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, liberal theology 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, but I digress.

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!). Others have left for the confessional, Reformed world. Some are just … different, and we wish them well in their cloistered world! Still others have remained, anxious to reform a movement worth saving. And, still others have mounted a desperate rear-guard action, anxious to fight against any notion of reform. These are the Company Men.

The Company Men control some small and insignificant outlets in the fundamentalist world. Their influence is slowly waning, and their numbers are steadily shrinking. As the years go by, they seem more and more desperate. For example, last November, the FBFI (a dying organization) published an issue in its Frontline magazine. In this issue, there was an irresponsible, angry, silly little screed written against younger, reform-minded fundamentalists. I wrote about that article here, here and here.

Every once and a while, the FBFI publishes something else silly and shrill. Not long ago, an author published a blog piece in which he warned that clapping hands in church during music worship was a symptom of secularism. That was an … interesting perspective, I must say.

The advice

This kind of foolishness 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.

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

  1. 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.” And, “Yes Men” are losers. Don’t be a loser.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Your fundamentalist heroes could be wrong about something. Yes, it’s true.
  5. Nobody cares about fundamentalist politics but other pastors. That means it’s not important.
  6. 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’s means fundamentalism isn’t very important.
  7. 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.
  8. 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. Stay away from him.
  9. Think of historic fundamentalism as a philosophy of ministry, not a traditional movement. You’ll be happier.
  10. Read the Bible, and love the people in your church. Don’t love fundamentalism.

Real Christian Life … and Slavery (Part 3)

big-beautiful-stack-of-books-231x300Real life is hard. Peter knows that; it’s why he wrote his letter. Today, in Sunday School, we continued looking at 1 Peter 2:18-25, and considering what it means:

  • We reviewed a bit about what slavery was like (and what is wasn’t like) in Peter’s world
  • Why does God want Christian slaves to submit themselves to their masters, even if they’re cruel masters?
  • What attitude should Christian slaves have, while they do this?
  • Why is God pleased if a Christian slave endures sorrows while suffering unjustly? What on earth does this even mean?

We tackle some of these issues, and more, every Sunday. Here is the archive of lessons from 1 Peter, so far. Listen along to this week’s lesson:

The Two Ways to Live

forkA few days ago, I shared some … unique allegorical insights from an early 2nd century Christian work, entitled The Epistle of Barnabas. Today, I wanted to share something positive and uplifting from that old letter. In the decades immediately following the death of the apostles, it was apparently common to frame the issue of salvation and allegiance to Christ as “the two ways to live.”

One very early Christian text, which may have been in circulation before the Apostle John even wrote the Book of Revelation, discusses these “two ways,” and remarks, “There are two ways, one of life and one of death, and there is a great difference between the two ways,” (Didache 1.1). In The Epistle of Barnabas, the author went into great detail and contrasted the way of salvation and the way of continued rebellion and allegiance to Satan. It’s excellent stuff, and it’ll still preach today …

The way of light

Here is what the letter reads (Barnabas 19). The author describes what a faithful, believing life in submission and allegiance to Christ as Lord actually looks like:

Therefore, the way of light is this: if anyone desires to travel along the way to the appointed place, let him be diligent in his works. Therefore the knowledge which was given to us to walk in it is as follows.

You shall love the one who made you, fear the one who created you, and glorify the one who redeemed you from death. You shall be sincere in heart and rich in spirit. You shall not be joined with those who walk in the way of death. You shall hate everyone who is not pleasing to God. You shall hate all hypocrisy. You shall never forsake the commandments of the Lord.

You shall not exalt yourself, but shall be humble in all things. You shall not take glory upon yourself. You shall not plot an evil plan against your neighbor. You shall not permit arrogance in your soul.

You shall not commit sexual immorality, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not corrupt children. The word of God shall not go out from you with anyone impure. You shall not show favoritism. when correcting someone concerning sin. You shall be gentle. You shall be quiet. You shall tremble at the words which you have heard. You shall not bear a grudge against your brother.

Do not be double minded, whether it will happen or not. Do not take the name of the Lord in vain. You shall love your neighbor more than your own life. You shall not murder a child by abortion, and again, you shall not kill the just-born one. Do not withhold your hand from your son or from your daughter, but you shall teach them from youth the fear of God.

You shall not yearn after the things of your neighbor. You shall not be greedy, you shall not be joined by your soul with the haughty, but be associated with the humble and righteous. The activity that happens to you accept it as good, knowing that nothing takes place without God.

