Wednesday, September 26, 2007

As Much As I Hate to Say It, David Cloud Has a Point

I've spent just enough time on David Cloud's website over the years to know that perhaps the only thing he and I could find common ground on is his repudiation of Hyles-style easy-believism. To be fair, I do appreciate that about him.

Nevertheless, his attack on Mark Minnick does resonate with me a bit, not in the least because I think Minnick is out of line, but because Cloud is picking up on a shift in how fundamentalists think about a few evangelical leaders who exist outside the traditional parameters of the fundamentalist movement.

My sense is that many fundamentalists would like to deny that this shift is taking place, but I expect these denials will be wholly implausible—as are similar denials that certain now-abandoned policies within institutional fundamentalism were ever believed to have had biblical foundations. Forthrightness has seldom been our first instinct.

Here's my opinion. (Feel free to disagree.) I just don't think there's any possibility that someone so well-received within the fundamentalist movement as Minnick could have permitted the sorts of things to be said twenty years ago (back when, I'm told, Jack Hyles was still preaching at BJU) that were said at the Whetstone Conference this summer.

I've used posts here to point toward some of that evidence for this shift numerous times, and perhaps more will follow. Suffice it to say that a positive reference in a conference to a website that contains resources from Jack Hayford is a relatively mild example of fundamentalist affinity for charismatics. Ultimately, I think Bob Bixby's recent post, "The Emerging Middle," describes the future pretty well.

One comment from Cloud stood out to me. He writes:
A chief reason that so many “young fundamentalists” are becoming New Evangelicals is that they read so deeply and uncritically from the writings of New Evangelicals.
Although I suspect an equally chief cause is that so many "young fundamentalists" have been taught to listen deeply and uncritically to mainstream fundamentalist preaching, I'll play along with Cloud for a minute or two.

I wonder where these young-fundamentalists-becoming-New-Evangelicals learned to read uncritically. Where did they develop their lack of discernment and their theological fuzziness? Where did they encounter New Evangelical books? What fundamentalist commentary sets and language study tools and, of course, books on an authentic heart orientation towards God that produces a transformed life would Cloud have them read? Calvin. Yeah, maybe not. The Puritans? Um, even if he could swallow their Calvinism, wouldn't he have to deal with other distasteful aspects of their theology that are incompatible with True Baptist Fundamentalism?

Maybe Spurgeon would work—a redacted Spurgeon, of course.

Here's the bottom line. I think Cloud's final analysis is correct (even though I disagree with how he gets there and his opinion that the analysis points to something harmful). Fundamentalists recommending non-fundamentalist resources, even with a caveat to read critically, will inevitably lead to the dilution of the fundamentalist movement. But that dilution is every bit as much a testimony to the widespread theological bankruptcy of the fundamentalist movement as it is to the bankruptcy of discernment among "young fundamentalists." Exhibit A is David Cloud himself, who extends a warm embrace to the bibliological heresy of KJVOnlyism. Fundamentalism as a separatist movement only maintains credibility when it practices its separatism consistently. And it hasn't.

I've argued before and will continue to contend that we all need to read everything critically and with discernment. I have no more love for the evangelical icon fanboys than I have for the True Fundamentalists who argue that we ought to trust the fundamentalist leaders just because we know them and they're good guys. You can find both approaches in the comment threads of the SharperIron that Cloud so despises.

A fundamentalist friend who recently attended a "Neo-Evangelical" seminar commented to me that he was struck by "all the instances where [the main speaker] and the other pastors are more conservative than YFs." I think he's right. And if conservatism has anything to do with a fundamental allegiance to the authority and sufficiency of Scripture, then I think they're more conservative than the True Fundamentalists too.

17 comments:

Todd Wood said...

Ben, I can't see a recent shift at all in MCBC.

Yes, there has always been a debate over whether Fundamentalists should read neoevangelical books, but for how many years has BJU (who MCBC is closely yoked to) used neo authors for textbooks. I think the practice has gone back a long ways, decades.

Don Johnson said...

I agree with Todd. I see no change at all between what was said at the recent Whetstone conference and the practice at BJU in the 70s. We are passing the thirty year mark now. I don't see a change in the practice of the institutions [at least not a significant change -- nothing stays entirely static], but I do see a change in the attitudes of many of the more recent graduates.

Regards,
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

William D said...

