Thursday, May 17, 2007

THE EJECT BUTTON---Zichterman and Beckwith Learned Their Lessons a Little Too Well

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.

  1. The invisible body of Christ, the true church, is all believers.
  2. There is to be no schism in the body.
  3. We are to rank doctrines and practice into essentials and non-essentials for the sake of unity.
  4. The truth was preserved by the invisible church, the true church, within the visible church.
  5. History doesn’t validate a true visible church before the Reformation, except for the catholic church.
  6. Physical and historical evidence shows the catholic church to have canonized Scripture.
Zichterman and especially Beckwith are the true believers in these six points regularly professed by fundamentalists and evangelicals. Their counter-reformation seems to be based on the correct history and evidence of fundamentalism and evangelicalism. If I believed these six points, like I hear most evangelicals and a large number of fundamentalists, I really should follow the paths of these two men. If I believed these six, I should consider Zichterman and Beckwith to be persecuted. They appear, based on these beliefs, to be men of conviction, willing to suffer the castigation and ignominy of their friends and peers. The rest of these fundamentalists and evangelicals look like fainthearted cowards compared to them. I believe it is one reason for the rabid attack against them. It is hard for the fundamentalists and evangelicals to kick against the pricks.

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.


Don Johnson said...


I've been away, but now I'm back... I think you are really really reaching with this one. You ask:

"Which of these are not taught at BJU, Detroit, Calvary-Lansdale, Northland, Masters, Faith, or Central?"

Of your six points, only the first one would have been taught at all at BJU during my time there. None of the rest of those statements would have been taught at that time. I have no reason to believe that any of them have been taught since.

Zichterman made his decisions for his own reasons. If you want to blame institutions for the weirdo decisions their graduates make, then there is not an institution on earth that will stand that test, including the church you lead. People do all kinds of things contrary to what they have been taught. That doesn't put the teacher at fault.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Kent Brandenburg said...


I would be amazed if you are correct here. Think about what you are saying. 1 Cor. 12:25 point blank says there is to be no schism in the body. They don't believe that? I do.

Then ranking doctrines---what about the "fundamentals of the faith"---I was taught that at Maranatha when I went. #4 and #5 are what the English separatists believe, which is what is taught at MBBC. If history doesn't show RC canonizing Scripture, what is it that you were taught? I would be curious, because this is all that I hear from the other side on that issue. They won't call it RC, but the church fathers--what's the difference?

I appreciate your answer, but I would like someone to show me how that #1-6 is wrong. I do know some pastors that graduated from BJU, etc. believe and practice and teach differently, but that isn't what I was saying. For instance, BJ published "This Day in Baptist History," but BJ doesn't believe that view of Baptist history, which is ironic.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Excuse me on one thing---I said English separatism taught at MBBC, that was a typo; I meant BJU. MBBC is spiritual kinship even still, I believe.

Bobby Mitchell said...


You weren't paying attention at BJU if you didn't learn these things.

My dad is a grad, and he'll confirm what Kent has written here. Thankfully, Dad grew to a Biblical understanding of preservation, the church, church history, etc. since he graduated.

Don Johnson said...

Hi Kent

I think that you are saying too much with your statements, and thus putting words in the mouths of others. On point two:

"There is to be no schism in the body."

You point out 1 Cor 12.25, but my profs would have rightly noted that 1 Cor 12 is a local church passage, not a universal church passage. Further, the existence of apparent schism in the visible church is not the same as schism in the invisible church. And finally, the unity of the body is the responsibility of God, who will bring about the final union of the body in the glory, but not necessarily in the visible church of this dispensation.

On point 3:

"We are to rank doctrines and practice into essentials and non-essentials for the sake of unity."

The rationale for ranking doctrines is not for the sake of unity but for the sake of justifying separation. There are some doctrines over which we will not separate, or over which we will only separate on a limited basis (church polity questions, for example).

On "The truth was preserved by the invisible church, the true church, within the visible church."

Well... isn't the truth preserved by God?

On the canonization question, I don't think humans canonized anything, nor was I taught that. Christians recognized the canon, they didn't canonize.

Basically, I think that you are reading some of your own conflicts with the BJU/Maranatha et al crowd into this article. I don't think any of this is behind Zichterman's choices, nor do I think that you are really capturing the teaching of BJU/Maranatha accurately in your summation.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Kent Brandenburg said...

Hello Bobby, and what he said regarding BJU, Don, I don't have any particular beef with BJ. My wife went there. I think she got a basically good education, probably an overall higher standard than what she would have gotten anywhere else. When I see her do good work, I'm thankful for her college education. Everything is doctrinal and practical; zero political on this front. BJU does nothing to me; neither does MBBC. But MBBC wouldn't believe these six, even still. That's why I didn't include them in the list---that truly was a typo.

The "who canonized Scripture" is semantical. I could put "the Holy Spirit canonized through the RCC" and it's the same thing. I don't think I'm putting words in people's mouths and I challenge you to find out for yourself. Don't use my name. That will bring more heat than light, but ask for yourself. I've had back and forth with Detroit---I know that they believe these six. Years back I had an email exchange with Gerald Priest there, and they believe this. On 1 Cor. 12 being taught local church, I would be surprised. I can't say you weren't taught that, but I have never ever heard anything but universal there. What is "body" in 1 Cor. 12:13 then?

All I'm saying is that from what I read, the doctrinal basis for the Zichterman/Beckwith ejection are these six points, which are still taught at these places.