Archive for April, 2010

Movement regarding Movements

I’ve got a few loose strands hanging out from earlier posts, so let me attempt to tie one up. Some of you no doubt noticed the difference of view on the matter of fundamentalism as a movement between the 2005 presentation and what I’ve written lately. This led one emailer to write:

I’m interested to know what changed your perspective from pursuing a renewal of fundamentalism to abandoning the remnants of the movement in favor of the local church. Did fundamentalists miss the opportunity (is there still hope)? Did the movement deteriorate too quickly since your address (or was it already to far gone)?

I’m referring to these two statements:

“We should aggressively pursue the renewal of Fundamentalism through development of a confessional movement within it.”

“Restore the local assembly to the center where God intended it to be. When your local assembly engages in Great Commission work outside its walls, find some folks you agree with and get busy doing it. Unity is built on agreement about the truth, not by politics. Few things are as political as trying to preserve movements once they have fragmented theologically. (from: “These are not the movements you’ve been looking for…”).

Here’s part of my response to his question:

Thanks for the note. I had a feeling that posting this would raise this question–I was struck by the difference in my stance!

I guess the basic answer is the one that you allude to, i.e., I think the effort in 2005 was something of a final shot at restoring a theological center. I did two sessions at that conference and Kevin Bauder did two, one of which was his “A Fundamentalism Worth Saving.” We did not plan it ahead of time, but it ended up that both of us were making a pretty aggressive case for decisive action. I think it is fair to say that both of us came away somewhat disappointed, and that disappointment has only deepened since then. In many ways 2005 was a pivotal year. It was that year that Phil Johnson did his Dead Right session at Shepherds and then we had a long exchange over it. I think the tide turned on my hopes of seeing any kind of movement-wide renewal among fundamentalists. Too much political baggage.

I am sure you noticed, though, that there is a similarity between the two statements that you cited. Both call for theological agreement (“folks you agree with…agreement about the truth”). So, what I’ve really done is give up on trying to renew or reclaim any of the existing movements and have begun calling for the formation of new networks that partner together to fulfill the Great Commission.

Another factor I would probably toss into the “basic answer” paragraph is that I also read D. G. Hart’s Desconstructing Evangelicalism sometime after that conference and found its basic premise quite convincing. Putting it in my own words, Hart argues that the evangelical movement was more myth than reality since it had no coherent theological center or, even, clear theological boundaries. I think he was right about evangelicalism and most of what he says can be applied to the current concept of a fundamentalist movement. I believe this is different from the early days of fundamentalism, but precisely because fundamentalism began as a movement within denominations to defend the faith. For instance, the famous Five Fundamentals were not viewed as the sum of fundamental doctrine, but as litmus test items within the Presbyterian Church (along with all of the other doctrinal implications of this).

I’m inclined to think that the minute the movement began to reduce its theological convictions to lists like this was the same moment it began to unravel. New Evangelicalism accelerated the problem by setting aside separatism and attempting to build the broadest coalition possible by seeking the lowest common denominators theologically. Sadly, some fundamentalists responded by making separatism the only thing that mattered. Net result is that both “movements” have experienced a horrible theological slide downward. Ironically, portions of both now try to avoid theological precision because it inevitably leads to distinctions and distinctions can lead to separation. Did anybody else notice that the conferences in both Wheaton and Knoxville were minimizing theological distinctiveness in favor of a unity agenda? 

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Louisville or Wheaton?

This article on the Christianity Today site regarding two recent evangelical conferences is an interesting read. The writer recognizes that both conferences call for unity, but approach that subject from different angles. As one might expect in a CT article, the tilt seems toward the Wheaton conference more than T4G. The author contrasts the two conferences by suggesting that the T4G conference focuses on unity based on common disagreements with false doctrines, while the Wheaton conference focuses on unity by highlighting what people share in common. He wonders if unity can actually be achieved with such divergent approaches so prominently on display. Perhaps I’ll return later to whether his presupposition about unity is correct, but for this post I want to zero in on what I believe is a core issue confronting evangelicals—the place of doctrine in the pursuit of unity.

