Posts Tagged Movements

Reflections V

Last month at the Lansdale conference I was asked what prompted me to rethink the application aspect of ecclesiastical separation, and my answer pointed toward changes that I saw happening both within the normal circle of my fellowship and outside of it. I’ve spent the last few posts talking about the changes internally, some of which certainly can be called changes in my perspective, not only changes in the folks around me. Things which I had hoped would experience positive change proved to be more resistant to change than I anticipated, and in some ways there was regress, not progress. Additionally, I became convinced that what D. G. Hart had written in Deconstructing Evangelicalism about evangelicalism was basically true about fundamentalism—its status as a movement was more myth than reality.

If I am going to wrap this up properly, I still need to address the other side of this issue—what was happening in evangelicalism that affected my thinking regarding applications? Well, books like Hart’s provide one category of answer to that question. A series of important doctrinal issues were coming to a head in the 1990s among evangelicals, and the rise of an openly declared and aggressive evangelical left presented a serious challenge for theologically conservative evangelicals. Big ticket items like Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT) clearly gained most of the attention, but there was a deeper, broader challenge connected to the embrace of postmodernism.

Examples of the leftward push were chronicled in largely unfavorable way by Millard Erickson in The Evangelical Left (1997). More positive assessments have come from the pen of Robert Webber (The Younger Evangelicals, of which a critical review by Dr. Rolland McCune can be found here) and Dave Tomlinson (The Post-Evangelical). Gary Dorrien, in The Remaking of Evangelical Theology, took direct aim at historic New Evangelicalism in an effort to show that it was, in his estimation, nothing more than “fundamentalism with good manners” because it did not reject the theological structure of fundamentalism. Theologians like Stanley Grenz engaged in ambitious efforts to move Beyond Foundationalism in order to do theology in a post-modern context. In addition to this larger philosophical shift, the Open Theism issue bloomed into full controversy across the evangelical landscape.

Prompted by this leftward tide, and directly opposed to it, a wide range of evangelical authors began to speak and write about the need to formulate doctrinal boundaries. Just a quick list from memory of books in my own library includes works by: D. A. Carson (Love in Hard Places); Al Mohler (“Reformist Evangelicalism” in A Confessing Theology for a Postmodern Times, edited by Michael Horton); Wayne Grudem wrote a chapter entitled “Why, When, and for What Should We Draw New Boundaries” in Beyond the Bounds; MacArthur touched on this in Reckless Faith (the pertinent chapter was also published in Truth Matters); R, C. Sproul tackled the ECT issue in Getting the Gospel RightA combined effort to offset the inroads of postmodernism captures the spirit of what I was seeing—it was entitled Reclaiming the Center: Confronting Evangelical Accommodation in Postmodern Times. If I were in my office I’d be able to supply more bibliography, but this is probably enough to make my point—the evident presence of theological error among evangelicals was forcing conservative evangelicals to wrestle with the boundaries of evangelicalism, and that, of necessity, raises the question of separation. IOW, you can’t mark a boundary line without making distinctions and establishing differences. The affirmation-denials of the initial T4G conference was also intended to do this, although it did it quite tamely, from my perspective.

As I mentioned during  the Lansdale conference panel discussion, Phil Johnson, of Grace to You, also acknowledged in 2005 that the concept of secondary separation has biblical validity, though he contended that it has been misused and abused too often by those who claim it. This was a significant admission as far as I’m concerned. In 2006, Mark Dever and I crossed paths for the first time and engaged in the quizzing of each other to figure out what each believed. I’ve had a number of other conversations with men from outside of the traditional fundamentalist orbit who clearly believe that the Bible teaches separation from false doctrine and also believe that God’s people are obligated to obey the Bible on this point.

Further, I know a number of men who had become dissatisfied with movement fundamentalism, if I may call it that, but had not repudiated separation per se. In their minds, the weak preaching and theology, majoring on minors, and constant in-fighting just could not be tolerated anymore. A lot of these men found themselves pushed out of the “fellowship” over some minor ministry issue or alleged compromise. It is flat out dishonesty to call these men neo-evangelicals. They take separation seriously, but have broken from what they consider to be a defective group.

So, as I have looked around the past few years it has forced me to admit that there are men who are committed to separatism that don’t practice it exactly like I do—both within and outside of my normal circle of fellowship. A lot of latitude was granted to those with the fundamentalist label to make their own decisions about fellowship, provided they stayed roughly inside the label boundary, even if that label was no longer appropriate. Latitude to cross the label boundary was not extended, even if the man or ministry actually lined up better with what a separatist fundamentalist ought to be like. If the basis of fellowship is what we share in common, then lining up on sound doctrine, ministerial practice, and commitment to defend the faith means more than professing oneself to be a fundamentalist. Actually being one means more than claiming to be one. At least, that’s what I think.

