Tuesday, May 26, 2009

So, why are they REALLY leaving Fundamentalism?

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve had a question running through my mind…why are the young guys really leaving Fundamentalism. Most of us know about the hullabaloo caused by the reasons offered up to this question by a keynote speaker at a recent FBFI regional meeting back east. His contention is that Calvinism, coupled with young men becoming enamored with some of the popular leaders in Conservative Evangelicalism, serves as the main catalyst. I think he’s way off the mark. But rather than just claiming that and ending it all there, I’d like to offer up my thoughts on why the young guys are leaving.

I’m still one of the “young guys” in Fundamentalism although, at the age of 36, I’m on the verge of no longer fitting the original definition of “Young Fundamentalist”. Not only am I one of the young guys, but I’m one of the young guys who is going to leave the movement. I’ve stated before that the church I’m in now is likely the last IFB church I’ll ever attend. Now for me there have been several key factors contributing to my desire to leave the movement. I’ll mention those and then move on to some other factors that I think may be contributing to the current trend of bashing and/or leaving Fundamentalism. To be clear here, by “leaving Fundamentalism” we are discussing the movement – not the principals. I am and will continue to be a Fundamentalist in the historic sense of the word; however, I – like so many others – have grown increasingly frustrated with what fundamentalism the movement has become.

By the way, for the purpose of this blog entry I’m differentiating between young fundamentalists and young fundamentalist preachers. While many from both groups might be leaving for some of the same reasons, I believe that what might cause a young pastor to leave is ofttimes something that might not cause a typical parishioner to leave and vice-versa. Now, my reasons first:

The KJV issue. This has been a burr under my saddle since I was 15 years old (with a brief exception in my early adult years when I joined up with the KJVO crowd). The KJVO movement has, in my opinion, caused more harm and disharmony in the church in general, and Fundamentalism in particular, than any other singular issue. This crowd has hurled some wicked insults at other reliable (sometimes more reliable) translations of God’s Word – calling them translations from the pits of hell and the like. Their vitriol notwithstanding, the radical side of the KJVO movement has so permeated Fundamentalism that any church that uses any other translation – regardless of what it is – is generally deemed “liberal” by Fundamentalism Proper. Even our institutions of higher learning are forced to pander to the rabid KJVO crowd. While only a few will go so far as to claim that the KJV is anything more than what is – a fairly reliable TRANSLATION – nearly all of them state that it is to be the only Bible used from the pulpit and in the classroom. The KJV issue is truly indicative of a larger issue in the realm of scholarship, but perhaps that’s another topic altogether. While I certainly respect those folks, both inside and outside Fundamentalism, who hold to the KJV as their Bible of choice, the KJVO movement has been a horrible blight on Fundamentalism. Another unfortunate result of this movement is that, too often, folks who use only the KJV but do not view it as something other than what it is are unwittingly shackled to maniacs like Riplinger and Ruckman.

The standards issue. Whether you refer to it as personal holiness or sanctification, the results are the same. Too often, Fundamentalism focuses purely on an outward adherence to certain “standards” and ignore the need to actually develop an intimate and personal relationship with a living and holy God. Even the more progressive portions of IFB-dom struggle with things such as whether or not a woman should wear pants and whether or not boys can wear shorts for sporting activities. In many IFB summer camps you will see girls wearing long skirts and boys wearing blue jeans for outdoor sports activities even in temperatures greater than 100 degrees. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard pastors tear the crap out of a text in order to defend their ridiculous notion that a woman wearing pants is immoral. But it’s not just that. Whether we want to talk about dress, hair length and style, jewelry, facial hair, church dress, music, alcohol, or any number of other things the story is the same: Fundamentalism tends to have hard and fast rules based loosely on biblical principals and proof texting but with little hardcore support for their position. The result is that people who look right are too often deemed righteous regardless of whether or not they are bearing any fruit. By the way, another aspect of this is that, all too often, people who don’t already look the part are shunned. This is why there are more IFB churches shrinking than there are growing. I believe that this key issue is at the core of the lack of involvement of the typical IFB church in the community. Where the Evangelicals are very active in reaching out to the community and reaching them where they are, the Fundamentalists have a desire to make people become like them. Now I’ll be the first to admit that there needs to be balance here. Ofttimes, just like the Fundamentalists go too far one direction, the Evangelicals will fall of the other extreme.

