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.)

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Fracture or (More) Theological Reductionism: Fundamentalism's Choice

Seldom do peculiar fundamentalist alliances surprise me, but I have to say I never saw this one coming. With little regret, I'll confess ignorance about most of the names on this list, but Jack Schaap (son-in-law and heir to the Jack Hyles kingdom), Jack Trieber (legendary California KJV-thumper), and John Vaughn (president of the Fundamental Baptist Fellowship) by themselves make a perplexing coalition.

Big thanks to Dave Doran for posting the above link. Though appalling, it's certainly informative. I'll let his words kickstart the conversation:
The ministries of men like Fugate and Schaap are blights on the cause of Christ and should not be welcomed by anyone with an earnest commitment to biblical theology and ministry. I know that is a strong statement, but the former has abandoned the biblical doctrine of inspiration and the latter presides over a bizarre sideshow of theological quirks and ministerial abuses. Calls to separate from unbelief and ungodliness ring hollow when glaring errors like these are ignored.
Read his whole post here. I think he's actually rather charitable.

The affiliation of a theologically and exegetically bankrupt swath of pseudo-fundamentalism with the leader of the Fundamental Baptist Fellowship should not merely be surprising. It should have been unthinkable. I don't mean to suggest that the FBF hasn't demonstrated doctrinal indifferences of its own in the past. (Remember the Danny Sweatt fiasco?) I do mean that this constitutes a significant and undeniable step towards a choice fundamentalists need to make.

The FBF is no fringe association. Check out the leadership of the organization and you'll see the names of men whom many would consider the mainstream of thoughtful, balanced fundamentalism. Names like Jones, Phelps, Harding, Burggraff. Names like Minnick, who recently identified Conservative Evangelicals as a growing threat to his church and fundamentalism.

Their president's choice to put the name of their organization in affiliation with a plethora of doctrinal aberrancy has created the same sort of scenario some of them have used as occasion to criticize Conservative Evangelicals. This is not the sort of fellowship that strikes me as likely to bear the fruit of credibility.

No one thinks these choices will be easy for men who have long-standing relationships. This sort of thing just makes them easier.

I suspect we'll learn of some resignations soon. Or perhaps I'm just an eternal optimist.

[Update: an e-mailer points out that the staff evangelist at Bob Jones University is also a scheduled speaker.]

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

"Evangelicalism is out-liberalling liberalism."

I'll summarize this video of Michael Horton with two questions:
  1. Why did evangelicals in mainline denominations only wake up when liberalism advanced beyond doctrinal issues to social conservative issues?

  2. Why are broad swaths of evangelicalism following the mainline denominations into neo-liberal moralistic therapeutic deism?

Monday, March 15, 2010

Is Dispensationalism Compatible with Calvinistic Soteriology?

During Michael Vlach's session, "You Might Be a Dispensationalist If," from this month's Shepherd's Conference, he argues that one's convictions on Dispensationalism vs. Covenant Theology necessitate certain conclusions on some matters of doctrine, but not on other matters of doctrine.

He offers Calvinistic soteriology as an example of those non-issues. In doing so, he disagrees with some CT proponents who argue that Dispensationalism necessitates Arminianism. I believe his assessment is correct. One can be a Dispensationalist and a Calvinist.

Vlach doesn't go on to make the observation I'm about to make, and though I've never heard anyone point this out, I can't imagine my thoughts are novel. Here's my point: Dispensationalists don't have to be Arminians, but Arminians (or anyone who denies unconditional election) have to be Dispensationalists.

Why? Well, read Romans 9-11. There is simply no way to hold to a strong discontinuity between how God chose Jacob (not Esau) and Israel (not the other nations of the world) and how God chooses Church Age believers without being a Dispensationalist.

Let me repeat: Dispensationalists don't have to see discontinuity between God's election of Jacob and God's election of believers today. However, if you do see discontinuity on that point—if you think God chose Jacob on the basis of something other than "human will or exertion" (9:16), but you think that God chooses believers today based on some prior knowledge of how they would respond to his universal call, then you simply have to be a Dispensationalist. You have to argue that Romans 9-11 is merely about ethnic Israelites. You have to argue that God doesn't choose people for himself today in the same way he chose them before Christ. You have to be able to unplug the Church from the deep river of OT narratives that clearly and consistently emphasize God's sovereign, unconditional election.

Now, in arguing all those things, I think you do great violence to Paul's argument in Romans. But it's just what you have to do.

Friday, March 12, 2010

This One Is Really for the MBBC Grads Out There

Some of you may know Kari Barbic. She gets a shout-out from Kevin DeYoung on his Gospel Coalition blog for her review in The Weekly Standard of a book on how Starbucks makes promises it doesn't (and can't) deliver. In a nutshell, DeYoung is arguing against the consumer-sensitive church mentality, and Kari's review helps him make that point.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

You Might Be a Fundamentalist If . . .

. . . you think it's a good idea for a fundamentalist college to send students to an Americans for Prosperity "Defending the American Dream Conference" to "share their faith" by singing the "National Anthem" and "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," but a bad idea for a fundamentalist college to give its students permission to attend Together for the Gospel.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Ministry Idolatry

Some great stuff from Driscoll here. Haven't watched the video but the 11 questions are really useful tools. Taylor adds links to some top-notch resources, particularly Powlison's article.

And if you want to pass this on but don't want people to be seduced into evangelical compromise, here's a helpful disclaimer you might use (adapt at your discretion):
The fact that this volume is being used as a text or reference in __________________ does not mean that __________________ endorses its contents from the standpoint of morals, philosophy, theology, or scientific hypothesis __________________ The position of __________________ on these subjects is well known. In order to standardize the work and validate the credits of __________________, it is sometimes necessary to use books whose contents __________________ cannot wholly endorse because no entirely satisfactory publication is available.

How the Gospel Shapes and Transforms Parenting

I'm just starting to dig into William Farley's Gospel-Powered Parenting, but it looks like a terrific tool to help us bring the gospel to bear in our families. Farley's point is one that evangelical Christians desperately need to recover: "The goal of Christian parenting is heart transformation" (43). Far too often, our goal is transferring morality. And moralism kills the gospel. I'll argue that this is a rebuke fundamentalist Christians need every bit as much as a wider spectrum of evangelicals.

Farley argues that parents can substitute many things for the gospel: techniques, therapy, and even . . . religion (50-51). In their place, he proposes seven ways the gospel affects parents (46-48). The gospel . . .
  • Teaches Christian parents to fear God.

  • Motivates parents to lead by example.

  • Centers families in their male servant leaders.

  • Teaches and motivates parents to discipline their children.

  • Motivates parents to teach their children.

  • Motivates parents to lavish their children with love and affection.

  • Is the solution for inadequate parents.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Christianity Today Thinks Mark Driscoll Is a Fundamentalist

CT takes him to task—twice—for taking them to task over their Avatar review. (Video available at the links below.) Here, they think he's just sorta half-baked. But here, they damn him with the sort of accusations usually reserved for fundamentalists:
1) Misunderstand or Oversimplify What the Author is Saying; 2) Not Letting the Author’s Universe Exist on Its Own Terms; 3) Choose Combat Over Conversation; and 4) Failing to Find the Redeemable in the Movie.