Questions Regarding “Fundamentalism’s Great Softness”

Pastor Tod Brainard’s article in the latest edition of The Projector, “Fundamentalism’s Great Softness,” was recently forwarded to me by a couple of my pastor-friends. I read it, and I was troubled by its content. Frankly, I’m not sure whether I agree or disagree with Pastor Brainard’s assessment. The reason for my uncertainty is this: Pastor Brainard bemoans the current state of fundamentalism, and he indicts many men and churches for their “great softness.” However, he speaks so vaguely that one is left wondering which specific issues and people so concern him. I have included the article below, along with questions it raised in my mind as I read it. (My questions appear in bold, italicized text throughout the article.)

Though I initially dismissed the article, there are several reasons why I believe it is appropriate to post a response. First, the article is being read and passed along by many who see it as an exemplary warning against compromise. I disagree with that assessment. Second, because I am a separatist, it grieves me to see separation promoted or applied in an imprecise manner. Ill-advised and imprecise militancy puts forward a caricature of separatism rather than the reality. The result is that some may reject biblical separatism in their haste to avoid the misrepresentation of it. Finally the article is teeming with accusations, including the impugning of men’s motives. Pastor Brainard accuses pastors of refusing to apply truths they know because of cowardice. How he knows what these men are doing, what they know, and what motivates them—whoever they are—isn’t clear. He goes on to declare that many fundamental pastors are trading “the Biblical and historic faith” for “‘mixed and matched beliefs’ tailored to their likings.” It is a bold assertion, indeed, to say that fundamental preachers are forsaking the faith, and one which I hope he doesn’t make lightly! He goes on to call out men for “toeing the line” and cow-towing to powerful institutions.

Militancy

Of what profit is such general, shoot-from-the-hip criticism? Pastor Brainard, even as he calls for boldness, fails to mention which doctrines are being forsaken, which pastors are cowering in the pulpit, which institutions are looking to black-ball all who disagree with them, which biblical commands are being compromised, etc. If these things are true—if men are truly absconding from “the Biblical and historic faith”!—Pastor Brainard should name them so we can mark and avoid them as the apostates they are!

As it is, we are left with a hard-hitting article that seems to hit everyone in general and no one in particular, that criticizes many fundamentalists without specific examples or proofs, and that heaps suspicion on unnamed people and institutions for forsaking unnamed doctrines and compromising unnamed standards.

Sans specifics, the article just seems like militancy for the sake of militancy, which is not at all helpful. Indeed, it can be absolutely harmful.

“For if the trumpet makes an uncertain sound, who will prepare himself for battle?” (1 Corinthians 14:8)

______

Fundamentalism’s Great Softness
By Pastor Tod Brainard
The Projector, Vol. 36, No. 4, Fall 2007 (pdf)

Looking over the landscape is a sad sight to behold. Every practice, every standard, every article of clothing, all music, all versions, all worship, movie theater’s all social drinking, you name it, everything is on the table, open for discussion and up for grabs.

Which practices are you especially concerned about? Which articles of clothing? What are some examples of the music that concerns you? Which versions? What kind of worship are you seeing coming into fundamental churches that concerns you? And is the fact that some of these issues are up for discussion really a great threat?

Things that were once taken for granted as solid Biblical precedent are now challenged as being archaic and pharisaical.

Of what things are you speaking? Were they merely taken for granted as being built on solid Biblical precedent (a phrase I’m not certain I understand), or did they genuinely grow out of sound biblical exegesis? Who is calling these things (whatever they may be) archaic and pharisaical?

Substitutes for the old standards are being hailed as “balanced” and “acceptable” and therefore all within Biblical parameters. Yet, the substitutes look just like the one’s promoted by the world and the modern culture, and very few in the church are alarmed.

Which substitutes—for which old standards—are “being hailed as ‘balanced’ and ‘acceptable’”? Who is doing the hailing? By what specific issues should we be alarmed?

Fundamentalists have become like a band of teenagers who finally have come of age and now get to do the things they were told they could not do. The fact that their forebears established certain standards of excellence and forbid certain things because they had our welfare in mind is lost to this generation. “We can do what we want now, so let’s do it” is the attitude of the moment. Such is the attitude in many “Fundamental” churches.

What specific issues are you talking about here? Is that really the reasoning behind the decisions of many fundamental churches—that “we can do what we want now?” Can you provide examples of this?