As a "YF" myself, I have been reading alot of Evangelical stuff, because where am I supposed to get any well written, theocentric, scholarly commentaries, and theology books by fundamentalists? Some of the BJU guys have a few good resources, but is that it? The only other books being written by fundamentalists are Wed. night sermon series being edited and put in print.

I just saw a book by Mike Johnson who used to teach at Golden State Baptist College, called: "A People Called the Baptists". The book did not have one end note or one foot note!! What kind of credibility is that? He doesn't need it, as long as you run in that circle, you know him and it must be all good.

You are exactly right about Fundamentalism teaching these "Young Fundamentalists" how to read uncritically. I was told to never question the Man of God.

tjp said...

Ben,

I believe you're essential correct in your evaluation. That the nose of the evangelical camel is now welcome in the fundy tent is both surprising and not surprising. It's surprising because it happened at a BJU flagship. It's not surprising, however, that such a thing would happen, given the pressures to do so and the fact many fundies are now openly and unashamedly attending conservative evangelical conferences and seminars.

We wonder, now, how long it'll take for recognized fundies to move from recommending websites to recommending ministries.

Interesting days lie ahead.

Dave said...

I don't get it. Are you suggesting that fundamentalism has never recommended non-fundamentalist literature? I hope not, because that would be demonstrably false.

Are you saying that there have never (or almost never) been fundamentalists who have appreciated what some evangelicals have written and taught? I hope not, because that too is demonstrably false.

Your playing along with Cloud doesn't accomplish much since you don't really believe what he is saying. Your contention, I would hope, is that young men are reading and being influenced by conservative evangelicals for exactly the opposite of what Cloud says. That is, they are being convinced by good handling of the Scriptures. To turn his wrong attack on some fundamentalists into your own attack against fundamentalism seems quite cheap.

The only kind of fundamentalism to which Cloud's misguided attack applies is his own stripe, i.e., he swims in an orbit which draws conclusions like this--to read someone is to endorse that person. I am sorry for those who have grown up in or been subjected to that orbit, but that is not the fundamentalism which I have known.

Kent Brandenburg said...

I want to comment from my perspective, because people would probably pencil me into the Cloud column. I think I'm as well read as anyone that writes at any of these blogs or at any seminary around. I read the NIC-NT and OT commentaries, Biblical Knowledge Commentaries, Gill, Spurgeon, the Puritans, Keil and Delitzch, and MacArthur. I won't touch Warren Wiersbe because he doesn't do anything for me, among other reasons (just as an example). I graduated from MBBC--BA, MA, MDiv. I've written three books, one about to be published, two 250+ and one 300+, (all with hundreds of footnotes)and a thirty week one-on-one discipleship program, Disciplines for Disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. I've discipled dozens of people personally. I have preached expositionally through nearly all of the NT and a big chunk of the OT, studying them in the original languages, faithfully at one church (which I planted) for 20 years in the most liberal area of the U.S. (near Berkeley, CA).

First, Mark Minnick. I believe Minnick should be admired for his preaching, his true gospel, his evangelistic fervor, and his holy standards. I have serious differences with him that are non-emotional or traditional. Everyone is reading non-separatists. David Cloud obviously reads them. The colleges and seminaries read their books and have been in the memory of my lifetime, which goes back to the 70s. I heard the same warning that Cloud is giving in his article, exactly that warning, by G. Archer Weniger in the 80s when I first started pastoring, at Lucerne at an FBF retreat. Cloud is not comfortable with the recommendations being so weighted towards non-separatists. It smacks to him, I'm sure, of a direction. I would feel the same discomfort. I wouldn't have written about it like he did, because it happens everywhere. I think Minnick and his guys are just being up front and honest instead of using all those resources and saying nothing about them. I wish that the emphasis in colleges were more on preparing our materials from scratch---learning to use the reference materials and good hermeneutics, rather than relying so much on commentaries.

David Cloud's material is very accessible to lay people. They like reading his encyclopedia and it really helps them. Only one section is about the KJV, for those who choose to pick this out as "heresy," which I think as an identity is a result of poor exegesis on their part. Heresy is factious doctrine in a local church. If it is more than that, then we're all heretics, because we all cause division with other believers with our doctrine. What Cloud is saying is no different than anything that I heard at Maranatha when I was there---exactly the same. I think he lacks in depth due to a lack of training, but that is all over the place in fundamentalism. Why should he be uniquely punished for that? There are ton of acceptably shallow fundamentalists that don't separate over the versions issue that get a free pass in their shallowness. When they use Hyles-like promotion and marketing, they are seen as "missional." Joe Roof himself, who was trying to push everybody's buttons over at SI, is more shallow than Cloud.

