Me with my lovely wife, Kathy:

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Fundamentalism, Fundamentally understood, may be more correct than some of us have been willing to admit:

I've been doing some thinking/reading/even a bit of writing, about my Fundamentalist roots.
Maybe I've just started paying attention, but it looks to me like some people have been writing some really good stuff on Fundamentalism recently.  The fact that Fundamentalism was given one of the four places at the table in Zondervan's recent book, Four Views on the Spectrum of Evangelicalism, is significant in itself.  That some thoughtful Fundamentalists are presenting their position with scholarly sensibility, and that thoughtful leaders from outside the movement are taking these Fundamentalists seriously is highly significant.
I was saved and grew up in a church aligned with the Independent Fundamental Churches of America.  My pastor, who liked me so much that he became my father-in-law, knew William McCarrell, founding father of that movement, on a first name basis.  I attended 2 Fundamentalist Bible Colleges, and later received a Masters from Liberty Seminary--back before it had broken into the big time.  For some reason I never received the Sword of the Lord; you card-carrying types will have to forgive me.
For all of my adult life I have pastored a church that is firmly rooted in the "come out from among them" mentality that marks Fundamentalism.
I have great respects for the battles that my Fundamentalist forebears fought.  I am incredibly thankful for what I received from that heritage--a rock solid respect for the Bible, a believe in the power of the Gospel, the commitment to Christian living that is distinct, in Biblically defined ways, from the life of the world, that sort of thing.  Yet, I've never been all together comfortable with the title, or with what I regarded as some of the more troubling realities of Fundamentalism.  While I think I have continued in the road on which my early church and college training set me,  I'm not sure I can call myself a Fundamentalist.  That's not a big deal, but it would be nice to know what box to check.

One of the problems I had with the movement is, it just seemed like Fundamentalists were mean.  Apparently I'm not alone.  Kevin Bauder, the capable writer who capably gives the Fundamentalist position in the book mentioned above, talks about some of his early observations here.  The ones that were held up as heroes didn't seem like the kind of folk one would want to spend time with.  I remember reading back in the old days (for me) the innuendo filled articles.  They dripped with the syrupy sweetness of avoiding "naming names," yet were loaded with coded certainty as to just who was being talked about and put down.  The authors professed great sadness at having to say what they said, but there often appeared a clear element of self-promotion in the process.  Thankfully, I can't remember any specifics.  I just remember the repeated impression.
I often wondered if Bob Jones University offered a class on creating a stink.  It seemed that many of those who claimed BJ as their Alma Mater were good at it.  I remember one time when a delegation connected with BJ publicly boycotted a Billy Graham rally.  (Years before, the old original Dr. Bob had told Billy he wouldn't amount to anything when he left BJ.)  Anyhow, I remember how cool I thought it was when Billy quoted the old Fundamentalist war-horse.  "If a hound dog is howling for Jesus I'm on the hound dog's side."    I agreed with, and still do agree with much of the rationale behind the boycott, but I thought the protest was utterly wrong..  In making a decision about what to do about a local Billy Graham Evangelistic Association meeting, I remember siding with the hound.  I didn't get involved, prayed that folk would get saved, and mostly kept quiet.  I lacked the mean-gene that seemed to be in the DNA of the big-gun Fundamentalists.
I remember sitting in my living room talking to one of the finest--maybe the finest--men of God I ever knew.  One of the Fundamentalists watchdogs who ruled a domain that overlapped with the sphere of ministry of my friend was trying to pressure  my friend into conformity with the "truth."  My friend resisted, hung in there, and survived.  It wasn't pretty.  It was mean.  In more recent years I watched as Fundamentalist enforcer "A" exerted pressure on Fundamentalist leader "B" to exclude leader "C" from some of the perks that come with belonging to the "club."  There is always an unfortunate cost to be paid if one stands up to these strong-arm tactics.  I've been fortunate enough to have ministered in a place that is off the radar.  I'm sure that the apologists for "Taking a stand,"  (For any non initiates who might read this, that is an old Fundamentalist code word.) can give another, more spiritual explanation, but it sure came off as mean to me.
When Fundamentalism began to be popularly associated with extremes like King James Only-ism, the easiest thing for many of us to do--this is still pretty much my position-- is to just note use the title.  A former card-carrying Fundamentalist, Charles Wood--his Woodchuck's Den emails are well worth reading (Write & tell him I sent you.).  The Woodchuck now calls himself a Conservative-Evangelical.  You can find out more here and here.  Pastor Wood says there is a group of Evangelicals and Fundamentalists who could be described as "conservative" who have much more in common with each other than they do with their brethren to the left (Evangelicals) or to the right (Fundamentalists).  Another recent blog post takes this thought further.

