Following are three articles previously published by Baptists Today. Stephens is a former Sunday School Board curriculum coordinator.
Moderates fought the fundamentalist takeover on the naive assumption that their differences could be negotiated. They did not grasp how different is the world view held by fundamentalists.
The theological distinctions of classic fundamentalism sets it apart even from the most conservative elements of Baptist heritage. Substantial attention has been given to the history of the fundamentalist takeover of the SBC. Less attention has been paid to the part played by theology.
In common understanding, fundamentalism is simply the far right wing of the evangelical world, its theology similar to but more rigid than evangelicalism.
In recent years, some fundamentalists have sought to broaden the tent by claiming any person who believes in the fundamentals of the faith are fundamentalists. Many naive conservatives accept this definition and join with a movement they know little about.
Fundamentalism’s most distinguishing doctrine is dispensational premillennialism. Morris Ashcraft of Richmond Baptist Seminary in “The Theology of Fundamentalism” in the Winter 1982 issue of Review and Expositor argued that fundamentalist theology has grown out of a primary conviction about the inerrancy of Scripture.
Bill Leonard, dean of the new divinity school at Wake Forest University, emphasized in the same issue of Review and Expositor the complex nature of the origins of fundamentalism and called to task those who insist it grew directly out of the dispensational movement.
|Fundamentalists look for reasons to disfellowship people; moderates look for reasons to have fellowship with other believers.|
While both observations are true, other scholars identify dispensationalism as the most distinguishing theology of fundamentalism, so thoroughly have the two merged. This view of Christ’s second coming dominates the way fundamentalists look at the world.
Donald Bloesch, professor of theology at Dubuque Seminary, insists “One of the hallmarks of fundamentalism is the inordinate attention given to eschatology… This premillennial doctrine differentiates fundamentalism from the theology of the Reformation (which was basically amillennial) and from the Puritans and Pietists (who were generally post-millennial). One strand of fundamentalism has adopted the dispensational form of premillennialism.” (The Future of Evangelical Christianity,)
Joel A. Carpenter is director of the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals. He agrees and adds that dispensationalism William Stephens “has made major inroads in the Southern Baptist Convention.” Two convictions held by dispensationalists color their faith and behavior: (1) History is now in the last church age, the age of apostasy; (2) The modern state of Israel is a fulfillment of God’s covenant with the Jews. The two concepts have several doctrinal spin-offs; they were thoroughly involved in the SBC takeover.
Fundamentalists believe we are now in the last church age, the age of apostasy. Dispensationalism holds that history since Christ is divided into seven specific ages, a view based on a unique interpretation of Revelation 2–3, the letters to the seven churches. We are now in the last age, the age of apostasy.
Fundamentalists assume churches and denominations are apostate or well on the road to apostasy. The assumption validates whatever means are required to take over the SBC at every level and to take over churches wherever possible, to reclaim them for God’s kingdom.
Fundamentalism’s evidence for apostasy grows out of its reaction against “modernity.” For an example, see R. Albert Mohler, Jr., in “A Call for Baptist Evangelicals and Evangelical Baptists: Communities of Faith and a Common Quest for Identity.”
The movement arose around the turn of the century as a reaction against modernism, a religious war that was limited mostly to the northeastern U.S. When fundamentalists lost in their attempt to “reclaim” their denominational structures, they retrenched and became separatist. David Dockery sees no difference between that battle and the SBC takeover; we are only “sixty years behind.”
This perception assumes the SBC was invaded by the liberalism of northeastern modernist theology, which is a strange and simplistic view of history. During the 1940s some new leaders emerged among fundamentalists, with the intention of bringing the movement out of its separatist mentality and into the mainstream of American life.
These “neoevangelicals” (new evangelicals) include Carl F.H. Henry, Billy Graham, Charles Fuller and others. Their efforts were immensely successful. A number of colleges and seminaries were established such as Wheaton and Fuller, Christianity Today was begun, and a substantial network of publishing houses and ministries were created.
But the fundamentalist wing rose in opposition to what they saw as compromise with modernity. Henry was replaced as editor of Christianity Today by the more militant and irascible Harold Lindsell, who became a leading intellectual leader of SBC fundamentalism.
Other rigid fundamentalists became highly influential among Southern Baptists during the 70s and after: Francis Shaeffer, James Dobson, Charles Swindoll, Tim LaHaye, Hal Lindsey, and Charles Ryrie.
Glenn Hinson, professor of church history at Richmond Seminary, reported two surveys of Southern Baptists. They revealed Jerry Falwell to be the single most influential person in shaping the perceptions of Southern Baptists. An important element was added to this assumption of apostasy during the 1960s when pentecostal charismatic theology began to influence fundamentalism.
