Monday, February 21, 2011

When I Left Fundamentalism part two

Still in Seminary

Calvary Lansdale

After my senior year of college and before my first year of graduate school in 1984, I served in a summer intern program at a church in Eastern Pennsylvania. I attended the pastor/preacher boy conference with Calvary Baptist Church in Lansdale, led by Pastor E. Robert Jordan. There was much I respected about Calvary Lansdale, including their emphasis on expository preaching, to which I was already committed. Their style of preaching was a good basic model for how to preach in a church.

However, I never attended Calvary for several reasons. One, the professors and many graduates mocked the King James Version. E. Robert Jordan was a King James advocate, but the school already ridiculed the translation while he was still the pastor of the church. I'm not saying they took a different position. I'm saying that they scoffed the King James. Two, many mocked positions of personal holiness, like stands against mixed swimming, the movie theater, and modest dress. The churches held activities at the swim park. I know because I went to one, thinking that perhaps I was amiss in my thinking about that. What I saw were wet women in less than their underwear and with permissible touching and frolicking, all excused by the proximity to water. Afterwards, we had "devotions." Questioning it was met with derision. FBF national leaders preached there. Greenville and Lansdale had made a truce around the time the latter started a seminary. Three, it was obvious that Lansdale had even then a strong affinity for new-evangelicalism, much praise and little criticism for non-separatists, resulting in the departure of longtime faculty over to new-evangelicalism. I wondered how that fundamentalism could coexist with Calvary in Lansdale, but it did. It still does.

The Blood Issue

Between 1984 and 1987 was when the blood issue rose to the surface between Bob Jones University and John MacArthur. I had heard MacArthur on the radio, and even though I knew he wasn't a separatist and was off in some of his positions, he was someone I respected for preaching the Bible, unlike almost anything else I heard. I really did wonder how MacArthur could be so wrong, and yet have preaching that was so much better than anything else I was hearing.

When Bob Jones attacked MacArthur in their magazine, Faith for the Family, I already knew what MacArthur's position was on the blood of Christ. Fundamentalist leaders said that MacArthur denied the blood. I knew that wasn't true, because I had read through his Hebrews commentary. The type of argumentation used against MacArthur was so superficial and silly that I was mystified. To start, MacArthur did not deny the blood, but even if he did, his error should have been pointed out from scripture. Bob Jones and its surrogates really did argue a strawman at the time. Once they saw that they had misrepresented MacArthur, they should have recanted right away, but they dug in for over a decade in typical fundamentalist fashion. As the winds toward MacArthur began to change among young fundamentalists, Bob Jones came out with a weak apology many years later.

I don't believe like MacArthur on the blood. Blood is more than a metonym for death, like MacArthur espouses. However, fundamentalism's treatment of MacArthur was so typical of how I witnessed fundamentalism to operate.

Early Years Pastoring

As a Bible college and graduate school student, I was immersed in fundamentalism. A fundamentalist college begets fundamentalist graduates of one stripe or another. However, fundamentalism wasn't what I was thinking when my new wife and I left to evangelize the East San Francisco Bay Area, north of Oakland. We would first meet in the multipurpose room of a public elementary school in Hercules, California, so I knocked on the first door next to that building, and then kept knocking.

My church membership moved from Calvary Baptist in Watertown, Wisconsin along with my wife from New Hampshire to Calvary Baptist in San Francisco. The former and the latter were fundamentalist, Baptist churches. We held our first meeting on October 17, 1987. My new world was work, a wife, paying the bills, and evangelizing all without fundamentalism on my radar. Except when I attended pastors meetings, fundamentalist ones.

There were two groups of fundamentalists in the San Francisco Bay Area in the late 1980s---the Fundamental Baptist Fellowship (FBF) guys and the Hyles guys. Those two groups had been represented in my life at Lucerne up at Clear Lake, Maranatha Week, with Hyles and Bell, parts one and two.


I attended FBF meetings with high hopes, not knowing what to expect. I came out with three observations. One, FBF preaching was a lot about old loyalties and Bob Jones University. The men preached sermons against things that almost no one needed, especially if he really was a fundamentalist---against Promise Keepers, against pseudo-fundamentalism, Jack Van Impe, the Moral Majority, etc. The real problems of the FBF were never touched, for instance, church discipline and discipleship and second blessing theology. At an FBF meeting, I never heard anything preached on the gospel and evangelism. Never did I hear anything preached against Jack Hyles. Rarely did I ever hear a good expository sermon.

