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Shepherd’s Conference: DAY TWO Journal Entry

A report from Thursday, March 3rd, at the Shepherd’s Conference in California.
(Sproul/Johnson*/Mohler)


I pull my reluctant body out of bed at 4:30. I would stay in longer if I could sleep, but it isn’t worth tossing and turning. Wonder why I don’t have the constitution of John Wesley, who always got out of bed at 4:00 over a period of at least 50 years. Trying not to disturb my roommate, Shannon Brown, I sneak down to the exercise room and memorize part of Psalm 15 while pedaling on the stationary bike. Good seed thoughts for a future message on communion with God: Who really communes with God? Here is Christlikeness in an OT context. Speaking the truth, not only outwardly (which would be an accomplishment), but also in the inner man is an absolute necessity for communion with God. If I take up a gossiping word against a friend, any brother in Christ, or if I go against my word (even if it hurts me to keep it), I am revealing a heart that is perhaps more man-centered than God-centered. I commune with God if I despise the vile person and honor the good person. In a month filled with conversation on fellowship with men, the critical question is still about my private communion with God. God knows how I measure up to the test of Psalm 15. I know in part. Others really only know what I would like them to know. “O, God, be my Judge, be a merciful Judge.”

They’re serving breakfast. Finger food. Boiled eggs (so far, they’ve boiled 10,000). Fruit. I meet a pastor from a Christian Church in Southern Illinois. He is a scarred warrior for the truth, I can tell. Pastored a charismatic church, but the Holy Spirit didn’t approve. Started preaching what the Holy Spirit wrote, and his church didn’t approve. Found a dead Christian church (Reagan was from the Christian Church denomination) and is teaching Bible. I told him I was a fundamental Baptist, also trying to be a warrior for the truth. Been in the battle for about twelve years now. Have a couple of nicks, but nothing like the marks he bears. He had heard about fundamental Baptists. “They have their issues, don’t they?” Yep. I squeeze his hand, saying, “Brother, preach Christ. If I don’t see you ever again, let’s press for the Heavenly City.” Move on.

I’m tired as the first session starts, and R.C. Sproul looks even more tired. We’re told not to use flash cameras because they might disorient him. He had a stroke a while back. I’ve heard him a number of times, but he’s better today. Sort of like a prophet: agitated, aroused, urgent, and weary. He spends the entire time schooling us on the Roman Catholic view of justification. Against that backdrop, what little we know of the Bible teaching dazzles. He tells us to get ready to fight, and he tells us that he told John Stott, “If you have a unity of faith in the gospel with these people [Roman Catholics], you don’t have a unity of faith in the gospel with me.” Again, to us he says, “My dear friends, you must not shrink from this battle.” Rousing, Spirit-filled.

Before Sproul got up to speak, John MacArthur had told us that we had a treat waiting for us outside. Books! Have you ever seen 3000 pastors around free books? It is a mob! Here’s what they have waiting for us in huge piles. I get one of each.

The Bible-Driven Church [DVD]
John MacArthur

The Journal of Modern Ministry*
Jay Adams, General Editor
(*Dad and Mom were telling me about this. I hadn’t seen it yet.)

The Book on Leadership
MacArthur

The Lord our Righteousness, The Old Perspective on Paul
Obadiah Grew (1607-1689)

Fools Gold? Discerning Truth in an Age of Error
MacArthur, General Editor

The MacArthur Commentary: 1 Peter

Famine in the Land: A Passionate Call for Expository Preaching
Steven J. Lawson

When I don’t Desire God, How to Fight for Joy
John Piper

After Darkness, Light: Essays in Honor of R.C. Sproul
R.C. Sproul Jr., General Editor

Stop Dating the Church: Fall in Love with Family of God
Joshua Harris

The Word of God in English: Criteria for Excellence in Bible Translation
Leland Ryken

The Genesis Record: A Scientific & Devotional Commentary on the Book of Beginnings
Henry Morris

best of all, a leather-bound
Reader’s Greek New Testament

Holding my books, I chat with Phil Johnson just briefly before the meeting. He tells me he’s been on my blog but hasn’t commented yet. I hope he does sometime. “Got to find a conversation that will lure him,” I think to myself. Shared some chuckles and comments about the Bailie blog/comment thread. Some thoughtful people do see what I am attempting to say by “groupthink” in spite of a declaration by one professor that all thoughtful people will simply dismiss me by such a choice of words. I tell him I am ready for his session. He’s on fire.

