Fundamentalism, Culture and Lost Opportunity

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I woke up this morning thinking, “Not enough people are mad at me.” Hence, this post.

Actually, my sincere hope is to encourage, not more rage but more reflection on all sides of the fundamentalism-and-culture issue. I’m going to argue that the two perspectives that are most passionate and opposite on this question are both wasting an important opportunity. First, some framing.

Fundamentalism and cultural conservatism

The central question is basically this: how should Christians evaluate heavily culture-entwined matters such as music styles (chiefly in worship), entertainment, clothing, etc.? To nuance the question a little more: how should churches, ministries, and individuals connected with fundamentalism and its heritage view these cultural issues?

Two nearly-opposite sets of answers to this question have become prominent among leaders and ministries of fundamentalist lineage. My guess is that most people are really somewhere between these two attitudes, mixing points from each. But the two near-opposite views seem to have the most passionate and articulate advocates.

At one end of the question, we have the Kevin Bauder, Scott Aniol, David DeBruyn, et. al. axis. At the other end, representatives are more scattered (and more numerous), but recent high-visibility proponents include Matt Olson of Northland International University and pastor Bob Bixby.

At the risk of catastrophic failure in the first 300 words, I’ll attempt to fairly summarize the differences in these two perspectives at least well enough to talk about them clearly. Because we’ve already got more than enough overstatement in the mix(!), I’ll consciously aim to err on the side of understatement.

Cultural conservatism

Let’s call the Bauder-Aniol point of view “cultural conservatism,” and simplify it as the idea that everything cultural is full of meaning and that the meaning is heavily influenced by where we are in history as a society—both in the history of ideas and in the history of cultural changes associated with those ideas. In short, nothing cultural is neutral, everything must be scrutinized for fitness for use by Christians, and that scrutnity should be biased in favor of the not-recent past. To say it another way, we ought to look at cultural change with a regard for the past that increases (to a point) as we look further back. I think I can fairly say that this view sees changes in culture in the West as being mostly negative since the middle ages.

The cultural conservatives are often about as unimpressed with 19th century “Second Great Awakening” music as they are with most of today’s “CCM.” It’s a lonely place to be, because it means most of what’s being created now is junk and much of what we (and our grandparents) grew up singing in church is junk, too.

Full disclosure: I’m mostly in the Bauder-Aniol-DeBruyn bailiwick. Though I would often argue the case differently (sometimes very differently), I consider myself a cultural conservative.

Cultural anti-conservatism

The perspective I’ve identified here with Olson and Bixby has many, many representatives. And I’m sure that “anti-conservatism” is not what they would choose to call their point of view. I apologize for that. It’s my intention to represent this perspective fairly and accurately—I just don’t yet have a better handle to attach to it.

This view rejects the idea that there is a superior cultural ideal at some point in the history of the West. It associates the cultural reactions of 20th century fundamentalism with legalism and tends to see the “standards” and “rules” of that era (and the surviving present forms) as often arbitrary and ill-conceived, at best, and as a ruse for unethical exercise of power and oppression by fundamentalist leaders, at worst.

In this view, the meaning of musical styles (and clothing styles, forms of entertainment, etc.) either never amounts to much to begin with or very quickly fades into irrelevance. Since the Christian faith and the church cross millennia and know no ethnic boundaries, the range of acceptable cultural forms for Christian worship is very broad and continually changing. Further—and this is an important point—the time has come to put many (most?) of the cultural stands of movement fundamentalism in the rear view mirror (post haste!).

Why the debate is going nowhere

Just looking at the ideas at stake, it should be pretty clear why the culture debate is not a trivial one. If everything cultural is packed with meaning—and not necessarily meaning we are conscious of—and if that meaning matters to God, we have much sober thinking to do about every bit of the culture we accept and use.

If, on the other hand, cultural meaning dissipates quickly into irrelevance (or doesn’t exist in the first place) and if tradition-favoring fundamentalists merely use these matters to impose their personal preferences on people, it’s possible that the “rules” not only dishonor the God we claim but that these traditions also cripple the joyful, heartfelt and free expressions of worship God wants from His people.

These are not abstract questions that should only interest academics or “overly contentious people.”

And that means all who love the Bible and want to live for the glory of God in these chaotic times are facing in important opportunity. More in line with the scope of this essay, we who are of fundamentalist heritage have an important opportunity.

But as far as I can tell, both sides are mostly botching it. There is almost no real engagement.

On one hand, Olson (and many others—let’s be fair) is saying rules and do’s and dont’s have no relationship to spirituality or sanctification and that to believe they do is legalism. And Bixby (and, again, he’s hardly alone) is saying that the cultural conservatives are basically arrogant, condescending snobs who are heaping guilt and shame on the “the average fundamentalist,” who, by the way, is a mindless, conforming robot.

On the other hand, the case for cultural conservatism has often included a “You’re too ignorant to understand; take my word for it” subtext. Though I can’t supply examples, I’m pretty sure I haven’t imagined that (I say this as one who is very sympathetic with their position). Proponents of cultural conservativism have also shown a tendency to be brittle in response to passionate opposition.

So in different ways (by insult or by non-engagement), both sides have shown a tendency to preach only to their own choirs (or praise bands, as the case may be).

The passion is good

Let’s be clear, though: these matters are too important to consider in a completely passionless way. We’re not debating infra- vs. super-lapsarianism. (Okay, that debate’s been pretty passionate too—aren’t they all?!) So I’m not faulting either side for getting hot and bothered at times. There would be something really twisted about examining these ideas with yawns and drooping eyelids.

But that means both sides of the question should expect that the other will, at times, commit the errors that always attend passionate disagreement. We humans just can’t be worked up as we should without also being worked up in ways we shouldn’t and lapsing into overstatement, bile-dumping, walking off in a huff, etc. It isn’t good, but it is normal. Rather than judge one another by unrealistic standards, we should quickly recognize how prone we all are to “gettin’ ugly,” and open the forbearance valve wide and hard.

