Home > Brandenburg, Fundamentalism > Love-Hate Relationship with Fundamentalism pt. 2

Love-Hate Relationship with Fundamentalism pt. 2

November 12, 2008

From the first World Congress of Fundamentalists, which met in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1976, we read among the “We Believe” Resolutions:

A fundamentalist maintains an immovable allegiance to the inerrant, infallible, and verbally inspired Bible.  A fundamentalist believes that whatever the Bible says is so.  A fundamentalist judges all things by the Bible and is judged by the Bible and is judged only by the Bible.

I support that statement.  It sounds like what I would want to be.  It sounds like who I am.  When I thought I was a fundamentalist, it is what I was.  It is who I still am.  So is this statement what fundamentalism is?   Probably the Bob Jones, Sword of the Lord, Hyles, BBF, and GARBC branches and their various hybrids would all say that the statement still does represent who they are.  I have found out, however, that it really is a matter of interpretation.  Much of fundamentalism understood this resolution differently than what I would have.  The fundamentalist would judge everything by the Bible.  Of course.  But what does he do after that?  What does he do once he has figured out what the Bible says?

This introduces the second part of my love-hate relationship with fundamentalism, what I hate about fundamentalism.  I’ve started with what I love.  I can’t love health without hating disease, so let’s consider the diseases of fundamentalism.  I can’t really love fundamentalists without a certain hatred for fundamentalism.  What hate?

Ye that love the LORD, hate evil: he preserveth the souls of his saints; he delivereth them out of the hand of the wicked.  I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes: I hate the work of them that turn aside; it shall not cleave to me.   Through thy precepts I get understanding: therefore I hate every false way.  The fear of the LORD is to hate evil: pride, and arrogancy, and the evil way, and the froward mouth, do I hate.        (Psalm 97:10; 101:3; 119:104; Proverbs 8:13)

I can’t be a fundamentalist and still obey Scripture, so I choose against fundamentalism.

Hate for Fundamentalism

The hate for fundamentalism requires more explanation.  I don’t want anyone misunderstanding.  I know hate is a strong word.  As a practical matter, I don’t think I confused anyone with my list of love for fundamentalism.  Parallel with love for fundamentalism, this list will explain what’s to hate.  Hate for fundamentalism shouldn’t be interpreted as love for evangelicalism.  Evangelicals are worse, but we’re talking now about fundamentalism.

1.  Fundamentalism downgrades doctrine.

I can hear the gasps from all over fundamentalism.  And hisses from the anger.   I implore you to stay calm and just consider.

How does fundamentalism downgrade doctrine?  First, they have wide breadth of latitude on the gospel, which would seem to be as significant as anything to such a group of the strictest evangelicals.   Right in fundamentalism, you have long had the lordship and non-lordship, repentance and non-repentance, Keswick and non-Keswick, and Finney-lovers and Finney-haters all together as fundamentalists.  In their minimalist approach to unity, you would think that the gospel would be a deal-breaker in the matter of separation, but it isn’t.  Evangelicals aren’t any different on this.  Both groups might talk the talk, but they definitely don’t walk the walk.  I’ll come back to that last thought later.

In protest, some will say that all of these fundamentalists don’t get along for this very reason, that is, because of these kinds of doctrinal disagreements.  That’s true, but they still get together.  I spent quite a few years in fundamentalism and I know of what I speak.  I remember waiting for the FBF to say something about Jack Hyles.   That would have helped me in my late teens and early twenties.  I heard plenty against Promise Keepers.  I didn’t and don’t think I needed to.  As fundamentalists, that was an easy call.  We weren’t with them.   Fundamental Baptist Fellowship stood against Luis Palau and Billy Graham and John MacArthur, but I heard nothing about the Hyles’ wing of fundamentalism and the many wacky doctrines Jack Hyles espoused.   If you do a search on the FBFI site, you won’t find anything about Hyles’ false doctrine with the exception in 1995 of his strange view on the King James Version—‘men can be saved only via the KJV.’   1989 was when the heavily documented article came out in the Biblical Evangelist by Robert Sumner, but the FBFI, among others, stayed silent.   Look up “Curtis Hutson” in the FBFI search engine and you won’t find any stand against his ‘no-repentance’ position either.  That is acceptable in fundamentalism.

