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Frontline Fundamentalism & Me: The Irony of the Irony

def. Irony: a state of affairs or an event that seems deliberately contrary to what one expects and is often amusing as a result.

And this in 1986:

During Fundamentalism’s history before 1950, the terms evangelical and conservative were virtually synonymous with Fundamentalist (David Beale, In Pursuit of Purity: American Fundamentalism Since 1950, p. 9). I penned in my copy as a college-age student, “I wonder if this is reversing?” In other words, even then I suspected the day would soon return when conservative evangelicals were the real fundamentalists.

Contrary to what some might expect, I have been published in the Frontline Magazine, a hyper-separatistic, fundamentalist organ. Twice. Once in 1998 and now in their most recent publication, the January/February 2011 edition celebrating its twentieth year of publication. My 1998 article, “I Know Who I Am,” is featured again in a collection of snippets (quote here)from twenty years of articles in a sections called, “Straight Talk from Frontline on Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism.” Of the five men quoted (J.B. Williams, L. Duane Brown, Arno Q. Weniger Jr., and Bob Jones Jr., and yours truly), I am the only man that is both alive and under 70 years old.

The article begins by saying that the laid out all the past articles on a “huge table” and began to sift through them. It was impossible, they said, to make “quick selections” which, presumably, means that the following selections were thoughtful. The four men quoted besides me are, for the most part (if not dead), in the twilight years of their public ministry. I alone am currently just entering the mature years of my ministry,by which I mean that I have been in long enough to think independently and act according to my own experience and not as an automaton of a particular denomination or organization or movement.

There is no doubt that irony was intended. I have it on good word that when the magazine was distributed to various leaders that it was wryly suggested that the Bob Bixby of 2011 would probably not agree with what he wrote in 1998. It does not take a person long-experienced in fundamentalist politics and ethos to know that the goal of the organization was not to endorse Bob Bixby or to encourage its readership to listen to his opinions but rather to score irony points, perhaps suggesting that Bixby is light years away from where he once was while they stand by the stuff.

I am indeed light years away from some things — like even desiring to be published in the Frontline Magazine or naively thinking they represent authentic fundamentalism. Yet the irony of their failed irony is that I agree with the essence of my statement on the topic as I saw it then and still find it to be relevant. Granted, I used anachronisms like “New Evangelical” without qualification, but I would still say that despite the fact that New Evangelicalism is a dead animal, the mood still lives. I still hold to what I said with the added conviction that dismissing the FBFI as irrelevant is better for the fundamentals of the faith than perpetuating the sham.

Even in 1998 I wanted an authentic fundamentalism comprised of people who were what they actually said they were and who actually cared about — gasp! — the doctrines of the faith. In thirteen years of dialogue with fundamentalists about fundamentalism, I have become more persuaded than ever of the glory of authentic historic fundamentalism and of the inauthenticity of many of the big-talking leaders in the movement. My 1998 article, “I Know Who I Am” was actually a response to another article in which the nature of fundamentalism as an identity was being brought to the table for discussion. The fragmentation of the movement is better described by Dave Doran in his recent blog posts about fundamentalism. In 1998 I was becoming quite skeptical about the motives of most people and discerned that most were really not at all driven by doctrinal concerns, but political and social and familial.

Even my most recent personal interaction with powerful leaders in the FBF circle has shown me what I have always suspected: shallow doctrinal commitments and self-promoting politicking. Strip many of them away of their good-old-boy status and they slink away, many of them, tails between their legs to non-fundamentalist churches, proving that their blow-hard, chest-beating pontification on their positions were not only non-substantive but only skin deep.  The fundamentalist movement today is by and large a movement that is sustained by tough-guy bravado and fueled by back-slaps. It has lost credibility on most issues, particularly and ironically, the fundamentals; and even more ironically, the very important discussion of separation, their cherished claim to distinction.