My take on things is that most of the folks connected to T4G represent a wing of evangelicalism that recognizes that minimizing doctrine has hurt evangelicalism. Why do I think this?

Al Mohler’s essay entitled “Reformist Evangelicalism: A Center Without a Circumference” (in A Confessing Theology for Postmodern Times) makes an excellent case that evangelicalism has perpetually had identity problems because its founders focused on establishing a center, but failed to give sufficient attention to boundary markers. He writes,

The objective of these founders was to establish a firm center, and yet the boundaries were kept less clear. The pressing energies of a fight against liberalism and the hope of a larger culture-shaping coalition formed and forged these early evangelical leaders in such a way that they put a primary emphasis on the center while acknowledging the task of boundary-making. But they were never quite clear about where the boundaries should lie (p. 133).

John MacArthur, too, has expressed himself clearly about the danger of broad evangelicalism:

An aggressive effort is being made to divest ‘the fundamentals’ of key evangelical distinctives. Influential voices within evangelicalism are urging us to pare back the essentials to the barest possible statement of faith, and these voices can be heard across the spectrum of evangelicalism. Appeals for broader tolerance and more inclusivism have come from charismatics, dispensationalists, Calvinists and Arminians, Reformed and Lutheran leaders—so-called evangelicals of almost every stripe (Reckless Faith, p. 97).

R. C. Sproul, in Getting the Gospel Right, writes:

We hear people who call themselves evangelical who at the same time say that doctrine does not matter. They are non-theological or even anti-theological Evangelicals. Since historic Evangelicalism was thoroughly doctrinal and confessional, this would signal a serious shift in the meaning of evangelical. In historic terms the idea of confessing Evangelicals would be a redundancy. But the term’s historic meaning can no longer be assumed or taken for granted (p.43).

To be sure, the folks at the Wheaton conference are deeply interested in theology, but, as Brett McCracken recognizes, they are approaching their theological differences from a very different angle than the T4G men. To couch it in Mohler’s terms, the Wheaton crew seems to be focusing on the center and fine with allowing a great deal of latitude in determining the circumference. The folks at T4G, on the other hand, are very concerned about clarifying the boundary line that forms the circumference.

It’s hard to imagine any doctrine more crucial to that discussion than justification by faith, so it is no surprise to find the CT article surfaces that difference. McCracken seems to put his finger on the central tension:

It’s hard when one side (Piper/T4G) sees the Reformed doctrine of justification (imputed righteousness) as the lynchpin litmus test wherein believers are found to be either orthodox or borderline heretical. Disagreement on justification seems to stymie any further discussion for the neo-Reformed crowd, a position which immediately rules out fellowship with large (increasingly so) swaths of Christendom. For Wright, justification is certainly crucial, but what seems even more crucial for him is the unity of the church. Paul, after all, speaks of justification only in a few places (Romans, Galatians, etc.), while unity is a topic that shows up constantly in nearly everything he writes.

That quote probably warrants an entire post, but let me stay focused on the issue of doctrine vis-à-vis unity. I think McCracken is basically right in his assessment—two wings of evangelicalism are in tension over the place that doctrine has in the pursuit of unity. In that sense, evangelicalism is facing the same problem it faced in the mid-20th century with one crucial difference. Back then, the question was whether evangelicals could pursue unity with non-evangelicals. Because that question was answered wrongly, the same problem comes dressed in different clothes—can evangelicals pursue unity with “evangelicals” who hold non-evangelical doctrines? IOW, because the early evangelicals failed to erect boundary lines, non-evangelical views moved into the evangelical tent. Once someone is in the tent, trying to remove them seems, to many people, like an act of disunity. At least that’s what the CT article seems to be saying.

