Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Gospel-Centered Cooperation

I want to whet your appetite to listen to a great conversation between two Baptists (Mohler and Dever), a Presbyterian (Duncan), and a Reformed charismatic (little c, at least in my opinion) (Mahaney). For some insightful analysis, you can read Ryan Martin's thoughts here. I'll stick to a few of the more pointed quotes. They are not contiguous, but scattered throughout the hour-plus conversation.
Dever: I think that this generation is used to thinking, "If you've got the gospel in common, you've got everything in common.

Mohler's response: "I think the true scandal of denominationalism is not that we are a part of separate churches. It is that somehow due to our sin, and due to our deep embeddedness in interpretive traditions and all the rest, somehow, brothers who passionately and equally love the gospel have not yet in this age come to a like mind on some very important issues having to do with how you would constitute a church, how you would understand baptism, and many other issues. I don't see the scandal as institutional . . . I think the real scandal is that it is a humbling issue for us to recognize how much we need what only Christ can bring when we see him face to face and where we will find out that these issues really are more important than we understood them to be, and yet we will understood them fully.

Dever (to Duncan): I think it makes sense that I could have you come and preach but that you couldn't join our church. Now does that make sense to you?

Duncan: Yes, it does.

Mohler (in response to Dever's question about inter-church cooperation in evangelism: It certainly, from a New Testament perspective, can't be wrong to be about common cause in declaring the gospel. [Note: This statement will likely be interpreted as an "anything goes" approach to ecumenical evangelism. You'll want to listen to the last 15-20 minutes to hear Mohler clarify how to him, proclaiming the gospel means far more than just an evangelistic activity. Proclaiming the gospel inherently demands the purity of its proclamation]

Dever: I did a membership interview yesterday with a family who had been—this guy had been made not a deacon in his local church because they sent their daughters to Liberty, and that was considered too liberal, so this man had been removed from his diaconal service in his church because of that. [Assuming this is the whole story, yikes.]

Mohler: One of my concerns is that we not cooperate in a way that would imply that someone's a believer when they don't believe that they are.

Mohler: If [any] of you heard me say something that you believed was injurious to the gospel, you would love me enough to tell me.

Mohler: Let me say say as a Southern Baptist, there are Baptist churches I would not want a lost person to visit because I would be unassured that they would be confronted with the saving gospel.

Mohler: I love what we do. When we talk about being together for the Gospel, it's because, you know, we're unashamed to say that I think at least some of my brethren in this room are just wrong on some issues . . . Dever: Oh, I have called Lig a sinner in the blogosphere that I rarely go into. Mohler: Well, and they're certain that I'm wrong, and I love them for believing I'm wrong—for loving the truth more than they love me and loving me enough to talk about the truth in this way. Duncan: But that's the difference between a genuinely Christian cooperation and a politically correct cooperation . . . that minimizes the truth. It's cooperation and unity at the expense of truth, not because of unity in the truth. And again, that's why I think that this kind of cooperation where commitment to truth is not compromised is a better witness to the world about the nature of true Christian cooperation than a kind that says, "Well, after all, it really doesn't matter what you believe about this or that."

Mohler: When we talk about the gospel, we're not just talking about how one is saved, we're talking about the gospel as the great good news of what God has done for us in Christ. And so there again, we're talking about thick gospel, not thin gospel.

Duncan: The relationships represented in this room have, because of the particularities of the convictions of each one of you, those have not been detriments to cooperation or to personal benefit. Those have been enhancements to cooperation and personal benefit. One, because there is a core commitment to what the Bible teaches about salvation in a comprehensive way—not in a minimalistic way—but in a comprehensive way. And that is so much on the battle line in the world in which we live, both inside the church and outside of it.
I must stop there. There are a couple more quotes I'd like to share. Perhaps tomorrow.


Ryan Martin said...

I know this is a bit off target, but are not these things a pain to transcribe?

Ben said...

Not as bad as you might think. This one was worse than most. iTunes makes it fairly simple. It seems worthwhile since its kind of a niche that no one else is really doing. Folks stuck with dial-up aren't going to want to wade through audio stuff if they don't know if it's any good.

Dave said...

Just curious about what differences you would see in this than in the relationship between the Joones and Paisley (or the Free Pres movmeent)?

Obviously, these men are all Calvinistic in their understanding of the gospel, but the others would say that their relationship is grounded in the gospel. I think that Jones Jr and Paisley were drawn to each other by both a love for souls and a fight. Is that second part the only difference or do you see more than this?

