Thursday, March 08, 2012

Reductio Ad Absurdum: Conservative Evangelicalism Meets the Doctrine of Separation pt. 2

This is part two of a series.  It would be helpful to read part one if you haven't already.


Usually people who want to correct someone on a practice first know and observe and teach what is the right practice.   For instance, if you wanted to correct someone about a wrong kind of separation, you would first know and observe and teach a right kind of separation.  People who never talk about separation to begin with shouldn't be the ones who are correcting anyone about wrong separation.  You don't want the sequoia beam of no-separation in your eye, blinding you from the proper discernment about the toothpick of hyper-separationism.

If there is a hyper-separationism that is wrong, one would assume that there is a separationism that is right.  The hyper-separation would be some kind of abuse of biblical separation, which really does exist. However, if you don't teach or practice separation, shouldn't you first be concerned about no-separationism?  For instance, if we had someone who never brushed his teeth, he wouldn't have much room for criticizing the way someone else did brush his teeth.  You've really got to do some teeth brushing to be enough of an expert to know what bad teeth brushing is.

Let's put the separationism doctrine or topic into the realm of dish washing.  Someone may think that you hyper-wash your dishes.  The critics are not washing their dishes, but that doesn't stop them from both thinking they know all about dish washing and then going ahead and criticizing actual dish washing.  I've seen those in the real world.  They wander into the kitchen where people are actually washing dishes.  They haven't washed any, but they have lots of opinions about how dishes are supposed to be washed.  And then let's say you've got a whole convention of non-dishwashers involved in rebuking the way others wash dishes.  I could see how that people who don't like to wash dishes could enjoy the criticism of dishwashing.

You see, you don't have a whole, huge load of separatists out there.  Separatists are really in the minority in the country and the world.  It's not popular to be a separatist.  So, when you are criticizing this major problem of hyper-separationism, it's hard to know who you are really directing that towards.  Is there really some major movement toward hyper-separationism today?  Separation of all kinds is becoming fast extinct because it's hard to do, kind of like love and mercy were hard for the Pharisees, so they stopped doing those. The criticism of types of separation seems to be on the side of getting rid of it all, especially from those who never, ever lay out a doctrine of separation in a positive way.  The no-separationists would like to stand as the chief hyper-critics of how people practice separation.  Typical, huh?

Toleration of everything is in the vast majority today.  Mostly people want everyone to tolerate them.   In their discernment conference, Todd Friel and Phil Johnson want to teach discernment by pointing out the errors of others.  They don't think error should be tolerated.  They think that their intolerance should be respected.  It's their intolerance.  It's got to be the good kind, since it's theirs.  They want tolerance of their intolerance and tolerance, their perfect balance between the two.  Not tolerating them, and then separating from them, would be hyper-separationism.  Of course.

Usually separationists are doing a little more than pointing out error.  Separationists are, of course, also separating over unrepentant error out of obedience to Scripture.  Friel and Johnson never teach separation, however.  They just teach against hyper-separation.  Separation is in the Bible.  They don't teach about that. They teach against hyper-separation, and never indicate what or where the warning is against that in the Bible.

And then we begin to consider this problem of hyper-separationism.  It's a little like the concern over micro-chips in my cheerios or breathing in from the clouds of nanites that the government has released for purposes of brain control.  All of that really could be a problem if it really were a problem.  But is it?  This is where the absurdity of their illustration comes in, and it shows that they need to spend some time breaking down what the Bible says about actual separation, before they move into abuses of it.  There are abuses of separation.  There are.  But that really is not the major problem related to separation today.  The major problem about separation is that people are not separating.  They're tolerating too much.  And then rather than separating, they're doing like Friel and Johnson say is best---make incessant speeches and hold conferences about the error.

Let's hit some of the problems with their presentation.

