more on the ‘exodus’

In a recent post, all five of my readers (plus a few others!) discussed reasons why it appears that many younger people are departing from fundamentalism. I was struck by the excellence of the answers. Some of the reasons given were surprising to me.

Today, Ellis Murphree posts a blog with his take on the subject. His answers are similar to what was posted in the comments section to my post.

I attempted to summarize the reasons my commenters gave in an excel spreadsheet. My categories are pretty subjective, but help me to think through what was said.

The reasons some might be leaving that didn’t surprise me are these:

  1. Personality issues: these are what flow from the ‘pastor as dictator’ big BaBtist model of church leadership
  2. Standards issues: these are reasons that flow from the complaints over alleged legalism and Pharisaism
  3. Versions issues: clearly this battle has soured some on fundamentalism in general (unnecessarily so IMO)
  4. Calvinism/Puritanism: while I earlier agreed with the notion that this isn’t the issue, it is a factor, but perhaps not exactly as one might expect
  5. Lack of innovation/deadness: This may be a true charge to some extent, but seems more of an excuse than a reason – if there is a lack of innovation… innovate!

Now, two reasons in particular really surprised me:


First, Poverty of Preaching:

This category is expressed as the “lack of expository preaching”. I recognize that there are widely varied approaches to preaching and a significant number of preachers couldn’t be called ‘expository’ by any stretch of the imagination. But… there is no one way to preach the Bible… and from my experience, our fundamentalist schools have been emphasizing careful exegesis and expository preaching for well over thirty years. I can’t imagine that our pulpits are so bereft of expository preaching as all that.

[Granted, if you move primarily in some circles, you may find less expository preaching than others.]

It seems, however, that this complaint is often made based on a very small sample size. When folks are looking for a church, how many do they typically visit in a given area? And depending on the philosophy / background / ‘camp’, etc. of the preachers and churches, it is possible that in some areas it is hard to find a solid Bible preaching church.

But I am surprised if this is really as wide spread a problem as some are indicating.

Furthermore, it might be the result of unfair judgement on the part of the complainants. (BTW, I am not calling my commenters complainants, I asked for observations, not for personal complaints. I think my commenters were giving their observations, not necessarily their own opinions.)

How could these complaints be ‘unfair’? Well, some expositors are better than others, quite frankly. My preaching mentor and former homiletics professor is, in my mind, the finest living expositor in the world today. (I  am biased.) If I were to judge others by his standard, they would all fall short. I think I fall short, though I try. (When I began to preach through the Gospel of John a few years ago, I noted to a friend that Minnick was doing the same thing… I said, “After he is done it, what else is there left to say.”)

So one reason the complaint could be unfair is because the complainants are judging unfairly.

Another reason is that the complainants don’t like the applications being given by the preachers they listen to. There seems to be an appetite today for detailed Bible teaching, but not such an appetite for comprehensive Bible living. (This could tie this objection in with the ‘standards’ objection.)

So the first reason that surprised me is the complaint about preaching.

The second surprising reason I summarized as Leadership failure. I’ll quote some of my commenters to give the sense of what I mean (perhaps it will help me be more concise).

Here’s Tracy:

Second, I don’t think our schools are doing a very good job in capturing the hearts, minds, and imaginations of our young people. They’re failing to articulate a robust, interactive vision of fundamentalism. Something is dreadfully wrong when our young men, for instance, can come up through our Christian schools, complete their undergraduate (and often postgraduate) work at our fundamentalist colleges, and then walk out the door into the waiting arms of J-Mac or J-Piper. There needs to be some real soul-searching on the part of our training institutions.

On a similar vein is Kent:

1. Not enough scriptural defense for why the young men need to stay. The FBF leadership seems to be afraid to point out the problems of evangelicalism and they too have a lot of good things to say about the CE.

In a related, but with a slightly different focus, Tracy adds:

Sixth, I think another area that has hurt fundamentalism, not only with fundamentalists themselves but with others as well, is the absence of published materials. If we don’t define ourselves, others will. If we don’t feed our own, others will. If we don’t defend ourselves, others certainly won’t. And if we don’t articulate a convincing apologetic for fundamentalism, then why should we complain about defections? True, there’s been some recent movement to fill this need, but it may be too little too late. It’s not surprising, is it, that if we don’t give substance to our faith that we’ll soon lose the earnest and serious among us?

Perhaps ‘surprising’ is the wrong word for my reaction to this. I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised, but this area is one that I didn’t expect to see addressed when I posed the question.

Nevertheless, I think this is perhaps the most critical reason of all, and the reason that I am so concerned about the future of fundamentalism and our current fundamentalist schools. When I was in school, we were constantly taught the fundamentalist philosophy, both by positive precept and negative example. Today, we seem to be very busy appreciating all the good done by men who will not take a fundamentalist view of worldliness or ecclesiastical purity. The imbalance here leads the youngsters to think there is no reason for the distance that exists between Fundamentalism and Conservative Evangelicalism. Result? If you criticise the CEs, you are thought strange.

Tracy’s additional comment about not defining ourselves is also telling. I have argued that we don’t have the resources to publish much. Maybe not. But we do have brains in our camp, they should be used and we should be articulating our point of view as much as possible. Perhaps if we were a little more innovative, we could find ways to publish our writing more cost-effectively. It is a critical need of our times.