The Frontline and the FBFI are a joke. They simply do not grasp the fact that I am more fundamentalist than they are. Fundamental doctrine matters to me. It does not matter to them. I actually believed Bob Jones Jr. when he described a fundamentalist as

a person who is soundly converted and born again through faith in the blood of Christ, who believes the Bible is God’s Word, who is willing to defend the Scripture with his life’s blood, who preaches and proclaims the Word, and seeks to obey it (“As I See It” Preach the Word, January – March 1998, p. 12 )

Only in my youthfulness I did not realize that I could not discern such a person by doctrine but had to rely on the sub-culture of Bob Jones University, et. al. and fundamentalist organs of indoctrination to tell me who actually was such a person. Look at his qualifications again:

  1. soundly converted through faith in the blood of Jesus Christ
  2. believes the Bible is God’s Word
  3. willing to defend the Scripture with his life’s blood
  4. preaches and proclaims the Word
  5. seeks to obey it

Check, check, check, check, and check. By that definition, I’m clearly a fundamentalist. Of course, immediately many fundamentalists will argue that I am being reductionistic by defining fundamentalists this way even though their hero is the one who actually offered the definition. I would argue that you can’t have it both ways. You can’t benefit from a reductionistic definition when it implicates all people that you define as non-fundamentalists as either 5/not seeking to obey Scripture, 4/not preaching the Word, 3/ not willing to defend the Scripture with their life blood, or 1 and 2/ not even saved.

Perhaps because of his position, Dave Doran has been slower about coming around to seeing what those of us with no dogs in the race could see as soon as we left our colleges and seminaries in the 1990s. The FBFI is not about doctrine and the movement as a whole is so fragmented that one hesitates to call himself a fundamentalist. Says Dave after suggesting that the movement could have been saved by either a doctrinal or activist common cause:

Further, my view was that given our historic roots as a theological movement and the present state of everybody already having their own activity centers, the wisest course of action would be doctrinal (vs. activist). In addition, I argued that the toleration of theological aberrations was not only severely damaging our credibility, but prevented any real unity for action anyways.

It’s worse than that, Dave. The FBF doesn’t want unity around doctrine, as you noted, but their activism is reduced to self-preservationism. Part of that is because some of the very men who rank in the organization are doctrinally shallow and inarticulate. Having been closely related to FBF-style fundamentalism for most of my life I have watched blow-hard after blow-hard convert to something radically different once their position in the fraternity busted.

I saw it then. I’ve seen it this year.

What I wanted thirteen years ago, I want now. I want real people to be real. I was committed to the fundamentals then and I am now. But I repudiate the movement as it is today. I detected a mood of the New Evangelicalism among many professing fundamentalists then and I do now. I detected a mood of historic fundamentalism in evangelicals then and I do now. Thirteen years later I have more in common with the people who love the fundamentals of the faith and are willing to fight for them, have watched the poll-watching pretenders in fundamentalism blow right by me into Warren-esque pragmatism, and have grown weary of playing along with the FBF’s fantasy that they represent real fundamentalism along with their collaborating KJVO sects.

I missed one thing in the 1998. In the identity crisis of the times, there was certainly a compromising mood in pretender fundamentalists and there was certainly a separatist mood in conservative evangelicals. What I failed to mention was that there was also a mainline denominational mood in the fundamentalist movement. In thirteen years fundamentalists who really cared about fundamentals and conservative evangelicals who are actually fighting for and separating for the fundamentals are finding common ground. The pretenders and the preservationists find common ground in that they both really deplore authentic fundamentalism. Thus, what I scratched into my “authorized” history of fundamentalism almost twenty years ago as a young man fresh out of college is becoming reality. Times are reversing to pre-1950s and those who really understand fundamental doctrine are realizing that what Beale said about the pre-1950s is becoming the reality of the 2010s: conservative and evangelical is virtually synonymous with fundamentalist.

So, there is no irony in their attempted irony. And maybe that is why when culling for hard words on fundamentalism among the relevant and the living they landed on an article by a real fundamentalist named Bob Bixby.

But don’t call me a fundamentalist. Too many people will think it means I’m a part of the sect. Fifty years of propaganda and disinformation has really confused the conversation resulting in conflicting tribes of sub-cultures who can’t distinguish doctrine from opinion or fundamental from peripheral. Just call me a conservative evangelical and most people will know that means I’m a fundamentalist. Except the Fundamentalists; the ones with the title. And the subscription to Frontline Magazine.

Sigh.

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25 Responses

  1. “Just call me a conservative evangelical and most people will know that means I’m a fundamentalist. Except the Fundamentalists; the ones with the title. And the subscription to Frontline Magazine.”

    Well said.

  2. Excellent. You were slightly ahead of your time in 1998. I love that they re-printed the article.

  3. […] Frontline Fundamentalism & Me: The Irony of the Irony « Pensees. AKPC_IDS += "1345,";Popularity: unranked [?] Tags: evangelicalism, Fundamentalism, Historic […]

  4. I think the irony could be recognized without being intended as the purpose. Maybe they realized the same thing you did– not a lot of young guys to include on the subject.