First, you don't separate from someone because you don't like them.  That really is a ridiculous assertion.  Friel and Johnson talk about that again and again, really misrepresenting the doctrine of separation with that claim.  "You know, when someone separates from you, it's because they don't like you, so, um, don't be concerned about it."  Separation is motivated by love, first love for God, and then love for the one from whom you are separating.  That would have been a good thing to communicate by the two.  That's how discernment really does work.  You follow the Bible in decision making.  Friel and Johnson represented separation as an act that was done because you didn't like someone.  That bad misrepresentation will hurt the discernment of the audience to whom they are speaking.

The one who separates according to Scripture actually loves the person more whom he separates from than the person who won't separate.  And truly the one who won't separate isn't loving at all.  It's like a parent who will or will not spank his child.  The non-spanking parent doesn't love the child more because he gives him incessant speeches about what he's doing wrong.  I really do think that especially Johnson knows that, which, of course, makes their presentation a deceitful one.   Johnson knows what Scripture says.  He does.  He's not ignorant.  And for that reason, and I hate to say it, because I don't dislike Phil, but I believe he's lying about it.  Again, he's not ignorant.  Unfortunately, it's a type of lying that is pandering to an audience that doesn't want to separate, so they are eager to hear a tortured exaggeration of how it's practiced.  They can pocket that built in excuse for disobeying the biblical teaching of separation.  Todd and Phil gave them their own excuse for disobedience.

Second, when someone is unrepentant for an unbiblical practice, the biblical way of dealing with that is not what Johnson said:  "you're never going to hear the end of it from me."  That got a big laugh from the audience, and never ending speeches might sound like a tough thing to do, but it is not what the Bible teaches.  You do talk to someone at the beginning of the process.  Separation is the difficult thing to do.  If someone won't obey the Bible, you don't continue with speeches, attempting to persuade the person to no end.  The speeches are supposed to come to an end when the unrepentant will not hear.  Jesus didn't continue dealing with people who wouldn't hear.  He said not to cast pearls before pigs.  He would leave a town that didn't heed His message.  And He removes His candlestick from the church which would not repent.  Friel and Johnson hurt biblical discernment with their instruction.

Third, you do separate from someone who won't separate.  Separation itself is a command.   Not obeying the command to separate is a sin.  Friel and Johnson attempt to evade this simple point with the absurd.  "If you don't like McGillicuddy and Franzen won't separate from him, then you separate from Franzen, and if Johanson won't separate from Franzen who won't separate from McGillicuddy, then you separate from Johanson, etc."  And what's the point of all of this?  Not to separate.  It's to encourage more speech-making and discourage separating.  But separating is what Scripture teaches.  Friel and Johnson never make that point.  This is a con job.  It's  a red herring.  It's a smokescreen.  It's a straw man.  Yes.  All of those.

You like McGillicuddy.  He's disobeyed the Bible and won't repent.  You like him so much that you separate from him.  Franzen keeps fellowshiping with a disobedient brother.  If he won't practice separation, then he is indifferent to McGillicuddy's disobedience.  He's now an accessory to his evil deed.  What Friel calls hyper-separationism is what some have termed "secondary separation," a pejorative Friel and Johnson attempt to discredit by turning it into the absurd with third, fourth, fifth, and sixth degree separation.  We should act in faith and obey the Bible.  Separation should be practiced.  Their hypothetical doesn't stand as an actual reason to disobey the teaching to separate.  Reducing separation to this absurdity is a common fallacious argument against separation.

Fourth, irrelevance is not a valid argument against separation.  In essence, Friel and Johnson say that "in about 10 years, we will have a wonderful church of one"  if we separate.  This is in truth an argument from relevance.  It is a pragmatic argument.  Who cares if you get down to one?   The world got down to one family with Noah.  Paul said he got down to one Timothy who was like-minded with him.  Here you see the obsession with numbers for evangelicals.  They're like Jack Hyles in that way, arguing for whatever he did by how many people showed up.  Of course you'll have more people if you don't separate.  Duh.

