Note: This article was originally posted November 1, 2005.
Rice, John R. I Am a Fundamentalist. Sword of the Lord Publishers. Murfreesboro, TN. 1975.
Arguably, the two grandfathers of modern Fundamentalism are Dr. Bob Jones, Sr., and Dr. John R. Rice. Jones founded Fundamentalism’s most influential school, Bob Jones University, and was at its helm from 1927 to 1968. Rice launched Fundamentalism’s most influential periodical, The Sword of the Lord, in 1934 and served as its editor until his death in 1980. Rice is called “the twentieth century’s mightiest pen” because of his many published works.
Jones wrote the forward to Rice’s biography, Man Sent from God, written by Evangelist Robert L. Sumner. In his forward, Jones described his “good friend” Rice as “one of the greatest spiritual assets this nation has.” He went on to complement Rice by saying, “Dr. Rice is doing God’s work in God’s way.”
Rice’s book, I Am a Fundamentalist, will benefit those seeking to obtain a historical context for today’s Fundamentalism. In the first chapter, titled “What Is a Fundamentalist?”, Rice sees himself as one “better aware of the situation and with a better opportunity to speak for the cause of fundamentalism than most other men” ( p. 16). According to Rice, Fundamentalists are characterized by a vigorous defense of the faith, active soul winning, [and] great New Testament-type local churches going abroad to win multitudes, having a fervent love for all of God’s people and earnestly avoiding compromise in doctrine or yoking up with unbelievers ( p. 10).
Chapter Two gives fundamentalist principles found in the early church. Rice advocates having no fellowship with “enemies of Christ and the Bible, deniers of ‘the faith,’ [and] those who although they bear the name Christian do not hold to the historic Christian faith” (p. 23). He adds, “Any denominational program supporting some liberals is wrong!” (p.24).
On issues of separation from Christians, Rice quotes from Romans 14:1 and says, “We are to love Christians who differ with us on lesser matters but who are ‘in the faith,’ that is, born-again, Bible-believing Christians” (p. 31). He illustrates what he means by telling of his speaking at the national headquarters of the Assemblies of God in Springfield, Missouri. On one night of his crusade in Springfield, he invited 26 Assemblies of God preachers onto his platform as “special guests” (p. 31). He goes on to say, “I am for God’s people who believe the Bible, who love Jesus Christ, who try to win souls. I am against the crowd that is against Christ and the Bible” (p. 32).
Rice expresses his position on secondary separation this way: “You must decide that matter for yourself alone” (p. 35). He gives some examples of what he means. “You must decide” whether it is acceptable to fellowship with men who are members of the Southern Baptist Convention. Dr. Jerry Falwell must decide who will appear on his platform. Bob Jones University must decide who is on its faculty or conference program. Dr. Lee Roberson must decide who will speak in chapel at Tennessee Temple University. Rice leaves decisions on secondary separation up to the individual believer.
“Be a Fundamentalist But Not a Nut” is the title of Chapter Four. Rice defines “nuts” as those who “emphasize incidentals instead of fundamentals” (p. 67). Included in his examples of nuts is Peter Ruckman and those who teach “that the King James Version, even the translation, is perfectly done, without error” (p. 70). He encourages the believer to “be a good, soul-winning, Bible-defending fundamentalist Christian, but don’t be a Hell-raising nut, an irresponsible extremist bringing reproach on the cause of Christ” (p. 77).
Chapter Six is Rice’s response to a letter written to him by a seminary student who was critical of Fundamentalism. Rice is loving yet firm in his defense of Fundamentalism.
Chapter Seven is titled “Fundamentalists Should Love All Christ’s Other Sheep,” and it makes Rice’s position on secondary separation clearer. John 10:16 is Rice’s text for the chapter. He warns:
How easy it is to be a Pharisee when we want to be good Christians. Oh, this fundamentalism that is sound in doctrine and hard in heart! Oh, this Christian faithfulness to truth without tears, without compassion, without open arms of fellowship and a heart big enough to take in all of God’s people! (pp. 91,92).
Rice answers those who criticized him for publishing sermons by Assemblies of God preacher C.M. Ward and Anglican Bishop J.C. Ryle. He calls these two men “God’s sheep not in my fold” (p. 93).
