Saturday, March 04, 2006

There Ought to be a Price to Pay

One of this week's highlights was Friday's roundtable discussion between John MacArthur, R.C. Sproul, Mark Dever, Al Mohler, and Steve Lawson. They spent the largest portion of their time discussing the purpose and distictives of the upcoming Together for the Gospel Conference (visit the blog here). MacArthur, who was leading the discussion, repeatedly referred to their intentions to create "a new movement of faithfulness to the truth."

The details are still rather unclear to me, but the men at the center of all this are formulating a set of affirmations of what is essential to the gospel—truths for which we must contend. MacArthur pressed the point, expressing hopes that some method might be devised for finding out who will or will not sign these affirmations. "There ought to be a price to pay if you don’t get inside the box of orthodoxy," he said. At this very moment Mohler is speaking and expanding on that quote. He just said that a true Christianity and a true Christian pulpit must be composed of both affirmations and denials. A Christianity without denials is dangerous.

The discussion was marked by clear optimism. Just before moving on to the next topic, MacArthur said, "I think God is starting to build a phoenix out of this evangelical wreck that’s going to fly." This has been a major theme of the conference—that a renewal of authentic biblical preaching (not that which masquerades as such) may be heralding a new Reformation. Steve Lawson summed up this theme well when he said Friday in his exegesis of Nehemiah 8 that every true reformation and every great revival has been ushered in by a recovery of great preaching.

That's what these men want. I pray they succeed. I hope you will too.


Larry said...

How is this going to be a "new movement" for the truth? Hasn't that movement always existed? For eighty years, it has been called fundamentalism, which some of these men consciously rejected, some for good reasons (the whackos) and others for bad reasons (didn't want to stand clearly separated from error).

I think it is a noble thing to fight for the truth. It is as old as the Garden of Eden. But doesn't it strike you as a little odd that they are calling it a "new movement"? Surely they are not that ignorant of history. These men know better. If they will fight for the truth, they will not be starting a new movement. They will be a part of one that already exists.

Ben said...


The response you articulate is one I anticipated from someone. I almost dealt with prospectively it in my post, but I thought it might be more interesting to see who said it and how it was said.

First, I can't speak for these men, but I suspect that they would see little resemblance between today's fundamentalist movement and what took place in the 20's and even the 50's. That may be why they would hesitate to embrace the movement. Someone told me yesterday that he had heard three times this week a speaker say that the fundamentalists were right about the denominations and Billy Graham. I heard one of these myself.

The bigger issue, I think, is that we seem to want validation for the fundamentalist movement more than we want victory for the truth. Instead of celebrating the fact that men are standing for truth and publicly embracing historic fundamentalist ideals, we demand unconditional surrender and expect them to embrace the modern shape of the fundamentalist movement.

Larry said...

I can't speak for others, Ben, but I don't have any affection for "the movement," whatever that is. I am not convinced there is a movement, though good men differ with me.

I guess if you embrace Johnson's understanding of "the movement," I wouldn't want to be associated with it either. But since I don't suffer from what seems myopia on the part of Johnson, I don't have those issues.

My only question is what is "new" about this? They say the fundamentalists were right about Graham. Why "were"? Aren't we still?

I just don't get the "new" part of this. Whether or not some older fundamentalists were crusty and rough around the edges (and they were), they stood for the truth, and if these men and others like them had joined them, perhaps fundamentalism would be different today. Perhaps we wouldn't be known by the loudmouths with bad doctrine and legalistic foolishness preached as holiness. When some modern "fundamentalists" make idiots of themselves, that doesn't tar us. We will still stand for the truth.

My view of fundamentalism is perhaps different than others. For all the good that Mac, Dever, Mohler, and others are doing, it seems just a little disingenuous to me for them to claim the name fundamentalism when they have historically rejected the very issues that historic fundamentalism is about, namely passionate defense of the truth including separation from those who compromise it. I am glad to see them returning somewhat. I hope they go all the way.

Irenaeus II said...

Larry, would you say that what MacArthur and the others are doing and talking about is the same as what the original fundamentalists were talking about and doing?

larry said...

I don't know enough about what exactly these guys are trying to do. I was just responding to Ben's comment. I appreciate the good that these men have done.

But what would be the situation today had they joined the fundamentalist forty years ago?

They may well be trying to do the same thing. The question is, Are they doing it the same way, or in a substantially similar way? And does it really matter? Probably not. Comparing what we are doing today with what men did in the 20s and 30s is a misguided pursuit. The world is too different to pretend that the same issues are sufficient. We have moved past that.

No one would like to be treated with medicine from the 20s. The diseases have changed, and the medicines have too. We can neither be satisfied with the theological battles of the 20s. The times have changed.

If they succeed to some degree, I will rejoice, just as I rejoice that the SBC has turned back from the brink.

As I say, I just hope they go all the way. We don't need doubles here. We need the long ball.

Bob Bixby said...


It seems like you say on the hand we fundamentalists don't need to answer for what fundamentalists did formally (the long SI discussion), and now you are chastizing JMac and others for something that was done/not done 50 years ago. They weren't leaders back then.

Am I misunderstanding you?


Josh said...

Larry, that is the problem with modern fundamentalism! Many fundamentalists are trying to use the same medicine as was used in different era's. I still consider myself a historic fundamentalist, but I find myself in disagreement with a great deal of what I grew up being taught and believing.

The point is this, if fundamentalism does not welcome introspection and criticism. If it does not grow and change then a new movement will arise whether you participate or not.

Ben said...


