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Category Archives: Fundamentalism

An SBC prof walked into a fundy pulpit…

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  • Premise 3: Because the SBC has shifted, much of the stronger polemics against it are no longer valid.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

 
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Posted by on March 10, 2014 in Fundamentalism

 

In the Nick of Time

Dr. Kevin Bauder is traveling on behalf of Central Seminary this week, and so he granted me the privilege of writing an essay for this week’s In the Nick of Time.

 
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Posted by on November 4, 2011 in Fundamentalism

 

Five books about the mess we’re in

For anyone who cares to understand how we’ve gotten ourselves in our present ecclesiastical mess, I’d suggest that he read the following five works:

America’s God, Mark Noll
Revival and Revivalism, Iain Murray
The Democritization of American Christianity, Nathan Hatch
Christianity’s Dangerous Idea, Alister McGrath
Promise Unfulfilled, Rolland McCune

 
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Posted by on October 31, 2011 in Fundamentalism, Pastoral, Society

 

A new title

For discussion: I propose that henceforth I will identify myself as an Old School Baptist.

 
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Posted by on October 25, 2011 in Conservatism, Fundamentalism

 

Sam Gipp and NIV-onlyism

To the best of my knowledge, I’ve never engaged KJV-onlyism on this blog, and I don’t intend to make it anything like a regular topic. However, I recently stumbled upon this article from Sam Gipp, and decided that it was interesting enough to merit a remark or two.

If you didn’t click the link, the gist of Gipp’s claim is this: if all KJV-only proponents were to announce that they had become NIV-only, those who object to KJV-onlyism would still be unsatisfied. This dissatisfaction indicates (to Gipp) that his opponents object not merely the supposed perfection of the King James, but are inclined to reject any book as God’s revealed, unquestionable authority.

But, don’t believe me! Go ask one. Say to an opponent of the King James Bible, “If tomorrow all the King James Bible believers recanted their belief and said it wasn’t perfect, would that be good?” See what they say. Then add, “They all said they threw out their King James Bibles because they had come to realize that it’s actually the New International Version that is the perfect Word of God without error. What do you think of that?” See what they say!

Their hatred isn’t for us. It’s for the One who put a perfect Bible on this earth and forced them into such a tight spot!

In reply, this is nothing like a good argument, but it’s a new one (at least to me), and so has that going for it. I’ve heard opponents of KJV-onlyism joke about becoming NIV-only, but I’ve never heard a KJV-only proponent suggest it as a basis for his defense of the King James.

It seems to me that Gipp’s claim is very similar to those who insist that doctors really aren’t interested in a cure for cancer, because should such a cure be found, the medical industry would lose so much money (in research funding, current extensive treatments, etc.). While one could make this case sound plausible economically, it is only believable if you are convinced that a good majority of doctors are truly sub-human, merciless creatures. Even the most robust belief in total depravity hardly underwrites such cynicism.

A similar maliciousness is necessary to believe that all of those doing textual criticism are not really interested in determining the original readings at all, but are instead interested only in preserving doubt about the text (presumably for the sake of employment, book deals, etc.). Perhaps such folks do exist; Bart Ehrman comes to mind in this regard. But, then, no one is suggesting that Ehrman’s pursuit of textual criticism (at least on the popular level) has anything to do with finding the original text in the first place.

So Gipp has offered us a question: “What if we became NIV-only?” I’m offering a counter-question: “What (non-question-begging) reason do have for thinking that those studying textual criticism have no real interest in finding the original, authoritative text?”

 
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Posted by on July 8, 2011 in Fundamentalism, Theology

 

The covering of scandal

The temptation to cover ecclesiastical scandal ensnares us only when we have already succumbed to an even more insidious temptation, to believe that this ministry or (worse) this man is indispensable to God’s work. If we hope to overcome the temptation to cover scandal when (Lord, help us!) it arises, we must be relentless in our always-present battle with pride.

 
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Posted by on April 13, 2011 in Fundamentalism

 

Are conservative evangelicals separatists?

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.

