When You Want to be Anti-Catholic, but You Don’t Want to Hurt Anyone’s Feelings

Aaron Griffith is a Postdoctoral Research Associate at the John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics at Washington University in St. Louis.  As part of his research, he recently came across an ad for a 1949 tent revival in San Bernardino, California.  The minister leading the revival was William S. McBirnie.  According to his 1995 obituary, McBirnie was a “conservative commentator” on his “Voice of Americanism” radio show, the pastor of the United Community Church of Glendale, and the founder of the California Graduate School of Theology.

This ad shows the connection between anti-Catholicism and fundamentalist revivalism in the mid-20th century:

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On his Facebook page, Griffith writes: “T[hat] F[eel] W[hen] you want to be anti-Catholic, but you also don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.”

Here is a larger image of the description of the first night of McBirnie’s revival:

Griffith

What the Fall of Bill Gothard Means for Conservative Evangelicalism

Gothard

Bill Gothard

Check out Joshua Pease’s piece at The New Republic on fundamentalist parachurch leader Bill Gothard.  As a young evangelical, I read some of Gothard’s stuff.  My church would often send groups to his Institute in Basic Life Principles conference in Ocean Grove, New Jersey.  I never attended one of his sessions, but members of my family did.  The Institute in Basic Life Principles removed Gothard from leadership in 2014 after multiple members of his organization reported his inappropriate sexual behavior.

Pease sees a link between the #metoo stories emanating from the Institute of Basic Life Principles and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary with evangelical support for a POTUS who does not hold to traditional evangelical values and has had his own #metoo moments.  Here is a taste of his piece:

Gothard’s religious teachings are increasingly ignored today, even within fundamentalist churches, thanks in part to the various abuses they engendered. But the public sphere is another matter. Rather than reject misogyny, abuse, or patriarchal authoritarianism, a sizable segment of modern Christianity appears ready to tolerate these traits in its political leaders, as long as it is all in service of fighting the “enemy,” which is usually a shorthand for “liberals.”

Gothard’s legacy is not his thousands of pages of bizarre dogma, but the insight he offers into the way the Christian right once responded to the threats posed by liberal America. He was celebrated by the culture warriors for promising stability in a changing world, all while he warped the message of Jesus to build an empire for himself and prey on the vulnerable. The victims of his abuse are still waiting for justice—and watching as many of their fellow Christians show, in their actions and their politics, that they really don’t care.

Read the rest here.

Jared Burkholder Reviews *Believe Me*

Believe Me Banner

When you get a chance, check out the new look at Jared Burkholder‘s blog The Hermeneutic Circle.

Today he is running a review of Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

This is my favorite review so far! Not only is it a positive review, but I appreciate the way Jared connects Believe Me to some of my earlier work in the history of 20th-century evangelicalism and fundamentalism and my experience as a student at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.  I am also guessing that he will be the only reviewer to suggest that the Anabaptist heritage of Messiah College may be rubbing-off on me!

Here is a taste:

Historian John Fea gets back to his roots in explaining the “81%.” (The percentage of evangelicals who supposedly voted for President Trump.) Though he has a long list of accomplishments in mainstream historical circles, Fea’s original forays into writing about history was as a graduate student at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he studied the history of fundamentalism and evangelicalism under old-school church historian, John Woodbridge. I got to know John after he moved on from Trinity, but it was through the influence of him and others like him that I enrolled in the same program. In fact, when I had Woodbridge as a professor, our class used a bibliography on American fundamentalism that Fea had compiled while he was a student. While at Trinity, he completed a thesis on hard-core conservative fundamentalists. So while Fea has moved on to weightier topics such as the American Revolution, the early Republic, and Christian nationalism, he knows a thing or two about conservative evangelicals and the roots of the Religious Right. Fea draws on all these experiences in writing about how evangelicals helped to put Trump in office and why many continue to support the president, despite the president’s lack of Christian virtue.

Read the entire review here.

There is a Copy of a John R. Rice Book at the Bottom of the Ohio River

bobbedOver at Baptist News Global, Molly T. Marshall, president of Central Baptist Theological Seminary, writes about the time she took a copy of Baptist fundamentalist John R. Rice‘s book Bobbed Hair, Bossy Wives, and Women Preachers and tossed it into the Ohio River.

This piece caught my eye because I spent a lot of time reading Rice’s newspaper, The Sword of the Lord, for my M.A. thesis on separatist fundamentalism.  Those were some long days at the microfilm reader in Trinity Evangelical Divinity School’s Rolfing Library.  If I remember correctly, I was working right next to a large bust of evangelical theologian Carl F.H. Henry.  (Hey current TEDS students–is that bust still around?) And thanks to my sometimes online nemesis Darryl G. Hart (some of you on Twitter now him as Old Life) for serving as a reader on that thesis! 🙂

Here is Marshall:

I was a Master of Divinity student at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary from 1973 to 1975. As regularly occurred with women students, I had been admitted to the School of Religious Education. Yet, I enrolled in all M.Div. courses because I had some burning theological questions.

I then had to talk my way into the School of Theology with the dean of the RE school. He was not easy to persuade; however, he approved the transfer. I was one of only a handful of women, even though in the early ’70s mainline seminaries were beginning to welcome many women.

