Monday, June 16, 2008

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

Since I wrote part one of this series on the Dever-Minnick interview, a mini-stir has erupted on the internet regarding an interpretation like mine of what Pastor Minnick said in his answers. The fundamentalist Baptist pastor on Vancouver Island in BC, Canada, Don Johnson, has written a few evaluations of this interview (here [before I wrote mine], here [afterwards], and here again). CurrentChristian, operated by fundamentalist Baptist pastor in Marshal, MN, Greg Linscott, has linked to my first post and quite a few comments ensued. Mark Dever himself has written a blog at 9Marks about separation, almost as if he has been reading the reaction to his interview. Quite a few comments follow his article by professing fundamentalists and others.

Not Ready

After all of the recent comments, I still hold to what I wrote in the first article, probably even more so. Some give Mark Minnick a pass because "doing interviews" is difficult. I wouldn't expect Mark Minnick to be as smooth as he is in a sermon from notes. He probably doesn't anticipate every question that Dever could ask. However, Dever's questions weren't some great mystery for someone who has been in the ministry for over 25 years. I'm accustomed to talking to people spontaneously about what I believe. I do it every week going door-to-door. Regular bold presentation in impromptu situations will prepare someone to defend his belief and practice. Should I assume that Minnick is rarely challenged about his beliefs, so he is not accustomed to defending them in a relatively hostile situation?

Minnick also knew what he was going to be questioned about. He could have readied himself with some talking points to potential questions. I would have prepared myself for several different likely scenarios, especially what to do with a Southern Baptist church, especially since Dever is, well, Southern Baptist. A BJU professor, David Beale, wrote a whole book on the subject, House on the Sand. What's the point of BJU publishing a book like that if it isn't about separation? I recognize it was published in 1985, and now the SBC is more conservative, but have the issues fundamentally changed? Is there any liberalism in Southern Baptist seminaries or on their mission fields? I know that one of the six seminaries, Golden State Baptist Theological Seminary, still harbors liberals that are still supported by the SBC cooperative program. The SBC also has moderates who fellowship with liberals. I would assume that Dever would want to know why Minnick wouldn't fellowship with him. Wouldn't Minnick be thinking about the same kind of thing in preparing himself to talk to Dever? My only two explanations for why Minnick did so poorly are: (1) He doesn't know what he's talking about, or (2) He was afraid. Neither of those are good choices, but I'd be glad to know what a third option would be.

My friend, Bobby Mitchell, independent Baptist pastor in Maine, made a good point to me over the phone that Bob Jones University has "owned" the issue of separation, like Maranatha Baptist Bible College once owned the local church issue among fundamentalists. When you thought of fundamentalists and separation, you thought of BJU almost instinctively. Of all the people who could answer a few soft-lobbed questions about separation, it would be a foremost BJU representative like Mark Minnick. If you read the transcript of Minnick's response to the last question of Dever (that you can read here at Don Johnson's blog), you will read something so evasive it is almost comedic. I don't mean that to hurt anyone's feelings or to take a shot at anyone. It is how it reads, almost like a skit in which someone is attempting to give a humorous example of evasiveness to illicit laughter.

You'll read among the comments over at CurrentChristian some from Dr. David Doran, fundamentalist pastor in Michigan and president of Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary, who says that he believed that Minnick did a "great job" in the interview and that he did give an "answer" to Dever to his last question. I can appreciate the loyalty and friendship of Doran. I would likely appreciate that if I was Minnick, despite the incredulity of the support. It could provide a case-study for why it is difficult to get anywhere in a self-critique of fundamentalism. Doran says Minnick answered the question. I have to think that he meant "responded to" the question. Saying words doesn't constitute an answer, let alone a good one. He could have given a good answer, perhaps one unpopular to Dever and his crowd, although I don't think Dever would have been offended. I think it was what he wanted, really wanted, but could not get it from Minnick. As a result, Minnick gave a very poor representation for the importance of the doctrine of separation.

Minnick's Key Passages

During the interview Minnick focused on two passages of Scripture to teach Dever separation. Both of the examples were to explain to Dever separation based upon a principle of association---there are people and institutions that God doesn't want His people associating with. His first example was from 2 Chronicles 17-19 and the character of Jehoshaphat. Minnick points out that Jehoshaphat made an alliance with Ahab's son, Ahaziah, and it wasn't even for a spiritual purpose, but a commercial one, and yet God is angry with the association and breaks Jehoshaphat's ships to indicate his displeasure. Minnick mentions that God, Who had thoroughly credited Jehoshaphat until that point, said that Jehoshaphat acted wickedly in this.

Dever countered the first passage by asking if that means that Christians aren't supposed to work for a non-Christian company. Minnick, it seems, could have easily swept aside that bogus comeback, but he sheepishly retorted that his example showed that "alliances were important to God." Do you think that Dever doesn't already know and preach himself that alliances are important to God? I thought that the Jehoshaphat reference was fine to use, but Minnick should have been prepared to explain exactly how it applied to separation with something stronger than "alliances are important to God." So we were done with the very first passage, Minnick's locus classicus, liquified in one minute.

