Monday, February 10, 2014

Opposing Indifferentism: Why Now?

Two days ago, Phil Johnson tweeted this:

I draw you to the term "indifferentism" used by Johnson.  Here's the article to which he linked, a transcript of his session from the Strange Fire conference in October 2013.  In that post he writes these two sentences:

They have basically settled themselves into a kind of comfortable indifference. . . .  If someone thinks that attitude of indifferent passivity might be a helpful life-vest just in case there is a live baby somewhere in the turbid swamp of Charismatic sludge, think again.

I did a search at his blog and he hadn't used the term once.  The only find was in a quote of Gresham Machen, fundamentalist, himself, the one who used the term as applied to the doctrine of separation.  He used the term in a session defining evangelicalism in a reference to a usage by Lloyd Jones.  Why now?

Johnson wants Charismatic teacher Michael Brown to separate from Benny Hinn.   Brown says there is a baby, authentic Christianity, in the Charismatic bathwater.  Johnson says there is no baby.  Johnson is confronting Brown with the responsibility to separate.  Lately I have read no greater issue on the Strange Fire radar than Brown separating from Hinn, repeated articles and tweets.

The term indifferentism is rather foreign to Johnson and yet now he's pulling it out to use it on Brown.  Does it really matter if Brown separates from Hinn, as long as Brown believes the gospel?  Hinn himself, by the way, presents salvation by grace through faith.   Of course, I don't and wouldn't fellowship with Hinn and Brown.  I've never been in fellowship with them, so I remain separated from them.  But at what point does anyone separate from anyone?  When does someone stop being indifferent?

Certain Charismatics seem to merit separation for John MacArthur and Phil Johnson.  But how do they make that decision?  How would Michael Brown have ever known when and how to separate?  Is that a teaching we find from Johnson or MacArthur?  It seems that it really would have been news to Brown to have understood that.  It's just not the way of evangelicals.  They don't talk or write about separation.  They don't write books about it.  They normally mock and ridicule separation.

The Strange Fire group nibbled around separation at their conference, especially Phil Johnson and Justin Peters.  They didn't talk about it enough to give anyone any idea about what he was supposed to do.   Does someone separate from all Charismatics?   After all, there is no baby in the bathwater.  Johnson is obviously hinting at separation with his use of "indifferentism."  But who exactly should we separate from and how?  Obviously, Michael Brown was supposed to know he wasn't to go on Benny Hinn's show.  How was he to know that?

If we think about this in a principled way, the fundamentalist concept is to separate from someone who is apostate, who preaches a false gospel.  To not separate from someone who preaches a false gospel is to commit indifferentism.  So Johnson would be saying that Benny Hinn is an apostate and Michael Brown is to separate from him.  Johnson would say that T. D. Jakes is an apostate and James MacDonald and Mark Driscoll should separate from him, instead of appearing in the Elephant Room.   What about the Manhattan Declaration?  What about Billy Graham?

And then, when it comes to the Charismatics, which ones do we separate from and from which ones do we not?  MacArthur and Johnson say that John Piper is off limits (read Don Johnson's critique of this).  He's just an anomaly.  You can be together for the gospel with Piper and Mahaney.

It is my opinion that you don't hear about separation from MacArthur and Johnson usually because they don't want people to think they're fundamentalists.   This has become a tough situation.  Brown has to break fellowship with Hinn, and yet they don't want to be fundamentalists.  It results in a lot of confusion.  It muddies the bathwater, so to speak.

MacArthur and Johnson practice their own indifferentism.  They too are indifferent in principle the same as Michael Brown.  And if separation has been a Bible doctrine and if indifferentism has been wrong longer than Michael Brown has been around, then why are we just now hearing about it?  I would like to hear an announcement that explains this change in teaching and in emphasis.  Lay out how to separate.  Show men how not to be indifferentists.  And then be consistent.  Johnson mocks the fundamentalists for their inconsistency.  He might include himself in some of that mockery.

Here are some links to articles on indifferentism, I have written in the past (here, here, here, and here).


Anonymous said...


Johnson and the Sun Valley indifferentists opposing indifferentism? Comical--really, really comical.


Don Johnson said...

hear, hear!

It is rather astonishing that some can't get this. One could suspect that they don't want to get it.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

d4v34x said...

I'm surprised to find Don stooping to attacking the messenger (PJ not Bro. B.) when he won't brook it in other discussions.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Hi D4,

I don't get what you're saying though. Where is the attack of the messenger? On the other hand, do I have this right that we're getting something new-ish here with PJ?

As far as how this gets practiced, some might say that JM's appearance with Roman Catholic Arthur Brooks could be similar or the same. I don't necessarily think so, but this is where teaching on separation would be helpful.,-values,-american-public-policy.aspx

d4v34x said...

I think Don understands.

PJ calls out an improper ecclesiastical relationship. PJ is called out for inconsistency/other failures.

If PJ follow Don's example, he'll merely sidestep it as sniping.

Those who see this as something new from PJ might see it as a segment of a trajectory. They might think it is a good step in a good direction.

Kent Brandenburg said...


