Christianity Falling Down

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TylerR's picture

Editor

This sorry article epitomizes what Doug Wilson was talking about in his recent post "Thoroughly Gay:"

One of the false virtues of the modern evangelical church is the “virtue” of softness.

This really is a dividing line. There is something to be said about the dangers of demanding uniform thinking in certain quarters. But, broadly speaking, I think somebody is in great danger if they willingly surrender so-called "peripheral" issues in a mis-guided attempt to hold the center. Broadly speaking, evangelicals are soft and squishy, like a furry stuffed animal.

I saw the difference as a Pastor:

  • When I talked to a man who was trained in fundamentalist circles, you had somebody who knew what he believed and had an informed opinion on it. He staked out his ground. He had convictions, even if I thought they were wrong.
  • When I spoke to a evangelical-trained Pastor, for example, I got nothing but Jell-O. Everything was up for grabs. Everything was negotiable under the banner of ecumenical "love." Only the center was important.

Now, you have Patton's article. Inerrancy, the global flood, the documentary hypothesis and it's various flavors - all of it is negotiable. It's not these doctrines that upsets me per se; it's that so many people don't seem to care one way or the other. What happened to the days when people actually cared about something? Can't people at least take a firm stand on anything, anymore - even if that stand is clearly wrong?

Of course, your theology matters here. Consider what this comment tells us:

I have seen many people leave the faith and the catalyst of their departure was a rejection of inerrancy

Patton speaks of people "leaving the faith" because of inerrancy. In other words, they couldn't deal with the idea that God communicates to us, and accurately preserved and protected his communication down through the centuries by His providence. I say that such a person never "had the faith" to begin with. My goodness, what does his soteriology look like?

The mushy, cuddly and squishy evangelical mindset is bizarre to me. I'm outta here - I need to get a venti mocha with coconut milk and munch on some organic blueberries . . .

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Bert Perry's picture

In my view, Patton's missing a lot of the big things within fundamentalism that are indeed needless absolutes along the lines of Jim Peet's comments about the tragedy of fundamentalism being that we all too often make everything a fundamental--it's not just the Fundamentals, the Solas, and the Trinity anymore, but we're going to add in "I don't drink and I don't chew and I don't go with girls that do", what Bible translation we use, whether we accept the notion that there is any uncertainty in any word of the Biblical autographs, and a whole host of other "fundamental" issues where the person deviates from that position and....subsequently assumes that all of Christ is walled off.

I was a regular attender of a church in Waseca whose major function often seemed to be as a refugee camp for those fleeing legalist churches--it was a great ministry that way, and one elder and I agreed that the challenge going forward was for the church to go from being a great refugee church to being a great church overall.  Around here, I've noticed some dear friends of my children really struggling with a pastor who was legalistically shoehorning some weird ideas into the Scriptures.  It's a real deal.

But agreed with Tyler; the author more hints at it rather than making the point.  Maybe he's within range of the KJVO crowd?

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

TylerR's picture

Editor

People should avoid two extremes in the Christian life:

  1. An unhealthy indoctrination, where independent thought is discouraged and "orthodoxy" in enforced by fear and intimidation, and
  2. A wishy-washy, soft conservative-ish Christianity where everything except the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus are negotiable or "open to disagreement among good men (and women?")

Patton caricatured the former, and is advocating a variation of the latter. Both are bad.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Philip Golden Jr.'s picture

I think that Patton is half right. Fundamentalism does have a tendency to elevate clearly secondary issues to essential doctrines. However, his tone is certainly too inclusive, as Tyler points out.

I have often thought to myself that there may be a need for another "Fundamentals" publication. Fundamentalism has become so fractured and fragmented, due in part to the elevation of nonessentials, that the term has lost meaning. As I read this article, my first thought was, "What exactly does he envision a fundamentalist to be?" 

Maybe its time to produce a modern "Fundamentals" that is thoroughly biblical, scholarly, and relevant to our modern context. Maybe its time for Fundamentalists to define who they are again and clearly articulate what is essential and what isn't. For those who can sign on to such a document, it would at least better define what they mean by "fundamentalist."

Just don't ask me to contribute. Who has the time? Especially now that my church building is a "Pokestop"!

Phil Golden

Bert Perry's picture

It strikes me that when I consider the apparent apostasy of certain portions of evangelical churches, the question at hand is not whether they deny the original five fundamentals, any of the Solas, or the Trinity explicitly, but rather in how they apply those principles.  So where we are is a place where adding more fundamentals, no matter how true, will not solve the problem.   The problem is that people are willing to bend definitions to the point of incoherence.  Add another fundamental, watch it become silly putty in the hands of the "deformers", more or less.

It really comes down to a pastor teaching the congregation "there are some of these truths that simply do not bend" and the congregation acting on the perspicuity of Scripture to leave "ministries" where fundamentals are contorted.  I've done so a time or two.  