OK so on to passage number two, Paul confronts Peter in Galatians. Minnick starts off by establishing that these are two Christian brothers and even leaders. Peter had associated with Judaizers who corrupted the Gospel, so Paul confronted Peter to his face. I don't know about you, but I was thinking that moment about how great it would be if Mark Minnick would confront Mark Dever to his face. That would have been a very appropriate, immediate application of that Scripture. Anyway, Minnick says that Peter had given credit to the wrong side by not practicing separation. Peter accredits the Judaizers by doing so. Peter wasn't himself wrong on the issue, but he associated with those who were. This is significant, says Minnick, because it is tied to the gospel. Men are swept along with the hypocrisy, including Barnabas.

This is the one point in the interview that Minnick really did pin Dever. Dever is affected by the interaction and seems under conviction after Minnick shows this passage. This was the best of Minnick in this interview in my opinion. However, it was right then that Minnick could have really helped out Dever by going further and making the application. He didn't. He backed away, as if he was not comfortable with Dever's conviction and so he lets him off the hook.

The Final Question

Dever asks for admonition from Minnick when he asks him the final question, which is: “What would we have to do to change for you to be free to preach here?” Minnick evades the question. After a paragraph of stammering, Dever asks again: "Ok, so what do we have to do to change in order for you in good conscience to be able to preach in a church like this?" I'm thinking, "Come on, Minnick!" At the very end, Minnick hints toward an answer if Dever wanted to latch ahold of it, but Minnick never does actually answer the question.

What's the answer? How about "Leave the Convention"? That's a simple answer. Dever and Minnick both talked about relatives who had left the convention. Being in the convention keeps someone in fellowship with everyone else in the convention. Dever in the midst of the interview says that he stays in the convention so as not to lose the money that people had given and that is wrapped up in the seminaries and the buildings. This is complete pragmatism. Minnick could have pointed that out. What we believe is more important than the money that had been given and then, why not trust God? He also could have answered: "Separate from the false worship practiced and worldly practices of Mahaney. If you separate from friends, you'll shame them, and help them get right with God, which is far better for them. It's the most loving thing to do. If you couldn't join someone's church, doesn't that tell you that you can't be in fellowship with them either, based on their disobedience to the Word of God?"


Charles E. Whisnant said...

"When you thought of fundamentalists and separation, you thought of BJU almost instinctively"

I am sixty years old and a Baptist, went to Bible Baptist Seminary, J.F. Norris. Was J.F. Norris before Bob Jones Sr.? Fundamentalists? I was lead to believe J. F. Norris was fundamental. Of course BBS was liberal in view of Hyles Anderson or Pensacola Christian College.

CD-Host said...

I've been responding to this thread directly on Dever's blog. I have yet to hear how even assuming separation Dever violated it. I had to keep making the situation worse and worse to even get to the point where Dever violated secondary separation.

Now lets take your example.
1) Golden State Baptist Theological Seminary has liberals
2) The SBC cooperative programs support GSBTS
3) Dever is a member of the SBC
4) Thus Minnik needs to separate from Dever.

First off being a liberal is not grounds for separation. Being an unrepentant heretic is. So question is do these people belong to churches which don't discipline for heresy. Are they provably heretics. Lets assume that Professor A qualifies.

So President B is refusing to separate from professor A by firing him. So far not a problem. Lets assume that A was in fact disciplined. And that B still won't fire him. Now we have a violation of primary separation.

Now SBC official C is refusing to separate from B, because he thinks the university as a whole is too important. In other words under secondary separation C has a choice and can make an evaluation.

Now lets say that C works for Moeller who knows Dever. I'm now 4 steps removed from A. When Minnick chooses to separate from Dever that's 5 steps.

As I said on the blog Minnick is 6 steps removed from every heretic on the planet. That's why it should stop at 2 steps.

Kent Brandenburg said...


Norris would have been the same time period as Jones, Sr, and considered fundamentalist, but probably a different branch. I still think BJU owned the ecclesiastical separation ribbon.

CD Host,

If I'm going to converse or debate on this level, I need your name and some credentials. To answer your comment; however, you are off the biblical path yourself.

If someone doesn't separate from a liberal, he is disobedient in the doctrine of separation. We are to separate from disobedient brethren. That is first degree separation based on biblical terms. Your 2nd through 6th degree is made up. If someone is Southern Baptist, he is in the pot, even as it has been described by the SBC themselves, so everything in the pot attaches. He is in a wrong association that he should leave, like Peter was in a wrong association with the Judaizers. You make this way too complex. To make it clearer for you: Let's say my neighbor kills little kids and that's not enough for me to break fellowship with him. Is your separation from me two degrees away? I didn't kill any little kids, so I guess I'm OK, right? I'm far enough away from the situation for you?

