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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navigating the wilderness

The analogy of map and compass is a useful one for considering our navigation the ‘wilderness of this world’ and especially useful for navigating the ecclesiastical wilderness.

For a good understanding of the analogy, though, one must have some understanding of how maps and compasses work. A much more full description can be found from a chapter of a book, The Backpacker’s Field Manual, excerpted here on the Princeton University site, but I’ll attempt a bit in this post.

I suppose when we think of ‘mapping’ the locations on the ecclesiastical landscape, we probably envision a political map, with nation-states and their boundaries. Such maps seem fairly objective and definite in allocating the bounds of various domains, but they are of limited value for navigation.

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lost in the woods

There’s something right and something wrong about the "compass and map" analogy. The purpose of the analogy is to teach us that it is more important to have the right philosophy and direction (spiritual discernment) internally rather than depend upon uncertain and changeable labels that might be attached to various individuals in the ecclesiastical world.

I think we can agree with the point being made to this extent: it is vital that men in the ministry develop their spiritual discernment so that they can wisely guard the flocks the Lord gives them. This includes making decisions about who you might enter into ministry partnership with and who you might recommend as a resource to your people, or why you might give various levels of cautions concerning some resources.

Likewise, men in the ministry need to be able to develop the same kind of discernment in those whom they train for future ministry.

And it is more important to understand the Biblical principles of separation than it is to know exactly where every prominent figure in the current ecclesiastical landscape stands. We need to understand the principles ourselves to make good judgements and evaluations.

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on movement

Dave Doran gives us some thoughts on movements in general and the fundamentalist movement in particular.

In general, I think he is right. For a movement to exist, you have to be moving somewhere.

Given this understanding of movement, it is also correct to say that there is no longer a new-evangelical movement. But it isn’t correct to say there are no new-evangelicals or no new-evangelicalism. The philosophy is alive and well and expressed by many evangelicals repeatedly. It won’t do to say that new-evangelicalism is dead simply because the movement has ceased.

Among fundamentalists, there does seem to be a movement to push fundamentalism into some kind of alliance with evangelicals. We have been calling this movement the ‘young fundamentalists’. Some of us have been resisting this movement. Speaking for myself, my resistance to this movement is largely due to the fact that I don’t think the YFs truly understand either fundamentalism or evangelicalism and the entrenched divisions between them.

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but…

Isn’t this exactly what some fundamentalists are doing with evangelicals they admire for one reason or another?

It is not helpful when fundamentalists try to discredit the evangelistic fruitfulness of Graham’s ministry or when evangelicals use that fruitfulness to justify all of Graham’s associations and actions. Both attempts are rooted in the same false assumption—God can only use those who are perfectly obedient (or close to it). … The evangelical, coming from the opposite angle but with the same assumption, feels compelled to argue that since God used Graham, what Graham was doing can’t be wrong (or, at least, not that bad).

Dave is giving some good analysis in his series of articles, but this paragraph seems to describe precisely the problem I have with the way some fundamentalists talk about their evangelical ‘faves’.

And I have one other point where I want to make a mild objection.

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exhibit A

Interesting.

See this follow up and this one as well. See a response to the original article at 9Marks and one at another blog. Finally, see here Dave’s excellent response (and he says, hopefully, his last word) on the subject. Hear, Hear! Exactly right, Dave.

A little kerfuffle between Fundamentalists and Conservative Evangelicals erupting over Dave’s quite reasonable questions illustrates perfectly why we have two groups of men, Fundamentalists on the one hand and Conservative Evangelicals on the other. Fundamentalists don’t get why CEs are willing to be collegial and congratulatory of those who betray the faith. CEs don’t get why Fundies question their respect for their ‘moderates’.

Hence the divide.

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further to my cc4c post

My earlier post re: the Christian Century review of Bill Bright’s biography was picked up by Greg Linscott in the filings section of SI. (Thanks, Greg.) A bit of ensuing discussion followed, where one commenter was somewhat defensive of Bright and Campus Crusade, due to personal experiences.

I thought it might be worth clarifying the point somewhat.