You will be neither double-minded nor glib of tongue. You will be subject to your master as a copy of God, in modesty and fear. Do not command your male slave or female slave in bitterness, who are hoping in the same God, lest they cease to fear the God over you both, because he does not come to call with partiality, but to whom the Spirit prepares.

You shall share in all things with your neighbor and you shall not say it is your own. For if you are sharers in the incorruptible, how much more in the corruptible? You shall not be quick to speak, for the mouth is a snare of death. To the degree that you are able, you shall be pure for the sake of your soul.

Do not reach out your hand first to receive, only to pull back from giving. You shall love as the apple of your eye everyone who speaks the word of the Lord to you. You shall remember the day of judgment night and day, and you shall seek out every day the presence of the saints, either by laboring in word and going out to encourage and striving to save a soul by the word, or with your hands doing work as a ransom for your sins.

You shall not hesitate to give nor grumble while giving, but you will come to know who is the good paymaster of the reward. You shall guard what you have received, neither adding to nor taking away from. You shall utterly detest the evil one. You shall judge justly.

You shall not cause division, but make peace by bringing together those who fight. You shall make confession for your sins. You shall not come to prayer with an evil conscience. This is the way of light.

The way of darkness

But, what about the other path? The letter continues (Barnabas 20):

But the way of the Black One is crooked and filled with cursing, for it is the way of eternal death with punishment, in which are the things which destroy their soul: idolatry, arrogance, arrogance in an influential position, hypocrisy, acts of duplicity, adultery, murder, robbery, pride, transgression, deceit, malice, stubbornness, use of potions, magic, greediness, lack of fear of God; persecutors of the good, hating the truth, loving the lie, not knowing the reward of righteousness, not joining the good, not judging righteously, not being concerned about the widow and orphan, not caring in the fear of God but for what is evil, from whom gentleness and endurance are inseparably removed, loving what is worthless, pursuing reward, not having mercy on the poor, not toiling for the downtrodden, prone to slander, not knowing the one who made them, murderers of children, corrupters of the creatures of God, rejectors of the needy ones, oppressors of the afflicted, defenders of the rich, lawless judges of the poor, people steeped in sin.

This is good stuff. It’s still convicting today. Some things never change.

Notes

Both excerpts were quoted from The Apostolic Fathers in English, translated Rick Brannan (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012).

 

Contending for the Faith

fools talkIn his wonderful book, Fools Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian PersuasionOs Guinness spends some time discussing the challenges that thinking Christians face today. One of the most dire, he believes, is from the fraudulent, revisionist perversion of true Christianity within churches:

Many revisionists in the Protestant liberal churches, followed by the extremes of Catholic progressivism and emergent evangelicalism, have reached the point where their thinkers preach “a different gospel,” some of their leaders are hardly recognizable as Christian, and some have joked that they recite the Apostles’ Creed with their fingers crossed …

Some of today’s deadliest challenges to the Christian faith come from within the church itself, yet in many parts of the church Christian apologetics is weak, poorly understood and openly dismissed as an unworthy and a wrong-headed enterprise.

Without faithful and courageous apologists, men and women who are prepared to count the cost, the church is vulnerable to the challenges it faces internally as well as externally. Can there be any question that today’s “grand age of secular apologetics,” which is both post-Christian and pluralistic, is no time for Christians to be voiceless and lacking in persuasion?

If ever there was a time when it was vital for all Christians to be bold and winsome advocates on behalf of their faith, it is now. No one can fail to see the blizzard of challenges sweeping down on the Christian faith today and calling for a clear response.

From questions about the origins of the universe (Leibniz’s “Why is there not nothing?”) to the challenges of scientism, to attacks on the existence of God and the person of Jesus, to the exposure of the sins and hypocrisies of the church, to recurring questions about evil and suffering raised by natural disasters, to the validity and importance of truth, to the contested place of religion in public life, to the purported irrationality and menace of religion of any kind, to the relationship of the Christian faith to other religions and the response of Christians to new technologies and alternative lifestyles—the church faces an unprecedented barrage of questions, challenges and attacks on its core message, its view of the world and its way of life.

Not surprisingly, such grave assaults from the outside have led to serious erosions on the inside too, and all this at a speed and on a scale that is without precedent in Christian history (210-211).

In today’s environment, many “Christians” are moving rapidly towards the exits, anxious to leave the hard truths of the “rule of faith” behind. As soon as it begins to cost something to identify as a Christian, we’ll see the pretenders stop pretending and seek to “revise” the faith. Indeed, Guinness makes the point that the term “revisionist” is much more accurate than “liberal,” (222-223).