How much better it would have been if folks would have heard and heeded the warning of men like Lloyd-Jones back in the mid-20th century:

The New Testament everywhere insists upon true doctrine. I emphasize this because, as we have seen, the whole tendency today is to discourage talk about doctrine and to urge that we work together, pray together, and evangelize together, because ‘doctrine divides.’ Doctrine is being discounted in the interests of supposed unity. The fact is, however, that there is no unity apart from truth and doctrine, and it is departure from this that causes division and breaks unity (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, The Basis of Christian Unity, p. 50).

Agreement produces unity. What a novel idea.

Update: I guess I should have been paying attention to the web world a little better. Phil Johnson and Rick Phillips both have good posts on the CT article.

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On Being Positively Negative…

James MacDonald has posted a follow-up on his video comment, my post regarding it, and some comments he received concerning the matter. He does an admirable job attempting the delicate balance of admitting a mistake without conceding too much. IOW, he remains convinced that the tone here was indeed angry, but acknowledges the imprudence of commenting on the current state of things based on a 25 year old impression.

So, in a spirit of non-anger, I applaud the fact that he would take time to post on the matter and admit that it was an unwise move. And, in what might be interpreted by some as vestiges of fundamentalist anger, allow me two quick comments:

(1)     Wow. I can’t believe James actually cited Jack Van Impe’s book (which btw was entitled Heart Disease in Christ’s Body) as proof that fundamentalism was angry back then. If anybody wants to read an angry book, find a copy of that one. I changed the sub-title on mine to A Case Study on Jack Van Impe.

(2)     As the current pastor of Inter-City Baptist Church, I can confidently say that James has misrepresented the matter of our relationship to the GARBC. There was no accusation of liberalism, but a question of whether the association was changing its position on ecclesiastical separation and whether its approval of certain schools was contributing to a decline in that area. Most people familiar with the issues of that time know that these were important discussions happening throughout the association, some of which resulted in significant changes (e.g., dropping the approval system, some of the schools breaking away from connection with the association).

I don’t personally know James MacDonald. I’ve never heard him speak other than a couple of video clips in connection with this little kerfluffle, and I’ve not read any of his books. I have no beef with him personally and didn’t post about his comment because I was offended by it. I think he is one year older than me, so we’ve lived through the same period of time, but on mainly different paths. He stopped by DBTS on the way to TEDS. I passed through DBTS before going to TEDS for my D.Min. From what I can tell regarding the wing of fundamentalism in which he grew up, I can understand somewhat why his perspective was shaped as it was. I’ve met some angry fundamentalists, so you won’t find me denying that they exist. I’ve met some angry evangelicals too, and even some angry liberals. Anger is a depravity problem, not the exclusive property of any sub-group.

My concern, and James may share it, is that the angry label is used too often to discredit those who are taking a good and necessary stand on biblical truth. In reality, it is a form of ad hominem that deflects the discussion away from the principle involved to the disposition of the people making the point. This trope shows up just about anytime someone says anything particularly strong in nature (e.g., remember the reaction to John MacArthur’s assessment of Mark Driscoll—how many times did Driscoll’s defenders dismiss MacArthur as angry?).

Do some people who are taking the right stand need to lighten up? Sure. Do some people who seem allergic to anything negative need to sober up a little? Indeed. Let’s not confuse sobriety for anger, though. And let’s not confuse a positive disposition for a compromising one. My favorite president was described as a happy warrior. I like the balance of that.

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Louisville or Knoxville?

The “big” conferences (IBFI and T4G) have come and gone. I didn’t attend either, so I can’t offer and first-hand reports. I watched Matt Chandler’s testimony (from T4G) and part of a daily highlight from the IBFI conference, so I can’t even comment on the messages that were delivered. I have already commented on the bizarre church registry turned directory thing, and I’ll only add that others have expressed concern about it too, even to the point of complaining to them about it. (Wonder if I should demand a hat tip?) As of writing this, our church is still listed in the directory. I’m anxiously waiting for PCC to do a video about the leaven in the IBFI!