That's all for now.

William D said...

Brother Kent said: "Why should he be uniquely punished for that? There are ton of acceptably shallow fundamentalists that don't separate over the versions issue that get a free pass in their shallowness."

Because he has one of the biggest mouths and has the ability to spread his shallowness more so than other shallow fundies. Therefore he rightfully gets the most punishment.

Dave said...

Just a FWIW, one of the pastors from our church, Pearson Johnson, was present for the session which Cloud criticized and Pearson believes that is being dishonest about what the session entailed.

Bob Bixby said...

I was at the conference, but actually stepped out for that workshop. However, I must say that I know of few people that have mastered the art of issuing disclaimers about someone they are going to quote with such a potent combination of heartfelt grace and devastating criticism as Mark Minnick. He has a unique ability to decimate the error of the target of his criticism with such thoroughness that you want to cover your head in shame for having been soft on the issue while at the same time sensing an unfeigned love and respect emanating from a truly old-style fundamentalist catholicity of spirit. That, to me, is the genius of Mark Minnick.

Cloud doesn't get it. If Fundamentalism lives it will be because of men like Minnick and churches like Mount Calvary. I know of few men who have the grace, the intellectual acumen, and humility to manage the difficult business of separation without shriveling the spirit of catholicity as Mark Minnick.

Kent Brandenburg said...

FYI, correction, it was Arno Sr. who I heard at Lucerne. They both were in the Bay Area, but Archer had already died at that point. Arno pastored for several decades at Hamilton Square in SF. And Dave, if Cloud is being dishonest, I would like the detail, the specific. I'm not saying you're wrong, but "he was dishonest" isn't enough for me. Thanks.

And about shallowness, William D. I wouldn't call what Cloud does "having a big mouth." He does a lot of research, reads a lot. He provides a lot of resource that isn't shallow. When he deals with an issue, he reads a lot about it, and I'm saying that what he says is exactly what I heard in the 70s and 80s at Marantha. I have no reason to say otherwise. So, his positions are close to a lot of men's, just that they are not defended with the depth that I wish were the case. I think he's doing his best.

I would say that SI has a lot to say to a lot of people ("a big mouth") and there is a tremendous amount of shallowness over there put in high places too.

Dave said...

Kent,

As I said, I am reporting the assessment of one who was there (which Bob seems to confirm). The basics were: (1) there was a substantive and repreated disclaimed and (2) fundamentalist sites were recommended.

Both of those are contrary to Cloud's report.

Ryan D. said...

I too, think Cloud was on to something, but didn't care enough to write anything about.

Over the next decade or two, there will be an 'emerging middle' or whatever you want to call it. The old paradigms are breaking down.

Part of this can be attributed to the simple fact that the people who remember the modernist/fundamentalist battles are dead, and the Fundamentalist/New Evangelical split are old. The personal animus and bad memories just aren't there.

Ben said...

Ok, so I hope I'm getting this straight. Let me summarize, knowing that I'm over-simplifying a bit for brevity. So if I'm excessively skewing your message, feel free to clarify.

1. Todd thinks MCBC is doing what it's always done.
2. Don agrees with Todd and broadens Todd's scope, plus suggests that what's really changing is the nature of the alumni.
3. William D agrees with me.
4. TJP also agrees and perceives that BJU is bending to market pressures, at least to some degree. (Or am I over-interpreting, TJP?)
5. Dave's not sure what I'm saying, but thinks at the least that I'm painting with too broad a brush and taking a cheap shot. Plus he doesn't think Cloud is being honest.
6. Kent's argument seems complex, at least to me. First, he agrees with Cloud that Minnick has over-emphasized non-fundamentalists. (Of course this presumes the accuracy of Cloud's summary, which Dave has challenged but not documented.) However, Kent recognizes that recommending non-fundamentalist resources happens everywhere. Interestingly, he also makes the point that Cloud has also been unfairly marked out for criticism, when Cloud is guilty of the same shallowness that pervades fundamentalism. Kent doesn't define precisely what this shallowness is, though it seems to be more about the way Cloud makes his arguments than the primary thrust of the arguments.
7. Bob expresses great appreciation for Minnick, particularly his diplomatic ability to communicate both strengths and weaknesses graciously.

