Friday, March 06, 2009

Phil Johnson: "That's what I am—a Paleoevangelical"

I've been to two Shepherds' Conferences and listened to audio from a couple more. One of the consistent highlights for me is Phil Johnson's always-provocative workshop session. Well, this year's session, "What Is an Evangelical?", contained a special personal blessing. In the midst of his pronouncement of evangelicalism's certain doom, his assessment of fundamentalism*, and his sharp critique of neo-evangelicalism is tucked a little nugget of Phil. Here it is, unedited, no comment necessary:
Sometimes when I feel it's necessary to distance myself from the mixed multitude of the contemporary evangelical movement, I actually like to refer to myself as a Paleoevangelical. That's a label that's not likely to be commandeered anytime soon by some postmodernized, emergentized hack. No neo-orthodox church leader or Christianity Today editor would wear that label—"Paleoevangelical." That's what I am—a Paleoevangelical, and I'm firmly fixed in that position.
And a few non-sequential clips from later in the talk:
Those of us who are Paleoevangelicals, frankly, have no movement that we really belong to.

[D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones] was a classic Paleoevangelical without a neo-evangelical bone in his body.

The task for Paleoevangelicals like me is to remain faithful and to remember that the gospel—not the combined cloud of a large, politically-driven movement, but the gospel itself is the power of God unto salvation.
You'll probably enjoy the whole session, but you'll have to register for free here. After that, follow instructions to download audio files.

*Just "one complaint," but it's a stinging one.


Chris Anderson said...

"That's a label that's not likely to be commandeered anytime soon by some postmodernized, emergentized hack."

Boy is he in for a surprise. Has he not been here, or has he just forgotten?

Beth said...

Chris, are you calling Ben a " postmodernized, emergentized hack"? :-)

Ben said...

I may be a hack, but I'm not nearly cool enough to be postmodernized or emergentized.

Though I was once accused of being a Rick Warren/Joel Osteen fanboy. I didn't know whether to laugh or be offended.

Ben said...

Oh, hey, it just dawned on me. I got respect and recognition from a jen-yoo-wine neeow-eeevanjellykul. Yippee!!! I've arrived.

Greg Linscott said...

Ben's response to Chris for some reason reminds me of Han Solo...

"Who's scruffy looking?"

david morris said...

Somehow I knew you'd hear this, Ben, and be quite pleased.

Don't know if you've thoroughly listened to the whole thing, but several things struck me. First, Phil's assessment of the two things that killed evangelicalism. The first was the split between evangelicals and fundamentalists, which led to both emphasizing their own weaknesses the further they drifted apart. Evangelicals lost their hope of doctrinal conviction and the fundamentalists their gospel warmth and centrality. The second thing that killed evangelicalism was the rise of neo-evangelicalism.

My second thought was that while Fundamentalists made a huge hue and cry when Phil pronounced the death of fundamentalism, no such reaction has come, nor do I expect one, from the Evangelical side about whom he said the exact same thing. It's an interesting commentary on the two groups.

Finally, I've never been more sure who I stand with. When I left the friendly confines of Bob Jones and closed a lot of fundamentalist doors, I wondered where I fit because I was at the same time genuinely concerned about the horror that is contemporary evangelicalism. Coupled with Phil's sermon on sound doctrine and sound words, this session highlighted for me that I fit with the Paleoevangelicals of the world, whether titled so or not: they are the historic fundamentalists and the historic evangelicals, fully committed to sola fide and sola scriptura, and willing to do battle royal for the Gospel.

Ben said...


Great to hear from you. And welcome to the club. I just invited Phil to change his "religious affiliation" on facebook, so maybe we'll get a bona fide movement going. ;-)

I did listen to the whole thing. His thesis was thought provoking, Though I certainly do not wish fundamentalists had stuck with the NEs in the mid 20th century. I think the fundamentalists were "dead right" on that narrow issue, even if they failed abysmally to live out a broader set of biblical truths and principles.

What's your deeper interpretation of your "second thought"? I'd love to hear it. Say hey to Adam for me.

david morris said...

I'm with you about it being good the fundys and NE's split. I think some of Phil's point was that the true evangelicals should have as well, and that the NE's actually got their way...almost like a hijacking...where have we heard that idea before? :-)

My second thought: seems to me that the tendencies of both sides-contemporary evangelical and fundy-are revealed in a microcosm with their reactions to analysis.

