Becoming a Fundamentalist
Growing up in Covington, Indiana from 1962 to 1974, I never heard of fundamentalism. The major terms for me were Jesus, Bible, saved, church, and Baptist. I didn't think I was reading the King James; I was just reading 'the Bible.' Everything was about pleasing the Lord. My dad took Old Testament survey at a church institute in Danville, Illinois and heard about "Christian college," and our proceeding move to Watertown, Wisconsin and Maranatha Baptist Bible College made us fundamentalists.
Maranatha proclaimed itself to be fundamental Baptist. "Fundamental" differentiated Maranatha from most Baptists. If someone was fundamental Baptist, he wasn't conservative or American or General or Southern Baptist, among other associations or conventions. And since Maranatha was Baptist, it wasn't Presbyterian or Methodist or Bible either, unless it was Bible with "Baptistic" next to it. Only those who would identify themselves as Baptists would preach there. However, Maranatha was more fundamentalist in its practice than it was Baptist. For instance, if someone fellowshiped with Southern Baptists, Maranatha would separate from him; however, if he fellowshiped with certain Presbyterians, of the Ian Paisley variety, infant sprinklers, that would not hinder fellowship (Bob Jones, Jr and III).
Even though Maranatha itself did not teach revivalism (I never heard it there), it accepted revivalists. Revivalism was neither taught nor was it exposed or challenged. We had many revivalist preachers into the school, who preached something that was different than what we heard taught. At the annual soulwinning and missionary conference, Maranatha brought in John R. Rice and Jack Hyles, Hyles every year I was in Watertown. Jack Hyles also spoke every year at Maranatha week at Lucerne Christian Conference center in Northern California, usually along with Rod Bell. I was there for three of those weeks traveling for the school, and Hyles would visit the first half of the week and Bell the second. The room was packed until Wednesday for Hyles, leaving a handful of people for Bell's sessions. We heard revivalist preaching and thinking proclaimed at Maranatha and we were also taught to listen to it without being critical ("Don't criticize the man of God.").
In the classroom at Maranatha, students were taught something very different than all of fundamentalism, both revivalist and non-revivalist. Students during the time I was there were taught historic Baptist theology. I believe that was what was most distinct about Maranatha. Maranatha printed two sets of books: the two volume hardback A History of Baptists by Thomas Armitage and the thin paperback Evaluating New Testament Versions by Everett Fowler. It was often reported that professor Richard Weeks had the largest private Baptist history library in the world. We could check out volumes from his collection for research and outside reading. Maranatha taught local-only ecclesiology, the perpetuity of the church, the Baptist doctrine of Spirit baptism, and a very consistent, strong position on the Baptist distinctives. Anything else was wrong. Everything but a historic Baptist viewpoint was castigated in many of the required classes: Baptist Polity, Baptist History, Revelation, and Acts. In these classes, being a Baptist was far more important than being a fundamentalist. That spirit of the school clashed with the concept of fundamentalism.
Example was what caused Maranatha graduates to be fundamentalists, either of the revivalist (Hyles, Rice, etc.) or non revivalist (Bob Jones, Weniger, etc.) variety. Fundamentalists preached in chapel. Fundamentalist churches sent their children to the college. Fundamentalism was akin to New Testament Christianity then and there.
Initial Doubts about Fundamentalism
In college and graduate school at Maranatha, I first began to doubt fundamentalism. I don't think I would have been able to explain them, but I know the doubts were there. At least three components contributed to my original suspicions about fundamentalism, and not necessarily in the following order.
I heard little exposition of scripture and even less good exposition in fundamentalism. We began to hear more and better by the time I reached graduate school. We were learning sound hermeneutics and accumulating the tools and skills for exegesis in class, but we were not hearing many good examples in chapel from which to model. Arno Q. Weniger Jr. preached series through books, but something was missing in application. I listened to evangelicals on the radio, who, albeit weaker, offered a better model for biblical preaching than what I heard in chapel and class. Some of the content of those evangelicals was off, but how they went about it was more in tune with "preaching the Word."
When Hyles came to Maranatha, he often twisted passages to fit his sermon, which should have been exposed, dissected, and rejected, but wasn't. He gave a horrible example of what preaching ought to be. He became the poster-boy for choosing a short text and then fleeing from it with incredible stories and illustrations. There was a lot wrong with what and how Hyles preached, and yet he was exalted, seen as great.
We had preaching from the old Bob Jones University graduates, thinking of Rod Bell and Ed Nelson, who often allegorized Old Testament texts with their preaching. I remember Rod Bell preaching on Elijah after Mt. Carmel, seeing the cloud the size of a man's fist, and a man's hand has five fingers, the number five represents this or that, so the cloud represents that. Ed Nelson preached on Elisha making the axehead to swim and the axehead represented this and the handle represented this. Often the meaning of Old Testament names would provide the basis for whole sermons. There was no explanation for why these things meant what they did---much like Hyles, these men had some special spiritual insight that could only be had by the chosen few. Lez Heinze came and showed us how that the seven churches in Revelation 2-3 were actually representative of church ages, with us presently inhabiting the Laodicean age, no exegetical basis provided for why these weren't just seven actual churches. Preaching seemed to be a spiritual experience that circumvented plain meaning.
Fundamentalism featured and still does feature the preaching of "evangelists." Evangelists travel the United States or a region of the U.S., at that time staying between Sunday and Friday and then traveling on Saturday, giving rise to the Monday to Friday, five suits and five sermons. They either had "revival meetings" or "evangelistic meetings." If you look for this pattern in Scripture, I think you know that it won't be there. This whole thing is an invention that you can trace back to that late 19th century, maybe further if evangelists came out of the period of the Methodist circuit riders. Bob Jones Sr. himself was an "evangelist." John R. Rice was an "evangelist." Fundamentalism was tied closely into its "evangelists."
