on one man’s move to Southern from Ontario

I follow a blog by Michael A. G. Haykin. He is extremely Calvinistic, but seems to have a very good understanding of history. As such he is interesting to read.

Today he posts on the reasons for his move from the Toronto Baptist Seminary (where he has been Principal for the last four years) to Southern Seminary in Louisville. TBS is the school founded by T. T. Shields, housed in the Jarvis Street Baptist Church in Toronto. TBS would certainly have been in the fundamentalist orbit in the past, I don’t think one would consider it such today.

Dr. Haykin in his post offers these words as an assessment of the situation of orthodox Christianity in Canada, and I don’t think he has in view the positions of fundamentalists, but rather of the more conservative Baptists in Canada.

Historia Ecclesiastica: “Thinking of a move, as I have noted above, has not been easy. I love Ontario and I know, after twenty-five years of teaching in this province, the great need we have for solid theological education. In a word, the churches need a school that is deeply committed to orthodoxy, yet fully in touch with the culture. Not an easy thing to be.

“All too often, it is one or the other: conversant with the culture and out of step with Scriptural realities, or rooted in biblical orthodoxy but fighting old battles that most people no longer remember. As Luther is reported to have once said: if we are fighting and skirmishing where the enemy is not attacking, we are failing to truly fight the war.

And more than ever I believe we need to be committed to networking and the need to labour alongside those who stand for the same core truths that we love. The absolute independency that some in this province prize is, in my opinion, the high road to impotency. To be sure, if we need to stand alone when others are caving in to theological error and the passing fads of theologia, then stand alone we must. Dare to be a Daniel, as we have long sung. But all too often this translates into a pettiness and a refusal to work with others unless they see utterly everything our way. Without sacrificing theological integrity we need to find essentially like-minded brothers and sisters and labour side by side.

These sentiments seem to me to be something of what Bob Bixby calls ‘the emerging middle‘. There is this anxious desire for something of a less contentious, but still orthodox theological position. It is the viewpoint of the ‘young fundamentalist’.

The tension between being ‘deeply committed to orthodoxy, yet fully in touch with the culture’ is the evangelical proposition. This IS the issue between fundamentalism and evangelicalism in the 1950s and continues to be the issue today. The evangelical answer to the question is to stand on the ‘in touch with culture’ side of the divide and the fundamentalist answer is to stand on the ‘a pox on culture’ side of the divide.

Dr. Haykin rightly observes the dangers of both answers. On the one hand is to be so culturally ‘hip’ that truth, Christ, and Scripture are left by the wayside, with nods of appreciation and protestations of loyalty. On the other hand is the danger of a descent into another world, where petty personal issues become the crusades of the day.

There are Christians on both sides of the question who don’t fall into the traps their answers risk. I don’t think anyone would seriously question the doctrinal orthodoxy of the current crop of conservative evangelicals the young fundamentalists love so much. That would mean men like Mohler, Dever, MacArthur et al. At the same time, there are men who answer the dividing question with fundamentalist answers. Their orthodoxy is unquestioned, of course, and there is some concession by the young fundamentalist that these, at least, have not strayed into the realm total cultural irrelevancy or descended (too deeply) into petty divisions. In this category we would find names like Bauder and Doran, perhaps.

Those who advocate for the ’emerging middle’ seem to think that parties on both sides of this divide are changing and a new reality is emerging. I don’t see that happening at all. The divide remains. Those answering the question as evangelicals are committed to the evangelical answer to the question.

A change, nevertheless, is occurring. The change is among those wearing the fundamentalist label. Many among them (many of them young, hence the term) are changing their answer to the dividing question. The evangelicals remain evangelicals still. There is still a tendency to make some kinds of concessions to outsiders (more liberal Christians or even the world) in order to remain ‘in touch’ with culture.

You can find examples of these concessions in many evangelical commentaries. They make nuanced statements on some areas of orthodoxy to show that they ‘get it’ and are not so dogmatic as to insist, for example, that John wrote the gospel of John, or that it is possible that Moses’ mother was a woman of exceedingly advanced age before she had children. In discussing the ‘saints’ of this age, they are willing to concede that the works of unbelievers should be ‘admired on their own merits’, all the while criticising their false doctrine. [See this blog by Rick Phillips on Mother Teresa for an example.]

The emerging middle is not a middle. It is a change by those formerly associated with fundamentalism towards evangelicalism. In time, it will be simply that. Fundamentalism will be abandoned, evangelicalism embraced. Those heading in that direction expect fundamentalism to be shattered by these changes, I suspect.

For myself, I really am not all that interested in being ‘in touch with culture’. The culture of this world has nothing to offer in terms of spiritual value. I think we should understand culture in order to understand people, but we should be preaching against the corrosive influence of culture that deadens the soul to spiritual things and we should be calling people out of the culture of this age into a true discipleship of Jesus Christ.

May God grant us the wisdom to do just that.

Regards,
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Comments

  1. Andy Efting says:

    I am fairly certain that Dr. Haykin got the Luther quote wrong, although I can’t seem to find the actual quote anywhere right now. Luther’s point, if I remember correctly, was that we should be fighting where the enemy is at work.

    I do not understand the strong need that so many feel to engage popular culture. Maybe it is the desire for relevance or respectability, but I certainly think it is misplaced.

  2. Chris Anderson says:

    Hi, Don.

    What is it about Phillips article that bothered you? The quote you gave is from a paragraph in which Phillips denies that what she pursued is remotely Christian. I understood him to say that her charity may be admirable on a purely human level, but that the religion which she promoted and in which she engaged is unchristian. I guess I’m not bothered by a qualifier that says “She helped a lot of people, but…”

  3. Chris Anderson says:

    Note: When I say “she helped a lot of people,” I hope it’s clear that I’m saying she fed them, etc. Much more importantly, she damned a lot of people with her teaching. I hate being misunderstood.

  4. Don Johnson says:

    Hi Chris

    The article itself didn’t bother me. I offered it as a current example of the new evangelical mindset. Concessions must always be made to the left when criticising one of their own.

    “Of course we respect their good works” and remarks like that. The obligatory concessions are meant to deflect criticism. The fact is that Mother Teresa was a proponent and representative of a system that damns men to hell. I see no need to make concessions for any alleged good works.

    Philips was correct in his criticisms, but not plain enough. The criticisms are somewhat muted by the obligatory “respect”.

    Regards,
    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  5. Chris Anderson says:

    I thought he was pretty straightforward, actually. And she’s certainly not “one of their own.

    Cal Thomas’ commentary, on the other hand? Ugh.

  6. Don Johnson says:

    I will concede that Phillips was better than most, and certainly better than Thomas. But I think that there is still that compulsion to make concessions to the left that will bring about statements like the one I highlighted.

    In any case, my main point is that there is a divide, it is a question of practical philosophy, and the young fundies are simply kidding themselves if they think the conservative evangelicals are changing. The young fundies are changing, not the evangelicals.

    Regards,
    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3