Gilded Not

December 24, 2008

Mark Twain labeled the period in the United States right after the Civil War, “the Gilded Age,” an obvious contrast with “the Golden Age,” as gilding is only a thin layer of gold coloring over baser metal.  Gilding isn’t really gold; it’s just meant to look like it.  In a pejorative sense, Twain characterized the people and culture as only or mainly surface.

In the same gilded sense as this Twain saying applies to an individual—he is surface personality.  The surface personality is big on the gilding, but below the surface, he’s fool’s gold.  You’re not really getting anything if most of what you get is on the surface.  It’s just very shiny wrapping paper and a nice box.  If Mark Twain’s characterization of an era was written about one person, it wouldn’t be Jeff Voegtlin.  I’d like to tell you why.

Hello Fairhaven

Jeff grew up at Fairhaven Baptist Church.  His dad, Roger, organized Fairhaven as a church in 1970 and Jeff was born in 1970.  I met Jeff on the first substantial occasion I had spent at Fairhaven, when they invited me to preach at their sports banquet around 10 years ago.  Before that, I knew very little of Fairhaven.  I had heard Pastor Voegtlin preach twice that I could remember, both while I was in high school.  My only and immature memory was his very grey hair and his Chicago accent.

My very ambiguous impression of Fairhaven was that it was a Hyles’ church.  I can’t even remember why I thought that, except for a bundle of miniature reflections and probably its associations.  In 1989 I took a trip down the steep hill to our church mailbox, pulled out the fundamentalist newspaper Biblical Evangelist, and as I walked back up the gravel driveway, I started reading the article, “The Saddest Story,” by Robert Sumner.  Shortly after that rude awakening, I accumulated much other information on the subject of Jack Hyles, including ordering the tape of a marathon sermon about Hyles by Dr. Roger Voegtlin.  I listened to it a couple of times.

Getting to Know

I wasn’t a big Biblical Evangelist fan, even though I found some of the articles and printed sermons interesting most of the time.  Because of an already long-running feud between Sumner and Hyles, I didn’t gain a huge appreciation for the Biblical Evangelist.   Don’t get me wrong—the uncovering of the Hyles’ story helped me very much.  However, the first prominent leader in the country that I recall taking a stand against Hyles, and in no uncertain terms, was Roger Voegtlin in that sermon I believe was entitled, “Why I am not 100% for Jack Hyles.”  That probably got my attention more than anything on the plus side for Fairhaven.  I was happy about what I heard on that tape.

Later our church agreed to have a Fairhaven singing group come to our church.  This might seem like a small thing to some, but it isn’t to me—the boys looked and acted like men and the girls like women.  I had already seen a trend among groups from other colleges that didn’t send that same message.  I liked the young people in the group.  I didn’t get the sense of phoniness from them.  One of the students in the first group was Roger Voegtlin’s oldest daughter, Becky, and another, Dan Armacost, who is now the college dean of students and teaches the biblical languages.

After a few college group visits to our church and one from Roger Voegtlin himself, Dr. Voegtlin invited me to preach at the sports banquet and then a few days of chapel.  I still wasn’t sure about Fairhaven at that point.  I fully expected to have a chorus of shouting preacher boys and spastic Bible waving while I preached.  It didn’t happen.  I didn’t experience anything close to the wild eyed foaming at the mouth that I thought I might get.  They wanted the Word that was preached, and they seemed to sit and think about it.


Through my years, I have been around and very closely to many big-named preachers.  Of all of them that I have ever spent time with, none has matched Roger Voegtlin in meekness.  He puts on zero airs about himself.  Nothing is contrived.  He’s just a regular guy in person, not at all attempting to impress anybody.  He’s almost always self-depreciating in a genuine way.  I will never forget one of the times he came to preach that I drove him to the airport in our church van so he could pick up his rental car.  I got a severe flat tire in a torrential rain storm, requiring me to take off the old tire and put on the spare.  He pulled in right behind me in his rental car and we were both sopped to the bone with water all the way through our Sunday best in changing that tire.  He showed zero impatience during the entire endeavor, despite my lack of experience at even finding the jack.

Jeff has this identical trait.  He possesses the attitude of a disciple—a learner.  As much as he knows and with his academic reputation, now a EdD he earned recently at BJU, he exhibits a hunger to know the Bible better and for his Christianity to be real with him.  From many conversations at Fairhaven now through the years, I know that people think that he and I get along because we’re both the deep-thinking type.  I smile when I think about it.  I don’t think it is true.  I believe we get along so well because Jeff’s hunger to know the scriptures better.  He’s not content with surface explanations for belief and practice.

I see in scripture that “learning” is what disciples do.  The noun “disciple” (mathetes) has at its root “learning” (manthano).  We never stop learning from Jesus because we always keep following Him as one of His disciples.  My experience with Jeff is that he is always trying to learn something else that relates to His walk with Christ.  I’ve not found him ever too proud to find a truth that he doesn’t know.  He is willing to learn from anyone.

Even though Jeff has been tagged with this moniker, “he thinks too much,” that he himself has somewhat embraced, I believe tongue-in-cheek, I don’t believe it.  I reject that he thinks too much.  It misses the mark as an evaluation of him.  This judgment was made about him as a reaction early on, was labeled as a personality trait, was propagated and repeated, and then it stuck as his identifying mark.  I’ve never thought it was true about him.

No doubt Jeff is much a product of his childhood training and education.  I know he was encouraged to read a lot when he was child, so he could develop skills for discerning what was right and wrong or truth and error.  His parents raised him to be the thinker that now is sometimes his scorn.  That developed a pattern of asking questions.  Jeff wants reasons.  He wants to know what God’s mind is on matters.  It is during these times during which he probes for an explanation that he hears the “think too much” label again.  To some degree, “think too much” says “be quiet and just accept what you’re being told.”

