on softness and specifics

I sort of agree with the complaints voiced over at My Two Cents in critique of an article entitled “Fundamentalism’s Great Softness”. I have wanted to jump in and add my voice to the comments, but have restrained myself! (Amazing but true!)

Of course, that restraint is only “so far” and “until now”.

I want to add some ‘wait a minute’ statements:

  • I am reading Isaiah right now in my devotions. Last week I read Micah and Hosea. Beyond identifying the group of people these prophets spoke to (i.e., Israel, Judah, Ephraim, etc.) how often were the prophets specific in their charges or against specific individuals/institutions within Israel/Judah? Must a current writer be specific in order to make a point?
  • Does anyone really deny that there is a ‘softness’ creeping over fundamentalism? Consider the many blogs purporting to be by fundamentalists yet advocating such things as contemporary music styles, looser standards of dress, and even going so far as to advocate the use of alcohol. I could list more subjects, but does anyone really deny that there is a push towards looser personal standards?

    By the way… in some respects, I am looser than some of my fundamentalist forbears, especially in areas like dress standards. I stand against immodest and worldly dress [as I understand it] but I am not against such things as ‘pants on women’ or insist on men wearing suits to church or even as a pastor dressing in a tie during the week… call me a liberal…

    My point, though, is this: let’s not kid ourselves about the lack of softness in fundamentalism. Softness is everywhere. Some of it may be a legitimate softening of previously unreasonably hard positions. Some of it is compromise with the world, plain and simple.

  • Ivan Foster, no softie, publishes an article by “an American Observer” [i.e., read Anonymous Coward] entitled “Radical Changes afoot at Bob Jones University” In the article University spokesmen are quoted saying that things said in the past wouldn’t be said in the present, at least not the same way. Would you say that this is evidence of softening or hardening?

    By the way, the BJU folks may be right in making these changes. I am personally reserving judgement to see where things end up. I am concerned, as an alum and a parent of current students. May God keep the University as the premier fundamentalist institution in the world! But the changes bear watching and who can deny that this is a softening of previously held positions?

I cannot speak for the writer of The Projector article, but these last two points may be the kind of thing he was aiming at.

It is undeniable that fundamentalism has softened in many respects. I have offered examples of softening at two ends of the spectrum, so to speak. I think that the reader can supply plenty of evidence of softening in between the ‘lower level’ of softening exhibited by individuals and the ‘higher level’ of softening at some (all?) of our fundamentalist institutions. Many many churches with fundamentalist heritages are softening. Some are softening right out of fundamentalism altogether.

Some softening may be warranted. Is all of it? We don’t know the answer to that question yet.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3


  1. Kent Brandenburg says:


    I would say that these guys are right most of the time, but they are held to a high standard regarding their writing and their arguments. We need to have a high standard, so this is great. However, I have found that the new fundamentalism is very sensitive in taking the same kind of criticism. When criticized they do the same kind of political cold shoulder policies that fundamentalists have done in the past. In other words, the worst of the old fundamentalism still thrives, but with the current softening included. It doesn’t look good.

    Regarding the pants issue, which you may have been writing to a broader audience than me, but I applaud your admission that it was the personal standard of fundamentalism at one time. It gets treated like leprosy, as if it is extremely odd and kooky, that you would think it were the new standard, not the old one. And you would be right that I think that leaving that standard without as much as an explanation as to why it was dropped, or a replacement for the male symbol that once was, as if the people before really didn’t know what they were doing, is part of the new softening, IMO.

  2. Don Johnson says:

    Hi Kent,

    I am a little unclear on the reference in your first paragraph to “these guys”… Could be that I haven’t had my morning coffee.

    On the pants issue, if anyone denies that it is a softening of old positions, they are nuts.

    In my view there is no need for fundamentalism to be static in order to be faithful. But of course the debate is what should change.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  3. Kent Brandenburg says:

    “These guys” are the “Projector” types, the guys that write those types of articles.