One day I was in the library looking for resources to assist in my quest to learn about what the Bible really teaches about the role of women in ministry. I stumbled across the nefarious concoction of an over-achieving fundamentalist, John R. Rice. I was incensed at the title: Bobbed Hair, Bossy Wives, and Women Preachers. Of course, I had experienced gender discrimination all my life as a Southern Baptist – at my home church, in college, in churches I had served as youth minister – but the sheer contempt of this book startled me.

I did what any self-respecting woman called to ministry would do: I flung it into the Ohio River as I crossed the big bridge heading into Indiana. (You recall that throwing things into the river has a venerable history in Louisville; that is where Muhammad Ali tossed his Olympic medals in protest of the racism of America.) I considered it an act of prophetic resistance (of course, I would not sanction destruction of seminary property now).

Read the rest here.

The Author’s Corner with Adam Laats

9780190665623Adam Laats is a professor of Teaching, Learning and Educational Leadership at Binghamton University. This interview is based on his new book, Fundamentalist U: Keeping the Faith in American Higher Education (Oxford University Press, 2018).

JF: What led you to write Fundamentalist U?

AL: Over the years, as I researched the history of conservatism and evangelicalism in American education, I couldn’t help but notice the enormous influence of the network of conservative-evangelical colleges and universities. Back in the 1920s, the parlous state of higher education was one of the first concerns of conservative-evangelical intellectuals and activists. Back then, the linchpin of fundamentalist culture-war strategy was the notion of establishing their own, independent, interdenominational, fundamentalist colleges and universities. I wanted to know how the network of these evangelical institutions developed over the course of the twentieth century.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Fundamentalist U?

AL: Evangelicalism stubbornly resists definition. In order to understand it, we should look at the dynamics of its institutions, not only at the statements of its leaders.

JF: Why do we need to read Fundamentalist U?

AL: Anyone who hopes to understand American evangelicalism should study its institutions, and colleges, seminaries, institutes, and universities have been among the most influential evangelical institutions. Why did “fundamentalists” separate from “evangelicals?” How has creationism evolved? What does it mean to be a good, godly spouse or parent? How can white evangelicals confront the legacy of white Christian racism? These issues roiled evangelicalism throughout the twentieth century, and institutions of higher education were often the stages on which the debates played out.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian? (Or if you are not an American historian, how did you get interested in the study of the past?)

AL: I fell into it backwards. I taught high-school history and English and became fascinated with the weird ways schools function as social institutions. I wanted to understand schools, so I began studying their history. I’m still hoping to figure it out.

JF: What is your next project?

AL: I’ve moved back in time to the early 1800s. Back then, a British reformer named Joseph Lancaster promised he had found the solution to urban poverty. By implementing his “system,” cities such as Philadelphia, Baltimore, New York, and Boston hoped to develop schools that would teach low-income children how to read, write, cipher, and show up on time for work. It didn’t work. I’m trying to figure out why so many prominent leaders, including Governor DeWitt Clinton of New York and philanthropist Roberts [sic] Vaux of Philadelphia believed in what one early historian called Lancaster’s “delusion” of school reform.

JF: Thanks, Adam!

Thoughts on Michael Gerson’s “The Last Temptation”: Part 3

Last temptation

Click here for previous installments of this series.  Click here to read Gerson’s article in The Atlantic.

Here is Gerson on the history of American Protestant fundamentalism:

Moreover, in making their case on cultural decay and decline, evangelicals have, in some highly visible cases, chosen the wrong nightmares. Most notable, they made a crucial error in picking evolution as a main point of contention with modernity. “The contest between evolution and Christianity is a duel to the death,” William Jennings Bryan argued. “If evolution wins … Christianity goes—not suddenly, of course, but gradually, for the two cannot stand together.” Many people of his background believed this. But their resistance was futile, for one incontrovertible reason: Evolution is a fact. It is objectively true based on overwhelming evidence. By denying this, evangelicals made their entire view of reality suspect. They were insisting, in effect, that the Christian faith requires a flight from reason.

This was foolish and unnecessary. There is no meaningful theological difference between creation by divine intervention and creation by natural selection; both are consistent with belief in a purposeful universe, and with serious interpretation of biblical texts. Evangelicals have placed an entirely superfluous stumbling block before their neighbors and children, encouraging every young person who loves science to reject Christianity.

What if Bryan and others of his generation had chosen to object to eugenics rather than evolution, to social Darwinism rather than Darwinism? The textbook at issue in the Scopes case, after all, was titled A Civic Biology, and it urged sterilization for the mentally impaired. “Epilepsy, and feeble-mindedness,” the text read, “are handicaps which it is not only unfair but criminal to hand down to posterity.” What if this had been the focus of Bryan’s objection? Mencken doubtless would still have mocked. But the moral and theological priorities of evangelical Christianity would have turned out differently. And evangelical fears would have been eventually justified by America’s shameful history of eugenics, and by the more rigorous application of the practice abroad. Instead, Bryan chose evolution—and in the end, the cause of human dignity was not served by the obscuring of human origins.

The consequences, especially for younger generations, are considerable. According to a recent survey by Barna, a Christian research firm, more than half of churchgoing Christian teens believe that “the church seems to reject much of what science tells us about the world.” This may be one reason that, in America, the youngest age cohorts are the least religiously affiliated, which will change the nation’s baseline of religiosity over time. More than a third of Millennials say they are unaffiliated with any faith, up 10 points since 2007. Count this as an ironic achievement of religious conservatives: an overall decline in identification with religion itself.