Second, until recently fundamentalists have done very little in the way of producing exegetical and doctrinal books.  The GARBC has their Regular Baptist Press, which publishes books, not very much substantial.  Bob Jones has Bob Jones University Press, which now produces doctrinal materials, some helpful.  They’ve recently written on Isaiah, Proverbs, RevelationEphesians, Matthew, Romans, and Acts.   Those are the works of BJU and all written by only two authors, Pete Stevenson and Stewart Custer.  Compare that with the entire set of hardback commentaries written on the entire Bible by David Sorenson.  You don’t hear about his commentaries from many fundamentalists because of his militant support of the King James Version.  He graduated from Central, but he’s persona non grata there.  How many commentaries have come out of Detroit, Calvary, Central, Northland, Maranatha, Faith, or Pensacola?  I don’t know of any.  I’d be happy for someone to point any out.  Fundamentalists don’t produce commentaries.

What fundamentalism is good at is criticizing what others write, which really isn’t that good when you consider that it hasn’t produced very much itself.  I’m fine with criticism, but one would think that a critic would be better suited to criticize other authors when he has established the credibility of having written first himself.  My separatist, non-fundamentalist friend, Thomas Strouse, has already written more than much of fundamentalism combined—Daniel, Jonah, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Timothy, Genesis, Bibliology, Ecclesiology, and a brand new commentary out on Psalm 119—the commentaries are original language and exegetical, scholarly works.  The best theological and practical book on missions, Biblical Missions, is written by my separatist, non-fundamentalist friend, Roy Dearmore.

Phil Johnson summed up this particular characteristic of fundamentalism well in his Dead Right talk:

You might think that a movement that was devoted to making a defense of fundamental doctrines would become the most biblically literate and theologically astute movement since the time of the Puritans. Fundamentalists should have produced the finest theologians, the most skilled Bible teachers, and the best writers. Fundamentalism should have been a literate movement theological, devoted to doctrinal instruction. . . . Fundamentalism as a movement has historically exemplified none of those things.

Third, fundamentalists have not tended toward resolving biblical issues with discussion that comes out of scriptural exegesis.  In another part of his Dead Right session, Phil Johnson said with reference to one fundamentalist leader (but often an example of how fundamentalists have operated):

[T]he whimsical yet authoritarian way he dealt with both issues didn’t encourage his readers to be serious Bereans. . . . That’s too typical of how fundamentalists have dealt with doctrine. They have tended to be strict and dogmatic and blunt. . . .

Someone once said, “When the mortar is thin, you’ve got to fling it hard.”  Fundamentalism has often flung very hard.

When challenged in a doctrinal way, I haven’t found it unusual for a fundamentalist to start either with laughter, an insult, or mockery (appeal to ridicule).  From there it often turns to personal attack (ad hominem) or to a mention of how many people believe something different (argumentum ad populum).  Sometimes fundamentalists will throw out one quick argument that supposedly ends the discussion based upon his own status or authority (appeal to authority).   I often hear outlandish statements made without a shred of proof, just to quiet opposition.  They regularly rely on crony consensus for comfort in doctrinal challenge.  I rarely get exegetical answers to assertive questions.  This typical reaction fits with what has become the culture of fundamentalism.

