My Two Cents on the 9 Marks E-Journal, Part 1

Nine Marks, the church health resource ministry of Capitol Hill Baptist Church, recently published its bi-monthly e-journal. I’m always interested in the excellent information 9Marks makes available, but even more so this time, as the edition focuses on fundamentalism. (The pdf is available here.) There has been an ongoing discourse between Mark Dever and a number of fundamentalist leaders, and I can’t help but assume that the very asking of this question reflects his new found appreciation for fundamentalists, whom he has said have heretofore been essentially “invisible” to most evangelicals.

Perhaps the most intriguing part of the journal is the section in which 19 men—some speaking from within fundamentalism and some from without—were asked to give brief answer to the question “What can we learn from the Christian Fundamentalists?” Although the answers were varied (as you’d expect since they were offered by men from places as diverse as Notre Dame and Bob Jones University), most presented both positive and negative lessons from fundamentalists. Here’s a quick and rough summary:

Positive lessons from fundamentalists

  • The importance and authority of Scriptural revelation (Dockery, Haykin, Johnson, MacDonald, Minnick, Patterson, Trueman, Wells)
  • The importance of defending central doctrines / separation (Dockery, George, Hoskinson, Lim, MacDonald, Quinn, Rinne, Wells, Wright)
  • The importance of withholding Christian recognition and fellowship from the unorthodox (Doran, Minnick, Wright)
  • The importance and exclusivity of the substitutionary atonement of Christ (Noll, Trueman)
  • The importance of suspicion and discernment (Hart)
  • The importance of holiness (Dockery, Newton, Quinn)
  • The importance of purity of doctrine and life (Haykin, Hoskinson, Johnson)
  • The importance of the doctrine of depravity and its implications in ministry (Wright)
  • The importance and reality of what is supernatural (Noll)
  • The importance of being willing to suffer reproach for the gospel (Newton, Wells, Wright)
  • The importance of conviction/courage/tenacity (George, Guinness, Johnson, MacDonald, Newton, Patterson)
  • The importance of zeal/passion for the truth (Haykin, Trueman)
  • The importance of evangelism and missions (Dockery, George, Johnson, Newton, Noll, Trueman, Wells)
  • The importance of the local church (Hoskinson, Wells)
  • The importance of hymns (Noll)
  • The importance of interdenominational cooperation (George, Lim)
  • The importance of authority (Johnson)
  • The importance of clear preaching (Johnson, Noll)

Negative lessons from fundamentalists

  • The error of theological reductionism (George)
  • The error of “a naively literalistic hermeneutic” (Noll)
  • The error of legalism (Dockery, MacDonald, Rinne, Trueman)
  • The error of mere externalism (Johson, MacDonald)
  • The error of schism/denominationalism (Haykin, MacDonald, Rinne, Wells)
  • The error of separatism (George) or careless separatism (Doran, Hoskinson)
  • The error of “a siege mentality” (Dockery, Trueman, Wells)
  • The error of mere counter-culturalism (Guinness)
  • The error of anti-intellectualism (Wells)
  • The error of giving primary attention to secondary or extra-biblical issues (Dockery, Doran, Haykin, Hoskinson, MacDonald, Noll, Quinn, Trueman)
  • The error of aberrant doctrine (Hoskinson, Johnson)
  • The error of manipulative, man-centered evangelism (Johnson, Wright)
  • The error of Spirit-less orthodoxy (Haykin)
  • The error of loveless orthodoxy (Newton)
  • The error of anti-traditionalism (Noll)
  • The error of neglecting the sacraments (Noll)
  • The error of confusing Christianity and patriotism (Noll)
  • The errors of arrogance and man-centeredness (Johnson, Patterson, Wells)
  • The error of anger/vindictiveness (MacDonald, Patterson, Wells)

It’s an interesting discussion. Several things jump out at me:

First, though many laud defending the faith, few see separatism as a crucial part of that defense. Though I lumped many men together as arguing for defense and separatism, their takes on what that should look like are very different. Many would argue for a defense of the faith via infiltration, not separatism. George sees the very idea of separatism as erroneous. At any rate, don’t be confused by my summary—the men I listed under that point argued for defense or separation, not necessarily both.

