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Apologia

I suppose an answer is necessary….

Don Johnson wrote a critique of my “Unanimity vs. Unity” paper which you are all invited to examine. Don’s main contention with my paper was my naming of Rod Bell. He said, “Foremost was my reaction to the references to Dr. Bell.” They seemed to him to be “gratuitous shots.” He then reacted to my “overly favorable view of MacArthur.” I will address these two points in this entry, and only touch on some of his other concerns mentioned in the rest of his blog.


My Mention of Rod Bell

First, you reacted to my mention of Rod Bell. I do have an apology in this context, but it is not for having mentioned him or his drunkenness. What I wish I had mentioned (and apologize for not having mentioned) was that he has resigned his position and I do wish for him a rich outpouring of the grace of God to prosper his soul and further sanctify him for the glory of heaven. I believe we shall have good fellowship in Glory. I do not revel one second in his fall and frankly tremble for my own walk. We all have feet of clay. We are all saved by grace. Nor, do I wish to imply that Dr. Bell has not been used of God. I suspect that his usefulness has been far greater than mine will ever be.

However, with that free, full, and sincere admission I do not withdraw my mention of his name in the context of my paper The point that you missed in my mention of his name was understood by scores of other readers. Yet I feel somewhat obliged to make an answer even though I believe you are in the minority because I do agree that that mention of Dr. Rod Bell’s name without the aforementioned charity could be perceived as triumphalism on the part of a younger generation that might exult in a man’s fall. God forbid.

You correctly linked my mention of Dr. Bell with the complaint I had with Davey’s broad-brush faulting of “conservative evangelicals” because their disciples cannot discern between anagnwsis and epignwsis (see page nine of “Unanimity”). Then you missed the point which is, frankly, obvious. Let me restate it in other words: It is unfair to fault conservative evangelicals this way when we have the same problem not only among our disciples, but with our leadership. Of course, as you say, MacArthur (or Ryken, or Piper, etc.) have probably had associates resign in disgrace. That’s not the point. My point is that we have had people resign in disgrace too, and it is therefore unfair and arrogant to condemn other ministries or circles by the faults of their disciples as if that is a litmus test we are willing to enforce on outsiders, but not on ourselves. If we applied Davey’s anagnwsis/epignwsis test to every ministry, we would all fail. Even Jesus had disciples who failed to discern the difference between head knowledge and life experience. Worse. One of them was filled with the Devil. I would agree with Davey’s criticism if he had applied it to the Body of Christ generally, but to make it a distinction between us and them is clearly wrong, untenable, and easily disproved.

That I have decided to name Fundamentalists who are wrong (at the risk of being accused as a “neo”) while dogmatically affirming my love for Baptist Fundamentalism is hardly gratuitous. I have been intimately familiar with inside dealings in Fundamental politics, closely acquainted with many of the leaders, have either spoken or key-noted in at least nine different Fundamental colleges or seminaries, and have suffered misrepresentation and misunderstanding for my positions. My choice to mention names is calculated. And I do not apologize for it. The mentioning of a name as a negative example is not slander as you charged me with in your first response. Otherwise, you are quite guilty of it also.

I abhor slander. Slander is – according to the dictionary – the “utterance of false charges or misrepresentation which defame or damage another’s reputation or character.” The statements I made concerning Rod Bell’s drinking problem were less detailed than his own public admission. It was a public statement in his own words. Just because he is one of “our boys” doesn’t mean we can’t verbally and publicly react to his verbal and public statement. You, my brother, slandered John MacArthur. You apologized. And you are forgiven. I do not want to be guilty of slander. And I hope that I am as quick to clear myself as you were as soon as it has been proven that I have slandered someone. I go to great lengths to either talk directly with the individual in question or get his own wording.

Your defense of Rod Bell illustrates the very point I was attempting to make. We are not even allowed to mention his faults, but we are supposed to be hyper-analytical of the variances between MacArthur’s modus operandi and the vague, biblically-indefensible, strained, culturally-irrelevant, sectarian definition of “secondary separation” that the collective will of a pharisaical and biblically-illiterate sub-culture has imposed upon us. Some cave in. Some flee. Some of us object.

