The Smell of Sawdust by Richard J. Mouw

Mouw is a conflicted man. He has a love/hate relationship with Fundamentalism and he doesn’t know quite what to do with it. On the one hand he was saved and discipled by Fundamentalists who taught him to love the Lord, cherish the Bible and reach out to people. He knows that many of the stereotypes concerning Fundamentalism are nothing short of slander. Still he faults Fundamentalists for their anti-intellectualism, worldliness, separatist spirit, “false-witness-bearing” toward other Christians, their view of Israel and Jews and dispensationalism. At the same time, from the perspective of one who has observed for decades both the changing world and the views of Fundamentalism, he admits they have been right far more than wrong but seldom get credit. Not only have their pronouncements and predictions come true but their love for Christ and His Word has remained constant. They are people of conviction, and willing to lose everything for Christ’s sake. Mouw has a hard time not being attracted to such Christians.

Yet, as a committed neo-evangelical and president of Fuller Theological Seminary, he has adopted a very different set of convictions and, to some degree, theology. His neo-evangelical theology shows up most clearly in his acceptance of Roman Catholics as born-again believers. This is, of course, anathema to Fundamentalists who believe there is only one gospel message. Since there is only one gospel, both Catholics and conservative Protestants cannot be correct. This type of ambiguity does not faze an evangelical of the Fuller stripe, but it is an impossible hurdle for one serious about the message of Scripture. Mouw’s professional life has been marked by serious compromise in the areas of theology, unbiblical unity, embracing of Roman Catholicism and, more recently, conciliation toward Mormonism

Mouw has moved far from his Fundamentalist roots and he knows it. His training, experience, education and peers all tell him he has made the right choice. Yet deep in his heart Mouw seems to know that he and his brand of Christianity have forfeited something valuable in the process. He is not willing to retrace his steps; he can only lament the loss and wistfully hope “That the smell of sawdust will forever linger in the air” (p. 156).

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