Of course we can’t be sure what would have happened if fundamentalists decided to wage war against eugenics or social Darwinism, but this is interesting to think about.  Historians talk a lot about “contingency,” the idea that the past can be understood by choices that people make.  What would evangelicalism look like today if the fundamentalists decided to focus on race?

Gerson does some interesting historical thinking here.

More to come.

What Philosopher Alvin Plantinga Said About “Fundamentalism”

Alvin_PlantingaI found this Plantinga quote at a Patheos blog called “Evangelion.”

We must first look into the use of this term ‘fundamentalist’. On the most common contemporary academic use of the term, it is a term of abuse or disapprobation, rather like ‘son of a bitch’, more exactly ‘sonovabitch’, or perhaps still more exactly (at least according to those authorities who look to the Old West as normative on matters of pronunciation) ‘sumbitch’. When the term is used in this way, no definition of it is ordinarily given. (If you called someone a sumbitch, would you feel obliged first to define the term?) Still, there is a bit more to the meaning of ‘fundamentalist’ (in this widely current use): it isn’t simply a term of abuse. In addition to its emotive force, it does have some cognitive content, and ordinarily denotes relatively conservative theological views. That makes it more like ‘stupid sumbitch’ (or maybe ‘fascist sumbitch’?) than ‘sumbitch’ simpliciter. It isn’t exactly like that term either, however, because its cognitive content can expand and contract on demand; its content seems to depend on who is using it. In the mouths of certain liberal theologians, for example, it tends to denote any who accept traditional Christianity, including Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, and Barth; in the mouths of devout secularists like Richard Dawkins or Daniel Dennett, it tends to denote anyone who believes there is such a person as God. The explanation is that the term has a certain indexical element: its cognitive content is given by the phrase ‘considerably to the right, theologically speaking, of me and my enlightened friends.’ The full meaning of the term, therefore (in this use), can be given by something like ‘stupid sumbitch whose theological opinions are considerably to the right of mine’.
 
Alvin Plantinga, Warranted Christian Belief (Oxford: 2000),  245.

The Author’s Corner with Paul Kemeny

9780190844394Paul Kemeny is Professor of Religion and Humanities at Grove City College. This interview is based on his new book, The New England Watch and Ward Society (Oxford University Press, 2017).

JF: What led you to write The New England Watch and Ward Society?

PK: In reading William Hutchison’s The Modernist Impulse, I was struck by his fascinating chapter on how Fundamentalists like J. Gresham Machen and humanists H.L. Mencken shared some common critiques of liberal Protestants. I was already familiar with Machen’s criticisms but did not know much about Mencken’s. So I started reading everything I could get my hands on by Mencken Reading Mencken was enjoyable because he’s such a delightful writer. More importantly, I was far more captivated by Mencken’s critique of Protestant anti-vice activism than his theological criticisms of liberal Protestants. The question that intrigued me was this: why would New England’s leading liberals—Congregationalists, Episcopalians, and Unitarians—formed a vice squad? This action certainly clashed with the popular image that liberal Protestants, especially in Boston, were progressive, urbane, and tolerant.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of The New England Watch and Ward Society?

PK: The New England Watch and Ward Society provides a new window into the history of American Protestantism during the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-centuries. By seeking to suppress obscene literature, gambling, and prostitution, the moral reform organization embodied Protestants’ efforts to shape public morality in an increasing intellectually and culturally diverse society.

JF: Why do we need to read The New England Watch and Ward Society?

PK: I can offer three reasons. First, The New England Watch and Ward Society offers a panoramic historical review of mainline Protestant efforts to provide a unifying public morality for American public culture during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. While focusing on the Boston-based New England Watch and Ward Society, my book explores the larger mainline Protestant establishment’s efforts to shape public morality. It describes late nineteenth-century Victorian American values about what constituted “good literature,” sexual morality, and public duty and explains Protestants’ efforts to promote these values in a rapidly changing culture. I examine censorship of allegedly obscene material as well as efforts to suppress gambling and “white slavery” (prostitution).

Second, the work explains why the Watch and Ward Society collapsed in the 1920s. The Watch and Ward Society’s sudden and very public fall from grace offers a new perspective on why mainline Protestantism’s efforts to impose a common civic morality upon American culture failed. 

Third, the study draws upon a treasure trove of previously-unpublished archival and printed sources and tells a number of fascinating stories about the suppression of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass and D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover, and the sometimes nefarious tactics that publicly upstanding Protestant elites used to stamp out vice, such as planting eavesdropping devices in the Boston District Attorney’s office to gather evidence of his criminal activity.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian? (Or if you are not an American history, how did you get interested in the study of the past?)

PK: While I was in seminary, I grew interested in the history of America Protestantism during the Gilded Age and Progressive Era. This interest gradually grew into a healthy obsession and after doing a Th.M. at Duke, I decided that I wanted to get a Ph.D in American religious history.

JF: What is your next project?

PK: I am currently in the throes of co-editing with my colleague Gary Scott Smith The Oxford Handbook of Presbyterians for Oxford University Press. We have assembled more than thirty-five scholars to contribute essays on Presbyterian history, theology, worship, ethics, politics, and education.

JF: Thanks, Paul!

More Thoughts on Cedarville’s “Biblically Consistent Curriculum.”

Cedarville

I am quoted today in a Times Higher Education piece on Cedarville University’s “biblically consistent” curriculum.”  Read it here.

