Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Culture Club (part 2)

“No matter what anyone says, the greatest need of the 21st century is the Gospel.” ~Hershael York

“To all those who have suffered as a consequence of our troubled past I extend my sincere thoughts and deep sympathy. With the benefit of historical hindsight we can all see things which we would wish had been done differently or not at all.” ~ Queen Elizabeth II

In my previous post I started to provide some background on what has led me to shy away from the moniker of fundamentalist Christian.  As I previously stated my focus is not on theological fundamentalism but the 20th century phenomenon I am classifying as cultural fundamentalism.  This exercise came out of a small group discussion which included the discussion of the book Four Views on The Spectrum of Evangelicalism” edited by Andrew Naselli and Collin Hansen.

Something that was very startling to me when I first entered cultural fundamentalist was that being mean spirited, harsh, and derogatory or employing character assassination seemed to be perfectly acceptable.  What's worse is that you start thinking we're right and everyone else is wrong.  This harsh rhetoric that was directed at other Christian leaders and non-believers is viewed as “discernment” or “righteous indignation.”  Innuendo and gossip about a church, pastor, leader or group is considered an acceptable practice, but it must be nipped in the bud if it is about anything or anyone in the fundamentalist camp.  I struggle reconciling this with passages like James 3:1-18.  A public apology from a cultural fundamentalist is like a gryphon, a mythical creature you only read about in story books.  Apologies, like humility seem to be an admission of weakness and you need to understand that they were not wrong, but were simply misquoted, misunderstood, maligned or misinformed.  But that’s okay because they are just contending for the faith, so spooling up the base with misinformation serves the greater good.

My experience within IFB churches has been hit and miss exegesis at the expense of proof texting and the tendency to have forced esegesis.  So-called “whole Bible Christians” seem to be more focused on the part and not the whole of the Canon of scripture and nowhere is that more evident in being loud where the Bible is silent and silent where the Bible is loud.  The primary examples are being loud about music, entertainment or alcohol consumption but silent on misogyny, doing justice and gluttony.  If an individual had the right haircut, associations, clothing, music and entertainment standards then they were part of the club.  If a child or teen was compliant to the standards of cultural fundamentalism they were welcomed into the fellowship.  If the externals are not "correct" then  there is little patience or grace is extended.

One of the criticisms of other evangelicals that you typically hear within cultural fundamentalist circles is that their soul-winning crusades and outreaches are doomed to failure because poor follow up and weak discipleship.  This charge has been repeatedly leveled at those outside the camp however one could make the argument that fundamentalists are equally as weak on this front.  I can back this up based on personal experience.  I mentioned earlier that because I doubted my salvation and wanted to be sure, I went forward to accept Christ while during my first year of Christian college after attending an evening service at a local church.  I personally received no follow up or discipleship after making my profession of faith.  This is just a personal observation and not meant as a criticism, but just to point out that people that live in glass houses need to drop their stones.   The emphasis on discipleship tends to be more focused on quietism and pietism rather than the Gospel as the means and motivation for sanctification and holy living.  This has started to change in the past few years and for that we can all acknowledge and applaud.  Discipleship is best done in the local church and through experienced and mentored disciplers.  But it is important to remember that this is only a recent development and I am recounting my experience to provide historical perspective.

I find it more than a little comical and disingenuous that when it comes to matters of preference many cultural fundamentalists like to quote Philippians 2:3 about “esteeming others better than yourself” or trot out the “weaker brother” argument when it comes to an area of Christian liberty.  These verses are wielded like a club to get you to comply and it is typically a one way street rather than a reciprocal command for all believers.  There is also never discussion whether or not it is scriptural for a “professional” weaker brother to remain in that state indefinitely.  When non-essentials become a matter of fellowship and you try to impose your standards and bind the conscious of others with your preferences and applications you have started the slide into cultural fundamentalism.  If you think that people just need to be taught the “right way” or the way of “excellence” in areas where good believers can disagree, you are on the path of cultural fundamentalism.

In the mid to early 20th Century the fundamentalist movement seemed to lose its way.  Founded as a means to combat liberalism that had crept into the church they failed to realize that battle, like the Cold War was largely over.   It became less about a passion for the fundamentals and more driven by personalities and preferences.   A caste system of holiness seemed to take hold of it and it created its own “ghettos”, lingo and hierarchy.  The enemy was at the gate so they retreated to the keep for safety.  My experience in the fundamentalist subculture was that early church history did not date back to the age of the Reformers but seemed to start in the 1930’s and that the Christian leaders from that point forward are the ones we should study and emulate.  Sadly it was not through the tutelage of  cultural fundamentalism that I came to appreciate the Reformers, Spurgeon, C.S. Lewis, Bonhoeffer, Wilberforce, Lloyd-Jones, Wesley, Tozer, Augustine, the writings of the Puritans and so many more.   If you spend any length of time in the movement you will quickly come to realize that the “golden age” of Christianity seems to be the 1950’s and it peaked when Ronald Reagan was in office and it’s been all downhill since.  I am only being slightly facetious when I say that.  A friend who happens to be a pastor wisely states that cultural fundamentalism fails to recognize that it is still chasing the ghosts of liberal theology and continues to use Cold War tactics long after that war was won.

