Monday, May 25, 2009

Two Obvious Contemporary Theological Contradictions and their Meaning part one

Taxing cigarettes and taxing income. Do you see the contradiction? Government taxes cigarettes to what? Stop smoking. And then they tax income to what? Stop income. No, not for the second one. You can see how a progressive tax is actually a regressive tax. This is simple. We can understand it. But I'm not dealing with government and politics. I've got two other obvious contradictions in the realm of theology. These seem to appear again and again.

Contradiction Number One: The Eruption over the Fundamental Baptist Fellowship Sermon

I need to give some back story for those who are not aware of this. The Fundamental Baptist Fellowship (FBF) is a fellowship of independent Baptist pastors who claim to be a part of fundamentalist Christianity too. On April 6-7 the FBF held a meeting of the South Regional Fellowship at Wilds Christian Camp. At this meeting, Pastor Danny Sweatt was invited to preach.

I knew nothing about this meeting until I read about it on a blog that I visit to read from time to time to gather the thoughts of a younger fundamentalist, Pastor Bob Bixby, in Rockford, IL. His post is actually what started the firestorm. He wrote several other follow up posts (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8).

What Pastor Sweatt (whom I met a couple of times when I was in college---at that time he was the music director of an independent Baptist church in the Chicago area) did in his sermon was attempt to deal with what he saw as the biggest problem in fundamentalism today. It was mainly a speech in which he attempted to defend big name fundamentalists from the recent past and then to criticize the new heroes of today's young fundamentalists, which happen to be new-evangelical and Calvinist. As part of his diatribe, he spent a few moments dealing with Calvinism.

That I know of, Pastor Bixby said something first. If it was he alone, there would probably not be any kind of significant conflict that would have ensued. But then the dean of the Central Baptist Theological Seminary, Kevin Bauder, wrote about it in his weekly column, called In the Nick of Time, along with a follow-up. This ratcheted up the rhetoric with numerous posts being written on blogs all over fundamentalism, as well as a few well-known evangelicals.

Since Kevin Bauder entered the frey, the FBF has posted a statement on the controversy on the front page of its website. Many forum threads broke out at the fundamentalist forum, SharperIron, on the subject, including one polling its members as to whether they believe the FBF statement was strong enough. Danny Sweatt hasn't said anything publically that I've heard, although at his church website, he has linked on the front page to a downloadable book against Calvinism, called Deconstructing Calvinism.

The Theological Contradiction

That's the back story, but what I see as a theological contradiction is found in the second of the two essays written by Bauder. In his third to fifth paragraphs, he writes:

If we did not challenge leadership such as that of Rice, then we were too complacent. If we did challenge it, however, and a fight ensued, then Carpenter was ready to spank us for being schismatic. I suggested that this was a no-win situation.

Carpenter’s response was that there are plenty of intermediate steps between tolerance of an evil and outright separation. For instance, he said, you can admonish a brother but not withdraw fellowship from him. What Carpenter found distressing was the unwillingness of fundamentalists to attempt these intermediate measures.

I think that Carpenter was not entirely correct. Fundamentalists have indeed attempted intermediate measures.

It is here where I see the major flaw in fundamentalism. For some reason, fundamentalists don't see the contradiction. Or they see it and choose to ignore it. Bauder calls it a no-win situation. Well, I didn't know there were any no-win situations for Christians. Of course, there are not, but a fundamentalist error brings one. No-win is another word for contradiction. It is a contradiction that appears again and again and again and again, which produces the incessant fighting in fundamentalism.

"Intermediate Measures"

The problem is the one of "intermediate measures." The solution is found, according to the man Carpenter, the provost of Calvin Seminary in Bauder's story, and according to Bauder, in something between tolerance of evil and outright separation. Let's get this right---we don't choose tolerance of evil and we don't choose separation. Bauder and fundamentalism, I have noticed, says that there is some kind of relationship that isn't toleration but also isn't separation. Do you understand that it isn't possible scripturally to tolerate unrepentant evil without separating? So why do that?

We have a rub here. There is a contradiction between tolerance of evil and choosing separation. If we don't choose separation, we tolerate evil. We're talking about unrepentant sin or false doctrine. But Bauder expresses what he sees as his problem and the problem of fundamentalism and why it is that evangelicals like Carpenter say they can't get along with fundamentalism. It is in this section of Bauder's piece:

If we did not challenge leadership such as that of Rice, then we were too complacent. If we did challenge it, however, and a fight ensued, then Carpenter was ready to spank us for being schismatic. I suggested that this was a no-win situation.