I am genuinely curious because it seems like there is a lot of fascination about this current situation, and it doesn't seem unusual or different on the face from fundamentalist interdenominationalism other than the mutual commitment to Calvinism.

JI said...

Ben, you might check out the free transcription software here:

I've used it to transcribe a couple of things for SI and find that the hot keys for ff, rev, and stop make it easier for me.

Plus you can speed up and slow down voices. Think of the entertainment possibilities - Dever, Duncan, Mahaney, and Mohler as the Chipmunks . . .

Ben said...


Thanks for the question. I got something started over lunch and hope to finish after work.

Dr. Packer (unless you are another JI ;-) ),

Thanks for the link. That software is sweet, and they even have it for OSX! Funny, when you speed it up to like 180% speed I think you can hear Ligon Duncan speaking in tongues.

Ben said...


Wow. A good answer to that question could take a long time. I should probably duck since I don't know much at all about the personal convictions of Paisley and Jones on specific theological issues, so it's hard for me to say how much they differed theologically. It's probably much easier to comment on the diversity of the institutions and movements that they led, but then for an apples to apples comparison we would have to think about Mahaney, Mohler, and maybe Duncan in the same way, which could lead to such fuzziness that comparison/contrast would be worthless.

For purposes of this conversation, I'll assume that the primary issues that forged the Jones-Paisley relationship were the battles for inerrancy and against ecumenism and new evangelicalism. Is that a fair synopsis? A related question that has piqued my curiosity while I've been thinking about your question is how Paisley and Lloyd Jones would have thought of each other. But that's a rabbit trail.

To answer your question, let me first say what I don't think is different. Some people might draw distinctions along these lines. I don't.

1. It's not about one group being reactionary and the other about being positive and exalting the gospel. I think both groups are reacting to some degree against contemporary threats to the gospel, and both intend to defend it to the best of their ability.

2. It's not about how they understand what Scripture teaches about separation—secondary or otherwise. Both groups have avoided cooperation with those who harm the gospel, and both would have some level of association with some who, though they would not deny the gospel themselves, have contributed to confusion on gospel-related issues.

3. It's not exclusively about the doctrines of God's sovereign grace. Obviously, that's a crucial element in the nature of their relationship, as Duncan articulated in a comment that I did not transcribe. Their commonalities on these issues do resound with me, and perhaps others of similar minds. But there are lots of folks who believe the same things on soteriology who have not reached the level of fascination, for lack of a better term.

So what is it about? To me, it is the fact that these men have articulated a hierarchy of doctrine and cooperation that surpasses anything I have heard. Fundamentalism has fallen short on this point, I believe, in that the interpretation of 2 Thessalonians 3 has been principialized so broadly as to preclude any such hierarchy. Dr. McLachlan's comment is representative when he says, "The particular event in this chapter may be indolence in view of Christ's coming, but the general principle is disobedience to the whole of the Christian message as revealed in Scripture. It seems clear from the context that Paul's teaching on this matter in this passage is principial in its emphasis" (Reclaiming Authentic Fundamentalism, p. 136). I did not hear the version of Dr. Minnick's message that he preached at MACP, but the version he preached at his church made statements like McLachlan's. I vaguely remember similar conclusions in the other fundamentalist literature on this passage, but I'll not take the time right now to pull it off the shelf and catalogue it.

Now, I've heard second-hand testimony that these men or others do believe in some taxonomy of first-order/second-order/ third-order doctrines (or whatever other way they articulate it), but I think it's pretty tough to defend that hierarchy from the text of 2 Thessalonians. That passage is either about sloth or it's about the whole of the Christian message, as they contend. Take your pick. As I see it, if you choose the latter, someone who believes that Scripture teaches women need to wear hats to church would have to view someone who does not believe that as a disobedient brother and separate from him in order to be consistent. Nobody does that, so I'm sure everyone who holds this view has some personal rationalization.

I guess the bottom line is that I see this group as representative of historic fundamentalism, not just in the 1920s but also in the 1960s. My next transcription from the interview will reveal how, in addition to the strong doctrinal stand of the T4TG group (contra the NEs and the bulk of contemporary evangelicalism), these men reject the NE strategy, calling it the seductiveness of a false impression that it would be possible to take a stand on the gospel.