Bauder affirms what confessional evangelical, Mark Dever, recently said: “There is nothing wrong with our having fences. But let us keep our fences low and shake hands often.” I concur with Bauder’s response: “That remark nicely summarizes the sense of a growing number of fundamentalists” (Ibid., p. 103).  (, "Moving Toward Authenticity: Musings on Fundamentalism, parts 1 & 2)

 I find this conversation refreshing.

Let me close with a question.  Bauder talks about what he calls "indifferentism."   It appears to me to be a distinction between Evangelicals who hold to all the Fundamentals, and even act Fundamental, and true Fundamentalists.  I don't feel I am indifferent to the errors of others, but when those faults are of a secondary nature, and they don't impact on my ministry, I don't feel nearly as much motivation to take a stand as the Fundamentalists I grew up with did.  I would rather say that I hold to "Leave-them-alone-sim."  I find Rodney King's Theology to be somewhat attractive, "Can't we just get along?"
So, who am I?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011



If the word looks utterly strange to you, let me encourage you to stay with me for a few minutes.  I think you might find this interesting and useful.

Polemics has nothing to do with a long piece of wood or a basic system for erecting a building.  It is, according to Mirriam Webster: "an aggressive attack on or refutation of the opinions or principles of another." or "the art or practice of disputation or controversy."

If I am engaged in trying to prove myself right, and therefore someone who holds a differing view wrong, especially if I do so with some enthusiasm, I am involved in polemics.

For a guy like me, who grew up as a Fundamentalist, polemics is almost second nature, though for a long time I was totally unfamiliar with the term, and even yet almost never use the word.

My message this Sunday morning will be somewhat of a polemic--as is the book from which I draw my text.  Paul wants to show that the Gospel he shared with the Galatians is true, worth holding onto, and in every way superior to the works-oriented, wrongly Old-Testament tainted version that was being offered to these churches in Turkey.  He is arguing his case.  Since teachers that I regard as false are still offering a similar substitute gospel, I will argue mine.

It is one thing to engage opponents who have been dead for two millennia in argument.  It becomes much more difficult and fraught with danger when our opponents are alive, well, and someone's brother-in-law.  Many today identify with Rodney King who pleaded, "Can't we just get along?"  To which I answer, "No. sometimes we can't."  Ideas have consequences.  Truth needs to be argued for and defended, but--and this is a big "BUT"--it needs to be defended in the most winsome way possible.

Here is where a fellow preacher/pastor Tim Keller helps us out.
He recently published a three-part series he called Gospel Polemics.  (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3)  I encourage you to read Pastor Keller's thoughts.  Some of you, however, may find the New York preacher's article a bit long or challenging, so I hope you will at least stay with me to the end of my much shorter, simpler summary and thoughts.

Another online distiller captured Keller's six rules of engagement here.  You could fit his summary on a business card, and it would be good to remember these six guidelines before we give somebody the business.

I would simply summarize Keller's counsel as, Fight Fair.

The first part of my statement is is simply to fight.  As I have already said, truth has consequences and so does error.  If we believe that God is a God of truth, then we have to believe that we are better off living lives based on truth than on falsehood.  I fear that in this post-whatever-is-the-current-thing-we-are-supposed-to-be-coming-after world we have gotten too comfortable with the idea that truth doesn't matter or that it needs to be redefined, and often after the redefinition process we find ourselves sincerely, and pathetically asking Pilate's question, "What is truth?" or we become so humble in our hermeneutic that we end up vigorously defending a truth-claim that we just as vigorously claim we can't be sure about.  Listen it is incontrovertibly true that what I just wrote is a horrible example of a run-on sentence.  English teachers everywhere ought to engage in polemics against that kind of writing.  By the way shop-teachers, if there are any left, ought to vigorously argue that following safety rules when using power tools is the way to go.  I'll send a picture of my thumb on request.  It can serve as exhibit A.  There is truth.  It is consequential.  It ought to be argued for, but it ought to be done fairly.

