my take on the hissy fit

I have been watching the current conflagration in the Fundamentalist blogosphere over the last five days with utter astonishment. The rapid developments in this issue give cause for concern. One hopes that sober minds will think long and hard about how to deal with the it.

The brouhaha ensued with a May 13 post by Bob Bixby calling attention to a sermon preached by Pastor Danny Sweatt at the Southeast Regional FBF meeting held at The Wilds. The sermon was about bro. Sweatt’s concerns for the state of fundamentalism and his perception of some of the causes. Apparently he believes that the rise of Calvinism especially among the younger set is at least partly to blame for the problems. He made remarks that were critical of Calvinism. I am not going to evaluate the merits of those remarks at this point, the point is, criticisms were made.

Bob and another blogger are often quick to react to any criticism of Calvinism by Fundamentalist preachers, especially those considered to be in prominent positions of leadership in the FBF/BJU/Maranatha et al wing of fundamentalism (what a mouthful!). As evidence, see Bob’s jibe at Chuck Phelps in the same post linked above and read back through Also look through posts at Paleoevangelical, the other blogger I mention.

For these commentators, it seems that one is not allowed to say anything against Calvinism. They might protest that they only want Calvinism to be fairly represented and that it was misrepresented by Danny Sweatt, hence the heat. Well. Check their attacks on Chuck Phelps. Chuck hasn’t ever misrepresented Calvinism to my knowledge — he has only stated his opinion of it in a rather understated way. The two points he gets criticism for is his message at last year’s national FBF meeting and a comment in a promotional piece where he spoke of “uniquely perilous times” which seemed to imply that he felt Calvinism to be one of the perils. He immediately received a barrage of e-mails and questioning over the “uniquely precarious” comment. For evidence of that, see Maranatha’s sermons online and listen to the chapel sessions entitled “Ask the President”. There are two parts, I don’t recall in which part these comments occurred. I think both are well worth the listen, so you won’t be bored (at least I wasn’t) while you wait for those comments.

So I would like to point out that these kinds of attacks and this defensiveness over Calvinisim is not merely due to misrepresentations of same. It seems that with some you simply can’t speak against Calvinism at all. (At the same time, the Calvinists can slander their opponents as Pelagian or Semi-Pelagian and that is perfectly fair ball.)

One wonders why neo-Calvinists are so quick to rise to full-throated defense of their pet doctrine. It couldn’t be because they are betraying hidden insecurities in their theological psyche, could it? Probably not, that is too psycho-babble-ish, don’t you think? But one wonders.

In any case, this controversy began as a hissy fit over Calvinism by one of a few who are known to throw them from time to time. The piece was picked up by Sharper Iron and the fur really began to fly.

Usually these kinds of blogosphere swarming raids peter out quickly. Everyone gets excited for a few days, then things simmer down as there is little left to say. This time something is a little different…

This time, Kevin Bauder, president of Central Baptist Theological Seminary decided to weigh in with an article essentially calling out the leadership of the FBF to publicly rebuke Danny Sweatt and let the insecure young Calvinists know that the FBF was a safe place for them to play. Here are the concluding paragraphs of his diatribe:

The leadership of the Fundamental Baptist Fellowship International has been presented with a problem, but that problem is also an opportunity. The fellowship meets in June. This meeting provides an occasion to display the strength of our character, the very thing that will establish our credibility with young leaders. They want to know how we will respond to Pastor Sweatt’s tirade. They want to know whether the FBFI is dominated by his vision of fundamentalism, or whether it is staking out a position that is more doctrinally and practically balanced. Frankly, I would like to know myself.

Within the Fundamental Baptist Fellowship International I have no power at all. The only thing that I can do is to appeal to the members of the board, whom I believe to be men of integrity and good will. Pastor Sweatt has handed you an opportunity to show what you really believe. If you wish to model the kind of fundamentalism that really is worth saving, then the time has come.

I am quite astonished at this turn of events. What can one say?

