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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. Continue reading

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Credentialed Fundamentalist

I’ve been credentialed as a fundamentalist by the FBFI, although I have reason to suspect that may have not been their intention. Nonetheless, a snippet from a 1998 article of mine was selected from among the pearls of twenty years of outstanding writing on fundamentalism and evangelicalism to represent the straight talk about the issues of interest to fundamentalists that the magazine is proud of. I am quoted right after Bob Jones Jr. and in a list of five men who, other than yours truly, were stars in the fundamentalist orb. Twenty years ago I could not have been more flattered.

Today I’m amused.

The quote I actually stand by. Still. Thirteen years later. With some minor qualifications and time-sensitive applications. The magazine I do not stand by and dismiss as mostly irrelevant, partly because of the chicanery and gamesmanship of many in the leadership of the FBFI, largely because of its complete irrelevance highlighted by the fact that of the five men that they quoted in that particular section, I am the youngest by at least three decades among those yet still alive; and mostly because it is poorly written* as illustrated by the fact that even though I am a bad and uneducated writer I am among the best of twenty years of writing they could cull for their twentieth year celebration.

Now for the 1998 quote.

To clarify the issue for the third-generation Fundamentalist who might be asking “Who am I?” it might be best to explain that there are nominal Fundamentalists with New Evangelical moods. There are also New Evangelicals in distress over the rapid decline of virtue and spiritual integrity who have exhibited the mood of Fundamentalism but lack the courage of complete expression of this mood by separation.  Such books as Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology?, The Coming Evangelical Crisis, and others groan over the chaos of present-day Evangelicalism, yet none mention separation from the unclean thing as a viable solution.  They are in anguish over the condition of their movement, but are too weak (and disobedient) to detach themselves from it — just like many young nominal Fundamentalists today who are nauseated by separatism, but too afraid (and deceitful) to declare themselves for what they really are – – closet New Evangelicals.

I’ve been invited back into the conversation. I intend to address both the article and the themes in a lengthier post now that I have been duly credentialed by the FBFI organ along with Bob Jones Jr., J.B. Williams, and others as an articulate voice on the subject. I suspect that I will be invited to speak at one of their annual meetings shortly, but in the meantime I will opine instead on this humble little blog.

More to come.

*Except for the often-helpful insert “Sound Words.”

Gospel Inoculation

Besides the fact that she has an accent, she’s a she, and she’s wearing pants, this is not much different than the kinds of invitations that I heard while growing up. A commenter called it “gospel inoculation.” Sad, but true. (HT: Jason Parker)

Say What Again!?! The KJV, Bauder, and Smith

Kevin Bauder, Central Theological Seminary

Kevin Bauder does not need me to defend him. In fact, he would be justifiably embarrassed that I come yipping and yapping out of my little kennel to fight off the verbal thuggery that is part of his routine experience since he’s decided to make mincemeat out of some sacred cows. In fact, I will go so far as to say that this is a formal statement on my part as a non-defense of Kevin Bauder, nor are the following statements to be read as an endorsement of him in anyway. I have not read all of his 23 “self-conflicting and Bible-deficient tomes” as Dwight Smith has officially labeled them. In fact, I have thus far only read three: #1, #23, and because of Dwight Smith’s blazing denunciation, #22. I am therefore completely unqualified to speak in defense of Kevin Bauder. Continue reading

“We’re changing. We’re not changing.” Northland’s Statement

Les Ollila

In my opinion, round two from Northland’s public relations attempt is much more clarifying and helpful. The second letter comes from Les Ollila (Chancellor) and is a follow-up to Matt Olson’s (President) open letter which I felt to be unsuccessful at best. In Is Northland Changing? A Chancellor’s Perspective Les Ollila responds with a solid no and yes.

As I said in my previous post, I think that change can be good and, in the case of what I see at NIU, these particular changes are commendable. I claimed that Northland was in a quaqmire because they were trying to say that they were changing while insisting that they weren’t changing. It appears to be political and disingenuous because representing the truth of the situation is very hard. The fact is that they are changing, but they haven’t changed. I argued in my last post that they should just admit it. I am not so deluded as to think that my posts have any kind of influence, but they have certainly listened to some good criticism, because round two gets much closer to the mark.