The fellowship, I guess, was supposed to take place at meal time during a conference. I assumed that bringing up some point from scripture would be the norm. It wasn't. Men were just not free to have those kinds of discussion. The things you really wanted to talk about and needed to talk about couldn't be talked about. Men in leadership would not and could not talk about a controversial subject from the Bible. The areas that you wanted to discuss the most were off limits. Fellowship around the FBF was not about the Bible. It was about who was doing what or preaching with whom or how many so and so was running or how very bad the new-evangelicals were. We didn't know what fellowship, biblical fellowship, was even about. That would have been a good place to start, but that would have exposed many of the errors in the FBF itself. We were coming together mainly based upon fundamentalist tradition, approved primarily by Bob Jones University.


Not only did I attend FBF meetings, but I also went to the National Pastors and Workers Conference at North Valley Baptist Church in Santa Clara, where Jack Trieber was pastor. We had some of those preachers into Maranatha. When I left to go to California, the dean of academic affairs, John Brock, encouraged me to go out to California and outgrow North Valley and Trieber. I just nodded, but I didn't have anything like that in mind. When I went down to Santa Clara, which was about 1 1/2 hours from me, I wasn't comfortable, because I remembered the sermons from Hyles at Maranatha. Rarely did I hear one that I believed was scriptural. Hyles mocked expository preaching---he would say that it was like treating the Bible like a "math book."

You may wonder how I could ever have attended Trieber's conference. Rumors were out there about problems in Hammond and with Dave Hyles, but nothing substantiated from my point of view until a year or two later. I had an open mind and was giving it an opportunity. Maybe I was judgmental, so something was wrong with me. However, one attendance of that school delivered me from ever going again.

When you arrived at North Valley, the place was immaculate. If you've never been to any place like that, I could hardly describe to you how the ministry philosophy pervades even the grounds. Much good could be said about certain high standards, but it is impossible to separate the manipulativeness of the place from the grooming of the property, down to the color of the carpet, the paint, and the lighting. The music, the timing, the dress, everything is choreographed for the maximum effect upon the visitor.

The preaching was horrible. I really only remember two sermons. One was from Clarence Sexton, who I'd never heard before. One word stands out from his speech: screaming. He was also a consummate showman, dressed to the "T." This was the first I had seen of the immense honoring of the preacher. I was called to the front in one of the evenings to be thanked and given a Bible and applauded. It was something very different than what I read in 1 Corinthians, where Paul wrote that the one who sows and the one who waters, both are nothing.

None of the sessions sorted out what Scripture said about ministry. All of them talked about what worked and therefore God was obviously using. Everything was very slick, very well put together. Most of it was a walk by sight and not by faith.

I had read Jack Hyles' Meet the Holy Spirit. I knew it was bad, very bad. But I was accustomed in fundamentalism to overlooking false doctrine. I had gotten the picture that it was all a matter of degree and that you were going to have to put up with some stink. After all, none of us are perfect. It never had even occurred to me that Hyles and most of his followers were preaching a false gospel, from which everyone should separate.

Hyles was coming to the National Pastor's Conference and when he preached, we met at the San Jose Convention Center. It was a sight to behold. Packed out. Full. I drove a van down to the meeting. I really was being convicted about it. My justification was that Hyles would light a fire under our people. They would leave his presentation far more interested in "soulwinning" than they were. That would be a good thing. So I prayed all the way down that Hyles would not preach on the Holy Spirit. Of course, that was no prayer that God would answer, and Hyles did preach an unbiblical sermon on the Holy Spirit, buttressed by story after story in which Jack Hyles was the hero.

I'm serious when I say that every single person in the auditorium went forward that night. Thousands. Except for me, my family, and the church members who sat with me. Even a church member who went separately got swept onto the conveyor belt to the front. I saw that family weeping and kneeling. It was hard to get forward, because there was nowhere to move. People in front of us just dropped right where they were and when they got up, they stared at us sitting there, looking at us with disdain that we could be so unmoved. I resolved in that meeting never to attend one of those events again. I apologized to our people and explained to them what was wrong with the sermon. No damage came out of it.

I would still receive the invitations and the flyers from Jack Trieber, obviously his form letters. After several years, I decided to write him to inform him why I would never be coming. I gave four or five reasons. I told him I wanted to stop receiving his invitations. I got a letter back a few weeks later, thanking me for the letter. That was it. And I kept receiving the materials in the mail. Still do.

It wasn't long afterwards that I walked down the hill of our property to the mailbox and picked up a copy of the Biblical Evangelist. I don't remember how I got on Robert Sumner's mailing list, but I liked looking through those types of papers. I saw one of the arresting headlines on the front page was something like "The Saddest Story You'll Ever Read." I laughed because of what seemed like an obvious tease of the reader. Of course, I wanted to find out what the saddest story was. Very little of the article was on the front page. I leafed through the paper as I walked back up to the church building, and I saw then page after page with Hyles name on it. Hyles. Hyles. Hyles. Wow. So then I went back to the beginning and began reading with amazement for the first time. After that, I got everything I could get on the subject. I read Voyle Glover's book, Fundamental Seduction, Wizard of God by Vic Nischik, the follow up articles by Sumner and then the answers from Hyles, and listened to a three hour sermon on tape, preached by Roger Voegtlin from Fairhaven Baptist Church in Chesterton, IN. Whatever was left of the Hyles' influence on me, it was gone.