My Favorable View of John MacArthur

You were offended that I defended John MacArthur. That really wasn’t my point. In fact, I stated in my “Unanimity” that my goal wasn’t to defend MacArthur. I want to defend the facts. When we are no longer allowed to defend the facts because it might ennoble someone outside of our party, then the party is no longer a servant of truth. I don’t know MacArthur personally and he doesn’t need me to defend him. But why not? Let me as a foaming-at-the-mouth Fundamental Baptist defy partisanship and defend him. I’ll be happy to defend a man that wrote The Vanishing Conscience, Hard to Believe, Faith Works, Reckless Faith, Rediscovering Expository Preaching, Charismatic Chaos, Ashamed of the Gospel, The Gospel According to Jesus, and Faith Works to name a just a few of his works that have ministered to my soul and enhanced my ministry. I’m not ashamed to defend such a man. I haven’t read all Dr. Rod Bell’s books yet, but if they are helping young men hone their thinking to champion the Word of God then I’ll celebrate his ministry too. And hope that even though he had to resign from public life he will be able to continue his great and illustrious writing ministry.

Dr. Bell knows full well that he will be discussed. That is one of the scary things about leadership. I have decided that while this blog entry is still hot I will make him the focus of my personal prayers even though don’t know him. Truly God is a mighty God who can yet do marvelous things in that man’s life. I spoke the truth about his drunkenness and my criticisms of his KJV-onlyism and preaching are based on personal observation. I speak the truth when I speak of Dr. John MacArthur’s help to our cause.

I don’t have the unfounded paranoia that seems to plague so many Fundamental Baptists that the mere utterance of gratitude for the help of such men as Piper, Ryken, Sproul, and MacArthur spells the demise of our beloved cause. Au contraire, I am fully persuaded that authentic Baptist Fundamentalism’s only hope is when more men who are assertively Baptist, assertively Fundamental, and assertively independent unshackle themselves from the artificial and ungodly constraints of isolationism.

Finally, I object to the blanket “he-endorses-everyplace-he-speaks-for” paradigm of Biblical separation parroted by so many within Fundamentalist circles. My assistant and I have spoken this summer in a Covenant Church here in Rockford to help that suffering congregation. Does that mean that we endorse that church’s doctrine or methodology? Hardly! All it means is that a “door of utterance was opened unto us.” In fact, I would much rather preach in the places that I do not endorse to persuade, convince, and challenge others to consider my point of view. Isn’t that what preaching is about? It seems to me that many in Fundamentalism think of preaching as merely the best opportunity to make one’s self heard in their affiliation’s pep-rally which provides the possible chance at promotion to more invitations as long as he doesn’t transgress the collective pride of his circle by suggesting that they, in fact, are not the paragon of the pure. I happen to think of preaching as the opportunity to proclaim truth. If I perish, I perish. If I get spit on, I get spit on. Who cares? If anyone dares to invite me knowing who I am and what I believe, I’ll go. And I’ll preach whatever God lays on my heart.

Most Fundamentalists don’t get that opportunity because our unbalanced view of separation has made us like little children at a zoo that taunt and hiss at the wild animals from behind the safety of bars. We beat our chests and do our war dances but never actually enter the conflict of ideas because we have become cowards. Cowards who have piously erected our excuse for non-involvement. An excuse we sanctimoniously call secondary separation. The remarkable thing about your charge against MacArthur for preaching at the Laurie meeting was not that MacArthur went. It is that Laurie had him come! That – and I don’t know the details – is actually quite encouraging! I have heard MacArthur get verbally abused by charismatics. He has made his position clear. You think that he should back up his position by never speaking to any group even remotely related to charismaticism. I think that if a “door of utterance” has been given to him, he should take it. That he has helped Laurie doctrinally seems to be a known fact. Glory to God that someone has helped another preacher be more effective.

