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Some thoughts on the recent Central Seminary Fall Conference

October 13, 2009

Central Baptist Theological Seminary of Plymouth, Minnesota, recently concluded its Fall Conference. This used to be known as the Foundations Conference, and was a fairly “big event,” but the seminary decided to change the format a bit. It was still well attended (as far as I could tell), but they combined it with what they call a “Pastor’s Day” and made it into two “half-days” of lectures.

This year’s keynote speaker was the venerable Robert Delnay, the Chair of the Bible Faculty at Clearwater Christian College in Florida. I have great admiration for Delnay as a genuine man of God, as a man of great piety and love for God. His wisdom is like a rare jewel, and should be treated and handled as such.

Delnay introduced the conference with a discussion of what binds fundamentalists together. I have heard Delnay present this before (or something like it). What many consider most controversial in his understanding of fundamentalism is usually his assertion that all fundamentalists should be dispensationalists, but this is not enough for me to disregard his remarks altogether. The marks we fundamentalists do share are our love for the Scriptures, our proclivity towards separation, our conviction concerning the importance of our faith, and the importance of fellowship (including fellowship with God).

The second address was by Kevin Bauder; he addressed “Fundamentalists and Conservative Evangelicals.” This lecture was important for a number of reasons. In many respects, it was one of the first times I had heard a fundamentalist publicly speak this candidly about the “issue” of conservative evangelicals. What Bauder stressed was that “conservative evangelicals” were not really a “new” problem. He listed the four biggest differences between fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals as:

  1. The prevalence of “anti-dispensationalism” among conservative evangelicals,
  2. Conservative evangelicals have an openness toward miraculous and sign gifts,
  3. Conservative evangelicals tend to be more trendy in their adoption of popular culture, and
  4. In how conservative evangelicals and fundamentalists appropriate and view “indifferentists.”

There are other remarks in this address that well be worth hearing and considering. He has some very good advice, I think, of how fundamentalists should relate to conservative evangelicals. I’m not going to run the risk (more than I already have) of misquoting or misrepresenting Kevin, but you would do well to seek out the recording of this message and hear it.

§

On the second day of the conference, Jonathan Pratt gave a very thoughtful address on the history of Pillsbury Baptist Bible College. I wish every fundamentalist leader and minister would listen to Jon Pratt’s lecture. He offered many good lessons to learn from Pillsbury, and the lecture was delivered, even the controversial parts, with humility and conviction. (Jon Pratt has addressed some of these matters at the “Theology Central” blog in posts like “ethical dismissal” and “ethical departure“).

The second day of the conference also heard Robert Delnay address:

  1. “How We Lost our Good Name”
  2. “What Use Can We Be Now?” and
  3. “How We Lost Our Young People”

These were all very good. I was especially challenged by the third, the one on losing our young people. This is well worth your pursuing and hearing. It might be a bit different than you expect. It was not directed towards our enemies who are luring “our young people” away from us, but at us fundamentalists who have (if I may put it this way) “driven” away our young people through our “unreflectiveness” and hypocrisy. I will try to publicize its availability once I see the seminary has made it so. As I said earlier, I always enjoy listening to Robert Delnay.

§

I could not help but get the impression during this conference–and this was striking to me–that fundamentalism the movement was either dead or dying. It was not so much in the “deadness” of the attendees (though some might have automatically accused of this, since we were far from “rocking the place out”), as much as from the comments of the presenters. For instance, Delnay referred to fundamentalism as “the shattered wreckage of what was once a movement.” Really, this perception should come as no surprise since Kevin has said as much in a recent In the Nick of Time article. David Doran has also recently made similar comments.

Although I tend to agree with this appraisal of the state of fundamentalism, the life or death of fundamentalism is not a question terribly important to me. What is most important is that we actually care very little whether the fundamentalist movement even exists or not. We believers should not be about movements, even movements like fundamentalism (though  there will differing amounts of love among my “many” [heh heh heh] readers for fundamentalism). Our main energy should be in faithfully doing our part to strengthen churches. God’s sovereign plan does not live or die with fundamentalism. I very much consider myself a fundamentalist, but I would much rather see individual “post-fundamentalist” churches thriving in holiness and the Christian faith than the fundamentalist movement thriving at its national conferences and youth rallies.