  4. Don Johnson says:

    ok, got it. It was either your explanation or the fact that I am now on my third cup of coffee. [Can you spell ‘addicted’?]

    The worst part of old fundamentalism is carnal politicking, something that probably cannot be eradicated, given the sin nature.

    On a related note, it is amazing to see some heavy duty politics happening in Canadian Anglicanism just now. It is making all the papers as the ‘conservatives’ take on the establishment over the gay rights issues. I may do a blog on it shortly. I have made some comments elsewhere, but it is interesting to see some of the moves being made, finally, in that moribund group.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  5. Dave says:

    Hold on a minute here. I grew up in a fundamentalist church and never knew that women wearing slacks had anything to do with fundamentalism until I moved south for school. Even there the ladies were allowed to wear them in certain circumstances.

    It is way off base to suggest that fundamentalism had anything close to a position on this issue. One segment of fundamentalism had this position as a mark of fundamentalism, but I doubt that it was even half of the fundamentalist coalition at best.

  6. Don Johnson says:

    Dave, I will grant you that point, as my experience with fundamentalism began almost at the point I went south. However, the history of dress standards and the attitudes of fundamentalists prior to your generation and mine might be different from your experience.

    Regardless, I think the point still stands that fundamentalism is softening at points. Whether this is good or bad is another question.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  7. Dave says:


    My perspective reflects, I believe, a deeper history than my own. My predecessor here at IC/DBTS was educated at Bob Jones College in Cleveland, TN, then Grace Seminary in Winona Lake before becoming the pastor here in 1949. Likewise, Dr. McCune’s personal and ministry history runs back decades, and he confirms the same point that I am making.

    I just do not believe it is tenable to claim that it was or is a position of fundamentalism that women are not to wear pants. To turn your argument around, I think it would be nuts to claim that this was a universal standard among fundamentalists ever. It only gained a place of prominence, if it ever really did, under the influence of southern fundamentalism as it spread north.

    It is clear that some churches and ministries that formerly held to this view have changed, but I believe it would be mistaken to assume such a change is softening or lowering the standard. That kind of argument assumes its conclusion in its premise.

    To be clear, I have no interest in debating whether women should or should not wear pants. I am simply making the point that the argument that this was a universal standard among fundamentalists is wrong (not to mention irrelevant).

  8. Chris Anderson says:

    The word “softening” biases the conversation, because it sounds like a bad thing, at least as Tod Brainard used it. He equates it with weakness.

    Is the realization/fact that women wearing pants(!) is a non-issue a matter of our becoming “soft”? Maybe it’s just a matter of using common sense and has nothing to do with the strength of the movement. And maybe the same thing is true regarding the whole inter-racial marriage thing, or KJV-onlyism, or even the theater. Maybe those who held those positions in the past weren’t strong, but wrong. And maybe the perceived changes some are seeing aren’t a matter of softening, but of correction and honesty.

    As for your take on the article–and I agree with you on many points–the problem isn’t merely the use of generalities. The whole tone is accusatory, assuming that most all fundamentalists (apparently with the exception of a few Elijahs) are on the slippery slope, as evidenced by some dress issue, some version, some whatever. Worse, it assumes a pseudo-omniscience by claiming to know motives. That’s never a good thing.

    As my friend Dave Saxton said over there, I’m a militant fundamentalist. However, I want nothing to do with that mindset. It doesn’t represent me at all. If that makes me soft, so be it.

  9. Chris Anderson says:

    Oops. I meant to start with “Hi, Don.” I’m feeling very soft and friendly, after all. :-)

  10. Don Johnson says:

    Dave, as I said earlier, I am willing to concede the point that the “pants issue” may not have been a universal fundamentalist “position”. I grew up in an evangelical church in Alberta. When I was a little boy, church women rarely if ever wore pants. Most women in town rarely if ever wore pants. This was a rough town in the oil patch, by the way. By the time I made it into later elementary school, things changed rapidly.

    And it is not that I am that ancient… just a year older than you as I recall.

