Love-Hate Relationship with Fundamentalism pt. 2
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, Revelation, Ephesians, 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).