Since you have attempted to illustrate MacArthur’s sinfulness (for what else can it be if you have to separate from him) by showing his association with the Laurie’s “Preach the Word” conference, I will use that very same event to illustrate the thrilling opportunity of witness that is granted to those who are untrammeled by pietistic secondary separation. The conference happened to be on “preaching the Word.” What a golden opportunity for a preacher of the Word to make sure that the Gospel is clearly understood especially – I say especially – if there is the possibility that many of the truly regenerate attendees are a little bit confused about soteriological doctrine! What an opportunity for a faithful teacher to step in and articulate with passionate precision the doctrine of truth. That MacArthur did! That others at the conference might not have done it is irrelevant. And, if you actually listen to his message you will hear him boldly name two Charismatic leaders and denounce their doctrine as – I quote – “blasphemous.” Listen to it. You’ll also hear him allude to the time that he was physically removed from the pulpit for proclaiming his convictions. Many Fundamentalists won’t get the opportunity to be physically removed from the pulpit for declaring truth because we have adopted a monkish isolationism in which we piously refuse to preach anywhere unless we are preaching to the choir. The only time a Fundamentalist risks physical removal is when he forgets the unwritten code of ethics and begins to challenge the biblicity of his own circle. Otherwise, his doctrine of secondary separation encloses him in the hypnotic embrace of isolationism, safety, and –sadly – uselessness.

What an irony. Fundamentalists who make the most noise about fighting for truth cannot name Rod Bell when he is clearly unbiblical, cannot commend John MacArthur when he is clearly Biblical, and cannot proclaim Bible where it is clearly optional!

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9 Responses

  1. Hi Bob

    A quick mid-Saturday response: I am not against the naming of Rod Bell per se, if indeed his actions are germaine to the subject at hand. And I agree that your point as stated here in Apologia that we ought not cast stones about discipleship when we hardly have our house in order in fundamentalism in that regard. You expressed it much better here than you did in your original paper.

    In the original paper you said: “Davey sounds like one of us again when he broadly denounces the “conservative evangelicals” by saying that their “written word is not precisely illustrated in their daily word. In sum, the disciple of their ministries and works have not been able to clearly mark the difference between anaginosiV and epiginosiV.” This is brutally unfair. As if our disciples are any better? Come on, friends! I hope you can see the conflict here! This is coming from a conference comprised of many who are affiliated with an association whose leader resigned just recently for public drunkenness.”

    This last sentence is the one I object to. The conference Davey was speaking at was not an FBF conference. You could have made your point without resorting to what appears (at least to me) to be a personal attack against a man who has publicly repented and endured the humiliation of bitter end to a successful ministry.

    Regarding MacArthur, in Apologia, you are making the point that separation keeps the fundamental message from being heard, etc, and that we ought to take advantage of the ‘doors of utterance’ that might come our way.

    My question to you on this point is this: How is this different from the philosophical change pushed by Harold Ockenga during the formulation of the then designated “New Evangelicalism”?

    My old society brother, Mark Sidwell, summarizes Ockenga’s philosophy this way:

    “First, Ockenga spoke of New Evangelicalism’s ‘determination to engage itself in the theological dialogue of the day’ and the need for ‘the reengagement in the theological debate.’

    “Second, Ockenga wrote of the need for ‘the reexamination of theological problems such as the antiquity of man, the universality of the Flood, God’s method of creation, and others.’

    “Third, Ockenga also issued a ‘summons to social involvement’ and a ‘new emphasis upon the application of the gospel to the sociological, political, and economic areas of life.’

    “Finally, and most important, Ockenga proclaimed a ‘ringing call for a repudiation of separation’ and aimed for ‘the recapture denominational leadership.’” (Mark Sidwell, The Dividing Line, pp. 115-117)

    How is your philosophy different?

    That’s all for now. I may post more on my own blog next week.

    BTW, I recall hearing a message from a Bob Bixby at Southside Baptist about 20 years ago. He was a missionary to … France??? Somewhere… Your dad, perhaps?