, , , ,

No Comments

Refections IV

This series is a “wrap it up and then move on” series, so it of necessity is picking up themes and ideas about which I’ve written and said a lot over the years, especially the past few. In some ways that is good because it is very hard to crack through pre-conceived ideas. The most stubborn of those is the equation of fundamentalism with separatism in a way that immediately concludes that questioning the former ipso facto questions the latter. That would only be true, though, if all who claim to be fundamentalists were actually separatists (a point that hardly any fundamentalists would admit) and if all who claim to be separatists also claimed the label fundamentalist (something, for instance, that someone like Kent Brandenburg doesn’t do, but who could deny that Kent’s a separatist?)

To argue that fundamentalism took the right position in the early and mid 20th century is not a point of debate with me. They did. It is 2011 though, not 1921 or 1961. My simple contentions are that: (1) there is, at this stage of history, no fundamentalism, but a number of fundamentalisms, each with their own shibboleths; (2) almost every effort to reclaim fundamentalism has been an effort to impose a different set of shibboleths on the movement; (3) many serious minded separatists find that they fail the shibboleth tests that have been imposed by many of the subset movements; (4) the idea of being asked to be committed to something that won’t fellowship with you anyway is just plain ridiculous; and (5) most of the shibboleths, while perhaps well-intentioned, are over-extended applications designed like fences to prevent a future disobedience somewhere down the line.

Let me unpack that last one a little bit. Building fences in advance of trouble is a good thing. I am not opposed to these kinds of fences at all—I think there is biblical warrant for looking ahead to where trouble is and avoiding it (cf. Pro 22:3). Building a fence to prevent us from getting into trouble is good, but the tension for us is how far away from the potential for trouble do we build the fence. Our answer to that question is tied to our view of slippery slopes, i.e., where is the point where a slide toward the cliff becomes virtually irresistible (although I know most fundamentalists don’t like words like irresistible!)? The dominant view seems to be that you can’t be too safe, so build high, strong fences as far away from trouble as possible.

I don’t agree with that mindset. You actually can build the fence so far back from trouble that you end up in trouble on the other side—think of the Pharisees not receiving sinners and eating with them or having rigid rules about hand washing that missed the point about real defilement. The goal isn’t to build your fence the farthest away. The goal is obedience to Christ and fences are a servant to that goal. Remember, fences work like this: In order not to fall or slide over that cliff, we will build the fence right here. The cliff is where disobedience is and the fence is intended to keep you from falling over it (or even starting to slide toward it). If the fence keeps getting pushed back until the cliff can barely be seen, then it will stop functioning effectively, and a fence that far back cannot be defended as the only right and proper place for a fence.

Yet, in many ways that’s exactly where we are—debating the placement of the fence and willing to break fellowship again over differences about it. I am not advocating extending Christian fellowship to those who have denied the faith. I am not advocating toleration of those who do it. Just the opposite, in fact. I am advocating that these very specific questions be the ones that govern our decision making. Those questions are the baseline for fellowship and cooperation. A lot more matters to me than these, but anything other than the right answers here prevents it. The circle of people that can answer these questions satisfactorily is not limited to self-professing fundamentalists. IOW, there are separatists who don’t claim to be fundamentalists. My fellowship is limited to those self-professing fundamentalists who are genuine separatists and also other genuine separatists even if they don’t call themselves fundamentalists.

That last sentence prompts the real question of the hour—will the self-professing fundamentalists build a fence that excludes people who won’t limit their fellowship to only those who claim the label of fundamentalism? Is that label so tied to the essence of the biblical position that to not wear it means you fall on the wrong side of the fence? If so, is that a fence that can be defended biblically and practically?

, , , ,

No Comments

Reflections III

An important element of my views regarding fundamentalism, evangelicalism, and the matter of ecclesiastical separation is my own personal history. As I’ve already tried to detail, the rethinking of applications that I felt compelled to do in the middle of the last decade has deep roots. I’ve recounted some of the factors connected to that from the 1990s, but it honestly goes farther back than that. Virtually my entire Christian life has been joined to Inter-City Baptist Church (ICBC). I came to Christ here as an 8 year old boy; I attended our Christian school from 3rd grade through graduation; since college I have served on staff here for all but four of the last 28 years, and for 22 of those years I’ve been the senior pastor. Even during the four years I was on staff at another church, I was working on my M.Div. and Th.M. at Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary, a ministry of ICBC.

Also, I had the same pastor from the time I was saved until I succeeded him in the pastorate here. He was a godly and gifted leader who had earned a Th.D. from Grace Theological Seminary back in the late 1940s. Dr. Rice was truly a visionary leader who was on the front edge of the Christian school movement and a well-respected pastor whom God used to do incredible things. He was very conservative, but I cannot recall ever hearing him blast anybody from the pulpit and he certainly did not run in the circles of those who did. He did not care for showboats. He just preached the Word and led the church.

