Monday, June 09, 2008

Dialogue about Separation: The 2008 Dever-Minnick 9Marks Interview part one

Not often can we eavesdrop on a conversation about separation between a well-known evangelical and fundamentalist. When Mark Dever interviews Mark Minnick as part of the 9Marks organization, we can, and I did. A Duke graduate and PhD from Cambridge, Mark Dever is senior pastor of the SBC Capital Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC. A graduate of Bob Jones University, Mark Minnick is senior pastor of Mt. Calvary Baptist Church in Greenville, SC, and long-time BJU faculty member. I listened with an open mind, as objective as possible, in order to give an honest, Scriptural, personal assessment of what I heard from both men. I’m interested in what men are saying about the doctrine of separation. I do have respect for both of them—Dever because of his stands within the Southern Baptist Convention and Mark Minnick for the excellent pattern he provides for the exposition of Scripture and for his informative break-downs of historic Christian writings often found in FrontLine magazine.

Overall Evaluation

Dever treated Minnick very respectfully and by the time he ended, I sensed some conviction in Dever from the interaction. Mark Minnick is a very gifted expositor; however, based on this and other interviews I’ve heard, he surprisingly is poor at spontaneous or impromptu and he sounds, to put it graciously, very tentative, in this conversation. Although he made a few good points, Minnick didn’t seem to have a strong grasp on the practice of separation. He had a great opportunity to speak up for separatists, at least for his brand, but he fell short in my opinion. Later in this commentary, I will tell you why I think that was the case.

Dever asks good questions, ones that would allow Minnick to proclaim separation. For a separatist, they were some soft lobs that he could have hit out of the park, but he never did. I believe Dever on several occasions was setting himself up for a Minnick admonition. Minnick did succeed at presenting a few passages of Scripture that were themselves enough to give Dever pause. Even with them; however, he seemed unprepared to provide their application to the interview. Dever was obviously thinking about separation, especially in preparation for his talk, so with the little textual support that Minnick gave, Dever knew he wasn’t obeying Scriptural separation. Minnick repeatedly provided Dever excuses for his disobedience in separation, almost as if he was uncomfortable with Dever’s manifestation of conviction. Perhaps this is because of Minnick’s own inconsistencies in separation that were clearly exposed by the questions and comments that Dever made.

Between the two, I was left thinking that I’d rather talk to Dever about issues than Minnick. Minnick seemed shackled by the expectations of political fundamentalism, being very cautious in answers, afraid of who he might offend. Dever even picked up on this, saying at one point that he didn’t want to get Minnick in trouble with his group. That was sad really and a testimony to one of the major ills in fundamentalism. Out of fear of getting branded, men often don’t say what they think. This environment emasculates many of the men of the movement. Some might contend that this is the graciousness of Minnick coming out. I hope so. I don’t think so. He’s a gracious man, but his lack of boldness was unsettling. Minnick was so ambiguous in his description of separation that I could not understand how to even practice it based on what he said.

Toward the beginning in describing the "landscape" of fundamentalism in one of his questions, Dever showed his knowledge by mentioning Hyles, Bob Jones, and the Sword of the Lord, all proper nouns. Sensing the discomfort of Minnick and wanting to draw him out, he repeatedly said, "Without using proper names." This does show a shift in fundamentalism. Naming was once a hallmark of fundamentalism. It is also characteristic of Scripture, as Minnick himself pointed out when he referenced Alexander and Hymenaeus.

In a certain way, Minnick seemed ashamed of being a fundamentalist. He laughed about the various groups or "sects" of fundamentalism. When asked who his heroes were, he did not name one fundamentalist—he named D. Martyn Lloyd Jones, John MacArthur, and the Puritans. He did not say Bob Jones, III, his former pastor, or any well known pastor who was a Bob Jones graduate. At the end, he heaped praise upon Dever for what he was doing, not pointing out in any way that Dever was violating the doctrine of separation. I believe that Minnick is separated from Dever, but he didn’t say anything that would reveal that.

What Is Fundamentalism?

After introducing Minnick to his audience, Dever asked him questions about separation. As we come to find out in the interview, Dever had a prominent family member who had himself separated from the SBC, so he himself was familiar with the practice. He asked questions that showed that he grasped the BJU type of separation.

Dever asked Minnick to define a fundamentalist and Minnick said that it was someone who held to "essential doctrines of the Christian faith" and then practiced separation based on a violation of those essential doctrines. I don’t have a problem with that definition of fundamentalism. It does fit into a description of an interdenominational movement. The "essential doctrines" part of the definition; however, is why Minnick is so inconsistent in his practice.

