Monday, December 28, 2009

"Negotiable Matters of Indifference"

I read this in a sampling of a new book, Risking the Truth, edited by Martin Downes. In this chapter, Martin Downes interviews Carl Trueman, Professor of Historical Theology and Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Downes: Why have evangelicals reduced the great Protestant confessions down to minimal statements?

Trueman: Because evangelicalism, as a transdenominational, parachurch movement, needs to sideline great swathes of the faith in order to hold the alliance together.

That is a blatantly honest statement. It's true. I've been saying it for awhile, but it hasn't been asked or answered anywhere else that I have read. Can you imagine sidelining great swathes of the faith to hold an alliance together? Does this please God? Is this about God? Is this what God had in mind about unity? Evangelicalism and much of fundamentalism thinks so. Later Trueman continues:

Popular front evangelicalism only becomes a problem when, with its minimal doctrinal basis, it comes to be normative for how we actually understand Christianity and thus to impact how we understand the church. Then we find ourselves in a situation where tail wags dog, so to speak, where the identity of the church is shaped not by her own confession but by the exigencies of the evangelical world, where key theological issues such as divine sovereignty, baptism, and the Lord’s Supper are marginalized. Wherever we come down on these issues, Scripture does teach about them; and we have no right to make them merely negotiable matters of indifference in the church.

Unfortunately, this minimal doctrinal basis is becoming how men actually understand Christianity today. The church is being shaped by the exigencies of the evangelical world. Certain doctrines are being made negotiable matters of indifference.


Jack Lamb said...

The book sampling is a very interesting read. Trueman states that he once was a Baptist but he became a Presbyterian because of the accountability of pastors to the presbytery (page 9 of the pdf). A very honest confession - the Bible's teaching wasn't the determining factor...

Gary Webb said...

This reducing of Christianity to certain "basic doctrines" is one of my reasons for being less & less enamored with the name "Fundamentalist." I have no problem with the fighting nature of Fundamentalism in contending for Truth. I do have a problem with schools & fellowships & denominations determining what doctrines are worth contending for. And I have a problem overlooking doctrinal differences for the sake of fellowship or religious cooperation. A friend of mine from high school in the Evangelical orbit who lives in Taiwan told me that he attended an "international church" & said that it was "orthodox." When I asked him what he meant by that, he replied that they did not have any Jehovah's Witnesses or members of other religions who attended. Go figure. This issue is why I would refer to myself as a Baptist first. I would not mind referring to myself as a fundamentalist if I was talking to a liberal.

PS Ferguson said...


I am assuming your point was made in jest. Whilst holding no light for NE like Trueman, both he and I would be convinced that the biblical discipline of ministers by a Session and Presbytery has biblical warrant - see Peter's statement concerning Judas in Acts 2, Paul's confrontation with Peter at Antioch, and Paul's comments re Demas etc. Unless you want to argue that Paul had multiple memberships of local churches (and he gives no indication anywhere of this) then you are the one that must prove your theological polity presupposition.

I dont' want to be disrespectful but if you imagine that centuries of Presbyterian polity by countless remnat believers (incl giants of the faith) has been predicated on mere pragmatism then you need to widen your theological readership beyond the latest Landmark magazine.

Gary Webb/Kent

I have a problem with your crusade to redefine doctrine to simply major IFB ones. This allows you to disfellowship from Presbyterians but fellowship with IFBs. Every principle of Scripture is doctrine and I would be very confident that you will not get unanimity in your local churches on every biblical principle let alone between local churches. This axiom is taken from a 2,000 yr survey!

Another problem is how you define "fellowship." Do you define it as "eating" a meal with another saved man e.g. Presbyterian or is it sharing a "Lord's Supper" or a "Gospel rally?"

d4v34x said...

Bro. B.,

Interestingly, even Trueman seems to indicate there are some matters of the faith that are, if not negotiable, secondary. At least that is how I understand his use of the phrase "key theological issues". I doubt he intends that all doctrines/theological understandings are "key".

Although I do agree though that those he lists are indeed key.

Gary Webb said...

Brother Ferguson,
Where is the "presbytery" Acts 2? Peter, the head pastor of the church in Jerusalem, led that church to replace Judas. At Antioch, Paul & Peter are part of a missions team that is working together. I do not see any "presbytery" there. From the best that I can tell, it was a personal & public rebuke of wrong practice. What other "presbytery" members acted? And, how can you call Paul's statements about Demas in his letter to a pastor he is still training (Timothy) the act of a "presbytery"? I am astounded at your eisogesis. Paul was a member of the church at Antioch & was sent out under its authority (Acts 13:1-4). It is under that authority that he started churches & had spiritual oversight of them as they developed - organizing them & also ordaining pastors to lead them. In many cases those pastors would be men saved there in that city where the church was, & therefore they would also recognize Paul's spiritual leadership. I do not see ONE mention or reference to a presbytery in these passages. Timothy was ordained by the "presbytery" = the pastoral staff in his home church (I Timothy 4:14). Can you show otherwise from the Bible?
What is a "Landmark magazine"? I have never read one, I don't think, but maybe I say that just because I don't know what you are talking about. Could you give me an example?
You say that we are "redefining doctrine to simply major IFB ones." No, you have totally twisted my comments. I believe that what Protestants call "fundamental" or major doctrines are worth separating over. However, I am also not going to lead my church to fellowship with Amillennialists or pedobaptists or those who promote or use the Greek Critical Text or those that use worldly music or those that allow the drinking of alcoholic beverages. Maybe those are "major IFB ones". We, the Calvary Baptist Church, are the "pillar and ground of the truth", and we are charged by God with marking and avoiding those who teach other doctrines (Romans 16:17-18). We are not going to allow any "presbytery" made up of pastors from a certain region to oversee our practice. Show me your Scriptural support for such a thing.

Gary Webb said...

Oops. My first sentence should read "Acts 1".