What does all that have to do with my view of fundamentalism? When I left for college, ICBC was all I knew about church and fundamentalism, although I doubt that I could have told you what the latter even was. I had never even been on a Christian college campus until I left to go to BJU. I had been to the Wilds for camp a couple of times, but it was actually during our church’s week—the last week of the summer was Inter-City week and we had it virtually to ourselves (the camp was still pretty new at that point). I knew of no preachers except the ones who had preached in our church or I had heard at camp. So, when I arrived at college in the fall of 1979 amidst the whole pseudo-fundamentalism flap with Jerry Falwell, it was quite a shock to my system. I had never heard men and ministries publicly denounced from the pulpit (as mainly guest preachers, for some reason, apparently thought it necessary to do). I could share very vivid recollections of pathetic diatribes passed off as sermons, but the real point is to say that what I was hearing was not what I had heard at home. And it was also a sharp contrast from what I was being taught to do in my ministry and homiletics classes.

I graduated from college and headed off to seminary at DBTS. I was committed to biblical separatism—the kind I had been taught, but not the kind that I was seeing so often practiced away from the church I grew up in. My heart yearned for a theologically sound and expositionally driven kind of ministry that took seriously God’s command about contending for the Faith. Thankfully, God was putting me in touch with people who shared that burden. Some of the rancor of the late 70s and early 80s seemed to be fading away, and as I assumed the pastorate at IC in 1989 I was hopeful that a better day was coming.

I’ve already chronicled part of the story regarding my disappointment with the theological weakness of fundamentalism—that doctrinal matters which concerned me didn’t seem to concern the larger circle, and that I was struggling with the indifference toward these problems which was evident. Another significant part of that story is seen by looking at it from the other side. The folks I thought were on my side of those debates were downplaying these issues, but the folks on the other side were doing anything but that. I’ve alluded to some of the efforts to discredit DBTS or me, but I’d like to give that a little more focus because it is germane to the overall theme I’m developing.

The stuff that has happened really means nothing to me personally—I can’t recall one person whose opinion mattered to me that has spoken ill of me or the work here. I take 1 Corinthians 4:1-5 very seriously and, by God’s grace, hope to live without regard for human judgment. I’ve got a great family, a wonderful congregation to serve, and none of the criticism that has come from outside of our church changes that at all. If I were only a pastor, I would gladly have ignored it all and just kept moving forward with our church. In God’s will, however, I’m also connected to a seminary that trains men for gospel ministry, some of whom are burdened to plant churches in the States and around the world for Christ’s name. Those men are affected by the dishonest attacks on their seminary and by the widespread doctrinal nonsense that has plagued fundamentalism over the past 30+ years.

Think about this all from that perspective for a minute. A godly, gifted young man graduates from DBTS with a desire to plant a church in the US, so he begins the process of pursuing that burden. His home church is prepared to send him out, but: (1) though his desire, affirmed by his sending church, is to use a newer translation, the mission agencies all have a policy that requires using the KJV, not because of theological conviction, but political expediency; (2) he is facing a serious uphill battle for approval with a mission agency because a number of the board members have been prejudiced against him because of things they’ve heard about his seminary; and (3) once he begins the deputation process he constantly runs into closed doors because the air has been poisoned against him by the likes of D. A. Waite, PCC, and a whole host of others from within his own supposed circle of fellowship.

Even when this brother approaches men who would supposedly stand exactly where he does in terms of biblical separation, the door is closed. Why? Not because of differences on ecclesiastical separation, but because of a bunch of other issues. In other words, the fact that he professes to be a fundamentalist really doesn’t mean much at all. Of course, churches are free to choose whom they will support—no problem with that at all. Here’s where the rub is, though. This same brother, while looking for support, comes across some churches that agree with him on basically everything—separation, theological commitments, philosophy of ministry—but they don’t wear the label of fundamentalism. Those churches, in fact, do want to support him because they are committed to the same things he is.

Now he is in a quandary. The brand name fundamentalist churches that won’t support him will label him a compromiser if he accepts the support on the non-brand name fundamentalist churches. Does he give up a meaningless, worthless fellowship with people who don’t accept him to gain the fellowship of likeminded brothers who will? Doesn’t that question almost answer itself?

Let’s remove the support question and ask it like this, “Does he give up the meaningless, worthless fellowship of people who disagree with what he holds dear in order to gain the fellowship of likeminded brothers who will welcome him on the basis of what they mutually hold dear?” Seriously, until you’ve walked into the “fellowship meeting” and had men turn their backs when you come in, you probably can’t answer that question. Until you’ve walked up to warm greetings and walked away only to have knives stuck in your back, you don’t really comprehend the gravity of that question.

Now, for me, I really could care less because I walk back to a great church blessed by God with enormous resources and a full staff of men with whom I can enjoy fellowship. I wake up most Tuesday mornings and get to spend all morning teaching seminarians who love the Word and are headed out to serve Christ. In other words, I’ve got it made ministerially. I don’t need the acceptance of anybody out there. But God has put me in a place where there are real men with a real burden to spread the gospel of Christ and plant churches around the world, and those men need and want real fellowship—the kind of fellowship that surrounds shared convictions and commitments and that helps carry the burden of ministry. As much as I hate to say it, the vestigial organs of fundamentalism aren’t about those things anymore. They are about preserving themselves by distinguishing themselves from all of the other self-professing fundamentalisms.

