Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Fundamentalists, Hear This: Not Everybody Thinks About Conferences the Way You Do

I have a file of e-mails related to a conference that happened some years ago. (Incidentally, about the time I started blogging.) If I read it today, I'm not sure whether I'd laugh or . . . no, I'd laugh.

But to get to my point, it became very clear to me back then that many fundamentalists have a hierarchy for what conference participation implies. Inviting someone to speak at yours means pretty much full agreement on everything. Speaking at somebody else's implies broad agreement but not necessarily full agreement with the inviter. If you're speaking at somebody else's conference you'll likely agree even less with the other people you're speaking with, but it's cool as long as their get music and separation right. And finally, you can attend conferences where people even disagree on music and separation as long as you don't make a big deal about it.

[This is one way we learn what's most important to fundamentalists. It's one way we learn that applications of separation and musical styles are more important than soteriology and bibliology. And it's where we learn from statements like . . .
"I can tell how spiritual a guy is by the length of his hair" and "Am I saying that you ladies shouldn't wear pants because my wife and daughters don't? Yes, that's exactly what I'm saying."
. . . what some fundamentalist colleges and camps really believe about sanctification and biblical authority. Somewhere along the way, you begin to sense that the hierarchy has more to do with preserving a culture than advancing a coherent, robust theology. But I digress . . .]


Ok people, get this because it's revolutionary [kidding]: Not everybody thinks about conferences that way. Some people don't think having someone on your conference platform or speaking alongside someone means you agree on everything or even most things. Some people even think that there's value in displaying disagreement without minimizing it. The point is to show that disagreement on some issues doesn't necessarily impede or preclude all levels of fellowship and cooperation.

I know one pastor who's a master strategist. If he's speaking in a conference or pulling one together, there may be an obvious strategy on the face of it, but you have to know that there are many layers of less obvious strategies in play at the same time. And that gets right down to very minute details of what people have in common, what they don't, and how they talk about it. Amazing.

And then there are guys like Piper, who seem to use conferences to resolve matters of personal curiosity. He often uses his conference to publicly work things through in his own mind. It explains why one of the most intense, serious preachers of the day asked Mark Driscoll to talk about humor. Yikes. It may explain why the guy who's done more than any living person to clarify the biblical doctrine of justification could collaborate with Doug Wilson, who, I think it's fair to say, is not on the same page.

That doesn't justify Piper, any more than personal relationships justify John Vaughn and Mike Schrock. There is a stewardship of influence that has to be a consideration in these sorts of decisions. Is my personal curiosity worth the price of a perceived endorsement? The answer may or may not be clear, but it must not be disregarded. Now, fundamentalists are the ones who say conferences mean something. As far as I know Piper has never claimed that his conferences imply mutual affirmation or endorsement. In fact, he's been quite clear that they don't. You can say he's wrong. You may be right.

So having said that, I'll merely observe that there are people who have credibility to criticize Piper. And there are people who don't.

And there are people who deserve HTs. (Seriously, fundamentalists, you all need to read that blog. Every word.)

18 comments:

G-Harmony said...

If you had any journolistical malfusiance (or whatever), I would get a medal or chest to pin one on or something here...

Don Johnson said...

Ben, I am sure there are some (perhaps many) fundamentalists who think the way you describe. It doesn't much matter, however.

What I wonder is if you think shared platforms don't mean anything. That is, does anyone have the absolute freedom to go anywhere and associate with anybody ... is that what you are arguing for?

The world doesn't think this way. When international politics are happening, it is very important who is seen with whom and who one sits with, who one shakes hands with (or bows to). Are they all wrong?

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jerimiah 33.3

ben said...

Don, can I just quote myself?

"That doesn't justify Piper, any more than personal relationships justify John Vaughn and Mike Schrock. There is a stewardship of influence that has to be a consideration in these sorts of decisions. Is my personal curiosity worth the price of a perceived endorsement? The answer may or may not be clear, but it must not be disregarded."

Kent Brandenburg said...

Ben,

It's been obvious for a long time that evangelicals don't see their associations the same way as fundamentalists. But if this is the case, then why are your choice of credible critics upset at all about what they are seeing with Piper? Why should it matter to them? You say it doesn't matter, because you're our inside guy on this. If it doesn't matter to evangelicals, then why should it matter to them?

