Now, About Those Differences, Part Eight

NickOfTimeRead Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, and Part 7.

Styles and Methods

Fundamentalists and evangelicals (including conservative evangelicals) both want to distinguish themselves from one another. Fundamentalists usually want to be known as fundamentalists, or at least to find some label that says more than “evangelical.” For their part, evangelicals of all sorts are eager to avoid being mistaken for fundamentalists.

When asked about their differences, both groups often respond with stock answers. According to many evangelicals, fundamentalism has been polluted with legalism or externalism, while fundamentalists often say that evangelicalism has been tainted with worldliness. Each group has typically taken its perception of the other to be virtually axiomatic.

What I have been trying to do is to discover what each party means by its accusation. What do fundamentalists see in evangelicals that smacks of worldliness? What do evangelicals see in fundamentalists that seems legalistic?

I have suggested several answers to those questions. First, fundamentalists and other evangelicals have often differed over their observance of what I have called “revivalistic taboos.” Second, fundamentalists have been more hesitant to adopt the accouterments of the counterculture (now mainstream culture) that began in the 1960s. Third, evangelicals have been more suspicious of second-premise arguments when the second premise has relied upon a matter of judgment rather than a statement of fact.

A fourth factor is probably involved in the mutual denunciation of fundamentalists and evangelicals. It is expressed in the fundamentalist jibe—still frequently heard—that evangelicals have adopted the world’s methods to attract the unsaved. What does this accusation mean?

The accusation is most frequently directed against evangelicals who employ the latest manifestations of popular culture in their public ministries. In other words, fundamentalists and evangelicals tend to line up on different sides of the so-called “worship wars.” Fundamentalists generally perceive themselves as more conservative than evangelicals, and evangelicals typically perceive fundamentalists as narrower.

Broadly speaking, evangelicals are more willing to use contemporary music, to feature celebrities and sensational events, and to employ current forms of amusement in their gatherings. Within evangelical churches one is more likely to hear rock and rap rhythms, to see athletes and entertainers on the platform, and to find preaching displaced by other forms of communication (especially theater). Because they are more restrained in these ways, fundamentalists tend to think that they are less worldly.

One must not over-emphasize the differences, however. Certain versions of fundamentalism pioneered the use of amusements in church. Even today some fundamentalist churches seek to draw crowds through showmanship.

Furthermore, the commitment to popular culture is not a new thing with either fundamentalists or evangelicals. Popular culture is an invention of modernity and relies upon modern vehicles of mass communication. It first arose during the middle third of the 19th century. For the most part, both the proto-fundamentalists (1870-1920) and the original fundamentalists (1920-1947) gravitated toward Victorian and Edwardian popular culture. The expressions of this version of popular culture were individualized, romanticized, and sentimental.

A major shift in popular culture occurred in the wake of the First World War. Known as the Jazz Age, the new culture brought flappers, short skirts, bobbed hair, a new slang (e.g., “the bee’s knees”), the Harlem Renaissance, dance clubs (the Cotton Club, for example, or the Savoy Ballroom), art deco, big bands, radio announcers, Hollywood movies, and a whole new sound. This new culture represented both a break with Victorianism and a continuation of some trajectories that the earlier popular culture had established.

At the inception of the Jazz Age, American fundamentalism was already heavily invested in popular culture. The new culture, however, seemed to include negative and even immoral trends that would damage Christian piety and testimony. At first, fundamentalists strongly resisted any absorption of the new culture. During the late 1940s, however, individuals like Jack Wyrtzen, Merv Roselle, and especially Billy Graham began to target aspects of the new culture for the creation of a Christian youth movement. These were among the leaders who became known as “neo-evangelicals,” and they built a movement not only around cooperative evangelism but also around organizations like Singspiration, Youth for Christ, and Word of Life.

The evangelical youth movement answered its critics by attracting thousands of young people. By the 1960s, most fundamentalists had adopted the cultural concessions that neo-evangelicals had pioneered during the Jazz Age. At that very moment, however, popular culture changed again.

The mid-1960s to early 1970s brought the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, protest marches and sit-ins, flower power and free love, hippies and yippies, Woodstock and Altamont, the Kent State shootings and the University of Wisconsin bombing. Like the Jazz Age, the counterculture represented both a rejection of some mores from the previous culture and a continuation of other trajectories that had already been established.

Through works like Ralph Carmichael’s Tell It Like It Is, mainstream evangelicalism tried and failed to co-opt the new counterculture as it had the popular culture of the Jazz Age. It became clear that evangelical leaders, who had tapped the psyche of the youth movement during the 1940s and 1950s, had no idea what motivated the counterculture.

