Reflections II

I am working on a string of posts which attempt to explain why I began re-thinking the application portion of what I believe about biblical separation. The first post attempted to give more detail to one crystallizing moment for me and explain a little of why it was pivotal. To put it in a nutshell, while nobody seemed to disagree with my description of the roots and realities of fundamentalist fragmentation, there was no consensus or commitment to a theologically centered remedy. Please note very well that we are talking about fundamentalism, not any of the institutions represented at the meeting. I firmly believe that all of the institutions were committed to strong theological convictions. My point is not about the individual institutions or particular branches of fundamentalism. It is about the whole enchilada.

Recognizing that is critical to my overall point. Why did I begin to rethink the application process? One significant element was the continuing fragmentation among self-professing fundamentalists that produced subset after subset that claimed to be the true heirs of fundamentalism. Since some of those subsets were sub-orthodox in their doctrine and practice, my hope was to see those with roots in the historic mainstream rally around our theological convictions and mark ourselves off from the Johnny-come-lately types who kept adding things to the fundamentals. If there was no heart to do that, that meant, or at least suggested, that: (1) there would be no deliberate effort to pull away from these deformed branches of fundamentalism; (2) it would continue to send a mixed message about separation to the men who are preparing for ministry; and (3) the label fundamentalist would continue to deteriorate as a meaningful label for determining ministerial cooperation. In this post, I’ll start in on that first point.

I’ve spoken of things coming to a head for me in the middle of the last decade, and by that I am speaking mainly about the repeated controversy I found myself in with other self-professing fundamentalists. I’ll quickly confess that I was a willing participant in most of these—they were connected to doctrinal matters that I considered very important. One of the great blessings of my present pastoral ministry is that it is connected to a seminary, but having a seminary also draws the negative attention of people who don’t like what you teach. As the seminary’s influence expanded, so did the amount of criticism directed at it and those of us associated with it. That’s really quite understandable. What was disappointing to me was the lack of ethics and courage that so often was evident—private correspondence turned into a booklet that was being sold; letters sent behind my back to call for my removal from speaking engagements, while maintaining a feigned friendship to my face; whisper campaigns. Supposedly valiant defenders of the faith were too often cowardly weasels who loved to say things behind people’s backs that they’d never have the courage to say to their faces. I know that may sound harsh, but sadly it’s true.

As disappointing as this was, my view of what the Bible teaches about depravity kept me from being too surprised by it. People are sinners, and sinners do things like this. The part that I’ve never been able to accept, though, is the toleration of aberrant doctrine. Denying, for instance, the full humanity of Jesus Christ under the banner of zeal for “the Blood and the Book” is completely unacceptable—if Jesus Christ did not have human blood, He was not fully human (Heb 2:14); if He was not fully human, then He could not make atonement for our sins (Heb 2:17-18); if we deny that He came as fully human, then we have denied apostolic doctrine (1 Jn 4:1-6). This is a theological error of the first magnitude. It cannot be accepted and it should never be tolerated. It was, however, not only being tolerated, but actually promoted in certain quarters. By the end of 2005, I had spent more than a decade and half arguing that if we are serious about sound doctrine, we have to do something.

In the middle of the 1990s, the translation issue blew up. Obviously, a fight over that issue had been developing for a long time, but Jack Hyles and PCC raised the stakes in the spring of 1996. Hyles had conveniently changed his view to KJVO and was trying to write everybody else out of fundamentalism. PCC, not to be run out easily, sent Dell Johnson out to let everybody know that they really were on the KJV side of the debate. It’s hard to say which of the PCC videos was the most pathetic, but thinking about Dell and his “hiss of the serpent” nonsense still gives me the creeps. Once PCC got blowback because of the first video, the fight was on—the Hortons weren’t going to be forced to back down by the BJU denomination! It is hard to top the stupidity of the “Leaven in Fundamentalism” video—somehow I had infected DBTS even though the seminary had held the same text view for 13 years before I came into any leadership position. Think about what was happening here. One of the pillar doctrines of the Faith, biblical inspiration, was being used as a marketing tool by both Hyles and PCC. That makes it doubly offensive—the doctrinal error is compounded by the deceptiveness of their methods. There should have been no toleration of this. None.

That’s the rub for me. Granted, letters were written; resolutions were passed; and even a video was made. But at the end of the day, too many people wanted the translation issue to just go back away. Instead of resolving it, the mood was to sweep it back under the carpet so that there would not be unnecessary division over it. This became absolutely clear to me in the summer of 2001. That summer, Dr. Mark Minnick preached an excellent message at the FBF Annual Meeting entitled “The Supremacy of God in Preaching.” Great sermon. At one point in the message, Dr. Minnick paused to share a concern of his regarding the translation issue, namely, that some people seemed intent on taking away our liberty to use the original languages to bring clarity to the explanation of the English translation. He was referring to the common preacher kind of statement that goes something like, “Another way to translate this would be…” or “Perhaps a better translation of this would be…” It would seem to me that only the hardcore KJVO position could disagree with this—you have to be a virtual Ruckmanite, it seems, to give the English translation priority over the original languages! That’s why I was absolutely stunned that there was criticism of Dr. Minnick’s message by folks in the FBF. A very influential person in the FBF expressed concern to me about the fact that Mark had addressed the translation issue at all—his words were something like, “I thought we were at the point where we laid down our swords about those issues before we come together.” My reply: when has the other side ever laid down their swords?

I could add more doctrinal controversies, but I think I’ve said enough to illustrate my point. For sake of clarity, though, let me make my point very clear: by 2005 I was becoming convinced that: (a) the doctrinal matters that matter to me were apparently not doctrinal concerns for Fundamentalism; and (b) the tendency toward doctrinal indifference on these matters was not something with which I was comfortable.

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