Separatists don't actually get down to "one."  I have fellowship with a lot of men who believe as our church does and practices separation like our church does.   It's probably not a big enough group for Friel and Johnson.  It wouldn't probably suit their purposes.  But even if we did get down to "one," it's not a good argument.  You don't develop discernment by using pragmatism as a basis for what you do.  "If you don't want to work yourself down to one person, then you better not practice separation."  What biblical basis do we have for that mattering?  We don't have one.  It's discernment ruination coming at a discernment conference, so that a crowd can avoid some problem that they'll call "hyper-separationism."  And this coming from no-separationists.

To Be Continued


Joshua said...

Well said. Separation is such a frequent topic of the Old and New Testaments that it is a very telling admission that they cannot be nailed down on the doctrinal teaching.

Ever since your rock concert post I've been thinking about the thought process behind this.

I think at the back of the mind of most conservative evangelicals who will not separate is the idea of "reasonable".

There are many doctrines of the Scriptures that seem crazy to the unsaved, because they do not have faith in Scripture or God. By their reasoning, the Bible is not reasonable, therefore it is rejected.

To a conservative evangelical, who has faith in the Bible, many things become reasonable that weren't previously, like miracles or Genesis 1. It's the faith that makes it seem reasonable though, not his own wisdom. God has revealed and he has received, and now it seems as natural and reasonable to him as breathing. As he grows in the faith more things become reasonable to him through the teaching of His Word.

He even finds that some beliefs and habits he previously thought were reasonable as a young Christian become less reasonable the more he learns and the more he grows - in faith. Not in "reasonableness". He's now believing in things that many, many people think are unreasonable. It's his trust that is growing and what seems reasonable changes with it.

But the reason and the faith don't have to be a package deal. There are always things in our lives where our reason clashes with the Scripture. We have a wisdom but it's fleshly. These strongholds in the mind prevent us from faithful adherence. But the Scriptures themselves are mighty through God to pull these down.

Friel and Johnson are attempting to appeal directly to man's sense of "reasonable" to avoid examining Scriptures here. Why? Because they've done it themselves. Nothing appears more reasonable to them than to unite with MacArthur for instance. Nothing appears more reasonable than to separate from Rob Bell. When they read separation passages superficially, they think they're doing it because they've got some folks they shun and some they unite with. But they do so according to whatever they think is reasonable. They start with what they think is reasonable, do some separating based off that and then call it a day, and call it obedience. Anyone that does different to them is therefore "unreasonable".

What is reasonable? They start not with the Scriptures. They start with their own punt based heavily off how men they admire operate.

Friel and Johnson know that if they sit down, and go from the Scriptures to develop a solid theology of separation and how it applies (the path of faith), they are sunk. In order to be "reasonable" they must not have hard and fast lines directly tied to the Bible, or they're going to start being "unreasonable" fast. They have a list of "good guys" and they cannot afford to have anything solid enough to exclude them.

So in their mind they're comfortable to keep separation at an arms distance and stay reasonable. Maybe trot out a verse or two and sling it towards Rob Bell, because they don't disbelieve those verses, but they certainly don't want to treat them too seriously or examine them closely to discern the doctrine. As one man told me "Josh, I've just seen so much bad stuff done in the name of separation". At the end of the day, that's where his reason lead him. Johnson and Friel are doing the same thing.

Anyway, wanted to get that down to organize my own thoughts. This is a worthy subject to keep hitting on. It's faithlessness and man-elevation disguised as discernment. They throw stones to mock us as "unreasonable", yet refuse to establish a doctrine of separation themselves to argue it from the Scriptures. Tell tale.

Kent Brandenburg said...


A reasonable comment. Ooops. It was very good as usual. I think you are correct on what seems reasonable. Sanctified them through their reason. No. But that's what happens.

I appreciate your thinking that I'm good continuing to write on this, because I understand that someone will think I've snapped. I think the best people to illustrate the problems with evangelicalism and fundamentalism can be the best of them. They do the most damage, I believe, in a sense. It's why I don't talk much about Mark Driscoll or even the guys left of him like Rob Bell. There is plenty of dealing with them online.