The people who eventually adapted evangelicalism to the counterculture were baby boomers who came from within the counterculture itself. They became known as the Jesus Movement (sometimes as Jesus People or Jesus Freaks). They later became the foundation of the Evangelical Left.

A good exemplar of the Jesus Movement was musician Larry Norman, sometimes called the “Granddaddy of Christian Rock.” Norman was a boomer and a writer of rock-and-roll songs. His challenge to the religious establishment is summarized in one piece, “Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music?”

I want the People to know That He saved my soul,
But I still like to listen to the radio, They say Rock ‘n Roll is wrong,
They’ll give me one more chance. I feel so good I want to get up and dance.
I know what’s right, I know what’s wrong, I don’t confuse it.
All I’m really trying to say Is, Why should the devil have all the good music?
I’ve been filled, I feel okay, Jesus is the rock and He rolled my blues away.

They say to cut my hair, they’re driving me insane. I grew it out long to make room for my brain.
But sometimes people don’t understand, What’s a good boy doing in a Rock n’ Roll band?
There’s nothing wrong with playing the blues licks, If you’ve got a reason, I want to hear it.
Why should the Devil have all the Good Music?
I’ve been filled, I feel okay, Jesus is the rock and He rolled my blues away.
I ain’t knockin’ the hymns, just give me a song that has a beat,
I ain’t knockin’ the hymns, just give me a song that moves my feet,
I don’t like any of them funeral marches, I ain’t dead yet.

The point at which the Jesus (counter) culture and the evangelical mainstream came together was Explo 72. This event was the evangelical answer to Woodstock: a Christian rock festival held in Dallas, Texas. It made the Jesus Movement aware of evangelicalism, and it gave the evangelical mainstream its chance to absorb the counterculture as it had the culture of the Jazz Age.

Fundamentalists, however, resisted strongly the absorption of the counterculture. They found the values of the counterculture to be highly offensive. When the evangelical mainstream was willing to accommodate the music and attitudes of the counterculture, fundamentalists perceived this move as prima facie worldly.

Three observations, however, must be born in mind. The first is that the way had been prepared for this absorption by the fundamentalists themselves. Their capitulation to Victorian popular culture left all of their successors with an unenviable choice when the popular culture changed. On the one hand, they could seek to remain appealing by adapting to and absorbing elements of the new culture. On the other hand, they could cling to the older popular culture—but nothing seems goofier than trends that have just gone out of fashion.

Generally, evangelicals have attempted to adapt to newer manifestations of popular culture, while fundamentalists have tried to cling to older versions. Decades later than anyone else, fundamentalists did eventually accommodate themselves to the Jazz Age. Only now, however, are they coming to terms with the counterculture.

That brings up the second observation, namely that the rising generation of fundamentalist leadership is prepared to make that shift. Indeed, many have made it already. One of the great incongruities of fundamentalism is to find King-James-Only churches that are filled with contemporary music.

The third observation is that, both within fundamentalism and evangelicalism, a more genuinely conservative reaction is taking place. More and more people who have grown up in fundamentalism see its attempts to be trendy as simply pathetic, rather like the aging goof who tries to impress teenagers by turning his ball cap backwards. These people are firmly committed to the idea of fundamentalism, but they despise its campy culture. They find it increasingly difficult to identify with a movement whose primary attachment seems to be to the dowdiest versions of popular trends.

On the other hand, many conservative evangelicals are also reacting against church marketing techniques and, increasingly, against the yearning for the contemporary. They are settling into a more genuinely conservative manner of worship. For example, on my desk I have four recent bulletins from a prominent conservative evangelical church located in the District of Columbia. It would be difficult to find a more conservative church service anywhere in fundamentalism than the services that are outlined in these bulletins.

The conservative reaction among evangelicals seems to be strongest among churches that are most committed to Reformed thought, such as Presbyterians or Reformed Baptists. These churches are protected by a high view of God that leads them to want to be driven by God’s character rather than their own appetites. They are also committed to a rather exact application of the regulative principle, which restricts the elements of worship to those that are prescribed in Scripture (and usually even in the New Testament) itself.

The simplicity and profundity of worship in such churches offers relief both from bad-boy evangelicalism and from frumpy fundamentalism. Not surprisingly, a vigorous minority among both evangelicals and fundamentalists is drawn to it. They are tired of showmanship, whether contemporary or outdated. What they want is to meet God and to focus upon Him. Even where they disagree theologically, they appreciate the worship of these churches and the attitude toward popular culture that this worship reflects.

