Wednesday, October 17, 2007

When They Discuss Fundamentalism at Trinity

Andy Naselli has posted his review of Rolland McCune's Promise Unfulfilled: The Failed Strategy of Modern Evangelicalism, which he delivered yesterday in a class at Trinity.

I read the book over the summer, posted on it once, and intend to post more on it, but I've been intending to for a while. For now, let me merely associate myself with Naselli's thorough and insightful analysis and make two comments:

1. I thought the documentation in Iain Murray's Evangelicalism Divided and George Marden's Reforming Fundamentalism offered all the possible documentation of why the new evangelical strategies of ecumenical evangelism and recovery of apostate denominations were bad ideas. I was wrong. McCune goes far beyond them. I simply cannot comprehend how anyone who believes and loves the gospel could conclude that this strategy has been wise, fruitful, or faithful. Yet some seemingly do.

2. As fundamentalists frequently do, McCune criticizes Al Mohler for taking "a lead role in the Billy Graham Louisville ecumenical evangelistic crusade a few years back." Now, I've disagreed with Mohler often, and I certainly don't intend to try to justify this choice, but I think it's worthwhile to point out that Mohler only did so on the condition that no Roman Catholics or liberal Protestants participate in the crusade leadership. This was a significant concession for the Graham camp, even if one is not convinced that it vindicates Mohler. Personally, I'll be far more inclined to accept this fundamentalist criticism as valid when a 32 year-old separatist fundamentalist successfully recovers a theological seminary from the absolute pits of liberalism and transforms it into a conservative bastion and the largest seminary in the world without forming any alliances that could be reasonably questioned.


Glorygazer said...

Ben, Thanks for writing this. I have never heard this side of the Mohler/Graham thing before. I had no idea that this stipulation was in place. That certainly puts a whole new spin on it and reminds us to report the whole truth and not just the little tidbit that seems to support the "issue" we have with someone. We ought to be fair in representing ideas and history whether we agree with certain beliefs and choices or not!

Joel said...


Do you have a guess as to why this hasn't really been "out there?" Maybe this has been "out there"'s just the first I've heard of it. Thanks for your work....

Straight Ahead!


Ben said...


You're talking about the Mohler background, right?

I don't know the answer. I guess I'd point you toward the people you heard it from. I always heard it from people who were making the point that we still need to be skeptical about the SBC conservative resurgence, so I asked a non-"fundamentalist" who knew more of the background why Mohler would participate in an ecumenical Graham crusade. He pointed out how this was the first Graham crusade in 40 years or so that didn't include Roman Catholics and liberal Protestants. Sometimes it's worth asking for both sides of the story.

So I don't know. When you see the same thing over and over again, maybe you become conditioned to see what you expect, even when what's coming at you is a little different, and even if you have to discard some evidence that nuance should be applied. Once bitten, twice shy, I suppose. I don't think anyone's deliberately hiding the details.

Dave said...

Ben and I exchanged emails about this, but I thought I'd post a portion of my email to him here:

Raising the Graham crusade isn’t (only) about liberalism, etc. It’s about the implied embracing of Billy Graham’s stance toward liberalism, Catholicism, etc. It seems that there were plenty of Calvinistic evangelicalis that viewed Mohler’s participation as something of a compromise because of what Graham represents. Right or wrong (and I believe they’re right), Fundamentalists see Graham as a betrayer of the gospel and almost single-handedly responsible for holding together the new evangelicalism as it descended into post-conservative theology. At least men like Henry, Lindsell, Kantzer, etc. tried to sound the alarm and call for orthodoxy, but Graham kept right on marching forward and providing cover for those who were abandoning the faith. To be clear, I am not completely convinced that Graham was deliberate in his actions all the time, but somewhere along the line he came to peace with burying his head in the sand for sake of “the agenda” (whatever that might be) and non-offensiveness.

So, I would counter that the fundamentalist rebuke of Mohler on this point is accurate—how could he embrace the ecumenicist himself so clearly and definitely? By pointing out that Mohler chaired the Graham crusade they are pointing out Mohler’s embrace of Graham. I have not seen anyone who points this out say anything about Mohler cooperating with apostates. Of course, I’ve only seen McCune and myself make public statements about this. Maybe others have said more. Don’t know.

Ben said...

Here's a lightly edited version of my e-mail response to Dave:

I agree with you on that point, and I've made that same point frequently to people who've never really thought about it that way. I can see how Mohler justified his involvement on the grounds that this crusade didn't include apostates, but I also think that increasing interaction with thoughtful guys like you who can appreciate and encourage the SBC trajectory of reform while shedding additional light on the unintended consequences of this kind of cooperation will be helpful to the cause of the gospel. A guy can dream, can't he?

I don't think that the people who hear simply that Mohler chaired a Graham crusade with no reference to the oddities of this crusade are helped toward grasping the central point of the particular argument you're making in this unique case. My sense, which seems to be confirmed anecdotally by the first two comments to this post, is that the actual effect is merely to disparage Mohler, rather than to think through the specific issues and implications of this event.

Keith said...


I'm not so sure about your point number 1, but I totally agree with your point number 2.