He then turned to one important task for Christians today:

Christian advocates, then, must be ready to focus their attention on those inside the church as well as those outside—resisting modern revisionism just as St. Paul resisted ancient Gnosticism and St. Athanasius stood fast against Arianism and the world of his day.

Are today’s evangelists and apologists prepared to count the cost and pick up their crosses again and truly be contra mundum—even to the point of scorn, shame, and perhaps imprisonment and death?

Let there be no misunderstanding: the greatest crisis now facing the church in the West today is the crisis of authority caused by the church’s capitulation to the pressures of the sexual revolution, and in particular to the bullying agenda of the Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgender-Queer coalition.

It will not do for evangelists and apologists to keep silent for fear of losing opportunities to present the gospel. As Luther made plain in his day, to fight the battle at any point other than where the battle is being fought in one’s day is to lose the battle (226).

 

Guinness’ book isn’t about fighting the culture wars. It’s an encouraging, thought-provoking and profoundly moving book about recovering the lost art of persuasion as a tool for engaging the our friends, neighbors, co-workers and communities with the Gospel. It’s probably the most helpful apologetics book I’ve ever read, but it’s much more than that. I’ll write a full review on it soon.

A Dose of Reality About The New Testament Canon

st-barnabasMany Christians are confused about how the individual books which make up the New Testament “got into” the New Testament in the first place. They often assume the books were chosen by somebody. Perhaps you picture a conference room, with various books spread out over the table, an eager assistant fiddling with a PowerPoint presentation, and ballots being passed around. Not so much …

Why is a book canonical?

Michael Kruger has written a wonderful book on this subject, entitled Canon Revisited: Establishing the Origins and Authority of the New Testament Books. In this tome, he made the case for a “self-authenticating” model of canonicity.[1] This model is built around three criteria:

  1. The book has godly, divine qualities
  2. The book has apostolic origins. This doesn’t mean it was written by an apostle, but that it was written during the time the apostles were alive
  3. The book was corporately recognized and received by the church catholic

There’s a whole lot to unpack here, and I won’t bother to do it. If you’re interested, you can buy the book. Or, you can read some of the short articles Kruger has written on his website. My point is that, when it comes to the individual books which make up the New Testament canon, “[b]ooks are not canonical because they are recognized; they are recognized because they are already canonical.”[2] If God inspired a man to write the book, He made sure His sheep heard and recognized His voice in the book – which led His church, collectively, to accept it as sacred Scripture.

Barnabas’ letter

In this little article, I want to explain how that works in very practical terms. I believe Christians can read Scripture and immediately, intuitively understand its divine qualities (point #1, above). Likewise, a Christian can read something written by a Christian, and tell it isn’t divine. It may be helpful and really neat, but it isn’t divine, inspired, or inerrant.

I want to show you an excerpt from an ancient work entitled The Epistle of Barnabas. It was a very popular book in its day, but it isn’t “Scripture.” The book was likely not written by Baranbas himself. It was common in those days to attribute a work to a dead person who had “street cred,” in order to boost the work’s popularity. The book was written sometime after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. and before Emperor Hadrian rebuilt Jerusalem in 132 – 135 A.D.[3] Most scholars date it sometime in the first quarter of the second century. The book is note-worthy because it is extraordinarily anti-Jewish, and takes an allegorical approach to interpreting the OT Scriptures.

Why isn’t this book “Scripture?” Why isn’t it in your New Testament right now? Well, one reason is that it clearly doesn’t have “divine qualities.” Here is an excerpt from the book (Barnabas 10:1-8).[4]

What do you think of it?

And that Moses said, “You will not eat pig or eagle or hawk or crow or any fish which does not have scales on itself,” he included three doctrines in his understanding. ⌊Moreover⌋, he says to them in Deuteronomy, “And I will make a covenant of my regulations with this people.” Therefore, as a result the commandment of God is not ⌊to refrain from eating⌋, but Moses spoke in the spirit (Barnabas 10:1-2).

So, Moses “spoke in the spirit,” did he? What does this mean? Heh. Get ready …

Therefore, he mentioned the pig for this reason: you will not be joined, he says, with people such as these, who are like pigs. That is, when they live luxuriously they forget the Lord, but when they have need, they acknowledge the Lord, as also the pig when it eats it does not know its owner, but when it is hungry it cries out, and after receiving food, it is silent again.

