Zichterman went to BJU and taught at Northland. He’s the brother-in-law of Sharper Iron owner, Jason Janz. He got a doctorate at PCC. He says he is now reconciling to the body. That means he's part of Bill Hybels church and thinking and in dialogue with the emerging church.
Beckwith was the president of the Evangelical Theological Society. He taught at Baylor University. He says that pre-Reformation history is Roman Catholic and the Bible was canonized by Roman Catholicism, so he is just reconciling to the body. That means he's "returned" to the Roman Catholic Church.
Blogdom goes wild. Zichterman yields his 20 pages of comments and 16,000 views at Sharper Iron in a few days as well as spin-offs on spin-offs at related blog sites. Beckwith provokes multiple posts at mainstream evangelical blogs, shuts off comments at 500 on his explanation page, a series of articles at Pulpit Magazine, a week and counting at Team Pyro, along with hundreds of other pages exploding with comments.
But do these two guys have a point? And is anyone actually dealing with it? Zichterman believes the body of Christ is all believers. He understands believers to be those who place faith in the gospel. He condenses essential theology to fundamental doctrines for the sake of unity, taking the typical essential/non-essential, primary/secondary, doctrine view that characterizes now fundamentalists and run-of-the-mill evangelicals. On the other hand, Beckwith sees no need for any visible perpetuity because the true church is catholic and invisible. He defends his position with the patristics and history. Despite the warts, in his opinion he at least has a church that can be traced back to Christ.
Most fundamentalists and even many evangelicals pound on Zichterman and a large majority of the evangelicals smack around Beckwith both for pushing the eject button on their respective fellowships and associations. However, didn’t these two guys learn their basis for doing so from fundamentalism and evangelicalism? After all, they’re just doing what they were taught. I would be glad for anyone to prove this wrong. But I think they are just honestly applying what they’ve learned from their respective circles. Zichterman may have personal issues that helped fuel his new trajectory, but the new orbit has its bearings in theology that he was taught at both BJU and Northland, and that is standard fare at Sharper Iron every day. I hear what Zichterman and Beckwith are saying all the time from fundamentalists and evangelicals. I am constantly being lectured these very points. I am most often marginalized by fundamentalists and evangelicals because I don’t believe these. Let me list them for you.
- The invisible body of Christ, the true church, is all believers.
- There is to be no schism in the body.
- We are to rank doctrines and practice into essentials and non-essentials for the sake of unity.
- The truth was preserved by the invisible church, the true church, within the visible church.
- History doesn’t validate a true visible church before the Reformation, except for the catholic church.
- Physical and historical evidence shows the catholic church to have canonized Scripture.
Which of these are not taught at BJU, Detroit, Calvary-Lansdale, Northland, Masters, Faith, or Central? Why should anyone not pick up on these and go the direction of Zichterman and Beckwith? Aren’t they just being consistent? Shouldn’t we admire them for their theological and practical consistency?
Some might say, "Well, we’re taught to separate." Based upon what? What is our basis of separation? We separate based on some theological norm. We choose our battles based on the ground that we think we should fight for, on the truths that are most important. What are those? I don’t think either of them have espoused salvation through the church or through baptism or through tradition. They are together for the gospel.
When you argue for preservation of God’s Words and the church, you hear that you don’t have historic evidence. People argue for the text of Scripture, for the existence of a true church, all founded on extant, sanctioned history. You get the certified history of canonization from the same sources. In the fundamental and evangelical world, if you can’t produce a ‘scholarly’ history, then you’re a "fideist" without legitimate convictions. You are taking a leap in the dark. Fundamentalist and evangelical history must be drawn from the approved sources, sanctioned by the endorsed fraternity of colleges and universities. Without this scholarship, your faith is baseless. If you can’t show a trail of hand-written manuscripts, you can’t be sure about whether all the Words were available. If you can’t show tangible evidence of New Testament churches, you can’t be sure about whether true churches existed. So you are left with what Roman Catholics produced. You can read the Nicean and Ante-Nicean fathers. You can study Augustine. You can produce manuscripts kept in a monastery in a basket to be used as kindling. That has to be your church and that has to be your Bible. That’s what history shows; that’s what the evidence shows. History and evidence are the only source for legitimate faith. The Bible is the source for faith, but it must be backed by history and evidence to be acceptable.
If you separate over signs and wonders, over qualifications of the pastor, over modesty in dress, over true or false worship, over any form of worldliness, or even over mode of baptism, you are an overweening schismatic. You especially can’t believe that God preserved every Word and kept them available. No proof exists for that, and if you see that as a primary, then you will surely get the ecclesiastic cold shoulder—nothing official really, because separation itself is secondary—you’ll just know it. If you separate over a version, then nothing you say has any credibility. This is excommunication from the sacral society of fundamentalism. But then you have the conservative evangelicals talking separation from the worldly emerging movement. They've gone a little too primary with their secondaries.
The fundamentalists know that they should separate. They see that in Scripture. They don’t know how to do it without causing a schism, so they just sort of separate from evangelicals and new-evangelicals, meanwhile admiring them and rarely uttering a harsh word against them. They reserve harshness for those who separate more than they do. They don't feel good about not fitting in the body, knowing they should, but then also knowing they should separate, and it is all so confusing.
So, all in all Zichterman and Beckwith have learned well. Fundamentalism and evangelicalism have taught them.