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The Best and the Brightest - Criteria for Evaluation

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

As I said in my last post, the first point that was addressed was the idea that the meetings geared toward the younger generations by some of the established Fundamental institutions indicate that there is indeed an exodus of the best and brightest of Fundamentalism and that this is worrisome.

Specifically, Michael makes the following comments:

I think that there may be some truth to the claim that we are losing some of our best and brightest.
You cited examples of bright lights in fundamentalism. This tells us that some sharp guys are staying in the movement, but it does not tell us anything about who is leaving. Surely the people who are worried about a exodus from fundamentalism would not say that they think all the sharp guys are leaving, just a high enough percentage to be worrisome.
I think the fact that Calvary Lansdale, BJU, and the FBF have all held meetings geared toward the younger generation indicates that this is a real concern.

I understand the mentality that says that Fundamentalism is losing its best and its brightest. I even mentioned in my earlier post that this comment is sometimes made by older leaders in Fundamentalism. I also recognize that there have been attempts to deal with this, the Conference on Biblical Belief and Balance: in Pursuit of a Balanced Ministry this last summer at Colonial Hills in Indianapolis being one of those attempts.

The heart of this aspect of the issue, in my opinion, is the question - what constitutes "The Best and The Brightest"?

Before I specifically deal with the question, I would like to make a few important points.

1. I have a heart for the younger generation. I still consider myself a member of the "younger generation" - although at 36, I may be starting to stretch a little. I gave my first 9 years of full-time ministry and additional years before that as one whose responsibilities specifically dealt with the next generation.

2. Because I have such a heart for the next generation, I am concerned when any believer (especially young men with a heart for the ministry) abandons Fundamentalism for New Evangelicalism (and yes, I still use that term on purpose, but that is for another discussion). I believe that part of the point of the conferences that have been mentioned is to seek to help those young men to recognize the error in abandoning Fundamentalism for the siren's song of New Evangelicalism.

3. I would argue, however, that the problem of young men leaving Fundamentalism (at least the idea of Fundamentalism - more on that later), is not Fundamentalism's problem, but the problem of the young men in question. I do not mean by that that Fundamentalism does not have any problems, but that my concern in this scenario is not "ooh, poor Fundamentalism, that guy just left it", but rather, I am saddened, disappointed, and grieving for that young man and what I believe to be a wrong choice that he is making.

Having said that, I believe that if we are going to examine the issue of whether (at least some, as Michael pointed out) the Best and the Brightest are leaving Fundamentalism, we must first consider what constitutes those who are "The Best and the Brightest." In other words, we need to define our terms and establish some criteria. This is part of what I was alluding to in my original post on this topic when I used expressions such as "they are doing what really matters - serving Christ without compromise and making a difference for Him."

I believe that a big part of the problem of much of the hand-wringing over losing The Best and the Brightest is that many have taken the world's criteria and used that in evaluating who is The Best and the Brightest. I believe that even some of the "older" men who are in the leadership at these institutions that were previously mentioned have fallen into this trap. We jump up and down about the false view that numbers = blessing when we are denouncing "leaders" in New Evangelicalism (and rightly so), yet, we often find ourselves making the same type of errors.

For many, The Best and the Brightest are those guys who have the following traits:
1. Popularity - were they a "big man on campus"?
2. Positions - did they have the "important" positions as a student?
3. Personality - do they draw people to themselves with their winsome ways?
4. Preaching - do they have an exciting style that grabs an audience?
5. Academic Prowess - are they at the top of their class?

Now, I am not discounting the idea that there may be some value in some of those things (after all, I hope it counts for something that I had a 4.0 in my M.A. program), but I am stating that those things ought not to be the primary areas that we look to in order to evaluate "The Best and the Brightest".

Biblically, I believe there are at least a couple of higher ranking criteria that we ought to be using for evaluation of who are indeed "The Best and the Brightest". Including the following:

1. Obedience

High on a Biblical list for what constitutes "The Best and the Brightest" would seem to be obedience.

John 14:15 If ye love me, keep my commandments.
1 John 5:3 For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous.
John 14:23 Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.

If the Bible teaches separation from disobedient brothers (and it does), then those who might look like they are the best and the brightest in the world's eyes but who are in fellowship with disobedient brothers are revealing that they are not "The Best and the Brightest" because they are not Obedient.

2. Faithfulness

Also, high on a Biblical list regarding "The Best and the Brightest" would seem to be faithfulness.