The quote is accurate, but it is also part of a larger statement that did not make it into the story.   Here is my entire response to the reporter:

On academic freedom:  Cedarville is a private evangelical college.  As a result, faculty need to sign a statement of Christian doctrine in order to teach there.  Any Christian college of this nature does not have academic freedom in the same way that a non-sectarian or public university has academic freedom.  For example, a faculty member does not have the “freedom” to be an atheist or reject a belief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  So Cedarville has the right to define what ideas are acceptable and what ideas are not.  

But as someone who teaches at a private Christian college, one that is not as conservative as Cedarville, I think this new “Biblically consistent curriculum” confuses education with indoctrination.  Any institution of higher education requires an engagement with the world. What distinguishes a Christian college from a Christian church is an engagement with ideas and culture–all ideas and culture.  At a Christian college, this kind of engagement happens through the lens of Christian faith.  Cedarville seems to be motivated by fear of the world rather than engagement with it.  The college has chosen a path of separation from the world rather than an engagement with it.  This is the essence of fundamentalism.

Let’s face it–as soon as graduates leave the Cedarville bubble, they are going to be exposed to what their administration or their parents deem to be unholy or impure aspects of culture.  Isn’t it better that they learn how to think Christianly about culture in the kind of community a Christian college offers?

As the THE piece notes, I have written about Cedarville and its new curriculum before.  Read my posts here.

Southern Seminary Adopts the Nashville Statement

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If you want to teach at Southern Seminary, you just may have to sign the Nashville Statement.  The Board of Trustees recently voted to make it part of the school’s “confessional documents.”  Here is a taste of Andrew J.W. Smith’s piece at the seminary website:

The Nashville Statement is a document that affirms biblical teaching about gender and sexuality and seeks to clarify Christian beliefs on some of the most pressing cultural issues. It was published earlier this year by the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood and signed by evangelical leaders across the United States, including each Southern Baptist seminary president. That Southern Seminary adopted it, according to Mohler, is a matter of responsibility.

“Southern Seminary takes its confessional responsibility with great significance,” Mohler said in an interview immediately following the Board’s public session Monday evening. “Years ago, our Board of Trustees recognized the need of adopting certain statements that clarify and establish the meaning our longstanding confessional documents: the Abstract of Principles, adopted in 1859, and the Baptist Faith and Message, as revised in 2000.”

Like the “Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy” and the “Danvers Statement on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood” — both previously adopted by the board — The Nashville Statement is a “timely addition” to that list of official documents, according to Mohler. Faculty members at Southern Seminary and Boyce College agree to sign and teach according to the Abstract of Principles and the revision of the Baptist Faith and Message. The Nashville Statement was adopted to help interpret those two binding statements and specify the seminary’s conviction on matters not directly addressed in the central confessions of the institution, Mohler said.

Mohler emphasized The Nashville Statement does not reflect new thinking. Instead, he said, it affirms historic Christian teaching about human sexuality.

Read the entire piece here.

I am sure that all the Southern Seminary faculty already affirm the beliefs set forth in the Nashville Statement.  But it unclear whether or not faculty will be required to sign it.  See our coverage here.

The New Fundamentalism

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Eric Johnson, an endowed professor of pastoral care at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, came to a gathering organized to celebrate the release of his 716-page InterVarsity Press book on “soul care” and used the occasion to announce his early retirement from the seminary.  Some say seminary president Albert Mohler fired his endowed professor because Johnson believes that the findings of modern psychology can be used by Christians in counseling and other forms of psychotherapy.

One of Johnson’s strongest critics is a Heath Lambert, an advocate of something called “biblical counseling.”  Lambert is the president of an organization called the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors.  He believes that the Bible, and the Bible alone, is a “sufficient and an authoritative guide to counseling.”  He also rejects the use of drugs to treat depression and anxiety.

Lambert’s view of Johnson’s work is summed-up in this video.  He spends close to twenty minutes criticizing Johnson. Lambert calls Johnson’s work, among other things, a “total and utter mockery of God’s word.”

Now here’s the kicker:  Lambert also teaches counseling at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

I don’t fully understand everything Lambert is talking about in this video, but I am struck by the language he uses to describe one of his colleagues.  First, there is the potential awkwardness of it all.  I have never been to Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, but I am assuming that it is a tight-knit community.  I assume that every now and then Lambert would have to pass Johnson in the hallway and attend a meeting where they are in the same room together. Second, I think it is safe to assume that Southern Baptist Theological Seminary is a tight-knit Christian community.  I have heard of faculty at large research universities saying nasty things in public about other faculty at the same university, but for some reason I thought faculty at an evangelical theological seminary might be held to a higher standard. All faculty disagree, but few do so in such a harsh and public way.

I am not a theologian or a Christian counselor, but I did take a few courses on these subjects in college and divinity school.  I remember learning about something called “nouthetic counseling.”  It was an approach, popularized by the Christian counselor Jay Adams through his 1970 book Competent to Counsel, that argued psychology and psychiatry were secular ideas that were radically opposed to the teachings of the Bible and thus could not be used in the practice of Christian counseling.  In other words, only the Bible could be used to help people overcome mental illness.  I think this view is akin to what Lambert and his organization call “biblical counseling.”  (Warren Throckmorton, are you out there?  I hope I am getting this right!)

