Saturday, January 16, 2010

More Speculative Dispensationalist Dogmatism or Mark Dever, the Bully?

I'm close to wrapping up my trip through the audio of the 2009 Mid-American Conference on Preaching, hosted by Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary. The discussion sessions, in particular, are worth a listen. (The gist of the general sessions are more accessible on Dave Doran's blog.) The conference raised numerous issues that are worth further conversation; one of them is a bit of a rabbit trail, so I'll get it out of the way first.

Mark Snoeberger, DBTS professor and library director, argues in his workshop session, "Who Needs Fundamentalism When We Have T4G and TGC? A Continuing Fundamentalist Raison d’ĂȘtre," that Mark Dever is a bully. Seriously. Concerning Dever's statement last July that a pastor is in sin if he leads his congregation to have a statement of faith that requires a particular millennial view, Snoeberger asserts:
[Dever's] statement is emblematic of the impulse to bully fundamentalism and conservative evangelicalism into reunification, and, I think, one that ignores the roots of the original breach.
I don't know if Snoeberger would likewise consider John MacArthur's talk at the 2007 Shepherds' Conference, "Why Every Self-Respecting Calvinist Ought to Be a Premillennialist," to be bullying. I do feel pretty confident about two things:

1. No one who was present when Dever spoke those words thought he was speaking hyperbolically, as Snoeberger implies he might have been.

2. Snoeberger offers no evidence whatsoever for his dogmatic assessment of Dever's motive.

32 comments:

Anonymous said...

Ah yes, it's "those guys" who are the bullies. Somehow, I and most others outside the "camp" have seen it the exact opposite way. It's a funny world, ain't it?

Keith

James Kime said...

Ben, were you present when Dever made the original statement?

Do you have inside knowledge as to why he said it?

I can't remember if you were still working there at the time or not.

Ben said...

James,

1. Yes. 2. I don't have a sound bite for you, though I'm sure there was conversation about it. I certainly won't attempt to tell you what Dever would say. I can tell you why I agree with him though:

First, churches are displays of the glory of God. God intends for them to take people who have essentially nothing common other than the gospel (and maybe geography) and bring them together as a body, a building, a family, and a bride. Second, on the basis of all that, I see it as a grave offense to prohibit unity among believers unnecessarily. Third, sometimes it is necessary. Finally, no one that I've read or heard has offered anything remotely approaching a convincing reason why churches need to exclude people because of their millennial views. In other words, I know of no reason believers with differing views cannot function side-by-side in a church.

James Kime said...

Okay, I thought you were there. My follow up question then is why Dever chooses the "christian sabbath" as a statement of faith for the church to hold to. Would it not also be sin to require that? I can find the millennium in Rev 20. I can't find anything anywhere about a christian sabbath day. I can point to passage after passage that opposes it though.

When Paul charged Timothy that they teach no other doctrine, or when he did not shrink back from declaring the whole counsel of God, would that not include eschatology?

When Paul said that we were to preserve unity (and not create it) in Eph 4, doesn't that imply that there is a body of truth that others have splintered from?

Amills are the splinter group. Premills are not splintering the church by insisting on premill theology. It was the amills who did not accept the truth. If the unity of the church is a goal, then we should be admonishing amills back to the truth, not agreeing that it is an issue that is essentially irrelevant.

Dever has no biblical right to pick and choose which doctrines the church must hold to. He is random and inconsistent.

Ben said...

James,

1. I'm not going to carry on a long debate over issues that aren't the topic of the post. If you want to offer evidence for how Dever is a bully, have at it.

2. CHBC doesn't follow the 1853 wording for the NHC. Feel free to review the revision posted on the website. That revision demands nothing other than clear biblical obligations the NT places upon believers for faithful participation in a local church.

3. Yes, the whole counsel does include eschatology, but it doesn't imply that Scripture teaches everything about the last things. Clearly, it doesn't. It's entirely possible that people believe it teaches things that it doesn't really teach, regardless of whether those (speculative) conclusions are true.

Now, I happen to believe that Scripture does affirm premillennialism, so that doesn't entirely clear up the matter. But I doubt that even you would argue that all members of a church ought to believe the same thing on all matters of doctrine. That's completely implausible. If we need to agree completely on the "whole counsel," then whom (besides perhaps your wife) is one other person that you could join a church with? Unanimity isn't the threshold for membership. It can't be. Instead, we need to answer the question, "What must we have in common to function together as a church?" I'm still awaiting someone who can make that case for his premillennial views. I've found precious few who are willing to try.