We can't be schismatic and we can't be complacent. No-win. It seems that the politics are actually being played right here. We've got to get along so that we're not schismatic. Schismatic with what? What are we dividing if we don't tolerate evil? Bauder doesn't say. He assumes we understand. He means we are splitting the "body of Christ." Of course, the body of Christ to fundamentalists is fundamentalism, which it isn't, but for intents of keeping together something in the realm of evangelicalism, they draw the line at fundamentalism.

Fundamentalists in the past have thought that they had good reason to keep together and exclude evangelicals from this hypothetical "body of Christ." The evangelicals were too bad, too evil. They messed up too much. But the FBF-types look over at who they see as their ugly cousin revivalists or easy-believism-ers or KJV-onlyists or, as Bauder says, the "bellicose," and wag their heads and whisper, "These guys are worse than John Piper and Mark Dever and at least John MacArthur, and probably D. A. Carson. We're more comfortable with those conservative evangelicals than we are with these theological inbreeds." I see the wheels turning among fundamentalists, who still believe in separation, explaining how that these conservative evangelicals are enough separatist that they will tolerate fellowship with them. They would contend that these conservative evangelicals are the militant fundamentalists of the early twentieth century. That's not true, but that's the elephant in the room now.

They hear the Sweatt message at an official FBF function and the buzzers start going off. "We've got to do something about this. At least FBF was a safe haven. We can give the fundamentlist ugly cousins the cold shoulder, but we're not going to be able to do that with an FBF. That we can't tolerate." Hence the feud in the fellowship. If the FBF can't monitor the inmates, well, we'll just have to see what happens. The threat is out there.

John Piper and Phil Johnson have their ear to the rail. They foresee the prospects of additions to their gospel coalitions. Together for the Gospel and the Shepherd's Conference are already a fundamentalist reunion. They have the proverbial fundamentalist track in their workshops. Accepted fence straddlers like Andy Naselli have the heat on and the car waiting.

Sweatt brought frightening recollection of a former time. Abusive leaders who kept power over the constituency with harsh platform rhetoric. Or in the destructive whispers of the backroom corridors. Almost all power coalesced within the human derived organization on the few flamboyant, who wielded it for maximum self-service. No matter how embarrassing they may be, their privileges remained untouched. In this present age, we insist that we spread the faux authority thinner, cobbling together the coalition with diplomacy. The pendulum has swung to cerebral heroes who are multi-syllabic. Someone with the right mix of popularity, likeability, success, and education could harness the reins of power once again.

What's Missing

What seems to be missing in all this? I don't think it is a what. It's a Who. God. God is missing in the equation. What does He want? Does He really want intermediate measures? Does He want a hybrid toleration-separation?

If the body of Christ is all believers, then any division is schismatic. Yet scripture teaches to separate. How can unity not coexist with evil? This is the contradiction that manifests a flaw in doctrine. In 1 Corinthians 10, Paul talks about the communion of the body of Christ. Communion exists in the church. We don't have a universal, invisible communion. We're held together by the ordinances, baptism and the Lord's Table, by church discipline, and by the offices of pastor and deacons, a one-mindedness that is found only in the Lord's assembly.

We don't have to tolerate any sin or false doctrine. We're not supposed to. But we will if we look to intermediate measures and something bigger than a church for unity. Any other way will keep presenting the incessant contradictions that we see in fundamentalism and evangelicalism today. You don't have to sacrifice unity for separation or separation for unity if your ecclesiology is scriptural.

The church is a place of independence and protection. We can believe and practice scripture and proclaim it. The church just isn't big enough for most. It hasn't been big enough through much of the last two millennia. It was big enough for Jesus. Still is. If we could be happy with the church, we could have the confidence to resist these clubs of compromise that minimize doctrine to a lowest common denominator. We should always keep the right spirit, but we'll be less concerned about hurting someone's feelings. We're thinking about pleasing God. We break fellowship over doctrine and practice. Why? To honor God. To please Him. To walk by faith. We unify over doctrine and practice. We don't tolerate evil. We don't look for intermediate measures.

POST UPDATE: Sometimes I read my posts to my wife. I just did that. She commented that when she thought of "intermediate measures" she thought of Matthew 18:15-17 with the steps for church discipline. Wow. That's how simple this is. But that isn't what Bauder means by "intermediate measures." He means something that is entirely unscriptural that will keep unity while showing that the FBF isn't tolerant. And that's what the FBF did with their statement. They took on an intermediate measure. My wife then asked, "What gives the FBF authority to post that article?" Good question, huh? And it shows how easy this is. No one gave the FBF authority. I told her that the FBF didn't really tell Sweatt that they weren't tolerant. They wrote something that was ambivalent enough to retain deniability. They could deal with Sweatt without actually dealing with Sweatt. Doesn't this sound like politics to you?