Anxiety About Being Too Strong
There are preachers who know what is right and they can articulate what is right, but they are afraid of taking too strong a stand for the LORD.

On what issues are preachers afraid of taking too strong a stand, despite knowing what is right? How do you know they are afraid of taking too strong a stand?

If they sound out too strongly, they may be labeled by the talking heads of Fundamentalism as “trouble-makers” and be blacklisted, losing speaking opportunities, honors from Bible colleges and universities, and removal from consideration for potential leadership positions themselves.

Who are these “talking heads of Fundamentalism”? What Bible colleges and universities do you have in mind? Are you certain that this is the motivation behind what these preachers are doing? How can you be sure?

Certainly, pastors should be responsible and use good discernment so as not bring shame on the work of the LORD by overreacting to issues that are inconsequential. That being said, pastors who are overly concerned about perceptions of being “too strong” generally only take stands that are approved by the “group” or that cost them very little.

Which specific issues are inconsequential? What is “the ‘group’”?

Jesus Spoke with Authority
Unlike the Scribes, Jesus taught the people as one having authority. As preachers of the Word, we are not to give out options and theories to our people. We are to believe the Word of God and wholly recognize that the authority of heaven is behind its words. The Scribes knew nothing of that authority and power behind their words and the people could tell the difference. An old-fashioned belief that the Bible is the authoritative Word of God should put some starch in a preacher’s spine and bring him to experience the power of the Spirit in his ministry.

Apparently you see many fundamentalist pastors who do not preach with authority? Can you give specifics regarding what this looks like? Are you looking for authoritative proclamation of truth? An authoritative voice? Authoritative applications? Please be specific.

Powerful Words
Like Eli, the High Priest of old, many preachers know what is right, they know how to articulate what is right, but they cannot wield authiority (sic) to enforce what is right because they are afraid of the reaction that will ensue (I Samuel 2:22; 3:11-14). Our Lord had no stomach for the softness of Eli. God killed his two boys, the ark of the Covenant was taken away from the Tabernacle by the Philistines, and Eli died. In the place of the spineless Eli, God put Samuel and the Bible says, “And Samuel grew, and the LORD was with him, and did let none of his words fall to the ground” (I Samuel 3:19).

In what specific ways are fundamentalist pastors being like Eli? How are they not “wielding authority to enforce what is right? Are you certain that their motivation for what they do is that “they are afraid of the reaction that will ensue”? How?

That one phase indicates that God purposed to make Samuel His voice of authority as the last of the Judges. The days of Eli with his persuasive talk hat lacked authority had come to a close. Samuel became God’s enforcer of right, a true authority figure in Israel. When Saul disobeyed God’s commands in regard to the Amalekites, it was Samuel that took up the sword and hewed Agag in pieces before the Lord in Gilgal (I Samuel 15:33). Obviously, the New Testament preacher does not take a literal sword and dispatch those he deems trouble makers. Yet, the Sword of the Spirit must be taken from the sheath and wielded against the flesh and the Devil. Being perceived as “too strong” should not be the concern of the hour; it is the perception of being “too weak” that should concern the preachers of God’s Word.

You are concerned that pastors are not taking “the Sword of the Spirit…from the sheath and wield[ing] it against the flesh and the Devil.” That is a strong accusation. Can you give examples to support it? Furthermore, is our goal really a matter of weakness vs. strength, or should it instead be a matter of being biblically accurate in our preaching and applications?

Toe the Party Line
There are certain people and agencies of Fundamentalism who are considered untouchable because of their stature.

Who are these people and agencies? Who considers them to be “untouchable”?

For instance, if you criticize or expose the leaders or agencies leading the decline of music standards and Biblical preaching in Fundamentalism you will be hung out to dry. Therefore, toeing the party line has become the choice for many pastors.

Who are the leaders or agencies leading the decline of music standards? Who is leading the decline of biblical preaching? What does it mean to be hung out to dry? And how can you be certain that pastors who disagree with you are merely “toeing the party line”?

Keep in mind, dear pastor, that you will be held accountable before God as to the music standards you allow in your church. Excuses such as, “I am not a musician” will not cut it before the throne of Christ. Accepting weak music standards by default because everybody else does it will not be accepted either.

What, specifically, are the “weak music standards” that concern you?