There are a lot of things that could be said about the respective conferences, roster of speakers, and the implications for the ecclesiastical landscape, but for this post I will limit myself to just one avenue of thought. In February of 2005, I did a presentation at the American Association of Christian Colleges and Seminaries annual meeting in which I tried to make the case that a decision probably needs to be made about how unity among separatists will be pursued. I believed then, and still do, that the two main options were ideological/theological (some set of beliefs to defend and promote) or pragmatic/practical (some cause to pursue). It seems to me that these two conferences represent those two options. T4G is rallying people around a theological core and IBFI is attempting to gather people around a practical one (world evangelism).

Of course, I’ve set this up as poles and don’t mean to suggest that the former is impractical or the latter in atheological (although in the IBFI’s case, perhaps). If, though, one asks the questions, “What goal is this meeting pursuing?” then I think you can see the difference. T4G isn’t attempting to launch a missions movement—the participants all have church contexts where they are engaged in that. The leaders of that conference are trying to rally people around ideas—very big, theological ideas. What I’ve seen reported of the IBFI conference points in a very different direction, basically a call to stop disagreeing with one another and get busy reaching the world.

Nobody really lives at the poles—theology and practice can never be divorced completely. Also, every time unity is pursued it involves some negotiation regarding the differences that might divide people. The T4G guys have to minimize some doctrines in order to gather the groups they do. The IBFI guys clearly have limited their proposed cooperation to those who share their own theological ticks. But you can clearly see the difference in purpose between the two efforts.

Five years ago I tried to make the case for a theologically driven core. In fact, here’s a portion of the notes that I used that day:

                It probably will not come as a surprise that I favor the choice of being an ideological/theological movement that is engaged in accomplishing worthy things (instead of being a pragmatic movement that defends and promotes things). Hopefully I am not splitting hairs here, but it seems that something must be the dominant reason or else the movement will lack focus. I believe an ideological-theological center should be the core reason for existence for several reasons:

(1) This is our historical identity and provided our strongest, best days. It establishes a clear vision of who we are and what we believe, which always makes plain who we aren’t and what we do not believe.

(2) A pragmatic-practical core has almost always required compromises that eventually send the movement into decline. The amount of resources needed for cooperative efforts almost always leads to a bigger tent than is wise.

(3) The pragmatic-practical core faces a couple of significant obstacles: (a) finding something big enough yet specific enough and enduring enough to capture widespread attention (not to mention biblical basis!), and (b) all of the already existing activity centers will feel threatened by some new super cause that may overshadow them or draw away their resources.

(4) The time is ripe for a clear statement of beliefs to capture the hearts and minds of younger fundamentalists—that is why we are losing many of them. The time is overripe for us to shake off some of the defective and divisive theology that has crept into our movement.

 If I may nervously suggest a proposal: We should aggressively pursue the renewal of Fundamentalism through development of a confessional movement within it. By confessional movement I mean that the unifying center would be established by agreement on a common confession that declares what we belief to the point of defending and promoting. Since this would be a Fundamentalist confession, it would be broader than my own personal beliefs in some areas. That was not a problem historically and is not for me personally. I don’t believe that the old Five Fundamentals or something that broad would cut it, since we face new challenges that would have to be addressed. But some fresh, crisp, clear statement of essential biblical doctrine would go a long way toward drawing people together and, since it is needed, splitting some people off.

I’ll probably follow up on this some later, but for now I’ll just pause to wonder which of these two conferences had more 20-50 year old men who graduated from schools connected to the AACCS? Where do you think they were, Louisville or Knoxville?

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O MacDonald had a video…

On Friday I linked to a video of James MacDonald that related to seminary and in which he mentioned DBTS. I made the comment that, given our ages, we might have passed in the halls around here, but I had no recollection of it. I have since found out why I don’t recall it—he took one class in the summer of 1985 and I didn’t take summer school here that summer. I’ll try to be discreet and tactful, but please allow me to say a few things.

