Friday, September 23, 2005

What is Fundamentalism?

(Sit back and get comfortable … This is longer than normal.)

This will be the first blog entry of what I am sure will be many to come on the topic of fundamentalism. Let me say this at the start: I am an unapologetic fundamentalist (as I understand it). I repudiate with great concern the actions and attitudes of some who claim the name fundamentalism. But I think it necessary to at least try to defend what I (and I think many others) would believe fundamentalism to be. Obviously, I can’t say everything in one post, and no doubt there are some holes in this attempt, so I post with some fear and would like unanimous consent to revise and extend my remarks.

A Brief History of This Entry

The idea for this post has been rumbling around in my head for some time. I recently interacted on an Emergent Church blog that I read from time to time. The topic was Fundamentalists in the Emerging Church? The blog entry referenced writer and lecturer Karen Armstrong who lectured on fundamentalism and the Battle for God. I would like to take time to read carefully and interact with Armstrong’s lecture notes, but I don’t have time.

My interaction in this blog was sparked by a comment made by a poster using the handle of Iggy, who said,
The biggest difference [between fundamentalists and the postmodern/emergents] is the inability for a fund'y to see beyond his own view... In that regard I pray we never are referred to as Fundamentalists. In my run ins with most fundy's I have not felt anything but judgementalism [sic]. To me the one thing we have in common is that they are against modernism... but do not be fooled, they are very premodern (in denial) and are not usually open to postmodern at all. In fact they have a big tendency to grossly misrepresent PM [postmodern] views.

I have never had a true conversation... on [sic] received rebuke and monologue
I responded that Iggy’s post was worthy of his own condemnation. I said,
You say that they (fundamentalists) have a big tendency to grossly misrepresent PM views. As a fundamentalist, I have seen nothing here that properly represents my views. Don't you think you are saddled with the same problem you complain about? (HINT: You should think so, or else you are guilty of your first complaint, about not being able to see past your own view.) Not all fundamentalists are the same. Christian fundamentalism has absolutely nothing in common with Judaic, Islamic, or any other kind of fundamentalism. To include them in the same idea is a misrepresentation of church history (and secular history for that matter). The only commonality is that someone gave them the same name.

My plea is for you to recognize that you just did the very thing you complained about, misrepresented someone because you can't see past your own view.
That led Andrew to say,
a lot of people do not know the history of Christian fundamentalism, or the social gospel issues in the 20's in USA that gave birth to the postive [sic] side of this movement.

Karen Armstrong is considered a world authority on the subject, and no one would rubbish her critique, but she may not have your angle.

Could you write up something and come back and give us a link to it?
(Still with me??? I think we could make a movie or something out of this..)

So here it is … My “something” about fundamentalism as I have seen it, and do see it. I don’t speak for all, and perhaps not for anyone but myself. But here is my brief attempt to lay out some basics. It is necessary in writing something of this link to be simplistic and to gloss over some needed details. I hope those interested will continue their research.

"Something" about Fundamentalism

First, let me say that a lot of people claim the name “fundamentalist” who have no right to it. The blog summarizes Armstrong this way (quoted from the blog):
Fundamentalism, she argued, is found in Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and even secular humanism. It is not orthodox, she said, but rather it is a "new doctrine", characterized by the two ingredients of independence and innovation. Behind fundamentalism is the fear of annihilation and fundamentalism becomes more extreme when attacked.
I think she is dead wrong. To associate historic Christian fundamentalism with that of Judaism, Islam, etc. simply doesn’t understand what Christian fundamentalism is. The unique connotation of Christian fundamentalism (hereafter simply “fundamentalism”) makes it markedly distinct from all other forms of fundamentalism, whatever similarities they might share. Even within Christian fundamentalism broadly defined, there are many who have no legitimate claim to the title of fundamentalist for a variety of reasons, including their departure from the historic doctrinal positions. Second, to say that fundamentalism is new is also to misunderstand what fundamentalism is, and it is here that I shall park my horse for a moment.

