About that Bridge to Nowhere. . .

bridgeUnlike Sarah Palin, I won’t deny that I indeed supported a bridge before I decided against it (oops, now I sound like John Kerry). But I’m not talking about politics or transportation routes that apparently lead to nowhere. I’m talking about my original intentions for this blog.

When I first desired to express my views publicly, I was still enrolled in an Independent, Fundamental Baptist Bible college. A few of my friends were concerned about fundamentalism’s direction and we decided that we’d start a website that would be dedicated to what we believed was true fundamentalism. So we began the Contend For Truth website with hopes that we can defend the Christian faith from an articulate, fundamentalist perspective. And that was the problem.

It didn’t take long for us to have a few disagreements and we split from the website, true to fundamentalist tradition. So I started my own blog (wow, it’s crazy how you can substitute the word “church” for “blog” in this story and it will still be believable), and began to do the same thing, though I included some criticisms of fundamentalism as well.

Since I was still convinced that many of the particularities of fundamentalism were correct, I wanted to defend them. However, since I was convinced that the movement’s direction and methodology were flawed, I wanted to defend them from a different angle. For example, I posted on Why I Wear a Suit to Church, not because I thought it was necessary to do so, but because I felt that the typical fundamentalist reasons for doing so were poor reasons. I pridefully wanted to be the one to speak for the movement because its spokespeople just didn’t get it. I also wrote Can We Call a Truce as a way to ask for a ceasefire between Calvinists and those confused people who know they’re not Arminian but would rather not associate with Calvinism due to some misconceptions about it.  These are just two examples, but I think it’s evident what I was trying to do. I wanted those outside fundamentalism to respect us. I thought that Peter Ruckman, Jack Schaap, and Phil Kidd did too much damage. But I was equally convinced that they didn’t represent me. So I wanted to build a bridge.

A good friend of mine, who has been out of the IFB box longer than I, recently told me that virtually everyone he knows who leaves fundamentalism goes through a “bridge building stage” first. In our dreams, fundamentalists and evangelicals are working together. But not just any. Not Jeff Owens and Joel Osteen. Not Sam Gipp and Tony Campolo. Not Texe Marrs and Desmond Tutu. I’m talking thinking fundamentalits and conservative evangelicals: Paul Chappell and John Piper. Clarence Sexton and John MacArthur. David Cloud and D.A. Carson. That was our dream. That was my dream. In fact, that’s where my personal idea of Biblicism comes from. I imagined two circles, one representing evangelicalism and one representing fundamentalism. On the outside of each one are names of men who represent their respective extremes, but toward the inside, men who, because of their passion for the Bible, were unlike the rest of their movement. The two circles converged, forming a third in the middle, and this third circle I thought of as Biblicism. That was my bridge. And I wanted to use my life as a vehicle to bring that about. I don’t think I was alone in this thinking.

Katie Couric: So, Damien, are you now willing to admit that your bridge idea was wishful thinking?

Damien: Yes, Katie.

I can honestly say I had the best intentions, and I think others with the same ideas would agree. Here was my thinking:

biblicism1The Bible is the center of all that we do. In fact, I argue that real compromise is not found in the “middle” but in going to the left or to the right of the Word of God. Just as much as there exists a plethora of compromise within evangelicalism, fundamentalism is filled with compromise. Within evangelicalism, the compromise usually tended toward liberalism. Within fundamentalism, the compromise usually tended toward extremism. If we are consistent, we’d have to detest Open Theism as much as King James Regenerationism and the New Perspectives as much as No Lordship. As I observed some of the trends in both camps, I hopefully believed that, as men were faithful to the Word of God, the two found common ground. 

I also noticed that men in both groups were passionate about theology, had many of the same heroes (Spurgeon, Carey, Edwards, Machen, Warfield), and both refuted false teaching such as Roman Catholicism, higher criticism, and ecumenism. I still believe all this, but I don’t think that necessitates the two movements converging.

Here’s a few reasons why I think any attempt to “rescue” or “rebuild” fundamentalism or to build a bridge between the two movements would be in vain:

1. The fundamentalists don’t want to.

2. The evangelicals don’t want to.

3. It’s self defeating – a fundamentalist who “holds hands” with an evangelical is committing a grave sin against his fundamentalist background, and would cease to be a fundamentalist.

