An SBC prof walked into a fundy pulpit…

10 Mar

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  • Premise 3: Because the SBC has shifted, much of the stronger polemics against it are no longer valid.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.


Posted by on March 10, 2014 in Fundamentalism


28 responses to “An SBC prof walked into a fundy pulpit…

  1. Greg Linscott

    March 10, 2014 at 4:34 pm

    Your argument would hold more water if there were more unanimity in the specifics of the orthopathy between Scott and FBC Troy. But do they line up perfectly in their specific applications and underlying principles? I’m asking, because I don’t know. I also know from Harding’s own representation on a recent thread at SI that he respects men with whom he shares similarity in orthopathy, but would not or has not cooperated with such people (such as the aforementioned Barrett) in pulpit ministry at Troy out of principle.

    I have no significant problem with Troy having Scott. I would wonder if the same hospitality would be extended to someone with similar connections who had no previous history or family connections with the congregation.It seems to me that pragmatism was a significant factor. I don’t find that problematic, but I do think it deserves ackowledgement.

  2. Michael Riley

    March 10, 2014 at 4:54 pm


    Good comments, one of which I probably should have addressed in the original post.

    I would be loathe to equate “previous history or family connections” with pragmatism. For me, this is rooted in certain conservative convictions, namely, that it is good to have a people and place. We live in a day of pronounced autonomy and independence, and this most often has negative consequences. It seems to me more beneficial, on balance, to have a society that is more rooted.

    (I say this, knowing full well that I live a day’s commute from my parents, and that I’m pastoring a church in an association with which I had no prior involvement. I am not consistent here.)

    My point is this: I don’t see virtue in a person whose principles are so inviolable that people are expendable. And I don’t see this as mere pragmatism. A person whose loyalties are only to his principles is not a good man. He is best represented by Lewis’s depiction of the dwarfs in “The Last Battle”: The dwarfs are for the dwarfs.

    For that reason, I think Dever and Mohler (both lifelong SBC men, if I’m remembering correctly) were right to stay in the SBC and fight.

    In summary, I think you’re correct to say that prior relationships play a role in decisions like this. But I would say that that is a good thing.

    • Greg Linscott

      March 10, 2014 at 9:12 pm

      Websters define “pragmatic” as “dealing with the problems that exist in a specific situation in a reasonable and logical way instead of depending on ideas and theories.” That’s what I had in mind- that someone can have concerns with SBC speakers generally, yet make exceptions to the general rule due to things like previous relationships.

      At the same time, one would need to be careful here. There is a sense one could undermine his principles by making such an exception. If one is a committed Baptist, i think it would be possible to have a Presbyterian speak in your pulpit without compromising Baptist principles. One might, however, risk doing so by inviting someone who was once a member of your congregation but left to become a Presbyterian.

      I wonder if that is a consideration in this situation, or if it should be. Like you just mentioned, I look at someone like Mohler or Dever, with SBC roots, as being in a different category. It’s another matter to enter into it from outside.

      • Michael Riley

        March 11, 2014 at 4:19 pm


        Couple points. I don’t think anyone is disputing the dictionary definition of pragmatism here. My objection is that, in the context of ministry decisions, the term normally carries with it connotations of compromise on principle, and I’m not convinced that this is a fair accusation here. Or, to be more specific, if I include in my principles the idea that prior relationships do in fact factor into my decisions on fellowship, etc., I have not compromised by principles when I act in just this way. This might be dismissed as special pleading, but I don’t think it is. All reasonable men act this way: the standards for maintaining a relationship are always different than the standards for entering a relationship.

        But even setting that aside, I would argue that a person with sane FBF-like convictions on separatism could pick his spots, partnering with certain SBC men in certain contexts in which there is agreement, even without a prior relationship. And so while it is evident in this situation that the previous relationship plays a role in the decision that was made, I think at the level of principle, a similar decision could be reached even without it.

  3. Ross Shannon

    March 10, 2014 at 5:39 pm


    I love the clarity and charity of this post. Perhaps the arguement won’t be as clear to others, but my mind went to this clear and charitable article by Kevin Bauder ( He isn’t referring to this situation at all. However, his argument regarding “truth in advertising” is worth considering in regards–not just to T4G or TGC–but to “fundamentalist circles” as well.

    With changing only a few words, I would say similar to groups in “fundamentalist circles,” like the FBFI. Bauder writes…

    “How enthusiastic can our endorsement be, however, when it seems that these groups are committed, not simply to defending the gospel (with which we heartily agree), but also to propagating a doctrinal system that treats some of us as second-class Christians?”