    Regards
    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  2. My dad is a missionary in France with Baptist Mid Mission and was a member at Southside Baptist many years ago. I was a missionary in France/Belgium with Baptist World Mission for ten years.

  3. Presumably there is a connection between Bixby’s stance and points 2, 3, and 4 of Dr. Sidwell’s analysis of Ockenga, though I’m not sure I see it. The question that arises to a young mind inexperienced in these battles is, Why does it matter if Bixby’s stance is similar to that of Ockenga? I know enough of Fundamentalism to know that similarity to Ockenga is akin to heresy, and that alone is enough to make one want to deny any similarity to Ockenga. But again, if Bixby’s stance is similar to that of Ockenga’s, why does that matter? Is it possible that Ockenga might have been right on some points?

  4. Hi again Bob,

    I thought that was the right family! I don’t recall the message your dad preached except for one line. He asked us a question, very close to these words: “Do you have the character to make your children obey?” At the time our oldest child would have been just a few months old, but it is a comment that has stuck with me all these years. I have even used it a time or two as an illustration.

    My wife and I are also with BWM. I guess we were never at the same meetings, because I don’t recall meeting you in person.

    I look forward to further discussion as time permits. God bless!

    Regards
    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  5. To compare my view with Ockenga’s philosophy is to compare apples with oranges. Minimal research will show that Ockenga sought dialogue with liberal/modernist theologians. Conservative Evangelicals can hardly be called liberal. I’ll use Sidwell’s four point summary of Ockenga to show the difference.

    1. “First, Ockenga spoke of New Evangelicalism’s ‘determination to engage itself in the theological dialogue of the day’ and the need for ‘the reengagement in the theological debate.'”
    Harmless, I think. But Ockenga’s meaning seemed to be dubious. Engagement in theological debate was the practice of so many Church History heroes. Luther, Calvin, Owen, Fuller, Spurgeon and others positioned their ministries as venues of public theological debate.

    2. “Second, Ockenga wrote of the need for ‘the reexamination of theological problems such as the antiquity of man…”

    I don’t think this applies. I don’t ask for a re-examination of the theological problems. Rather, I am quite fond of the 1689 Baptist Confession and historical Fundamentals. Any re-examination that I hope for is one that investigates the old doctrines once again and returns to them. I say with Spurgeon “Do you know who are. . . called unsound in the faith? Why, the men that once were the orthodox are now the heretics. We can turn back to the records of our Puritan fathers, to the articles of the Church of England, to the preaching of Whitefield, and we can say of that preaching, it is the very thing we love; and the doctrines which were then uttered are – and we dare to say it everywhere – the very self-same doctrines that he proclaimed. But because we choose to proclaim them, we are thought singular and strange; and the reason is, because sound doctrine hath to a degree ceased.” (Spurgeon’s Sermons, Vol. 3, p. 85.).

    3. Irrelevant.

    4. “Finally, and most important, Ockenga proclaimed a ‘ringing call for a repudiation of separation’ and for ‘the recapture of denominational leadership.'”

    I do not repudiate separation. I fully embrace separation. What I repudiate is sectarianism which is, I think, one of the sins of the flesh and a fly in the ointment of godly separation. I am preparing another blog entry to show that secondary separation as practiced by too many Fundamentalists today is neither biblical or historically defensible. Until then, may it be understood by all, that I believe and practice separation. I like Peter Master’s attempt to define a Fundamentalist in Are we Fundamentalists? by using seven words (I submit the first six):

    a. an exclusivist – “A fundamentalist is one who believes in the exclusive soul-saving efficacy of the Gospel.”
    b. a biblicist – “A fundamentalist believes in the inerrancy of Scripture, and also in its authority, whereas a new evangelical often gives ground on the former, and always on the latter.”
    c. a creationist
    d. a believist – “The term may be unorthodox, but the point is an essential one: an old-style evangelical or fundamentalist [do you all see the connection?] is someone who trusts in the power of the Holy Spirit, operating through the Word, to bring about all spiritual blessing.” [Another topic: but this section right here links well with Bail’s discussion on decisionism]
    e. an evangelist – “A fundamentalist wants genuine, Holy Ghost conversions, not merely shallow assents to the faith, or decisions.” [Again, see Bail’s on decisionism]
    f. a separatist – “Fundamentalists seek always to protect the soul-saving doctrines of the faith from contamination, dilution or extinction. They will not deny these doctrines by extending recognition to those who reject them.” Did you all notice his words? “soul-saving doctrines of the faith” are the relevant doctrines in any discussion of separation. They are obviously, in Master’s statement the antecedents to the words “these doctrines” and “them” in the following sentence.

