to write or not to write, that is the question

In a recent meeting of the Minnesota Baptist Association’s men’s fellowship, a question was raised by the panel discussion moderator, Kevin Bauder. The question and answer is highlighted in a post by Ben Wright, claiming that fundamentalist churches have nothing to fear from the ministry of conservative evangelicals, especially the ministry of his hero, Mark Dever.

The question was something like this: should Bauder have availed himself of the opportunity to contribute an article to the 9Marks e-Journal or not? The answer of older pastors essentially was, “No.” Ben explains the rationale this way:

Then the conversation turned to Bauder seeking advice from these pastors as to how he should respond to a request from Mark Dever to write something for one of his publications. (He later identifies this request, which he declined, as an article in the 9Marks E-Journal on what fundamentalists look for in seminary education.

The responses were mixed. The first was a definite no, and the rest were more ambiguous. I was fascinated by what their answers revealed about their rationale, their motivations, and their fears. Their basic argument was that Bauder writing for Dever could function as an endorsement of Dever’s ideas as well as other conservative evangelicals. The chief threats to them seem to be losing members of their churches to Bethlehem Baptist Church (pastored by John Piper) and younger generations of fundamentalists identifying more with conservative evangelicals than their roots.

Bauder comments on Ben’s post, saying that he didn’t write the article due to the press of time more than anything else, and encouraging all to listen to the response of the younger pastors. So I did, and their answer was essentially, “Yes,” with my understanding of the main rationale being, “you ought to take advantage of opportunities to influence young evangelicals towards a more fundamentalist position.” (You can listen to the recording yourself to see if I have gotten it right concerning the answers.)

A comment later in the thread by someone named Dave says this:

The automatic response to avoid assimilation or discussion of conservative evangelicals teaching does not serve most ministries well, these discussions are going on among the “young” fundamentalists and unless you engage in the discussion biblically and with knowledge of the teaching in question (not just what you have heard about the teacher in your camp) you are pretty much ineffective in steering them away from what might be legitimate concerns regarding some of these ministries and teachers.

But let’s be accurate here. I think Dave is reacting to what Ben thought he heard, but that isn’t exactly what the older pastors in the panel discussion were saying!

They weren’t giving a “sit-down and shut-up” answer to some young “whippersnapper”, they were instead offering counsel to Bauder himself, a man who knows all the background that factors into their advice.

When it comes to answering the questions of the proto-fundamentalist,1 Dave suggests that pastors need better answers than building walls and shutting down discussion. That is true.

But!

But who should be giving those answers? I assume (always dangerous) that the men in the discussion are pastors of small churches. That means they have a host of responsibilities every week – preparing at least three messages, usually four or more, meeting individually with men in the congregation for discipleship (i.e., formal Bible study or informal coffee sessions, helping out with projects, etc.), possible counseling sessions with couples/families, providing fellowship and activities for any teenagers one might have in his church, administering Sunday school programs (small though they may be), administering and leading visitation programs of various kinds, planning and preparing outreach efforts weeks or months in advance, and administering the physical facilities of the church, such as they are (cutting grass, arranging maintenance – or doing it himself, hiring trades, and on and on). It is no small task to be the pastor of a small church.

To top all this off, Dave is telling us that unless we are current with the latest literature and trends of our day, we can’t give good answers to the one or two young preacher boys we may develop every decade or so. He seems to suggest that we can’t simply give out information we have gleaned “in house”, at one of our fellowship meetings or some such gathering, or an in house publication of some kind. No, we all need to be thoroughly current in order to give good counsel to the proto-fundies.

Well, I suppose that’s true, to some extent. I try to keep as current as I can myself, I try to provide my current crop of preacher boys (my sons) with good answers to these questions.

But there is a limit to what a single pastor of a small church can do.

And this is where we depend on the Bible colleges and Seminaries to specialize in areas where we are deficient due to a lack of time or training – or both.

And this is where we worry that our seminaries are failing us.

The younger pastors at the Minnesota meeting answered Bauder’s question with a view to using contacts with Conservative Evangelicals for influencing, perhaps, some young ‘proto-conservative evangelicals’ our way. Perhaps they are right, such efforts might actually produce the desired result.

But influence works both ways. What about the possibility of such efforts (shall we call them ‘compromises’?) to influence proto-fundamentalists towards the conservative evangelical side of the equation? Is that also not a possibility?