    And fundamental doctrine’s do not matter to the FBFI? Could that brush be any broader?

  5. I’ll go ahead and score the point for you that obviously distinguishing between possessive and plural doesn’t matter to FBF folk. :^)

    • I don’t mean that ALL fundamental doctrines do not matter to the FBFI. I mean that certain fundamental doctrines do not matter to them. Some fundamental doctrines matter to Catholics too. However, when you make some doctrines (i.e. separation, music, etc.) as important to you, as fundamental, as other fundamentals, you essentially say fundamental doctrines don’t matter. If everything is a fundamental, nothing is. And if the wrong things are fundamental, you can’t claim to be fundamentalists when what is understood by “fundamentals” is fundamental Christian doctrine.

  6. A sort of converse to your Catholic point is that non fundamentals–separation, for instance–may not be a fundamental to all FBFI.

    But the last sentence of your response helps me see better what you were getting at.

  7. Hi Bob,

    Well…

    In a comment above, you say:

    However, when you make some doctrines (i.e. separation, music, etc.) as important to you, as fundamental, as other fundamentals, you essentially say fundamental doctrines don’t matter. If everything is a fundamental, nothing is.

    Are you sure that we are making separation/music fundamentals? Or are they worthy issues for determining fellowship? All other doctrines being equal, if a church used music unacceptable to you in their youth programs, would you enter into some kind of joint youth rally or some such activity if invited?

    In your article, you are long on general statements, but kind of short on specifics. I appreciate Dave’s article today, he is very specific about what is bothering him. When you make general broadsides, I just want to be defensive and we just get into a war of words that way. Better to offer specifics, I think.

    I do want to take issue with one fairly specific statement you make:

    I … have grown weary of playing along with the FBF’s fantasy that they represent real fundamentalism along with their collaborating KJVO sects.

    As a member of the FBF, I don’t think we claim to represent fundamentalism. We claim to be about providing a ‘rallying point’ [from our purpose statement] for people who share certain views. If we represent anyone, we represent ourselves. There are lots of other people out there who are also fundamentalists. We are quite aware that we don’t represent them. They speak for themselves, sometimes saying things similar to what we say, sometimes not.

    So I think this particular charge is not correct. I don’t know of ways in which we claim to speak for anything beyond our own fellowship. We may speak to others and to issues as we think they ought to be, but we speak only for ourselves.

    FWIW

    Maranatha!
    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  8. In reading this excellent post, the image that comes to my mind is that of the look on my father’s (MBBC ’78) face when he saw Larry Oats and I receive our diplomas on the same day at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.

    Or, to borrow from Whitefield, “Where is thy second-degree separation now, friend?” 🙂

  9. Speaking of FBF “blowhards” like Dr. Oats, I don’t think anyone in the FBF has said taking a degree from an evangelical institution is a violation of ‘secondary separation’. Otherwise, why would Dr. Oats and I have served on the same FBF committee just a few weeks ago?

    Maranatha!
    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  10. Obviously an inconsistency…or maybe secondary separation is a man-made doctrine and really only applies to the context of the local church.

  11. Speaking of “separation of the individual believer from all worldly practices (philosophies, goals, lifestyles, amusements, habits, and practices) that dishonor the Savior…”

    It’s interesting that such separation could be conceived as applying to that back-beat-monger Steve “Aerosmith” Green and all his works, but not to attendance at a school that (when Dr. Oats and I were there) promoted Calvinism, post-millennialism, amillennialism, “third-wave” pentecostalism, and women’s ordination—and “contemporary worship” in chapel.

    Or perhaps some people are qualified to keep themselves unspotted from the world, and others ain’t.

  12. Bob – fun article. You should submitt a “part 2” to the article they published from before. See if they have the guts t!o publish it. If they do – wonderful If they don’t wonderful! (If they don’t I’m sure SI would be happy to publish, “the rest of the story.”) In either case, readers will see what they will see.

    In this case you’ll be able to add irony on top of irony…….You have to love irony!

    Straight Ahead!

    jt

    • Bob—I agree with Joel, submit a “part 2” to Frontline. Make sure it’s your best though because unlike back in 1998 now you have to compete with budding authors who copy and paste a lot in defense of the Gospel.

