So it’s been big stuff over on the other side of the planet. The big names have gotten involved: Doran, Bauder, Vaughn… John MacArthur’s second hand man, Phil Johnson, is watching. Even John Piper has put in his two cents.

What’s it all about?

I understand most of you don’t have time to follow all this in detail. So I’ll summarise.

A pastor named Dan Sweatt preached a message at a major Fundamentalist conference. In this message, he made inaccurate assertions and distorted representations. Now this is not the story. This has been happening for years. On both sides of the Pacific.

The story is, a young fundamentalist called him on it. Publicly. Pointedly. Told him the young men are sick of “preaching without exposition, poor reasoning, bad logic, and faulty conclusions combined with in-your-face dogmatism.”

This single post wasn’t anything unusual. The blogosphere is full of know-it-all’s in pyjamas. So why did this one post matter?

Fundamentalism was ready for this post

There are two reasons I think:

1) These things usually only matter when the person saying it knows he will pay a price for saying it. It’s those “here I stand, I can do no other” moments that make a difference.

2) The young fundamentalists (and by YF, I do not mean a certain age group) were ready to hear it. It’s as if there was a collective sigh of relief when someone dared to actually stand up and say it.

The ninth commandment

Then Kevin Bauder took it a step further and actually suggested that Sweatt broke the ninth commandment: “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”

The real significance of this whole thing is that the code of silence was broken. When a man bears false witness, he needs to be held accountable. To this point, Dan Sweatt has not, to my knowledge, offered clarification or repentance. Perhaps he feels he is being persecuted for his particular doctrinal position. He is not.

This is about truth. Are we willing to tolerate a false representation because it makes our opponent look bad? Are we willing to accept whatever the “good guys” say even if it is logically or theologically suspect? Do we have integrity?

The young men are pleading

Ok. Now that I’ve given my somewhat subjective perspective on what’s happened, let me share my heart with you for a moment.

If there is one thing you older Fundamentalists taught us young men, it was to love the truth, to preach the truth, to stand for the truth, to fight for the truth, and if necessary to die for the truth. You taught us not to care what rich or poor, religious or apostate, demon or angel thought. You taught us to hold fast to the truth no matter what the cost.

We will be forever grateful to you for ingraining these things into our hearts.

But we’ve noticed something in Fundamentalism. There are certain questions which must not be asked. There are certain people who should not be crossed. There are certain conclusions which ought not be considered. There are certain truths which may not be discussed.

We, the young men, are hurt. We’re bleeding. Our spirit’s have been grieved. Our souls have been torn. We feel that the very things you have taught us have made us outcasts from you.

We, the young men, are pleading… pleading… for a renewal of commitment to the truth at all cost.

Our weakness

You need not point out our weaknesses. We admit them. We tend to be rash. We tend to be simple. We have at times harboured anger. We are proud. We have reacted instead of responding in some circumstances.

We value your lives and ministries. You were our pastors and teachers. You cared for us. You loved us. We can never repay you for this.

But know this, if you ask us to choose between you and a fundamentalism where truth is most important, we will honour you best by choosing commitment to truth.


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About Jason Harris

Dr Jason Harris is a writer, pastor, and academic. He has authored multiple books, articles, and papers including his book Theological Meditations on the Gospel. Jason has a PhD from James Cook University as well as degrees in theology, music, accounting, and research. Jason has lived in Cairns, Australia since 2007 and serves as pastor at CrossPoint Church. You can contact Jason at


  1. Robert Apps 23 May, 2009 at 4:20 pm

    Tremendous post Jason. Your conclusions and appeal at the end cut very close to the bone.

    I am posting on this issue in a couple of days time with a different perspective on some other issues.

  2. Donald Johnson 23 May, 2009 at 5:18 pm

    Hi Jason,

    I was drawn here by Greg L’s link to you on SI. He linked to me, too, and I have had one of my biggest days ever for unique hits. I love Greg, he always builds the traffic!

    But as a veteran commentator on these things, I often see things posted that I would like to say something about, so here I am.

    Yes, fundamentalism involves a commitment to truth and a commitment to militancy about the truth. But does that mean we must be militant about bad preaching?

    Here is how Fundamentalism teaches us to contend for truth: when someone denies the fundamental truths of the Christian faith and when someone consorts with the enemy in such a way as to further the denial of the fundamental truths of the Christian faith. On the first point, you have contention with modernists. On the second point, you have contention with neo-evangelicals.

    In this controversy, you have contention over what? Someone who very clumsily attempted to make an argument about the problems facing fundamentalism with respect to its young preachers.