What do you do if you want theologically centered fellowship that works itself out in Great Commission ministry? You look for people who agree with you on what matters and you partner together for God’s glory and the advance of the gospel. And when you realize that a lot of the people who wear the same label you do really don’t agree with you and won’t partner with you, then you slowly realize that the label has lost its purpose and value. Then, fearing the loss of what matters to you, you determine to neither abandon nor assume those truths, but to make them explicitly the basis of your fellowship and cooperation. IOW, instead of asking, “Are you a fundamentalist?” you will ask, “Do you believe and practice these truths?”

, , , ,

No Comments

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.

, , , ,

No Comments

Reflecting on Applications

The blog has been pretty quiet for a while now. Part of that is simply the nature of life and ministry currently—it’s a busy season right now. The more significant reason, I think, is the combination of feeling I need to say something about the ecclesiastical landscape while, frankly, being tired of saying things about the ecclesiastical landscape. Well, I’ve got about two weeks until I leave for vacation, so I’m aiming to wrap up my contributions to the discussion by then so I can move along to other matters. Perhaps I should be more specific—“the discussion” to which I am referring is about fundamentalism, evangelicalism, and the relationship between these two. That seems to be the hot issue right now. I feel like I need to address this because: (a) I’ve been very vocal in asserting that I don’t believe those labels (fundamentalism, evangelicalism) are very helpful in determining ministerial fellowship anymore; (b) it seems safe that my view is disturbing to some folks, including some friends (and their concern matters to me); (c) some people seem determined to start a new internecine war over these things; and (d) I’ve made some public comments that probably need elaboration and/or clarification. I’d like to start working on that fourth point today.

During the first panel discussion at the Advancing the Church Conference in Lansdale, I made a comment about the need to make fresh applications of biblical principles or we will find ourselves walking away from the principles themselves. I also expressed concern about the fossilization of our applications. That led to a question about what prompted me to rethink my applications of biblical principles regarding separation. As is the nature of panel discussions, I needed to give a compact answer to a large question, so I pinpointed the middle of the last decade as a point where a number of things came to a head for me. Because we were talking about applications, I referred to issues both internal and external to the circles of my normal fellowship. I gave one example from both—a meeting of educational leaders in which a discussion happened about drawing some theological boundaries for our kind of fundamentalism and my interaction with Phil Johnson over the “Dead Right” presentation he made at the 2005 Shepherds Conference. Regarding the former, it became clear to me that something that I felt was a necessary thing wasn’t going to happen. In contrast, Phil acknowledged something publicly about “secondary separation” that, at least to me, hadn’t been readily apparent previously.

I plan to unpack my larger point regarding changing within and without over the next few posts, but here I’ll just add some more color to my point about the meeting of educational leaders. I’ve mentioned this before on the blog, but in February of 2005 I did two presentations at the annual meeting of the American Association of Christian Colleges and Seminaries—one on the fragmenting of Fundamentalism and one on the practical side of making separation decisions. As part of the presentation on the fragmentation in Fundamentalism, I contended that Fundamentalist unity will probably only be achieved if there is a clear animating reason for existence, and that the two options for such a reason would seem to be either activist or doctrinal. IOW, it could be a movement around accomplishing something or around believing something. Further, my view was that given our historic roots as a theological movement and the present state of everybody already having their own activity centers, the wisest course of action would be doctrinal (vs. activist). In addition, I argued that the toleration of theological aberrations was not only severely damaging our credibility, but prevented any real unity for action anyways.

It became clear to me that mine was not the prevailing view and that what I hoped and worked toward for some time was not going to happen. In many ways I understand this completely—my proposal would have been difficult to implement and would have inevitably led to some level of conflict. I fault no one for disagreeing with me, though I was surprised at the lack of participation in such an important discussion. Basically, two of us with differing perspectives engaged in a conversation about while others mainly watched. Given the circumstances, it seemed obvious to me: (1) that a significant number of the most influential people within fundamentalism were less interested in a theological reformation of fundamentalism than I was; and (2) that my growing sense that a genuine reformation was not going to happen was in fact accurate. I’ll say more about that phrase “growing sense” later, but for now I’ll just remind you that I said things were coming to a head, not starting, in 2005.

Being the stubborn man that I am, I didn’t quit making my case for a theologically centered fundamentalism. I did a presentation a few months later at the 2005 Faculty Summit entitled “A Fresh Attempt at Identifying the Fundamentals” and a workshop at our 2005 Fall conference entitled “The Gospel and the Boundaries of Fundamentalism” (as well as another one entitled “Christian Liberty and Ecclesiastical Separation”). Later posts will address why this matter was so important to me and what impact preparing for these presentations had on my thinking, but the basic point now is that I was coming to the conclusion that whatever remained of a fundamentalist movement was not mainly held together by shared theological convictions. That is not to say that there were not shared theological convictions, but that these convictions were not the animating force. In fact, there seemed to be some fear that articulating strong theological convictions would divide the movement. To me, in many ways, that was the handwriting on the wall.

, , , ,

No Comments

Re-formation or Reformation?

