Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Can We Be Together for the Gospel with Fundamentalists? (Part 1): Why Are the Young Guys Leaving?

I’ve heard more than a few explanations for why so many younger men (and let's not forget the women) are distancing themselves from fundamentalism and embracing conservative evangelicals. Here are a few:
  • Lust for status or academic respect
  • Rebellion
  • Itch to participate in worldly activities (rock music, movies, alcohol)
  • Rejection of dispensationalism
  • Frustration with what fundamentalism has tolerated (appalling preaching, bad conduct, hypocritical leaders, anti-intellectualism)
  • Disgust with legalism
  • Impatience waiting for leadership
  • Desire for mentoring
  • Impulse to be part of something bigger
People who move away from fundamentalism aren’t monolithic. They have different theologies. Different priorities. Different opinions. Different idols. (Yes, we all have them.) So I’m guessing that all of these reasons that have been proposed are true, though certainly not all for every single person. I’m guessing there are many more I haven’t listed. I’m guessing that most people in this group have been influenced by more than one of the items on this list. I’m convinced that many of these reasons overlap. And I certainly don't claim to speak for everyone.

But there’s another factor that I’m not sure I’ve ever heard anyone mention publicly. I’m persuaded that it’s a significant factor, at least for some. And if it’s a legitimate basis for walking away from fundamentalism, even for one person, then it ought to provoke some serious soul-searching, particularly among people who are committed to the fundamentalist idea and who believe that the residue of the fundamentalist movement best preserves that idea.

That factor—that factor to which some people are so committed that they’ve grown disillusioned with the fundamentalist movement . . . the factor that has led them to build bridges to other partnerships, coalitions and affiliations . . . that factor is the gospel.

In other words, some young people are leaving fundamentalism for the sake of the gospel. Some young people think they’ve found a more biblically faithful articulation and practice outside the residue of the fundamentalist movement. Some young people think that people who really care about the gospel will talk more about the gospel than fundamentalism or separation (or anything else).

You might not like it. You might disagree with the facts. You might question their judgment or their priorities. But you’d be wrong to deny the reality of their convictions.

In Part 2: "The Logic of Fundamentalism: Presuppositions," I hope to explain how separatist theology creates a formidable standard for its own advocates.

26 comments:

Kent Brandenburg said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kent Brandenburg said...

Separation is the gospel: separation from sin, separation from sin's punishment, from sin's power, and in the future from sin's presence. He saved us from sin. The gospel separates us unto Jesus. Children of darkness are separated unto the light. Look at the relationship of the gospel to separation in 2 Cor 6:14-7:1. He is not the Father and they are not His sons and daughters if they do not come out from among them and be separate. The gospel separates us unto a new vocation (Eph 4:1), a new song (Psalm 40:1-3), old things passed away and all things become new. A gospel without separation isn't the gospel.

Romans 6:7 For he that is dead is freed from sin.
Romans 6:18 Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness.
Romans 6:22 But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life.

You are separated from your old master for a new Master.

You have put off the old man and his deeds.

You can't be a greater advocate of the gospel and not be a biblical separatist. You don't love the gospel more when you are not a biblical separatist.

d4v34x said...

Brother Brandenburg, It appears to me that you equ(ivoc)ate translation (from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light), regeneration, transformation, and separation. I don't think its Bbiblical to say that the former are exactly the same as the latter, but I don't want to get ahead of Ben. :^)

David

tenjuices said...

Another reason why so many young men are distancing themselves from fundamentalism and embracing conservative evangelicalism is the seductive lure of blogging.

Ben said...

Kent,

The man with the cryptic screen name has made my point, so I'll add very little. Here it is:

What you claim to be the gospel is either gross reductionism or eisegesis. I'm not sure yet. In any case, thanks for illustrating my point.

Tenjuices,

Are your initials, by any chance, J.S.?

MDSF said...

I sort of fit into the category you're describing: I grew up in Bob Jones and Jack Hyles churches, but later my family more or less followed Jerry Falwell out of fundamentalism toward what was then a fairly conservative evangelicalism.

I've been grappling with the question of what, exactly, we did, and how we changed. I found a pretty good definition of fundamentalism in Mark Dalhouse's book on Bob Jones University: he described it as revivalism, holiness, dispensationalism, and separatism. I guess the corresponding definition of conservative evangelicalism as being fundamentalism minus separatism. Or maybe fundamentalism minus authoritarian separatism.

