indifferentists defined

We are in a series of posts which serve as commentary on Kevin Bauder’s tenth lecture on the subject of Biblical Separation, delivered at International Baptist College September 15-17, 2008. This is post number 2. Earlier posts on the lecture series can be found here:

Posts specifically regarding Lecture 10:

  1. is separation a fundamental doctrine

The term ‘indifferentist’ is revived by Kevin Bauder in his discussion of Biblical Separation. The term comes from J. Gresham Machen, a warrior in the 1930s for the orthodox cause. He is a man much admired by fundamentalists, though he himself didn’t like the label. My impression is that he was somewhat embarrassed by the shenanigans of some purported fundamentalists. We share his embarrassment, but don’t share his eschewing of the label.

What is an ‘indifferentist’? An indifferentist is a Christian who holds to orthodox doctrines, but is quite willing to work with professing Christians who deny those same doctrines. In other words, though an indifferentist is ‘in the circle’ of Christianity, he is willing to work with some of those who are clearly ‘outside the circle’, and is even willing to call them good Christian brothers.

In order to understand the term more fully, I have assembled a series of clips from Kevin Bauder’s lecture. I’ll summarize Bauder’s argument, then offer a few comments. You will find me generally in agreement with this portion of Bauder’s argument. The clips are here:

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Bauder introduces the term ‘indifferentist’ in the first clip, [05:35] Defining New Evangelicalism as Indifferentism.

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The New Evangelicalism is characterized by the act of knowingly extending Christian fellowship, cooperation, and recognition to people who are apostates, people who have fallen away from the orthodox fundamental doctrines of Christianity. Bauder points out a parallel between these individuals and those Machen called ‘Indifferentists’. Of course, Machen is writing from another era. He is describing a middle group in the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy whom others might call Moderates. It was this group that handed the victories of those early controversies to the Modernists. Bauder says that the New Evangelical philosophy is more than merely a parallel, it is a revival of the philosophy of the Indifferentists.

In the second clip, [12:09] Question – What to do about Indifferentists….

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Bauder goes on to say that the issue that faced Bible-believing Christians in the New Evangelical controversy is not ‘what to do about the apostates [modernists]’ but ‘what to do about the indifferentists [new evangelicals]’. Bauder says that the New Evangelical, by his recognition of the apostates as true Christians ‘diminishes the importance of the gospel’. The question thus becomes, ‘What should we do with people like that?’

Between the second and third clips, Bauder discusses 2 John and its teaching on separation. I partly disagree with Bauder’s interpretation of 2 John. (He takes it as a letter to an individual person, and the admonition to be one against allowing an apostate to enter one’s own personal home. I believe the letter is written to a local church, referred to as ‘the elect lady’ and the warning is against greeting an apostate in the context of the Christian assembly.) That interpretational difference doesn’t affect the significant interpretation that is the basis of the third clip, [28:44] Indifferentists tainted by more than hello:

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if you so much as give an apostate a civil greeting, you become a partaker in his evil deeds. You literally become his partner. (The word is koinoneo.) That is a very serious problem. John the apostle doesn’t want you to be partners with an apostate.

Bauder teaches that if you so much as greet an apostate, you offer an encouragement that enables him to lead others to damnation. However, the situation we are confronted with in an Indifferentist is one where the Indifferentist does much more than give a civil greeting to an apostate. He actually will cooperate with, actively work with, and promote the apostate as if he is a good Christian brother. How much of a share in the work of an apostate does that kind of activity produce? As an example, Bauder mentions Billy Graham and some of his activities. In clip four, [31:59] How much damage does indifferentism do

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Bauder ‘kicks it up a notch’ in asking the question ‘how much damage does it do when an Indifferentist cooperates with an apostate?’

Finally, in clip five, [34:14] Indifferentists at the Edge of the Circle…

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Bauder makes it clear that he does not consider Indifferentists to be outside the circle (he means outside the circle of Christianity). An Indifferentist is not outside the circle, that is, he is not an apostate. But, he warns, an Indifferentist is very close to the edge of the circle. He has gone as far in betrayal as you can go without becoming an apostate – what he has done is “profoundly evil” and very damaging.

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It is vitally important to remember that when Bauder uses the term Indifferentist, he means New Evangelical. The New Evangelical is one who was completely indifferent to the apostasy of many with whom he cooperated. This puts the orthodox believer in a real quandary, because the New Evangelical / Indiffentist is truly a brother in Christ. What to do now? (This is a constant refrain in these clips. — BTW, there is a point of divergence between my view and Bauder’s here. He asserts that there was a vast undecided middle in Evangelicalism for thirty years or so, trying to answer this question. The mean fundamentalists drove the undecided off, according to him. See my post, ‘the fundamentalist from the X dimension‘ for details.)

The use of the term Indifferentist is helpful for us in this way: it speaks to the heart of the New Evangelical problem – they were indifferent to the errors of the apostates. William Ashbrook used the term ‘the New Neutralism’ to describe the same thing. Later, his son, John Ashbrook published a book called ‘New Neutralism II’. The problem, it seems is an ongoing one. Indifferentists are constantly around, putting the orthodox believer in a bind. What are the Orthodox to do with those who deny the gospel by their associations, but not with their lips?1 I suspect that these ‘moderates’ exist in every generation and lurk around in every circle. There are some imbued with a more moderate philosophy who attempt to act as a tempering influence in fundamentalism, even today. Is it impossible to imagine some like this amongst the circle of the conservative evangelical (though more to the left than ‘our’ moderates) and another circle of more ‘moderate’ professors in the groups beyond the conservative evangelical realm?

In this post, I am mainly in agreement with Bauder’s presentation. We will soon diverge, however. I am not sure how wide the divide is, I’ll leave that for others to judge. Bauder will assert that there is no more New Evangelicalism. I will differ with that assertion. Bauder will assert that Conservative Evangelicals are loathe to speak ill of the ‘Indifferentists’ that exist today [but they aren’t New Evangelicals … whatever]. I agree, but my attitude towards the so-called Conservative Evangelicals is going to differ.

More to come.

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Notes:

  1. Please note, this is my terminology. Bauder might say that Indifferentists demean the gospel, not deny. I am saying that the actions of Indifferentists, at least some [many?] of the Indifferentists, actually denies the gospel. It is possible, as Bauder asserted elsewhere in these lectures, to deny the gospel by deeds. See my other post, ‘deny the gospel by deeds‘ for more. []