Sproul Jr. Salutes Fundamentalists, Skewers Evangelicals

This piece reads like a review of 20th-century church history by Rolland McCune (book) or David Beale (book). The kicker is, it’s by R. C. Sproul Jr. Either the Ligonier blog has been hacked or debacles like The Elephant Room are having the unplanned effect of bringing some clarity to the true state of modern evangelicalism. (Edit: The article was originally published in 2006, so read my allusion to recent events as “debacles like ER” not “debacles like ER.”) It’s not a long piece, so read it for yourself. Here are some choice cuts:

“What is it that distinguishes evangelicals and fundamentalists? Suddenly our problem becomes clear. An evangelical is a fundamentalist that wants the respect of modernists, and sells his soul to get it.”

“What separates evangelicals from fundamentalists is that we evangelicals don’t breathe fire, and we have fancy degrees hanging in our studies, instead of pictures of Billy Sunday. We evangelicals are they who cut this deal with the modernists, ‘We will call you brother, if you will call us scholar.'”

“Please don’t misunderstand. The point isn’t that the right way to believe in the fundamentals is to be stupid. Instead, the point is that the right way to believe in the fundamentals is with a holy indifference to what others think about us.”

“In our pride we have embraced a humility that won’t stand for anything.”

“The fundamentalists of the last century were laughed at and scorned. And for that they earned the praise of Jesus. May we find the courage not only to affirm the fundamentals, but may we be given a double portion of the spirit of the fundamentalists. They fought the good fight, while we collaborated. They kept the faith, while we merely kept our positions in our communities. May we learn to fear no man, and to fear God. For such is the beginning of wisdom.”

Fascinating…as will be the response of fundamentalists.


42 Responses

  1. According to the website, this article is from the Tabletalk on March 1, 2006.

  2. Irony: Fundamentalists get excited when they get respect from an “Evangelical”

  3. Well there you go. More “debacles like” and less “The Elephant Room.” Thanks much Nathan.

  4. Or, Nate, another possibility: There are people who really care about the issues involved, not as partisan members of some silly club, but as people who believe the Scriptures are more valuable than anything in the world.

  5. “the right way to believe in the fundamentals is with a holy indifference to what others think about us”

    Well, there’s surely no doubt that holy indifference is right at the center of the conversation about fundamentalism. When fundamentalism has been at its best, that holy indifference has been directed towards the right people (as Sproul describes) and has been right on the issues. Sproul’s right to be grateful for that, and I am too. I pray that I persevere in that spirit.

    When fundamentalism’s been at its worst, it’s demonstrated holy indifference towards the wrong people and/or been wrong on the issues (perhaps even some “fundamentals”). And when it’s been at its *absolute* worst, it’s manifested a profoundly unholy fear of men–those men, of course, not being modernists or the neo-evangelicals, but men who’ve embodied fundamentalist leadership and articulated and defended its groupthink. We might say, “I’ll call you ‘Doc’ if you’ll call me ‘Dr.’ (and invite me to speak in chapel).”

  6. Chris,

    That could be and no doubt you are in that group that cares about issues…but don’t you find it a little ironic that RC Sproul said we should have a “holy indifference” to what others think about us and fundamentalists blogs will trumpet the glories of fundamentalism because an Evangelical spoke well of them? I do…

  7. I think Jr. is “flipping” a word like real estate investors “flip” houses. You can emphasize all of the positive qualities, and cover all of its imperfections with a coat paint. But the house has history. There may be some black mold in the word “fundamentalism.”

  8. Nate, my title probably does give the indication that I’m making a big deal about fundamentalists getting kudos. Point taken. I genuinely am more interested in lessons being learned from history, and I rejoice that recent events have a number of people assessing the trajectory of non-separatist evangelicalism.

    Ben, I don’t disagree with your best of times, worst of times descriptions.

    Dan, the term doesn’t make much difference to me. But Sproul’s highlighting the differences in the mindsets is spot on.

    Words are funny things. Sproul uses indifference as a commendation of those who don’t care what people think. Machen used it as an accusation against those that refused to battle heresy. Both are right, of course.

  9. Nathan,

    Yeah, well, Fundamentalists take this long to notice what others say about them! It’s what comes of “a holy indifference to what others think about us.” :D

  10. “Breaking news: What RCS2 said 6 years ago!!!”

