Friday, November 18, 2011

My Field Trip to the Evangelical Theological Society Meeting part one

During my seminary days, I read JETS, The Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society.   I could say that was my only foray into evangelicalism until this November 16 and 17, but I know that now to be wrong.  Many if not most of the authors of most of the books that are read, even by fundamentalists, are written by men who are part of the ETS, the Evangelical Theological Society.  At their conference, this year held in San Francisco, they have about 500 separate sessions.  Yes, 500, my friend.  And from sitting in the huge Marriott conference room, I heard that they had to trim it to about 500 from over 800.  The conference guide itself was about 100 pages, just blurbing your choices.

I started my field trip by getting up early on Wednesday morning to take BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) into the city (what we call San Francisco, who live here).  Powell Street.  And there were two gigantic hotels who housed the conference---the Marriott and Parc 55, mostly the former.   I made my way first to register at the Marriott and, I have to say, it was an impressive facility.  8:30am would begin the first of a series of large choices of sessions.  I got in at about 8:20.

I was curious to find out how people would be dressed.  I wore dress pants, dress shirt, dress shoes and socks, and a sport coat, no tie.  I blended with that.  Maybe I was even surprised to find out I looked about like everyone else.  I saw very few soul patches and very little long hair or the heavily moussed, messy hair that one might think he would see if he didn't know.  The people were generally 40 plus.  The minority was young, maybe less than 15% who were younger than 40.  I came in right about the middle of the pack.

After registering, it cost money, I picked up my lanyard with ID, which most people wore around their necks, a complimentary mini-back pack that they expected you to fill with books you bought, and a hard copy of the big program.  My little ID said, Kent Brandenburg, with El Sobrante, CA under it.  Still, I was incognito.  No one knew me.  No one acted like he knew me.  No one talked to me with the exception of one man and I'll get to that later.  I didn't talk to anyone else either.

The Marriott had a Starbucks, so I stood in line for their deal of a large coffee and a free pastry, which was very generous for Starbucks.  Then I made my way from the Marriott to the Parc 55 for the first thing I was going to attend.  I was happy with my choice, but I'm going to get to that part of the story later.  It took 5 minutes to walk fast from the Marriott to Parc 55.  It is right downtown.  You cross Market Street to get from one venue to the other.

The ETS meeting consisted of 3, what they call, plenary sessions.  Those are the three major speakers and those were in a gigantic hall in the lowest floor of the Marriott, which is cavernous.  The ETS filled at the most 30% of the seats.  The first plenary was on Wednesday and the last two on Thursday, all right in the middle of the day.  Two of the speakers were unknowns to me, and I'll give you the debrief of their presentations later.  The one known was Darrell Bock, who had been the president of the ETS in 2000-2001.  He's been a Dallas (DTS) professor and written over 20 books.  Evangelicals definitely have their celebrities.  I'll talk more about that.

Was there a book display?  Yes.  In a room the size of a gym and all the big names were there---Zondervan, Baker, Eerdman, Inter-Varsity, Kregel, Hendrickson, and more.   And a lot of books in that place, which are some very impressive selections, were written by guys who were there.  It was interesting to note nothing from John MacArthur.  He's absent, probably because he isn't considered academic, unless there was something else I was missing.  There were no fundamentalist books.  None by me either.  And I'll talk more about that.

But.  I'm going to jump to the end of my story, because I want to write about that while it is fresh in my mind.  Tonight, well, now yesterday evening, the last session I attended was the one to which I was looking forward the most, the one on the recent book, Four Views on the Spectrum of Evangelicalism.  Two of the authors, Albert Mohler and Kevin Bauder, and the general editor, Andy Naselli, were there.   I had never met any of them (and still haven't), but that session went without break from 3:00pm to 6:10pm.  Carl Trueman was also supposed to be there, but his flight was cancelled, so he missed.

I didn't know how many people would be attempting to make that session.  It was held in a room called Divisidero at the Parc 55.   Because I wasn't sure about the size of crowd, I left the plenary session with Bock 7 or 8 minutes early, and hustled to Parc 55 from the Marriott.  When I arrived, I quickly made it to the room to find about 4 people in it.  One was Bauder and then two guys I didn't recognize.

Speaking of recognition, I did see people I recognized from pictures---Bock, of course, Bauder, Naselli, Jeff Straub, and then David Burgraff.  Actually with the latter, I was thinking, is that the guy, the smart guy ("inconceivable") from Princess Bride?  But no, it was David Burgraff---that's why I knew him.  There was so little time, so I decided not to introduce myself to these professing fundamentalists, even though I walked by Bauder about 6 times and Naselli twice while I was there.

