No matter how carefully I try to word this or voice my concerns with it, I am sure that these remarks may sound like I am some kind of incipient neo-evangelical. Let me thus begin by assuring the readership that I am not. I am full five-point fundamentalist (a phrase I like to use, but has no real meaning), and have no desire to turn over any fundamentalist apple cart. I realize that even though I say this, there is the distinct possibility that my remarks below may cause me to be regarded as a nonfundamentalist, which is unfortunate. I am a fundamentalist, fully espouse separatism (even the oft maligned “secondary” sort), and would consider myself a fundamentalist patriot. Anyway. I have listened somewhat closely to the recent 9 Marks interview, Cooperation in the Church. It is a conversation between Mark Dever, J. Ligon Duncan, Al Mohler, and C. J. Mahaney on how and when evangelicals should fellowship together. I have just a few observations concerning this discussion:
1) Some evangelicals separate. I will be using the term “evangelical” to speak of those who are not “fundamentalist.” Some may understand better what I mean if I were to say that these “evangelicals” are those in the lineage of the “neo-evangelicals” of Okenga, Henry, and the like. Some fundamentalists do not acknowledge that evangelicals separate. They are wrong. They should listen to this interview.
2) Some conservative evangelicals are more and more embracing “secondary separation.” The irony for me is that some fundamentalists are more and more rejecting it. Dever himself names two occasions where he has separated, or “not cooperated.” In an example of what some fundamentalists would call “first degree” separation, he notes that he refused to take part in an interfaith service following September 11, 2001. In an example of what some fundamentalists would call “second-degree separation,” Dever says at the end of the interview that he refused to take part in an evangelistic crusade because it involved Catholics (at which point the group expressed their dismay over ECT stuff). Mohler says that he wished Baptists would again embrace their heritage of “associationalism,” where pastors would personally confront other pastors they heard proclaiming error, and, if the pastor or assembly did not respond, that church would be cut off from the association. Modern evangelicalism, he laments, is not very good at this. By the way, fundamentalists are not always adept at this either.
3) Some conservative evangelicals are becoming more and more careful about cooperation. One of them, for example, (I think it was Mahaney) urged pastors to research other pastors’ stand on the gospel before cooperating with them. They agreed that the persons with whom they most enjoy fellowshipping are those who hold the areas of disagreement firmly. Dever (who is a Baptist), for example, said he enjoyed fellowship with Duncan (a Presbyterian) because he knows that Duncan holds his Presbyterian convictions strongly. These kinds of individuals, who are “thick” (that must be a neo-evangelical word for “solid”) on doctrinal matters, know that certain doctrines are important, even though it is a point of doctrinal disagreement.
4) The group seemed to misunderstand fundamentalism. Their critiques are probably warranted, for their exposure to fundamentalists are probably much different than the kind with whom I usually associate. Dever, for instance, gave an example of a fundamentalist deacon who was removed from his deaconate because his daughter elected to attend Liberty. I would hope that this is not the trend among fundamentalists, but these types, as we all know, are out there. Dever, though I hesitate to add this with the risk of misrepresenting him, seemed to boil fundamentalist separatism down to those who will not cooperate in evangelistic crusades. Mohler had this response to fundamentalist separatism: “That is a dying phenomenon. That is not the growth edge of conservative, gospel-loving Christianity in American. That’s kind of an antiquarian remnant. So I wouldn’t waste too much time worrying about it.” This is a regrettable analysis, and shows a real ignorance of the fundamentalist concern with the purity of the gospel, including those who appear to be indifferent to it.
5) Some conservative evangelicals are moving away from their Neo-evangelical past. I use the term “neo-evangelical” here on purpose. Consider this exchange (slightly condensed), which I found to be terribly interesting:
Mohler: “I think the whole idea of the evangelical dream of Carl Henry and Harold John Okenga [Mark Dever adds, “Christianity Today, the National Association of Evangelicals”] in the whole period right after World War II is one of those critical points we need to go back and look at. I just have to acknowledge that Carl Henry is a mentor to me. . . . I have to admit that the evangelicals of that generation had a far too optimistic understanding of how easy it would be to stand on the gospel. And because of this, they just abdicated ecclesiology. . . . I think they saw themselves in a moment of cultural opportunity, and my thesis is that we are now in a moment of cultural crisis. . . . We are not going to be seduced by that false impression, but we can be very much seduced by things we’re not seeing in our own times as the danger.”
Dever: “[Local churches loving the gospel] is going to display different lives that are then going to begin to address some of those issues [of the cultural crisis]. Not a full-blown Anabaptist separatism, but it is saying that the best way we can witness to the world and the culture, or one of the best ways–an indispensable part of it and the trunk of it–is by having disciplined communities of people who are effectively demonstrating the gospel.”
Mohler: “The lack of that discipline was the fatal absence in the evangelical structure. In other words, there was no way to say who was and wasn’t. There still isn’t any way to say who is and isn’t an evangelical, and therein lies the problem.”
Ligon: “In a sense, the evangelicals of that generation shared something of that dream that those that started the World Council of Churches before them shared.”
6) Conservative evangelicals are not as separatist as fundamentalists. Forgive me for stating the obvious, but I need to add this for my young fundamentalist readers out there. I do not think we can yet impose upon these men the label “fundamentalist.” I believe that these men would still be hesitant about separating from some of those whom most fundamentalists separate. For example, I do not believe that J. I. Packer’s work in the ECT is enough pause for these men to separate from him. I would assume that they would still consider Packer “strong on the gospel” (let me reiterate that is an assumption on my part). I would have a serious problem with someone like Packer who has seen fit to damage (in my opinion) the gospel in his ECT work, even though he personally may rigidly affirm a strong conservative evangelical articulation of it and even defend it from time to time.
In summary, this interview is helpful in that it shows the times are, indeed, changing. Although there are certain trends in American evangelicalism that are troubling, it is encouraging that some are again recognizing the value of fundamentalist separatism. We should not yet try to make them into fundamentalists, but it is certainly not the 1940’s anymore.