Wednesday, June 22, 2005

A Circle of Life: The FBFI and Piper (Part 2)

John Piper teaches in his local ministry that miraculous sign gifts are continuing. Piper has also failed to separate from the Baptist General Conference which has deliberately chosen to tolerate the heresy known as open theism in its membership. He also enthusiastically endorses Daniel Fuller, who has championed the attack on the inerrancy of scripture in our generation.
So says the FBFI resolution adopted last week. Yesterday I promised a bit of analysis of these criticisms.

Non-cessationism: Mike Riley's explanatory article that accompanied the resolution is a bit weak in documenting Piper's views on signs and wonders. This article by Piper himself is much more helpful. I am personally inclined towards cessationism, but the cessationist interpretation of 1 Corinthians 13:12 has never completely convinced me. Other arguments less connected to exegesis seem more weighty to me. Regardless, I'm not sure that Piper is arguing that sign gifts to specific individuals are still in existence. It seems that his point is that we should desire to see God glorify Himself by validating the gospel with signs until Christ returns. Is there not a difference between recognizing a specific ongoing gift of healing or miracles, and merely allowing that God might still choose to perform a miraculous healing or some other sign to validate the gospel?

Would fundamentalists deny this? Darrell Champlin, for example, is a fairly well-known missionary in fundamentalist circles. He frequently preaches a sermon called "Loving God with Shoes On" in which he tells the story of 400 people in a Suriname village who trusted Christ after God told him to stomp and dance on hot coals and glass shards after a witch doctor had performed a similar feat. This sermon was preached in chapel at Bob Jones University in November of 1984. Last year I was present at a service where he told that story and another about a deathly ill man who was not breathing and had no pulse who sat straight up and was immediately returned to health and alertness when Champlin prayed over him. These events seem to be similar to what Piper is talking about. The only difference I see is that Piper is advocating that we pray for these signs, but fundamentalists merely testify that they happen.

Failure to separate from the BGC:
The tolerance of open theism in the BGC is troubling. Piper agrees.
In order for the two resolutions [that repudiate open theism but refuse to expel its adherents] to cohere, open theism must be viewed as an insignificant aberration from the Biblical norm. But this is a profound mistake in theological and historical judgment, for open theism is a massive re-visioning of God. This is clear from Dr. Boyd's published works and will become increasingly clear with those yet to be published. If the Baptist General Conference does not wake up to the magnitude of the distortion of God being powerfully promoted in the writings and classrooms of one of Bethel's most popular teachers, the Conference of fifty years from now will probably not be the faithful evangelical institution it is today.
Should he withdraw from them? I believe the case is strong that he should. But then I'm an independent and quite content not to be part of the BGC, SBC, or the FBFI for that matter. Piper no doubt has reasons for remaining in the BGC, and I am incapable of defining what they are or of giving account for him as to whether they are good or bad reasons.

What I do know is that the FBFI is the current name for the Fundamentalist Fellowship, which was originally organized in 1920 inside the Northern Baptist Convention for the purpose of combating modernism within the Convention. It was not until 1947 or 1955 (depending on what event is considered the watershed) that the Fellowship declared itself independent of the NBC and reconstituted itself as the Conservative Baptist Fellowship. The Fellowship then formed the Conservative Baptist Association as a new denomination. Frustration within the CBF (fellowship subset) that the CBA (denomination) was plagued by compromisers soon developed, and by 1967 the CBF had withdrawn from the CBA and renamed itself the Fundamental Baptist Fellowship, now known as the FBF International (FBFI). All that to say this: If it took the forefathers of the FBFI over 40 years to realize that they could not save their denominations, perhaps some charity towards Piper is not inappropriate. (See In Pursuit of Purity by David Beale of the Bible faculty at BJU for fuller documentation of the history of the FBF[I].)

Failure to separate from Fuller: My first-hand knowledge of Daniel Fuller's denial of inerrancy is slim. My second-hand knowledge is enough to share wholeheartedly the FBFI's concerns with Fuller. I am not aware of the entire background of Piper's relationship with Fuller, but it does seem that Piper's statement about Fuller in Desiring God is something substantially less than enthusiastic endorsement, particularly a full endorsement of everything about his ministry. Piper's comment refers to a 1968 class under Fuller, a 1992 book (which was written after the first edition of Desiring God), and to his ongoing friendship with Fuller and view of him as a mentor. This raises my eyebrow in concern, to be sure, and I believe it is the strongest reason to caution readers towards discernment. On the other hand, Piper seems to have far deeper relationships with men who are stalwart inerrantists. I highly doubt that he will depart from this stand himself. I will be interested to see if this level of association with doctrinal error is grounds for future FBFI resolutions of warning.

Finally, it has been suggested by someone at SI (I honestly don't remember whom) that the timing of this resolution was poor, given the FBFI's attempts to reach out to younger generations who tend to be more appreciative of Piper. I appreciate the fact that the FBFI apparently did not include such reasoning in their decision-making process. Whether I agree with every motivation for the resolution or not, I would be disappointed if they had withheld this resolution so as not to discourage potential members. I also share the FBFI's admonition that we read Piper with discernment, as we ought to read every author. For whatever reason, it does seem as though there are a lot of "Piper clones" running around fundamentalist institutions. I have difficulty believing that this is healthy. Perhaps we would all do well to read some old books for a change.


Dave said...

FYI, Daniel Fuller has also spoken for the Pastor's Conference at BBC.

Ben said...

Without knowing the when's, why's, or "whether he would again," that seems like an interesting piece of information. Curious that the FBFI did not include this fact in it's statement.

Of course, the statement that they themselves presented is all that is relevant to their resolution, regardless of how this fact might impact one's view of Piper's discernment.