parsing Doran

In the comments to my ‘still no middle ground’ post, I made this comment to Dave Doran:

When Dever posted his response on 9marks to the Minnick interview, your answer (very early in the thread) was excellent. But on the other hand, you have said other things at other venues that seem disconnected with fundamentalist philosophy. Here I am thinking specifically of your recent message at the FBF conference and your speaking at a church in the “MacArthur orbit” not too long ago.

In response, Dave said this:

I’d be interested to hear what your concerns about the FBF message are. … I suppose I should say, I am interested in your concerns, but not likely to engage in much discussion over them simply because I am trying to cut back on blog discussions currently. So, please do offer your assessment and I will attempt to listen carefully, just probably won’t respond lest I find myself in a long discussion.

Well folks, I am not sure of the wisdom of publishing this commentary. This could too easily be construed as a personal attack. My focus is on what Dave said and what it seems to convey about the directions fundamentalist leaders are taking (i.e., mostly inaction while the younger set speculate about the future of fundamentalism).

So at the outset, let me offer my appreciation to Dave for requesting a more detailed assessment. I am not planning an extended discussion of this beyond this post. As Dave mentioned, understanding our busy schedules and the need to minimize some of the blog activity, I will let his response stand as is though I may add a point or two if absolute clarity is needed.

I have listened to the message several times now. [You can find the whole message here, downloadable mp3 and also an online video format – couldn’t figure out the download.] I plan to lay out below a few points of concern from my perspective.

Three challenges: the heart of the message

It seems to me that the heart of this message is stated in the three challenges Dave poses for fundamentalists at the beginning of the 21st century:

‘What is the disobedient brother? What constitutes fellowship and compromising fellowship? and What are we going to do about worldliness, churchwise?’ [34:01]

Clip: Three Challenges

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This comes at about the mid-point of the message, the first part of the message being basically introductory, setting the stage for a discussion of the ‘challenges’ Dave sees facing us.

How to respond to the challenges: think hard

A bit earlier in the message [33:37], Dave says that we have to ‘wrestle’ with the answers to the questions surrounding a fragmented fundamentalism. Dave says that in our fragmentation, we put labels on people and just expect our young people to accept the labels with no information or understanding. We need to wrestle with the way to answer our young people, to really think about this, lest our young people dismiss separation as hyper-separation and go on over to non-separation.

Clip: We Have to Think About That

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First of all, at this point in time, we are fifty years from the Graham New York crusade. We are twenty-five to thirty years from the Falwell/van Impe ‘pseudo-fundamentalist’ shenanigans. We have been thinking and talking about these things for a LOONG time. Doesn’t anyone have the answers? And really, do we just slap labels on people and expect our young people to buy it? [I suppose some do.] If we are all that obtuse, then we deserve to lose our young people. And if our young people are that simplistic, well…

My problem here is that Dave sounds like a Canadian politician. “Let’s study it!” Our national mantra. We are confronted with a difficult, touchy problem. What to do, what to do? Let’s really think about it. Let’s wrestle with this question. Let’s have a Royal Commission. Let’s agonize. Let’s come down on all sides of the issue at the same time so that everyone is happy! [oops, sorry, mentioning Canadian politicians get’s my rant up…]

So at what point do we stop thinking, stop making things complicated, and simply lead?

The historical tensions we have experienced in fundamentalism are not that hard to explain. The issues can be grasped, even by people today, and the rationale behind positions taken can be explained. What is so hard about it? And no, not every position taken by fundamentalists in the past was ALWAYS the best position, but their thinking and rationale is explainable, understandable, and rooted in an essential philosophy. Is it so hard to build appreciation for the philosophy?

The third challenge first: too brief

Of the three challenges facing fundamentalism, Dave spent little time on the third one. In fact the entirety of what he said about it is contained in the following clip.

Clip: What does worldliness mean

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The issue of worldliness may be the most important issue facing fundamentalism today. The younger crowd is daily confronted with it and many of them are failing, enmeshed as they are in a morass of video and audio stimulation. In addition, the divide between fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals is no more clearly seen in many cases than on the cultural/worldliness front.

I assume Dave has a position here, but we are left with only questions, again as if it is a matter too weighty to really deal with. Can’t we say that Hollywood values and products are worldly and we need to get rid of them? (For one example…)

The question of who is disobedient: focused on the past, not the present

Dave offers two extremes and rejects them. First the extreme of Rice/van Impe/Falwell that “I am a companion of anyone who fears the Lord”, the denial of so-called secondary separation. The other extreme is the absolutist extreme that says all Biblical truth is essential and any deviation from my view of Biblical truth demands separation. Dave rejects both of these, for a view that to me sounds like this:

  1. An apostate is not a brother, so we must separate from him
  2. A new evangelical is not separated from apostates, so we must separate from him.

We are left, then, with a need to determine whether or not a man is a new evangelical. Yet we have been told over and over again that no such animal exists anymore (I beg to differ, but let’s accept it for sake of argument). If there are no new evangelicals anymore, then what barriers remain between partnership with conservative evangelicals? These definitions focus on the struggle of 50 to 100 years ago, they don’t focus on our current situation today, especially if you say there are no more new evangelicals.

Here is the clip where Dave gives us this ‘bottom line’.

