Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Reformation Continues

Several years ago, when I started to pay attention to the specifics of independent fundamentalist assessments of the Southern Baptist Convention, one of the major points of critique was that the SBC still funded the liberal, ecumenical, Baptist World Alliance. At that point, the SBC had already begun to reduce its annual contribution to the BWA, and not long after it fully de-funded the BWA.

Since then, I've sensed the discussion shifting to other points of weakness, such as the funding by the various state Baptist conventions of numerous "Baptist" colleges ranging from theologically marginal to downright apostate. Another is the toleration of non-evangelical congregations within local associations, state conventions, and the national convention.

Now, I can't imagine much of anyone with a serious, theological understanding of the gospel and the local church attempting to argue that the SBC's long road to reform is complete. But neither can I understand why today's action by the North Carolina Baptist State Convention to expel a liberal congregation and to begin the process of severing ties with the state's remaining Baptist colleges should not be interpreted as evidence to the continuation of the process of reform.

The SBC didn't lose its theology overnight, or even in a century. Neither will it be regained fully in less than three decades since the watershed year of 1979. But the long march continues. I pray this march will not have to continue much longer before more independent Baptists begin to develop relationships with the leaders of reform for the purpose of mutual edification and encouragement.


Paul said...

It is a thrill to see the reform continue!

And I join with you in the call for more independent Baptists to rejoice with what is going on actually fellowship with these faithful leaders (who are true fundamentalists) for the sake of edification and encouragement.

To continue to separate from them for the sake of the purity of the gospel or whatever else makes absolutely no sense.

Kent Brandenburg said...

I am happy for any good moves the SBC makes, but why be in a Convention? Why stick with the Convention? The Convention idea itself discourages biblical separation. What is the draw of the Convention? It seems to me that it is 'bigness,' a kind of notoriety, a sort of relevance, and to get chummy with its academia. I'm not saying this isn't in fundamentalism too. All of the things in that list don't match up with Scripture, if they are indeed the reason.

Coach C said...

Am I allowed to agree with Ben and Kent at the same time, on the same issue?

Josh said...

The Convention is a way for local churches to band together to obey the Great Commission. I think that's the draw. Why assume the worst?

tenjuices said...

For my .02c, I am not sure how the Convention would fit into a NT ecclesiology. But I don't think it has to be spelled out in the NT to be included in a church. Sunday School is not in the Bible but I think it would be an extension of Josh 1:8. But I sometimes wonder if the Convention helps or hinders the GCommission by banding people (churches) together. Again, SS as an example can be a thorough study of the Word or social hour with gossipy prayer. Anybody else's thoughts on the health of the convention?
Ed P.

Ben said...


From having spent over 4 years in an SBC seminary and now nearly a year in an SBC church, I can say from my experience that conventionalism has nothing to do with notoriety. If you ever watch any of the SBC annual meeting online, you'll see that the goings on there have nothing whatsoever to do with academia either. Trust me.

Conventionalism, from my vantage point, has everything to do with the oft-repeated notion that "together we can do more." That statement raises the theological fur on my neck, but I think the SBC missionaries evangelizing closed countries all over Central Asia would argue that the resources of the SBC have facilitated their access far better than less centralized efforts of independent churches.

Keith said...

How does the "convention idea" discourage biblical separation?

I'm no Southern Baptist, but I'm all for the idea (and the reality) of a "connected" church -- the idea that the church is more than independent congregations scattered about. More important that my being for it, I think it is biblical.

It seems to me that being connected actually provides a biblical avenue to practice proper separation -- the very actions that Ben has reported on in this post represent a formal process of separation. This is separation that has real consequences and costs those on both sides of the dispute dearly (real relationships are on the line). As opposed to the second & third generation fundamentalists' easy and cost free form of separation by avoidance and criticism of those with whom they have never been connected at all.

I can't speak to "the draw" of the convention. However, Connectedness can afford formal accountability structures. These aren't perfect in any convention, presbytery, or synod. But imperfect forms must be better than the absence/impossibility of forms which results from independency.

And then, of course, there's the ability to pool resources that has already been mentioned -- not only for evangelization but also for diaconal mercy ministry.

Again, conected churches too often use their connectedness poorly. But is that really any worse than the unconnected independents using their independency poorly?

Joel said...


I can't let this go without asking the question. What is a "true fundamentalist"?

Anonymous said...

Ben, sometimes I wonder if it isn't a kind of jealousy issue with some Indy Fundies.

When the original fundies fought, they didn't fight the right way, and they lost.

The Fundamentalist/Modernist controversy was not won by the original fundies. However, the same controversy was won by the fundies in the SBC nearly 60 years later.

When the SBC was attacked from within, the conservatives (namely Paige Patterson and Paul Pressler) studied the history and situation and developed a plan to win, which they did.

I wonder if the Indy guys weren't watching with a bit of angst over the whole thing. They have all been united in that the way to be faithful was to separate. Turns out that didn't work for them.

Here is something that I think is key to this issue: the people in the pew. The SBC giants like Adrian Rogers and Patterson didn't want to surrender the SBC, the colleges, mission societies, etc, to the liberals for the sake of the people.

When the Original Fundies withdrew, there were alot of people in the crossfire. I wonder how faithful it was to the gospel to surrender your people to liberalsim. Actually, I don't wonder.

Dave said...

It seems both hopelessly subjective and historically suspect to argue that a later generation looks with jealousy on a group of people because an earlier generation supposedly failed in the task that these other folks have succeeded at.

I can't speak for all people who have concerns about the SBC, but I can speak for myself and, unless I am woefully self-deceived, jealousy has had nothing to do with my concerns. My concerns are/were things like millions of dollars going to support liberals throughout the 25 year process of "takeover" (and being handed over to places like Mercer when a formal split finally did happen) and the associaiton of the SBC with the BWA (now thankfully broken) and the presence of many liberal congregations still in the SBC (something hopefully being addresses with more frequency given the NC situation). It is bogus to write off legitimate and clear concerns in favor of some guesswork about jealousy.

And, as a matter of fact, the original fundamentalists didn't separate without trying to reclaim the denominations--they tried and lost. That loss is regrettable, but it is not condemnable. They separated as a last resort over the purity of the gospel. To imply that they abandoned their people is ridiculous. Are you really suggesting that men like Machen and Ketchum betrayed the Presbyterians and Baptists they left behind? Aren't you essentially make a case for total non-separation which is very similar if not exactly what the new evangelical argument was?

Anonymous said...

Dave, I did say that I "wondered" about the position of some Indy people. I wasn't building a case. It is hard to understand some fundies today who are doing their best to rewrite history in order to define the SBC conservatives as something other than fundamentalists (see Promise Unfulfilled). Whatever you think their motive may be, I wouldn't rule pride or envy out.

I did continue though with some very real reasons why these SBC men chose to stay instead of surrendering, despite the shouts from the Indy people to separate.

I am glad the battle took place, but I don't think that the fundies fought it very well.

On the other hand, Patterson, Pressler, Rogers, and the others behind the takeback knew exactly what it would take to win. There was no dictator in the SBC who could just draw a line and leave the liberal refugees to other groups.

As we all know, correct theology must precede correct practice. We are all seeing the gradual (albeit much slower than I would like) severing of old ties.

Regarding some of your concerns, you do know that some of those same things were happening in the original fundy/modernist controversy. If you have an issue about how long the fight took, fine. I am sure Patterson laments how long it took also.

Dave said...

I believe you closed your original comment with these words, "Actually, I don't wonder." I took that, perhaps mistakenly, to mean that it was a certainty to you, not the object of curiosity or contemplation.

Since I know the author of Promise Unfulfilled quite well, I gladly assure you that his conclusions have nothing to do with pride or envy. Frankly, not only does your conjecture do nothing profitable, if example in this regard is followed by others it actually produces things which are very unprofitable.

Anonymous said...

Dave, the reference to Promise Unfilled was to the extent that there are those who seek to redefine Fundamentalism. I do not know McCune personally, so I cannot speak with authority as to his intent. Maybe since you know him you could explain his need to redefine fundamentalism. I personally don't care so much. I was just making an observation based on my experience within and without the SBC.

Dave said...


McCune is not redefining fundamentalism.

If you're a person who doesn't care so much, why do you impugn motives so quickly and easily? In the comments already you have accused men like McCune of being motivated by envy, pride, and jealousy, and have "wondered" about the gospel faithfulness of the early fundamentalists who left the denominations.

Whether you agree with them or not, sincere people have had and still have sincere questions about the SBC (some of them being still in the SBC). Shifting the discussion away from these questions to conjectures about the questioners motives seems like a waste of time to me--in fact, it has wasted our time, so I'll gladly let the thread return from this detour into pop psychology.

Anonymous said...


1. McCune definitely does redefine fundamentalism. His idea of fundamentalism is essentially equivalent to what fundamentalism became at the time of the split from the New Evangelicals. Today's conservative SBC leaders would have been thought of as Fundamentalists using the historical definition. To argue otherwise is to redefine the term.

2. I have not accused anyone of pride or envy. I did say that I wonder if the successful campaign against the liberals hasn't been watched by some Indy folk with angst, pride, envy, or anything else.

You don't think this is possible given that all the Indy people cried separate instead of win? The whole time the Indy fundies were wanting the SBC to separate itself, the Indy fundies had corruption in its ranks as well. I do know that there were those in the SBC who didn't want to leave their mess for another mess. They decided to stay and clean up.

3. Regarding gospel faithfulness, that was a reference to the men failing the fight and then surrending the people. The battle was fought in acedemics, not in the churches. This is where the SBC strategy worked. Patterson and the others made a point of getting the people to understand what was going on.

4. I also have concerns and problems with the SBC. I think Al Mohler and Paige Patterson have concerns with the SBC. That is yet another point of agreement between the Indy fundies and the SBC fundies.

Dave said...

You are wrong on the redefinition point. The new evangelicals clearly understood what fundamentalism represented in terms of separation, etc., that's why they abandoned it. How is that they knew and the fundamentalists knew, yet you think that it's being redefined?

Further, it seems almost beyond debate that most of the SBC does not reject the philosophy of new evangelicalism--how else can they continue the celebration of Billy Graham, honor the celebrity of Rick Warren, and elect someone like Frank Page (who clearly aims to pull back from the alleged swing toward fundamentalism).

In fact, if the growing pejorative used against men like Mohler and Dever is that they are fundamentalists, how can one not conclude that the SBC does not consider itself such? In other words, this complaint against these men is that they are pulling the SBC away from its real position.

It really is disingenuous to say that you haven't accused anyone of envy, pride, or jealousy. Sure, technically you didn't, but in reality your "wondering" is more like implying. And, as a point of fact, you concluded that you weren't really wondering about some of this at all.

I doubt we'll convince each other, so I'll move on.

Ben said...

There are a few things I this thread I'd like to respond to, but I'll need to do it piecemeal. Let me lob the first question at Dave.

You say that one of your concerns is the "millions of dollars going to support liberals throughout the 25 year process of" the SBC conservative resurgence.

Would you have equal concerns with the money that the NBC fundamentalists continued to give to the NBC during the years in which they were remaining engaged in the Convention and attempting to regain control of it--the time period before they separated from it?


Dave said...

To some degree, but I believe there are significant differences between the two cases.

Most important is the fact that the NBC fight was a head-on battle over the very nature of the association, whereas the SBC fight was a deliberate strategy that focused on political control. I will grant that there are probably some legitimate reasons for this difference, but one of the realities of it is that it inevitably led to (and continues to involve) a certain level of expediency in terms of how to deal with apostates.

At the end of the day (really at the Great Day), each will give an account of himself, so I am content to leave it to the Lord to assess it all. All I can say is that I wouldn't have been and am not now comfortable with this kind of expediency. The point I raised was simply to counter the implication that concern about the SBC is rooted in envy, pride, and jealousy. That kind of argument obscures the real concerns that some/many have expressed over the years.

Because it pertains to the most common rebuff to my concern, let me just say that I rejoice that the SBC seems to be the one case where the faith and furniture were both rescued from apostasy. What I wonder is: (1) what the spiritual cost of this strategy was in terms of continued funding throughout those years of liberal schools, missionaries, etc., and (2) whether a separatist movement wouldn't have yielded more fruit.

As for the first point, if our giving can make us fellow workers with the truth (3 John 8), it most certainly can make us participants in one's evil deeds (2 John 11).

As for the second point, what's often forgotten is that the separatist movement of the early to mid 20th century unleashed incredible progress in missions, education, church planting. One can only wonder what might have happened if the conservative SBCers had pulled out and launched their own schools, mission agencies, etc. with those millions of dollars.

Of course, this is only one aspect of the discussion. The most important, to me, is not this backward look, but the current and forward one. I wish I had confidence that the SBC is poised so as not to repeat the new evangelical mistakes. Back to the point of the post, if they will consistently practice the put out kind of separation at the local church level, then that is a hopeful sign.

Anonymous said...

Dave, I will not surrender this point. The fundamentalism that existed at the time of the NE/Fundy split was not identical to the fundamentalism at the time of the modernist controversy.

Dave said...


Have you surrendered any point?

That said, I think you're missing the point by your statement. Setting "identical" as the standard is unworkable--changing times require changing applications of unchanging truths.

Fundamentalism refused to accept compromise with apostasy, so it was determined to put it out or pull out of it. New evangelicalism rejected this fundamentalist principle. This basic disagreement led to the split between them. Both sides agreed on this.

Perhaps it would be good for you to define what you mean by redefinition and demonstrate your point.

Paul said...

Not to distract from the riveting and mostly informative discussion between Prime Kime and Dave, but I just realized Joel asked me a question a while back. Sorry for the delay, Joel.

I think that the basic definition of a true Fundamentalist (capital F) is one who holds to the fundamentals of the faith and is willing to fight for them.

Joel said...

That's okay Paul. So, by "fighting" do you mean separating? Where does that fit into your definition, if at all?

Ben said...


Many fundamentalists live in a world where just about everything is black or white. Right or wrong. That can be good or bad. (haha, I made a funny.) The upshot of that is that when you make predictions, as many fundamentalists did, that the SBC conservative resurgence would amount to nothing, you have to work harder and harder to keep your truth alive when the facts are increasingly incompatible with your truth. I think that might sometimes look very much like envy, but I think it's unwise to tie that broad conjecture to specific names in a public forum, no matter how tangentially the implication is related to the individual.

Ben said...


James' comment, "Actually I don't wonder," is connected to his criticism of fundamentalists for bailing on the NBC, not his conjecture about envy. If I'm reading you correctly, you're tying that comment to his envy thesis.


I have to disagree strongly with your criticism of those who left denominations over the presence of liberalism. I hope by God's grace that I'd have withdrawn from the NBC at some point when the hopelessness of the cause became clear. And I don't think your suggestion that the Northern fundamentalists compromised the gospel and surrendered people to liberalism is fair. Churches are voluntary associations. Folks who stayed in liberal churches stayed by choice.

Many people and churches abandoned the SBC over the decades preceding 1979. Many of those tried to reform the convention and failed. I used to be a member of a church that lost its building over just such a separation. They followed reasonable dictates of their consciences, though the process they chose opened the door for the forfeiture. They believed the cause was hopeless, and they had good reason to reach that conclusion. I think they would have been more wrong to remain against their consciences than to have sat on their hands for 30 more years, all the while sending their money to be flushed into the social gospel commode.

Ben said...


Thanks for the discussion. I have two questions.

1. How was the NBC controversy more closely connected to the very nature of an association? I think I know where you're going with that, but it seems wise to clarify first.

2. Related to the discussion of the alleged redefinition of fundamentalism, I think we'd agree that there are certain individuals within the SBC today who are clearly and deliberately repudiating and separating from the new evangelical strategy of the 1950s and working aggressively for continued reform within their denomination. In when sense would it be inappropriate to call them historic fundamentalists, if they are living out the idea of 1920s-1940s fundamentalism?

Anonymous said...


my comments about the redefinition of fundamentalism is a historical conclusion. That an evolution took place is undeniable. That is fine if you don't agree.


It is not my contention that the people in NBC were wrong to ultimately withdraw.

I will try to lay this out in a brief amount of words.

Liberalism didn't happen overnight for the NBC. The level of corruption though was so extensive that it was probably not going to be overcome. When you factor in the tactic of the Fundies, the cause was lost before it got started. The fundies though still justified staying in as long as they did.

Liberalism didn't happen overnight in the SBC. The level of corruption though was not as extensive as the NBC. In 1952 (I think), you had some liberal hack put out a commentary on Genesis questioning Mosaic authorship and the like. Other hacks like him were able to infiltrate the SBC even though they claimed allegiance to the Baptist Faith and Message. Once these people got in power, it became like a good ole boy network of appointing other hacks. The average person in the SBC had no idea what was going on in the colleges. It was that fact that Patterson, Rogers, Pressler, etc, were able to exploit. The SBC fought the fight in the churches, not through the convention. When the churches understood what was going on, they were able to get the ball rolling and the purge began. The SBC leaders of the purification process knew they could win as soon as Adrian Rogers became president.

To me, it is ridiculous for some to say that the SBC people should have separated because it took to long or whatever. There is no timetable for victory. There was too much at stake. The average person in the churches were not aware of the new direction of the colleges.

For all the good people to just leave would have left all those people vulnerable to moderates and liberals to destroy the faith of up and coming preacher boys eager to serve the Lord. Who doesn't wish the reform happened faster? I am sure the those who were most closely involved were not pleased at the length of time it all took. Cut and run wasn't a good idea for them though.

Anonymous said...

Didn't get to finish the thought before I hit enter.

I have a problem with those who give a hearty amen to the early fundies for staying and fighting as long as they did and then want to condemn those in the sbc for staying and fighting as long as they did.

Finally, the Indy Fundies were hardly a united front. There wasn't the problem of an association or convention anymore, but the fractured, schismatic, and bizarre elements gained power and were able to wield it over churches. We can talk examples another time. I think we are all aware of them.

Dave said...


1. I believe that the focal point of the NBC battle (and Presbyterian) was the removal of the apostates and the apostate congregations. The SBC takeover was a top-down political strategy--gain the presidency, trustees, then the leadership of the schools, etc. In other words, the NBC was moving to remove churches from its fellowship, but there has been very little of that in the SBC. Many (most) states are still a hodge podge of conservative and liberal/moderate churches. Again, as I've said before, it's not my job to cast the final judgment on the strategy chosen. The question was about why some fundamentalists were/are uncomfortable, not who will be vindicated at the Bema. Since we won't know until then, we all have to do what we believe we can do in good conscience.

2. The number of SBC men who clearly repudiate the strategy of new evangelicalism is extraordinarily small--the strongest of them admit that they are an anomaly, not the norm. One of their leading lights has written very clearly about the permissibility of co-belligerence in cultural matters with catholics, etc. (which ties into your other thread). Even the most separatistic of them still have ties with groups like Campus Crusade, wouldn't necessarily refuse to participate in ecumenical evangelistic efforts, etc. Believe me, I wish very much that a clear and definite break with new evangelical thinking would take place, but I don't think it's happened yet.

Keith said...

If cobeligerancy with Catholics indicates that one is a new evangelical, what does endorsing a Mormon candidate for president indicate?

Keith said...

Dave wrote: "Most important is the fact that the NBC fight was a head-on battle over the very nature of the association, whereas the SBC fight was a deliberate strategy that focused on political control."

Isn't political control one weapon -- perhaps the weapon -- for fighting head-on battles over the nature of an association?

The usage of terms and categories is very interesting in all of this. I understand what people mean when they say "church politics" or "political control" of a church, and I don't have a nitpicky/legalistic opposition to all such usage. However, I think it is interesting to think about how the discussion would be changed by merely refering to "ecclesiastical government" or "ecclesiastical control" instead of political. We aren't talking about the polis after all, we are talking about the ecclesia.

If the SBC guys decided to gain control of their ecclesiatic government for the sake of orthodoxy, what's the problem?

On the flip side, once the NBC guys put out the apostate congregations, did they intend to refrain from control of their ecclesiastical government?

I am not arguing that the sequence of tactics used by the NBC and SBC were the same. I am just suggesting that the intended end was the same -- an orthodox, properly governed church.

I would also point out that both set of tactics (the northern or the southern) required connectedness. And, while it is true that independents cannot share the particular vices of connectedness (even though they have their own), they also cannot share its virtues.

Keith said...

Dave wrote: "In fact, if the growing pejorative used against men like Mohler and Dever is that they are fundamentalists, how can one not conclude that the SBC does not consider itself such? In other words, this complaint against these men is that they are pulling the SBC away from its real position."

But Dave, isn't it also true that Mohler, Dever, and the Founders guys use pejoritives in reference to their opponents (feminists, liberals, arminians, etc.) and openly state that theirs is the real SBC position?

It is fairly typical for both sides in a debate to make the argument that their position is or ought to be the "real" position. Of course making the argument is not the same as winning the argument.

Dave said...

This will have to be quick because I am in modified mourning over the afternoon's events and the are other more important concerns:

1. I don't think an endorsement and co-belligerence are comparable, so I don't think it says anything.

2. I may be a lone wolf on this, but I wasn't using political control in a negative way. Politics is simply the stewardship of power. The SBC takeover was deliberately targeted at obtaining the positions of power within the convention, not the makeup of the convention itself.

3. I understand your point about referring to this as ecclesiastical governance, but it doesn't apply to the convention since it isn't the means of ecclesiastical governance. The local churches govern themselves. The SBC is really a parachurch organization. It does not have any formal resemblance to the Presbyterian model, so it shouldn't be described in that way.

4. The point about pejoratives seems to miss my point while actually proving it too. The fact that Mohler, Dever, and the Founders folks use pejoratives isn't a problem. My point wasn't that the use of pejoratives is a problem; it was that the pejorative also says something about the one who uses it. To pick up on your comment, the fact that Mohler, say, would pejoratively call someone a feminist means that Mohler is also claiming not to be one. So, my point stands, I believe, that for the SBC folks to pejoratively refer to Dever & Co as fundamentalists means that they don't view themselves as such.

Keith said...

Apparently my points weren't as clear as the Buckeyes wonderful victory over the Wolverines. Go Bucks!

1. I was asking a question in a tongue in cheek manner. So here it is plainly: HOW is public involvement with a Mormon in partisan political maneuvering NOT comparable (or worse) to cobeligerancy with Catholics in cultural matters? I am not saying that endorsing a Mormon is unquestionably wrong here, I am merely saying that working with a Mormon for political purposes seems to be justifiable only if the concept of cobeligerancy is valid.

Cobeligerancy as I understand it is not alliance, it is not full agreement. It is working together with an individual or group on a particular issue on which you do agree in spite of other issues on which you openly do not agree.

2. I didn't mean to imply that you were impuning the acquisition or use of political power. I meant to state that I think they wanted to steward the power in order to change the makeup of the convention (admittedly over time) -- change was the goal not power itself. Is my thinking incorrect?

3. I may be way off in what I said here. And, I'll readily admit that I think the Presbyterian model is far better than the SBC model. However, I still wonder how it can be that there is no similarity when the convention has the ability to "expel a liberal congregation" (as reported by our host).

4. I did not mean to imply that I understood you to have a problem in the use of pejoratives -- I did not think that at all.

My point is that both the opponents of Dever & Co as well as Dever & Co themselves are currently SBCers. Why do the "bad" guys automatically get to represent the SBC when the "good" guys are just as much a part of the SBC? There is a debate/battle going on to establish the identity of the SBC.

Now, if your point is that the very fact that the "good" guys stick around to debate the "bad" guys proves that the "good" guys and the SBC as a whole are not fundamentalist, I'll concede the point -- even though such a point seems to be begging the question.