I have to make this last distinction because it isn't the separatism itself that put us off, but rather its authoritarian aspects: the ways in which we separated ourselves seemed to be arbitrary and established by an authority figure who eventually proved unworthy of deciding what would be our distinctives.

In our case, it seemed arbitrary that one man would be ineligible for leadership because he was divorced and remarried, while another was eligible for leadership when his son had fathered a child out of wedlock; both men's houses were out of order, but because one of them was a pastor he got a pass.

So I'd have to argue in our case the problem has nothing to do with the gospel, and everything to do with authority, who has it, and what it entitles them to.

Please forgive me if I've missed your point altogether.

Paul said...

There is no question that you are onto something here. I am glad you have brought this up.

To a large degree, it seems to me that the fundamentalist movement has elevated (unintentionally I think) other things above the gospel resulting in a very sad irony--a theology and view of the Christian life which at various points directly opposes the fundamental truths of the gospel. This looks to be where you are headed; I look forward to next post.

Nothing should be more attractive to a Christian than the glorious, gospel of Jesus Christ. So when people (young or old) see a place where this saving message is not being assumed, marginalized, and distorted but elevated to the place of "first importance" it must have, not only in their justification but in their sanctification, that is where they will want to be, regardless of labels, circles, associations etc.

And Kent, separation as seen and practiced within fundamentalism is NOT the gospel (this confusion is deadly), and the effects of emphasizing the gospel of separation over the gospel of Jesus Christ have been devestating, the least of which is a few guys climbing over the wall.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Ben,

I'm not greatly concerned whether men leave fundamentalism. I'm talking about the relationship of separation and the gospel. We can go with "gross reductionism" between the two options in your comment, which ironically is a gross reduction. Gross reduction, meet an even more gross reduction. Your "makes-my-point-for-me" comment is a very fundamentalist style comment from my experience---no due process, no exegesis, caustic, the kind of comment that drives young fundamentalists away. ;-)

Paul,

I agree that fundamentalist movement separation does not equal separation. I never said that myself, but I agree with you. However, separation itself moves out of the gospel. The separation we practice comes from the gospel. I'll await Ben's next post to see if I think he has it right. This is a big topic with him and I expect his A game.

Ryan said...

Ben,

I understand what you are saying. There is within many whom we might call conservative evangelicals a fresh and eloquent proclamation and definition of the gospel. Many of them understand it, define it, and proclaim it much better than many modern day fundies (or even their famous/infamous predecessors). I get that, and to a degree, I understand and can sympathize with those that leave fundamentalism because of it. Shame on most of us for being so lacking in this.

But what I believe Kent is trying to say, and others have said as well is that it is the gospel itself that necessitates a more seperatistic stand than most of these conservative evangelicals are willing to take. For the gospel must not only be understood well, defined well, believed, and proclaimed well, it must also be defended. And while many C.E.'s do defend it on some level, many are failing in an alarming fashion. I think the recent Manhattan Declaration proves this. No matter how eloquently one might define and proclaim the gospel, such a document necessarily is in itself a sort of definition of the gospel which is disturbingly unbiblical.

Yes, many on the other side of the fence from me have a profound grasp on the gospel, and their passion for it and clear preaching of it inspires and challenges me. I seek to learn much from them about the implications of the gospel and its meaning and significance. I try to pattern my gospel preaching to some degree after that which I see as a wise and godly example in their gospel preaching. But it is the gospel itself and its defense that keeps me from walking completely away from that element of fundamentalism which I see as being still viable and healthy (small a segment as that may be).

Joel said...

I think Kent Brandenburg's attitude adds a lot to your point, especially since you've only put part one of your whole argument up.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Cryptic Joel,

What is my attitude? And how has it added to Ben's point? Maybe you could be a generous, non-fundamentalistic person and explain that to me, because this drive-by, potshot style of commentary reminds me of why men leave fundamentalism.

Ben,

I was meditating on the word "forgiveness" today and its relation to separation as well. We who were separated from God by sin were separated from sin by God. My sins have been separated from me as far as the east is from the west. My sins have been nailed to the cross. And I have been separated from the hand of the evil one.

D4,

It depends on what you believe about sanctification. I believe that Scripture shows sanctification to proceed from justification. God keeps saving me, that is separating me from sin. His work on the cross has forever sanctified me, separated me unto Him.

