This week we are featuring our March/April FrontLine, I hope you’ve seen our previous articles. In this post, I’d like to take note of several themes I see repeating in each testimonial.
First, a much repeated theme was an over-all good experience with fundamentalism, often the fruit of the ministry of godly parents. Don’t dismiss the importance of this. The very first place for Christian discipleship is the home. Christian parents who faithfully follow the Lord are most likely to reproduce Christian faith in their children. No worldly success will compensate for the disappointments that will come if your children fail to follow the faith. The Christians we highlight in our recent issue demonstrate that loving, faithful, fundamentalist Baptist parents will create the kind of positive home and church environment that motivates their children to continue in the faith of their parents.
One thing we should take away from that observation is that it is the responsibility of each one of us are fundamentalist Baptists to provide an environment of love for God and love for his church in our homes and churches. We must be disciple makers if we want to perpetuate the things we believe.
Second, although most had positive experiences with and consequently a positive view of fundamentalism, I think all were aware of weaknesses and problems within fundamentalism. Problems are unavoidable. We are fallen creatures, though redeemed, we are not yet entirely sanctified. (And it is always possible, of course, that some unredeemed professors have crept within the ranks.) We all need to be honest in our assessments, recognizing defects, working to keep the defects out of our own ministries and purging out those defects that occur within our sphere of influence. It is heartening to see both discernment of problems and loyalty to the idea that results in a clear-eyed honest fundamentalist testimony. Men and women like this will build the fundamentalism of the present and future as they take on more and more leadership in days to come.
Third, an often repeated refrain was the concern for practical holiness, suspicion of worldliness, and the desire to please the Master. While we have intramural debates on what this looks like when it comes to specific applications, the fact that we have these struggles demonstrates this as a fundamentalist distinctive. While the “worship wars” have been a subject of debate (to some degree) in evangelicalism, on average they don’t appear as concerned about this area of spiritual discernment as we do. We think forms and expressions matter. We don’t just want to think right (orthodoxy), we want to live right (orthopraxy). The struggle for biblical understanding in these areas is a mark of fundamentalism and it encourages me to see so many of these writers express that same concern.
Finally, I want to highlight one more quote from the article by my friend, Mike Riley: ““I am a fundamentalist, but my loyalty to the idea of fundamentalism is greater than my loyalty to the institutions of fundamentalism.” Some might blanch at the way he said that, but in reality it is the fundamentalist principle. When the early fundamentalists fought out the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy of the 1920s, it eventually led those Christians to abandon the institutions they had been involved in so that they could establish new ones, with the hope that those institutions might endure as more faithful in the long run.
All of us in the fundamentalist world have been influenced by one or more fundamentalist institutions in the shaping of our own distinctive testimony. We tend to be loyal to those who we so appreciate and who gave of themselves to shape us. But nothing, it appears, stays the same. If our institutions fail, we need to be loyal to God, first of all, and seek to build the work of God through institutions that are faithful to Him, even if it means stepping out and building new ones yet again.
By God’s grace and the faithfulness of his people, perhaps that won’t be necessary just now. I grew up in an evangelical denomination. My introduction to fundamentalist principles came as I saw my father and my uncle fight for orthodoxy within their group (and lose). My commitment to fundamentalism was shaped through the biblical faithfulness modeled before me in my educational and professional associations since then. I think there is life in the body yet, and I hope that younger men and women like those writing in our magazine this issue will step to the fore in the years to come to continue the testimony that others have so ably established in the past.
Don Johnson is the pastor of Grace Baptist Church of Victoria, Victoria, BC, Canada.