His session is titled “Dead Right: The Failure of Fundamentalism” [read entire transcript*]. It’s in the auditorium and has the largest crowd. He gives a brief disclaimer delivering the IFCA and the GARBC from the judgment which is to come. We know who is left. His disclaimer also acknowledges that there is going to be quite a bit of broad-brushing, but deal with it. Those are not his words. But that is his point. It is a bit odd sitting three rows back from the front and listening to Phil fill out the death certificate for our movement. He knows that most of us won’t necessarily agree. He doesn’t care. So, I guess I don’t care that he doesn’t care.

Everybody that embraces the name of fundamentalism is included with all of the riff-raff of the movement. He’s not unfair about it. In fact, he gives some excellent insight into the term “evangelical,” as well. He has a good word to say about Bauder’s paper, a strong recommendation for the Detroit Baptist Theological Journal, and some kind things about Bob Jones University. However, there is no doubt about it. He sees all of them as part of the same movement that was Hyles’, Norris’, and Rice’s. That’s a bit irksome to me, but I can’t help but understand his point of view. He is vexed at Bob Jones, Jr., for publicly “tying a tin can” to MacArthur on the blood issue, making a huge stink. Then, according to Phil, Bob Jones III privately assured John that he did not see him as a heretic, after all — but without making a large public effort to clear John of the onus. This is the lack of due process. Those are his words. He knows that fundamentalism is losing its brightest young minds, and he challenges the serious students of the Word to practice what they preach and “come out from among them and be separate.” Them, of course, being fundamentalists. Much of what he said resonates with me. It seems to resonate with the large group of BJU-/NBBC-educated guys that are here too. It’s a verbal spanking, enthusiastically received by those of us who already see it; but it is too problematic, I think, to be of long-term value in the conversation.

My immediate thoughts are these:

1.

The kind of people he is targeting are not the kind of people that would come to this conference (even in trench coats and sunglasses), nor are they the kind of people that would read the blogs of the guys that are coming. Sword of the Lord people would really be ticked off. I’m so far removed from that group that I’m not sure who to send his transcript to.

2.

The aberrations that he excoriated are also denounced by the circles that I am involved with. Nothing new there. Bauder and I would be giving each other high fives.

3.

His analysis is obvious. He’s got three problems:
a. Fundamentalism failed [past tense] because of lack of definition.
b. Fundamentalism failed because of lack of doctrinal clarity.
c. Fundamentalism failed because of lack of due process.

4.

Finally, but not least, he is decidedly not “one of us” (whatever that means. A lot of people think that I’m not “one of us” either).

Now, this is what I think (and, of course, I’m shooting from the hip), but his first criticism is obvious. I think most of us know that. His second criticism is obvious. It’s his third criticism that is the most insightful, and that which he spent the least amount of time developing. The lack of due process, as he put it, is all about dealing with those who disagree with us in doctrine or practice: separation. He acknowledges (and this is a biggie) that 2 Thessalonians 3 can be used legitimately to defend secondary separation. I hope everybody hears that. However, his contention is with the process. That happens to be what we are all debating. The only solution that I can detect as offered up to us is to abandon the non-existent movement, or to follow his example and adhere strongly to the principles of fundamentalism but be freed from the trappings.

Ok. Fine. But one has to agree with his premise that fundamentalism has failed. I think it could be argued that Phil Johnson himself is a product of its success. But here I’m thinking about the historic roots and the undercurrent of passionate love for truth that motivates many, possibly even most, of those men who have embraced the ignominy of fundamentalism. Fundamentalism has not utterly failed. The man-made movement has failed in some things and it may be time to move on, but I do not know that I can denounce it as dead or failed. I need to process this.

My first reaction is enthusiasm because I feel this lecture will be helpful. Phil tells me afterward to post it on my blog. I’m very happy to do it. Will get it up here asap. I’m waiting on David Morris to get it to me. I listen analytically, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t acknowledge the intentions or the overall goal of the speaker. I think I agree with Phil, but I can’t help but thinking his critique comes about 20 years late. We arrange to go to supper together tomorrow [Friday] night. I’ll tell him this stuff then. I do know one thing. This will help a lot of young fundamentalists who are struggling with the issue. So, maybe it’s not too late after all. The Lord of the Church doesn’t miss His appointments. He sends His messages just on time.