I would like to make some broad generalizations about ministerial philosophy and specific analysis of the Olson/Ollila letters. There are some people that always read me negatively no matter how I say it, but I hope that most will read this as an attempt to help the discussion going on in these circles.

Proposition #1. Change is not always bad. Sometimes change is good. Continue reading

“We are changing. We are not changing.” Northland’s Quagmire.

“Men love plain speech.”

Fundamentalists have so long confused intransigence for steadfastness that they have to resort to announcing change by saying there is no change. This is the quagmire in which my alma mater is currently wallowing.

I must preface the following comments by declaring myself as a happy, supportive and encouraged alumnus of the non-changes in my former institution that are so remarkably different from my days as a student that I’d be very tempted to call them “changes” if I were anyone else but a loyal occasional dues-paying alumnus. Long afflicted with a quirkiness to see something as it really is, to call a spade a spade, I find it very difficult to suppress the urge to call the non-changes at my alma mater changes. On the one hand, we are told that “things are changing” and alumni chatter about “the changes,” but on the other hand we are told that there are no changes.

And I’m charitably enthused!

Imagine, however, how another variety of the human species may interpret the data coming out of the North Woods like, say, normal people. Normal people would be a tad mystified that there is such a big announcement about no change. A mass mailing. An open letter on a widely-read blog.  And though we are told, for example, that the music philosophy of the institution is the same as it always has been, it is simultaneously announced that the Director of Fine Arts cannot take them forward in this way. He brought them hither; but he cannot take them yon. It would appear that the Director is uncomfortable with the non-change.

This is explained by saying that while there is no “philosophical” change, there is now “missional” change. Normal people scratch their heads.

Please, my friends, stop the silliness.

Let’s just be plain in our language. To even use the word “missional” is a philosophical change, not to mention the “missional” emphasis in music training that is now the new focus. There has been a philosophical shift. Call it what it is. Though in my vainer moments I like to fancy myself as a notch above average in understanding nuances between abstract terms thus enabling me to put a more charitable interpretation on almost anything that would appear like obfuscation to mere mortals of lesser intellectual sophistication, I am nonetheless repressing my average-joe instinct to say, “What that there politician is tryin’ to say is that they’re making changes  by sayin’ ‘xactly the opposite.”

So enters self-defined curmudgeonly one from the right armed with common sense. Never give your opponents the common sense edge. Never. Of course, he is immediately pounced upon as being ornery, cantankerous, and basically typical of his normal self by defenders of the institution, but no one (so far as I can see) has actually dealt with the uncomfortable reality that common sense is his ally. In normal experience and in normal language all these non-changes are, in fact, changes.

If they are not changes at all one who was an alumnus in the early 90s must conclude:

1. That the current attitudes toward, say, non-fundamentalists like Rick Holland and Bruce Ware and Warren Simien were so masterfully disguised that one thought that he was in a typical fundamentalist school. Alas! I was duped. I would have been so much happier had I known that was the official stance!

2. That the current missional approach to music was a well-kept secret perk consistent with the what-seemed-to-be-excessively-legalistic limitations of music checks (non-existent now) and stylistic restraints. I was not sophisticated enough to know that the lectures on guilt-by-association masked a then-held philosophy that could so easily discard music checks and ultimately embrace “missional” (?) training. Alas! Had I known that the philosophy was that elastic I would have spared myself the effort of disengaging myself from it. Years of wasted time. Sigh.

The bottom line is this. There has been change. There is change. There will be change. Change is happening. And the letter basically says, “Deal with it.” That’s my interpretation in plain speech.

I’m frustrated though.

I think the changes are overdue. And, yes, I do think there is a sense in which some of this is not new. Certainly, the disposition of Northland toward many of these issues has been favorable toward its now-public stance. I offer myself as Exhibit A of alumnus influenced by latent reasonable disposition under shell of fundamentalist hard nose. Therefore, I think the changes are, in the main, good changes.