 

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Ron Bean's picture

I was told that separation is a fundamental. I asked which kind of separation. From apostasy and false teaching? Yes. From "disobedient" brethren? Yes. From brethren who don't separate from disobedient brethren? (That's when the argument started.)

So, is separation a fundamental? 

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

Philip Golden Jr.'s picture

My suggestion for a "new" fundamentals is not to jettison the old ones but to build upon them. One need only take a look at the state of Fundamentalism today to realize that the many segments within the movement all affirm "The Fundamentals." The problem is giving secondary issues essential status.

Ron's question highlights the issue. Is Separation a fundamental? If so, to what extent? I think, in reality, its not whether the abstract doctrine of separation is a fundamental. It is how it is practiced, or more accurately, how others practice it, that will make a determination as to whether or not they practiced it as you have determined it should be practiced. If they did, well then you can fellowship. If they didn't, well then you must separate.

We are even seeing this worked out in the Eternal Subordination issue. Evangelicals are accusing other evangelicals of non-Trinitarian beliefs (or at best Non-Nicean). Is one's view on the relationship of the persons of the trinity to each other a Fundamental? This dynamic plays out over a host of other different doctrinal issues.

The first Fundamentals were published to directly confront liberalism as it was an eminent threat to the church. Perhaps that's where we should start by identifying the true eminent threats to the church and then combating them. The problem is that not everyone sees the same threats. And that's what leads to all the fractures and segments we currently have within fundamentalism. 

What's the ultimate solution? Christ's return! Until then, we have to do the best we can with a dependence on the Word and the Spirit's guidance.

Phil Golden

TylerR's picture

Editor

The squishy, mushy evangelical world is fundamentally incapable of responding to secular attacks. Of course, there are different flavors of evangelicalism, just as there are different flavors of fundamentalism. I think it would really be a worthwhile project for somebody to put together a book about the "four views" of the spectrum of fundamentalism!

But, broadly, the big tent Jell-O kind of evangelicalism you see in pop-Christianity (from Osteen to Andy Stanley, and points in between) will not hold the fort. They will fold into sludge like so many wet pasta noodles.

What we need are Christians who:

  • actually believe what the Bible teaches
  • have the training and education to thoughtfully, forcefully and unapologetically engage these issues
  • have the courage to actually stand on the Bible while they do so
  • are willing to speak out in whatever forum they have access to on these issues - in other words, they seek to "put themselves out there" in public discourse, come what may

It's wonderful that folks like MacArthur, Mohler, DeYoung & Co. do what they do. What pains me is that self-identified fundamentalists are either unable or unwilling to stand on a platform and engage the wicked secularism of this age. We rely on conservative evangelicals to do it for us. This is sad for members of a movement which began as a frontline protest against theological liberalism.

Of course, most fundamentalists don't have the platform these evangelicals do. But, still, where are the books? Where are the conferences? Why do we leave it to DeYoung (who seems to have a new book out every other month) to write books engaging cultural issues? Why do so many people make the annual pilgrimage to Shepherd's Conference to see what new heresy MacArthur is ready to eviscerate? Why does Mohler have a daily podcast about current issues, but fundamentalists have nothing?

Instead, I see Proclaim & Defend running an address by Massee from 1920 about the fundamentals. Come on, guys - really? What about the liberalism of the here and now? Anybody see Andy Stanley's latest sermons!? Don Johnson closed his reflection on this address by writing this:

It is a sad old world in which we live, where the forces of secularism and the God-denying faiths of moderns assail us on every hand. It is wearying to be always on our guard, but what other stance may we take in our world?

I just don't think we ought to be depressed and downcast. We should pick up our pens, our keyboards, our tablets, our Bibles and our Greek and Hebrew grammars, and go forth to actively engage and defeat this modern liberalism. We don't need to circle the wagons and hunker down. Let's engage. Mohler won't be around forever - he goes down for maintenance every once in a while. MacArthur is winding down. Let's pick up the mantle and start entering the public square again and engage.

I asked a GARBC leader recently about this very issue. In his defense, he pointed to . . . Proclaim & Defend and Baptist Bulletin. Come on, guys. Let's think a little bigger, and a lot more in-depth.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Mark_Smith's picture

I think the problem is the self-identified "fundamentalists" are a little like the internet comment portions of any news story. Go to ANY internet newspaper, for example, and read the comments (assuming they still have them). It is 90% liberal. Not just liberal, it is often WACKO liberal. I interact quite a bit on my local newspaper's comment boards for example. I am smack dab in the middle of the second most Republican state in the union. To read the boards, however, you'd think the ACLU was the Supreme Court and that Democrats were demi-gods saving the world from the evils of capitalism (ie Republicans).

The reason for this is simple, the average Republican is working really hard, and taking care of family. They aren't on the boards. i don't even think they are aware of major issues these liberals bring up since they are so involved in their daily lives.

