Confident in our knowledge that Christianity is based upon the Word of God, we should not flee from criticism, but rather learn from it.
As Fundamentalists we will always be criticized for our beliefs. We have not been called to be popular with society, but to be faithful to the gospel. Some Liberals have called Fundamentalists narrow-minded obscurantist (nit-pickers; hair-splitters). Some Evangelicals have called us unloving and unkind. Some of our critics are concerned about the genuineness of our commitment to people and to society as a whole. While there are times when these concerns are well founded, our critics often lack any positive firsthand exposure to Fundamentalists.
Criticism is a normal part of life. The late B.R. Lakin used to say, “If you want no one to criticize you, say nothing, do nothing, have nothing!” Any attempted work for God will fall under criticism from both the left and the right.
Whether or not criticism is beneficial depends as much, if not more, on the spirit in which it is accepted as on the spirit in which it is given. If we angrily reject all criticism, we lose any opportunity to take advantage of it. Criticism is as profitable as we allow it to be. We can learn as much from it as we are willing to learn – and no more.
Our Lord was an expert at dealing with His critics. In Matthew 22:15-46, Jesus outwitted the Herodians, Sadducees, and Pharisees – all in the same day! He was never afraid of His critics, nor did He overreact in dealing with them. He was so confident of the truth of His position that He never degenerated into petty squabbles with His critics. Instead He stood for the truth with grace and dignity that gave insight to even His harshest opponents.
Contending for the Faith
Fundamentalists have not been known for our acceptance of external or internal criticism. Fundamentalism was born at the turn of the century, out of theological and ecclesiastical controversy. Again in mid-century it broke from Evangelicalism over the issue of ecclesiastical separation.
The Scripture admonishes us to “earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3). A commitment to the defense of truth as we see it has always been a key factor in Fundamentalism. We define and defend the doctrines of Scripture and denounce those who have defected from the truth. Therefore we are reluctant to listen to criticism or to admit that we may have weaknesses within our own system. Our minds are made up on most issues. We tend to block out anything that is negative toward our movement, blasting critics from without and would-be reformers from within. We are all too often known for what we are against, rather than what we affirm. We must learn to stand for truth without driving people away.
Benefiting from Criticism
If we are going to be fully effective in reaching our generation for Christ, we must listen to our critics. We will not convince our critics that we comprehend their point of view simply by continually reaffirming our own. In addition, we must be aware of their concerns and their perceptions of Fundamentalists. We cannot relate to those whom we do not understand.
In the sincere hope that we as Fundamentalists will better realize how we are perceived by those outside our own movement, we offer four perspectives on Fundamentalism in this issue. We do not offer these articles as definitive statements, but as honest observations by those who view us from without.
You may not agree with all they have to say. I certainly do not. But listening to criticism does not mean that we necessarily agree with our critics. Nor is it a sign of weakness. Refusing to listen is a sign of weakness and insecurity. Confident in our knowledge that Christianity is based upon the Word of God, we should not flee from criticism, but rather welcome it. I believe we must listen to the concerns of others and thereby sharpen the focus of our message so that no one misunderstands what we are saying or why we are saying it. The penetrating light of truth will only illuminate our position all the more. Any reproof can benefit the true disciple of Christ.
Again, we will learn only as much as we are willing to learn. May these perceptions of Fundamentalism cause us to rethink our attitudes and methods and, above all, reaffirm our commitment to the truth.
Jerry Falwell, Fundamentalist Journal