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More Credit Where Credit Is Due

More Credit Where Credit Is Due
Kevin T. Bauder

Last Sunday was amazing. While I’ve been attending fundamental Baptist churches since I was four years old, this was the first time I’d ever heard a pastor open Sunday School by saying, “Let’s begin by singing a psalm.” Not reading a psalm. Not singing a chorus. Singing a psalm.

The congregation did sing the psalm—actually, a recent paraphrase of Psalm 1. It was instructive. It was ordinate. It was edifying. And it was just the beginning of another wonderful Sunday with a little congregation near Houston that I’ve visited three times now.

The church has a young pastor who is laboring to bring biblical exposition, careful discipleship, and sober worship into a part of the world where these things are exceedingly rare. He is a man of God whose loves include the Scriptures, careful thinking, wide reading, and the people whom God has placed under his care. While the congregation is small, God is clearly doing a work there.

This young pastor is hardly unique. Over the past several years, God has allowed me to catch a glimpse of at least one part of the future. That future consists in the labors, vision, and priorities of young pastors in small churches scattered across the country.

They are not the product of a single church or school. They have received their formal training in places as scattered as Minneapolis, Detroit, Clearwater, Lansdale, Watertown, Dunbar, Greenville, Ankeny, and Chandler. Often they do not know of one another’s existence. Each, however, is laboring in the flock over which God has made him an overseer.

Monday afternoon gave me the opportunity to meet with another one of these young pastors, this time in a donut shop somewhere in Kansas. We talked about the small pastorate that he accepted just six months ago. We also discussed the administrative position in a large institution that he had declined. He was frank about his reasons: “I just want to pastor.” His pulpit exposition and his care of souls are already exerting influence far beyond his small town.

Then there is the pastor in a small community in southwestern Minnesota. The town is dying as young people move away, and yet this pastor’s emphasis upon expository preaching and personal discipleship keeps drawing new and young families to the church. This unknown pastor in this little church in this dying town is sending out men into the ministry.

A couple of months back, a Central Seminary graduate who pastors north of Minneapolis called me with an unusual request. He was going to be traveling and he was afraid that he might not be back in time for his Sunday services. He wanted to know whether I could be there with a sermon in hand, just in case he was unavailable to preach. Well, he was home in plenty of time, so I had the chance to see both pastor and church at work. Again, sober worship was coupled with obvious pastoral care and with a strong emphasis upon expository preaching.

Without any human applause, pastors like this are ministering in places like Elko, Nevada; Colorado Springs, Colorado; Hendersonville, North Carolina; Otsego, Minnesota; Phillips, Wisconsin; Salt Lake City, Utah; Jerseyville, Illinois; Lapeer, Michigan; and Cary, North Carolina. They are scattered here and there throughout Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Michigan. I’ve found enough of them in enough unexpected places to believe that their numbers must be significant, even if they are generally overlooked.

These young pastors are often aware of each other only within small circles, but they tend to share common concerns. One is that they care about the same things. They care about theology, for example. They want to probe and to question, to explore the parameters and intricacies of the system of truth. They tend to react against shallow revivalism and, because their main models of theological sobriety are often (not always) Calvinists, they often (not always) become Calvinistic.

They care about personal devotion. While they may hold different understandings of progressive sanctification, they react strongly against any form of rule-driven externalism. They strongly desire holiness, both in their own lives and in the lives of those to whom they minister, but they are suspicious of attempts to calibrate holiness by lists of regulations.

They care about people. They do not see the members of their churches as means to an end. Rather, the spiritual transformation of those members is their end, their telos, their goal. They delight, not only in reaching the sinner for Christ, but in seeing the ongoing fruit of repentance in the lives of those who have been genuinely redeemed. They do not throw away those who fail, and when they are reviled they do not respond with recriminations. They pour themselves into people’s lives, and they welcome older mentors who will pour themselves into their lives.

They care about preaching. They have enormous confidence in the Word of God when it is rightly understood, explained, and applied. They labor to understand the text of Scripture and they work hard to make every sermon a lesson, not only in what the Bible says, but in how to understand the Bible. They are impatient with Christian leaders who try to pass off shallow rhetoric or manipulation as preaching.

Because they realize that the responsibilities of ministry are grave, these men tend to care about preparation. Many of them pursue seminary before entering ministry. Others realize in ministry that their undergraduate training or the one-year M.A. has left them poorly equipped to face the challenges, so they return to school for additional preparation. Even if they cannot get more school, they begin to read widely and voraciously, and they take full advantage of the power of the internet to find good preaching and teaching. Increasingly, these young men often pursue advanced degrees, not so that they can teach in an academic setting, but so that they can minister more effectively in face of the complexities of the present world.