I'm going to reserve judgment on whether it is really "new" or not. As I implied in my original post, there are some things that are still to be fleshed out—perhaps even in the minds of those at the center of it. My impression from this week is clearly that MacArthur is spurring them towards militancy in the form of lines, circles, boxes, and consequences. Whether that happens and where those lines are drawn is what we should find out from Together for the Gospel. Mohler's political ties in the SBC are a wild card that could dampen his enthusiasm for militancy, but I was encouraged by what he had to say today.

Regardless, I think whether it's new or not is close to irrelevant. What is important is that something is happening. I agree with you that we need a home run, not a double. (Granted, definitions of home run will vary, and I understand that.) Frankly, I'm almost optimistic enough (horrors!) to pray for a grand slam.

Now this is really important: How many times have fundamentalists used the arguments of "direction" and "which way are your toes pointed?" to question the fundamentalist pedigrees and convictions of folks who have gone to Masters or Shepherd's or used a praise chorus or invited a speaker from outside the fundamentalist box? Sound familiar? I'm not a big fan of those arguments myself, but I think it's about time for those who've used them to conjure suspicion to use them now as a rationale for building bridges to the Shepherd's/T4TG coalition. Maybe they'll be able to exert some positive influence and help what might look like a double off the wall become an inside-the-park home run.

Larry said...

I am not chastising them so much as commenting on how they now seem to be trying to rejoin what they previously repudiated. I am on a roll for bad communication here recently so let me try to clarify. First, I was addressing MacArthur particularly who it seems has spent a great deal of time over the past almost 40 years separating from fundamentalism and repudiating it, and now seems to be coming back this direction. Second, I was addressing men like MacArthur who were leaders who repudiated fundamentalism. I was wondering aloud what might be different had they taken this stand years ago rather than trying to form a new movement now.

Whehter or not it is new is irrelevant to the task at hand ... defending the truth. However, to call it "new" implies that it hasn't been around and that is what I would take issue with. It was just a strange way they put it, and that's what caught my attention.

Josh, I must admit some confusion as to your statement. Using the same medicine? I don't think so. If you go back in history, the break didn't really happen for twenty years or so, until the 50s, even though it was being spawned throughout that era as good men tried to retain positions of influence. WB Riley was one of them who stayed in the NBC for years and resigned just before his death because he didn't want to die in teh company of such men. It seemed an admission that he should have separated earlier.

The landscape is so totally different that to ask "What did the men in the 20s do" doesn't really help us now. It is instructive, but to try to emulate them, separating only from what they separated from, or only over what they separated over is misguided.

And that is the battlecry we hear from some: "The men in the 20s didn't separate over that, so you can't separate over that and be "historic."" There are some who want to draw the battle lines exactly where they were drawn in teh 20s and use only the 20s issues as benchmarks of fundamentalism. That is extremely naive, it seems to me. If we lived in the 20s, I would agree with that. But we don't. Those battles are long since over, and new ones have arisen over different issues.

Make sense?

Joel Tetreau said...


You of course are right about being disapointed and frankly a bit "let's wait and see" with guys who have been hesitant to fully apply separation as you think it should have been applied. And I think I am following what you are saying - You're asking "hey what's new about this." "This is what many of us and our fathers and grandfathers have been saying since World War 2." Your points on this are well taken and valid.

Here's how I would respond Larry - And I think you'll agree with much of this. Biblical Truth is a powerful thing. It comes from God -from his character - and it settles in the hearts of his children. And then the Holy Spirit uses that, as a magnet to draw men to each other, as they are being drawn closer to Christ. All this despite what movement(s) they may have been in initially.

If indeed these guys are finally hearing the clear call concerning truth and separation from the poison of compromise, why would we not do all we can to encourage that?

Larry, I think you answerd "no" you would not discourage that (in your response to Ben, Bob and Josh). Hey, it's fine for you to be cautious. I would say Scriptural wisdom would tell us all to be cautious before making any sort of an alliance - especially an ecclesiastical one. I would imagine some of them would be equally cautious before linking up with us based on the exact reasons why you are pessimistic about fundamentalism as a "movement."

Here is a question for you Larry - If these men are indeed tied to Scripture and become soley loyal to that and if we have the same loyalty - why in the world would you not want to be a part of that?
In Kevin's Presentation at Lansdale - he again noted that even if there is not exact agreement - that as long as their is a baseline agreement on Scripture - their can be some cooperation - some fellowship.

I'm not saying for sure that this new group will make it accross the baseline. I pray it does. Time will tell. My fear is that even if it did, too many fundamentalists would be unwilling to welcome these guys into a relationship out of fear or pride (or both).

Even if there is a compeling reason in the short term not to be officially joined (because the trust is weak both ways - them to us - us to them) why could we not rejoice that Truth is impacting ministries previously captured by whatever. (Again I think in at least one of your notes you say you do rejoice.)

My personal observation would be this - if these guys are really soley focused on Scripture and Scripture alone as the source and direction of a new movement, then I would say this new movement would be more fundamental than fundamentalism.

I pray that the Lord does something wonderful here. My theology doesn't prohibit the Lord from visiting our movements with revival. I must admit that sadly a part of me shares your pessimism - Lord help my unbelief!

One more note, It grieves my heart that many fundamentalist don't want to see something like this with our evangelical and independent brethren. It's like we enjoy their being in sin so we can feel superior (I can't really know that - only God knows that - it's just a fear).

Many have been praying for years that God would open our brothers eyes about evangelical decay - and now that he is doing that - I wonder if we will be like the believers who refused to believe that God had delivered Peter from Prison?

Joel Tetreau