Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Piper on Fundamentalists, and What it Means for the Church

20 Reasons I Don't Take Potshots at Fundamentalists by: John Piper

1. They are humble and respectful and courteous and even funny (the ones I've met).
2. They believe in truth.
3. They believe that truth really matters.
4. They believe that the Bible is true, all of it.
5. They know that the Bible calls for some kind of separation from the world.
6. They have backbone and are not prone to compromise principle.
7. They put obedience to Jesus above the approval of man (even though they fall short, like others).
8. They believe in hell and are loving enough to warn people about it.
9. They believe in heaven and sing about how good it will be to go there.
10. Their "social action" is helping the person next door (like Jesus), which doesn't usually get written up in the newspaper.
11. They tend to raise law-abiding, chaste children, in spite of the fact that Barna says evangelical kids in general don't have any better track record than non-Christians.
12. They resist trendiness.
13. They don’t think too much is gained by sounding hip.
14. They may not be hip, but they don’t go so far as to drive buggies or insist on typewriters.
15. They still sing hymns.
16. They are not breathless about being accepted in the scholarly guild.
17. They give some contemporary plausibility to New Testament claim that the church is the “pillar and bulwark of the truth.”
18. They are good for the rest of evangelicals because of all this.
19. My dad was one.
20. Everybody to my left thinks I am one. And there are a lot of people to my left.

--from Desiring God

This post is worthy of a good deal more attention than I can give it right now. It's not that it's overly developed, because it's not. Rather, I'm thankful that someone has taken the time to stand up for Christian fundamentalists, who are regularly and relentlessly bashed in the media and even in Christian circles. Many Christians adopt the world's position toward fundamentalists--a term that can function as a catch-all for non-Christians, and can also refer to the actual category of separatist Christians--and think that it is appropriate to lambaste fellow believers who hold to fundamentist tenets. This is entirely inappropriate. Christians are not to slam one another, to bash one another, to publicly insult one another, and to use the same derogatory labels that the world uses against people who, while holding to some different beliefs, nevertheless share saving faith in Christ.

I've seen this happen numerous times in recent days in major evangelical media outlets, and I've heard prominent Christian leaders do the same. Christians sometimes conflate Christian fundamentalism with other forms of supposedly fundamentalist religion--like Islamic fundamentalism, for example--and thus speak of the two as if they are theologically similar. This is egregious! Though the two groups may both approach their faith with high levels of devotion, Islam is a false religion, and Christian fundamentalism is a faith born of God and faithfulness to His Word. Do not make this mistake. It is incredibly uncharitable and hugely insulting to people who, whatever differences one may have with them in their praxis of the Christian faith, are brothers and sisters.

This is not to say that I think that there are necessarily huge differences between "evangelical" Christianity and "fundamentalist" Christianity. There are some, but I do not think that they are huge, and like Dr. Piper, I find many wonderful things in Christian fundamentalist circles. Some of my favorite people and best teachers are and have been fundamentalists. Some of the most faithful and fruitful Christians I know are fundamentalists. They are the farthest thing from extremism, and they are terribly injured when uncareful and uncharitable people label them derogatorily.

Next time you're about to use the word "fundamentalist", think about what you are intending it to mean. Consider it carefully, and opt for the most charitable conception possible. In that way, you will honor your brother--and the Lord who unites you.

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Blogger Terry Lange said...

From a IFB(Independent Fundamental Baptist) thanks to you and John Piper for this article and your comments.

9:11 PM  
Blogger AE said...

I imagine Piper's father was an amazing man. Having grown up in a Fundamentalist church and know what my parents are going through now at one, I don't see how Piper's points lines up with what I've experienced. The legalism can get out of control.

12:42 PM  
Blogger AE said...

One more quick, ironic point: recently a PhD student at SBTS who went to Detroit Baptist Seminary (Fundamentalist seminary; he said he couldn't go to SBTS for the MDiv b/c the professors "spiritualize" the text, e.g., weren't dispensational) told me his church quit recommending Piper to people once they realized his views on spiritual gifts. That's sad. I think I've just met the wrong Fundamentalists if Piper's right.

12:49 PM  

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