    “This is part of my reason for not “joining” (i.e., bringing myself into too-close identification) with these popular, gospel-only organizations. While I am by no means an opponent of these organizations, and while I do want them to succeed in much of what they do, I do not see them as gospel-only. Furthermore, I am not sure that they truly see themselves as gospel-only.”

    That the FBFI Constitution (to use a concrete example) includes the biblical category of orthopraxy or that orthopraxy is best expressed by reverent, conservative music isn’t indubitably evident, at least to me. Bauder again, “If a farmer purchases a bag labeled Oats, he does not expect to find that it is half full of black-eyed peas.” To apply his argument and wording, Christians who hear about the FBFI have no reason to suspect that they will find the bag half full of conservative music onlyism. Music is important to most fundamentalists, at least in practice. As Bauder said, “By itself, that is not a problem. It does, however, raise the matter of truth in advertising.”

    Michael, do you agree that this “truth in advertising” argument applies? I’d benefit from your interaction on an issue you, Ben, and others have given much more thought and ink to. And thank you for the new word–indubitably. I hope I used it well.

    • Michael Riley

      March 10, 2014 at 6:04 pm


      I think that the “truth in advertising” argument does apply here: if disagreements about orthopathy are grounds for separatism (and unity on orthopathy grounds for fellowship), that should be stated. My suspicion, however, is that many of the “traditional” FBF churches have little going for them in the way of orthopathy. They sing out of date pop tunes, and object to churches who sing up to date pop tunes. It’s hard to put forward a serious argument for orthopathy on that basis.

      Thus, I don’t deny that, for many, music itself is the dividing line. I wouldn’t deny that. At the same time, I want to make the case that a *principled* position can be articulated that makes some sense of this.

  4. Ben

    March 10, 2014 at 5:42 pm

    Michael, I have no objection to you using that tweet as an opportunity to open the discussion, but I don’t think you’ve framed the discussion in a way that’s fair to what I actually said. You imply an interpretation of my meaning that the words don’t sustain. I’m not so naïve as to think that the only explanation for the present circumstances is some inconsistency or hypocrisy. My suspicion is that there’s a variety of factors—pre-existing relationships, change in the SBC, reduction in fundamentalist ignorance of a long trajectory of change in the SBC, particular affinities in convictions and priorities regarding music, and, yes, “tweaks” (at the very least) in fundamentalist principles of separation, whether anyone admits it or not.

    No doubt you address some of that in your post. I haven’t dug into the whole thing yet. But the simple fact is that I didn’t foresee that complex of factors emerging from my perspective ten years ago—at least not that quickly.

    Now, I do wonder whether you or anyone else would like to either deny or define how fundamentalists have adjusted their principles over the past 10-30 years. I’m thinking of one very specific conversation roughly 8 years ago with someone not distant from this particular situation that would seem to me to put this present arrangement out of bounds. Maybe I can dig up the comment thread.

    Regardless, I’m somewhat familiar with the present state of the SBC. Though I remain encouraged at the trajectory, I still don’t see the progress reaching a point where meaning ecclesiastical relationship between an SBC leader and an FBFI leader could be consistent with the essence of the “fundamentalist idea.” And by “fundamentalist idea,” I have in mind what I read and heard articulated in the 80s, 90s, and well into “the aughts” by FBFI-type leaders, and even some a bit to the left of them. Don’t get me wrong. I’m happy for the walls to . . . well, let’s just say, be reconfigured.

    • Michael Riley

      March 10, 2014 at 5:56 pm


      Really quick here: I didn’t at all take your tweet to be an attack or a shot at Harding or Aniol. I apologize for making it seem that way, and I could see how it could be read that way. I’ve had enough interaction with you that I think I’ve got a decent idea where you’re coming from.

      Essentially, I used the occasion of your tweet (and some ensuing discussion) to write this post, which is more in response to those who have raised these kinds of objections. I definitely apologize for setting this up in a way that sounds like I’m responding to you, or for pinning those kinds of objections on you. That wasn’t my intent.