I start to feel old when I reference articles or messages that I wrote or preached a long time ago, but I think my part in the current discussions about fundamentalism, evangelicalism, and separation needs to be viewed against a larger backdrop of what I’ve said for a long time. Also, it seems necessary for me to point some of this out because some folks seem intent on making the case that I’ve turned away from what I used to believe. Since articles and resolutions from the 90s are being improperly used against me, I think it is fair to point out more of what I was saying in the 90s.

Specifically, in the fall of 1995 I was part of a group of men who did four one-day seminars for the Mid-America Baptist Fellowship in Chicago, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, and Detroit. I did two presentations as my part of the proceedings. One was a very short deal, as part of a panel, on why I can’t accept the King James Only position—wow, what fun that little ditty generated! The meeting in the Chicago area was the most toxic for some reason, but the worst to come out of it was that some people questioned my fundamentalist credentials. It wouldn’t be too long before the geniuses at PCC were accusing me of being part of the leaven in fundamentalism (ostensibly over the same issue, but really because I got my undergrad degree at BJU). So, let me state clearly that I have been calling fundamentalists to deal with this issue for a long time.

More importantly, the other presentation that I did was entitled, “Re-forming or Reforming Fundamentalism: A Call to Re-think the Re-thinking Process.” It was a long presentation that covered a lot of turf, but for now I’d like to talk only about the basic idea which drove it. That idea hinges on the play I was making with the words re-forming and reforming. The former, I believe, involves a change of the basic form of something, whereas the latter speaks of keeping the same basic form or substance, but refining or improving it. The one makes it into something new and different, while the other helps it be a truer expression of its original form.

My contention in the presentation was that many so-called reform efforts are really re-formation efforts, i.e., the architects are trying to design a new house, not fix a problem with the existing one. Historically, I think that Marsden’s Reforming Fundamentalism shows that the new evangelicals weren’t really trying to reform fundamentalism, they were re-forming it into something very different than it was (i.e., a non-separatist orthodoxy). To some extent, I think that is what Falwell (aided by Dobson and Hindson) tried to do with The Fundamentalist Phenomenon and through The Fundamentalist Journal that they wrote and edited, respectively. And this is clearly what Hyles tried to do in the late 80s and early 90s in order to rally his troops and deflect attention away from Sumner’s exposure of his moral issues. I pointed these things out then, and I believe them now.

In many ways, the precipitating cause for that presentation was the debate that was happening because of Doug McLachlan’s book, Reclaiming Authentic Fundamentalism. I think Doug was writing a book aimed to reform (not re-form) fundamentalism, but some were reacting like it was the opposite. In some ways, those days were very similar to today in that some were concerned that negative things being said about fundamentalism might lead to a revolt against it. I have to admit that I shared those concerns. But I also thought Doug was making some very important, much-needed points about the deterioration of our house. My effort in that presentation was to urge caution all around while taking the steps that we ought to engage in reform, not re-formation. I closed that message by arguing that we must be committed to biblical orthodoxy joined to militant separatism. I know some find this hard to believe, but I believe those same things today.

If I were to do a contemporary version of this same message, it would include more examples of re-forming and reforming, and it would probably focus on the biblical concept of separatism instead of the historical movement of fundamentalism. As I’ve said before, I was more hopeful back then about the fundamentalist movement. Remember, that was October of 1995—within six months PCC would start the video wars and the landscape (or at least my perception of it) began to change significantly. Looking back, I think that was the beginning of the doubts in my mind about whether the movement still was controlled by theological conviction or if it had become a constellation of entities with a common heritage, yet not held together by common convictions.

I told a group of educators this past week that I genuinely understand and share some sympathy with good men who are concerned about some of the things happening in our ecclesiastical and educational neighborhood. It’s not completely clear what is going on and where it all might lead. I have concerns too. To say it like I did in 1995, I am very much in favor of efforts to reform orthodox separatism, but I also am very opposed to any re-formation which turns out to be something non-separatistic. Re-formation arguments usually sound a lot like revolution against the former things, and anti-reform efforts tend to double down on what has always been done. A genuine reformation will focus on what is biblically required of believers and churches, appreciating the good and refining what is not. Discerning the difference between reformation and re-formation is the challenge of our day. May God give us wisdom to know what’s right and the courage to do it regardless of who is happy or not!

, , ,

No Comments

Some thoughts on Us & Them

This past weekend was the Preserving the Truth Conference at the First Baptist Church of Troy, MI. I had the privilege of speaking in a main session and was also asked to participate in a panel discussion. I believe the audio will be posted soon, but the site already has some of the notes up from other speakers (I didn’t supply any). In prep for the panel discussion, we were given a list of potential questions that might be asked. As a participant, I appreciated this since it allowed me to think generally about the topic before the discussion started.