At this point, I’d like to say a couple of things about Pastor Sweatt’s message:

  • I understand his concerns for fundamentalism and don’t think he was preaching in a demanding or cantankerous manner. I thought his approach was gracious, in general.
  • I think some of his arguments were not well-founded, and some were poorly stated.
  • I think his remarks on Calvinism were not as egregious as they are being made out to be. While I don’t agree with him that Calvinistic leading lights have had ministries that faded when the luminaries died out, his remarks on the Calvinist view of John 3.16 accurately reflect the way I have heard Calvinists interpret the verse in past discussions. I have read the same in Calvinist literature. Yet repeating these statements is now a great crime?

In general, it seems to me that Danny Sweatt has the right to speak when invited to speak, and the right to preach his convictions as he sees them (barring actual doctrinal heresy, I mean).

To hear the critics talk, it is as if Pastor Sweatt denied the virgin birth or the blood atonement or something. Amazing.

We are just talking about Calvinism here, folks. Is it that important to you? Does Calvinism = the Gospel?

Thus, it seems to me that Bauder’s demands are quite extreme, especially considering the sermon in question. It seems unbelievable that someone like Bauder would risk the damage his demands could cause.

  • No matter what happens, Bauder’s demands could split the FBF. If his challenge is repudiated or ignored, the hot-headed young Calvinists could rush for the exits with much righteous indignation. If his challenge is accepted in some way, and the FBF is seen to becoming a Calvinist only organization, a host of others (including me) would head for the exits. Sadly.
  • The host pastor for this year’s event faces a challenge in his own church. Some of his people are involved in the discussion. How he reacts and how the FBF reacts has the potential to cause real damage to his own church. Interestingly, the former pastor of that church, and the current pastor’s father-in-law, has been named in the ensuing controversy as one of the older generation of fundamentalists that shouldn’t be followed. That can’t help the situation in Schaumburg very much.

In Bauder’s diatribe, he goes out of his way to say things about past leaders of fundamentalism that is also troubling. He says:

He [Sweatt] suggests that many of the current criticisms stem from a caricature based upon a mistaken impression of past fundamentalist “giants,” such as Jack Hyles, John R. Rice, Bob Jones, Jr., Lester Roloff, and Bob Gray. These men, says Sweatt, were larger than life.

One has to admit that the book-ends of this list were nothing to write home about. I wish Danny hadn’t mentioned them. But in any case, there is more:

I am old enough to remember every one of the “giants” on Pastor Sweatt’s list. I watched them during their public ministries. Their leadership and spiritual insight never impressed me. These were not the men I wanted to be like then, and I do not want to be like them today. Indeed, when I was a twenty-something, they and their kind were the greatest hindrance to my becoming a fundamentalist. Along the way, however, I discovered that such men did not and do not represent mainstream, historic fundamentalism. They may have been “giants” in terms of their public image, but they contributed little to biblical fundamentalism. Indeed, they are among the very heavy liabilities that fundamentalism has had to bear.

As I said, the book-ends of that list were no prizes. They do fit the words Bauder gives here, to which I have given extra emphasis.
But I wonder, does he mean to include John R. Rice and especially Dr. Bob Jones, Jr., in these remarks?

  • Not the men I wanted to be like” then or now.
  • “They and their kind were the greatest hindrance to my becoming a fundamentalist.”
  • They “contributed little to biblical fundamentalism.” [Little????]
  • They “are among the very heavy liabilities that fundamentalism has had to bear.”

Can you believe that about Dr. Bob Jones, Jr. and John R. Rice?

These two men obviously had their flaws, as all men do, and they had their differences with one another, as has been well documented. But really, if there had been no Dr. Bob Jr or Dr. Rice, would there be much of a fundamentalism at all anymore? When the neo-evangelical compromise came along, almost every fundamentalist group was swept along in the evangelical tide. Among the few institutions that stood against the spirit of that age were the Sword of the Lord and Bob Jones University. BJU in particular lost a huge portion of its students and faculty over these issues. Dr. Bob Jones, Jr, along with his father was prepared to risk the school for the cause of fundamentalism.

