“Seven Things Independent Fundamental Baptists Get Wrong (and How to Fix Them)”
As a collection of thoughts from a satirical blogger, this short e-book should be taken with a grain of salt. Sarcasm abounds. With poignant observations stemming from years of explicable bitterness, however, Fundamental Flaws certainly does cause one to think about his roots in Christian Fundamentalism and whether or not those roots are as healthy as he’s often supposed. Darrell Dow writes from convictions grown not through family tradition or propaganda, but rather through maturity, experience, and common sense. It’s not by any means a scholarly look at the flaws of a sad, retro sect of American Christianity, but as it attempts to wake this branch of the church out of its cultish stupor, this layman’s work does deserve to be heard.
I’m not one to approach criticism of the faith lightly, so while I’ve had this book in my Kindle for a while, I have also been leery of ever giving it a shot. I finally picked it up, however, just after I finished teaching a course in Systematic Theology. I figured at the time that I was mentally geared up enough to hear such criticism (and discern my way through it), and I was right. This short review will summarize Dow’s book, contrast his points to my own experience in IFB churches, and the offer a bit of advice to the author.
Dow’s seven main criticisms against the Independent Fundamental Baptists’ doctrine or behavior can be summarized as thus:
- Hole-y Doctrine: Many of these churches fail to worship Jesus, remember Him through communion, or teach His Gospel.
- Legalism: Many of these churches hold their people (and others) to man-made, extra-biblical standards, completely ignoring the admonition to “love one another.”
- Propaganda: Many of these churches indoctrinate the next generations through twisted education, often through small, unaccountable Christian schools.
- Sexual Depravity: Many of these churches teach an un-biblical view of sex, stigmatizing it to the point that sexual abuse can go unchecked.
- Soul-winning: Many of these churches ignore Christ’s clear teachings about social responsibility, using missions only to export their standards (i.e. 1950s American lifestyles) instead of changing hearts and lives in a biblical way.
- “If it ain’t Baptist, it ain’t Christian”: Many of these churches are willfully ignorant of Church history, refusing to believe that other denominations can also include godly brothers and sisters in the faith.
- “Thou Shalt Not Touch The Lord’s Anointed”: Many of these churches blindly follow pastors who have no accountability or oversight themselves, effectively worshiping the man more than they do Jesus Himself.
Having come from a IFB background myself, I had to check which (if any) of these points were true of my own church. After all, my dad’s a pastor at a 40-member IFB church (and the most godly man I know) and I still call one such IFB church my “Home Church.” So how does my own history stack up to that of Fundamental Flaws? Well, I’ll tell you…
Regarding doctrine, I think my church is pretty strong in sticking to the Word above all else. They celebrate the Lord’s Table monthly, and while I agree it should be celebrated more often, my bigger concern is that it should be “celebrated”! I have always wondered why Communion is always such a somber affair. Certainly, we’re remembering His death—His broken body and shed blood—but we’re also remembering His resurrection! This celebration memorializes the event which secured my eternity and renewed my relationship with God Almighty! Hallelujah! Why is everyone so quiet and downtrodden?
Regarding legalism, no, these churches in my background don’t force their standards upon others outside their membership. But for those of us within, “It’d be a good idea if you got a haircut” or “if your skirt went below the knee” or “if you muted the TV during those rock-music commercials.” It was never anything forced, but the standards were certainly there. And yes, occasionally I felt like I was living in 1950s Pleasantville (before they got color).
Regarding the propaganda, I did attend a small Christian school (“small” meaning 17 kids from grades 8-12), but the only indoctrination I recall receiving was during chapel with one particular speaker whose messages were always targeting some new form of sin or another (and very rarely the blood of Christ, the grace of God, or the power of the Holy Spirit). Everything else was merely education from a biblical worldview, and I’ll be forever grateful for that aspect of my early education.
Regarding sexual depravity, no, we never faced that. We had locker rooms like any other school, and that’s where I learned some very important bits of information that helped me understand the fairer sex a bit better. There were no scandals in my upbringing, and I praise the Lord for it.
Regarding soul-winning, I always thought that my churches had a balanced understanding of missions, that it wasn’t merely the exporting of the Gospel but the bettering of lives in general. What I didn’t understand, however, is how missionaries could “get away with” so much more than we could back home: missionaries in Africa could dance to drums, missionaries in southeast Asia could wear shorts and sandals to church, and women missionaries everywhere could teach and train men in the church. I was always confused why missionaries could adapt to a new culture, but we were never allowed to adapt to our own.
Regarding Church History, I think there was definitely a loss of love for such heroes of the faith as the early church fathers, pre-Reformation Catholics, and the Reformers themselves. Thankfully, most Christian universities are striving to fix this problem, and even a great number of Baptists are remembering the Reformation with more understanding minds (happy 500th, “95 Theses”!).
Finally, regarding authority, my church faced this problem only once, and that pastor was swiftly booted from his office. My churches were proud of their congregational authority, their “priesthood of the believer”, and they wouldn’t take any guff from authoritarian leaders who wore their pride on their suit-sleeves. Thank God for that.
All in all, I think that my own IFB church experiences were healthy. Personally, I hate saying that I come from such a background, because of all the terrible things others have done to mar the reputation; but doctrinally, it represents not only my roots but also my firm convictions.
I was a little surprised that Dow didn’t mention much about the “KJB” issue and how it’s mainly those churches that tend to evidence the majority of these flaws. My own church prefers to use the KJV from the pulpit, but I know for a fact that all but one of the staff uses the ESV in their own private study. It could very well be that this line of demarcation separates the normal IFB churches from “the wackos.” Maybe.
I was also a little bummed that Dow worded much of his points in negative language. Off-hand, I can’t give any examples, but I noted at one point “Why so negative? ‘Be more positive’ is such a more welcome encouragement than ‘Don’t be so negative’!” If he ever gets a chance at a re-write, I’d encourage him to untie all the “not”s that riddle his book. For the next re-write, I’d also recommend that he turn his sarcasm down from “11.” Personally, I loved it, but I know that if he’s looking for a wider audience, he’ll want to tone it down a bit.
Finally, if he ever gets a chance to explain himself, I want to know what “splitting the bamboo” really means. I even Googled it, but couldn’t find anything. It sounds like a doozy of a euphemism.