Contemporary Fundys, true to their battling selves, cling tenaciously to their title, even to the point of arguing against the very clear and helpful commentary from Phil. They cling tightly to something so external and peripheral as a title that they force themselves to embrace their own radicals, in the form of the KJV-only, pants only, hymns only, legalism only constituents. Clinging, battling, and contending are all things fundys do well, it's just that the contemporary version seem to do it for causes much lesser than fundamental ones. It fits the contemporary fundy mold to resist and reject biblical critique and analysis, regardless of how right or dispassionate it is.

The contemporary evangelicals, however, have no interest in something so divisive, clear, and doctrinal as applying biblical critique to their movement. They so resist contending for biblical truth that they force themselves to embrace their own radicals, in the form of ECs, open theists, social gospel activists, and sola scriptura and sola fide rejectors. It fits neither the contemporary evangelical method nor mood to interact or even react to biblical critique one way or the other, even when that critique announces that evangelicalism is dead because it has left its moorings.

So that's what I meant. Whether that's accurate or not is another story, I guess. I'm certainly no Phil. :-)

I'll pass along your greetings.

Kent McCune said...

David --- Maybe you should read the interaction between Dave Doran and Phil Johnson after Phil's "dead right" talk. Also, check out Phil's dialogue with Mark Minnick. I think you will find nothing in those exchanges that is remotely close to the caricature in your third paragraph above.

Bruce said...

Ah, Kent, you are quick to defend the fundamentalists, but surely you would agree that we could just as easily cite exceptions which would show that his fourth paragraph describing contemporary evangelicalism is a also a "caricature."

As someone who has been in both fundamentalist and evangelical circles, I think the tendencies that David describes are too often true and do in fact correspond to the basic difference in popular fundamentalism and evangelicalism. More often than not, it is one more of mood or instinct rather than doctrine.

Kent McCune said...

Bruce --- I wasn't speaking to fundamentalism at large. I was only speaking to David's mischaracterization of the fundamentalist response to Johnson's talk.

David painted his caricature and then in the last sentence of the paragraph applied it to the fundamentalist reaction to Johnson's talk. Well, that response was led by Doran and Minnick, and it did not reflect David's caricature in any way.

david morris said...

Well, Bruce said well and briefly what I'm going to say probably not as well and lengthier, but let me try to explain the view from over here.

I'm unsure why you would immediately assume I haven't read those comments, or be unaware of the trips Phil made to see Pastor Minnick and their conversations, but rest assured that I am. "Caricature" is one word you could use, painting my comments as a grotesque exaggeration of the truth, but reality is that I read and heard more than my share of vicious knee-jerk wagon circling following Phil's talks. Minnick and Doran were not the only Fundamentalists to respond to Phil, even if they were your favorites.

I'm grateful for the more careful and biblical men like Doran and Minnick who claim fundamentalism. They are men who provide what any hope their is for their churches and fundamentalist "circles." I'm also convinced that they don't stand for all of Fundamentalism, or even necessarily what contemporary fundamentalism is.

I think there is a careful distinction in Phil and hence my use of the terms contemporary fundamentalist and evangelical movements. Men like Minnick and Doran fit a lot closer to Paleoevangelicalism than the mess that is the contemporary fundamentalist movement, in my perception, just as do men like Phil, Pastor MacArthur, and me coming from what you might label the evangelical side.

So yes, there is some broad-brushing and categorization that doesn't fit every person still associated with the fundamentalist or evangelical tags. Part of the difficulty is the change in our times and the death of these two movements in regard to maintaining their biblical, foundational, mooring principles. Fine for us to disagree on that, but we do live in new times.

Much as men like Minnick who I respect and have sat under would not like it, their continued allegiance to Fundamentalism places them in a mixed multitude of wild extremes. Part of Phil's point in his latest talk is that evangelicalism is no longer a title to claim either, at the very least without clear explanation.

We joke, much to Ben's delight, about the term Paleoevangelical, but the reason that's even part of the discussion is that neither of the two contemporary movements of fundamentalism or evangelicalism seem home to people committed to their original principles. It just so happens that some fundamentalist types resist that analysis.

Grace and peace.

Ben said...

David wrote:
"I'm also convinced that they don't stand for all of Fundamentalism, or even necessarily what contemporary fundamentalism is."

Exhibit A

Anybody want to argue that there are more Minnicks and Dorans than there are Phelps? Seriously?

Kent, you of all people would be sensitive to that divide, no?