Second, I was intrigued by Hart’s lauding of doctrinal suspicion. I can’t say that I disagree with him, depending on what it looks like in real life.

Third, I don’t doubt that there are fundamentalists who are negative and angry. However, I thought that MacDonald’s statement that he was doctrinally fundamental, but “not mad about it” was pretty weak. There is a place for righteous anger; how can one not be angered by the denial of biblical doctrine? Though I don’t know MacDonald and should be careful not to make too many conclusions from an admittedly brief answer, those who speak of defending the truth in a happy manner risk being more “Christ-like” than Christ!

Fourth, I was appreciative of the fact that several commended the fundamentalists commitment to spreading the gospel, not just defending it. May that continue to be true!

Fifth, I must say that I found myself agreeing with many of the criticisms, or at least recognizing that they exist at least within large pockets of fundamentalism. I don’t deny, for example, that fundamentalists can be unnecessarily schismatic, can focus on mere externals, can elevate secondary issues (like music) even while minimizing essential issues (like a stout soteriology), etc. That last error—the overemphasis on secondary issues to the neglect of primary issues—is particularly prevalent, in my opinion. Johnson clearly expressed one of the concerns I voiced here when he said the following:

“Concern for separation from the world has often resulted in a tolerance for arrogance and aberrant theology by others who are also separated (e.g. KJV only, blatant Arminianism).” (Johnson)

Sixth, I thought much of Noll’s answer was…odd.

Finally, I’m grateful for the opportunity several men took to emphasize the importance of contending and separating for the sake of the gospel. As expected, I agreed most with the answers from Doran, Hoskinson, Minnick, and Wright (go figure). I also appreciated Johnson’s answer. I am hopeful that Doran’s noting the tragic and undeniable results of evangelicalism’s rejection of biblical separation will make readers rethink the issue—or consider it for the first time. Speaking of making readers think, it’s interesting to me that Minnick chose to pose a question regarding separation rather than answering one. It seems that his goal is to point evangelicals to the Scriptures, not a quick answer on the internet. Also, though I appreciated his response very much for its boldness and clarity, I do wonder why Hoskinson introduced the subjective idea of “the work of Christ in that person’s heart” as a factor when practicing separation. I’m not certain how that can be determined or why it would factor into separation over (presumably) clearly biblical issues. Perhaps Matt can clarify for me. [Note: This article marks the second time in as many days that the idea of one’s heart condition was brought up as a reason to not separate, so it may be a prominent idea.]

There’s my quick summary and response. I hope to address some of the actual articles at another time. At this point, I’d be very interested in your take, either on the 19 answers , the rest of the e-journal, or the inclusion of fundamentalist voices in the conversation. I welcome substantive discussion.


Link: For my take on the strengths and weaknesses of fundamentalism, you can read my recently published article on Gospel-Driven Separation.


16 Responses

  1. Chris,

    Thank you for your careful and thoughtful response to the forum on fundamentalism. Your summary of the points made is very helpful.

    Thank you also for questioning my use of the phrase “the work of Christ in that believer’s heart.” (To be honest, I had to go back and read what I had written in order to formulate a response!) My intention was not to introduce an entirely subjective element, as though a person may be in doctrinal error but ought to be excused because his heart is in the right place. If that is how readers understand that phrase, then I sorely misled them as to what I actually think. I am dealing with a situation right now in which a person is claiming to be right with the Lord but is in clear violation of God’s will as revealed in Scripture. One cannot say that his heart is right with God if he is not repenting of his sin (1 Jn 1.6-10).

    Here’s what I was intending. I have witnessed some fundamentalists make judgment calls about another Christian’s motivation/purpose/heart–and even express those judgments publicly–but they never took the time to write a letter or make a phone call to that brother actually to find out why he did what he did. And perhaps contacting that brother might reveal that he was driven to his decision by some Scriptures that the other hadn’t considered. It is the simple principle of Matthew 18 and Galatians 6:1. Certainly, if one is in clear violation of the Scriptures, he needs to be called to repentance. My concern is that too many fundamentalists skip the step of exhorting a professing brother and jump to the step of separation.

