For more than 35 years, Leroy Seat served as professor and later chancellor at Seinan Gakuin University (SGU), a university complex of more than 10,000 students in Fukuoka City, Japan. Currently he is a Lecturer in Theology at Rockhurst University in Kansas City.
Seat was sent to Japan in 1966 to teach at SGU under the auspices of the Foreign Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). After many years of faithful service to his denomination and the university, Seat found himself caught up in the fundamentalist controversy that raged in the 1980s and 1990s among Southern Baptists. And after the dust had settled, those of a more moderate theological persuasion, such as Seat, found themselves on the outside looking in. The culmination of this process that began in 1979 was the adoption by the SBC of a new confession of faith in 2000 that positioned the denomination in a much more rigid theological framework. Because Seat refused to agree to be bound by the parameters of that new document, he was forced into retirement in 2004.
While the topic of this book is broader than simply Baptists and fundamentalism, Southern Baptists do form the context out of which Seat writes. This personal contextualization provides a real advantage for the reader, because Seat’s book illustrates that the type of militant fundamentalism that emerged from the “new” Southern Baptist Convention was not simply an innocuous theological sparring among academicians and pastors, but rather had real impact on real lives and livelihoods.
Fed Up With Fundamentalism is neither a diatribe against the “new” Southern Baptist Convention, nor a lament for the “old” SBC. Throughout the book the author’s love and appreciation for his Baptist background are evident. Yet, Seat’s pain and dismay over what has occurred in his beloved denomination are equally evident throughout. The book is not written out of anger but out of loss—loss of a tradition and heritage that has traded freedom for authoritarianism, diversity for uniformity, autonomy for centralization, cooperation for coercion, personal faith for civil religion. The fundamentalist theology forced on Southern Baptist theologians not only threatened to strip them of their theology but also their denominational home. Seat was faced with the option of losing his soul or his job. He chose the latter, and this book chronicles why.
Fed Up With Fundamentalism has many strengths, not the least of which is its concise and helpful survey of the rise of Christian fundamentalism in America. As a reaction to the emergence of biblical criticism and liberalism in the 19th century, the fundamentalist movement originated as an attempt to recapture the basic, fundamentals of the faith. After the debacle of the Scopes Monkey Trial in 1925, however, fundamentalism began to position itself as a militant movement, characterized by anti-intellectualism, obscurantism, and extremism. A more moderate form of fundamentalism would evolve into the “evangelical” movement of the 1960s and beyond, but the more strident form of fundamentalism would reappear in the 1980s and become the predominant theological perspective in such groups as the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod and the Southern Baptist Convention. Many Southern Baptist theologians, including Seat, who had been trained in the broader perspective of mainline Christianity, found themselves marginalized by this embracing of a more rigid theology. Southern Baptist educational institutions began to purge their faculties of those who would not conform to the new theological parameters. Seat was caught up in this purge.
The heart of this book explores the many reasons why the author is fed up with fundamentalism. He includes such general reasons as fundamentalism’s tendency toward indoctrination, coercion, intolerance, and obscurantism. Seat also offers specific chapters on fundamentalism’s attitudes toward the Bible, religious freedom, war, women, abortion, homosexuality, and capital punishment. Seat concludes that the answer to fundamentalism is not to embrace liberalism, which has its own limits, but rather to go beyond fundamentalism to embrace the true message of Christ.
The subtitle of Fed Up with Fundamentalism alerts the reader that this is not only a historical and theological appraisal of fundamentalism but is also a personal one. The reader might be tempted to dismiss this book as rooted too much in the personal disputes of the author with his denomination, but such is not the case. While the book does make an important contribution to the growing literature of Southern Baptists who have been marginalized by the regnant leadership of that denomination, its examples and illustrations are broader than Southern Baptists. The issues Seat touches on are not peripheral but are central in the debates among most, if not all, Christian denominations today.
I recommend this book for those who would like to know more about the roots of fundamentalism, its theological perspectives, its strategies for expansion, and more importantly, the ways in which it cleverly packages and promotes not the “gospel of Christ” but a “different (hetero) gospel” (Gal. 1:6 ).