The preaching issue. My experience is Fundamentalism has been that there is precious little exposition coming from the pulpit. I attended a Fundamentalist college and spent three years working at two of the premier Fundamentalist camps in the country and I just didn’t see much exposition from any of the IFB “celebrities”. Most generally when the regular speakers on my college campus (faculty members) spoke, it was expositional in nature, but the guests were most generally topical guys. My experience in IFB churches since those days has been the same - 90% or more topical versus exposition. I’m one of those guys who has, not just a strong feeling, but a strong conviction on this subject. Rightly dividing the word of truth demands a faithful exposition of the text.

The worship issue. While worship can certainly be “overdone” and focused purely on emotions in more contemporary services, Fundamentalism goes to the other extreme. There needs to be balance here and, unfortunately, I’ve attended exactly 2 services in any Fundamentalist church that managed to strike this balance. One was a very conservative church with a worship leader (now a pastor of another church) who carefully and reverently led the congregation in worship. The other instance was on an occasion where there was a guest musician in for a church service I was attending. He led the congregation in true worship. These are clear exceptions to the Fundamentalism I’ve always known. We don’t worship. We sing, listen to announcements, take up an offering, listen to the choir, sing some more, listen to the special, listen to some topical preaching, and have an invitation. This may sound like I’m describing a service at a specific church, but in reality this is the model for every single IFB church (with one exception) that I’ve ever attended. I don’t know how many churches that is, but I would estimate that number to be somewhere over 100 during the course of my life. 100 different churches, 100 different pastors, 100 different song leaders, yet the same service. We are careful to ensure that the emotions are not engaged during the song service because we believe emotional engagement is wrong….unless of course it’s time for the invitation. The command to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind (these address the will, emotion, and intellect) doesn’t seem to apply in the church service. We want to engage the will and intellect, but the emotions need to be put down. You will never see hands raised in worship in an IFB church (unless there is an "outsider" visiting), nor will you see anything other than dry eyes at any point during the “worship” service. The church service tends to be a very regimented, dry, rote, obligatory occasion.

I would say that these, although not representative of all my thoughts over the last 6 or 7 years of looking at things, are the main four items for me. Quickly I want to examine some other possibilities for why young guys are leaving – some good and some…not so good.
The “grass is greener” syndrome. Some guys leave just because it’s different. I believe that this reason represents a very small (nearly nonexistent) minority of the young preachers who are leaving, but a larger percentage of the young, non-pastors who are leaving. Now there are several issues that contribute to this, but I think the main one is that, from the outside, Christianity can appear to be much “easier” in Evangelicalism. What people realize eventually however, is that, regardless of the type of church you are in, you are still a wicked sinner trying desperately – and failing miserably – when it comes to pleasing a holy God.

The Calvinism issue. I said in my opening statements that I think it is a misplaced logic that leads one to this conclusion. However, when it comes to the young non-pastor types who flee Fundamentalism, this can certainly be a contributing factor. There is little doubt that Evangelicalism is a much more “Calvinist-friendly” entity than is Fundamentalism. All that being said, I’ve been very Calvinistic for nearly 20 years and a 5-pointer for nearly 10 and I’ve managed to live peaceably within Fundamentalism that entire time. This, in my opinion, would be a lousy reason to abandon Fundamentalism and it is certainly not a stand alone reason. It might be a good reason to leave a particular Fundamentalist church, but not a good reason to leave Fundamentalism itself.

The Jack Hyles/Bob Gray/Bob Jones, Jr./John R. Rice, etc. issue. I think some guys leave just because, in certain parts of the country, you say the word Fundamentalist and one of these guys pops into your head. While there is quite a bit of good that came out of each of these guys ministries, they were and – even though most of them are now dead – continue to be extremely polarizing figures. To many, these guys represent all that was and is wrong with Fundamentalism. If I was in a place where Fundamentalism equals Jack Hyles, I would never use that term nor would I attend a church that advertised itself as a Fundamentalist church. Now the only problem with leaving for this issue is that, in most of the country, the term "Evangelical" brings names like Osteen, Hybels, and Warren immediately to mind. So which is the greater evil? I think I’d prefer being associated with Hyles over Osteen any day of the week. One presented the Gospel boldly every time he had an opportunity to do so; the other has repeatedly balked even when given national television audiences. In my opinion, leaving (or embracing) any movement simply because of whom you will or will not be identified with is not a good primary reason for a move one way or the other. While I would more readily wish to be identified with the Masters crowd than with the Bob Jones University crowd, this should not be a major consideration for where I land (unless the crowd I’m leaving has slid into major doctrinal error or apostasy).

Now there are certainly other reasons that could be examined – some good and some bad – so I acknowledge that this list isn’t complete, nor is it “scientific” in any way. This is just one bloggers opinion of a major issue. I think that young men leaving Fundamentalism will, in the end, be good for the movement. This forces the movement into some critical self-examination. In the end, Fundamentalism will make some changes or it will continue to slowly bleed out.


