Not many in the room on Thursday, November 17, would take the position of Kevin Bauder. I had to be one of the most sympathetic to him. And he did behave like he was speaking to a hostile audience. That seemed to have too much impact on him. One of those who questioned him in the Q & A period was thinking the same thing as I about a majority of his 11 propositions. Bauder was arguing the "limitation of fellowship," how he defined separation, and these propositions, no offense, seemed to be a kind of insult to the intelligence. He said we're already limiting our fellowship due to distance and proximity and competence and priorities. OK. Maybe evangelicals are in separation kindergarten and need those kinds of elementary observations. I was thinking, "What does this have to do with biblical separation?" The Bible never says anything about these as limitations of fellowship, and they don't seem to further Bauder's argument. I'm open to someone explaining to me how they would.
Another one of his propositions said that separation is actually a good way to avoid conflict and therefore to uphold the unity of the Spirit. I strained to think of how that anything in Scripture applied to that idea of unity. I do see fundamentalism and evangelicalism both behaving this way, that is, avoiding conflict. However, I see Jesus and Paul both head right into it. No one should fight just to fight. But we do not separate so that we can avoid conflict. I'm sure that it is a byproduct of separating from someone, but the calm and tranquility that comes from not being in spiritual combat is not anything akin to unity. Someone may think I'm misunderstanding. I don't think so.
This kind of approach with this type of crowd might seem like it will work. Bauder looks to be using an inductive approach that will get the crowd nodding like bobble-head dolls, so that when he does get to actual separation, they'll already have the "yes" movement going, something like: "Hey, separation isn't so hard. You're already doing it anyway, so let's all just take it one step further now." If it was possible for Bauder, I would have much more appreciated a presuppositional tact that relied on Scripture to cast down imaginations and thoughts that exalted themselves against the truth about separation. Certainly they would have disliked him more for having done that, but that would have been in line with faith and biblical ministry and following Christ.
Mohler said that he agreed with everything that Bauder said except for proposition eleven, which was "limitations of fellowship created by indifferentism." Bauder explained the seriousness of indifferentism: it affects the gospel through degradation, it makes the New Testament neutral when it is not, and it involves believers with gospel deniers, bringing reproach to themselves. He referenced Galatians 1:6-9, 2 Corinthians 11, 2 John, and Jude.
Mohler defended his associations with Billy Graham. He did so by explaining how great Billy Graham was in his support of Mohler. He said that there were things he didn't think Graham should do, but that we should all respect Graham's support of Mohler despite opposition. So that one act was used to wash away the rest of Graham's transgressions. The number one thing, it seemed to me, that Graham had going for him with Mohler was that Billy Graham was a Southern Baptist. Mohler is a Southern Baptist defending a Southern Baptist.
Mohler disputed his own indifferentism and Bauder agreed that he wasn't an indifferentist. It was then that Mohler seemed puzzled, and to his credit, he asked Bauder if he could inform him of what he might need to hear that would help him understand. Bauder had nothing to offer him. He said that Mohler wasn't an indifferentist even though other fundamentalists would say he was. Bauder was in a position where Mohler was asking him for help and Bauder would not give it.
Right this moment, I'm looking down at my notes from this session. I wish I had audio recorded it. That would have made it far easier, but my notes were probably good enough. I would have loved to have asked a series of questions to both Mohler and Bauder. I knew I could get only one shot, so I narrowed it down to three points. Here's what I had written down.
1. There are no books in the mammoth ETS book room written on separation. Evangelicals don't care about or think about the doctrine of separation.
2. 2 Corinthians 6:14 says, "Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers." That is the command of that section of Scripture. "Yoking" is working together or cooperating together in common ministry for the Lord. Dr. Mohler, how can you obey 2 Corinthians 6:14 and remain in the Southern Baptist Convention, cooperating with unbelievers in the cooperative program?
3. Dr. Mohler, it seems your only answer to Dr. Bauder was that fundamentalists were inconsistent too in their practice of separation. It seems that Kevin is just attempting to practice separation and be as consistent as possible in his view of it. (Bauder was nodding "yes" here.) Just because fundamentalists are inconsistent with their principles of separation, how does that change his responsibility to practice separation?
When I asked these questions, Kevin Bauder was nodding his head in affirmation. It seemed that he saw these as supporting his cause. They were the only thing anyone said in the Q & A time that supported him. He didn't seem like he disagreed. I don't know why Bauder wouldn't himself bring up the cooperative program of the SBC. He would have been able to do follow up questions that I wasn't able to do. I had to sit and listen to the political answer of Mohler without the opportunity for follow-up. Anyone can squirm out of answering if he doesn't have to receive a follow-up. Watch presidential news conferences to see examples.
Before Mohler "answered," Fesko, the Presbyterian professor from Westminster, California, replied to my point about no books about separation. I had spent at least 2 hours walking through that room with the books and looked at what they offered. There was some great stuff. He said that there were books about separation down there, but they were in the books written about ecclesiology and in the sections on church discipline. So he was saying that church discipline is separation. Bauder didn't challenge that, and I couldn't. If his answer represented his thinking, then he didn't know what he was talking about regarding separation. He proved my point.
Then Mohler took the microphone and he asked if the question was directed toward him, and I answered "yes," although I thought that it was also toward Bauder, because I wondered if Bauder had given a thought to the cooperative program of the SBC, among other things that I will mention later. Mohler said he had answered the question thirty minutes before when he had talked about the leaders of the SBC perhaps needing to separate from the convention several years ago before the purging of liberalism from the convention. He also explained briefly some of the policies and goals of the convention that seemed to hint that liberalism could be treated in a different way than separation. I wouldn't have been able to write fast enough to get all of that down. And that was the essence of his answer.
If I could have followed up, what would I say? I would have asked him if there were any liberals still in any of the Southern Baptist seminaries in the cooperative program. I wasn't asking him if a lot of liberals had left or whether the convention was more conservative. I want to know if you are obeying 2 Corinthians 6:14 by being in the convention. If you fellowship with one theological liberal by being in the convention, then you are disobeying that verse. But I couldn't do that kind of work. Bauder could have. Maybe he thought it would have been too disrespectful. But isn't indifferentism a very serious thing? Aren't those who love the indifferentists the most the ones who are attempting to help them stop being indifferent? So do that!
The inconsistency argument is the number one argument against separatists. I see it again and again. If you are seen or considered to be inconsistent with your more conservative separatist stance, then that gets to open the door for all sorts of inconsistency for everyone else. Bauder helped make the argument here for Mohler. Bauder said everyone separates. That was a big point in his 11 propositions. In my opinion, his strategy backfired on him. Mohler, in a typical debate fashion, used it against Bauder. He himself didn't answer for his own lack of separation. He said that everyone separates to different degrees. After all, Bauder had said so. And then when everyone is separating, they are all inconsistent. So there we go. Since we're all kind of helpless to live what God said anyway, then we all can slap down the inconsistency card and then go our merry ways.
I've got more to say about this session and then I'll move on to the rest of the 2011 ETS meeting. I want to explain how Bauder's position was untenable.