Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Movements . . . Blechhh!

Someone recently wrote the following words in the comments of another blog. They were part of a response to someone who was deploring the condition of the fundamentalist movement and contemplating abandoning the USS Fundamentalist in favor of some more seaworthy vessel (even if it is just a lifeboat). His identity wasn't precisely defined, and I really think it's irrelevant because this is a sentiment that seems to be widely held.
I am a fundamentalist and I always will be. I don’t need to be a part of any movement although I naturally am because of my beliefs. I am an independent fundamentalist. I’m not happy with some things other fundamentalists do. That is okay. I have talked with many men over the years who, in seeing the warts of fundamentalism, looked to go elsewhere . . . Where is there to go? So the problems you see in fundamentalism will not resurface wherever else you go?
This kind of thinking is completely foreign to me. That doesn't mean it is necessarily bad or wrong. I just don't get it. Maybe the best way to explain where I'm coming from is to break down the statement sentence by sentence.

I am a fundamentalist and I always will be.

Yeah, me too. Provided, of course, that being a fundamentalist does not demand that I also be a revivalist or separate from anyone who does not agree with me on every point of biblical teaching and practice.

I don’t need to be a part of any movement although I naturally am because of my beliefs.
I'm not sure what this means. If a church in the remote Nevada wilderness believes and practices biblical teaching but never has contact with any other churches, are they part of a movement? Aren't they just practicing biblical Christianity? I've seen lots of people say that we can't avoid being part of a movement, but I simply don't understand this presupposition.

I am an independent fundamentalist.
I am too.

I’m not happy with some things other fundamentalists do.

I agree, and I'm also not happy with lots of things I do.

That is okay.
Whew!

I have talked with many men over the years who, in seeing the warts of fundamentalism, looked to go elsewhere.

I haven't talked with very many (if any), but I'm sure it's true that they exist.

Where is there to go?

This is what I simply don't understand. Why do I have to go anywhere? Why can't I just be biblical? I don't want to play some moral trump card, but this just sounds like a self-centered craving for affirmation. I don't think that's the intent of this writer, and he said above that he does not "need to be part of a movement," so I'm going to take those words at face value. But how do we slide so easily into this thinking that we must align ourselves with one ship or another?

That's the failure of the whole ship analogy that was propagated (albeit humorously) by the SharperIron cartoon and by the original author of the post I'm tangentially discussing. It implies that we need to align ourselves with a circle or a movement or a group, when I can't see how we need to be aligning ourselves with anything other than orthodoxy and orthopraxy. The whole idea that "If I leave fundamentalism, where would I go?" implies that we must have broader associations outside our local church and also that we must adopt associations with one group to the deliberate exclusion of another group. And I wouldn't be the first to suggest that the priority of the associations very quickly becomes far greater than the priority of the essential ideas that generated the associations.

So the problems you see in fundamentalism will not resurface wherever else you go?
Some will. Some won't. Some problems will be greater, and others will be diminished. Al Mohler made that point rather well, as I documented in my recent post.

Here's my experiential argument: By the nature of my job and my status in life, I wind up spending a fair amount of time every year at conferences and conventions. People who would identify themselves as fundamentalists or evangelicals are most of the attendees of those conferences, and typically, the evangelicals gravitate towards their own conferences, and the fundamentalists gravitate towards their own. Most of the time, the people I meet at either kind of conference have a great deal in common with me theologically. Sometimes, however, I meet people who are radically different from me, and that happens at both kinds of conferences.

During the rest of my life, I'll probably not have the opportunity to cooperate directly in ministry with more than 1-2% of the people that I'm privileged to meet. I do know that I would be violating my own convictions—some might call me a "disobedient brother"—if I were to cooperate either with the theologically reductionistic ("fuzzy') evangelicals I've met or with the fundamentalists I've met that Mark Minnick has called cantankerous legalists.

So here's this question: "Where should I go?" Should I want to set sail on either ship? Do I really have to pick one?

I think we need a new paradigm. You don't need to go anywhere. You simply need to be. You need to practice biblical Christianity in your church and "let goods and kindred go." I don't mean you should be an isolationist. Make friends. Seek those older and younger, wiser and less experienced. Learn from them all. Seek to edify them all.

Or maybe I'm just an optimist.

10 comments:

Brian McCrorie said...

Ben,

You said "I think we need a new paradigm. You don't need to go anywhere. You simply need to be."

I agree, but that's exactly my point in the article. Fundamentalism to many of us has been part of our IDENTITY. If the term has lost definition or been hijacked by wackos, it affects our identity, how we explain who we are to others for the purpose of fellowship, instruction, etc.

That's my point. The ship (historic movement) is going down, in my opinion. The evangelical label is no more attractive to me but I think men of common philosophy and vision need to band together as members of Christ's church in some way. BJIII suggested "preservationist" but that sounds too Bible versiony for me. The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is closer to what I'm looking for in national fellowship and sharpening.

Anonymous said...

Ben, I knew you years ago & found your blog... still not willing to reveal myself :). Reading this post begs the question: What is your job? What do you do?

Brian, to your comment that "the ship (historic movement) is going down":
Good! perhaps it becoming a "movement" was the first problem. We put ourselves in isolationist buckets with such movements. Movements lead to us spending our time trying to look different than anyone else or defending our self-created turf - rather than ministering to the world we have been called to show Christ to.

Stop trying to get in lockstep with the people who look/sound most like you and reach out to those who don't. Stop trying to create/find a movement and just "be" Christian.