You must be a Samuel in your place of ministry without fear and take the pulpit and the church back to God’s standards. This will probably cost you families, friends, and invites. This will no doubt put you outside the realm of “popular” Fundamentalism; however, the glory and holiness of the name of the LORD is at stake here, not your rise to fame.

What are God’s standards? How can I know them? What is “the realm of ‘popular’ fundamentalism?

Staying Safe
It is far better never to start down the wrong road than it is to go down the wrong road and try to turn around. What is often not understood in Fundamental churches is that once you begin down the wrong road you lose control of your situation. Your walk down the wrong road is now controlled by the unintended consequences of your choice to move in the wrong direction. It is far easier not to begin to go wrong, than it is to turn back and do better after beginning. The safe course is to never take one step down the wrong road. However, this profound principle escapes the modern Fundamental church.

What specific “wrong roads” are fundamental churches taking?

Rather than adhering to the Biblical and historic faith, which is built on the solid foundation of the Word of God, Fundamentalists have become shoppers for their belief systems. The Mall of Ideas is open for business and people in our Fundamental churches are out shopping and bringing home their “mixed and matched beliefs” tailored to their likings.

That is another strong indictment. Are you aware of fundamental churches that are genuinely rejecting “the Biblical and historic faith?” Are they really trading in “the solid foundation of the Word of God” for “the Mall of Ideas”? In what areas? What specific doctrines of the biblical and historic faith are being forsaken? What commands of the Word of God are being traded in? What are the “mixed and matched beliefs” that so concern you?

Look to Yourselves
II and III John are epistles that pastors need to spend a great deal of time studying in these days of compromise and shallowness. II John 7 is a constant reminder to “Look to yourselves, that we lose not those things which we have wrought, but that we receive a full reward.” I fear that we are losing things that are important for things that are unimportant.

What specific important things are we losing? What specific unimportant things are we gaining?

May God raise up a remnant of men and women who will not take one step down the wrong road!

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19 Responses

  1. I was curious enough to Google Pastor Brainard and the Projector. What I observed:

    1. Summer 2006-he rails against Christian colleges that sell Starbucks coffee, accusing them of “entertaining a culture” (i.e., the beliefs for which the company stands), and mockingly asks when these Christian colleges will begin selling Hooters’ chicken wings “because they are tastier than KFC.”

    2. Winter 2006-he rails against Power Point replacing hymnals. He refers to a hymnal published in 1957, and asks why we are discarding the old in favor of the new. I find this question personally humorous, given that our 20th and 21st century hymnals have done a scarily thorough job of discarding many rich, old (i.e., 15th-18th century) hymns of our faith in favor of Victorian and 20th century gospel songs that are significantly lighter weight in doctrine, generally focused on me, my feelings, and what I think rather than God, and set to tunes reminiscent of a celestial skating rink.

    3. He lumps Piper, MacArthur, and Warren in the same boat (!?!?).

    I suspect that I might be concerned by some of the issues which appear to concern Pastor Brainard. However, his articles (including the one you have posted) demonstrate scary reasoning and rhetoric. As you have pointed out, he does a great job of speaking in generalities, but in the end, his lack of specifics and faulty reasoning leave me unconvinced of his premise.

    Thanks, Pastor Anderson for raising some needed questions.

  2. Chris,

    Who reads this guy anyway? Do you understand him to be influential in some circles?

  3. Thanks, Chris, for taking the time to respond to Pastor Brainard’s polemic. Your reasoning and conclusions have the specificity that his diatribe lacked.

  4. Ben,

    The Projector is a publication that has had what I understand to be a significant following among fundamentalists for the last 3 decades, especially when it was under the leadership of Dayton Hobbs, who is now with the Lord. It has published articles by a number of men I have tremendous respect for, including John Ashbrook, Peter Foxx and Dave Doran. I’m sure it has published much that is very good. However, I believe very strongly that articles like this particular one (along with the sort of thinking that Lyn pointed out) fail in their attempts to promote biblical fundamentalism.

    At any rate, yes, I do think The Projector is quite influential in some circles.

  5. You should have gone with your gut on this one, Chris. The guy’s huff-puff with no substance.

    Gotta love your responses! Spot on, as usual.

  6. FWIW, we are talking about a pastor of a Bible-preaching church and a brother in Christ. Though I disagree with this article (as I’ve said), it’s not my intention to belittle him, or to encourage anyone to do so.

