Are conservative evangelicals separatists?

29 Mar

The title of this post promises more than the post will deliver, as I do not intend to answer my own question. Nonetheless, Roger Olson’s recent post is evidence that must be admitted to the discussion. Olson is quite insistent that there exists now a new generation of evangelicals who are separatists; Olson, as a postconservative evangelical, doesn’t applaud this development:

From my perspective, SOME conservative evangelical theologians, denominational leaders, biblical scholars, etc., have DE FACTO already declared, by their behavior, the division between them and postconservative, progressive evangelicals who, generally speaking, believe in the same basic doctrines they believe in….

There comes a point when one has to give up and say “Okay, have it your way.  We’re not part of the same movement anymore.”  I am saying that.  They may go their way and I and mine will go our way.  We both use the label “evangelical,” but it is too general to cover all of us without qualification.  To me, they are behaving like fundamentalists, so that’s what I’ll call them with “neo-” in front to distinguish them from Carl McIntire and the older, separatistic fundamentalist movement (that still exists but does not participate in evangelical endeavors).

In many ways, it is the old fundamentalist/new evangelical split repeating itself.  I have come to think it is permanent and there is no point in trying forever to reunite the two sides.

Again, I don’t think this ends the discussion, but we have here a theologian who insists that he represents the spirit of the New Evangelicals, and that the conservative evangelicals are, in some sense, the new Fundamentalists.


Posted by on March 29, 2011 in Fundamentalism


9 responses to “Are conservative evangelicals separatists?

  1. Joel Tetreau

    March 29, 2011 at 3:58 pm

    I hate to say “I told you.” I’ll make an exception Michael…..I told you!

    It’s not just those of us to the right of the Type C’s – Now it’s a growing group to those who are on the left of the Type C’s.

    I understand the point that B’s and C’s are still different here and there. However – we’re at the point where it’s just too obvious to most….(well at least to many) – militant and even separatist evangelicals are actiing like the thinking and theologically careful fundamentalists of the world. It I know it’s hard for some people to admit it….but it is what it is. We are waking up to a strange new world…..a world where militant evangelicals have more in common with the thinking fundamentalists than their other evangelical friends. I think it’s even harder on the other side – fundamentalists are at a gasp of the possibility that they will have more in common with these militant evangelicals that with the bulk of the fundamentalist world from which they have come (which isn’t true – they don’t come from fundamentalism – they come from the spiritual birth by way of the Holy Spirit work of conviction, new birth, etc….). Change is hard. Truth is freeing. Be free Mike… free! Please give my best to your bride. She was one of my best students back in “the day.”

    Straight Ahead!


    PS – My best to our friends in Plymouth. Say Hi to Jeff too! :)

  2. Don Johnson

    March 30, 2011 at 1:25 pm

    I thought that New Evangelicalism was dead????

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

    • Michael Riley

      March 30, 2011 at 1:57 pm

      Good point, Don, even if said in jest.

      What then, do you think of Olson’s claim? Is Olson or Mark Dever more faithful to the spirit of the New Evangelicalism?

  3. Don Johnson

    March 31, 2011 at 4:52 am

    Well, I’d say Olson is New Evangelicalism Heavy and Dever is New Evangelicalism Lite. In other words, Olson embraces fully all the tenets of New Evangelicalism, while Dever rejects some (but appreciates a period when they were needed) and also retains some elements of New Evangelicalism. I would say he retains more than he rejects, however.

    Of course, that is just my opinion. I don’t have an encyclopedic knowledge of every position Dever takes, but base my opinion on various statements and practices. I don’t think Dever is all that different from Carl Henry, for example.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

    • Michael Riley

      March 31, 2011 at 5:31 pm

      Not to be utterly pedantic, but are you thinking of some specific list of tenets?

  4. Don Johnson

    April 1, 2011 at 12:53 am

    Mike, you, utterly pedantic? How could that be?

    Usually when I think of Neo tenets, I mean those of Ockenga found in various places. One list is in the intro to Lindsell’s Battle for the Bible but I think I have seen some articles of his elsewhere that will express those distinctives slightly differently than that source. (I don’t recall where I have seen those…) As I view it, he seems to be fairly consistent in outlining New Evangelicalism as he envisioned it.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  5. Michael Riley

    April 1, 2011 at 10:14 am

    So here’s the famous list:

    1. A Friendly Attitude Toward Science.
    2. A Willingness to Re-examine Beliefs Concerning the Work of the Holy Spirit
    3. A More Tolerant Attitude Toward Varying Views on Eschatology
    4. A Shift Away From So-Called Extreme Dispensationalism
    5. An Increased Emphasis on Scholarship
    6. A More Definite Recognition of Social Responsibility
    7. A Re-Opening of the Subject of Biblical Inspiration
    8. A Growing Willingness of Evangelical Theologians to Converse with Liberal Theologians

    Now, I count myself a McCunian dispensationalist, but I would be quite against insisting that dispensationalism, and the related point on premil/pretrib eschatology, are necessary marks of a fundamentalist. Put it this way: it is utterly presumptuous to suggest that a person embraces covenant theology and a post- or a- mil eschatology because he is moving toward New Evangelicalism.

    Can we say that point 5, on scholarship, is challenging to evaluate? An emphasis on scholarship is not necessarily New Evangelical; a compulsive desire to be accepted by the academy often is.

    This leaves us with (in my estimation) points 1, 2, 6, 7, and 8 as marks of the New Evangelicalism. It seems to me that (broadly) the conservative evangelicals are shaky on points 1, 2, and 6 (although shakiness on 6 is rampant in fundamental circles as well). They are (as a rule) antagonistic to points 7 and 8; frankly, I would consider points 7 and 8 the most significant marks of the New Evangelicalism.

    OK, now we have a framework for the discussion: comments?

  6. Don Johnson

    April 1, 2011 at 11:09 am

    Hi Mike

    Well, I agree that dispy theology is not a mark of fundamentalism as such. But I might argue that there is a mark of New Evangelicalism that involves kind of an antagonism towards dispensationalism. In other words, fundie covenatalists and dispys can work together (to some degree) but one of the markers of NE is making that an issue, in company with the other issues. So probably it is more of a secondary marker than a primary one.

    I think that you are probably right on the scholarship question also. It is more the ‘being enamoured’ with scholarship than the scholarship itself.

    On the fundie shakiness on #6, I think there is a shift in thinking, a mark of change or challenge to fundamentalism that hasn’t been sorted out yet. Some are making a real push for ‘social action’, others are wavering or yielding because they are intimidated, and a few others resist the push. I would count me in the last group.

    I would agree that the CEs are firm on inspiration. I haven’t heard anything to contradict that. This is probably the area that has gotten Roger Olson’s goat more than anything.

    On the last, I think that there is some squishiness here among CEs, and, I think, to some extent some fundies as well. I think ETS is an example of this, something I have argued against in various places. It is related to the love of scholarship question.

    And in addition to the marks of NE, I think I should mention again what has been called the ‘mood’ of NE. I don’t think the CEs have changed their mood at all. They appreciate the NE corrective of Fundamentalism, and they generally have the same attitude towards Fundamentalism, and especially towards the idea of separation from brothers.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

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