The only thing less relevant than a trendy church is a campy one. Most evangelicals are very concerned with trendiness, and many younger fundamentalists have begun to share that concern. Older fundamentalists tend to be concerned with preserving a church culture that has become its own parody. In both groups, however, a small but increasing number is beginning to exempt itself from the pursuit of popular culture and to relocate itself within the worship and ministry of historic Christianity.

O Traurigkeit, O Herzeleid
Johann Rist (1607-1667)
Tr. Catherine Winkworth (1829-1878)

What sorrow sore
At my heart’s core!
The Son of God now dieth.
He, the King whom I adore,
In the darkness lieth.

I cannot dare
His Cross to share,
Alone he doth endure it.
Mine the sin he beareth there,
Dying he doth cure it.

O happy he
Whose heart doth see
And rightly comprehendeth
Why the Lord of glory thus
To the grave descendeth.

O Jesu blest,
My help and rest,
I humbly pray, Lord, hear me;
Make me love thee to the last,
And in death be near me.

Amen.


This essay is by Dr. Kevin T. Bauder, president of Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Plymouth, MN). Not every professor, student, or alumnus of Central Seminary necessarily agrees with every opinion that it expresses.

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There are 43 Comments

Alex Guggenheim's picture

A better phrase than the word church would be the work of the gospel. Church is only one aspect of the work of the gospel which is done in many settings.

So with that in mind one can more broadly prescribe the principle that when a person ignores the biblical assignment of the work of the gospel which is empowered by God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit through the communication of his word and attempts to engineer and employ gimmicks to gain a hearing they are in conflict with the principle here in Scripture.

Now there is a certain validity in asking what is and is not a gimmick.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Seems to me multiple lines have to be drawn to keep the character and purposes of the church distinct and unsullied when you're having crowd-gathering events. The "not in conjunction with a purported worship service" is a big one. I'd suggest that the nature of the event itself raises the need for several others. A Saturday Fun Fair is different in character from a Friday night rock concert. And obviously both are different from a "Bring Your Pet to Church Day" on a Sunday morning.

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.

jimfrank's picture

Thanks for this series of articles. It explains some things that I've been thinking about. It also explains the Calvinistic trend in the SBC to a certain extent.

Don Johnson's picture

Chip Van Emmerik wrote:
Don Johnson wrote:
Like, say, a http://mytwocents.wordpress.com/2010/07/06/big-weekend-at-tcbc/ Fun Fair , maybe?

One significant difference between this and the things KB points to is that this was done on a Saturday to meet folks, not in conjunction with a purported worship service.

Isn't that a tad legalistic? An event like this would be ok on Saturday but not on Sunday? Says who?

And a preaching service was also involved, as it was in our event last year. Does that factor into the evaluation at all?

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

KevinM's picture

I very much enjoyed reading this part of the continuing series, and I agree with its overall emphasis. Especially the concerns that motivate it.

Diving into the details seems to cause problems though. Don's pig roast is a classic example. If KB (the Iowa boy) were to offer an opinion here, I' guessing he'd be first in line, asking for extra barbecue sauce. Here's where the Regulative Principle becomes less adequate for helping us learn discernment.

My own view is that Baptists gather for more reasons than worship. And, there is no clear NT passage that teaches that Sunday Morning is a special time where the church gathers only for worship, to the exclusion of other activities of the gathered church. In reality, there is no clear text to exclude fellowship from possible Sunday activities.

Now, for practical reasons, the "dinner on the grounds" (fellowship) may well happen after the sermon, and wise church leaders will labor hard to preserve the difference (otherwise, we'll have Ninja Evangelists slicing watermelon while Don lies very still on the platform.)

Chip Van Emmerik's picture

Don Johnson wrote:
Chip Van Emmerik wrote:
Don Johnson wrote:
Like, say, a http://mytwocents.wordpress.com/2010/07/06/big-weekend-at-tcbc/ Fun Fair , maybe?

One significant difference between this and the things KB points to is that this was done on a Saturday to meet folks, not in conjunction with a purported worship service.

Isn't that a tad legalistic? An event like this would be ok on Saturday but not on Sunday? Says who?

And a preaching service was also involved, as it was in our event last year. Does that factor into the evaluation at all?

Don, I'm not sure I understand the connection. In what way does my statement imply legalism?

Why is it that my voice always seems to be loudest when I am saying the dumbest things?