During my education in evangelical institutions, my professors rejected nouthetic or biblical counseling.  My wife, who holds a masters degree in Christian counseling from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, was taught to integrate faith with psychology in her work. Frankly, I thought this whole debate over the use of psychology in Christian counseling was over a long time ago,  I guess I was wrong.

According to Bob Allen’s reporting at Baptist News Global, Mohler appears to support Lambert. In 2005, he moved the seminary toward a biblical counseling approach.  At that time Mohler wrote, “In this psycho-therapeutic age, it is really important that we think as Christians…that we employ authentically Christian thinking, biblical thinking, to human life, and that we do this in a way that, without apology, confronts and critiques the wisdom of the age and seeks the wisdom that can come only from God and God’s word.”

According to Allen’s article, it is unclear what role Mohler or Lambert played in Johnson leaving Southern Seminary, but hundreds of Johnson defenders signed a petition protesting his sudden departure  The signers believe that Mohler and Lambert had something to do with it.

I also wonder if something larger is going on here. Mohler and Lambert both signed the Nashville Statement on human sexuality.  (I did not see Johnson’s name on the statement, but I could have missed it).  This statement has been criticized by conservative evangelicals less for its content and more for its strident tone. Writing at Scot McKnight’s blog Jesus Creed, an evangelical pastor chided the statement for its failure to portray “God-generated, Christ-displayed, and Bible-defined love.” McKnight himself argued that the statement did not reflect the pastoral heart of Jesus. It is hard not to see connections between Johnson’s new book on “soul care,” his departure from the seminary, and the criticisms of the Nashville Statement.

The folks at Southern and other conservative institutions in the Southern Baptist Convention have been pretty dogmatic of late.  They have been drawing lines in the sand and suggesting that anyone who crosses these lines should no longer be considered orthodox Christians.  If you want more evidence of this, go back and read my posts about Mohler back in September 2015 when Pope Francis visited the United States.  I realize that Mohler and the Catholic Church do not see eye-to-eye on most things, but I was struck by the fact that he made very little, if any, attempt to find common ground.

In this video, Mohler is drawing the line on biblical inerrancy.  And here he leads a panel on the subject with John MacArthur and others. One of the panelists–I think it’s Mark Dever (also a signer of the Nashville Statement)–suggests that it is Satan who occasionally draws the church away from inerrancy.  Fuller Theological Seminary, an evangelical school in Pasadena, California, also takes some hits on this issue.

Recently, one of these Southern Baptist defenders of the faith even compared himself to John the Baptist. (It reminded me of that time when Billy Sunday compared himself to John the Baptist or when J. Frank Norris once preached: “I tell you the spirit we need in this compromising, milk-and-cider, neither-hot-nor-cold–you want to know the kind of spirit we need?  We need the spirit of old John the Baptist when he told that Sanhedrin, ‘You are a generation of snakes.'”).

Would Mohler, Lambert (who, by the way, holds a Ph.D in counseling from Southern Seminary), and others academics in the Southern Baptist Convention say that the Christian counselor forfeits the right to be called an orthodox Christian when he starts drawing from the insights of modern psychology ?  I hope not, but I am not sure.

Whatever the case, the academic wing of the Southern Baptist Convention seems to believe that they are living in a moment when Christianity is under attack and must be defended. As Matthew Lee Anderson wrote in response to a colleague who pressured him to sign the Nashville Statement, “the urgency of the hour demands it.” Anderson added: “the impulse to close ranks and reassert evangelicalism’s identity publicly and the eagerness to indulge in the rhetorical excess of the statement’s importance have the same roots in the despair that governs our politics.”

Lambert’s video attacking Johnson, the apparent firing of Johnson, the tone and spirit of the Nashville Statement, Mohler’s attacks on Francis, and the use of inerrancy as a means of dividing evangelicals (I am sure I could find other examples as well) leads me to wonder if we are seeing a new manifestation of Protestant fundamentalism.  (I am sure some believe that this happened a long time ago in SBC circles). I have seen this kind of thing before.  I started my career writing about it.  Fundamentalists believe that the culture is under attack and orthodox doctrine is in jeopardy from outside forces.  They call their followers to circle the wagons, draw lines in the sand, and close ranks. Who is on the Lord’s side?  Who will be the true defenders of the faith in the sea of cultural, intellectual, and social change?  Who will take a stand?

Perhaps this is the kind of thing the church needs right now.  I am not convinced of it, but maybe I am wrong.  I do, however, find it ironic that many of the same Southern Baptists who seem to be adamant about drawing clear and decisive boundaries also seem to value the legacy of the so-called “neo-evangelicals” of the mid-20th century. the men who tried to bring conservative Protestantism out of its fundamentalist past.  They name their schools and centers after Billy Graham and Carl F.H. Henry and they admire  John Harold Ockenga, one of the founders of the National Association of Evangelicals. They adhere to the conservative theology of these giants of modern American evangelicalism, but do not seem to exemplify the irenic spirit of these men when they speak into public life.  Instead, they sound more like J. Gresham Machen, Curtis Lee Laws, Frank Norris, and William Bell Riley.

I don’t know Eric Johnson, but I hope he lands on his feet.

The Author’s Corner with Mary Beth Mathews

mary beth mathews Mary Beth Mathews is an Associate Professor of Religion at the University of Mary Washington. This interview is based on her new book, Doctrine and Race: African American Evangelicals and Fundamentalism between the Wars (University of Alabama Press, 2017).