At the same time, realizing how sensitive and close-to-heart these matters are (and how much historical baggage is attached), we should accept the need for extraordinary self-restraint (vs. extraordinary effort to restrain the other guy—i.e., shut him up). The debate calls for understanding and persuasion, not reaction and coercion.

For my part, I’m fully prepared to grant that just about everybody on both sides (and the points between) of the “cultural fundamentalism” question is keenly interested in doing what honors God and best serves His people.

The opportunity

So what is this opportunity we’re wasting? For the sake of brevity, perhaps it’s best to put it in terms of what could happen if enough believers put their minds and hearts to it.

I already hear snickers at my naïve idealism. But this isn’t really “idealism.” Idealism confuses what ought to be with what really is. Pursuing what truly could eventually be is something else.

What could eventually be—an articulate group of leaders on each side of the question could:

  1. separate the debate from the meta-debate
  2. identify the real the points of agreement and disagreement
  3. have the real debate

These points require more expansion than this post permits. A few clarifying observations, though: on both sides of the culture question (and several of the positions between), argument has occurred in a manner that obscures rather than clarifies the real points of disagreement. They have poured all sorts of meta-debate into the mix, making what’s really at issue nearly impossible to identify or engage.

It’s tragic. These matters are so important. It’s also tragic because a healthy debate exposes and highlights real differences so that those trying to make a wise, godly decision are better informed. We need a healthy debate about culture and meaning.

I hope to give more attention to meta-debate and points of agreement in a future post.

[node:bio/aaron-blumer body]

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There are 177 Comments

Dan Salter's picture

I have two points to make. The secondary point needs to be said first so as to use in the discussion. It has to do with labels. Because "conservative" has generally spoken to fundamentals of doctrine, applying it in this debate can be confusing. Would we call the one who denies biblical inerrancy, yet professes cultural tradition the conservative while calling the contemporary music-loving inerrantist the liberal? Well, perhaps, depending on the debate, but it still is confusing. I think maybe a better distinction would be cultural traditionalist and cultural progressive. It relieves the labeling of the heavier coloring.

My primary point is what may keep the dream debate from ever taking form. To the cultural conservative, the issue, as you described, is a superior culture among cultures. But the cultural progressive is not interested in debating the merits of the one culture touted superior because he/she has already moved past that point to declare culture a non-issue in worship. By concluding something a non-issue, it becomes very difficult to circle back into the arena to give the issue enough significance to care to debate it. How do you passionately debate an issue that holds no significance to you? That is why when discussing worship music most cultural progressives do not discuss the culture of worship music (that issue already a non-issue to them) but rather approach immediately issues of legalism, authority-wielding, and imprisoning--issues which do hold significance to them and about which they may then be passionate. The resolutions don't match up, and so the debate never begins. The cultural traditionalists basically agree with the thrust of the progressives but disagree that that describes them. The cultural progressives ignore the arguments of culture because to them culture doesn't even rise to side issue importance.

While we can all think of cultural traditionalists that have become cultural progressives, how many cultural progressives have become cultural traditionalists? The preaching will always be to our own choir/praise team unless something can level the resolution. And perhaps, Aaron, your future post points will help do that (but it is a tall order to infuse insignificance with passion).

Marsilius's picture

I definitely don't fit into either category. But what Aaron says confirms what I have thought all along, reading these discussions. Every Fundamentalist is a Cultural Fundamentalist. The question of what sort of cultural person you are depends on how you respond to your present culture.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

To Dan Salter

An association of cultural conservatism with theological conservatism makes a certain amount of sense. In both cases, the position is about conserving something from the past.

But to try to cut through some meta-debate: what really matters on this particular point is whether the conservative view attempts to make an argument out of that. That is, is there a claim "the culture battle is just like the theological battle of yore and we're on the side of inerrancy and y'all are on the side of liberalism"?

I've seen their view characterized that way, but what I haven't seen is conservatives actually making that argument. It could be out there, but I don't recall seeing it. (And given that neither side is monolithic on all points, an important question would be What arguments are primary and which ones are only attempted by subsets? The real character of the view is based on the arguments all of them are making)

Insignificance

I'm not sure how to take your observations on that point, other than to say that it's certainly clear that a challenge for cultural conservatives is to make the case for why this matters. Even in my essay, I perhaps assumed too much was obvious on that point. After all, culture is where we live every day. We don't even get dressed and leave the house without making choices predicated on our view of culture. As Christians, can we leave that view unexamined?

I have never really seen a case for the idea that culture has no meaning or even for the idea that its meaning quickly dissipates. I find the latter possibility quite plausible, but I can't say I've really seen a case for it. It tends to be assumed, then the argument moves on to how oppressive and legalistic all the conservatives are... and we're into meta-debate again.

It may be that I've just missed that argument. I think a big problem on both sides is the quantity of stuff we assume as obvious and beyond dispute. And because we see them as obvious and indisputable, we don't read much of what the other side is actually saying on those points. I'll count myself among the guilty.

(And I've skimmed over a fair amount of the conservative side of the debate as well, due to the "givens" in my own view.)

But these matters are significant every day, including Sunday, and worth the effort to fully understand both sides and isolate the real points of contention.

 

Steve Davis's picture

Uncharacteristically, I’ve hesitated to inject myself in most of the discussions on this issue. I’m wondering if what Dan Salter expressed is one of the reasons why –non-issue or insignificance. I don’t see how the debates advance the work God has called us to do. Many don’t agree on these issues. Much has been said. How many people will have their minds changed?  I expressed my opinion on this over four years ago in “Weary of the worship Wars. I Surrender ‘Some.’” I don’t think much has changed.