 
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Posted by on March 29, 2011 in Fundamentalism

 

Not left and right: a matrix

One joke, made a few times during the panel discussion of January’s Preserving the Truth conference, had to do with the seating arrangement of the speakers on the platform. As I recall, Dave Doran noted that Mark Minnick was the far left extreme, and that Doran himself was to the right of Minnick. Off mic, Kevin Bauder and I took comfort in our position at the far right side of the platform. At least, it was the speakers’ right; from the audience’s perspective, we represented the left-most extreme.

Whatever.

It did occur to me at the time (although I didn’t add this to the discussion) that it would have been an interesting exercise to take a laundry list of issues, and for each of them, have the speakers get up and rearrange themselves from right to left. So, for instance, on the music question, Kevin, Scott Aniol, and I were suitably placed to the far right. But on translations, Kevin and I would likely not be seated so close to one another. And on willingness to share a platform with Dever, we could rearrange again. And then on Calvinism. And then on views of sanctification. And so on.

The simple point of this is that any attempt to sort out issues of separatism using a linear scale will not work; if we wanted to graph it, we’d have to do some kind of multidimensional matrix. I’m not enough of a math/graphics guy to pursue this, but we certainly can’t just put everybody as points along one line, and put brackets around certain of the points. We can’t even do a two-dimensional grid, or graph points in three-dimensional space, etc.; there are simply too many variables.

 
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Posted by on March 28, 2011 in Fundamentalism

 

Futons and beds and chairs, oh my!

Once again, I was planning to write a post, and someone helpfully supplied some context for it. Mark Snoeberger notes that, even if there are some people who are clearly fundamentalists, and some who are clearly conservative evangelicals, there are also people who don’t seem to fit clearly in one category or the other. If this is true, then fundamentalism and conservative evangelicalism are not sufficient categories for making fellowship decisions.

In what I post here, I don’t think I’m necessarily disagreeing with Mark; let’s just say we’re advancing the discussion, pursuing even greater clarity. In this post, I’m going to offer two claims.

First, we must take into account our motivations for distinguishing us and them. In my presentation at Troy, I offered an aggregate list (from Snoeberger and Bauder) of five commitments that tend to distinguish fundamentalism from conservative evangelicalism:

Snoeberger offers four commitments as a continued reason for the existence of fundamentalism: a more restricted understanding of the church’s social agenda (tied to a particular understanding of the Kingdom), a kind of cultural conservatism, cessationism, and young earth creationism. The latter two, in Snoeberger’s judgment, are consistent with historic fundamentalism, but deserve increased emphasis as they are increasingly unpopular in wider evangelicalism.

Bauder’s list overlaps significantly with Snoeberger’s; contrasting fundamentalism with conservative evangelicalism, Bauder maintains that fundamentalists are not anti-dispensational, are less friendly to continuationism, and are more restrictive in their employment of pop culture. Additionally, and “[m]ost importantly, fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals still do not agree about what to do with Christian leaders who make common cause with apostates.”

Thus, depending how we parse these lists, we have at least five commitments (dispensationalism, cessationism, young earth creationism, separatism, and cultural conservatism) which, if held conjointly, are capable of marking off a distinct group of evangelicals. None of the five are uncontroversial; any one of them could sustain its own conference, with papers and panel discussions. Nonetheless, because I believe that each of the five is nontrivial and biblically defensible, I believe in the possibility of a fundamentalism worth saving.

But why try to develop such a list? Here’s where we must question our hearts. If I develop this list for the sole purpose of dividing people into an us and a them, so that I can continue to justify withdrawing fellowship from them, I probably am merely schismatic. I need to repent.

Those of us tied to institutions must give special scrutiny to our hearts, because we, of all people, are especially vulnerable to this temptation. We must make sure that our motive for articulating any kind of us and them is not driven by the desire to create allegiance to (or enrollment in) our institutions. Dr. Doran’s comments about seminary education in the panel discussion at PTT were right on target in this regard.

Is there, then, any warrant for developing a list like this? It seems to me that there is, and that by doing so, we avoid some of the very problems about which Dr. Doran is rightly concerned. A list like this, if it is developed carefully and accurately, allows us to articulate criteria for making distinctions, rather than asserting distinctions on the basis of genuinely nebulous labels.

So (putting off my second point for a later post) that is my thesis for discussion here: if we can define a set of characteristics typical of us, rather than defining us by organization allegiances, we have a better basis for assigning labels.

