why oppose some and wait on others?

One of my correspondents challenged me on this subject after the latest rough and tumble debate at SI. My correspondent said to me

You are not charitable with the CE’s IMHO.  You do hold them to a higher standard than our fellow Fundamentalists.

My correspondent cites some situations where fundamentalists shared platforms with dubious characters and one where a fundamentalist made a judgement in a church discipline situation that appears to have been at least unwise, if current available information is accurate. I have advocated a ‘wait and see’ position in the latter case. In the platform fellowship cases, I have not had a lot to say, although I have said some things.

My correspondent concludes:

Taking a wait and see is fine, but not when you are so hard on the CE’s.  You are not consistent in this area in my opinion.

Until we take out the beams in our eyes, we will not honor and glorify God!

I promised my correspondent a response here at oxgoad, so this is it.

The fact is that I am hard on Conservative Evangelicals. They aren’t conservative enough for me and they still have most of the errors of New Evangelicalism as part of their philosophy and modus operandi. They are very little different from the original New Evangelicals (although some differences can be discerned).

And the fact is that I tend to take a wait and see approach to the errors (real or alleged) of fundamentalists because on the important questions, fundamentalists get the answers right. I might add that I take a wait and see attitude toward fundamentalists of various sorts, including those I criticize most. Some of my other correspondents are ready to virtually tar and feather some of the more leftish fundamentalists. I am not ready to do that yet. These correspondents might think I am too soft.

Why the difference and what does it reveal?

First, I think it reveals that I am a fundamentalist. I think that the willingness to “wait and see” and give room for errors is common to men and it reveals what they really are in their philosophy and ministry orientation. I am willing to work with, tolerate, or even excuse fundamentalists to a certain extent in spite of their errors because we share common values in the things that are most important to me theologically and philosophically. A number of people are willing to work with, tolerate, or excuse conservative evangelicals in spite of their errors. What does that say about their values theologically and philosophically? What does it say when these people also want to wear the label fundamentalist?

So I think it is quite natural for anyone to make distinctions harder and faster against those outside his group and be more tolerant of those inside his group.

Well, I can hear the protests now… You are willing to tolerate errors? And you call yourself a fundamentalist!

I think that fundamentalism has been too guilty of devouring one another… of eating its own young, so to speak. We have had occasions where divisions are made over issues that really shouldn’t matter. They are matters of soul liberty, in my opinion, and shouldn’t divide the body of Christ (other than perhaps give a focus or flavour of emphasis in a local body).1

I also think that a single error does not a pattern make. And I suppose even two errors does not a pattern make. Some of my friends have done things recently that I wouldn’t have done. I actually corresponded with them about it because I thought their decisions were unwise at best. They had their reasons, I don’t entirely agree with their reasons, but they don’t answer to me, do they? But should I now decide that these errors now preclude all fellowship between us forevermore, amen? I don’t think that is necessary, at least not yet. If they continued to make such errors, if they were consistently making the same mistakes, if they were becoming a bad influence on my own ministry by my association with them, well… then I would probably have to take steps to disentangle myself from such fellowship.2

And finally, here is where I think the biggest factor in my treatment of the two parties lies:

The conservative evangelicals have repudiated fundamentalism as a ministry philosophy. That doesn’t make them my enemies, as such, but it certainly doesn’t make them my opinion leaders. They aren’t the guys I am going to teach my people to pay attention to. I am not going to try to get my people to read their books, go to their conferences, employ their methods or enter any other kind of ‘guru-like’ relationship with them. I think the fundamental error of the conservative evangelicals is that they continue to insist that the new evangelicals were right when the new evangelicals left fundamentalism.

For this reason alone, their writings and leadership can’t be trusted. They shouldn’t be followed. They shouldn’t be made much of.

My criticism of the conservative evangelicals is because the errors they make are consistent with their stated philosophies. They aren’t anywhere close to being or becoming fundamentalists, so they don’t act like fundamentalists. I think it is important to point that out to the naive.

