Recently, Jeff Voegtlin (Vice President of Fairhaven Baptist College, and an assistant pastor at Fairhaven Baptist Church) posted a clarification on his blog as to his view regarding my departure from fundamentalism. He had made one of the first comments on my blog in response to “My Story and Critique of Fundamentalism”, and apparently someone read a little too much into that comment. An email exchange ensued to see what exactly Jeff’s take on my story really was. Jeff posted an edited version of that exchange (as well as linking to my story) to make it clear that he does not support my positions.
Well, since Jeff’s post will introduce my departure from fundamentalism to his readers, I decided to comment on his blog. I wanted to clarify what my position exactly is concerning Fairhaven and fundamentalism in general. In doing so, I actually provided a more succinct critique of fundamentalism than my long biographical letter. So I thought posting this response to Jeff’s blog post would be beneficial to my readers as well. [I will link to this briefer version of my critique of fundamentalism in my original critique to let others opt for the smaller version if they desire.] So here is my response in full.
Pastor Jeff,I would like to say a few things and clarify my point of view for those now introduced to my departure from fundamentalism, if I may. (This will enable them not to have to read my long letter in order to understand my position.)
First, I want to stress that I thank God for you and your ministry. I learned much from you, and treasure the years I spent on your bus route. You, more than any other staff member at Fairhaven, had a tremendous impact on my life. Your example encourages me to think, learn, study, trust, and selflessly serve. There are few people who are as busy and devoted in God’s service as you. And through it all, you remain serious yet joyful. I want to emulate your example.
Second, let me add, that I also am grateful for my time at Fairhaven. I have no cause to question the seriousness or genuineness of any of those who have taught me during my years there. They are men (and women) of God who desire to please Him with all their heart. I have great respect for Dr. Voegtlin and his attempt to avoid being just another fundamentalist “big shot”. He humbly serves God with all his heart, and has left me an example of what sincere faith in God can accomplish. During my time at Fairhaven I was impressed with how the college was striving to improve and grow to be an even better place for education. I am thankful for the friends I had and the personal interaction with teachers (not to mention the many valuable things I learned from my classes). I also am glad the college stressed our involvement in the various ministries of the church.
Third, in light of this perspective, why have I abandoned fundamentalism? I explained that in my letter, which you have linked to in this post. But let me summarize (and clarify) that letter a bit. I have come to disagree with some of the interpretations of Fairhaven on certain issues. These issues include the KJV-only issue, local-church only ecclesiology, their position on Calvinism, their categorical rejection of pants on women and modern/contemporary music styles, their fundamentalist view of separation, and their stance on dispensationalism (and pre-trib. rapture). I also have come to see certain emphases of fundamentalism as being potentially very dangerous, such as the ease with which a performance-based Christianity (legalistic sanctification) finds root (both consciously and unconsciously) in the structures set up by fundamentalism, the tendency toward an extreme view of pastoral authority accompanied (usually) by a rejection of the Biblical (I believe) position of rule by a plurality of elders, a tendency toward emphasizing stylistic elements of preaching more than a careful and studious treatment of Scripture (which doubtless accompanies an avoidance of real scholarship as somehow antithetical to spirituality), and the tendency toward a hair-trigger approach to separation (looking for reasons to separate from others rather than for trying to unify with other believers) which results in real schisms and unnecessary divisions in the universal body of Christ (this can tend to a self-righteous, holier-than-thou view of other non-fundamentalist Christians which is extremely unChristian and unhealthy). Since there is a great degree of autonomy promoted within fundamentalism (which is not necessarily wrong) there exist many different forms/versions (or camps) of fundamentalism. My criticisms apply less to some groups than others. I do view Fairhaven as an example of extreme fundamentalism, yet only in this sense: there is now a large group of fundamentalists who agree that making such matters as the use of the KJV Bible only, pants on women, and a rejection of Calvinism a test of fellowship is wrong and that groups who do so are extreme examples of fundamentalism. [This sphere of fundamentalism is represented by Central Baptist Theological Seminary/Fourth Baptist Church in Minneapolis, MN; Bob Jones University; Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary/Inter-city Baptist Church of Allen Park, MI; Calvary Baptist Theological Seminary/Calvary Baptist Church in Lansdale, PA; and also SharperIron.Com.] This group within fundamentalism sees such positions as minor differences which should not separate believers. They understandably see these positions as being held most often by groups which even Fairhaven would consider extreme (Hyles Anderson College/First Baptist Church of Hammond, IN; Texas Baptist College/Longview Baptist Temple of Longview, TX; the views of Peter Ruckman and Gail Riplinger; etc.). I would consider Fairhaven a “modified extreme” or a “reasoned extreme” version of fundamentalism. This assessment has less to do with the practice of Fairhaven and more to do with the beliefs held by Fairhaven. I would say that all Independent Fundamental Baptists have inherited structures and procedures which were used by the extreme versions of Fundamentalism, and these structures have a negative impact to a varying degree on the practice and positions of every example of fundamentalism.