And finally I don’t think we fully grasp that the unholy marriage of partisan politics with cultural fundamentalism is a major stumbling block to the lost.  This is not unique to cultural fundamentalist and is also the norm within conservative evangelical circles as well.  Pragmatism is sin, except when it comes to political candidates that support “family values”, lower taxes and less government.  And it always seems that Romans 13:1-3 is conveniently ignored if our party is not in power.  Demonizing the right is decried if our candidate is being savaged in the media, but it is wholeheartedly and enthusiastically embraced and employed on the opposition.   I unabashedly agree that every believer is called to be politically informed and active, but party politics should have no place in the pulpit.   If the Holy Spirit is at work in the life of a believer and the Gospel changes everything it can and will inform the political decisions of the believer.  They give an account to God and not to the subculture at the exit polls or on social media.

I have jokingly told friends and acquaintances within the cultural fundamentalist movement that we are hiking in the same woods but that we have chosen different campsites to pitch our tents.  The difference is that I have packed lighter and we have more fun around my camp fire.  The Gospel, like a hiker, does not need to over pack and be burdened with mandatory preferences and extra-biblical applications otherwise you will quickly get fatigued, not enjoy the scenery around you and eventually give up and call it a day.  I have actually gained a great appreciation and motivation for sanctification, doctrine, theology and holiness outside the fundamentalist camp and that was because the Gospel stripped away the heavy load and opened up a joy and a zeal that a man-made movement never could produce.  My sojourn through cultural fundamentalism that left me weary, frustrated and ready to throw in the towel, and it has only made the refreshment that came through the Gospel that much sweeter.

Some might accuse me of violating my mother’s reminder of the sage wisdom of Thumper’s mother.  I have strived to not mention specifically by name any church, pastor, leader or institution and I hope I have avoided any grossly unfair characterizations or derogatory statements.   Loyalists to the cause will likely dismiss some of this as what they perceive as unfair criticism.  You have that right, just as I have the right to share my observations.  The challenge for baby boomer generation of cultural fundamentalists is the need to address these issues they completely lose the next generation of believers.  Generation X, the Millennials and those that follow are not going to sit back quietly when they see these inconsistencies, and if they are shouted down or ignored they will simply walk away.  Cultural fundamentalist have the tendency to blame the parents of the younger generation for their lack of “respect” for the movement, but they conveniently forget that those parents were educated at Christian colleges which served as unsuspecting incubators for cultural fundamentalism in the first place.  My hope and prayer is that this loyalty to the subculture is not based solely on fear or because your livelihood would be jeopardized if you agreed with any of my comments.

Some are thinking why re-hash the past and what good can become of it?  The only way any of us can change for the better is if we are totally honest and have the humility to acknowledge our mistakes and make the necessary changes for the sake of the Gospel.  If your only take away from this essay is that I hate fundamentalism or fundamentalists or that I think it is completely devoid of any positive aspects then you have completely missed the point.  I continue to fellowship, worship and mingle with people who still embrace the label.   I can honestly tell you that I am NOT clamoring for the demise of fundamentalism or looking to separate from separatists.  Many who identify with the movement are my friends, neighbors and co-laborers for Christ.  All of these are people whom I love and appreciate and we can join together to cheer its progress and pray for its prosperity as it conforms to the image of Christ.  I will continue to pray for its pastors, leaders and para-church organizations.  But if the cost of allegiance to the subculture is silence rather than mutual accountability then we are in violation of scripture (I Thess. 5:21) and not showing love or discernment.

I share all of this to say that my discomfort with cultural fundamentalism stems from many things and not simply a difference of opinion of personal preferences and biblical application in the area of standards.  While I know that I share many if not all of these sins with the leaders and the constituency that makes up the fundamentalist subculture, it seems that there is a public denial that any of these issues exist or that they create barriers to the Gospel.  Worse yet, the appearance is that the movement itself doesn’t need to change but simply recycle the glory days of yesteryear while ignoring the bodies left in the wake.  As a matter of fact, cultural fundamentalists tend to make an idol of the past and long for those halcyon days.  In clinging or living in the past they fail to be totally effective ministering in the present.  Turnover in churches and consolidation into ministries of “like-minded” believers over preferences creates an even greater divide in the body of Christ and effectively weakens Christendom itself.   There seems to be a failure to recognize that these actions have been and continue to push people away from the Gospel they hold so dear.  It took a work of the Holy Spirit for me to have a Philippians 1:18 view of cultural fundamentalism, and to paraphrase Paul; whether it is preached in pretense, strife or in truth, I am just thankful that the movement proclaims Christ and in that I can and will rejoice.

