An article by Central Seminary’s Kevin Bauder provoked some response, both reasoned and unreasoned. Some thoughtfully interacted with what he actually said, such as Dave Doran (here and here). Others had a seemingly kneejerk reaction that Dr. Bauder used the words “conservative evangelical” in his article. They don’t appear to have interacted with what he actually said.
I have read Bauder’s article. Several times. Here’s my take, after several weeks of letting it simmer.
Dr. Bauder never calls for fellowship with conservative evangelicals anywhere that I can see. Ironically, he actually appears to be calling for the strengthening of fundamentalism so that young men have a real alternative to conservative evangelicalism. His point, in part, seems to be that if we fundamentalists will take doctrine seriously, we will not have such a struggle “keeping” our young fundamentalists. You can’t claim to take doctrine seriously and believe what some people believe about the Bible and the blood of Jesus. Young men know that. Why don’t some of the older men? Bauder is certainly right: When young men are given a choice, they will choose those who teach the Bible more, even when it involves unwise allegiances. So fundamentalism needs to be giving young men a serious alternative by taking doctrine seriously.
Dr. Bauder rightly points out some serious errors within fundamentalism. He clearly says that not all fundamentalists hold to these doctrinal errors. He points out that many fundamentalists reject them. That can hardly be legitimately described as an attack on fundamentalism. It is merely reality: some believe this; other believe that. What he said is the truth. To quote Paul, “Have I become your enemy by telling you the truth” (Galatians 4:16). Fundamentalism needs a universal return to a serious consideration of bibliology, Christology, and soteriology, and a host of other doctrines. (And by that, I don’t mean using only modern versions or being a Calvinist. I mean what I said: “Give serious consideration.”)
Several weeks ago I interacted with a number of people outside the fundamentalist world. When people found out I was a fundamentalist, I was asked about the KJVO issue, whether our church still had “Baptist” in the name (it does) and legalism (and ironically, only those three things). Why? Because fundamentalism is known for not believing that God’s Word should be translated into the language that we speak, and for communicating that rules are more important than anything else. Is that fair? Probably not, but that’s the reality.
Dr. Bauder rightly notes that there are still clear differences between fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals. I don’t know anyone who disagrees with that. However, some would like to pretend Dr. Bauder did not say that. Why? Because most of their ranting cannot be made if you consider what he actually said.
In fact, I don’t know for sure, but I imagine that Dr. Bauder may be one of the few fundamentalists who has sat down face to face with John Piper and addressed some of these differences with him.
Dr. Bauder rightly notes that some fundamentalists are doctrinally closer to conservative evangelicals than to other fundamentalists because of their allegiance to the Scripture. Again, that’s not really debatable. It is a matter of fact. A person who holds to the biblical doctrine of Scripture is much closer to John MacArthur than to Peter Ruckman or D. A. Waite. A person who holds to the biblical gospel is much closer to John Piper than to Jack Schaap or Bob Gray, even if they are not Calvinistic.
So what’s Dr. Bauder’s big sin? He actually says that these conservative evangelicals, though different than fundamentalists in some substantive ways, are not our enemies.
How in the name of anything is that debatable?
Sure, we can debate whether they are actually “new evangelicals” in the historic sense of the word. That term means something, and it does not merely mean “those who differ from us.” Like all terms, it has morphed over the years. That, in my view, is a relatively minor point of his argument. Are they new evangelicals? I would say yes. But if someone disagrees, I am okay with that.
And it is indisputable that there are major doctrinal and practical errors with some of these men that preclude fellowship and participation.
But our enemies? Hardly.
Dr. Bauder says that conservative evangelicals are fighting doctrinal fights. Does anyone actually disagree with that? Does anyone recall a fundamentalists taking on open theists publicly, to their face, in front of a large group? I don’t.
Does anyone recall fundamentalists firing non-inerrantists from a seminary faculty? I don’t.
Is any fundamentalists speaking out about the new atheism? Not that I know of.
Now we can claim that we don’t have these problems in our group. And that is true, to a large degree (though I think open theism may not be as far off as some think, and bibliology is certainly having some issues in fundamentalism in some ways, I think). But the reality is that these conservative evangelicals are taking on doctrine in the public square and going face to face with those who deny it. Not consistently, to be sure. And there are still many problems. But they fight the battles.
Are there any fundamentalists who are on national TV speaking the gospel of Jesus Christ in debates with Deepak Chopra, Jewish rabbis, Muslim imams, atheists, and p0rnographers? No. In fact, when fundamentalists are on national TV it is to defend why a pastor with decades of s*x abuse charges was still a pastor until the police showed up. Or they go on national TV to change a dating policy. Now, I am glad the dating policy was changed. I am just not sure that national TV is the right venue for that, but perhaps it was. And whatever it is, it really isn’t fighting great doctrinal battles for the faith once for all handed down and the souls of dying men and women. No, we go on TV to talk about who abusive pastors and which believers we can marry. And I love the institution that I refer to and the man that was on national TV. I owe a great debt to that institution (not literally) in more ways that most of you. I love the time I spent (which was a long time). I think it is still the premier fundamentalist school in the country, if not the world. It’s not perfect, but it is good. It’s graduates are usually well-prepared to face life. So don’t paint me as against them, because I am not.
What do fundamentalists do? We (actually they) write letters from dead people to complain that someone told the truth. And we use a dead person because we know our own authority is wanting, and our only hope is that conscripting a dead guy will cause people to listen to something they won’t otherwise listen to. And we don’t bother to show that the dead guy actually agrees. We just drop his name and pretend like it’s okay.
What do fundamentalists do? We (actually they) refute things that were never said to begin with. And we do it with great bombast.
What do fundamentalists do? We (actually they) fight about whether or not the president of a fundamentalist seminary should be allowed to speak at a national conference because he publicly disagreed with someone who said some rather intemperate things about a clearly orthodox view of Scripture’s teaching on salvation. That’s not exactly cross-centered battle there. In fact, it’s rather embarrassing on a number of levels.
And I could go on.
Think of the irony: Conservative evangelicals fight open theists and non-inerrantists. Fundamentalists fight gospel preachers who think that we should be careful about how we address differences.
And then these fundamentalists wonder why the young men of this generation who love the gospel and the Bible are going after the conservative evangelicals.
Now, I think by and large that most fundamentalists believe in preaching the gospel to people. Many are active in personal evangelism and believe strongly in personal holiness. All of which is good. But I think the battles we choose to fight are sometimes battles that reveal a pettiness about doctrine and the gospel that we preach.
It may be that fundamentalists have just done a bad job of teaching people to read and think at the same time.
Or maybe fundamentalists have too well taught people to read and think, and when they read the Bible and think about it, they see that fundamentalism is lacking in a number of areas.
Is fundamentalism irredeemable? I don’t know. And to be honest, I am not sure I care. Why? Because I am unconvinced that the people in my city are helped by anything in “movement fundamentalism” (whether it exists or not).
I am a fundamentalist, but not one of those kind (as I have said before). It just doesn’t matter to me. If you guys want to enlist dead guys to join you in opposing those who are preaching the gospel, have at it, I guess.
I will participate with those with whom there is enough doctrinal and practical agreement. I will teach against error and false doctrine, and name names where it is necessary and helpful.
But I won’t be a part of the nonsense.