Truth from Arkansas! Sunday Sermon Series, #180

Today, in our ongoing “Truth from Arkansas” series, we’re featuring two new sermons from the brethren down under.

First, we have Pastor Roger Copeland of Northern Hills Baptist Church in Texarkana, preaching from Jeremiah 17:5-10 on “The Blessedness of Trusting God.”

Next, we have Pastor Cody Andrews of Holly Springs Missionary Baptist Church in Star City preaching from Romans 14:1-13 on “Love Does Not Judge.”

Both of these sermons were delivered on Sunday, March 5th.

Pastor Roger Copeland – The Blessedness of Trusting God

Pastor Cody Andrews – Love Does Not Judge

Truth from Arkansas! Sunday Sermon Series, #179

Today, in our ongoing “Truth from Arkansas” series, we’re featuring two new sermons from the brethren down under.

First, we have Pastor Roger Copeland of Northern Hills Baptist Church in Texarkana, preaching from 1 John 4:7-21 on “Lessons on Love.”

Next, we have Pastor Cody Andrews of Holly Springs Missionary Baptist Church in Star City preaching from Romans 13:8-14 on “Love That Fulfills.”

Both of these sermons were delivered on Sunday, February 26th.

Pastor Roger Copeland – Lessons on Love

Pastor Cody Andrews – Love That Fulfills

Truth from Arkansas! Sunday Sermon Series, #178

Today, in our ongoing “Truth from Arkansas” series, we’re featuring two new sermons from the brethren down under.

First, we have Pastor Roger Copeland of Northern Hills Baptist Church in Texarkana, preaching from Romans 16:17-27 on “The Gospel, Its Power and Praise.”

Next, we have Pastor Cody Andrews of Holly Springs Missionary Baptist Church in Star City preaching from Romans 12:9-21 on “Transformational Love.”

Both of these sermons were delivered on Sunday, February 19th.

Pastor Roger Copeland – The Gospel, Its Power and Praise

Pastor Cody Andrews – Transformational Love

Throwback Thursday: The Sword of the Lord

Welcome to this week’s “Throwback Thursday” installment. Today, we’re going to revisit a post that was originally published back on January 28, 2017 and has been revised.


Shortly after accepting Jesus Christ as our Savior by faith alone back in 1983, my wife and I began attending an independent fundamental Baptist church and we stayed there for eight years. I’ve already shared several memories from that time, both good and not so good. Another memory from our stay at that church was “The Sword of the Lord” newspaper.

I’m an information person. I love to read, always have. As a baby Christian, I was drawn to our church’s information table, which was well-stocked with tracts (including Chick tracts), along with copies of “Our Daily Bread” and “The Sword of the Lord.” What? You’ve never heard of the “Sword of the Lord”? Well, back before the internet age, people used to get their news and information from the printed page and independent fundamental Baptists of a particular strain relied on “The Sword of the Lord.” I fell in love with the bi-weekly newspaper and subscribed immediately.

Pastor and evangelist, John R. Rice (1895-1980), first began publishing the Sword in 1934. The readership grew and grew as did Rice’s influence. Circulation of the newspaper peaked at 288,000 in the mid-1970s. Although independent fundamental Baptist churches are autonomous, there is a certain degree of networking through conferences, seminary support, etc. The major camps in the independent Baptist movement back in the 60s, 70s and 80s were the Sword group, spearheaded by Rice, and the Bob Jones group led by Bob Jones, Jr. and Bob Jones III. Rice and Jones, Jr. had split over the issue of separation, with the latter taking a much harder stand against the Southern Baptist Convention “compromisers.”

Rice had died by the time I had started subscribing to the Sword, but the paper was continued by his successor, Curtis Hutson. I looked forward to seeing the Sword in our mailbox every other week. There were news items, columns, and sermons from Sword regulars and Rice allies, Jack Hyles, Lee Roberson, Tom Malone, Bob Gray, Truman Dollar, Hyman Appelman, Lester Roloff, Jerry Falwell, etc., along with classic sermons from Spurgeon, Moody, and Sunday. Very helpful to me were the advertisements from ministry outreaches to Roman Catholics including The Conversion Center (Donald Maconaghie), Mission to Catholics (Bart Brewer), and Christians Evangelizing Catholics (Bill Jackson), all of which I contacted for resources.