I … see. This is allegorical interpretation. According to Barnabas, the dietary laws aren’t really about food at all. Did you think they were? Silly you! Moses wasn’t talking about literal pigs. He was referring to people who are moral pigs. It gets worse.

“And you shall not eat the eagle or the hawk or the kite or the crow.” He means you must not join with or ⌊resemble⌋ people such as these, who do not know how, by toil and sweat, to provide food for themselves, but they plunder what belongs to another in their lawlessness, and they lie in wait, as if conducting themselves in purity, and they look around to see who they may plunder through their greediness, as also these birds alone do not provide food for themselves, but sitting idle, seeks out how it may devour the flesh of another, having become a public nuisance in its wickedness.

Ah, of course. How could I have been so blind for so long? The eagle sits up high, watching and waiting for prey so it can strike like a silent ninja. Just so, we must not imitate this wickedness. It’s all clear to me, now.

And “You shall not eat,” he says, “the sea eel or the octopus or the cuttle-fish.” He means you shall not become like such animals, joining with people such as these, who are ungodly to the end and who are condemned already to death, as also these cursed little fish swim alone in the deep water, not swimming as the rest, but they dwell in the mud beneath the deep water.

This is profound.

But also you shall not eat the rabbit. For what reason? You shall not become, he means, a child molester, or even seem like such as these, because the rabbit multiplies its anus each year, for as many years as it lives, so many holes it has.

Words fail me.

But, “You shall not eat the hyena.” He means do not become an adulterer or a corrupter, and do not even seem like such as these. For what reason? Because this animal changes its nature each year, and it becomes ⌊one year male⌋, ⌊the next year female⌋.

Of course they do. Doesn’t everybody know that?

But he also hated the weasel rightly. Do not become, he means, such as this, of the sort we hear committing transgression with the mouth through impurity, and do not be joined with the unclean women, those who commit transgression with the mouth, for this animal conceives with the mouth.

Enough!

Barnabas has some interesting insights (it’s not all this weird, honest), but it clearly isn’t Scripture. It doesn’t have the divine qualities. Jesus and the apostles didn’t interpret the Old Testament allegorically. This author does. This book was written in a different time, in a different context, and from a different worldview than the New Testament. It’s clear.

If you disagree, I’m willing to hear your exegesis of the rabbit passage, above. I’ll be standing by.

Notes

[1] Michael Kruger, Canon Revisited (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 88-122.

[2] Ibid, 108.

[3] See the short introduction in Michael Holmes (ed.), The Apostolic Fathers, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1989), 160.

[4] This excerpt is from The Apostolic Fathers in English, translated Rick Brannan (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012).

God Loves Frauds, Too …

starHere, in Micah 5:2-4, the prophet gave us probably the best-known passage in his book, and one of the most precious promises of the coming Christ. It’s a beautiful prophesy, and full of hope. Many Christians quote it this time of year, but fewer consider the real context of this prophesy.

If you picture God sitting before a crackling fire, passing around hot apple cider and chocolate truffles, telling the Israelites the wonderful story of the Coming King with a twinkle in his eye, tears of tender love flowing down His cheeks and a warm, fuzzy feeling in his heart … then you’re wrong!

In reality, God is promising all this to them even though (by and large) they’re complete religious hypocrites who hate God and hate His law. Let me say this plainly, because it’s the same message God sent Micah to preach to these Israelites, and it’s the same context in which he preached this prophesy of the Messiah:

If you don’t repent and believe, then this prophesy of the King from Bethlehem isn’t Good News for you – it’s bad news. Listen below for more. The sermon notes are here.

How a Church Ought to do Evangelism

I don’t intend to really answer the question here, but I do want to suggest a tentative way a congregation ought to structure its efforts for evangelism. Here it is; the picture says a thousand words . . .

Organization for Church Evangelism

A few points:

  • I emphasize deliberate corporate evangelism, because these efforts should be about intentionally giving the Good News to people. I don’t believe touchy-feely events, where you try to “friend” people into God’s coming Kingdom, are the best way to go. This is best reserved for interpersonal relationships on a personal level. This isn’t a tactic a church should use for corporate evangelism.
  • I also focus on deliberate personal evangelism, because your goal should be to get to actually telling the person the Gospel. You shouldn’t be somebody’s friend for 20 years, and hope “one day” to have an open door. Deliberately plan to work the Gospel into conversation, as appropriate. Don’t be like this.

Ciao.