Credit Where Credit Is Due, Part 1


When I was a teenager, the most visible fundamentalists in America were Carl McIntire and Lester Roloff. McIntire was feuding with the American Council of Christian Churches, the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches, several leaders within his own Bible Presbyterian Synod, and the federal government of the United States—virtually simultaneously. Lester Roloff was feuding with the state of Texas. I can remember him sending life-size cardboard cutout pictures of himself to our church in Iowa. He was trying hard to get enough public support to force the Texas regulators to back away from his ministry. The impression that I had of fundamentalist leaders was that they were hard-bitten, bellicose, and arrogant.

This impression had been reinforced through the years by the traveling preachers to whom I had been exposed. These men usually called themselves evangelists, but they were essentially hired guns whose job was to inflame the fears and the sense of shame of the faithful. They could be very personable, laughing and joking one moment, but then the next moment they would be screaming at you because the Communists were going to take over the United States before 1972 unless you went to the altar RIGHT NOW.

I would never have dreamed of criticizing any of these men. Were they not paragons of spiritual insight? Were they not models of Christian virtue? Who was I to call them into account?

Because of their influence, however, I was quite sure that I did not want to be a fundamentalist. Even after experiencing a call to vocational ministry and returning to a fundamentalist Bible college for training, I remained unpersuaded of the value of fundamentalism. During my early years as a college student, it seemed to me that the main activity of fundamentalism was to manufacture unreasonable ways of regulating personal conduct.

This was my frame of mind when I found myself in George Houghton’s summer module on the history of fundamentalism. I had signed up for the course only because nothing else was available to fill the hours. Within a week, Houghton completely reoriented my thinking.

The process began during a break at mid-morning on the first day of class. Sitting across the table from Houghton, I opined that I really didn’t think that I wanted to be a fundamentalist. He asked me why, and I gave him my impression of people like McIntire and Roloff. His response still echoes in my mind: “If that is what fundamentalism is, then I don’t want to be one, either.” I was floored. It had never occurred to me that the word fundamentalism might stand for more than one thing.

Once that distinction had been suggested, I became aware of the many fundamentalists in my life whom I had never really thought of as fundamentalists. For example, my boyhood pastor was a kind and prayerful man who invested hours upon hours in my wellbeing. My own parents had lived sacrificially for several years when my father left a successful career in management to train for the pastorate. Yet my mind had never registered that these people might represent fundamentalism as genuinely as public figures like McIntire and Roloff.

During the remainder of the class, Houghton did the best thing for me. He told the truth. He talked about the leaders of fundamentalism as real people, not as anointed archetypes. He allowed me to glimpse their virtues and their vices, both of which they displayed in abundance.

Most importantly, Houghton helped me to grasp the idea of fundamentalism. Having this category in my mental furniture proved crucial, for I could now measure the worth of any leader by the idea of fundamentalism rather than measuring the worth of fundamentalism by its leaders. Houghton himself began this process during the week of class, explaining where some leaders had been faithful to the idea while other leaders had subverted it.

Along these lines, Houghton introduced the category that I now call hyper-fundamentalism. He called it fundamentalism plus. The idea is simple: some self-identified fundamentalists attempt to front-load the term so as to gain standing for their persons, organizations, theological peculiarities, practical idiosyncrasies, aberrant attitudes, or ethical inconsistencies. The message that I carried away from class was that I did not have to identify with those people in order to be a consistent fundamentalist.

Coming away from that class, I could see fundamentalism and fundamentalists in a different light. For example, I had known both the past president (John L. Patten) and the current president (David Nettleton) of my college since I was about thirteen. I had never really thought of them as fundamentalist figures. Now, however, I could see in Patten a kindly and pious gentleman, and I found in Nettleton a model of broad learning and humanity.

For me, Nettleton came to typify balanced fundamentalism. He strongly emphasized expository preaching at a time when many fundamentalists were noted for storytelling or pulpit rants. He was aligned with the more separatistic wing of the Regular Baptist movement, but he could still invite chapel speakers like Peter Masters (an amillennialist) or Lehman Strauss (a conservative evangelical radio preacher). Engrossed with theology, he also took a delighted interest in the broad range of human learning. He was a decent amateur astronomer and a good enough sailor that he once planned a voyage through the Bermuda triangle (circumstances intervened to curtail the excursion). A prominent figure among Regular Baptists, he led as a statesman and not as a politician.