  7. Thanks Chris. I thought I’d bumped into all the fundamentalist publications over the years, but I’d never heard of this one before today. I guess I need to get out more.

  8. Did you have to mention my name? Seriously, I forgot that an article I wrote for something around here was reprinted there–can’t even recall what it was at this point.

    To the point of your post, I agree. The very first thought that came to my mind when I read the “talking heads” comment was, isn’t it strange that a comment about not speaking directly is stated so indirectly? It reminded me of the Keith Gomez article not long ago (that I think Larry Rogier referenced) that attacked preachers from not naming names while carefully avoiding names while mentioned a specific sinful situation. In this regard, I think an article like this is self-refuting in that it rings hollow.

    I am all for direct communication that tackles important issues. This article was more like a parody of that.

  9. If I remember correctly, Tod Brainard is a son-in-law of Dr Hobbs. Also, I think that he’s a BJU grad (but can’t tell you what year, as he’s not listed in the Alumni Directory which I have, which is not the latest edition).

    It’s very true that Brainard’s article and argument would be strengthened if he had been more specific. Since none of us can see inside his heart and head, any speculations about his motive for generalities are just speculations and a waste of time.

    However, sometimes we need to see the big picture and just look over the Fundamentalist scenery. There are men and women who are militantly standing for the faith, and who have not bowed the knee to political correctness or the passing fads of the day, and we need to thank God for every one and pray one for another to continue standing.

    Unfortunately, in the metro area where I live, there are a lot fewer churches which could be labeled fundamentalist than there were even 20+ years ago when I moved to this area. Where are the fundamental church plants to replace them? I know of only one. But men who used to be labeled fundamentalists are refusing to take a stand against compromise, refusing to take a stand against “seeker sensitive” ministries, refusing to take a stand against CCM.

    I’ve deliberately chosen to write in generalities, perhaps for the same reasons as Tod Brainard wrote his article. Anyone who follows even a few blogs can see the way the “talking heads” of the blogosphere slice and dice and parse every word someone posted, but miss the big picture of what was written.

  10. I am probably going to be sliced and diced for saying this. I am by no means a blogosphere regular, but I agree with you, Chris. Though this man may be trying to paint a broad picture of what he perceives is happening amongst fundamentalism, he fails to give important details in order to convey an adequate picture. In the art world, one needs details in order to understand what is trying to be communicated, otherwise the viewer is left to think whatever he wishes as to the meaning of the picture. This article seems more like a picture of a fog bank – you know there are details, but they are hidden in the fog. I would also like to know the details of his thoughts, so that there could be honest and open discussion to see if they are true and worthy of scrutiny or merely misconceptions.

    Besides, when a person publishes something, they automatically give others permission to scrutinize what is written, as others will do of even this blog entry.

  11. Paul,

    I don’t disagree with you or with Pastor Brainard that there is indeed plenty of compromise among professing fundamentalists. I didn’t intend to argue against that fact. As for motives, I also agree with you that it would be sinful and presumptuous to impugn Pastor Brainard’s motives. We are not omniscient. Indeed, I have told him in a personal email that I’m confident of his love of the Lord and desire to further the cause of the truth. However, I don’t believe he accomplished that with this article. For men who share many of the same convictions to communicate candidly—and as graciously as possible—is very healthy, I believe.

    Ironically, the thing which most concerned me about the article is the perpetual impugning of motives on Pastor Brainard’s part. As you correctly say, no man can see into another man’s heart or head. Thus, as you correctly say again, his attributing people’s actions to fear or pride or ambition was mere speculation. That’s unfortunate.

    Finally, I agree with you that we ought to be praying for each other.

    Thanks for your comments. I hope that you will not find MTC to be a “slice and dice” place. I don’t believe that it is.

  12. Thanks for your comments. I hope that you will not find MTC to be a “slice and dice” place. I don’t believe that it is.

    The Cleveland Indians beg to differ… :D

  13. […] I sort of agree with the complaints voiced over at My Two Cents in critique of an article entitled “Fundamentalism’s Great Softness” […}

  14. Hey Chris, I don’t like to blog, but I figured in this case I’d pipe up as a fellow Ohio fundamentalist pastor and say that I agree with your assessment of the article entitled “Fundamentalist’s Great Softness.” I consider myself a militant fundamentalist, but when my wife and I read the article by Todd Brainard, we were both uncomfortable with many of his comments and generalizations.