On the other hand, fundamentalists, in spite of their errors, do get fundamentalism right. They understand that there is a difference between the church and the world and they try to maintain it (however imperfectly). They understand that you can’t support every popular Bible teacher that shows up on television, radio, or in your local Christian bookstore. They know that many of these popular teachers will lead you into serious compromises with the world or with false teachers if you follow their teachings to the letter.

So fundamentalists act like fundamentalists and I appreciate it. I may not like everything my fundamentalist brothers do and I may find that I need to question them about some things they have done. But my fundamentalist brothers are fundamentalists. They have the right philosophy… and as long as they stick to it, they will get less criticism from me than the conservative evangelicals will.

I hope that makes some sense. More probably needs to be said, but we can get to that in the comments if anyone cares to engage what I have said.

I would like to add a few more words that relate more to the recent unpleasantness of the latest SI back and forth that I referenced earlier.

Some people are mightily impressed with statements that conservative evangelicals have made ‘distancing’ themselves from some other evangelicals and their excesses. You know, statements are just statements. Anybody can make a statement. What matters is deeds.

Recently, my online friends3, the Bayly bros made a very interesting blog about goings on at the recent PCA convention. I cite the blog for this quote:

Except for an excruciatingly close vote on the training and certification of women for ministry roles, the Strategic Plan was adopted en masse—and the Strategic Plan consists of actionable items. Votes on Friday authorizing statements about homosexuality and abortion are toothless institutionally. Statements are statements; action items are action items.

Exactly. “Statements are statements; action items are action items.” The conservative evangelicals are good at statements. Let’s see them take some action against some of the egregious errors I keep talking about. Let’s see the Together for Calvin guys kick Piper out for cosying up to Rick Warren. Or at least publicly rebuke him for it, but I’d like to see some action rather than more words.

Well, that is enough for now. I do welcome comments, but let’s remember my rules about them:

  1. They must be ON TOPIC
  2. They must be actually willing to advance a conversation – if you keep saying the same thing over and over, you’ll find you don’t get ‘air time’.
  3. No insults or demeaning tone.
  4. I am the sole judge of the above three, if you don’t rise to their level in my opinion alone, well… thanks for the comment anyway, but it will just be between you and me.
Notes:

  1. For example, I can cooperate to some extent with other fundamentalist brothers who disagree with me about versions, dress issues [to some extent], some church polity issues, etc. They wouldn’t join my church, I wouldn’t join theirs, but we can work together in some ways. []
  2. For my correspondent whose criticisms prompted this post, yes, I mean the two people in your first examples of my inconsistency. []
  3. but not fellow fundamentalists []

Comments

  1. Roger Carlson says:

    Hi Don,

    So everyone knows, Don was quoting me. I appreciate your thoughts here, though I do disagree. Let me try to explain where I am coming from.

    For the 11 years that I have been a pastor in the IFB, I have noticed for a while that we are becoming a good ole boys club. I have seen some pretty strong things slide because so and so has his music right and doesn’t support Billy Graham. Now, I don’t support Billy Graham and if you came to the church that God has graciously allowed me to pastor you would see very conservative music. We sing mainly hymns and rarely a gospel son (have not song “Love Lifted Me” in two years). I do think there is some soul liberty but for corporate worship, we stay pretty strong.

    It seems that music and separation are now what define our movement. In fact, a guy can be wrong on many other things and be ok as long as those two are right. He may be a full-blown Keswick, he may teach a Wesley view of sanctification, but his wife wears a long skirt and their music is traditional, so all is ok.

    I have gone to CE conferences. I don’t go along with everything but much of the teaching has benefited me greatly for God’s glory. Last year, at the FBF meeting, Robert Cogdon raised a great concern about guys like me. We are headed towards New Evangelicalism, he implied. Well the next week, Cogdon spoke with a guy who used to work for Word of Life – the VERY NEXT WEEK!

    Cogdon is passionate about Dispensationalism and eschatology, and that’s fine. I am fond of the Doctrines of Grace. I may go hear Dever, but I have never shared the pulpit with him. I am wrong because I go hear a Calvinist speak but its ok for Cogdon to speak with an Evangelical because….why? I don’t know. I asked an FBF leader about that and the response I got was…there are some strange alliances in our movement today. OK. then don’t act like I am going down a wrong road when I am just listening. I am not sharing the pulpit with them like at least one FBF speaker did.

