why not join the CEs?

On SI, regular commenter Ron Bean asked the question:

For the sake of summary, simplicity and specificity could someone (perhaps RPittman, who last used this phrase) list some of these many problems of CE’s?

I responded with a list of four items that came to mind immediately, but I’d like to expand on that list a bit here.

Let me note a couple of things before getting to the list. I am not trying to say that CEs are evil, apostate, the spawn of Satan, or anything anywhere close to those epithets. I began my response to Ron Bean with this paragraph:

Ron, let me first acknowledge that there are many valuable contributions to Christian thought and life by Conservative Evangelicals. I think most of us who have problems with them do appreciate their ministries (to varying degrees).

What I am trying to outline is some items that remain significant barriers to ministry partnership. These are real differences between us. We aren’t just playing party politics as some allege. It’s not just that CEs haven’t gone to ‘our schools’ or aren’t in ‘our tribe’ or aren’t located in ‘our spot’ on the map. These differences involve objectionable beliefs or practices that all conservative evangelicals share in some combination or other.1 They reflect an essential difference in philosophy of the ministry that manifests itself in the various problems I am noting.

Here are some of the problems from my perspective:

      1. The growing influence of charismatism

      The charismatics have major problems when it comes to inspiration, inerrancy and the canon. They either believe in ongoing revelation (denying a closed canon) or they believe the Bible is in error when it expressly says that Agabus spoke his prophecy by the "Spirit". The influence of charismatism has widely altered the shape of evangelicalism at large.

      The infatuation with charismatism led John Piper and C J Mahaney to a friendly relationship with the Toronto Vineyard "Laughing Revival" phenomenon. Mahaney reportedly led his church in the ‘Toronto Blessing’ in the 90s. Have either Mahaney or Piper publicly repudiated these connections with serious error? I don’t know of any such repudiation.

      As I am writing about this, an announcement arrives from 9Marks about some speakers at Together for the Gospel next year. One speaker will be one of the Sovereign Grace men, Jeff Purswell, who will be teaching from 1 Cor 12-14. What do you suppose will be the topic of discussion?

      I ran across an article from the UK, sounding the alarm about the rise of charismatism in conservative circles because of the ‘Reformed’ connection in the case of Sovereign Grace. The article is a sermon preached at a conference in Northwest England called ‘God’s Glory Our Joy’. The message came from the 2009 conference, links found here. The message in question is called " The Charismatic Legacy: The impact of the renewal movement 40 years on". It is available as a Word file on the page linked.

      The charismatic influence on ‘conservative’ evangelicals is a serious concern. It is not something to be dismissed. One could say that a large part of the collapse of evangelicalism at large is the growth of charismatic influence in its midst.

      Because of this influence, fundamentalists need to give the conservative evangelicals a wide birth.

      2. The continuing relationship between CEs and the Billy Graham organization itself.

      The most conservative CE of them all, John MacArthur, has spoken in recent years at Graham’s training center, the Cove, and has published articles in Graham’s Decision magazine. The connections between Southern Seminary and the Graham organization are well known. Mark Dever is chairman of the board at Southern. Dever, Mohler, and others continue to affirm the necessary corrective of New Evangelicalism – needed to correct the ‘excesses’ of fundamentalism – and yet claim that we don’t need a new New Evangelicalism. Still, we see continuing errors like the signing of the Manhattan Declaration by many well-known conservative evangelicals.

      3. The inconsistent complementarianism

      Complementarianism is the doctrine of male headship / leadership in home and church. The doctrine has been ably defended and promoted by conservative evangelicals, yet its tenets are inconsistently applied. I noted this in an earlier post, but John Piper, the ‘grand-daddy’ of complementarians (editor of Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood) participated as one of six expositors preaching through Ephesians at the recent Lausanne conference. Two of the other expositors were women. The 9Marks organization recently announced a foray into the Phoenix area in a church that has a woman deacon and a woman on the ‘ministry staff’. (This latter may be an un-ordained person who is named distinctly from the elders of the church.) Still, one wonders how committed these men are to biblical complementarian ideals.