It is hard to imagine Dr. Bob, Jr., and Dr. Rice being included in this description of the ‘heavy liabilities’ of fundamentalism. At the moment, it appears that in Bauder’s mind, they do.

All of this leads me to think there is much more to this controversy than Calvinism. There is a segment of neo-Calvinists who cannot seem to allow any criticism of their pet theology. I don’t think Bauder falls in this class. So what is he up to?

Well consider this from an earlier article he has written:

Contemporary Christians, be they evangelical or fundamentalist, are often willing to concede that their version of Christianity has some blemishes, but they insist that it is basically healthy and sound. Conservatives, however, perceive in these blemishes the indications of malignant tumors that threaten the entire body. They believe that cosmetic treatments will prove ineffective.

What treatment will be effective? Here conservatives disagree among themselves. Some believe that the only solution lies in the complete abandonment of the present evangelical and fundamentalist institutions. They seek to separate themselves from all things “fundagelical” and to erect enclaves, often as small as single families, within which the remnants of the Christian heritage can be cherished until the Lord comes or a day arrives when sobriety can flourish again.

Other conservatives try to find room to work within some fundamentalist (rarely evangelical) churches and institutions. They see a high degree of continuity between their convictions and those of the earliest evangelicals (the Reformers, the Pietists, the Puritans, and the Great Awakeners). Indeed, these conservatives think of themselves as paleoevangelicals or retroevangelicals. They work together in an informal network that crosses institutional and even denominational boundaries.

Conservative Christians are reclamationists. On the one hand, they are trying to reclaim the best of the Christian tradition. On the other hand, they hope to reclaim part of the infrastructure of American Christianity for conservative ideals.

And more…

Conservative Christians believe that their task is to reclaim a full-orbed, historic, biblical Christianity. Their task is made difficult by the unfavorable environments of fundamentalism and evangelicalism. It is complicated further by the fact that conservatives are trying to reconstruct a heritage that was not handed to them intact. Whether they reject it entirely, or whether they attempt to revise and refurbish it, the only living tradition that is available to Christian conservatives today is the tradition of innovation, popularization, and anti-traditionalism that derives from Finney and his kind.

Conservatives themselves do not yet understand everything that conservative Christianity should involve. They have confidence in their core ideas, but they do not yet know every conclusion to which those ideas will lead. They are reformers, but they also recognize that they themselves still need to be reformed.

It appears that Bauder is interested in moving beyond fundamentalism, but not to evangelicalism. He is one who has been quietly advocating for changes that will morph fundamentalism from the ‘excesses of its past’ to a brighter and nobler future. It appears that he hopes for some means of cooperation with those who are called conservative evangelicals. There are many in the blogosphere who are agitating for that very thing to happen – you don’t have to read Sharper Iron long to discover that. It appears that in some manner, Bauder would like something like this to happen.

Thus, the challenge offered by Bauder is not merely a part of this hissy fit over Calvinism. It is politics, played hard-ball, and is an attempt, I believe, to shift a significant organization of fundamentalism in a direction he wishes it to go.

It is rather ironic that Bauder is making this kind of naked power-play. He is one who talks much of the damage that “Doc” has done in fundamentalism. Who is “Doc”? He is the power-broker. The one whose demands must be satisfied. The one every-one kow-tows to. Bauder wants Doc to be eliminated from Fundamentalism. The old “Doc” is gone. Meet the new “Doc.”

Finally, as a bit of a footnote, one other blog has noticed this fight. None other than John Piper himself.

Do you think Piper is all that exercised by Danny Sweatt’s message? Do you think he has even listened to it?

Or do you think he knows the score and is quite happy to encourage the political plays of fundamentalists he approves of?

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

UPDATE: The FBFI published a response. Brief, but to the point. I take it as essentially this: no one man is going to buffalo the FBFI into adopting any course of action. Good on them. May they stay the course.

Comments

  1. Don,

    “Fundamentalists” are so connected in evangelicalism (Andy Naselli-Don Carson) that the jump to Piper isn’t so small any more. I would think that Piper would like the new middle group between fundamentalism and main stream evangelicalism. I don’t know if Mark Driscoll and others like him would want to be brought along for that ride.

