Background and context for this post:
- Scott Aniol is a good friend of mine. We each served as best man in the other’s wedding, etc.
- I grew up (from high school on) at First Baptist Church of Troy. I will always consider Michael Harding to be “my pastor.”
- Scott tweeted recently that he is going to be speaking at First Baptist Troy.
- Ben Wright responded with this tweet: “If you told me 10 years ago that an SBC prof would be preaching today in an FBFI board member’s church, I’d have said you were nuts.”
Now I’m not pretending to be a disinterested observer here. As I say, these men are friends of mine. However, I also want to clarify that I’m more interested in the principles of the matter here than I am of the particulars of this situation.
What I want to address here are two related questions, raised by Ben’s tweet (and responses to that tweet):
- Is it not tremendously inconsistent for an FBF pastor to allow an SBC prof to speak at his church, when the FBF has historically warned against the compromise of the SBC and concluded that separation was the only viable option?
- Doesn’t this demonstrate that music has been elevated to the highest level when determining cooperation?
Again, a reminder: I’m after the principles of the matter here. What I’m writing here is not Pastor Harding’s defense of his own choices. Furthermore, it’s not even my own defense of Pastor Harding. Rather, it’s simply an attempt to make the case that it is not obviously a gross inconsistency for a pastor like Pastor Harding to bring in a speaker like Scott Aniol.
- Premise 1: The SBC has changed. I hope this doesn’t require much by way of argumentation. For those who want a concrete example, see these tributes to Mohler’s 20-year tenure at Southern. I think this history (which is immensely inspiring) also highlights the relative recency of the conservative resurgence in the SBC.
- Premise 2: The change in the SBC is largely without precedent in American fundamentalism. As McCune would say, “Fundamentalism is the history of losing the furniture.” For this reason, the conservative resurgence was legitimately unexpected by veteran fundamentalists.
- Premise 3: Because the SBC has shifted, much of the stronger polemics against it are no longer valid. But it doesn’t follow that such polemics were not valid in their time.
- Conclusion: The changing situation here does, it seems to me, allow for differing actions, without standing liable to charges of gross inconsistency.
It seems to me that, putting these things together, it both is and is not “nuts” to believe that an SBC prof would be speaking at an FBF church. It is not nuts because there has truly been movement (perhaps in each camp) that makes such an occasion possible. It is nuts because, as I say, the movement (especially from the SBC side) would have been almost impossible to foresee. That is to say, twenty years ago, the divide between the SBC and the FBF was an immense chasm; at present, there are places where the divide is quite passable. This is obviously not the case across the board: Rick Arrowood isn’t having Steven Furtick fill his pulpit soon (to pick a couple of extremes). But certain FBF men and certain SBC men overlap a great deal. And the SBC as a whole has managed to cut itself off from some of most egregious theological errors that it had tolerated.
But what of the second question? Isn’t it the case that Scott, in particular, gets a free pass in fundamentalist circles because he’s a conservative on music? Doesn’t this just demonstrate that the real issue in certain quarters of fundamentalism is really music styles?
There is a surface plausibility to this. Now, here is another place that I want to remind you, dear reader, that I’m writing for myself; my explanation here is not necessarily what Pastor Harding or anyone else would offer.
I remain convinced that orthopathy is a legitimate and important biblical category. That is to say, I believe that Christian fidelity involves not only adherence to particular beliefs (orthodoxy) and commitment to certain behaviors (orthopraxy), but also a cultivation of a certain set of affections.
Now, let’s be clear: music is not orthopathy. The terms are not interchangeable, and orthopathy isn’t simply a fancy code word for “I approve of this music.” On the other hand, it’s also indubitably evident that music is among the most obvious ways in which a church expresses its convictions about how it is supposed to feel about God. It is not the only way: a church could sing all the great hymns of the faith (the real hymns, not the roller-rink gospel songs), and then have Mark Driscoll ascend the pulpit in an Affliction t-shirt, and we might get the idea still that they have an odd sense of what it is to honor God. The same is true, I’d add, if they sing great hymns and then allow a manipulative evangelist into the same pulpit (Farrell, et al.).
But music, perhaps with more clarity than anything else, expresses the church’s conception of orthopathy. It is, in some ways, the parallel of the church’s creed: it is the “We reverence” to the creed’s “We believe.” In that way, then, music operates as a shorthand statement of a church’s position on “what it is like to love God.”
If, then, orthopathy is a real and important category (as I believe it is), fellowship in orthopathy is a real factor to evaluate when I consider the associations that I will maintain. In some cases, it trumps even the less central elements of right doctrine. So, for instance, I’m a dispensationalist. I consider that position to be sound doctrine, orthodoxy. But if you had me choose between worshiping my Lord, for the rest of my earthly days, with either a dispensational “In the Garden” singer or a reverent Presbyterian (I’m thinking of a man like Dr. Michael Barrett), I’d choose the Presbyterian 100 times out of 100.
Because loving God is the first and greatest commandment, how we love God is also important. And so I have closer fellowship, not surprisingly, with someone else who sees biblical reverence the same way that I do. This is not to elevate music simpliciter to the highest test of fellowship; it is to recognize that orthopathy and reverence are far from insignificant when I decide who will fill my pulpit, etc.