Some Advice for Younger Fundamentalists

Slide1
Jim is having a deep discussion with Carl about predestination

Baptist fundamentalism is a very particular sub-culture in the evangelical Christian world. I’m a member of this small sub-culture. It’s a movement with a rich and worthy legacy. What on earth is fundamentalism? Here is my brief definition:

Fundamentalism is a philosophy of ministry characterized by a militant apologetic defense and passionate, unashamed proclamation of the Christian faith from the Scriptures in the face of pagan unbelief, theological revisionism and compromise.

The “movement” was a largely American reaction against apostate theological revisionism in the later 19th century. Depending on who you ask, and where they come from, fundamentalism developed along different lines, in different denominations. The general idea was that the “rule of faith,” the core doctrines which make Christianity what it is, are worth fighting for.

During the first decades of the 20th century, these individual movements lost ground in their various ecclesiastical orbits and bureaucracies. Gradually, these men realized they’d better pull out of these apostate bureaucracies, and form their own organizations. So, pastors and their churches across our fair land did just that.

The problem

But, over the decades, this movement has ossified in some quarters. It’s inevitable, I suppose:

  • The first generation goes forth on its own, to conquer new ground and blaze a glorious trail for reformation.
  • The second generation takes the helm, anxious to continue in the proud and honorable tradition of their fathers.
  • The third generation is focused more on perpetuating the organization, and less on the theological issues which actually created the movement in the first place.

It can become this way in any organization. The original ideals are still spoken of with respect, and the right phrases are trotted out at just the right times. And yet … there’s something wrong. The focus is now on the organization, not the original issues. This is why, for example, Al Sharpton is such a joke when you compare him to Booker T. Washington.

In the fundamentalist sub-culture over the past decade, we have seen an identity crisis. Some younger fundamentalists have fled the movement, shrieking in terror (oh, the humanity!) for parts unknown. Others have left for the confessional, Reformed world. Some are just … different. Still others have remained, anxious to reform a movement worth saving. And, some have mounted a desperate rear-guard action, anxious to fight against any notion of reform. These are (for lack of a better term) the Company Men.  However, unlike the heroic defenders at Rorke’s Drift, they shall not prevail.

The Company Men control some outlets in the fundamentalist world. Their influence is slowly waning, and their numbers are steadily shrinking. I believe a major reason for is because some have lost their sense of mission. In short, they have ossified.

The great parallel

Let me frame this in a way that might be helpful. Some readers have been, or are, leaders in local churches. This may help folks to understand where I’m coming from:

  • Some fundamentalist para-church organizations are like dying churches.

Here is what I mean:

  • A dying church lives in the past, idolizes it, and generally neglects its most basic functions of robust discipleship and active evangelism. Instead, dying churches tread water and gradually die out. As the end draws nearer, some church members often react with extreme defensiveness, and pine away for the “good old days” of the Nixon era, when they ran 500+ and had multiple bus routes.
  • In these churches, there always are some younger, reform-minded folks who see the problem, but are rarely given free reign to actually tackle these issues. Eventually, some of them get fed up, and leave. The younger exodus begins, and you’re left with a small congregation of (sometimes) embittered older saints who dig their heads into the sand, and convince themselves they’re suffering for righteousness’ sake.
  • Indeed, some of those who remain take to slandering the younger men as inexperienced, inept, “new-fangled,” and immature. This is generally (but not always) pride and arrogance talking – borne out of defensiveness.

This is a remarkable parallel to what has been happening in some fundamentalist para-church organizations for some time:

  • They’re dying.
  • They live in the past, idolize it, and generally neglect their most basic functions of fighting to defend the faith against theological revisionism and outright apostasy, at an intellectual and popular level. Instead, some of these dying organizations tread water and will gradually die out. As the end draws near, some fundamentalists often react with with extreme defensiveness, and pine away for the “good old days” of the Nixon era, when they had meaningful influence in the larger Christian sub-culture.
  • In these organizations, there always are some younger, reform-minded folks who see the problem, but are rarely given free reign to actually tackle these issues. Eventually, some of them get fed up, and leave. The younger exodus begins, and you’re left with a small organization of (sometimes) embittered older saints who dig their heads into the sand, and convince themselves they’re suffering for righteousness’ sake.
  • Indeed, some of those who remain take to slandering the younger men as inexperienced, inept, “new-fangled,” and immature. This is generally (but not always) pride and arrogance talking – borne out of defensiveness.

Do you see the parallels? Many of the godly saints in these para-church organizations can correctly diagnose these problems in local churches. Can they do it in their own organization? Will they do it? We’ll see.

This great divide, this great ossification, is tearing Baptist fundamentalism apart at the seams. Many younger men refuse to be formally identified with the movement out of disgust at what it’s become in certain quarters. Some older men are only too happy to see them go. Clearly, the thrill is gone …

The advice

This kind of talk can make a fella feel downright sad. So, I reckon I’ll share a few tidbits of advice for younger fundamentalists. I may add more to this list, as time goes by. But, for now, I think this is some pretty good advice. It’ll help put things into perspective. This advice is deliberately blunt, so flee now if you must.

So, here’s some advice when it comes to fundamentalist identity politics:

  1. Write about fundamentalism, if you wish – just don’t ever discuss it online. It will destroy your soul and you will accomplish nothing. I’ve verified this over years of careful testing. (Note – I actually added this last bit of “advice” after the fact, after extensive interaction in an online forum about this very article).
  2. If you usually blindly support a particular flavor of Baptist fundamentalism, without any introspection or constructive thought, that means you’re a Company Man. It also means you’re a “Yes Man.” Don’t be a “Yes Man.”
  3. Don’t be a Company Man. Think for yourself, even if that means disagreeing with the godly folks who trained you. You have a brain, so use it. If your congregation wants artificial intelligence, it can turn to Alexa or Siri.
  4. It’s ok to disagree. If you blindly tow the line on everything your ecclesiastical sub-culture’s powerbrokers say, you’re foolish and shouldn’t be a leader. Step down and make room for someone else.
  5. Your fundamentalist heroes could be wrong about something. Yes, it’s true. But, then again, you could be wrong, too …
  6. Nobody cares about fundamentalist politics but other pastors. That means it’s not important.
  7. Most members of your church don’t care about the FBFI, IFCA or the GARBC. They care about Christ, the Gospel, and living holy lives. That means fundamentalism isn’t very important.
  8. If “the movement” is more important to you than the original philosophy and impetus which inspired the movement in the first place (i.e. militant defense and offense against apostasy), then you’re unbalanced and unstable. Go buy yourself a life on Amazon and get some perspective.
  9. Fundamentalism isn’t a confessional, pseudo-denomination. Anybody who acts like he, or his organization, is the enforcer for a narrow and very particular flavor of “fundamentalist orthodoxy” is a Company Man.
  10. Think of historic fundamentalism as a philosophy of ministry, not a traditional movement. You’ll be happier.
  11. Read the Bible, and love the people in your church. Don’t love fundamentalism. It won’t love you back.
  12. If it’s an explicit or clearly implicit teaching of Scripture, it’s worth fighting over. If it’s a personal preference, get a life and deal with it. But, before you either launch polemical broadsides or plan an ecumenical lovefest, make sure you’ve done the exegetical and systematic work to figure out the difference between a clear teaching and personal preference.
  13. Don’t be afraid of other pastors, and what they might think.
  14. Before you disagree with somebody, honestly try to understand their position. This means you have to actually think critically, and be introspective (see #2, above).

2 thoughts on “Some Advice for Younger Fundamentalists

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