But even though I can respect and rejoice, I cannot pledge my allegiance or align myself with a cultural fundamentalism that demands unquestioning agreement on non-theological issues or matters of personal liberty.  I am nearing the half century mark and I have the benefit of time to process my past and see how God used it all, both good and not so good for my personal and spiritual benefit.  Only in recent years has the movement begrudgingly acknowledged that it needs people like me, and seeks my support, my money and my time.  But it still only wants me on its own terms and that includes my silent acquiescence, and that is a price that the Gospel does not demand.  The label itself simply carries with it too much baggage, creates confusion and conjures up too many misconceptions about life in Christ.   I came to realize that fundamentalism needs me more than I need it.  I am not disenfranchised but simply disinterested in being taken captive again to empty deceit and human tradition, and that statement is not intended to sound arrogant or spiteful, but more of an epiphany in light of the Gospel.  It is a realization that the Gospel alone is sufficient to draw me toward life and godliness and I don’t need the label or the association with it to do that.  It is acknowledging and embracing that my true identity and joy is not found in a label, subculture or a movement, but in Christ alone.

 To all those who have suffered as a consequence of our troubled past I extend my sincere thoughts and deep sympathy.  Some will take umbrage with me for sharing these observations however Winston Churchill wisely said “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”  Through the Gospel I can forgive but I don’t believe it is prudent to forget and act like these life experiences never happened.  Thankfully God can, has and will use this in my life to find my own blind spots and avoid some of the same pitfalls.  Can the Gospel survive without cultural fundamentalism?  Most assuredly, but cultural fundamentalism will not survive without the Gospel.  Until the subculture of the movement steps back and re-evaluates what is truly wheat and what is chaff, it will continue to bleed like Caesar on the floor of the Forum.  But rather than bleeding out from an attack by a bitter Brutus it will sadly suffer from its own self inflicted wounds.  If theological fundamentalists refuse to confront and hold cultural fundamentalists accountable the bleeding will continue.  It is my hope and prayer that its members will be resituated by the Great Physician with a new lease on life to being only about the fundamentals once again.

"Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.  See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.  For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority." ~ Colossians 2:6-10


  1. I understand your grievances... I have been in all venues of church. My conclusion is: There is no perfect church... no perfect Christian. The whole of Ephesians 5:1-21 speaks of walking in the Light,Love and Wisdom of God, but, I will share the vitals of my point. Vs 1-2, "Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma." The Lord has shown me that no matter where I am worshipping Him (which should be everywhere, everyday) I must live out my life in Him. We do this by knowing the WORD of God and holding true to what He has shown us. So often we lift up the leaders in the church in ways that are not healthy. We are to respect them and listen to thier wisdom, but it should never vary from the Word of God. Vs. 10 says..." finding out what is acceptable to the Lord." and Vs. 17 ..." Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is." Vs. 21..."submitting to one another in the fear of God." We are all responsible to know and understand the will of the Lord. We only must bow the knee to our Heavenly Father and His Son Jesus Christ. We must accept one another's failings in understanding God's Word... once again "we ALL fall short of the glory of God." We must allow our lives to speak... allow the fruit of our lives to be seen... and allow the Holy Spirit to be our witness no matter what church we attend. We are accountable to God, and in love we must be accountable to one another as brothers and sisters in the Lord. If one holds the bar higher than Christ has commanded, may we allow "the perfect Love of Christ to cast out all fear" and live honest, humble and devoted lives to the Gospel of Jesus Christ as redeemed souls being sanctified each day. We live for Christ alone. God will be our judge. I like Matthew Henry's commentary on 1 John 4:18-21... "We must distinguish between the fear of God and being afraid of him; the fear of God imports high regard and veneration for God. Obedience and good works, done from the principle of love, are not like the servile toil of one who unwillingly labours from dread of a master's anger. They are like that of a dutiful child, who does services to a beloved father, which benefit his brethren, and are done willingly. It is a sign that our love is far from perfect, when our doubts, fears, and apprehensions of God, are many. Let heaven and earth stand amazed at his love. He sent his word to invite sinners to partake of this great salvation. Let them take the comfort of the happy change wrought in them, while they give him the glory. The love of God in Christ, in the hearts of Christians from the Spirit of adoption, is the great proof of conversion. This must be tried by its effects on their temper, and their conduct to their brethren. If a man professes to love God, and yet indulges anger or revenge, or shows a selfish disposition, he gives his profession the lie. But if it is plain that our natural enmity is changed into affection and gratitude, let us bless the name of our God for this seal and earnest of eternal happiness. Then we differ from the false professors, who pretend to love God, whom they have not seen, yet hate their brethren, whom they have seen."

  2. I think we all need to take a step back at times and re-evaluate where our loyalties truly lie. I appreciate what Al Mohler said in this blog post from 2009. "Should I Stay or Should I Go?"

  3. Another thought provoking post by Kevin DeYoung...