Dr. Paul J. Dean Christian Blog and Commentary

Whare Has All the Good News Gone? Part Two

 

Furman University, once a bastion of conservative Christianity and an instrument for the propagation of the gospel, has gone the way of liberalism like so many former Southern Baptist Colleges. I was reminded of this sad truth again as my family and I attended a play festival at the University last week. In Part One of this article yesterday, we highlighted some of the history of the University itself in contrast to the message conveyed by the six mini-plays under consideration. Today, I simply want to point out a connection to Futurism in the festival in contrast to the message of Richard Furman himself.

 

While no doubt missed by the average theater attendee, one could not help but wonder if the vignettes were grounded in something deeper than the surface impression given. Perhaps yesterday's analysis goes beyond that, yet, I refer to something deeper with regard to those "in the know" concerning artistic philosophy. While such is certainly not my field, with the likes of Anton Chekhov and Francisco Canguillo, one is left with the question, "is some other message being conveyed here?" While we can not know what is in the minds of the students who directed these plays, and presumably chose them, Canguillo's connection to Futurist philosophy is not a secret. Moreover, when Futurism is mentioned in the acknowledgements, the link becomes almost impossible to overlook.

 

According to Nicolas Pioch, Futurism was introduced to the world when the Paris newspaper Le Figaro published a manifesto by the Italian poet and editor Filippo Tommaso Marinetti. Futurism, coined by Marinetti, "reflected his emphasis on discarding what he conceived to be the static and irrelevant art of the past and celebrating change, originality, and innovation in culture and society. Marinetti's manifesto glorified the new technology of the automobile and the beauty of its speed, power, and movement. He exalted violence and conflict and called for the sweeping repudiation of traditional cultural, social, and political values and the destruction of such cultural institutions as museums and libraries. The manifesto's rhetoric was passionately bombastic; its tone was aggressive and inflammatory and was purposely intended to inspire public anger and amazement, to arouse controversy, and to attract widespread attention."

 

Politically, Futurism was originally grounded in an effort to bring Italy into the first World War. The Futurists were Marxist anarchists and had an early alliance with none other than Benito Mussolini himself. Nationalism, totalitarianism, the extolling of violence, the glorification of war, and the denegration of women, were key planks in the Futurist platform. Marinetti declared, "we intend to exalt aggressive action…we will glorify war--the world’s only hygiene."

 

Having participated in the irredentist demonstrations and buttressed by the nihilistic philosphy of Frederich Nietzsche, the political philosophy of Karl Marx, the anarchist philosophy of George Sorrell, Futurism was born and was closely alligned with Facism. It was Mussolini, partnered with Marinetti and influeneced by the same forces, who coined the word Facism. It comes from fasces, a bundle of rods containing an ax which was the symbol of power in Imperial Rome. Futurists and Facists parted company when the Facists failed to accept Futurist proposals against the church and the moncarchy in Italy. The truth is however, that cordial relations were maintained for years to come.

 

Many maintain that Futurism is only extant in the arts today. Don't be fooled. The pen is mightier than the sword. Ideas change things far more than guns for example. When the Christian worldview is rejected, among a myriad of others, Futurist ideas thrive, especially on college campuses.

 

Along with the repudiation of previously held cultural, social, and political values, in Futurism, religious values are cast off as well. Anarchy was to be embraced. Unbridled lust was and is exalted. Valentine de Saint-Point published a Futurist manifesto regarding lust in 1913. Among other things, in the aftermath of battle where men have died, he maintained that it was normal for men to turn to rape so that life may be re-created.

 

Futurists embrace lust as it excites energy, releases strength, and drives the great men of business and commerce to increase wealth. These men by their actions incite the masses to worship the objects of their own lust: money and power. Yet, even in this dynamic, lust is not divorced from sex. Christian morality is to be rejected as weakness. He asserted that we must not despise lust whether it be heterosexual or homosexual.   In the end, lust should be made into a work of art, both literally and figuratively.

 

In Futurist philosophy, any vestige of tranditionalism must be cast off. Embracing an evolutionary worldview, might makes right and lust is a force. "Only the weak and sick sink into the mire and are diminished. And lust is a force in that it kills the weak and exalts the strong, aiding natural selection." One can readily see how Futurism can regain a foothold on our contemporary, postmodern mess.

 

While we can appreciate academic freedom, and the freedom allowed students at Universities to explore to their heart's content, we lament a culture in which the values of the western world are being discarded at break-neck speed. Moreover, we loudly lament our Baptist institutions casting off truth and embracing destructive worldviews. How do students at Furman even get into Futurism? Are our eyes that closed to destructive ideas? Again, we have no idea regarding the intent of the play selection in question. Yet, the truth remains, political satire is a powerful means of conveying ideas. Isn't that what students involved in the arts desire to do? When acknowledgement is given to the "Futurism and the Futurists" website, a website devoted to the propagation of Futurism, red lights begin to flash. How did Furman stray so far so fast?

 

Consider the message and mission of Richard Furman himself. Converted in 1771 under the ministry of Joseph Reese who was converted under the well-known Shubal Stearns, he became the arch-prototype of Southern Baptists in the twentieth century. In Furman were united the best qualities of Regular and Separate Baptists. He inherited, embraced, and propagated a spiritual heritage of Evangelical Calvinism. He was called the "boy-evangelist" as he commenced his preaching ministry at age sixteen.

 

Furman shepherded the Charleston Baptist Church as pastor for thirty-eight years and continued an itinerant, evangelistic ministry throughout that time. The results were a number of genuine revivals and church plants. It was said of him that "no minister ever enjoyed so large a share of general confidence and reverence." His giftedness and fame afforded him an occasion to preach in the United States Congressional Hall.