      • Ben

        March 10, 2014 at 6:00 pm

        No worries! Just wanted to be clear what I was and wasn’t saying. In no way would this ever be an obstacle to me inviting you to preach in my church. ;-)

  5. Joy

    March 10, 2014 at 5:45 pm

    This is my first time at your site (directed over from SI). Though I can’t talk well in terms of orthopraxy and orthopathy, I can talk in terms of things being “nuts”. I’m working through your insights, and my comment here isn’t to agree or disagree with your thoughts. My simple question is:

    Since it does look “nuts” to many of us on the outside (inconsistent being the best word I can think of), should there not be a better effort at transparency and acknowledgement of perceived inconsistencies? I have read Harding’s defense over at SI regarding Aniol, and it was…lacking in persuasiveness. Better for him to have said, “Yes, this looks nuts..and here are my reasons” than to dismiss concerns of nuttiness. It would help clear up some of the confusion in the pews.
    I was glad, though it was pretty nutty, to see those accused at SI of not being fundamental/separatist calling out the inconsistencies of the fundamentalists/separatists–and expecting a reasonable answer.

    I see that Harding is on the Bible Conference platform along with a few other well-known Northern names: and that Mohler is at Northland for Founder’s Day

    It will be interesting to see how the orthopraxy and orthopathy and orthodoxy all works out. Until then, I’m with Ben Wright…this is “nuts” and hopefully leaders will start communicating better at how it isn’t if they want to maintain credibility.

  6. Ben

    March 10, 2014 at 11:47 pm

    Michael, I’ve read your whole post now, and I have no reason to disagree with the rationale you’ve proposed. But I suspect we both know quite well you’ve proposed a rationale that’s radically different from what the FBFI and similar organizations have articulated for the past 30 years. Do you think anyone would seriously try to disagree? And as you’ve said, the FBFI is hardly an association rooted in a consensus of orthopathy—certainly not the sort you’re advocating—and that doesn’t seem to have been much of an obstacle to fellowship throughout its history.

    • Michael Riley

      March 11, 2014 at 4:31 pm


      First, I would totally agree that the FBF is hardly a model of the view of orthopathy that I see warranted in Scripture, which is a reason that I have not joined.

      Second, I would agree that much of the rhetoric on separatism in the FBF and similar organizations has been oversimplified; that is, it has been customary to make separation decisions based on institutional identity cards rather than by actual position. Again, I’m inclined to agree with such rhetoric, to a point. For instance, even if the American Baptist Church in town were pastored by a Bible-believing inerrantist, I would not see my way clear to partner with him in ministry. The organizational baggage of his denomination is simply too immense. So this kind of “binary” separatism is, at least in my estimation, justified in some cases.

      Obviously, for years, this was the FBF approach to the SBC. Given the kind of error that was tolerated in official SBC institutions, I can see why this position was maintained. Unfortunately, this kind of binary separatism, being *easy* to understand and practice, becomes difficult to discard when and if the organization moves, and especially if it moves in a conservative direction.

      I guess my point here would be this: I don’t speak for the FBF or, as I’ve already noted, for Pastor Harding. But as one who has an FBF-like view of separatism (run through a grid of Bauder), I can see a way to maintain *my* principles of separatism, while accounting for changes like the ones that we’re witnessing today.

      • Ben

        March 11, 2014 at 11:53 pm

        Michael, your comment in the original post about Christian fidelity involving commitment to orthopathy intrigues me. It makes me wonder whether your perception of a lack of commitment to orthopathy in the FBFI would be enough, on its own, to preclude your membership. I’m assuming you and Mike are in pretty much the same place on orthopathy, and it has obviously not been an obstacle to him.

        I also wonder whether it’s even possible to filter FBF-like separatism through a “Bauder grid.” That strikes me as something like filtering a camel through the eye of a needle. It seems to me that your approach is predicated on the assumption that the FBFI and Bauder really share 1) the same approach to separation and 2) compatible affections. I’m not at all sure they do, on either count.

        Having said all that, I’m very happy for the way you’re articulating the principles to displace the way they were articulated in FBFI resolutions over 30 years, just to offer one example. I suspect that anyone who spends any time scanning them won’t need long to see differences. Thoughtful readers will reach their own conclusions on whether this is change, non-change, or something of a different kind.

      • Michael Riley

        March 12, 2014 at 11:30 am


        This probably merits its own post, but since I only write something on my blog once a quarter or so, I’ll stick it here :)

        FBF and orthopathy: My impression is that, because of his background and history, Pastor Harding has a stronger stomach for the “traditional” gospel songs and revivalism that characterize the FBF than I do. Put it this way: Pastor Harding has been a fixture in the FBF for a long while, pressing it (in my estimation) in better directions than it would otherwise go. Because I have my roots at Troy, I see myself in some ways as influenced by the FBF, but simply have no desire whatsoever to involve myself in an organization that would, in the majority, loathe a number of positions that are dear to me.

