A Carnal Means of Judging

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Kevin T. Bauder's picture

Whomever Dr. Doran is talking about surely qualifies as the T. D. Jakes of Fundamentalism. It amazes me that people who object to the prosperity gospel will use the prosperity of a ministry as some indication of God’s blessing or of its fidelity. When this flawed perspective is then combined with the sort of Schadenfreude that Doran mentions, it becomes a carnival-mirror distortion of Fundamentalism.

Doran is right that this kind of innuendo is nothing new. I agree with him that naming names right now would probably work against learning the lessons that need to be learned. Dr. Doran is not objecting to a particular person, but to a flawed mode of judging and to a sinful way of attempting to damage other peoples’ reputations.

While I don’t know other kinds of institutions (missions, publishing houses) as well, I do have some familiarity with Fundamentalist higher education. If the criterion of prosperity were applied across the board, I know of few or no schools within mainstream Fundamentalism that could meet it. Most or all are struggling for both students and money. Whether more or less conservative, none that I know of has actually increased its student population this year, and if any has, the numbers are still quite modest.

The only self-identified Fundamentalist school that has consistently prospered financially is the one that has also been the most consistently destructive. It is one of the schools that has affirmed serious doctrinal error in its bibliology, and it is the only school that I know of to produce and to disseminate official materials deliberately seeking to sabotage Fundamentalist colleges and seminaries that objected to that error. For this institution to thrive constitutes proof that prosperity is no indication whatever of God’s pleasure.

I wonder whether the original author (the one to whom Doran responds) would be willing to apply his (or her?) criteria to schools like Southern Baptist Seminary, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Master’s College and Seminary, and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. If I’m not mistaken, all of these institutions are flourishing. I wonder whether the original author would be willing to judge the faithfulness of The Gospel Coalition and T4G by their very visible prosperity.

On the other hand, Fundamentalism as a whole seems to be shrinking (though institutions are multiplying). Organizations like the GARBC and the FBFI have lost much of the support that they enjoyed thirty years ago. Churches like Fourth Baptist, Marquette Manor, and Hamilton Square--churches that were once powerhouses--are now shadows of their former selves. Would the original author claim that God has withheld His blessing from the FBFI or from these churches?

Through the years, Fundamentalists have witnessed the destructive use of innuendo on a number of occasions. In every instance, the real loser has been Fundamentalism as a whole. How? First, because it typically loses the contributions and insights of those victims who are simply pushed out of Fundamentalism (Francis Schaeffer may be the clearest example). Second, because the perpetrators damage their own credibility and the credibility of all who are associated with them. Third, because many assume that the perpetrators are the real voices of Fundamentalism rather than the cranks that they often are. Fourth, because every time the perpetrators open their mouths, a whole contingent of young men opts not to remain within a Fundamentalism that is willing to tolerate such egregious behavior.

Why do young potential leaders leave Fundamentalism? Not usually because conservative evangelical leaders are trying to recruit them. More often, it is because they simply see no reason to subject themselves to such petulant punditry. Can anybody really blame them?

Jim's picture

I know this is not the thrust of the article but frankly fundy para-church organizations are less than transparent about their finances. 

Few buy into the the http://www.ecfa.org

Some do .... like 

  • ABWE
  • Village Missions 

An example of fundamentalist financial disaster is Evangelical Baptist Missions

But back to the main point .... to say an organization is a success because it is profitable is the essence of the prosperity gospel. 

 

Alex Guggenheim's picture

I believe that there is a valid criticism of the isolated use of statistics but to the basis of its use, are there never contexts of institutional finances that can inform us of its health with at least a suggestion of cause and effect in an ecclesiastical or more broadly human context, divine blessing aside?

Chip Van Emmerik's picture

Alex,

I think you have two questions there. I think there can be some indicators of health or disease in the books, though never in a superficial glance as Dr. Doran emphasizes. However, I can't come up with any concrete way to indicate God's blessing, or lack thereof, based on the financial report. Is that where you were headed?

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

Kevin T. Bauder's picture

Alex,

To respond to what I think is your point, yes, sometimes the balance sheet can be an indication of how constituents are responding to an institution. That judgment, however, can only be made by those who actually have all the facts at their disposal. Dr. Doran has already given one example from his own ministry of how those figures can be misleading to outsiders. I'll add two more.

The first is one with which I'm very familiar: Central Baptist Theological Seminary. For decades the seminary virtually existed on the largesse of Fourth Baptist Church. The church began a numerical and financial decline during the latter years of Clearwaters' pastorate, and that decline continued as the neighborhood around the church changed dramatically. The result was that the church was hardly able to survive financially, let alone help the seminary. That situation changed for both church and seminary with a single large influx of cash. The church built a new building and the seminary seminary invested its money and lived from the proceeds, knowing that it would have to develop outside sources of support. Year by year more churches and private donors have been supporting the seminary for larger amounts, but the recent economic downturn wreaked havoc with the investment. Someone who simply looked at the bottom line without knowing the facts would assume that the seminary's supporters were jumping ship, but the exact opposite is the case. There have been some record years for giving recently, and our president says that this year was our best ever for recruiting. What has changed in the amount that comes from the investment.

The second example is Pillsbury Baptist Bible College. Pills began a long decline under the presidency of Joseph Rammel. The only president who was able to seriously interrupt that decline was Allan Potter. Yet I have heard that Potter has been blamed for the closing of the school, even though one of its finest presidents (Robert Crane) was also unable to reverse the decades-long decline. Such is the rumor mill of Fundamentalism. So far as I know, nobody had seriously lost confidence in the college's commitments. Rather, the Minnesota Baptist Association, which had been decimated by power politics in the late 1970s and early 1980s, was no longer strong enough to provide the level of support that it had in the past. I'm guessing that the total membership of MBA churches in 2005 was--what?--maybe a quarter or a third of what it had been in, say, 1970. (By the way, Greg Huffman showed real courage in his willingness to take the presidency of an institution that had been on the ropes for a couple of decades).

There is a dangerous tendency on the part of some Fundamentalist commentators to take some scrap of information (they will call it a fact, but they usually don't know what a fact is), then supply a context that comes largely from their imaginations. The result is that the information is turned on its head and made to represent almost the opposite of what it really means. In doing so, these commentators are actually employing a favorite tactic of some critics of Fundamentalism--but they tend to miss the irony.