God’s plan for this age in his church, in healthy churches doing all that God tells them to. We know that these kinds of churches are rare, and it is by God’s grace we are involved in this great scheme of his for this age. Let us be about faithfully leading healthy and godly churches, and let the movements take care of themselves.

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. October 14, 2009 9:34 am

    Ryan,
    thanks for the post… Having been in sales management some years back, I am familiar with people who see the ship foundering, know where the holes are from the enemy’s broadsides, yet they shout “full speed ahead!” As though enthusiasm and bluster will increase sales and repair internal company issues.

    I am glad for the increasing sobriety of pastors, thinkers, and other leaders–I hope it brings about an honest introspection of faith and praxis. Some are going too far in what or how they criticize, but there will always be excesses. I hope the open kimono approach will continue and increase.

    I have to make contact often with fundamentalists who are more like those I described above (full speed ahead…)–specifically in an annual meeting at the end of this month, and I pray for change there. When I make remarks meant to promote any introspection, I am marked as a troublemaker…

    Doran speaks of something on the same line today as what you have posted.

  2. Ryan C permalink
    October 14, 2009 11:43 am

    Ryan,

    Thanks for the post. It seems many are saying such things these days, both within fundamentalism and evangelicalism.

    I appreciate your thoughts about all this.

    Do you know where the conference audio can be located?

  3. October 14, 2009 11:52 am

    I will try to post a notice that audio is available as soon as I see that it is. The place to watch would be Central’s own website, but it my take a bit of time before they become available.

  4. October 14, 2009 5:02 pm

    “our proclivity towards separation”

    A mot juste.

    From the Encyclopedia Fundamentarlia, vol 3 Fundamenalist Eschatology, p265

    No longer even regarded by fundamentalists as a matter of conviction, the admission of separation as a matter of proclivity explained much why so many had deserted when even even its adherents could no longer deny the movement was terminal.

    “It was something more congenital, you know?” the last fundamentalist was heard to say before they flushed him down the toilet.

  5. Jay C. permalink
    October 15, 2009 9:52 am

    It was not directed towards our enemies who are luring “our young people” away from us, but at us fundamentalists who have (if I may put it this way) “driven” away our young people through our “unreflectiveness” and hypocrisy. I will try to publicize its availability once I see the seminary has made it so.

    Well, they [we’re?] learning at least a little. Let’s see what happens now.

    Thanks for the report, Ryan – I appreciated getting a first-hand report.

  6. Former fundie permalink
    October 19, 2009 12:34 pm

    Why, I can’t imagine why people would be deserting the fundamentalist movement!

    Where else can you find…

    “spiritual superstars” living lives of luxury? Have any of you ever seen inside Jerry Falwell’s homes? He lived every bit as lavishly as Jim and Tammy. Well, if you’re bringing in the bucks, why not?

    boatloads of know-nothings with “honorary doctorates” telling us not to covet the things of the world? Where would you fundamentalists be without your Dr This and Dr That?

    political action committees disguised as churches? After all, Jesus would surely be a Republican and he would want Liberty University to instill conservative values in our young people.

    a new boogie man every week? It used to be movies and communism. Then it was rock music leading our kids astray. After that, it was the public schools teaching our kids that godless materialism. Now, it seems to be homosexuals hiding behind every tree and rock. What would you guys have to preach about if you didn’t have a fresh boogie man?

    We could go on and on. After a while, people just see through the silliness and hypocrisy of fundamentalism, and it becomes boring.

  7. Chris Ames permalink
    October 19, 2009 2:06 pm

    We could go on and on, but…

    Everyone already knows that all occurrences within a two-mile radius of the Billy Graham School of Evangelism are and have been devoid of silliness and hypocrisy. This is to say nothing of Wheaton, where seriousness and straightforwardness are two adjectives which leap to mind first, especially concerning these students:

    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/WheatonGLBT/

    But you’re right: it’s hard to decide between VeggieTales and Patch the Pirate for the kiddos. And I’m sure we could not get a consensus as to whether homosexuality or dispensationalism is a greater threat in the “boogie man” sense (hiding under the bed, lurking behind trees in the cemetery, loitering in sports bars, etc.)

    Good thoughts, Former!

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