Also, over four years ago I wrote an article on SI on “Culture, Context, and Conscience.” In it, among other things I said: “We do not enter the world fully programmed but learn what to do or not to do. This moral programming, a proper activity of society in general and from parents in particular, serves to condone or condemn behavior, to approve or disapprove actions and activities. It may be presumptuous for persons of one culture and tradition, in which they have been acculturated, to dictate the norms for another culture and context when Scripture is silent or unclear.”  Also, “We are not allowed to recklessly and romantically affirm that all is good in other cultures. Yet we may pause before pronouncing a verdict on that which we see only superficially. We should refrain from substituting our signs of sanctification for biblical discipleship. We must depend more on the Holy Spirit to use the Word to guide fellow believers in their faith journey, even when their journey does not exactly mirror our own experience.”

Our journeys are different. We have been both acculturated and inculturated.  Yet one of the things that I have found that causes strong reactions are the repeated and obnoxious claims that the music of the “cultural progressives” appeals to the flesh, is carnal, worldly, is not real worship, is a capitulation to the rock culture, etc. I wonder, how do they know this?

I’m good with the guys with whom I differ on cultural issues.  I will worship with them with their choirs, hymns, and stand at attention singing. I will worship with others with their worship team with keyboard, guitars, drums, leading the congregation where there is more outward expression with raised hands (although some praise bands don’t really lead but perform or entertain. Of that I would not want a steady Sunday diet).  As I’ve said before, God may be honored in worship by those forms of which we would disapprove and find joy in musical expressions of His people in which we find no joy.

 

Steve Davis

 

Steve Newman's picture

That doesn't happen every day for me. I'm definitely on the conservative side of things. 

The "moral programming" that Steve refers to happens in the conscience. This part ought to be a Scriptural discussion we ought to be able to have. Surely the Bible says a lot about it. An excellent short booklet on the subject is Warren Wiersbe's Meet Your Conscience. We ought to be able as fundamentalists (or reasonable facsimiles thereof)  to be able see a wounded conscience, a strong conscience, a weak conscience, or a seared conscience. On the other hand, this would only be part of the debate. Our conscience does become what we program it to be. Not all the programming is good. Have we "programmed our consciences" correctly?

As in any kind of serious discussion of the issues, it is helpful to put a correct Bible label on the issue so we can have more light than heat on it.

paynen's picture

I am actually a cultural progressive that became a cultural conservative... interestingly enough... Though I was also young and teachable.  Here are my thoughts on the issue.

On the other hand, the case for cultural conservatism has often included a “You’re too ignorant to understand; take my word for it” subtext. Though I can’t supply examples, I’m pretty sure I haven’t imagined that (I say this as one who is very sympathetic with their position). Proponents of cultural conservatism have also shown a tendency to be brittle in response to passionate opposition.

This is definitely true of some, but definitely not of the leaders of cultural conservatism  you mentioned earlier in your post. Bauder, Aniol, and the like. The reason they write so much on the issue is to help people understand. Yet I would say Bauder and Aniol are on the cutting edge of a new charge in academia that has not really existed before in cultural conservatism (especially as far as Baptists are concerned) and in general they have really brought Baptists into the academia world to where before they kept to themselves. Now those who headed up the argument from the conservative side before this, Lucarini and the like, really set back the conservative argument. There arguments where entirely based in experientialism, which is where the whole idea of its okay for me, but not for you came up. This was almost universally adopted as the conservative argument especially in traditionalist/isolationist circles similar to Bob Jones and the IBFNA.

Unfortunately Aniol and Bauder are a bit too late. As Dan said most progressives are past the whole culture argument. No longer is contemporary church philosophy brought in to reach the culture, it is used because the individuals who attend the church want that worship style. The goal of those such as Pastor Bigsby is to draw a immediate connection between those of the Bauder Aniol stripe and Lucarini and traditionalists. If he can successfully do this then he doesn't have to actually deal with the newfound academia and an actually completely different view on worship then the old conservatism. This is seen in Aniol's distaste of the gospel song movement and desire to move toward more objective worship instead of sing songiness. Personally, and I think Aniol and Bauder would agree (but don't take my word for it,) I have a bigger distaste for the majority of the gospel song movement (there are some good things out of that era) then many from the contemporary worship movement. That is because the CCM movement really took hold because our churches were already using emotive wishy washy music and it was just natural to move onto CCM. And there are many traditionalistic individuals who even though they think CCM is wrong the love the old Gospel songs... but in all reality they have the same view of worship as contemporaries, they just think that old culture is better then new culture. So I would say traditionalists actually have more in common with Contemporary philosophy then they do with the Aniol/Bauder view. I appreciate Aniol/Bauders writings and I hope they continue to produce articles to help people understand culture and worship. Those deep in culture may always respond such as Bigsby, but people can change their view (such as I.) Yet, the most important part of their publications is that they are helping traditionalists see the error of their ways and helping those who share their view to understand worship and to help make better decisions to weed out some of the old hymns that really are not good songs for worship.

 

In my mind most contemporaries will not change. Yet, there will come a time were going to the new popular thing in culture will be impossible for any Bible believing Christian walking in the spirit to adopt. Pop culture will degrade to a point where no conservative evangelical will ever be able to bring that new idea into churches. They will come to a point where they will be "stuck" in last decades new fad, because they will have reached the limit that they can mix culture and Christianity.

DavidO's picture

I’m mostly in the Bauder-Aniol-DeBruyn bailiwick. Though I would often argue the case differently (sometimes very differently) . . .

 

That would make for some intersting SI front page reading, I think.

WBailey's picture

If I may, I'd like to give a " laymans" perspective. First I think it would be of some value to give a brief overview of my background.  I was born again in 1995 at the ripe old age of 22. My only significant church upbringing was a brief stint in a Baptist church in a small town in MI. after which when our family moved we never attended church again but for an even shorter  time a few years later, maybe for a whole six months. 

Then in '95 I faced a crisis which God graciously used to draw me to Himself, this by the way happened in a very charismatic , Pentecostal church. I attended this church for about 3 months ( mostly because my stepmother , who was also instrumental in my conversion). While attending this assembly I , through the Spirits leading, developed a hunger for God and His Word. Through which I began to sense that many things just weren't right, namely women preachers, tongues and using already written secular songs , such as " Hit the road Jack" (which was sung at the devil) to be out of line. So I began to attend a Baptist church across town.  This church was very conservative , a GARB as well as very Bob Jones in their approach to music. 