Don Johnson said...

Hi Ellis,

Interesting, your list essentially parallels what I have received in posing the same question at my blog. I appreciate your thoughts. I also appreciate what you say are bad reasons for leaving.

Thanks. Gives me some hope!

But of course swirling events also tend to discourage...

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Ellis Murphree said...


I just read your blog entries on this subject this morning - your 5+ readers:) had some great comments. I'm curious about the forthcoming comments on your latest article - an apostasy??? :)

As far as your "discouragement" with current trends, I think you should take heart. This discussion is healthy and neccesary. Whether one stays in the movement or leaves, we can be encouraged that some weighty matters are being discussed. We can also be encouraged that the "big idea" of Fundamentalism is alive and well and will continue to thrive. The "movement" might die out eventually, but the historic ideals continue to take root. We still see historic Fundamentalism alive and well in conservative Christian churches all around the nation - even though many of them may not be "IFB".

BTW, some of the men who have left the movement are doing so over principals that are, in a very real sense, "fundamental".

Kent Brandenburg said...

Those look like the reasons I would have thought.

I wouldn't have anything to do with your Hyles-guys list. I wouldn't be in a church if the pastor didn't preach exposition. It's not a separating issue, but a strong preference.

On the pants/skirt, I don't think the position gets explained exegetically and historically well enough, but your position will fail exegetically and historically. I don't think scripture says no to men's shorts, but I understand a position on modesty even as it relates to men. On the version issue, the historic position of the church is perfect preservation of original language text. I think that is an elephant in the room that isn't being addressed.

Do you think that the doctrine of ecclesiastical separation is in the Bible?

Do you think someone should fellowship with someone that has been disciplined out of a church for unrepentant sin?

Ellis Murphree said...


Thanks for taking the time to respond. For the sake of clarification, modesty is important and a biblical principal that needs to be practiced. The "rules without reason" that typifies so much of Fundamentalism is what is objectionable. Beyond that, you and I will likely disagree on some of the "finer points" of modesty. I'm certain we've both spent a great deal of time studying this topic, yet we've certainly arrived at different conclusions. I'm OK with that!

Ecclesiastical separation is absolutely taught in the Bible and it should be practiced as is necessary. I hinted at that in the last section of this article. I will never knowingly fellowship with a congregation / denomination that is guilty of clear doctrinal error and/or apostasy. Taking the conversation to the next level (i.e., secondary and beyond) gets murky and is not something I'm interested in getting into here.

Regarding fellowship with someone who has been "disciplined out of a church for unrepentant sin". My answer is dependent on how you are defining "fellowship" and what the particular "sin" is. If the issue is one of clear violation of biblical mandate, my task as a believer is to pray for and seek his repentance and restoration. My understanding of this principal neccesitates a clean separation from this individual until such a time as repentence is seen.

Kent Brandenburg said...


Those are fine answers to my questions. I won't get into it with you on the disagreeable issues. I guess I see hot weather as "liberty without reason." It seems like an anti-reason---Jesus said He had no where to lay His head. Paul told the Corinthians women to keep wearing the head coverings. Removing them wasn't an option.

I haven't been around "rules without reason" people, so you must have traveled in different circles than me. The evangelicals, even conservative ones, I found to be meaner than the fundamentalists I've talked to.

Gordon Scott Jones said...

Dear Ellis,

I was very interested to read your article and some of the discussion that followed. That is in spite of the fact that I rarely venture into the blogasphere because I find that few of the bloganauts seem to be engaged in direct ministry with real people. We worked together and "kept it real" for a while though, didn't we?!

I was right with you and your concerns about Fundamentalism, until you got to "true worship." There seems to be a concrete definition in use of which I am not aware. While the culture up here in the Great White North is pretty reserved I see our people expressing a genuine love for the Lord and offering Him praise in our church services and through service of many types.

Perhaps I misunderstood, but it also seemed that you equated the "soul" with man's "emotions" and I am not aware of a connection there.

Keep thinking, but keep loving and serving while you do it, God is sure to bless that.

Your servant in Christ,
Scott Jones

Ellis Murphree said...

Thanks for venturing into the blogosphere, Scott! Careful - it can get dangerous out here!

(As far as "keeping it real" is concerned, my guess is that you were far more genuine back then than I was...)

Regarding "true worship", keep in mind that I'm relating my particular experience. Honestly, while I didn't say so in this article, I've been guilty in the past of some of the very things I'm now criticizing. I've been the "music guy" in a couple of different churches in my lifetime. My method was to pick out a few songs and pop some jokes as I lead them...the music was a mere formality. This is to my shame. With very few exceptions, this is quite normative in the Fundamentalism I've always known.