    Some are seizing on his mistakes and calling them lies. (That’s what the 9th commandment references mean, right?) Lies. Is that really the charge you want to make? That’s a pretty strong statement. As I understand it, a lie is a deliberate misrepresentation of the truth. There is an element of deliberate intent involved here. Are you saying that is what Sweatt did?

    Or is this merely a matter of offense over a system of theology that was clumsily misrepresented in the course of a sermon? It is quite clear that the preacher in the sermon doesn’t particularly like Calvinism. It’s not the first time someone has expressed a dislike of Calvinism and it won’t be the last.

    Are you saying that Calvinism = The Truth? Are you saying that if anyone disagrees with Calvinism, they should be excommunicated? That is what some are calling for with bro. Sweatt. Stand up for The Truth! Kick him out! Or is it that it’s ok to disagree Calvinism so long as you are exactly correct in your description of it? Would that be OK? Suppose someone else got up and said essentially the same thing, “I think the problem with the YFs wanting out is the rise of Calvinism in our ranks.” And then suppose that someone proceeded to describe Calvinism accurately but critically. (It can be done, you know.) What would your reaction be then?

    Would the hypothetical second preacher be allowed to express that point of view? Would he have compromised The Truth?

    So in light of that… in light of what it means for Fundamentalists to contend for truth … should there really be all this outcry over a poorly argued and sloppily researched sermon?

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  3. Jason Harris 23 May, 2009 at 9:51 pm


    Thanks for your comment.

    I do not believe Calvinism=The Truth. I agree with the FBFI statement that there is room for disagreement on this issue.

    Do I think Sweatt intentionally lied? I don’t know. Bauder seems to plainly suggest that. I’d have to do some mental gymnastics to see it any other way. Still, it’s not really my place to judge. It’s for Sweatt to examine his own heart on the matter.

    But all of that brings me to the real point. This is not a one-off case of “clumsy” preaching. This is a settled pattern of manipulative and bullying preaching. Sure, we’ve all heard it done so long that we rationalise it away as normal, but the bottom line is, it’s not normal. It’s wicked.

    It’s one thing to make a misstatement or a mistake. We all do it at times. It is another thing to continue to make that same mistake belligerently, year after year, never listening to those who point out the inaccuracies or misrepresentations.

    If these men are going to take the podium at a national level and speak on these issues, they have a moral responsibility to read both sides of that issue first and get beyond the straw men and misconceptions. A basic commitment to truth would make this obvious.

    Thank you for challenging my thinking on this.

    Grace to you.

  4. RoSeZ 24 May, 2009 at 12:53 am

    Jason, I’m not touching the whole Calvinism part of this, but I was moved by your post. I believe there are MANY issues that the older Fundamentalists will not discuss – to even try and ask them about them is to be considered a rebel. As you said, we have been taught to value God’s truth above everything else, but when the conclusions we reach through our study of the Word of God don’t quite match up to the older Fundamentalists’ beliefs, we are branded as heretics, troublemakers and rebels. It’s far easier to stay within the set boundaries of the “good guys” and ignore our own consciences then to step out and take a stand when we know the price for taking it. If we choose to betray the commitment to truth by our silence and unwillingness to take a stand, we will stifle and deaden our own consciences to the voice of God’s truth and will slowly but surely suffocate spiritually and fall away completely.
    That said, I would echo Jason’s plea to the older Fundamentalists, “Don’t force us to choose between you and a fundamentalism where truth is most important, because if you do, you will either push us away as outcasts when we choose truth, or by submission you will teach us to kill our own potential for Christ because we will never have the strength to stand up for what is important.”

  5. Donald Johnson 24 May, 2009 at 2:55 am

    This is not a one-off case of “clumsy” preaching. This is a settled pattern of manipulative and bullying preaching.

    And that would be a matter of opinion.

    Do you agree with the proposition that the C vs A issue is not within the purview of historic fundamentalism? In other words, is their room for both systems (and all systems in between) in fundamentalism?

    If yes, then you do have to allow for strong statements being made against your particular view from time to time. I hear my Calvinistic friends say things all the time that slander my point of view. Bauder has done it to me personally on his former blog.

    We have to live above that. We all hold our views passionately. We have to let the other side be passionate too, even passionately wrong, as long as they are not denying fundamentals.

    If we don’t tolerate that kind of disagreement, you end up with a splintered fundamentalism, which is also a criticism many of the YFs make, is it not? (By the way, the YF term is very inadequate, but what else can we call it?)

    Is it true that fundamentalism has been plagued by unnecessary division over secondary issues? Yes.

    Is this particular controversy a primary or a secondary issue?

    That is the question.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  6. Jim 24 May, 2009 at 11:27 am

    Your statement:
    Told him the young men are sick of “Preaching without exposition, poor reasoning, bad logic, and faulty conclusions combined with in-your-face dogmatism.”