One other thing. When you look at the context of Bauder's usage of "intermediate measures," language taken from Carpenter, a new-evangelical, this is not saying that this is something temporary and more will come later. This is saying that this is how we operate in fundamentalism. We take intermediate measures to deal with men so that we don't tolerate and neither do we separate. We find some middle ground, some unscriptural middle ground. Dan Sweatt doesn't use exposition. The FBF and Bauder don't use it either. There isn't a passage that explains "intermediate measures." None. For those who are saying that "intermediate measures" means "more is coming later," you are misreading what Bauder wrote. "Intermediate doesn't relate to time, but to position. It is a position between two other positions, not a time that is between two other times.

By the way, why is it that "intermediate measures" are so good? They make a no-win situation a win-win situation. It's like President Obama with his supreme court nominee. He chose a female Latina who likes to make policy with her court decisions. Republicans won't want to oppose the nomination because they're afraid they'll lose Latino votes. Plus she has a rags to riches story that will be hard to resist. Republicans can latch on to her story to tell their own story to their own supporters. I'm just using that as an illustration, but what am I talking about? The FBF has done enough to hold together their coalition. That's what matters most to them. But what about to God?

Bauder goes to a new-evangelical to find out how fundamentalists are to operate. Why would he do that? Shouldn't the new-evangelicals be coming to fundamentalists how to function? Aren't we the ones with the scriptural position? Why is it that it is so important to make Carpenter happy? Again, shouldn't we just always do what scripture says?

In the next post, I'll deal with number 2.


Steven said...

I am in the process of leaving our present Church in what I see as a major doctrinal difference (that of the necessity and Biblical definition of repentance). I read not to long ago by Bro David Cloud in post on his web site ("I Am Not Your Pastor"):

"If someone leaves a church for biblical and spiritual reasons, the fruit will be characterized by the description in James 3:17-18--purity, peaceableness, gentleness, easy to be entreated, mercy, without partiality, without hypocrisy. Someone leaving in this mode will speak the truth in love. He leaves because he is convinced it is God’s will, but he does so in a peaceable and godly manner. He is respectful of the leaders even if he doesn’t agree with them, and he harbors no ill will toward them. "

Can you Bro Brandenburg explain what the easily entreated part means? Should we just separate? I planned on letting the Pastor know that I was taking my family and leaving. But, this post captured my attention. I looked it up and it almost looks like to be easily entreated is the same as being easy to compel back to the Church?

I was under the impression just as you posted that we should just separate (albeit peaceably). Not taking the "intermediate" steps?

I am a little confused?!

I agree with you 110% although. I believe that we don't take the issue of sound doctrine seriously enough.

Respectfully Submitted,

Bro Steve

Gal. 2:20

Anonymous said...

Brother Kent,

Wow! I love watching the political machine at work. I am one of those (51 year old) preachers who sympathizes with the "YF" crowd. I also am tired of shallow ranting from pulpits instead of expository preaching. I also detest the "Hyles" type of soulwinning. I also detest the worship of "Fundamentalist" leaders.

However, I reject Calvinism for the same reason I reject Arminianism. They are theological schools of thought not supported by Scripture. I am a Separatist because the Bible is separatist in nature.

I have a question for the FBFI. Why do you want to have these young preachers in your Fellowship? Is it to bolster your numbers and influence? These "YF" preachers are not my enemies, but they are not exactly like me either.

As a brother, I fellowship with some of these men. As a pastor, I warn my people of some of the errors I believe they hold. I don't personally name them - I mention the trends, etc.

I know this is a little off-subject, but the politics of "Fundamentalism" is amazing.

Art Dunham

Bill Hardecker said...

I am not so sure that the "body of Christ" to the fundamentalist is fundamentalism. I think, just by observing them, that it is broader than that. It is sad that fundamentalists run to evangelicals for approval and acceptance (reminds me of an adolescent facebook syndrome - - read my book, for you see at the back I have a recommendation from Westminster Theological Seminary. I don't understand how a professor corrects a pastor [of course the office of a pastor has been greatly diminished, and this isn't exactly preached in a church setting]). I am with you on this...that the church is important to the Lord Jesus, and that makes all this situation both entertaining and sad.

