Thursday, February 17, 2011

When I Left Fundamentalism part one

I left fundamentalism over thirteen years ago. This is my story.

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.

Preaching

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."

Politics

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.

Behavior

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.

24 comments:

Charles E. Whisnant said...

I could write the same story that you have, (I have by the way). accept I didn't go to Maranatha, I went to Bible Baptist Seminary in Arlington TX. Liberty U. and Hyle Anderson. So I have been in the thick of the fundamentalist movement.

When you are in the middle of the movement you don't see the muck and mire. You really like it a lot. Soul-winning, Charles Finney's style of revivalism is intoxicating. I was wrapped up in this until 1980. Thank the Lord I was delivered. But was considered a traitor in the fellowship. Still am today.

Gary Webb said...

Thanks for writing this brother Brandenburg. I look forward to the rest of it. My story is similar as a pastor. Got the Master of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry degrees from Bob Jones University. I appreciated what I taught. Of course, I had a very different beginning - growing up in a liberal Presbyterian church, joining an SBC church in college while attending all kinds of campus groups, & getting some charismatic indoctrination along the way. I joined an independent Baptist church about a year before going to BJU. So, my learning of the Bible was much more gradual along the way. Reading the Bible & preaching through NT books eventually led me away from the schools, fellowships, and followers of Fundamentalism. Fundamentalism is much closer to where our church stands than any other "movement", but we cannot accept the catholic church doctrine, the "non-essential" doctrines idea, the failure to follow Bible teaching on conduct, the failure to practice church discipline, the acceptance of the critical text, etc. We just want to go by the Bible without having a movement, fellowship, or school encourage us to compromise so that we can work together.

Art Dunham said...

I appreciate you posting this, Brother Kent. I believe it hits the proper chord. With your permission, I am passing it on to my assistant pastor here.

Ethan said...

Thank you for this. I'm looking forward to the rest.

PuzzlingChristian said...

I wish someday I could learn hermeneutics and skills for exegesis to not be fooled by others.

Kent Brandenburg said...

I think you'll make it Puzzling---after all, Jethro Bodine made it in the real world with only a 5th grade education.

Ken said...

Kent,

I was also at Maranatha at the same time you were and I would have to agree. In fact, before I attended Maranatha, I had spoken with my IFB pastor about where I should go to school, BJU or MBBC. He shared with me that because of our beliefs, MBBC would be the place to go. I had become an Independent Baptist about 3 years before I went to MBBC. I chose the school because I thought I should be learning more about being a Baptist. I did not know what to think when people shared the ideal with me that Dr. Weniger wanted to make MBBC the Bob Jones of the Midwest. In addition, a similar type of event happened at Calvary Baptist Theological Seminary. Dr. E.R. Jordan (Chief), and Bob Jones III ended their "feud" so to speak and all of the sudden, it was ok for Independent Baptist kids to go to BJU. I think the last 20+ years of that mindset, has really changed the dynamic regarding what it means to be an Independent Baptist. I have grown tired of the politics of fundamentalism as well, and I am glad to read your testimony of your life and where you came from. I too, have had a long and twisted road, but God continues to provide incredible insight thru His Word and His Truths. Thanks,

Ken Lengel

d4v34x said...

Bro. B.,

My experience is, of course, very similar to yours. But as Kevin Bauder says, there are some very well kept rooms in the castle. Of course, you and I differ somewhat on what defines well-kept.

Thanks for speaking the truth here. I look forward to more.

Greg Wilson said...

We went to a different colleges, but our stories are the same. You can read mine on my website.
Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

You obviously went to Maranatha a long time ago! Many of the colleges you mentioned have changed and are changing. Many of the things you said I can imagine are true but are scoffed by students there today and are embarrassing for facility. The point is the fundamentalism of 30 years ago cannot be the judge of institutions now. People grow and so do colleges. We need to have grace as people and college do that.

John said...

You obviously went to Maranatha a long time ago! Many of the colleges you mentioned have changed and are changing. Many of the things you said I can imagine are true but are scoffed by students there today and are embarrassing for facility. The point is the fundamentalism of 30 years ago cannot be the judge of institutions now. People grow and so do colleges. We need to have grace as people and colleges do grow.

David Sorenson said...

Dear brother Brandenburg:
We have never met, though I think we have had correspondence over the years. I would like to share my thought on fundamentalism. My roots are deeper than yours. My father was a fundamental Baptist pastor for approximately 50 years as was my grandfather before him. I have been in a fundamental Baptist pastoral ministry for about 40 years.