Jeff said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jeff said...

Ya gotta love rhetoric. Its hard not to overstate your case when making a simple point. I work with students in papers to be careful in choosing words--words carry nuances that mean different things to different people.

For Dever to call a statement on millennialism "sin" and for Snoeberger to suggest in doing so he is bullying fundamentalism . . . well they are both rhetorical excesses and downright STUPID. Ooops, there I go too much rhetoric! Oh well!

John said...

Ben,

A church may define itself as premillennial as surely as it may define itself as Baptist or Presbyterian or Free Will or whatever. If a church believes that embracing amillennialism is a sin, then they have the right to say that people holding to amillennialism may not become members of their local assembly. Or to put it another way, if a church believes that amillennialism is a serious theological error, they have the right to say that people holding to this aberrant teaching may not join the church.

I don't know about Dever's motives, but I believe he was wrong when he said pastors are sinning by leading their congregations to adopt what amounts to a clear statement of faith. Millennial views do matter even if they don't matter much to Dever.

Ben said...

John,

I appreciate your comments, though we obviously disagree fundamentally on ecclesiology. So I'd agree with you that churches need to be divided over regenerate church membership and (some aspects of) soteriology (as in the cases you've identified). Those matters are foundational to what a church is and how it functions.

But I'm still awaiting some sort of explanation for how millennial views rise to that level of what a church is and how it functions. You can stipulate that amillennialism is serious error all you want, but you haven't given me an argument for how it affects what a church is or how it functions.

I've at least attempted to propose an argument for why creating division over millennialism is sin—a serious theological error, if you will. So far, you've merely asserted it.

Ben said...

Couple more things. First, churches obviously have the right to exclude people over premillennialism. I'm arguing that they're wrong to do so.

Second, I will delete further comments that do not either address the point of the post OR give some explanation for how millennial views rise to the level of doctrinal disagreements (since there are many) that demand exclusion from church membership.

I've asked for that many times. I'll keep on asking.

James Kime said...

Dever is a well respected pastor with a ministry (9marks) that alot of other pastors respect, learn from, and even try to copy. I do not like the term that he is a bully. He is simply using his position to influence others. If he said the reverse that you must be premill or you are in sin, alot of us premills would champion that and applaud him.

My point isn't that he is a bully but that he is random. Baptism isn't the same thing as the millennium issue because a right view of baptism actually is part of the church's definition.

I would not say you remove people who come into the church and just don't know. That falls into the teaching aspect of the people. I would not want convinced amills though. They would feel uncomfortable (and rightly so).

As far as eschatology being such a point of division, we all have to draw some kind of line for eschatology. Christ returns, he wins, we win, we get raised in the end, satan gets punished with the rest of the wicked. That is pretty basic that I think Christians hold to. However, the NT says so much about eschatology. I find the millennium to be a good point of division. The millennium is actually in the scripture. As much as I am pretrib, it is a reasoned position based on other conclusions.

John said...

Ben,

You said that "I've at least attempted to propose an argument for why creating division over millennialism is sin." I wonder, Ben, who has actually created the division here? Is it the church who holds firmly to biblical doctrine or the person who has embraced doctrinal error? I would argue that the person who has embraced doctrinal error has actually provided the occasion for the division. And your statement above echoes what people have always said about those who have tried to defend the truth. Namely, those who have pleaded for toleration of error have accused the defenders of truth of causing division.

For the moment I'll posit your assumption that a church should only define itself in relationship to matters that are foundational to what a church is and how it functions. Perhaps eschatology and the hermeneutical differences which lead to different millennial views actually do touch on these issues. For example, an amillennial church will usually see itself as the new Israel while a dispensational premillennial church will not. In other words, the two groups will disagree to some extent about what the church is. Further, an amillennial church will usually view the believer's relationship to the OT law differently than a dispensational premillennial church will. The same goes for the church's relationship to the kingdom. It seems to me that differences over a believer's relationship to the law and the church's relationship to the kingdom will impact how a church functions.

Jason said...

John-
You said...
It seems to me that differences over a believer's relationship to the law and the church's relationship to the kingdom will impact how a church functions.

I have heard this from a lot of premill guys, but I have never been given specifics... if you don't mind, I would appreciate some further detail... specifically how will an amill and premill church function differently because of their differing escatological views?