Evangelists were the flat out celebrity preachers in my day. Most every one of them had his special schtick for preaching---story telling, screaming or yelling, humor, gigantic chunks of scripture memory, ventriloquism, 'gospel music,' puppets, and more. Many times sermons were scripted like a dramatic presentation to get the most effect out of the gestures, rising and falling of the voice, timing, pauses, and preached dozens and even hundreds of times. Some evangelists were experts as well at the invitation at the end, to squeeze the most possible number of decisions out of the crowd, often an indicator of the success or failure of the night. Maranatha kicked off each semester usually with an evangelist as a type of "spiritual emphasis." The role of the modern evangelist fit with a view of sanctification that was encouraged by the revivalists, looking to a secondary spiritual experience after salvation that would bring the people to a state of "dedication."
I recognize that politics are all over the place, including the world at large, and in evangelicalism, but fundamentalism was and is rife with politics. I saw this firsthand when I was in college and graduate school. Fundamentalist politics made my head spin with loyalties transcending biblical obedience. The successful churches were the big churches and you knew you were a success if you were a common chapel speaker or often invited for fundamentalist meetings and conferences. You knew you arrived if you were a big shot in a fundamentalist institution
The politics were found in fundamentalism and on a fundamentalist campus. Being a big man on campus (BMOC) could send you to a premier church or position, that would in turn make you a big man in fundamentalism. The young star knew how to work the system. He was especially uncritical of the problems and faux pas of fundamentalism and skilled at hob-knobbing with the right people.
At Maranatha I often wondered why we had the people we had come through. Many of them clashed what we were being taught in class, diminishing the importance of the teaching, making it as if those scriptural distinctives really didn't matter. For instance, Maranatha contradicted Bob Jones in many different ways, but those differences were ignored for the greater cause of fundamentalism.
When B. Myron Cedarholm, the founder and president, stepped aside to become chancellor, that was a big moment in the history of the school. Instead of choosing someone like him, with the same beliefs and practices, politics transformed Maranatha forever to something worse than what it was. Dr. Cedarholm chose Arno Q. Weniger Jr. to be the next president of the college. Weniger differed from Cedarholm in all the ways that made Maranatha distinct, the very reasons my family originally came to the school. Factors other than politics were surely involved, like Cedarholm's lack of financial and organizational ability, a strong talent of Weniger. Cedarholm thought Weniger had the know-how to help rescue the school. Weniger had a growing church, employing some of the strategies he learned at Hyles' pastor's school to reach the size it attained. Weniger took over in the middle of my senior year and old loyalties took priority over belief and practice, resulting in massive changes at Maranatha. I didn't have to wait to graduate to watch the school turn into something drastically different.
Certain faculty members never should have retained their positions under Cedarholm, but they did by the force of the sheer loyalty that he held for fundamentalists who had stood with him in past fundamentalist conflicts. Some of them were chopped by Weniger for different reasons. After Cedarholm moved to chancellor and the school began changing, many faculty members metamorphosized into loyal members of the new administration. The changes in belief and practice did not cause them to skip a beat. It was then I found out who they really were. They never were loyal to the biblical beliefs and practices distinct to the school, but to their own positions and agendas.
A lot of people in fundamentalist institutions, I think, assume that the way that they operate is just what can be expected from a Christian organization. They know that if you're going to make an omelet, you're going to have break a few eggs on the way. All of us are sinners and in a struggle toward ultimate sanctification or glorification, but to get there, unscriptural behavior must be unacceptable. The accomplish godly goals, spiritual weaponry must be employed. In so many cases, I saw carnality as the norm for reaching desired aims in a fundamentalist organization.
Fundamentalism is not a scriptural movement. It has some biblical aspects to it, but as a whole it does not conform to a biblical paradigm or template. To follow the Bible within fundamentalism is like trying to store the new wine in old wineskins. There is no way that the Bible can can fit into the wineskin that is fundamentalism. Fundamentalism will always suffer, but ultimately the Bible itself will become the casualty. As a result, so much of the Bible is not obeyed in fundamentalism.
In much of fundamentalism, pragmatism is the norm, with the end justifying the means. It's practical, if it works, within certain fairly broad parameters. It is often doing what it takes to maintain size, keep growing in numbers, and to meet payrolls. I saw this firsthand. I hadn't seen it all. I was still very naive. I thought these preachers had been dropped down from heaven. But I found out otherwise.
My last year of graduate school at Maranatha I worked as the director of student activities for the college. The president was renowned for an explosive temper, which he directed at me several times, shouting and threatening. It wasn't pretty. Perhaps that style of leadership was not endemic to just fundamentalism. However, it was harbored there and cooperated with. I felt a real fear existed among the faculty and staff at that time and the environment was not suited, even if it were a church, to spiritual service. I saw there a destructive loyalty to leadership that would not benefit the school or the president. Maybe he was confronted for his behavior by those closest to him, but it was conduct that continued, a wrong model for what could produce disciples of Jesus Christ.
The fundamentalist organization was not a biblical setting for discipleship. I did not see my faculty mentors involved in evangelism. It probably occurred, but I never witnessed any personal evangelism from the faculty of the institution. We had a personal evangelism class, but it seemed to be entirely a laboratory experience that never left the classroom. I sat through many sermons on evangelism, but I knew of little to none that was actually taking place. Students evangelized. I knew that. But I remember only one occasion of our leaders involved.
More to Come
For you sprouting new psychiatrists out there, I had to think to recall what I wrote here. This isn't stuff that sticks with me. I'm a very forward looking, Philippians 3, kind of guy. My purpose here is to tell the story, however, start to finish.