I think this alliance strikes a chord somewhere between distilling the irreducible minimum of doctrine to the fundamentalist five points and expanding it to encompass "the whole of the Christian message as revealed in Scripture." Do I agree with them on every point? Absolutely not. I don't even think they all apply consistently the principles they have articulated. Of course, neither to they agree with each other, and as Dever said, he has said that he believes Duncan's views on baptism put him in sin. Dever has elsewhere said similar things in relationship to the baptism discussion at BBC Minneapolis.

So, the sum to me of what is unique and attractive here is that this group is able to forcefully, dogmatically, and passionately disagree on some theological issues, yet maintain forceful, dogmatic, and passionate cooperation for the matters of the gospel that they treasure most dearly. This is strictly opinion, but it seems to me that fundamentalists who tolerate wide diversity on central matters of soteriology while demanding unanimity on less essential matters would do well to think these things through, and perhaps to acknowledge that those both within and without movement fundamentalism may be biblical separatists even if their convictions demand that they apply separatism differently within the context of militant orthodoxy.

How would that be different from Paisley-Jones? Maybe not much. Maybe the only differences are in tone and in the areas of doctrinal agreement that are prerequisite to cooperation. It does seem as though there is a greater demand for unanimity today on issues that were not issues in 1920s fundamentalism and perhaps even 1960s fundamentalism. I have no idea whether that is something Paisley-Jones intended or cultivated, but it does seem to be present in the circles that saw them as leaders.

I'm not meaning to pontificate, and I'm certainly not suggesting that I have all these things figured out. That's simply the best answer I can offer to your question. Either Friday or Monday I hope to post a working hypothesis for how I sort through these matters. It may be way off, but it should at least clarify what I'm trying to say.

Dave said...

Two quick points:

1. I don't think I made my question very clear. What I was interested in was the fascination over the interdenominational aspects of this alliance. It seems as if many are impressed by the partnership between Baptists, a Presbyterian, and a charismatic. My reference to the Jones-Paisley relationship was because it is the same thing (at least at a surface level). I would venture to say that they were drawn together by the Gospel--their belief in it and defense of it.

2. Neither of us probably wants to open up the whole debate on 2 Ths 3, but I don't think you have assessed the argument properly: (a) many of us, including, it seems, Dever would say that failure to obey any biblical teaching makes one a disobedient brother (hence his comment about Duncan's lack of baptism); (b) none of us, it seems to me, are so un-nuanced as to make all matters of disobedience equal in terms of their nature and implications; and (c) the idea of levels of fellowship has been taught in fundamentalist circles for decades (I was taught it 20 years ago).

My original post was genuinely based on curiousity, not a desire to get into a debate about these things, so I will return to lurking as a periodic distraction from what I really need to do!

Ben said...


I think your question made sense; maybe I didn't answer it very clearly. First, I agree with you (and did in my first response—implicitly in the second paragraph and explicitly in the fourth) that the Jones-Paisley alliance was forged to defend the gospel. To me, it's not the inter-denominational nature of T4TG that is novel. In my next-to-last paragraph I acknowledge that.

Maybe I should more concisely describe what is unique: these are men who are not part of the fundamentalist circles as they have traditionally been defined in recent decades, yet they are articulating distinctly fundamentalist ideas. (How consistently they apply those ideas is another discussion.) Most unique is that these are men outside traditional understandings of fundamentalism who are specifically repudiating the new evangelical strategy, not simply because its outcomes have been devastating, but because its central philosophy and objectives were fatally flawed.

Concerning your second paragraph:
(a) I agree, although I'm not sure Dever would use 2 Ths 3 terminology or logic. Maybe so. I do not have any idea.

(b) I agree with your assessment of the situation, but I do not see justification for these nuances in your interpretation of 2 Ths 3 or in the ways other fundamentalists have expressed their exegesis of the passage. This is the disconnect in my mind. The common interpretation of the passage seems quite broad, but the real-life application seems rather selective. I'm not sure how the tension is resolved other than by imposing some alternative hierarchy of doctrine and practice on the text. There may be a way. I just don't remember seeing anyone do it.

(c) Again, I agree. Dr. McCune articulated the concept of levels in his pamphlet, which must have been published sometime in the 80s, probably fairly early in that decade. What I'm trying to understand is where we acquire the exegetical warrant to apply this teaching variably depending on levels of fellowship and selectively to different orders of doctrines. Statements like this one (from the section on 2 Ths 3 in the BJU publication "Biblical Separation") do not seem to leave much wiggle room: "Paul does not leave the reader to wonder what those traditions are. The apostle clearly declares the traditions to be his own teaching whether by word or by epistle (2 Ths 2:15). If any brother's practice or teaching does not agree with the teaching of Scripture, believers are to withdraw from him."