Btw, your humor is out of control. "...have the heat on and the car waiting..." (WOW that is funny). I can't wait to read part 2.

Steven said...

Amen Brother Art.

I couldn't agree more.

Respectfully Submitted,

Bro Steve

Gal 2:20

Gary Webb said...

I am grieved by what I see in the FBF. When I graduated from BJU in 1983 (M.Div.), the FBF was my crowd. At the time the FBF seemed to be Baptist (Myron Cedarholm leading the way), separatist, appreciative of some Calvinist men but not agreeable at all to Calvinism, supportive of dress standards, toeing the line on guarding Christian music, militantly opposed to worldliness (totally against drinking alcohol), and unfavorably tolerant toward the Jack Hyles brand of "fundamentalism" & its evangelistic methods. About 1990 I stopped attending the FBF meetings because of their increasing silence on issues within Fundamentalism & because I had begun to study & understand what the Bible taught about the preservation of the words of Scripture (in contrast to what I was taught at BJU). When I finished my D. Min. at BJU in 1992 I had already been warned to keep my mouth shut by the then president (Bob III) about their inconsistent application of Scripture. I was also beginning to understand what the Bible taught about the local church - that it is the "body of Christ" (I Cor. 12:27) and that it is the "pillar and ground of the truth" (I Tim. 3:15) - as opposed to a school, Fellowship, camp, etc. or even all those rolled into one. I am sore distressed to see the "best and brightest" embracing Calvinism and dropping all Biblical standards against worldliness. How many more preachers will need to fall into drunkenness (as did Dr. Bell) before they realize that the Bible really does condemn the moderate drinking of alcohol (in contrast with Randy Jaeggli's book published by BJU)?
Are there any men still left in the FBF who are opposed to Calvinism (besides Sweatt)? The FBF once took a pretty good stand on the Bible version issue, but the BJU critical text crowd has now completely taken over. It is an encouragement to me to read brother Brandenburg's articles & to also find a response like brother Dunham's.
I am 52. When I view the current "fundamentalist" scene, I am reminded of Jesus' question in Luke 18:8: "Nevertheless when the Son of Man cometh, shall He find faith on the earth?"

Kent Brandenburg said...

Hey men!

Thanks for the comments. They're good. I'll get back to you in the comment section later. We've got graduation this week and my son is one. We've got guests, etc.


I think the gospel is a reason to leave a church. Another church can take you in based on testimony. In as peaceful way possible, I think you try to help the leadership come to the right position. If they won't, then you go and join another church based upon testimony. You are making a strong statement about that church you are leaving, so it must be something that should take a good amount of study and soul-searching.

Steven said...

Bro Brandenburger-er,

Thank you I really appreciate this.

I have come to learn from Jackhammer, and it bloggers and those that comment on those blogs (Titus Art Regler and Bill) that we shouldn't have to accept a shallow Gospel.

We are presently in a "Hyles" church. The Pastor was trained and taught by Bro Hyles and the college he helped found. I have learned that we should bring ourselves under sound expository preaching and despite what my preacher has taught repentant faith in Christ Jesus. I have learned as much through careful Bible study and of course with the help of those mentioned above.

I said all that to say shouldn't we just separtate? I believe so.

Bauder goes to a new-evangelical to find out how fundamentalists are to operate. Why would he do that?
Shouldn't the new-evangelicals be coming to fundamentalists how to function?

Great post Brother Brandenburg. Thanks for the advice. Kind of hard to seek good godly counsel from other men when the only other men you know go to the Church you seek separate from.

Congratulations again on your sons graduation and his choosing West Point!

Respectfully Submitted,

Bro Steve

Gal. 2:20

Robert said...

Using the steps of Matthew 18 as the "intermediate measures" Bauder describes has (at least) one clear problem. Let's say (hypothetically) that someone preaches a sermon that causes offense and you regard it as a trespass. You can go to that person, as Matthew 18 says. (Or you could go to the Internet and broadcast it, but that's a different approach.) You can take two or three more with you as witnesses. But then if the person doesn't respond comes "tell it to the church." Which church? Yours? His? Everyone else's?

What if "he" is a school or a fellowship and doesn't have a church? Who are you going to tell then? If we had a more Bible-based model of ecclesiology, the Bible-based model of confrontation leading to restoration or separation would be a better fit. I am NOT arguing that the Bible principle won't work or shouldn't be used--just that they way we do things makes it harder to apply.