A couple of the questions touched on areas about which I have been writing and speaking over the past few years, and one in particular strikes me as representative of the present challenges we face when talking about the ecclesiastical landscape. Here’s the question: “Much has been written about the differences between fundamentalism and conservative evangelicalism. What do you consider to be the most significant differences and why?” When this question came up, it was directed toward me, so I got to kick off the discussion (for better or worse). The problem for me is that I have been arguing for a while, and stated again during the panel, that I think those categories are not helpful any longer. I was able to offer a brief answer there and I’d like to restate and expand on it here.

I believe the question presupposes an Us and Them arrangement that isn’t workable for a few reasons: (1) there is no consensus on who the Us or Them actually is; (2) there is little agreement on what makes Us to be Us or Them to be Them; and (3) some of what some claim is distinctive about Us also happens to be reflected in Them (and vice versa). Let me unpack that a little more.

Contrasting fundamentalism with conservative evangelicalism will only work if it can be shown that both labels represent distinct and coherent groups. If, however, one or either of them lacks distinctiveness and coherence, then the contrast and comparison process is severely hampered (if not rendered impossible). Does anybody really doubt that a distinct and coherent fundamentalism no longer exists? How many sub-groups within self-professing fundamentalism have formed their own Us so as to be distinguished from a Them composed of other self-professing fundamentalists? And there is even less clarity about what constitutes a conservative evangelical at this point in developments on the evangelical scene.

Even if I were to grant, for sake of discussion, that fundamentalism as an identifiable movement still exists, there still isn’t agreement as to what makes it distinct and coherent. The question presupposes that there is something about us which gives us our identity and that something is clearly distinct from what gives the conservative evangelicals their identity. Let’s say, for instance, that fundamentalism represents a combination of orthodox doctrine and a commitment to separatism (a claim with which I would agree in principle). Are there not significant debates happening among those who claim this name about orthodoxy and separatism (both in theology and practice)? In truth, aren’t there debates about whether mere orthodoxy is a sufficient doctrinal basis for fundamentalism? Are there not significant debates about the meaning and practice of separatism?

Whatever remains of the movement is not driven by common theology and conviction regarding separatism, but by long-standing relationships and institutional identities. We have our circle of friends and the institutions of which we approve (and the friends of our friends and institutions in fellowship with the ones we like), and these constitute the Us that we then label as fundamentalism. But there are a bunch of groups just like this that all claim to be fundamentalism and operate with a similar Us and Them mindset. Each subset is trying to forge its own distinct and coherent version of fundamentalism, and when it does it is also identifying an Us as distinguished from Them. Even the conference last week, good as it was, still was working at a reformulation of what constitutes a fundamentalism worth saving as in distinction from those kinds of fundamentalism which shouldn’t be saved and from evangelicalism (conservative and beyond).

I believe that this paradigm is broken. Instead of evaluating the ecclesiastical landscape by the truth claims of the Scripture, it can easily fall prey to evaluating it by party affiliation. If the Scriptures require that we be orthodox in doctrine and separatist in commitment, then those are the real tests of our fellowship. We may choose to limit some aspects of our fellowship for more narrow reasons, but the reasons for doing so on the basis of perceived status within or outside of fundamentalism.

When the case for barring fellowship is made in terms of what it does to the boundaries of fundamentalism, I would contend that there is enormous danger that the Us versus Them paradigm is contaminating the discussion. That someone or some institution doesn’t wear our label isn’t the issue. The real issue is whether they hold to the Faith once delivered to the saints and whether they will earnestly contend for that Faith.

, , , ,

No Comments

How not to write a post…

Well, the blog came back to life just in time for me to eat some crow. It sat dormant for over a month with technical glitches, which meant, to my chagrin, that the post regarding the ACCC resolution was front and center the whole time. Why did that cause me chagrin? One reason is simply that I acknowledged in the post that I am sympathetic toward the ACCC’s position on separatism, so I did not want my very specific disagreement to be over-magnified (like I was rubbing it in their faces for 30 days).

A larger reason was that I had concluded, based on a comment made by Frank Sansone over at SharperIron, that I needed to make a correction to the post. Frank rightly pointed out, I believe, that I had allowed myself to use a bad argument with regard to the Jack Schaap situation. By dragging that back into the picture I made it seem like my concern was limited to the Baptist Friends Conference (BFC), when I was really just trying to illustrate a principle—we look negatively at decisions made by those perceived to be outside of our movement, yet interpret as positively as we can those decisions made by people perceived to be on the inside. The bottom line is that Frank’s comment caused me to reread what I had written and I realized it wasn’t written well. FWIW, because my blog was down, I re-joined SI in order to make the clarification, but it took a day for my permission to get done and by that time the thread had deteriorated so I decided to wait until the blog came back up. Nobody here thought it would take over a month for that to happen.

So, I already felt a little bad that the second half of that post was written so poorly, when, as providence would have it, on the day the blog comes back up I receive a letter from a good brother who is connected to the ACCC. His letter was both gracious and firm—the kind of letter one should write to express disagreement in a manly way (if I may use a non-pc phrase). He wasn’t trashing me for the post, but he took strong exception to it. I don’t agree with all of his arguments against it, but my heart sank as I read portions of it because he was right.