    I have given my two cents, but don’t expect me to now become a blogging adict!

  15. Hey, Dave. Thanks for chiming in. “Addict” has two D’s.

  16. There’s actually more recent discussion at Don’s place than here. I’ll cross-post a comment I made there relating to some perceived changes among fundamentalists:

    ____

    The word “softening” biases the conversation, because it sounds like a bad thing, at least as Tod Brainard used it. He equates it with weakness.

    Is the realization/fact that women wearing pants(!) is a non-issue a matter of our becoming “soft”? Maybe it’s just a matter of using common sense and has nothing to do with the strength of the movement. And maybe the same thing is true regarding the whole inter-racial marriage thing, or KJV-onlyism, or even the theater. Maybe those who held those positions in the past weren’t strong, but wrong. And maybe the perceived changes some are seeing aren’t a matter of softening, but of correction and honesty.

    As for your take on the article—and I agree with you on many points—the problem isn’t merely the use of generalities. The whole tone is accusatory, assuming that most all fundamentalists (apparently with the exception of a few Elijahs) are on the slippery slope, as evidenced by some dress issue, some version, some whatever. Worse, it assumes a pseudo-omniscience by claiming to know motives. That’s never a good thing.

    As my friend Dave Saxton said over there, I’m a militant fundamentalist. However, I want nothing to do with that mindset. It doesn’t represent me at all. If that makes me soft, so be it.

  17. The above response Chris Anderson is exactly why I read this blog daily. Absolutely right on. And you, Brother Anderson, are far from “soft”. At least from what I’ve read over the past year.

  18. Chris,
    Our Sunday morning service was also canceled due to much snow. Although not encouraged to do so, we did have our own “home church.” It was a wonderful time! (We don’t intend to make it a habit!) We also sang a few hymns and prayed and then listened to a message on sermonaudio.com. It was not Dr. Minnick and it was not short. We listened to a message by Alan Cairns entitled “The Curse of Using Carnal Methods for God’s Work.” The text was Isaiah 31:1. It was an excellent message and a reminder to us of the importance of keeping the church pure from the influence of the world.

    As I thought about the message this morning, I was prompted to come to this blog to read your response to the Tod Brainard article in The Projector. Someone had mentioned this post to me in the recent past and I wanted to read both the post and the article.

    As Dave Saxton noted in a post in the “Questions Regarding “Fundamentalism’s Great Softness”” blog, I too am not a blogger (and don’t expect to become an “adict” or addict). But I did want to comment on your critique of Pastor Brainard’s article.

    After reading his article, I believe that the problem was not that he didn’t get specific enough in his accusations, but that he was too specific in his generalizations. I know that sounds as if I am splitting hairs, but in light of his opening sentence, “Looking over the landscape…” I believe my appraisal is accurate. I believe his intent was to paint the current situation (in his opinion) in Fundamentalism with a broad brush. Such generalizations are not intended, necessarily, to name names and specifics. I believe they can be helpful to warn us of trends that we must guard against. I believe that was where his article erred. But, when I look at the overall trend of Biblically sound churches in the last 30 years (and yes, I am old enough to do so), I see that there are many that have allowed the world to creep in, and as a consequence, no longer have a testimony that reflects the Holiness of our Holy God. We need to teach our people who God is!

    One last comment: Your opening comments regarding Pastor Brainard’s article were an excellent summary of your objections. The rest of your comments following each paragraph of his article were superfluous and in my mind, unnecessary. They did little to add to your opening comments and came across to me as repetitive and critical. It’s not that I disagree with many of your objections, but I just wanted to put in “My Two Cents.” BTW, thanks for seeking to keep us informed of all things “Fundamental.” May God be glorified by our lives and service to Him.

    Jerry

    Editor’s Note: This comment was moved from another thread for the sake of keeping threads on topic.

  19. Are you serious? Your criticism of Pastor Brainard boils down to a lack of specifics? He was writing an article not a book. Have you written Pastor Brainard or talk to him about it? That would be the right thing to do.

    I for one agree with the warnings from the article and believe it would be a foolish thing to do other wise.

    I think your “Two Cents” only serve to lift you up to your small group of seminary buddies who read this blog.

    Joe

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