Ranged alongside Nettleton and Houghton was a teacher who breathed pastoral vision: Robert Domokos. He was a man of compassion who gave himself to ministry—indeed, he was my pastor for a short while. Domokos exuded a love for people and for the task of shepherding. He began to teach me the importance of a pliable heart as well as an active mind.

Dr. Bauder’s essay will continue in next week’s edition of In the Nick of Time.

Resurrection, Imperfect
John Donne (1572-1631)

SLEEP, sleep, old sun, thou canst not have repass’d,
As yet, the wound thou took’st on Friday last ;
Sleep then, and rest ; the world may bear thy stay ;
A better sun rose before thee to-day ;
Who—not content to enlighten all that dwell
On the earth’s face, as thou—enlighten’d hell,
And made the dark fires languish in that vale,
As at thy presence here our fires grow pale ;
Whose body, having walk’d on earth, and now
Hasting to heaven, would—that He might allow
Himself unto all stations, and fill all—
For these three days become a mineral.
He was all gold when He lay down, but rose
All tincture, and doth not alone dispose
Leaden and iron wills to good, but is
Of power to make e’en sinful flesh like his.
Had one of those, whose credulous piety
Thought that a soul one might discern and see
Go from a body, at this sepulchre been,
And, issuing from the sheet, this body seen,
He would have justly thought this body a soul,
If not of any man, yet of the whole.

Desunt Caetera

[node:bio/kevin-t-bauder body]

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There are 6 Comments

Aaron Blumer's picture


I didn't know G. Houghton until six or eight years ago (and Roloff was not even on my radar). But my own story is very similar only with different characters.
I'm thankful almost daily for the gracious, thoughtful, diligent and honorable fundamentalists God brought into my life from childhood on up.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Paul J. Scharf's picture

Is the purpose to give credit to FBCC&TS or to balanced fundamentalist leaders in general?

Either way, it brings much-deserved recognition to one of my two alma maters -- a school which could have boasted having some of the greatest fundamental scholars on its faculty for years.

I say "could have boasted" because they are too humble to boast. That may be a good thing Biblically and spiritually, but it does not always help on the "PR" side of things in running a college and seminary.

Kudos to Faith -- which has too-often been one of the best-kept secrets in fundamentalism. When I attended there, I found it to combine the best elements of all the "theological worlds" I had known up until that time (IFCA, fundamental Baptist, creationism, dispensationalism, etc.), while also exposing students to world-class guest speakers in a small and intimate atmosphere.

I could go on, but suffice it to say that the teaching I received at Faith certainly cemented my theological position and direction for life -- without any hint of a cultic or group-think mentality. I greatly appreciated my experience.

Church Ministries Representative, serving in the Midwest, for The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry 

James K's picture

These men usually called themselves evangelists, but they were essentially hired guns whose job was to inflame the fears and the sense of shame of the faithful.

"Hired guns"...been saying this for years. I love it.

1 Kings 8:60 - so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God and that there is no other.

Aaron Blumer's picture


Need to be careful not to overgeneralize on this point.
The evangelists I heard growing up in fundamentalism were a broad mix. Most of them were brought in by pastors who were fine, godly men who were not really interested in inflaming fears, sense of shame, etc.
And the evangelists themselves were not all fear-and-loathing mongers. But I have to say that nearly all of them were incongruities. That is, as I got older and starting noticing the difference, I wondered why men who excelled in thoughtful exposition of the Scriptures would have guest preachers do week long demonstrations of a completely different (and manifestly inferior) way of handling Scripture.
I wasn't courageous enough to ask.
But I think in many cases, there was a feeling that having occasional meetings like these was just something churches are supposed to do... and that they would be healthier for it.
I have to think many of the pastors involved were glad when these weeks were over.

On the positive side, occasionally these men were a real blessing. Despite their excessive use of the dramatic story and their habit of using very small chunks of Scripture out of context, some of them had a great heart to see people grow in grace and see the lost come to Christ.
And God used them.
And once in a while, one would even handle the Scriptures well, too.
It can be done well.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Greg Long's picture

I, too, am thankful for the influence of the professors at FBBC & TS in my life and preparation for ministry!

Greg Long, Ed.D. (SBTS)

Pastor of Adult Ministries
Grace Church, Des Moines, IA

Adjunct Instructor
School of Divinity
Liberty University

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