Specifically, I was wrong to accuse the ACCC of a “glaring inconsistency” because they passed a resolution about T4G but there was no resolution against the BFC. That accusation represents a kind of judgmentalism on my part that was uncharitable (and therefore ungodly) and an arrogant assumption on my part that they were deliberately ignoring the other conference (when in fact they may have had no knowledge of it). I played the fool in charging them with this and I need to apologize publicly since my wrongful speech was public. I have wrongly accused the men who crafted and passed this resolution and I am very sorry to have done so.

I am not sure what the proper blog process is for correcting the old post, but I will try to figure out something that acknowledges the weakness of its argument and the wrongful accusation. At this point I believe I will edit the old post and then offer a further word of clarification regarding my original point in a day or so. I am thankful that this brother challenged me about what I had written. Obviously, I needed it. I hope you will also feel the liberty to bring to my attention anything in what I write that you believe needs to be challenged. SDG.

, , ,

No Comments

Stuff Fundies Should Hate

Psalm 119:30 says, ‘I have chosen the way of truth: thy judgments have I laid before me.’ That word laid is a sexual term which literally means the same thing as a man laying with a woman. God was saying that God’s laws should be as intimate as a marriage partner in a sexual liason.

In the next verse, David gets more graphic. ‘I have stuck unto thy testimonies: O LORD, put me not to shame.’ That word stuck means ‘the act of a man entering his wife’; it is sexual intercourse. God says that the Word of God should be the Christian’s lover, and nothing should be closer to him than the Bible. The Words of God are supposed to be the most intimate lover of his life.”

- Dr. Jack Schaap, Marriage: The Divine Intimacy, p. 50.

I was reminded again of this nonsense by a site that likes to skewer fundamentalism by pointing out its strangest birds and their bizarre views and practices. Where does one start when interacting with garbage like this? Let’s start with the bad exegesis and work out from there. First, I have no idea where Jack came up with these definitions (other than his twisted imagination). The words used here don’t mean anything close to what he says. The Hebrew word translated “laid” has absolutely nothing to do with sex. It looks like Schaap is importing English slang into his definition of a biblical term. Frankly, that he sees a reference to sex in the meaning of that word is disturbing.

The word translated “stuck” does not mean what he says either. It can be used to signify close relationships like husband and wife (Gen 2:27), but is also used in this way about Ruth and Naomi (Ruth 1:14) and the men of Judah and David (2 Sam 20:2). The word has nothing to do with one thing entering another. It means for two things to be attached to one another. Six verses earlier the psalmist uses the same word when he writes, “My soul cleaveth unto the dust” (Ps 119:25).

Even if Schaap could make the case, which he can’t, that in some places the word has a sexual nuance, he is guilty of a basic exegetical fallacy to conclude that it has that nuance in this verse. Context is always king in determining the precise meaning of a term out of its possible meanings. To have a sexual connotation would demand that there be something about sex in the context, but there is nothing that would even remotely suggest that here. Schaap reads that into the text, not out of the text.

So, there is absolutely no justification lexically for his seeing sexual analogies in these words. It’s possible that, in a moment of charity, we might grant that, since the word translated “stuck” can be used of how closely attached to one another a husband and wife ought to be, it is possible to argue that the relationship between a person and God’s testimonies ought to be like the closeness of a marriage. To say that a husband and wife are inseparable, though, isn’t a reference to sex. To pick that part of the marital relationship and transfer it to a person’s relationship to God’s Word is just plain sick. It is patently unfaithful to the text of Scripture and creates a horribly distorted conception of how we relate to God’s Word.

If this bizarre window into the mind and ministry of Jack Schaap and FBC Hammond were an anomaly, it might be understandable to not make too much of it. It isn’t an anomaly though. God’s Word carries about as much authority there as a book of illustrations—both function as convenient sources from which texts and stories can be sprinkled throughout the pastor’s speeches. Whenever God’s Word is subjected to an egotistic agenda like the one that has ruled Hammond for decades, that same agenda will produce and protect the kind of moral perversions that have plagued that place.

Theological perversion and moral perversion tend to go hand in hand. When Schaap treats God’s Word like this, it is not difficult to see why the two grow side by side. Describing a believer’s commitment to God’s Word in sexual terms is sick and sickening. Only a warped mind would see sex in Psalm 119:30-31.

I am extremely grateful that I grew up and have served Christ in a completely different orbit than the one inhabited by men like Hyles and Schaap. I first heard of Hyles while I was a college student, but it didn’t take more than a few sermon tapes (back in the days of cassettes!) to conclude that I had heard enough. During my senior year (1982-83), when Hyles came to Greenville to preach, I volunteered to work in the dorm in place of the guys who wanted to go hear him. What stands out about that now is that he preached some weird sermon about “giving your all to Jesus” from Isaiah that included an edgy sexual slant to it (at least that was the report from one of the guys who went). And even back then there were moral issues being covered up. I raise this to simply point out that none of this is a new phenomenon. Hammond has been marked by biblical and moral unfaithfulness for decades.