JF: What led you to write Doctrine and Race?

MM: When I wrote my dissertation (which became my first book, Rethinking Zion: How the Print Media Placed Fundamentalism in the South), I kept wondering why white fundamentalists tended to be displaced southerners. Men like John Roach Straton, William Bell Riley, and J.C. Massee all grew up in the south and moved north to promote their theology. As I researched them, I realized that I couldn’t answer that question and that there was a more important question staring me in the face: how did white fundamentalists interact with African American evangelicals. By all rights, there should have been a common theological bond between these two groups, but there was no real contact between them. That became the narrative of Doctrine and Race

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Doctrine and Race?

MM: Doctrine and Race argues that African American evangelicals were excluded from participation in the emerging fundamentalist movement in the early twentieth century, yet they adhered to many of the same doctrinal and social views as white fundamentalists. Black evangelicals were not welcome at the fundamentalist table, in large part because white fundamentalists had created a racial definition of fundamentalism, one that depended on white interpretations of theology, culture, and religion, but these same black evangelicals turned that definition against white fundamentalists, arguing that no one who was a racist could claim the identity of Christian. 

JF: Why do we need to read Doctrine and Race?

MM: Doctrine and Race illuminates the racial tensions within evangelical Christianity, tensions that continue to this day. Many American historians and pundits have tended to lump all evangelicals into a single category—one that is white by default. By examining the similarities and differences between white and black evangelicals and by tracing the exclusion of African Americans from larger discussions about theology and culture, we can better understand African American evangelicals, their political thinking, and current debates over religion and politics in the U.S. 

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

MM: That’s a tough question to answer, since my doctorate is in Religious Studies but with a focus on American and European Religious History. I’ve been interested in history since childhood, but my passion for the subject of American religious history really took off when I was an undergraduate and took a class with David L. Holmes at the College of William and Mary. I declared a religion major and never looked back, except for a stint working on Capitol Hill as a legislative assistant.

JF: What is your next project?

MM: I’m finishing up an article on the American Baptist Theological Seminary, a joint venture started in the 1920s by the black National Baptist Convention and the white Southern Baptist Convention. This project grew out of the research I did for Doctrine and Race but never quite fit into the book itself. I’m also looking at taking some of the questions I asked in Doctrine and Race and applying them to emerging Pentecostal traditions in the early twentieth century. 

JF: Thanks, Mary!

Fundamentalism on the Left

 

berkeley miloFundamentalism: “a movement or attitude stressing strict and literal adherence to a set of basic principles.”

I occasionally tell my left-leaning friends that the kind of progressivism that dominates American universities has its own set of orthodoxies that can be easily described as “fundamentalist.” When I say this my friends look at me like I am crazy.  (Don’t try this experiment at home.  I only do it with very good friends).

Academia may be the most conservative realm in American culture.  Of course I am not talking about political conservatism here.  You won’t find much of that on university campuses.  Fundamentalists don’t like ideological diversity.  I am talking about the conservative impulse to resist change.  Academics have been preaching the same stale orthodoxies for generations.  The modern university produces very few independent thinkers.

But I digress…

Over at Religion News Service, David Gushee, Distinguished Professor of Christian Ethics at Mercer University in Georgia, says “It’s time to worry about leftist fundamentalism, too.”

After offering several examples of this left-leaning fundamentalis, Gushee offers this conclusion:

A number of recent campus incidents around the country also suggest that a kind of left-wing fundamentalism is on the rise. Sometimes these incidents are egged on by the presence or words of outside provocateurs, but other times it is simply professors who are perceived as crossing liberal orthodoxy boundaries and then facing the rage of their students and some of their colleagues.

Why is all of this disastrous for liberals?

It is disastrous culturally, because it widens the gulf between our warring tribes, which degrades the environment all of us live in.

It is disastrous politically, because left-wing fundamentalism hurts the image of the Democratic Party and liberals in general and is a sure loser in state and national races in most of the country.

It is disastrous intellectually, because it shuts down intelligent reflection on difficult issues and leaves dissenters or potential dissenters afraid to express themselves.

There is plenty wrong on the right. But there is plenty wrong on the left, too. Each side needs to get its act together. If there is a sensible, grown-up center to American public life, it’s about time it showed up.

Read the entire piece here.

Jack Wyrtzen: Evangelical Environmentalist

Word of Life Island, Schroon Lake in the Adirondack Mountains, NY

Who is Jack Wyrtzen?

The founder of Word of Life was a household name in post-war evangelical and fundamentalism. He may have also been an evangelical environmentalist.

Here is Fred Clark, aka Slacktivist:

Jack Wyrtzen was an old-school evangelist — a little bit Billy Sunday, a little bit Billy Graham. He was a former insurance salesman and a Bible-school drop-out who went on to become a radio preacher and eventually the president-and-founder of a popular para-church ministry, Word of Life. Wyrtzen had a loud, genuine laugh and a penchant for even louder jackets. He was also a straight-ticket fundamentalist — young-Earth creationism, premillennial dispensationalism, plenary verbal inspiration, inerrancy, the whole platform.

I met him on several occasions over the years and found him a hard man not to like.

Word of Life was a big deal in the fundie church and private Christian school I grew up in. My family wasn’t part of the Word of Life club, but many of our friends and neighbors made regular pilgrimages up to Schroon Lake for Bible conferences and Bible camp, and they studiously worked their way through correspondence courses for Wyrtzen’s Word of Life Bible Institute….