Kent McCune said...

See my response to Bruce. I was reacting specifically to David's characterization of the fundamentalist response to Johnson's "dead right" talk, not to anything broader than that. David responded that he saw a lot of "vicious knee-jerk wagon circling" after the talk. I didn't, but I take him at his word.

Beyond that, I wouldn't know how to answer your question, Ben. I've been in a lot of fundamental churches and known and talked with a lot of pastors, but I certainly couldn't say that I've seen enough to form a statistically viable sample size. So I can't answer your question with anything more definitive than personal opinion, and those get thrown around way too easily on blogs.

And FWIW, I don't think Doran or Minnick would recognize any "divide" with Phelps; nor would I. That's your own creation.

Ben said...

[Personal opinions] "get thrown around way too easily on blogs."

Carrying on the esteemed tradition begun in pulpits, no doubt.

So are you suggesting Doran and Minnick would affirm Phelps' statement about the uniquely precarious nature of the resurgence of Reformed, Calvinistic thought? Now that is a thing I'd be curious to see.

Kent McCune said...

Ben --- Don't put words in my mouth.

You referenced David's speculation about Doran and Minnick not representing the majority of fundamentalism. Then you asked a general question which created an artificial divide between Phelps and Doran/Minnick. I responded to that general question. I'm not "suggesting" anything else.

Doran and Minnick can speak for themselves about the specific issue of Phelps' letter.

Ben said...


I have no desire to drag this out, but your last comment is simply preposterous.

Here's what you said:
"And FWIW, I don't think Doran or Minnick would recognize any "divide" with Phelps; nor would I. That's your own creation."

And here's what I asked:
"So are you suggesting Doran and Minnick would affirm Phelps' statement about the uniquely precarious nature of the resurgence of Reformed, Calvinistic thought?"

So please tell me how my question about your assertion is putting words in someone's mouth.

You absolutely put words in their mouth, at the very least ideas in their head. So back up your words or walk away from them. Your call.

Kent McCune said...

Come on, Ben. You're starting to sound like a fighting fundy. "Back up your words or walk away" ??? What is this a rumble after school? All we need to do now is start snapping our fingers and take menacing but choreographed steps toward each other... :-) My gang will be the Fundy Jets and yours will be the Paleo Sharks. :-)

OK. I'll try to be more clear: Five comments ago, you "divided" Phelps from Doran/Minnick in relation to a comment by David about fundamentalism IN GENERAL (sorry, not shouting; just don't know how to do italics). I said I did not think Doran or Minnick would recognize any divide with Phelps -- meaning within the greater/general fundamentalist context.

You then took that comment of mine and asked if I was suggesting that Doran and Minnich would affirm the contents of Phelps' letter. This was where I believe you were putting words in my mouth. I was commenting about Phelps-Doran-Minnich within the context of the general fundamentalist milieu. You turned it around into me suggesting D-M affirmation of P's letter -- a SPECIFIC situation.

I do not presume to speak to their thoughts about the specific issue of that letter. But knowing both men fairly well, I do not think that one letter would be enough to create a divide between them and Phelps WITHIN THE LARGER FUNDAMENTALIST MINISTRY CONTEXT (again, forgive the caps; I'm not shouting). That would be silly.

Is that clear enough? Can I walk home now or do I need to call my big brother?... :-)

Ben said...

Don't make this into a schoolyard, Kent. It's no shame to expect people to stand by what they say. And don't misquote me. I told you to back up your words or walk away from them. I'm not challenging you to put up your dukes or walk away. Please.

And I simply don't understand how I can be putting words in your mouth to ask if you think Doran and Minnick would affirm the contents of Phelps' letter. All I asked for is a clarification. A simple answer to the question would suffice far more adequately than an accusation.

And now you've offered that clarification, so I'll simply reply with two quick points. First, the vast difference between Doran/Minnick and Phelps in their pattern of rhetoric reveals a clear difference, in my opinion. Second, time will tell how the larger fundamentalist ministry context shakes out. I'm glad those of us with more of an "Anabaptist attitude" don't have much riding on it.

Kent McCune said...

Well, my attempt at humor obviously fell flat (West Side Story, my big brother, smiley faces, etc.). But calling my statements "simply preposterous" and challenging me to "back up my words or walk away from them" is a little over the top even for internet blog standards, don't you think? Peace.

PuritanReformed said...


P.S. You can get the whole MP3 without registration at