September 7, 2010

I Had To Ask “Does This Sharpen Me?”

Dear Guests of IDOTG:

Last week I posted two articles in regard to Sharper Iron. The first was posted at my secondary blog, Sharper Iron: In the Iron Skillet. The article was composed by Ps. Brian Ernsberger who recently quit SI and explained his departure. Please see, SI’s Deplorable Moderator Actions Run Off Another for details. The second article I posted was a response to Aaron Blumer’s article (9/2) A Few Answers to SI Critics. An article in which he complains about long time, wide spread legitimate criticism of SI. You may read SI Sizzles In & Over the Iron Skillet for a complete reaction to Blumer’s complaints. Today, Aaron is hearing from another former, long time member of SI who shares his experience with SI. An experience, which typifies what is commonplace at SI and why so many have quit SI or would never join in the first place. Let’s now consider why one would ask: Does This Sharpen Me?

I’ve recently come to a decision. It wasn’t earth shattering, and quite honestly, the effect of my decision will likely go unnoticed by the very individuals that necessitated it. In May 2005, I joined the self-identified, fundamentalist website, Sharper Iron. Since that time I posted literally hundreds of times on a variety of topics, some serious and others not. My purpose in joining was to reacquaint myself with some of the current issues in fundamentalism as I approached my ordination some twelve years removed from my graduate work. In those early days, I found much to praise at Sharper Iron. I learned a lot. I solidified a number of positions as I observed, and occasionally partook in, the discussions. I entered the fray decidedly separated in my personal life, as well as, ecclesiastically. I am also convinced of the superiority of the traditional family of Greek texts, and I am a non-Calvinist.

While I rarely dealt with threads on Calvinism or the text issue, I derived much personal edification from the interactions of men like Scott and Christian Markle, Jon Gleason, Lou Martuneac, John R. Himes, and others. These men represented a brand of fundamentalism with which I identify. It is a thoughtful, church-centered fundamentalism, but not one that easily tolerates error or compromise. It is also a loving fundamentalism, although you would never know that by listening to its detractors. (I have more than a few anecdotal stories to prove my point here, however). Unfortunately, those men, and effectively this whole segment of fundamentalism, are gone from the threads and pages at Sharper Iron.

Increasingly, the threads are filled with intimations of “serious doctrinal error” hurled toward fellow fundamentalists, while the compromise and errors of Conservative Evangelical personalities are glossed over as praise is lavished on their ministries, as in a recent series of articles by Dr. Kevin Bauder.

When a concerned member recently posted a thoughtful response to one of Dr. Bauder’s articles, his response A Letter from Dr. Richard V. Clearwaters to Kevin Bauder was sharply criticized by SI moderators (Rogier, JayC and Linscott) and ultimately removed by Aaron Blumer. A few days later, an SI Filing/thread was posted by Sharper Iron leadership (Jim Peet, Aaron Blumer) introducing and eagerly promoting a website that was nothing more than a vicious personal attack on Lou Martuneac.

Just last week an SI filing referencing a blog post by Dave Doran provided an illustration of some of the concerns I am articulating in this article. It was one of the clearest examples in a long line of the double standards that exist at Sharper Iron. Doran hurled an ad hominem attack at an unnamed fundamentalist(s) using the phrase “pathetic and disingenuous” to describe those who opposed or were relieved the merger of Faith and Central had not gone through. When one commenter called SI to the carpet over this filing he was firmly rebuked. It appears there is a lot of “respecting of persons” going on over there, and now I suspected and have confirmed yet another conservative fundamentalist has left the SI ranks.

If homogeneity was their goal at SI, they have very nearly accomplished it.

It seems serious concerns brought in from the “right end” of the fundamentalist spectrum are scrutinized far more closely at SI than the attacks thrown back the other way. I find that disheartening at best. My alma mater has been a regular source of ridicule, yet such ridicule is rarely hurled at Conservative Evangelical institutions. It smacks of a bias away from the southern brand of fundamentalists and away, it seems, from me.

I’ve watched over the years as non-Calvinists, traditional text men, and those who hold to a certain standard of personal separation were repeatedly shouted down by SI moderators and other members. Of course, a vigorous debate is desirable in many cases; however, on the internet, such debates often become a numerical dog-pile where reasoned arguments carry less weight than the shear number of responses. The result is that the admittedly minority viewpoints eventually “wore out” and stopped posting.

Today SI is a place where Calvinism is the settled opinion of the overwhelming majority of posters. The traditional text family is seen as inferior and those who hold to it are routinely labeled obscurantist or ignorant. Personal separatism to a degree held by our parents and grandparents is regularly declared legalism and almost anything now appears acceptable under an understanding of Romans 14 that puts the perceived rights of the “strong” over concern for the weak.

