Note: This is an opinion column. Views expressed here are those of the author and not necessarily those of SI.
On Friday, I gave you my top 10 list of stories impacting evangelical Christianity as a whole. Today, I narrow my focus a bit, and we’re going to look at the branch of Evangelicalism known as Fundamentalism. On this branch has grown some of the finest and most principled expositors of the Word and champions of truth that the world has ever known. At the same time, it has produced the occasional “nut” as well. This year’s list has the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly in it in order to accurately reflect the whole of news among fundamentalists.
So with further adieu, the Top 10 Significant News Stories Impacting Fundamentalism in 2006 are the following:
10. Christians and the Theater
While many pastors and the most conservative fundamentalists still take the “Good Christians Don’t Go to Movies” stance, most of their church members and friends don’t. For years, the position was built on arguments such as “You’re supporting wickedness with your dollars” (but every time you drink a Pepsi or pump Exxon gas, you’re doing the same thing because they own all kinds of companies that are as wicked as Hollywood) and “People will think you are going to watch something wicked” (Really, do they also assume that every time you go to a bookstore, you’re buying a Playboy or a nasty pulp novel?). With the advent of video players, cable TV, and now even Internet downloads, the walls are crumbling, and wise Christian leadership is teaching the principle that the believer should be accountable for every thing he sets before his eyes—regardless of the medium or location. While most pastors of fundamentalist churches are still not taking youth groups to see Rocky VI as the promoters are encouraging, they are also waking up to the reality that as sincerely as they hold their own “no movies” policy, most of their church members don’t; and thus, an opportunity for a more substantive teaching on Bible principles exists to help believers with matters of discernment that will enable them to navigate a tragically wicked culture from a perspective of biblical principle rather than arbitrary lines or lists.
9. Kent Hovind—Dr. Dino Goes to Jail
“Dr.” Kent Hovind, an itinerant Creation “evangelist” with suspect credentials and presentations that are often scientifically unsound, inexplicably (or perhaps not) found a following among many fundamentalists. Calling himself “Dr. Dino,” he sold videos and sermon series to supplement the honorariums he received while speaking in churches and Christian schools. Eventually, he built a sort of Christian theme park in Pensacola, Florida, where he invited youngsters of all ages to explore large fiberglass dinosaurs, play on a playground, and buy more of his videos and books. It was Christian schlock at its finest. To make matters worse, Hovind developed a penchant for preaching that the U.S. government had no constitutional authority to collect income taxes, and he refused to pay them. For years. When the law finally caught up with him, he and his wife faced decades in a federal prison for tax evasion. Witnesses against Mr. and Mrs. Hovind included Mrs. Beka Horton (as in Pensacola Christian College and BEKA books) and David Gibbs of the Christian Law Association. The Hovinds were found guilty and given an unusually long jail sentence and now sit behind bars. The delusions of becoming some sort of revolutionary icons seem to have evaporated since only the most extreme folks from their circle continue to defend them though most agree that the long prison terms they received seem unusually punitive.
8. Maranatha Loses Its President
In a story that received unusual coverage and was given legs through Internet blogs and from a series of letters sent out by administrative officials and the then-president of Maranatha Baptist Bible College, Dr. David Jaspers, a highly esteemed and capable college president, resigned under pressure from the MBBC board. The story trickled out rather slowly, and some serious fingerpointing began and threatened the stability of one of Fundamentalism’s most balanced and well-regarded colleges. While the entire story has never been fully reported (largely out of respect for both Jaspers and MBBC), Dr. Jaspers wrote a follow-up letter in which he admitted to a “lack of modesty” during therapeutic massage. Both Dr. Jaspers and interim president Dr. Larry Oats eventually issued statements about the resignation, board actions, and the transition. Enough information was made public to allow speculation and the hullabaloo to die down. Key to this whole story is the role that blogs and websites played in communicating the facts and in reprinting statements from the various parties. This action did much to relay pertinent information and in the process largely squashed the tendency that stories such as this have to devolve into gossip, speculation, and innuendo. Hopefully, this situation will mark the beginning of a positive and healthy trend in which individuals and institutions work together with Internet journalists of good reputation to communicate necessary information without letting the rumor mill be the main source of information dispersal in the future.