4. Christianity is not about movements. Obviously, it’s about Christ. Moreover, Christ works through His churches. I’m not minimizing the importance of movements – they can be blessed and used of God (think Reformation). But they come and go, and one’s allegiance to Christ should never be tied to his allegiance to a movement. My main concern is the Great Commission as it is working through the church.

5. I was wrong about my perception of fundamentalists. Even the leaders that I considered to be more moderate and balanced are just as wrong doctrinally as those who we all regard as extreme.

Having listened to Phil Johnson’s lecture on fundamentalism several times now, I get what he’s saying. When I first head it, I was relieved – someone else is saying the things I’ve been thinking. When I analyzed it more, I was upset. He concluded that, as a movement, “fundamentalism deserves to die.” I’m pretty sure that my main motivation to speak up was to counter that statement. However, as time went by, I realized that he was speaking only of the modern brand of fundamentalism that was tied to a specific circle. He was not saying that the things that made fundamentalism great historically must die; just this extreme offshoot which holds to views that the early fundamentalists would not have held. I agree, then, it deserves to die. No one should try to kill it, it will self-destruct. They’re still fighting each other as we speak.

Historic fundamentalism still lives, I believe, through those outside of the movement currently employing that term. I truly believe that MacArthur, Mohler, Sproul, White, Carson, and the like have taken the mantle of Warfield, Torrey, Machen, Pierson, and Robertson. The utlra-separatist, KJV-only, legalistic brand is not true fundamentalism.

But let me be clear – it’s the movement and its particularities that I would like to see dissolve, not the people and their churches. I still pray for the ministries with which I was involved, and their leaders. I have no malice toward them and wish them all the best. I hope their churches thrive and bring glory to Christ. I hope I can still fellowship with them. But as much as they disagree with my views and seek to show others why they’re wrong, I am doing the same thing to them. It is never meant to be taken personally. I know that if one follows some of the links I have on this blog he will find some who say they were victims of fundamentalism. I don’t doubt their stories. And I think their stories need to be told. But it’s not mine. I’m no victim. I have no bitterness. My disagreements lie in doctrine, not people. The Lord has blessed me with wonderful people in my life, many involved in the IFB movement, who I am still so thankful for. The views expressed on this blog are personally mine and by no means do I consider them infallible. I hope to provide some answers for those involved in fundamentalism who are questioning some of the particular doctrines therein. 

Therefore, I will focus on the issues, Lord willing. I will be starting very soon a series on King James Onlyism. I will get into other issues in fundamentalism as well as in evangelicalism, apologetics, theology, sermons, observations, and pretty much whatever else I want. Hey, it’s my blog! But I just want it to be known that none of it is done in order to usher in some new movement. It is here to be a help to fellow Christians, in whatever “circle” they may find themselves. As always, I am more than happy to receive feedback and am willing to admit when I’m wrong. So, will there ever be a bridge that unites Christianity? I believe so, but it’s not going to be because of any of us. It can only take an act of God. Praise the Lord, that is the desire of His heart. I can’t wait for the day that He builds that bridge!

John 17:9 I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. 
10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. 
11 And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. (ESV)

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6 comments so far

  1. TJ on

    Well said, Bro.

  2. Kent Brandenburg on

    I say this as respectfully as possible DT, but I don’t think you get it still. Maybe you do, but I don’t think you do. I’ve been around a little longer than you and I walked away from fundamentalism over 10 years ago. You probably still think I am a fundamentalist, but if you read my series over at Jackhammer, you know that I’m not. I do think a Return to Biblicism is the answer, so you’ve got that right. What is Biblicism though? I’m reading a book right now, Volume 2 of Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics by Richard A. Muller. He looks at the history of the doctrine of Scripture even back into medieval writings. It helps that he can read German and Latin, because quite a few of his sources were written in those two languages. If he couldn’t read those languages, he would have very little to read that sheds historical light on that period. He made this statement on p. 38: “If the doctrine was no different, the origin of the Reformation must be found, not in the declaration of a new principle but rather in the way in which the principle was set forth.” In a lot of ways, everyone you’re talking about is a “Biblicist.” And yet they’re all different. Why? Because they don’t all approach the Bible the same way. I believe that you are still caught up with institutionalized, movement-based Christianity (and I’m not talking about the church as an institution). You’re just moving from one set of heroes to another, ones that certainly come across as being smarter than the ones you had. You are looking at the Bible through a different grid, but it is still a institutional lens.

