Fundamentalists Are Cannibals

Fundamentalists Are Cannibals July 11, 2012

So says Roger Olson, in a lengthy post on the problems in the Great Commission Baptist (née Southern Baptist Convention):

But my main point here is to ask why Southern Baptists can’t get along? I’m not surprised, however, that they, the conservatives who took control of the SBC often using scare tactics and venomous, even unchristian, attacks on fellow Southern Baptists are now turning on each other. Is there something in SBC DNA that makes this inevitable? No, I don’t think so. Over the years there have been long periods of relative peace in spite of diversity (e.g., between Calvinists and non-Calvinists) within the SBC. It’s not SBC DNA that’s the problem, it’s fundamentalism.

Here I speak not of fundamentalism in the early, ordinary, garden-variety sense of Protestant orthodoxy–belief in the five or six or seven “fundamentals of the faith.” Here, by “fundamentalism,” I speak of the religious ethos that entered into evangelical Protestant Christianity with the likes of William Bell Riley and J. Frank Norris–the northern and southern partners of aggressive, separatistic fundamentalism that added premillennialism to the list of fundamentals of Christian faith and questioned the very salvation of people who didn’t agree with them on that and much else that has always been secondary doctrine at most. Not that all fundamentalists did or do that particular thing. Some have been and are amillennialists. The one doctrine is not the point. The point is the felt need, the compulsion, to use the rhetoric of exclusion (often couched in some “nice talk”) to marginalize people who disagree with you about secondary and tertiary matters of faith–often misrepresenting their beliefs to cause people to fear them.

Fundamentalism reared its ugly head when some conservative evangelicals reacted to open theism by labeling it “Socinianism.” It reared its ugly head when some conservative evangelicals called SBC seminary professors a “cancer.” It reared its ugly head when some (notably Harold Lindsell) argued that anyone who is not an inerrantist is not an evangelical (something even Carl Henry disputed). It rears its ugly head when people accuse fellow conservative Christians of “flouting humanism” (when what is clearly meant is not “Christian humanism” in the sense in which I described it here earlier).

No, my friends, the problem is not SBC DNA. The problem is fundamentalism–as a spirit of division, of exclusion, of theological narrowness (not as an emphasis on generous orthodox).

Read the rest: Why can’t Southern Baptists just get along?.

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  • As long as you hold onto the disclaimer of fundamentalism as in the subculture and not fundamentalism as in those who subscribe to the Protestant fundamentals, as he does, then I think he is bang on. Being judgemental of those who believe differently on even minor points definitely seems to have become a fundamental in itself.

  • JR

    Tony, I’m not sure if posting that picture is a good idea.

    • Agreed. That’s pretty inflammatory and is likely to get you into hot water.

      • Jonathan

        Exactly. This is a conversation where there’s a great deal at steak. This is really in poor taste.

  • Evelyn

    My mother-in-law is a southern baptist and her son is a professed atheist (which, of course, she has a bit of a problem with). I’m recently Episcopalian (previously unchurched) which I thought would calm her down a bit about her grand-daughter not being Christian and I thought she would at least be happy that her grand-daughter is being exposed to Christ. Unfortunately, she seems to begrudgingly accept our church attendance and I don’t think she really considers Episcopalians to be Christian. And, after being exposed to some progressive southern baptists (and there ARE progressive southern baptists), I decided that she wouldn’t be happy with us joining ANY Christian church or group besides the specific one that she attends. From my sample of one and a little research into the (totally decentralized) governance structure of the Southern Baptist convention, I decided that each little Baptist church is probably it’s own mini-cult and if the church members are judgmental enough they probably don’t recognize anyone outside of their personal church as properly Christian. As long as each little church is allowed to live in its own world without much external pressure from a larger governing structure, cannibalism shouldn’t be a problem. If the churches try to interact, there might be some fighting depending on how progressive and open each church is.

  • nathan

    I like Roger Olson, but I don’t think he can bring himself to acknowledge that there IS something particular to the Baptists that draw them toward this stuff simply because Olson is a Baptist, right?

    I don’t know what it is, but there really seems to be an unusual tendency toward being fractious in the Baptist stream in particular, the “Low Free Church” tradition as whole.

    Maybe it’s the “individualism” boogeyman…but whatever it is, it really hurts people.

    • Wright

      Olsen is a Baptist, not a Southern Baptist. There’s a notable difference, as he points out in the full article.

  • jc

    so why is it that emergents, and catholics, and basically every christian organization since the beginning of time has had trouble getting along then?

  • Mccallum

    Having graduated the last SBC seminary to fall under the control of the SBC Fundi control; I would say the issue is not doctrine!! Yes, it is couched in doctrinal clothing but the bottom line issue is POWER! Who has it and who will have it.