Much has been made, particularly among fundamentalists both “young” and “old,” about how we speak of our predecessors. Now, I write as a fundamentalist, but not one of those kind of fundamentalists.
And I write primarily to fundamentalists.
It is suggested by a few that we should not speak ill of the previous generation of fundamentalists because they were good men who did good things for the sake of the gospel. Sure they had their flaws we might admit, but let us not speak of them, and certainly not publicly.
Yet it seems this same group of people have no hesitations when it comes to speaking ill of other men of past generations. They will loudly condemn men like Billy Graham, and refuse to let anyone speak well of them. They will insist that any mention of John Piper or John MacArthur contain condemnations of their various flaws.
Here’s the contrast: The men on “our side” we must say nothing bad about; the men on “the other side” we must say nothing good about.
Now, let's be clear. This is not a widespread problem and I in no way intend to make any broad-brushed characterizations. In fact, it is a fairly narrow problem and decreasing to be sure, particularly as the truth about people on both sides of the issue becomes more public. But is a problem that needs to be considered because it is a problem. And it was demonstrated in a public forum in a way that made evident the severe problem in thinking that brought this about.
In recent months, one man was taken to task publicly because he dared to quote an old-time fundamentalist, and dared to say some things that were considered unflattering about other men from previous generations who were recognized as leaders in fundamentalism.
What is interesting is that almost no one stepped up to say that these “unflattering things” were untrue. The quote itself or the other charges made were not questioned for their accuracy. No one even said it was the passion of youth or an anomaly.
It was merely said that such criticisms should not be made.
But some of the loudest mouths about this have no problem saying all manner of things against other people, many of which are demonstrably untrue.
The problem seems that some people are more loyal to a movement than they are to Scripture and truth.
Robert P. Lightner, in Neoevangelicalism Today, has a good reminder:
“Fundamentalism is basically a theological and doctrinal position, but since its beginning it has inherited groups [I would add individuals] who claim shelter in the name but have done the cause serious harm. … The honest fundamentalist will humbly admit that the message and witness of fundamentalism has had its black strands. He will use the failures of the past to guide him to success in the future” (p. 157).Here’s the bottom line for me: Let’s stop with the foolishness. To say that someone wasn’t perfect is not the same as saying that they are useless or beyond our respect. To point out that certain fundamentalists were rather intemperate in their speech, lacked self-control both in in speech and action, is not wrong. It is in fact true.
Fundamentalists, both young and old, can be quite intemperate. But they are not alone. One need only to read Carnell, Henry, Fosdick, or others to see that intemperance spans the spectrum.
We have truly reached a bad spot when telling the truth about certain people has become taboo. In a movement committed to the truth and to confrontation of error, fundamentalists should not object to it, even when it strikes close to home.
3/01/2010 – See Comment #11 for a clarification concerning this post. It is added as a comment so as not to clutter up the point of the article itself.