Not trying to draw you into a debate on the interpretation of the text, just trying to understand how the prevailing interpretation of the text is reconciled with the prevailing application. And I could be totally missing something obvious.

Dave said...

Your answer was clear, it just when beyond (in my mind) the simple question that I was asking. In hindsight, I think my question my have been built of a false assumption, namely, that the interdenominationalism was central to your admiration of this alliance. I assumed this from the statements about a doctrinal hierarchy, but I must have been reading them differently than you intended.

I think I understand your concern, but wonder if you aren't pressing the issue too much. Does affirming that the text of 2 Ths 3 leaves no room for qualification necessarily demand your conclusion (if I have it understood correctly, i.e., that this must be applied to any disobedience). I can think of two arguments, just quickly, that would seem to warrant hesitancy about that kind of conclusion:

(1) 2 Ths is precisely that, so what is said here has the literary context of 1 Ths 4 & 5, meaning that Paul has counseled patient warning before separation; and

(2) the teaching of texts like 1 Peter 4:8 seemed to have served as something of a filter on texts like Matt 18:15 and, I would suggest, 2 Ths 3. In other words, does Matt 18:15 mean that every sin committed by a brother should initiate the process outlined there? I don't know of anyone who argues for this, and usually they factor in something like the principle of 1 Pet 4:8. There must be some room for discernment on what sins and disobedience warrant the processes outlined in these two passages. Fundamentalists have principlized that sins which compromise the gospel cannot be covered over, so they have applied 2 Ths 3.

It seems to me that Phil Johnson admitted the same thing last year at and after the Shepherds' conference, and perhaps these men are headed the same direction.

The application problem is one for all of us--I have mixed feelings find about Dever's clear statement that Duncan is a disobedient brother regarding baptism. On one hand, I am in complete agreement with him and am glad that he is not wimping out on his convictions. On the other hand, I am not comfortable with the implication that this disobedience has no practical effect on their fellowship (beyond the fact that he wouldn't allow him church membership). Admittedly, I don't know enough about what Dever believes on this point to draw hard conclusions.

I know people hate when this is said (or so I have been told), but I just don't see how your point regarding fundamentalists is a uniquely fundamentalist problem. It is a problem which any serious believer faces when confronting professing Christendom with all of its doctrinal and ministerial problems. The only thing unique to fundamentalism, from my perspectvie, is that its determination to take these things seriously forces it into the position of facing tough calls continually (and not having consensus on them). Frankly, I am glad to see some evangelicals stepping into the fray.

Ben said...

Just a couple things here. I realize this is very tardy, but I just now read your post.

(1) Whether people are patient in their approach to separation or not does not mitigate their responsibility under 2 Ths 3 to separate over specific errors in practice, not just doctrine. The fundamentalist literature that I've cited argues that our responsibility extends to all Christian teaching. My argument is about the scope, not the timing.

(2) I will readily admit that the 1 Peter, 2 Ths 3, and Matthew 18 texts do not fit together yet in my thinking. For example, isn't the church discipline process surprisingly different between Thessalonians and Matthew? Regardless, you implicitly acknowledge that wisdom, discernment, caution, and prudence need to be present in healthy doses when we make these decisions. I simply do not think they are in the present atmosphere. Sometimes there just does not seem a great deal of rationality in where the lines are drawn, both to the "left" and to the "right." Perhaps that is changing. Perhaps we will stop straining out gnats and swallowing camels in days to come.

Concerning Dever and Duncan, perhaps their difference does have implications on their relationship beyond church membership and that statement was merely one illustration. Ultimately, we are all in sin since we all err on some point of doctrine or practice. It seems that Dever finds his differences with Duncan less substantial than with some whom we might expect him to more naturally associate. I think that's why we see him more publicly aligned with Duncan than with the SBC mainstream. To me at least (given the state of the SBC), that seems quite rational.

I'm not sure which point of mine about fundamentalism you are broadening to include evangelicalism. Yet I almost always agree with you when you do so. My sense, however, is that when some define fundamentalism as the ultimate expression of biblical Christianity, they open the door for cries of "heal thyself." Evangelicalism probably gets a pass either because no one seriously think it represents biblical Christianity, or because there are a number of evangelicals who are already publicly criticizing evangelicalism.