Frankly, I would be very happy to live my life completely ignoring the weirdness found in Hammond and its orbit. It matters to me mainly as a window into the very strange ecclesiastical politics by which too many people operate. Men can go to Hammond or speak along side of Schaap and it doesn’t really seem to matter at all. Schaap trys to recoup some of his losses among his father-in-law’s old guard by cozying up to some new friends and we’re supposed to be hopeful that changes are being made. 

None of this is built on theological agreement. It’s all about pragmatic alliances. This will last about as long as when the Sword crowd and the FBF/World Congress of Fundamentalists forged a temporary alliance against Falwell in the mid 1980s. It will end in the same kind of ugly break up that did, but that’s not the real problem. The real problem is that, just like back then, talk about biblical separation will ring hollow because it is being applied so arbitrarily. Seriously, Schaap is okay, but Dever is not? Complain about both or neither, but don’t bother talking to me if you intend to justify or ignore Schaap while condemning Dever. If you are vocal about “platform fellowship” with others, but ignore it with Schaap, you have no credibility. (If you don’t have a problem with Schaap, you lack a lot more than credibility!)

If people are really concerned about the next generation, then they should get serious about applying the truth in this generation.

, , ,

No Comments

The Quixotic Quest for Conformity

Over the past couple of posts I’ve tried to assert main two ideas: (1) we should recognize the difference between principles and their applications; and (2) we must treat disagreements over applications differently than we do disagreement over principles. I think these are helpful ideas, but even if we agree on them, we still have to put them into practice and inevitably differences will surface. My hope is not to end or avoid all differences, but to help us be able to interact about them more effectively so that we make biblically sound decisions and provide wise leadership for our churches.

In trying to show the difference between principles and applications, I mentioned the timeless, transcultural principle that children are to honor their parents, but I also pointed out that applying that principle takes different shapes in different cultures. And it was this difference that I tried to highlight in the second post with the shorthand of this and that. We might agree completely on the obligation that children have to honor their parents, but disagree just as completely about what that means when it comes down to the choice of a mate, for instance. Clearly, some have elevated their particular application to the point where it must be followed or else one’s commitment to the principle is called into question. In terms of my two main ideas, because they fail to distinguish between principle and application, they subsequently fail to treat the disagreement on this matter properly (i.e., as a matter of judgment, not as a matter of disobedience).

To move it closer to the issue which is central to this whole discussion, even if two people agree completely that, for instance, 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15 teaches a principle which calls for separation from persistently disobedient brothers, the task of making applications still has to be done. Using my this and that rubric, these two may agree fully about this (the biblical principle), yet not be completely in agreement on that (to whom it applies). My contention is simply that debates about applications should be handled differently than disagreements about principles.

Let me share an anecdote to illustrate my concern. Years ago, our pastoral staff attended a conference in which a number of hot topics were being addressed and position statements were being formed to rally the younger generation to stand for the truth (and at that time I was 28 years old and clearly part of that younger generation). One of the topics was dress standards. I’d already clashed with some folks at the conference on another issue, so I decided to stick to something where I could just sit quietly in (basic) agreement, but a couple of men from our staff decided to attend this session. The man leading the session did an excellent job, I was told, of navigating a pretty strenuous debate about how to word the position statement. The side that won the debate produced a statement that focused on the principles of modesty and gender distinction, whereas the side that lost wanted specific applications that detailed exactly what those principles looked like in the fall of 1989. One of our guys heard one of the men who had lost the debate complaining on his way out of the session, “We need to give our people absolutes and we just gave them relativism.” This guy had it completely backward!

He wanted to make his applications absolute and bind the consciences of God’s people with them. Allowing room for godly believers to wrestle with applications seemed to him to be a concession to compromise. There are probably a few reasons for this kind of thinking—faulty views of sanctification and pastoral leadership being two of them—but they’re not my concern right now. More significant to me is the danger that his thinking would do if it were included in the mechanism being used by the conference. The goal was to produce a statement that outlined commitments to remain faithful to God’s Word. Injecting his applications into it would have placed them on the same level as Scripture. That would have been both unfaithful to the Word and unfruitful for God’s people.

I am sure this brother was not self-consciously wanting to add to the Scriptures and, thereby, undercut their sufficiency. His dogmatism about his own particular applications, though, had the functional effect of doing just that. He had decided what modesty and gender distinction actually looked like, so everybody else needed to get in line with that. To doubt his applications was tantamount to rejecting the Bible’s authority (and clearly to show that you were not Spirit-filled!). I wish what was happening in this case was unusual, but the fact is that we’ve all seen plenty of similar kinds of man-made guidelines passed off as biblical requirements—no hand held microphones, no overhead projectors, no singing songs not in our hymnbooks, no facial hair, no small groups on Sunday evenings, no playing sports against public schools, etc.

I honestly have little problem with anybody who happens to think the things on that list are defensible applications of some principle, but none of those come close to being the principle itself. Getting to them always takes at least one step and thus they must be held more loosely than Scriptural mandates. The failure to recognize that step has lead to a lot of unnecessary fights among God’s people.

, , , ,

No Comments