In the evening service now. A great musical concert prepared. A professional pianist from Al Martin’s church plays a couple pieces. The Master’s Chorale sings several numbers. Al Mohler preaches. I don’t know whether I’m tired, or if I’m thinking well. He is brilliant. A true warrior in many senses. (But, I do have to admit that I am vexed by his publicized association with Billy Graham, especially since he is preaching from 1 Corinthians.) His exegesis is good. His vocabularly neat. His outline ok. His humor helpful. My friend Scott Williquette preached this same text last May at a regional meeting. (Scott did a better job, I think.) Again, maybe it’s because I’m tired, but Mohler’s message seems to lack the Holy Spirit impression that I have enjoyed so much with the other men. This doesn’t disturb me any more than when I sensed the lack of Holy Spirit power in Fundamentalist meetings. I certainly cannot make any decision based upon my feelings. Nor can I really judge Al if he wasn’t on top of his game tonight or spiritually empowered as he should have been. There have been too many Lord’s Day mornings when that has been the case for me. I think I’ll go to the hotel, once again yield myself to the Holy Spirit, and hit the sack.

We make a beeline to the hotel. We’re tired. I spend time reading some reactions from friends. Wish they were here. Going to bed celebrating justification.

Follow-up notes:

There are a lot of fundamentalists here, many from my circles. I think Phil’s verbal spanking smarted, but it has been for the most part enthusiastically received. I didn’t necessarily like the fact that DBTS and Central were lumped in with the criticism of fundamentalism in general that included an excoriation of the Hyles, Norris, KJV-only, and Rice types. But, as some of us have been trying to say all along, there is a double standard on the part of many within fundamentalism who punish those who associate with the MacArthurs of this world, but who in turn associate with the Rod Bells of this world.

My critique of Phil’s critique, which I plan to share with him when we have supper together tomorrow night, is that it wasn’t as helpful as it could have been to the ones who are really attempting to find solutions. We are already aware of the absurdities. Most of us are convinced of the duplicity. He rightly rebuked the cultish power-mongering of certain fundamentalist leaders, but I think that my particular circle is more sophisticated than that. I think that my circles have repudiated that style of leadership.

What I really believe, however, is that (though our circles have repudiated that style of leadership, thanks to leadership that has emphasized servant-leadership), our real problem is that our circles have not repudiated that kind of follow-ship. In other words, current leaders within our circles have inherited a people that are used to being spoon-fed and who long for somebody to make the difficult decisions for them. Consequently, we have replaced dictators with committees. A committee told us how to think about versions, and now we can all safely declare ourselves to be fundamentalists and still read the NIV. Phew! Certainly, there is no formal committee. But a lot of my peers are waiting for the seminary big boys and college presidents to meet somewhere and come to a consensus, thereby finding “the voice of fundamentalism” on some of the recent challenges (from pesky independent pastors that are doing their own thing but still want to send their kids to their schools). I wouldn’t be surprised if current prominent leaders felt a need to have a committee assemble to write some books on separation. They will come up with the mechanism that will be the model we are all to follow.


* Phil Johnson gave Bob Bixby, as well as Jason Janz at SharperIron.org, permission to publish the PDF transcript of his presentation for the benefit of their readers. The lecture is made available here and on SI with Phil Johnson’s blessing, and he asks only that we do not copy/paste it piecemeal but rather keep it in its entirety. “Dead Right: The Failure of Fundamentalism” [read entire transcript]


| download printable PDF file |

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5 Responses

  1. Thanks for this report, Bob.

  2. It sounds like you said that Sproul was teaching Stott about the secondary separation. Did I understand that part correctly?

  3. Not hearing the the message first hand, I would suspect that Sproul was referring to the ECT issue. Stott, Packer, Bright, Colson and others signed it as “evangelicals”, while MacArthur, Sproul and Kennedy stood against it.

  4. Bob,

    Thank you for your entries here. I have read all of Mr. Johnson’s paper. Although I agree that is was not an entirely acurate picture of all individuals and churches who call themselves fundamentalist today or even in the past, it is a completely accurate picture of every church I have ever been in that claims that title with one exception.

    So I wonder if the title has lost its meaning why keep it? I know some would say it has not lost its meaning, but I think that is a bit narrow. I have been in a lot of churches (I am sure not as many as others) which claim this title and only one is a church I would go back to or recommend to others. Every other one looks like the churches Mr. Johnson is describing.

    To me the insitance on keeping and redefining this title is equal to me insisting on keep the term ‘gay’ and attempting to redefine it back to the meaning it clearly carried in the 1940’s & 50’s and then attempting to re-educate the entire US (if not the world). – Probably not going to work.

    I know, I know this is different…I guess I am not sure of that.

    Joe

  5. I was searching for information on the Shepherd’s Conference and came across your blog. I am a Southern Baptist and I must tell you that John Macarthur’s teaching ministry has made a tremendous impact on my life. This year’s SC was my first, but I pray not my last. The thing I love about JM is his clarion call for sound biblical exposition in the pulpit. I would encourage any pastor looking for encouragement to fight the good fight to attend next year.

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