Now and then, very rarely, as I have recounted here, you'll hear the term "separation" slip out of a conservative evangelical that isn't scoffing of separatists. Most conservative evangelicals at least, and especially, would consider themselves to be expositors and exegetes. Many present themselves as models of strict adherence to the text of Scripture.
With all of the above in mind, I bring you a rare occurrence of a public treatment of separation by a conservative evangelical. I say the word "treatment," and that's very kind to the point of being inaccurate. I used "treatment" because it was a generic enough. These guys are really serious about this---they think they are doing a very good job at breaking separation down.
Well, first let me take you into the situation, so you know what I'm talking about. We have a conservative evangelical parachurch guy, Todd Friel, who does a talk show called Wretched Radio (don't ask me to explain, but there is a long explanation). He decides to have a series of conferences in different locations on discernment and he likes to invite Phil Johnson to be one of the keynote speakers. Friel's main qualification for these conferences is that he's got a radio show that people know about, and kind of a zany personality. So at one of these discernment conferences, Friel starts riffing on a subject, totally and obviously extemporaneously, perhaps like he does some of his radio bits, which some folks find entertaining and maybe a little edifying. There is a high danger of shallow and superficial with this approach, which unfortunately is about exactly how many like it. In the midst of his talk, Friel spontaneously calls up Phil Johnson to join him in a talk show style dealing with the latest "discernment" interest. It is a kind of weird scene, because Friel is behind a pulpit in a church auditorium and Johnson is standing way off to the side like at any time he's about ready to walk off the platform, but he doesn't. He stays there yakking impromptu at the edge of the step for a long time about whatever seems to come into Friel's mind.
You can see all of this now on youtube. It wasn't purposefully videoed, but somebody lifted up his cell camera to record the exchange. It's that quality. But Johnson was proud enough of it to post it on his blog and then later someone at SharpIron made reference to it as important material about separation. I'm going to post the video and then the transcript of the appropriate conversation about separation, which occurs between 32:59 and 37:19, if you want to skip the rest of it.
Friel: To help us out here. Uh. Here is. Um. This is the elephant room. Alright? And you’ve decided that the elephant room is a bad idea. Alright? Bad idea, you’ve made your determination, your discernment says this is a bad idea. I would not do this. I don’t think other people should do it. But there are some people that you know and love that maybe live with, who either are going to be speaking at it or they like the idea. OK. I know what I’ve done with this. Phil, what, OK. ‘I like the elephant room conference.’
Johnson: Yah, I like you Todd. And, and I’m not going to break fellowship with you over that, but you’re not going to hear the end of it from me. I’m going to continue to try to persuade you that the elephant room is a bad idea.
Friel: Alright. Alright. Am I the same as the elephant room people?
Friel: Do I believe everything that the elephant room people believe?
Friel: OK. So this gets into another fundamentalist issue, which is hyper-separationism.
Friel: We want to be careful that we don’t fall into the same error….
Johnson: Yah, Right.
Friel: ….that they fell into, which is anybody who maybe disagrees with me…
Johnson: And that’s what I meant. I can, I can dislike the elephant room without disliking you, for liking it.
Johnson: But that, the fact that I like you doesn’t mean I have to shut up and, and stop trying to persuade you that this is a bad idea and your thinking on it is all wrong.
Friel: And this is, this is not a joke. This is exceedingly practical, and we could cite many examples off the top of our head, because this is an observitable fact about hyper-separationism. OK. Bad. You’ve determined, bad. I like it, therefore, now I am bad. Phil likes me, now Phil is bad. John MacArthur likes Phil, so John MacArthur is now bad. Anybody that you meet who listens to John MacArthur, who likes Phil Johnson, who likes Todd, who likes the elephant room. They’re all bad. And in about 10 years, we will have a wonderful church of one.
Johnson: Ya know, with twitter it probably won’t even take ten years.
Friel: Well, yah, that’s very true.
Johnson: Might, might have it in three.
Friel: That is hyper separationism. And this is a true, this is a, this is a hard one for those of us who are kinda bull headed, I’m, in right in the camp. And we like it clear and we like clean. But this is a true mark of Christian maturity to discern the difference of issues. What is…this decision to do this. Now, if I then say, oh, by the way, oh, and there’s another thing Phil. ‘And, and, I agree with T. D. Jakes, and I like modalism too.’ Does that change the picture?
Friel: Yah, suddenly.
Johnson: Yah, it sure does.
Friel: Now wait a second, that’s different than saying I like this idea of inviting a modalist to a conference to figure it out. To you hear the big difference. Think about how this plays out in your life and in your church, cause it most certainly does, or people that you listen to or follow or read. The pastor who quotes, uh, N. T. Wright. And you go, ‘what, what, pastor quoted N. T. Wright. N.T. Wright with the new perspectives, he’s terrible.’ Therefore, now the pastor is terrible, anybody who goes to that church is terrible. And you leave. That’s how quickly it can happen. Because the pastor quoted N.T. Wright, you don’t know where he stands with N. T. Wright. You just don’t know. OK. And let’s just say, that it’s a, his new perspective is kind of a difficult thing anyway. It’s a kind of a hash and mash and trash. It’s almost like the federal vision. It’s all complicated and messy. And the guy goes, ‘Well, ya know, I kind of, I’m not exactly sure.’ This guy is not embracing something that is heretical. This guy does not get connected with the person that he simply doesn’t throw out the back door. This separation issue is huge. Dude, you and I were talking about it. I’m kinda thinkin about us right now and the conversation that, that we had a little bit. Um, we’re kinda going through one of those right now. By saying something or even liking somebody who’s made a different decision, not a theological position, a different decision than you, doesn’t make the whole chain fall down for you. Is that fair enough?
Friel: You’re not going to add a thing to that?
Notice that at one point Friel says to the crowd, "This is not a joke." His exact words. He felt the need to say that. And I can understand, because it really is a joke. It is absurd. Friel had to announce that it wasn't a joke, because there was the threat that someone would think it was, because it was so absurd. The whole thing between he and Johnson is taking a serious subject and turning it into a Saturday Night Live type sketch. They make a caricature of separation that morphs into some Picasso-like distortion. And then Johnson is proud enough of it that he posts it for everyone to see. You would think that he would want to remove it from the world wide web, so as not to be an embarrassment. These two reduce the doctrine of separation to something that is absurd. They never ever do tell you what separation is. They never use one verse of Scripture or refer to the Bible one time about it. No 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1. No 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15. No 1 Timothy 6:3-5. No Romans 16:17-18. No 1 Corinthians 5. People may or may not be hearing from God's Word, but you wouldn't know because they don't mention it at all. If someone is to bring glory to God, when He speaks, it should be the oracles of God (1 Pet 4:11). This is supposed to be a conference on discernment that talks about a subject without one reference to Scripture. You don't have discernment without the Bible.
What Friel wants his attendees to have discernment about is what he calls "hyper-separationism." That is a new term on the scene that does not find precedent in historic theology.
I'll break down the above transcript in part two, so stay tuned.