equal interpreters in every church?

Who argues for this? In Kevin Bauder’s most recent article, he makes statements like this one (from near the beginning).

In the wake of Common Sense Realism and Populism, however, some evangelicals, including some Fundamentalists, have become confused about the meaning of these doctrines. They have distorted Sola Scriptura to mean Nuda Scriptura. They have replaced the perspicuity of the Scriptures with the perspicacity of every interpreter.

And these two statements come from near the end:

In some circles, one finds a naïve belief that a solitary individual, given no prior instruction, can simply sit down with a Bible and discover the entire Christian faith.

Nor can we afford to assume that by just starting from scratch we can avoid all the mistakes of the past.

I wonder who Bauder is talking about? Who argues that Christians in some Fundamentalist churches have no need of training, of understanding, of learning, of listening to well-trained pastors, or that none of this is necessary, all of Scripture is equally easy to understand by any Christian?

I don’t know anybody who argues for what Bauder is arguing against, even in the most anti-intellectual circles of Fundamentalism. Even there, training is thought necessary and not all are thought to have equal understanding. It is true that there are some circles that are more anti-intellectual than others, and that there are some schools that aren’t as good as others, and thus pastors/church leaders who are not as well prepared as they should be.

But who argues that “we don’t need no stinkin’ interpretation” or interpreters? It is a mystery to me.

Perhaps it is yon scarecrow against whom the professor raises his argument.



  1. Tim Stephens says:

    I’ve experienced what Kevin Bauder is describing. I’ve received instruction from a former fundamentalist Pastor that the only thing I needed to study the Bible is my KJV, Websters 1928 Dictionary and my Strong’s Concordance. I was told to avoid commentaries as they are misleading.

    On a lesser extent I’ve been told by another Pastor that going to seminary (or “cemetary”) should be avoided and that taking a couple Bible classes at a college then entering the ministry under another Pastor is the best way to get Biblical training.

    Sadly, Bauder’s points are not as far fetched as they may seem.

  2. This is how it hit me, Don, and you can tell me if I’m wrong, because as Bauder moves along, I agree with him a lot.

    People have replaced pastoral authority, teaching authority, etc. with discussion, rap times, where everybody’s idea has equal value. In many cases in churches today, causing many problems, the inmates are running the asylum because of some fraudulent ideas of soul liberty. The emergent/emerging idea have blossomed out of some of the worst of this. And then finally, you’ve got large chunks of fundamentalism with some crazy, crazy interpretations because of wacky views about what they think is the Holy Spirit’s place in their interpretation. They’ve needed to be slapped down by those who know better, but since everybody’s opinion sort of has equal value, you’re viewed as an elitist if you were to do this.

  3. I think Bauder was just making a point about anti-intellectualism. He didn’t say “every solitary individual”, he said “a solitary individual”. When I read the Bauder piece yesterday, I was reminded of Sweatt’s controversial recent address. I wish there was a transcript, so I could quote accurately, because it was a perfect example of the attitude Bauder is talking about. Sweatt actually quoted scriptures about “as a little child” and “beware of those who deceive you with sophistication” to argue that sophistication was essentially evil, and that only simple-minded approaches could succeed in understanding the scripture. It was a very twisted maneuver by which Sweatt bolstered his credentials as an interpreter specifically because he was one of the few who was honest and simple-minded enough to understand scripture. In other words, Sweatt would consider himself to be one of those “solitary individuals” that Bauder is talking about, and would consider anyone who was too “sophisticated” to be unwilling or incapable of understanding scripture.

    • I hear what each of you are saying, so perhaps I am misreading Bauder somewhat. However, let me say this: I can see the crazy individualism in the many forms of evangelicalism. I can see it in the Emergent mess. And I can appreciate that “just me and my Bible” and even some of what Danny Sweatt said last spring could be taken as similar examples.

      But I have a hard time seeing that this is exactly what Bauder was talking about in this essay. He said:

      Nor can we afford to assume that by just starting from scratch we can avoid all the mistakes of the past.

      Would Danny Sweatt, for example, seriously argue for that statement, do you think? Would he say do away with his own pulpit ministry, make it just a ‘suggestion time’, but everyone just come to their own conclusions? Would he tell his young people, “you don’t need to go to Bible college, just get out there and wins souls”? I doubt it.

      Yes, his rhetoric on that point could be construed to be an example of this kind of teaching, but surely that isn’t his meaning if you consider the overall thrust of his own ministry.

      And even pastors that tell their people to “not trust commentaries” etc will still send their young people to Bible college and usually expect their people to listen at least to themselves, the Pastor, don’t they?

