As I had hoped, my first “Listomania!” submission has drawn quite a bit of discussion and comment. I’ve received several private emails, a good number of comments on this blog and even was told that there is a bulletin board that has it as a “discussion topic.” In all honesty, I’m glad about this as the provocation of discussion and debate allows everyone to learn. I think that is healthy for us individually and for the “movement” (if there is indeed one at all.)
It is also fairly typical for some to attack the “messenger” (or at least pause and say, “who is this guy and what makes him qualified to ask these questions or raise these problems) and for others to challenge whether the “WORLD WIDE Web” is the appropriate venue for such a discussion. I would concede that neither the messenger or the venue is a perfect agent for this kind of discussion, but it’s what we have for now. My tendency to ask direct questions of “us” and my proclivity for being occasionally “impolitic” in some of my observations is something that has ended up garnering a substantial amount of scorn over the years — usually from those bent on justifying the status quo or continuing to live in the past. And it is true that the Web has its drawbacks in terms of a forum, but let’s face it in that there are really no other forums available that aren’t closed, biased or inconvenient. The Web is unique in that literally everyone gets a seat at the table.
I received an email yesterday that contained several specific questions and I actually spent longer than I had intended on answering them, but they made me think through some of what I had written more thoroughly. Thus, I thought I’d share some of the questions a pastor in the southern part of the USA asked me and what I offered as a response:
He noted, “Your list pertains to Fundamental churches. From reading over it, I am sure you are talking about Fundamental Baptist churches, correct.”
Here is my reply:
I’m going to have to give you an ambiguous answer on this one. Had I been exclusively been commenting on Fundamental Baptist churches, I would have clearly said so. However, it is no secret that I have only been a member of or ministered at independent, Baptist churches, thus it could be inferred that those experiences have created an innate bias in my perspective. However, I have many friends involved in the broader world of fundamentalism and evangelicalism and its sundry derivations who are not independent Baptists — or even Baptists at all. Interestingly, I grew up near an old order Amish community and, while I believe what they practice and teach is works-based and graceless illegitimate protestantism, I see similarities in their mentality to some within fundamentalism. Quite frankly, I just finished reading a book written by an unbelieving individual who left the Mormon cult and I found some stunning similarities in Mormonism and some sects within fundamentalism. The danger in any commentary that can only be reasonably written using a few hundred words is that it can appear to be done with a ‘broad’ brush. That was not my intent. I was making generalized observations of fundamentalism, but I cannot deny that my perspective is colored by my history within the independent Baptist wing of fundamentalism. Not trying to be evasive here, just honest.
Next, he noted, “On point #3, you say the churches have emphasized standards at the expense of doctrine. What doctrine are you talking about….?”
Regarding churches that have emphasized standards at the expense of doctrine, I do want to clarify and expand my thoughts a bit. I was not suggesting any one particular doctrine as you seemed to be asking. I’m suggesting that, were as much time devoted in many fundamentalist churches to the systematic teaching of doctrine and to strategic discipleship as is spent on sermons, teaching and even tirades regarding “standards”, “associations” and other such sub-issues, our churches would be healthier. From my perspective, we have over-emphasized telling our memberships what to do and not enough time in teaching them how to think. You’ll have to understand that I’m far more of an educator than I am a theologian, but in applying education to theology, I believe we have to approach it with some sense of where we are going and how we are going to get there. A fully-equipped Saint should know first the “what’s” of his faith — Biblical literacy. He should also know the implications of those facts — that reveals itself in application (part of the putting off the old man and putting on the new man or sanctification). Finally, he should be able to defend what is Truth — Apologetics. These objectives won’t be fulfilled by accident or a willy-nilly approach to teaching. I like what Spurgeon said, “Theology is the queen of all the Sciences.” Thus, in my view, doctrine is the skeleton of a sound theology, not standards.
In my experience (and I realize the danger of anecdotal justifications), for every one sermon I have heard in my years of fundamentalism on the Sufficiency of Christ, the Authority of Scripture (inerrancy, immutability, infallibility, inspiration), I have heard scores of sermons on issues like “standards”, associations, styles matters, and other such topics. Sadly, while I might agree with some or much of what they say, the way that they reach their conclusions is intellectually and theologically flawed. One example would be the dozens of sermons I have heard based on David’s question, “Is there not a cause?” when a study of the Hebrew and the context of that verse simply does not justify it’s use for the vast majority of those sermons. That’s why I believe expositional (and largely systematic, though I’m not super dogmatic about that) is a superior way of preaching to topical preaching.
Finally, he asked me to explain what I meant when I said churches see “cultural adjustments as theological compromise.”
I have answered dozens, perhaps hundreds of questions from good folks over the years on matters like, “when is it acceptable for women to wear slacks if ever”, “is a church truly fundamental if they do not have Sunday night services”, “does the presence of percussion instruments in a church service make it unacceptable”, “is it appropriate to use any Bible version other than the KJV” (something that is quite interesting in the context where I currently serve where there are 70 different ethnic groups in a typical Sunday attendance), “is academic accreditation for a college tantamount to theological compromise”, etc…. I believe personally that it if we believe the right things theologically, we will do the right things culturally and practically. You see, I grew up in a church where if a woman (saved or unsaved) came to church wearing slacks, she was politely, but firmly told that we didn’t dress that way at our church. She would be “permitted” to attend this once, but in the future, she would have to wear a knee-length skirt. Interestingly, we never had a problem with what they wore the second time. They never came back. I do not believe that our churches are so weak that we cannot accept people where they are and to lovingly teach them to where they need to be. I am grieved to this day at what our rigid cultural standards communicated to people who really needed Truth, grace and the Gospel.
Anyway…. I thought I’d post these additional comments for the discussion mill for any who are interested. Thanks for participation and keep it up!