And on a slightly tangential note (although maybe not) you can tell a lot about the changing nature of fundamentalism in the difference between Dr. John Rice's "What Must I Do To Be Saved?" at 32 pages including careful teaching on repentance and Dr. Curtis Hutson's "Four Things You Must Accept To Go To Heaven" which ignores the topic entirely.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Rice's What Must I Do To Be Saved? is good, Robert. If revivalistic fundamentalism had stuck with what Rice taught on that, we'd all be fine on our soteriology. Sadly, it degraded into the Hyles/Hudson pragmatic approach.

Thanks for your comment.

Don Johnson said...

Robert's comments show why Mt 18 is not a separation passage. It is a local church passage. It is a personal issues passage. But it doesn't tell us what to do about anyone outside the local body (other than principially).

Furthermore, I don't hold that you have to legalistically follow each step specifically as outlined, but generally. In other words, I don't have to "make sure I do steps one and two, then zap him", but I need to carefully try to win repentance from an erring brother through ever widening circles of influence within my local body. That means I could actually talk to him more than once in trying to get things settled.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Kent Brandenburg said...


I don't disagree with you on Matthew 18. I know it is for a church. However, the pattern is pretty universal in scripture to attempt to reconcile it and if reconciliation isn't possible to separate. Slapping somebody on the hand, who then doesn't repent anyway---I don't see that in scripture though. And I'm not saying one way or another whether Sweatt deserved to be slapped. I think it is a little severe to get so gigantic for one sermon that was poorly done. How can you get 8 or 9 posts out of it like some have done? And then Driscoll does what he does and he doesn't get in the same doghouse with even fundamentalists. They even defend him to a certain degree, slapping him down with disclaimers.

PS Ferguson said...

I posted a similar entry on this subject on Don Johnson’s blog recently. As a Calvinist Presbyterian TR-only advocate, one might have assumed that I would be joining in the vitriol against Pastor Sweatt. Having listened to his message, I understand his concern even if he diagnosed the wrong cause. The truth is that the left-leaning SI cabal has been waiting for a mistake by someone within “old Fundamentalism” for a number of years to feed the baying Neo-Evangelical wolves. Sweatt just happened to be the fall guy. Bauder et al have waxed verbosely using double entendres in blogdom for months hinting at the need for a re-alignment with MacArthur, Piper et al but not daring to speak out to protect the constituencies of influence that they feed in.

Strangely, we note the CCM, Versions, Abstinence issues being thrown around as well as the “imperialist” charges against Bob Jones Jr., John R. Rice etc. This was not the central issue of Sweatt’s charge but in reality it was the true object of the young “Deformed” Fundamentalist viewpoint now seeking the ascendancy. When you have the Rap Music, Toronto Blessing, Driscoll-cussing, Mother Theresa fan of John Piper stating on his blog that you are “good breeze” then you know you are in big trouble! If I were Bauder I would be searching my conscience as to why such a deeply flawed writer could endorse me so unreservedly. Can’t imagine Bob Jones Jr ever had a similar glowing endorsement from say Jerry Falwell!

The truth is that Bauder, Pettegrew, Glenny, Straub at Central and Dave Doran, Pearson L. Johnson, Samuel A. Dawson at Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary all attended openly Neo-Evangelical schools for their graduate education. Larry Oats at Maranatha did the same. Yet, paradoxically on Detroit’s website they say of their faculty that “Each is committed to the glory of God, the ministry of the local church, the need to train and send men into the gospel ministry, and the need for personal and ecclesiastical separation.” Is the latter really credible or true? I confronted one of these men personally recently and he admitted he had to objective reason for speaking out against the YF attending T4G and Shepherds Conferences when he sat under the same men for 4 years to do his graduate work! He also admitted that he did not learn any more at his compromised seminary than he would have at an accredited “separatist” one such as BJU.

Frankly, I am struggling to see any difference between the Doran, Bauder etc and MacArthur, Piper etc. They all attend the same schools and conferences, pray for one another, use the same Bible versions, all despise the KJV, promote one another’s websites, views and books and “dialogue” together. The only discernible difference is that they hang out together but just do not appear on the same platform.

I agree (again) with Kent Brandenburg that one of the root causes of this dispute is the concord on the textual issue now between the BJU/CBTS/DBTS/YFers and the Neo-Evangelicals. In 1924, the liberal paper The Christian Century was clear that “the Bible of the fundamentalist is one Bible: the Bible of Modernism is another.” Today, we have now the same Ecumenical Greek Text sold and promoted by BJU/CBTS/DBTS as for the modernist, liberal and Romanist Bibles. As Mark Dever and Mark Minnick made clear on their comments on the former’s website the TR-only position is one that they both are united in their distaste for. Can you think of another issue that Bauder and friends can write on and be published by a mainstream NE publisher like Kregel in “One Bible Only”?