I find that SI is not a place that welcomes my viewpoint, nor is it a place that holds the Conservative Evangelical camp to the same standard it holds my “camp.” 

 Well, I, for one, am tired. The old caricature of the angry, fightin’ fundy, so repudiated by the SI majority is quickly becoming the new face of that very site (moderators and remaining membership), only in reverse. It’s a strange, almost surreal thing to realize that you’ve become the very thing you’ve opposed. Unfortunately, I am almost sure the SI leadership does not even recognize the shift.

I am sure there will be those who believe my assessment is wrong, but I know that I am not alone in this opinion. When a number of different individuals with no connection to one another outside of this website bring the same concerns to light, it should raise the concerns of the site leadership. As for me, I wish them no ill, but I had to ask, “Does this sharpen me?” So, I’ve chosen to leave Sharper Iron for good. As I said, in the beginning, I doubt they even noticed.

(Disclaimer: I have submitted this article anonymously. I am obligated to do so by my current ministry situation.)

Site Publisher’s Addendum:
The author is one of many in a long line who have quit SI because of its obvious bias. Many of these raised and tried to resolve genuine concerns with SI’s leadership prior to departing, but without success. Aaron Blumer claims he wants to hear from critics, but when wide spread legitimate concerns with SI were posted in his (9/2) thread by a fundamentalist pastor (Marc Monte) SI moderators immediately set upon him. Blumer responded with, “It’s not like everybody has to like SI. If a few dozen or a few hundred don’t see much value in it (or worse yet, think it’s toxic) that’s OK. They have no obligation to even care about what happens here. But if they do, the contact form is there. I have nothing more to say than that…. And we’ve given folks lots of opportunities to communicate. Until they do, the whole matter is moot. I’m not going to chase ghosts

That reaction typified why the pseudo-fundamentalist SI has hemorrhaged so many members over the last several years. Typifies why SI will never be able to win back the departed. Typifies why SI is not a welcome place for fundamentalist preachers like Marc Monte, Brian Ernsberger and the author of this article. SI is a place whose leadership eagerly welcomes those who wish to heap lavish praise on the star personalities of the so-called “conservative” evangelicals, welcomes those who will tolerate and excuse the aberrant theology and ecumenism of conservative evangelicals, welcomes those who castigate fundamentalism with the broad brush and line up against any who dare to offer legitimate criticism of conservative evangelicalism, defend fundamentalism or question SI’s obvious bias.


  1. Hi Lou,

    I too had a similar experience. I had been a member of SI and wanted to learn more about Fundamentalism. I had the impression that these would be godly men who would be able to teach me.

    In the end however, I found that all the threads I participated in became arguments about Calvinism.

    After about 8 months, a short time compared to many other members, I found that my walk was being affected. I was tending to expect argument about Calvinism even when the thread had nothing to do with the subject....

    At that point I relized that I needed to separate from SI and I did so.

    There were a number of things I had expected to learn from my interaction at SI. Unfortunately I found myself becoming less friendly to the Brethren who hold to a Calvinist view because I found them assulting every conversation I wanted to have with their theology.

    I have since been able to restore a right relationship with the Calvinists I know. In order to do so though I had to remove myself from the very poor examples that I found at SI.


  2. Kev:

    Your experience is typical of many former members of SI who did not embrace Calvinism, Lordship Salvation and the star personalities of evangelicalism. Today, SI can barely even get any kind of debate over Calvinism because they drove off almost every one who rejects Calvinism.

    As our writer noted above, "If homogeneity was their goal at SI, they have very nearly accomplished it."


  3. Kev, et al.

    I am the author of the original article. I communicated my concerns before I left SI months ago. This article has some recent edits which could lead some to believe my exit was very recent. I like a lot of the folks at SI, but the frequent dog-pile on the non-calvinists and Traditional text users was hard to take. Add to that the occassional personal jabs that were taken against the right end of fundamentalism, and I just had to call it quits. As I said in the article, I wish them no ill, but do hope they will consider the state of things and not brush these issues off. In the last several weeks I've seen the words "ignorant, ungodly, pathetic, disingenuous, and heretic" thrown towards the right without rebuke from the moderators. That to me is the issue. The personal bias of the moderators seems to result in an "uneven" enforcement of the "rules". That makes debate difficult.

