Dr. Doug MacLachlan presented this paper at Central Seminary’s fall conference on Oct. 17, 2011. It will post here in two parts, today and tomorrow.
My personal spiritual journey—it begins with a fundamental church.
The church is God’s good family in man’s broken world.
In 1 Timothy 3:15, Paul defines the church as: “the household (the family) of God.” In effect, Paul is saying to our 21st century body of Christ: “Be what you are:” The family of God in a world of fractured families; a home-base for the familially disenfranchised! A very significant part of our calling as 1st century Christians and churches in a 21st century world is to be a place where relational warmth, familial love, gospel truth, and biblical exposition can be found. If we fulfill this function biblically and compassionately we will impact our world rescuingly and redemptively for Jesus Christ.
I know this first from Scripture, but second from personal experience. My familial pedigree has never been considered very impressive. I am the son of a bartender, and the grandson of a gangster. My first encounter with “family” as it was ordained by God to be was in the context of a local, fundamental Baptist church in the small village of Montrose, MI where I was raised. I brought nothing of value or status to the small community of believers in Montrose Baptist Church, except my eternal soul as a creature made in God’s image, and as a sinner for whom Christ died. That was enough for that body of believers to welcome me into their midst and invite me into their homes.
For the first time, as a teenager, I saw, felt, and experienced the warmth and wealth of a real family. Through that experience, and the exposure to the truth of Scripture and the grace of the gospel that it provided, I came to personal faith in Jesus Christ. The light that was in them was a loving rebuke to the darkness that was in me. And I was attracted to that light just as a moth is attracted to light. The salt that they were gave me a thirst for what they had. Because of their familial welcome and biblical message, the Light of the world expelled my darkness, and the Water of life quenched my thirsts. They were to me God’s good family in my broken world.
I feel the necessity to say that this “good family” in the end impacted not only my life, but a number of others in the extended families of both Marie and me. For one outstanding example, I recount that thirty years after my own conversion I had the joyful privilege of leading my father, who by that time had come to live with us, to personal faith in Jesus Christ. Over the years a number of others in both our families have likewise come to trust in Christ. But the beginnings of our spiritual biography as a family are sourced in the loving familial and biblical outreach of that authentic body of believers in Montrose who introduced me to personal faith in Jesus Christ as a 16-year old boy. I have been grateful for my roots in a fundamental, biblically-shaped and familially warm Baptist church ever since.
The birthing and intent of Reclaiming Authentic Fundamentalism
In 1982 I was invited to become the pastor of Fourth Baptist Church in Minneapolis, MN. Dr. Richard V. Clearwaters had been the distinguished pastor of this historic church (birthed in 1881) since 1940, the year before I was born. Dr. Clearwaters graduated from Moody Bible Institute (1924), Northern Baptist Theological Seminary (Th.B., 1928; B.D., 1931). He also attended Kalamazoo College (B.A. 1930), and the University of Chicago Divinity School (M.A. 1931). “Doc,” as we called him, was highly educated, possessed a brilliant mind, was a committed Biblicist, a militant separatist, and a strong Baptist. His vision for education and mission was immense, and his leadership style was autocratic and authoritarian. He founded both Pillsbury Baptist Bible College in Owatonna, MN in 1957 and Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Minneapolis, MN in 1956.
Under his leadership, Fourth Baptist Church grew to be a church of approximately 1100-1200 people. In 1982, at the age of 82, Dr. Clearwaters retired from pastoral ministry. I was the first man to succeed him as senior pastor of the church. I can assure you, he was “a hard act to follow.” The difficulty of following such a man was exacerbated by the fact that he and his wife remained in the church as members of the body after Marie and I arrived. It was difficult for them not to interpret every change that we made as, in one way or another, either a rejection of them or an exaltation of ourselves. This was further complicated by the radical difference in our leadership styles. For a significant minority of lay-leaders in the church at that time, adjusting to McLachlan was more than they could handle. Some of them took covert, and on occasion overt, steps to move us out of the pastoral leadership of Fourth Baptist Church. For us this was an entirely new experience, something we had never faced in our two previous pastorates.
The bottom line is that we spent five very difficult years in that position, and found it necessary to leave. It was then that we went to Northland Baptist Bible College in the summer of 1987, and taught there for seven years. So here is my point: the hard experiences that we encountered at Fourth are what gave birth to Reclaiming Authentic Fundamentalism. Though the aspiration for an authentic fundamentalism had been growing throughout the previous decade of our ministry, this was an existential moment for us. The “idea” of fundamentalism (to quote Kevin Bauder) is something that resonated with my heart, but the abuse of the idea by a small but influential group at Fourth became the motivation to write about an authentic kind of fundamentalism.