The truth is that Miss Pragmatism is a seductive mistress for those seeking the approval of the NE scholarship but unfortunately she produces some very ugly offspring. We see the Athaliah’s of the Jehoshaphat compromise with textual criticism flooding blogdom this week. Nuff said!!!

Anonymous said...

Hi Dr. Brandenburger,

Not necessarily going to comment on the Sweatt vs. Bixby issue yet, but I would note my observation that, if I didn't know that Pastor Bixby self-identifies as a fundamentalist of some sort, I never would have arrived at that conclusion about him from looking at his church's website.

Also, I never thought I'd see the day that Dr. Gary Weber posted on a blog!

Don Johnson said...

Titus, Gary defines The Webb!!

Kent, I agree on the principle that the Bible calls for some direct interaction when you have a problem with someone else. But I was thinking about my post later and thought it distracts from the thread, so maybe we can talk about it another time.

Yes, I agree that it is pretty amazing that this has developed into such a 'hissy fit' as I called it on my site.

And Paul, just again a note to say I agree with your basic points, especially the bit about the 'cabal' (good word!) waiting to pounce on a mistake. That has happened a time or two before.

Finally, Kent, your update really does hit some key points. The whole thing is a sorry mess, but it was a seething mass of a mess waiting to spew its venom eventually. I just wonder if it has been quieted enough for the coalition to hold together. In a way, I think the 'left side' has been emboldened. They will strike harder next time.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Anvil said...


I'm not sure why you wouldn't conclude that MSBC is fundamental from their website unless you didn't look very hard. Was it because he didn't wear a necktie during a baptism in a picture on the front page? Under the "What we believe" section, it mentions historical baptist and fundamental distinctives, and points a link to the 1689 Baptist confession of faith. It also mentions specifically not being seeker-sensitive or watering down the gospel to make people feel more comfortable, as well as the Bible being both the sole source as well as sufficient for faith and practice. Is that not the core of what it means to be fundamental?

Anonymous said...


Yes, you guessed it. My reason for saying that if I didn't know better, I wouldn't have thought Bixby's church was fundamental rests on the fact that he didn't wear a tie in the baptism picture. You've got it all figured out.

Joking aside, I really don't feel obligated to give you an in-depth explanation for each and every impression I get about something. Sorry if this bothers you.

Pastor Brandenburger,

I can't say that I am very impressed by Pastor Bixby's criticisms. From his original post and the subsequent one in which he does go into some detail, it appears that he's simply cherry-picking the one easily-refutable statement by Sweatt (that about no Calvinistic work ever surviving more than one generation after its founder). Yes, that statement is demonstrably refutable. But I doubt it was the central argument in his sermon, either.

As for Pastor Bixby's ire against Sweatt's opposition to the Calvinistic understanding of John 3:16 - I will provisionally say this, since I have not listened to the original sermon since I can't seem to get SermonAudio to work for some reason:

IF Sweatt's argument about Calvinism and John 3:16, which Bixby disliked so much, revolves around the whole Calvinistic redefinition of "world" to mean "the world of the elect", and related issues, then Sweatt is on target. That's what Calvinists believe. Calvin did. Arthur Pink argues for it. IIRC, I think Lorraine Boettner does too. It's pretty standard Calvinist fare.

Again, my paragraph above may be entirely moot if that wasn't what Sweatt was preaching on, but until I hear the sermon without technical difficulties, that's about all I can say.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Titus Cincinnatus Redux,

I understand your criticism. As though I'm giving Bob Bixby too much credit. I believe that the young fundy has serious problems. However, what gives him a sense of liberty on his problems is some kind of defense of men like Jack Hyles and Bob Gray, whom Sweatt mentioned in a favorable light. I believe you add to that a lack of spiritual weaponry, that is, dependence on the Word of God to make the point, and you've got a valid problem, young fundamentalism, being dealt with in an invalid way.

I'm not a Calvinist myself, although some might think I am. At some point, I'll deal with that issue on my blog. I don't think, however, that Calvinism is the problem of young fundamentalists. I also don't think that they are really lured in by the Calvinism. They're lured in, IMO, by the worldliness. They're worldly themselves and they like fitting in with the world, and they can have the scholarship of MacArthur and Piper, which also both feel good, and still get to be worldly.