The room, where we met for the session I'm describing, was larger than most, but not that large.  It was almost full.  I sat directly in front of the lecturn on the third row.

Bauder and Naselli both wore blue jeans with sport jackets.  They were actually more casual than, I'd say, 95% of those at the meeting.  Relative to the others at the meeting, they were sort of "occupied," a word some friends of mine and I are attempting to make a part of pop vocabulary.  It seemed as if Bauder was contextualizing fundamentalism for evangelicals, wanting to be sure that everyone knew that fundamentalists did not have a dress standard.  I don't know if they do or not, but my experience in fundamentalism was that there was at least a philosophy of dress with which Bauder was plainly in contrast.  On the other hand, the Presbyterian guy, J. V. Fesko, who subbed for Trueman, and Mohler, were immaculately dressed in dress suits.  So the look was---evangelicals in suits and ties and dress shoes and fundamentalist in casual.  I saw Jeff Straub and he was likewise very casual, so obvious as to be strategic there.

The session started with a few words by Naselli and then right into Albert Mohler.   He went maybe 35 minutes.  Then came Bauder, who talked for perhaps 45.  He apologized later for going overtime.  Fesko read Trueman's paper for about 20-25 minutes.  They had some discussion between themselves, and this left about 40-50 minutes for questions and answers.   Everyone was gracious to one another, and very civil.  Zero fireworks.   I'm not saying that's all good.  The issues represented are serious and should seem like they matter more, in my opinion.  I was able to ask a question.  I'll let you know what it was and how it was answered later.

Impressions.  Mohler is an impressive person.  He looked tired.  His eyes were half mast.  Maybe that's normal for him.  When he got up to speak, he was in some obvious pain and moved slow.  He looks younger than Bauder.  He rarely looked at his notes.  He spoke without hesitation with an ample vocabulary.  He was funny.  He had vocal variety.  He connected.   He is a good speaker.  The position that he represented was pragmatic and had many holes in it.  It was a recipe for disobedience, but still it is very conservative compared to most evangelicals.

Bauder stood next and first answered Mohler's presentation.  He did a good job of correcting some of Mohler's history.  Mohler seemed to agree with the correction---that's how he reacted facially and bodily.  Then Bauder made his case.  He was as good a speaker as Mohler, also not relying much on notes except for the eleven points of his outline.  He explained fundamentalism well.  His position was better than Mohlers, but still indefensible.  No position presented was scripturally tenable, but Bauder's at least approached it.

Carl Trueman in many ways is more conservative than Mohler and even in a few ways he seemed he may be more so than even Bauder.  His position mainly criticized Mohler and barely touched Bauder.  I actually learned some new things about Presbyterians.  I rarely run into them out here, but I could see how that Presbyterianism could make a bit of a run with some who are looking for some doctrinal and practical stability.  They have some built-in protections of their orthodoxy and orthopraxy.  I wouldn't want to be a Presbyterian, but there is a lot there that is attractive to me in comparison with evangelicals and even fundamentalists.

I'll get into the nuts and bolts in the next part.


Unknown said...

More please!

Bobby said...

Looking forward to more. One correction. It is "occupy" not " occupied". "they looked a little on the occupy side.". Or, "they looked occupy.". Over and out, guvnor.

Don Johnson said...

I think I would have enjoyed attending this. I would have dressed in sports coat, khakis and no tie. This is because I am a West Coast Canada fundamentalist. I am trying to change the tie culture.

One of the disadvantages of living where I do is that events like this are never very near so I would have to think long and hard about attending. Looking forward to more first hand reporting.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Bobby said...

If Kent wants to put this somewhere else I'm fine with that. I know that Aaron Blumer reads this blog and this is a response to him commenting at SI that Al Mohler tweeting David Cloud is surreal.

Aaron, what is surreal about anyone in CE/fundyism quoting Cloud. He is one of the most prolific religious authors and preachers of the last few decades. His readership is massive. The number of times his audio sermons are downloaded is mega. You can get an idea of his website stats here:

Do you declare this as surreal in an attempt to marginalize him? If so, why? If not, then why "surreal"?

Keep in mind that Cloud did not purchase a turn-key website that mainly deals in posting what others have written. He has labored, studied, and produced his printed and online work. He has earned the influence he has.

Kent Brandenburg said...


First, thanks for reading. Thanks for treading through my uninteresting prose, poor grammar, and bad writing style to find out what happened. I think if you keep reading, you'll also, alas, find it becoming more substantive too, but I also think you all know that people think about this or we wouldn't be seeing what we did at the conference. Anyone who has a soul patch is thinking a lot about what that means. Someone who shaves his head, puts the time in to that, is thinking about it. So on that, let's stop the charade, especially on the left of things.


