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:
- soundly converted through faith in the blood of Jesus Christ
- believes the Bible is God’s Word
- willing to defend the Scripture with his life’s blood
- preaches and proclaims the Word
- 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.