The intention was to affirm the theological foundation of fundamentalism, but to deal honestly and transparently with the “holes” in the superstructure. As I said then,
… the unique thing about a foundation is that it is hidden from view, while the superstructure is visible to all. Perhaps this accounts for the sense of disillusionment which seems to prevail among so many young fundamentalists. What they see and hear of Fundamentalism, with some obvious exceptions, is often disappointing to them… . Without a proper foundation, no movement can long remain loyal to Jesus Christ. So the solution to our problems within Fundamentalism is not to abandon a sound foundation for a troubled one, but to address the issue of rebuilding within Fundamentalism an authentic superstructure in the place of one which is troubled. (pp. 3-4)
That was the intent of the book: to awaken the older generation to what was happening within fundamentalism, and to give the younger generation a reason to remain within it and to make a generational commitment to fixing it. It has taken a long time, but I believe we are in the beginning stages of actually giving birth to an authentic fundamentalism, which is actually nothing other than a 21st century rebirth of historic, mainstream fundamentalism. Leading the way in this birthing are men like Kevin Bauder, Sam Horn, Matt Olson, Dave Doran, Tim Jordan, Dan Davey, and others like them. In my opinion, the move toward authenticity has unfolded in three steps:
- Conception. In some ways, Reclaiming Authentic Fundamentalism, published in 1994, despite its multiple limitations, contributed to the planting of a seed, which was fertilized and took root in the hearts and minds of a number of young men who are now leaders in Fundamentalism.
- Gestation. Over this period of time, the idea has ripened and grown as these leaders have ripened and grown theologically, missionally, and pastorally in their ministries and views. Having become recognized leaders, they are now in a position to move toward actual implementation of the idea.
- Birth. Concrete steps toward implementation are now being taken across a wide spectrum of this new generation of leaders. The “birth” is now becoming apparent, as the idea experiences incarnation. In many respects this is to be welcomed, but its implementation mandates a combination of circumspection, prudence, and patience.
If the birth metaphor actually applies, then what we have on our hands is a newborn infant. Infants must be handled with care. The steps we take now must be “baby-steps” because too large of steps taken too soon could be lethal to the “baby,” and the idea could die before it has a chance to mature.
Conception and gestation took nearly 20 years. The leadership to whom the fleshing out of this idea falls must be prepared to make a generational commitment to the fulfillment of this task. It will take that long to grow the baby into maturity. This is not all bad because it gives this generation of leaders an extended opportunity to demonstrate clearly and unquestionably their genuine commitment to the idea of historic, mainstream Fundamentalism. The full-blown incarnation of an authentic fundamentalism, the immense potential it presents to the body of Christ for robust and fruitful ministry and mission, is a powerful justification for “handling the baby” with circumspection, prudence, and patience. In my opinion, all the decisions that are to be made about the steps we should presently take in this long journey back to authenticity should be made in the light of these realities.
The critical balance that defines an authentic fundamentalism
Though its spiritual and theological antecedents can be found in the 19th century, Fundamentalism “as a movement organized in the early twentieth century to defend orthodox Protestant Christianity against the challenges of theological liberalism, higher criticism of the Bible, evolution and other modernisms judged to be harmful to traditional faith.” (Dictionary of Christianity in America, IVP, 1990, pp. 461-462). The attachment of a theological connotation to the English word “fundamental” most likely grows out of the publication of The Fundamentals in the early part of the twentieth century. Between 1910 and 1915:
… scores of conservative evangelicals from America and Europe contributed to a series of twelve volumes called The Fundamentals in order to identify and overcome what was wrong with modern religion and society. They criticized Romanism, Mormonism, Christian Science, atheism, spiritualism, modern philosophy and socialism. But they most objected to liberal theology, German higher criticism, Darwinism and their underlying naturalistic assumptions that led to the rejection of the Bible and the supernaturalistic basis of Christianity. For the most part The Fundamentals were scholarly, well-reasoned, carefully nuanced and polite. (Ibid, p. 463 emphasis mine)
These essays, written in defense of the absolutes of Scripture and against the unbelieving liberal assaults of God’s character and Word, were composed by world-class intellectuals who were experts in their respective fields of thought. They spoke with a profound blend and marvelous balance of grit, grace, and scholarship. They spoke with grit because they were not about to take the trashing of the Scripture nor the assaulting of God’s character by the hubris of the age lying down. They spoke with grace because there was no ugliness of disposition in their presentation of the data. And they spoke with scholarship because it was the weight of their argument, not the heat of the rhetoric, which defined the discourse. Their words were theologically sound, exegetically rich, dispositionally gracious, and intellectually astute. Both the truth and the love of the Holy Spirit shone through. This is a model to which all authentic, Spirit filled fundamentalists should aspire. Moreover, this is a model which we should not find difficult to imitate, since the Holy Spirit is “the Spirit of truth” and His first fruit is “love” (John 16:13, Gal. 5:22).
