Wowzers. Rick Phillips Defends BJU, Fundamentalists.

Rick Phillips of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals recently enrolled his children at Bob Jones Elementary School, and he explained why in this post (followed by clarifications here and here) in which he also commended fundamentalists for making a clear distinction between truth and error, right and wrong. Carl Trueman responded with this post, critiquing fundamentalists fairly harshly for drawing distinctions in a suspicious and uncharitable manner. My response? The post seemed at least a little bit suspicious and uncharitable. Well, Rick Phillips responded today with another defense of fundamentalists in general and BJU in particular in this post. This portion is especially noteworthy:

Moreover, and it was this that somewhat prompted my original post on BJU, I believe the fundamentalists should be treated charitably, too. More often, though, they are mocked and marginalized and their worst examples are made to represent them all – especially by those who cry loudest for charity of spirit. So, while I agree with Carl in principle, I am far less convinced that there is more charity on one side of the antithesis line than on the other.

For what it is worth, the many people who have written me to give me inside scoops about the Bob Jones fundamentalists indicate they they are in fact humble towards the problems of their past and charitably open to helpful voices—all while firmly maintaining a clear antithesis between the light and the darkness.

The conversation has been fascinating to follow. You should read the back-and-forth if you haven’t done so already. Interesting.

HT: Greg Linscott

Advertisements

20 Responses

  1. Pastor Phillips commented on Andy Naselli’s blog under this post (see comment 2).

  2. I thought this was the most significant quote by Philips:

    Personal aside: I am not a child of fundamentalism and therefore I do not have nightmares from my fundy upbringing. I know that others have had a different experience and that they do have such nightmares. Perhaps this is why I am more open to showing appreciation to the fundamentalists and their antithesis. My own impression is that our generation of Reformed scholarship is so determined to give a black eye to the errors of fundamentalism that we are slipping instead into liberalism. This concern is the very thing that has led me to a new appreciation of the fundamentalists – especially the best ones.)

    I found this to be a particularly insightful comment. On one hand, we have issues in our own camp with those who grew up experiencing some of the worst parts of our history, and in their determination to avoid such errors in their ministry or for their children, completely abandon (or threaten to abandon) the whole idea of fundamentalism. I’m thinking here specifically of standards and separation. I firmly believe that many are overreacting, choosing to focus on the worst rather than the best in our movement. I don’t think people realize how good we got it. I’m reminded of something Dr. Minnick said – fundamentalists are not writing books on open theism, etc., because we are not facing those issues in our movement. That’s not to say we don’t have issues. We do and we need to address them but I think we have the basic idea right.

    Philips’ comment about Reformed scholarship being determined to give fundamentalism a black eye and the result of that determination is simply an acknowledgement (I think) of the failure non-antithesis ministry. I think you could substitute “new evangelical” or “non-separatist” for “non-antithesis” just as well. I view this as a significant admission. It will be interesting to see how or if he develops this thought further as he gets to know fundamentalism in a more intimate way.

    I have two books by Philips in my library – a small booklet on the Lord’s Supper and a very good commentary on Hebrews. He is a very fine expositor of the Scriptures.

  3. Andy,

    I largely agree with you, particularly your second paragraph. I do wonder what is the significance of the fact that although broad evangelicalism does have people writing books advocating open theism (and of course many other aberrant doctrines), there is also a reasonably admirable array of refutations of those errors. Within fundamentalism, on the other hand, it often seems as though we’d rather talk and write about evangelicalism’s problems than our own.

    Evangelicals have their Wells, their MacArthur, their Piper, their Mohler, their Patterson, their Iain Murray, their Dever, their D.G. Hart, their Hughes, their Duncan, and I could go on–but who is fulfilling this self-critical role publicly within fundamentalism? Wouldn’t the list be rather short?

    Ultimately, I think there is far more hope for fundamentalism as a movement than evangelicalism. But until fundamentalism is willing to look at itself honestly and openly, confront internal error, and embrace change, rather than merely admitting vaguely that “we have problems,” I’m more optimistic about the (admittedly small) cadre of serious evangelicals who are willing to take a good hard look at themselves and begin to draw lines in the right places.

  4. Ben,

    I understand, and I don’t disagree with you about the need to be self-critical. And I agree that fundamentalists tend to speak too generally of our errors, though there are some notable exceptions.