There was a lot of good stuff in the pages of the Sword, but some of the information also bothered me. Patriotism and nationalism in excess were constant themes. There was also a certain degree of spiritual arrogance and moral superiority that characterized the messages, as if to say, “We are such good Christians and wonderful people who do right as opposed to those terribly wicked unbelievers (and non-IFBers).” The hearts of the contributors didn’t always seem to be humble and contrite before the Lord. One could even sense a spirit of pomposity and Pharisaism. There seemed to be more “Dr.”s in the pages of the SOTL than a medical journal. It’s sad to say, but public scandal eventually caught up with several of the names I mentioned above.

After a couple of years I let my subscription to the Sword run out. I just couldn’t stomach it anymore. Shelton Smith succeeded Hutson as publisher in 1995. Circulation has dropped to around 42,000. Independent Baptist Fundamentalism isn’t what it used to be and that’s both good and bad. Praise the Lord for men like John R. Rice who upheld the Gospel of salvation by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone, in opposition to those who began to accommodate and compromise (Billy Graham & Co.). But something went sour with the Rice camp and some of the other Baptist fundamentalists. They often came across as arrogant WE ARE SOMEBODYS rather than humble sinners saved by grace.

There’s a lesson there for all of us.

Truth from Arkansas! Sunday Sermon Series, #176

Today, in our ongoing “Truth from Arkansas” series, we’re featuring a new sermon from the brethren down under.

We have Pastor Roger Copeland of Northern Hills Baptist Church in Texarkana, preaching from Romans 15:14-21 on “Send the Light.” This sermon was delivered on Sunday, February 5th.

Pastor Roger Copeland – Send the Light – Sermon begins at 17:55 mark

Huh? You fired God? Has anyone seen God shuffling in the unemployment line? Nope, He’s still on His throne!

This is the final post in our short, three-part Sunday series dealing with abuse within the IFB. My review below first appeared as a comment at on May 31, 2014 and has been revised.

I Fired God: My Life Inside—and Escape from—the Secret World of the Independent Fundamental Baptist Cult
By Jocelyn Zichterman
St. Martin’s Press, 2013, 304 pp.

2 Stars

In “I Fired God,” author Jocelyn Zichterman recounts the terrible physical, sexual, and psychological abuse she suffered as a young child through adulthood from her father, brothers, and others within the framework of independent fundamental Baptist (IFB) churches and colleges she was associated with.

Zichterman’s accounts of abuse at the hands of her mentally ill father are sickening. My heart goes out to her. Unfortunately, she has thrown the baby out with the proverbial bathwater. So embittered by her experience, she has turned from the God of the Bible and has embraced the New Age, smiley-face spiritualism of Eckhart Tolle, Deepak Chopra, Ram Dass, and Oprah Winfrey (p.215). She states that she knows for sure that God, whom she also refers to as “She/Energy/Source/The Divine” (p.278), is not angry and judgmental, but is “good, loving, kind, and compassionate.” Now, I can certainly understand why a victim of abuse within the framework of the IFB might be embittered, but Christianity is bigger than Zichterman. Yes, Jesus Christ is “good, loving, kind, and compassionate,” but He also came to save sinners. The Bible teaches we must repent (turn from our sinful rebellion against God) and accept Jesus Christ as our Savior by faith alone, while New Age gurus like Chopra proclaim that the idea of sin is “toxic” to our well being. According to neo-Hindu Pantheist, Deepak Chopra, there is no sin, only higher levels of knowledge. Hmm. Of course our fallen nature favors a world where there is supposedly no sin and no judgment. Whether Zichterman and Chopra like it or not, there will be a judgment for all those who have not accepted Christ.

Zichterman disparages IFB members by using quotation marks in referring to “born again” Christians. but it’s clear from God’s Word that becoming a follower of Christ requires a spiritual rebirth (John 3:3), something she evidently did not experience despite her many years of church activity. Granted, it would be amazingly difficult for anyone to comprehend the grace of God while being raised in a home where their “Christian” father, a church leader, was a psychopathic abuser.