As the interview proceeded, Minnick had a difficult time explaining how to separate. When he talked about unity in the truth and separation from anyone who departs from the truth, I never knew what "the truth" was of which he was speaking. I think it might be what the Bible teaches, but I’m not sure. It’s easy to say "the truth" and leave it undefined—someone can make it whatever he feels like separating over. If it was the "fundamental fundamentals" as Dever explained it or the "essential doctrines" as Minnick offered, where does Scripture teach that? Later Minnick referenced 1 Corinthians 5. When you look at the list of sins there over which we must separate, it seems that there are more than just the "essential doctrines" of the faith as commonly taught by fundamentalists. This is where the BJU and fundamentalistic explanation of separation leaves someone befuddled. More questioning muddies the waters even more.

KJO

Towards the beginning we heard this exchange:


Dever: In order to better understand what separation is, maybe we can sort of turn the lights on the outside of what is legitimate separation. What is an example of what would be outside of legitimate separation?

Minnick: Well, the sectarian I was talking about. Where you make issues a test of fellowship that the Scripture doesn’t.

Dever: So like the King James Only thing.

Minnick: There are many men within fundamentalism that strongly prefer the King James Version, but they don’t make that the test case. The way they would put it is that they’re not King James Only but they use only the King James. That’s not a position that I’m particularly comfortable with, because I think it basically supports the wrong side on that issue. Um, but there are some in fundamentalism that the King James Version is the test case for that.

In many ways, the evangelical and fundamentalist explanation of King James Only is just a straw man or red herring. It focuses on the translation itself and the extremes in practice but ignores the Scriptural and historic doctrine of preservation. Minnick referenced only KJO as an example of a "schismatic" or "sect" of fundamentalism that "divided the body of Christ." Earlier Minnick himself said that separation was actually initiated by those who departed from Scriptural doctrine and practice, that separation was simply a reaction to what those men have done. If men say there are errors in Scripture, that is a departure from Scriptural and historic doctrine. Who is initiating that separation?

What Minnick said is tell-tale about the KJO issue, which is the only issue that Minnick mentioned that is a "schismatic" kind of separation. That backs up my contention that KJO is the third rail of fundamentalist politics. It is mainly political. He says that KJO is "the wrong side on that issue." Is something "schismatic" because it violates Scripture or is it because it is on "the wrong side of the issue"? Separating over "errors in Scripture" seems to be biblical separation, initiated by those who endorse and teach that the Bible has errors against the Scriptural and historic position.

One elephant in the room of Bob Jones separation is music. Is that a schismatic issue? I know it does divide "the body of Christ." KJO came up because that is an issue that Dever and Minnick could agree on. Minnick could keep getting "attaboys" by mentioning KJO. They could both hold hands against guys on "the wrong side" (theologically incorrect side) of the version issue. At that point, they were T4VI, Together for the Version Issue. Historically, Bob Jones has separated on music. I believe that worship is worth separating over, but that didn't come up, because then we might have to talk about CJ Mahaney and another Mark, Mark Driscoll, who Mark Dever just preached for. Or perhaps music and worship are becoming a non-separating issue for the Bob Jones guys now.

Truth, Essentials, and Ambiguity

Dever mentioned his close friendship and fellowship with J. Ligon Duncan, a presbyterian pastor, who practices infant sprinkling and believes that this sprinkling places the infant into the church. Dever said that he believes Duncan disobeys Scripture on baptism. Minnick agreed that this was not a separating issue. Jesus commanded John to baptize Him to "fulfill all righteousness." I would conclude from that exchange that Minnick also believes that separation over the doctrine of baptism is schismatic. That would be a logical conclusion. I don’t think; however, that Minnick would call that schismatic. Why? Politics again. The "essentials" and "truth" are determined by some sort of popular, fundamentalistic fiat. KJO fits its mandate, but baptism does not. The Bible loses its place as final authority, replaced by this sort of sacral society.

I would think that intelligent men would see that a doctrine and practice of separation that is so inconsistent could not be what God has taught in His Word. In the midst of the interview, Minnick seemed to concede that his view and practice of separation was superior to Dever’s because he was at least trying to practice some kind of separation compared to evangelicals not even talking about it. This was perhaps to persuade Dever that he should come over to Minnick’s inconsistent side. Is that the best we can do in explaining separation? Can't we show that it is an oft-repeated Biblical doctrine that someone is sinning when he doesn't practice it? It sounds as though separation is very unclear and difficult, but you should think about it and then at least talk about and then to try to practice some form of it, and if you do, well, you're a separatist. I wouldn't tend toward caring about separation if that's what I heard and that is what I heard from Minnick in this interview.