        FBF and the grid of Bauder: Just to clarify here, I’m not thinking of a mix of an FBF view of separatism and a Bauderian view of the affections. My intent was something more like this: my position on separatism, when it cashes out in real life, is quite conservative and guarded (in that sense, FBF-like). So, for instance, while I greatly appreciate Mark Dever, I probably would have hesitated even more than Kevin did about speaking together at Lansdale some years ago. But my articulation of separatism, my biblical rationale for my position, is much more informed by Kevin than by any FBF resolution. So, in this case, I’m not trying to bring affections into this mix. I’m merely trying to describe my own view on separatism as being completely shaped by Kevin’s arguments, but with a guardedness more akin to the FBF. Perhaps ironically, it’s likely *because* of an FBF-like reluctance to express broad organizational fellowship that I wouldn’t join the FBF itself.

  7. Joel Tetreau

    March 10, 2014 at 11:54 pm

    Michael – nice back and forth between you and Ben and friends here. Well – I understand all sides here (classic Tetreau opening I know!)……So from my perspective this is all good news. It means finally you guys in the Beethoven group are beginning to move away from your concrete-battle-hardened philosophical/ecclesiastical…..idealism to something more breathable – like what I am – a principled pragmatic! No your not their yet – but baby-steps! I’ll take this ever-so-slight inconsistency (if Ben is right) because it’s a good step in the right direction. BTW – your “Arrowood/Furtick” statement was hilarious! Good form my man.
    Straight Ahead my friend………stay warm!

    • Ben

      March 11, 2014 at 12:09 pm

      Joel, perhaps I need to clarify again that I’m not calling this an inconsistency. I’m saying it’s unmistakably different from what we’ve seen in the past.

    • Michael Riley

      March 11, 2014 at 4:36 pm


      My whole point here is that I think it is possible to articulate separatism in such a way as to account for something like this situation without it being a “move away from [our] concrete-battle-hardened philosophical/ecclesiastical idealism.”

      Now I recognize the problem here: for all the world, it sounds to some people like I’m pulling a Northland-esque changing-but-not-really-changing song and dance. And again, I’m still fairly young in this whole show (turning 35 this year). So my position is one of having grown up in one of the nicer neighborhoods of the FBF, and seeing the moves like the one Pastor Harding is making here as identifiably consistent with the principles that I received in that ministry.

  8. Stev

    March 11, 2014 at 8:13 am

    Michael, I understand what you’re saying, but like many, I’m wondering where this is all headed. Let’s say, for instance, that Northland becomes an SBC school and leads a group of IFB churches into the SBC. If we’re being pragmatic, there is a difference between Scott, who teaches in Texas, preaching in Michigan, compared to if the SBC became a less distant concern for a more local fellowship.

  9. Steve Newman

    March 11, 2014 at 10:24 am

    I’m just saying that a situation like the one described above might cut into some people’s orthopathy a little bit! :)

  10. Pastor Mike Harding

    March 11, 2014 at 10:53 am

    I am very proud of you for finishing your dissertation on apologetics. Glad those Presbyterians showed some kindness and mercy to you. Scott’s sister is celebrating her wedding reception this week. Scott arrived last Sunday afternoon from Texas in order to MC the reception and spend time with his family. Sunday night we had the Faith Baptist College (and Seminary) chorale take the entire service to present a sacred concert for our church. Since Dr. Aniol was in our service that night and I was speaking that evening at Pastor Steve Thomas’ church, I asked Scott to bring an appropriate message. There are few people as well qualified as Scott to follow-up with a message after a sacred concert.
    I think all your arguments are valid. In addition, Scott and I agree on virtually every doctrine and practice. To reduce it to simply music would be inaccurate. Also, I have maintained this relationship with Scott through his Ph.D. program while he was serving as a graduate assistant. SWTS is, to my knowledge, the only theologically conservative seminary that offers a Ph.D. in music related fields. I think he made the best choice available to him and he consulted with me and others before he made his final decision . If I was president of a university, I would definitely hire Dr. Aniol to work in our sacred music department. Admittedly, Scott is somewhat of an anomaly in the SBC. He has stood for biblical worship and music principles in an environment that is not always sympathetic to his position. He has even risked his own employment to do so. I have firsthand knowledge of this. Scott is a good man by any measurement—personal character, family life, theology, doctrinal discernment, worship practices, music, personal separation. All these things being true, I did not view his teaching at SWTS as sufficient cause to end our relationship. Dr. Patterson wants his seminary students to hear a cogent presentation of conservative worship and music principles. For that I am thankful. My evaluation is that the SBC today has some of the same diversification that Fundamentalism has. There are so-called Fundamentalists that I could not maintain relationships with on account of their doctrine, personal character, etc. Though I think labels have their place and are important, we have to look more closely than simply the label. Hundreds of examples could be given to demonstrate what I have just said. Many good men who use the Fundamental label have remained on Scott’s board for some of the same reasons I have articulated.
    Our principles are the same, but the scene is always changing. The ecclesiastical world is always in a state of flux. If we truly agree on the principles, we can allow for some flexibility on the application. Because I know this man’s history, personal character, godliness, doctrinal soundness, backbone, decision-making process, and godly orthopraxy, I in good conscience with my understanding of the Scriptures can maintain my personal relationship with him as well as my church relationship. I am sorry that it appears inconsistent to some and perhaps it is; nevertheless, as Carson once said, “Perfect consistency is the hobgoblin of Lilliputian minds.”