      Ironically, complementarianism has given rise to a number of women speakers and writers. They have been promoted for their support of complementarian ideals. And of course they speak at ‘women’s conferences’ or at ‘women’s sessions’ in otherwise ‘male’ conferences. But we find their books and even their messages recommended to men. One recent conference elicited a male recommendation of a female message as “one of the very best I have ever heard.” So much for complementarianism.

      4. The tolerance of worldliness on many levels

      The tolerance of worldliness would include the widespread tolerance of men like Mark Driscoll, and such discussions as you see on SI where gambling and drinking are openly approved. (In moderation … of course.)

      In this same category would be the widespread use of worldly music that undermines the gospel message being preached. Almost all the CE ministries usually touted as exemplary are affected by this.

These examples serve as a quick catalog of my concerns with conservative evangelicalism. It is not meant to be an exhaustive list, but simply to show objectively some definite differences between fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals.

From a fundamentalist perspective, I think these differences preclude any kind of ministry cooperation. The fundamentalist approach to ministry is just too different from the evangelical approach. I think the evangelical approach leads in a direction I don’t want to go, nor do I want the people I serve to head in that direction because of my failure to maintain a clearly distinct ministry.



  1. That is to say, all CEs are marked by several of these characteristics, though not necessarily all of them. []


  1. Don:

    This is among the most powerful exposés yet I’ve read on why we should not be seeking closer fellowship with so-called “conservative” evangelicals. The new “mood among men in FB circles has been to either tolerate, allow for, excuse and/or ignore what you’ve noted and more that is epidemic in evangelical circles.

    You mention the charismatic influence. It was Dr. Peter Masters who in 2009 warned of the Charismatic influence in this group. He wrote,

    C J Mahaney is a preacher highly applauded in this book. Charismatic in belief and practice, he appears to be wholly accepted by the other big names who feature at the ‘new Calvinist’ conferences, such as John Piper, John MacArthur, Mark Dever, and Al Mohler. Evidently an extremely personable, friendly man, C J Mahaney is the founder of a group of churches blending Calvinism with charismatic ideas, and is reputed to have influenced many Calvinists to throw aside cessationist views.” (The Merger of Calvinism With Worldliness)

    On the “worldliness” you cited, Masters also added,

    Resolved is the brainchild of a member of Dr John MacArthur’s pastoral staff [Rick Holland, whom NIU had in its chapel last semester], gathering thousands of young people annually, and featuring the usual mix of Calvinism and extreme charismatic-style worship. Young people are encouraged to feel the very same sensational nervous impact of loud rhythmic music on the body that they would experience in a large, worldly pop concert, complete with replicated lighting and atmosphere…. Worldly culture provides the bodily, emotional feelings, into which Christian thoughts are infused and floated. Biblical sentiments are harnessed to carnal entertainment. (Pictures of this conference on their website betray the totally worldly, showbusiness atmosphere created by the organisers.)

    For all the reasons you’ve cited and more there is ample reason to cease from hob-knobbing with and especially cooperative efforts with evangelicals. However, it appears some of our men have made up their minds. They are going to tolerate all of this so that they are unhindered from moving toward fellowship and cooperative ministry with the very men you named here. In spite of the issues, without apology or felt need to justify their new convergence, they move further away from the moorings of authentic biblical separation. Militancy has gone missing. Tragic days!

    Thanks again for this article.


    • Lou, I am doing a bit more reading on SGM… wow! what a bunch! The ongoing error is amazing. I’m planning on writing more about this. How anyone can give these guys a pass is beyond incredible. Oh, wait, they’re ‘Reformed’!

      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

  2. Don:

    How can some of our self-identified separatists give SGM error a pass, just as they have excused the other issues you cited? In a word, “Pragmatism.”

    Reformed/Calvinistic” soteriology is the magnetic attraction. We’ve read it, “Gospel-Driven, Gospel Centric.” Reformed men in FB circles will tolerate and allow for a great deal with their Calvinist counter-parts in the evangelical camp. Peter Masters saw this trend in America and issued his warning as I have cited him above for your readers. Our State-side Calvinists just go along as if nothing is amiss.