My point with all that is to say that we tend to miss the point that a worship service should be just that. We should be worshipping corporately through the music, giving, the time around the Scriptures, etc.

Regarding emotions, the point I was attempting to make is that we should be striving to worship God with our entire being. We are emotional beings...why stifle that? I certainly don't mean that worship should be relegated to some warm, fuzzy experience or some emotional high; however, the idea behind my "true worship" section is that "we" (church leaders) have typically done an awful job of leading our people to worship. I'm having a difficult time expressing this adequately. I hope I'm making some sense.

What a blessing it is to hear of the worship and service that you are experiencing and seeing in your people in the "reserved" North! I remember well your heart and service when we were working together all those years ago. You were the first pastor that I ever considered a close friend and it was thrilling to see a church begin from the inside out like that.

That church was the only one I've ever attended where every business meeting quickly turned into a praise meeting complete with tears! (I've been to many other business meetings with tears involved, but they weren't quite the same...)

The genuniness and love of the folks in that church back then as well as that shown by you and Robin is a precious memory to me. Thanks for popping in here and challenging me....please continue to do so!

Ellis Murphree said...

By the way, Kent....I'm not sure what you're getting at in your last sentence: "The evangelicals, even conservative ones, I found to be meaner than the fundamentalists I've talked to."????

Reforming Baptist said...

KB: "On the pants/skirt, I don't think the position gets explained exegetically and historically well enough, but your position will fail exegetically and historically"

A few weeks ago on the former fundies blog, I demonstrated that your argument for this is not exegetical, it's circular. I'm not going to get into it here, but your argument for "the male article" is strictly a cultural determination and not a biblical one, yet you say that the culture used to hold to a biblical standard which can't be found anywhere in the Bible concerning the definite male article.

Marty Colborn said...


On the worship issue:

I have been in many fundamental churches as well, most of them presenting the "service" in the way you characterize. Nevertheless, the deciding factor in the "true worship" was my heart, not the songleader, style of music, etc. I suppose that the worship of some evangelical churches could be said to have that outward form and emotional expression that you desire, and not involve true worship any more than a rock concert. The problem with the led worship is the same as what you are speaking against in fundamentalism: we tend to follow the form presented to us, and one can clap his hands and dance just to conform in the same way people conform in fundamentalism. The joy is in the heart in response to God as we understand Him and are again reminded of His attributes by the words of the songs we sing in worship. Sometimes even a piano is distracting to that. I would be in favor of simply saying the hymns once in a while, just so we can get the meaning.

While I am in favor of more comment on the songs and their spiritual signifance, that all goes on in my mind while I am singing. I don't need a worship leader to do that for me. Corporate worship is made up of the individual worship we all render privately to God when we are together.

I hate to be negative, and I always feel bad that I cannot agree with you on everything, but it is my hope that you understand that this is all in Christian love, and with a desire to help you see some things that it doesn't appear to me that you see.

I am afraid that in the evangelical churches you might attend, you would find a great number of people who are just going through the motions in much the same way many do in fundamentalism (and which all of us do from time to time, God help us).


Ellis Murphree said...


I completely agree with you..well, to a point. It's easy to go through the motions and it's easy to get caught up in the emotions. I seem to be having a difficult time making the point I want to make here....this isn't about some particular "model" per seMy point is that I beleive that there is an obligation on the music director/worship leader to actually lead the folks in that direction. My goodness, the typical church I've attended just announces song numbers and goes. Sometimes, as I sing the words, I wonder if there is even any thought given to the theology presented in the song.

I believe you and I attended the same service when Dan Forrest (a guest at the church) was there as the guest speaker. As he simply played the piano - no singing, no clapping, no "light shows" - while the lyrics were in front of us, he took on the role of a worship leader. It wasn't some orgy of emotions, nor was it souless. He simply led the congregation in worshipping the Lord.

I agree with you that my heart condition will impact my ability to worship. But I'm not sure that you are understanding exactly what I'm trying to get across....I hope I'm making my point a bit more clear.

By the way, you shouldn't feel bad when we find ourselves disagreeing with one another. It can certainly be "sharpening"...and sometimes I'm wrong! I appreciate your comments as well as your desire to help me to mature in my faith, brother.

ChrisNC said...

You contrast fundamentalism with conservative evangelicalism. I don't see myself in either school. My theological framework is Reformed Orthodox. No Hyles or Osteen, but rather RC Sproul and Joel Beeke. I recommend it! ;o)

Try here, http://www.rpchanover.org