Joel Carpenter is the Provost of Calvin Seminary. He is also the author of Revive Us Again, an excellent volume detailing the history of the “middle years” of fundamentalism, the period from the 1930s to the 1960s. Carpenter grew up as a fundamentalist, and he understands something about the way that fundamentalists do business. At one point in his history, Carpenter offers a long quotation from a sermon by John R. Rice. The temper of the sermon (or at least that part of it) was pugilistic and bellicose. The content was an expression of Rice’s prejudices, some of which were more correct than others, but none of which was firmly grounded in the text of Scripture. Carpenter points out that one of the major problems with fundamentalism was its inability to deal with such idiosyncratic and aggressive leadership.
Several years ago, I discussed this problem with Carpenter. I pointed out that he had placed fundamentalists in a pretty difficult position. If we did not challenge leadership such as that of Rice, then we were too complacent. If we did challenge it, however, and a fight ensued, then Carpenter was ready to spank us for being schismatic. I suggested that this was a no-win situation.
Let’s call this post a completely unscheduled and unplanned editorial. Most of you have probably noticed a bit of a controversy brewing among fundamentalists on the question of Calvinism and related matters.
SI is inevitably involved in the conflict. What I’m really hoping, though, is that SI can be in the conflict in a helpful way. Fundamentalism has frequently lost sight of important questions in the midst of the fog of war that arises from the personal conflicts (and organizational-politics conflicts) of those involved.
So, please remember a couple of things. One, we don’t endorse everything that appears in blogroll posts, much less Filings links. Two, we’re going to be working hard over the next week or so to better focus on the issues that matter most.
(I’m actually out of town on a conference-and-family trip and won’t be able to work on things directly until I return. The CCGG conference yesterday was very good, by the way.)
Ultimately, to the degree we focus on personalities, we’re not accomplishing much. When people articulate important ideas, we need to deal with the ideas—and that involves naming names to some extent. But the focus needs to remain on the ideas if we’re going to avoid the kind of unprofitable mud slugging that has so often plagued the fundamentalist movement in the past.
Whatever side of it you’re on, the ideas are too important to bury in a haze of personal conflict.
The recent alarm regarding the “radical resurgence” of a historical branch of evangelical Christianity that is a close cousin to Baptist fundamentalism seems to me to be something akin to the U.S. Army issuing orders to its troops to commence (or continue) training among its troops to deal with the threat of the U.S. Navy, while both are supposed to be engaged with an enemy that is constantly attacking it.
I sit every week in secular philosophy classes at a university in the Philadelphia area (to fulfill external course requirements at Westminster) and hear deadly error taught with the passion and sophistication one would expect to find in the madrassa schools of Iran or Saudi Arabia. I see the insidious doctrines of Wittgenstein, Nietzsche, Hegel, and Derrida being swallowed uncritically by the doctoral students around me. Error is so influential in academic circles and its proposals so sweeping in its social implications that I wonder what hope (apart from the sovereignty of God) Christians will have to freely worship and proclaim the gospel in the coming days. I think we are beginning to see the influence of radical philosophy behind the decisions and initiatives of our recently elected president.