    The problem, Don, with this line of questioning is that whether you intend it or not it is a red herring argument… “In an argument, a skillful debater who is losing will sometimes throw out a red herring. A red herring in this instance is an irrelevant but interesting side topic. It often is successful in causing the discussion to move in a totally different direction, and the audience may never recognize the weakness of the skillful debater’s argument” (Virkler, A Christian’s Guide to Critical Thinking). As the student mentioned in the previous entry, the word “Ockenga” is enough to make any good Fundamentalist’s blood freeze. It is also irrelevant. If there is something erroneous in my thinking it is not helpful to imply that I am guilty of something I am not. This is another reason why so many sharp, Christian men are abandoning our ranks. John Owen was right when he said, “when men are in one fault, and are charged with another wherein they are not, it is a ready way to confirm them in that wherein they are.”

  6. Hi Bob

    Hmmm… I am not sure if this is a compliment or not: “The problem, Don, with this line of questioning is that whether you intend it or not it is a red herring argument… “In an argument, a skillful debater who is losing will sometimes throw out a red herring. A red herring in this instance is an irrelevant but interesting side topic. It often is successful in causing the discussion to move in a totally different direction, and the audience may never recognize the weakness of the skillful debater’s argument” (Virkler, A Christian’s Guide to Critical Thinking).”

    I am not sure how skilled a debater I am!

    Anyway, thank you for the clarification. I appreciate what you offered from Peter Masters. I don’t see how what he is saying differs significantly from what I think (if at all) or with what current Fundamentalist thought is… (We have too many terms without clarity! I wanted to write “mainstream Fundamentalism”, but who knows what that is?)

    May I ask this: In my earlier comment (the one that you said was a red herring), I summarized your view this way — “Regarding MacArthur, in Apologia, you are making the point that separation keeps the fundamental message from being heard, etc, and that we ought to take advantage of the ‘doors of utterance’ that might come our way.”

    Am I at least stating that correctly?

    I am sorry that you think I was trying to divert the argument in a different direction. I am trying to clarify in my mind what it is you are saying. In my understanding of what you said, I thought I saw a linkage, perhaps I am totally wrong. However, I think you are reading too much into my question.

    So let me just leave it bare of linkage and ask if I am summarizing your view correctly.

    Regards
    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  7. Does the following statement summarize my view: “Regarding MacArthur, in Apologia, you are making the point that separation keeps the fundamental message from being heard, etc, and that we ought to take advantage of the ‘doors of utterance’ that might come our way.”

    No. I think sectarianism, isolationism, and/or the typical Fundamentalist application of “secondary separation” is reducing most of our movement into irrelevance. It is the notion that I must separate from anybody that does not separate from everybody the same way I do that is problematic.

    Peter Masters’ (Pastor of Metropolitan Tabernacle and author of the “Are We Fundamentalists” points I shared above) will have John MacArthur speak for him even though he has very strong opinions about MacArthur’s music, for example. Peter Masters is undeniably a separatist. He is a Fundamentalist.

    I do believe that there are some legitimate applications of secondary separation within the framework of biblical separation. However, I do not believe that “secondary separation” is always the requisite application of biblical separation.

  8. Hi Bob

    Thank you for your clarification — a few comments to follow:

    You said: “I think sectarianism, isolationism, and/or the typical Fundamentalist application of ‘secondary separation’ is reducing most of our movement into irrelevance.”