Bixby, I think, is up for a criticism of Calvinism, but he would want something a little more substantive than what Sweatt offered. Bixby and I have a lot of differences, but he is refreshingly independent for a fundamentalist, of whatever stripe he is.

Kent Brandenburg said...


I have you read my Jackhammer series, because I believe to be consistent, we have be right up there against the evangelicals too.

Anonymous said...

Hi Pastor Brandenburger,

I don't think, however, that Calvinism is the problem of young fundamentalists. I also don't think that they are really lured in by the Calvinism. They're lured in, IMO, by the worldliness.

I've been thinking a lot lately about the question of why and when do certain heresies seem to crop up or resurge. Why did Catholicism develop as it did, when it did? Why the various gnostic speculations? Why Charismatism? As it would pertain to this issue, "Why does it seem that Calvinism is making a resurgence among American fundamentalists and evangelicals?"

I think the answer is found in the failure on the part of many Christians to really, truly internalise Romans 12:2 into their lives, hearts, and minds.

And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. (Romans 12:2)

I'm not just talking about worldliness in the usual sense that we think of it (rock music, movies and TV, pants on women, etc.). Those are just an offshoot of a larger cultural pattern. I'm thinking that heresies - which can be defined as deviancies from orthodox, BIBLICAL Christianity - reflect a response to underlying cultural patterns that pervade a society. Patterns which Christians, if we're not careful, can internalise into their way of thinking and allow it to overrule the Biblical way of thinking.

Calvinism (especially in its extreme, hyper-TULIP forms) is essentially a Christian form of fatalism and philosophical determinism. It is a determinism in that it minimises (or negates entirely) man's free will. Salvation is solely because God chose you from eternity past to salvation. Damnation is solely because God reprobated before the world began. Even the things we do in day to day life are determined by God's sovereignty (not just what we SHOULD do, but what we DO do) - in some Calvinistic systems this is emphasised to the point that the argument that "Calvinism makes God the author of sin" seemed plausible to a goodly number of fair-minded theologians.

Fatalism/determinism is a philosophical rudiment (Col. 2:8) that flourishes in places and times where cultural circumstances leave people uncertain, with a sense of no control over their own lives.


Anonymous said...

Part 2 -

In the Hellenistic world, determinism arose as a result of sweeping changes brought about by the sudden massive interchange of cultural liquidity between Greece and the East. The Greeks were disillusioned because their cozy, comfortable, communitarian world of small city-states was suddenly transformed into a cosmopolitan world-empire in which the individual was cast adrift from the support and identity of his city-state - suddenly, he was free to go pretty much anywhere in the ancient Near East he wanted, but this brought about a "crisis of liberty." Religiously, this bore out in the widespread sense that "fate" (moira/heimarmene) ruled our lives - but it was a capricious, uncontrollable, unknowable fate. You never knew what to expect. So, the typical impulse among the Hellenistic soul, even well into the Roman period, was to turn to something - whether astrology, whether Isis-worship, whether one of the other Mysteries - that would purport to give you control over your life, or at least assure you that *something* was watching out for you. They pursued a deterministic response to counteract the sense of caprice and pointlessness to what was going on around them, culturally.

Now, fast forward to the era in Europe in which the Reformation took place. We see much the same sort of cultural impulses in 15th-16th century Europe, even if for different specific historical reasons. Europe was still digging out from a number of events which would have been psychologically very troubling to the people of the time, if not shattering. The constant threat of Mongol or Turkish invasion from the East. The fall of Constantinople to the hated Muslim Turks. The memories of the Black Plague - which wiped out 1/4 to 1/3 of the entire population of the continent - was still fresh due to constant "mini-outbreaks" that kept popping up every few years. The Hundred Years War which devastated France. These were massive events which rocked Europe to its core. It'd be no wonder, then, if Europeans thought their world had gone crazy. They wanted stability.

And Calvinism, with its assurance that every last thing was not just the sovereign will of God, but the immediate work of God and that you'd be A-okay if you clung to that, would give it to them. The emergence of Calvinism really is no surprise in the century (1550-1650) following. This is the same era that gave us Malebranche's hyperdeterministic philosophy of occasionalism. The same cultural and intellectual forces were at work. People responded to the insecurity of their world by adopting a religion/philpsophy which provided an intellectual anchor of stability.