Fundamentalism as a movement arose in the early part of the 20th century in response to the theological liberalism and weakening of the gospel that came from the continental theologians in the 19th century. There was a rising “scholasticism” bent on denying or recharacterizing the doctrines held since the beginning of the church that had been systematized throughout church history. The late 19th century and early 20th century saw the rise of the social gospel through men like Bushnell, Rauschenbusch, Strong, Gladden and others, and this social gospel began to squeeze out the biblical gospel. What began as a “both/and” for many soon become a “one only.” And they chose the wrong one. In response to this shift in theology and practice, a series of booklets entitled “The Fundamentals” were written by a number of men. The name “fundamentalist” was coined by Curtis Lee Laws in 1920 when he said, “We suggest that those who still cling to the great fundamentals and who mean to do battle royal for the fundamentals shall be called fundamentalists” (see The Watchman Examiner, July 1, 1920). All that to say this: When Armstrong says that fundamentalism was a “new doctrine,” she is not correct. Fundamentalism was a plea to hold on to the “old doctrine" that was being compromised by theological liberalism.

For fundamentalists, the most important standard of truth is the truth of God’s word. An old saying goes, “God said; I believe it; that settles it.” For the fundamentalist, the saying would have read, “God said it; that settles it.” Personal belief could not be made a criteria for truth, nor could acceptance by others. Of course, this addresses post-modernism head on in many ways, but that is a different topic and I must hurry on. The "great fundamentals" revealed by God in Scripture were worthy of our full commitment of belief.

Fundamentalism had a second criterion, as outlined by Laws. Not only did they “cling to the great fundamentals,” but they also “mean[t] to do battle royal for the fundamentals.” For the fundamentalist, it is not enough to simply hold to doctrine. It is necessary to battle for them. This “earnest contention” (cf. Jude 3) includes going as far as separation from those who reject the core doctrines of the faith, a separation such as is outlined in passages like Romans 16:17-18, 3 John 8-11, Jude, and others. It is not separation on personal preference or personality. It is separation based on doctrine and obedience. According to Romans 16:17-18, the fundamentalist is not the one charged with division. It is the one who contradicts the Bible who is the divisive person. Too many times that is turned around and the fundamentalist is labeled the schismatic.

For the fundamentalist, loving God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, meant that God’s enemies were your enemies. You were commanded to love them and reach them with the gospel, not to work alongside them in ministry or ecclesiastical union. Those who refused to obey God must be separated from in the interest of purity and holiness of the Church and the doctrines that God revealed.

Let me try to sum this up, though perhaps I have raised more questions than I have answered. A fundamentalist is first and foremost committed to the core doctrines of Christianity. I have called them the “load bearing doctrines,” the doctrines without which the house of Christianity falls. Obviously, not all doctrine fits in this category, but there are certainly some that do such as the virgin birth, salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, the bodily resurrection of Christ from the dead, the personal coming of Christ at the end of the age, as well as some others. A fundamentalist is committed to whole-hearted acceptance of and commitment to these things that God has clearly revealed in Scripture.

A fundamentalist is secondly committed to the honor of and defense of those doctrines, through confrontation, exposure, and separation if need be. The Bible commands that we separate from those who teach falsely—contrary to what we have learned in Scripture. One cannot be obedient and one cannot love God truly without practicing this separation. Such separation is based on core doctrines clearly revealed, not on doctrines of dispute, or doctrines that are so called “minor” doctrines. (One of the great lacks in fundamentalism, in my opinion, is the lack of agreement about which doctrines fit this category. But again, that is another topic, and I must hurry on.) Fundamentalists should be strongly committed to biblical unity, unity based on the “faith once for all delivered to the saints.” Where that faith is not held in high esteem, unity is a farce. To fail to separate in such cases is not an act of love for the body of Christ, but rather an act of disdain for God and the body of Christ which He has saved. Such separation should not be taken lightly, nor undertaken hastily. In some cases, separation has taken place over a number of years. But it must be undertaken for the sake of God and his truth, and for the sake of the body.

