Almost four years ago, I started my blog Fundamentally Reformed. I wanted to share my story, and do a little thinking out loud about some important issues. At the time, blogging was new to me, and I thought it’d be fun to have my own little corner of the world wide web.
Since the launch of my blog, I’ve realized that I stepped out into a rushing stream that pulled and moved me onward and forward. There is a movement afoot today that I believe is of God’s Spirit. Young people in fundamentalist circles are coming in contact with serious, conservative evangelicalism, and that encounter is leaving a lasting impression. For some it is a positive development, for others it springboards them out to the emerging movement and beyond. My goal in my online presence, and in my participation with this blog, is to help that movement stay rooted in Scripture and be glorifying to God.
I should back up a bit though, and offer my story. I didn’t know much about blogging when I posted my dozen page (or more?) letter online as one post and called it My Story. I’ve had lots of feedback, good and bad about that story. But I find myself in a new setting, and a new venue. And I’m interested in giving my story another go. One that might be a bit more readable….
I grew up in an independent fundamental Baptist home. My parents had attended Hyles-Anderson College, and we were members in a church where the pastor had gone to school at Tom Malone’s Midwestern Baptist College. I learned most of our standards through a cultural osmosis. We were KJV Only (this became more important for us in the mid 90s, I believe), against “Christian Rock” (although I didn’t know exactly what that was, and the Southern Gospel groups we had in all the time, would be frowned on in other circles), and we were “old-fashioned”. We had revivals and faith promise missions. We had evangelists bring their motor-homes, and saw more missionaries come through our church doors than you could shake a stick at. We had a solid diet of topical preaching, heavy on the emotions. We drove 14 hours to go to a good teen camp where the preacher could cry, spit and scream at the same time (not to mention swing from the tabernacle rafters). Oh, and we ran buses. From as early as I can remember I followed my dad around on the bus route, and in the bus.
I was dragged around the country on deputation as a teen-ager missionary kid. I learned a little about the various clicks and sub-groups within fundamentalism. We were warned what not to say or do, in certain contexts. We went to Hyles-Anderson affiliated churches, to BBF or WBF churches. Big churches, little churches, somewhat liberal ones (from our perspective), and frighteningly hard-core. It was here I first came in contact with an ultra-decisionist mindset, where numbers and “souls saved” were all that mattered. Only a few of our stops were at places like this, but even as a teenager I thought something was wrong with all this.
When we got a hold of David Cloud’s Way of Life Encyclopedia, I eagerly read many portions of it, as I started to be more eager to learn the “why”s for all of our quirky positions. After a year on the mission field, my home-school education was complete (I’ve been to my share of Christian schools too, and am familiar with ACE and ABeka curricula), and I came back to the States to enroll at an IFB College. It was there that I learned the Biblical reasons behind the various positions that IFBs held. I grew more conservative in my standards, and more confident in my faith. I gained more experience working in a church environment, and at the same time, became dissatisfied with some of the tendencies I saw.
At college, I grew to loathe the “preacher-said” mindset. So many were content to just follow the leadership without knowing “why”. I saw a simplistic KJV Onlyism, too, that elevated the English above the Greek (I was one of the few who cared enough to take Greek as a minor). I also could already see that the scholarship level in some classes was not very high. And I was getting sick and tired of the standard topical sermon that used a text to launch of into a tirade not directly connected to any text. This is not to say there wasn’t good preaching to be had. I think these feelings grew as I stayed through College and into the 1 year Master’s program. But even then, I thought the answer was taking our principles and being more Biblical in how we preached and used them. I still greatly respected (and still do), the leadership of the school, although I saw room for improvement (and indeed it was improving in various ways while I was there).
After college, I got married and moved out west to help in an expositional preaching church and school. My wife taught first grade, and I was mentored by the pastoral staff for a while. I learned a lot there, and loved the emphasis on education and scholarship. They had written a book on the KJV issue, and it was the best I had yet read. The KJV Only debate was already a special focus of mine, I had read 1500 pages on the topic for one of my Master’s papers. While there I became more heavily involved in an aggressive, apologetic door-to-door evangelism model, too. I learned a lot there. I still am thankful for the time we spent at that church. God took us through some hard bumps while there. The pastors and people were kind and helpful during a difficult time in my personal life and in our family. Looking back on it, I can see God’s hand even in the difficult time. He was shaping us, even then. After two years, I couldn’t find work, and my wife’s teaching career was finished with our need to have her stay home with our first daughter. My brother found me a job in the Twin Cities, where he had been living, and we moved back to the mid-west to be closer to family.