  11. Sorry, I made that comment when there was no other comments beside Nathan’s…

  12. I the terms don’t make a difference, then whose mindset is being contrasted with whom? If he had said, “Some people think too much of what liberals think, while others have a proper holy indifference,” then this post probably would not have even pinged our radar (I’ve moved on from the “flip” analogy).

  13. Thanks for this post. It makes me smile.

  14. Chris:

    IMO, there is a big difference between “reads like” and acts like. It appears the article is from 2006. Since when has Sproul “fought the good fight,” taken an uncompromising stand in the pulpit, in print and especially in practice for authentic biblical separatism such as the Fundamentalists he commends?


  15. Thank you for this post, Chris. It is highly instructive. The biblical doctrine of separation needs no validation by anyone, but I find it fascinating that such a high-profile evangelical would recognize the truths that Sproul, Jr. enunciates so clearly.

  16. Brother Jaeggli:

    “Reads like, recognize, enunciates.” Where, however, has Sproul demonstrated absolute fidelity to the “biblical doctrine of separation?”

    Sproul is content to hobnob with and minister alongside men in the so-called “conservative” evangelicalism who are a collection of ecumenical compromisers, preach aberrant doctrine, have compromised the gospel, given Christian recognition to the “enemies of the cross of Christ,” and have never repented of these things. (Mohler, Piper, Duncan, Mahaney, Stott, Driscoll, et. al.

    I see an on-going disconnect between what Sproul “enunciates” and what he does in practice.


  17. Lou,

    Please don’t read more into my comment than I intended. I recognize the disconnect you point out. I’m just impressed with Sproul’s candor in this piece.

  18. Randy:

    My apology, the intent was not to read into your comment. My purpose is to show that six years since he wrote an article that some are excited about Sproul has not changed or demonstrated a commitment to the biblical principles of separation from the erring and disobedient among us.


  19. Where, however, has Sproul demonstrated absolute fidelity to the “biblical doctrine of separation?”

    This is quite clarifying.

    Which of us have demonstrated absolute fidelity to any command or doctrine?

  20. In six years Sproul has had clear and ample opportunities to make an application of the biblical principles (Rom. 16:17 -18; 2 Thess. 3:6, 14-15) yet chooses not to.

  21. Lou’s comments demonstrate that he has an axe to grind and is not really interacting with what Sproul wrote (and Chris is quoting). Sproul is not talking about the specific principles one contends for so much as he is the demeanor and tenacity with which one holds to his principles. One need only do an effortless Google search on RC Sproul, Jr’s recent history to see that whatever else one might say about him, he has tenaciously held to things he believes in at great personal consequence (see a brief summary in his Wikipedia entry here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/R._C._Sproul,_Jr.). His ministerial credentials were revoked, among other things, because of stands he took without regard for what others thought of him. I’m not affirming his principles or decisions (or those with whom he differed, for that matter). It just seems that one should be aware of the context of statements before lashing out blindly to broad-brush all the neo-compromiser heretics out there- or for that matter, heaping excessive praise on his statements.

  22. It’s an excellent article by Sproul, as far as it goes. He points out the weakness of broader evangelicalism / new evangelicalism.

    He doesn’t address the problem of conservative evangelicalism, which is that it continues as part of broader evangelicalism despite the failures he mentions. Combining his words and his actions, we could put it this way: “You and I should be as militant against false teaching and apostasy as the fundamentalists — but if you won’t be, it isn’t going to have any real impact on our fellowship together.”

    The first half of that is progress — we didn’t get statements like that from conservative evangelicals 15-20 years ago. The second half (which he didn’t say but I derived from his actions) is more of the same.

    The encouraging thing about the response to ER2 is that some went a step further, and said, “It IS going to have an impact.” The response was limited (Driscoll is still in with TGC, after all), but it was a start. Some of these men have crossed the Rubicon of saying, “What you do (and who you explicitly or implicitly endorse) DOES matter to our fellowship together.” That breaks down forever the “unity trumps truth” fallacy. Interesting days.

