separation

Kevin Bauder critiques my recent post “Response to Tyler Robbins” beginning this way:

In Pastor Don Johnson’s description of “Convergent” evangelicals, the first item is “Anti-separatism (or at least non-separatism).” This descriptor is so vague as to be nearly incomprehensible, and to the degree that it can be comprehended it is misleading. To know what Pastor Johnson means by “anti-separatism,” we would first have to know exactly what he means by separatism. Presumably he is thinking in terms of some version of ecclesiastical separation, though exactly what his theory of ecclesiastical separation is, I have never quite been able to understand. At any rate, assuming that he is accusing “Convergents” of rejecting (or at least not implementing) ecclesiastical separation, the accusation is terribly unfair.

Even the Neoevangelicals were not completely anti-separatistic. They never argued for engaging in Christian fellowship with Hindus, Buddhists, Taoists, Shintoists, Jainists, Sikhs, Bahaists, Theosophists, Spiritists, Atheists, Satanists, Seventh-Day Adventists, Millennial Dawnists, or Mormons. They clearly understood that no Christian fellowship was possible with adherents of these gospel-denying systems.

It is true that I did not define what I meant by anti-separatist, but I think brother Bauder is well aware of what I mean by separatism as he goes on to describe it later in his post. I think his opening, however, is an odd attempt to muddy the waters as he argues that the New Evangelicals were somehow still a kind of separatist. If everyone is a separatist, no one is a separatist. Clearly the New Evangelicals were not for separation from theological liberalism, rather they sought to infiltrate and cooperate with liberalism for various ends, some of which Bauder lists in his post.

Bauder further muddies the waters with this point:

It is worth remembering that Neoevangelicalism did not represent the evangelical mainstream. It was initially a cadre of young intellectuals. Only during the late 1950s and early 1960s did mainstream evangelicals begin to have to choose between separatist fundamentalism and New Evangelicalism. When they chose to side with the Neoevangelicals rather than the fundamentalists, they were not rejecting separatism tout court. They were rejecting the fundamentalist stance that faithful Christians should separate (at some levels) from Neoevangelicals.

This comment glosses over a great deal of history and I think misconstrues it to some extent. It is true that the New Evangelicalism began as the ideas of a few, but it wasn’t anything more than talk until it gained the support of Graham and company in the late 1950s and early 1960s. To suggest New Evangelicalism even really existed before that time is odd. Bro Bauder trys to explain this further here, but I think he is not stating this correctly.

According to George Marsden, New Evangelicalism began in the late 1950s under the leadership of Harold Ockenga, Edward Carnell, Billy Graham, Carl Henry and others.1 I’ve been told there were three keys to the New Evangelicalism, Billy Graham, Christianity Today, and Fuller Seminary. They were not coming out of those who “stayed in” the mainline denominations, they were coming out of those who separated from the mainline denominations. That is, the New Evangelicals were breaking from Separatistic Fundamentalism. Ockenga was a Westminster grad, he rejected the direction Machen and his heirs wanted to go. The others likewise came from fundamentalist backgrounds, but rejected it.

The way brother Bauder words this suggests that Fundamentalists demanded that “mainstream evangelicalism” choose between them and the New Evangelicals. Rather, the New Evangelicals, led by Billy Graham, chose to reject separation from liberalism. Mainstream evangelicalism followed (by and large) in their train.

It is possible that some wavered for a time, and only sided with the New Evangelicals after being challenged by the fundamentalists. By that time, however, mainstream evangelicalism had already dropped the bars against liberalism and was quite happy with the direction Graham et al were going.

While it is still not clear just who Pastor Johnson thinks the Convergents are, they do not seem to occupy the position of the old New Evangelicals. Rather, they are either the people who now occupy the old Moderate Evangelical slot (today’s Conservative Evangelicals), or else the (former?) fundamentalists who are trying to move to a middle ground between separatist fundamentalism and Conservative Evangelicalism. In any event, it is not correct to say that they are either anti-separatist or non-separatist. It would be better to say that they lack a full and robust implementation of biblical separatism.

It might not be clear to brother Bauder, but I think we have been pretty clear about what we mean (and the howls of outrage seem to me that we hit the target). No, the Convergents are not New Evangelicals, but they do resemble them in some ways. Rather than move to a middle ground between Conservative Evangelicalism and fundamentalism, I think the Convergents are trying to converge with Conservative Evangelicalism. To do so, they must jettison the idea of separation from worldliness at many levels (music, alcohol and other social issues, are examples) and the idea of separation from broader levels of cooperation with error. In this latter category, they will have to be open to cooperation with charismatics and their sympathizers who promote ongoing revelation and they will have to be open to ecclesiastical entanglements that are represented in the Southern Baptist Convention, Together for the Gospel, and The Gospel Coalition among others.

I think brother Bauder knows all this, but for some reason he wants to stir things up. It appears that he wants to give aid and comfort to convergents and their approach, but I don’t think he actually embraces it wholeheartedly himself. It is a curious position to take.

Marantha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Notes:

  1. See Marsden, Reforming Fundamentalism, pp. 172ff. for example. []

Comments

  1. Brian says:

    Don, thanks for the articles. It should come as no surprise that Dr. Bauder would come to the aid of those who wish to espouse New Evangelicalism, or the New New Evangelicalism, or conservative Evangelicals, or confessional Evangelicals, or paleo-Evangelicals (hard to know what to call them, since everyone seems to want to describe them in some new way), he has repeatedly come to their aid and comfort over the years with his numerous blog articles, and his contribution to the Four Views book. In reality, nothing really new here concerning Dr. Bauder’s response to you since you exposed what’s lacking in the crowd that he consistently defends.

  2. Good article! Thanks!