Wow, I'm having a hard time remembering a comment thread here that's more all over the map.

Let me just throw myself under the bus on two points. First, I didn't define my main points very well. They are:
1. The kinds of recommendations delivered at the Whetstone Conference are indicative of a broader shift among fundamentalists towards a greater acceptance of non-fundamentalists. I think TJP's camel analogy paints a helpful picture.
2. This shift will result in a continued deterioration of long-standing fundamentalist categories. The era of the binary thinking is in its death rattle.

Second, if Pearson is telling Dave that Cloud is misrepresenting the session, I'll believe every word Pearson says. I've known him for 16 years or so, and he has infinitely more credibility with me than Cloud. Shame on me for believing Cloud in the first place. So to some degree, that minimizes the uniqueness of this event as an illustration of my thesis, but that doesn't mean the thesis isn't true. I think there's plenty of other evidence, but for various reasons I'm not going to get into all that too much now. Let me try to explain a bit, though.

Fundamentalists recommending non-fundamentalist resources is surely nothing altogether new. It's been ten years since a fundamentalist professor first recommended a book by Piper to me. I'm sure it was happening long before that. But I think many of us grew up in the time when David Beale's book, SBC: House on the Sand?, represented the widespread pessimistic fundamentalist view of the conservative resurgence in the SBC. It was backed up by a regular dose of "What in the World," the BJU-produced bulletin insert that spoke to religious, cultural, and political issues. That publication produced reams of useful information, but I read it faithfully and I don't remember nearly as much discussion of the good that was happening in the SBC as I remember complaints about what hadn't happened yet. Maybe my memory is bad.

In any case, it's difficult to imagine a fundamentalist flagship kind of church recommending a Southern Baptist as a leading voice on social and cultural issues (regardless of whether fundamentalist sites are recommended as well). Aren't those supposed to be our issues? To some degree that's a reflection on the fact that no one I'm aware of in the SBC back then had the kind of voice Mohler does now. (Maybe Francis Schaeffer would be the closest example, but he wasn't SBC, and he got beat up quite a bit by fundamentalists, didn't he?)

Still, there were plenty of SBC guys doing battle on more fundamental issues, but they didn't get much if any positive press from fundamentalists, did they? Here's another illustration of what I'm talking about: Didn't Phil Johnson talk a year or two ago about how Mark Minnick and some other pastors invited him in to come out for a visit to chat about their similarities and differences? (And of course, there are other similar examples.) Does anybody really think those kinds of things were happening 20 years ago? Back when Jack Hyles was still speaking at BJU? I dunno. Maybe there was an invitation to MacArthur back then and he turned it down because he didn't want to be associated with Hyles. But that's probably not as plausible as it would have been ironic.

Please understand, I don't mean for this to be an indictment of what may have been nothing more than a healthy suspicion among fundamentalists that the transformation of the SBC was mere window dressing. I'm certainly still suspicious myself, and I hope that it's healthy. The point is that guys like Cloud who still live in the world of clear lines in the sand of separation smell a windstorm coming that will obliterate their categories. When they see a BJU prof advancing the idea that Mohler has something to say to fundamentalists, they see a world that's different from the one they've been working to create, and that new world is being shaped in part by men they might have expected to share the same categories.

Now, the real question is, would anyone here argue that it's only the Cloud-style fringe that sees the obliteration of those categories? I think we're going to see a realignment that is consistent with, but expands beyond, Bixby's "Emerging Middle." Although that's a helpful description of what will take place, it can also be interpreted as an unhelpful dilution of fundamentalist ideals, and I don't think that is how we should be perceiving what is going to happen.

I realize this only addresses some of the issues that have been raised, but it's all I've got right now. I hope to address some of the other issues in another post soon.

Don Johnson said...

Ben, I think you really need to listen to Nathan Crockett's presentation before making a lot of pointifications about it. The presentation is available on the Mount Calvary website, I think it costs $2.50 or something to download. If that hinders you, I'll write them and see if I can burn my copy onto a CD and send it to you.

Second, by comparing this to What in the World, etc, you are missing something. This presentation was to pastors at a pastors conference. It was not unlike similar presentations even in Preacher Boys in the 70s at BJU. The presentation was not "boy, you need to read these, they're really good and make sure your people read them too", rather the various resources were presented as sources of information in order to be better prepared to answer questions from people or to use as sermon illustrations, etc. This is not at all like the purpose of such things as What in the World.

