The Lost Art of Writing

“Fundamentalists don’t write anymore.” My pastor said it so reluctantly while alluding to a book he had recently started reading. He commented on how great the author was at explaining and applying his thoughts. As far as the book itself was concerned, my pastor actually gave somewhat of an endorsement because it covered its topic of Christian leadership so well. However, the author was a prominent figure and progenitor of the seeker-sensitive movement and could be trusted with little else in his writing. It was the frustration of recommending the book but not being able to recommend the author that brought about the comment.

He was right. Fundamentalists don’t write anymore. The operative word, of course, is ‘anymore’. Looking at the original fundamentalists, it seems like all they did was write. Machen had his Christianity and Liberalism. Warfield had his Inspiration and Authority of the Bible. The one thing that quite literally defined fundamentalism for so long was a collection of writings entitled The Fundamentals in which a team of fundamentalists generated a small library later to be collected into a number of volumes. Writing was always at the heart of original fundamentalism.

Not so anymore. Sure, we have a lot of Sunday school literature and a few smaller, “more practical” books about bus ministries, choir directing, and “Things I’ve Learned from Pastor So-and-so.” But, by and large, books by fundamentalists dealing in depth with doctrinal and cultural issues are rare, if not nonexistent.

What happened? Why did we stop writing?

Before I share what I have seen in thinking and asking about this topic, just let me say, I would greatly appreciate hearing your comments. Issues like these regarding fundamentalism are a matter of perspective, and appreciating perspective is in itself another lost art for fundamentalists. (Perhaps another time in another post)

The cheapest excuses that I have heard follow along the same line of thought. They could all be summed up by a generalization that fundamentalists are too busy doing “more important” things. “Fundamentalists don’t write because we are too busy winning souls!” “Fundamentalists don’t write because we’re too busy planting churches!” “Fundamentalists don’t write because we’re too busy reaching the lost!”

Let me be clear. The discussion here is not whether or not soul winning, church planting, and outreach are important; it is not even whether or not these things are more important. The question is whether or not being “too busy” with things is an excuse for us to not write.

Honestly, I don’t think we could be that busy. Paul was busier than any of us combined, and from what I remember he got a good bit of writing done. The original fundamentalists got so much accomplished in their ministries, and yet the library they built has defined modern orthodoxy. Granted, reaching people with the gospel is supposed to preoccupy our time. However, we forget how much our literature is or at least could be our outreach.

Another group of excuses that I have heard follow a prominent attitude in modern fundamentalism of shirking all things intellectual. Misusing phrases like “knowledge puffeth up,” many fundamentalists decry the effort it takes to write a book of any depth as neglecting what is most important (i.e., evangelism, church planting, etc.) But, again, there is a lack of foresight as to how much writing could be a part of what is most important.

Despite these and other excuses, I do think there are a few legitimate reasons for the present lack of fundamentalist writing. Many of these reasons are actually related to the illegitimate reasons above. And, allow me to reiterate, I would love to hear feedback on these ideas.

For example, the modern fundamentalist movement has consistently placed an emphasis on preaching. Recent history shows that many circles and associations in evangelicalism lost that priority and have only recently had a resurgence of it. During that time, while preaching was neglected in many circles, fundamentalists focused on it as counteraction. However, the fundamentalist premium set on preaching led to a de-emphasis of writing.

Another legitimate reason for a lack of fundamentalist writing is a little more subtle. Other movements within evangelicalism (particularly those who fundamentalists termed “new-evangelicals”) maintain somewhat of an emphasis on producing literature. Much of that literature is used today by fundamentalists, each having their own disclaimer explaining that “academic diligence and intelligent defense of the faith often necessitates” such literature. With that literature provided by sources outside of modern fundamentalism, many do not see a need for more writing, especially from fundamentalists.

Whatever the excuse or reason for it, modern fundamentalism has neglected one of its most crucial avenues for doing battle for the fundamentals of the Christian faith. There is however, a glimmer of hope. On a larger scale there are men such as Kevin Bauder and Douglas Maclachlan who have recognized this need and are making great strides in rebuilding what has been lost. On a more grassroots scale, there is a growing sympathy in young fundamentalists who know the great history of our movement and see the departures from that history in our modern movement. I and the co-writer of this blog are proud to number ourselves with that group.

It has been too long since the Devil has had to dodge fundamentalist inkpots*. I think its time we take up our pens, engage our minds and be ready scribes for our Lord.

*As the story goes, once, when Martin Luther was in his study, he was visited by “an adversarial spirit.” He threw a bottle of ink at it, which shattered against the wall. It is said that his room in Wartburg Castle in Germany still bears the stain. More or less it is a great analogy of Luther’s efforts in writing.

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3 comments so far

  1. DT on

    Another problem is that what today’s fundamentalist does write has lost so much credibility. On one hand, this is sad because the more mainstream evangelicals don’t want to give them a chance. It’s rare that Zondervan or what not will publish a book by a fundamentalist (at least as we see the term), or that a Jerry Bridges will endorse the volume. Well written, conservative evangelicals have distanced themselves from fundamentalists.
    On the other hand, the credibility is lost because much of what passes for fundamentalist literature today really has no credibility! If you take the time to actually look up the claims of Jack Chick, DA Waite, David Cloud, David Sorenson, Gail Riplinger, and Sam Gipp you’ll know what I’m talking about. Even outside KJVO literature is a lack of true scholarship. When was the last time a fundamentlist wrote a defense of a fundamental doctrine that wasn’t laden with conspiracy theory, strawmen, or ad hominen attacks?
    Anyway, the Luther story sure goes well with the topic. And I know you acknowledged that it was only a “story”. But in case the inquiring reader wants to know, James Swan declared this one of many myths about Luther.
    Great post and undoubtedly one of the chief reasons we have this blog!

  2. William D on

    I totally agree. As a pastor of an IFB church, I can hardly find materials written by IFB preachers that are worth using in Sunday School, Evangelism training, small groups, discipleship, etc. I have to turn to “The Way of the Master”, “9 Marks”, ” Ligonier Ministries” to help me with materials to train our people!

    There are a few good books written from the BJU camp, but many of their home run hitters don’t write either!

  3. TJ on

    Your perspective on this issue is exactly why it is detrimental. It is one thing if fundamentalist pastors, seminary students and armchair theologians have to go elsewhere for resources. They have the training, the understanding, and the discernment that comes with both to cross those lines.
    However, when it comes to our congregations, we call ourselves fundamentalist Baptists and then give our people material from evangelical Baptists. They are bound to ask why we bother calling ourselves fundamentalists.
    I thank God for the ministries that you mentioned because without there material we would have little more than nothing. But, the fact is there are reservations I have with them that prevent a wholesale endorsement.
    It encourages us, though, to see men like you understanding the issue and actually doing something about it. Let’s keep writing!


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