Saturday, August 04, 2007

Cheese, Fundamentalism, and the Antithesis, no. 1

I'm just back from vacation, having waded through over 150 (!) email and am now surfing the net to catch up on what I've missed. One thing I missed was the lively conversation going on at Ref21 between my friends, Rick Phillips and Carl Trueman, about cheese (not sure how that got in there), fundamentalism (especially the Bob Jones University variety), and the nature of the antithesis.

I guess I have a unique perspective on all this because I am a graduate of a fundamentalist Christian school, BJU graduate (BA, 93; MA, 94) as well as a WTS graduate (PhD, 2002; I even had Trueman on my dissertation committee!). In addition, I've spent a great deal of time writing and researching American fundamentalism as a academic, working on a book on fundamentalism in the southern Presbyterian church (yes, there was such a thing; wait till my book comes out and you will see!). So, perhaps I can put offer some insight to my friends.

Unlike many of my colleagues who graduated from "the University" and then transitioned to the Reformed faith, I have what I call a Richard Mouw/Smell of Sawdust appreciation of fundamentalism, for a number of the same reasons that Rick mentioned:
  • they take the Bible seriously, upholding supernaturalism and inerrancy;
  • they are determined to do whatever God in his Word says to do, leading to a passion for missions and evangelism;
  • they are serious about piety;
  • and, as Rick notes, they have a firm recognition that "the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever" (1 John 2:17), which leads to an emphasis upon the antithesis.
I'm personally very thankful for this part of my inheritance from my fundamentalist upbringing and education. I'm glad to call my family (my wife's siblings all married BJU grads as well) who attend fundamentalist churches brothers and sisters in Christ, glad that they raise their children in church and teach them the Bible, and glad that they love the Lord.

On the other side of the ledger, Carl is exactly right that there is a dark side of the antithesis, which often leads to an uncritical embrace and defense of the unjust status quo (e.g. in 1960, Dr. Bob Jones, Sr, published a booklet entitled, "Is Segregation Scriptural?"; and who can forget the classic title of John R. Rice, "Bobbed Hair, Bossy Wives, and Women Preachers" or his defense of free market capitalism as the "biblical" system of economics). Of course, there is a dark side of the other part of the Kuyperian inheritance--as historian Joel Carpenter as noted, common grace can often lead to secularization and has in neo-Calvinist educational institutions, both in the Netherlands and the United States (I touch on some of this in my essay, "Southern-Friend Kuyper? Robert Lewis Dabney, Abraham Kuyper, and the Limitations of Public Theology," WTJ 66 (2004): 179-201).

Likewise, there is an unhealthy cult of muscular personality that pervades fundamentalism, where individual pastors build fifedoms for their own glory (see, e.g, the wonderful study of W. B. Riley by Wayne Trollinger) and manipulate people for their own success. And of course, you can find this in the Reformed world as well, whether in the PCA or in other Reformed microdenominations. It does us well to admit that the "T" in the Reformed inheritance applies to all of us--because of total depravity, because of indwelling sin, all of our positions, ideas and ideals, can lead us astray. Really, the only thing that any of us have going for us is the steadfast love of God (Psalm 103).

Having affirmed and admitted all of this, I find myself falling back to my understanding of Reformed catholicity (though it drives my friend, D. G. Hart, bonkers)--my primary identity is a believer of Jesus and I'm called to love other believers in Jesus regardless of their spiritual maturity or theological perspective (even, shudder, Arminians). I live out this identity as a Presbyterian, committed to the wholeness of the Reformed faith as the best explanation of the Bible and eager for others to embrace the same perspective that I hold. I affirm catholicity while holding personally to the Reformed faith.

Hence, my fundamentalist friends are my brothers and sisters in Christ; they have a great deal to contribute to the life and health of Christianity in North America and around the world; they have preserved a deep love for God's Word and a passion for evangelism that would put most Reformed types to shame; and they rightly point us to the need, at times, to separate from unbelief or worldliness for the sake of personal and corporate holiness. I have a great deal to learn from them. That doesn't place them beyond critique (in the same way that I and my tradition is beyond criticism); that doesn't mean that I no longer hope they will come to embrace the doctrines of grace in the same way I have. In addition, I will continue to engage with them honestly out of my confessionally Presbyterian identity, not shading the truth of what I believe the Bible teaches.