This passing comment by MacDonald is quite disappointing—taking one class 25 years ago hardly seems like a good basis for speaking ill of this ministry. It was another reminder that no particular group holds exclusive license for uncharitable speech. MacDonald, like a lot of former fundies, seems to have a burr from his past experiences with fundamentalists and takes a cheap shot in this case.

Although I was not in his summer school class back in 1985, I did take the exact same course three years later (in the fall of 1988). Probably as a testimony to the significance that the background and disposition of the student plays into the assessment of any particular course, that class was incredibly valuable to me. There are probably many reasons why I would have responded differently to it than MacDonald. I was done with my M.Div. and working on a Th.M. by that point and it sounds like MacDonald took it near the start of his seminary training. I had a very good relationship with the professor and held him in very high regard. The course forced me to firsthand research into areas about which I had little historical exposure, but had heard a lot of opinions. Many prejudices which I held in an uninformed way were either exposed and removed or were replaced with a more carefully formed understanding of both Scripture and ecclesiastical history.

The course was New Evangelicalism taught by Dr. Rolland McCune. That class was so helpful to me that I strongly encouraged Dr. McCune to turn it into a book. The result of that was Promise Unfulfilled: The Failed Strategy of Modern Evangelicalism. Here’s part of what I wrote in the foreword to the book when it was published in 2004:

While in seminary, I had the privilege of taking Dr. McCune’s course on the History and Theology of New Evangelicalism and it turned out to be one of the most influential courses I have ever taken. Since I was not born until after Harold J. Ockenga announced the launch of the New Evangelicalism and did not begin to think seriously about such matters until almost two decades after that, it was eye-opening to learn this history and see its implications for the world of ministry I was entering. Frankly, before taking the course I knew what the Fundamentalist position was, but I didn’t fully understand why. The material contained in that course, and in this book, helped me understand the dangers of the compromises which had been made before I was born but were bearing very bad fruit by the time I was entering ministry. Now, almost another two decades later, the costs of these compromises continue to mount. I pray that the material in this book will have the same effect on others that it has had on me, and I hope that it will receive a wide audience among Fundamentalists and Evangelicals. It is a serious and solemn call to faithfulness that desperately needs to be heard.

My guess is that this is exactly where the rub with MacDonald is. We took the same class, but we came to it and left it with very different conclusions. He apparently thinks that separatism is driven by anger. I came to see that it is driven by love. The funny thing is that 25 years later he still feels compelled to speak ill of people he barely knew at all. Maybe we’re not the angry ones.

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Dead Pastors’ Society?

Here’s a strange tidbit for a late Friday afternoon. Had a free moment, so I decided to visit the website for the Independent Baptist Friends International, wondering if they had posted any audio from the conference this week. I didn’t find any audio (yet), but I was amazed to see the growth in the site since a few weeks ago. What particularly caught my attention was that you can register to be one of the friends.

My initial discovery of this was frankly disappointing because I saw several colleges listed that were troubling—some hardcore KJVO schools and some which would reject that position. My first thought was, “Why do these guys to that?” Then I saw a section that listed the churches in their directory. That’s when it got interesting in a strange way.

Two surprises jumped out—one being the name of a pastor and church that I am sure isn’t a fan of this endeavor and the other being the name of a church and pastor (who is a friend) followed by the words “does not defend the KJV.” This piqued my curiosity even more, so I decided to check what churches in Michigan had “registered” with the IBFI. What I suspected was quickly confirmed—someone dumped a database on to the site. What makes me think this?

First, there were several churches listed along with previous (not current) pastors, some of whom are no longer alive! One particular church still had a man listed as pastor who died quite a while ago and that church is on its second pastor after him. This was clearly an old and outdated list.

Second, there were a number of churches (and I only looked through the list up to the letter I) that would never have willingly associated with this group—one was a Reformed Baptist Church in our city. I saw at least three that use the NIV for their pulpit Bible and my guess is they aren’t interested in the IBFI.

Third, I found our church! Now, that’s a sight that must be causing some real concern among many of the IBFI folks. Rest assured, folks, we are not planning on joining up. I understood the parameters set out up front and I know we don’t fit the qualifications.