Joshua said...

I know what you mean when you say "the best of them", but it is definitely important that you address this.

I work with many different "types" of believers, and I find I have the most in common by far with conservative evangelicals who roll with Piper and MacArthur. They at least display some level of discernment and do not actively oppose the Gospel.

But for Baptists who want to leave the old paths without throwing everything away, those guys are the next step. The seriousness and the high talk about God with a bigger tent is a huge drawcard. Plus, in terms of dealing with worldliness you can now be a lot more "reasonable".

And we've seen where it leads. Emergents are using the exact same playbook. The conservatives separate over the five fundamentals, but not over anything else because that seems a reasonable way to go. If the fundamentalist cries foul and tries to use Biblical arguments, the conservative points to two sides with different views and claims it should be grace and acceptance of diversity, and anything else (especially separation) over the issue is unreasonable.

The Emergent uses the exact same tactic. Exact. They learnt it from their conservative parent. It's a carbon copy.

The Emergent separates over lovingness/kindness but not over anything else, because that seems reasonable to them. If a CE crys foul and tries to use Biblical arguments, they point to differing views and claim it should be grace and accepted as diversity, and anything else is unreasonable. The CE is hoist with their own petard because they taught them. They were the ones that elevated man and his arguments and his reason to the authority, and their next generation have come along with plenty o' man, arguments and reason and want to play the same game.

So I think it's very important that it be addressed at its root with the CE's. The Pharisee's were a lot closer to the mark theologically than the Sadduccee's, but the errors of both were exposed and needfully so. I think I better end my rant here. Thanks for posting and I'm really looking forward to the book that comes from the Word of Truth conferences.

God bless,


Dennis R said...

To answer a couple of your points
1. I believe that what they may have been referring to is that for many fundamentalists they almost seem to enjoy "separating" because they don't like a particular person. You may be unique, but I have not found much love in the churches I've been in regarding separation.
2. You are equating an seemingly unregenerate person who won't repent of blatant sin (immorality, denying of Christ, etc) to some one who is a believer, but doesn't draw the same line in the sand. I think this is dangerous and poor understanding of the text and issues.
3. This brings me to my 3rd point which is that there are some issues of greater importance than others. Sorry, but the KJV ought not to be a matter of separation either way. There is simply no grounds for it on either side. It's a translation and whether one uses a KJV or ESV does not testify to whether they are a Christian or not. Not every issue is of vital importance. It's why early fundamentalism included various denominations, even, gulp, Presbyterians.
4. On a side note, you will be glad to know that Phil Johnson did a whole session on separation at this years Shepherds Conference. You may not agree with it all, but he did use Scripture and did draw a line in the sand.

Kent Brandenburg said...


I agree totally. Biblical separation will go away if churches and their leaders will not defend it.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Dennis R.,

Do I know you? Just curious. I went to high school with someone with that first name and last initial.

For your #1, I don't know of anyone who separates on mere dislike. And even in his illustration, he didn't prove that. Just asserted it.

For your #2, I don't know what you are talking about. You'll have to point to where I said something like that.

For your #3, I don't separate over using a different translation than the KJV. I do separate over a biblical doctrine of inerrancy. I don't mind breaking that down, but the "separate over KJV" idea is a red herring.

For your #4, I'll look forward to hearing Phil's session. It would be great if he laid down a biblical doctrine of separation. We're close to publishing a book on it, hopefully by June. It will be 300-400 pages and will cover it really well. I'll be talking about it here. What I saw in his little video advertising his session, it doesn't seem like that was his intent--to teach on separation. Some of what he is saying though is a more conservative change for Phil, almost as if he is listening to things I'm writing here and he's moving at least our direction. And what he is saying IS a conservative change for him.

Steve Rogers said...

Looking forward to the book.

Dennis R said...

