Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Falwell the Liberal

I have waited a long time to make this post, but I thought this would be a good way to get back into the saddle of updating this blog. Yesterday was the funeral celebration for Jerry Falwell, and plenty has already been said about the life of this man, both by those who loved and admired him as well as those whose hatred of this man ran just as passionately.

I want to use the life of Jerry Falwell and all that he stood for to make another point more appropriate for the purposes of this blog. Jerry Falwell is a fine example of how to be a theological fundamentalist without becoming a Christian legalist. You see, to those who know the kind of Christian legalism I’ve known, Jerry Falwell was a liberal!

In December of 1998 I was home from college for the Christmas holiday. This was during the time of the Bill Clinton impeachment proceedings, and one of my relatives, a committed Democrat who was obviously disgusted with the Clinton saga, was also visiting us. As expected we ended up in a political discussion, and somehow Jerry Falwell’s name was brought up. Imagine the surprise my relative received when he heard me refer to Falwell as a liberal! I’ll never forget watching my relative laugh harder than I’ve ever seen him laugh before, undoubtedly trying to find some emotional release to digest how far to the right I must be if I viewed Falwell as a liberal. Could one even be more to the right of Jerry Falwell without falling off the planet? Surely such a person would be completely out of touch with reality.

But I was only repeating things I had been taught. At college, a chapel speaker told the female students, “If you want to wear your pants, go to Liberty University!” And while leaving the Independent Baptist Church I first worked in to attend Dallas Seminary, my pastor questioned how I could go to such a “liberal” school as Dallas Seminary!

The idea that Liberty University is too lax on its rules for students and that Dallas Seminary is a “liberal” theological school could only be held by someone who would also be willing to call Jerry Falwell a liberal. Unfortunately, these are the ideas of many trapped in Christian legalism. The rest of the world wonders what planet we are on when we can’t even endorse the ministry of Billy Graham!

Of course, part of the problem lies in how we define words. When I referred to Jerry Falwell as a liberal, I certainly did not mean politically. Most Christian Legalists I know are/were ardent supporters of the Moral Majority. But I also did not mean he was a liberal theologically, though that’s what I thought I meant. At the time I probably agreed with all of Falwell’s theological and dispensational views, just like my former pastor who accused me of going to the “liberal” Dallas Seminary probably agreed with most every theological point affirmed at DTS. When I said Jerry Falwell was a “liberal,” I could only have meant that I believed Falwell was on the “slippery slope” of compromise by not holding to strict separatist behavior. Indeed, Falwell by that time had already jumped ship to join with those “liberal” Southern Baptists.

Jerry Falwell was a fundamentalist, but he seemed to know how (unlike most fundamentalists) to unite with other evangelicals. For this, I applaud him and his life, as have other evangelicals in the days since his death. He was not afraid of academics and intellectual integrity, and this served to balance his fundamentalism. May other fundamentalists learn to do likewise, and then they may find more evangelicals willing to be called fundamentalists once again.


Curtis said...

I believe the quote was "if you want to wear your pants and drink your beer, go to liberty."

Pastor Dan said...


I applaud your blog! You and many other former PCC'ers are really on the same page, as "we are beginning to think for ouseleves". Sometimes I can't believe how legalistic I was back in those days. Great Job!

Dan Sardinas