1 Corinthians 4:2 Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful.
Matthew 25:21 His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.

Repeatedly, Paul spoke of the minister's that he honored as being faithful.

Colossians 1:7 As ye also learned of Epaphras our dear fellowservant, who is for you a faithful minister of Christ;
Colossians 4:7 All my state shall Tychicus declare unto you, who is a beloved brother, and a faithful minister and fellowservant in the Lord:
1 Corinthians 4:17 For this cause have I sent unto you Timotheus, who is my beloved son, and faithful in the Lord, who shall bring you into remembrance of my ways which be in Christ, as I teach every where in every church.

It was also expected of the men that Timothy was to choose for ministry.
2 Timothy 2:2 And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.

If these men that are being viewed as "The Best and the Brightest" are walking away from the truth rather than remaining faithful, they are revealing that they are not "The Best and the Brightest" by their failure to fulfill this criteria.

So, I again return to my original point that started this whole mess. I believe that the idea that "Fundamentalism is losing its best and its brightest" is flawed at its root - those who are leaving the Biblical principles that Fundamentalism is based upon are revealing that they never were "The Best and the Brightest" in the first place.

Just my thoughts,


File under Popular_, Fundamentalism_, Christianity_, Hot_Issues


Andy Rupert said...

I agree with your premise. Since fundamentalism is biblical, why would the brightest and best leave it?

I recently talked with someone who had been turned off by certain actions within a segment of fundamentalism. The highly suspicious nature of the group in question caused him to seek elsewhere for something more reasonable or perhaps to find something better. The individual is an excellent student and a deep thinker.

The fact that he is my intellectual superior seems to support the idea that the "best and brightest" are leaving the movement. But as you have said, it is not our intellectual ability that guarantess faithfulness. Smart people can be wrong. It is our obedience that God desires.

Don said...

Hi Frank

Another thing that could be mentioned is that these same things have been true for years. In my discussions with many of the younger guys, I have noticed an impression that they seem to have the idea that they are the first guys who ever thought of these things.

David Hocking was a BMOC at BJU. He became a leading New Evangelical voice, at least until he had some personal problems. Ed Dobson was a BMOC at BJU. He didn't have any personal problems, and has had a fruitful ministry in many ways, but he voluntarily "walked the plank" a long time ago. (I love it how my phrase is getting so much attention.)

This problem is not a new phenomenon. And it seems to me that often it is the BMOCs who waver. The lesser lights tend to stand by the stuff. Of course, that may just be a hasty generalization. I know some BMOCs from my days at BJ who are leading names in fundamentalism.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Greg Linscott said...

I'd be interested to see how Don's experience and observation would correspond with graduates of other institutions. :-)

Anonymous said...

The brightest and the best--it's hard to quantify/identify because many of them ARE men with servant hearts and weren't always the BMOC's on campuses. They DO leave, gradually, after all the other options just seem played out. I consider many of the guys at "New Evangelical" schools not necessarily as the "brightest" but just the most open to self-criticism and (gasp!) change. They've not settled for the word of an expert. They think for themselves. They eschew hero worship and carefully evaulate even the most popular or fundamental speaker or writer. They DO write--with honesty, creativity, and quality. If they overstep a line I might draw, I'm not sure my line is the final word. I listen carefully to those who are within the Fundamentalist movement and those who have left. Most of those who've left have no axe to grind.

Joel Tetreau said...


Excellent focus on obediene and faithfulness vs. other so-called criteria. I would even put obedience and faithfulness over spelling!

Good job bro!


Joel Tetreau said...

That's too funny -

obedience - I sing the song with my kid and I can't even spell that right!

Oh brother!


Anonymous said...

As an observer of those who identify themselves as fundamentalists, I suspect that some who no longer wish to be identified with fundamentalism are not leaving the principles of separation and sound doctrine but rather the way it is practised by men who identify themselves with the movement. The backbiting, gossip, slander, pride, arrogance, bitterness, backroom discussions, clergy/laity, yellow journalism,ruthless exposes etc may be what is being rejected and many have gone on with Jesus and faithfulness to His Word without the associations of those who practice the above.

There are many walking wounded who have been deeply hurt by these practises who have gone on with Jesus, who fellowship with other faithful believers and who are faithful students of the Word with a desire to be obedient. There are some who are no longer able to inflict those wounds upon their brothers and sisters in Christ.