Expand that to the church. It seems to me the average fundamentalist is so busy running their church (if a pastor), or going to church, taking care of family, etc., that they don't care to really investigate primary sources of the other side. How many of you have read Richard Dawkin's God Delusion for example? I think we have become very closed off to the world around us and rarely look at the other sides view to really investigate them and refute them. many men like Mohler and MacArthur are in UNIQUE positions. MacArthur for example pastors a large congregation, is totally stable, can devote a huge amount of time to study alone, and has a huge audience. What fundamentalist comes close to him in that department? I do think that university faculty at fundamentalist seminaries could be more active however. But often they have no desire to do that. 

The reason is compounded by the real problem that opposition to many of these worldview issues that we oppose will lead to ostracism, being fired, or being hated. To oppose homosexuality is the HATE homosexuals too many people believe. Who wants to be accused of being a hater? Worse, it can get you fired in too many places! So, I think many people are incognito.

We definitely need to shake off the doldrums. 

Being honest, my experience with fundamentalist congregations in Kansas is they are pretty work-a-day people. Most have limited education (high school only). They are not in general the curious type that really gets out there and explores issues. Maybe I am in a little corner of the universe where that is true and it is not the case in general, but I don't see a lot of interest among fundamentalists to intellectually battle the secularists.

pvawter's picture

Ron Bean wrote:

I was told that separation is a fundamental. I asked which kind of separation. From apostasy and false teaching? Yes. From "disobedient" brethren? Yes. From brethren who don't separate from disobedient brethren? (That's when the argument started.)

So, is separation a fundamental? 

I think Fred Moritz deals with these questions very effectively in his book Be Ye Holy.
https://www.bjupress.com/product/078212

Don Johnson's picture

TylerR wrote:

Instead, I see Proclaim & Defend running an address by Massee from 1920 about the fundamentals. Come on, guys - really? What about the liberalism of the here and now? Anybody see Andy Stanley's latest sermons!? Don Johnson closed his reflection on this address by writing this:

It is a sad old world in which we live, where the forces of secularism and the God-denying faiths of moderns assail us on every hand. It is wearying to be always on our guard, but what other stance may we take in our world?

I just don't think we ought to be depressed and downcast. We should pick up our pens, our keyboards, our tablets, our Bibles and our Greek and Hebrew grammars, and go forth to actively engage and defeat this modern liberalism. We don't need to circle the wagons and hunker down. Let's engage. Mohler won't be around forever - he goes down for maintenance every once in a while. MacArthur is winding down. Let's pick up the mantle and start entering the public square again and engage.

I asked a GARBC leader recently about this very issue. In his defense, he pointed to . . . Proclaim & Defend and Baptist Bulletin. Come on, guys. Let's think a little bigger, and a lot more in-depth.

I think in fairness Tyler should have quoted my entire concluding paragraph, not just cherry-picked the part he wanted to rant from:

It is a sad old world in which we live, where the forces of secularism and the God-denying faiths of moderns assail us on every hand. It is wearying to be always on our guard, but what other stance may we take in our world? The words of the addresses to the Pre-Convention Conference in 1920 have dated historical referents, to be sure. But the philosophy of ministry and the cause for concern make their sentiment as important today as when they were first voiced almost one hundred years ago. May God help us to remain faithful in our churches and in our personal lives so that we can proclaim a clear message to our lost and dying world.

I think I am advocating for exactly what he is calling for.

Glad that a GARBC leader thinks we are doing something for the cause.

 

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

TylerR's picture

Editor

My point is that fundamentalists should stop being defensive, circling the wagons and hunkering down. Fundamentalist leaders should start seeking more ways to leave the fort and engage. By and large, that isn't being done. Our focus is almost always insular. It shouldn't be. Also, Massee turned out to be made of . . . less than stern stuff in the end!

Fundamentalists actually have something to say, and they are perfectly equipped (by training and conviction) to say it with much more authority and passion than the "wet noodle" approach you see personified in this article. Why don't we? 

This is probably a compound problem:

  1. of scale (there aren't that many of us),
  2. of expertise (there are even less of us trained to engage this issue),
  3. of lack of nerdiness (who among this group actually wants to write?)
  4. of platform (who cares what we think, anyway?)

It doesn't mean we cannot or should not try. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Don Johnson's picture

Tyler, I agree that we need to proclaim what we are for and why we are for it. There are challenges that have to be overcome, but that isn't news.

In the meantime, with respect to Massee, no he didn't make good choices in the end. My reason for publication is as a matter of historical record and a desire to demonstrate that the concerns of 1920 are not so different from the concerns of 2016.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Bert Perry's picture

It's worth noting--for the 0.01% of people here who are not already aware of this, if any--that one of the big reasons Kevin Bauder stepped away from leading Central Seminary in administration was so he could take part in the very kind of thing that Don, Mark, and Tyler are writing about here; to step up to the plate and start interacting in the marketplace of ideas.

I especially appreciate Mark's comment describing why.  Guilty as charged!  (sigh)

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.