This morning’s post raised some significant questions which I feel deserve a thoughtful answer.
In this follow-up post, I’ll try to address some of the concerns that were raised.
An unfair assessment?
I agree that my assessment of the movement had serious implications. I can also see how it could come across as unfair and/or “pompous.” So I’ll try to give a fuller explanation of why I wrote what I wrote.
Additionally, I concede that I am indeed making some very broad generalisations. Perhaps I can give a better sense of why I believe the generalisations are generally accurate.
The evidence I gave for my conclusions was brief:
the declining enrolment in our colleges, the declining interest in our fellowships, and the explosion of conservative evangelical influence among our young men.
I’ll take these in turns.
1) The declining enrolment in our colleges.
Several Fundamentalist institutions of higher learning in the US have recently either closed down or begun the process of merging. I think it is fairly common knowledge in the US context that colleges are struggling for students. This is leading toward expansion overseas and in distance programmes.
Here in Australia, our colleges generally have a dozen or so full-time students max. That’s a far cry from the 100 odd students at SBBC in previous decades.
2) The declining interest in our fellowships.
When I said “fellowships,” I was referring to such loose bodies as the FBF or SBF in the US or the NBF here. Attendance and participation in these types of organisations is down in my understanding of the facts. For instance, the Adelaide NBF in 1996 drew 1,000 people on a single night. In 2008, there was probably closer to half that number in the same city.
As far as attendance at churches (again, note that I wasn’t referring to that in the article, but I’ll address it anyway), I have watched a pattern of IB churches growing and then imploding in Australia over the years. I rejoice to see this pattern seems to be decreasing in severity (I presume due to the maturing of our movement), still, I can’t think of any church that has really accomplished anything in terms of attendance that wasn’t accomplished in the 80’s and 90’s in our movement here in Australia.
3) The explosion of conservative evangelical influence among our young men.
I don’t think this can really be contested. The “New Calvinism” made Time Magazine’s list of top ten ideas that are changing the world today. Men like John Piper, Paul Washer, and John MacArthur as well as blogging personalities like Phil Johnson and James White are drawing the attention of those who are serious about theology in our day.
Pastors in idolatry?
I think the most crucial issue raised was this question:
Do you really think there are pastors in doctrinally sound churches out there, giving their all to the Lord, living holy lives as best they can, who need to repent of idolatry? That’s the implication of what you’re saying—and that’s a very big call to make.
While I agree that our pastors are generally giving their all to the Lord and living holy lives as best they can, my response to this question is, yes, all of us are chronic idolaters. That is the basis of the gospel.
That I would call our movement to repent of its tendency to idolatry in this area should be neither surprising nor scandalous.
Do our churches really have this tendency?
The statement was made:
It is rather a sweeping statement to say that [excessive commitment to cultural manifestations of Christianity] characterises the movement as a whole, or much of the movement in the Australian context.
It is indeed a sweeping statement.
Again, I would never want to suggest that the problem is universal. On the other hand, I would not want to suggest that it is not generally true.
I hesitate to do this, for fear of getting side-tracked on these issues, but I’ll give examples of just two areas in which our movement generally puts culture/tradition above truth.
While this is not a universal trait, and less and less so as time goes by, it is still common in IB circles for dress to be an issue beyond what God says.
God says we are to carry ourselves modestly.
Our churches have added much to that. To highlight the point, let me ask several questions:
- If your pastor showed up to preach Sunday night in shorts and thongs, would it cause a stir in your church? If so, why?
- If your pastors wife were to show up at prayer meeting wearing shorts, would anyone notice? If so, why?
- If a young man regularly wore jeans to church, would that affect your decision to give him ministry opportunities? If so, why?
- If a visitor showed up wearing shorts and a t-shirt, would you assume they were unchurched or from a Liberal church? If so, why?
None of these scenarios are addressed in Scripture except the last one (addressed in James) where people treat a visitor differently based on his clothes and presentation.
Still, you will be pressed to find a photo in an Australian Fundamentalist publication that shows women in pants or men in church wearing less than a tie. Not necessarily because the publisher has any issue with it, but because of a general sensitivity to this issue.
This sensitivity is based solely on culture and tradition. God’s word does not address it in the least. But that is not important. What is important is culture and tradition.
I completely agree that each church should make their own decisions on matters such as what translation to use and what approach to take toward preservation.
Therefore, I have no problem with a church coming down in a different place from me. As long as the decision is based on God’s word and the truth, not culture and tradition.
Of course to do that, you have to discuss the issues. And yet time and time again, such discussion is hailed as divisive. The power brokers of the movement often work behind the scenes to see that those who open such discussion are shut down. This is not conjecture or guessing. I see these types of transactions occurring on a regular basis.
So I have no concern with people holding a different position from me on this issue. So what is my concern? My concern is that the arguments that are given are not valid. In other words, pastors routinely use factually inaccurate, misleading, logically invalid arguments for their positions and seem impervious to those who would point out the problems.
I’ll give you one example. One book that is widely used in our movement seeks to point out the serious omissions in the New International Version. But almost the whole of the book is spent addressing comparative differences in translation rather than addressing the textual variants or grammatical issues that underlie those differing translations. Instead, the omissions are generally presented as being merely the attempt of wicked men to pervert God’s word.
Now I have no interest in defending that particular translation. But an honest person with their eyes half open can see that the above mentioned book is openly misleading. It relies on the ignorance of its readers to mask the fact that it isn’t even addressing the real issue (which is the underlying textual variants, grammar/syntax issues, etc.).
And yet the author of this book is in good standing with the movement and the book is still provided in even the more moderate of our institutions.
A word about Fundamentalism
Many argue that “Fundamentalism” doesn’t matter because it is too hard to define and no two Fundamentalists agree on what it means. While there is some validity to those points, I am firmly convinced that movements and labels are an inescapable part of human existence. Those who walk away from the movements and ignore labels invariably wind up grouping and taking on a new label, whether by intention or not.
I would never want to cast doubt on the “legitimacy of people’s love for the Lord or zeal for His church.” On the other hand, neither of those things preclude the human tendency toward idolatry and error.
As a general note, please note that I have not named any church/individual/etc. in a negative context and will remove any such references that are made in comments.
I very much appreciate those who challenge my thinking. It benefits me because it forces me to think through my points more carefully and it also forces me to consider the evidence for my views.
Finally, I want to say briefly that my heart is for the welfare of all those who faithfully preach the gospel of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. If I seem to be tearing down in this post, know that it is only in order that it might be rebuilt aright.