    You read me and you see that I’m “against pants” on women, so that must be leftover revivalist fundamentalism affecting my position. Wrong. I didn’t take that position until I preached an expositional series through Deuteronomy. I’m TR/Masoretic, so I must have gotten that through some institutionalization as well. Wrong Again. I have scriptural presuppositions. I listen to James White debate Bart Ehrman and it just reinforces the lack of presuppositionalism. It’s a skirmish on evidentiary turf. Whose theory holds up best to scientific scrutiny? The Bible is dealt with no differently than a secular book. I could say more, but you get the gist of what I’m saying.

  3. Damien T Garofalo on

    I think you subscribe to many of the same particularities that define modern, IFB fundamentalism. However, I respect the fact that you are among the few that recognize that there is a big difference between the historic fundamentalist movement of the 20th century and your own brand. So I totally agree with you – technically, you’re not a fundamentalist.
    But I am. And the “heroes” that you’re talking about are closer to that original fundamentalism than those I once had. This post was a bit of a personal testimony that basically says its useless to try to tie together IFB fundamentalists with conservative evangelicals (the real heirs to the fundamentalist movement.)
    I never claimed to know the motivations behind why you or any other individual might hold to a particular standard of doctrine. I can only speak for myself and those who have revealed to me how they came up with holding to them. That’s why I have no interest in engaging a “rebuilding” process or a get-to-the-heart-of-the-matter type thing (although that might be part of it), I just want to talk about the issues. So hopefully I can talk about things like the KJVO issue without tying it to the movement. At least I’ll try my best.

  4. Will on

    Kent, I get what you’re saying and I respect your stand. In our few exchanges, I think you are very much a biblicist and a maverick in the sense, that you will follow what the Bible says regardless of what the institutionalized IFB camp thinks or believes. Your post a while back on Lordship salvation would get you killed with most IFB’s although your stand on the KJV is in line with theirs although yours is more intellectually informed.

    Damien, I am really happy to read this post, you and I are almost exactly in the same boat. However, since we come from a “movement” with heroes, we will have the tendency to move toward a different set of heroes and another movement. The leaders that you’ve mentioned are some of the same guys I’ve been listening to for a few years now. When I agree with someone like John MacArthur on 90% of stuff, the other 10% can be easily winked at because of a new bias. Let’s be careful not to do that either. There’s nobody’s team that has it all together. As much as I personally like John Piper for example, there is some separation issues that I think he is not careful enough about.

    Anyways, hey…let’s get in touch…shoot me an email on my blogger profile.

  5. Damien T Garofalo on

    Will,

    thanks for the kind comments. I agree, and early in this journey I caught myself doing just that. However, the reason I posted what I did was to focus in on the fact that I’ll be tackling issues, period. I will probably begin with issues that plague fundamentalism first (KJVO for one) because I’m most familiar with them. But as time moves on, I have no problem raising issues within evangelicalism. Another problem is sometimes I think we do the same thing with guys like Piper that we accuse Hyles’ followers of doing, hero worship. This is why I added the subtitle, “a Christocentric approach” – I want it to be about Jesus.
    I guess the reason why my I don’t have any links to modern fundamentalists is because even though I disagree with the guys I do have, they aren’t as dogmatic about it. I think that’s the main difference. I have links to blogs and websites that argue against things that I might argue for here. Yet, we still have fellowship. However, it seems that the fundamentalists I could link to are vehemently opposed to what I stand for and would never work together with me. That’s the difference.

  6. David T. on

    Yeah… at first you want everybody to get along. They won’t. Then you want everybody to follow you. They don’t. Then you just want to be respected. You aren’t. Then you begin to struggle to respect them. You can’t. Then you get over it and it’s at that point you leave the fold like a sailor sick of the sea, who plans to walk as far as he can with an oar over his shoulder until someone asks him “What kind of weird stick is that?” at which point he’ll settle down. And you don’t go back.
    I, for my part, have made this journey, and went from the Hyles crowd to an conservative, non-Reformed evangelical church positioned somewhere between MacArthur and BJU where almost no one has heard of Hyles and many people come from non-Baptist backgrounds.


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