Now, look at America today. While we are certainly not undergoing anything as radical as the Mongols or the Black Death, our society has been and still is being racked by sea-changes in our cultural norms. We used to be a Christian nation - affirmed by our own Supreme Court no less. Now, we have a President who tells the Arab World that we're a Muslim nation on world TV. The assumptions that we used to make that everyone at least held to a biblical worldview, even if they were definitely not saved, can no longer be made. The guy next to you may never have even read the Bible, much less considered what it has to say on a certain issue. That guy may judge everything by Buddha, or by materialism, or any number of other worldview bases. The things our society tolerates and mainstreams - abortion, homosexuality, divorce, and so forth - were unthinkable even one generation ago.


Anonymous said...

Part 3

So, it's no wonder that a lot of conservative Christians, if they get their eye off the assurances the Bible gives, would begin to seek after a theology which gives them a sense of stability by means of its teachings. I think this underlies the resurgence of Calvinism - it is a response to the cultural insecurity that many face and fear, and they want something that gives them security and a sense of "God's taking care of it all", even if this sense isn't necessarily a biblical sense based upon a sound synthesis of the Word of God.

The heresy of Calvinism is rebounding because we're in a period of social, cultural, and even political instability, and rather than simply looking to the Bible alone, many Christians are looking to a theology which is then used to make the Bible support it, rather than the other way around. Calvinism resurges because many Christians are allowing the world - the cultural norms and cultural fears - to mold, to CONFORM, them to this world.

Relatedly, the cultural argument also explains the worldliness that pervades both evangelicalism in general, and the MacArthur/Piper brand of Calvinism in particular. Old-style Calvinism was very austere. Not the kind we see today, however. This is because of the individualism of our society - the cultural sense of "whatever floats your boat."

It's been that way throughout our history - the relatively libertarian approach which America has taken to religion and personal rights is also the reason why America has been the breeding ground for all different kinds of cults and sects - Mormons, Russellites, Christadelphians, Swedenborgians, Transcendentalists, Theosophists, you name it. Because the culture itself hasn't encouraged theological conformity, many professing Christians were swept away from the Faith by the "feel free to make you own spirituality" mentality that has always, to some extent, pervaded our culture. Even as far back as the 1830s, de Tocqueville noted the American penchant for multiplying religious sects.

This is the same thing that we saw in the Hellenistic age, as well. Remember the "crisis of liberty" I spoke of? Well, one response to it, in addition to determinism, was the rise of gnostic speculations (many of which were pretty deterministic in their approaches, as well), which truly were the epitome of "choose your own adventure" religion. Man's sinful nature desires to do things his own way, and that's what the individualism that foisted itself onto the Hellenistics enabled them to.

I don't know, just my $0.02, I guess.

Anonymous said...

Hi Pastor Brandenburger,

If you're interested, I just put up a blog post about something you said about Calvinism and the move towards worldliness here.


Anvil said...


No problem. I wasn't implying you owed me any kind of answer. I was just curious why you got the impression you did.

As an aside, I went to the website of one of the commenters here, Pastor Gary Webb (your pastor? -- at least it appears so from the link from your own blog). Interestingly, his website, like Bixby's mentions the Word ("Where the Bible Stands" vs. "Word-centered"), and like Bixby's, does not use the word "fundamental" on the homepage. Unlike Bixby's site, it doesn't even use that term on the "Doctrine" page. I suppose that may be because Pastor Webb, like Pastor Brandenburg, may not claim fundamentalism for other reasons, though that's just speculation. And, right back at you, one difference is that Pastor Webb *is* wearing a tie in his picture! :)

To determine that either of them is "fundamental" you would obviously need to go deeper than a cursory glance and examine the beliefs in more detail.

Pastor Brandenburg,

I'm not sure I understand your last comment. Is it a question, or do you mean I should read something? I'll go over there and see if I can find the series you are referring to. I've read most of the recent ones, but I'm not sure how they would tie in with this particular discussion. Maybe I'm just slow.

I'm sure you are right about *some* of the YF's just wanting worldliness. I've met a number, though, that just want to see more than an extremely tenuous connection between what the Word says, and what is preached. I haven't listened to Sweatt's whole sermon either, but the transcriptions of some of it that I have read demonstrate very poor argumentation and preaching against Calvinism, and mostly a straw-man version of it at that. (And I say that as a non-Calvinist.) Sermons purporting to declare the God's mind on something should be better than that, and since we don't know God's mind apart from what he has written for us, what is preached had better be firmly grounded in and tied to the Word.

Kent Brandenburg said...


Man, was that a poorly worded comment by me or what? The revivalism series at Jackhammer is what I was referring to.