One important characteristic of pentecostalism is its emphasis on demons: interpreting sins and pains of individuals as caused by demon possession, along with the belief that society is locked in a battle between the heavenly angels and Satanic demons.
The belief in demonic activity, being compatible with the view that we are in the last church age, was quickly assimilated into fundamentalism. One needs only read one of Frank Peretti’s novels to see how pervasive is this conviction and how committed many fundamentalists are to conspiracy theories.
In 1985, three former SBC presidents (Rogers, Smith, and Draper) appeared on Pat Robertson’s 700 Club and strongly criticized the Southern Baptist seminaries for their liberalism. The event demonstrated three realities: the influence of fundamentalists from outside the SBC, a preconception that SBC institutions were apostate, and the close ties between SBC fundamentalist leaders and pentecostalism.
The flimsy evidence produced in fundamentalist writings against previous SBC leaders and schools demonstrates that they were prejudged, assumed to be apostate because in this last age the Church is apostate.
For an example, see David Allen and Jerry Vines, “Biblical Authority and Homiletics,” Authority and Interpretation: A Baptist Perspective, Duane A. Garrett and Richard R. Melick, Jr., eds, Baker, 1987. With such an assumption, fundamentalists are on the lookout for evidence of apostasy rather than evidence of orthodoxy.
This presupposition that churches and their leaders are apostate lay in the background during the so-called negotiations of the Southern Baptist Peace Committee.
Moderates stood no chance at all; they were the enemies of God, whether they intended to be or not, handing over the denomination—40,000 or so churches, and 15 million or more Baptists—to the Devil.
It was the good work of God to rescue the perishing. In practical terms, this attitude demonstrates a key difference between fundamentalists and moderates: Fundamentalists look for reasons to disfellowship people; moderates look for reasons to have fellowship with other believers.
Theology and Takeover of the SBC
Fundamentalist theology played a key role in the takeover of the SBC and continue to dominate SBC decision-making at the highest levels. Part two will consider fundamentalism’s commitment to the modern state of Israel, how fundamentalists seek to influence U.S. policy, and how dispensationalists view the United States in God’s plan.
Fundamentalists believe the rise of the state of Israel is a fulfillment of God’s covenant with the Jews.
Dispensationalists believe the Old Testament promises to Israel were not reinterpreted by Jesus to apply to the Church. They are, instead, an unchanging covenant with Israel. They believe the covenant is being fulfilled today as the Jews are established in modern Israel.
Such events as the rise of the European Common Market is seen as the prophesied revival of the Roman Empire; eastern events are seen as the gathering together of the kings of the east; most of all, Israel’s return to the Holy Land demonstrates we are in the last days.
Martin Marty of the University of Chicago is the best-known church historian in America. He wrote in an article “Fundamentalism as a Social Phenomenon,” in the Review and Expositor, that there “were Protestant fundamentalist Zionists in America before Jewish Zionism took hold.”
In the late 1800s, William E. Blackstone was a tireless dispensational leader to this end. Yaakov Ariel, professor at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, echoed Marty. He pointed out that Blackstone “asserted that the United States had a special role and mission in God’s plan for humanity, that of a modern Cyrus: to help restore the Jews to Zion. God chose America for that mission on account of its moral superiority over other nations, and America would be judged according to the way it carried out its mission.” (New Dimensions in American Religious History: Essays in Honor of Martin E. Marty.)
Since that time, great events have quickened the dispensationalists’ spirit: World War I, the British takeover of Palestine, the Zionist movement and Israel being established as a nation, other wars, famine, natural disasters, and even the Gulf War.
Yaakov Ariel claims no event has had such an impact on dispensationalist thinking as the Six-Day War, in which Israel was immensely successful against overwhelming odds. The victory allowed the Jews to take over the historic sites of Jerusalem.
Fundamentalists now dream of the rebuilding of the Temple, which they believe must take place before Christ can return.
This conviction about modern Israel has driven fundamentalists to seek a close relationship with the Israeli government, and pressure U.S. policy to support Israel. They have established a Temple Mount Foundation in Jerusalem and have involved themselves in such Jewish issues as Jewish immigration from Russia. Dozens of pro-Israeli fundamentalist organizations have emerged in the United States.
The late Menachem Begin, former prime minister of Israel, appointed a special liaison for American evangelicals; Israeli officials speak at fundamentalist conferences, and evangelists meet with Israeli leaders as part of their touring schedules in Israel.
