news flash: conservative evangelicals *still* not fundamentalists

My headline may come as a shock to some. That would be those who equate talking about error with separating from error. But, sadly, while conservative evangelicals are more bold in their criticism and rebuke of error, they can’t quite bring themselves to treat false teachers as the Bible calls for them to be treated.

A case in point is the recent brouhaha over Justin Taylor’s rebuke of Rob Bell. Already many pixels have been brought to bear on the specifics of the case, some in support of Taylor, others attacking him. One interesting little detail is noted by Christianity Today’s Liveblog, but is largely overlooked by most commenters, and is the point that launches my post today.

This is the detail noted by CT:

Taylor updated his post, changing some wording and deleting a reference to Cor. 11:14-15: “Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds.” Instead, Taylor ended the post with the following paragraph:

  • Let’s remember to pray. Rob Bell needs to know and teach the liberating gospel of grace—including that Christ absorbed the Father’s wrath on behalf of those who trust in him and repent of their sins. And there are tens of thousands of folks who look to Rob Bell as a biblical teacher and leader. May God give much mercy.

Doesn’t that demonstrate my point about conservative evangelicalism? Almost… but not quite… separation.

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the evangelical disconnect

So here’s Frank Page, President of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee, talking about something he calls Vision 2020 and the direction he wants the Convention to go over the next few years. (The Executive Committee is charged with running day to day SBC operations between the actual annual convention meeting, according to SBCnet.)

Among other things, he said:

"As we all know, our convention over the last decades has taken a stand for biblical inerrancy. I thank God for that," Page said. "But I believe that now a unified understanding and a call for an affirmation of an inerrant, infallible Word of God shall lead us to an even greater obedience of that Word. I believe that is where we need to be focusing now. As we affirm its inerrancy and infallibility, let’s do so by fleshing it out and living it in this world."

I wonder what he means by that, in light of this article that came out yesterday:

SBC Executive Committee decides not to oust Alliance churches

By Bob Allen

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (ABP) –Membership in a group that welcomes and affirms gays does not automatically disqualify a church from participation in the Southern Baptist Convention, the SBC Executive Committee decided Feb. 22.

Hmmm… ‘fleshing it out and living it in this world…’ I wonder how the Executive Committee reconciles that vision with their decision about the Alliance churches.

Frank Page was President of the SBC in 2006 and 2007, I believe. I think he would be considered a conservative.

Curious.

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Interesting report from AtC Conference

Kevin Mungons reports on today’s panel discussion at the Advancing the Church Conference in Lansdale. I am not sure if this is a verbatim transcript or not, it looks a little edited. However, Kevin reports these words from our friend, Dave Doran:

Doran: I doubt we all agree with each other on the right way to solve that problem, but I do think (I’ll speak for myself on this one) that we are committed to the same principles of separation that we have always been, yet I do and have tried to acknowledge that there have been changes that have forced me to think through the applications differently than I have since becoming a pastor 22 years ago…[.in the midpoint of the last dedade, 2005-2006 there were some things that I thought were significant in a change of landscape, both internally and externally

Dever: I’d be curious to hear—what were those changes?

Doran: In early 2005 there was a meeting in which Kevin and I were both speakers. Both of us tried to make a case (I’ll try to say this as tactfully as possible) for drawing a circle, to say that if you are going to identify with historic fundamentalism,  certain theological aberrations have to be rejected. We tried to make an ernest appeal, but I didn’t think that that was actually going to get traction. I would say that outside [fundamentalism] in March 2005, Phil Johnson did his presentation on “Fundamentalism: Dead Right?” We spent four or five weeks going back and forth about it. The month right before that I had asked the folks at Grace [Community Church, John MacArthur’s church] very specifically on the issue of secondary separation, an idea they never publically accepted. But in his presentation, Phil Johnson said “we do believe it is valid, but has not been used properly.” So that was a significant change.

And later…

Doran: Right. And his book was beginning to talk about this. There’s probably a dozen books that began to talk about the problems of the evangelical left. Grudem in his book on Open Theism. Carson, Love in hard Places…the necessity of separating over the gospel. Mohler’s chapter in Horton’s book….so there actually was an uptick of talk about separatism among a certain segment of evangelicalism, that’s what I meant by a change in the landscape. [The evangelicals] were not as thorough and as consistent as I would have preferred…

I am cutting off a bits on these quotations, so please read the whole article for yourself to get the whole context.

It is interesting to note a few things here:

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something I don’t understand

The big question we are wrangling about in the fundamentalist blogosphere in 2011 (and preceding 5 or 10 years) is our relationship to Conservative Evangelicals.

We are asking:

  • Are Conservative Evangelicals the same thing as New Evangelicals? – varying answers: ‘not at all’, ‘somewhat’, ‘very much like’
  • Should we cooperate with Conservative Evangelicals in some Christian endeavors? – verbal answers: ‘not at all’, ‘maybe’, ‘in some limited arenas’; practical answers: ‘not at all’ … at least up until this last six months or so…

You can debate the merits of these questions, whether they are important to ask or not, whether they are the right questions to ask, whether we are too obsessed with separation and this is evidence of that, or what have you. Regardless, these are the questions we are asking and the central theme around which most discussion on fundamentalist blogs have been obsessed for the last while, maybe since fundamentalists took up blogging at all.

All right then. We are wrangling about these questions. Up until the last six months or so this wrangling has mostly been talk. Now we are seeing some fairly important figures answering the questions practically by involving themselves in some kind of cooperative Christian endeavor with Conservative Evangelicals.

But here is where we  have something I don’t understand.

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thinking it over

Everybody does it about this time of year, don’t they? Look back through the year and take stock; look forward to the new year and anticipate, I mean.

