Book Reviews Controversy

Faulty Fundamentalism: A Partial Book Review

Here are some comments on a book I happened across. I am glad I didn’t spend any money on it.

What Every Preacher Should Know!

The Pastor’s Success Handbook

by Hugh F. Pyle (SWORD of the LORD Publishers, Murfreesboro, TN 1981).

There is obviously a grave problem here. It is that the book sets out to do what its title promises: it tells you how to be a successful pastor. Now success seems to be defined primarily along two lines: soul-winning and church attendance (other points such as finances are means to these ends).

That soul-winning is a measure of success is seen in this statement from pp. 361,362: “After we got them saved most women looked around and realized that our ladies wore dresses to church. And most boys when they became Christians went out and got a haircut. If they didn’t they would often drift on to another church, but at least we had a chance to evangelize them first”

And to demonstrate that the size of the church is a measure of success to which other elements are subordinated see: the chapter, “Making Sunday Night Services Sparkle!” –the reason for attempting this is so that people return; p.89, which begins the chapter “Make a Joyful Noise!” which is about how to obtain a high profile for your church; p.103 “As you become successful and your church grows….”; he states this on p.317 saying with regard to the designing of bulletins, “…the Sunday morning crowd is already there when they get that bulletin. The big thing is to get them back that night!”; or the long discussion on naming your church on pp.341-343 introduced with the words, “Names can help to make or break a church. Think of the churches you know that are big and flourishing and then study their names.”; or this sage counsel: “Expository preaching—preaching through a book in the Bible—is another way of keeping things going, either on Sunday morning or Sunday night, and you may be able to go longer than two months on such a series. This is also true for Wednesday night studies. But watch your people. If the crowds begin to diminish and interest lags, I would abandon or postpone the series and move over into greener pastures.” (p.137)

A global statement is found on p.102: “A bus ministry will be rewarding. Souls will be won, families will be reached, children will be kept out of trouble, Christians will have a good opportunity to serve, people will know you love them, and your church will grow.”

Stemming from this telic error, the pastor is encouraged to follow a business model for his church. This can be seen in the book recommendations: Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People (p.22); or the instruction to occasionally read “a self-help book by an outstanding motivator in the business world. Or listen to the tapes of men like Clement Stone, Zig Ziglar, or “Tremendous” Jones” (pp. 53,54); again, on p.73: “Be Sure the Money Is Handled and Used in an Honest and Businesslike Manner” –a section heading which by itself is perhaps not objectionable: but in combination with his other statements reveals that he does consider the business world a model for the church. The recommendation to read motivational authors is emphasized again on p.238, speaking of books that it is good for the minister to have: “Every preacher should read some self-help and motivational books. One of the very best is See You at the Top by Zig Ziglar. Get it!” Or consider this quotation from p.371:

(25) Q: HOW DOES A PREACHER BUILD SELF-CONFIDENCE? A: Nothing succeeds like success. Keep working at those sermons and at that visitation until you see some results. Every victory should spur you on. Then read Zig Ziglar and other motivators. Listen to their tapes. Read Jack Hyles. Read Proverbs. And by all means, read the successful men of the Bible—Paul, John, Moses, David, Samuel, Abraham. It is not as much self-confidence as it is God-confidence!

Finally, here is a clear statement from p.64:

By the time the choir or quartet takes their seats, the pastor should already be making his next introduction or the song leader should be starting the next song. If there was as much “dead space” on television productions as in the average church service the sponsors would lose millions of dollars in advertising time.

Obviously it is a book of techniques, of methods for accomplishing your goals. As such the book itself, perhaps, cannot be criticized for not justifying the ends proposed or setting out the theology undergirding them: but the assumptions that emerge are a profound indictment of what “the Lord’s work” was conceived to be among the fundamentalists who bore the brand of The SWORD of the LORD”.