  13. Great post, Bob. I grew up in a “fundamentalist” church and graduated from two properly fundamentalist colleges, BJ and Pillsbury. I have often thought that the mistake they made was to teach us to love the Word of God too much. If your outlook is Sola Scriptura you will have no choice but to reject the extra-Biblical “fundamentals” that were held by the very schools that trained us.

    This reminds me of the explanation by Matt Olson of his Scriptural training at BJ — great until he realized that some of the stuff “just wasn’t in there.”

    Coincidentally, Dave Doran’s recent post at http://gloryandgrace.dbts.edu/?p=517 also address these issues. I love his conclusion:

    “I could add more doctrinal controversies, but I think I’ve said enough to illustrate my point. For sake of clarity, though, let me make my point very clear: by 2005 I was becoming convinced that: (a) the doctrinal matters that matter to me were apparently not doctrinal concerns for Fundamentalism; and (b) the tendency toward doctrinal indifference on these matters was not something with which I was comfortable.”

  14. Bob,

    Just a quick word of clarification in regard to the quote you offered from me–I was not speaking to the FBF, but a group of educators that would represent a broader cross-section of Fundamentalist institutions. I think it would be misreading my point to think that statement was directed toward the FBF since it has always been more narrow than Fndamentalism itself.

    I’ll admit that I’m being self-serving here–I’m trying to say something at my blog that, while similar, isn’t exactly what you’re saying here and I’d like to allow us to both speak clearly and distinctly.

    • Dave,

      Point taken about that exact quote, but I think it would be hard for anyone to read what you said in your post over all and not apply it to FBF type fundamentalism, if not the FBF directly. You gave a long illustration of the FBF’s displeasure with Mark Minnick’s message and then immediately concluded with the following words:

      “I could add more doctrinal controversies, but I think I’ve said enough to illustrate my point. For sake of clarity, though, let me make my point very clear: by 2005 I was becoming convinced that:
      (a) the doctrinal matters that matter to me were apparently not doctrinal concerns for Fundamentalism;”

      It seems like you were including the FBF in your criticism of lack of Fundamentalism generally, and particularly in the matter of doctrinal concern. I thought the point applied to the FBF as well, but I could have been clearer about my personal application of it to the FBF.

      • The key, though, is that the illustration re: FBF was from 2001, but the quote and my concluding point are about issues in 2005.

        I’ll probably be elaborating more on my blog, but the heart of my comment here is to distinguish between dissatisfaction with the FBF and with the concept of Fundamentalism as a movement. The FBF has always been only a small subset of the other. I had hopes for a while, throughout the 90s, that it might be at the center of a theologically renewed fundamentalist movement. By 2001, I was pretty sure that wasn’t going to happen. Others were (are) not as convinced as me, and I respect them and their difference with me on that. I think those men and I actually differ in two ways: (a) the prospects of the FBF distinguishing itself from deformed branches of fundamentalism; and, more importantly, (b) that having some kind of movement is essential to the practice of biblical separation (iow, having something for people to be inside or outside of is the key to practicing separation).
        I think you and I have different concerns regarding the FBF. I don’t really think they are hyper-separatist. I’ve been arguing that they are inconsistent–they hold others to a higher standard than to which they hold themselves. That’s because their standard no longer works in the world in which we live. It worked better 40-50 years ago, but not today. What I am saying should not be confused as rejection of the FBF. I’m really talking about the unworkability of their approach to separation. I believe that principially I share a lot of agreement with most of the FBF board members. We work that out in application more and more differently though.

  15. Dave,

    I don’t think you have to worry. Your main point is as clear as it is typical: you’re trying to distance yourself as much as possible from this post even if it means straining at gnats. We all get that. So don’t worry. You’re in the clear. You do not in anyway endorse, associate, affiliate, or sympathize with Bixby’s rant against the FBF.

    But I never assumed that.

    I didn’t think you were coming out and categorically rejecting the FBF, but your post supports the reasons why so many of us have and that was my point. And your latest explanation here in the comments doesn’t seem to change much in my mind.

    Hyper-separatist (my term) or “inconsistent” separatist (your term). Tomato, tomAHto. They’ll separate from Dever (hyper), but won’t separate from KJVO types (“inconsistent”). You’re right: “they hold others to a higher standard than to which they hold themselves.” Outside of Baptist politics that’s called phariseeism.

    That’s a pretty serious charge that you seem to be attempting to mitigate by saying it’s a matter of application, their “approach to separation”. I think it’s a matter of principle and, frankly, so do a large majority of graduates from schools like NIU and BJU as do a large number of graduates from your seminary (among those that I know personally which is admittedly far fewer than who you know).