Have some fundamentalists taken separation too far? Absolutely. Have some fundamentalists behaved in unseemly ways? Without question. Have fundamentalists been guilty of judgmentalism? No doubt. Are some fundamentalists unable to see past their own views? Certainly. But the sine qua non of fundamentalism is different than that. Fundamentalism is about people who love God more than men, about people who love God’s word more than they love the approval of others. It is about people who love God and his truth enough to honor it with a hearty defense and separation when need be. I will not defend people who claim the name of fundamentalist and do stupid things. Quite frankly, I am often embarrassed by what some “fundamentalists” do. I have told some fundamentalists that they are out of line. I have told some people they have no right to the name fundamentalist. But I also refuse to be defined by their lunacy.

Many fundamentalists believe what they believe because it well defended by Scripture, not because they are judgmental or angry. On the other hand, many fundamentalists are simply repeating what they have heard. Fundamentalists that I know are not afraid of “annihilation” as Armstrong says. In fact, I think the brightest days of fundamentalism are still ahead, in heaven if not on this earth. The theological and ecclesiastical landscape has greatly changed in the last century. The battles of Curtis Lee Laws, W. B. Riley, Bob Jones Sr., Robert Ketcham, T.T. Shields, and other great men have changed. But at stake is the truth of God’s Word and the souls of men. And those are high stakes.

Fundamentalism is broad, and there may be some intramural squabbles about where exactly the line is drawn on some issues. But these squabbles should be characterized by grace and humility in earnest contention for the faith. I am not for a "softer, gentler" fundamentalism. In fact, I think fundamentalism has grown too weak. The academic and theological substance of an earlier generation gave way to bombastic nonsense being spewed forth from behind pulpits that must have been reinforced to withstand the pounding. The personal piety and holiness gave way in many cases to a rigid legalism, in which some standards were right, but were taught without the foundation of loving God with everything that you are.


So fundamentalism is no new thing; it is age old Christianity applied to a modern context. Fundamentalists are not without faults and that is to our shame. But in the haste to condemn the “judgmental fundamentalists,” let us not forget that it is judgmental to make such a condemnation. In other words, those who attack fundamentalists are forced to do the very same thing they accuse fundamentalists of, namely, make judgments about someone else’s theology and obedience. And that judgment results in a de facto separation from their end.

But don't confuse Christian fundamentalists with Islamic fundamentalists, Jewish fundamentalists, or people who parade around with "God hates fags" signs. We are different, and with good reason. Our roots are found in historic Christianity. Or as liberal theologian Kirsopp Lake put it:

It is a mistake, often made by educated persons who happen to have but little knowledge of historical theology, to suppose that Fundamentalism is a new and strange form of thought. It is nothing of the kind; it is the ... survival of a theology which was once universally held by Christians ... The Fundamentalist may be wrong; I think that he is. But it is we who have departed from the tradition, not he, and I am sorry for the fate of anyone who tries to argue with the Fundamentalist on the basis of authority. The Bible and the corpus theologicum of the Church is on the Fundamentalist side (in The Religion of Yesterday and To-morrow [Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1925], pp. 61-62 quoted in David Beale, The Pursuit of Purity:American Fundamentalism since 18509 [Greenville, SC: BJU Press, 1986], p. 4).
I hope and pray that the church of Jesus Christ will become more unified as we draw near to the end, but that unity must begin with doctrine, and proceed from obedience.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Heart as Big as His Head?

Democratic Senate Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) was quoted as saying of Chief Justice nominee John Roberts, "I'm not too sure if his heart is as big as his head."

Perhaps my knowledge of the constitution and the history of judicial nominations is lacking in some regard, but I can't recall that "Heart as big as head" is given as a qualification for judicial appointment. The somewhat troubling visual image notwithstanding, judges at all levels are not given the charge of ruling on heart, but rather ruling on the facts of the case that stands before them.