Fourth, let me state the obvious: I may be wrong. Further, I am not an authority on this issue. I have made personal conclusions based on my (short) lifetime within fundamentalism and have found such things to be true. I have come across many others who are wiser than I am who say the same things (some are even within fundamentalism still), though. I do not want to posit myself as the Know-It-All. But I understand some will write me off as such (since they know it all!). Nevertheless I feel compelled to speak out against these problems with fundamentalism, since I believe they are serious and have hindered my growth (and others’) in Christ. My blog is an attempt to think through the issues and discuss what I believe concerning fundamentalism, as well as to be a catalyst toward greater unity.
Fifth, I have tried to make it clear that I do not view fundamentalists as enemies [see this clarification post as well as my original reply to your comment to my letter/(story & critque)]. I greatly respect their high view of Scripture and their adherence to the Bible as the only rule of faith and practice. I would say I share that belief. I further respect their courageous stand for truth. I too strive to stand for truth (my applying separation differently does not mean I do not believe in and practice separation). I am very encouraged that fundamentalists make the gospel central to all they do and emphasize salvation by grace through faith alone (although some segments of fundamentalism–Fairhaven not being part of them–have abandoned a Biblical doctrine of repentance for an easy believism/1-2-3-repeat-after-me view of salvation). From my perspective I can agree to disagree on the truly minor areas of disagreement I have with fundamentalists and unify around the huge gospel truths and essential/fundamental doctrines of Scripture that we tenaciously hold to in common. Yet, having been on the other side of the fence, I understand that from their perspective I have abandoned the faith, practically. I cannot be associated with or fellowshipped with for fear of my negative influence or in respect to their position on separation. This does not change the fact that I desire to have a greater unity with fundamentalist brethren around the great Name and cause of Jesus Christ.
Sixth, let me say that I was encouraged by your original comment in response to my story/critique. You did not summarily write me off as others have, and rather seemed to welcome criticism of fundamentalism. I took that as your being sincere in trying to pursue the truth for yourself, yet I also understood that for you it most definitely meant you were just trying to ensure your brand of fundamentalism was Biblically rooted and you were interested in how others saw your positions. Your clarification of that comment here is basically what I gathered from your comment. I am encouraged to see you have been thinking about some of the excesses and errors perpetuated by some fundamentalists, and I am glad you are trying to avoid those errors. I also originally understood the tongue-in-cheek nature of your coming “to know the truth also” comment. I took your comment partly as a plea for me to treat fundamentalists with more grace. And that comment and other feedback I received led me to clarify my views and attempt to be sure I was not overstating my case and just simply bad-mouthing a group of people who are sincere in their desire to please God and hold the doctrines the Bible teaches. It ultimately lead to this post, which reflects my desire to glorify God in and through everything on my blog.
Seventh, I want to let you know I did listen to one or more of your sermons, and was impressed (as I usually was with your preaching back in college). I also have read almost everything on your blog. I particularly enjoyed your post about the ditch. I purposely did not comment for a few reasons. I did not want to be seen as aggessively attacking Fairhaven or seeking to gain recruits away from fundamentalism. I wanted to respect your church and ministry and not disrupt it. Also, the circumstances surrounding the correspondence you disclose here made me uncomfortable in commenting on your blog before now. In the future, I probably will not comment much, if at all. And if you request me to not comment at all, I would certainly understand. I do not want or intend to change your blog into a debate forum on fundamentalism.
Finally, let me explain that I disagree with your friend’s interpretation of my story. That is probably obvious to you. I am currently still planning on answering a letter posted by someone else on my blog which gets into specifc discussion of the doctrinal beliefs I hold; but in light of other discussions I have already had, I will probably not continue my correspondence with your friend in question. That discussion has broken down into a he said/she said debate. It is my word against his, and since memories are fallible, I cannot absolutely prove he is trying to destroy my reputation or something. I still hold him in high respect, although that has lessened somewhat from the recent exchanges. If more needs to be said from me, I will let you or your friend ask for it. It is already clear we disagree. It seems pointless to continue marshalling arguments back and forth in a lost cause.
I pray God’s blessing on your family and ministry. Oh, and unfortunately you were right in regards to the length of my writings! 🙂
âˆ¼striving for the unity of the faith for the glory of Godâˆ¼ Eph. 4:3,13 \”¢ Rom. 15:5-7