7. Jack Schaap and Communal Hanky Panky
The pastor of what is arguably the largest church in all of “Fundamentalism” published a book that has recently been examined for multiple controversial passages that compare the ordinance of communion to sexual intercourse with Christ. Jack Schaap, son-in-law of the late Jack Hyles, is senior pastor of the First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana. For many years, the church boasted to have the “World’s Largest Sunday School” and is one of the landmark churches of the most strident branch of Independent Baptist Fundamentalism. In his book, Marriage: Divine Intimacy, which has a publication date of 2005 but was mostly distributed in 2006, he compares communion to sexual acts. As outrageous as this sounds, the words speak for themselves. Wikipedia cites specific passages that are easily verified:
In Jack Schaap’s book on Marriage, titled Divine Intimacy (published by Hyles Publications, 2005), Schaap teaches that when a Baptist takes Holy Communion, he is not taking the Body and Blood of Christ, but is engaging in “Spiritual Sex” with God. He also teaches that the Independent Fundamental Baptist—as the Bride of Christ—is the female corresponding to the male of Christ. Another Baptist belief brought up in chapter 3 is that when the wife lays back and receives her husbands sperm, she is by that action saying “Christ, by this action I am receiving You.” He also makes the claim that the Word translated as “laid” in Psalm 119:30 (I have chosen the way of truth: thy judgments have I LAID before me…) means sexual intercourse. Schaap then make the claim that in Psalm 119:31 (I have STUCK unto thy testimonies…) the word Stuck means the act of a man entering his wife.
3. Marriage The Divine Intimacy, Hyles Publications 2005. Page 42 pp3
4. Marriage The Divine Intimacy, Hyles Publications 2005. Page 42 pp3
5. Marriage The Divine Intimacy, Hyles Publications 2005. Page 43 pp1
6. Marriage The Divine Intimacy, Hyles Publications 2005. Page 44 pp2
7. Marriage The Divine Intimacy, Hyles Publications 2005. Page 44 pp3
Schaap, who inherited a ministry scarred by allegations of moral and financial improprieties involving his father-in-law, has previously been accused of adopting some of the teachings of Charismatic preachers, exaggerating illustrations involving his time at Pillsbury Baptist College and additional unconventional interpretations of Scripture and doctrine.
6. The Revolving Doors at Pensacola Christian College
Many alumni and supporters of Pensacola Christian College (Pensacola, FL) were shocked at the surprise departure of long-time Campus Church Pastor Jim Schettler. Schettler’s abrupt resignation came on the heels of another high-profile departure, that of Vice President Matt Beemer, who many thought was being groomed to take the place of founder Arlin Horton. Schettler and Beemer’s exits are part of a stream of senior administrators who have been dismissed or have resigned in recent years, including Dr. Greg Mutsch (who was also thought to be in line for the presidency), Dr. Dell Johnson, and others. Pensacola has been at the center of much controversy since sending out a series of videos to thousands of pastors and supporters during the mid-1990’s, outlining a position on Bible translations that recognizes the King James Version as the only reliable translation of Scripture. Some have linked the emergence of the King James issue to an inter-institutional rivalry toward Horton alma mater Bob Jones University, and one of the videos and some of the leading spokespersons for the PCC position have made rather public and pointed criticisms of BJU’s position on Bible versions and preservation beliefs.
Recently, Arlin Horton announced the appointment of Neal Jackson of Conyers, Georgia; and Lloyd Streeter of LaSalle, Illinois, to be co-pastors of the Campus Church. Streeter (who has also publicly criticized BJU) has written broadly on the topic of Bible texts and preservation, and his appointment is viewed as further entrenchment by the Hortons regarding their views on the King James Version.
5. Expansion of the Trans-National Association of Christian Colleges and Schools (TRACS)
It wasn’t that long ago when TRACS was looked upon as being an irrelevant and small accrediting agency with questionable credentials. In recent years, however, TRACS has emerged as the leading international accrediting agency for religious colleges and universities. As more and more colleges who had considered accreditation a threat to their theological independence bow to the demands of today’s students and parents’ wishes that degrees be recognized and credits be transferable, TRACS has risen to the challenge and now represents its schools with credibility and support. Accredited schools in the organization run the gamut from non-Baptist schools to Liberty University to Piedmont Baptist College and most recently to Bob Jones University. This is an extremely positive development that removes another excuse many Christian young people have used in choosing secular higher education over the many fine Christian institutions that hold an absolutist and biblical worldview.