    • Michael Riley

      March 11, 2014 at 4:57 pm

      Pastor Harding,

      Thanks for the comment. First, I love the fact that you had the GARB and the SBC both represented in one service. I was joking with a friend that it must have been a missions conference night at Troy, with you reaching out to all of the wayward Baptist associations :)

      Second, I think what you’ve articulated here is quite in line with what I’ve been trying to say as well. If you’re still reading here, though, I’d bounce this question off you: what would you say to those who would insist that this “flexibility of application” of separatism is a new thing for you? Is that a fair charge?

  11. Ross Shannon

    March 11, 2014 at 11:57 am

    Thank you, Pastor Harding, for commenting. I appreciate your wisdom and honesty–especially in the last paragraph. “Consistency” is right up there with “balance” and just as elusive. And I’m encouraged that you value such relationships in ministry.

  12. Pastor Mike Harding

    March 11, 2014 at 5:59 pm

    Actually it is not a new thing for me. The principles are absolute. Applications are wisdom issues (the skilled application of biblical truth). This has always been the case. If it were not, we would all look and live like the Amish (that’s why I don’t wear a beard, but I’m thinking about it). Repent ! Many of our non-cooperative stances have more to do with wisdom than universally declaring a brother in Christ an overt disobedient brother of the 2 Thessalonian variety. Dr. Doran has done a good job laying out primary separation, secondary separation, and worldliness. Those are the fundamental principles. Applying them wisely is a matter biblical wisdom, skill, knowledge, occasion, and historical precedent. Cooperating with someone is also based on agreement or disagreement.
    There are plenty of Christian leaders with whom I limit my cooperation based on the fact that we have important levels of disagreement. I don’t necessarily consider them disobedient. Thus, we have disobedient brethren, disagreeable brethren, and disagreeing brethren. The first category necessitates separation, the second category warrants great caution, the third category allows for cooperation to some extent based on the level of agreement or disagreement. Liberals and apostates go without saying. For instance, If you choose to use Dr. Barrett for a special purpose, I would understand. I have not used him at our church, but I do not consider him a disobedient brother, even though we disagree on a number of issues. He is a good man, a godly man, and one who to my limited knowledge practices primary, secondary, and worldliness separation. As a Baptist I have not used him; nevertheless, I don’t consider him a disobedient brother. We are disagreeing brothers which allows or disallows cooperation based on the purpose, occasion, and nature of the agreement or disagreement. There are tons of men out there who would not consider having me in their pulpit because they disagree with me on a matter that is important to them. I am not offended in the least.

    • Stephen Davis

      March 12, 2014 at 8:18 am

      I do find this interesting in light of a thread last year on SI. There was one FBF member for whom Scott’s affiliation with the SBC would preclude ministry cooperation. Scott sought counsel from men and Mike enthusiastically encouraged Scott to teach at a SBC school while grieved that Scott couldn’t find employment in Mike’s circles of influence. I wonder if some FBF men, according to some degree of separation, might now be precluded from ministry cooperation with Mike since he’s had a SBC elder and prof speak in his church. If they do, I won’t separate from him or from Scott either over their associations or their music! I would be glad to speak in Mike’s church. I’m not sure what it all means but if Mike ever grows a beard …… – nah won’t happen.