These young men are, as a class, the best that fundamentalism has ever produced. Yet they often feel like outsiders in the world of “Old Fundamentalism.” The structures, institutions, and concerns of the various branches of Movement Fundamentalism have been shaped by experiences that seem very dissimilar to their own. They often question the value of the older structures, and particularly of the organized fellowships. While they are genuinely grateful for what older generations have given them, they are also keenly aware of some of the failures of the older leadership. They tend to start out skeptical of the older leaders, and any attempt to stampede them, to twist their arms, or to dismiss their concerns has the effect of convincing them that they have little or no place within institutional fundamentalism.

Incidentally, these are not typically the fellows who are visible as bloggers on the internet. They may have blogs, and they may sometimes express concerns through them, but they are simply too full of the work of ministry to spend their time lighting up pixels across the country.

These young men highly value fellowship with their peers in ministry, whether young or old. Because they are suspicious of fundamentalist institutionalism, however, their fellowship tends to be ad hoc. They seek one another out informally and across institutional lines. They talk together, read together, laugh together, and pray together. When ministry becomes heartbreaking, they weep together.

These are not the men who are trying to leave fundamentalism. Nevertheless, they don’t really see a fundamentalism to stay in—in fact, they aren’t even quite sure what it means to “stay in” fundamentalism. They just want to pastor churches, almost all of them small and virtually unrecognized.

Certainly large ministries have their place. A church is not necessarily wrong if it chooses to multiply members and staff within a single congregation. Larger churches like Fourth Baptist in Minneapolis, Inter-City Baptist in Allen Park, or Colonial Baptist in Virginia Beach can often provide ministries that bless and help other churches. I admire such works and men who can pastor them well.

Nevertheless, I cannot escape the suspicion that the vast majority of the Lord’s work is being accomplished in little churches led by pastors whose names are seldom heard outside their own ministries. These are faithful men, laboring without human commendation, sometimes under heartbreaking circumstances. They are the ones I admire most. If there is any hope for the future, it almost certainly lies with them.

Hold such in esteem.

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This essay is by Kevin T. Bauder , Research Professor of Theology at Central Baptist Theological Seminary. Not every one of the professors, students, or alumni of Central Seminary necessarily agrees with every opinion that it expresses.

 
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Posted by on November 12, 2011 in Fundamentalism

 

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Credit Where Credit Is Due, Part 2

Credit Where Credit Is Due, Part 2
Kevin T. Bauder

After graduating from college, I had the providential fortune to arrive at seminary just as William Fusco took up the presidency. In addition to the burden of leadership, Fusco was caring for an invalid and dying wife. Through the deep trial of his (and her) faith, the character of Christ shone with uncommon clarity. Without ever abandoning the key principles of his fundamentalism, Fusco consistently displayed a gentle spirit of kindness and personal sacrifice that I have rarely seen matched and have never seen surpassed. He was a man who overflowed with love of the Lord and love for people.

During my first year at seminary, I also met two professors whose teaching has marked me for life. The first, Charles Hauser, taught me more about dispensationalism and Christian living than anyone else. His most important contribution lay in his example. He modeled stability in the middle of trials, and his steadiness was as instructive to me as his classroom content.

The second, Myron Houghton, was George’s twin brother. Myron’s grasp of systematic theology exceeded anything that I had ever seen or thought possible. It seemed that he conversed with nearly every theological perspective, from multiple varieties of evangelicals to Roman Catholics to Adventists. He was constantly learning and constantly thinking. He significantly influenced my soteriology, but his real impact was on my ecclesiology. He made the case for ecclesiastical separation, including what is sometimes called “secondary separation.” Incidentally, it was substantially the same case that appears in Ernest R. Pickering’s book, Biblical Separation, of which Myron was later to become the editor. The key points of my understanding today do not depart from his ideas in any significant way.

My second year at seminary brought two more professors whose influence was both instant and profound. To this day, I consider Robert Delnay to be the best-rounded model for the life of the mind I have ever known. As a historian, he told a coherent story that provided a framework for understanding the current state of Christianity. As an exegete, he made the text of the Greek New Testament come alive for his students. As a homiletician, he taught a theory of rhetoric that could reach the affections without stooping to manipulate the appetites. From the beginning it was clear that he held the convictions of a fundamentalist, but he had a wonderfully sardonic and irreverent way of deflating the pompous self-appointed gatekeepers of the faith. Beyond all of this, he introduced a kind of spiritual urgency and intimacy with God that one can only label (as A. W. Tozer did) mysticism.

