A Post-Critical Ecclesiastical Case Study

Fountain Street Church, Grand Rapids, MI

In March of 1956, a succinct history of the First Baptist Church in Grand Rapids was published by Baptist Testimony Publishers, Inc. The 32-page booklet entitled The Tragic Fall of the First Baptist Church provides selections from sermons made by the pastors of the church describing First Baptist’s slide into apostasy to what we now know as Fountain Street Church.

Beginning the history of the First Baptist Church we read of Deacon J. C. Buchanan who was baptized in the Grand River in 1842 and was for 60 years a member of Fountain Street Baptist Church. Concerning the early days of the church he wrote,

“No soft-sided Baptist floated into us in those days. Only muscular Christianity could endure the strain; but the elect came one by one, sometimes two at a time, which was very encouraging.  Sometimes we listened to a sermon by one of our numbers. And then we had sound doctrine to Captain Davies had a library of Presbyterian sermons.” (Taken from the 25th Anniversary folder.)

Jumping ahead 64 years we read of the collapse of the church having adopted post-critical methods and a modernist philosophy. “It is very significant that on July 1, 1906 (Dr. Randall’s final year as the pastor of the Fountain Street Baptist Church), former pastor John L. Jackson was invited back to speak to the now modernist controlled church. Jackson’s sermon entitled, ‘The Old Faith and the New’ (misusing I Cor. 13:11 as a text) reveals his complete rejection of Bible truth which he once apparently propagated and his open espousal of modernism. The sermon was published by the church’s so-called ‘Class in Applied Christianity,’ of which the following is a quotation:”

“Whether for better or for worse, most of us have passed away from our childhood’s thoughts and opinions. We do not see the world as we once did. Our Bible, our God, our church, our duty are not to us what they once were.”

[Jackson readily admitted that post-critical ideology prevalent in the early 1900’s was the catalyst for a wholly reconstructed notion of Christianity.]

Jackson made the following comparisons:

“It may be worth our while to indicate, in a brief way, what are the different points of view, of the old and the new faith, concerning the fundamental doctrines of Christianity.” 

The New View of the Bible Versus the Old:

“By the old faith the Scriptures were regarded as one book, with one author, God… The new view sees that there is much in the book that is not for us, for our age … We believe these scriptures were inspired… We do not believe they are infallible…. Their inspiration was not different in kind, but doubtless in degree, from that of good men to whom God has spoken in all ages.”

The New View of God Versus the Old:

“The old faith saw God afar off in the heavens, sitting in majesty and splendor upon his throne. The new faith sees him in the flower and the grass, in the prattle of the little child, in mother’s love, in the hero’s noble deed, in the inspired poem, in the new science, in the old philosophy, most of all, in the lofty aspirations and the kind deeds of the common people whom we meet day by day. All that is beautiful and noble in our world is the spirit of God filling the earth with his glory.”

The New View of Jesus Versus the Old:

“With the clearer conception of God comes also the better understanding of Jesus. The old faith robbed Jesus of his humanity…. The new faith is saving Jesus to us as a brother and friend as well as a Savior. We see him to be human – not part human and part divine as we once thought – but altogether human – a man like ourselves. He was altogether human. Was he not then divine?  Yes! Because humanity perfected is divine.”

The New View of Salvation Versus the Old:

“The new view of faith cannot believe that Christ made a bargain with God that for the shedding of so much blood the Father would forgive a sinful world…. We cannot think that the mere physical blood of Christ had in it any more virtue than the blood of any other man. The blood in itself has no power to save. The word is a mere figure of speech and stands for life…. It was a new view to man of the love and mercy of God.”

The New View of Man Versus the Old:

“This new faith also gives a new vision of man and his destiny…. We see truth in the old tradition of a sinless Adam and a fall when we interpret the story in the light of evolution. The fall then as an incident on the onward path of the human up to the divine.”

The New View of the Church and the Old:

“Finally the new faith gives us a new Church with a new mission and a new message. We can make room in the heavenly mansions for the pagan, Socrates, and for the heathen, Gautama.  We cannot see how God can righteously condemn a heathen for not believing in a Christ of whom he has never heard. We need not have anxiety about our own salvation if we have grown interested in helping and blessing other people.”

            “In closing, Dr. Jackson asks the question, ‘Is the new faith better than the old?’ and answers it by saying that, ‘only those who have lived in both realms of thought can answer that question.’ He declares that the ‘defective’ old faith is inferior to the new faith which is a ‘scientific faith’ and a ‘twentieth century faith’ through which ‘this world will become the kingdom of our Lord and his Christ.’ Thus Dr. Jackson turned his back on the Bible to which he once pledged loyalty and to the Christ which he once presented as man’s only salvation. The “new faith” had taken the place of the old in the Fountain Street Baptist Church and Dr. Jackson’s view replaced the great principles articulated by Pastor Isaac Butterfield on a Baptist Church and its mission.”

[The ramifications of post-critical methods and philosophy were not limited to the historical critical method for reconstructing Scripture. Separating inspiration from the Church and replacing inspiration with reason and science was the principal change, but only one of many changes made to Protestant orthodoxy. A historical critical, fallible, Scripture gives the church a panentheistic God, a human Christ, a bloodless atonement where Christ is merely our example, the acceptance of Darwinian evolution, and universal salvation. The ecclesiastical transition between the old faith and the new faith was called modernism.

While readily accepting that the evangelical interlocutors, as Dr. Van Kleeck calls them, do not accept Jackson’s modernistic theological and ecclesiastical conclusions, asking why “The New View of the Bible Versus the Old” is accepted is a valid inquiry. If the adverse theological and ecclesiological ramifications of post-critical philosophy is rejected, why not also reject the adverse effect the historical critical method had on the Protestant sacred text, the KJV? How is one of the several adverse changes that brought the spiritual ruin of a one-time thriving Baptist Church been preserved and argued for as theologically and ecclesiastically normative. This inconsistency, so far, has not been answered. Are we witnessing, to use Dr. Jackson’s term, “scientific faith” to replace the “defective” old faith in the promises of God?]

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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