I could go on and on, but you really need to listen to the presentation to be able to comment on it intelligently.

Regards,
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Dave said...

Ben,

For the record, John MacArthur came to SC in the early 80s and sat down with some folks from BJU. The growing goodwill was shattererd by a misguided comment in Faith for the Family.

Don't you see at least a little problem in comparing the 80s to today on the matters you surfaced? Where and how could anyone in fundamentalism point to websites for information? You are comparing two very different times without taking that into consideration.

Ask Mark Dever what Southern was like during his ThM. I believe he would say that it was like Beale said it was, and that was after the resurgence had begun. Obviously, it was too early to claim that the strategy didn't work, but the SBC of the 80s was a different bird than today. Again, I don't think your comparison is valid.

I still can't see how anyone can think Cloud was on to something. He was making a cause-effect argument that is not valid. Even if his conclusion is correct (which I don't think it is), the way in which he gets there is flawed. He argues that reading NEs leads to becoming NEs. Why waste time agreeing with that kind of non-sense?

And, for the sake of argument, even if there is some emerging middle developing, wouldn't that mean that either one or both of the two groups which form this middle have changed their position? The only side of this that seems to get attention, among fundies and former fundies, is the fundy side. But, on a lot of websites, the talk is all about how some evangelicals are becoming fundamentalists. So which is it? Are the fundies becoming evangelical or the evangelicals becoming fundies? Or are both becoming neither!

Keith said...

Hmmm. . .

Without hearing the "recommendations" and "disclaimers" it's impossible to know for sure if the recent conference can serve as an exhibit in the case the fundamentalism is changing.

Even so, for sake of discussion, IF neo-evangelical stuff was recommended, I think Ben has something of a point -- go Ben.

Don, Dave, etc. Yes, undeniably, the fundamentalists have made use of non-fundamentalist materials for years. However, it was usually as a part of classes in which those materials could be properly interpreted by an approved, card-carrying fundamentalist. Furthermore, it was more than one misguided comment in Faith for the Family that "shattered the goodwill" back in the 80s. Instead of recommending MacArthur with some "disclaimers," BJIII told the preacher boys to tell their future congregants "not to listen to these radio preachers," called MacArthur a heretic, and various other miguided things. That seems radically different from what allegedly is currently happening in fundamentalism in relationship to Mohler, etc. (surely Mac was/is as "conservative" as Mohler).

Now, does any of that mean that Cloud's reasoning is sound. No. But his connect the dots approach to finding "compromise" has a long and infamous history within fundamentalism -- including the BJU variety.

To me, the most interesting comments so far are Ben's suggestion that "the era of the binary thinking is in its death rattle," and Dave's question, "So which is it? Are the fundies becoming evangelical or the evangelicals becoming fundies?"

IF the era of binary thinking is over, then fundamentalism as it existed for far too long is over. Yeah! And, IF the fundies are changing for the better and the NEO-evangelicals (cue scary theme music) are changing for the better, then they are both becoming . . . call it whatever you wish . . . evangelical (without the NEO scare tag) works for me, but that term does appear to be losing its usefullness.

Of course these are big IFs. It wouldn't surprise me to learn that, at the recent conference, there were so many disclaimers that those of us from the outside would still perceive a very high level of binary thinking: "This stuff is good, but these guys aren't of us (we're 1s, they're 0s, but if we're careful we can learn a little from them)." The very fact that the fundamentalist blog world spends so much time obsessing over the term "fundamentalist" and jumping up and down when a guy like Dever says he likes to tell people he's a fundamentalist (to shock them), seems to indicate that the binary mindset is alive and kicking.

There have always been "happy fundamentalists" -- guys who want to keep the us-them categories but see no need to be nasty. Perhaps all you're seeing is that the current generation of fundamentalist leaders has a higher ratio of "happy" to "nasty" binary thinkers than the previous generation.

Joel said...

Dave asks the following question about the make-up of the proposed Bixby theory of "the emergent middle."

"Are the fundies becoming evangelical......or are the evangelicals becoming fundies?"

Dave......perhaps the two groups are becoming more like Christ? Hence they recognize that they have a significant unity. The result being they care less and less about the world of fundamentalism or even the larger world of evangelicalism.....and choose the smaller world of true Biblical brotherhood.

Of course I don't know that for sure....you'd have to ask those in this "group."

A thought......

Straight Ahead!

Joel

PS Ben.....great thread!