A fourth way I see doctrine degraded by fundamentalism is in its acceptance of doctrinal and practical disobedience.  Some have wondered what I hate about Kevin Bauder’s idea of fundamentalism.  What I hate most is the extra-scriptural delineation between primary and secondary doctrines (explained by Bauder here).  I don’t find this differentiation in the Bible or in history.  I do see the classification of scriptural and non-scriptural doctrines.  We have liberty in areas non-biblical; we don’t in any area that Scripture teaches.   In order to keep a coalition woven of many different threads of fundamentalism, fundamentalists must strive to rank doctrines by their importance to the group.  Getting along becomes more important than some of what God said—those have been labeled tertiary or secondary

2.  Fundamentalism cheapens scriptural unity.

By its nature, fundamentalism must get along with a lot of different people.  The unity of fundamentalism is like the kind families often have at their family reunion.  You don’t have to like being with each other.  You just have to keep your mouth shut in areas that will cause discomfort to the group.  Scriptural unity is not about ignoring doctrines.  Someone doesn’t just violate a fundamental to suffer church discipline.  He can become excommunicated for any unrepentant infringement on God’s Word.  I can’t unify with someone outside of the church who doesn’t believe and practice like our church has agreed to do so.

Stay tuned for part three and more hates for fundamentalism (I’ve got 14 more in addition to these two, to match my 16 loves).

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  1. November 12, 2008 at 2:04 pm

    Great balanced observations. I have some of the same loves and non-loves for fundamentalism. I wish it wasn’t so fractured into cliques. The divisiveness among fundies and the unity around non-issues makes us almost totally irrelevant. sigh.

  2. Greg Long
    November 15, 2008 at 4:00 pm

    I followed a link to this story. I find your knowledge and practical application thereof to be very good. I must admit that I learned quite a bit by reading it. And I am looking very much forward to reading it in it’s entirety.

    But isn’t this a matter of semantics? Fundamentalism is just a term, which you carefully pointed out. It is so very hard to put you finger on the pulse of a ‘movement’. Especially when that ‘movement’ is composed of almost stridently independent entities. I know this isn’t your intention but you cannot condemn the whole by observing the few.

    I have always called myself ‘fundamentalist’ and yet I have experienced great if not drastic change in my doctrines and spirit (more on the latter). Is it right for me to disassociate myself with the term ‘fundamentalist’ if I don’t agree with a percentage of those who go by the term? It is a valid question. But it is just a term. Separatist. Just a term. Fundamentalist means whatever someone wants it to mean. I wouldn’t consider it wrong to basically drop all names except for ‘Christian’. (you could make all these same arguments of this article with the term ‘Baptist’, of which I use also)

    I am not trying to defend ‘fundamentalism’ but can you look at ‘publications’, colleges and fellowships and come up with what a fundamentalist really is? I don’t think so. No publication speaks for my church. You have hundreds of churches that might be speaking the truth but we all only know one church for sure, our own. Maybe fundamentalists haven’t produced many theological works because the Bible is sufficient. Or maybe because they have focused not on the academia of such pursuits (often leading to man’s views anyway) and focused more on the practical application of doctrine (evangelism). To condemn them for a lack of books seems like a specious argument. I am not condemning such things but it is like throwing out steak because it lacked a certain spice. It doesn’t make the steak bad for you.

    I mean no disrespect with these comments and hope they haven’t come across as strident. I truly am looking forward to future installments. I am still unsure of the solution. Can we bring back fundamentalism to biblical doctrine and spirit or do we, as you seem to have done, just abandon a sinking ship.

  3. November 15, 2008 at 4:21 pm

    Hey Greg!

    I’m fine with what you wrote. I don’t mind someone calling me a fundamentalist, but I have reasons for not calling myself one. That will come out more thoroughly in the next few articles I write this month. Thanks for your comment.

  4. November 16, 2008 at 10:01 pm

    I appreciate the vast majority of what you say. I’ve been moving over the years from mainline Christianity through evangelicalism; am now in a church that’s not quite fundamentalist. I have a question. I understand the problem with trying to distinguish between primaary and secondary and tertiary doctrines, but is there not also a problem if we don’t do that? If you hold all doctrines to be equally important, how do you keep from ending up totally isolated, because someone else is convinced that one particular verse on eschatology means something different from what you’re convinced that it means? Or, to put it another way, if you lined up the teachings of your favorite Bible expositors side-by-side, wouldn’t you find that each one differed with the others at some point? They can’t all be right on the points where they disagree, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have fellowship with one another.
    I’m not attacking you. Maybe you see an answer to this in a way that I don’t. If you don’t make a division between primary and secondary doctrines, how do you draw the lines on where separation should begin? Is it a matter of case-by-case spiritual discernment as to whether the person is rebelling against the authority of the word?