    This is so true. I miss exposition. I’m sad when we read a “jumping off” verse and talk about the preacher/teacher’s collection of opinions for the week. I’m sad when we have politics instead of preaching. Tired of code words. I’m sad when we have manipulation in altar calls to maximize the number of people “going forward”. I’m tired of pompacity in preaching to arrogantly persuade and belittle the opposing viewpoint. I’m tired of defending my NASB Bible.

    Preachers, please commit to exposition of scripture–what does IT say, not what can I say about it…

    I pray for a change in my church and other Bible teaching churches.

  7. Jason Harris 24 May, 2009 at 12:48 pm

    Thanks for the comments RoSeZ and Jim.


    You’re missing the point. This is not about C v. A. I didn’t even mention that issue in this post. This is about basic honesty and integrity.

    Our church has both sides of that issue represented among our leadership. The issue is, do we have to be honest and accurate when we’re arguing for/against a position? Do we have to play fair? Or is it ok to break the rules as long as we’re on the right side?

  8. Robert Apps 24 May, 2009 at 1:20 pm

    Amen Jason, as I am part of our church leadership I can vouch that we have learned to tolerate some secondary differences because we want to magnify the Gospel and the Great Commission.

  9. Mark Olivero 25 May, 2009 at 12:23 am

    If one makes a factual error or two when speaking in public the audience is usually gracious enough to allow for a “slip of the tongue.” When one makes a flood of errors in sequence, then the audience starts to question everything from the motives of the speaker to his preparedness (and rightly so).

    My comment here is motivated by the need for all of us to have a careful remembrance of our church history. It is ok to argue for your theological stance, but don’t we all need to do so without distorting the facts of history? In light of recent controversy here are a few such facts for those who are young or old or steady or restless, but indeed wish to be informed:

    FACT: C. H. Spurgeon,
    was a Calvinistic Baptist in the 1800s and the church where he preached, Metropolitan Tabernacle is more than 300 years in existence and remains a conservative evangelical in England. Their motto today is “Still a large congregation proclaiming the Gospel of Christ and the doctrines of grace.”

    FACT: William Carey
    is called ‘the father of modern missions.” Carey was a Reformed Baptist from England. Hyper-Calvinism may kill evangelism, but hyper-anything has the potential to kill or do damage, even hyper-separationism. Genuine John Calvin Calvinism or Reformed Theology, has historically been at the front end of many evangelistic movements. In all fairness this does not exclude other groups who have contributed greatly to the spread of the Gospel.

    In the late 1800s and early 1900s there were several individuals and church groups that were the starting force for the defense of the “fundamentals” as they were called. Here are a few.

    FACT: the Niagara Bible Conference
    led by James H. Brookes, pastor of a Presbyterian Church in St. Louis, was very instrumental in tilling the ready ground for the “5 Fundamentals” and their later publication. (It is generally assumed that a Presbyterian is also a Calvinist)

    FACT: Presbyterian theology-
    “Fundamentalism as a movement arose in the United States, starting among conservative Presbyterian academics and theologians at Princeton Theological Seminary in the first decade of the Twentieth Century.” (wikipedia referencing church historians Mark A. Noll and Terry Matthews)

    FACT: J. Gresham Machen
    in the early 1900s was the tip of the spear for the defense of the inerrancy of Scripture in the Modernist/Fundamentalist controversy. He was a professor at Princeton Seminary. Later he left and formed Westminster Theological Seminary.

    FACT: C. I. Scofield,
    a favorite among Fundamentalists in the 20th century, was another figure instrumental in its formative stage. Later in life he became the minister of a Southern Presbyterian church.

    There are others. Check with your nearest friendly Church Historian.

    The bottom line in any era, age or region has always been Christ Alone. May we each give our whole that others, in particular the lost, may see Christ only and may we use words that help others see only Christ.
    a concluding thot:

    Although I do believe the doctrines of grace I recommend that wherever one stands that it should not be personality driven. These comments are written only to emphasize that ACCURATE FACTS MATTER and accurate facts matter immensely when we speak in any setting, sermon, blog, article or conversation, that effects the cause of the Gospel.

    My hope is that we will above all else stay in The Word (John 17:17) and keep the focus on spreading the Gospel (I Cor 15:1-11).

  10. Luke Love 25 May, 2009 at 6:52 am

    “But know this, if you ask us to choose between you and a fundamentalism where truth is most important, we will honour you best by choosing commitment to truth.”

    Well said and to the point. Thank you for a well balanced response to the issue. Still respecting and honoring the older generation, but not remaining silent while on the issues of the truth.

