord” (1 Cor. 14:21) [bold hers].
What do you think of that exegesis? She concludes that God is telling us in 1 Corinthians 14:21 that His Word would come with men of other tongues—not Hebrew and Greek ones—and we know now that they are English ones. We’re supposed to read that out of that verse from Paul in 1 Corinthians 14 (I wish she had read a little further down to 1 Cor 14:29-35 and practiced that instead).
She has many more errors, crazy ones, as you continue to read her. Her writing should be respected by no one. What you can see that she believes is that we didn’t have a perfect Bible from the moment those original manuscripts “dissolved” until we got the King James Version (1611 or 1769?). She is a living example of why women shouldn’t be teaching doctrine to men (1 Timothy 2:9-15). When Schaap challenged Fugate on the phone about learning theology from a woman, Fugate’s comeback was (p. 23):
Gail Riplinger is a woman who holds an honorary doctorate from Hyles-Anderson college for her work on the KJB.
Somebody should tell her that her career in doctrinal mangling is over.
What kind of respect does Fugate hold for Riplinger? This really shows you the caliber of these types of men. Not only is half his presentation a chapter from her book, but then he writes his section and plagiarizes paragraphs of her from the very chapter that he printed. Some editor should have stopped chewing his bazooka and informed him of this. On p. 15 in the first column and on p. 16 at the bottom of the first column and top of the second, Fugate plagiarizes almost word-for-word two paragraphs of Riplinger’s chapter located at the bottom of the last paragraph on p. 6 and then the last paragraph on p. 7.
Trying to be the diplomat, Schaap wrote this on the back page of his paper:
I don’t think any one of us could slide a piece of paper between our differences.
I want to go on record to say that there is far more than paper-thin differences between the scriptural position and what most of the Hylots have written. Try a boulder.
As an aside, the new filing director at Sharper Iron, Greg Linscott, linked to Dave’s last article on Schaap-Fugate. It is presently the most visited thread of their filing section and heavily commented. One of their moderators, a “Larry,” wrote this about Dave:
The irony of this article is that someone who does not have a biblical doctrine of preservation is complaining that someone else who doesn’t have a biblical doctrine of preservation doesn’t have a biblical doctrine of preservation.
That’s all he said. Clever, huh? He didn’t say how it was unscriptural, just that it was. It’s throwing raw meat to the MVO (multiple version only) crowd. He knows it. Classic fundamentalism. What is truly ironic is a person with no biblical doctrine of preservation, Larry, saying that Dave doesn’t have one. I’ve never ever heard an MVO advocate, someone like Larry, ever start with the Bible to come to his position on preservation. As a matter of fact, they believe that you start with textual criticism and then restrain your doctrine from keeping the “evidence” from leading you to the “truth.” Larry’s view of preservation is the new post-enlightenment position that all of the doctrines of scripture have been preserved, not the words. You won’t find it in the Bible.
Final Comments about Ranking Doctrines
In the previous three posts of mine about reducing scripture to essentials and non-essentials, I haven’t presented much of a scriptural argument against that position and practice. In my first installment, I linked to a five part series that I had already written, that did give a biblical basis for an every teaching is essential approach. I also argued against the defense mounted by the other side. I would like to spend a little time dealing with their main arguments. I contend that their main point isn’t in the Bible at all and it is invented only to maintain a type of fake unity between all believers. However, here are some of the passages to which they refer to state their case.
1 Corinthians 15:3
For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures;
Those who rank doctrines see this verse as inferring this practice. They understand “first” (protos) as “first in importance.” They explain that Paul is saying that the gospel is foremost of all the doctrines, based on this text. This is how the New American Standard and the English Standard Versions translate protos. Protos more often means “first in time.” If it does mean “first in importance,” then Paul could be saying that the gospel is foremost in this chapter. With such relative ambiguity, we shouldn’t base a doctrine on the understanding of this one word. Even if it does mean “most important,” then it is an even further stretch to say that it is the only doctrine or one of the few doctrines worth separating over.
Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.
Essential or non-essential people infer their practice from the use of the word “weightier” (barus). The Pharisees paid tithe on certain small herbs, but didn’t accomplish the “weightier” matters of the law, like mercy, etc. What are “weightier matters?” Barus carries with it the understanding of “difficulty.” The Pharisees chose to do the easier things, tithing their little herbs. Jesus is refuting the ranking of doctrines. They had voided certain practices and replaced them with other easier ones. Why? The easier ones they could do on their own. This is a major reason why men will rank doctrines–because they don’t see how they can keep everything that God said. They’re right. They can’t do it, which is why they need justification by faith.
1 Corinthians 16:22
If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema Maranatha.
Certain violations come with severe punishment. Those ranking doctrines say that this indicates that these issues are essential, rated ahead of other doctrines or practices. If someone doesn’t love Jesus, then he isn’t saved. That’s why he is cursed. It is ironic that people who do love the Lord Jesus will keep everything that He says (John 14:21-24). In other words, “Anathema Maranatha” if you won’t do everything that Jesus says to do.
1 Corinthians 3:11-13
For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is.
Jesus is foundational to everything. No one is arguing with that. We must believe in Jesus Christ or all other doctrine or practice won’t matter to someone’s life and eternity. In 2 Peter 1, believers will add virtue to faith and knowledge to virtue. That doesn’t mean that faith is more important than virtue.
One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.
Romans 14 applies to non-scriptural issues. Colossians 2:16 says that we shouldn’t judge one day above another because they are merely shadows of Christ. 1 Corinthians 5:7 says that Christ is our passover. Days are not a doctrinal issue. You can’t apply this to scriptural doctrine and practice.
Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you.
This verse has been used for ranking doctrines. It isn’t remotely about that. What is the “same mind” that Paul wanted the Philippians to have with him? It was the same mind or attitude of this pursuit of Christlikeness that he just talked about in the context. Paul uses sarcasm with the term “perfect,” because he himself had just said that nobody had reached perfection until they reach Christ. If they weren’t going to have that mindset of pursuing Christlikeness, then his hope was that God would expose this wrong way of thinking and help them change it.
I’ve already made arguments for not having the essential/non-essential teaching over at my blog in a five part series. I’ve only dealt with the other side here. I’ve found that this is all they’ve got to offer.
Defining What Fellowship Is
In the comment section, one brother asked me about fellowship, to define what it was. I thought it would be worth doing here. I’m not fellowshiping with someone at the park with whom I’m playing pick-up basketball. I might take an unsaved person out to lunch. That isn’t fellowship if I have the purpose of evangelism. I’m on the board of two orchestras. That isn’t fellowship, even though there are other Christians on one of the boards. Winning an election and joining Congress isn’t fellowship.
Fellowship is an association with a common spiritual purpose and goal. I may talk to another professing believer who believes differently than me. We can sit down for coffee or a meal with the attitude that we are attempting to be in fellowship if possible. This may take many visits. I know that these two paragraphs don’t deal with every situation.
Sometimes the word “core” is used. I see it spreading. Core values. And then fancy words like triage, which puts people in such a daze that they refuse to keep thinking about it. Taxonomy is another one. None of these are taught in Scripture. “Fundamental” is very much like “foundational.” I have no doubt that certain doctrines are “foundational.” For instance, who cares if you practice complementarianism when you are not saved. Being saved is foundational. It could also be fundamental in that sense.
But let’s be clear. We know why “core” and all these exciting new theological terms are being used. Men want to be able to water down belief and practice and not be punished for it. The world loves minimizing and reducing, so these same churches will be more popular with the world. And then all the churches that love being popular will also be popular with each other. It’s like a big peace treaty that we could hand out a Christian version of the Nobel Peace prize. We can all smile at each other and get along while we disobey what God said. Then you’ve got a guy that says everything is important, and that’s, you know, an attack on unity. It’s a fake unity like what people have at a family reunion. Real unity is based on what God said.