    I would think that Bob Jones Jr. is the biggest trouble for Bauder on that list. I’d be wondering if someone might think that Bauder went too far with that mention. He did bring in Greenville in his travelogue, but he did also throw Jones Jr. under the bus. I would think that it was the “tone” of Jones Jr. that Bauder doesn’t like, since Jones Jr. doesn’t seem to quite fit in with the other four on Sweatt’s list.

    One last thought I have is about guessing the power of the internet today. How much traction does this really have? Is this spreading in the real world like it seems to be in the internet? It might be. We took a little vacation during spring break and dropped into a church on Sunday evening on the way down to Southern California. I wanted to slip in the back with my family and then slip out at the end. It wasn’t five minutes and someone asked who I was because they had heard my voice online. That surprised me. I don’t know what it means. I don’t think the person in the pew reads these blogs, but the leaders probably do.

    By the way, put oxgoad in search at SI and you’ll see that someone face-to-face told Greg Linscott that we were quote “whack-jobs.” That is you and jackhammer. He was being persecuted for linking to us.

    • Hi Kent

      Yes, I noticed that. We’re infamous! Together.

      (Not sure if that association will cause you problems or not… heh, heh)

      Maranatha!
      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

  2. Weird times, eh?

    I’m mostly for what Bauder wants to do, but I think it is subversive to do it inside of fundamentalism which is why I got out. Fundamentalism isn’t about conservative Christianity, it just has had a minority of conservative Christians in it with sentimental attachments to the movement.

    Of course he would say it is the idea that counts and not the movement. Still, it’s the movement paying the bills, not the idea.

    Wouldn’t the question be, though, to those protesting: if the FBF stays the course with Sweatt, what will those protesting do next? Separate? Will they express their disappointment and just continue on? I really think that if the FBF stays the course it will just blow over and you’ll all resume the status quo.

    • Joel, I think your comments are going to prove prophetic, especially considering early comments regarding the FBF statement over at SI. It’s sort of like a lynch-mob I read about in San Francisco some years back: “Gentleman, I thought we were here for a hanging.”

      Maranatha!
      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

  3. Don,

    Comment 1: If I’m understanding things correctly, it appears Kevin desires to salvage the best of both conservative evangelicalism and fundamentalism and mold it into something new. What puzzles me, however, is that he doesn’t know where it’ll lead! Are we witnessing another bridge to no where?

    Comment 2: I’ve witnessed several meltdowns in “sovereign grace” churches over the years. And from what I’ve seen and heard, two things stand out: First, Calvinists can not dwell peaceably with their brethren. Their principles and doctrinal peculiarities absolutely forbid it. Indeed, they are the sand in the proverbial gearbox. This is as true today as it was in the past. Historically, Calvinists have been among the most contentious and rancorous believers.

    Second, once Calvinists gain control in an assembly, they quickly move to silence all criticism of their doctrines and, not surprisingly, immediately embark on a new emphasis of church discipline, thereby ridding the church of contrary voices.

    Comment 3: I trust this whole blow up with pastor Sweatt draws out the better angels of the FBFI. And by better angels I mean the needed strength and fortitude on the part of its leadership to say no to the “young and restless” agitators and their enablers. May the Lord grant the FBFI wisdom and discernment as they consider this issue and its far-reaching implications.

    As you know, I’m not a huge fan of BJU or the hyper-separatists, but what’s going on with pastor Sweatt and the Calvinists is disgraceful. If the FBFI doesn’t check the Calvinists now, it may as well hand over the keys to the shoppe. Why? Because the Calvinists won’t remain content with merely being tolerated, they must control. And sacrificing pastor Sweatt to their “mistreatment” will only excite them to greater complaint.

    And how horrible would it be for the FBFI to be taken over by, perhaps, one of the most vicious forms of evangelical Christianity to come down the pike in 500 years!

    Have a good one!

    tjp

    • Thanks, Tracy, I think I am in agreement with you on all points here.