Observers of the SBC takeover may recall how thoroughly this dispensationalist agenda spilled over into the SBC. Ed McAteer, the SBC fundamentalist head of Religious Roundtable, tried very hard to have a resolution passed that would have expressed the denomination’s carte-blanche support for anything the state of Israel chooses to do militarily.
The effort was rejected by the Convention, for the dispensational viewpoint is held by a lower percent of followers than leaders. To compensate, McAteer held a press conference to issue a pro-Israeli statement, signed onto by top SBC leaders Charles Stanley, Bailey Smith, Jimmy Draper, W. A. Criswell, Paige Patterson, Zig Ziglar, and Paul Pressler. This intent is not just political; it is a deeply held religious view and is not negotiable.
If the U.S. is to fulfill its role in prophecy, it must support Israel; the SBC will be a tool to pressure U.S. policy to that end. Thus, one driving force behind the SBC takeover was to use the Convention as a power base to affect U.S. policy toward Israel.
Fundamentalists believe the United States is the nation assigned by God the work of aiding Israel in these end times. Some people may regard dispensationalism’s strong commitment to Israel simply as a theological difference of opinion. But the conviction has a tentacle that reaches into U.S. politics and has brought about a coalition with the right wing of the Republican Party. (See “Wedding” on page 16.)
God’s intention to use the United States is not essential to His plan; if the U.S. will not cooperate both morally and politically, God will find another nation. But dispensationalists fervently want the U.S. to fulfill its role and intend to see that it does.
To accomplish this end, the United States must solve its moral problems, must become purer by biblical standards.
No moderate would disagree with the need to raise the moral standards of our nation; but moderates disagree with the conspiracy theories of fundamentalism and the linkage of moral failures with the impending approach of the Antichrist.
Believing the end is very near, fundamentalists have placed the redemption of America on a fast track through two alliances, Reconstructionism and the Republican right wing.
Reconstructionists hold that God’s plan is for the world to be governed by Old Testament law. The effort to accomplish this type of government is part of what God meant when he commanded us to subdue and rule the earth (Gen. 2:26-28). The goal is the world, but the focus is on the United States.
Fundamentalism and Reconstructionism can never truly merge, for Reconstructionists are post-millennialists. They believe Christ will return only after the world is ruled for a thousand years by Christ through His Church.
However, fundamentalists have bought into much of the socio-political program of Reconstructionism, as William Estep, professor of church history at Southwestern Seminary, has discussed in Revolution Within the Revolution, published by Eerdmans in 1990.
Gary North is currently the leading Reconstructionist leader in America. He views the conflict as God vs. Satan, Christianity vs. secular humanism, the family vs. the state. Secular humanism has captured judges, educators, mainline church officials, and “especially seminary professors.”
Estep asserts that “the Reconstructionist movement represents the New Right’s extreme flanks, but common concerns, presuppositions, and goals characterize every segment of the movement.” The two views have in common the quest to make America a Christian nation by legislation.
If Reconstructionism were to succeed, the U.S. Constitution and legal system would be eliminated. Fundamentalism does not cherish that goal, but they would fix the Constitution by amendments to accomplish their goals; and they have bought into some intermediate goals of Reconstructionism.
One is to eliminate the public school system, which teaches secular humanism and evolution, and breeds atheism and New Age views.
Moreover, the Old Testament teaches that children should be taught at home. Another intermediate goal is to limit government severely. Decision-making must be moved to local levels; government must get out of all but essential activities such as utilities and keeping the peace.
The national model for fundamentalists is the colony of Massachusetts, which was established as a church-state. The nationally- known Presbyterian pastor James Kennedy (Coral Gables, Florida) uses that colony’s history to prove the United States began as a Christian nation.
Ironically, Massachusetts persecuted Baptists worse than any other colony and did not include religious freedom in its state constitution until the mid-1800s.
Church historian Leon McBeth of Southwestern Seminary points out in “Baptist or Evangelical: One Southern Baptist’s Perspective” how little evangelicals understand the Baptist view of separation of church and state, that “their ancestors were in power when ours were in prison.”
One need only read Jimmy Draper’s If the Foundations Be Destroyed to realize how dangerously involved with Reconstructionism some SBC fundamentalist leaders have become.
Unlike Reconstructionists, fundamentalists do not want the government to fall; they want it to remain viable but committed to fundamentalist goals. The process by which the religious right has become bedfellows with the Republican right, including the involvement of the SBC leadership, has been documented especially well by Rosenberg.
The alliance has come at a cost to their prophetic voice. Fundamentalists have endorsed unworthy politicians because the persons have agreed to a fundamentalist platform; they have behaved toward their opponents unworthily in attempts to win at all costs.