 

With further regard to missions and evangelism, Furman developed and promoted a program of associational missions and an extensive program of itinerant preaching. These programs were the forerunners to the modern concepts of Baptist associations and associational missions. He moderated the Charleston Baptist Association for twenty-five years. He also helped to organize the first state Baptist convention for the purpose of promoting missions. He further worked to unite Baptists across the country for the same purpose. While it took years to accomplish, his dream was eventually realized in 1845 when Southern Baptists adopted his essential plan in the formation of the Southern Baptist Convention. W.B. Johnson, inspired by Furman, wrote the original draft of the first constitution of the denomination and led Southern Baptists to adopt a centralized convention in terms of organization. More than any other man, Furman created the organizational concepts that are unique in Southern Baptist life today.

 

The Baptist pioneer was also a patriot and won many to the cause at the dawn of the Revolutionary War. He so comforted the men with his prayers and appeals that Cornwallis once remarked that he "feared the prayers of the godly [Furman] more than the armies of Sumter and Marion." The demise of the state church of South Carolina came as the result of Furman's work for religious liberty. Further, his efforts procured the right of all denominations to exist without persecution.

 

Of course, Furman had a strong commitment to religious education. He was so concerned for the masses of people who did not have the gospel that he played a major role in forming and directing both the Charleston Bible Society and Religious Tract Society. He was instrumental in establishing a literary society in Charleston and Claremont Academy near Statesburg. He urged the Triennial Convention of 1814 to action in regard to educating ministers while leading them in 1817 to include education in the denomination's program of ministry. His plan called for a theological institution in Washington with other institutions feeding it from the various states. His efforts resulted in the forming of Columbian College (now George Washington University); Furman University; Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, which grew out of the theological department of Furman; Mercer University; and others.

 

Sadly, Furman University today has strayed from her original theological moorings. "The Pluralism Project" is but one more example. The Project has its roots at Harvard University with the work of researching religious diversity in America. Part of Harvard's goal is "to explore the ramifications and implications of America's new plurality through case studies of particular cities and towns, looking at the response of Christian and Jewish communities to their new neighbors; the development of interfaith councils and networks; the new theological and pastoral questions that emerge from the pluralistic context; and the recasting of traditional church-state issues in a wider context." In case you missed it, this is not evangelism. Furman has published an educational  CD-ROM
entitled "On Common Ground" that contains information on the various religious groups represented in the U.S. Furman hopes to encourage the growth of interfaith dialogue in South Carolina. Their diverse profiles include those of Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism, Islam, and Bah'ai.

 

Today, Furman maintains that its "heritage is freeing not restrictive. It provides a unique atmosphere in which religion can be studied academically and still be taken seriously. The University's heritage is rooted in the non-creedal, free church Baptist tradition, which has always valued particular religious commitments while insisting not only on the freedom of the individual to believe as he or she sees fit but also on respect for a diversity of religious perspectives, including the perspective of the non-religious person." On the one hand, today's Furman has it right in the sense that Baptists have always valued freedom of religion. However, Baptists of the past were confessional and the institutions they founded were planted for the purpose of spreading the gospel that persons might be allowed to freely believe their message or not. Maintaining religious freedom does not mean opening a dialogue with the religions of the world for the purpose of finding common ground.

 

The fear that persons in the pew should have is ignorance. They should fear being ignorant of what is being taught in their beloved institutions. How many South Carolina Baptists in 1990, for example, knew that Furman was about to cut the cord? How many of the faithful knew what was going on at Baylor or Stetson? How many know what is going on at Mercer? We may have won recent battles over inerrancy and the Lord has indeed graciously turned our seminaries in a new direction. But we have much to be concerned about of which we are presently unaware. It is true Furman left thirteen years ago. Why be alarmed about other colleges today? The alarm must be sounded because the prevailing philosophies of postmodernism, pragmatism, and ecumenicalism, to mention a few, are alive and well in evangelicalism today. The first battle lines to be penetrated by the enemy are penetrated in academic institutions. That breakdown will always affect the churches. For some, when we discover the damage, it's too late and they go the way of defection without so much as a yawn. For others, we wake up wondering what in the world happened while we were asleep. We wake up and wonder, "where has all the good news gone?"

 

Richard Furman was a man who devoted his life to the cause of Christ and no doubt enjoys great reward for it by grace. Yet his life's work is all but gone at Furman University. What would he think if he were in the playhouse this past Thursday night? No doubt his heart would be broken even as our Lord's must be in some sense, especially when His Name was taken in vain. Do I need to inform anyone that during these vignettes of despair, foul language was used indiscriminately? Is anyone surprised that sexual themes were present in four out of the six plays? I was surprised because we were told by the University that the shows would be appropriate for our fifteen year old. Of course, the University hasn't been Southern Baptist in thirteen years now. Maybe they don't know what's appropriate for fifteen year olds, or the rest of us for that matter. I don't know why I'm surprised in any event. I can still hear the cheer of the football faithful that I can't repeat here. Where have all the good times gone?

 

Of course, Furman has gone the way of so many of our institutions of higher learning. Many Baptist colleges, once bastions of truth and promoters of the cause of Christ, have severed their ties with the denomination. The move is nothing new now. Yet, precious few of our denominational colleges affirm the biblical principles and doctrine upon which they and the Convention were founded. Many waver in one way or another. Who knows how many more will take the step of severance? Regardless of the denomination in which one finds himself, it's time we sat up and took notice. It's time we shored up our moorings. It's time we were "watchful, and [it's time to] strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die (Rev. 3:2)." It's time we do these things or too many more of us may be singing the blues.

 

[Scroll Down for Part One]

 



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