    One thing that encourages me is that this posture seems to be changing. I know that men like Minnick have taken the time to confront those in broader evangelicalism. And I find their example to be refreshing. Hopefully my criticism on this score will be a thing of the past.

    Thank you, Chris, for sharpening my thinking. I wish I had passed on my response to you before it was published. Perhaps it would have been clearer for the reader.

    Please continue the conversation–and the sharpening!

    Grace and peace to you,

  2. That makes much more sense, Matthew. Thank you. A couple thoughts:

    1. The impugning of motives is a wicked thing that needs to stop. We can make judgments of men’s actions, but we can’t pretend to know their hearts—whether they’re motivated by greed, ambition, etc. We dare not pretend that we’re omniscient. As a noted theologian once said, “Just the facts, ma’am.”

    2. Separation should be thought of like amputation, IMO. It’s sometimes necessary, but only after other efforts (medicines, surgery, etc.) have failed. And further, it’s part of a larger agenda for preserving health, not the entirety of it.

    3. That said, I do think there are times when separation requires no direct communication—especially when one’s error is public or well established as a pattern (vs. an out-of-character misstep).

    Thanks for chiming in, Matt. I’ve not read your larger article yet, but I look forward to it.

  3. Thanks for your comments, Chris. I think you and I are right on the same page. (And as a die-hard Michigan fan, that is really something! =)

    1. I’m right with you on both points: we cannot impugn motives, nor can we really know another person’s heart. Because both are true, we must take time with people to find out where they’re coming from and where they’re going.

    2. Good analogy on separation. That’s helpful.

    3. I agree completely. As in church discipline, when someone persists in his refusal to repent, communication must cease–except, of course, for the call to repentance whenever Providence brings our paths together.

  4. Chris,

    This article is very helpful. Thank you especially for the breakdown of the positives vs. negatives. That was good stuff.

    These positives should be strengthened and these negatives must be prayerfully considered and Biblically changed where necessary. I get a little tired of those fundamentalists who, whenever our blemishes are revealed, resort to immediately pointing out the blemishes of evangelicalism and claiming that our problems are not nearly as bad their problems. While that may be absolutely true in some instances, it in no way absolves us from our responsibility to clean out our own houses.

    Matthew, great article. Very interesting. I miss getting together with you guys from Heritage every couple of months. That was a lot of fun.

    Grace and Peace.

  5. Chris,

    Thanks for this really creative way to analyze the forum. As I read it quickly the first time, I found it all starting to sound the same, even thoughI knew there were substantial differences in the details. What you’ve done here is really helpful.

    And Matthew, sending your response to Chris wouldn’t have helped. I tried that and he was too busy. Something about being a pastor. Whatever.

    By the way, Chris, is the “(go figure)” after my name an expression of surprise at agreeing with me, or lack of surprise at agreeing with Minnick, Doran, Hoskinson, and me. ;-)

  6. Matt (if you’re still reading),

    Thanks for your work on your longer article. I was wondering if I could probe it a little for some clarification on a couple of points so I can understand you better.

    First, would it be correct to conclude that one of the core differences between your traditional and historic categories is the matter of so-called secondary separation, i.e., traditional holds to it, historic does not?

    Second, I was curious as to your reasons for counting Piper and Carson among “right wing” evangelicalism. What leads you to conclude that they are different in their thinking than the older new evangelicalism (e.g., Ockenga, Henry, etc.)?

    [Moderation Note: This comment has been cross-posted to a new thread. Please post any comments to Matt’s larger article or to Dave’s question here.]

  7. […] the first 9M e-journal thread at MTC, Dave Doran (President of Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary) directed the following comment […]

  8. […] from the Christian Fundamentalists?” Chris Anderson gives a succinct overview of the responses. My Two Cents.Posted on 5 Mar, 2008Permalink | CommentsMahaney on Confession”A confession that is sincere and […]

  9. As I’ve thought about the various responses, I keep coming back to the idea that a movement as broad and varied as fundamentalism is difficult if not impossible to peg.