4. Bob Jones University Changes Accreditation Position
For many years, Bob Jones University, arguably one of the great bastions of fundamentalist higher education, vowed it would not accept regional or national accreditation. Articulating an argument that involved declarations of not needing validation from the “world” to pointing out that Harvard University is not accredited (not altogether accurate) and not wanting to be put in a position where it would be pressured to change its theological beliefs to maintain accreditation, many who have represented BJU or subscribed to its views on the topic have made it a point of some pride to be unaccredited. (It should be noted that while BJU was not accredited as an institution, several of its degree programs—including education and nursing—were approved by appropriate oversight agencies, permitting graduates to obtain licenses and/or certification. Few made public mention of the seeming inconsistency.) Today’s college-bound families are more astute to the ramifications of holding a degree or credits from an unaccredited college. So this year, BJU announced that it was receiving accreditation from TRACS. (See Item #5.) This change is even more notable as it comes on the heels of another significant reversal several years ago when BJU dropped its long-held policy against interracial dating, which had led to the loss of BJU’s tax-exempt status in the early 1980’s. The two decisions will certainly aid new BJU president Stephen Jones in his ability to create a fresh, generational appeal by removing two areas for which the university has received criticism. The decisions might also encourage prospective students to give this historic fundamentalist school, long known for academic excellence, another look.
3. Independent Baptists and Southern Baptists—Merging or Simply Working Together?
In a shift that has been several years in the making, more and more Independent Baptists are fellowshipping and cooperating with conservatives within the Southern Baptist Convention. In the most dramatic indication of this trend, the first international meeting of the International Baptist Network was held in April at the historic Northside Baptist Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, an Independent Baptist church with long-time ties to the Southwide Baptist Fellowship. (Note: In the interest of full disclosure, the author of this article is the senior pastor of Northside Baptist Church.) The meeting was promoted as a “Global Connection Conference,” intending to facilitate cooperation among multiple Independent Baptist groups such as Southwide, the BBF, the WBF, and others and conservative leaders in the Southern Baptist Convention. Largely funded and promoted by the Rawlings Foundation, the conference had over 100 exhibitors and approximately 500 pastors and other attendees and organizations in attendance. Multiple Southern Baptist and Independent Baptist speakers were highlighted, and a wide-ranging group of evangelical and fundamentalist mission agencies participated as well.
Both Independent Baptists and some Southern Baptists have demonstrated some skepticism about the cooperation, though the loudest criticism has come from extreme segments of the Independent Baptist circles. Some Independent Baptist churches, including Temple Baptist Church of Tallahassee, Florida (Randy Ray, Pastor), and the Decatur (AL) Baptist Church (Doug Ripley, Pastor) have gone as far as to join their local Southern Baptist organizations while maintaining their former connections with Independents. The Southwide Baptist Fellowship once again featured prominent Southern Baptist speakers at its fall conference held at Trinity Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida. The national meetings of the Baptist Bible Fellowship have also begun featuring several conservative Southern Baptist speakers. Tennessee Temple University (associated with Highland Park Baptist Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee—David Bouler, Pastor) has made strong alliances with several Southern Baptist churches and pastors including Dr. Johnny Hunt and the First Baptist Church of Woodstock, Georgia. Cedarville University in Ohio was also recognized by the Ohio Southern Baptists, a change that led to a disaffiliation move by the GARBC wherein it will no longer recommend or promote CU. The trend in cooperation seems to be gaining momentum rather than losing steam, and 2007 should be an interesting year to see if the movement continues.
2. Rise of “Type B” Fundamentalists
In a trend being noted by many within Fundamentalism and which is now being discussed openly on Internet bulletin boards and blogs, a categorization of “types” of fundamentalists has emerged. The SharperIron blog first brought much of this issue to public attention a few years ago in a national survey of “Young Fundamentalists.” The survey revealed that many in the newest generation of fundamentalist leadership were still committed to fundamentalist theology but uncomfortable with some of the more extreme positions on secondary separation, association, worship music, extra-biblical standards, and other issues. Most recently, Arizona pastor Joel Tetreau created a brief “firestorm” of debate by publishing a series of articles in which he provided categories of “A,” “B,” and “C” fundamentalists. Type A were labeled as being the most conservative and militant with strong views on a variety of issues, including secondary and tertiary separation, music styles, church polity, as well as amusement and appearance standards. Type C were those who were more likely to be identified with many of the aspects of “seeker” style churches, less traditional worship styles, and less of an emphasis on appearance and polity matters. Within the Type C’s, one would find “Purpose Driven” adherents and also those who appreciate the ministry of conservative evangelicals like Piper, MacArthur, and Mohler.