The good theology is conspicuously absent –to a woeful degree. Consider his book recommendations, from the chapter, “The Books I Would Not Part With” (pp.323-331). There is only one systematic theology, Chafer’s, which was recommended by another pastor. He cautions against A.W. Pink’s “extreme views on the sovereignty of God” (p.325); and there are only a few books that he mentions that I would consider worth reading: Pilgrim’s Progress, Young’s Analytical Concordance, Spurgeon’s Lectures to His Students, An All-Around Ministry, Memoirs of McCheyne, Matthew Henry’s Commentaries. He also mentions Baxter’s Saints Everlasting Rest as a book his readers should own, but follows up immediately: “…along with Finney’s Lectures on Revival and his autobiography.” We might think he is simply unaware of the issues dividing some of his recommended authors from others: but we should observe that he does note: “Keep in mind that I do not recommend all of the books mentioned for their doctrinal content, but many of them for their practical value.” But this is not all of the evidence. He comments on p. 152: “One noted British preacher and writer has stated (in a book I just finished reading) that does not believe in nor practice the public invitation!” Or consider this, from p. 153:

One advantage of the personal workers’ starting to move at the beginning of the invitation is that, psychologically, the movement is already right and sinners find it quite easy just to move out into the flow of those who are going forward to deal with others. That way the sinner cannot feel that he is all alone and that every eye in the congregation is upon him. He may even think that some of those going forward are making the decision he should be making and his resolve to go forward may be increased and made easier.

Perhaps more shocking is this, from pp. 154,155:

Don’t let the song leader change hymns during the invitation. If a change is to be made the pastor (or whoever has been preaching) will be the one to make such a decision. Sometimes, when no one is moving on “Just As I Am,” you might find it best to switch to “Almost Persuaded” or “Where He Leads Me I Will Follow”. This advice is repeated on p.156, where we also have this somewhat moderating statement: “If no one comes after several verses are sung, and you feel you have delivered your soul and done all you can, then there is nothing to do but leave the rest up to God and conclude the invitation.”

This is not to deny that he says some true and accurate things. He is obviously sincere and well-intentioned. But that is scant comfort, for it means that he believes he is doing God service. He doesn’t seem to be a religious charlatan, in that he can make such statements as these (p.132):

They may not think of you as a jolly good fellow, or a good builder, or a fancy talker or a sharp administrator—but whatever else they think, make sure they think of you as a man of God! There is no substitute for that. And there’s a wide open market for such men. Be a prime minister!

“The man preaches as if God were at his elbow,” was said of one Spirit-filled preacher. Never forget that. You are representing Him. When you preach the truth it is God’s truth. You never have to apologize for that! Give them what God says. “Speak. . .all the words that I command thee to speak unto them; diminish not a word,” God told Jeremiah (Jer. 26:2). Notice, “diminish not a word“—don’t water it down, don’t softpedal the truth, don’t spread cool whip on the cancer of sin.

Still the other side of the book remains. The author seems quite unconscious of any tension: indeed, his lack of self-consciousness is one of the alarming features about this whole thing. It would seem that he has no qualms in instructing ministers whose ambition is success (defined in very visible terms) and whose model is business on how to use techniques built on a very inadequate doctrinal foundation to accomplish their goals.

So that ultimately the problem is that there is an essential and unrecognized worldliness about these separated, fundamental brethren.

And yet, I confess to a certain fondness for Dr. Pyle (Doctor of Divinity from Tennessee Temple –p.7). His style at times is racy and vigorous, and always energetic (“hillbilly whang”, p.108; “Print an Attractive Card on Slick Stock and Salt the Town Down With It”, p.101.; [of visitors] “They will be less likely to be embarrassed to give you their card and meet the pastor this way than to have to be “shown off” and introduced to the entire twelve tribes of Israel at the morning service”, pp.52,53). What with one thing and another, though, in spite of such occasional flashes of earthy brilliance, I can’t bring myself to finish the book. Even the suspicion that I have, perhaps, through such foolhardiness consigned myself to unsuccessfulness does not cause me to move forward.

7 replies on “Faulty Fundamentalism: A Partial Book Review”

Bleah. Even Jerry Ruben’s Steal This Book didn’t have an exclamation mark in the title. But I don’t know for sure, because the copy I saw and did not read had the cover torn off.

He is very big on exclamation marks: he says you should use several in announcing your Sunday evening message title in the bulletin. He also recommends naming one of your musical groups something like “The Melodettes”, as people like that sort of thing. Testimonies should be introduced as “thrilling conversions!” or “astounding answers to prayer!” (quoted from memory, but it was along those lines).

Perhaps the flow up the aisles could be increased if they suddenly released two tons of water into the sanctuary from the rear doors, and made sure the altar level was well above high tide.

Going up the aisle means nothing unless you were shamed into doing it.

By the way, Lauren, I know you didn’t read it, but I assume you did steal the book? After all, it authorizes you to do so, and therefore impossibilitates it at the same time. How did you cut this Gordian knot?

I passed. I’m not such a churl that I would steal a book I would not read. And the campus bookstore likely had some vague anti-theft exemption to the titular imperative.

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