Sunday, November 20, 2011

My Field Trip to the Evangelical Theological Society Meeting part two

You can watch the video of the panel discussion from our Word of Truth conference this year.  Now you may begin reading part two.


About a month ago, I read that the Evangelical Society Meeting was coming to San Francisco.  I liked the opportunity to check out evangelicalism, which I hadn't ever experienced firsthand.  I found a lot in common with what I heard and I'll later share some of what that is.

In part one, I described the appearance of the attendees, an effort some elsewhere complained fell short of their standard for both substance and style.  One elite author commented that my writing "is (sic) matter of shame."  With his example, I've vowed to do better.

Kevin Bauder said in his "A Fundamentalism Worth Saving":

Take the matter of clothing.  Clothing makes a statement about who we think we are and who we think others are under the circumstances under which we meet.  We do not wear tattered jeans to weddings, nor do we wear tuxes to bale hay.  It seems to me that a Christian leader will not wish to present an appearance that endorses the current culture of incivility. . . . I am not suggesting that we should model ourselves after mainstream culture, but rather that we should refuse to adopt any cultural accouterment that contradicts Christian meanings.

And I agree with him.   So jeans and sport coat didn't fit.  I wouldn't say Bauder's dress was sinful---just surprising.  Mohler represented the idea of fundamentalism with his appearance in contradistinction to Bauder.  Both made a statement about who they thought they were under the circumstances under which they met.

The Thursday, 3:00-6:00pm, session on the Four Views in the Spectrum of Evangelicalism, ended my field trip, so I've got more story to tell.  But I'll start with my major interest of the meeting.


After explaining the reason for accepting the label of evangelical, Mohler attempted to defend his spot on the spectrum.  He sympathized with the Carl Henry and Harold Ockenga position between orthodoxy and fundamentalism.  He said they rejected second degree separation and wished to recover the mainline denominations, hence their discomfort with fundamentalism.

With the instability of the evangelical movement, Mohler sees it not enough to be only an evangelical, so he chose the term "confessional," later the chief consternation of Trueman with Mohler's self-descriptive, to distinguish himself from the rest of evangelicalism.  He didn't elaborate much on which confession, but my guess, since he didn't say, is the London Baptist Confession, as his choice.  He focused on setting boundaries with the three levels of his theological and practical triage.

Mohler believes that first order doctrines are those that bring all Christians together.  A second tier divides Christians into their various denominations by teachings like ecclesiology.  His third level sees doctrinal differences between the members inside their individual churches, like eschatological ones.  Nowhere does the Bible teach his triage.  It's completely pragmatic.  And Mohler offered no biblical defense for practicing the way he prescribed.

Albert Mohler doesn't think all evangelicals should get along, but he didn't develop what not getting along would look like.  He seemed resigned to the fact that no matter what he might attempt to call himself, the world would still call him an evangelical, so he among others would just need to accept that.


Bauder stood and confessed his first informing Mohler that he would express no disagreement, but that in light of some new discoveries from Mohler's talk, he could no longer comply with that objective.  He disputed Mohler's history of fundamentalism.  He agreed on the mood of fundamentalism, but not Mohler's representation of either evangelical social engagement nor how he framed "second degree" separation, what Bauder said was rather "secondary separation."  He said that the new-evangelicals were recognizing liberals as Christians, and he used Billy Graham and his 1956 New York crusade as an illustration.

Bauder's main criticism of all other forms of evangelicalism besides fundamentalism was the lack of separation.  And then he defended the idea of separation, not found in evangelicalism, with eleven propositions.  He defined separation as a "limitation of fellowship" and then proceeded first to show how that everyone actually already separates, so that for evangelicals it's just a matter of thinking about separation a little further.  All evangelicals already limit their fellowship in certain obvious ways.  A few of these ways are limitations of fellowship due to issues of proximity, competence, or priorities.

The most glaring of the eleven propositions, the last of these, is a limitation of fellowship created by "indifferentism."  He traced the use of this terminology primarily to Machen, who had said that indifferentists were indifferent to the rejection of the gospel, since they gave Christian recognition to those who repudiated the gospel through their denial of the fundamentals.  Bauder ended with an explanation of the seriousness of indifferentism.


