Sunday, April 22, 2007

Robert Delnay's SI Interview: Why Do Young Guys Have a Bad Taste of Fundamentalism?

Dr. Robert Delnay has taught in fundamentalist institutions literally across the United States, and he witnessed most fundamentalist history personally. Today SharperIron posted part 2 of a 3-part interview with Delnay. This installment focuses on the history of the Northern Baptist Convention, and meanders from there into denominationalism in general and also some reflections on the fundamentalist movement with the benefit of hindsight and decades of wisdom.

Though I found the entire discussion fascinating, the last 8 minutes are particularly intriguing and lend themselves to brief summary. In response to Jason Janz's question, "What would you say are the hallmarks of a fundamentalist?" Delnay responds with five marks, which I'll summarize here:
  1. A love for Scripture

  2. Dispensational, pretribulational, premillennialism (Delnay specifically denies that any accomodation for diversity in eschatological views is acceptable within fundamentalism.)

  3. Separatism

  4. Militancy

  5. Authenticity of life ("walking with God")
Delnay says that this fifth point is where the road forks:
I think of young guys--many of them out there--who would gravitate toward separatism and biblicism and premillennialism and indeed have common cause and fellowship with one another if they didn't have such a bad taste in their mouths to that word "fundamentalism."
Delnay attributes this "bad taste" to bad leadership:
I think maybe our greatest problem was the careless choice of personnel—either the leaders that we followed who built big churches or the people that we hired to work with us. And I think that matter of earnest, prayerful, careful consideration of personnel may be the most important thing we're going to have to do in the days at hand.
Obviously, some of even the most militant, separatist fundamentalist would disagree with Delnay's second point.

I'm much more interested, however, in Delnay's conviction that young guys are running from fundamentalism not because of it's contemporary condition, but about past mistakes in leadership and personnel choices. My opinion is based on nothing more than the spectrum of people I talk to, but as best I can tell I don't think this part of his assessment is correct. It seems that frustrations are grounded far more in certain aspects of the fundamentalist movement as it exists today than in the mistakes that were made in the past.

I know I could explain that a little more, but I'm curious to hear first whether my experience is consistent with what anyone reading this has found to be true.


Jason said...

Certainly the past affects the present, but it is the present condition of Fundamentalism that I am concerned about. I agree with your observation.

David T. said...

It is often said that good leadership is built on good followship.
But there is no followship unless a man who would be leader gains their heart and their trust first.
This is partly why Jesus said the greatest should be the servant of all.
Those leaders who can't be great expect their followers to exhibit good followship but don't have the attitude that would allow them to gain their trust and heart first. It is a rigidly authoritarian model that shoots itself in the foot, to demand a level of submission without first building that same level of relationship.
Lincoln said that force can the win the battle but its victories are short lived. Often fundamentalism, in an attempt to respond with conviction and strength, bypasses the relationship and consensus building necessary to form a long-lasting coalition.

Greg Linscott said...

I think Delnay has a point. Most of the common complaints you hear about Fundamentalism are at least rooted in its immediate past leadership, from what I see. The current/rising crop of leaders (when I say that, I think of people like Doran, Bauder, Burggraff, Phelps, Minnick, Horn, Greening, Hartog III, Jordan...) are not the ones I hear many complaints about. If anything, I think assumptions are made and pinned on men of this mindset and caliber- often lacking in substance.

Paul said...

I have not listened to the interview but agree with your conclusion.

Ben said...

Interesting, Greg. Maybe that's where my experience is just an anomaly, but I don't hear a lot of discussion of individuals. I can think of a few examples of complaints about individuals, but they span generations, and include some currently in leadership, which may or may not be those you picked to name

Greg Linscott said...


I think that's what I am saying. I don't hear a lot of specific personalities mentioned, either- it just seems that the general complaints connect more with the past than the present. The men such as the ones I mentioned seem to be aware that the status quo "management style," if you will, needs to be addressed, if nothing else.

But hey- I'm up here in a remote part of the world, so I could be off, too.

Ben said...