10 comments:

Don Heinz said...

It's apparent that Dever picked the wrong guy for this interview from the beginnning. Minnick makes it clear that he would rather speak about his sectarian section of fundamentalism, which is the best in his opinion, than speak about the historical definition of fundamentalism. He seemed to know very little about fundamentalism really.

tjp said...

I listened to the interview; and, for the life of me, I couldn't make heads nor tails of what Minnick was saying. If he represents card-carrying separatism, then it's a separatism with burying.

I found Minnick's remarks about speaking to the "fundamentalism he knows" a little self-serving. Would to God Mark would permit the same latitude among conservative evangelicals to cherry pick their associations and speak to the evangelicalism they know.

I can't count the times I've heard Jones-style fundies tee-off on conservative evangelicals simply because such men remained identified with the unsavory elements within evangelicalism, even though such "compromisers" have denounced the broader evangelicalism and said it wasn't THEIR evangelicalism.

Yet Minnick astoundingly asserts he can remain identified with the more aberrant elements within fundamentalism (cherry-picking the elements he likes and ignoring the elements he doesn't) and yet remain uncompromised.

But conservative evangelicals can't.

Go figure.

Kent Brandenburg said...

TJP or Don,

I can't disagree with either of your points. I won't comment because they speak for themselves.

Reforming Baptist said...

"Minnick seemed shackled by the expectations of political fundamentalism, being very cautious in answers, afraid of who he might offend. Dever even picked up on this, saying at one point that he didn’t want to get Minnick in trouble with his group. That was sad really and a testimony to one of the major ills in fundamentalism. Out of fear of getting branded, men often don’t say what they think. "

Good observation...I got the same impression. The fear of man is so strong in fundamentalism. However, I was still glad to see that he was willing to talk with Dever, though Minnick probably got nailed by some of the old guard BJU people. Good post.

Don Johnson said...

Hi Kent

We have a lot of agreement on this, but I don't agree with tjp's comments. First, I think there is very little criticism of evangelicals because of what some other lunatic who claims to be an evangelical is doing. For example, no one criticizes Dever as an evangelical because of Roger Mouw's comments to the Mormons a few years ago. Just because two men take the same label doesn't make them linked.

Where evangelicals are criticized, and rightly so, is when they cooperate with, i.e., lend their name to events, become partners with, men who have serious issues as Dever regularly does with such as Mark Driscoll and the Whiteboard Sessions.

The same legitimate criticism can be applied when our own Ron Hamilton shows up in Hammond.

But the mere sharing of labels is nothing. If that were so, we would all have to dispense with the label "Christian" because of all the lunatics who claim to be one.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Kent Brandenburg said...

Don,

I let the comment stand on its own because I basically agreed with it, although I could have commented to show a nuance of difference with it. Here's why I agreed. The evangelicals don't separate from one another, because they don't separate. So it is true that they all get lumped together.

I'm sure that Minnick separates from the Hyles types, but it didn't come out in his interview. I would have spoken up for Minnick, but he didn't speak up for himself.

Jay C said...

Kent-

Good, thoughtful post. I was really, really surprised at the tone that Minnick took in the interview, although I do think that part of it was knowing that he'd be representing BJU and his church [and fundamentalism] to a skeptical crowd. That being said, I was really surprised by Dever's attitude - he really came across as someone who wanted to learn and know about Fundamentalism, and I expected a more skeptical outlook from Dever.

Anonymous said...

Hi Kent...

I'm sure you don't remember me, but I found your blog and wanted to say hi. I remember you from when you lived in Covington, Indiana and we both attended First Baptist Church. We were also in the same class. My name was Valerie Keller at that time. I don't remember what grade we were in when your family moved away but I can still remember what your dad (Terry,) mom and sister Kim looked like. Keep up the great work! Valerie White (valeriewhite@marykay.com)

Anonymous said...

Preservation of God's Word is the preservation of the original Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek texts, and not the English text of the last several hundred years. Why stop at the KJV? Why not take up Tyndale's Bible? It is not the King James Version that preserves God's Word. The English language is man's words, and cannot be taken on the level of God's inspired Words. The KJV is a good translation for its time, but it is not the representative of preservation of God's Word. Is God's Word Old English? The Church today continues to have the Holy Spirit, and God continues to proclaim His Word to all mankind, and in our time, thankfully!

Kent Brandenburg said...

Anonymous,

My position, and the biblical position, is the preservation of every Word God inspired, which are Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. Please comment with some knowledge, OK? And if you are going to drive-by, then at least give your name.

Thank you.