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?

1 comment:

Barton Gingerich said...

Even if you look at fundamentalism's founding documents, _The Fundamentals_, you can't find an overwhelming consensus. At their starting stages (when you'd think there'd be more unity), there were extremes of dour-faced anti-intellectualism, grumpy polemics, conspiracy theories, but also incredibly scholarly insights. I for one can identify strongly with many contributors, such as B. B. Warfield.