  23. mmmm…2 items of note? 1) For as much as RC Jr may be admiring some of the attributes, remember he is unwilling to call or connect himself personally to his “fundamentalist betters” (kinda like “looks good from far, but far from good”).

    and 2) May the “holy indifference” not be the shiny side of a dark and ugly (un-Christlike?) unholy “pejorative penny” (pugilistic priorities?) :-)

  24. That’s what made me do the “doggy-head-tilt” with your phrase “Skewers Evangelicals” – kinda strong…maybe “gives fellow evangelicals the stink-eye” or even “pokes”? (FaceBook poking notwithstanding) :-)

  25. Interesting observation #1 is. And the truth is that some of those who identify with separatist fundamentalism are becoming more likely Sproul in practice of shunning the personal application of the biblical principles of separation.

    So, who’s really changing these past 6 years? It’s not Sproul and his so-called “conservative” evangelical counter parts. They are not becoming fundamentalists in practice. No, it’s the self-described biblical separatists who circulate in fundamentalist circles that are becoming evangelicals.


  26. FWIW, I think many are mistaking Sproul Jr. with Sproul Sr, the person more are aware of. My guess is that most on this thread are not that familiar with the choices Sproul Jr has made regarding ministerial affiliations, etc. They are thinking of Sproul Sr. (the more prolific author and conference speaker–e.g., T4G)

  27. I’m glad for what Sproul said. I’m glad for the stands taken against ER2, even if they’re not identical to the way I’d address the situation. I’m disappointed when positive steps are met with “too late” or “too little” or the like.

    The inability to rejoice in truth when it is stated well without scrambling to poke holes in it is no virtue. Sometimes it seems that fundamentalists are displeased when separatism is promoted elsewhere, as though our turf is being threatened. “Hey, that’s our thing.” Well, actually, it’s not.

  28. Chris: It’s promoted largely apart from personal application.

    Ben, how do you suppose Sproul, Jr. got started out in the direction he has gone? Sproul, Sr. through disdain for and refusing to live in obedience to the biblical principles of separation, that’s how.

    And we have a whole generation of angry yfs wanting to become and/or embraced by the Sproul, Piper, T4G crowd. Give you one guess where that will take them.


  29. Chris,

    Thanks for the informative, and to some, provocative post. I took someone’s advice, and read the Wickapedia article on R. C. Sproul, Jr. I also followed the link on one of the references, and read the article by Jerry Johnson, along with his interview of Sproul.

    It seems to me that Sproul behaves very much like many Fundamentalists of the first half of the Twentieth Century. In other words, like an historic fundamentalist who stands boldly and openly for the Faith, and speaks out plainly against error. Of course, as a Presbyterian, what he believes to be truth and error differs from my understanding in doctrines such as paedo-communion. Still, I don’t detect a compromising bone in his body. Historic Fundamentalists represented all the mainline denominations.

    My concern is that many modern fundamentalists seems to be drawing the circle smaller and smaller. It is not enough to take a bold stand for truth, and even separate from error, as Sproul clearly has. To be approved by many fundamentalists, one must embrace, precisely, the men and movements they identify with, and separate exactly from the same men and movements that they disassociate from. I fear we may have unwittingly adopted the attitude of Christ’s disciples. “Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow with us. But Jesus said to him, “do not forbid him, for he who is not against us is on our side.” (Luke 9:49,50)

    A man who stands boldly for the fundamentals of the faith, and against apostasy, who chastises evangelicals for seeking the approval of man more than God, who commends fundamentalists for standing for truth without regard for the approval of men, and some can speak only criticism? We need revival!

  30. Here is what I find noteworthy in this thread from most- essentially gushing over and heaping lavish praise on Sproul over a document written six years ago by a man, who in those six years, doesn’t live up to the principles of separation, has no “demeanor and tenacity with which one holds to his principles” of separation that he commends Fundamentalists* for so doing. Yet, some here like the Greg will commend Sproul for the lip service he pays Fundamentalist separatists.

    It is as if you have to grasp at any straw of hope that these so-called “conservative” evangelicals will on day stop rebelling against God’s mandates for separation from unbelievers and especially the disobedient and erring among us to legitimize the craze to have fellowship and cooperate with them.