After 6 months there I moved and found another assembly with the same MO. I attended this church for 4 years and moved again to the Baptist church I first attended shortly after my conversion. 

After 10 years in this assembly we went from a GARB style church to a Hyles(ish) to a Fair Havenish type philosophy. Then in the last two years we've gone from a KJVonly, all the IFB trappings etc( and I'm talking about the extreme IFBers here) to a more biblical stance on many of the issues that are debated endlessly here and all over the blogosphere world. 

Now without getting into all the many facets that this debate entails, what I really am driving at here is this, from a laymans perspective who thoroughly searches the Word on these issues and has moved from a very legalistic worldview to , what I perceive as a more Biblically based concept of Christian living ie my music , women's dress standards and translation issues as well as many others obviously ( I'm dealing with those issues at the heart of these debates). 

Now , maybe I'm being a bit incoherent and that could be because I'm not trained in the art of writing and logic, but then again I'm merely trying to give the simple laymans viewpoint of this whole debate ie cultural conservative vs. cultural progressive ( which both terms I think can give a sour taste , at  least in my mouth). 

So, from my laymans POV, I see this raging debate in a negative way. And this is what I mean , group A says your going liberal , group B ( which I'd put myself in) says no, we see liberal as denying the main tenets , the fundamentals, group B says , " your all legalistic in group A" ( which I don't believe, some yes, all no), group A says " no we're just more Biblical " , which group B take as considering them less Biblical by default. 

So to someone such as myself it certainly " seems" that one side seems bent on making the other side conform to their perceived biblical image, and I see both sides being guilty of this. 

Now please bear with me here because even within commenting on the seemingly endless debate, I find it almost impossible to come up with any type of concluding solution since this debate , from which, upon my study of history has, raged for centuries.  So let me make a simple suggestion, please remember their are those of us left in the pew who do not see this subject as all that difficult.  We each have the Word and the Spirit to guide us through the Word. Can we stay silent where scripture does and speak when and where it does. This is not a license to be completely fleshly or disobedient in our worship , but instead to apply the I Cor. 13 principal to this and all " non-essential" matters of practice. 

In closing , I'd like to state that in worship ( music) in the assembly I believe in a blended style, I love some of the traditional hymns ( And can it Be, How great Thou Art) , but I also , and maybe even more so love a lot of new hymns (Sovereign Grace etc) and old hymns redone. I and my family listen to CCM radio , which use to be anathema, and we love it. There's much in the CCM movement that I like in the car or home , but doesn't belong in worship within the assembly , such as Reformed rap, or groups such as Skillet. This I think may be where the disconnect lies between how group A thinks about group B, at least for me , assembly worship is all about Him ( and as long as what's done in assembly worship keeps that perspective can't go wrong , which, I sense will settle any genre/ instrument debate there may be) and what I listen to at home etc can be simply for my enjoyment , which is a gift from Him as well. 

Mr Bailey

paynen's picture

The issue it seems that your seeing is a lot the again old conservative positions which I talked about in my earlier post. The other thing you are seeing is what the argument looks like to many laymen who are in part in the argument themselves.  Many people on both sides of the argument usually likes to adopt one of the positions of stated in earlier posts latch onto the view of one of the leaders within it, and then without having a full knowledge of either view attempt to insert themselves into the argument. that is where your statements here come into play. 

 

So, from my laymans POV, I see this raging debate in a negative way. And this is what I mean , group A says your going liberal , group B ( which I'd put myself in) says no, we see liberal as denying the main tenets , the fundamentals, group B says , " your all legalistic in group A" ( which I don't believe, some yes, all no), group A says " no we're just more Biblical " , which group B take as considering them less Biblical by default.

I don't think Dr. Bauder or Dr. Aniol would ever necessarily call one with a contemporary view of culture liberal. though many from your Group B definitely hold that Group A is legalistic. The big issue your talking about though takes place when , people get involved in the debate without knowledge on the views they are actually supporting. So they will call Contemporaries liberal and then in turn those mistakes get attached unfairly the original proponents of the view. 

 

The other issue is a misunderstanding of what legalism actually means. In order for one to be legalistic they must be requiring works for righteousness. The pharisees were legalistic because they demanded that one follow the law and temple traditions in order for someone to be viewed righteous by God. So by definition only a works based form of salvation can be considered legalistic. So legalism should not even be a part of the debate. The issue being dealt with are corporate convictions and stewardship of our churches. I think what may help laymen and others who want to understand what is going on, is to actually read the material of each view before jumping into what is going on in regards of the arguments. That means reading books that have been published, not just jumping straight onto SI and jumping into conversations like many do. (not saying that that is what you are doing, I believe your post was respectful and gave us a accurate representation of what is going on for many people, and I thank you for your contribution.)

Anne Sokol's picture

...

no one who really understands God's grace believes this:

On one hand, Olson (and many others—let’s be fair) is saying rules and do’s and dont’s have no relationship to spirituality or sanctification and that to believe they do is legalism."

Matt wrote:

Rules have the ability to protect, structure, and control behavior but they cannot produce spiritual life, real growth, or lasting fruit. Authentic Christianity can only be realized through Christ, by means of His Spirit and His Word, as faith is exercised.

There is a lot of difference between these two statements.

... Back to your regularly scheduled programming ...

 

WBailey's picture

Thank you paypen ,

I also should have given a little more info. as to how and why our church came to a different view on some things. When I used the term laymen I was speaking from the sense that I'm not an elder. Also although I'm not a leader , I am a teacher at different times and at different levels within our assembly , which means your required to study in order to teach and as you mentioned to be able to interject an opinion in venues such as SI.  

And it's that studying that has lead to changes in certain areas, whether music,translations, and standards. 

I'm not trying to react in anyway to your post, but maybe give a little more clarity to the intent of my original post. 

