It’s been almost two years since I last posted an installment in my IFB (Independent Fundamental Baptist) Memories series, but the news of the death of televangelist, Jack Van Impe (pronounced van IM-pee), on January 18th brought back another memory. In the photo above, is Van Impe with his wife, Rexella.
I was a member of an independent fundamental Baptist (IFB) church from 1983 until 1991. The IFB movement was still very strong back in those days and one of the IFB’s leading figures was Jack Van Impe (1931-2020).
Van Impe graduated from Detroit Bible Institute in 1952 and briefly joined up with the Billy Graham Crusades and Youth for Christ. He then started Jack Van Impe Ministries, which grew to include a weekly telecast beginning in 1980. The format of the show was quickly established, with Jack’s wife, Rexella, reading the week’s news headlines followed by Jack interpreting the headlines according to his eschatological views/opinion. The show had quite a following back in the day. He was known as “The Walking Bible” because of his prodigious memorization of entire books of Scripture. Van Impe held a weekend crusade here Rochester N.Y. sometime during the 1980s, which I attended.
Van Impe was involved in some notable controversies. Back in the day, independent fundamental Baptists were split into two major camps; the extreme-conservative faction headed by Bob Jones and his progeny, and the more “moderate” faction headed by “Sword of the Lord” editor, John R. Rice. Bob Jones, Jr., had accused Rice and his allies, including Van Impe, of being soft on “second-degree separation.” Van Impe then wrote a hard-hitting rebuttal, “Heart Disease in Christ’s Body” (1984), aimed at the Jones camp.
Evangelist Van Impe made a niche for himself by focusing on eschatology; the study of Biblical prophecy regarding the end-times. Like some other eschatologists, he would sometimes awkwardly attempt to force-fit current news events with Biblical prophecy. He regularly made predictions that Jesus would return to earth at a specific year/time-period, but would then move the prediction back after the date had passed. As Muslim fundamentalist terrorism became more dangerous throughout the world, Van Impe repeatedly sounded the alarm and pointed a finger at (c)hristian leaders who promoted accommodation with Islam, such as Robert Schuller and Rick Warren. TBN subsequently booted Van Impe’s show from their lineup in 2011 due to the controversy, forcing him to buy airtime independently.
As the independent fundamental Baptist movement waned after the heady years of Jerry Falwell, Sr., Van Impe attempted to hang on to his decreasing audience numbers by embracing religious-political conservatives of all stripes, including conservative Roman Catholics. He regularly cited popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI as genuine Christians and brothers in Christ on his telecasts. Van Impe advertised himself as “The Walking Bible” and the premier expert on eschatology, but he somehow could not comprehend the clear differences between Rome’s false gospel of sacramental grace and merit and the Gospel of grace or Rome’s end-times role as the Mother of Harlots as prophesied in Revelation 17 & 18.
The feud between the Bob Jones and the John R. Rice factions of independent Baptist fundamentalism is now a distant memory that few know or care about. Jack Van Impe was one of the last of the old-school IFBers, but at the end he had strayed quite far from John R. Rice’s “Sword of the Lord” Baptist fundamentalism. And his preoccupancy with eschatology and dispensationalism, culminating in foolish predictions and foolish alliances, had made him a voice to avoid.
For more on Baptist fundamentalism and my IFB Memories series, see here.