The worst effect of Hyles on fundamentalism, I believe, was in his second blessing theology, his creation of first and second class conditions depending on after salvation experiences not taught in the Bible. Hyles said that his success came from the power of God. Despite having this power, he also needed a complex system of promotion, marketing, and gimmicks, but he said that he got his ability in a post-salvation period on his father's grave. For a period time, I coveted that same experience. I wanted size and success like Hyles, and if it was the power that was necessary, I wanted it. I was never convinced from the Bible that I needed it, but by the stories of Hyles. And Hyles was a fundamentalist.

More to Come.


philipians2511 said...

Brother Brandenburg,

Thanks very much for taking the time to write this. Especially for being a forward thinking guy !:)

It is worth mentioning that while giving the fbf their fair shake they never exposed error in their "camp". They didn't even mention it.

Isn't this symptomatic of fundamentalism today? You'll probably never see an article in the Sword exposing error in their camp. To the current editor Shelton Smith and his credit he at least tries to defend their stand on certain issues, albeit poorly. Try googling their stand on the King James bible as evidence to the fact.

Lastly, and more importantly. I hope and pray for those that are curently going to a Hyles church or college. That they would start to question what they're being fed and get into the Word of God and search the Scriptures. That they would Google Hyles and error and hopefully come across this blog and the many others and begin to see that something just doesn't add up. I am optimistic, it happened to me!

We are nothing, to God alone be all the glory.

Respectfully Submitted,

Br. Steve


Gary Webb said...

Brother Brandenburg,
You give an accurate description of both the FBF & Hyles fellowships. At least I can say that it matches my experience. I had the same concerns. I stopped attending the FBF meetings after realizing that they were never going to address the disobedience in their own fellowship ... but would keep preaching against the Pope and having Protestant, Calvinist, non-Pretrib Presbyterians like Paisley, etc. Once I attended Pastor's School in Hammond. They gave an award to a woman for "winning" 600 people to Christ in one week. I wasn't sure what they were doing there, but I knew that it was not New Testament evangelism.

Anonymous said...

Hi Pastor Brandenburger,

I did read the whole thing, but wanted to make a couple of comments about some things near the top of the article.

1) "One, the professors and many graduates mocked the King James Version. E. Robert Jordan was a King James advocate, but the school already ridiculed the translation while he was still the pastor of the church."

Sounds like there was a serious need for church discipline there. Not just because of the heresy introduced on the versions issue itself, but also because the whole attitude of the professors (assuming, perhaps wrongly, that they were even members of that local church) is one of divisiveness towards the unity of that local church, since they presumably know that the pastor and the church "officially" at least still took a pro-KJV position.

2) That's interesting about MacArthur and his position on the blood. You still hear a lot of the "he denies the blood" stuff today. I think I'd even read that in the past, and repeated it based upon literature pushed by D.A. Waite's Bible for Today publishing group. So, I recant of having said that MacArthur denies the blood of Jesus Christ.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Brother Kent.

I thank God every day that my father taught me not to be "wowed" by names and men, but by the Word of God.

I heard Hyles in person twice while in Bible college, and each message was a twisting of Scripture. In one, it was very close to blasphemous.

I really think you are doing a service by writing these posts.

d4v34x said...

I agree that Bro. B. is indeed doing a service by these posts.

I would also say that the FBF, in my experience, has gotten better about some of the problems you raise here.

I think an inherent weakness, though, of a an official organization of fellowship system is lack of clarity on what differences in belief will be accepted. We are rightly wary about giving the fellowship organization the clout of a Presbytery, but the FBF remains a variegated group.

That said, the folks I encounter within it tend to be expositors and willing to discuss difficult topics.

Again, my experience over a decade later than yours.

Don Johnson said...


I can't speak for all your experience at FBF meetings, but I attended a meeting in your area about the time you decided to pull out of that arena of fellowship. I think it was just before... didn't you send the rest of the fellows a letter about it, or something?

In any case, my recollection of that regional meeting doesn't parallel your description. That is not to say your perception isn't correct, I only attended the one meeting (in Hollister, if I recall correctly), but I enjoyed excellent fellowship and still enjoy good relationships with many of the men I met at that meeting.

My experience with FBF men since has been entirely positive. The meeting in the Northwest is a great blessing and encouragement each year. The men in leadership nationally are very supportive of small church pastors. I am glad to be associated with them.

Quite frankly, I suspect that your disenchantment has more to do with the specific issues you wanted to raise than with any failings of these men.