Thank you for commenting and being kind about it in the process   

Mr Bailey

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

I agree that understanding how to respond to culture - our own and other's - is very important. It is also deeply personal, hence the talking past each other. That's why I often think that when it comes to culture and behavior, we are not starting with the right questions. 

If 

  • out of the heart are the issues of life
  • a good tree bringeth forth good fruit
  • no fountain can yield both salt water and fresh
  • by their fruits ye shall know them

then it stands to reason that we should be looking more at dealing with issues of heart if we want to see holy living and a proper response to one's culture.  

Whether we are conservatives or not, we are still looking at things like clothing and music and entertainment choices as our main methods of 'measuring' spiritual growth. If you wear skirts, you are weak, if you go to movies, you are carnal. If that is where we focus our attention, we are trying to work salvation and sanctification from the outside in instead of the inside out.

I wonder why we seldom debate about how best to show compassion, generosity, courage, faithfulness, moderation, humility, diligence, hospitality. . . and wouldn't you know, those are actually listed in Scripture as aspects of spiritual growth. 

If in our hearts we consider the testimony of Jesus Christ and the benefit of others ahead of our own pleasure, won't we be more likely to know how to Biblically react to cultural norms? 

Bob Bixby's picture

I don't mind being misrepresented if it helps make your point. But the fact of the matter is this line doesn't represent my view of culture one iota:

"This view rejects the idea that there is a superior cultural ideal at some point in the history of the West. It associates the cultural reactions of 20th century fundamentalism with legalism and tends to see the “standards” and “rules” of that era (and the surviving present forms) as often arbitrary and ill-conceived, at best, and as a ruse for unethical exercise of power and oppression by fundamentalist leaders, at worst."

This is an interesting spin job and may represent some or many, but it doesn't represent my view of these matters. I actually think our worship is more traditional than most of so-called conservative critics who assess my view to be as you described it above. 

But carry on. I don't care.

Joel Tetreau's picture

So I'm really liking this post.

I laughed out loud when I saw Aaron's opening, "not enough people are mad at me." So Aaron, as John Calvin would say, "good luck trying to simply represent the various views on this." As soon as I saw what you attempted to do - I thought to myself, I don't think the guys will agree with what Aaron is trying to do - and sure enough here just a few posts down Bob has shared he think's you didn't get what he was trying to say.

Well - I'm sure you meant well Aaron - keep trying. I ran into the same thing with the ABC thing - when you try to categorize people into "camps" - they typically "herd" like cats.

I will say I appreciate the attempt at bringing some kind of love to the table - you were doing that right Aaron? If indeed you were trying to bring peace - well - you know me - I'm all about "let's-all-gather-around-the-fire" for a group hug moment. So you know I'm there! So while I will admit to being much closer to the Bob and Matt's view of this (as they describe their view and even to a degree as you have attempted to define their view vis-a-vis Kevin, Scott,, etc....) - I certainly can appreciate all sides (to a degree)....and am always willing to toss out an olive branch (just as long as I've harvested any tasty olives first!:) ) here and there.

So - being one "gifted" with simplicity (yes that is a gift!) - I just wonder if at the core, this is at least in part - good men trying to find the right balance between:

1. Being "in" the world

2. Not being "of" the world

I have an idea both sides are clear on these two goals - in the end there are just different ideas on the implications and applications of this biblical target.

For whatever that was worth!

Straight Ahead!

jt

Dr. Joel Tetreau serves as Senior Pastor, Southeast Valley Bible Church (sevbc.org); Regional Coordinator for IBL West (iblministry.com), Board Member & friend for several different ministries;

Joel Tetreau's picture

Brother Bailey,

I appreciated you sharing your journey. I think you have some rich observations as the Lord has taken you on the ecclesiastical path He's ordained for you. I appreciate your comments and look forward to reading more of those in the days ahead - Straight Ahead!

jt

Dr. Joel Tetreau serves as Senior Pastor, Southeast Valley Bible Church (sevbc.org); Regional Coordinator for IBL West (iblministry.com), Board Member & friend for several different ministries;

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Appreciate all the comments. Not quite "the usual" on this topic, though of course the long-standing commitments are evident. It's also evident that some of you have done more reading and thinking on this than I have.

Steve asked about the charges cultural conservatives make about CCM and older sentimental music: "I wonder, how do they know this?"

It's a great question, but it's one they actually love to answer--at least in my experience. They've written quite a bit in attempts to answer it. Do you mean "How do they think they know this?" or "They think they know this but I don't find their arguments persuasive"?  If it's the former, the information is out there. If it's the latter, that's where the debate needs to happen... at least that's where I think some of the most interesting and edifying debate would happen.

It's clear enough to me that many of the cultural non-conservatives feel that the culture question is settled and moot. I'd be interested in knowing more precisely what they see as settled. In the essay I paired two possibilities together when describing this view: that culture (a) never has much meaning to begin with or (b) that it's meaning quickly dissipates into irrelevance. For those of you who see it as fairly obvious and settled that the culture matter is pretty much a non-factor, do you see the situation as a. or b.? The answer to that is pretty important because granting that culture ever has meaning that matters has many implications worth talking about.

 

Anne suggested I may have misrepresented Olson's view on the relationship of rules to spirituality and sanctification. That's possible. However, there is more in the two posts I linked to than the part you excerpted there, Anne. What I have to concede I have found his view--and very similar views that may or may not be the same--confusing. It seems self-contradictory on several points. So that makes it hard to fairly represent. What does a view really consist of if it grants a vital role to applying Scripture to matters the Bible doesn't speak directly of and living a life of discipline in those applications, then turns around and says rules cannot contribute to sanctification? These are mutually exclusive ideas as far as I can tell.

In some ways the sanctification debate (one that is really going on mostly outside fundamentalism I think, among various flavors of Reformed) is a separate one, but it's definitely related to the culture debate because so many argue against conservatism based on this particular view of sanctification, personal-discipline, "performance," legalism, etc.