Jerry Falwell’s attacks on Jimmy Carter and his particularly vicious attacks on Bill Clinton are cases in point. The attempt to further the Republican Party by asking many of us how we can be Christians and vote Democratic is equally unworthy.
A Democrat is decidedly out of place in some SBC churches, a new phenomenon that calls into question the fundamentalist view of the church.
The alliance with a political party has brought fundamentalists into “open alliance with capitalism” and caused them to regard “economic prosperity as a providential sign of sanctity,” writes Bloesch. Even a reading of the very good book, Evangelical Affirmations (an outgrowth of a defining conference on evangelicalism) reveals the wide commitment to the Republican Party among even moderate evangelicals.
Some readers, perhaps, and certainly some church members may consider these shenanigans and dispensational views to be unrelated to their lives and churches. To awaken them from lethargy, let them consider how many Sunday School teachers in their churches teach whatever appears in the literature, and how many church members are influenced by the sermons they hear.
Have not those of us who have written and edited literature in the past written and published what we believed to be true? Have not our pastors proclaimed their convictions from the pulpit? Will current SBC leaders do any less? How long will it be before fundamentalist theology appears in SBC literature and is preached from SBC pulpits?
Theology and Takeover of the SBC
Because the time is short, some Fundamentalists believe that the United States must be rescued from its rapid fall into moral decay by limiting liberty.
Fundamentalism’s theology holds that we are in the last days before Christ’s return.
This point is wrapped up in the previous discussion on fundamentalists’ embracing of the Reconstructionist agenda, but it deserves some separate comments. Fundamentalism identifies several areas of moral decay: amorality, abortion, evolution, atheism, and pluralism. Related issues include a strong military defense, family, the evil of forced busing, prayer in the public schools, and free enterprise. (Bloesch, op. cit., p. 29).
The greatest culprit is “secular humanism”; some fundamentalist writers make this the Great Enemy and gather the other topics under its umbrella.
In an interview by Washington Post staff writer Sidney Blumenthal, Tim LaHay asserted that secular humanism is this nation’s official religion, the result of a conspiracy which began with transcendentalists, Unitarians, and atheists. They conspired to make public education compulsory and teach secular humanism under the guise of democracy. The conspiracy continues today. (Sidney Blumenthal, “The Religious Right and Republicans.”)
The late Francis Schaeffer, perhaps the best-known Fundamentalist theologian, charged that secular humanism is itself a religion “which the government and courts in the United States favor over all others!” (A. James Reichley, “The Evangelical and Fundamentalist Revolt.”)
This statement sounds like something out of Peretti’s novels. The only way to overcome secular humanism, Schaeffer believed, is to get control of government into different hands. The prominence of the conspiracy theory is obvious. This is part of the fundamentalist world view; it lies behind their fear that liberty has run amok and must be restrained.
Ralph D. Winter is the fundamentalist General Director of the U.S. Center for World Mission. In response to a presentation made by Kenneth Kantzer on Christian Ethics, Winter protested that Kantzer introduced one theme into several of his points “what itself can be terribly dangerous, namely the idea that we must above all be free.”
To this disclaimer of the value of freedom, Winter added a parenthetical comment: “I recall with chagrin how naively in my youth I accepted that famous line from the Declaration of Independence—‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.’ What a poison for any nation to drink!” (Ralph D. Winter, “Response to Kenneth S. Kantzer.”)
One could hardly cite a more damning quote to demonstrate how some fundamentalists fear freedom. But the quote is not extraordinary. Harold O. J. Brown, professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, insists that tolerance should be public policy, a view that reflects Reformed theology. (Harold O. J. Brown, “Evangelicals and Social Ethics,” Evangelical Affirmations, p. 279.)
Reformed theology is that held by churches that have descended from the “major” reformers like Luther and Calvin, who believed in a union of church and state. Tolerance sounds broad-minded and accepting, until its meaning is considered. Baptists have always insisted that toleration is not sufficient; government cannot be granted the right to determine what is to be tolerated and what is not. Toleration is miles short of religious freedom.
Brown’s hero is Constantine, who labored to make Christianity the favored religion of the Roman Empire. Today in America, he believes, we have no moral consensus and we have no authority who can establish consensus. “Now,” he concludes, “we are in the situation where there is neither an emperor nor a consensus, and it is likely that we cannot get along indefinitely without both.” (ibid., p. 279.)
This sounds very much like a call for state-sponsored religion. Brown prefaced his point by asking a rhetorical question: “But what are Christians to do when no one Christian is the “autokrator” with the power to change things, but rather many individual Christians would have to enter the political arena in order to affect the ethics of society? Shall they dare less than Constantine?” (ibid., p. 278.)