I'm open to someone to show me how this is eisegesis. Or you can take potshots. Should I see this as the new and improved, conservative evangelical way?

Ben said...

Ryan,

I agree with everything you say, except that I'm not convinced what you're saying is what Kent is saying. Separation is not the quintessential image that defines all the gospel is and does. His evidence is selective and strained at best.

Also, what I'm NOT doing here is arguing that conservative evangelicalism is some across-the-board, unmitigated utopia. I've been very clear that I believe the MD is a disaster, and it displays a profound error in judgment.

Rather, my argument is that some people think that in some places (and it's not entirely about places . . . more on that later) they've found greater fidelity to the gospel than they've found in the fundamentalist movement. That includes articulating the gospel, believing the gospel, proclaiming the gospel, and yes, defending the gospel.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Ben,

OK, selective and strained. Not quintessential. (Written to Ryan about what I said, not to me about what I said) I didn't say that the gospel is only separation, but that it is separation. My evidence for that you said is selective and strained. I can keep going.

What is holiness? Separation. Conduct that becomes the gospel of God. What is it? Separated. How did God save Noah and His family? He separated them from the world on the ark, and they were saved from the world by water. Moses asked, "Who is on the Lord's side?" Not separating from the wrong side resulted in destruction. Separation of the sheep from the goats. To enter into His rest, you must separate from your own labors. You can't separate separation from salvation. No one said it was quintessential, the perfect embodiment of the gospel. However, if you remove separation from the gospel, you do not have the gospel any longer.

d4v34x said...

Brother Brandenburg,

Had you said that regeneration works itself out in Biblical separation, or even started out with your statement about the "relationship between the gospel and separation" I would likely have had no problem with what you said (although we might have disagreed over some particulars of what Biblical separation extends to).
However you said, "Separation *is* the gospel." (emphasis mine) Since separation neither regenerates nor neccasarily even sanctifies (c.f. with monestary/nunnery life or any of the famous "pole-sitters") I do take issue with proposition and some of the attempts to explain/nuance it that follows. Positional sanctification in being set apart to God in Christ has to be worked out practically. The testimony of David in Psalm 40 (which is descriptive, by the way, not prescriptive) is primarily about transformation, which will absolutely result in some separation but is not in itself separation.

I think these distinctions are important because otherwise these words/concepts become interchangeable and amorphous. I think we all agree they are related. I even think we agree that the gospel is essential to (dare I say the epicenter of?) sanctification.

Kent Brandenburg said...

D4,

I pretty well qualified my statement with my explanation, IMO. I recognize that the statement was a little shocking, but I said it that way and have said it that way to make the point. And it is truly intentionally reductionistic. Jesus' death, burial, and resurrection is separation to us positionally and practically. My comment was a bow shot at the most. We'll see what Ben has to say in his little series here.

James Kime said...

Kent, so far you have typed about 1000 words on this blog post. 437 of them are the word separation. Easy my man. You might find the word tickles you or easy to type, but back off the "S" key on your keyboard for a minute.

Your attempts to define the gospel down to separation demonstrates the emphasis that I believe Ben is talking about. Salvation first and foremost is not about separation from your sin.

Romans 10:13
Whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

The context in Joel and Romans is from God's wrath. Articulate that point some maybe.

Not a single person said separation is not included or part of the gospel. Your claim that it IS the gospel though is incomplete at best.

Kent Brandenburg said...

James,

I think you can, in one sense, define the gospel down to the "s" word.

I've been reading Ben here. He produces a blog that someone like me likes to read---what does that say about either of us? Ben might have to deal with it. Ben has gone the direction of assering that some emphasis on the "s" word is also some kind of taking away from the gospel. I'm saying that it isn't in anticipation of an even fuller presentation from Ben on how it is.

In response to your concern for my well-being though, James, I am taking it easy here. His yoke is easy and His burden is light.

Ryan said...

Ben,

Perhaps I misread Kent... actually I did misread him. We're not quite saying the same thing.

Glad you agree with me. :)

I understand your point. I would agree that many within certain elements of what is considered conservative evangelicalism there are those who do defend the gospel more faithfully than some of their fundamentalist counterparts.

I guess what I would say however is that most of them still do not employ any kind of consistent separation which I would see as a necessary element in faithful defense of the gospel. (Granted many who wear the label Fundamentalist don't either, which is your point I think) These non-fundamentalists defend the gospel through declaring it clearly, but many (not all) don't also separate from those who deny it or compromise it.