Being set free from the ugliness of the practise of modern fundamentalism is like leaving a cult. Being able to breath free and to love one another in the Spirit of Christ without looking over our shoulders to see who is taking notes is freedom, indeed.

Joel Tetreau said...

Dear Anonymous

Thanks for your posting what you did here - that is brave of you.

First, I understand what you are saying. I would totally agree with you that the picture you paint is "out there," in some quarters of quote-in-quote"Fundamentalism."

Second, I also agree that there are groups of believers that are Fundamentalists in every sense of the word, but because of what they have experienced are hesitant to associate with fundamentalism. I also don't think that is necesarily bad. As a matter of fact, on some days, I feel the same way!

Third, this doesn't make you a bad guy - even a disobedient guy, just means you minister apart geographically from others of us who consider ourselves to still be "in."

Fourth, in all fairness I think that if you look at other ecclesiastical circles in other portions of evangelicalism, you will find the same thing that you find with individual fundamentalists - sinners, who still can be "fleshly," who yet love the Lord and want to serve Him as best they can.

Blessings on you brother - If your ever in Phoenix look me up - I'll buy you a cup of coffee and we can chat about all of this!

Joel Tetreau

Don said...


"Thanks for your posting what you did here - that is brave of you."

How brave is it to post such comments anonymously?

You write as if you know the poster, but the rest of us do not. Brave?

For myself, I have never felt that I cannot say something. (Of course, some would say "fools rush in..."). I think the underlying attitude has something to do with it.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Joel Tetreau said...


Your kind - I say "brave" to Anonymous because he seems like a guy who has shared his heart before and have been attacked for it. If I know our anonymous, it is a secret to me.

Don, in our separatist circles so many are afraid to post publically what they believe. Now I agree with your post. But in fairness to our anonymous friend, you and I don't know his situation. Perhaps he is in a ministry structure that would not handle what you and I are able to do - that is freely explain what we believe and why. Even if it's not popular with "all" the brethren.

I remember fearing the same thing that perhaps our anonymous friend is fearing. About 8 years ago, God gave me freedom from worrying about "the brethren." He also put me in a ministry function that no longer has to worry about being "PC" - Halleluhiah!

Blessings All!


Michael C. said...

Brother Sansone, this has been one of my busiest weeks this year, so I haven't had a chance to get back to your blog until now. When I saw that my rather hastily written comment had generated such a thorough response I suppose I felt something like you did when SI made your post famous. :-)

I'm not from Jacksonville. I'm from Greenville, where I am a graduate student who also teaches high school part-time. In my position I'm grouped by some as "one of the young guys" yet I also find myself explaining fundamentalism to my students and friends. I share Don's burden that we have not always done a good job of explaining fundamentalism to the next generation. Our young guys are left to try to inductively determine what fundamentalism is from our imperfect and sometimes inconsistent implementations of it. This is why so many people tend to make arguments like "Person X did such-and-such." Their only education in fundamentalism is inductive. I've been rolling around ideas for how to reduce this problem for a couple years.

So, with the introductions in place, I will proceed with the discussion in each of the threads independently.

As for who is the best and brightest, I think I agree with your criteria. My evaluation would revolve around whether a person passionately loves God and his neighbors. These would be manifested in the criteria you suggest and in a general gospel-focused outlook. A student who fits these criteria will be known for ministering to his classmates. That will make his personality appealing, but just having an appealing personality does not make someone honoring to God (as you point out). I also agree that being a BMOC is not important. There have been a lot of faithful and fruitful college graduates who were never noticed for major leadership roles.

I've observed that many of the best and brightest have been students who were promoted to dorm leadership. In my experience these were not necessarily the most popular/BMOC types. Dorm leadership is picked from the top down, so it's a different beast than popularly elected positions. I think it is instructive to observe where the dorm leaders are today.

These are entirely hypothetical numbers, but here is a possible break down of where the dorm leaders from fundamentalist colleges are today:
- 45% become pastors and leaders in fundamentalism
- 20% go on to conservative evangelicalism
- 25% are never heard from again (not necessarily for bad reasons; they might go on to be Christian business leaders, etc.)

Even if those numbers were dramatically different, that is still a group that bears observing. Dorm leaders are picked because they live Spirit-filled lives. These people may turn from the truth, but evidently they were showing no evidence of doing so as college students. Thus, if these are some of fundamentalism's best students, and since many of those who go on to conservative evangelicalism come from this group, then we do still have something to be concerned about.