Since Carl Trueman wasn't present, J. V. Fesko read his paper.  Trueman opposed Mohler's title of "confessional," since history would connect that to Westminster.  He decried evangelicalism period and mainly as lacking in the tools necessary to solve its own problems, unlike individual churches within a denomination.  His only criticism of fundamentalism was its militancy in areas to the right of him.


Mohler's main criticism with both Trueman and Bauder were their own inconsistency.  He agreed with Trueman's evaluation of evangelicalism, but saw Trueman as still involved and still an evangelical whether he liked it or not.  And then Bauder was just as inconsistent in separation within fundamentalism as he was within evangelicalism.  The inconsistency card should be off limits when debating the principles.

Mohler said he that he differed with none of Bauder's presentation, except for proposition eleven.  And his reason for disagreeing was first that he did make requirements for Billy Graham as a prerequisite for his involvement with the crusade, second that liberalism had been purged from the SBC, and third that, as Bauder had said, everyone separated in some way.

Mohler asked for Bauder to show him his flaws.  Bauder wouldn't provide any to his face.  That was disappointing.  Later during the question time, someone asked whether Bauder should just call Mohler a fundamentalist then, and Bauder said that Mohler himself wouldn't want to be called a fundamentalist.  Mohler looked good with that too.  Besides that, Bauder said that Mohler lacked the required mood of a fundamentalist, a mood Mohler seemed happy not to possess.

Bauder defended Mohler as not an indifferentist on two counts.  First, Mohler's participation with Billy Graham required a lesser ecumenism than normal.  Second, separation could be practiced in two ways---come out from among them or purge them from among us---and Mohler had done the second.   Bauder plainly expressed that Mohler was not an indifferentist by still being a Southern Baptist.  I assumed that was because of the recent removal of some of the liberalism in the convention.  I also took from Bauder's statement that one could be a fundamentalist and also a Southern Baptist.


With the 45-50 minutes left, Naselli took 7 or 8 questions from the audience.  Four or five of the questions were softballs to Mohler about his views of evangelicalism that did not provide anything different than what he had already said.  Two of the questions were directed at Bauder to judge why he still calls himself a fundamentalist or why he doesn't consider Mohler one.  Bauder said he might choose a different term than fundamentalist if it was something that his kind of fundamentalists could agree upon.  I also asked a question that I'll get to later that challenged Mohler and defended Bauder.

At one point, Mohler told the story of, as a 12 year old boy, visiting (to win the goldfish) the fundamentalist, independent Baptist church of Al Janney in Miami, Florida.  During that visit he was both angered and provoked by the attack on Southern Baptists he heard.  He took it personally.  Albert Mohler is a Southern Baptist.  His grandparents were Southern Baptists and he grew up a loyal Southern Baptist.  That should help explain Mohler.  The SBC is the world through Mohler has viewed everything---it is difficult for him to see things any other way.  Separating from the SBC would be akin to abandoning his family, his heritage, and his entire identity.


Neither Mohler or Bauder defended their position from the Bible.  The only defense of separation that Mohler had was the one that Bauder gave him.  Bauder explained that everyone separated, including Mohler.  Mohler picked up on that and later agreed that all evangelicals actually do separate, just like Bauder said.  What was missing was a scriptural presentation of separation.  However, even if he knew a biblical doctrine of separation, Mohler couldn't defend it with how he practiced.

Bauder's position is also untenable.  He's closer to the Bible than Mohler, because he at least teaches some kind of separation.  But the triage of Mohler and the propositions of Bauder clash with a biblical understanding of separation.  What the Bible teaches Bauder would call either hyperfundamentalism or the "most brittle form of fundamentalism."  Even though I agree with Bauder that there are forms of hyperfundamentalism, someone who believes and practices the Bible should not be one of them.  However, Bauder is probably right, which is why you really can't be a fundamentalist and also compliant with Scripture.