  5. November 17, 2008 at 11:21 am

    Jim,

    I didn’t feel attacked at all. Good question/comment. Your hypothetical does happen, that is, we’ve got this situation developing. I will answer this more as I get further into my love/hate relationship with fundamentalism. We have to ask ourselves two questions first: 1) Is the tertiary/primary doctrine in the Bible? 2) Is it historical teaching? I say no to both. I believe that we have kinds of disobedience that will receive worse punishment than others, but the Bible doesn’t make allowance for any kind of disobedience to anything God. That was invented, I believe, to keep fake unity. Unity is based on doctrine and practice. I have fellowship with other pastors and churches, just less of them. What I have, however, is real fellowship that I love. God is light and in Him is no darkness at all, and that is the fellowship that we have together, the same fellowship as we have with the Father and His Son Jesus Christ.

  6. November 17, 2008 at 11:23 am

    One more thing, Jim. The church decides the fellowship. Our church decides what is Scriptural belief and practice, therefore, what we separate over. 1 Timothy 3:15. Eph. 4:1-3.

  7. November 17, 2008 at 10:31 pm

    Thanks, Kent, for your reply. I can see in theory that we should all agree on the truth. My problem is that sincere Christians seem to arrive at different interpretations. For example, as near as I can tell, such people as Martin Luther and John Wesley and George Whitfield and D. L. Moody and (today) John MacArthur and Joseph Stowell all appear to have been sincere Christans, not intentionally rebelling in any point of doctrine. All of them have preached salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. Yet they have disagreed on some doctrines. My own pastor’s favorite teacher is John MacArthur, but he believes MacArthur’s view on remarriage after divorce is too lax.

    I’d think our doctrinal disagreements are caused mainly by three things:
    1. Lack of information or lack of serious study of an issue. (Not being like those in Berea, at least not yet on whichever issue is in view.)
    2. Cultural backgrounds or personality traits that cause people to use different words to mean basically the same thing, or that cause people to emphasize different sides of the same truth. (Think of the apostles Paul and John teaching about the relationship between faith and works.)
    3. Sin.

    What’s hard for me is that in issues where sin is almost surely involved, I still find it near impossible to figure out which side is being blinded by sin…and I’m almost sure it’s not necessarily the sin of every person who holds a particular position. Many will have been taught wrong, so will hold a wrong view because of another person’s sin and their own lack of information.

    One more thought…in a church that strongly emphasizes unity based on total (or near-total) doctrinal agreement, many people can end up either not expressing their opinions or else submitting to the pastor’s opinions without truly evaluating them against the Bible. I’ve seen this happen even when the pastor specifically did not want it to happen.

    Sorry to have written such a long comment. I look forward to your further posts on this topic.

  8. November 18, 2008 at 12:07 am

    Jim,

    Thanks again. I hope you don’t mind me saying that your basis for the tertiary doctrine belief seems to be observation and experience. That is tough to argue with. I’ve found it very difficult to persuade anyone who bases his doctrine on experience and observation. As I believe you know, we’re sanctified by truth, so we’ve got to go to the truth. I once thought as you did, that is, that it is impossible to be consistent in matters of unity and separation. Since I ejected that based on faith from God’s Word, I’ve found it is not only possible, but it is reality in many places all over.

    I believe I have scriptural unity in our church as well as with several other churches. I think that it is possible that churches can goose-step their congregation. If you have read much Jackhammer, you’ll see we’re against that. We practice one-on-one discipleship at our church. We have a lot of discussion. Our church agrees on the truth. I think some people may not express objections, but it is often because they don’t have any biblical basis for those objections, not because they are not welcome. I believe that a big reason for public prayer is agreement on the will of God. The whole church must come together for discipline.

    I will address this more in this series. Thanks.