Clip: the real issue

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Actually, I think Dave thinks the question for fellowship (ministry partnership) is wider than this, given his answer to me in the ‘still no middle ground’ post:

If it means that there is distance between Mark Dever’s position and mine, then the answer is yes, there is middle ground between us. And that leads to the answer to the second question, no I won’t be inviting Mark to preach at Inter-City any time soon.

Whether one labels a conservative evangelical as ‘disobedient’ or not is really irrelevant. The fact is there are differences significant enough to preclude partnership.


Is that sufficient to show my concerns? To sum up then…

In the message, it seems

  1. That separation is hard, requires much thought (still!!) and must be carefully nuanced and weighed out.
  2. That worldliness is hard to define and we aren’t sure what it means.
  3. That the only reasons for separation are apostasy or new evangelicalism.

And yet on the other hand we have statements elsewhere where Dave is very clear on his separatism, on the distance between fundamentalism and conservative evangelicalism, on the need for purity and so on.

The only surprising thing to me is that Dave’s uncertainties would be expressed in the FBF conference, of all places. Surely that forum would be one for expressing certainty and leadership, not uncertainty and doubts.



  1. Dave says:


    Are you suggesting that I have claimed that new evangelicals no longer exist? I don’t think I’ve ever made this claim, and if I haven’t then I really don’t see how your comment is an answer to what I stated. I must be missing something.

  2. No, Dave, I am not suggesting that you said anything about NE no longer existing. Some do say that, however. I can see how my asides on that confuse what I am saying above. Sorry about that. I’m arguing there with my ‘imaginary friends’.

    Nevertheless, I did get the picture that you were emphasizing separation from apostates (we all agree) and separation from new evangelicals (you and I agree, but some say there are no new evangelicals – and some aren’t willing to separate from them). But my point there is that you seem to be limiting the conversation about separation to those two categories and those two categories alone. Hence my concluding statement #3 at the end of my post above.

    It seems that these two categories are about a very old argument (as old as me, almost). So if, as your message seemed to me to suggest, separation is primarily about those two categories, is there really any argument about separation from conservative evangelicals?

    1. They are not apostates.
    2. Arguably, they are not new evangelicals.

    Nonetheless, you indicated earlier in your response to my questions in the thread ‘still no middle ground’ that Dever, for example, won’t be invited to Inter-City any time soon. Why? Because significant differences remain.

    So, what are those differences and why do we have to think so carefully about it and why can’t we simply and plainly articulate to our young fellows why we can’t at this time invite someone like that to our pulpit? Or join in some other ministry endeavour?

    I don’t think this is that hard.

    And… you haven’t addressed my other points. Do they stand?

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  3. Dave says:

    As I mentioned when I asked you to express your concerns, I really didn’t and don’t intend to discuss much here. I was just confused in this case by the fact that you made a criticism of my presentation on the basis of something other people seem to have said and I’ve not said.

    To be honest, I don’t think your points stand and I have a hard time seeing how most of them really interact with what I said. I explicitly said that the third challenge was too big to be tackled in my session so I am not going to address it. It’s fine to disagree with that decision, but not to give the impression that I actually attempted to address that point.

    And the suggestion that there is something wrong with saying that we need to do hard thinking on these matters seems betrayed by your little series on the lengthy discussions with Dr. Minnick. If this is all simple and does not require thoughtful interaction, then why waste so many pixels and so many hours on it? Don, you haven’t made a counter argument, you’ve simply tried to discredit the idea by comparing it to Canadian politics.

    But, as you can tell, I’ve started to slip into a discussion when I really shouldn’t. So, having said these things, I’ll bow out. I asked for help understanding where I may have been unclear and you’ve obliged my request. Thanks.

  4. Thanks for your response, Dave.

    I will be posting more in coming days on the subject which I think will interact with your questions.

    I will say that I think that those in leadership positions in fundamentalism have been unwilling to forthrightly address the distinctions between fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals. I don’t know why that is so, there could be multiple and conflicting motives, different for each one.

    In any case, what I am pushing for is for leadership to articulate the fundamentalist position for the current era. What should we do and why should we do it with respect to conservative evangelicals AND encroaching worldliness in our churches? It seems to me that these are THE vital questions facing fundamentalism today.

    It also seems to me that it is not hard to answer them.

    BTW, to any and all lurkers out there, if you think my analysis is skewed, if I am totally nuts, or what? Feel free to chime in, now that the ‘big dog’ has had his say!

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  5. Dave says:

    I assume by the use of the phase “big dog” that you actually watched the video version of my FBF message! :)

  6. Well, Dave, on that last, yes, I did watch it. But alas, I have to say that, I, too, resemble that remark.

    I am thinking about a post about it one of these days.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  7. Here I am thinking specifically of your recent message at the FBF conference and your speaking at a church in the “MacArthur orbit” not too long ago.

    What do you mean by the term “MacArthur orbit”?


  8. Hi Charles,

    I mean that Dave spoke at a church in the last year that has strong ties to MacArthur. That is not to condemn the church, and Dave can go wherever he likes. But it is confusing to those of us who see significant differences between MacArthur and fundamentalism. Dave will make strong statements about separatism, etc, but then show up in a place that seems outside of the separatist loop. It’s confusing and seems to me to give an uncertain sound.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3