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Aberrant Fundamentalism’s Aftermath

January 10, 2011

Why write a harsh article about a man in fundamentalism that has been dead nearly sixty years?  Why decry his ministry and the methods he employed?  Lest any be wondering, I have no bitterness towards Norris kind of ministry.   The aberrant fundamentalism of Norris and others like him has spawned many children and step children.  In its harsher incarnations it has produced a breed of fundamentalist pastors who thrive on power,  attack those who challenge their authority and whose primary aim is to increase the size of their followings.  Even in its milder forms, these things hold true, thought without the same edge found in less diluted versions.  For over 60 years this kind of fundamentalism has been gaining ground.  In the seventies it took solid hold and we have been in a downward slide since then – not the downward slide of dropped numbers or less popular appeal, but the downward slide of unbiblical, humanistic methods of leadership and evangelism.

The problems with this kind of fundamentalism is not merely a difference in leadership style or a frustration with a set of standards.  The problem I see with this kind of fundamentalism is a philosophical problem that reaches to the root of why and how we minister.  For many participants in this kind of fundamentalism, the purpose of ministry is first and foremost numeric.  I will grant that many seek numbers out of a sincere desire to obey the great commission as effectively as possible and to see many who are condemned to hell come to a saving knowledge of Christ.  However, the numeric emphasis causes an undermining of their insistence on faithful and stringent obedience to the Word. For example, the stress on numbers and decisions has led to activities merely for the sake of drawing a bigger crowd and it has led to a weakening of the gospel presentation so that many who profess salvation show absolutely no evidence of a transformed life.  This focus on numbers has driven a large number of preachers away from anything like a faithful explanation and application of Scriptures to offer instead a practical homily based off a resemblance of ideas between a verse and the preachers idea of what he wants to say.  Following the example of men like J. Frank Norris, this particular stripe of fundamentalism grew and by the early 70’s was far and away the largest segment of fundamentalists. Their success has held sway in many camps, being justified by the totals on the membership rolls or decision cards.  As a result, the commitment to Biblical truth has been coupled with a devotion to practices and preachers that get the job done.  In such a joining, the Bible loses, it is implicitly undermined.  By their habits they deny that the Word of God, and it alone, is sufficient to direct and empower the ministry.

Not that every practitioner of this style of leadership is an insincere, power monger.  Many thousands of pastors have been taught this in their schools and have genuinely believed this was the best way to obey God’s commands.   Their sincerity does not minimize the shame of this kind of fundamentalism.  It has no foundation in the Bible and holds very little akin with mainline, historic fundamentalism.  The schisms created within fundamentalism by this particular breed have decimated true fundamentalism and needs to be rejected for more Biblical forms of ministry.

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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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