Though this critical balance was indeed an integral part of historic, mainstream fundamentalism, it seems not to have found a welcome in multiple contemporary varieties of it. The loss of this balance has been disastrous to the movement. The recovery of this biblical balance is absolutely essential, if we are to engage in an authentic kind of fundamentalism, which is capable of impacting our postmodern culture missionally and transformationally. The critical balance which defines an authentic fundamentalism mandates a deep commitment to three indispensable necessities which seem to have been lost. In one sense, they constitute three ways of saying the same thing:
1. Expressing holiness and love simultaneously
We need to develop the skill of expressing compassion while simultaneously resisting compromise. This is not easy, which perhaps explains the disastrous avoidance of it in large segments of both evangelicalism and fundamentalism. It is much easier to opt for one or the other—holiness or love rather than holiness and love. But it is precisely this imbalance which has been so destructive to Christ’s cause. Too many evangelicals have opted for unholy love; and too many fundamentalists have opted for unloving holiness. The result has been the development of an eccentric caricature rather than an authentic picture of the Christ we love, serve, and represent before the watching world as members of the body of Christ. Christ’s body on earth is the visible manifestation of the crucified, resurrected, ascended, and enthroned Savior and Sovereign of humankind (Matt. 5:14-16, 1 John 4:12). The last thing we want to do is present to their watching eyes a skewed portrait of Jesus Christ.
Nor should any of us think that holiness and love are at odds with one another. In 1 Thessalonians 3:12-13, Paul makes it very clear that these glorious attributes of the Triune Godhead are not only compatible, they are inseparable. And he calls upon all true believers in Jesus Christ to manifest both. To borrow Paul’s verbiage, abounding love (v. 12) always leads to blameless holiness (v. 13). However, learning how to express holiness and love simultaneously, rather than holiness or love separately, is both complex and costly.
Because it is complex, learning this balance will require critical thought.
In every circumstance of life, we have to ask ourselves two questions: “How can we honor the holiness of God in this situation?” and, “How can we honor the love of God in this situation?” These are questions that cannot be answered naively. Finding the answers to these complex questions will require biblical research, earnest prayer, Godly counsel, and careful thought. We shall have to learn to think critically. Perhaps the biblical term which best captures the idea of critical thought is dokimadzō—developing the skill of “approving the things that are excellent” (Phil. 1:9-10), or “finding out what is acceptable to the Lord” (Eph. 5:10).
More precisely, dokimadzō “has the meaning of put to the test, examine (1 Cor. 11:28; 2 Cor. 13:5; Gal. 6:4; Eph. 5:10; 1 Thess. 2:4; 5:21; 1 Tim. 3:10)… . In particular it was employed of testing money and metals… . The verb then had reference to the result of the examination and came to mean to ‘accept as proved, approve.’” (NIGTC, Peter T. O’Brien)
Clearly, this is a sophisticated process of critical thinking, which, within the context of Philippians 1:9-10, mandates significant growth in both spiritual vitality (abounding love) and biblical literacy (deepening knowledge). In other words, the successful performance of this task is contingent upon these two spiritual antecedents. Engaging in this process is an intentional and intelligent exercise of discrimination, which requires a standard or touchstone to which everything is brought. Doubtless, this absolute standard is Holy Scripture, which the book of Hebrews defines as “a discerner” (kritikos—“critic” or “judge”) “of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). These words are significant: “thoughts” (enthumēsis) describes aspirations or plans sourced in passion or emotion—thumos is a passionate or emotional term. And “intentions” (ennoia) describes aspirations or plans sourced in reason or rationality—noia is a rational or intellectual term. In both cases, it is our knowledge of God’s character and Word, sourced in our love for who He is and what He has said, that protects us from the ever present danger of decisions grounded in either brute passion or naked reason.
Interestingly, Paul affirms that a “reprobate mind” is an adokimon mind, i.e., a mind which is incapable of dokimadzō (Rom. 1:28). The first half of this verse says: “they did not like to retain God in their knowledge” (NKJV). The phrase “did not like to retain” uses a form of the word dokimadzō. It means that in their arrogance they subjected God to a test (they dokimadzō-ed God) and concluded that they should exclude Him from their body of knowledge. They judged God “unfit;” they received an “unfit” (adokimon—reprobate/debased) mind. Thus, the two classes of people who are incapable of the spiritual disciplines required of dokimadzō are the spiritually reprobate (Rom. 1:28) and the spiritually immature (Heb. 5:12-14).
Because it is costly, learning this balance will require cruciform.
In other words, expressing holiness and love simultaneously requires sacrifice. We know this because engaging in this exercise is an imitation of the cross. The supreme demonstration of holiness and love expressed simultaneously is the cross of Christ, the place of ultimate sacrifice. It was there that the demand of holiness for a penalty against sin, and the desire of love for a pardon for sinners were both satisfied. On account of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, the full penalty of sin was borne (holiness was quieted), and the full price of pardon was paid (love rejoiced).
So we, too, will have to be sacrificial. Some tend toward harshness and pharisaism (unloving holiness)—it will have to be crucified. Others tend toward softness and sentimentalism (unholy love)—it will have to be crucified. It is costly to maintain this delicate balance. Perhaps that is why there are so few Christians who bother. But without this sacrificial balance, we can never be the authentic Christians we are called to be, nor shall we be able to develop the authentic ministries we are called to develop. All authentic ministry and mission take the shape of cruciform—an imitation of the cross. No other formula for ministry will be truly blessed.
Doug McLachlan is the former president and current chancellor of Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Minneapolis). In addition to serving on the faculties of Northland International University and Central Seminary, he has served as senior pastor of several churches. He is also the author of Reclaiming Authentic Fundamentalism.