      Maranatha!
      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

  4. Don,

    I think I’m only partially in agreement with you here. When it comes to calling out the names of “heroes of yesteryear” I think we often get ourselves into trouble, especially if we pass off their failures like they’re “no big deal”. I think Dr. Sweatt did a pretty good job bungling that. He basically went out of his way to say “if you weren’t there, you don’t get to comment”. I think that’s silly at best and downright stupid at worst.

    It seems to me Bauder was trying to say that relying on “giants” of the faith is a bad idea, especially when we defend or justify their every action. Some of the big Jones Sr. and Hyles fans do that all the time.

    On the other hand I kept getting the feeling this was none of Bauder’s business. So…I think you’re right, he seems to be agitating for something new. At the same time he contradicts himself a bit by saying the fundamentalists he grew up with were “right on”.

    I keep saying over and over that modeling your ministry after one “big name preacher” or the next is a bad idea. We need to stop hanging our hats in one camp or the other in that way. Isn’t fundamentalism about foundational principles and our willingness to defend them?

    I think the folks who are following the flavor of the month conservative evangelicals are doing the same thing, defending their every action with white hot heat. Bad idea on both sides. Is that the crux of the argument or am I nuts?

    Chris

    P.S.

    There’s a hat tip for you in the comments on my latest post for the acronym FINO. This is the first place I saw it.

    • Hi Chris,

      Thanks so much for your comment. I should be clear about Danny Sweatt’s message. In the particulars he was extremely clumsy and often wrong. But I think the particulars were not his real message, just his clumsy attempt to get his message out. More on that below.

      But you are absolutely right in your assessment, especially your last two paragraphs. This line is very good:

      Isn’t fundamentalism about foundational principles and our willingness to defend them?

      One of the terms du jour is ‘God-centeredness’ as opposed to ‘man-centeredness’. It is highly ironic that those who use the term ‘God-centered’ the most are those who so slavishly follow men.

      Back, however, to the Sweatt message and Bauder’s comments. I do agree that we shouldn’t rely on the giants of the faith (so called). And certainly a number of the names put forward by Sweatt were incredibly dumb to name as ‘heroes’ or ‘giants’ or whatever term he used. Nevertheless, Bauder in his comments seems to lump Dr. Bob Jones, Jr. in with the rest of them and seems to slur him as one of the heavy burdens fundamentalism has had to bear. I can’t imagine a more wrong-headed and offensive remark, if he meant to include Dr. Bob in his rant against ‘these leaders’. As I said, without a Dr. Bob, there would be no fundamentalism to speak of today.

      It was funny to me to read one of the many comments where someone was posting about the failings of the various leaders mentioned. The worst he could say about Dr. Bob was his prayer against Al Haig, then the Secretary of State, for his refusal to allow Paisley to come to preach at Bible Conference. I was there when that prayer was made. It was rather electrifying. And six months later (or so) there was a new Sec State. So??? And by the way, this horrible offense in the mind of the commentator was done out of love and loyalty to a (gasp) Calvinist — Paisley. Isn’t that ironic in light of our brouhaha?

      As for Danny Sweatt, while his particulars were clumsy, I agree with his message. Here is what I think he was trying to say: We don’t want to alienate young men, we want to keep them. But blamed if we are going to agree that in order to keep them every one of us is going to have to throw over his theological system! We should be able to work together.

      I think he got carried away in sour hurt that comes from the constant subtle criticism of the neo-Calvinists that unless you see things their way, you don’t know or understand the Gospel. That does get a little old, but attacking it the way he did distracted from the main gist of his message. [Edit: that is not to say that ‘sour hurt’ is the right way to respond. It is understandable, but still not right.]