    * Which era of fundamentalism is being described?

    * Which stream?

    * Is fundamentalism’s interdenominationalism a strength, or is its denominationalism a weakness?

    * Are fundamentalists evangelistic and missions-minded, or have they so withdrawn from society as to be irrelevant?

    * Are fundamentalists known for biblical holiness or for sinful legalism?

    * Is fundamentalism’s defense of the faith an example of conviction or schism, of courage or vindictiveness?

    * Do fundamentalists believe in and support the authority of Scripture, or do they exalt man-made standards to the level of biblical commands?

    * Are fundamentalists reductionistic, limiting the core of biblical doctrine too narrowly, or do they treat lesser matters as though they are fundamentals?

    * Are fundamentalists strong on the atonement, or are they crassly Arminian?

    It’s striking that so many of the perceived strengths are also listed as perceived weaknesses. And the kicker is, probably all of the questions I asked could be answered with both a yes and a no, depending on which fundamentalists you’re talking about.

    So, “What can we learn from the Christian Fundamentalists?”

    Probably the most accurate answer would be, “Well, it depends. Which ones?”

  10. Ben, you can interpret my “go figure” whichever way makes you feel better. :)

  11. […] The best summary of various answers can be found on Chris Anderson’s blog […]

  12. I have to say that, overall, I’ve been underwhelmed by the articles and roundtable replies. I don’t see any movement on the conservative evangelical side other than giving a few fundamentalist leaders a voice on their forum. I suppose that’s something but most of the evangelical responses didn’t really deal with any of the substantive differences between us, such as those articulated by Ben in his response. To me the responses boiled down to: Fundamentalists are often too strict (or legalistic) and evangelicals are often too loose, but I’m a Biblicist right in the middle where we all ought to be.

    I know that Minnick recently had Dever in at his church to meet with his elders much like he did with Phil Johnson a few years ago. Someone ought to publish that roundtable discussion.

  13. I think you’re right, Andy, that most of the responses amounted to “Everybody should be as balanced as me.” Even the breadth of the responses (see the number of bullet points) indicate that most didn’t deal with the heart of the difference: Was/is the fundamentalists’ separation from unbelief and those who cooperate with it right or wrong?

    To address other matters like hymns, preaching, etc. just demonstrates that the core issue isn’t receiving the lion’s share of the attention. It’s like saying “What can football players learn from Brett Favre?” and coming up with answers like “He keeps a nice lawn” or “He doesn’t shave enough.” Maybe the observations are true, but they kind of miss the point of the question.

    I do think the responses of Doran, Minnick, Hoskinson, Wright, Hart, and Johnson focused more attention on the main difference, and I was glad for that. And I do think that the discussion here and elsewhere have men like Dever thinking. He’s acknowledged as much. And again, the fact that he even asked the question is indicative of that point, I think.

    As for Minnick’s discussion being published, well, stay tuned…

  14. Just for sake of public record, we were asked to give our answer in 100-200 words, so that is part of the cause for the lack of specificity in the answers–it’s hard to do much with that tight of limit.

  15. …or perhaps a good reason to address the central issue rather than various and sundry points of interest. :) Or maybe even to save space by nixing the old standby “too little fun, too much damn, and too little mental” joke. That’s as funny today as the first 10,000 times I heard it. What a riot.

    (There’s nothing worse than Monday morning quarterbacks, eh?)

  16. […] NLC 2008, #2 – A Fundamentalist Conference – What One Can Learn. Posted on March 4, 2008 by rpbixby Thanks to Mark Dever’s Nine Marks Ministry there is a fresh round of conversation entertaining many evangelicals and fundamentalists on the merits and demerits of American Fundamentalism. Nineteen men, most of them leaders, were asked the simple question, “What can we learn from the Christian Fundamentalists?” and directed to give a brief response. It’s good reading. Check it out here. The best summary of various answers can be found on Chris Anderson’s blog. […]

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