  4. Thank you for your articulating your concerns. Far too many have lost the art of debate and have resorted to personal attacks. This has always been the MO for those drifting from the truth, whether it be in the political realm or here within the framework of Fundamentalism. The sad thing in it all is that those who have drifted maintain vehemently that they have not, even though others clearly see the departure.
    Again, thank you for your insights.

  5. Anonymous,

    Thank you for your reasoned, well- thought out post regarding your experience at SI. Mine is a similar story. I tried on several occasions to post concerns there about particular matters, and almost immediately, the SI attack dogs were out in force, fangs showing, as they went in for the kill. On one occasion, I was even taken to task by Kevin Bauder for daring to challenge him. The sooner SI goes the way of the Edsel, the better off Biblical Fundamentalism will be. Their pooling of ignorance is quite amazing, especially when they are in Calvinism mode or when adoring the so-called Conservative Evangelicals. I am beginning to think that the false Fundamentalists at SI have actually created or helped to create the illusion that there actually is such a thing as a CE. After all, using the CE terminology isn't as negative as calling them what they really are: New Evangelical.

    You are to be commended for your forthright and principled decision to resign from SI. May your tribe increase.

  6. Gary,
    Not to get off topic much but you do touch on a truth, the illusion of there being a thing as a CE. When you go back to the 1940's/1950's with Neo-Evangelicalism coming out of Fundamentalism. What was the difference between the two groups? The doctrine of separation. The NE's were "conservative" for the most part and time would move many away from their conservative position. The fact is there have always been those within Neo-Evangelicalism that were more "conservative" than others. It is that now there is a segment within Fundamentalism that is drifting toward Neo-Evangelicalism. Like every other segment that has drifted they vehemently deny their drift, yet others clearly see it. We will have our brethren who will get their battle scars. May we be vocal in standing with those who truly do stand for the truth.

  7. Men:

    FWIW, I do think there is some legitimacy for distinguishing between what we know to be New Evangelicals and the so-called “conservative” evangelicals. As time goes by, however, the distinction or line is blurring. Al Mohler’s mounting ecumenical compromises and Piper’s embrace of Rick Warren being some of the most stark examples.

    Sadly, we have men in fundamentalism, self described separatists who are moving in the direction of the ce men, which is away from obedience to the biblical mandates for separatism. And as it always goes, the first compromise does not end there. Greater compromise for the sake of fellowship is going to follow.

    IMO, the conservatives are the bridge to new evangelicalism. As men like Bauder and Doran, with the willing help of SI, encourage and influence others to tolerate, embrace and join hands with the ce men they are showing the next generation the pathway to new evangelicalism.


  8. Hello Anonymous,

    Didn't some jazz show make a number about you? hehehe

    On a more serious note I was never disciplined by uneven rules, but I did feel abused by people who were most obviously "above" the rules. On many occasions I saw people being censured for things that others did as common practice. IE be abusive, or deliberately overtake a conversation.

    The one rule that I ever had to contend with was the short page count allowed for each topic. It seemed to ensure no topic would ever be discussed fully, or helpfully. My questioning this policy did not win me any friends. :)

    There are a number of likeable people there, I would hope most are! There seems to be a mind-set of this nuCalvinism movement that aggressive defense of it's tenants is perfectly acceptable in all arenas. This turns otherwise lovely people into... well something else. This seems very consistent no matter which venue I run into these people.

    Please note, that as per my last comment there was a period where I was not exactly the kindest person for a nuCalvinist to meet. Several of the people at SI might RIGHTLY describe my interaction with them in less than favourable terms - if they only saw me near the end of my 8 month membership. Of course this fits with your question - "Does this sharpen me?"

    The answer was no for me, and for you. If you look at the blogs apparently it has been no for many.


  9. Kev,

    Feel free to just call me Anon. :) Actually, I would have preferred to have penned this under my name, but alas, I don't have the liberty right now. As for you comment, I never thought the rules were uneven, just the enforcement of them. I think your point here is what I was witnessing too.

    I never had a huge problem with page count. The prevelance of militant Calvinism probably hits me most squarely. There weren't enough counter-voices. Now there are almost none, yet fundamentalism is heavily populated with non-Calvinists like myself. I tended to steer clear of those conversations, because the often just left me feeling upset.

    I do miss "hearing" certain voices on the site. For instance, I read everything Christian Markle posted, and I appreciated his perspective. Since he left, along with a number of others, there was precious little to read. Even the Calvinism threads turned into a chorus of agreement with almost no opposition viewpoint. In truth, I'm not angry about it. I'm just a little sad. I do think SI is affecting certain fundamentalist circles, and I do not think that its all sunshine and roses.