  9. December 15, 2008 at 9:10 am

    Can anyone here tell me what is specifically wrong with Finney? I say this from the position of someone who has not read him. Many people promote him – and just as many seem die-hard against him. From what I have read in critiques, he seems to focus on man’s will more than on God’s guidance and sovereignty (no, I am not Calvinistic).

    I would say I disagree that we can get revival through a formula – but I would also say I agree that personal revival is an act of the will, a choice to submit and obey – it is not some sovereignly chosen act of God (ie. I don’t think God is up in Heaven going, “I am giving this church revival and withholding it from this other church – despite the fact that these guys over here are walking in rebellion and this other church is earnestly seeking My face”). I also don’t believe that a revival can/will happen apart from the preaching of God’s Word (I have read the account where he supposedly walked into a factory, and without saying a word people got convicted and saved). If you have already witnessed to someone, I know that them seeing you again can bring further conviction without you saying anything – but some of these stories indicate this was prior to any of them hearing Finney’s preaching at all.

    Just some questions because you brought his name up. Hopefully someone can give me a few answers and not be offended because I asked more about this controversial character. Thank you.

  10. December 15, 2008 at 1:23 pm

    Jerry,

    The best answer to the question would be to read his Systematic Theology.

    http://www.gospeltruth.net/1851Sys_Theo/index1851st.htm

    In that book, in answer to the question, “Does a Christian cease to be a Christian, whenever he commits a sin?”, Finney writes:

    Whenever he sins, he must, for the time being, cease to be holy. This is self-evident. Whenever he sins, he must be condemned; he must incur the penalty of the law of God…If it be said that the precept is still binding upon him, but that with respect to the Christian, the penalty is forever set aside, or abrogated, I reply, that to abrogate the penalty is to repeal the precept; for a precept without penalty is no law. It is only counsel or advice. The Christian, therefore, is justified no longer than he obeys, and must be condemned when he disobeys; or Antinomianism is true . . . . In these respects, then, the sinning Christian and the unconverted sinner are upon precisely the same ground. (See Lecture 11 for this)

    Finney believed that God demanded absolute perfection, but instead of that leading him to seek his perfect righteousness in Christ, he concluded:

    “[F]ull present obedience is a condition of justification. But again, to the question, can man be justified while sin remains in him? Surely he cannot, either upon legal or gospel principles, unless the law be repealed . . . . But can he be pardoned and accepted, and justified, in the gospel sense, while sin, any degree of sin, remains in him? Certainly not.” (See Lecture 10 for this in the above link, Jerry)

    He wrote this about justification:

    “But for sinners to be forensically pronounced just, is impossible and absurd . . . . As we shall see, there are many conditions, while there is but one ground, of the justification of sinners . . . . As has already been said, there can be no justification in a legal or forensic sense, but upon the ground of universal, perfect, and uninterrupted obedience to law. This is of course denied by those who hold that gospel justification, or the justification of penitent sinners, is of the nature of a forensic or judicial justification. They hold to the legal maxim that what a man does by another he does by himself, and therefore the law regards Christ’s obedience as ours, on the ground that he obeyed for us.” (This is in Lecture 11)

  11. Kyle Sheridan
    April 8, 2009 at 1:47 pm

    I enjoyed reading through this. Thanks for taking the time to write it. I threw off a friend of mine once when I told him that I wasn’t a fundamentalist. When asked what I was, I said, “I’m an Independent Baptist.” Fundamentalism is a fairly new movement. The history of the “free church” movement can be traced back to Christ and His apostles. That is why I believe my true heritage is in the fact that I am an Independent Baptist, rather than a fundamentalist. My forefathers gave their lives for the biblical mode of baptism along with many other important distinctives. It seems like baptism by immersion is thrown out the window when Baptist Fundamentalists yoke-up with baby-baptizers for the sake of “Fundamentalism.”
    There’s my two cents.
    Thanks again.

  12. April 8, 2009 at 2:39 pm

    Thanks Kyle. And welcome. You do get it right.

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