    However, it’s not as simple as you’ve portrayed it, IMO.

    First, for a MacArthur (for example) to critique the left wing of broad evangelicalism, open theism, etc., is hardly being self-critical. He’s no more connected to open theism than I am. Most of the men you mentioned are still critiquing errors “out there,” I think. I would say that Dever’s very specific criticisms of the SBC fit your description of being self-critical, however.

    Second, you still have plenty of conservative evangelicals who critique serious errors in their writings, yet tolerate fellowship with the purveyors of those same errors—Piper and the BGC, the PCA’s participation with the NAE (here’s an interesting article on that alliance by Tim Bayly), Kent Hughes writing good things like “Set Apart” while his church is still a “proud member of the NAE,” even Dever and the SBC.

    I don’t have all the answers, and pointing to inconsistencies elsewhere doesn’t help fundamentalism. And I’m aware that there is a degree of circular reasoning in what I’m saying: (a) claiming that conservative evangelicals aren’t all that self-critical, then (b) critiquing them for participating in groups where the errors they expose abound. I’m just saying that making a broad statement that conservative evangelicals are more self-critical than fundamentalists isn’t necessarily accurate, even when you consider the most conservative examples.

    It’s complicated.

  5. The wider known names among evangelical writers is the consequence of one thing: simple economics. Evangelical publishers have a much wider market to publish to. BJU Press, for example, cannot possibly get the attention that the evangelical publishers get.

    Some of that is changing by new marketing tools, like amazon.com. But still… if you check the figures, ask how many copies are made of a book by Jim Berg or anyone else at BJU and compare that with the first press runs of your MacArthurs/Mohlers/Devers, etc. That will tell the tale.

    It is somewhat disingenuous to be making this complaint. The economies of scale mean you are not comparing apples with apples, as the saying goes.

    Regards,
    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  6. Chris,

    Then I would assume that you completely reject the common fundamentalist “two-camp theory”–fundamentalism in contradistinction from evangelicalism? Of course you recognize that fundamentalism is, strictly speaking, a subset of evangelicalism. But is there not in the fundamentalist vernacular a widespread understanding that fundamentalism is a walled ghetto inside evangelicalism, with little to no travel between the two permitted?

    There is no doubt that there are disconcerting alliances between some of the engaged reformers within evangelicalism and various entities. Of course I see no hope for the NAE and the BGC, and not much for the PCA or the SBC over the long-term. But two things are important to remember. First, though the denominations are probably hopeless, these reformers are influencing marginal churches in a way they might lose were they to withdraw. Second, the SBC is still on a trajectory to the right. One could even make the argument they’re swinging TOO far to the right on some issues. So it is complicated. There are other nuances probably not worth getting into.

    Finally, open theism is probably not the best (or at least not the only) issue for a case study. I rolled with that one simply because it was the issue that had been raised.

  7. Not much time right now, Ben, but I do think that describing fundamentalism or evangelicalism as monolithic groups is pointless and even harmful. Mac isn’t represented by Osteen any more than I am by HAC.

    The phrase for the day? “It’s complicated.”

  8. Before writing anything else, I want to state clearly that I believe fundamentalists are true Christians. As such, they and I are part of the same body and bride, and I have no desire to or practice of separating from them — the way they have traditionally understood separation. Additionally, I want to add at the outset, that I believe the Bob Jones University type fundamentalists are the best of the fundamentalists. Further, if I had no choices but fundamentalism or liberalism/mondernism, I would, without hesitation, choose fundamentlism — for many reasons, including fundamentalism’s embrace of antithesis. Of course, those aren’t the only choices and, while it is far from perfect, I am happily a member of a PCA church.

    That said, in all sincerity (though some with whom I interact here may doubt it), I hope I am not out of line to question and/or challenge a few things in this discussion . . .

    First, if Reverend Phillips (a pastor in my denomination) is really so committed to antithesis, why was his default preference for the education of his children public school? Does he operate according to antithesis as much as he thinks he does or as much as he ought? It seems that his decision making, in the educational realm at least, was based on practicality (cost and “moral climate”) and preference/speculation (6th graders ought not be in middle schools) more than antithesis.