    Of the names I already submitted above in the T4G camp, men who have compromised the gospel, given Christian recognition to the enemies of the cross of Christ (Phil. 3:18), who are preach doctrinal error, which of them, whom we know remain unrepentant and/or are worsening, has Sproul, Sr. obeyed God’s mandates to “mark, avoid, withdraw from” (Rom. 16:17-18; @ Thess. 3:6, 14-15)?


    * Not always doing well and/or in the right spirit, but most by-and-large living the principles because there is no subjective decision to make when we comes to God’s mandates.

  31. LM: “Yet, some here like the Greg will commend Sproul for the lip service he pays Fundamentalist separatists.”

    Me (post preceding): “It just seems that one should be aware of the context of statements before lashing out blindly to broad-brush all the neo-compromiser heretics out there- or for that matter, heaping excessive praise on his statements.

    Apparently, Lou problems in interacting with what people actually say aren’t limited to Sproul…

    I do think there are things said in his piece that are commendable, btw. But in this thread, this is only my fourth post, and in the other three, I have not said anything in explicit commendation of Sproul.

  32. GN = Greg. He’s the gusher. ;)

  33. Ahhh… So he’s the one sullying my staunch, separatist moniker… ;-)

  34. Greg the problem here is yours. You are trying to give the man middle ground where there is none.

  35. Ahhh… So I’m a fence-rider, not a libruhl. Got it. :)

    FWIW- I am not “giving” anything. I am reading what he said. His purpose was not to extol the virtues of Fundamentalism (or identify as one himself) as much as it was to appreciate the tenacity associated with Fundamentalists. Not sure why that is so hard to see, or what is so bad about noting it. Even a staunch Republican should be able to take heart in the fact that Bin Laden was taken down, even if Obama announces it.

  36. So what if he appreciates our tenacity? He personally ignores and disobeys the explicit mandates in the Word of God. His words therefore are hollow. I will not join you to commend a man who willfully disobeys God and by personal example teaches others to do likewise.


  37. The irony here is that this is so like a few years ago when ce wanna be’s in fundamental circles were giving the likes of Piper and Driscoll cover with statements like, “he writes such good books.” Piper still gets that cover.


  38. Well, you’d not be joining me so much as you would Chris… ;-)

    In the whole scheme of things, debating over an obscure 6 year old blog piece seems very much like a tempest in a teapot.

  39. Guys, if I might inject a bit of perspective . . . What might RCSJr. say if he read Lou’s book and dropped by here? If I had to guess, I’d say he’d call Lou a gospel-denying heretic. And then separate from him.


  40. Ah, “willfully disobeys God…”

    there’s the rub…I had an album once back in the early nineties released by “Keswick Nirvana”–it was titled “Neversin”–first track on it was “Smells Like Wesleyan Spirit” (subtitled “No More Willful Disobedience.”) Problem was in comparison to scriptural teaching it was kinda grungy…

  41. A somewhat cynical prognostication: more and more Fundamentalists will re-examine the traditions/teachings that have been handed down to them and re-adjust them as they examine the Scriptures. And, as the Scriptures are studied, more and more Fundamentalists will reaffirm much of what was handed down to them, with no essential changes. (This is not the cynical part–it’s the obvious part.)

    But, if what we hold to is truly correct, would we not think that those “outside” of F’ism, if they are earnestly studying the Scriptures (as we claim to be doing) will begin to affirm what we teach and hold? (Clearly it is happening here and there–maybe not with luminaries, but with lesser known pastors, etc.)

    Cynic alert!!! I predict that a lot of Fundamentalists will never be satisfied with any movement made in the direction of what we understand to be biblical orthodoxy (including separatism) made by those to our theological Left.

    For them Christianity in terms of doctrinal fidelity is like a carny ride–“you must be this tall to ride”–and they will constantly change the metric. Mebbe this is more obvious to some–but I wasn’t convinced a year ago, but increasingly I am becoming more sure of this.

    I think some of the responses here serve as bellwethers of that notion. Only fundamentalists have conviction, only fundamentalists need no scrutiny, only fundamentalists need no course-correction, only fundamentalists can excuse non-orthodoxy, only fundamentalists can be the referees and the players–and only fundamentalists can determine how much theological/practical latitude to give to _____________.

  42. Sam,

    Only liberals and neos such as yourself make defamatory remarks towards fundamentalism…

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