    Anon. :)

  10. I also appreciate(d) Christian Markle. He was most helpful to me in navigating the strangely complicated topic of God's humility.

    I had no idea I was treading close, and worse encouraging others to, tread close to blaspheme! He was graceful but forceful.

    His voice is diminished by SI IMO because I can't "hear" it anymore.

    Just had a moment to post.


  11. Gentlemen:

    I concur with your feelings about Christian Markle, and Scott. In the thread under SI Sizzles In & Over the Iron Skillet he posted some comments. This is an excerpt.

    I used to post there (all too often I am afraid.) I am one of those who has not rejoined since 3.0 and that was a conscious decision based only in part by my time constraints as well as my concerns about where the site was going. I am presently paying attention to the discussions as a lurker and have had private conversations with some of the team there (Ephesians 4:3 comes to mind).

    Obviously, there are issues with SI that many have felt the need to depart over. Christian is another. Personally, I stayed on as long as I did (3.5 years) to post for the lurkers, which I have become before notifying SI that I was quitting with immediate effect. I left primarily because of the direction SI site had gone and the conviction that SI is unrecoverable.

    FWIW, Christian and I do communicate by e-mail and we spoken on the phone today. His is a reasoned voice. He is committed to his family, his ministry and I appreciate his friendship.


  12. Lou: I appreciate your posting the letter from the anonymous writer, and I completely understand his need to remain incognito. In recent posts at SI, I have attempted to communicate to the leadership that there is, at the very least, a percieved bias against the more conservative fundamentalists on SI. (I personally think it is more than perception, as numerous posts have demonstrated.) SI has become a haven for Calvinistic, anti-traditional text people. (If you think about it, there is a strange irony in that: John Calvin used the traditional texts, believing them to be God's Word! His biggest fans today consisently reject the text he used!) In trying to point out the PR problem at SI, some expressed doubt as to my representation of the situation among conservatives. When I last checked, Aaron Blumer stated he was not in the business of chasing "ghosts." SI critics are not "ghosts." They are very much alive, and their numbers are increasing. I, too, believe SI has departed from its earlier intentions. As it drifts further to the left, more conservative people will continue to bail. I did my best to represent the prevailing opinion of my ministerial brethren, but SI appears to be disinterested. No one can say I didn't try!

  13. Pastor Monte:

    Thanks for the input. I saw that you did clearly communicate to and at SI, “that there is, at the very least, a perceived bias against the more conservative fundamentalists on SI.” I also saw Aaron Blumer’s reaction, “ghosts” and disinterested. How can anyone take seriously that he wants to hear and act on legitimate criticism with an attitude like that?

    You wrote, “SI has become a haven for Calvinistic, anti-traditional text people.” I would expand on that in two ways: 1) It is a haven for Lordship Salvation and the promotion and defense of the star personalities of the so-called “conservative” evangelicalism and their conferences. 2) SI did not just “become a haven” it has always been a haven for all of the above.

    You wrote, “As it drifts further to the left….” I can remember in 2007 when a discussion of the “left-lean of SI” was underway. (I don’t think I participated in that thread, but read with interest) SI’s leadership and moderators were angered. They could not see, refused to consider what was obvious to several who were warning them at that time, who have also quit SI because the leadership chaffed and would not listen or concede there was and still is a decidedly leftward lean at the site. No hard numbers, but IMO that discussion and SI’s bullheaded resistance to the appeals of good men back then contributed to and triggered the mostly silent tidal wave of departures.

    BTW, I am aware some in SI’s leadership are privately trying to encourage the departed fundamentalists to return, but most are having none of it. SI has not changed and they show no inclination to change, to strike some balance. I encourage fundamentalists to refrain from participating at SI. I encourage fundamentalist ministries to refrain from advertising at SI. Why support a site that routinely hosts writers and contributors who castigate and besmirch fundamentalism, while at the same time, gush with lavish praise for the evangelicals?

    Our guest author has accurately defined SI as nearly homogeneity with very few exceptions. All SI has left is its moderators agreeing with each other and lining up against men like you who still do on occasion share an opinion they obviously resent.

    Thanks again for your contribution here.


  14. To All:

    Pastor Marc Monte contributed a main page article to IDOTG. I encourage you to read and consider, Muddying the Clearwaters from March 2010. Here is an excerpt,

    “Kevin’s [Bauder’s] charge that ‘the most forceful defenders of the gospel are no longer to be found within the Fundamentalist camp’ constitutes nothing short of slander. Perhaps Dr. Bauder does not know the fundamentalists I know. I can name scores of pastors who regularly and rigorously defend the gospel.... In other words, the local church—not the college or seminary—is the first line of defense for the truth. Fundamentalist pulpits have not surrendered the Gospel. Fundamentalist pastors defend the Gospel every week. Pastors, not seminary professors, are responsible for the conservation and proclamation of the Gospel. By and large, the fundamentalist brethren are doing a splendid job at this—most without even referencing the latest book by John Piper.”