    Second, I don’t think Reverend Phillips knows what he’s talking about in regards to the Bob Jones community’s “up-tightness” or “stuffiness” anymore than he apparently knew about the school’s position on arminianism/calvinism. To figure out those things about that community will take being a part of it — being inside it — for a while. The pursuit of an upbeat, happy, and excellent reputation with outsiders serves to mask a lot of the uptightness imposed on the insiders, and the community has no official/required position on calvinism/arminianism, so you have to get inside to figure out the de facto position.

    Third, Andy, does abandoning the fundamentalist movement (self identified churches, colleges, camps, etc.) mean the same thing to you as abandoning what you call the “whole idea of fundmantalism”? If not (which is what I expect), then what does the “idea” of fundamentalism mean to you? Does it really mean “standards” and “separation”, or am I misunderstanding? If it really means standards and separation, as opposed to historic doctrinal orthodoxy, then I’m with the abandoners.

    Fourth, while Dr. Minnick’s comment sounds good, and while it is true that there is no organized, thoughtful, open-theism movement within fundamentalism, I think the comment is misguided self-congratulation. Is this the result of “separation” that you only desire to address yourselves — if you don’t have problems then no books are necessary? Does Minnick and fundamentalism have no desire to influence non-fundamentalists toward what they see as the truth? It would seem not, since most of us have no idea about books by fundamentalists on ANY topics. Furthermore, there are plenty of fundamentalist laypeople who think things very much like open theism because they have not been taught theology properly — or at all.

    Fifth, Andy, I don’t agree that you can substitute “non-separatist” or “new evangelical” for “non-antithesis”, and here’s why. Fundamentalists would call Phillips himself a non-separatist and/or new-evangelical (Chris himself points out that the PCA is part of the NAE), but he’s the one arguing for antithesis here. Further, many of the most strongly antithesis oriented ministers/ministries in this country would be considered non-separatist or new-evangelical.

    Sixth, Ben — Right On Man. Except I can’t figure out why you would have far more hope for fundamentalism than evangelicalism — given the rest of what you’ve written.

    Seventh, Chris it is not just MacArthur (who depending on which fundamentalist you talk to, and on which debate is raging, is either definitely connected — not committing but connected — to all the errors of evangelicalism or a complete independent who can’t be connected to anything) who has written against open theism. Piper has fought it openly in writing, in conferences, and in denominational beauracracies — as an insider. The same could be said for others within the Evangelical Theological Society. You may disagree with their lack of separation, but they are speaking (and writing) out. I think that’s Ben’s point — they ARE addressing the problems. While fundamentalists, on the other hand (according to you guys), have problems which you are neither addressing NOR separating from. Doesn’t seem that complicated.

    Keith

  9. Don,

    But WHY do the evangelical publishers have a much wider audience? WHY can BJU press not get the attention that the evangelical publishers get?

    I think you’re off here man. BJU hasn’t had any trouble selling boat loads of textbooks to the broad evangelical christian school market. If you can get into that market, it really can’t be that hard to get into the Christian bookstore market — have you been in a bookstore lately, it can’t be that hard to have something sold in there.

    I would think that BJU and its publishing arms have access to as many financial resources as some other presses in the country. Perhaps the bigger market share those other presses are receiving has to do with WHAT they are publishing. Perhaps what MacArthur, Mohler, Dever, are writing is better, or more desired (since we’re talking economics), than what Berg is writing.

    Why don’t the BJU guys write some things that will give them the market share so that we CAN compare apples and apples?

    Keith

  10. Ben,

    Why so hopeless? And in the midst of such hopelessness, why the hopefullness for fundamentalism?

  11. Keith, I’m not sure I know what points you’re making, so I can’t really respond to them. It looks like you disagree with something I’ve said, but I can’t tell. I’m surprised at how readily you criticize Pastor Phillips for his reasonable and even courageous posts, though.

  12. Keith, BJU Press cannot get the attraction evangelical publishers get because they are just not quite as savvy marketers as the evangelical publishers. It has nothing to do with the quality of what is published.

    Do you really think books against open theism make publishers money?

    No, it’s Olsteen’s books that make them money.

    I appreciate the books against open theism, but the evangelical publishers are able to get them out into the market on the backs of the likes of Olsteen.

    Fundametentalists have not been willing to do that (at least to the same degree, I will grant you).