I agree with you about Cloud. He does nothing in the way of doing the things that will get him "linked," and yet he is one of the most read and listened to persons on the planet. It's obvious why he gets marginalized---the King James issue. If he was critical text, he would be vaunted. I listened to Darrell Bock at the ETS and he put down Calvinism in his presentation and he's still huge in the ETS. It's actually three things with Cloud and in this order---KJV, music, and separation---that make him unpopular. People are very generous to the left of them but they are not to the right. That is as obvious as anything that I know.

d4v34x said...

Bro. B. can move this somewhere if he wants, but I know my wife may someday stumble on this blog and, Honey, if you read this, for our twenty-fifth I'm thinking an Alaska cruise. Let me know. XOXO


Bro. B. Your dead on regarding the attraction of presbyterian stablility. If fundys had a Book of Church Order and a Confession like the WCF, I'd likely have much less stress in my life.

Actually, we have the LBC, but nobody likes it. More's the pity.

Oh, and I think the half-mast eyes are default for Dr. Mohler. I've seen a couple of videos; that's just how he looks.

To bad about Trueman not being there. He might have added a firecracker or two.

Kent Brandenburg said...


Hopefully your wife 'stumbles' over here. :-D

I'm going to write about the presbyterian thing. Somebody at SI said it was a backhanded compliment. Maybe so. I wasn't trying to compliment, just making an honest and frank evaluation. And what you said is exactly it.

I'm also going to write more about dress, to the consternation of many, because it is normally a distinction between fundamentalists and evangelicals, which makes it substantive to many. :-O

And for Scharf, if he is reading, which at this point, I don't think he'll be able to admit, I would hand my blogpost back as an editor too. It would be unacceptable as a paper, a book, a work of art, prose, poetry, a journal article, a Baptist Bulletin article (which is something that is usually painful for me to read, so I rarely do), or maybe even a coloring book.

Jim Peet said...

I enjoyed your article.

How much was the entrance fee?

Can anyone attend?

Kent Brandenburg said...

Hi Jim,

You could get in trouble liking this. I like things from a lot of different sources, and it doesn't have to fit all the preconceptions.

The cost depends on how early you get in. I didn't find out until I read Naselli's blog, so I had to pay at the door, which for non-members was 100 dollars, which was to me worth it in light of other things I got there. Anyone can attend.

Lou Martuneac said...


Thanks for this report. Time only for two brief reactions.

His [Bauder’s] position was better than Mohler’s, but still indefensible.  No position presented was scripturally tenable, but Bauder’s at least approached it.

That has been the consistent pattern of Bauder over the last 2+ years. He barely approaches Scripture as he tries to present a redefined brand of Fundamentalism. His 24 part Differences series only skirted at best any passage of Scripture no more than 12-13 times (if recall my count accurately).

If Kevin Bauder truly believed, preached and defended an authentic Fundamentalist biblical separatism he would IMO never get to first base in forming his new alliance with men like Mark Dever, Al Mohler, et. al. The so-called “conservative” non-separatist evangelicals would have nothing to do with him.


Lou Martuneac said...


"Bauder and Naselli both wore blue jeans with sport jackets. They were actually more casual than, I'd say, 95% of those at the meeting."

Wore jeans at the conference and was a speaker? Forget about how he represented himself personally and anything about Fundamentalism. I have to wonder how Central Baptist Seminary might feel about having their former president and current faculty member representing the seminary in that look. Did he genuinely think he he’d fit in better that way?

I have to guess that when he (and Andy) got there, saw that 95% were better/well-dressed for the occasion they might have felt out-of-place, maybe even embarrassed.

I work with and around unsaved business people. They do not represent themselves, their industry, company and employer like that at a major convention.

FWIW, when I taught at the college level I taught one class on how to communicate in the professions. I assigned the book Dress for Success to each student.

Here is a pop-quiz question: Why are socks an important consideration for a preacher?


Kent Brandenburg said...

Hi Lou,

I do understand your zeal over this subject, so anyone reading here should also try to understand it in their desire to understand you. I comprehend what you see as slipping away. Know this though---I'm not a fundamentalist and I'm not trying to save it. However, I'm defensive of it as an idea, which is also what Bauder would claim to be.

My opinion of Bauder in his session was that he put forth a good historical presentation of fundamentalism. He wasn't necessarily trying to defend separation, but the two are so intertwined that you don't have the one without the other.

Anonymous said...

I'm not so sure Andy would even condider himself a fundamentalist.