There are several inaccuracies and misrepresentations in the book that detract from its credibility. Zichterman portrays Bob Jones University as the Vatican of the IFB. That may have been the case in the particular churches that she was involved with, but it’s a false generalization. The independent fundamental Baptist churches I attended and was aware of had absolutely no connection to BJU. There are other fundamentalist seminaries besides BJU. There may be a loose network among some IFB churches (pastors’ conferences, missionary boards, etc.), but certainly nowhere near the extent that Zichterman suggests. Each independent church has its own unique set of ancillary beliefs, usually based upon the pastor’s predilections, which doesn’t allow for strong confederation. The “First Bible Baptist” megachurch in our area was in a very loose fellowship with KJV-Only curmudgeon, Peter Ruckman, hardly a fan of the Joneses. When Bob Jones Jr. and influential fundamentalist leader and publisher, John R. Rice, had a falling out over the issue of separation, the relationship was never repaired. Despite Zichterman’s best efforts, there simply is no pope or centralized leadership over the IFB. Even using “IFB” as some type of denominational banner is inaccurate. Zichterman swings for the fences, to put it mildly, by citing the infamous Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas as a member of the BJU or IFB network (p.272), a glaring overreach that would have been caught and corrected by a more knowledgeable editor.

I was a member of an independent fundamental Baptist church from 1983 until 1991. That church was not quite as hardcore as the ones described in this book, but the pastor was definitely a megalomaniac who used the pulpit to bully his congregation into submission. The man was a martial arts enthusiast who incorporated his ultra-macho viewpoint of the world into the ministry. His son has since taken over the pastoral whip and has drawn the church into an even deeper association with mixed martial arts. Currently, the son is embroiled in a personal sex abuse scandal, which includes allegations that his father covered up sexual abuse of children during his tenure.* I left the church in 1991, soured by the manipulative arrogance of the pastor, and drifted away from the Lord for 23 years. The hardcore, legalistic rhetoric took its toll. It is only within the past year that I have come back to a gracious God and found a caring church home within the Southern Baptist denomination.** However, I certainly would not suggest or insinuate that all independent fundamentalist Baptist churches are like the one I attended or are like the ones the author describes.

Despite its many shortcomings, every Christian should read this book. There is potential for abuse (physical, psychological, sexual, spiritual) in every church, especially where pastoral authoritarianism and lack of oversight is the rule. I’m very sorry Ms. Zichterman, her siblings, and other children and adults were victims of abuse in supposedly Christian settings. Zichterman’s efforts to educate the public and prevent further abuse are necessary and laudable despite some misinformation in this book.

*The son was sentenced to one-year probation in 2018 as part of a plea deal after being arrested and charged with four counts of forcibly touching four young women. In 2021, the 71YO father was sentenced to six years of sex offender probation after pleading guilty to one count of second-degree sexual abuse. He had been initially arrested and charged with sexually abusing two victims under the age of 14 over spans of multiple years.

**My wife and I left this SBC church in 2015 due to the pastor’s infatuation with Roman Catholic theologians.

Postscript: Steve Pettit was appointed president of BJU in 2014 and has been moving BJU away from fundamentalism to a conservative-evangelical position, but the fundamentalists on the school’s board strongly oppose him, including Bob Jones III. However, I see the conservative-evangelical majority on the board recently voted to extend Pettit’s contract for another three years.

Truth from Arkansas! Sunday Sermon Series, #175

Today, in our ongoing “Truth from Arkansas” series, we’re featuring two new sermons from the brethren down under.

First, we have Pastor Roger Copeland of Northern Hills Baptist Church in Texarkana, preaching from Romans 15:7-13 on “He Included Me.”

Next, we have Pastor Cody Andrews of Holly Springs Missionary Baptist Church in Star City preaching from Romans 12:1-2 on “Being a Living Sacrifice.”

Both of these sermons were delivered on Sunday, January 29th.

Pastor Roger Copeland – He Included Me – Sermon begins at 17:44 mark

Pastor Cody Andrews – Being a Living Sacrifice

Jinger Duggar is free from what?

This is the second in our three-part Sunday mini-series on authoritarianism and abuse within independent fundamental Baptist (IFB) church settings.

Becoming Free Indeed: My Story of Disentangling Faith from Fear
By Jinger Duggar Vuolo
Thomas Nelson, 2023, 240 pp.

5 Stars

The Duggar Family was featured in a string of reality TV shows that ran from 2004 to 2021 on the TLC cable channel. Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar raised their 19 children according to the rigid framework of independent fundamental Baptist (IFB) theology and ideology. In addition to the IFB influence, the Duggars were also disciples of Bill Gothard and his Institute of Basic Life Principles (IBLP) and Doug Phillips and his Vision Forum “dominionism” ministry. The Duggar children followed very strict rules. Secular media was not allowed in the house. The Duggar girls were not allowed to wear pants or have short hair. Courtship of the older girls was strictly supervised by Jim Bob. Etc., etc. It goes without saying that birth control was verboten for Jim Bob and Michelle and other IBLP parents. I watched the Duggar show with interest after having come out of IFB-ism in 1991. The experience soured me on “churchianity” and I didn’t return to the Lord until 2014.