Sometimes we do need to stay silent and just follow leadership.  Many times, however, we need at least a little more than that.  We also should understand why it is we do what we do with more than “that’s the way we do it” or “that’s the method that’s worked.”  Jeff has recognized for himself and other young separatists that development of convictions from personal knowledge of God’s Word will stand the tests of time.   Not having these explains why many young fundamentalists push the eject button on separatism.  What the Bible teaches is practical.  Scripture always presents the truth and always reveals the best way to do things.  Biblical beliefs and practices do better under scrutiny.  We do not do them harm by seeking them with a whole heart.

Below the Surface

Symptomatic of Jeff’s desires beyond or below a gilded surface of scripture is his desire to unfold God’s Word through expository preaching.  He is content with stepping behind the Bible so that the text of scripture will make the point of doctrine or practice.  He has been willing to struggle in his development as an expositor to preach the whole counsel of God.  His studiousness and thoughtfulness motivated us to have him to our church a few years ago as the main speaker for our learning conference, a means by which we especially edify the teachers in our school for their task.

A trait of Jeff’s that sometimes conflicts with his sincere and spiritual curiosity is his loyalty to his church and family.  If the situation is right, a man can find the right balance between his own personal growth and his loyalty to others.  Jeff has shown me nothing but complete loyalty to those to and with whom he serves.  He hasn’t forsaken some of the culturally distinct positions of his childhood just because they have become out of fashion.    Jeff places the interests of others ahead of his own with this regard.  I think many in Jeff’s position would use it to make themselves of greater reputation.  I have observed Jeff to take advantage of his opportunities to better the service of the church.  Despite not writing much at Jackhammer, he has enhanced the blog through many technical contributions for which he was willing to put time and effort.  He has been little concerned about his own notoriety than the success of those around him.

What I’ve Noticed

Here’s a list of qualities and actions I have admired about Jeff:

1.  He seeks to be a true worshiper of God.

Every week Jeff conducts a good sized church orchestra.  His care shows.  More than this, I know personally that he desires scriptural worship from himself and for his church.

2.  He develops convictions from the Bible.

Not everyone will hear about all the ways that Jeff grows as a Christian, but he presses toward the mark for that prize in Christ Jesus.

3.  He is a  real man.

Some might think I expect something different in manhood.  Jeff stays under control and he exhibits toughness both.  Being out of control isn’t tough.  Jeff will endure the pain of running long distance as a chunky individual and or the effort of a big book.

4.  He trusts scripture.

Jeff knows that God knows best.

5.  He sacrifices.

He has a whole-hearted approach in his church.  Besides all the things that you might think of Jeff doing, I remember him organizing the collation of Bible pages to be sent overseas when I was there one time.  I appreciate what I’ve seen with his wife and daughters.

6.  He lives peaceably with men.

I appreciate Jeff’s spirit.  Many times he has a better approach than I do.  Because of that, some will listen to him that wouldn’t to me.

7.  He loves the church.

Your typical scholar-types float away from church work.  Jeff brings his academic study right into the church.

The friendship of Jeff and me has congealed from a common interest in the Bible.  We talk about its interpretation and application when we get together.  The conversations go long.  The brotherhood deepens because our talks are a forum for challenge.   When we were together last, we went evangelizing door-to-door in pouring rain in Chicago.  I don’t say that to toot his horn.  That’s something that he wanted to do.  His own conviction from scripture behooves him to preach the gospel to every creature.  Jeff isn’t a surface personality.  He wants to know God Himself through a below-the-surface understanding of His Word.

Gilded he is not.

  1. December 24, 2008 at 9:08 am

    These are very kind and gracious words. I’m regretting not having put the time into writing something somewhat serious about Dave and Kent.

    Jeff will endure the pain of running long distance as a chunky individual and or the effort of a big book.

    This is funny, but I didn’t LOL, just 🙂

  2. Phil
    December 24, 2008 at 9:25 pm

    Sorry if this is off the subject but was there more to Robert Sumner writing “The

    Saddest Story We ever Published” and the whole Hyles serries than exposing

    doctrinal error and moral misconduct(sin)?

  3. December 24, 2008 at 10:57 pm

    I wasn’t in tune enough with that circle of fundamentalism to give a proper answer to your question, Phil. I was glad to have read it, however, because it was loaded with facts and truth. I went from there to read a whole lot more that was enough to persuade anyone who cared.

  4. Steve
    December 25, 2008 at 8:36 pm

    I can appreciate these articles.

    I see through them what constitutes friendship and true biblical fellowship (the interpretation/application of scripture and the door to door evangelism).

    Thanks for sharing these articles guys.


    Gal. 2.20

    • December 25, 2008 at 9:46 pm

      Hi Steve, I’m just curious. What does the “R/S” stand for in all your comments? I suppose if I thought hard enough about it, I’d figure it out, but I can’t yet. Thanks

  5. Phil
    December 25, 2008 at 9:16 pm

    Thanks, I Think that Bible For Today cdarries that Message by Dr. Voegtlin.

    BTW when is your third book, Fashion Statement: A Theology of Dress or

    Appearance coming out?

  6. Steve
    December 26, 2008 at 12:02 am

    Respectfully Submitted



    Gal. 2.20

  7. December 26, 2008 at 11:17 am

    Thanks Steve and Phil,

    My dress book should be out already, because I finished it awhile ago, but it is with the guy who does the lay-out and he’s taking a long time.

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