He seems to have no awareness that Christianity greatly influenced the empire— and Constantine—by preaching the gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit. We ought not need government’s protection against religions that do not have that power.
David Scaer provides another example. Scaer is professor of theology at Concordia Seminary. In response to a proposal for evangelicals to dialogue with others who make up the pluralism of America, Scaer excoriated the proposal as compromise. “Wherever the Gospel is preached,” he insists, “it must bring division between believer and unbeliever and between believers themselves.” (David Scaer, “Response to Os Guinness,” Kantzer and Henry, op. cit., pp. 506-7.)
The alternative, of course, is to take over the government and coerce uniformity. In recent years, pluralism in America has emerged as another enemy, one used to advantage by secular humanists. Pluralism has increased greatly since the end of the Vietnam War. Fundamentalists tend to deny its validity, insisting that since America was established as a Christian nation, Christian values must prevail.
Harold O.J. Brown, in the reference cited above, asserted that if “evangelical Christians are to have any impact for the transformation of this society, …it will be necessary to kill the sacred cow of pluralism.” Pluralism, he insists, holds that all convictions about values are of equal validity. Of course, no evangelical would agree they are equal, but most believe pluralism is rightly protected by the Constitution and that the gospel precludes the enforcement of belief on anyone. The only reasonable alternative is dialogue, to discover some values we can agree on.
We might ask why fundamentalists, who have a history of withdrawing from the public arena, have in recent years become so aggressive. Scott Appleby traced the events that mobilized them to enter the fray. 1963 was the pivotal year, a “new dispensation” in which prayer was outlawed in American public schools. This event was coupled with an increasingly secular content of public school textbooks, “values clarification” and other “humanist” ideas that undermined beliefs and traditions parents hold dear. Then came, in 1973, the landmark ruling on abortion.
Appleby explained that the ERA was interpreted by fundamentalists as a demonic attempt to prevent women from fulfilling their biblical role as submissive wives.
To make matters worse, social agencies and legislatures sought to define the limits of physical punishment permitted for parents to discipline their children. The IRS took on the task of investigating the finances of religious agencies and determining what counted, for tax purposes at least, as true religion.
Civil rights arguments were extended to grossly immoral life-styles (especially homosexuality). Government even interfered with Christian schools by imposing certification restrictions that seemed to strip them of their theological reasons for existing. Religious leaders, church-related academics, and liberal pastors seemed to have lost their way and become part of the problem.
Moderates must not put themselves in the position of assuming fundamentalists are always wrong on every point; we ought never reject a viewpoint simply because it is held by people we disagree with.
Secularism is a problem in American society; the denial of religious rights has been a significant issue which the Baptist Joint Committee has fought to correct; pluralism has created major problems in American society; amorality is a curse.
Though most of us do not agree that “secular humanists” are engaged in a conspiracy, we are quite aware that powerful forces of evil are creating havoc in American society.
By rejecting fundamentalist theology, we do not reject God’s call to do all within our power, and working from our own theology, to deal aggressively with our nation’s moral problems.
But we must deal with moral decay on one front and on another deal with that fundamentalist theology that threatens our blood-bought liberty. It is as though the pagan enemy is shooting at us from across the battle lines, while bullets are also coming from our own troops behind the lines.
A great many average members of Southern Baptist churches agree that our nation is in moral decay, but they are naive about where their money is going. Little do many of them realize how much they are contributing to some determined efforts to remove American freedom! How much they support the agenda of the religious right through the lobbying efforts of what used to be the Christian Life Commission of the SBC! How much they fund the ever-developing relationship between SBC leadership and the fundamentalist wing of the wider evangelical world! How much they pay professors and staff to teach nonBaptist heritage in SBC seminaries!
As graduates leave SBC seminaries and enter the available pastor pool, these naive church members will find themselves listening to these views promoted from the pulpit.
This series of articles has presented only a taste of the significant differences of fundamentalist theology. Make no mistake. Fundamentalism is nonnegotiable on some crucial issues which, if adopted widely, will make Baptists into something they have never been. Being Baptist means more than being immersed.
Stephens currently serves as a field representative for Tennessee CBF.
In explaining this series, William Stephens wrote, “During my last eight years at the Baptist Sunday School Board I was senior curriculum coordinator of the Discipleship Training Department. Part of my responsibility was to keep Roy and the department informed of developments in the religious world, especially evangelicalism. To accomplish this, I became a member of the Evangelical Theological Society, and I heard things I had never heard before. Moderates never had a chance at negotiating differences; these particular theologies of fundamentalism are not negotiable and they are poles apart from anything Southern Baptists have ever been about.”