This post concludes my response to Don Johnson on the fundamentalist movement (see here and here for some background on this kerfluffle). I could say a whole lot more here, but after a month or so of puzzling ‘till my puzzler was sore, I finally thought of something I hadn’t before.
I’m only responding to one point he made, which is really the essence of his disagreement. I asked him what the “marks” of a so-called convergent were. He replied, in part,
Anti-separatism (or at least non-separatism) . . . The most important characteristic is anti-separatism, and a disdain for separatists.
I agree with this distinction, insofar as it goes. Separation is a Biblical concept, and those who oppose it are in error. However, it is clear Johnson means something rather more than “anti-separatism.” I believe he, Unruh and others are actually taking aim at fundamentalists who have different ideas of separation.
John Vaughn, in his editorial from the Sept/Oct 2016 issue of Frontline, wrote,
In seeking to stay in touch with the ever-changing culture, churches can think themselves separate from it while moving away from their moorings. They can soon occupy the space that belonged to the world not long ago, no longer secure on the foundations on which they were built (3).
Dan Unruh, in his unfortunate article from the Sept/Oct 2016 issue of Frontline, entitled “Why I Left My Fundamental Baptist Church,” asked,
How is it possible for a church to get to the place that it is being controlled by those who seem to have little appreciation, and in some cases even disdain, for the strong separatist Fundamental position upon which it was founded? (12)
Again, I agree with this statement, insofar as it stands. The problem with both Johnson and Unruh’s comments is they do not define their terms. Every true fundamentalist agrees that separation is a vital Biblical doctrine. So, we ask them, what exactly are you talking about?
I can only suppose they’re referring to people who have a “disdain” for biblical separation. They don’t agree with the doctrine, and they don’t seek to apply it. More than this, they hate the doctrine. However, Unruh and Johnson have made clear these brigands are still trying to claim the label of “fundamentalist.” They have a “hidden agenda.” They seek to “converge” with evangelicals through stealth, secrecy and cunning.
Johnson explained a bit more about these “convergents” in another blog piece:
. . . they must jettison the idea of separation from worldliness at many levels (music, alcohol and other social issues, are examples) and the idea of separation from broader levels of cooperation with error. In this latter category, they will have to be open to cooperation with charismatics and their sympathizers who promote ongoing revelation and they will have to be open to ecclesiastical entanglements that are represented in the Southern Baptist Convention, Together for the Gospel, and The Gospel Coalition among others.
I share these concerns. If this is what Johnson is worried about, then so am I. However, I believe he fails to distinguish between (1) people who disdainfully jettison the doctrine of separation like an escaped convict casting aside his shackles, and (2) those fundamentalists who have different interpretations on certain biblical issues. But, on an even more fundamental level (pun intended), Bro. Johnson and I are worried for very different reasons:
- I’m only worried if these activities are in contradiction to their local church’s doctrinal statement.
- Johnson and Unruh seem to be worried because these seditious activities violate an assumed Baptist fundamentalist confession of faith.
Here is the problem – Johnson, Unruh and others in the FBFI seem to think “fundamentalism” should function as an explicitly confessional association. This is not the case. It has never been the case. It will never be the case.
Fundamentalism is a philosophy of ministry characterized by a militant apologetic defense and passionate, unashamed proclamation of the Christian faith from the Scriptures in the face of pagan unbelief, liberal theology and doctrinal compromise. As such, it has always been a “big tent” concept. It has never been an explicitly confessional movement.
I understand the passion for maintaining doctrinal purity. I share it. This is the very concern which fueled the fundamentalist movement. However, Johnson, Unruh and others have committed two errors with their latest criticisms:
- They seem to view Baptist fundamentalism as a pseudo-denomination, with all the confessional standards and expected theological conformity that come with such a label, and
- Having elevated Baptist fundamentalism to a confessional movement, they launch polemical broadsides against those who have broken these “confessional” standards . . . which do not actually exist.
Convergents are not “anti-separatist.” They’re just different than you. Johnson’s idea of “church,” in practice, would probably look almost precisely like mine. But, his criticisms about fundamentalism will continue to miss the mark as long as he (and others) continue to view fundamentalism as a tight, confessional movement. It never has been, and it never will be. That is not its function or purpose. That is what the local church is for.