What is the responsibility of fundamentalist seminaries, after all? Is it to gain credence and respect in the scholarly world? Is it to gain the kudoes of Conservative Evangelicals? Or is it to provide pastors for fundamentalist churches?

Which is it?

Kevin Bauder has articulated in various places that there is still a difference between Conservative Evangelicals and Fundamentalists. They have implied that the difference is significant, so significant that it ought to be maintained. If it is a difference that is significant, and it ought to be maintained, then ought there not be a clear distance maintained with clear articulation to our young proto-fundies why we maintain the difference and the distance?

Really, we who are pastors of small churches are relying heavily on fundamentalist seminaries to perpetuate our philosophy and rationale for ministry.

If our seminaries and seminary leaders fail to do that, will our years dedicated to the fundamentalist philosophy simply evaporate in one generation? Will our churches cease to be fundamentalist because no fundamentalist pastors can be found?

That is what veteran fundamentalist pastors of small churches fear. That is why they answer questions like this the way they do.

It remains to be seen, but I wonder if our fundamentalist seminaries are actually perpetuating a fundamentalist philosophy any more.

Update: My apologies! I have been informed that I misidentified the commenter on Ben’s thread as Dave Doran. I should have checked more carefully. Although Dave D usually only  signs his blogs with just “Dave”, it is true that there are more than one Dave in the world. I will have to be more careful in the future. I apologize in sackcloth and ashes. Please forgive my error!

My point, however, still stands.

Notes:

  1. What are proto-fundamentalists? They are fundamentalists in the making, maybe. Perhaps ’embryonic-fundamentalists’ or ‘latent-fundamentalists’ would be better. []

Comments

  1. RE: “It remains to be seen, but I wonder if our fundamentalist seminaries are actually perpetuating a fundamentalist philosophy any more.”

    Believe me, they are.

  2. Kent McCune says:

    Don — That wasn’t Dave Doran who commented on Ben’s thread. Check the blogger profile.

  3. Don,

    I’d love to sit with you at Tim Horton’s for a few hours of back and forth. I have a comment and then a question.

    Comment – Why should small churches and pastors of those look to seminaries? Do you understand that often times those teaching have far less experience in real-life ministry leadership than the pastor of the small congregation? I have a deep appreciation for all the schools I’ve gone to. The leaders there have much to offer. Frankly the tip of the spear for the local church should be internal wisdom and leadership that God has promised to supply for each assembly. Don’t get me wrong. This is why I believe a plurality of leadership within a local assembly is a reasonable and healthy pattern. Seeking wisdom and information from the seminaries is good. I’m just not comfortable relying up them in the way you articulate here. Don, just think through this.

    Here’s my question for you. In what ways is the fundamentalist – conservative evangelical discussion negatively effecting young leaders?

    I’m curious what you see.

    Straight Ahead!

    jt

    • Hi Joel,

      Sorry to delay approval and reply, but your comment got caught by Akismet as spam, along with the junk for… other things. Hope that doesn’t give you a complex or anything!

      BTW, I’ll buy if you come up for a Timmies. Although I’ve sworn off the fried stuff, I am into oatmeal and granola these days.

      By looking to seminaries, I mean that in general, the small church pastor especially (and most pastors generally) are not capable of keeping current with all the theological trends. We tend to rely on seminary leaders to be on the cutting edge of that information and to disseminate it to those they are training. I am coming to realize that my assumption that seminary leaders are 1) up to speed, and 2) on board with fundamentalist philosophy is not necessarily so. But in general, no one can keep up with every ‘nuance’ (to use a trendy word) in the ecclesiastical movements and goings on generally. So I say we are relying on seminaries to provide that kind of training.

      As for the effect the discussion is having on young leaders… I think there is a greater openness and willingness to enter fellowship with conservative evangelicals. By fellowship, I mean it in the Bible way of partnership, rather than the coffee way of Timmies. I think there is a rising tide of opinion that seems to say the right soteriology is all that matters and warnings against serious error are muted (or not given). (Mahaney and Driscoll are two key names in that context.) Even more than that, men with serious errors in doctrine and practice are actively promoted by some of our men. And finally, we are beginning to see a deterioration of holiness. The rocked out video-game generation, sipping substances much stronger than Tims, all the while claiming fundamentalist bona fides is what I mean here.