    But let’s not get sidetracked by the pants issue. That isn’t the real point, even though I mentioned it as an example of my own change from the fundamentalism I was taught.


    Hi backatcha…

    Yes, softening does sound negative. I have a hunch that most of the softening we are seeing is negative. I admit that not all of it is negative and think that I have softened some of the positions I was taught (not just by BJU, by the way).

    As for the article in particular, you are right about the accusatory tone, it has been the tone of The Projector as far back as I can remember. When I was a preacher boy, they were giving away copies free in Preacher Boys for a while. I quit taking it because of the tone. However… though hard, and probably unnecessarily harsh, The Projector was one of the first to be attacking Gothard, for example. This was at a time when many fundamentalists were promoting him. To a certain extent, though harsh, I think publications like The Projector are needed, even if I don’t read them… (How’s that for a contradictory statement!)

    That’s all for now.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  11. Kent Brandenburg says:

    Thanks for your comments on ‘pants and fundamentalism,’ Dave. First, I mentioned that totally as a side issue because it is something Don and I have discussed and I noticed he mentioned. I believe that was your perspective, Dave. I have a personal perspective too, heading to Maranatha with my family when I was in 7th grade in 1974. It was a particular circle of fundamentalism not necessarily overlapping your orbit, but fairly representative. Dr. Cedarholm taught my History of Fundamentalism course, because Dr. Weeks went ill right at the beginning, so we asked someone fairly in the middle of fundamentalism his observations on almost anything. By the way, Minnesota and Wisconsin are fairly north as you know. :)

    I’m actually taking a step back to America as a whole around the time when the fundamentalist movement began, Dave. This is how America practiced, and fundamentalism was close to the furthest right wing of that theologically and practically. It’s an easy call actually.

    I stay by my stuff of the unscriptural political cold shoulder. I’ve seen it all along the way. I think it is caused by errors in ecclesiology, which don’t allow a consistent scriptural practice, and also by example followed.

  12. Kent Brandenburg says:


    I think those subjects (theater, inter-racial, etc.) are worthy of discussion. The video tape brought the theater discussion into new light, although I think Kevin Bauder has an even deeper historical perspective on theater that is worth attention. The reasons I heard pre-video were good, IMO. They still work for me today.

    I would grant that KJVO is not the position of the academic branch of the fundamentalist movement, so it is kind of a moot point regarding fundamentalism. I prefer to consider KJVO under the issue of the preservation of Scripture. I’m interested in the historic position on the preservation of Scripture, pre-Warfield. I’m not asking for it here or planning on it, but isn’t that a worthy consideration?

    It was interesting reading you guys’ comments.

  13. Dave says:


    If I may just push it a little farther…

    I think that you have put your finger on the real issue without recognizing it. Your comment about your evangelical church and the general culture in which you grew up parallels what you’re saying about fundamentalism regarding women’s clothing. I think that is the best clue to seeing that it isn’t fundamentalism getting soft, it is western culture changing.

    As the culture changes, godly people have to wrestle with the proper applications of biblical truth. If, as in this case, a specific kind of clothing no longer signifies what it once did within a culture, then that affects how believers respond to it.

    This applies well beyond this specific issue. As I said earlier, to view such changes as softening or lowering assumes too much. It comes dangerously close to judging according to appearance (cf. John 7:24).

  14. Don Johnson says:

    Man, who ordered this snow? Why isn’t it in Alberta where it belongs??

    Dave, I offered the dress issue only as an example of my own changes. I don’t just mean the pants issue. I try not to wear a tie during the week at all. The only times I might are if I go to a fellowship meeting. Peer pressure, you know.

    But leaving the dress issue aside, my point is that evidences of a softening of some kind can be seen within fundamentalism. The changes can be seen in many of the young people coming out of fundamentalist colleges and can be seen in publicized statements of leading fundamentalist institutions. What does it mean for BJU officials to say that we wouldn’t say things that were said ‘back then’ today? Doesn’t it mean at least putting a softer face on the public position?