    It seems to me that what is making many upset is Calvinism. Last I checked, we are independent; so if what I am teaching falls in line with what fundamentalism has been (Warfield) and I am not promoting it in your church what’s the problem?

    We have used wait and see to tolerate error. Let’s take an example from a wing of fundamentalism that none of us are in (to my knowledge). How many saw signs for years that Bob Gray was doing something wrong? But they said, “this is Bob, let’s wait and see.” Bob may have had the “fundamentals” right but he sure didn’t practice them personally! Men, I fear we could give too much of the benefit of the doubt on things that really affect our testimony and are hard on things that may not do so as much as we think. No one in the world is concerned if we wear long shorts to mow our lawn, but they will bounce on us if there is evidence that we are not protecting children in our charge.

    Be hard in the CE’s. I can appreciate and still be hard on them. But make sure we hold ourselves to a higher standard. Ultimately, that is the most loving thing to do, but that is what most honors God. “Speak the truth, in love.”

    • Hi Roger

      I really appreciate your taking the time to think about this and respond.

      A few responses:

      I don’t think I have ever condemned attending any conference. Brian McLaren of emerging church infamy was to show up in our town recently. I would have gone if they weren’t charging a fee.

      I can’t speak for Cogden, I don’t know him at all. If whatever platform he shared would tend to create confusion for those less well informed, I would be against it.

      I don’t mind someone being a Calvinist, as long as they don’t mind being wrong!! (Joke, joke. Ok, very little joke.) Actually, I find that it isn’t that the non-Calvinists who are making an issue about Calvinism. I can give examples, but I’ll do that privately if you are interested. But I don’t have problems fellowshipping with Calvinists as long as they aren’t making soteriology a test of fellowship.

      As to Bob Gray, well, how can I answer for him? He was off in a different universe before all of his troubles came out. I knew he was from Jacksonville and he went to Germany. I wasn’t waiting and seeing about anything. Most people outside of his circles would know nothing of any allegations.

      But really, it isn’t fair to put him in the mix on the ‘wait and see’ question. If I had evidence of anyone doing what he did, you can bet your bottom dollar I’d be talking to the police right away. But the other issues you and I have discussed in the ‘wait and see’ category are not even close to those kinds of allegations. They are a million miles away from them.

      Thanks for your reply, nonetheless.

      Maranatha!
      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

  2. Roger Carlson says:

    Don,
    You are a better man than I am, I would never go hear McLaren…lol And I didn’t mind the Calvinist joke at all. Feel free to email me your concerns in that area. But my observations is that there are Godly men on both sides and jerks on both sides. I have been beaten pretty badly by the “biblicists.” My only point was that it seems if the area of theology is one that powers that be don’t like, its an area of concern. If I like it, in the example of Cogdon (dispensationalism) its ok.

    In the last area, I mentioned I guess the connection that I was trying to make is this. i believe it is clear now that an unrepentant predator was allowed to be a member of an IFB church of our stripe. I will not wait and see any longer on that. IF that happened, it was wicked, there was no justification for that. If I am wrong, I will stand corrected on that. I wish I were, but in my research i don’t think i am.

    I think holding ourselves to a high standard is the only way to please God. I am for patience with humble. But arrogance should be confronted. It is one of the worst sins in any of us…and sometimes we pastors get WAY to prideful. I don’t think we corner the market on it in Fundy land…but we can only deal with it in our corner.
    In Christ,
    Rog

    • I agree in general with what you say, but with respect to the unrepentant predator, it isn’t clear that that was obvious to the pastor involved at the time. We just don’t know what he knew at the time.

      I think that there are some inconsistencies that will happen. We have to decide how to handle that.

      Maranatha!
      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

  3. Brian Ernsberger says:

    I appreciate the article Don. May comment more later. Just stopped by Oxgoad for a minute.

  4. Ryan says:

    Don;

    I have been following your blog for sometime, as well as your comments on SI and FR.
    I appreciate your balanced approach and use of the Scriptures.