  13. Third, Andy, does abandoning the fundamentalist movement (self identified churches, colleges, camps, etc.) mean the same thing to you as abandoning what you call the “whole idea of fundamentalism”? If not (which is what I expect), then what does the “idea” of fundamentalism mean to you? Does it really mean “standards” and “separation”, or am I misunderstanding? If it really means standards and separation, as opposed to historic doctrinal orthodoxy, then I’m with the abandoners.

    In my mind, standards are just a subset of separation. Normally, fundamentalists define three realms of separation – from unbelief, from disobedient brethren, and from the world (system that is opposed to God and godliness). I would say that standards play a large part in that third realm. While fundamentalism is more than separation, it is also no less than separation. Thus, fundamentalism is more than historic doctrinal separation (but also no less). Phillips must recognize this distinction because he obviously writes as an outsider to fundamentalism but he himself would certainly embrace historic doctrinal orthodoxy.

    Fourth, while Dr. Minnick’s comment sounds good, and while it is true that there is no organized, thoughtful, open-theism movement within fundamentalism, I think the comment is misguided self-congratulation. Is this the result of “separation” that you only desire to address yourselves — if you don’t have problems then no books are necessary? Does Minnick and fundamentalism have no desire to influence non-fundamentalists toward what they see as the truth? It would seem not, since most of us have no idea about books by fundamentalists on ANY topics. Furthermore, there are plenty of fundamentalist laypeople who think things very much like open theism because they have not been taught theology properly — or at all.

    One area where fundamentalists have written books in an area of self-correction is on Bibliology and KJV-onlyism. These books are a good example of fundamentalists dealing with a large problem internal to fundamentalism. Jim Berg’s books on sanctification have also been helpful in correcting some errors, I think. The point about Minnick’s comment, though, is that, by-and-large, the problems being promoted by organized fundamentalist institutions are not in the same category as those in broader evangelicalism. I seem to remember Dr. Doran making that same observation. My reading of Phillips is that he would attribute that state of affairs to fundamentalism’s inherent antithesis.

    Fifth, Andy, I don’t agree that you can substitute “non-separatist” or “new evangelical” for “non-antithesis”, and here’s why. Fundamentalists would call Phillips himself a non-separatist and/or new-evangelical (Chris himself points out that the PCA is part of the NAE), but he’s the one arguing for antithesis here. Further, many of the most strongly antithesis oriented ministers/ministries in this country would be considered non-separatist or new-evangelical.

    Phillips is commending fundamentalism for something that evangelicalism as a whole doesn’t have – a commitment to antithesis. In practical terms, this is fundamentalism’s commitment to separation. Where else is the antithesis that Philips speaks coming from?

  14. Hi Keith

    Well, you deliver quite a broadside. Can’t answer it all, but I can give you a few more comments on the publishing market. As I understand it, the Christian school textbook market is dominated by ABeka and BJU Press, especially among home schoolers, but apparently in traditional Christian schools as well. You probably know more about this than me, given your profession, if I recall correctly.

    Why do ABeka and BJU have huge market share in this area? Because no one else saw this as a market to be exploited when the Christian education movement was in its infancy so to speak. I think that ABeka has a wider share than BJU, especially in home schooling, because they were off the mark first. They went to press with a pre-made curriculum they purchased and quickly revamped so that they had an entire product line right from the beginning, or seemingly so anyway. No one else was doing this. BJU had the philosophy of wanting to write their own materials and develop their product line over time. This put them in the number two position. (These things may have changed since the days I worked there!) But basically, there was an unmet demand, a market vacuum, and BJU/ABeka met the demand. Hence market share. There was virtually no competition for this market in the beginning of that particular part of the publishing industry, other than between BJU and ABeka.

    In addition, the presence of many fundamentalists in the Christian school movement in general predisposed that market to look to resources from BJU/ABeka.

    When you come to ‘preacher books’ like those written by the evangelical stars Ben mentions, the market is glutted by the evangelical writers and dominated by the evangelical publishers. It is much harder to compete in that universe.

    Regards,
    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  15. It does seem that fundamentalists are writing more and writing better. There’s no question that that’s a good thing. I’d like to think quality will sell, regardless of the publisher. And frankly, I think MacArthur is an example of that. He certainly doesn’t sell because of Osteen-like open-mindedness or head-in-the-sand positivism. He’s very narrow, in the big scheme of things, yet he sells and is widely read.