PJ mocks and talks dead right. PJ puts down separation. PJ calls for, that is, calls for someone else, to separate, while not separating. PJ thinks he's being sniped at -- what is Michael Brown to think is happening?

I've recognized a good trajectory, but it isn't repentance. If you were wrong before, admit it, and change so all can learn. Incremental changes not announced as change -- yes, we welcome them, happy about them -- but let's provoke to doing it right. Isn't that what MacArthur himself would say he would want us to do?

Although a right trajectory, still a basis there for their own strange fire. The root cause of strange fire and strange fire still there.

In the end, we'll all be judged by the Bible and by God. My judgment almost nothing, but the other is coming. Better to....than offend one of these little ones.

Anonymous said...

Part I: Appreciative of d4's

The main problem with sorting all of this out is that the theological waters of separation have been so muddied to the fault of neo's AND fundamentalists.

I remember posts from Johnson mentioning separation:

In my comfort zone with fundamentalism at that time, I merely rolled my eyes at how inconsistent neo's were. How can they talk separation when they decry separation efforts? How do they determine their lines? Is that possible with their pragmatic philosophical base?

The sad thing is, which might be what d4 meant, that I am having the same reaction these days to those who still label themselves fundamentalists.

Anonymous said...

Part II:

Fundamentalists used to have predictable separation lines. One only has to get lost in the golden days of the FBFI
(see complete list of resolutions prior to 2012) to know that we are not imagining it:

From time to time, in days of yore, we might have raised a quizzical brow at a lack of disclaimer while a fundy neutrally or positively referenced a "compromiser", but that was a rarity. Usually, the nugget of truth from the "compromiser" was mentioned along with a disclaimer. We then went on our way--no consorting or unnecessary praising or partnership.

Look at the early, clear certain sounds regarding the SBC, Falwell, MacArthur, music, etc. from those resolutions. I understand that we always ought to prove all things --including our own beliefs. But, as with personal separation, so with ecclesiastical separation...
fundamentalists these days seem too timid to put some consistent "here I stand" stakes in the ground (and very rarely, even offer a mild disclaimer). Not only that, but we also have to endure (in the spirit of not being labeled judgmental or unreasonable?)a bend over backwards by FBF folks to compliment these people, use their books (for more than a pastoral reference tool), praise their conferences, slip in a speaker where most folks won't know (at a Wilds music conference perhaps) or endorse (with a Facebook follow or like or a tweet)with nary a disclaimer about Piper, MacArthur, etc. Why are we shocked as more graduates from fundamentalist colleges head off to MacArthur's school and the like only to remain in the SBC or start churches after the image of MacArthur? We don't even try to verbalize where/why we separate where we do. How long has it been since the FBF even made or repeated a resolution on any "divisive" topic? When have pastors last preached on the topic of ecclesiastical separation?

Consider the bewildering situation such as prominent FBF folks having their endorsements on the Religious Affections site. I might not be so opposed to getting the nugget of truth from RA if we could take it and run. Of course, they are nice people, but last the commoners knew and still believe, these people are nicely wrong in their ecclesiastical separation stands. I am opposed to being lulled by the good word of our leaders to endure Hip-Hop debates and have an SBC elder in our fundamentalist pulpits. Yes, I know "SBC: House on the Sand" is no longer being published. But we've yet to hear why or why it was wrong to draw those lines. It is some fine day when Sharper Iron points out our inconsistencies in this area
This is confusion. And our questioning this confusion is called "sniping." This is only one convenient example of many.

How about Miracle Hill Ministries where fundamentalists encourage volunteer work in this "community outreach
I guess those same students/staff
can join them "for an exciting evening with guest speaker — Tullian Tchividjian, best-selling author and grandson of Billy Graham." Again, not saying right or wrong or indifferent for my part. I am saying, this is confusion. This is not a certain sound.

I am not trying to be picky. There is example after example out there. I am trying to point out how either 1) FBF fundamentalists have either changed their separation views (without alerting the rest of us or updating resolutions, 2) FBF fundys don't even realized they've shifted or neglected to explain/teach, or 3) have turned into neos/new fundys and hope the commoners don't "snipe."

I appreciate KB's site because he is willing to allow the tough questions to be asked.

Kent Brandenburg said...


I agree on the fundamentalists. It's why I don't profess to be a fundamentalist. I'm not one. I don't believe it's possible to obey the Bible and be one. But I often argue from a fundamentalist point of view when talking about evangelicals, which I've done here.

Anonymous said...

That reminds me of what I've often been curious about: Do you have a label for yourself? or Do you have any old posts that discuss the "why I'm not a fundamentalist" topic?
Just trying to figure out what I am these days :)

Don Johnson said...

I've been off-line for a few days and didn't read D4s comments till just now. I don't exactly understand what you mean. I am not engaged in a debate in this place with Phil Johnson, so I am not sure how you can say I am attacking the messenger. The messenger here is Kent, not Phil.

I'd be most happy to engage Phil on the merits if he were interested in participating.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Kent Brandenburg said...


I never answered your stuff here, but thanks for it. A lot of good stuff.

Here's the series about How and Why I left Fundamentalism.

Part One:

You might find all of them here or at least links to all of them.

Doulos said...

Thank you!