    Ryan

  5. Keith says:

    “I don’t have problems fellowshipping with Calvinists as long as they aren’t making soteriology a test of fellowship.”

    Do you say the same about Roman Catholics?

    Seriously though, if soteriology shouldn’t be a test of fellowship (and I’m not arguing that it should) then why should music or “standards”? How can music style or what you broadly call “ministry philosophy” be more important than the doctrine of salvation?

    Keith

    • Hi Keith,

      I was beginning a brilliant reply and hit the wrong key and … poof!

      Well, as for the Calvinism question, Calvinists believe in salvation by faith alone. Those who are not “hyper” believe in evangelism. So as long as the Calvinist in question is comfortable with me, we can work together in a lot of ways. (There is of course the possibility that our differences might limit the areas we could work together also.)

      As for music, etc., within a certain range, musical styles can make cooperation very difficult. (And by “fellowship”, I mean “partnership” or “cooperation”, not mere friendly associations.) If for example someone is using music that I think is worldly and that I teach our people not to use, it will be confusing to our people to be encouraged to go to a meeting where the style of music is actually something I teach against. It makes it hard to cooperate when obvious public differences like that exist.

      The key thing here is something I keep talking about, but a lot of people don’t seem to get. When we are talking about separation/fellowship issues, I think some of our terminology has been to blame for a lot of misunderstanding. We should use separation only for issues that involve denial of fundamentals – I deny that any fellowship exists between Bible believing Christians and theological liberals or Roman Catholics. But we should talk in terms of fellowship and withdrawal or withholding or limitation of fellowship when it comes to various differences between true Christians. It doesn’t mean we anathematize them, but we can’t work closely with them either, and in some cases we need to sound warnings against their public errors.

      Maranatha!
      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

  6. Roger Carlson says:

    Hi Don,

    I know I hear the “concern” that there are hyper-calvinist within fundamental circles. I think you make good distinction, one that not believe in evangelism. I don’t know ANY that exist in our movement. In fact, the more I have grown in the Doctrines of Grace, the more the Lord has allowed me to become more evangelistic. I know alot of stronger Calvinists than me and I dont know one that is not evangelistic.

    • Hi Roger

      There is another category that is difficult as well (and this is true of any theological system), but it is what I call “in-your-face” Calvinists. What I mean by that is those who are seemingly more interested in creating disciples of Calvin than of Christ. These guys create divisions in churches. (And we could put the descriptor ‘in-your-face’ in front of Dispensationalism, Arminianism, etc. pick your label… even fundamentalism).

      We had a guy as a member in our church who was a pretty strong Calvinist. We talked about it. I told him that he knew where we stood, we knew where he stood, and he would have to accept that I might say something from the pulpit that he wouldn’t like. (I never singled him out and I think most of our people didn’t even know he had slightly different views than me.) We had a good relationship. I occasionally made him mad because I preached passages as I understand them. We would talk it out and agree to work together. He never caused us a problem in the ministry by trying to create his own little clique in the church. He just simply joined in and helped. He later moved out of town, but it was a good relationship.

      I would hope that if I, believing as I do, found myself in a church led by a Calvinist pastor that I could do as well as my friend did.

      The point being, that we can get along and work together as long as we are willing to and as long as we believe and contend for the fundamentals.

      Maranatha!
      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

      PS: I don’t know of any truly hyper Cs in our circles either. There are a few IYFs, though … on both sides. That is where a lot of the troubles lie.

  7. Roger Carlson says:

    I don’t know of any truly hyper Cs in our circles either. There are a few IYFs, though … on both sides. That is where a lot of the troubles lie.

    Respectfully, based on your definition, I don’t think they do exist. I agree with your definition about not being evangelistic – that is the crux of what it means to be a hyper. I know ALOT of calvinists (and am one) and I interact with ALOT. I have yet interact with a non evangelistic. I know MANY that are accused of being hyper, not because they are not evangelistic, but becasue they are 5 pointer. I know one pastor who firmly believes any body that believes more than eternal security is a hyper-calvinist. Sincerely believing that does not make it so.

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