I knew B. Myron Cedarholm, Richard V. Weeks, Bud Weniger, Jack Hyles – personally, not too mention Richard V Clearwaters, E. Robert Jordan and a host of other old time fundamentalists.

However, fundamentalism is built upon principle rather than personalities and politics as you imply. There have been two historic pillars of particularly Baptist fundamentalism: (1) orthodoxy in doctrine and a willingness to separate from and apostasy, (2) separation from compromise of biblical standards. The line of demarcation between the fundamentalist movement and the evangelical movement can be summed up in one word: separation.

I can understand your reluctance to fellowship with the FBF (which has been aptly characterized as the FBJF). I also understand the problems at Hammond, from probably closer perspective than yours. I personally am not in anyone’s camp and belong to no group, association, or organization. But I am a fundamentalist and not ashamed of the term.

Your articles seem to focus on the foibles of fundamentalist leaders or the failure of fundamentalist organizations. And there certainly are foibles and failures, both in personal leadership as well as organized groups. But I am not ashamed to be associated with the old time fundamentals of the faith and those who over the decades have separated from the compromise of the new evangelicals (i.e., evangelicals).

The fundamentalist movement has never been perfect and never will be. Its leaders have often had flaws whether in Frank Norris, Jack Hyles or B. Myron Cedarholm. Colleges, associations, fellowships, and societies are comprised of imperfect people as are both you and I. Things will never be perfect until our Lord returns.

Interestingly, the fundamental Baptist movement is a loose coalition of 10,000 independent Baptist churches in America, alone. Many belong to nothing but Jesus Christ. Many move from one group to another over the decades. But the foundational principles are (1) historic Baptist in doctrine and (2) separation from compromising or apostate bodies. I close by saying once again, I am not ashamed to be called a fundamental Baptist.

David Sorenson
Duluth, MN

Kent Brandenburg said...

Hello Everyone,

I haven't been commenting yet because, I believe, if I do, I won't be left with enough time to write this story, and I do want to do that. It is not finished, for sure.

I appreciate the comments, even Stephen, who is wrong on the slander, but I understand from his perspective, his desire to defend Lansdale. I would assume that. Others would want to defend others. This is my story, however, and I am not writing everything, but what impacted leaving fundamentalism. I don't want to make conclusions right now, because I'm saving that for the end, that is, how does all this relate to leaving fundamentalism. I say that last part mainly for David Sorenson. I've written that I'm a fundamentalist by dictionary defintion, but that really isn't what fundamentalism is. I appreciate the long response and care Dr. Sorenson. Thanks for coming by. And thank you to everyone else, some more regular readers who have commented. My story isn't everyone's identical story, but I will be making a conclusion.

clarity said...

Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth: for the LORD hath spoken, I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me.
ISAIAH 1:2---Just doesn't seem to support the premise of guaranteed following i.e. salvation.

Stephen said...

Kent:

I have no interest in defending Lansdale, nothing to gain or lose either way. Since you said that professors and many grads mocked and scoffed at the KJV surely you could come up with a few names. I don't think you can. But if you can I'll admit I'm wrong.

I see that you were at Lansdale in 1984. That was my second year in a church plant under Calvary in Philadelphia, Faith Independent Baptist Church. We had preacher boys come down to knock on doors. Perhaps you were among them. I was a strong KJV advocate at the time, cocksure and righter than thou. Believe me, if profs had mocked and scoffed at the KJV at that time I would’ve known.

When I read you a sentence from The Brothers Karamasov (Dostoyevsky) comes to mind: "You know it is sometimes very pleasant to take offense, isn't it?" You seem to relish having had such discernment at that time. And you have good reasons for leaving what you’ve known of fundamentalism, whatever leaving means. What you don’t have is good memory.

Steve

pastorhatfield said...

Bro. Kent
Having been an ifb from birth, I can totally relate. I went one year to PCC. Now, I would never send a preacher boy there. God bless you for posting this.
signed
the recovered legaist. to God be the glory

Anonymous said...

