Some Baptists would describe themselves as evangelical. Others Baptists would use the label fundamentalist. Is it fair to say that both groups embrace the idea of Biblical authority?
Mark Dever: It’s fair to say that evangelicals do in a general sense.
Kevin Bauder: I don’t know of any evangelicals, any self-professed evangelicals who would claim to reject Biblical authority. I think some particularly “evangelical left” ways of understanding Biblical authority have the result of severely undermining it.
Do you think churches replace Biblical authority with other authorities? In practice, how do we get Biblical authority wrong on the church level?
Dave Doran: I think it can be easy to assume that what you believe is in fact what the Bible says. And if there’s not an explicit effort to verify and substantiate your beliefs by the explicit statements of Scripture, then you can start to have a plate-shift going on where you have a functional authority which is not Biblical. That essentially becomes some type of magisterium; it’s the way we’ve always done it, the way we’ve operated. Some evangelical and fundamentalist churches think that if somebody doesn’t give an altar call invitation, he is actually violating the Scriptures. Here is an example of a practice that came into being 150 years ago and has now gained a de facto Scriptural authority. But Spurgeon detested altar calls and said it was an unbiblical addition to the work of the gospel. Now altar calls have become sound doctrine, but they are not really substantiated from a text or a truth—I’m just giving this as an illustration of the tension.
As our churches and our movements stray away from Biblical authority, what can we do to draw them back?
Bauder: Preach the Bible; preach it well. Preach it with the idea in mind that with every sermon you are teaching hermeneutics to the congregation. Preach it not only in the abstract, but preach it and apply it well. Those, I think, are significant things. I think that’s the heart of a ministry that’s centered on Biblical authority.
Doran: If we’re not a student of what God has done in other times, it’s easy for us to read the Bible through the lens of our own experience. So if we don’t study church history and have our window expanded, we could actually think we are being completely Biblical, while we’re merely captured by “present-ism” in some way.
Tim Jordan: I enthusiastically agree with that. . . . Sometimes we preach and teach God’s Word just inside our tiny pool without broader exposure. And “broader” sounds like a bad word for conservatives. There are things about God’s Word which we will never see or never learn on our own—just because of our limited resources and our own brain. So for me—whether it’s church history or whether it’s the Good Book or whether it’s just exposure to people outside of my individual local church who love God’s Word as well—these really help clarify, challenge, confirm, alter, mature, sharpen our view of God’s Word. That’s why there’s this larger Body of Christ, a relationship (not necessarily organizationally) with pastors and teachers who are committed to the Word.
Jordan: Yes, conversation.
Bauder: Whether with preachers or with the generations that preceded us—we read what they wrote. . . .
Jordan: . . . .With people in the church, with people outside of the church. It’s absolutely indispensable.
Doran: I do think there is some wisdom in showing that some of the issues that we’re confronting are not brand new, helping show how other believers at other times have confronted these issues and found answers from the Scriptures. How much am I being squeezed into a mold by the particular situation in which I find myself? I’m not suggesting we prove the Bible by studying history. I’m saying there are issues here that we might be missing because we are so much in a bubble. We have to step out and recognize some of our assumptions. When we read our experience into the text, we misunderstand or misapply the Bible. We’re undercutting God’s authority.
Do you think there’s a difference between personal fellowship—what you have together just sitting here together—and cooperation between the churches that are represented here?
Doran: The standard for my personal fellowship with other believers is not the same as a church’s standard. A Baptist church shouldn’t admit to its membership someone who has not been immersed, but that doesn’t prevent me from having cordial Christian fellowship with a non-immersed believer. Those are different realms of interaction. Because the local assembly is at the center of what the Lord is doing in this time period, the local assembly has the highest standards for fellowship and cooperation. It’s central to the fulfillment of Christ’s commission and His purpose. He said, “I will build My church.” The Great Commission is the functional task; we have to go about doing that. So our cooperation on an ecclesiastical level should be wrapped up around that issue, which would mean that church cooperation requires a higher level of agreement about the meaning of fulfilling that commission. Christ said, “making disciples,” “baptizing them,” “teaching them to observe all that I’ve commanded.” I think that puts necessary limits on interchurch cooperation as well as gives necessary impetus to proper cooperation.
Mark, do you consciously think in terms of “My church can’t fellowship with this group because of (a given reason)”?
Dever: Yes. There are churches that we will and will not work with for certain purposes.
What would be the criteria? How does your church evaluate cooperation with other organizations?
Dever: We can pray for God to bless the evangelistic ministry of a Presbyterian church, but we are not going to give our efforts and send our members to start Presbyterian churches. Or if there were interdenominational evangelistic efforts that indiscriminately send converts to churches regardless of what their theological positions are—we could not support them. Even if we think a preacher might come and preach the gospel, we can pray for them, but we’re not going to lend our name or any organizational credibility to a group which deals so irresponsibly with young believers.
What would you do about Billy Graham?
Dever: If he were in the area, would we participate? No. We faced that with Luis Palau a number of years ago. We actually sent some folks down to listen to him, and we appreciated the gospel that he preached. But from what we understood, the organizers included people in a kind of panoply of evangelical-sponsored churches. What they did with converts—people who reported that they were trusting Christ for the first time—was send them almost indiscriminately, it seemed to us, to whatever church was in their zip code. We did not feel that was a good thing for them to be doing, and we did not help them do it.
I don’t want to put you in a fundamentalist box, but a word popped into my mind as you were speaking. Would you describe your action as separation?
Dever: I would have to understand it, the connotations of it. There would be no harm that would come to me through using that word at my church, but they just wouldn’t understand any special vocabulary, any special meanings to the word.