  11. Jay C. 25 May, 2009 at 7:05 am

    I hate this phrase, but I’ll use it here – Preach it, brother.

    Great post, and it captures my thoughts exactly.

  12. Don Johnson 25 May, 2009 at 10:57 am

    You’re missing the point. This is not about C v. A. I didn’t even mention that issue in this post. This is about basic honesty and integrity.

    Sorry! I am reading so many posts that it is easy to collate the arguments everywhere.

    I’ll not carry on the argument here, but will simply say that I think you are reading too much into the sermon and misconstruing its intent and content.

    I would urge anyone who is observing to be sure that they listen to the message itself before simply launching into a knee-jerk “this is what’s wrong with fundamentalism” response. If you have a Calvinistic point of view, you will find your view challenged with some bad arguments, but I hope that any one who listens could think about what is going on in the mind of the preacher and why he is making the statements he does.

    I think his arguments failed to achieve his goals, but his concerns and motivation are for the good of fundamentalism and the cause of Christ.


    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  13. Jason Harris 25 May, 2009 at 11:14 am


    Your points are factually accurate to my knowledge. Thanks for posting them.

    @Luke, Jay,

    Thanks for the comments.


    I agree with you that Sweatt no doubt has the good of Fundamentalism as his motivation. But that doesn’t make breaking the ninth commandment ok. That’s pragmatism.

    Grace to you.

  14. Mark Olivero 26 May, 2009 at 1:59 am


    Thanks for your response. Thot I’d offer one explanation – My list of church history facts was to illustrate that men with a Calvinistic background were very instrumental in defining Fundamentalism early on.

    A question that further illustrates that point is this:
    Where were the “FIVE FUNDAMENTALS,” that short list of key doctrines set down as primary, first codified? –

    drum roll

    …at the 1910 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church.

    Many church historians have recorded this fact. One such source is David Beale’s book “In Pursuit of Purity” page 149. The minutes of that general assembly are another.

  15. Chris 25 June, 2009 at 4:40 pm

    I think Spurgeon said it well. This was OCR from an old page I had so formatting may be off.

    Spurgeon’s Theology
    Spurgeon began a sermon titled “Election” with this “disclaimer” sometime in 1860. It can be found in the New Park Street Pulpit set of sermons for the year 1860. I call it Spurgeon’s theology because in it he articulates some problems with wooden applications of theological systems. Here is… Spurgeon’s Theology

    “He who preaches the whole truth as it is in Jesus will labor under continual disadvantages; albeit, that the grand advantage of having the presence and blessing of God will more than compensate the greatest loss. It has been my earnest endeavour ever since I have preached the Word, never to keep back a single doctrine which I believe to be taught of God. It is time that we had done with the old and rusty systems that have so long curbed the freeness of religious speech. The Arminian trembles to go an inch beyond Arminius or Wesley, and many a Calvinist refer to John Gill or John Calvin, as any ultimate authority. It is time that the systems were broken up, and that there was sufficient grace in all our hearts to believe everything taught in God’s Word, whether it was taught by either of these men or not. I have frequently found when I have preached what is called high doctrine, because I found it
    in my text, that some people have been offended; they could not enjoy it, could not endure it, and went away. They were generally people who were best gone; I have never regretted their absence. On the other hand, when I have taken for my text some sweet invitation, and have preached the freeness of Christ’s Love to man; when I have warned sinners that they are responsible while they hear the gospel, and that if they reject Christ their blood will be upon their own heads, I find another class of doubt- less excellent
    individuals who cannot see how these two things agree. And therefore, they also turn aside, and wade into the deceptive miry bogs of Antinomianism. can only say with regard to them, that I had rather also that they should go to their own sort, than that they should remain with my congregation. We seek to hold the truth. We know no difference between high doctrine and low doctrine. If God teaches it, it is enough. If it is not in the Word, away with it! away with it! But if it be in the Word, agreeable or disagreeable,systematic or disorderly, I believe it. It may seem to us as if one truth stood in opposition to another but we are fully convinced that it cannot be so, that it is a mistake in our judgment.That the two things do agree we are quite clear, though where they meet we do not know as yet, but hope to know hereafter. That God has a people whom he has chosen for himself, and who shall shew forth his praise, we do believe to be a doctrine legible in the Word of God to every man who cares to read that Book with an honest and exhortations of the gospel are honest and true invitations—not fictions or myths, not tantalizations and mockeries, but realities and candid judgment. That, at the same time, Christ is freely presented to every creature under heaven, and that the invitations and facts- we do also unfeignedly believe. We subscribe to both truths with our hearty assent and consent.” C.H. Spurgeon 1860

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