I have watched with fascination the hearings. It is hard to imagine that more pomposity and arrogance exists in any triumvurate than exists in Ted Kennedy, Dick Durbin, and Charles Schumer, all Democrats on the Judiciary Committee. I was told that Joe Biden was actually worse, but since I am not a liberal Democrat, I will refrain from taking a dogmatic accusatory position on something I did not see. Ted Kennedy wanted Roberts to answer a question, but continually cut him off. Chairman Specter rightfully broke in to admonish Kennedy to shut up and let the man speak. Well ... not exactly in those words, but the point was clear. Unfortunately it was not clear to Kennedy, since a few minutes later Specter had to jump in yet again to admonish Kennedy to let Roberts answer.

One particular exchange of note to me, and a major opportunity Roberts missed (in my opinion), was during Durbin's questioning. Durbin asked about the variety of cases that Roberts had advised on, including a gay rights case involving the state of Colorado. Roberts said he gave advice to the side arguing for gay rights because they came to him first. He admitted that had the state come first, he would have given them legal advice. Innocent enough, I suppose ... Roberts' reasoning was that he was an attorney to serve a client. It was not up to him to sit in judgement on his clients; that was the job of the judge and jury.

But this questioning from Durbin was in the context of Roberts being an "idealogue" (which I think means "takes a position that a liberal Democrat would not take"). Durbin appeared dumbfounded that Roberts said he would have given legal advice to the State of Colorado had they asked him first. Durbin was disturbed that Roberts would give legal advice against so-called civil rights of homosexuals. (I say "so-called" because I don't remember the legal specifics of the case and it is extraneous to my point here.) Durbin wanted to know if there was any case that Roberts would turn down on principle.

All of that background to say this: Isn't turning a case down on principle the prime evidence of an idealogue? Does Durbin not know that he was asking Roberts to confess to being the very thing that Durbin was accusing him of? My suspicion was that if Roberts had answered "Yes, there are cases I would turn down," that Durbin would have accused him of being an idealogue. Of course, Durbin was accusing him of that anyway.

I thought the whole issue about the EEOC memo was fascinating. Kennedy originally brought it up (at least in the part that I saw, and later Durbin returned to it). The question was about a comment that the EEOC was "unAmerican" followed by the line "the truth of the matter notwithstanding." When the entire statement was read, it was clear that Kennedy was taking the statement out of context. Roberts tried to make that clear, but Kennedy just couldn't grasp it. Durbin later followed up demonstrating the same inability to grasp to not so subtle points of English grammar, and the explicit explanation by Roberts. Of course, why should you seek the truth when there is a political point to be made. Did anyone really think Kennedy, Schumer, and Durbin were seriously considering voting for Roberts?

I find myself wondering how these guys get elected. There seems little evidence of actual critical thinking skills. There is a lot of demogoguery. Questions involve long speeches that "lead the witness" in many cases, often followed by a token question mark. They are veritable rhetorical questions, meant to make a political point rather than elicit information.

What would be the effect of a judicial hearing that was limited to questions only? They would get a lot shorter for one. It would probably help the process as a whole as well. I think the Judiciary Committee should move immediately to stop speeches during questioning. A senator should be allowed to speak in one sentence, less than 25 words, that contains a clear question. There is no need for pontification. Senators' personal opinions about legal cases are irrelevant in judicial confirmation. I know this is a radical step, and I am not holding my breath that it would happen. But hey ... what's wrong with dreaming, right?

To be honest, I am not sure what to think of John Roberts as a justice. He has succeeded in dodging many questions. He could turn out to be the next David Souter, or Sandra Day O'Conner. It seems unlikely that he will be a Scalia or Thomas, and unlikely that he would be a Stevens or Ginsberg. But he will be the next Chief Justice, barring some unseen revelation of dirt.

Whatever the case, it is good to know that the gospel of Jesus Christ does not hang in the balance of Senate blowhards and dancing judicial nominees. When Christ said "I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it," he full well knew the future of American jurisprudence and to be quite frank, the American judicial system is nothing compared to the dangers that other generations of the church faced. It is high time for the American church to quit depending on government, and let the gospel of Christ be foremost in our hearts and ministries.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Give the Church to Non-Christians?