      Is that sufficient to answer your question?

      Maranatha!
      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

  4. Greg Linscott says:

    Don,

    I’m not thinking that commenter’s Doran… click on the link beside his name.

    • Thanks to those who corrected my error. I have updated the post. Once again, I apologize for the mis-identification. As I said to one who sent a private e-mail:

      Egg on the face is so attractive. (I guess I have to wear it today.)

      @ Ryan

      I hope you are right, but there are many indications that the philosophy being communicated is not the philosophy I have known for thirty years. Some would say the new philosophy is an improvement. Time will tell.

      Maranatha!
      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

  5. T. Pennock says:

    Don,

    I notice you’re still agonizing over a “fundamentalist philosophy.” I’m curious. What person or institution best espouses this philosophy? And, more specifically, what is it? Who are (or have been) its spokesmen, crafters, and defenders? Where can I find the documents that spell out its essentials, and upon whose authority do these non-negotiables rest?

    As you know, I espouse the fundamentalism of many early fundamentalists and, hence, don’t regard separatism as an essential to fundamentalism, although it may be a practical option in some cases. But I must agree with you that present fundamentalism spends too much time worrying about recognition, status, degrees, etc. There’s an enormous amount of peer pressure among Christian educators, and this, I fear, is, to a large extents , driving the relational changes we’re witnessing between fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals. It may be fundamentalists are no longer willing to “suffer without the camp.”

    I think you’re right, also, in questioning the negative influence conservative evangelicals might exert in a fundamentalist-evangelical pow wow. Personally, I’ve witnessed professing fundamentalists join up with conservative evangelicals, but I’ve never witnessed it the other way around. Too, I’m not sure how successful fundamentalist leaders would be in attracting conservative evangelicals. It’s a gamble, to be sure. After all, they can’t even keep what they have.
    Needless to say, there are issues, if not large fissures, in fundamentalism, and yet scarcely a fundamentalist leader has arisen to offer a compelling remedy for the many defections and general malaise pervading the movement. The fundamentalist house is in disarray, and casting amours eyes toward conservative evangelicals won’t restore order. And it appears our institutional leaders, although well educated and sincere in most instances, simply lack the experience to handle the coming fundamentalist meltdown.

    I’m fairly saddened about the silence of our fundamentalist schools in the current discussions concerning the state of fundamentalism. Their silence is telling, and it ought to give every fundamentalist pause. Why haven’t our leaders taken to the Internet to make their case? Why haven’t they entered into a collaborative effort to establish a set of forums given totally to fundamentalist issues? Where’s our brain trust? Why the unbearable silence? Except for a few, it appears most schools have issued a gag order to its faculty. One would think the heads of the various Bible departments in our schools would aggressively spell out the strengths and glories of fundamentalism and openly challenge the conservative evangelicals. But that’s not happening.

    No, Don, I think you’re justified in fearing that the fundamentalism you know, and that your site espouses, is all but gone. If separatist fundamentalists are making the case for their system, they are doing so to a very narrow band within the broader fundamentalist circle. But perhaps when you have such dismal performances by fundamentalists, as witnessed in the Minnick-Dever exchange, it’s best to keep your views very close to your chest.

    Have a good one!

    tjp

    • Tracy, I appreciate the comments. Quite a bit to consider, so if I miss something, please ask again.

      I would say that the works of Ernest Pickering would be a major source of fundamentalist philosophy, especially Biblical Separation and The Tragedy of Compromise. Also Fred Moritz has two books out on the subject.

      As I have ‘agonized’, I think that you and I are not as far apart as I once thought. It is not separation in itself that is the sine qua non of fundamentalism, but rather militancy. See Curtis Lee Law’s defining call and then subsequent history of the movement. Militancy may (and often does) lead to separation, but it isn’t simply separation in and of itself that is the issue.

      As for the fundamentalist ‘movement’… well, for something to be a movement, it has to be going somewhere.

      I think what we have today is a Conservative Evangelical movement (among others further to the left) and a stagnant pool of fundamentalists who don’t know where they are going, for the most part. One of the reasons for this is the silence you mention. Without leadership, a movement founders. Second and third generations for a movement always have a problem with malaise because the later leaders lose (or never had) the fire in the belly and are all about preserving and maintaining what they’ve got. I heard one leader speak of a time when his predecessors were willing to risk everything they had spent their lives on for the cause they believed in. I can’t help but wonder if the present leaders would risk their institutions for fundamentalism.

