Read Part 1.
After graduating from college, I had the providential fortune to arrive at seminary just as William Fusco took up the presidency. In addition to the burden of leadership, Fusco was caring for an invalid and dying wife. Through the deep trial of his (and her) faith, the character of Christ shone with uncommon clarity. Without ever abandoning the key principles of his fundamentalism, Fusco consistently displayed a gentle spirit of kindness and personal sacrifice that I have rarely seen matched and have never seen surpassed. He was a man who overflowed with love of the Lord and love for people.
During my first year at seminary, I also met two professors whose teaching has marked me for life. The first, Charles Hauser, taught me more about dispensationalism and Christian living than anyone else. His most important contribution lay in his example. He modeled stability in the middle of trials, and his steadiness was as instructive to me as his classroom content.
The second, Myron Houghton, was George’s twin brother. Myron’s grasp of systematic theology exceeded anything that I had ever seen or thought possible. It seemed that he conversed with nearly every theological perspective, from multiple varieties of evangelicals to Roman Catholics to Adventists. He was constantly learning and constantly thinking. He significantly influenced my soteriology, but his real impact was on my ecclesiology. He made the case for ecclesiastical separation, including what is sometimes called “secondary separation.” Incidentally, it was substantially the same case that appears in Ernest R. Pickering’s book, Biblical Separation, of which Myron was later to become the editor. The key points of my understanding today do not depart from his ideas in any significant way.
My second year at seminary brought two more professors whose influence was both instant and profound. To this day, I consider Robert Delnay to be the best-rounded model for the life of the mind I have ever known. As a historian, he told a coherent story that provided a framework for understanding the current state of Christianity. As an exegete, he made the text of the Greek New Testament come alive for his students. As a homiletician, he taught a theory of rhetoric that could reach the affections without stooping to manipulate the appetites. From the beginning it was clear that he held the convictions of a fundamentalist, but he had a wonderfully sardonic and irreverent way of deflating the pompous self-appointed gatekeepers of the faith. Beyond all of this, he introduced a kind of spiritual urgency and intimacy with God that one can only label (as A. W. Tozer did) mysticism.
My second year also brought Ralph Turk to teach on our campus. Turk had spent most of his ministry as a pastor, but his intellectual curiosity took him into some unusual places. Ours may have been the only fundamentalist seminary ever to offer a seminar course on the thought of Kierkegaard—much of it taught in Turk’s living room. I’m grateful to this day.
Other professors on that campus were also influential. Robert Myrant taught me to love historical theology in addition to church history. R. Bruce Compton not only taught me Greek and Hebrew, but also modeled valuable lessons in the meaning of friendship. Gary Gordon was the friend who first drew me to the lectern and who guided me through the faltering early stages of teaching.
As I reflect back upon those formative years, I can see where my experience of fundamentalism differed from the experience that I hear so many describe. In fact, it differed in several ways. Among the most important are the following.
First, the men who most influenced me were utterly honest. They hid nothing, either about fundamentalism or about themselves. They were willing to admit their own faults and weaknesses, just as they were willing to admit the faults and weaknesses of the fundamentalist movement. Since they created no illusions for me, they left me little room for disillusionment.
Second, these were people who valued the life of the mind and the broad pursuit of learning. They loved and pursued an increasingly deep grasp of the Scriptures, of the system of theology, and of the life of faith. They also displayed and fostered an inveterate curiosity about ideas with which they did not agree. They were willing to travel outside of their own intellectual neighborhoods in order to make sense of other points of view. They showed me that dispassionate understanding was fundamental to a strong and clear defense of the faith—the only dividing line between polemics and mere propaganda.
Third, these people were genuinely humble. They might be gripped by big ideas, but they never aspired to be big names. They were not climbers, politicians, gatekeepers, or power mongers. Somebody once pressured me to name my heroes. In a sense, that’s what I’m doing now. The problem is that my heroes are all people who are unknown to the people who want to know who my heroes are. My heroes were content to be who they were and to minister in the calling that God had given them.
Fourth, my mentors gave genuine evidence of the fruit of the Spirit and of a personal walk with God. Since the institutions that they served were smaller, I had the opportunity to observe them in a very personal way. Where I went to seminary, the faculty and staff were constantly subject to real hardships and afflictions. They proved themselves in the midst of adversity and displayed the character of Christ with all sincerity.
Two of their virtues stand out. One is that they were temperate men, not given to bombast or overstatement. The other is that they were gentle men. Even when standing firmly for the truth, they evidenced a commitment to the care of souls. The consequences of their words and deeds mattered to them, and they were deeply concerned to use power judiciously and rightly. They refused ever knowingly to manipulate people, let alone to coerce them.
Through the years I have met more of their kind: Donald Brong in Iowa, for example, or Douglas McLachlan in Minnesota. Because God graciously brought such men to me at the crucial decision points in my life, my experience of fundamentalism has been dramatically different than the stories that I hear other men tell.
To be sure, I’ve seen my share of power-hungry, manipulative, idiosyncratic, truth-twisting, unethical, and even pathological fundamentalists. Ever since that conversation with George Houghton, however, I’ve believed that they do not genuinely represent what fundamentalism is. Rather, they are like an infection within the body of fundamentalism.
Such men stand under the judgment of the idea of fundamentalism. If fundamentalism is a biblical idea (and I believe it is), then they also stand under the judgment of the Word of God. They are best dismissed with incredulity, held at a distance, and otherwise ignored. You might call that “separation.”
The genuine leaders of fundamentalists do not go to extremes. Instead, they go back to basics. They do not huff and puff. They do not romp and stomp. They are not given to full-auto verbal assaults. If they bare their teeth and draw their swords, it is only when the innocent and powerless need to be defended. Rather, they faithfully and quietly minister in the callings that God has given them.
Hold such in esteem.
John Milton (1608-1674)
Why do the Gentiles tumult, and the Nations
Muse a vain thing, the Kings of th’ earth upstand
With power, and Princes in their Congregations
Lay deep their plots together through each Land,
Against the Lord and his Messiah dear?
Let us break off, say they, by strength of hand
Their bonds, and cast from us, no more to wear,
Their twisted cords: he who in Heaven doth dwell
Shall laugh, the Lord shall scoff them, then severe
Speak to them in his wrath, and in his fell
And fierce ire trouble them; but I, saith hee,
Anointed have my King (though ye rebel)
On Sion my holi’ hill. A firm decree
I will declare; the Lord to me hath say’d,
Thou art my Son I have begotten thee
This day; ask of me, and the grant is made;
As thy possession I on thee bestow
Th’ Heathen, and as thy conquest to be sway’d
Earths utmost bounds: them shalt thou bring full low
With Iron Scepter bruis’d, and them disperse
Like to a potters vessel shiver’d so.
And now be wise at length, ye Kings averse,
Be taught ye Judges of the earth; with fear
Jehovah serve, and let your joy converse
With trembling; kiss the Son least he appear
In anger and ye perish in the way,
If once his wrath take fire like fuel sere.
Happy all those who have in him their stay.