Storm in a Fundamentalist Teacup

I don’t spend a lot of time reading other people’s blogs.  There are some good bloggers out there, but I suppose I am not that stirred by what I read.  But I have happened to hear about the kerfuffle surrounding Don Sweatt’s sermon at a recent Fundamentalist conference.  Such luminaries as John Piper and Phil Johnson have been taking time to write about it.  Fingers have been tapping everywhere!

So I thought I would give the message a listen and hear what the trouble was all about.  It’s about an old preacher’s unstudied opinion.  It’s about an old-time fundy Baptist (big “B”) who wonders what is happening to fundamentalism and has been perturbed by a little book about the resurgence of Reformed theology in America (Hansen’s Young, Restless, Reformed), in which he thinks he sees an answer.  It’s about a few ignorant jibes against Calvinism and its modern stars (e.g. Piper, Mahaney, Mohler, MacArthur, Driscoll).  It’s about nothing! 

Here are some of my notes about Sweatt’s sermon:

1. As an exposition of 2 Cor.4:1-6 it was awful.  Sweatt used this passage as a foil to get his rather unorganized thoughts across.  He didn’t actually call attention to the text until the 22nd minute!  Despite saying he was “letting the truths of Scripture rise from the text,” he never did.  He was in the middle of one of his many diatribes when he said this.  In the 33rd minute he admitted: “I get preaching and forget my notes.”  Shame.  It would have prevented a surfeit of personal anecdotes and misshapen reasoning if he had stuck to them (one hopes).

2. He very briefly mentioned Bob Jones, Lester Roloff, John R. Rice, Jack Hyles, Lee Roberson, and Bob Gray.  He said they were larger than life men who shaped his thinking.  But he went on to admit that he witnessed their excesses and that  “they tried to be something they were not.”  In seeming contrast to the likes of John Piper, Pastor Sweatt implied that these men were not very approachable and not humble.  (Jack [“where’s the beef”] Hyles? – nah).

3. Anyway, his main point in referencing these men was I think that they got lots of lost people saved (“by God’s grace”).

4. He made a few statements about Piper, Mahaney and co. that were just daft.  E.g. he strongly suggested that these men are just as bad as Rick Warren or Bill Hybels – just at the opposite pole.  He did not say why.  He did not prove his assertion.  I think he is wrong and he ought to apologize for saying that (unless he can show why).

5. He thinks that these new Calvinists have been responsible for the thinning of the fundamentalist ranks.  His main reason for saying this is because, as he said, “the passion for the lost has been replaced by academic discussion.”  He links his forecast of another battle over inerrancy (It’s already here!) with the hermeneutics of these Calvinists.  He is, of course, way off the mark.  But his forays into theological territory in his speech put on display a disturbing ignorance of Calvinism as a system.  What he says in regard to the Reformed doctrine of the elect (employing an anecdote about a seven year old boy in his church who was under conviction) is hardly worthy of any response.

6. It is obvious that Sweatt does not like systematic theology very much.  He points out how one’s theological views can affect one’s ministry, but he does not see that his lack of theological understanding affects his.  The “soul-winning” of Messrs Jones, Hyles, Rice etc., and those who follow in their train (see “The Sword of the Lord” website) is extremely questionable.  But in any case, who but an ignoramous would put those men alongside of George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, Daniel Rowlands, Howell Harris, Thomas Charles or William Grimshaw?

7. Sweatt wants to gain mileage with the revelation that no great Calvinistic leader’s ministry was followed by a flourishing ministry after they were dead. His thesis is, as far as I can tell, that their Calvinism could not outlive their personalities.  But he admits that Spurgeon’s successor was A. T. Pierson – who was….an Arminian (whose sermons at the Met Tab were extremely Gospel-centered!).  His point was?  Further, he seemed to have forgotten how he began his sermon.  He had reflected on the old “larger than life” fundamentalists and how they were now gone.  One might have hoped that his thesis about larger than life Calvinists would have helped him resolve the question about the decline of his brand of Fundamentalism.  Maybe these men didn’t have any one come after them to fill their shoes?  The argument surely cuts both ways!

8. He lamented how “50 years after Spurgeon…the Baptist movement in England was dead.”  Well, it wasn’t thriving, but it was okay – though a bit overly Calvinistic for Sweatt’s taste.  But the Baptist movement in England was not healthy in Spurgeon’s day.  Hasn’t Pastor Sweatt heard of the Downgrade?

9. Pastor Sweatt was correct to remind his audience to “let the Book be our matrix,” but he did not model that approach in this sermon, aside from patchy exposition (e.g. contra Pastor Sweatt 2 Cor. 4:6 is not referring to fellowship with Jesus).  He is told to “speak the truth” but there are one or two folks he named who might feel he served up less than the truth when characterizing them or their theology.

10. The “sermon” was like many other sermons I have heard over the years from Fundamentalists of a certain type.  Topical, poorly reasoned, nostalgic (in the worst sense of the word), full of story-telling and personal anecdotes, with a bit of maudlin fluff thrown in to stir the emotions.  Sweatt ended his sermon with some extra-biblical sentimental schmaltz about Jesus being lowered into an oubliette-thing in Caiaphas’s house.

I don’t have a horse in this race.  I am not a 5-pointer or a Fundy (Arminian or otherwise).  In fact, when it comes to the definitions furnished in the Canons of Dordt I scarcely subscribe to any of the points. (Although I do uphold Total Depravity, predestinarian election and God’s sovereignty in all things as strongly as any one).  But in view of what I have said above is this poor message worthy of the time and effort being expended on it?  For what it’s worth I think that there is very little difference between conservative evangelicals like Piper or Keller (and especially MacArthur) and the kind of Fundamentalists who write at SharperIron.  Perhaps this tiff will bring that to light more?  I do not see them as the spiritual offspring of the early Fundamentalists like Shields or Riley or Rice or Jones (somewhat desperate though they were).  Sweatt, for his faults in this matter, certainly is.  Sadly, he sounds like an old Independent Fundamental Baptist addressing issues whose resolution is to be found much closer to home.




    I get it now, Phil Johnson & Doug Wilson want us to wait and see what happens having Rick Warren speak at DG 2010 since God did not give discernment to any of his children !

  2. Surely one can strongly disagree with Warren and keep him at arm’s length while demonstrating no animus against the man? I’m with you (on this). There is too much in Warren’s trendy approach I cannot reconcile with sound doctrine. The issue ought to be clear cut.

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