Both Bauder and Mohler advocate tolerable degrees of false doctrine and disobedient practice.   And anyone who will not tolerate a certain range of different doctrine and practice will clash with their respective visions of Christianity.  Neither of their positions allow for either biblical unity or scriptural separation.


If Trueman and Fesko represent true Presbyterianism, then it has many qualities that I admire more than those of evangelicalism or fundamentalism.  Their brand of Presbyterian is limited by the historic Westminster Confession of Faith.  They see unity and purity as protected by each individual church.  They aren't so concerned about the condition of evangelicalism or fundamentalism.  Trueman and Fesko see the preservation of truth within each church wherein they are members, aided by the  presence of a denominational hierarchy interested in the preservation of historic doctrine and practice.

Their churches seem to be guided by the Bible and their confessions more than felt-needs and popular successes.  Several of their beliefs and practices are wrong, but they are nonetheless regulated by something objective, old, and stable.  I wouldn't want anyone to think that this rejoicing equals my endorsement of fellowship with Presbyterian churches.  It doesn't.

Part Three will reveal my question and the answer from the panel.  I'll also have further opinion about the spectrum of evangelicalism session.


Jim Peet said...

My take: You're making a mountain out of a molehill about the jeans.

Don Johnson said...

Man, can you drag it out any longer??? We are sitting here with bated breath, waiting for your question.

BTW, with respect to your quote of Bauder at the beginning of this piece, the phrase 'hoisted on his own petard' comes to mind.

Do you know if the ETS publishes audio of these sessions? It would be interesting to hear it and then read your report again.

Interesting that Mohler and Bauder differed on Prop 11 ...what is Prop 11? -- do you have a copy, or did you take notes? I'd like to see the exact wording to get that part of your commentary.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Thomas Ross said...

I took a class on English Reformation Texts at Westminster from Dr. Trueman at Westminster. A few interesting things about him. As I recall, he:

1.) Said it was obvious that Luther believed in baptismal regeneration.

2.) believed in exclusive psalmody.

3.) said that he was saved over a period of a few months, indicating that he is unconverted.

Lou Martuneac said...


It is well worth mentioning the jeans issue and here is why. It is another example of the huge disconnect between what Bauder writes and what he does in practice.


Kent Brandenburg said...

Hi Jim,

I've always thought your name would make a good name for a brand of coffee---just sayin. We've got a movement of conservative Christianity, with which I agree, and of which Bauder is an intellectual leader. He clashed with his own stated philosophy. I would be interested in his own defense. I wasn't out to get him. If I left it out, I wouldn't have been honest. Doesn't my quote of Bauder authenticate this point? Art, music, dress, architecture are channels to revitalize or reinvigorate the moral imagination.

I could say more, and maybe it would be a good subject for an entire post sometime.

Kent Brandenburg said...


ETS seems to offer audio, but it also seems that it is expensive. We had a card on our chairs that offered the CD for 140 dollars. I said, Ouch.

Where I'm at, I don't have prop 11 written, but I have it on my notes back at home, and will put it in part two, which I'll write later tonight and post immediately. I'm going to post every day until I'm done on this.

Kent Brandenburg said...


I wasn't attempting to show a big disconnect between Bauder's writing and practice. I didn't have a reason to think that he practiced differently than he wrote. His dressed seemed to be attempting something. I would see it as disingenuous if he came now and said it meant nothing, that it was a non-thought. I wouldn't even believe it.

Don Johnson said...

I think the 'dress issue' is interesting. It certainly means something, and comparing Bauder/Mohler on this point is fascinating.

I do think we have been too caught up in wearing suits and ties and try to avoid wearing ties as much as possible. At our official gatherings, I try to be no tie, dress shirt, khakis, and sometimes a sport coat as mentioned above. When I am speaking, though, it is definitely coat and tie. (Although I am getting away from suits... khakis much more comfortable.)

All of that means something, I think it communicates something and I am quite deliberate about these choices. I would be surprised if Bauder were to say his choices meant nothing. I think it is significant and the comparison with Mohler is extremely interesting.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3