  13. Joy

    March 12, 2014 at 12:32 pm


    I do appreciate your openness to allow this dialogue. Yes, Northland does easily come to mind since it was just last spring they more definitively rebranded. Whether some are overreacting, underreacting, or mis-reacting about an SBC elder (more pertinent than prof) in a Fundy pulpit, this discussion is helpful. Before, I had chosen the word “inconsistency”, but I didn’t mean for that to mean inconsistency on Harding’s part as much as the FBFI. Even then, I can forgo that word for the more important hopefully more neutral issue of, as Ben said, this being “unmistakably different”. We can’t even begin to discuss potential inconsistency until we figure out if this is “unmistakably different”.

    If I understand correctly, Michael, you are opposed to some of the FBFI’s past stands in the first place…and you would recommend your premises as a helpful direction for them to take. I am not here to fuss about those views. (I surprise myself these days cheering more for courageous SBC action than FBFI non-action, so I am in transition as well.) Your hope for premises to be a part of their reasoning, though, points to more evidence that this is “unmistakably different” because there would have to be some major adjustments to the FBFI serious Type A language (per Tetreau’s handy labeling) (and several of the SBC/separation resolutions signed by Harding as an FBFI Executive Board Member) to accommodate those premises.

    Just a small sampling of Type A jargon:

    “Until Southern Baptists fully recognize and repudiate the destruction of Neo-evangelicalism that has weakened their churches and seminaries, the Scriptural response of Fundamental Baptists must continue to be separation.”

    “Those who call for cooperation in pulpit ministries between Fundamentalists and Southern Bap tists either misread the nature of the conservative movement in the Convention, or themselves have compromised the cause of Biblical separation.”

    If the FBFI does not have a problem with your premises and Harding’s exceptions, I do not think it is unreasonable for those of us in the pew (that may have subscribed to the FrontLine faithfully to get our “marching orders” so to speak) to desire the FBFI to update their policies/positions to transparently reflect where they stand. There has been no updated language to give us the idea that we shouldn’t be so Type A about this…that it’s okay to have an SBC elder speak in our pulpits along with the reasons or premises. I would think the Types B, C, (was there a D?) would count this a victory and a step in the right direction…so what I’m desiring shouldn’t offend any one.
    In fact, I believe there was discussion years back somewhere of Aniol wondering about whether to join the FBFI or not. With this more inclusiveness, perhaps he’d find it more worthwhile.

    It reminds me of the “SBC: House on the Sand”…probably because of some of your premises, it quietly was discontinued without explanation. I still have my copy. The language is there…those of us older than 35 remember the dire warnings…reminiscent of this ( reminiscent of the FBFI language. If we want the people in the pew to be more open, more accepting, etc. why are there not articles in the FrontLine or online openly advocating this and educating us. (Disclaimer: I am not saying that everything they have always said or will always say lines up with my own beliefs. My concern is for them to be open, and this starts by acknowledging that this is different behavior within the FBFI.)

    I appreciate the comments like this that are civilly seeking objectivity based on known history of the FBFI/SBC relationship:
    “It seems to me that pragmatism was a significant factor. I don’t find that problematic, but I do think it deserves ackowledgement.”
    “One might, however, risk doing so by inviting someone who was once a member of your congregation but left to become a Presbyterian.” (And not just attending an SBC college–which has already been modus operandi for years now–but in addition to that, becoming an SBC elder.)
    “tweaks” (at the very least) in fundamentalist principles of separation, whether anyone admits it or not” (yes, at the very least)
    “I still don’t see the progress reaching a point where meaning ecclesiastical relationship between an SBC leader and an FBFI leader could be consistent with the essence of the “fundamentalist idea.” And by “fundamentalist idea,” I have in mind what I read and heard articulated in the 80s, 90s, and well into “the aughts” by FBFI-type leaders, and even some a bit to the left of them.” (and if it has, the FBFI language needs to change)
    “you’ve proposed a rationale that’s radically different from what the FBFI and similar organizations have articulated for the past 30 years.”
    “FBF-like separatism through a “Bauder grid.” That strikes me as something like filtering a camel through the eye of a needle.”