…And so it came to pass that I wound up mailing a copy of the soon-to-be-declared Evangelical Declaration on the Care of Creation to — among hundreds of others — Jack Wyrtzen, President and Founder, Word of Life Ministries, Schroon Lake, NY.

I didn’t expect that one would get a response. Our declaration wasn’t proving very popular within the creationist and “Bible-prophecy” fundamentalist branches of evangelicalism. Many young-Earth creationists bear a suspicion bordering on outright hostility toward ecology which is, after all, a secular science. And most premillennial dispensationalists couldn’t be persuaded to care much about the environment because Jesus was coming back any day now and it’s all gonna burn. The world that Hal Lindsey had taught them to think of as “The Late Great Planet Earth” was going to be destroyed as part of God’s great plan, so why bother taking care of it? (For the record, I believe we also sent a letter and a draft of the declaration to the Rev. Tim LaHaye. We did not receive a response from him.) Sure, our “declaration” was full of chapter-and-verse proof-texts supporting “creation care,” but those tended to be from all the wrong parts of Genesis and Revelation, so most of the creationism and Rapture crowd weren’t eager to sign on.

But from that faction there was one surprising exception: Jack Wyrtzen. Jack added his signature and sent back an enthusiastic, hand-written note affirming that he was confident Jesus was returning soon (multiple exclamation points!) — but that he also believed that loving God meant, in the meantime, taking care of “God’s beautiful creation!!!”

I treasured that endorsement for personal reasons, and hoped it might persuade others from the fundier-side of evangelicalism to join Jack in permitting their followers to listen to what we were saying. (It didn’t.)

That was almost 25 years ago, but I found myself thinking fondly of that sweet note from Jack Wyrtzen last week as the hand-picked president of 81 percent of white evangelicals announced his intention to withdraw the United States from the global effort to combat the damage from climate change.

A lot has changed over those years and I’m not sure a new “Declaration on the Care of Creation” today would ever receive the kind of response the old one got from folks like Jack Wyrtzen. The evangelical “Christian radio” pioneered by old-school “Bible” preachers like Wyrtzen is now home to culture-warriors and scores of wanna-be Limbaughs and Hannitys who regard environmentalism as a hoax or a socialist conspiracy. The Fox News toxin has infected much of the evangelical subculture so that these days any talk of the environment triggers their hippy-punching instinct (liberals care about something so we must oppose it). And after the 2000 election here in the U.S., even the facts and science of climate change became a matter of partisan dispute.

Read the rest here.

The “Rapture Bet”

rapture

Check out Fred Clark’s piece titled “A death bet is morally repugnant.  So is a ‘Rapture’ bet.”

A taste:

Donald Trump is making a death bet on climate change. The president is 70 years old and he just doesn’t care about what the world will be like three decades from now. By 2050 he, personally, will be gone, so why should he care about anyone or anything in a future that he will not, personally, live to see?

The idea of a death bet is as vile as it is simple. Live large and indulge yourself, free of all responsibility, paying for it all with debt that won’t come due until after you, personally, are dead. This screws over your heirs, and your creditors, and everyone else who is not you. But, hey, what do you care? You’ll be dead…

But it’s not just Donald Trump making the death bet of climate-change denial. He has the support on this of millions of white evangelical Christians. They don’t care about climate change because they believe the world is about to end anyway. They’re not making a death bet so much as, in their minds, a “Rapture” bet: Can you imagine, Rayford? Jesus coming back to get us before we die!

This isn’t quite as brazenly immoral and selfish as Trump’s death bet. He doesn’t care about what the world will be like in 50 years because he doesn’t care about anything he does not personally experience. These Rapture-Christians don’t care about what the world will be like in 50 years because they don’t believe the world will still be here then. They’re sure it won’t. They’re sure the Rapture is imminent — that it will occur any day, any moment, maybe even before you finish reading this…

Ask them about climate change and they’ll assure you there’s no need to worry about famine and flood in 2050, because they’re “certain” that Jesus is coming back before then. Ask them about their teenage child’s plans to major in art history or theater arts and they’ll give you a very different outlook.

Or just consider the way, say, Rapture-preacher John Hagee is grooming his son to take over his family ministry to ensure that it continues for another generation. Or, more cynically, look at the way these Rapture-preachers and Rapture-believers invest for their own retirements. They’re hedging their Rapture bet when it comes to their own future, but not when it comes to a future they imagine will only affect the lives of other people they don’t personally know.

Read the entire post at Clark’s blog Slacktivist.

Historically, things are a bit complicated.  Of course there is a longstanding history of rapture thinking in modern American evangelicalism.  This is part of the reason why some early 20th-century fundamentalists did not like the Social Gospel.  Why work for social reform when Jesus would be coming back soon? But to be fair to the historical record, many fundamentalists also combined rapture-longing with social action.

A belief in the end times was also the reason why some premillennialists did not initially support U.S. involvement in World War I.  Why fight a war to “make the world safe for democracy” when Jesus would be coming back soon?

And we could go on.  Not all rapture Christians broke with the social demands of Christian faith that their 19th-century Second Great Awakening ancestors championed, but some did.

