Yesterday Andy Naselli made the case rather poignantly for a trend I've been trying to highlight for some time: Fundamentalism, particularly that of the BJU circle, is slowly, subtly, reinventing and redefining itself. Whether what is going to emerge from this redefinition is something we should like or hope for remains to be seen.
Naselli's post quotes a letter written by Bob Jones, Jr. in 1994 when he served as chancellor of the school. In this letter, Jones suggests that a young man preparing for pastoral ministry "refrain from reading the books written by New Evangelicals."
By that time Jones was in his 80s, and some might suggest that his judgment was less well-honed than it had been in his younger days. I was a student at the school in 1994. I heard Jones preach regularly in chapel and the required Sunday morning campus services. I've listened to a number of his sermons from that era since then. Though he occasionally made statements that bordered on the outlandish, even at that age he was an outstanding crafter of words and ideas. And I have every confidence that it wouldn't be at all difficult to track down similarly outlandish statements from his younger days. So senility is no explanation.
The interesting question is how Jones could make this statement at a time when many courses required textbooks written by authors who unquestionably fell in to the category Jones derided. Perhaps there was a time when the BJU curriculum consisted entirely of Reformers, Anabaptists, Puritans, and 19th century historic evangelicals. But I'm guessing it didn't.
No, my guess is that Jones tolerated the use of these texts in the classrooms on campus, where they could be faithfully interpreted and augmented by BJU professors. I could be wrong, and I'd be interested to hear other plausible interpretations. I don't think blatant hypocrisy is at all likely.
In any case, the attitude he articulated is seldom echoed today—not never, though even the statement in this PDF download is more nuanced than Jones's. As a fundamentalist pastor friend told me last year, the internet changed everything. Fundamentalists can't continue to hammer on MacArthur and Dever and Mohler indiscriminately because their congregations are reading their books [I took this as great news!] and seeing that they're saying true, helpful, laudable things. He didn't say this explicitly, but I took him clearly to mean that maintaining the traditional line undermines one's credibility.
This is all just one more piece of evidence in a pretty panoramic puzzle of fundamental (pun intended) attitudinal shifts. It's another marker of the generation gap that people who interact with fundamentalist pastors often describe. The future will not be like the present. Will it be better? I think that depends on who the diverging generations ultimately decide to hear, and how honest they are willing to be about it.