Just an observation, but it seems that Piper got bamboozled a little with Warren's bit about being on the 17th volume of Edwards. That's what he happens to say to Piper out of the blue---to Piper. So now Piper knows that Warren is intelligent, really a thinker, and he's gotta have him at his "mind conference." He seems to be about as gullible as someone could be. But a very, very respected gullible person. But he is getting a lot of attention from all this. It's probably not going to affect much for him. Everyone will keep getting together for the gospel and that won't mean anything different than what they mean it anyway. Their understanding of "together" and "gospel" won't be affected by an inclusion of Warren. Or maybe Piper, at least this one year, could call it the "desiring god" (small g) conference, since sometimes Warren seems confused about who God is.

Anonymous said...

Nope. Don't buy it. I'm with Lou.

http://indefenseofourmovement.blogspot.com/

d4v34x said...

So the FBFI is wholesale disqualfied from any such critique because of the IBFI deal? I understand our "official policy of assocciations" has been the . . . strictest, but it might not be completely fair to hold the FBFI as a whole accountable for the actions of JV, president or no.

And really, I have no dog in this fight despite my personal associations. Well, I guess I may, but if I do, my mutt is closer in color to your than some of the more well-healed breeds.

As far as, "you can attend conferences where people even disagree on music and separation as long as you don't make a big deal about it."

That is just about exactly how I felt about my attendance at BCTC in Lafayette, IN this Feb. Not personally felt before the Lord, but felt in relation to many around me. Perhaps that's unfair, but . . .

Todd Wood said...

Ben, now we are getting into nuances on conference perspectives?

I am just the simpleton in Idaho, but I think that there are some things done or said by Rick Warren that have edified John Piper (and vice versa). And that they don't harbor ill-will to each other.

The same could be said about John Vaughn and Clarence Sexton despite their differences.

Ok, with all my random thoughts on these issues during this past week in various threads, I have had my say. (Out of all the men, the only one that I have been very upset with is Rick and that has been in relationship to Mormonism.)

Have a nice weekend, everybody, in worship of our living Lord.

RC (not Sproul) said...

It sure does get us fundies riled up when people don't think like we do. They certainly should!

I guess I am disappointed because by and large people tend to miss the nuance that Piper is trying to make. I imagine that the person in the non-fundamentalist pew will make some kind of similar conclusion as the fundies have made - that there is a certain level of endorsement of this guy and his ministry. But then again, I have been raised in fundamentalist circles so that kind of association automatically comes to mind. It has been drilled into me from an early age....which is what makes the Vaughn/Shrock/Phelps "platform fellowship" so bothersome to me. How can we rail on Piper for this and give a free pass to the identical thing on the other side of the fence? You are right IMO in pointing out this inconsistency Ben. I can't find a word strong enough to express my discouragement with Dr. Vaughn on this one. I have looked up to him for a long time and can't figure this one out, even after I heard him try to explain it.

At least I can be consistent in giving him somewhat of a pass since I am doing the same for Piper. Christians ought to be wired to desire to bring unity to our fractured landscape and if in my opinion they overstep once in a while then ... love covers a multitude of sins. Even if I am seriously disappointed with the decisions they make.

Of course they both are approaching serious doctrinal boundaries ...

RC said...

BTW...

Hey Anonymous... did you know some guy named Lou has a web site that is a parody of yours?

ben said...

Kent wrote:
"He seems to be about as gullible as someone could be."

Hmmm . . . not so sure about that. I hear some people actually believe it when their pastors tell them they're preaching from the 1611KJV.

ben said...

Dave, that's not exactly what what I'm saying. I mean, I'm saying the FBF leadership has zero credibility, but I'm not basing that entirely on this latest family reunion.

I keep having flashbacks to what Minnick told Dever in his interview. Something to the effect of, "Maybe you Conservative Evangelicals should just trust us Fundamentalists on this separation thing since we're the ones who've been thinking about it and waving the flag for the past 50 years. We've got a lot more figured out than you do."

The Vaughn-Schaap-Schrock debacle may be particularly egregious, but it's not as if this is the first time FBF leaders have blown it in their associations. Or their own doctrine. I'm not entirely sure whether the FBF is about personal relationships or cultural/institutional preservation. But it's not about a coherent, robust theology, separatist or not.