Ben said...

Brian,

I really don't think we are making the same point. Don't get me wrong—I certainly don't consider you an enemy. I was responding to a comment, not your post, although I suppose there is some overlap.

My perception is that you are saying that we do need a movement of some sort as well as a term to define ourselves. In your comment here you talk about the need to band together with others who are like-minded. In your post you talked about abandoning the Fundamentalist ship.

These are all concepts that I just don't see as priorities at all. The reason is that I think the movement is just completely irrelevant in comparison with the Church. You flirt with this point when you talk about being a Baptist, but I think this is an area of fundamentalist Baptist ecclesiology that really needs to be fleshed out. We always seem to lust for a sense that we are part of something bigger than we are.

News flash to the movement-obsessed: We are. It's called the Church. If we read and believed our Bibles rather than interpreting and trusting in our movements, I believe we would be far less insecure in our identity. That would have several crucial benefits. First, we'd be liberated from the fear of man that is present in movements. You do allude to that. Second, we would be free to band together with those of like mind rather than like association, but that banding together would be an outcome of shared direction, not our initial objective and primary goal. Finally, we'd be able to focus on our gospel purpose rather than the self-absorbed navel-gazing we seem to love so much.

Now, I'll agree with you that national fellowship and sharpening are useful objectives, but I simply don't think that we need to choose a particular lifeboat, identify ourselves by a particular term, or band together with a particular group to obtain that sharpening.

And by the way, I think that the opportunities for real worthwhile sharpening at a national or regional level are pretty rare within both evangelical and fundamentalist circles, but they are available in both. Here's a crazy idea. Try to get to know your area SBC or PCA or E-Free pastors. I'm not saying try to create an association or directly cooperate with them, but have lunch with them, find out where they're at, what you have in common, and how you can build up one another.

Ben said...

anonymous,

Why don't you e-mail me at the address in the sidebar? I'd love to find out who I'm talking to. Or if you don't want to reveal yourself even to me, create an anonymous e-mail address and tell me what you can. (Yeah, I know there are probably ways to trace that kind of thing, but I'm too dumb to pull that off.)

Please bear in mind, if you knew me prior to 1995, I was unregenerate. ;-) and :-(

Josh said...

Ben,

Thank you for this very thoughtful post. You are expressing articulately the heart's desire of many of us "paleoevangelical" types.

Of course, when you endeavor simply to practice biblical Christianity, the movement sell-outs on your left and right don't want to hang out with you anymore.

The Fundamentalists (capital F) separate from you because you're willing to learn from and fellowship with Evangelicals, and the NAE-type Evangelicals (whose opinion, it must be said, you value as much as the Pope's) think you aren't cool because you're willing to learn from and fellowship with Fundamentalists.

In short, the Fundamentalists think you're an Evangelical and the Evangelicals think you're a Fundamentalist.

Not a bad spot to be in really.

Brian McCrorie said...

In short, my thoughts are:

1) We need fellowship.

2) We need to drop the label.

If that results in a new movement, so be it. My fear is, however, that we will lose fellowship from good men who are uncomfortable with the lack of fundamentalist identity. I don't want to happen.

But I agree with you. The fundamentalist label isn't necessary, although I think we obviously need labels to identify ourselves to some extent. Even you have created a new label, paleoevangelical. No matter what label we use, there will be associational baggage; with fundamentalism, though, I feel the term has lost any sense of universal definition.

Ben said...

Josh,

Actually, I value the Pope's opinion more.

Seriously.

At least he believes something.

Ryan DeBarr said...

My fear is, however, that we will lose fellowship from good men who are uncomfortable with the lack of fundamentalist identity.

And that's why you can't simply be. Other people have made labels very important.

Being an independent Fundamentalist is kind of like being an independent mafiaso... the family won't accept you if you don't claim the name. (Please not that I am NOT making a moral equivalency between the Mafia and Fundamentalism.)

But I agree with the sentiment that you should simply serve God the best you can where you are. If that means an Independent Fundamental Baptist church, then by all means serve there.

Anonymous said...

I did know you before 1995... and some would say I am still unregenerate :). I'll send mail.

Josh said...

Let's make our discussion a little more concrete:

Say you're a Fundamentalist pastor and you decide "From now on, I'm just going to be biblical and stop worrying about the expectations of others outside my church." So you lead your congregation to use a modern essentially literal translation of the Scriptures and sing "Step by Step" and "Here I Am to Worship" in Sunday services. You teach unconditional election. You encourage students to attend the Master's College & Seminary,SEBTS, SBTS, etc.

(This is just an arbitrary list of changes. You might take issue with any one of them, so feel free to substitute your own list of changes the average Fundamentalist pastor would frown upon!)

What happens when the other Fundamentalist pastors in your area find out? You're toast at the next state meeting. If you refuse to buckle, your church is out of the Fundamentalist fellowship it's belonged to since its inception.

(I'm assuming this: grassroots Baptist Fundamentalism has not changed very much in recent years. The local church pastors hold the same positions they've always held on issues like church music, Bible versions, separation from "neo-evangelicalism", an Arminian view of election, etc. The carefully-considered positions of some Fundamentalist colleges and seminaries do not necessarily reflect the positions of many of their constituents.)

So a move to practice simply biblical Christianity means you effectively forfeit fellowship with the Fundamentalists you have no problem with and would gladly work with if they'd only have you. Faithful (Alliance of Confessing) Evangelicals are all you have left.

Right or wrong?