Hey, the Pharisees need love too! Listen, I grew up with Pastor Arno Q Weniger as the minister of my church, Calvary Baptist Church in Normal, IL. While I had a lot more resentment towards the place, it has softened as I have grown older.
The main hang up for me was the over emphasis on not sinning, but the constant reassurance that if you do sin, you're still going to Heaven if you know and love the Lord. Then, I joined the Army and dumped church all together, as I thought it was a bunch of you know what. When I got out of the Army, I started to appreciate church and Christ again and returned to the faith.
I now was attending a Church of God Anderson church as my wife was raised Lutheran and couldn't stand the Baptist form of worship. The COGA was a wonderful denomination for us to start our married life in. My wife eventually gave her life to Christ and was baptized.
Some of the draw backs from the COGA were that they believed in 'sinless perfection' and ‘post trib rapture’. The COGA does not believe, and I now agree with them, once saved always saved and that your Christian walk is daily; as long as you stay in Christ, you are saved, but if you become a Catholic, Hindu…Satanist, then it’s all over for you.
Basically, I started to really question what I had been brought up believing, and it didn't come from the University that I was attending. The Fundamentalist Baptist are off the mark on so many things that I don't want to list them all. But, needless to say that Biblically speaking, you can leave the faith and 'lose your salvation' if you chose to. But, the COGA is wrong, in my opinion, on 'sinless perfection' and 'post-trib rapture'.
The Baptist get hung up about really dumb stuff----going to movies, clothing, how long a man's hair should be, can a man have a beard and be a preacher, and can a divorced man be a preacher? Seriously, much of the Fund Baptist line of though and belief system is man-made, dumb and very self-refuting on many levels. They say that any man can get saved, but if you do this, that or the other then that's it you can't be a minister. I suppose they forgot about Paul?
Weniger was a classic example of a Satanic 'hit-job'. He was set up by Satan and destroyed as well by the same rules that he once supported. In the COGA, this would not have been the career ending event that it was for Weniger. As far as him having a hot temper, I can attest to that, my uncle used to be his financial director at the church and was the unlucky recipient of many of Weniger's tirades. So, in the final analysis, I haven't found a church that I perfectly agree 100% with, but I know that I am called to preach the word of God, and preach I will. Something I noticed about Baptist is that they rarely do community service, the COGA is very big on this and I rather find it refreshing. There are things we could all learn from if we just agreed to disagree on the non-essentials.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Anonymous,

You make some very negative comments, naming people's names, but remaining anonymous, while plugging your Church of God doctrine. I'm in no way advocating, and haven't promoted, a jump from fundamentalism to something weaker. The problem with fundamentalism isn't solved with COGA. What verse in Scripture do you find "doing community service?" Doing the Great Commission is what Jesus told us to do, and there isn't anything that serves the community more than that.

Thomas Ross said...

To whoever may be reading this, if you want clear proof that the BIble teaches eternal security, see Bible study #6 and the other articles at:

http://sites.google.com/site/faithalonesaves/salvation

The idea that one loses salvation if he doesn't do enough works is a terrible heresy. If Mr. Anonymous, from a position where he has heard the true gospel with its doctrine of the believer's eternal security, can reject that for the heresy that God unsaves people who sin enough, it is time for him to examine himself and see whether he is in the faith. Judas was an unconverted Baptist. Furthermore, nobody who reads this post should experience anything other than horror over the adoption of such a doctrine, and experience pity for somoene who has so little discernment that he can attend a "church" that teaches perfectionist heresy and the post-trib error--yet be mad at Baptists and not go to a Baptist church because they don't want to go to movies.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Anonymous,

I didn't print your three other comments. This isn't a debate on eternal security. I'm not afraid of your comment---I debated a whole week on the subject with a Church of Christ debater, who argued for your side.

Second, I wasn't saying you were wrong for naming names, but that you named names and didn't tell us your own name. I have no problem with someone naming names in an appropriate way, but not without giving his own name.

Thanks.

Mark Escalera said...

Bro. Kent, I think I remember meeting you at Maranatha. I could only handle one semester and transferred to Northland. Do you remember the event in chapel when Weniger gave a great deal of disrespect to Dr. Cedarholm and a small handful of people walked out?

Denise Graziano said...

I grew up on the campus of MBBC, physically and spiritually, from 1974 to 1986. If we are going to be biblical about it, soul winning should not be the obligation of any kind of institution of learning outside the local church. The Bible Makes us Baptist ... hope you've all read it :)

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Unknown said...

But the cat came back--the very next day. The cat came back and he wouldn't stay away! Fun times...

I have mixed memories of fundamentalism. It's been a long time since I left (was thrown out?). Still, I rejoice in the godly attitudes from people who sincerely loved and served Jesus Christ. Many at MBBC and CBTS and Tri-City were great role models.

My problem with fundamentalism was that it was more about indoctrination than exegesis and hermeneutics. There was a "required loyalty" to the opinions and conclusions of the group--rather than loyalty to Scripture.

When I found myself in the wrong side of the fence because of exegetical conclusions I had come to--I experienced an ugliness that reminds me of Bilbo's transformation when he saw the ring on Frodo's chain. Ouch.

Still, I look forward to worshipping with these same brothers and sisters in eternity. For now we know in part...but then we shall know even as we are known. And we all have a few blind spots.