But there is something that Northland and other fundamentalists leaders and institutions really need to change and that is the latent pride that cannot come to grips with the fact that they have been, in some instances, wrong. In five years we have seen a flood of changes with many of these places and people but concurrent with the changes comes a torrent of explanations that all boil down to “we are who we have always been.”

Really?

The problem is because the culture of fundamentalism twenty years ago (and in most parts of it today) was stagnate and could not tolerate dynamics of growth, development, maturation, and change. Change of any kind was tantamount to compromise. Compromise of any kind was always akin to apostasy. Consequently intransigence replaced steadfastness as a virtue and no one realized it. It was never in fundamentalist vocabulary to say, “You know, we held this position for so long but we’ve come to realize that we were wrong on that position. We are now changing.” The practical result is a culture that fears to admit change more than it fears being dishonest about changes. “Sticking by the stuff” is the cardinal fundamental fundamentalists are so proud of that when they quit sticking they passionately redefine the new stuff they are by and say that they have always been sticking by it.

It’s unfortunate that the letter that dismisses playing politics came across as politics. I think that the substantive change that fundamentalism needs is to move from intransigence to steadfastness. And that comes by shoot-from-the-hip transparency in the growing process. Steadfastness allows for all the wonderful changes that many are trying to make and has the added benefit of giving people the assurance that you are indeed who you say you are. Presently, the changing institutions that are insisting that that they are not changing have added a new problem to their complex public relations challenges: the lack of credibility.

We would all do well to learn from Spurgeon:

“In minor matters as well as more important concerns I have spoken my mind fearlessly, and brought down objurgations and anathemas innumerable, but I in nowise regret it, and shall not swerve from the use of outspoken speech in the future any more than in the past. I would scorn to retain a single adherent by such silence as would leave him under misapprehension. After all, men love plain speech. ~ Charles Haddon Spurgeon

The real change fundamentalism needs is not in the cultural matters of music and fellowship, but in the culture of intransigence and pride that precludes the possibility of growth and adjustments without the acrimonious condemnation of other intransigents. Where there is humility, there will always be growth. Where there is growth, there will be change. Changes are good. Just say it.

Is New Calvinism Really New Fundamentalism?

This is the question that David Fitch asks over at Out of Ur.  Now, you must understand from the outset that the question is loaded with implication. This is very much like asking

  • Red Sox fans if their local police are the new Yankees?
  • African-American if  the Republicans are the new Klu Klux Klan?
  • Liberal Democrats if the Blue Dogs are the new Tea Party?

You get the point. Before the discussion has even begun, the well is poisoned. The very fact that the question is posed suggests that there are enough similarities that it merited a thoughtful reflection. Superficial thinkers will freak out and flee at the slightest resemblance of the caricature that they so despise without taking the time to ponder deeper distinctions. Not everyone that has a silly mustache is Adolph Hitler.

Having said that, I don’t think people with silly mustaches should be upset if someone notices similarities between them and Adolph. But quite honestly Fitch’s claim that New Calvinism is the New Fundamentalism in a pejorative sense is utterly ridiculous because of the way he characterized fundamentalism. It should be common sense that you can’t define a thing by the similar characteristics it has with another thing even if it is granted that the similarities are real. It is even more ridiculous if you use characteristics that are universal.

  • It was characteristic of Saddam Hussein to eat three meals a day. Barack Hussein Obama eats three meals a day and has the same name. Barack Obama is therefore an Americanized version of Saddam Hussein.
  • The Nazi Germans characteristically had blond hair and so do many liberal Democrats that I know. Let’s write an article entitled, “Are Liberal Democrats the New Nazis?

Fitch characterizes fundamentalism with three categories:

  1. Insularity. There’s a mentality of insiders over against those who don’t believe.
  2. Distrust toward culture as a place where God is at work.
  3. An “us against them” mentality.