Don Johnson's picture

Hi Chip

If we say that an activity is ok on a Saturday but not ok on a Sunday, aren't we being like the Pharisees who, for example, said that it was wrong for a woman to look in a mirror on the Sabbath (since she might be tempted to pluck a grey hair, which would be work)?

In other words, I just don't think we can say the day of the week makes a difference.

So I think we need to come up with a different answer if Fun Fairs and pig roasts are not the kind of amusements Bauder is decrying. If these are not those kind of amusements, why not?

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Don Johnson's picture

KevinM wrote:
Now, for practical reasons, the "dinner on the grounds" (fellowship) may well happen after the sermon, and wise church leaders will labor hard to preserve the difference (otherwise, we'll have Ninja Evangelists slicing watermelon while Don lies very still on the platform.)

Like, that would NEVER happen. I mean NEVER.

How would we go about preserving the difference between the hoopla and the preaching though? Here's another example... on Canada Day (July 1) we have a picnic with several other churches in the area. The various pastors take turns being our speaker. We gather together and eat, then someone preaches (usually relatively short unless it is someone related to me**) and then my wife has the younger set play crazy games while the saner folks talk and eat what ever is left. We use this as an outreach also.

Is this a verboten amusement?

(I realize that our outreaches all have something to do with food. I realize that this is a problem. My kids laugh at me when we go through towns and I point out wonderful restaurants I have known.)

** the long winded one is my brother

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Chip Van Emmerik's picture

Don Johnson wrote:
Hi Chip

If we say that an activity is ok on a Saturday but not ok on a Sunday, aren't we being like the Pharisees who, for example, said that it was wrong for a woman to look in a mirror on the Sabbath (since she might be tempted to pluck a grey hair, which would be work)?

In other words, I just don't think we can say the day of the week makes a difference.

So I think we need to come up with a different answer if Fun Fairs and pig roasts are not the kind of amusements Bauder is decrying. If these are not those kind of amusements, why not?

Gotcha. Sorry, I was trying to point at the worship service, not the day of the week. Just a bit too concise in my writing I suppose.

Why is it that my voice always seems to be loudest when I am saying the dumbest things?

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Quote:
If we say that an activity is ok on a Saturday but not ok on a Sunday, aren't we being like the Pharisees who...

Scripture calls Sunday "the Lord's Day" and does not call any other day "the Lord's Day." So the distinction is not legalistic fine tuning of Sabbath restrictions.

The principle we don't want to get lost in all this is that of keeping clear purposes. If we come to think of the regular gatherings of the church for worship and edification as a time to attract crowds of unbelievers, we basically slip into the error of the Seeker movement. The church becomes a gathering for unbelievers and there is no NT (Eph.4) assembly believers for teaching and admonition one another, worshiping together, praying together, etc.
The other error is of "showmanship" to try to "stir" the enthusiasm of the saints. But this kind of "stirring" is not compatible with biblical purposes for the gathering either. So in both cases, it's a matter of not maintaining important distinctions regarding what the time is for.

But I'm also partly in agreement w/KevinM that there doesn't seem to be any reason why the church cannot have other kinds of gatherings in addition to the Eph.4 kind (the main kind). Even in that, there is some danger, because of the way tails tend to start wagging dogs. But there is danger as well in not having these other kinds of events because the congregation tends to become to self-absorbed, isolated, and less effective in spreading the gospel.

But if you have a clear sense of purposes, priorities and dangers, I think there are lots of ways to legitimately draw a crowd of mostly unbelievers.

What exactly K Bauder means by "showmanship," I don't know, but the obvious extremes would certainly be included. It's just how far it would go in the other direction--in an effort to apply the "regulative principle"--that isn't so clear at this point.

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.

Don Johnson's picture

I would agree that it would be unseemly to have a pig roast, say, as part of our worship service.

And I agree that it would be good to have some clear definition of showmanship. But I would guess if someone else were holding a Fun Fair, it would receive flak from some of the gospel-centered crowd.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

SiegfriedX's picture

While I enjoyed reading this as historical information, I honestly don't think newer vs. older music matters much for church growth or evangelism.

For example, I was raised as an evangelical Lutheran, with traditional services which had some components which were over a thousand years old. We often sang hymns that were over 400 years old, some written by Martin Luther, and many young people enjoyed them. And this was with traditional pianos and organs, and with printed hymnals.

So I am not saying that is the "best" worship, but simply that we don't necessarily need to come up with totally new hymns and switch musical instruments with each new generation. If church attendence is dropping, the problem is elsewhere, not in time tested songs and worship practices. Typically each new generation of Christians would MODIFY what their parents gave them, not throw everything away to start from scratch.

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