    Right or wrong, I don’t think there is any doubt that fundamentalism overall is softening some aspects of its positions, or at least the way those positions are stated.

    That’s the real concern.

    I think that the concern is echoed among many many pastors who I know. These are pastors of small churches. Our voices are not large and influential in fundamentalism, but we think we see things going on that concern us. We worry about what is going to happen to “our schools”. We worry about our kids.

    And we see uncertain signs “at the top”.

    It makes me wish for Dr Bob Jr and the old rules.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  15. Rob says:

    I am surprised that I’m posting a reply, but some of the comments in the replies just hit a couple of buttons for me!

    I am a long-time faculty member at BJU – in my 24th year here. For my first 11 years after my graduation from BJU, I taught in a Christian high school. So my association with BJU goes back to my freshman year in 1969, and I’m in my 35th year as a Christian educator. Believe me, I’ve seen a number of students in those 35 years – some now living for and serving the Lord, some now living miserable lives far from God, and unfortunately even some who have done or are doing prison time.

    During my years of teaching at BJU, I must say that, in general, the students coming to us today are a far cry from what they were when I started teaching here 24 years ago. Many are far more worldly-minded and worldly-wise now than they were 24 years ago. They see nothing wrong with many things the Bible clearly and unquestionably condemns. Many students are coming to us from (so-called?) Christian homes where both parents are on their second or third marriage, where social drinking is the norm, where participating in almost all forms of worldly entertainment are not only permitted but are even encouraged, and where they have been led to believe by their parents that the world (and possibly the universe) revolves around them and their desires. Many of the students come from (so-called?) Fundamental churches where pastors and other church leaders have fallen into immorality, where CCM is the norm, and where church youth activities have little in the way of spiritual goals or impact and, if anything, draw the kids away from spiritual interest to more worldly interests.

    These students come to us at BJU (and really to all the other good Christian colleges and Bible schools) from the kinds of backgrounds I described above, and yet it’s the fault of the Christian college if our graduates go out and live like the world?! Please explain to me why it’s our fault! Can any Christian institution completely undo the kind of attitudes, lifestyles, and addictions that today’s young people bring with them??? Sometimes I feel like we’re trying to Christianize pagans – and I’m sure, in some cases we are. But our students all profess to know the Lord, so what do we do? Could you parents and churches out there please send us more young people with a heart for God and with less love for the world? Please?! Pretty please?!

    I promise you that we do our utmost at BJU to try to teach your young people right from wrong – from Scripture. We try to warn them where the lives many of them seem to want lead will take them if they persist on that course. We try to show them examples of people who love the Lord and are following and serving Him, walking as close to Him and as far from the world as possible. But one cannot legislate morality or a supreme love for the Lord that overarches personal desires and agendas. One simply cannot. We know it, and you know it.

    And I’m always interested when pastors get going on about “pants on women.” I keep thinking, “Finally, someone is going to expose the Scripture that spells out God’s injunction against women wearing pants”. But alas! I’m always disappointed not to see Scriptural clarification to this issue. I can find the principles that we are all (men and women) to clothe ourselves modestly, and that men and women are to look different from each other. (By the bye, how did they do that in Bible times when everyone wore robes/skirts/dresses? I guess is was something about the style, cut, ornamentation, or something?) Though I “wear the pants” in our family, my wife wears pants in our house on some occasions. It’s actually much more modest than a skirt would be when she’s doing some of her heavy housecleaning! I personally would not be caught dead in any of her style of pants, and she feels the same about my style of pants. I guess I’ll keep waiting for someone to point me to book, chapter, and verse that clearly says that women should not cover their legs. I’ve seen many women in public settings who were far more immodest in a skirt than they would have been in pants.

    Well, I’ve written enough for now. Please do pray for the leadership at BJU and all other Christian schools. They need wisdom to decide what is Scriptural and what is cultural. Practices done because of clear, unchanging Scriptural principles are very different from practices done because of cultural preferences that change with time.


  16. Don Johnson says:


    Thanks so much for stopping by. I really appreciate the comments.

