Fundamentalism’s Folly? revisited

In 1998 Peter Van Kleeck, Sr. published a monograph entitled Fundamentalism’s Folly? A Bible Version Debate Case Study in response to a symposium entitled The Bible Version Debate: The Perspective of Central Baptist Theological Seminary released by Central Baptist Seminary in Minneapolis, MN, 1997. Of particular interest was the finding that the leaders of Fundamentalism were always multiple version only advocates.

For many years the printed lecture that became Fundamentalism’s Folly? has been out of print but now an expanded revision of the 1998 edition is again available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle formats. The following is a short excerpt from the printed lecture.

“The sectarian aspect of this work is identified when the interpretation of Central Seminary’s historical perspective is done only by nineteenth- and twentieth century fundamentalists.[1] This emphasis begs the question of whether Central Seminary’s fundamentalists forefathers were disconnected from the history of interpretation and exegesis on the capital doctrine of providential preservation. Would these forefathers have supported the claim that no verse of Scripture argues for providential preservation against the ecclesiastical history of the sacred text and subsequent versions?

                If such support were forthcoming, it would be correct to say the Central Seminary is consistent with sectarian Fundamentalism but is isolated from the exegetically informed churchly tradition. This sectarian fundamentalist break with orthodoxy becomes more evident when advocates of providential preservation must depart from Fundamentalism for a truly historical defense of Reformation Bible traditions and particularly the continuing worth of the King James Version. For instance, Dr. Donald Waite, a fundamentalist depends on the Anglican John William Burgon for his polemic. Dr. Edward F. Hills, a Presbyterian, provides a covenantal, erudite defense of Scripture’s providential preservation. Dr. Theodore Letis, a Lutheran, likewise presents a sound and compelling argument. A Princeton-trained Baptist, Dr. David Otis Fuller, was also abandoned by his fundamentalist brothers for his defense of the King James Version. Dr. Larry D. Pettegrew is apparently correct when he writes that one is “actually less of a fundamentalist” if he holds to the King James Version.[2] The question, then, is whether to be identified with Central Seminary’s form of sectarian Fundamentalism on this point is commendable.

                Among sectarian fundamentalists there is an earnest if not perplexing desire to maintain sound doctrine. This tension is due to the struggle that ensues between maintaining the tenets of the faith while also arguing for a fluid source of exegesis. An uncritical assessment of this tension is made early by Dr. Douglas R. McLachlan, who writes, “We believe there is merit in investigating and probing the abundance of available manuscripts evidence which is accessible to the serious student. The we can preach and teach with the authority of a true biblicist, speaking God’s absolute truth accurately, passionately and relevantly into the hearts and minds of our post-modern world.”[3] If we can speak “God’s absolute truth,” one might contemplate how this is to be done when distinguishing between two divergent readings of Hebrews 2:16, “For verily he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham” (King James Version) and “For indeed He does not give aid to angels, but he does give aid to the seed of Abraham” (New King James Version). The validity of McLachlan’s assertion is never proven by these essays. The idea of “God’s absolute truth” is spoken of dogmatically, implying that no major doctrine is infringed upon, but clearly McLachlan’s words do little to resolve the doctrinal tension indicative of this illustration and other similar passages. In keeping with the conclusions drawn by the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century exegetes, apart from exegetical confirmation, McLachlan’s claim to being able to speak “God’s absolute truth” is absurd.

                This essay is not confined to a narrow sectarian scope of history perceived by nineteenth- and twentieth-century fundamentalists, but accesses the writing of leading figures of the historic churchly exegetical tradition to ask, “How can we claim to have developed a satisfactory approach to the Bible version debate if our findings are incompatible with the way God’s people have read the Scriptures throughout the centuries? If what is being said is not consistent with the exegetical tradition, how can we know if it is orthodox?”


[1] Grisanti, Bible Version Debate Ibid., 137, 139. The oldest bibliographical resourse cited are those of F. H. A. Scrivener (1874, 1884, 1894); and W. Hort (1888). For noted fundamentalists see 10-12.

[2] Grisanti, Bible Version Debate, 13.

[3] Grisanti, Bible Version Debate, 4; cf. 105 n. 43.

Published by Dr. Peter Van Kleeck, Sr.

Dr. Peter William Van Kleeck, Sr. : B.A., Grand Rapids Baptist College, 1986; M.A.R., Westminster Theological Seminary, 1990; Th.M., Calvin Theological Seminary, 1998; D. Min, Bob Jones University, 2013. Dr. Van Kleeck was formerly the Director of the Institute for Biblical Textual Studies, Grand Rapids, MI, (1990-1994) lecturing, researching and writing in the defense of the Masoretic Hebrew text, Greek Received Text and King James Bible. His published works include, "Fundamentalism’s Folly?: A Bible Version Debate Case Study" (Grand Rapids: Institute for Biblical Textual Studies, 1998); “We have seen the future and we are not in it,” Trinity Review, (Mar. 99); “Andrew Willet (1562-1621: Reformed Interpretation of Scripture,” The Banner of Truth, (Mar. 99); "A Primer for the Public Preaching of the Song of Songs" (Outskirts Press, 2015). Dr. Van Kleeck is the pastor of the Providence Baptist Church in Manassas, VA where he has ministered for the past twenty-one years. He is married to his wife of 43 years, Annette, and has three married sons, one daughter and eighteen grandchildren.

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