And so, Reformed catholicity forces me to affirm that it is a good thing to partner with fundamentalist believers, like those at BJU, for the Gospel and even send our kids to their Christian schools. Even if they've never heard of aerosol cheese.


Wayne said...

"And so, Reformed catholicity forces me to affirm that it is a good thing to partner with fundamentalist believers, like those at BJU, for the Gospel and even send our kids to their Christian schools." -- Dr Lucas

Welcome Back from Vacation Dr Lucas!

Can you unpack this for me?

How can we partner with Fundamentalist believers who believe to associate with us is sin? I have 3 close friends from BJU, all Pastors. 1) The 1st has always kept in touch and is now Evangelical but his former church plant now looks like it is becoming Reformed. 2) One has become a Reformed Baptist as a result of my influence and of course God's leading. and 3) The 3rd one who still is an ironclad Fundamentalist really doesn't keep in touch with me anymore because his Fundamentalist convictions are always in conflict with my Reformed brand of Christianity.

Do you have examples of where you were able to successfully partner with Fundamentalists other than your family in your current role for the advancement of the Gospel?

Also are you saying that you would send your children to BJU? Or are you referring to secondary and post-secondary education? I don't have children as of yet but couldn't even fathom sending my children to BJU. As far as secondary or postsecondary I could understand doing so if there were no other options in your area, but even then I might consider moving to an area with a Classical Christian School?

What are your thoughts?

Kind Regards,


Baus said...

Very important response to this topic HERE:

Wayne said...

Yes thanks Baus for the link if nothing more than the courtesy of a response.

Sean Michael Lucas said...

Sorry, Wayne, that I didn't respond; didn't mean to offend. Let me see if I can take these questions and answer them, albeit it briefly.

In terms of unpacking that quote, I guess I basically meant that it is a good thing to partner with fundamentalist Protestants--they believe the gospel too. And, that may mean sending one's kids to their schools, especially if there is not a good Reformed/Presbyterian school in your town (as in Greenville).

In response to your second paragraph, I know a lot of fundamentalists who would gladly have my kids in their schools. They may not want me to preach in their pulpits (then again, that is more a Baptist thing than a fundamentalist thing); and depending on how far to the right you go on the fundamentalist spectrum there are differing opinions. Still, I'm not sure your ancedotal evidence would disqualify my basic point.

I am saying that BJU will be one of the schools we consider when my kids go to college. My wife and I both felt that we got a good education there and that we were appropriately restrained morally and socially. And so, it would be a school that we would consider (along with Covenant College and a number of other schools).

I don't have time to answer the partnering question--but the short answer to that is, yes.

Hope that helps--please know that the reason I didn't reply to this was not from lack of interest, but from lack of time. best, sml

Wayne said...

Thanks Sean for the explanation and my apologies if I reacted in haste before you had the opportunity to reply.

I also would agree wholeheartedly with the Education I received at BJU both Academically and Spiritually. It was second to none in my book. Unfortuntely I ran into some roadblocks when trying to obtain my MBA as even the University of Phoenix will not accept my undergraduate degree from BJU because it was not accredited at the time I attended. I contacted the Registar at BJU and he basically told me "Good Luck". Now that it is accredited I don't see students having as many roadblocks.

With regard to the Legalism and Arminianism at BJU I'm not sure I'd even consider it as an option for my children. I became a Calvinist at BJU under the influence of Dr Terry Rude, Dr Michael Barrett, and Dr Beale. It was Bible Doctrines class where I first read about the Decrees of God. (Supralapsarianism, Infralapsarianism, etc). But from what I understand that influence is now a thing of the past even to the point of recommending anti-Calvinist books, etc.

I appreciate your candor with regard to BJU as an option for your children and can understand why based on the merits of both the Academic and Spiritual discipline your children would recieve at the "University" I just couldn't make that choice based on the mixed message I would be sending my children in the process. But let every man be convinced in his own mind and as such I respect your position.

Kind Regards, Wayne

KC Armstrong said...

Dr. Lucas:

You mentioned that BJU would be a good option "if there is not a good Reformed/Presbyterian school in your town (as in Greenville)." In your opinion, would Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminay qualify as a "good" seminary? Or was the statement reflective of undergraduate schools?

Sean Michael Lucas said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sean Michael Lucas said...

Hi, KC: In the context about which I was writing, I was thinking specifically of primary and secondary schools (especially in reference to that sentence) and then more largely in regard to undergraduate education. As a result, GPTS would not fall into the conversation that I was pursuing. best, sml