You will be forgiven if you think that 1 and 3 overlap. I think you could also be forgiven if 2 makes you scratch your head and wonder how anything could be more meaningless and inapplicable to the people that he is criticizing, Al Mohler and Kevin DeYoung. But perhaps I don’t understand the sentence. After all, while I know many people who do in fact trust culture, one rarely meets a person who, like Fitch apparently, would boast in having a “trust toward culture” even if it is a “place where God is at work.” What in the world does that mean?

If he is saying that Mohler, et. al. do not believe God can work in culture and the culture is a “place where God is at work,” he needs to read a few more things besides his own blog.
If he is saying that there is an evident suspicion of culture then he is merely highlighting a characteristic that is common to all religions and the atheistic professor in the local community college. Of course, we don’t even know what culture he speaks of. The supposedly defining characteristic is useless because of its meaninglessness.

But he also assumes that there is something dastardly about believing that some are saved and others are not saved (1) and that affirmation and denials of certain propositions equals an “us against them” mentality which is, in his mind, always wrong.

The whole poorly written and thought out post reeks of someone trying to guarantee some traffic to his blog and for that he must be credited with a job well-done. I decided to venture an answer, but I probably should have followed the example of one commenter that said reductionist questions should get reductionist answers after he answered as one of “them,” yes, yes, yes.

Here is my attempted to give a non-reductionist response on his blog:

I would agree. I think I agree with your conclusion, but I’m not sure I agree with your analysis. Having grown up in fundamentalism and still being accused of being such (even though most in my own circles have repudiated me with the dreaded “conservative evangelical” label), I personally think that it is irrational for anybody to disagree with your conclusion that the New Calvinism is a new fundamentalism.

However, I am thinking of fundamentalism in a denotative way and ignoring all of its bad connotations. Since most think of its yucky connotations, most in New Calvinism will vehemently and rightly resist the label.

Since “fundamentalism” is a pejorative term in the eyes of most people (excepting radical fundamentalists) it complicates reasonable discussion because it puts the accused on the defensive.

But I see both pros and cons with the resulting conclusion of your analysis although I think by using the term “fundamentalism” only in a pejorative way as you have done has prejudiced the discussion.

What do you mean by “fundamentalism”? Are you speaking of the J. Gresham Machens of the 20’s who, (though he specifically was uncomfortable with the term), were accused of the very same things that you indicate in the above video? Or are you speaking of the post-Ockenga fundamentalists?

If you are accusing them of being like the earliest fundamentalists, fine. I would agree with you and I would also concur that there was a definite “we/they” mentality which you seem to think is wrong. But (and I’m not trying to be combative), what is wrong with a “us vs. them” mentality when it comes to the conflict of ideas? In fact, aren’t you enjoying the same kind of mentality when you talk about “them”?

I’m not offended by that. You think that “them” are wrong and your article is clearly appealing to those respondents that will find comfort in being a part of the “us” who are put off by the New Calvinism. That’s all perfectly fair. But does that make you fundamentalists?

It is God who invented the us/them dichotomy and it is impossible to avoid it. Some are his children; some are not. I think it is almost silly of people to accuse “fundamentalists” for being “us vs. them” when their accusation effectuates the very same result. Furthermore, while it is not ungodly or “fundamentalist” to suggest that “we” are right and “they” are wrong about any area of doctrine. It is wrong to be wrong, but one is not wrong simply because he has the temerity to think that others are wrong especially if he happens to be right! And if he finds some one to agree with him suddenly they are now an official “us.” What’s wrong with that?

To disagree is fine. To argue over right and wrong is necessary. To say that Mohler and DeYoung are absolutely wrong would be much more impressive to me than to conjure up an evocative connotation that muddies the water simply because they have the spine to say that some people are right and others are wrong.

Having said that, I think that the New Calvinism is a good thing and, yes, in my mind it does very much give the impression of being similar to the earliest fundamentalists. Sadly, I would also have to agree that there is an insularity (particularly the hero worship) that smacks of the post-Ockenga fundamentalism that I have grown to deplore.