My second year also brought Ralph Turk to teach on our campus. Turk had spent most of his ministry as a pastor, but his intellectual curiosity took him into some unusual places. Ours may have been the only fundamentalist seminary ever to offer a seminar course on the thought of Kierkegaard—much of it taught in Turk’s living room. I’m grateful to this day.

Other professors on that campus were also influential. Robert Myrant taught me to love historical theology in addition to church history. R. Bruce Compton not only taught me Greek and Hebrew, but also modeled valuable lessons in the meaning of friendship. Gary Gordon was the friend who first drew me to the lectern and who guided me through the faltering early stages of teaching.

As I reflect back upon those formative years, I can see where my experience of fundamentalism differed from the experience that I hear so many describe. In fact, it differed in several ways. Among the most important are the following.

First, the men who most influenced me were utterly honest. They hid nothing, either about fundamentalism or about themselves. They were willing to admit their own faults and weaknesses, just as they were willing to admit the faults and weaknesses of the fundamentalist movement. Since they created no illusions for me, they left me little room for disillusionment.

Second, these were people who valued the life of the mind and the broad pursuit of learning. They loved and pursued an increasingly deep grasp of the Scriptures, of the system of theology, and of the life of faith. They also displayed and fostered an inveterate curiosity about ideas with which they did not agree. They were willing to travel outside of their own intellectual neighborhoods in order to make sense of other points of view. They showed me that dispassionate understanding was fundamental to a strong and clear defense of the faith—the only dividing line between polemics and mere propaganda.

Third, these people were genuinely humble. They might be gripped by big ideas, but they never aspired to be big names. They were not climbers, politicians, gatekeepers, or power mongers. Somebody once pressured me to name my heroes. In a sense, that’s what I’m doing now. The problem is that my heroes are all people who are unknown to the people who want to know who my heroes are. My heroes were content to be who they were and to minister in the calling that God had given them.

Fourth, my mentors gave genuine evidence of the fruit of the Spirit and of a personal walk with God. Since the institutions that they served were smaller, I had the opportunity to observe them in a very personal way. Where I went to seminary, the faculty and staff were constantly subject to real hardships and afflictions. They proved themselves in the midst of adversity and displayed the character of Christ with all sincerity.

Two of their virtues stand out. One is that they were temperate men, not given to bombast or overstatement. The other is that they were gentle men. Even when standing firmly for the truth, they evidenced a commitment to the care of souls. The consequences of their words and deeds mattered to them, and they were deeply concerned to use power judiciously and rightly. They refused ever knowingly to manipulate people, let alone to coerce them.

Through the years I have met more of their kind: Donald Brong in Iowa, for example, or Douglas McLachlan in Minnesota. Because God graciously brought such men to me at the crucial decision points in my life, my experience of fundamentalism has been dramatically different than the stories that I hear other men tell.

To be sure, I’ve seen my share of power-hungry, manipulative, idiosyncratic, truth-twisting, unethical, and even pathological fundamentalists. Ever since that conversation with George Houghton, however, I’ve believed that they do not genuinely represent what fundamentalism is. Rather, they are like an infection within the body of fundamentalism.

Such men stand under the judgment of the idea of fundamentalism. If fundamentalism is a biblical idea (and I believe it is), then they also stand under the judgment of the Word of God. They are best dismissed with incredulity, held at a distance, and otherwise ignored. You might call that “separation.”

The genuine leaders of fundamentalists do not go to extremes. Instead, they go back to basics. They do not huff and puff. They do not romp and stomp. They are not given to full-auto verbal assaults. If they bare their teeth and draw their swords, it is only when the innocent and powerless need to be defended. Rather, they faithfully and quietly minister in the callings that God has given them.

Hold such in esteem.

 
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Posted by on November 12, 2011 in Fundamentalism

 

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Credit Where Credit Is Due, Part 1

Credit Where Credit Is Due, Part 1
Kevin T. Bauder

When I was a teenager, the most visible fundamentalists in America were Carl McIntire and Lester Roloff. McIntire was feuding with the American Council of Christian Churches, the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches, several leaders within his own Bible Presbyterian Synod, and the federal government of the United States—virtually simultaneously. Lester Roloff was feuding with the state of Texas. I can remember him sending life-size cardboard cutout pictures of himself to our church in Iowa. He was trying hard to get enough public support to force the Texas regulators to back away from his ministry. The impression that I had of fundamentalist leaders was that they were hard-bitten, bellicose, and arrogant.