I am not suggesting that Campus Crusade is/was the incarnation of evil! Nor would I suggest that local churches couldn’t learn a thing or two from their methodology, especially regarding discipleship (although one has to wonder how a local church can perform one-on-one discipleship functions when its best and brightest are siphoned off to parachurch organizations).

However, when criticism is made of parachurch organizations and their impact on local church ministry, it is Campus Crusade that historically spawned this criticism by its philosophy of ministry. It is important to note that the article I originally linked to, the liberal Christian Century review, also noticed that fact. Remember, it was Christian Century that said:

Despite the merits of helping irreligious students to become intentional followers of Christ, Crusade’s way of doing campus-based church altered young adults’ understandings in such a way that the older denominational congregations now appeared backward and culturally in accessible.

That’s not me… that’s Christian Century, a liberal rag. If the liberals can see it, clearly those who are conservative should see it also, only more so.

Thank the Lord for the spiritual benefits in individual lives, to be sure, but it is to the church and to preaching that God really assigned the task of evangelism and discipleship. The free-agent mentality that exists across the breadth of evangelicalism and fundamentalism is partly attributable to Campus Crusade and its powerful influence. I don’t think we can deny that when liberals notice it also.

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on the influence of bill bright and cc4c

Christian Century magazine (yes, that CC, the liberal magazine to which Christianity Today was supposed to be the conservative counterpoint) publishes a review of Bill Bright and Campus Crusade for Christ: The Renewal of Evangelicalism in Postwar America by John G. Turner.

The review is well done, and offers insight concerning Bill Bright and his ministry. I’ll highlight two quotes that illuminate the impact Bright had on the shape of modern Christianity. Unfortunately, these impacts plague us today, rather than help us.

On Bill Bright’s theology, or lack of same:

By the time of his death in 2003, Bright was a doctrinal nonpartisan, calling himself not an evangelical but instead a classical or New Testament Christian, and he was on friendly terms with Roman Catholics, Pentecostals and diverse other Christians with whom he had partnered around the world.

On Bill Bright’s attitude toward the church, perhaps the most devastating aspect of his ministry:

As early as the late 1800s, pastors warned that parachurch campus ministries would hinder students’ participation in existing congregations. Turner writes that early in Bright’s career he had little faith in the ability of established churches to effectively disciple their converts. Despite the merits of helping irreligious students to become intentional followers of Christ, Crusade’s way of doing campus-based church altered young adults’ understandings in such a way that the older denominational congregations now appeared backward and culturally in accessible.

Part of the problems we face in trying to build churches in this environment stems from the influence of Campus Crusade and its new-evangelical cohorts.

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what is the meaning of this

In this post, I asked:

What does this mean?

Ben Wright thinks it means something. Notice carefully Ben’s headline. Then consider the full schedule of events. Notice the place and prominence given to what Ben calls a "special guest lecturer".

I would suggest, "featured speaker," would be more accurate.

But, dear reader, what do you think it means? I have an opinion. Of course. I’ll share it with you shortly. But I’d like to see if anyone would care to "pontificate", as Ben calls it, before I charm you with my opining.

Several readers have given their opinions:

  • Kent thinks "fundamentalism, as you knew it, Don, is essentially gone"
  • Jack thinks "they don’t appear to be concerned about being fundamental or baptist"
  • Andy thinks "We are definitely in a time of transition" though he wouldn’t look at Calvary seminary as a benchmark

No one who reads me regularly will be surprised to know that I tend to agree with these opinions. It seems to me that Ben, whose post alerted me to this conference, sees the same things I and others are seeing. His headline is "Ed Welch to Speak at CBTS Leadership Conference". He is picking up on the significance of Welch’s participation. He learned of this conference, it seems, over at SI, where the whole article reads this way:

National Leadership Conference To Focus On “Ministering God’s Truth In A Broken World”

by PastorJoeRoof at 5:48 pm January 29, 2009. 82 views. Filed under: Filings

Read here.

To date, there has been no discussion of the link at SI, but it is not too surprising, because they only mention the conference itself, not Welch’s participation. So it hasn’t received much attention over there. But Ben picks up on it. This is a fairly significant event.

Why do I say that?

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