Mark Snoeberger said...

Hi Ben, Mark Snoeberger here. Thanks for taking the time to interact with my presentation. It's good to hear constructive feedback. A couple of things in response:

(1) The reason I raised the possibility that Pastor Dever was speaking hyperbolically was actually a matter of deference. I realize that language is a slippery thing, and his statement that I and a great many of my friends were sinning might be a overstatement for effect. If so, then I had no problem with what he said, and I wanted at least to give him that courtesy of that possibility.

(2) As to the motive, he seemed to be pretty clear. He thinks that to separate over millennial issues is sin and wants to confront people who commit this sin. I think that failing to separate (at least at some level) over millennial issues is unwise (I'll stop short of calling it "sin") and find those who accuse me of sinning on this issue to be overreaching.

I am not a separatist because I hate church unity. I am a separatist because I love the gospel. And the little bit of research I have done especially in turn-of-the-century missiology and ecclesiology has led me to the conclusion that the embrace of postmillennialism was instrumental in diluting the gospel. And this concerns me enough to caution against unqualified unity with postmillennialists.

(3) Perhaps trading jabs of "sinner" and "bully" are juvenile. I'll concede that. They are incendiary. And I'll agree that MacArthur's "self-respecting Calvinist" comment was likewise incendiary. No problem there. But, Ben, what humors me here is that I've taken a page from your own book on this. You have (rightly, in many cases) taken umbrage with oppressive, accusatory, bullying fundamentalists who see sin where there is no sin. That's all I'm doing.

(4) I have no personal angst with Mark Dever. I sat under him for some class blocks at Southern Seminary with great profit. I assign his books in my classes. I find him to be a likable, earnest Christian gentleman and scholar with some outstanding ideas. So let me be clear that I do not find him to be a bully, only that I found this particular comment to be a bullying comment.

Hopefully this has been helpful in qualifying my comments.

MAS

John said...

Jason,

A church's understanding of the kingdom will logically impact its understanding of social action. Although they were not the first, Ladd and Henry (nondisp premills) both argued that because the kingdom is not wholly future, the church must be involved in a worldwide social program. Ladd did more to lay the theological foundation for this idea within conservative circles (esp. in his Presence of the Future). But Henry fleshed the ideas out more eloquently in his book The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism wherein he called upon the church to "recapture its rightful leadership in pressing for a new world order" and to "project a solution for the most pressing world problems" whether these problems were political, economic, sociological, or educational. If one takes Henry seriously, which they should, the result is a far cry from a gospel-centered church that recognizes the kingdom as wholly future.

If you are not familiar with Henry's book, you may want to read it and think about the implications of what Henry says and how his ideas would impact the primary functions of the church. And then look at modern evangelicalism. It has happened.

Thankfully, some churches that see the kingdom as partially realized in the present age do not follow the implications of that idea to their logical end. But they have embraced an idea which has significant ramifications for how a church should function and what its priorities should be.

Probably needless to say, postmillennialism would tend to create even more differences with regard what a church's main objectives should be.

Similarly, differences over whether or not believers are responsible to keep some parts of the OT law impact church life and discipline. But my guess is that you were asking about the kingdom part of the statement.

Ben said...

James wrote:
"Baptism isn't the same thing as the millennium issue because a right view of baptism actually is part of the church's definition."

That's really close to my point. You go on to talk about the basics of Christ's return and final victory. That, in my view, is inextricably tied to the gospel. But premils and amils have no argument on those points. But the precise nature and timing of the Millennium is not. And as you point out, it has not historically been considered so.

Two quick points: 1. I think your recognition that "someone who comes into the church and just doesn't know" shouldn't be removed betrays the weakness of your position. Baptists, as congregationalists, can't afford to open membership to people who can't affirm the irreducible minimum of what members must hold in common to function as a church (i.e. the statement of faith).

2. The NT teaches lots of things that we don't include in statements of faith.

Ben said...

John,

1. I have yet to meet two believers who hold precisely the same doctrine on every point. I think that means we're all in error in one way or another. Unless one of us has it all figured out, I suppose. In either case, following your reasoning, no church could ever exist because no two people agree on every point. I addressed that in comments above to James.