    Is it necessary to be relevant? When was fundamentalism ever considered ‘relevant’ by the wider evangelical world?

    Spurgeon was castigated and almost alone in his stand in the Down-Grade controversy. His own brother voted against him, graduates of his college rushed to oppose him. Was he relevant?

    The men who stood up in the Northern Baptist Convention and in the Presbyterian church during the fundamentalist-modernist controversy were not considered relevant by their conservative friends. When the fundamentalists left those denominations, most of those ‘conservative but not contending’ men didn’t come with them. I doubt they thought the fundamentalists were relevant either.

    During the evangelical compromise led by Ockenga and Graham et al, the fundamentalists were definitely considered not relevant. That was the whole point. (It is here where I thought there might be some linkage in your thinking with Ockenga. I acknowledge that you are not going as far as Ockenga on MOST things, but I wonder about this concern for relevance.) Ockenga and the evangelicals wanted a wider voice, more relevance, more influence and wanted to be acknowledged as ‘scholarly’ by the ‘scholars’, which meant the liberals of his day. I guess you don’t want to be relevant with the liberals, but do you desire to be relevant to the conservative evangelicals? Is relevance a biblical mandate?

    Do you see why I am concerned about terms like that?

    You also said: “It is the notion that I must separate from anybody that does not separate from everybody the same way I do that is problematic.”

    Right. Well, I agree with that complaint. I think that I would apply the answer slightly differently than you, but it is a long standing complaint. The fundamentalists who were young when I was young had the same complaint and answered it in two different ways. One group became evangelicals. The other group maintained their fundamentalist testimony while at the same time trying to shed the wild-eyed zealotry that others seemed to have. There is a third group – they had no complaints. They are the wild-eyed zealots that we all complain about.

    Finally, you said: “I do believe that there are some legitimate applications of secondary separation within the framework of biblical separation. However, I do not believe that ‘secondary separation’ is always the requisite application of biblical separation.”

    I am glad to hear that. Again, I agree with the concept but probably apply it differently. Somebody in these discussions (was it on Appelles??) said that it was explained to him as a difference between separation and fellowship. In other words, we separate from unbelievers, but we do not extend fellowship (or enter fellowship) with every professing believer. I think that is apt.

    For example, our ‘mutual friend’, David Cloud, posted a critique of Jerry Falwell on his web-site the other day. David recently visited Thomas Road to ‘spy out the land’, I guess. (Self-appointed spy!) Now, I don’t like a lot of what Falwell does. I don’t think I would have him in my pulpit or support his ministry in any way. I would be very cautious about fellowshipping with guys who fellowship with Falwell as well. There are likely going to be some philosophy differences that would make cooperation difficult. I wouldn’t brand them as heretics, though.

    On the other hand, David Cloud himself is someone who I would be very cautious about. There are a whole host of reasons, and I am sure you are aware of most of them. The most eggregious is that he will not completely separate from Ruckman.

    And on the third hand (!!!), I would have the same caution about MacArthur, while it appears that you do not.

    Well, I think I have had my say on this topic. I appreciate your willingness to engage me in discussion. Unless you would like me to further clarify, or think that I have said something that I should defend or apologize for, I think I can rest my case now. I don’t need to get the last word in! And I don’t want to monopolize your site.

    I hope to continue reading it and may offer further comments along the way. I appreciate the opportunity to discuss this one at this time.

    God bless.
    Regards
    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  9. Bob,
    I read your unity vs unanimity. Excellent. My associations with Rod Bell and my judgment on him has nothing to do with his drunkenness. (Many behind the scenes anecdotes) It has to do with his horrendous handling of Scripture, his powermongering, and his doctrinal positions. I find myself being small-minded, just as many Fundamental Baptists tend to be, but for different reasons. I see it as kingdom building. They want to warn younger fundamnnetalists of the supposed “neo-evangelical” leanings of these conservative evangelicals because they are afraid of losing the younger men. The problem is that these conservative evangelicals are, as you say, closer than most Fundamental Baptists to us.
    Enough,
    Bob

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