This impression had been reinforced through the years by the traveling preachers to whom I had been exposed. These men usually called themselves evangelists, but they were essentially hired guns whose job was to inflame the fears and the sense of shame of the faithful. They could be very personable, laughing and joking one moment, but then the next moment they would be screaming at you because the Communists were going to take over the United States before 1972 unless you went to the altar RIGHT NOW.

I would never have dreamed of criticizing any of these men. Were they not paragons of spiritual insight? Were they not models of Christian virtue? Who was I to call them into account?

Because of their influence, however, I was quite sure that I did not want to be a fundamentalist. Even after experiencing a call to vocational ministry and returning to a fundamentalist Bible oollege for training, I remained unpersuaded of the value of fundamentalism. During my early years as a college student, it seemed to me that the main activity of fundamentalism was to manufacture unreasonable ways of regulating personal conduct.

This was my frame of mind when I found myself in George Houghton’s summer module on the history of fundamentalism. I had signed up for the course only because nothing else was available to fill the hours. Within a week, Houghton completely reoriented my thinking.

The process began during a break at mid-morning on the first day of class. Sitting across the table from Houghton, I opined that I really didn’t think that I wanted to be a fundamentalist. He asked me why, and I gave him my impression of people like McIntire and Roloff. His response still echoes in my mind: “If that is what fundamentalism is, then I don’t want to be one, either.” I was floored. It had never occurred to me that the word fundamentalism might stand for more than one thing.

Once that distinction had been suggested, I became aware of the many fundamentalists in my life whom I had never really thought of as fundamentalists. For example, my boyhood pastor was a kind and prayerful man who invested hours upon hours in my wellbeing. My own parents had lived sacrificially for several years when my father left a successful career in management to train for the pastorate. Yet my mind had never registered that these people might represent fundamentalism as genuinely as public figures like McIntire and Roloff.

During the remainder of the class, Houghton did the best thing for me. He told the truth. He talked about the leaders of fundamentalism as real people, not as anointed archetypes. He allowed me to glimpse their virtues and their vices, both of which they displayed in abundance.

Most importantly, Houghton helped me to grasp the idea of fundamentalism. Having this category in my mental furniture proved crucial, for I could now measure the worth of any leader by the idea of fundamentalism rather than measuring the worth of fundamentalism by its leaders. Houghton himself began this process during the week of class, explaining where some leaders had been faithful to the idea while other leaders had subverted it.

Along these lines, Houghton introduced the category that I now call hyper-fundamentalism. He called it fundamentalism plus. The idea is simple: some self-identified fundamentalists attempt to front-load the term so as to gain standing for their persons, organizations, theological peculiarities, practical idiosyncrasies, aberrant attitudes, or ethical inconsistencies. The message that I carried away from class was that I did not have to identify with those people in order to be a consistent fundamentalist.

Coming away from that class, I could see fundamentalism and fundamentalists in a different light. For example, I had known both the past president (John L. Patten) and the current president (David Nettleton) of my college since I was about thirteen. I had never really thought of them as fundamentalist figures. Now, however, I could see in Patten a kindly and pious gentleman, and I found in Nettleton a model of broad learning and humanity.

For me, Nettleton came to typify balanced fundamentalism. He strongly emphasized expository preaching at a time when many fundamentalists were noted for storytelling or pulpit rants. He was aligned with the more separatistic wing of the Regular Baptist movement, but he could still invite chapel speakers like Peter Masters (an amillennialist) or Lehman Strauss (a conservative evangelical radio preacher). Engrossed with theology, he also took a delighted interest in the broad range of human learning. He was a decent amateur astronomer and a good enough sailor that he once planned a voyage through the Bermuda triangle (circumstances intervened to curtail the excursion). A prominent figure among Regular Baptists, he led as a statesman and not as a politician.

Ranged alongside Nettleton and Houghton was a teacher who breathed pastoral vision: Robert Domokos. He was a man of compassion who gave himself to ministry—indeed, he was my pastor for a short while. Domokos exuded a love for people and for the task of shepherding. He began to teach me the importance of a pliable heart as well as an active mind.

 
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Posted by on November 12, 2011 in Fundamentalism

 

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