Don Johnson said...

Ben,

I'd like to comment on this paragraph:

The Vaughn-Schaap-Schrock debacle may be particularly egregious, but it's not as if this is the first time FBF leaders have blown it in their associations. Or their own doctrine. I'm not entirely sure whether the FBF is about personal relationships or cultural/institutional preservation. But it's not about a coherent, robust theology, separatist or not.

Could you give some kind of analogy to describe where you would put Schaap in the spectrum of fundamentalism (very loosely speaking) as compared to someone roughly parallel in the evangelical spectrum? What I mean is, is this as bad as having Driscoll in? Or Warren? Or ECT? Where does Schaap fit in the grid in your opinion?

I acknowledge that it isn't really helpful for us who are trying to consistently hold to a fundamentalist position. I think it is really the fruit of not taking the bull by the horns when the KJV issue first rose to prominence. In those days, I was told "pastors are sick of talking about it and want it to go away". Well, failing to drive a stake in it back in the day lies behind the ongoing entanglements that plague us to this day.

Last, as to what the FBF is about, I think it is mostly about personal relationships among relatively likeminded people. We don't see eye to eye on everything, but we want to support one another in the work that we do. So we get together for regular mutual encouragement. You are right that it isn't about coherent, robust theology. It isn't a theological society. And I don't see how it could be, given the wide diversity of independent Baptists.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Kent Brandenburg said...

Ben,

I would say that Piper is at least as gullible as a pastor saying he preaches from only the 1611. I think more so. Here's his reasoning:

Warren sings loud and bad. I like the first line of his Purpose Driven life. He says he's on chapter 17 of Edwards. I've gotta have him at my conference.

He at least wins the 2010 award for Most Gullible.

I will say I enjoyed your inside-the-beltway, Washington insider, James Carville-like argument tactic though. You are picking some exciting things there at our nation's capitol. Brava!

Nathan Williams said...

Ben,

Hey man, just wanted to say that I appreciate your thoughts on the way people think about conferences. I think it's a very helpful point and I've mentioned your reasoning to several people and they've found it helpful as well.

Trying to convince certain fundies that not everyone has to see speaking at a conference the same way they do is like trying to explain physics to my 2 year old...it just won't ever happen.

That being said, after reading the Michael Horton article, I've been shocked at some of the stuff Piper has said approvingly of Warren. Crazy.

Anyway, hope things are going well in Austin.

Nate Williams

Anonymous said...

Wondered when this would break loose. I mentioned it in a debate with Lou and somebody a few weeks back.

It's hillarious to me that 20/30/40 year olds are calling Piper gullible and giving him advice. I personally have no curiosity about Warren -- not my style. But, if Piper wants to hang with him, that's his business.

Anonymous said...

Oops, just noticed that I didn't put my name at the end of that post.

Keith

ben said...

Don, funny you ask that question about Schaap vs other curious alliances. I had been chewing on the Schaap-Warren parallels myself. It seems like a complex question to me. Obviously, not all fundamentalists or CEs have the same priorities—even those who share very similar theology.

So you have Mohler and Duncan signing the MD, but I'd be utterly flabbergasted if either of them hosted RW in a conference. (Haven't seen his name in SBTS chapel, right?) Piper's name isn't on MD (and I doubt it's because he wasn't invited), but now he's cozying with RW. Go figure.

But IMO, Driscoll is the smallest concern and ECT the greatest. RW vs Schapp (and others) is a tough call. Schaap teaches false doctrine. That's incontrovertible as I see it. I don't know that RW does. But he so wrongly prioritizes his doctrine and practice that I'm not sure the ultimate implications are much different.

As for driving the stake in the KJV issue, I think the problem is rooted more deeply in the essence of fundamentalist culture (NOT the idea) and pre-dated that controversy. But that's a longer conversation, which may actually be taking place in another comment thread. Haven't read it yet.

I appreciate your frank and telling concession that the FBF isn't about coherent, robust theology. But I'm just crazy enough to think that coherent, robust theology is what we need more of. "We" being churches, fellowships, associations, cooperative ministry. People. And I refuse to believe that you have to be merely a theological society to have a coherent, robust theology.

Joel said...

Ah, this thread is where the solid link came from. All is clear now.