  1. I am firmly committed to separatism & faithfulness to Scripture, but do find benefit from a variety of ministries. I do appreciate the work of men who actually attempt to preach the Bible and follow it. Currently, I am reading a book by Mark Dever, The Deliberate Church, which has been very encouraging. I appreciate the thesis – the church should function in a deliberate manner to follow God’s Word. It is refreshing. Most IFB stuff I come across (Sword, Striving Together) is focused on what works and what everyone does, not what is Scriptural. This is frustrating. Here’s my 2cents on why CE is appealing:

    1. Expository Preaching – I am glad that many fundamental preachers in your area actually preach the Bible, but almost everyone I know is more concerned with either finding three R’s for their outline or deciding which sermon series from Paul Chappell or Clarence Sexton they are going to preach next. Nothing has been more transforming in my life then preaching through books of the Bible. God truly uses His Word to build the church. Tragically I learned expository preaching from 2 neos: Haddon Robinson & John MacArthur. I never even saw it in practice other than a few times in college chapel until I went to work as an assistant at a church in California. Since I have committed to preaching expositionally (not every sermon, but most), I have met others. I’m not trying to say that much of the preaching I heard was not Biblical. It was that preaching that God used to save my soul & help me grow to maturity. I just heard a sermon entitled “a little farther” – it was based on Jesus leaving his disciples to go a little father and pray in the garden. The sermon had nothing to do with the text. It was a good challenge to give your all to the Lord and His work, but it wasn’t based on what the Bible actually says. This is precisely the type of sermon that I hear most IFB’s preaching. It doesn’t teach people to understand the Bible; it actually confounds their understanding by training them to look for little phrases that catch their attention and them imagine whatever they want about them. This ties into my second point…

    2. Foolishness in IFB – by this I mean foolish reasoning for why we do things (even for legitimate standards). A few examples: Women and girls can wear culottes to the knee, but guys have to wear pants not just long shorts. Why? b/c OT priests wore linen breeches???? (I don’t put this in the legitimate standards category by the way). Reasons for our standards and convictions are rarely presented as the result of understanding and applying the text of Scripture. Another example of foolishness is on the KJV issue. Don, I know that you don’t want a KJV debate, and that is not my point. The point is that many IFB use stupid and unreasonable arguments to hold to the KJV only. This makes them look foolish (rightfully so). I hold to a TR/KJV only position, but is in spite of such foolishness.

    Well, there you have it, not exhaustive, or even complete, but my longest comment on any blog!

    • Hi Jack,

      Thanks for the comment. I appreciate your points, and I realize that in some circles very poor preaching is the norm. I appreciate the frustration that comes from that kind of approach. The current controversy, however, is mostly among men who are in a circle where I am astonished that expository preaching is not the norm. Whatever else can be said about BJU, Maranatha, Northland, etc, I think they have been emphasizing Biblical exposition for a long time now.

      Personally, I think expository preaching is easier than topical preaching because good topical preaching requires the exegesis of much more material in order to do it properly.

      My point here, though, is that it is not a sin to preach topically (but most topical messages are not well done) and that I think the charge is false, especially in the FBF circles where there has been an emphasis on Biblical exposition for some time.

      I do appreciate what you are saying on this, however.

      On the foolishness point… well, I have to agree with everything you say. I think there are sound logical and evidential reasons for holding to a TR/KJV point of view. That’s why I don’t make it an issue of division. I really deplore the attacks made by some against the KJO position as if it was all a monolithic mass of error. The errors of Ruckman and others are terrible and worthy of attack, but there is a reasonable, scholarly, spiritual, and perhaps even biblical rationale for a form of the KJO view.

      But I hear what you are saying on the foolishness aspect of it.

      BTW, I also have The Deliberate Church. I think it is a solid work, I suppose I might have some differences at some points but haven’t read the whole thing.

      As for your longest post, congratulations, jump right on in, the water’s warm! Actually, quite hot at times!

      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

  2. I don’t think it’s sin to preach topically either. Variety is certainly good – I usually intersperse a long book exposition with a few topical messages. I would argue that all preaching should be expository though. A topical message would just be briefer expositions of multiple passages teaching the same theme, not “proof-texting.”

  3. Re: publishing – I am finishing up a project to be published (for our church’s use), and I found a great very affordable option –

  4. Jack,

    It’s probably not fair to group Chappell and Sexton in your complaint on preaching style. While Chappell doesn’t preach through entire books in series, all of the more than 50 sermons I have heard/read were drawn from a passage of Scripture (not a single verse) and all of the points of those messages are drawn from the text. In addition, he supports each of his points with numerous additional Scripture references. I guess it depends a little on how someone defines expositiory preaching, but his stuff fits almost all the definitions I know.

    None of the preceding is a blanket endorsement of everything/anything LBC/WCBC. However for what it’s worth, I do have a good friend out there who spent time at FBC Hammond. He told me that at Lancaster, there are dozens of adults that he personally led to the Lord faithfully coming to church compared to zero in Hammond. They do focus on the complete Great Commission rather than just one part.

  5. Good comment, Jack. I appreciate hearing your thinking.

  6. Watchman, my comments weren’t to disparage Paul Chappell or Clarence Sexton; I was being critical of those who don’t study but only look for someone else’s sermon to preach. I have used SS materials from both of them and found them profitable. I wasn’t offering any complaints about either of them.