    I think that you are right in what you say concerning many of the young people coming to BJU these days. I attended BJU from 1975-1983. I am a lifer in the Alumni Association.

    We have three kids there right now. We have anxious moments as we see them having to stand up in the dorms for living godly lives, standing for righteousness and receiving persecution as ‘Jonesers’ and other derogatory terms because they won’t go along with the crowd. This kind of abuse will come even from some appointed as “spiritual leaders” in the rooms.

    I say that to say that I am quite aware of the challenge that fundamentalist colleges face. I think that fundamentalist churches are facing the same problems. We face them in our ministry.

    My concern about softness, however, is not so much that students are coming out of fundamental colleges and living weak or worse spiritual lives. My concern is 1) a visible number of the “spiritual leaders” coming out of these schools are coming out with Bible degrees, etc., and advocating a loosened standard of Christian living and 2) that some people in fundamentalist leadership are making uncertain sounds concerning a clear fundamentalist point of view.

    I am having a little difficulty knowing how to end this… I do appreciate what you are saying, brother. I know that there are enough faculty at BJU with the same kind of heart for God that I still am willing to send my kids there. But the tides of change are everywhere, and BJU and the other fundamental schools are not immune to their forces.

    May God help us all.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  17. Kent Brandenburg says:


    I think you are correct in saying that the general condition of young people everywhere is going down, which is why we need to sound the alarm. Our churches too must be vigilant in training the young people in the way they should go. Thanks for your comments.

    Regarding the pants issue, I haven’t argued it here at all and won’t, but I would be glad to make the Scriptural argument for you if you are interested, at my email address—betbapt {at} flash(.)net.


    I think one point about the softness is the constant bragging on and for new-evangelicals amongst professing fundamentalists. The less worldly positions seem to be disdained and the new-evangelicals are regularly admired.

  18. Don, I posted the following comment this morning, but the page “went funny” after I clicked “Publish your comment” and I don’t know if it took or not. I’ll repost it below. If you got it twice, just delete this one. If this is the only one you get, just delete this paragraph. Rob

    Thanks for your thoughtful reply, Don. After I posted my comment, I thought to myself, “Self, you know, you made it sound like every student coming to Christian college today is worldly and/or carnal.” And that’s not the case. I have and have had many students who love the Lord and want to follow Him, and many who are doing just that. I’m glad for kids like yours who are willing to stand for what they know and believe, and I trust they will continue to be salt and light, not only at BJU, but also throughout life.

    I share your dismay that some of those graduating with Bible degrees are not always separated as we’d like to see them be. But they are not learning that from the university. They may be learning it from classmates, or their own hearts have not yet been convinced concerning Biblical separation from worldliness and from ecclesiastical compromise. If you can give us any words of wisdom about how to teach or preach more clearly on these things, we’d sure appreciate it, I’m sure. It’s definitely the Lord who has to do His work in hearts – something no man can do, no matter what his methods may be.

    When I came as a freshman to BJU, I came from an unsaved family and a church that didn’t really give me clear teaching about many areas of separated Christian living. I loved the Lord, but I was also holding on to some of the world. During my years at BJU the Lord showed me a lot through the chapel messages, through the godly examples of my teachers and some of my classmates, and through the negative examples of classmates in whose lives I saw no joy. Somehow in His own wonderful way, the Lord used it all to get a hold of my heart. The same thing is happening today. The Lord Himself had a Judas, and Peter had his struggles. And the Lord was the perfect teacher and the perfect example, something none of us can be.

    As I alluded to in my previous post, the leaders of our schools need wisdom to discern what “standards” are Scriptural and hence not up for review, and what “standards” are merely preferences shaped by cultural norms. One recent example is that we men on the faculty and staff will now be permitted to sport beards since it’s obvious that beards are no longer associated with the rebellion begun in the 1960s. After over 40 years of shaving (except on camping trips or on Saturdays), I’m looking forward to having my first real beard at the age of 56! This is after wondering for years if God gave us men facial hair simply so that we’d have something to do every morning when we shaved it off. Is this a “softening,” as you put it? Is it un-Biblical? For years having a beard would have marked us by many in society at large as ones who were rebellious. That is no longer the case. Or it may be the case only by a small segment of Christians who think that God indeed gave us facial hair to give us something to do each morning to keep ourselves looking “Christian.”