As to the issue of faithfulness. I still have questions about whether we can equate leaving a movement with leaving the truth. The fundamentalist movement has certainly had its flaws, but so has every movement. The bigger issue for this dicussion is that fact that fundamentalism's definitions have changed through the years.

Take a specific issue like cessationism. Today if I was associated with a ministry that was charismatic or pentacostal, I would not be identified as a fundamentalist. Yet, pentecostals were part of the fundamentalist movement for much of its history. Thus, fundamentalism was wrong on this point then or it is wrong on it now. This is an aspect of separation, which we as fundamentalists take very seriously, so what if a fundamentalist left the movement over failing to separate (or over separating) on the issue of cessationism? Is this person being unfaithful to the truth? Can we say that fundamentalism is the biblical position, or just that it strives to be biblical and does a pretty good job at it?

I would disagree with you that fundamentalism is hurt by losing some of these young men. Some of the preachers who have left fundamentalism have had extrememly fruitful ministries (since even Don Johnson admits that, you can't argue with it!) :-) . My answer is not that fundamentalism should expand to encompass the ministries of all of these men, but we must remain self-critical and carefully mentor and teach our young men have lots of potential.

This has been a more productive blog exchange than is often the case. I trust that I am continuing in that spirit.

Grace and peace.

Michael C. said...

My percentages don't add up. They were REALLY hypothetical. Our readers can add an extra 10% wherever they feel most appropriate.

Frank Sansone said...


Thanks for the introduction. Sorry about the Jacksonville guess. I saw on my site meter that someone from Jacksonville had been online around the time of your original post and then had come on a number of times afterwards, so I guessed that it may have been you checking to see if I had responded yet.

I was confused as well, however, when I saw a "Michael C." that had posted on another blog I was reading and had a email address and wondered if it was you.

Anyway, to your post.

First, thank you for returning and for the spirit of this discussion.

When I finish with my last post in this series (tentatively titled, The Best and The Brightest - The Idea of Fundamentalism and the Movement of Fundamentalism) some things may be cleared up a little more. I am still working on writing it, however, as I have time.

I would agree that the Dorm Leadership may be a better use for who appears to be the best and the brightest, but it is still lacking. For one thing, when I was at BJU, usually the hall leaders were BMOC and while I greatly respect Mr. Miller (and Jon Daulton who is in that role now and was in my beginning soccer class with me back in the days of required P.E.), I sometimes wondered (even as a student) about the guys who got those positions. I am NOT saying that most or even many of them were not great guys, but there were definitely some who you would just shake your head and wonder, "What were they thinking?" Of course, I would not want to have to make those choices, either.

The reality is that we are working with two different definitions and as such, to a degree at least, we are talking a little past each other. I am working with an actual (in the sense of already are) and you are working with a potential (in the sense of what they could be). I believe that both could probably be used validly, but I think that I am going by their fruits rather than their flowers, so to speak.

For instance, I view Charles Templeton as a lost man and a shame to the things of God. People viewing him in his early days probably viewed him as one of "The Best and the Brightest" preachers of his era.

I do believe that it would be interesting to do a study that would deal with some of the perceived to be "Best and the Brightest" and how they turned out. For instance, if we could examine all the guys from a certain period who were perceived to be "The Best and the Brightest" based on some type of foretelling predictions - e.g. Dorm Supervisors, Dorm Counselors, Ministerial Class Officers, Sermon Contest finalists, etc., it would be interesting to see the results of where they ended up.

(Since you are a grad student and have nothing better to do - jk - maybe you can find the archives of some old collegians and vintages and compile a list for us that we could then examine. It would be a lot of fun and a great research project.)

Perhaps you could even do your doctoral work in "Using Student Leadership in Fundamentalist Colleges as a Predictor for Future Ministry and Position." I would read it - or at least reference it.

I have not done anything like this, yet. I will say that as I have been working on my "Minutemen Veterans" web-site (, that I have been pleased in discovering the overwhelming number of guys (so far) that are still strong and still active in ministry.

Sorry this has been so long, especially as I did not expect it to be and I did not really address that much yet.

Jay C said...

Pastor Sansone-

I just got over to your blog via the SharperIron Weblog Watch dated 12/02/05, so I'm a little late to the party. I hope you'll excuse me :)

Some of what you mentioned in this blog has really touched on some things in Fundamentalism that has bothered me for a long time, so I took the liberty of quoting you and doing my own blog post on it. You may be interested in reading about it at

Or I could cut and paste the entire thing here, but that does seem kind of silly.