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Hyper-Fundamentalism

In the Nick of Time

Occasionally I have written and spoken on what I call “hyper-fundamentalism.” My argument is that some self-identified fundamentalists incorporate unnecessary and even harmful features into their definition of fundamentalism, resulting in a position that deviates from normal fundamentalism by going beyond it. This assertion is often greeted with incredulity. People seem to think that I have invented a category for my own polemical purposes.

Nevertheless, normal fundamentalists have long been aware of extreme figures who failed to reflect genuinely fundamentalist values and attitudes. One example may be seen in an altercation that occurred during the late 1970s. One party to the dispute was L. Duane Brown, who at that time was the president of the American Council of Christian Churches and a representative for the Pennsylvania Association of Regular Baptist Churches. With a Ph.D. from Bob Jones University, Brown was one of the more conservative and separatistic voices in the Regular Baptist movement. Years later he would even help to lead the Independent Baptist Fellowship of North America out of the GARBC over issues related to separation. No one can accuse him of being an ecclesiastical compromiser.

In January of 1978, Brown contributed to a mimeographed publication labeled “Pastor’s Discipling Tools.” Brown’s contribution, covering what he called “doctrinal” tools, discussed (among others) neo-evangelicals, evangelicals, fundamentalists, and what he called “phony-fundamentalists.” His description of “phony fundamentalism” is worth reproducing.

These are organizations who want to be known as Fundamentalists but are often cultic personalities, money-grabbers, legalists, and hobby-riders. They have no love, little ethics, and are usually ruthless, selfish, & dangerous. Such organizations as the International Council of Christian Churches and Christian Crusade would be examples of this movement though there are many local and regional groups and scores of local churches whose practices would fit this category. For example those who are true Fundamentalists occasionally will crusade on some issue of really minor importance, and thus lapse into “phony-fundamentalism.” Also fundamentalists who maintain a hyper-critical attitude and gallivant on witch-hunts display a “phony-fundamentalist” mentality. An example of this is the Bible for Today [sic].

Brown’s description corresponds closely to what I call “hyper-fundamentalism.” If anything, Brown wrote even more strongly than I do. I suggest that hyper-fundamentalists define fundamentalism in terms of personal and institutional loyalties; Brown bluntly spoke of “cultic personalities.” I observe that hyper-fundamentalists follow a double standard; Brown said that “they have no love, little ethics, and are usually ruthless, selfish, & dangerous.” I assert that hyper-fundamentalists elevate the importance of non-fundamentals; Brown observed that they “crusade on some issue of really minor importance,” and he underlines their “hyper-critical attitude” and “witch-hunts.”

Brown also named examples of these “phony-fundamentalists.” The ICCC was led by Carl McIntire, who during the late 1960s took over that organization in a highly unethical (and possibly illegal) manner. The Christian Crusade was headed by Billy James Hargis, who built the ministry on a shrill message of anti-Communism and racial segregation. The Bible For Today was the publishing ministry of Donald A. Waite from Collingswood, New Jersey.

Waite had once served at Shelton College, where he ran afoul of President Carl McIntire after accusing a co-worker of sexual misconduct. From Shelton, he became the director of the Radio and Audio Film Commission of the American Council of Christian Churches. By 1978 he was devoting himself entirely to his own publication ministry, The Bible For Today, which articulated two unusual emphases. One was the ongoing personal exposure and denunciation of Carl McIntire, and sometimes of other fundamentalist leaders. The other was the promotion of the nascent King James Only movement. Waite was identified as a Regular Baptist, but his verbal eruptions sent even his friends scurrying for cover. Clearly Duane Brown thought that Waite had crossed the line into “phony-fundamentalism,” and Brown was not alone.

As might be expected, Waite disagreed—and disagreement with Waite was never a pacific experience. He wrote to the National Representative of the GARBC, accusing Brown of dealing in innuendo unsupported by facts. He stated, “As you know, there are very, very FEW men today who hold any stronger, or clearer, or more Biblical and FUNDAMENTALIST views than yours truly—without sounding like boasting in any way. And, as you know, there is not one jot or tittle in me which is ‘PHONY’ in any way, shape, or form! I do things in an above-board fashion, though I am forthright, and bold in many situations where others perhaps would be quiet.”

Waite also wrote to the chairman of the PARBC Council of Ten, the body to which Brown was accountable as association representative. Waite tried to get the council to force Brown to make “some sort of retraction of his very serious, and to us, libelous and slanderous charge which was not substantiated in any way with evidence, facts, documentation, or other tangible items.” Waite insisted that the “gross misrepresentation” should be retracted “in the original source.” Then he threatened, “Should the matter not be handled fully and fairly to my satisfaction . . . I would handle it in the only other way left open to me, that is through our [The Bible For Today] publication.”

Waite chose to pursue the controversy through the American Council of Christian Churches. He complained about Brown’s “name-calling” to a friend who was a member of the executive committee. He tried to get this friend to bring up the matter before the executive committee formally so that the ACCC leadership would be forced to take a side in the dispute.

Of course, Waite also wrote to Brown himself. He charged that Brown’s words were “both SLANDEROUS and LIBELOUS,” and insisted upon “an immediate retraction in the next issue of the same paper.” He alleged that the “unsupported charges” were “false and defamatory, and damaging to the ministry of both myself and to THE BIBLE FOR TODAY.” Here Waite was aping the lawyers, implying that he considered Brown’s remarks to be actionable and that litigation was not out of the question. Waite included copies of this letter in the correspondence that he sent to all other parties.

Perhaps the greatest irony of this dispute is that nothing could have proven Brown’s point as well as Waite’s response did. The correspondence gives no hint that Waite ever paused for self-examination or that he experienced a moment’s hesitation. Instead, he immediately launched a campaign of intimidation to force Brown into a retraction. In this campaign, Waite really did assume the posture of a hyper-fundamentalist.

Normal fundamentalists have always been dogged by those who wanted to claim their name while going beyond their position. When he wrote his description of “phony-fundamentalists,” L. Duane Brown had already been forced to face some of these characters. His published depiction immediately brought an angry eructation from another. It should be no surprise that present-day hyper-fundamentalists respond in much the same way. Now as then, we need to remember that hyper-fundamentalism does not represent normal fundamentalism and that these characters have no right to speak for the fundamentalist movement.

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This essay is by Kevin T. Bauder, Research Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology at Central Baptist Theological Seminary. Not every one of the professors, students, or alumni of Central Seminary necessarily agrees with every opinion that it expresses.

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My Soul With Joy Attend
Philip Doddridge (1702–1751)

My soul with joy attend,
While Jesus silence breaks;
No angel’s harp such music yields,
As what my Shepherd speaks.

“I know my sheep,” He cries,
“My soul approves them well:
Vain is the treacherous world’s disguise,
And vain the rage of hell.

“I freely feed them now
With tokens of My love;
But richer pastures I prepare,
And sweeter streams above.

“Unnumber’d years of bliss
I to My sheep will give;
And, while My throne unshaken stands
Shall all My chosen live.

“This tried almighty hand
Is raised for their defense;
Where is the power shall reach them there?
Or what shall force them thence?”

Enough, my gracious Lord,
Let faith triumphant cry;
My heart can on this promise live,
Can on this promise die.

Kevin T. Bauder

About Kevin Bauder

Kevin T. Bauder is Research Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology at Central Baptist Theological Seminary. Not every one of the professors, students, or alumni of Central Seminary necessarily agrees with every opinion that this post expresses.

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