Rice individually names some controversial people whom he considers “God’s sheep not in my fold.” Although he does not agree with Billy Graham on his associations, he loves Graham because “he is born again. He believes the Gospel and preaches it” (p. 106). Concerning Oral Roberts, Rice criticizes his association with the United Methodist Church and his charismatic leanings, but he says,
I believe he encourages and warms the heart of many, many people with his preaching. God bless Oral Roberts. He is one of God’s sheep. … I am glad Oral Roberts teaches people to pray (p. 107).
Although Rice does not like Johnny Cash’s singing in night clubs, he says, “I am glad he has been converted. I am glad he loves the Lord and believes in old-time Americanism. I think he is one of God’s sheep” (p. 107).
At the end of this chapter, Rice expresses his love for all believers:
I wish my arms were long enough to reach around the whole world and gather to my heart everyone who loves the Lord Jesus, everyone who names His name gladly, everyone who bows the knee to Him! (p. 111).
Chapters Eight and 13 through 15 all deal with Rice’s chief passion: Soul-winning. He calls Biblical churches “great soul-winning centers” (p. 221). He criticizes formal worship services and small churches. Rice describes these “great soul-winning centers” as churches that have “turned away from the formal morning worship services to make the services informal and evangelistic” (p. 221).
Concerning small churches, Rice says, “It is not a sin for a church to start small. It is a sin for a church to stay small” (p. 231). He goes on to assert: “Who is greatest in the sight of the Lord? Evidently the man who wins more souls” (p. 246). He adds, “Does God love little churches? Yes, for the first few months. After that He would much prefer that they win many more and grow larger” (p. 256).
In Chapter Nine, Rice gives his standards for cooperative evangelism. “Good Christian people surely ought to be more concerned about getting out the Gospel and seeing people saved than about their belief in a certain form of baptism, or speaking in tongues, or sanctification, or the organization of a church” (p. 148).
An area-wide crusade should be made up of “born-again Christians who believe the Bible, who love the Lord Jesus and want people to be saved” (p. 146).
Chapter 10, “The Bible Fundamentalist Is a Good Christian Citizen,” expresses a desire to see Christians respect and honor their government which God has ordained. Rice criticizes the John Birch Society and other groups who speak evil of those in authority. Chapter 11 is entitled “Fundamentalists Should Dress Like Christians” and gives what has, until recently, been the standard of dress for Fundamentalists: No pants on women, no long hair on men, and long hair on women. In Chapter 12, Rice contrasts the tongues movement of the Bible with the modern Charismatic Movement. He declares: “[The] modern tongues movement represents perverted, carnal Corinth, not Spirit-filled Pentecost” (p. 213). Each of these chapters gives a Biblical defense of the traditional position fundamentalists have taken on each subject.
In the final analysis, I would recommend that fundamentalists read this book. Rice provides a historical perspective of Fundamentalism. His lifelong passion was soul-winning. This emphasis is lacking in today’s average fundamental church. However, his heart for evangelism made him weak in the area of separation. He was willing to fellowship with all born again Bible-believers who love Jesus and want to win souls. This includes many people. To Rice, one’s views concerning, for example, mode of baptism, church polity, or speaking in tongues should not separate Christians when it comes to cooperating for the purpose of evangelism.
Rice decries a “fundamentalism that is sound in doctrine and hard in heart” (p. 91-92). He labels as “nuts” those who “emphasize incidentals instead of fundamentals” (p. 67). This is the cry of many within Fundamentalism who dislike the mean-spiritedness and nit-picking sometimes found within our ranks.
Interestingly, Rice’s views on secondary separation and the King James Version put him at odds with those who seek to carry on his legacy at The Sword of the Lord. Rice is a lot like C.H. Spurgeon. Like Spurgeon, everyone wants to remake Rice into his own image. Like Spurgeon (who was a proliferate writer), one can read Rice’s writings for himself to determine what he really believed. For this purpose, I urge modern Fundamentalists to read Rice’s book, I Am a Fundamentalist.
C.D. Cauthorne, Jr., is assistant pastor at Victory Baptist Church (Pikeville, KY). He graduated from Bob Jones University with B.A. and M.A. degrees.