    As for the comparison between textbooks and devotional books/commentaries/etc., I’d say the biggest factor is that BJU puts much more emphasis on the educational market than the general Christian literature market. Consider staffing, budgeting, etc. It’s not merely a matter of their being early; they’ve prioritized it in a way they haven’t prioritized the other, for whatever reason.

    At any rate, the publishing issue is probably 2 or 3 or 10 steps removed from Phillips’ initial thoughts, anyway.

  16. Chris, I didn’t really have any major disagreement with you. In the comment directed to you, I was trying to make a point similar to the one Ben made at 12:11. I didn’t see that comment before I posted mine, or I wouldn’t have made the part of my comment that was specifically addressed to you. Ben said it much better than me.

    As far as my comments in regards to Reverend Phillips are concerned, I don’t understand your “surprise”. I don’t know what was so courageous about Reverend Phillips post. Regardless of that, I was not and am not trying to harm him. I am not saying he is a heretic or one ought to separate from him. I’m not even saying he’s a bad guy. I’m sure he’s a great guy. He’s unquestionably better educated than me, and he’s an ordained minister in good standing in my denomination. However, that doesn’t make it wrong for me to disagree with him — especially based on things he’s written publicly on a blog.

    Based on what he’s written, it does not appear that he made the decision regarding where to educate his children based on antithesis — they should be taught a Christian worldview instead of an agnostic worldview — as much as practical considerations. They ended up in a Christian school, but even that was based on practical as much as antithetical considerations. I think that’s a mistake, so I said so.

    Based on what he’s written, I don’t think he really knows what he’s talking about in regards to the BJU community. I’m not saying he’s 100% wrong in what he’s said. I just don’t think he has sufficient understanding. So I said so.

    Since I was going to go on and question some things about fundamentalism, I thought it only fair to show that I am not coming from a simplisitic/political “PCA’s right, fundamentalism’s wrong” perspective. Every movement and church has inconsitencies and problems.

    Scott, I think I understand what you are saying, and I do not totally disagree. However, think about what you are saying a bit more. You are saying that big publishers are able to publish good books at a loss because they are willing to make money by publishing junk (like Osteen). Well, my previous point was that BJU makes money with textbooks and has a large distribution network. If they were publishing other, non-profitable stuff, that people wanted, it could be known. Also, there are many small publishing outfits that are ministries of churches or other organizations that just publish what needs to be published. I don’t dispute that these small endeavors can’t put on the marketing blitz of large publishers, but many of us are aware when they put out needed works.

    Andy, thanks for the answers. I appreciate the way you’ve interacted. I agree with you that fundamentalism is more than historic doctrinal separation but not less. Where we have a different position is that I think (and I think Phillips would think) that many of fundamentalisms “more than” standards are not necessary.

    Andy, I take your point on the KJVO books and on the relative lack of severity among institutional problems within fundamentalism. I continue to wonder though if fundamentalism isn’t helped in this regard by the high degree of independency in its midst — which makes it difficult for organized problems (or successes) to develop. In other words, everything is ad hoc.

    Andy, I agree with you that Phillips is commending fundamentalism (the good parts) for something that evangelicalism, as a whole, does not have — a committment to antithesis. As I’ve indicated, I’m not sure he knows what he’s talking about in regards to fundamentalism.

    Additionally, I disagree that “separation” as understood by fundamentalists (even the good ones) is the practical outworking of antithesis. Fundamentalist separatism can often make it look like they are living antithetically when they are not. I agree with the following comment by Doug Wilson: “A layman in the church might come to object to the study of ‘all this humanistic philosophy’ and yet have his own general worldview shaped by the objectionable philosophy in question. Because he does not know his own presuppositions he does not know if he shares them with anyone else, including Messrs. Plotinus and Locke. In other words, avoiding philosophy does not work. American fundamentalism is notorious for adopting in substance various philosophies that have somehow been purified through an ignorance of the adoption.” In other words, one can “separate” from all kinds of stuff and still not be living according to antithesis.

  17. Don,

    Thanks for the follow up. I see you point.

  18. […] Wowzers. Rick Phillips Defends BJU, Fundamentalists. Rick Phillips of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals recently enrolled his children at Bob Jones Elementary School, […] […]

  19. […] Also check out the conversation at Anderson’s blog […]

  20. […] Chris Anderson: “Wowzers. Rick Phillips Defends BJU, Fundamentalists“ […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: