Saturday, May 17, 2008

Undermining Evangelism: Evangelists and Evangelistic Programs

In The Gospel and Personal Evangelism, Mark Dever writes:
When we are involved in a program in which converts are quickly counted, decisions are more likely pressed, and evangelism is gauged by its immediately obvious effect, we are involved in undermining real evangelism and real churches. (p. 81)
Here's a quote from an e-mail I received, which describes an evangelistic meeting in a Baptist church:
He did the sinner's prayer thing, then had those who prayed to raise their hands, then asked them to come forward, which he'd done both times Sunday and probably did all week. I don't know about the other evenings all week, but last night he came and got a girl in the row in front of us, because she didn't step out on her own and go forward. Then he asked the Christians who were praying for someone specifically in the service last night to raise their hands. Then he had them talk to the person they were praying for to try to get them to go forward.
This didn't happen twenty years ago. It was 2008. And it wasn't in some right-wing, fire-breathing, KJVO, ultra-revivalist church. And it wasn't some young, brash, obscure evangelist trying to make a name for himself.

Of course, I do recognize and appreciate that many evangelists will be as repulsed by this methodology (and the theology it reflects) as I am. Nevertheless, as Dever writes, this kind of methodology undermines biblical evangelism. It strikes me as the kind of aberrance from which we should separate. It's one of the reasons authentic fundamentalism is too seldom found within the fundamentalist movement.

29 comments:

Dave said...

Ben,

I am sure I sound like a broken record by this time, but I think it's a reflex reaction.

Why make this a matter of fundamentalism? I am pretty sure you could get the same kind of account from non-fundamentalist circles (and I doubt that Dever was writing with fundamentalists chiefly in the target audience).

The problem is revivalism, not fundamdentalism per se (unless you're prepared to say that there is no distinction between the two). So, the proper kind of conclusion would seem to be something like, "it's one of the reasons that authentic evangelicalism is too seldom found in the evangelical and fundamentalist movements."

Ben said...

That's ok. My response is a broken record too.

This is surely not a matter exclusive to fundamentalism. It just happens that this example comes from what is undeniably the mainstream of the fundamentalism we both know, and I'm guessing that's more or less where most of the readers here come from.

There IS a distinction between revivalism and fundamentalism. But broad evangelicalism has no motivation or mechanism to deal with these kinds of aberrations. Fundamentalism claims to have motivation and mechanism. The problem is that too few of those who ought to know better choose to exercise them. That's why I've framed my point in the way that I did.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Dozens and dozens of KJVO guys with whom I fellowship are not revivalists. Our church position, consistently applied, says that baptism of the Spirit is a historic event. Most revivalists allegorize literal, physical millennial kingdom promises into something present and spiritual. Most see filling of the Spirit and baptism to be parallel events---we see filling as present tense yielding to the Holy Spirit. I heard numbers of those types of messages at Maranatha from the leadership types of the FBF. Those types of messages were standard fare in chapel and in FBF messages. They are confusing to a lot of men who then seek those types of experiences. I never agreed with them, but they were very normal. Part of the belief about unity in fundamentalism, which is similar to that of evangelicalism, says that this isn't a separating issue.

I recognize that Hyles and John R. Rice were the faces of typical revivalism. I never ever heard any big expose' of Hyles in anything or in anything that I've read from fundamentalists, but we have done that over at Jackhammer. We have been very bold about it. I haven't read of any men who cry out against revivalism come over to support what we've said at Jackhammer. I know they are reading it because they will comment almost immediately if their name gets mentioned. Why? My guess is that our particular believe about original language preservation is the third rail of Fundamentalism politics. You touch that rail and some of your fundamentalist membership privileges are revoked.

Ben said...

Kent,

It won't surprise you to hear me say that I think KJVOnlyism is wrong. I am grateful for your clarification that not all KJVOnlyism is revivalistic.

Ryan C said...

Ben,

I agree with you that Fundamentalism claims to have the motivation and mechanism to deal with such aberrant practice. And while more in fundamentalism don't separate from this kind of gospel diluting practice some do. I wish more did.

But just because this example comes from a "mainstream fundamentalist church" doesn't mean that dozens of similar examples couldn't be culled from mainstream evangelicalism, as Dr. Doran pointed out it is doubtful that Dever wrote this book with Fundamentalist Christianity primarily in view. But it seems you are content to make this point against fundamentalism just because of the example with which you have been provided. Or perhaps as you stated just because fundamentalism "claims to have the motivation and mechanism" for dealing with this kind of thing. This, however, does not mean that broader evangelicalism is off the hook just because they "have no motivation or mechanism" to deal with it. The question is whether they should have the motivation and mechanism to deal with this. I actually think many (like Dever) are recovering or have recovered the motivation and hopefully the mechanism will follow. But the Bible is clear that they ought to have that mechanism and we cannot give them a free pass on their revivalistic faulty evangelism just because they don't practice separation. The have committed two sins, they have forsaken the Biblically mandated safeguards to protect the gospel and the church, and then they have also forsaken a Biblical approach to evangelism.

I will readily agree that much of fundamentalism is guilty of such revivalistic practices that distort and dilute the Gospel's power, and it is a grief to me. By God's grace may we all strive to employ more biblical practices in the future and deal biblically with those who don't. By my concern stems from what seems to be in recent months a much more critical spirit toward fundamentalism on your blog. Certainly there is much to criticize, but I am concerned that if we are not careful in how we criticize our movement then we will be influential only in driving people from our movement toward an evangelicalism which has the same problems with no "mechanism" to solve them.

Ben said...

Ryan,

I don't hate fundamentalism. I think the idea of fundamentalism is quite attractive and important.

I hate the fact that people who call themselves fundamentalists drag the idea through the mud. I'm disgusted when people cry "critical spirit" because they don't like it when the undesirable elements in their movement are exposed for what they are. I'm appalled when the very movement that's supposed to stand unapologetically for truth resorts to the defense, "Yeah, but the evangelicals do it too and sometimes they're worse, but you didn't say anything about them."

But I love the fundamentalists who are willing to put their necks on the line publicly to critique their own. I think that's because they love the principle of the thing more than they love their position in it. Sadly, of the people who have something to lose by doing that, I can count the ones I know of on one hand and have fingers left over.

Dave said...

Ben,

I don't think you get the point of what we're saying. I was a little too cute, apparently, with my comment about a reflex reaction--I was meaning that I am reacting to what seems to be a broken record in your comments about fundamentalism.

And that's really the point. My comment, and I don't think Ryan's either, should not be interpreted as saying, "Our problems aren't bad because others have them too."

It really is, "Why do you consistently interpret the evidence only one way?" You seem genuinely unable to see the bias at work in your comments.

It would seem that you actually answered that question in your replay to me, i.e., it is based on your perception of your readership. I take that to mean that you believe it is mainly fundies or former fundies who read your posts. It should not surprise you then that we take exception to lopsided criticism.

Ryan C said...

Ben,

I didn't mean to imply that I felt you hated fundamentalism. I am glad to hear that you "find the idea attractive and important." I don't even mind the criticism of our movement. As I said, I too am grieved by the revivalistic-pseudo-evangelism that is rampant in our movement. I just felt as if you were in essence giving broader evangelicalism a free pass because, in your words, "evangelicalism has no motivation or mechanism to deal with these kinds of aberrations." All I was trying to say was that this is a problem common to both fundamentalists and evangelicals alike and when you criticize one without criticizing the other it feels to me like we are letting the evangelicals off the hook. When Dr. Doran called you on it your reasons were that your example came from a fundamentalist church, fundamentalists claim to practice what is the biblical response to faulty theology and practice, and because of your understood readership. Since you didn't deny that this happens in evangelicalism as well, in essence you seemed to be letting the evangelicals off the hook simply because they have jettisoned separatism. I am fairly certain that was not your intent, it was just my "reflex reaction." I wrote to say that this was no reason to leave them out of the criticism, but in fact was a reason for added critique.

Perhaps it would help if I explained why I reacted that way. I have read your blog for quite a while now. I rarely post, but enjoy much of what you have to say. I am a younger man in ministry and glad to be a part of fundamentalism. I too find the idea very important. I too am grieved with much of what goes on by those claiming the title fundamentalist. I think that we as a movement need much honest self-criticism, and I feel as though often your critiques are accurate. Over the last several months, however your criticism has become a bit more pointed. Couple that with what I feel to be your unapologetically strong embrace of much of what is coming out of the more conservative side of evangelicalism (T4G etc.) and your critiques seem to me to be less of a matter of fundamentalist-self-criticism and more of the usual parting shots of one leaving our movement for the ranks of C.E. That is why I reacted the way I did when you criticized fundamentalism of a problem that I see throughout Evangelicalism.

I will grant that this might be a gross misreading of the facts, but it is my impression nonetheless. If it is wrong I apologize. The blogosphere is a very difficult place to carry on sustained conversation and people are often misunderstood. The role of the critic is very important, yet it is one that requires much wisdom. And certainly one who is a confessed critic should be open to some honest criticism himself.

Steve said...

I am not sure why there is a need to 'protect' Fundamentalism from an honest criticism of soemthing that is present within its corpus. Even if it is percived to be one sided. If it is accurate (that revivalism is wrong), which everyone seems to agree upon, if it is present in fundamentalism and you are a fundamentalist then who cares that it is also present in evangelicalism? I would contend the ones who should care are the evangelicals. Let them clean their house and let the fundy's clean theirs. But it seems disingenous to not ask the question "How can Fundamentalists deal with revivalism within their ranks?" This CE leader is doing just that by declaring in a public and broad forum that it is wrong. Where are the public proclamations of this error from Fundamentalist leaders? Not to say there never have been any but it seems to this reader the desire ought to be to deal with the error in our ranks rather than say everybody has this error. Our leading insitutions and groups can define ministries they won't work with but where is the self cleansing. It doesn't work for me to say "Well, they stink too so we all need a bath". How about "Whoah, I stink let me take a bath".

ryan C said...

Steve,

I am not trying to protect fundamentalism from this or other critiques. To the extent that it is valid we should endeavor to do what we can in our sphere of influence to change it. But the danger I have seen with one-sided critiques like this one is that often they are used to excuse or inspire departures from fundamentalism toward evangelicalism rather than reform. That is why I was concerned that the critique, though valid, be equally applied. it is a problem we all face, thus it is something we all must address in ourselves. To that part of your post I firmly agree. I cannot do much to clean up evangelicalism of this, and there isn't much I can do myself in broader fundamentalism. I am responsible to do what I can where God has put me. It just has been my experience, especially in the blogosphere that critiques like this one are not always used to inspire reform but are used to excuse one's withdrawal. I doubt that is Ben's motivation, though I shared my concern with him that this is the impression I am beginning to get from his blog.

But yes, we should be open to these kind of critiques, I hope my comments have not implied that I don't agree with the criticism. From my experience it is fairly accurate. But a less one sided critique would be helpful in my opinion to ensure that we have an accurate understanding of the nature and extent of the problem so that the solution doesn't become, "That's true of fundamentalism, so I'm leaving."

Dave said...

Steve,

Did you read my comments and those by Ryan? Neither of us have defended or attempted to protect fundamentalism by pointing out other people's faults. We've wondered about why only fundamentalists came under condemnation in this post.

If two of my sons were guilty of the same error and I addressed it with only one of them, wouldn't that one have some basis for wondering what's up with that? If my son says to me, "Why are you acting like I am the only one in the family who did this?" should I respond by saying, "Quit trying to excuse your faults by pointing out other people's faults?" IOW, rather than listen to a potentially legitimate complaint about partiality, I seize the opportunity to pile on more criticism.

Why deal with it in this way? That's the question I have and the comment I made. If there is anything tiresome, in my mind, it is the tendency for people who are challenged about their negativism to ignore the real concern by piling on more criticism.

I have no desire to defend or protect fundamentalism on this point. I am concerned about a jaundiced eye. That's what I keep finding here. Maybe it would be good to balance things off with a little of Mahaney's "evidences of grace" thinking.

Steve said...

Dave and Ryan,

Thanks for your graciousness. Point taken about a balanced critique and I appreciate your heart for Ben and concern for his approach and position. I do believe you are genuinely interested in Ben and Fundamentalism. It seems and I do mean seems to me that your concerns are far more about Ben and his method of communication (which is an honorable motive) than the issue he raises other than the fact that the same issue exists in both CE and Fun. So, that is between you guys and Ben. As one who is seriously wrestling with Fun. and CE, if the same struggle in this area exists in both, why wouldn't I and others maybe like me be drawn to those who scream the loudest about this critical issue of the gospel? My point is your interaction with Ben instead of a discussion about how we purge our own house was interpreted by me (wrongly as you both say and I do believe you) as a dodging of our own problems in Fun. This is the second time in my life I have responded to a blog like this but I am literally dying here while wrestling through what appears to me as a failing movement so I do appreciate and welcome your responses.

Steve said...

Oh yeah, my question.

How do either of you advoctae we deal with this issue of revivalism within Fundamentalism?

Ryan C said...

Steve,

you asked "why wouldn't I and others maybe like me be drawn to those who scream the loudest about this critical issue of the gospel?"

to which I would reply, (1) how does one determine who is screaming the loudest? Certainly Dever's book is outstanding on the subject. But I have heard many fundamentalists who have preached against that kind of thing who would have a hard time getting published by an evangelical press simply because they are fundamentalists and would probably rightly include a criticism of evangelicalism's lack of biblical response to such theological aberration (i.e., separatism).

(2) Just because one is "screaming the loudest" on this issue (as important as it may be) doesn't mean they don't have other issues that warrant serious concern. We should endeavor to make sure we are drawn toward those we believe are striving to be obedient to all that Scripture requires. For some, that will be someone like Dever, MacArthur, etc. For me it is men like Doran, Bauder, etc., though I greatly profit from reading Dever, Carson etc. I just do so realizing that they and I disagree about what the Bible requires me to do with apostasy and those that are content to walk with it.

I am sorry that you feel as though fundamentalism is dying. I wish some aspects would die if they continue to refuse to change their theology and practice to conform with clearly revealed scriptural principles. But my experience is that large parts of fundamentalism are thriving and are very theologically healthy. My encouragement to you would be to familiarize yourself with those parts.

Praying for you in your struggle that you would do what is right and have biblical wisdom in this time of wrestling.

Ryan C said...

How do either of you advocate we deal with this issue of revivalism within Fundamentalism?

my answer is that how we deal with this will largely be determined by the sphere of influence God has given us. What I can do and what someone like Dr. Doran ("dave" here) can and has done are significantly different. Dr. Doran and DBTS have held preacher's conferences which have addressed the issue, the Detroit Seminary Journal has published theological articles related to this issue. Dr. Doran has preached against this kind of thing repeatedly from his own pulpit as well as doing a good job of modeling a much more biblical approach to evangelism.

Dr. Dever, through the influence and place God has placed him within evangelicalism has preached about this and written books that address this issue.

As a young youth pastor at a small rural church, my sphere is much smaller. By God's grace I hope to be able to model biblical evangelism as I understand it and point others to those resources I have found helpful on the issue.

We can all pray that God would do a work in Evangelicalism as a whole (i.e., inclusive of Fundamentalism and C. Evangelicalism) to reform our theology and practice.

Steve said...

Ryan,

Thanks for your comments.

Steve

Ben said...

Ryan,

If you've been reading for a while, I'm sure you've seen plenty of posts that are critical of broad evangelicalism. I would expect there are few months that have gone by without them. Perhaps the ones that point more directly at your circle of fellowship are more memorable.

So I do not intend to give evangelicalism a pass on anything. I don't think I have. But I do think there's a certain responsibility on fundamentalists to hold their own to the same standard as they hold evangelicals. Evangelicals are wrong when they tolerate doctrinal an methodological aberrations. Fundamentalists who tolerate error are BOTH wrong AND hypocritical.

That's the essence of my point.

Ben said...

Dave,

I don't grasp what's lopsided. When I post on specific errors in broader evangelicalism, I don't see any evangelicals saying, "Yeah, but the fundamentalists do that too."

It seems as though you expect me to apply every criticism to both movements whenever it's present. There would be nothing wrong with that, but sometimes I simply think there are specific points that are worth making, such as the one I mentioned to Ryan above—that when evangelicalism and fundamentalism are wrong in tolerating the same things, fundamentalists often augment the error with hypocrisy.

Obviously, we're all hypocrites. I am. I could think of a score of ways without even thinking hard. A friend who would refuse to point out my hypocrisy would not be my friend.

Ben said...

Ryan wrote:
"But the danger I have seen with one-sided critiques like this one is that often they are used to excuse or inspire departures from fundamentalism toward evangelicalism rather than reform."

Ryan,

The last thing I need at this point is some sort of affirmation that my choice to be where I am is a good one. But it never would have occurred to me to go somewhere outside the fundamentalist movement if the movement had been true to its principles. And no one seems to be arguing with me on this point (and few have on many others) that it has not been true to them. The far more common response is that evangelicalism has the same errors. That's certainly true, but I'm no more associated with the atheological evangelicalism than I am with the atheological fundamentalism. It's kind of nice.

Ben said...

Ryan wrote:
"though I greatly profit from reading Dever, Carson etc. I just do so realizing that they and I disagree about what the Bible requires me to do with apostasy and those that are content to walk with it."

Could you articulate how Dever and Carson have responded to apostasy in a way that's different from how you would?

Ben said...

Dave,

I'm just pondering your criticism that I'm biased and excessively critical. I'm not saying you're wrong. That's something I think about.

But honestly, I don't know how anyone could suggest that I have rose colored glasses for evangelicalism. I think I've said more positive things about you and Kevin Bauder over the years than I have John MacArthur or Al Mohler. In my past 10 posts (which are obviously not a representative sample, but they're something), there are two positive posts about things fundamentalists have said or written. There are three explicit critiques of broader evangelicalism. There are three positive statements on conservative evangelicals (I'm counting the Straub review of the Carson book and the Moore critique of McLaren and the Creek for two categories). There are three neutral/newsy kinds of things. And there's one explicit critique of fundamentalism. This just does not seem the stuff of which biases are made.

Dave said...

Ben,

If biases were so easily detected as a statistical count of topics addressed, it would certainly be easy to see all of our biases. But bias isn't that simple. The test must go deeper than merely what we talk about, considering, for instance, the manner in which we state our case.

Take, as an example, the qualifier you place before the evangelicalism which you criticize--you consistently call it broad or broader evangelicalism in order to mark it off from a kind of evangelicalism which you deem better.

Where is the qualifier for fundamentalism? Why not call teh kind you critique "broad" or "broader" fundamentalism? Doesn't this suggest something about your perspective (i.e., bias) on these things? All of fundamentalism seems culpable for whatever problem is highlighted, but only broad evangelicalism bears the brunt of its failures.

It's probably my bias, but it too often seems like cheap shots. Ironically, it is the same kind of thing that irritates me when fundamentalists do it to conservative evangelicals (i.e., cherry pick some negative and make it a big deal).

Seriously, some evangelist in some church is reported (and that's all I have is a second hand report) to have done some inappropriate things while giving his "invitations" and I (not to mention all other fundamentalists) am supposed to be motivated to employ "the mechanism" to solve this. Right.

Just doesn't seem like a balanced perspective to me.

Ben said...

Hmmm. Ok. I use the qualifiers "theological fundamentalism" over against "atheological fundamentalism" all the time. I use "broad evangelicalism" because it's a fairly common term. I've never heard anyone use "broad evangelicalism," but it would work too, I guess.

In the original post here I set off "authentic fundamentalism," (which was my only use of "fundamentalism") and even let "many evangelists" off the hook."

I don't think you don't have to agree that my evidence is so overwhelmingly powerful that the mechanism is necessary here. But this is a classic example of why guys who were taught their theology in fundamentalist institutions think the present state of the movement has little credibility. If no one blogged about it, it would still be true.

Dave said...

Ben,

You did not use the word authentic as a qualifier for a segment of fundamentalism. Rather, you used it to point out that the real kind is seldom found at all.

The fact is that without you blogging it virtually no one would know about it. At the most, anyone who did know about it should draw two conclusions: (1) that evangelist is wrong; and (2) that church should not have allowed this to happen. Instead, it has become an indictment on a movement.

And this is what is so frustrating for me. Why does it seem like people taking your view of things regularly ask fundamentalists not to assign the faults of some evangelicals to all evangelicals, yet seem quite willing to attribute the faults of some fundamentalists to all fundamentalists?

Just because this always gets interpreted as excusing our sins by the sins of others, let me make it very clear that in this discussion I don't care about the sins of the others. My complaint is about the selective criticism that is made.

Here's the regular pattern: (1) the argument is advanced that problem X is why guys are leaving fundamentalism; (2) the argument is countered by saying that problem X also exists among the evangelicals,so it shouldn't follow that people move from fund to evang over it (or they are doing so quite ignorantly); (3) the counter argument is met with ridicule (why do you always excuse your faults by pointing out the faults of others?) which misses the point; (4) we go back and forth about this for several pages and never come to agreement; (5) it sits dormant until the next post like this (which seems certain to come) and the dance begins again (because I lack self-control and suffer from quixotic delusions).

c'est la vie

Ben said...

Maybe I should clarify one point. I'm not suggesting anyone should leave "fundamentalism." I'm saying they should find the idea and apply it, wherever they are. Maybe they've found it in their part of the fundamentalist movement. If so, great. I can think of a few places I know of where that's happening.

So would you agree with me that someone who's trying to live that idea should separate from this kind of theology and methodology?

Dave said...

It's going to sound like a cop out, but, as I hinted at before, I am not inclined to pass too strong of judgment based on second hand reports like this (cf. Pro 18:17). What I don't know from this report is whether the gospel was accurately preached.

If things were as described, I'd actually have a range of responses to the various things described. I'd practice none of them, but I'd be careful about saying that the whole lot is cause for breaking fellowship over. I believe, for instance, that Spurgeon would offer a "sinner's prayer" at the end of some of his sermons. We can't really be arguing that calling for an immediate response to the gospel undermines evangelism, can we?

Would I allow this to happen within the congregation for which I have shepherding responsibility? No.

Without more knowledge of the situation, I don't think I can make a decision on whether I would separate from this evangelist and this local church.

But let me turn the tables on you. What does separation over this look like? Should all evangelists who do some of these things be marked off and turned away from? Should schools and church associations that celebrate and exalt the ministries of men like this be marked off and turned away from?

What exactly do you mean?

Dave said...

Ben, are you still there?

Ben said...

Dave,

My bad. I thought I'd responded, but I looking back I think it must've been a response to an e-mail about this thread.

I would not insist that calling for an immediate response in the form of a sinner's prayer necessarily compromises the gospel. I would argue that the long term effects of this methodology have clearly obscured the gospel. The fruits are undeniable.

I do believe that those who use this kind of methodology should be marked and turned away from. But not exclusively for their methodology. The root problem is a tragically flawed theology that says we can persuade people to repent and believe through the force of our arguments and methods, and then that we should employ whatever arguments and methods will accomplish that end.

Regarding schools and associations, there are levels of fellowship in the way I would apply principles of separation. Just to toss one example out there, if a church or a camp or a college had a person with this kind of theology and methodology on their staff, that's a more serious error than for one of those institutions to have the same guy for a week of meetings or who would send their kids to a week of camp when he's preaching. I simply don't accept the notion that any association with anyone who's disobedient in any way marks someone as a disobedient brother who needs to be separated from.

In any case, separation decisions when the gospel is not directly denied are going to be judgment calls. At least in my view. Those fundamentalists who apply principles of separation more stringently need to do so just as stringently toward those inside the circle of traditional fellowship as they do to those outside it.

That's one of the key ideas I'm getting at. Those who advocate a stringent articulation of the principles lose all credibility when they pick and choose how and where they apply it. The fact that less separatistic/fundamentalistic institutions tolerate the same kinds of theology and manipulative methodology is every bit as much an error. It's simply not compounded by the hypocrisy of advocating separatism and applying it arbitrarily.

Dave said...

But you've offered no proof that anyone is doing anything arbitrarily. By your own explanation of how you'd apply it, it is quite plausible that nothing has been done that warrants separation in the case that you began this discussion with. Yet, you seem to suggest that there is some great fundamentalist flaw on display in this very case. It seems that there is either more to the story than you've told us or you've overstated your case.