2. When you talk about social action and other proposed implications of different millennial views, you're talking about things that may or may not be real outcomes. I might argue that dispensationalism leads people to deny that NT believers are Abraham's children. Such dispensationalists are clearly in conflict with biblical texts. But that doesn't mean all dispensationalist hold that error or that I couldn't be in a church with them. Having been a part of two churches now with some amillennial elders, both of which are staunchly opposed to social action as the mission of the church, I just don't see how your argument holds water.

Ben said...

Mark,

Some hopefully brief responses:

1. Thanks for the clarification. My purpose was to be clear that I didn't take it as hyperbole. I've never known him to thrown warnings of sin around in a cavalier manner.

2. I think you've summarized the differences well, though I'm not sure I've heard the case that postmillennialism was causal of liberalism rather than merely correlative. Something else might have cause both, but that's a longer conversation. In any case, would you not agree that there are postmillennials who have not fallen into liberalism?

3. I'm happy for you to call a jab of "bully" juvenile, but I wouldn't reduce a warning of sin to be a juvenile jab. Calling both rhetoric, as Jeff has, may offer a convenient out for both sides, but it's not an out I want to take.

I appreciate your sense of irony at my stance, as I appreciate Keith's (top post) at fundamentalists accusing others of bullying. But what I want to ask you is, would you consider it sin to unjustifiably exclude believers from churches? It seems to me that's where our conversation needs to start.

4. Thanks for this clarification as well.

Mark Snoeberger said...

Thanks for your reply. I think we're reduced to points 2 and 3 as meaningful and worthy points of discussion. Yes, I do believe that unjustifiably excluding believers from membership in church is wrong. And that, apparently, is where our tension lies. Dr. Dever thinks that it is unjustifiable to exclude believers from membership on the basis of disparate millennial views. My understanding is that ambivalence on this issue has the potential to so undermine the gospel that justification exists for such an exclusion.

Granted, there are some postmillennialists who have not denied the gospel or slipped into liberalism. But that does not seem to make your case as absolutely as you seem to think. The same can be said of paedobaptists, Arminians, non-Sabbatarians. But if you not a credo-baptist, at least some form of Calvinist, and some form of Sabbatarian, you cannot fully embrace the doctrinal statement of Capitol Hill Baptist Church, and can apparently therefore be denied membership. The leadership of that church have decided that deviance on these points threatens something--ecclesiastical unity, the gospel, or something else. And so they demand agreement on these issues in order to membership.

I applaud this, because as a Baptist church they have the right to identify threats to the gospel and to the church and to establish bounds for church membership accordingly. Since I am not a Sabbatarian I could not sign their doctrinal statement or join their church. But this church has established what they believe to be necessary boundaries for fellowship, and I honor this right irrespective of my agreement with the details of these boundaries.

I certainly don't think I will try to change their collective minds by publically announcing that they are in sin.

MAS

James Kime said...

When I was talking about not turning away people who hold to opposing theological positions, well that includes quite a variety of people: new believers, believers who are confused, etc. That is where the church must take seriously its role to teach them the truth. As they grow and learn, they will embrace the truth (even about the millennium). What value is there in taking a new believer and making him agree to a document he knows nothing about?

I must be missing something how that is inconsistent with what I have been saying about this.

Anonymous said...

Not trying to be rude or flippant, but you guys are all making a great case for presbyterian church government.

As you say, Ben, "Baptists, as congregationalists, can't afford to open membership to people who can't affirm the irreducible minimum of what members must hold in common to function as a church (i.e. the statement of faith)."

But,you see, presbyterians can! Our members must merely be baptized (paedo's good, but credo baptism is just fine if that's all ya got) believers with a credible profession of faith. They can have whatever view they want about all sorts of stuff (baptism, millenium, sabbath, etc.).

The only folks who need to affirm our denominational distinctives are the elders (presbyters).

But guys, come on, I can forgive Jonathan Edwards his congregationalism, why can't you forgive him his postmillenialism?

Keith

Ben said...

Keith, well played.

I think the upshot is that you and can consider each other to be in sin and yet could still find grounds for some levels of fellowship and cooperation. Meanwhile, we fundamental Baptists seem compelled to de-sin sin so we're not trapped in a death spiral of separation. And Ironic that, in my view, your understanding of congregationalism is more consistent than Baptists'.

Ben said...

Mark,

I agree on the points of tension.

We may be talking past each other on postmillennialism. I'm not sure. It seemed to me as though your first comment argued that millennial views are justifiable grounds for exclusion because they undermine the gospel. I offered a counter-argument for why that is not necessarily true, which you seem to concede. So shouldn't we be setting the boundaries for membership where the actual problem is?