Greg wrote:
"The men such as the ones I mentioned seem to be aware that the status quo 'management style,' if you will, needs to be addressed, if nothing else."

I don't want to discount any healthy progress that's been made. But it seems to me there's more at stake--more particularly at the heart of the issue--than a management style. I think it's a theological issue. I don't know to what varying degrees the kind of people you name would agree with that or would be operating proactively to address it as a theological issue. At the very least Bauder has staked out that ground.

Here's another element to think about. Most of the guys you named are leaders of educational institutions. Now, because of dual roles, most of them are also pastors. For whatever reason, you omitted a few other guys who typically show up in these kinds of lists--Olsen, Stratton, Harbin, Davey. I'm not questioning your rationale for including or excluding. I'm just drawing attention to the fact that when we think of leadership, we tend to think disproportionately of educators in comparison with pastors. Does that say more about our priorities or about the condition of our churches?

Anonymous said...

Dr. Delnay sounds like a great and likable guy in the interview. And, perhaps his 5 marks really are the present day boundaries of fundamentalism. But, are dispensational/premil/pretrib and militant separatism really fundamentals of the faith? And, are the Trinity, the nature of Christ, sola gratia, and sola fide not fundamentals of the faith?

I don't disagree with Dr. Delnay one bit about the past leadership of fundamentalism. However, might a bigger, or at least an equal, problem be the obsession with secondary issues to the neglect of primary issues.


Greg Linscott said...


I ommitted them and included the ones I did because I have seen the ones I listed leading in print, and addressing matters. Not to criticize the othrs, but I haven't seen that from them (maybe it's there- I just haven't seen it).

I don't think that leadership is limited to educators- but hey, even the conservative Evangelicals have guys like Mohler, Wayne Grudem, Carl Trueman, and D.A. Carson, for example. There is no shame in recognizing educators as leaders, IMHO.

Paul33 said...

Keith just nailed it. The incessant emphasis on secondary issues strikes at the very core of fundamentalism. The fundamentals of yesteryear just aren't good enough for the Delnay's of the movement. This more than anything drives reasonable fundamentalists out of the movement.

Greg Linscott said...


You say that the problem as you see it is a theological issue. I am curious- do you see anyone out there who is doing better at being more consistent on this than Fundamentalists are, in your estimation?

Ben said...


That question presumes a certain understanding of big-F Fundamentalism that sets the parameters for the discussion and may or may not be accurate or helpful.

Suffice it to say that I'd like to see a realignment and rapprochement among folks who embrace the most essential ideals of historic and pre-historic fundamentalism, who can then adopt proactive strategies to describe publicly how their respective spheres have departed from those ideals and to influence them to return to those ideals.

Don Johnson said...

Ben, when you say it is "a theological issue", what do you mean by that? On what point or points of theology does the question hinge?

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Ben said...


I don't have a concise answer to that. At the risk of sounding obnoxious, the archives here might be a good place to start. For a far more well-argued, concise, coherent, but less specific expression, see Bauder's "A Fundamentalism Worth Saving." I'm not suggesting my posts are of equal value, just offering a couple options for your consideration. I'm also planning a post with some other reading recommendations pretty soon.

Paul33 said...

Theology? How can you ask this question in light of Delnay's statement as to what is required to be a Fundamentalist!

When a pre-trib, premillennial, dispensational position is the required eschatology to be considered a Fundamentalist, the movement self-destructs by virtue of what the first fundamentalists articulated as the essentials.

Ben said...


Just to clarify, you're speaking tongue-in-cheek, right?

Bruce said...


I'd love to hear you and your readers discuss his five points one by one, especially 2, 3, and 4, as they seem to be unique (at least as exclusive, defining marks) to fundamentalism.

How about taking one at a time and writing a post as a Young Fundamentalist? I know this wouldn't be new, but it is getting at core Fundamentalist identity issues.

Also, how does one determine when disagreement goes from being development within to abandonment from Fundamentalism?

Anonymous said...

Interestingly, McCune appears not to regard dispensationalism or premillennialism as essential marks of fundamentalism. See esp. pp. 179-80 in -