Nevertheless, we all could stand improvement and I am all for attempting to take on the hard issues as needed and for the faithful preaching of the Bible. When we need correction, I hope we have the humility to receive it. I believe the current FBF leadership is open to biblical admonition and direction.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Jim Peet said...


Read part one and two. Interesting stuff.

My orb of fundamentalism has not been the same as yours and I have not experienced some of the things you have.

I posted these as Filings over on Sharper Iron


Jim Peet

Jay said...

Hi Kent-

I agree with you and can sympathize strongly with what you've been through. Looking forward to the rest of your articles.

Jay said...


I totally understand where you're coming from and what you've been through, and can sympathize. I think we have a LOT in common, although I didn't necessarily grow up in the Hyles Orbit that you did (although my wife did).

Appreciate your articles and am looking forward to reading the rest.

Steve Davis said...


I'd like to take issue with your comment on the KJV:

"…the professors and many graduates mocked the King James Version. E. Robert Jordan was a King James advocate, but the school already ridiculed the translation while he was still the pastor of the church. I'm not saying they took a different position. I'm saying that they scoffed the King James."

I don't think you are knowingly fabricating that, or hope not, but I question the accuracy of your recall. Sure there may've been a professor or some graduates who did that but I never heard it or knew of it. I was a student there from 1978-1982, planted a church under ER's leadership in 1982, was on staff at Calvary from 1999-2009, and adjunct professor at the seminary until last year. When I was a student there and KJV advocate we had great discussions and arguments over versions in hallways and classrooms. "Mock" goes way too far and paints godly men in an unflattering and false way akin to slander. For those who think you are dong a “service” I’d like them to know that your narrow view is only that – your view and distorted in this case. Surely the men at Calvary don't hold to the KJV as you do but you exaggerate in order to prove something that proves nothing. Your characterization of Calvary is not true. Leave whatever for whatever but you should retract your error although I don’t know if I have ever seen you admit wrong.

Steve Davis

Joshua said...

I thought I recognized your name Stephen, so I did a search to see when you last came over. I invite readers to follow this link and read the comments:

Last time this man was here, he came to scoff and mock. Curious that this accusation against his alma mater gets this sort of rise out of him.

I'm still keen to read Kent's response, but I think the above is an important consideration should this become a "did not! did too!" situation

Bobby said...

I just read on Sharper Iron where Joel T. said that he might disagree with you on the "roll of women in the church." I'm curious about that. When I was there for the WOT conference last November I actually had a roll that was baked by one of the ladies there. Or is it all the women (plural) working together for one roll (singular) as Joel wrote? Is this maybe an instance of "the roll" being used in the universal, mystical sense?

BTW, are you local only when it comes to the rolls? Is it the roll or the rolls?

I personally, after "proving" the roll and "trying" the said piece of bread (little rhyme for ya there) found myself in sweet koinonia with it and the other foodstuffs. I was really "striahgt ahead" with all the eats.

Have you and JT actually had any serious discussion about the rolls? Maybe potatoes? Puddings?

Honestly, I know that we should try and prove everything, but can't we all get along at least when it comes to various breads?

Anonymous said...

Steven! Long time, no see!

Your black deco turtleneck and goatee beard still have no power over me.

Kent Brandenburg said...

This isn't an expose' on Calvary, Lansdale, just an account of my gradual considerations of fundamentalism. I moved to Pennsylvania fully intending on attending the seminary there. I went all the way to Eastern PA from Wisconsin and then moved all the way back; it's not hard to remember why. It's part of this story.

I think my trading insults with you, Steve, would run counterproductive. I agree with Joshua, however, that your comments do a great job of illustrating the point. I would hope that the irony wouldn't be lost on a self-professed Dostoyevsky reader---the use of mockery to defend against mockery.

Steve Davis said...


Funny what people remember. Seems like you have some kind of fixation on black turtlenecks and goatees. At least I don’t mind showing my face. What do you have peach fuzz? :-)


Steve Davis said...


Are you referring to Joshua who is “keen to read Kent’s response”? How nice. What does that mean? Okay now I am keenly mocking just a little. But I thought I had another keen comment that I don’t see. However, I wasn’t mocking you and don’t know what you mean by “trading insults.” I actually agree on much of what you say about Fundamentalism and have not considered myself part of any movement for a long time. I just thought that if profs and many grads mocked the KJV that you would be able to give some keen specifics. If you don’t want to do it publicly, send me a keen email. My point and challenge is that I don’t think you can do it but am willing to be proven wrong. This keen invention helps your story in recounting your experience of mocking and scoffing and how keen you were to discern that. But did it really happen? That is the keen question.


Anonymous said...

Stephen - If I had to grow a beard, it would be a perfectly Victorian set of friendly lambchops.

Example - here. Burnside - terrible general, but ahead of his time as far as pogonology is concerned.

d4v34x said...

Bobby wrote "can't we all get along at least when it comes to various breads?"