    For related reading see, “Foremost Defenders of the Gospel Today?”

  15. I just finished rereading, What happened to the GARBC at Niagara Falls? Great little booklet. In it the authors recount their interaction with GARB leadership on the drift. The leaders denied any drift. You see this repeated over and over again. Those who have drifted from Fundamentalist position by soften their stance against those to the immediate left of them have, alomst to a man, denied that they have changed. Instead, they go on the attack. Not attacking issues, trends, etc., but attacking men, questioning their motives, and redefining and rewriting their history. This same thing is being played out with many who espouse/follow Kevin Bauder/Dave Doran and the like. They regularly do not address the issues but make broad brushed accusations/attacks instead trying to deflect the truth of their drifting. It is time that they are honest with themselves and their audience and admit they have left authentic Fundamentalism and have accepted Evangelicalism.

  16. Brian:

    Very good, but sad. Same drift and denial pattern, but new set of players. Irrefutible that Bauder, Doran, et. al., have moved. Our primary objective must be to expose this trend, warn and protect others from coming under this corruptive influence through their blogs and SI. The influence to abandon militancy to biblical separatism. To tolerate, allow for and excuse evangelicals' aberrant theology and ecumenism for the sake of fellowship with the evangelicals.


  17. Lou,

    Do you know if Rolland McCune, the former president of Detroit Baptist Seminary, has said anything about Doran's recent tilt toward the CEs?


  18. tjp:

    No, haven’t heard or read anything from Dr. McCune on the matter.


  19. Brian:

    You wrote, “It is time that they [Bauder/Doran] are honest with themselves and their audience and admit they have left authentic Fundamentalism and have accepted Evangelicalism.

    Not sure they've left, but they surely seem to be trying to redfine fundamentalism into some kind of hybrid that loses its distinctive on biblical separation for the sake of a pure church (Ernest Pickering) and repackage it to be much like what evangelicalism is for compatibility.

    Thinking out loud: Have the evangelicals have accepted them? Haven’t seen Bauder or Doran on the platform of or leading workshops at T4G, Shepherds, Desiring God or The Gospel Coalition (TGC) yet. Although Doran is hosting evangelicals in his pulpit and seminary I am not aware he has been invited to speak in their pulpits and seminaries just yet.

    However, two different pastors have told me they were at and saw Doran at the evangelicals’ conferences (MacArthur’s) Shepherds and I recall the other being TGC. That is what I’m told and they are to my knowledge reliable sources.


  20. While it would be nice for some to leave Fundamentalism and join the CE men, I really see that as doubtful (really just wishful thinking on my part). A new movement that maybe later gets sucked into the Evangelical whirlpool. The posturing of some seems to indicate that they are desirous of leadership positions and that I don't think would happen if they just became CE and joined ranks with Mohler, Duncan, Piper, et. al.

  21. I’d like for every guest to read, Esteeming Others Better Than Ourselves at Brian Ernsbergers’s blog, The Parsings of a Preacher.

    You’ll find this quite the opposite of what comes from those at SI who harp on and besmirch these men of God who have laid their armor down.


  22. The following was posted at SI last night by *JamesK, and since it was posted Aaron Blumer and Susan R have posted under it, but neither have expressed any concern over it and it is still there. Here is the statement by JamesK.

    "It is rumored that the chicago mob thought that everything west of chicago was chicago. I know it is the chicago way to break kneecaps and silence the opposition. Fundamentalism should not find its seat of power after the chicago mindset.... There is no question that many of us are frustrated at being lied to, deceived, and misinformed for years."

    Of course Aaron Blumer and SusanR (SI admnin) find no problem with this kind of personal ad hominem as long as it is directed at Fundamentalism.

    If harsh rhetoric along those lines were posted about evangelicals such as: John MacArthur or Piper- Blumer and the SI mods would have deleted immediately and rebuked JamesK for it; isn't that right Aaron?

    Anyone who thinks SI is not playing favorites is out of touch with reality, willfully blind to it, or happily part of the bias and will not concede it.

    And Blumer has to conduct surveys, scratch his head and wonder why so many have quit SI? He has to publish an article complaining about legitimate criticism? C'mon Aaron!


    *JamesK was banned from this blog for attempting to post similar personal attacks, which are of course acceptable at SI.