Jim Bob and Michelle believed that by allowing television crews into their home, they and their children were being a witness for the Gospel and right Christian living, but cracks began appearing in the dam. Oldest child, Josh Duggar, was involved in a series of headline scandals from 2015 to 2021, which finally forced TLC to permanently shut down the Duggar reality TV franchise. In recent years, gossipy news sources related that a few of the older Duggar female siblings were flouting Jim Bob’s authority by wearing slacks.

Okay. Intro over. Now, let’s get to the good stuff.

In this memoir, Jim Bob and Michelle’s sixth oldest child, Jinger (age 29), relates how she gradually disentangled herself from her parent’s IFB and IBLP ideology. The first positive influence was her older sister Jessa’s husband, Ben, who came from a Reformed Baptist background with no IBLP rules. For Ben, it was all about Jesus Christ, the Gospel, and the Bible with no dictatorial mediator like Bill Gothard claiming divine revelations and authority. Jinger’s suitor and husband, Jeremy, followed a theology similar to Ben’s. IFB/IBLP ideology was abusive and Jinger, through a long process, was able to break free from it.

Jinger targets Bill Gothard and IBLP with great passion in this book and with good reason. Gothard took the joy out of salvation in Christ with his “Seven Basic Life Principles.” Gothard replaced freedom in Christ with a long list of dos and don’ts that only brought guilt and fear. He even taught that obedience is a part of salvation. It’s not unreasonable to hypothesize that Gothard’s stifling, straight-jacketed, quasi-Christianity that the Duggars subscribed to contributed in-part to Josh Duggar’s sordid and rebellious escapades. Scandal caught up with Gothard also when he resigned as head of IBLP in 2014 after 34 women had accused him of sexual harassment and molestation, but his influence inside and outside of the IBLP continues.

Jinger tries to cut her parents some slack by saying they were misled by Gothard and IBLP, but it would be surprising if this book didn’t cause hard feelings and perhaps even result in shunning. The Duggar parents still live according to IBLP dictates. For the readers’ and clarity’s sake, Jinger only goes after the biggest fish in the pond, Gothard and IBLP, and leaves out criticisms of the IFB and Doug Phillips and his defunct Vision Forum.

As one who came out of the IFB, myself, I THOROUGHLY enjoyed Jinger’s memoir and I applaud her courage in telling her story. She relates how many of her old IFB/IBLP friends dropped away from Christ out of frustration because of the stifling legalism. That was me for 23 years. Jinger chose a better way by disentangling from IFB/IBLP legalism while continuing to follow Jesus Christ. Praise God! I would give this book 6-stars if I could. Jesus Christ is praised and glorified throughout. Many unbelievers are going to buy this book hoping to get the inside dirt on the Duggars, but instead they’re going to read a lot about Jesus Christ and freedom in Christ. Highly recommended.

Truth from Arkansas! Sunday Sermon Series, #174

Today, in our ongoing “Truth from Arkansas” series, we’re featuring two new sermons from the brethren down under.

First, we have Pastor Roger Copeland of Northern Hills Baptist Church in Texarkana, preaching from Romans 15:1-6 on “Epitome of Christlike.”

Next, we have Pastor Cody Andrews of Holly Springs Missionary Baptist Church in Star City preaching from Romans 11:25-36 on “Even in Disobedience.”

Both of these sermons were delivered on Sunday, January 22nd.

Pastor Roger Copeland – Epitome of Christlike

⚠️ Note: I’m not pleased with Pastor Copeland’s opening favorable reference to “The Imitation of Christ” (1441) by Roman Catholic canon/priest, Thomas à Kempis. Would Pastor Copeland favorably reference the writings of Joseph Smith Jr. or Charles Taze Russell? Why then extol the writings of another false religionist? There’s a marked lack of discernment regarding Rome’s false gospel among many evangelical pastors these days.

Pastor Cody Andrews – Even in Disobedience

Jessica Willis Fisher – Digging out from unspeakable abuse

As some of you know, my wife and I attended an independent fundamental Baptist (IFB) church in the 1980s. There were blessings and also many problems. I subsequently walked away from the Lord for 23 years because I was so soured on IFB authoritarianism. A couple of new books with material related to the IFB movement recently caught my eye. There’s also a 2013 book about the topic that I’ve been meaning to discuss. So today, and for the next two Sundays, I will be reviewing the three books.