Type B was categorized somewhere between the two with positions that would reject the stridency frequently associated with Type A’s but would reject much of that found within the “seeker driven” church growth movements. Each category has a wide variety of “flavors.” For example, within the Type A category, one might find very principled expositors and historical fundamentalists who would identify with BJU, DBTS, Central Seminary, and other conservative schools and many who would identify with the more extreme fundamentalists such as those often affiliated with Hyles-Anderson College, West Coast Baptist College, or Golden State Baptist College. Many who seemed to fall in the Type A grouping took umbrage or offense to the categorizations on several levels, and there was significant debate within the other categories as to who would/should be included/excluded in their categories as well. In the end, Tetreau retreated to some extent. Other leaders such as Dave Doran (DTBS) and Kevin Bauder (Central Seminary) offered their comments, and many others vigorously debated among themselves to exhaustion without much being resolved. On this most can agree: Tetreau’s foray into this minefield exposed the diversity within Fundamentalism that exists today and to the surprise of no one exposed once again the factionalism that has rendered Fundamentalism rather ineffective for the last several decades in providing leadership to the evangelical community.
1. The Tragic Tale of Bob Gray
The 1960’s and 70’s were what I sometimes call the “Iconoclastic Period” of fundamentalist history. Booming churches with larger-than-life pastors and the occasional evangelist dotted the United States. Names like Vick, Roberson, Rawlings, Hudson, Coleman, Henderson, Dollar, Janney, Ackerman, Collins, Rice, Handford, Jones, Van Impe, Hutson (and the list could go on and on) were marquis stars in the fundamentalist world. Jacksonville, Florida, was the home of Dr. Bob Gray, pastor of Trinity Baptist Church and Trinity Baptist College. With an impressive bearing in the pulpit, a booming day school, and a fledgling college, Gray was among the “big names” in Fundamentalism for two decades. He retired in the 1990’s to become a missionary to Germany, and his friends quickly provided the support for him to go. In recent years, he reappeared, largely enjoying the elder statesman role assigned to him by the “old guard” fundamentalists, who honored him with speaking engagements and the perks of his reputation.
Then the stories started emerging. The details are too numerous to delineate here, but a Google search would provide the sordid tale. Now forever etched in the minds of many is the pathetic sight of Bob Gray shuffling into court in handcuffs, arrested and charged with multiple counts of felony sexual assault on children. For months, stories and charges continued to emerge from women and at least one man who told of “counseling” sessions that turned into molestation when they were elementary-aged children enrolled in Trinity Christian Academy.
The trial has not been held. Gray is free on an unusually low bail. Current pastor Tom Messer is under intense fire, criticism, and stress while handling the media and critics who want to know who knew what and when. Was there a cover-up? Are there more victims? Why was there a mild form of church discipline but no report to authorities about previous allegations?
To be fair, in America everyone is considered innocent until proven guilty, so wisdom encourages us to hold our tongues before rendering verdicts. What has been alleged and what Dr. Gray has admitted are two different things. Time and a trial should begin to reveal the truth.
This story has stirred some to openly discuss the need for greater accountability among Independent Baptists in regard to pastoral integrity, church polity, and church discipline. The autonomy of the local church is a tremendous strength, but some are recognizing that there is a liability in a church structure that does not provide sufficient accountability for the conduct and integrity of church leadership.
So those are the “Top 10,” in my opinion. Feel free to add your own, expand on these, reorder them, or just add your own perspective. We’ll see you again in 12 months with our next list!
Note: The opinions expressed in this article and in his blog, Whirled Views, are solely those of Dan Burrell and are not intended to represent those who reprint his articles or the members, staff, or leadership of his church, school, and other associations.
Dan Burrell is senior pastor at Northside Baptist Church (Charlotte, NC). He’s also a commentator for the Evangelical Press News and blogs at Whirled Views with Dan Burrell.