there was a time when we had personalities too

I’d like to comment on myself this time. In my post on ‘the vision thing’, I made this comment:

Another complicating factor in making these comparisons is that the ‘competing’ ministries are represented by ministries strongly identified with a popular individual on the conservative evangelical side as opposed to more institutional or group oriented ministries/organizations on the fundamentalist side.

Others have noticed this difference also. The Conservative Evangelical brand is largely led by ministries centered around prominent individuals. The Fundamentalist brand, these days, really has no star power in its leaders and it tends to find whatever leadership it has in collective efforts, rather than in individual ministries.

That is a generalization, of course. There are, I suppose, some exceptions to the rule, but I think the generalization holds.

For example, when you think Conservative Evangelical, you think of a list of names: Dever, Piper, Mahaney, Mohler, MacArthur, etc. Some of these men represent institutions and work closely with a number of other men, but there is a sense that they are the focal point of the brand.

On the other hand, when you think Fundamentalism, what comes to mind? Bob Jones University, the Fundamental Baptist Fellowship, Maranatha, Detroit, Central, the Wilds, etc. Of course, individuals lead these ministries and fill up their staffs, but I would suggest that even fairly well informed observers would have to think a bit to get the individual leaders of ALL of these ministries. On the CE side, if we simply named 9Marks, Desiring God, Sovereign Grace, Southern Seminary, Grace to You… most observers – regular readers of this blog – would be able to put the names to those ministries without any effort.

Isn’t that a curious difference? It wasn’t always so in Fundamentalism. And that involves both an irony and a sign of generational change.

The irony is this: One of the big complaints against fundamentalism is that fundamentalism is personality driven, led by larger than life dictators, and ‘that’s gotta stop!’

Ironically, which brand is led by personalities these days?

Isn’t it interesting that so many of those who complain about a ‘personality driven movement’ are moving towards a real personality driven movement? Just who is ‘man-centered’ here, anyway?

The generational change is this: When I was going through university and seminary, fundamentalism was dominated by big names. Hyles, Jones, Rice, and others like them were very prominent. As these men passed off the scene, who really took up the same kind of prominence in leadership?((Before you jump all over the Hyles reference, please be aware there was a time when he was relatively mainstream in fundamentalism – a time before he took some infamously extreme positions.))

The FBF, for example, is led by a collective group of men on the board, some fairly well known, others less well known. Dr. Bob III is still a prominent name, but his style is different from his fathers. He is more of a transitional figure between the older generation and men my age (the leadership age – or the mid-life crisis age, take your pick). No one from the next generation of men have really emerged as any kind of dynamic leader as yet.

So there has been a change in fundamentalism. Is this the natural process of things? Is the current state of affairs better or worse? It could be considered better, if the idea of dynamic and dominant personal leadership is actually as bad as it is made out to be. On the other hand, it could be that the lack of dynamic leadership is contributing to the restlessness of the natives. Having no chief to follow, the Indians are straying to other reservations where there are heap big chiefs aplenty.

~~~

I don’t think someone should now set out to become the fundamentalist guru to rally the troops around his dynamic version of fundamentalism. But I do wish that some of our more prominent leaders would talk up the idea of a Bible-believing, soul-winning, orthodoxy-loving Fundamentalism once again. It seems to me that we need a bit more outspoken leadership in the Fundamentalist direction than we are getting.

don_sig2

Comments

  1. Don,

    Excellent observation!! I’m doubting that you’ll have many giving you kudos for making it. One thing that you will notice that the “big leaders” have in common is the size of their institution or organizations. The biggest churches were once fundamentalist. Now they are not. And now, ironically, the younger men are moving to where the numbers are. Many would claim that they didn’t like the numbers orientation, but you can’t tell that by their actions. It seems like it might have been in certain cases fundamentalist pragmatism dovetailing with evangelical pragmatism. Sure, it could be that the are moving because a certain person has a biblical emphasis, but that’s not what I see.

  2. Good article, Don. Growing up in the 50’s J.F. Norris was the big name, and the big movement. Bible Baptist Seminary in Fort Worth and later in Arlington Tx was the big voice. At one time eight of the top ten fundamental churches had pastors who graduated from Bible Baptist Seminary. I don’t know if we followed the movement or the men in the movement.

    It seems went we don’t like the men we end up not like the movement. We tend to be followers of men who we believe to be the voice of the movement.

    Maybe the Lord really does like the local church idea. The idea of a local shepherd/pastor who leads the flock in the local area.

    There are still a lot of personalities who we tend to view as leaders of the movement we like to set as example of what want to follow.

    Sometimes its seem hard to be the voice in your own church and city, the bigger personality seem to over ride your own at time.

  3. Great thoughts Don. As a person who works in the field of technology and marketing I can only think about one thing. The kind of person you describe would need to be communicating via forums like the internet – social networks, blogs, etc. Far too few Fundamentalists come utilize these mediums and the leaders that do rarely understand them or use them effectively.

    While John Piper is producing viral videos and posting on Twitter, some of my favorites have static websites (at best) and produce nothing more than low-quality print pieces.

    I am against personality-driven movements, but I would definitely like to see some of the best preachers and writers out there communicating in a more modern fashion. It is unfortunate, but I have heard several strong leaders saying things like “we ought to get a website” in the past year! What an absurd thought.

    As ministers, we are chiefly communicators. The tools that we have today are really impressive. I’m not sure we have many excuses for failing to learn and use them properly.

    The FBFI and 9Marks websites can serve as an example. FBFI.org is static, shows very few signs of life and has little of the flair an FBFI meeting may display. 9Marks.org is alive with activity, brand new stuff, video and premium articles. ‘Nuff said?

    On a positive note, there are signs of life. Several Bible Colleges are doing some great things online and a few local churches have an extensive web outreach, but there are far too few.

    If today’s really high quality leaders are going to have a higher profile, they need to communicate in places where the average young fundamentalist can find them. I shouldn’t have to travel all over the country or get a poorly put together newsletter in order to keep up. Ten years ago, perhaps – but not today.

    Chris

    • Interesting thoughts, Chris. An angle I hadn’t thought of. It is true that not many fundamentalists (any?) have really embraced new media.

      Maranatha!
      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

  4. I have had so many problems with computers – so have lost my webpage editing tools, and I am rusty and no longer have a desire or time to build webpages from scratch. However, blogs are much easier to update and change, add articles, etc. than a standard website.

    I notice David Cloud (Way of Life) switched to a blog format for his studies last year – I receive most of his articles through email, and have them saved in a folder until I am finished with them, so haven’t accessed his site a whole lot lately, unless I am looking for an article I have already read and want to pass on to others.

    Perhaps others will realize how convenient this format is for getting their articles/material out there on the web and will start to do the same.

    • Hi Jerry,

      The blog format is fairly versatile. A very interesting site is Macleans.ca, Canada’s news magazine. It is run using WordPress, which really boggles my mind, given the complexity of the site. They must have some real geniuses in their tech department.

      Chris,

      A further thought on this… Jerry brings up David Cloud, who has had an online presence for a long time. David is one who has embraced technology as a way of publishing his views. I think he is fairly successful at it. Of course, he isn’t really a “name” in certain parts of Fundamentalism.

      Also, I think what you are talking about when it comes to evangelicals and their online presence is the sites like Desiring God, MacArthur’s various ministries, 9Marks, etc. One thing these ministries have that fundamentalists don’t have is ca$h to throw at the technical side of the projects. This likely comes from book sales and such like. Fundamentalists generally don’t have the same kind of resources.

      Maranatha!
      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

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