 
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Posted by on January 13, 2011 in Fundamentalism

 

Us and them, the one and the many

I was planning to write this post anyway, but Dr. Doran’s “Some thoughts on Us & Them” provides perfect justification, and context, for these comments. Since I was part of the same panel discussion that Dr. Doran mentions, consider this a continuation of that conversation.

Let’s begin with some Van Tillianism. A central problem (perhaps the central problem) of philosophy is “the one and the many” problem (which we’ll abbreviate TOATM). Concisely stated, the problem involves the relationship of the particulars of our empirical experience to the universals of our minds.

I most often illustrate TOATM problem using chairs. The lecture room is filled with all of these items that we call chairs. Yet, close examination will reveal that no two of them are identical; each has its own scratches, bulges, etc. And there are a whole host of items that we also call chairs that are strikingly different from those items in the lecture hall. Additionally, there are any number of items that are, in many ways, very similar to those in the lecture hall, yet we do not call them chairs. So, for instance, at a certain width, that item ceases to be a chair and becomes a bench.

Here’s the challenge: define those properties which all chairs, and nothing but chairs, have in common. You will find the task, if you take it seriously, maddening; what we do so adeptly without thought becomes painfully confusing when we turn our attention to it. Is a doll’s chair really a chair, even if no one can sit in it?

TOATM problem is at the heart of the debate between empiricism and rationalism (as epistemologies) and drives us to a discussion of the nature of reality. The empiricist, who believes that sense experience is the basis for knowledge, wants us to insist that each individual chair is real, and the true object of knowledge. The rationalist, on the other hand, insists that the true object of knowledge is more like chairness, the abstraction that makes it possible for us to categorize items. Such categorization is important, the rationalist claims, because even your idea of the one chair sitting in front of you is not something that you experience in any instant; you are convinced the chair has a back side, even if you cannot see it presently. To walk around the chair is to link experiences together is an idea, and idea that is chairness.

The empiricist, then, finds reality in the many (the chairs of the lecture hall); the rationalist, in the one (chairness).

Each position has its virtues. The empiricist (by far the most dominant viewpoint for most people today) finds the suggestion that chairness is more real than that chair absurd. And he is correct to defend the reality of that chair, in my estimation.

Unfortunately, the empiricist is left with several problems. Knowledge, if it is worth having, needs to be of something stable and universal. So, if the empiricist insists on the reality of that chair, his knowledge of that chair is truly irrelevant to the other item sitting next it (also a chair). They are fundamentally different objects, and nothing in one’s sense experience can say any different. The grouping of items is a mental, not an empirical task.

Van Til insists that a radical preference for the many over the one (of empiricism over rationalism) ultimately unravels into skepticism. Of course, the same is true for the radical rationalist: he knows chairness (the universal), but his idea is, definitionally, something he cannot experience. After all, you can’t sit on chairness.

This is TOATM problem: in order to have true knowledge, we must be able to bring the one and the many into meaningful contact with one another. (Van Til’s answer is rooted in the Trinity, but that isn’t relevant for this discussion.)

Now, all of this finally sets me up for my reply to Dr. Doran. (It’s probably a good thing that I didn’t take the mic during the panel discussion.)

Perhaps I’m misreading him, but it seems to me that Dr. Doran’s proposal leans us far too heavily on the side of the empiricist. Each item-that-might-be-a-chair is different, so to speak; each must be evaluated on its own terms. Furthermore, the boundaries between chair and bench, and between chair and recliner, and between chair and big rock, etc., are never clear: therefore, it doesn’t make sense for us to speak of chairs at all.

Please don’t misunderstand: I do agree with Dr. Doran that the labels that we have been using are increasingly inaccurate; this is precisely what the empiricist offers to the rationalist (as the rationalist has a tendency to invent categories that have no relation to the world of experience). In this regard, I am quite in agreement with his proposal. I’m merely inclined to think that his wording is such as to cast doubts on the possibility of useful labels, and that, in my estimation, is a kind of skepticism that I would want to avoid.

I am, then, arguing that we need to hold the one and the many in tension with each other. There is an us around Dr. Doran, and, as you move increasingly from him, there is a them. The fact that the line between these is not distinct does not entail that these categories fail to exist at all.

 
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Posted by on January 11, 2011 in Fundamentalism