There is much about McCune's position that I do not understand. However, after reading the comments over at Naselli's blog, I've really been wondering about the following:

McCune seems to imply that dispensationalism was abandoned for ecclesiastical/political/sociological reasons when he writes things like, “And so dispensationalism with its delayed kingdom doctrine was totally unsuitable for the new evangelical vision, and it had to go.” However, there were and are many evangelicals and fundamentalists who either never were dispensationalists or who abandoned it on exegetical grounds. Van Til, for one, would have none of the dispensationalists’ pessimism.

It also seems quite odd for McCune to write about "the corrective Reformed school of Kuyper, Dooyeweerd, Van Til, and others, which I espouse,” while holding the view that the Kingdom is not yet present in any form. Kuyper ("There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: 'Mine!'") and the Kuyperians were all about the Kingdom. The Dutch neo-Calvinists did not believe that Christ would become sovereign, they believed that he was sovereign – reigning – now. This belief informed all their work including their philosophy and apologetics.

Perhaps this juxtaposition (dispensationalism/Van Tilian presuppositionalism) somehow make sense to those inside McCune’s world, and if so, it would be interesting to read about how.

Ryan DeBarr said...

Sometimes the issue of Mohler's cooperation with Southeast Christian Church in the Louisville Graham Crusade is raised. It's assumed that Southeast Christian teaches baptismal regeneration. They do not. I know this because I applied for a job there and went over their doctrinal statement with a fine tooth comb and asked for clarification on a couple of points. I also know people who go there who refer to themselves as "former Church of Christ." I do recognize that Southeast still maintains some sort of tie to their denomination, but as for what they actually teach- they believe that baptism always accompanies salvation in the New Testament and it should today as well.

As far as Mohler's cooperation with Graham being an "implied embracing Billy Graham’s stance toward liberalism, Catholicism, etc.": Assuming that Joe Sixpack or Joe Christian knows anything about Billy Graham's inclusiveness (they don't, but for the sake of argument, let's assume they do), very few would ever think Mohler agrees with him. Very few people in the city of Louisville would ever believe for a second that Mohler was friendly toward liberalism or Roman Catholicism. The takeover of the seminary was big news here and Mohler still makes the local news a few times a year. They know what he is.

Wally Morris said...

Well before the Louisville Graham crusade, I wrote Dr. Mohler and asked why he was chairman of the crusade in light of his spoken and written positions on Roman Catholicism. He wrote back several weeks later saying he stood by his comments on Catholicism and was proud to be part of the Graham crusade. He never mentioned any stipulation prohibiting Catholics or liberals.

Ben said...


I'm not sure I'm tracking with your point. Are you saying that because he didn't tell you, then what I'm saying can't be true? Or are you saying that because of the kind of outcry you participated in, he made the decision to exclude RCs and liberal Protestants?

Wally Morris said...

All I'm saying is that, when given an opportunity to explain, he didn't offer an explanation. Of course, since he didn't know me, he was probably being cautious with his answer nor did he owe me an explanation. Nevertheless, he never mentioned any stipulations.

Ben said...

Gotcha, Wally. Thanks.

I think your experience points us toward the course I hope continues to develop--the disintegration of rigid categorical thinking so that relationships can develop that will foster the kind of deeper conversations that will spur both sides on to stronger stands.

I don't mean to preclude the kind of long-distance confrontation you've described, but it seems as though you'd agree that it doesn't possess the kind of relationship foundation and trust that can encourage healthy change.

Ryan said...

IMHO there was at least one liberal at that crusade:
Dr. Schuller: "Tell me, what is the future of Christianity?"

Dr. Graham: "Well, Christianity and being a true believer, you know, I think there's the body of Christ which comes from all the Christian groups around the world, or outside the Christian groups. I think that everybody that loves Christ or knows Christ, whether they're conscious of it or not, they're members of the body of Christ. And I don't think that we're going to see a great sweeping revival that will turn the whole world to Christ at any time."

"What God is doing today is calling people out of the world for His name. Whether they come from the Muslim world, or the Buddhist world, or the Christian world, or the non-believing world, they are members of the body of Christ because they've been called by God. They may not even know the name of Jesus, but they know in their hearts they need something that they don't have and they turn to the only light they have and I think they're saved and they're going to be with us in heaven."

Dr. Schuller: "What I hear you saying is that it's possible for Jesus Christ to come into a human heart and soul and life even if they've been born in darkness and have never had exposure to the Bible. Is that a correct interpretation of what you're saying?"

Dr. Graham: "Yes it is because I believe that. I've met people in various parts of the world in tribal situations that they have never seen a Bible or heard about a Bible, have never heard of Jesus but they've believed in their hearts that there is a God and they tried to live a life that was quite apart from the surrounding community in which they lived."

Dr. Schuller: "This is fantastic. I'm so thrilled to hear you say that. There's a wideness in God's mercy.

Dr. Graham: There is. There definitely is."


Ben said...

Well THAT is certainly true. Do you remember off the top of your head when that statement was made? I'd be curious how the chronology lines up with the crusade--whether it was likely that this was widely known. I don't recall hearing that statement even from fundamentalists before I read it in Murray's Evangelicalism Divided. (Seems like the price is dropping too. This is the cheapest I can remember seeing it.)