    Here are some takes on other comments (from an FBFI traditional perspective):
    “I think Dever and Mohler (both lifelong SBC men, if I’m remembering correctly) were right to stay in the SBC and fight.” (the FBFI traditionally would disagree)
    “All reasonable men act this way: the standards for maintaining a relationship are always different than the standards for entering a relationship.” (traditionally the FBFI wouldn’t go on and on about your personal relationship with these people but WOULD about your pulpit relationship/the misunderstood stamp of approval/the uncertain sound, etc.)
    “But even setting that aside, I would argue that a person with sane FBF-like convictions on separatism could pick his spots, partnering with certain SBC men in certain contexts in which there is agreement, even without a prior relationship.” (This is far from FBFI traditional speak. And never the exception of “compromising your pulpit”. A speaking engagement/seminar on something other than the Gospel in a non-worship setting, perhaps…not the pulpit.)
    “I would totally agree that the FBF is hardly a model of the view of orthopathy that I see warranted in Scripture, which is a reason that I have not joined.” Again, I take this as some evidence that Harding’s choices are markedly different than the traditional FBFI stance. If the FBFI openly endorsed Harding’s actions, you might take a second glance at the FBFI…maybe :)
    “My whole point here is that I think it is possible to articulate separatism in such a way as to account for something like this situation without it being a “move away from [our] concrete-battle-hardened philosophical/ecclesiastical idealism.” Then let them articulate on. I’d be happy to have this cleared up from the FBFI leadership. (You use some colorful Type A words there…”sane” “hardened” :)

    And finally,
    “I wonder if some FBF men, according to some degree of separation, might now be precluded from ministry cooperation with Mike since he’s had a SBC elder and prof speak in his church.” That is the question. In days of old, absolutely no doubt about it. Today there is question and dialogue and reconsidering one of “their own”. Definitely, there are some that would choose to not cooperate with Harding on a ministry level in their own churches. However, unlike the olden days, they will most likely do so quietly without public ado until forced to comment. If your looking for the FBFI or FBFI institutions to disassociate from him?…he’s on the Executive Board and a Bible Conference speaker and his name has been tossed around among constituents (along with Aniol’s) as nomination considerations for the BJU presidency…he is in position to be a trendsetter so to speak…I’m sure he’s aware of the behind-the-scenes/behind the positions statements discussions to know how much liberty they would give on the SBC. If it were that serious of a transgression, he would either have to discontinue having Aniol preaching in the pulpit or discontinue membership in the FBFI/leadership role. Michael, with all due regard to your premises, I get the sense that many of them are taking those “baby steps”. The question remains as to when they will choose to take a stand for it. But first, we are back to figuring out if it’s “unmistakably different.”

    I apologize for the length. As you can tell, this has been a conundrum for me as I see all the changes that you have mentioned. I appreciate the back and forth of ideas. I will continue to lurk and learn from the thoughts presented here.

    Pastor Harding, I appreciate your entering the public social media fray rather than avoiding or railing against it. These are strange and changing times–forums like these have a place in seeking truth. I think you can tell that my main wish is for more transparency in the FBFI board for all of our sakes. I know that other FBFIers are on Scott’s board…but I would never expect to see Scott in their church’s pulpits. It would be a marked departure, and they would, at present, avoid the confusion. They limit their endorsing for him as an educational venue so to speak. Even this itself is a baby step on the trail to Michael’s ideals.

    Maybe a great start on all of this at this summer’s Fellowship would be to use language such as you used and have it voted on for 2014 position statement regarding the SBC/separation:
    “Because I know this man’s history, personal character, godliness, doctrinal soundness, backbone, decision-making process, and godly orthopraxy, I in good conscience with my understanding of the Scriptures can maintain my personal relationship with him as well as my church relationship.”

    Someone noted elsewhere that Carson’s quote seems to have originally been “Consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds” rather than “perfect consistency”…and Carson misquoted Emerson’s original: “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.” I am not advocating foolish consistency. Surely it is not ignoble nor unbiblical to pursue well-thought-out and practiced consistency as we re-evaluate our orthodoxy, orthopathy, and orthopraxy :) Still trying to get the hang of using those words…………..

    • Michael Riley

      March 12, 2014 at 1:08 pm


      I think you are misreading my intentions here fairly significantly. The premises I lay out in this blog post are not recommendations or proposals to anyone. I’m not part of the FBF, and have no intention of joining. While I have roots there (and therefore would like to see them make good decisions), I’m generally disinterested in what the FBF decides to do. The premises here are not at all intended for consideration by the FBF; instead, they are only the basis for my own argument: that someone with FBF-esque convictions about separatism could, without doing violence to the principles that underlie those convictions, recognize the changing landscape (especially the conservative resurgence) and see a place for having a conservative SBC guy speak at his church.

      So I’m not here voicing opposition to previous FBF stands or suggesting new premises for their way forward. What they do is irrelevant to my post, and is frankly not something that I concern myself with.