      I am just not seeing heavy examples of this kind of anti-intellectualism in massive portions of Fundamentalism.

      Kent says:

      People have replaced pastoral authority, teaching authority, etc. with discussion, rap times, where everybody’s idea has equal value. In many cases in churches today, causing many problems, the inmates are running the asylum because of some fraudulent ideas of soul liberty.

      True enough. But is that kind of argument coming from Fundamentalism (i.e., the “old guard”, the preceding generation) or is it coming from the trendy new thinkers of the new or young fundamentalism?

      Remember, Bauder’s point in this series of articles is to try to explain why fundamentalism is where it is and where it is going in the future. So the object of this particular essay, it seems to me, is to describe the current state of fundamentalism. The way the term is being used, I think it means “establishment fundamentalism”, not the new trendy young guard. And I just don’t see this being characteristic of fundamentalism as such, although I do readily admit there are elements of anti-intellectualism in fundamentalism (even in me!) and some of those elements are unhealthy.

      Kent, I am a little surprised at your comment about ‘crazy’ views, because from Bauder’s perspective, he might lump you there! But I wonder what you would consider crazy views in fundamentalism.

      Thanks for the comments, all three. Further thoughts?

      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

  4. Just saw Kent’s response. Kent is providing a completely different way of looking at it which I hadn’t thought of. I tend to agree with Kent, when it’s explained that way.

    It’s tough, because I find myself agreeing with Bauder quite a bit in this series (really impressed, in fact), but then there are random red flags and things that rub me the wrong way.

    • Joshua,

      I haven’t commented on all the articles. I don’t want to seem to be the “anti-Bauder”, though his articles have been the ones I’ve commented on the most recently. He is publishing weekly, and there are things I could say weekly, but I don’t want to become his constant critic or just be Mr. Negative.

      My objections to the articles can be summarized under a few heads:

      1. He seems to me to be describing a popular caricature rather than reality.
      2. He is making serious charges against “establishment fundamentalism” while standing in the middle of the establishment.
      3. He uses language in such a way as to make it seem like an argument when it is only polished rhetoric.

      By serious charges, I am thinking a lot about the charge of sentimentalism. Sentimentalism, both the philosophical and literary form, rejected the notion of total depravity (especially the Calvinist version) and substituted a notion of morality from human sentiment. Sentimentalism performs moral acts from normal human sentiment arising from natural human affection, first for one’s own children, then for one’s extended family, then for one’s community, then beyond to the wider world.

      When he says fundamentalism is flawed by sentimentalism, then, he is saying much more than that fundamentalism is just sentimental (as we use the word today). I find this to be a highly objectionable charge.

      I suggest that as we read these articles, we have to parse what is actually being said and also to think about what is not being said.

      I think a basic premise is being constructed about the philosophical base of fundamentalist thinking. The basic premise is being couched in somewhat obscure terms which cloud the meaning of the statements. And in the end, I think the basic premise is wrong.

      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

      PS: re comments… WordPress is doing something weird lately. I approve comments, then WP somehow unapproves them. I am not sure if it is something I am doing or if it is just a bug. Usually I catch these fairly quickly, but if you don’t see your comments on here or they appear and disappear and reappear, that is why. I usually try to communicate directly with a poster if I am going to reject a post, something that doesn’t happen a lot.

  5. Paul says:

    I remember speaking with a pastor of a fundamental baptist, largely hispanic church, who told me he didn’t need to take Hebrew or Greek because his church wouldn’t understand what he was talking about.

    • Thanks for the comment, Paul.

      Would you say that attitude is the same as Bauder is talking about? Is that the “naive belief that a solitary believer” on his own can reconstruct Christian theology with no help from others?

      That is not to say that I endorse the attitude! But to me it isn’t quite the same thing.

      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

  6. Hi Don,

    I’m not saying that Bauder and I are in line with each other in practice, but I do believe that we think similarly. His last essay especially has me thinking this way. It’s why we would have the same position on worship, the movie theater, salvation, preaching, etc. He and I do have a different line of history to which we trace ourselves. I believe the history of truth traces itself through that independent of the state church.

    Where he would think I’m crazy are:
    1. Nature of the church
    2. Preservation of Scripture
    3. Separation over “tertiary issues”

    Those are enough for me to be crazy to him—so I know what you mean. However, he isn’t consistent with his own view. He can’t show me his position on preservation in history—its made up based on “common sense.”

    What do I think are crazy things out there? Views of sanctification, views on the will of God, promotion and marketing, 1-2-3 pray with me soteriology, parachurch craziness, etc.