Richard, over at Sunday Papers, posted a A Manifesto Calling for a New Way of Being and Defining Church. This is list of ideas about redefining church. The question of why we need to redefine church seems a bit strange to me. I am not sure why Christ's definition is not enough for us. To be sure, many churches have departed from the biblical definition. But the solution is surely not a "redefinition." We need repentance. But on to the point.

Richard's first suggestion reads:
The first reformation gave the bible back to the people and we need to give church back to the people (not just christian people).
I have to wonder, Why would the church give the church back to people? Who else has it? Did someone other than "the people" come and make off with it while we were sleeping?

Secondly, why would we give the church "back" to "not just Christian people"? Did they ever have the church? I can't recall anything in Scripture that the church was anything other than Christian people.

And why would we suggest giving it to non-Christians? What would they do with it? The church is a unique organism, built by Jesus Christ. It is not ours to give away to anyone, much less to people who are not a part of it through faith in Jesus Christ. One of the major problems with the modern church is that unbelievers have had too much say in what goes on. It has distorted the church from its biblical mission and has come close (and even succeeded) in distorting the gospel. To "give it" to non Christians would certainly be a redefinition of church. It would also be a radical departure from the Scriptures.

This is an idea that appears to have absolutely no legitimate, critical, biblical thinking behind it at all. While I can't testify to what brought this thought on, there is no cogent reason for it that I can come up with. Dialogue is certainly good, and I would be interested to know what drove Richard to this conclusion. But all ideas are not equal and not everything is worthy of dialogue. It calls to mind a point from my original post on this blog where I said, "I have long lamented the fact that the World Wide Web has given every idiot with a computer and a phone line the idea that he has something people need to hear."

Richard, if you happen by here for some strange reason, please understand I am not calling you an idiot. I wrote those words two months ago with no one in mind. My point in bringing it up here is simply to wonder out loud whether or not your idea is really worthy of serious thought. It seems misguided from the very beginning, built on a flawed foundation. So Richard, feel free to comment if you wish. I would be interested in seeing your defense of this.

It seems to me that this list begins with a flawed supposition. The Christians, those who follow Christ wholeheartedly by faith, need to take the church back from the grasp of the world. It is only then that the church can have a true impact in the lives of people.

This list reminds me of much of what goes on in modern ecclesiology with the emerging church, seeker churches, purpose-driven churches, and whatever else is out there now. There is some good that we can learn from all of these. But they start from flawed presuppositions in many cases, and worse yet, they are "ingenious" for the sake of being "ingenious." There are buzzwords that go around, like number six in this list that talks of "a series of chaotic but intentional encounters with God, one another, and the world, founded on the holistic teaching of Christ, and encompassing the whole of life."

What????? Chaotic but intentional encounters with God? It sounds great. What does it mean? Who has a clue?

Why is not the simplicity of the gospel and the simplicity of life in Christ enough for us? Why redefine the church? Why not just go with what God said. Too many people today are putting way too much thought into these issues, thought that isn't being driven by Scripture.

So let us do something radical. Let's return to what the Bible teaches us about the church. Then, we won't need to give it to anyone. We will be tools in the vineyard of God (1 Corinthians 3:5-9) that he uses to call out a people for himself from every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation (Revelation 5:9-10). Our greatest impact on the world will stem from our greatest obedience to God driven by loving God with everything that we have and loving our neighbors (Matthew 22:36-39).

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Strength of Character

I have been reading Winston Churchill's four volume History of the English Speaking People. I am not in a big rush to get through it, and usually read it at night sitting at on the back porch by a fire in the fire pit. Of course, the hot summer has drastically cut back on that. Churchill's writing is somewhat confusing at times because there are so many names it is hard to keep straight who he is talking about. It also seems that assumes some knowledge about English history that I don't have, and so some of the plot has passed me by. It is hard to remember who is on whose side. However, it is an enjoyable read and I am sure it gets better towards the modern era, which is the period of history I enjoy more anyway.