    Some of us have been personally affected by what you call “inconsistent” separation to the point that our ministerial careers were toppled and our reputations and friendships severely damaged in ways that you simply cannot understand from the safety of your local church. Which, by the way, is a compliment to your church and, furthermore, an illustration of why I love the local church.

    They can take potshots at you and slander you behind their backs, but they never could ride a white horse into your ministry and raze it under the guise of protecting fundamentalism. Your church and seminary are, glory to God, far too strong and independent for that kind of thing to ever happen. But there are many smaller churches and ministries and less powerful men that have experience the trauma of the FBF’s “inconsistent” separation and we are not so inclined to pretend we have the same principles and only differ on applications.

    I understand that you want to stay clear of my poking the eye of the FBF and I’m cool with that. i didn’t quote you because I needed your moral support. I quoted you because, as is often the case, you articulate in ways that I appreciate and find useful.

  16. Bob,

    Sometimes people just genuinely disagree with other people. It’s a pretty jaded perspective to almost always assume that those who express disagreement do it for political purposes. My experience is that reactionary people create most of their own problems, but that’s just my view, no doubt distorted by the peace and tranquility of my insular world.

  17. As much as I agree with Bob that the politics of self-promotion is a major factor in the past 30 years, that’s really a side issue.

    What’s really important here is that he thinks his case is based on a matter of principle; Dave thinks it’s a matter of application. I wonder if that might not be a more fruitful grounds on which to advance the conversation.

  18. I read the complaint in the language of principle, but somehow the overall impression I still get is personal vindication in response to an insult, real or imagined.

    I don’t say the FBFI is without its problems but throwing rocks with “blow-hard” and “joke” scrawled on them seems to me to be counter-productive.

    • Bob,

      Perhaps I can add some perspective. The national FBFI meeting Dave referenced was held at our church (FBC Troy). That year we tackled many doctrinal issues. Dave Doran preached on a doxological motivation for missions. Steve Thomas spoke on the heresy of open theism. Bill Combs spoke on progressive sanctification and the error of a two-tier Keswick theology. Rolland McCune preached on the necessity of a militant ecclesiastical separation. I spoke on what is the true Gospel and the proper nature of saving faith/repentance. Minnick spoke on the necessity of biblical preaching and spoke against KJV onlyism. The meeting was very well attended. In fact, Thursday night, the final night of the meeting, we had 800 people in the service. Certainly that national meeting rubbed some people the wrong way. Nevertheless, that year we passed numerous doctrinal resolutions in sync with the presentations made that week.

      Frankly, if men like Bauder, Horn, etc. had accepted the board positions offered them or stayed on the board, it would help us greatly to correct our mistakes, some of which have been quite serious. Unfortunately, some of the best men don’t accept those positions or leave them prematurely, seldom attend the board meetings, or are strangely quiet during the board meetings when they should speak up.

      I have never been interested in having some kind of big tent for the FBFI. I was instrumental in writing the doctrinal statement for the FBFI, and we made it as tight as we possibly could, particularly on bibliology, soteriology, and ecclesiology. Unfortunately, some people sign that statement every year, but do not genuinely hold to some of its most important tenets.

      Regarding music, I think it is important. However, I don’t think it is as important as major doctrine. Practically, however, music plays a high-profile role in our church services.

      Sincerely,

      Neanderthal, anachronistic, dinosaur

      • Mike,

        It sounds as though you disagree with Horn and Bauder’s decisions. It is a bit surprising to me that a separatist would find fault with men who are unwilling to take leadership in a fellowship that, as you describe, has made serious mistakes, has indifferentists in its leadership, and tolerates infidelity to its doctrinal statement.

        Please don’t take that as me criticizing you for remaining in an FBFI board position, since I have a category for ongoing participation in pursuit of incremental reform—and I have every confidence that is your objective. I wish your investment in the FBFI to bear good fruit. It’s also as strong an argument as I could ever make for the men who’ve chosen to remain in the Southern Baptist Convention and contend for the faith there.

  19. Dear Neanderthal, Anachronistic Dinosaur:

    You would be delighted to know that many like me like dinosaurs. We simply can’t stand the museum and we no longer trust the tenured curators. We think they are politically-correct elite who can no longer tell a Saurischia from an Ornithischia.

    Roam free!

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