I understand your overall point Ben. I imagine it isn't that far from your own experience. I don't think we are actually too far from each other at all theologically or practically. I have known many of my friends leave fundamentalism for just such a reason (perhaps combined with some of the others you mentioned). My point is that for the time being, I find for myself it better to remain in fundamentalism and endeavor to preach a better gospel, understand it more clearly with all its significance and implications, and fully defend it. I do find that many with in C.E. land do an amazing job of preaching the gospel, for that I am thankful. I read many of their books and listen to them preach. I try to glean what I can from them, and as I said earlier, imitate to some degree elements or methods of their gospel proclamation that I find biblically faithful and effective. I just feel that the separatism that most of the C.E. movement rejects is a vital aspect of defending the gospel. I have always thought that for most of C.E.ism defending the gospel essentially equals writing a book or article pointing out the error of gospel deniers and nothing more. So Piper can write and preach powerfully about the dangers of Open Theism, but he won't actually separate from those who teach it. I know that is perhaps a tired and overused example, but I have found it to be quite illustrative of evangelicalism's strategy for defending the gospel. And their defense is pretty good, Piper's book on Open Theism is a good one, his sermons against it are powerful. I just don't think that is going far enough. I think that the NT demands more.

P.S. Don't know if you heard Dr. Snoeberger's recent MACP lecture about "who needs fundamentalism when we have T4G and the gospel coalition" (http://dbts.edu/mp3/macp/2009/09MAS01.mp3)

It has some very thought provoking points regarding this discussion.

Ben said...

Kent,

At no point in this post or the comments have I said the first thing about separation. In fact, to my shame, I foolishly left it out of my reasons why guys are perceived to have left, when it's obviously one of the significant complaints. That's how little I was thinking about separation as I was shaping my point.

And I'll wager that if you surveyed all my blogging since I started in 2005, you'd find that seldom (if ever) is my complaint that separation has been practiced; rather, it's usually that people who think they're practicing separation biblically are actually practicing it selectively.

Ryan,

I hate to ignore your comments, but I think I'll address much of them later in the series.

Kent Brandenburg said...

My apologies then, Ben, for jumping ahead in the conversation. :-) I'll wait to see what you have to say.

Ben said...

Kent,

No worries, and I made an error in my last comment. I did mention separation in my original post. I intended to comment that I "haven't said the first negative thing about separation.

Jason said...

For what it's worth, that is exactly the issue that drives me to the edges of the Fundamentalist movement.

I am convinced that the gospel itself was at stake in the decisions I had to make.

Reforming Baptist said...

"Separation is the gospel"
That is a distortion. No, God IS the gospel: We are invited into his fellowship, we are washed by His blood, we are a love gift from the Father to the Son so that He can have preeminence in all things and when all things have been subdued by the Son, He will present them back to the One who subjected all things under Him so that God will be all in all.

That is a God-centered gospel, unlike the man centered gospel that makes the big stuff about me separating from sin, my sing being cleasned , my punishment being taken away, my going to heaven and not hell, me me me me me. Legalism.

Sure, separation is a natural outgrowth of the gospel because you can't repent and believe if you don't separate from something to another. But to call THAT 'the gospel' isn't as good of news as the other that I mentioned above.

Ben, yes! You are spot on. Fundamentalism of the stripe I came from at least, has abandoned the gospel and taught a moralism and religious system that is not powered by the gospel. That's why I left that camp. Although there are guys in the FBF that I have met who have a much purer understanding of the gospel, so I still have my attachments with them.

Kent Brandenburg said...

William,

If you read all my comments, I agreed that statement was a blatant reduction that simply says that you can't separate separation from the gospel. You've read me enough to know that I am 180 degrees away from a man-centered presentation. I think if we talked about this in person, you would find that I'm less of that than you are. However, separation from sin---which includes forgiveness---is not mainly about man, but about God, Who is holy. Separation itself is not something, I think, that most associate with self-gratification. My point, which I think was obvious, was that biblical separation doesn't diminish the gospel at all. Ben actually agreed with that idea.

Anonymous said...

For some fun Google "Famous Rapture Watchers - Addendum" and "Pretrib Rapture - Hidden Facts" and "Pretrib Rapture Dishonesty." Jim

AJ said...

Still waiting for that next post (part 2), Ben.

Oh, and another of those various reasons you posted could be "getting kicked out of fundamentalism." :)