    Once again, I’ve gone on too long. Hope I’m adding to this discussion rather than muddying.

    May the Lord find us faithful – to the praise of His glory and grace!


  19. Don Johnson says:

    Hi Rob

    Blogger doesn’t allow me to edit the comments, so your ‘extry’ paragraph got stuck in there.

    For Kent’s view on the pants issue, you can also do a search on SI for his name. You will find a thread where he and I argued it back and forth a good deal. (You will also note that he is a “guest” and I am “banned”. We are both persona non grata there.)

    I think I want to be careful regarding discussing the University and its policies. I have definite opinions about what goes on there, but this is probably not the best place to air them. But I’ll try to address a little bit of my point of view by describing a bit of my philosophy in the ministry.

    I recognize that the Christian community all across North America is in a mess. There are many professors and many less possessors.

    In our own ministry we are confronted by this all the time. We have had young people in our church who were exposed to an extremely soft form of Christianity through local “Christian” schools. They see and hear one thing in these places, then sit under my preaching and our youth activities/Sunday School, etc., and find that they ‘like’ the softer form better. Of course! I ‘like’ ice cream better than broccoli!

    Of our young people over the years, only a handful have opted for anything resembling our point of view of genuine discipleship.

    Some of our people think that I am too hard on our young people. If I encouraged them more (i.e., allowed them to participate in public worship regardless of outward testimony), then they might come around. Instead, I insist that testimony comes before ministry. I confront people about their claims of salvation. Some young people who have sat under our ministry hate me. I would rather be hated on earth if it ensured a place for them in heaven. At the minimum, I don’t wish to have their blood on my hands so I warn them, confront them, rebuke them, point them to Christ.

    It seems to me that the ‘hardness’ of fundamentalism begins to be lost when authorities don’t have the courage to reprove, rebuke, exhort – instead, you find accommodation and enablement. Lusts are pandered to.

    You did mention some changes at the University. I don’t oppose change necessarily, but the reason for discipline is not simply because “X” is wrong. One of the purposes of Christian discipline is to produce Christian character. When I was a grad student, I worked at the Print Shop. You will remember that the rule used to be men students must where ties until after chapel. In the Print Shop, operating dangerous equipment, ties were not allowed. So… I had a flexible job and schedule that allowed me to go to work early in the AM, go to class, come back to work, go to chapel, come back to work, etc. through the day. I remember a time where I was changing in the men’s room to go to chapel. I was in a bit of a rush and the dumb tie wouldn’t tie right. One of my supervisors (who later became the shop manager and has since passed away, I am sure you know him)happened to be in there and I half-jokingly complained, “Why do we have to wear ties all the time?” His reply, “It builds character.”

    How many times have you heard that one on campus? How many times has it grated when you were the one having the character built? One purpose of discipline is to build character. If you think about the number of changes that have happened in the discipline area, you can probably say of each one of them, “Well, that’s reasonable, the issue isn’t a matter of right and wrong, no big deal.”

    But what about the character issue? I want for my children a Christian military academy (so to speak, maybe not quite that extreme!) Would you say that the changes are tending towards that direction or away from that direction? Would you say the changes are softer or harder?

    Finally, as Kent says, my view on softness/hardness is not limited to matters of discipline at my alma mater nor to particularly cultural issues such as dress standards. The overall trends among at least the most vocal and visible ‘young fundamentalists’ is towards an admiration of all things evangelical and a disparagement of fundamentalism, whether it be ecclesiastical or personal separation.

    Ok, enough for now. I have seen your blog a time or two, I think through links on some other blog. I appreciate your efforts to keep the faith in your place of service.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3