The value of this database dump is highly questionable. If it is intended to help people find churches that fit the profile of the IBFI, then it has some serious flaws. If it is intended to give the impression that the IBFI is off to a roaring start, then they might want to clean it up significantly. At least eliminate the names of men who have gone on to their reward. On second thought, the folks from Hammond seem to talk to the dead quite regularly, so maybe Jack Schaap can check with them to see if they want to be listed or not. :)

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Quick hits

I’ve been out of the loop again for a while—away for ministry and then for vacation. I’ve written some things that I intended to post, but didn’t have them polished up like they needed to be, so I haven’t done it. At some point I’d like to follow up on a couple of earlier posts and probably offer a few thoughts on the Piper-Warren thing, but other things are more important this week.

  • Here’s a resource for Mother’s Day that you might want to check out.
  • I think that both Larry Rogier and Phil Johnson have some excellent things to say about the Piper-Warren kerfluffle.
  • I was reminded of how deeply karma-like ideas are embedded in human thinking in reading a lot of the commentary surrounding Tiger Woods loss and Phil Mickelson’s win at the Masters. I suppose it’s understandable when it comes from the minds and mouths of unbelieving people, but I wonder how much the Bible believing community has come to grips with how infected the worldview of many contemporary believers is with this kind of thinking.
  • James MacDonald offers some thoughts on the importance of seminary and, to my surprise, mentions DBTS. Looking at his bio, we might have passed each other in the halls here back in the 80s. Don’t recall meeting him (and I imagine neither of us would recognize the other from looking at a current picture!). Don’t remember anybody being angry either, but those were interesting, challenging times for our seminary.
  • The second half of April is packed with birthdays for our family, but I’ll just highlight four of special note: my mom (4/14) just hit the 3/4 quarter century mark; my dad turns 77 on 4/19; Grandma Sanders turned 91 today; and my brother-in-law’s wife, Elaine, reaches one click short of a half-century next Tuesday (4/12). I mention the first three because of what a blessing it is to me (and my wife and sons) to enjoy time with them. My parents are incredible, and my wife’s grandmother has been my own over the past 25 years since the last grandparent on my side died. I mention the fourth because all of our families are rejoicing because God has enabled Elaine (and her family) to walk through the valley of breast cancer with a great testimony and a good prognosis. I thank God, the Author and Sustainer of life, for each of them!

 Enough for now. Hope to pick up the pace soon, DV.

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The Importance of the Resurrection

But perceiving that one group were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, Paul began crying out in the Council, “Brethren, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees; I am on trial for the hope and resurrection of the dead!” Acts 23:6

These words, uttered by the Apostle Paul as a brilliant defense strategy, truly sum up the glory of the day we commonly call Easter Sunday. The heart of Bible Christianity is the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the hope of resurrection it offers. These two ideas, Christ’s resurrection and the resurrection of His disciples, are constant themes in Paul’s preaching and writing. Consider just a few examples:

  • When they had carried out all that was written concerning Him, they took Him down from the cross and laid Him in a tomb. But God raised Him from the dead; (Acts 13:29-30)
  • having a hope in God, which these men cherish themselves, that there shall certainly be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked.    (Acts 24:15)
  • But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. (1 Cor 15:13-14)
  • indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead; (2 Cor 1:9)

Why so much emphasis on the resurrection? We could say more, but consider at least three profound reasons:

Because of what the resurrection proves about Jesus of Nazareth.

  • who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord,    (Rom 1:4)
  • because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead. (Acts 17:31)

Because the resurrection is the only answer to our greatest problem—death!

  • And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment (Heb 9:27)
  • For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom 6:23)
  • Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies”  (John 11:25)

Because you must believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ in order to be saved.

  • that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved Rom 10:9

Someone once said, “Christianity is built on the fragrance of an empty tomb.” That is simply another way of saying, “I am on trial for the hope and resurrection of the dead!”

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