I thought I’d look back over the year of blogging and note my most commented posts. It might be instructive concerning the things that interest me which also interest a generally fundamentalist oriented reading audience. It might also serve for us to consider the issues facing us in the coming year.

The numbers of comments following these posts may be somewhat surprising. Some may think my numbers are kind of low. This is a function of several factors.

  1. My readership isn’t huge, although it has picked up considerably at the end of the year (largely due to SI linking on some controversial posts).
  2. Most blog chatter is generated by the most passionate few, there are many more readers than commenters.
  3. Blog commentary does have a way of wearing itself out after the arguments have been beaten to death ad infinitum, ad nauseum.

With all those caveats in place, I’ll start with the list of most commented posts (in reverse order of posting):

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what is my objective?

Dave Doran wrote a post in response to my ‘phantom movements’ post. He continues to hold that there is no such thing as a fundamentalist movement any longer, and I continue to hold that there is an identifiable movement. (My claims should not be misunderstood to mean that I think the Fundamentalist movement is brimming with health, just that it exists.)

Dave’s major criticism of my piece centers on the way I expressed myself. First, he quotes my take on the objectives of both evangelicalism and fundamentalism:

The evangelical objective is cooperation with as many as possible while maintaining in some fashion the integrity of the gospel.

On the other hand, there is a group of churches, individuals, and Christian institutions that pursue separatism as an objective.

It really hurts to see your own words in pixelated print! Especially when your quoted words are followed with this critique:

More importantly, I believe he misses the mark on the objective of fundamentalism by making separatism the objective rather than the means to the objective.

I hate it when Dave is right like that! My statement of fundamentalism’s objective not only misses the boat entirely but it contradicts some things I have been saying here recently about separation plus non-cooperation.

Dave also criticizes my words ‘in some fashion’ with respect to evangelicalism’s objectives. I think my statement is somewhat awkward and unclear, but I don’t think it is as far off as my second statement with respect to the objective of fundamentalism.

First I’ll explain ‘in some fashion’ and then I’ll re-address both objective statements, hopefully with greater clarity on the one hand and greater accuracy on the other.

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phantom movements

Is there still a fundamentalist movement? An evangelical movement? Some are claiming that whatever movements could have been called such in the past, they exist as movements no longer. If that is so, what difference does the dissolution of these movements make in decisions about Christian fellowship?

The Merriam Webster dictionary gives us this definition of movement:

a series of organized activities working toward an objective also : an organized effort to promote or attain an end, the civil rights movement

Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh ed. (Springfield, Mass.: Merriam-Webster, Inc., 2003).

Based on this definition, one could dispute whether there has ever been much of a fundamentalist movement, especially if the word ‘organized’ is emphasized. Apart from some denominational fundamentalists in the early days (GARBC, CBA, OPC), my perception of fundamentalism is that it is largely a very loosely organized group of independent individuals and churches. By ‘very loosely organized’, I’d have to say ‘so loose as to not be organized at all’.

However, in the sample phrase the dictionary gives (‘the civil rights movement’), tight organization is not much more evident than we have seen in fundamentalism or evangelicalism, so I suspect the emphasis of the definition should fall on ‘activities working toward an objective’ or ‘effort to promote or attain an end’ rather than on the word organized.

In this sense, I think we can safely say there has been a fundamentalist movement and an evangelical movement.

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a new-fundamentalist manifesto?

In a relatively recent (but undated) press release, Central Baptist Theological Seminary announced that discussions of a proposed merger between Central and Faith Baptist Theological Seminary have ceased. Instead, some kind of cooperation between the two institutions will be pursued “short of a merger”.

Below the press release, links are provided to several ‘ethos statements’, also undated. They provide an interesting glimpse into the state of mind CBTS considers to be its “distinguishing character, sentiment, moral nature, or guiding beliefs”. *

In reading these documents, some observations come to mind. First, comparing the “Ethos Statement on Salvation & Sanctification” and the “Ethos Statement on Hermeneutics & Eschatology” with the “Ethos Statement on Fundamentalism & Evangelicalism”, a curious difference is immediately noticeable. The first two documents are full of phrases like this: “Some of us believe that…” contrasted with “while others believe…” or “while others understand…” The third document contains no expressions like this at all. One has to wonder how much these first two documents really distinguish the character or guiding beliefs of the institution. Some believe one thing, others believe another. Doesn’t sound like a statement of certainty to me. It seems that the third document, the “Ethos Statement on Fundamentalism & Evangelicalism” is more definitive than the first two.

Second, regarding the “Ethos Statement on Fundamentalism & Evangelicalism” specifically, my first impression is that it represents something new. It isn’t the way fundamentalists have typically expressed themselves in the last 60 years, but it does seem to be a summary statement of new views of fundamentalism that some have been advocating in recent years. Yet, this statement is perhaps less definitive than it appears because there remain several important unanswered questions.

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Van Til – not a fundamentalist

One of the books I read this spring is Cornelius Van Til: Reformed Apologist and Churchman by John R. Muether. My son gave me this book about a year or more ago and I decided it was high time I read it. This is the first biography of Van Til that I have read. A friend who also read it said that it was a good book to fill in some background that other books missed. He recommended reading some of the other books in addition to this one.

While I will put this post in the ‘book reviews’ category, this article isn’t really a book review. I do recommend this book and think it will be worth your while to read if you are interested in Van Til at all.

One of the things that I learned from this book is that Van Til was definitely a separatist. But he wasn’t your fundamentalist type of separatist. He had his own branch of separatism, making himself distinct from both evangelicalism and fundamentalism.

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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?

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