CD-Host said...

Kent --

So you are actually asserting that every member of a denomination is individually responsible for every act of every other member of that denomination for which they are not disciplined. So applying this to the USA you are individually responsible for all the abortions since you've maintained your citizenship?

Kent Brandenburg said...

CD Host,
1) Give your identity if you are going to get a heavy duty discussion.
2) I'd like to know what you believe the Bible does teach about separation. You can't just take potshots. You have to reveal if you believe anything. If you don't, then you don't deserve to ask questions and get answers. I don't think you care about separation---I'd like to find out differently.
3) Your question here is ridiculous. Paul got killed by the Roman government and yet he told people to pay taxes to that same government in Rom 13 before they killed him. You don't make an application to citizenship of the US, because it isn't a Scriptural application.

What applies to church association in a church applies to association with a church. If we would cast it out of the church, we don't then fellowship with it when it is outside of the church. Whatever breaks fellowship within a church is an application of that church to outside the church. No church must be in a convention or association. If it is in association or convention, then it is choosing to do so. Leaven leavens the lump, so we disassociate with leaven. Those principles apply between churches. Governments don't come into play.

This is not a matter of denominations, but what is the belief and practice of a church or churches.

CD-Host said...

Kent --

Just click on my profile, this is a blogger board. You can see everything directly. Anyway since you don't seem to know how to access profile, I host the Church Discipline board. So yes I'm interested in the topic, and knowledgeable.

As for my position it is simple:
Discipline is a duty of the church
Primary separation without discipline is called for when discipline is impossible. But that means that the evidence needs to be much greater than what would be required for discipline since the defendant is not being given a trial.

Secondary separation is not specifically listed in the bible and thus the same burden must be met for a secondary separation as for a primary. In actual practice this usually makes it a matter of judgement.

Because of this tertiary separation is in practice factionalism pure and simple. The bible specifically prohibits factionalism (1cor 1:11-12). Moreover, I think that many of the people arguing for tertiary separation are actually preaching an extreme form of donatism, which is outlawed both by scripture and tradition.

Kent Brandenburg said...


You have a blog named Church Discipline. You thought someone got mistreated so you originated a blog dedicated to Church Discipline. I still don't know you.

Discipline is separation. Whatever we would separate out of a church, we should separate from as a church. Heresy, both in Titus 3 and factionalism in 1 Cor. 1 are in the church. Churches should have doctrinal and practical unity. They don't improve that by fellowshiping with false doctrine and practice.

Nowhere does Scripture teach essential and tertiary separation. Nowhere. I'd love to have you show me one place. We shouldn't separate over nonscriptural issues. We should separate over what God has said. A church judges that.

Regarding secondary or primary separation, those are invented concepts. Someone is either obedient to true doctrine and practice or not. If someone won't separate as taught in the NT (Rom. 16:17-18; 2 Thess. 3:6-15; 2 Cor. 6:14-7:1; Eph. 5:11; 1 Timothy 6:5-6; 1 Cor. 5; etc.), then he is disobedient to true doctrine and practice.

Someone like Dever, who stays in a convention that willingly harbors liberalism and supports it, isn't obedient to Scripture on separation.

Kent Brandenburg said...

By the way, why do you need a trial when the disobedience is public? Where does Scripture mention that? If a whole church agrees to disfellowship, that's enough evidence as well.

CD-Host said...

Ken --

I still don't know you.

I agree we have never met. You don't know me. I think the work speaks for itself, if you don't then we can stop. Lets say my name were Jessica Bristow, what good does that do you?

As for your claim the issue is not whether they won't separate for clearly taught concepts but if they disagree on how to apply those passages. Or is it your opinion that anyone who judges any situation differently than you would is being deliberately disobedient.

Sam had a great example with Shank's read of "The Shack". Where Shank saw the book as interesting literature and not a manual on modalism. Both Sam and I agreed Shank's analysis was incorrect. But my argument that there is a distinction between poor literary analysis and deliberate sin. That I may need to separate for sin but not lack of skill.

Do you disagree?
That is
A believes X
B believes that X is sinful but also believes that A doesn't understand that and thus won't separate (i.e. it is not intentional sin)
C believes it is intentional on A's part

C needs to separate from B? And if so what is the scriptural support for that?

Where does scripture prohibit attending conventions where liberalism is practiced. Jesus and the apostles went to the temple.

CD-Host said...

Kent --

By the way, why do you need a trial when the disobedience is public? Where does Scripture mention that? If a whole church agrees to disfellowship, that's enough evidence as well.

Because a trial evaluates evidence. The disobedience isn't public. Rather what is public is a perception of disobedience. People can perceive things incorrectly. As for the necessity of judges to determine truth in matters of disagreement:

Gen 31
Ex 18
Ex 21
Ex 22
Lev 27
Num 25
Num 35

Should I keep going?