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Aberrant Fundamentalism

January 3, 2011

Riding the coattails of northern fundamentalism in the 30’s and 40’s was an aberrant form of fundamentalism.  This aberration did not draw its boundaries based on the fundamentals of the faith, nor was its leadership committed to a diligent proclamation of Biblical truth.  This aberration seems to have sprung up primarily in the south, as a result of conflict within the Southern Baptist Convention.  The prime example of this kind of fundamentalism is J. Frank Norris.  Though he was certainly not first nor alone in his methods, Norris appears to be a major source from which absolute pastoral authority in the twentieth century has flowed. While working against the committee and deacon led systems of Southern Baptist Churches, he labored to invest absolute control in the hands of the pastor.  His leadership, and its massive numeric success, spun off many imitators desirous of similar results.  One of his biographers, a former assistant and fan of Norris’ said, “I am in a position to say that the whole Southern Baptist Convention-as for that matter, churches of all denominations north and south, have adopted his methods.”  “Prince of crowd gatherers, parson of advertisers, Norris has created a new profession, that of the church efficiency expert, and is its most brilliant practitioner. Heralded as ‘the Texas Cyclone,’ he will enter any city you choose to name, lay hold of some doddering, deader than- alive downtorn church, draw crowds into it, galvanize them, get the gloriously revivified institution financed, and erect a living, lasting monument to his abilities.”  (Louis Entzminger)

In 1935 Norris preached a message to Temple Baptist Church in Detroit on the day he led them to vote to pull out of the Northern Baptist Convention. In that sermon he expressed to the entire congregation the reasons they should leave the convention.  His number one concern, the major reason he stated for pulling out, was the conventions movement towards communism. He did not preach against the convention primarily because they adopted a social gospel (though he mentioned it) nor because they refused to require their missionaries to believe in the fundamentals of the faith (though he mentioned it).  The primary concern, vastly overriding all other concerns, was that their policies were incorporating communist principles.  This man was not a fundamentalist, fighting for the basics of the faith.  He was not a defender of the gospel message or any of its attendant parts.  By his actions he repeatedly denied the sufficiency and authority of the Word of God.  He was a crowd drawer, one who could stir a large group. He was an incredible speaker.  He was an activist.  He was a reformer.  He was poison in the fundamentalist pot.

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I welcome comments, questions or input on these articles. However, the purpose of this blog is not to give an open forum for discussion. If you would like to comment on these articles or have specific questions regarding fundamentalism, please feel free to email me. I will do my best to respond quickly to your emails. A few days after its publication, I will attach to each blog article any pertinent or particularly pithy comments that I receive.


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