It was at another strong IFB church in the Twin Cities, that God brought many things to a head for us. I’ve neglected to mention in all of this, that my brother, a year younger than I, had gone to Northland Baptist Bible College in Dunbar, WI. In that environment he had gradually changed and adopted Calvinism (thanks to John Piper’s influence), abandoned KJV Onlyism, found a love for contemporary worship music, etc. For several years, every time we’d see each other, we’d debate theology. Local church only ecclesiology, calvinism, KJV Onlyism, music, separation — the list of debate topics grew quite long! I would think I had the answers for him, and that I could convince him of his errors. But every time we talked, my arguments fell flat, and not only did they not work, I saw in Dave an attractive spirit and a love for Christ that was so different from what I knew of who he was before. God had changed him, and was using his influence on me.
I resisted, but we would send books and articles back and forth to each other. I always was one to read the opposing points of view, and so I set out to study different issues. I never really thought through the debates from an objective standpoint, however. I had a bias toward my own view, of course. Plus in my circles, to abandon any small point in my system of theology, was to risk being ostracized and separated from. Anyway, back to our time in Minnesota.
At the small church we were at, we weren’t as heavily involved in all the ministries as we had been for several years before. As we soaked in the ministry of the church (we were busy too with settling in, and getting adjusted to parenthood, as well as getting ready for daughter #2), I became more and more dissatisfied with the teaching and preaching. I believe God was giving me a distaste and showing me the end of being a church that fights over every small point. The church we were in took pride in each and every small thing they stood for. At least that’s how we saw it at the time. We were out from the thumb of church leadership, in a sense, and had more freedom to think about things in a more objective light. We were closer to my brother, who was now pastoring in rural ND. I read more and more articles he gave me, and I had more and more talks with him. Finally, when I had to be honest with myself about the KJV Only issue. That I couldn’t believe in and error-free KJV. Then I gained a new level of objectivity. In a few months, the nagging questions and doubts I had, finally quieted as I started looking at things from a different perspective and a new point of view.
At this point, I should stress this wasn’t easy for us. We were expecting a baby, and living in a town where we knew no one expect the few friends we had at church. We risked familial displeasure from both sides of our family, and the little ties we had with friends would soon be severed as well over this. I knew what the path to ministry looked like from within my current circles, but had not a clue how it would work outside of them. There wasn’t much to be gained, except a peace in my spirit and a settled conscience. But there was much to lose. I felt the risk was worth the cost. Especially as I thought of our children. I had come to the point where I saw much of my previous life in shades of legalism in some kind of degree. And the legalistic tendency seemed all too real if we remained in the extreme IFB circles we were in.
We cautiously left, in a careful way so as not to cause disruption in the church. We visited a few other churches, a more moderate IFB church (later we came to view this as a mainstream IFB church), a Reformed Baptist church, and then what became our home church for the past 4 and a half years: Bethlehem Baptist, pastored by John Piper. My brother had attended there for almost two years, and when we first started attending, there was much to get adjusted to for us. But we came to love the Scripture focus, and Christ-centered ministry model. God has blessed us immensely during our time at Bethlehem. We have a new freedom in Christ, and a deeper understanding of God’s grace. We believe God is at work in our lives, and are currently helping out with a Bethlehem-sponsored church plant in St. Paul.
I hope my story (again it ends up being long!) can help some. It hasn’t been an easy road. We still have hurt feelings with past friends, and loved family members. The sacrifice was worth it for us. Before I close, let me just specify that since that time, I’ve come to realize something important about our story. It’s our story. And it doesn’t have to be yours. I don’t think God calls everyone who is awakened to problems in their church, to leave it. God wants some to stay put and work for change from within. God wants some to be reforming fundamentalists from within the IFB movement. For others, God will not let them stay. And for those who aren’t “reforming”, the vast majority are God-fearing, sincere believers. I think they are led astray in many cases. I think they are in a movement and surrounded by structures that will make it easy to be legalistic, and will tend toward a performance-oriented Christianity. But as with other theological positions, just because there can be a tendency to drift, doesn’t mean that drift will happen. There are many who serve God out of a pure heart of love, and they are to be received and approved in the spirit of Rom. 14-15.
I now am fundamentally reformed. I still identify with fundamentalism, and uphold the fundamentals. I still believe a certain separation for the truth is incumbent on all true Christians. I also am thoroughly reformed in my theology. I’m still a Baptist, but I respect reformed theology, and even Presbyterian baptism. I’ve lost my dispensationalism, and have a respect for other expressions of Christianity that I wouldn’t always have had. My Calvinism coupled with my life story, frees me to hope the best for everyone. God is still at work in their lives. On the same hand, as the name of this group blog makes clear, I’m still fundamentally the same. I still love Christ, and uphold the fundamentals of the faith. I believe in inerrancy, and still view large swaths of evangelicalism with distrust. I see a great need for reform, and long for the Church to be more biblical. Perhaps that will happen when more fundamentalists wake up to their own need of reformation. Let’s work on the logs in our own eyes, the specks in others’ eyes can wait!
Blessings in Christ,