So one direction a healthy debate would need to go is to try to arrive at clarity on just what this view really is. 

About the condescension and ignorance thing....

This is a subtopic I hope to develop more in my next essay, but I'll sort of summarize for now. I think the case can be made that when cultural conservative leaders get the feeling they are talking to folks who are vastly ignorant on the subject, they are absolutely right about that. I'm including myself. I've barely even begun to get educated on that subject. I've learned just enough to have an idea how much I don't know.

So my gripe with cultural conservatives is not that they think they know so much. The challenge is to reach out to us ignorant folk in a way that is not alienating. It's a perceptions-management thing.

But both "sides" (and all the positions in between) have plenty of vocal defenders who are poorly informed. Much as we'd like to think otherwise, nobody's got a corner on the stupidity market. 

Bob Bixby's picture

Aaron,

My complaint about Bauder/Aniol being condescending and arrogant is not because I think they are wrong, but because I think in most things they are right. I agree with you that they are, in the main, talking to people who know nothing about the subject. But I disagree with them that anyone who disagree with them knows nothing about the subject. Unlike how you represent me here, I actually agree more with them on culture than Olson (as you represented his view), but I strongly disagree with how their view is fleshed out and communicated through separation, isolationism, condescending non-cooperation, etc. 

My paradigm to helping change culture toward an appreciation of higher cultural ideals (i.e. Bach) has been to speak the language of the "tribe" where I am a missionary. Because I can become all things to all people, it did not bother me to allow drums into our services because I do not feel my conscience violated by using something less good or "offered to idols" in helping people communicate. The irony is that I believe I am winning more believers in good culture (like old hymns and classical music) in my local church by rejecting a legalistic adherence to a higher standard.  The churches that I have observed that take their approach to separation over music "teach" a higher ideal by legalism and I have seen it up close and personal, it kills. Bottom line, in ten years our local church will have done more to turn people toward a "higher culture" from "low culture" than I think many of their churches will do. While one of their churches that I know of is shrinking so fast as frustrated people leave because they feel like foreigners in their local church we are making disciples/followers by being willing to use not-as-good in our ministry of communication in order to draw people to Jesus. Ministry is not about communication to God as much as it is about communication to men. 

I do not appreciate being lumped in the camp of any that think culture of any kind is amoral or that good/better/best are matters of subjective, personal tastes.

paynen's picture

Susan the heart is what is important, but the question is can someone do the wrong thing with the right motives and the right heart. Can they "have a zeal for God but without knowledge?"

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Bob Bixby wrote:
I don't mind being misrepresented if it helps make your point. But the fact of the matter is this line doesn't represent my view of culture one iota:

"This view rejects the idea that there is a superior cultural ideal at some point in the history of the West. It associates the cultural reactions of 20th century fundamentalism with legalism and tends to see the “standards” and “rules” of that era (and the surviving present forms) as often arbitrary and ill-conceived, at best, and as a ruse for unethical exercise of power and oppression by fundamentalist leaders, at worst."

This is an interesting spin job and may represent some or many, but it doesn't represent my view of these matters. I actually think our worship is more traditional than most of so-called conservative critics who assess my view to be as you described it above. 

But carry on. I don't care.

I have no desire to make points by misrepresenting. An argument against a misrepresented view is always a fail. I'd welcome a three or four sentence paragraph that summarize your view of culture, etc. in a more accurate way.

I'd be quite surprised to hear that you believe any of the following . . .

  • that there is a cultural ideal at some point in the history of the West
  • that fundamentalism was on track in its reactions to culture in the 20th century
  • that legalism was not/is not a problem in connection with these cultural reactions
  • that fundamentalist leaders have used their standards to wield power over people

Edit: Bob, just saw your second post. It appears I did have the wrong impression of your view. The vehemence of your post... is hard to understand if your differences with them are indeed so small. In any case, the view I described is out there and quite widespread... so maybe I just didn't correctly identify a recent proponent.

Bob Bixby's picture

My differences with them on culture are small (in my opinion). My differences with them on the doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ and the ambassadorial ministry of reconciliation are quite significant. My differences with them on catering to traditionalists as if their complaints with NIU are one and the same when it comes to conservative music are huge. I think it's dishonest and I said so numbers of time. To allow people to get on their blog and to *think that the conservativism NIU once taught is the same as the conservativism that RAM teaches is dishonest. Garlock and Bauder are two different people. Completely. Furthermore, I think that a right view of culture is only going to come when people are unshackled from the culture of fundamentalist legalism. Their linking arms with traditional IFB to go after NIU as if they all were on the same page about conservative worship was misleading at best and it was a cheap way to get new fans. I don't expect the traditionalists to get it, but I did expect much, much more from RAM. It was picking on an easy target. I think Aniol needs to explain why he doesn't post deliberate attacks against his own institution where he teaches. But, of course, they pay him. And Harding needs to explain why he has no problem working with Aniol who is a member and elder in the SBC that is rife with, not only doctrinal variety but musical variety. Where does second degree separation apply? Or, does it not apply when it is one of your boys?

I don't buy their idea of separation and I don't have a problem with Aniol being in the SBC. But I think he should start posting anonymous letters about the SBC and his school too. 

 

Bob Bixby's picture

 

  • that there is a cultural ideal at some point in the history of the West

A qualified yes. I think it's foolish to point back to an era with romanticized memory. Perhaps because I lived in Europe for so long and walked by reminders of how pathetic culture was in the era that was supposedly idea. But, having said that, I do think that in the past in various aspects of culture (art, music, literature, etc.) there are "ideals of better vs. today" that we can look back to.

  • that fundamentalism was on track in its reactions to culture in the 20th century

Of course. Especially in the late 60s. I don't mind that there would be a reaction to culture. Our goal is to be counter-cultural and I think it manifests itself practically. Maybe I don't understand your question here. It seems obvious to me.