    Reformed soteriology is the rallying point, and as we are witnessing, virtually all other doctrinal or practical aberrations are brushed aside or hurdled for the sake the new convergence.

    Looking forward to your next.


  3. The term has been around awhile and hasn’t changed much. In my files I have a photocopy of a 1969 letter on Conservative Baptist Home Mission Society letter head in which CBFMS general director Rufus Jones defended attending Berlin 66. Berlin 66 was the Christianity Today/BGEA sponsored event that led to Lausanne in 1972. It was ecumenical and the information on it can be found on the internet.

    Jones defended attending the conference with apostate observers because he was a “conservative evangelical.” Conservative evangelicals, in the spirit of Al Mohler still don’t separate from apostates. Not much has changed.

  4. d4v34x says:

    The State-side calvinist(ic)s do not give a free pass to SGM’s errors, doctrinal or practical, nor do we summarily dismiss them.

    • Dave, really? Why are they allowed on the T4G platform? Why do they speak at Grace Community Church? The more I read about SGM, the more astonishing it is that they are allowed into the evangelical orbit at all. Their errors are particularly egregious.

      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

  5. d4v34x says:

    My bad for ambiguity. I was speaking of some, not all, State-side calvinistics in fundamentalist circles (since the point of the OP is why not join with the CE’s, I figured the ensuing comments referred to those outside CEdom).

    I share concerns about all four areas you mention.

    • Ah, OK. That makes more sense.

      I hope that we might get more people being vocal about these and other concerns. The comments of so many who claim to be fundamentalists are very undiscerning.

      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

  6. Larry says:

    Who are the self-identified separatists or self-identified fundamentalists that give SGM a pass?

    • Hi Larry,

      Well, I would say that it is the many who claim to be fundamentalists but are enthusiastic supporters of all things T4G and TGC. I would say it is all those who are enthusiastically handing out Mahaney’s books and recommending his work unreservedly. I would say it is those who are clamouring that there is no real difference between the conservative evangelicals and fundamentalists, that the CEs are separatists, really.

      But that wasn’t the question I was answering. The question I was answering is, ‘what’s the problem with Conservative Evangelicals and why should we keep our distance from them?’

      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

  7. Larry says:

    Thanks Don.

    But I am still curious as to *who* that is. I am realizing that I am increasingly disconnected from what it going on outside my little world here, so I don’t know anyone who qualifies as a “self-identified separatist” who also gives SGM a “free pass.”

    Who are these who are “enthusiastic supporters of all things T4G and TGC”? Who are these who as “enthusiastically handing out Mahaney’s books and recommending his work unreservedly”?

    The reason I ask is because I have seen this charge but never seen anyone identify people who actually do this. It just seems kind of a general and unsupported assertion.

    I don’t know how supporting T4G or TGC is the same as giving SGM a free pass. Surely there is room for benefiting from something while also acknowledging that there are some problems, isn’t there?

    I know it’s not what your post was about, but someone brought it up so I figured I would ask.


    • Larry, I see you participating at all the usual circuit of blogs where various self-identified separatists reveal their support for these organizations. If you aren’t aware of who they are, you ought to be.

      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

  8. Larry says:


    I don’t want to be rude and I am willing to drop it after this, but I am really curious about this.

    Can you or anyone else name any self-identified fundamentalist who gives a free pass to SGM?

    Would you mind just posting a link or something to one of these blogs where this free pass is given? I am seriously not aware of it and would like to be because that would be seriously problematic for me.

    If you can’t, that’s fine. I know you didn’t make the statement, and I don’t expect you to defend someone else’s statement. I was just curious as to who is being talked about.

    Admittedly I don’t “participate at” very many blogs. In fact, the only blog comments I have made recently I think were at Kent’s (who is not a self-identified fundamentalist) and yours. In my blogroll there are only ten or so fundamentalist blogs, most of which are very infrequent, and some of which would only loosely be considered “fundamentalist” by some here. So it is entirely possible that I have missed it.


    • Larry, you are ‘dogged’ in your pursuit!

      I’m NOT about to name names at this point. I don’t think it is hard to figure this out, however.

      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3