Don't misrepresent your opponent.
  • I see this most often when people assign motives.  I saw it not long ago in a letter to the editor.  The writer fairly accurately described what his opponents wanted to do.  When he began to tell why they wanted to do it one could hear the thin-ice cracking.
    If I listen to you carefully, I may--notice I leave the clear possibility that I may not--understand what you want to do.  However, when I get to the level of your motives I am generally without any real data with which to work.  I offer as evidence the fact that I frequently can't even clearly identify my own motives.  I'm often left with this lame answer when asked why I did something or the other: "At the time, it seemed like the thing to do."  If that is the best I can do when explaining my own actions--and often it is--then I better be a whole lot more humble in my claims to know why you are doing what you do.
    This is a caution that is found in 1 Corinthians 4:5.  BTW, just because Jesus addressed motives doesn't give me license.  See John 2:24-25.   
  • I also see this when one person saddles another with his logical conclusions.  Let me see if I can explain it like this:
    Mr. A says "I believe X." or, "I have concluded that X is true."
    Mrs. B says, "It is impossible to hold that X is true without also believing Y"
    Y is a much more damning, more easily argued against position than X so Mrs. B jumps on Y when arguing against X.
    She may very well be right.  It may be logically impossible to hold to X without therefore upholding the truth of Y.  However,
    Mr. A says I believe X.  I reject Y.
    If the opportunity is right it is perfectly OK to point out the logical fallacy of holding to X while denying Y.  However, illogical though it may be, I can't blame poor illogical Mr. A for promoting whatever wrong is represented by Y.  I can, and often should, point out that one leads to the other, but in my argument I need to honor what Mr. A is saying.  "My friends, Mr. A, here, has said that he holds to X.  I believe and think I can conclusively demonstrate that X leads inevitably to Y, but, in fairness, I must say that Mr. A does not hold to Y.
    Again I offer my own thinking as evidence.  It is a swamp of contradictions.
    And, using myself as exhibit A, again, following this guideline can save embarrassment.  I may be sure that X leads to Y until someone points out the exception.  It might be just the exception that applies.
Be nice:
  • Maybe my opponent is wrong, but she or he (not to mention the other folk listening) is a child of God and ought to be treated as such.  (James 3:9-10)
  •  Everyone says dumb, stupid, or wrong stuff.  It is wrong and unkind to jump on that, while ignoring the general tenor of this person's life and work.  It is one of the reasons so many people hate political campaigns.
Keep the goal straight:
It is to establish truth, not to win an argument.  Read First and Second Timothy and I think you'll see people hanging around who were taking shots at the wrong goal.

I'd like to hear from you.  Especially those who read Keller's articles.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

A couple of resources on the 10/9 message:

The message in our morning worship services for 10/9 is the second, and last for now, message from Song of Solomon.  The focus is on married people.
"Johnny Lingo and His Eight Cow Wife" is one of my favorite stories about building up your mate.
You can find it here:  , or a movie version here:  

The song I used at the close of the message, "A Daisy A Day":

Monday, October 3, 2011

Four Views on the Spectrum of Evangelicalism:

I'm reading the book, Four Views on the Spectrum of Evangelicalism.  It is one of the Zondervan Counterpoint books.
Thus far I have read the first view by Kevin Bauder. Before I even read his chapter, just the inclusion of Fundamentalism as one view of Evangelicalism was informative.  The fact that a serious Fundamentalist (Though in good Fundamental fashion some Fundamentalists will likely criticize Bauder of doing so) leader would be a part of the project provided further insight, light and encouragement.  I also read the first response to Bauder's position, a  CONFESSIONAL EVANGELICAL RESPONSE R. ALBERT MOHLER JR..

I have come to appreciate both of these men in the past couple of years.  Their contribution to this book--what I have thus far read--is encouraging.  I look forward to reading more.  I welcome conversation with others who are reading the book.