  • that legalism was not/is not a problem in connection with these cultural reactions

Legalism is always a problem. You don't change culture by culture. You change culture by grace. I think this is obvious in Titus, a culture that was defined as always liars, evil beasts, and lazy gluttons. We live our lives to adorn the grace of God which teaches people how to change their culture. But it is grace that teaches us to live differently too, not mere rules (although I don't deny the necessity of rules). But too easily legalism becomes the answer. The solution to immodesty is not "don't wear pants."

  • that fundamentalist leaders have used their standards to wield power over people

Of course, fundamentalist leaders have used their standards to wield power over people. Do you really deny this? I will gladly admit that not all fundamentalists have done/do this, but I will say it is part of the culture of fundamentalism to use standards as a way of corralling people by fear. The music discussion is no exception.

 

 

 

mmartin's picture

Aaron I agree with your comment that most sides are mostly botching it.

However, both in general and in the case of the current NIU controversy, in reading the comments here on SI and in other blogs you do not get that sense at all.

The comments By Far are not in favor of the traditionalist or fundamentalist position. 

Except for Mr. Martuneac, that I have seen those raising valid questions about the other side or NIU's new direction and the implementation of it are few.  And yet compare that with the energy and word count of those pointing out the flaws of the traditionalists. 

Why is that?

Bixby wants fair and balanced, right?  Of course that is reasonable.  It goes to being honest and credible.  After all, who likes engaging someone who can't or won't see the beam in their own eye while pointing out the spec in someone else's eye.

Not directing this at Bixby, but seems to me the people asking for fair and balanced from the opposition do not appear to be very willing to demonstrate it themselves about their own side.

Is that honest?  Is that credible?

Just some fair and balanced questions.

TylerR's picture

Editor

Bob Bixby wrote:

Of course, fundamentalist leaders have used their standards to wield power over people. Do you really deny this? I will gladly admit that not all fundamentalists have done/do this, but I will say it is part of the culture of fundamentalism to use standards as a way of corralling people by fear. The music discussion is no exception.

You are over-reaching here. You cannot use the un-Biblical excesses of a few to impugn the motives and intent of thinking fundamentalists who desire to be true to Scripture. It would be just as inappropriate of me to accuse evangelicals of being wishy-washy, theologically illiterates by tying all evangelicals to Joel Osteen. There are plenty of fundamentalists, like me, who eschew legalism and rote adherence to external standards. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

mmartin's picture

I agree 100% with TylerR.

It is an illustration of my argument above.

What is good for the goose . . .

Andrew K.'s picture

Bob Bixby wrote:

Aaron,

My complaint about Bauder/Aniol being condescending and arrogant is not because I think they are wrong, but because I think in most things they are right. I agree with you that they are, in the main, talking to people who know nothing about the subject. But I disagree with them that anyone who disagree with them knows nothing about the subject. Unlike how you represent me here, I actually agree more with them on culture than Olson (as you represented his view), but I strongly disagree with how their view is fleshed out and communicated through separation, isolationism, condescending non-cooperation, etc. 

My paradigm to helping change culture toward an appreciation of higher cultural ideals (i.e. Bach) has been to speak the language of the "tribe" where I am a missionary. Because I can become all things to all people, it did not bother me to allow drums into our services because I do not feel my conscience violated by using something less good or "offered to idols" in helping people communicate. The irony is that I believe I am winning more believers in good culture (like old hymns and classical music) in my local church by rejecting a legalistic adherence to a higher standard.  The churches that I have observed that take their approach to separation over music "teach" a higher ideal by legalism and I have seen it up close and personal, it kills. Bottom line, in ten years our local church will have done more to turn people toward a "higher culture" from "low culture" than I think many of their churches will do. While one of their churches that I know of is shrinking so fast as frustrated people leave because they feel like foreigners in their local church we are making disciples/followers by being willing to use not-as-good in our ministry of communication in order to draw people to Jesus. Ministry is not about communication to God as much as it is about communication to men. 

I do not appreciate being lumped in the camp of any that think culture of any kind is amoral or that good/better/best are matters of subjective, personal tastes.

This.

Yes. This has been my problem with the whole debate.

Why, oh why, does the one side insist that the other side holds to complete cultural relativism and, perhaps, even think that Skillet is just as good as Bach? No one (I hope) is saying that.

I love traditional culture. Modern Western culture is a sickly shadow of its former glory. The old hymns are far superior to some of the horrifically shallow praise choruses we sometimes sing in my church. But I recognize that those around me are legitimately worshipping God and I will not leave to find another place of worship because of it.

I hope we use more traditional worship forms in the future, because I do believe they are superior. But I will not separate from my brothers and sisters over that. The worship may be unacceptable to my tastes at times, but that does not mean it is unacceptable to God. And until it can be proven to me from Scripture, I will not move.

神是爱

Greg Long's picture

paynen wrote:

 

The other issue is a misunderstanding of what legalism actually means. In order for one to be legalistic they must be requiring works for righteousness. The pharisees were legalistic because they demanded that one follow the law and temple traditions in order for someone to be viewed righteous by God. So by definition only a works based form of salvation can be considered legalistic. So legalism should not even be a part of the debate. The issue being dealt with are corporate convictions and stewardship of our churches. I think what may help laymen and others who want to understand what is going on, is to actually read the material of each view before jumping into what is going on in regards of the arguments. That means reading books that have been published, not just jumping straight onto SI and jumping into conversations like many do. (not saying that that is what you are doing, I believe your post was respectful and gave us a accurate representation of what is going on for many people, and I thank you for your contribution.)

I disagree with your definition of legalism. Although he didn't use the word "legalism," Jesus defined what we typically refer to as legalism as "teaching as doctrines the commandments of men" (Mark 7:7). Certainly this can be the case in a salvific sense, as with the Pharisees, but it can also be the case in a non-salvific sense. So it can apply to sanctification as well as salvation.