      Finally, I think that another part of the problem is a “student centered” philosophy in many of the schools. Many decisions/policies/changes seem to be made with keeping the students happy, rather than training and discipling (sp??) and leading.

      BTW, I often am arguing with some of the things KTB says, but his article today on SharperIron expresses a good deal of what I believe to be right as far as a fundamentalist philosophy is concerned. He and I may differ on application, but I agree in the main with what was published today.

      Maranatha!
      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

  6. Don,

    I had listened to the entire taped series there at the MBA before coming over and reading. I have other things to say, but in brief, I actually agree with Joel in this comment section. I don’t look to a seminary to get my leadership. I can understand why Bauder thinks we need some kind of big time leaders in the realm of fundamentalism—I listened to enough of his presentation down in AZ. The church of 1 Timothy 3:15 has pastors and deacons, so it must be local. And that church is the pillar and ground of the truth, that is, my church is that pillar and ground.

    • Fair enough, but I am not talking about “leadership” per se, but about why pastors are not always able to give convincing answers to the young theologs on every issue floating around in the world today. We do look to seminaries or others to be keeping current in areas of their expertise and be giving us good solid reasons for taking a fundamentalist position.

      Ideally, pastors should have an interest in one or two or three areas of theology/trends, etc and be writing and speaking to those issues for the benefit of the rest of us.

      When it comes to who should be the leaders in fundamentalism, yes, I agree, it should be pastors and deacons primarily. But that isn’t the situation we have, is it?

      Maranatha!
      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

  7. Greg Linscott says:

    Question- many of the men who teach at Central have also pastored in some capacity in their pasts. I actually can’t think of a prof who hasn’t (though I’m not a full-time student there and never have been). They also function as members of their local church. Why can they not be part of the leadership we are speaking of?

    • Hi Greg

      Thanks for the comment. I would guess that Kent would argue for leadership only from pastors of local churches based on his ‘local church only’ views. As for me, I am not so opposed to men in our seminaries exercising leadership and to some extent it is natural. However, this is one area where I would suggest the Conservative Evangelicals might function better than we do… Consider the T4G guys, most of them are pastors, right? Not Mohler, and not Mahaney any more, but aren’t all the rest of them pastors of local churches? Wouldn’t you say that ‘movement fundamentalism’ is somewhat more heavily dependent on seminary/school oriented leadership than pastor leadership?

      And I guess from my perspective, I am seeing the school men either be silent or lead in directions I don’t like. So I am hoping some prominent pastors will take it upon themselves to call for a little restraint on the rush towards a weaker fundamentalism. It appears that not many are listening to me!

      Maranatha!
      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

  8. Don and Greg,

    I would argue based upon the pastoral epistles, not my local-only view. I think you have argued elsewhere Greg that it isn’t impossible to be both, that is, a pastor and a scholar. I think we see that in the Puritans and in someone like Jonathan Edwards. The first Baptist pastor in America, John Clarke, was a physican/pastor and wrote the Portsmouth Compact, the best first statement of government in the American colonies. I contend that the school professor or dean is a product of American culture more than something spiritual or biblical. Men don’t respect it more for biblical reasons, but for cultural ones.

  9. Greg Linscott says:

    So, let’s say that all of Central’s profs assumed pastoral responsibilities and continued to teach. It’s not unheard of- I know of several men at FBTS in Iowa who are doing so (Hartog III, Doug Brown, Ernie Schmidt…). For that matter, I believe Mohler is considered a pastor in his church, to go back to the T4G comment Don made.

    Would that change anything in your mind if that became more of a norm? Because it wouldn’t surprise me to see it happening if Jesus tarries for many reasons- it’s more consistent Biblically than our current standard, it might make better financial sense…

    I’m just thinking our loud, BTW. I have no inside information or anything.

    • Hi Greg

      To carry on thinking with you, I guess that my position isn’t that we need exclusively pastoral leadership as such. And I am not saying that we don’t have leadership. What I am worried about (as I think about this) is that I don’t really like the direction that it sounds like a large segment of fundamentalism is moving. What I am really calling for, then, is people with some clout to put on the brakes and lead in a different direction.

      Maranatha!
      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

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