In volume I, he writes of the beginning of the Stuart dynasty in Scotland. He says,
The first two Stuarts, Robert II and Robert III, were both elderly men of no marked strength of character”(Churchill, History of the English Speaking People, Vol 1, p. 271).
It struck as a insightful comment about weak leadership. Men with no "marked strength of character" will never be good leaders. They might turn out to be men of great influence through force of personality, family connections (What's wrong with nepotism so long as you keep it in the family?? ... sorry for that little rabbit trail), being one of the "good ole boys" to someone in power. But lacking strength of character will always prove on to be a bad leader.

Particularly sad about this, to me, is that these were "elderly men" who had no strength of character. One can understand a lack of character in a younger man. After all, maturity does not come overnight. But to be elderly with no character would seem to me to be evidence of a wasted life on all fronts.

If you want to lead, start with yourself. Develop your character. As many have said, Leading flows from being. Pursue excellence in personal growth and development. Do not accept from yourself that which you would not accept from others. Do not let yourself off the hook. Develop strength of character so that it will not be said of you that you were elderly with no marked strength of character.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

What Kind of Impact?

A recent survey was conducted and published that listed the Top 50 Most Influential Churches. The list is not surprising for the most part, at least in terms of the names. Most of the “famous” names are there, perhaps with the exception of John MacArthur and Charles Swindoll. There are two father/son pairs (Stanley and Young), a wide theological and denominational divergence, and wide geographic spread. But they were all chosen by two thousand church leaders as churches of influence. (We should note that the survey is apparently not about theology and doctrine, but about influence.)

More recently, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, we have seen a great outpouring of support and aid to displaced citizens, many of whose homes are still underwater and will be condemned as unlivable. Many of these support efforts are originating in churches, particularly (it seems to me), Southern Baptist churches, though I do know of some independent Baptist churches, as well as other churches that are also involved. While some may view hurricane relief as a "social gospel" type of effort (which has some problems), I am not sure that such an effort is useless. After all, wouldn't 1 John 3:17-18 and James 2:14-17 plug in here, as well as Galatians 6:10? These are churches who believe that they should have some sort of material impact in the current devastation.

In both of these cases, we see churches making some kind of impact through their ministries.

Which brings me to this question: How do we measure impact? Is impact measured by size? Well, I would like to rebel against that idea, but something tells me that a church who is not reaching the people in their community is not having much impact. The church may be right doctrinally and theologically (which is more important), but it is hard to call them an impact church. A church that stays the same size year after year seems likely to not be having an impact, unless multitudes are dying every year.

Is impact measured by visibility? Certainly churches that are known are known for a reason ... They are having some kind of impact. A church that is not known, even in its community, will find it hard to be a church of impact.

In short, I am not sure how to answer this question. Here is what I think may happen too often: Churches that are willing to have no cultural and community impact so long as they get the bills paid. It seems at times that churches of a fundamentalist bent are satisfied to be a "good ole boys" club. I don't mean that they set out to be that. But I think somewhere along the way, we got too scared of culture, and too scared of people who don’t already agree with us. I think we never learned to talk to people who don’t share our worldview. To be sure, we started down that path with good intentions—purity, holiness, obedience. But has the path led us too often through hedges that are too high to see over, and too high to climb? Has our distaste for secularism, sexualism, humanism, politicism, and relativism led us to isolationism? Are we just hanging on for the end?

I think that fundamentalist churches need to rethink what it means to have impact and influence in the community. While my church may never make the Top 50 list in the magazine, I am not sure we would make the Top 50 list in our community, and that bothers me. It bothers me when I hear fundamentalists say we shouldn’t even try to make that list. Personally, I wonder why we should be satisfied when all 50 churches on that list are not fundamentalist churches, much less that none are. I am not saying we need to set up our ministries to make a list. I don't think any of those people on the list had that mindset. I don't think we need to raise millions for hurricane relief to have an impact. I think we need to engage in culture, the world in which people live in our communities, and learn to communicate with them.

The world needs the gospel, and the fundamentalist churches are typically the ones holding strongest to the biblical gospel. But I fear we spend too much time “preaching to the choir.” We cannot stop short of full impact under the guise of separation and theology. Both are vitally important to an obedient church, but a church that has no impact is not obedient, no matter how separated and theological they might be.