-------
Greg Long, Ed.D. (SBTS)

Pastor of Adult Ministries
Grace Church, Des Moines, IA

Adjunct Instructor
School of Divinity
Liberty University

paynen's picture

Greg Long wrote:

paynen wrote:

 

The other issue is a misunderstanding of what legalism actually means. In order for one to be legalistic they must be requiring works for righteousness. The pharisees were legalistic because they demanded that one follow the law and temple traditions in order for someone to be viewed righteous by God. So by definition only a works based form of salvation can be considered legalistic. So legalism should not even be a part of the debate. The issue being dealt with are corporate convictions and stewardship of our churches. I think what may help laymen and others who want to understand what is going on, is to actually read the material of each view before jumping into what is going on in regards of the arguments. That means reading books that have been published, not just jumping straight onto SI and jumping into conversations like many do. (not saying that that is what you are doing, I believe your post was respectful and gave us a accurate representation of what is going on for many people, and I thank you for your contribution.)

I disagree with your definition of legalism. Although he didn't use the word "legalism," Jesus defined what we typically refer to as legalism as "teaching as doctrines the commandments of men" (Mark 7:7). Certainly this can be the case in a salvific sense, as with the Pharisees, but it can also be the case in a non-salvific sense. So it can apply to sanctification as well as salvation.

This is the traditional theological definition of legalism "Legalism, in Christian theology, is a usually pejorative term referring to an over-emphasis on discipline of conduct, or legal ideas, usually implying an allegation of misguided rigour, pride, superficiality, the neglect of mercy, and ignorance of the grace of God or emphasizing the letter of law over the spirit. Legalism is alleged against any view that obedience to law, not faith in God's grace, is the pre-eminent principle of redemption."

http://monergism.com/directory/link_category/Bad-Theology/Legalism/

http://www.websters-online-dictionary.org/definitions/legalism

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legalism_(theology)

http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/legalism

Enough sources?

Greg Long's picture

Thank you for the links, because on the first one you provided under "a definition of legalism" #3 is "attempting to be sanctified by one's own works." And on the third link you provided, #2. B. is "the judging of conduct in terms of adherence to precise laws."

So, as I said, it can apply to both salvation and sanctification.

-------
Greg Long, Ed.D. (SBTS)

Pastor of Adult Ministries
Grace Church, Des Moines, IA

Adjunct Instructor
School of Divinity
Liberty University

Joel Tetreau's picture

Tyler

So you and brother Martin have responded to Bixby's accusation that fundamentalists have often used Xtra Biblical standards (such as music) to pressure people towards a kind of conformity - and that such conformity is in part motivated or used by fear. You both have suggested that while there are a few who have done that, this does not characterize fundamentalism as a movement.

So, not trying to be disrespectful to either of you, I must admit that I'm convinced by my own observations that Bob is right. So I'm 45 in July. Bob is a few years younger. Our dad's were best buds at BJ back in the 60's. Bob and I were born at or near BJ, attended Southside Baptist Church in Greenville and our families were raised in the heart of the BJ - BBF - FBF - Hyles kind of ministries (those orbs were united in the late 60's, 70's - maybe even into the first year or two of the 80's).

Bob and I were born and bread in the middle of what I call Type A fundamentalism. In addition to all of that Bob and I both came out of Type A fundamentalism to what I call a different mindset within historic fundamentalism in part because of the abuse of leadership Bob speaks of. I would say - that an improper leverage of authority by way of fear is indeed a common character trait in the DNA and Ethos and sub-culture of militant fundamentalism - and maybe especially "institutional fundamentalism" and/or "organizational fundamentalism." It is one of the reasons why in my view, this wing of fundamentalism must be tamed by the Fruit of the Spirit or it must die.

So either in active ministry or ministry training Bob and I have almost 50 years of combined "fundamentalist obsrervation." I could fill a book as to times I've seen fundamentalists abuse God's people through using their authority as a whip. It's ugly and it has been too common within the militant strain of fundamentalism. To say that it is only found with a few here and there is I fear ...... not accurate.

BTW - and this is just a side - I'm starting to hear testimony from some who attend "elders - rule" churches that take a more Type C approach to ministry a similar kind of testimony of abuse of power and an unwillingness to be careful and charitable with it's authority. I know of at least two churches not too far from our congregation where elders rule their congregations and use fear as a way to knocking those that are struggling with this or that "into line." So this "issue" in fairness is not only found within fundamentalism - but indeed it is an ugly part of the movement.

One more point of clarity here - You men are forcing me to think hard about the many occasions I've seen this "fear-mungoring." In all honesty - the majority of instances have been in the context of fundamentalist politics. That is when pastors or leaders are interacting and trying to use influence to get their way or impose their influence. So if brother "so-in-so" doesn't toe the line, well we won't invite him to speak at such and such fellowship or ABC Presby-bapti-methodist College. We won't stop there, if you don't don't "toe the line," we will tell everyone in our Green colored rag sheet that all of the best fundamentalist will separate from "George" because - well we all know George is really just a quasi John MacArthur type and that always leads to liberalism! Now it also appears in local churches when leaders directly or indirectly threaten other leaders if they don't mindlessly "follow the general!" (Read Think modern day examples of "Diotrephes.") This also shows up in para-church ministries like Missions agencies - who on some occasions can almost hold a gun to the head of American or National leaders if they don't "toe the line."

So - all that to say - this abuse of power is embedded in the "sub-culture" of Type A fundamentalism - too many of us have too many stories and too many observations as to how this is a systemic issue not an episodic one. Now when fundamentalist pastors don't abuse their sheep and stay out of fundamentalist politics - and treat other fundamentalist ministries and leaders with equality, there isn't this attitude. Instead there is a peaceful attitude. Where that is the norm - God's grace abounds and then Bob's comments may not apply.

So - just try to consider this a parallel witness to what Bob was saying earlier.

Straight Ahead!

jt

 

Dr. Joel Tetreau serves as Senior Pastor, Southeast Valley Bible Church (sevbc.org); Regional Coordinator for IBL West (iblministry.com), Board Member & friend for several different ministries;

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