⚠️ Caution: The book reviewed below deals with the difficult topic of child sexual abuse.

Unspeakable: Surviving My Childhood and Finding My Voice
By Jessica Willis Fisher
Thomas Nelson, 2022, 352 pp.

4 Stars

The Willis Family burst onto the national scene in May 2015 with their TLC reality television show. The Willises replaced the Duggars, whose TLC show was cancelled after it was revealed eldest son, Josh Duggar, had molested four of his sisters when he was younger.

Like the Duggars, the Willises were a large (eight girls, four boys) fundamentalist Christian family. Unlike the Duggars, the Nashville-based Willises had a very polished entertainment act, which included playing musical instruments, singing, and dancing on stage. The large brood practiced under the scrutinizing eye of their father, Toby, and performed at venues all across the country.

Coming from an independent fundamental Baptist background myself, I watched both the Duggars and the Willises with great interest. The strict family discipline, legalism, and regimentation were characteristics I was familiar with and happy I left behind. But it was especially amazing to watch the Willises. The older children were very talented, and it was obvious the family routine didn’t include much leisure time.

In September 2016, I read the news that Toby Willis had been arrested on charges of child rape. I was saddened, but not altogether surprised because his dour, Svengali-like dominance over his family was apparent even on screen. Toby was subsequently sentenced to forty years in prison after pleading guilty to four counts of child rape. His wife divorced him and the family was in turmoil, but eventually released their 2018 album, “Speak My Mind,” along with the requisite whirlwind of talk show appearances.* However, eldest daughter, Jessica Willis, did not rejoin her siblings as part of the group. She was not able to process the years of abuse that quickly or easily. She forged ahead on her own, eventually marrying, recording her solo album, “Brand New Day,” released in September 2022, and writing this memoir that was published in November 2022.

This is a painful book to read. Jessica recounts, sometimes in explicit detail, multiple episodes of being sexually abused by Toby. The abuse began at age 3 and continued until 2008 when she was 16. When police investigators later asked Jessia the total number of times she had been sexually abused by her father, she estimated it to have been around one-hundred times. But Jessica wasn’t the only victim. Her father also preyed on her younger sisters. Toby’s wife became aware of some of the abuse over the years and “intervened” (to a minor degree), but was physically and emotionally victimized by her husband as well. In addition to the sexual abuse of the girls, all of the children suffered physical and emotional trauma from their temperamental and psychologically sick father.

Toby had pontificated over his family’s home-church Sunday worship service and the Willises were eventually joined by a few other area families.** Toby’s home-church teachings were based upon the tenets he learned at an IFB church as a younger man in Chicago. It was all about legalism, regulations, and end-times prophecy, with a little (c)hristianity mixed in. Toby repeatedly warned his children the family compound would someday be invaded by federal agents à la Ruby Ridge. There was no genuine love of Christ being taught in the Willis home. It would certainly be unfair to paint the entire IFB movement with a broad brush because of Toby Willis, however, IFB-ism is fertile ground for crackpot conspiracy theology and megalomaniacal patriarchal (and pastoral) abuse (see Steven Anderson).

Jessica recounts that she prayed the sinner’s prayer when she was a young girl, but admits she is now uncertain about her spiritual condition. She states that she’s sorting through her beliefs about God in light of her experiences.*** She writes that she’s disappointed in passages of the Bible that she thinks present an unloving and arbitrarily spiteful God. One of the several passages she cites as being especially hurtful is Genesis 19:30-38 where Lot’s daughters had incest with their inebriated father. It would appear Jessica doesn’t have a solid understanding of the Bible. God’s Word certainly does not condone the actions of Lot’s daughters. Perhaps Toby did?

I cannot comprehend the pain and betrayal Jessica endured and continues to deal with. It’s difficult to get frustrated with her lack of spiritual knowledge. In her case, the Bible was used as a bludgeon. I pray that at some point Jessica comes to the loving Father God through faith in Jesus Christ the Savior, His loving Son.

*The Willis Clan disbanded as a performing musical act at the end of 2018.
**One of the home-church neighbor participants was the first one to notify police of suspected abuse.
***It’s bizarre that supposedly (c)hristian publisher, Thomas Nelson, would present a memoir from someone who is self-admittedly unsure about her spiritual beliefs.

Toby Willis on September 9, 2016, the day he was arrested.