There is also some question about whether the general failure of evangelicals to support environmental causes today is directly related to their views of the “end times.”  In 2012, political scientists David Barker and David Bearce argued in an article titled “End-Times Theology, the Shadow of the Future, and Public Resistance to Addressing Global Climate Change” that “believers in Christian end-times theology are less likely to support policies designed to curb global warming than are other Americans.”  Religion scholar Robin Globus Veldman challenged their findings in a piece at Religion Dispatches.

This all reminds me of when PBS host Bill Moyers accused James Watt, the Secretary of the Interior in the early years of the Reagan administration, of arguing that there was no need for Congress to pass legislation protecting the environment because Jesus Christ would soon be returning. Moyer quoted Watt as saying “After the last tree is felled, Christ will come back.” In 2005, Watt wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post claiming that he never said these things.  He wrote: “I know no Christian who believes or preaches such error.” Moyer apologized, but Watt wanted to make sure, over twenty years after he left office, that Americans understood that evangelical belief was not incompatible with environmental reform.

Today, in a piece on this issue by Washington Postreligion writer Sarah Pulliam Bailey, does not mention the “rapture” argument.

In the end, I am sure there are evangelicals out there who believe that the environment is unimportant because the rapture is coming soon.  Clark is right when he says that these rapture Christians are inconsistent. They plan for the future when it comes to their own retirements and inheritances, but they do not plan for the future when it comes to the fate of the planet.

I will end with a tweet from conservative pundit Erick Erickson.  Not sure if it fits into the “rapture Christian” category, but it is certainly revealing.

Christian School Will Not Let Pregnant Teen Walk With Her Classmates at Graduation

This story has been out there for a few days now, but that doesn’t make it any less awful.

Heritage Academy, a Christian school in Hagerstown, Maryland, will not allow senior student Maddie Runkles to walk with her classmates at graduation on June 2.  According to the administrator of the school, David Hobbs, Runkles “is being disciplined, not because she’s pregnant, but because she was immoral.”

Here is the official statement:

Heritage.png

Several things strike me about this letter, but I will mention four here:

  • Hobbs says that he does not want the “Heritage family” to see the members of the Board as “harsh, cruel, hard-hearted men.”  Interesting.  I wonder if Maddie Runkles would be walking with her class at graduation on June 2 if there were some women on the Board.  And yes, the action of the board IS “harsh, cruel, and hard-hearted.”
  • Hobbs is concerned that “God is glorified in a dignified manner” on the night of graduation.  OK.  And God will not be glorified if Maddie Runkles walks?  The Christian God is a God of forgiveness and grace.
  • Notice the school logo: “Knowledge, Patriotism, Bible Truth.”  This school clearly falls into the Christian nationalist camp.  I wonder if Hobbs thinks Maddie Runkles’s behavior is both sinful and un-American.
  • The reference to three “compromises” is fleshed out more fully in the CBS News video below.  Apparently Hobbs had to fight-off parents and members of the Heritage community who wanted Runkles expelled for her transgressions.

Maddie Runkles needs Christian love and support right now.  Like Hobbs, I am glad that she has decided to keep her baby.  I commend her for making a decision for life.  But I also worry about how long she will identify with a Christian community.  Incidents like this tend to turn young people away from the faith pretty quickly.

 

Grant Wacker on Billy Graham’s 1957 New York Crusade

WackerI have always been fascinated by this Billy Graham crusade. When I was in divinity school I wrote an M.A. thesis on separatist Protestant fundamentalism in the 20th century.  The 1957 crusade was a key part of my story.

Over at the blog “Evangelical History,” Justin Taylor interviews Graham biographer Grant Wacker about the 1957 Crusade, which got underway 60 years ago yesterday.

Here is a taste:

Setting aside whatever influences on the culture this crusade might have had, historians recognize that one of the most significant internal legacies from this summer was Graham’s decision about partnering with modernists, moderates, and mainliners.

The New York crusade embodied and portended one of the most important strategic decisions of Graham’s entire life. He determined that he would work with anyone who would work with him if (1) they accepted the deity of Christ and if (2) they did not ask him to change his message.

In practice he quietly overlooked the “deity of Christ” provision. He accepted the help mainline of Protestants who probably would have the affirmed the divinity but not necessarily the deity of Christ, and of Jews, who found his emphasis on God, patriotism, and decency appealing.

But the second provision—“if they do not expect me to change my message”—proved absolutely non-negotiable. There is no evidence anyone tried.

Inclusiveness worked—on the whole. As I noted earlier, the invitation to New York came from a majority of the churches, evangelical and mainline. It is hard to generalize about Catholics, but signs abound that thousands of ordinary believers and many members of the Catholic clergy supported him. Some Jews, too.

That being said, fundamentalists relentlessly opposed Graham’s effort in New York and, from then, pretty much everywhere else. By working with so-called liberals and Catholics, they reasoned, he had sacrificed doctrine for success, and the price was too high. Their opposition could be called “the bitterness of disillusioned love.” In their eyes, Graham had once been one of them, but he had left the family, never to return.

The diversity was not only religious but also included men and women from a variety of occupations and social levels. The crusade was sponsored and undoubtedly partly funded by leading figures in the business community, such as George Champion, vice president (soon president) of Chase Manhattan Bank, one of the largest in the nation. The nightly meetings featured a retinue of testimonials from prominent entertainers, politicians, and military men. Anecdotal evidence suggests that thousands of ordinary people—more often readers of the New York Post than the New York Times—talked about the meetings on the subways and in street corner diners.

Read the entire interview here.