I recently stumbled across another review of The Sword of the Lord by Andrew Himes. I’ve reviewed Himes’ look at his grandfather, John R. Rice’s legacy, and enjoyed his analysis of the development of fundamentalism. Well, I just found Trevin Wax’s review of the same book, and learned that he also shares a fundamentalist past. His review is excellent, and his thoughts on fundamentalism and John R. Rice are worth excerpting here.
First, Trevin opens his review with his own personal story regarding his fundamentalist upbringing:
I can\’t make sense of my Christian heritage apart from the independent Baptist movement of the last century. My father was born in Wheaton, IL, the city where my grandfather was employed as the printer for the Sword of the Lord, the premier fundamentalist newsweekly during the second half of the 1900\”²s. When John R. Rice, the founder and first editor of The Sword, decided to move the headquarters to Murfreesboro, TN in the mid-60\”²s, my grandparents moved with him. It was in Murfreesboro, at John R. Rice\’s church, that my parents met each other and were married.
Rice died in the hospital I was born in. Though he died six months before I was born, I was raised in the shadow of his influence. During the earliest and most formative years of my life, I understood my identity as an independent Baptist. I was well versed in the fundamentalist distinctions that separated us not only from the world but also from \”Christians who love the world.\”
I\’m grateful for my fundamentalist upbringing, particularly for the amount of Bible knowledge I received at church and in my Christian school. I\’m also grateful for an important impulse that continues to shape me today: hold fast to precious truths. The old-school fundamentalists knew there were truths worth protecting, worth holding onto, perhaps dogmatically at times. I think they were right.
But while the independent Baptist movement succeeded in teaching me what to think, it failed in teaching me how to think. When our family joined a fledgling Southern Baptist church plant, I quickly discovered what it was like to be an outsider to the tight-knit community that had once felt like home. Many independent Baptists today would consider me a \”liberal\” for letting my wife wear pants, for reading versions of the Bible other than King James, or for listening to music with drums. But most of the world would still label me \”fundamentalist\” \”“ if by that, they mean I adhere the core beliefs at the heart of Reformational Christianity.
Then, after his review of Himes’ book, he gives an analysis of fundamentalism and the legacy of John R. Rice.
The story of John R. Rice offers several lessons for us today. First, we ought to be on guard against a Quietist gospel that would have us retreat from the public implications of the gospel. In Counterfeit Gospels, I write:
Fifty years ago, Southern Baptist pastors admirably preached against many forms of worldliness. But there was evil that many pastors never addressed. In small towns throughout the Deep South, outside the comfort of our sanctuaries on a Sunday night, there were African-American brothers whose bodies were swinging from the trees. And many pastors never said a word… Our preaching may have been loud, but it was all too quiet.
Preaching loudly against certain sins, while leaving massive injustice untouched and unspoken of should not be the norm for Christians who believe that Jesus truly did come out of the grave on Easter morning.
Secondly, we need to recognize and resist the fundamentalist tendency to exaggerate differences and distinctions in order to provide justification for our group\’s existence. \”Holiness\” is not defined by the doctrines that set us apart from other Christians, but the actions and beliefs we hold in common with other Christians that set us apart from the world.
Third, we must not reject everything about fundamentalism. The independent Baptists recognized that there were indeed hills worth dying on. It is possible to conceive of the doctrines and practice of evangelical identity so broadly that the \”big tent\” falls in on itself. I believe we may be witnessing that kind collapse today. The fundamentalists were wrong to major on minors, but we are often wrong to not major on majors.
Finally, we need to ask God to make us aware of our blind spots. Rice\’s legacy was tarnished by his toleration of segregation and racial inequality. He thought he was putting forth a mediating position, but in retrospect, it\’s clear that his mediation served only to buttress the existing social structures of the day.
I am thankful for men like John R. Rice. I\’m thankful for their belief in truth and their willingness to defend important truths of the Christian faith. Apart from Rice\’s ministry to my grandparents fifty years ago, I might not be a Christian today. I\’m also thankful for my independent Baptist upbringing. The church folks who nurtured me knew the Bible well and wanted me to know it too. And although I can spot weaknesses in the fundamentalist movement, I admit that evangelicalism also has its fair share of flaws. Even so, I rest in the knowledge that God raises up imperfect people to serve imperfect people and that even through our weaknesses, God shines a spotlight on His magnificent grace.
You may also be interested in the comments under Wax’s post, because there someone mentions the possible impact that Rice and his Sword of the Lord may have had on the Conservative Resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention.
On another note, on The Sword of the Lord book’s website, they’re offering a summer digital sale. You can get an ebook copy of the book for only 7.99. Details here. You can also pick up the book at Amazon.com.