      This is why I have restated throughout this thread that my goal is to address the *principles* of the issue here, and not so much the specifics. If the FBF comes out with a resolution that acknowledges that the SBC is now a mixed bag, and that mere association with the SBC is no longer grounds for cutting all fellowship, great. If they continue to insist that their previous resolutions are their current position, that’s fine with me as well. It’s just not important to me, or to my argument here.

  14. Joy

    March 12, 2014 at 3:21 pm

    I am sorry if my comments came across that way. I wasn’t trying to misrepresent the intent of your original post. I was using your premises as a jump start for my own FBF concerns regarding the topic. Your arguments were a great start for me trying to relay that these have NOT been their premises in the past –and that they very well, reasonably could be in the present. In no way did I take your original post as a persuasive piece to the FBFI directly. Yes, to FBF-esquers individually. I know that you weren’t demanding anything of them, but that, indeed you would think it “great” nonetheless. My point, and others’ points, is that this would be a big difference for FBF and FBF-esquers should they begin openly acting and endorsing actions similar to Harding’s decision.

    For myself, I am seeing good reasonable explanations in your premises for the shifting we in stricter FBFI “neighborhoods” notice and wonder about. I think the changes we see in our FBFI “neck of the woods” must be, at least, partially due to those premises. I found your arguments for your own larger point fascinatingly spot on to why FBF-esquers are shifting. Your post helped me connect some personal dots, so to speak. I think, if the FBF or FBF-esquers are using some of these arguments, then the acknowledgement of such is a great place to start for better unity and forward movement. I was using your premises for MY OWN FBF recommendations so the talk/walk makes more sense these days. Anyway, sorry that wasn’t clearer!

    We can all acknowledge that Pastor Harding, in addition to his local church ministry, is an influential, well-respected, long-term FBFI member and Executive Board member leading a wide range of folks in the FBF spectrum. This is only an expected mental dialogue some FBF-esque folks would have…figuring out how the FBFI would weigh into this. It is by default (as one can tell from the comments that brought FBF into the picture), important in the individual’s consideration of your arguments.

    You speak from one without the FBF (or as you said, the “nicer” :); I as one inside the FBF (or as you might say the “not so nice” :). There would be much more consideration from FBF-esque individuals if and should the FBF leaders believe and publicly own these arguments IF they are indeed acting from them. That’s my intention–kind of like a secondary point to your major one. I won’t belabor my points on that. I have confidence that Pastor Harding knows all stripes in the FBFI to know where I’m coming from on this without misunderstanding my intentions–as in, he’s seen the likes of me and my concerns before. I did not mean to make you a partner in my crime :)

    Thanks again for your time and your talent.

  15. Pastor Mike Harding

    March 13, 2014 at 11:02 am


    Thank you for your interaction. For clarity sake, my actions and words here are my own. Since my 25 year relationship with Scott is unique, I don’t expect anyone else to follow suit. I have voiced my understanding of the current state in the national SBC at various board meetings. Most of us realize that massive changes have occurred in the national level of the SBC. The state conventions have horrific problems as do the colleges. Scott’s church which is extremely conservative is not a part of the state convention. As Mike Riley pointed out, the national SBC changes are unusual, to say the least, when one considers the history of fundamentalism. To me the amazing thing is that Dr. Patterson wanted Scott to teach his theology of music and worship at the seminary. When Patterson was questioned on this by his own faculty/board as to the wisdom of using a non-SBC man in the seminary, his response was that as a general rule their churches were not producing men like Scott, exceptions noted. How long Scott will remain employed there is an open question. He took a good deal of heat over his recent debate on the rap music issue. The politics inside the SBC are much, much worse than anything I have ever seen in the fundamentalist orbit. Scott is not going to compromise his beliefs, values, or philosophy, even if it costs him his job, and it almost did. Would I have initiated a relationship with a SBC prof as I currently have with Scott? No. However, the question I had to deal with was ending a relationship. I did not for the reasons I have articulated. I do not personally view men like Mark Dever or Greg Gilbert (Third Ave. Baptist, Louisville) as enemies. Dever is at times openly critical of the SBC and is frowned upon by many SBC insiders. He commented at a recent “Weekender” that he didn’t think Rick Warren (a Southern Baptist) was qualified to lead a Bible study. We have to realize, however, that the conservative seminaries still have serious problems. For instance, when I was on the campus of Southern a few months ago, I saw monuments to men such as Graham and others who had directly collaborated with liberals. That’s inexcusable in my opinion, even though I commend Mohler for firing all the liberals at Southern—at great personal cost I might add. As far as the quote is concerned, I was citing something Carson had said, not written. But the basic point is the same.