We dont know each other to my knowledge. Did you grow up in California? Im on the other side of the country.
In your second Point you say that is someone won't obey then you don't keep talking to them and that Jesus didn't keep talking to people in th towns that rejected Him. If you are talking about an unregenerate person or someone who is denying the truth of the Gospel (which touches on much more than conservative evangelicals think, but am hopeful that they are seeing that), then you deal with him as an unbeliever. So, this doesnt mean an open dialogue to just "work out difference." however, I am not agree with Phil Johnson on some issues but I don't see where I wipe the dust off my sandals because he has reject/differs on a doctrinal matter. Maybe I didn't understand the point you were making, but it just didn't seem to fit.
As for the KJV. You may not separate, but many others do. Can I ask if you or would you fellowship as a church with other churches that use a different version?

Kent Brandenburg said...

Hi Dennis,

Phil keeps on giving speeches to people who aren't doing right. I'm saying there is a pattern from Jesus' example of not just continuing to talk to those who won't listen. I provided just a sampling. For instance, there is a process for an unrepentant, disobedient brother that doesn't mean continuing to make speeches, but in separation.

Related to the issue of preservation of Scripture. Obviously, Spanish churches don't use the KJV, French ones don't, etc. So I don't see the Word exclusively in one English translation. However, the historic position is that there is only one Word of God, one set of Words, and the churches agreed on that text, received it. Only one translation today comes from that text in the English and it is the KJV. We separate, not over a translation, but over the doctrine of verbal, plenary preservation of the very Words of God in the language in which they written.

Steve Rogers said...

Right Kent, it's a text issue, not a translation issue. Our church supports church planters using several translations, depending on the language or dialect. We also are supporting 2 translations in progress. The key is what words are being translated. Beware, the Ruckmanite label may be forthcoming...

Dennis said...

I know you have done research, but the TR, as you know, only goes back 500 years. Before that there were other texts that were used. Why did we change to the TR? Wouldn't their have been a tried and true text before that would have been the standard? If the standard shifted at that time, can it not shift again? Church history is not on the side of the TR, sorry
I don't with to turn this into a translation debate

Bill Hardecker said...

I am no textual scholar, but one textual scholar does view the TR to go way back beyond just 500 years:

"The one great fact, which especially troubles him (meaning Dr. Hort) and his joint Editor, as well as it may, is The Traditional Greek Text of the New Testament Scriptures. Call this Text Erasmian or Complutensian, - the Text of Stephens, or of Beza, or of the Elzevirs, - call it the "Received," or The Traditional Greek Text of whatever other name you please; - the fact remains, that a Text has come down to us which is attested by a general consensus of ancient Copies, ancient Fathers, ancient Versions. This, at all events, is a point on which, (happily,) there exists entire conformity of opinion between Dr. Hort and ourselves. Our Readers cannot have yet forgotten his vitual admission that, - Beyond all question the Textus Receptus is the dominant Graeco-Syrian Text of A.D. 350 to A.D. 400." Burgon, Revision Revised, page 269.

I think Burgon's view of the Biblical text is based on a Bibliology that we could classify (and share) as the Perfect Preservation view.

Dennis, have you read Thou Shalt Keep Them? This book is edited by Pastor Brandenburg, and is perfect (no pun intended) for the topic at hand.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Hi Dennis,
Your view is a new view, that originated in the late 19th century doctrinally, when Warfield attempted to morph the Westminster Confession of Faith into textual criticism. It diverges from the historic and scriptural view of preservation and canonicity.

Even the top critical text people admit the following. Kurt Aland's wife, Barbara Aland, writes in her book The Text of the New Testament (pp. 6-7):

[T]he Textus Receptus remained the basic text and its authority was regarded as canonical. . . . Every theologian of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries (and not just the exegetical scholars) worked from an edition of the Greek text of the New Testament which was regarded as the "revealed text." This idea of verbal inspiration (i. e., of the literal and inerrant inspiration of the text) which the orthodoxy of both Protestant traditions maintained so vigorously, was applied to the Textus Receptus.