That's actually where the NHC draws the line on the other issues—the bare bones of what members must hold in common to function as a church (baptism, soteriology). And as I noted above, I don't think the CHBC modified version of the statement on the Christian Sabbath is sabbatarian, following the normal usage of that term.

James Kime said...

Regarding the sabbath issue, it again points to the randomness of Dever's claim. The only thing different from the NHBC and the CHBC is the phrase "by abstaining from all secular labor and sinful recreations".

What is so strange about this is that Paul actually points to this exact issue in Romans 14 and Colossians 2 (and Galatians). He concludes that the brothers have freedom to choose.

John though gave no such freedom on the millennium. There was one view of it, not many legitimate.

Capital Hill is in sin by requiring its own members to hold to a position that is consistent with covenantalism but not the NT. That is the real sin.

Anonymous said...

It's stuff like this that seems like bullying to me:

"John though gave no such freedom on the millennium. There was one view of it, not many legitimate.

Capital Hill is in sin by requiring its own members to hold to a position that is consistent with covenantalism but not the NT. That is the real sin."

Of course John describes one view of the millenium. The debate is about what that one view is. And, it is certainly not as obviously clear as you imply -- otherwise we wouldn't have godly and learned men who believe John's writing to be God's very word concluding different things on the matter. Same goes for sabbatarianism.

I'm not terribly godly or learned, but I believe it is the very word of God, and I see absolutely nothing of dispensational premillenialism in John. Furthermore, while I think plenty of people have abused sabbatarianism and applied it in ways that violate certain NT passages, it seems as clear as the nose on my face (which is large) that God's character is reflected in the sabbath, the sabbath was a creation (pre fall) mandate, the sabbath is in the Moral Law (which cannot save but which guides the saved), and the sabbath (moved to resurrection day) was observed by God's people following the resurrection.

If we're going to throw around absolute statements: covenantalism is the NT teaching.

Keith

James Kime said...

I have maintained that Dever is not a bully, just random. It is random to pick the "christian sabbath" as a requirement for the membership but not any concrete eschatology.

Keith, here are the verses I was talking about.

Romans 14:5-6a
One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord.

Colossians 2:16-17
Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.

Keith, you admit that there was one correct view. Are you unsure what that view was?

Anonymous said...

I know what I believe on these matters. That's different from saying the Bible is so clear that it is impossible for men of good faith to draw a different conclusion. One or both of us must be partially or fully wrong, but there is such a thing as an honest error.

Keith

Ben said...

James,

I don't think we need to debate how much sabbatarianism is in the CHBC SoF. I'm assuming that you aren't going to argue with me on how that article was construed within the congregation.

Instead, I'll simply point out that your primary line of argumentation is merely that Dever is a hypocrite, NOT that people with different millennial views are unable to coexist as members of the same church.

James Kime said...

I prefer to say he is random, but I suppose it means the same thing in this case. I don't think he is intentionally trying to be random, but his covenantalism has clearly colored his view on this.

Ben said...

What colors my view then?

James Kime said...

I meant his covenantalism toward the sabbath.

Anonymous said...

John MacArthur & Pretrib Rapture

Who knows, maybe John (Reformedispy) MacArthur is right and the greatest Greek scholars (Google "Famous Rapture Watchers"), who uniformly said that Rev. 3:10 means PRESERVATION THROUGH, were wrong. But John has a conflict. On the one hand, since he knows that all Christian theology and organized churches before 1830 believed the church would be on earth during the tribulation, he would like to be seen as one who stands with the great Reformers. On the other hand, if John has a warehouse of unsold pretrib rapture material, and if he wants to have "security" for his retirement years and hopes that the big California quake won't louse up his plans, he has a decided conflict of interest. Maybe the Lord will have to help strip off the layers of his seared conscience which have grown for years in order to please his parents and his supporters - who knows? One thing is for sure: pretrib is truly a house of cards and is so fragile that if a person removes just one card from the TOP of the pile, the whole thing can collapse. Which is why pretrib teachers don't dare to even suggest they could be wrong on even one little subpoint! Don't you feel sorry for the straitjacket they are in? While you're mulling all this over, Google "Pretrib Rapture Dishonesty" for a rare behind-the-scenes look at the same 180-year-old fantasy.

Drew