      And in the end, I really don’t believe that it is Calvinism that is the problem with the FINOs. It is a symptom, not a cause. I really don’t care what your soteriology is, as long as you believe in justification by faith alone in Christ alone. But the problem with FINOism is that they really don’t want to be militant against worldliness or religious compromise. So in the end, going after Calvinism so strongly does miss the target. (And, BTW, I am happy to take credit for FINO, it is my term, I invented it, and am quite proud of it. I know, pride’s a sin…)

      Finally, with respect to the entry of Bauder into this controversy, I think he is wrong to do so because we should be able to speak our mind (as long as we don’t promote heresy) in our meetings without fear of censure. Should we muzzle Calvinists in FBF pulpits from saying anything critical about non-Calvinists? Or about non-Calvinism? I don’t think so. I think I am a big enough boy to allow them to have their say. So why shouldn’t the other side have its say? It’s a mystery to me.

      Maranatha!
      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

  5. tjp says:

    Don,

    Well, I read the FBFI statement and thought it was nicely and judiciously put. However, I also sensed a subtle rebuff of Bauder.

    I’m sure the Cals won’t find much comfort in the statement. After all, it really doesn’ cough up the blood they wanted. And I’m also sure we haven’t heard the end of this.

    Have a good one!

    tjp

    • It is interesting to see how one’s perspective interprets a thing. The Cals, as you call them, see it as a rebuff the other way. So maybe it is both. I think it was judiciously ambiguous, and entirely satisfactory to me.

      But you are right, this isn’t the end game.

      Maranatha!
      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

  6. Richard Smith says:

    I didn’t read this entire report but I am under the impression that it was very similar to the message he preached in May of 2008 which I mailed him a written response to and chose not to respond back.

    It was such a poorly thought out sermon mainly due to the complete misinterpretation of 2 Peter 3:9 along with other points.

    [OXnote: balance of comment deleted – We are not going to debate the finer points of interpretation or get into a Calvinist-Arminian war here. The passage is open to interpretation. The Calvinist viewpoint is well known as is the Arminian viewpoint. Sweatt’s message obviously tends more in the Arminian direction, but he managed to even express that clumsily. Regardless he is entitled to his opinion and he is entitled to preach it.

    But let me repeat, we are NOT going to turn this into a Calvinist-Arminian debate.]

  7. Richard,

    When I said “we are not going to debate Calvinism here” I mean in this post. The post isn’t about theology per se, it is about a political conflict amongst those who are fundamental Baptists. You are trying to turn it into a discussion of Calvinism with your comments. I’m not interested. If you have something to say about the political dispute, you will be approved. But this post isn’t about theology.

    Maranatha!
    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  8. Richard Smith says:

    I am sorry but my last post was not about that. Let me attempt to be more clear. I agree that a preacher should be allowed to state their position whether it is Arminian or Calvinist. But in the past, Danny Sweatt said that Calvinists are of the Spirit of the Anti Christ. Here is my point. To a Calvinist that is going to be offensive and it should be expected to have a defensive reaction. My preacher who is, of course, Calvinist has made comments about Arminianism that would be considered offensive by Arminians and it would be understandable that one would be offended. I am not saying that Danny Sweatt couldn’t or shouldn’t have said it just because it is offensive to Calvinists or vice versa.
    My feeling is that there is a lack of mutual love for each other. I am under the impression Danny Sweatt believes we are not Christians cosidering his anti Christ remark and that entire sermon. Despite our differences, there needs to be a mutual understanding that both are lovers of Christ as long as there is a fundamental belief that we are saved only by grace through the shedding of Christ’s blood.
    I am not trying to debate but I want to stress that debate can happen (not here) to the benefit of both as long as humility and love is present.

    • Hi Richard,

      Thank you for the comment. I appreciate what you say here. I think that the things Danny said in this particular message were less offensive than the “Anti-christ” statement. I can see how that would get one’s goat! Perhaps those who reacted so strongly were aware of other statements and were reacting to Danny from a wider context.

      I agree that there does need to be mutual respect. I disagree with Calvinism but wouldn’t consider it to be “the spawn of Satan” or anything of that nature. And I think plenty of Calvinists succumb to patronizing pride in their statements also.

      We are all subject to arrogance – if we could truly see ourselves as others see us, we would all do much better.

      Anyway, thank you for sticking with it. Your post here is exactly what I am looking for. Thanks for that.

      Maranatha!
      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

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