And each of our movements does have its own buzzwords and vocabularies—
Dever: Other evangelicals are going to think of our congregation as unusually persnickety.
Because of the hard decision you just described?
Dever: Yes, because of things like that. They know we’re not going to just sign off on things.
Doran [to Dever]: You could put that on your letterhead!
Dever: Unusually persnickety? [Laughter]
Doran: I think it has a ring to it.
Let me follow that up and ask another fundamentalist question about the idea of secondary separation. Would you ever separate from another Christian brother?
Dever: Would I?
Jordan: You have.
Bauder: Of course.
Dever: I have! I do! [Laughter] I would, I have, I do!
Dever: And yet? I don’t do it enough. I don’t do it consistently enough?
Doran: Keep going. You’re almost there! [More laughter]
Bauder: Part of the problem lies with the slipperiness of the word “separation.”
Dever: Kevin Bauder used the term “limited fellowship.”
Bauder: Yes, if you’re understanding separation simply as limited fellowship, we are limiting our ability to work together in an area because of a reason—
Dever: But, see, I limit my fellowship with infant baptizers.
Jordan: That’s right. We all practice some form. . . . I don’t fellowship with Arminians. All my friends are Calvinists. [More laughter—Jordan is clearly teasing]
Bauder: The controversy in our circles is whether “limited fellowship” could actually be called “separation.” And I think Dave and I would probably answer that question differently. But in terms of separating from apostates—Mark has already answered that in his preaching. He’s there. In terms of separating from what fundamentalists would call neo-evangelicals, I think it’s fair to say we’ve got a certain amount of conversation that still needs to be done before we’re even sure we’re not just talking past each other.
Jordan: I agree to that, 100 percent.
As these conversations continue, do you feel like sometimes part of the struggle is purely a matter of what these terms mean?
Dever: Yes, for example, I had to ask, “Tell me again what primary and secondary separation are,” and I literally wrote them down so I could keep referring back to them and not be confused in the conversation. I’m not saying that as a way of mocking it. I appreciate the carefulness of thought that went into distinguishing them, and I was just trying to make sure that I understand and don’t, as Kevin [Bauder] said, “talk past.”
Doran: I think we talk past each other because we have a whole set of nomenclature from our internal conversation during the last four decades, five decades. Evangelicals don’t have that same nomenclature, so we start talking in these categories. [In an earlier conversation] we were trying to see how Mark would apply what he believes about the defense of the gospel. Where are the boundaries, past which you actually start to send a mixed message on the very nature of the gospel? This question is prejudiced by my perspective on the history of evangelicalism. The Achilles heel of new evangelicalism was that it threw the Christian tent over a hodgepodge in order to try and influence the liberals. Evangelicalism did to some degree accomplish its objectives, but also had some of the liberalism move inside its portion of the tent. Now, with the rise of post-conservative evangelicals (the evangelical left), the fellows to the right of them are thinking they can’t meaningfully be called evangelical.
Dever: Well, a couple of things. Some people are saying, “The word ‘evangelical’ is useless; let’s leave it alone.”
Dever: Other people are saying, “Those guys aren’t evangelicals.”
Bauder: That goes back at least to 1975.
Doran: This would be—and I’ll just put it a blunt way—because they live in a tent built denying the distinction between the two groups. Conservative evangelicals can bark about the evangelical left, but they can’t really get rid of them, because the whole movement was designed as an interpenetration that would be a kind of leavening of gospel truth into the bread of liberalism. Their whole strategy is one of influence through participation, whereas our orbit of churches gave up on that and said, “You don’t win that, so we’re pulling out.”
I’m interested in Mark’s description of the two sides of evangelicalism. Do you feel it would be better to abandon the evangelical label?
Dever: I’m happy to be called an evangelical.
But you would give it a precise definition.
Dever: I would give it a very old definition. Evangelisch. We’re Protestants. We believe in justification by faith alone. We believe in the authority of Scripture as the final and sufficient word from God. No addition of works.
And as you encounter others who wear the same label—
Dever: If by “others” you mean people who don’t agree with these things theologically? Ask the right questions, show how meaningless their use of the word is, and confusing and deceptive it is.
What do you do in your own personal relationship when a friend—another religious leader—has signed a document that you wouldn’t have signed?
Dever: When something like this happened recently, I phoned them immediately and talked to them about it. In some cases, their decision is not part of a pattern. I work hard to build relationships so they can bear weight and so that we understand each other before the times of crisis come.
Doran: I think that one of the seriously debilitating issues of the separatist movement is the immaturity that has come to rule. We can’t have meaningful disagreement without fracturing relationships. And that is actually what Mark just said there about building the relationships strong enough so that you can have straightforward conversations when a time of crisis comes up. I think we got into a pattern of breaking the relationship being the first move, rather than the last move. And so we throw down trump cards very fast.
Bauder: Well, it’s not simply that we throw down separation as our first move, as an opening gambit. I think the situation is actually worse than that, and has been for some time. In our depravity (which is still total), fundamentalists use separation pridefully. The idea of separation becomes a weapon that we use against other fundamentalists so we are able to promote ourselves, we are able to promote our institutions, we are able to promote our book, by saying, “We’re the real separatists and they’re not, so don’t go to their church, don’t go to their school, don’t buy their book, buy ours. We’re the separatists.” And in my mind, this is far worse than simply getting priorities wrong. This is, I think, an overt and sinful use of a Biblical truth.
Doran: And if I could just insert a thought. It is total depravity, because in the evangelical movement right now (whatever that is), there is the “True Calvinist” battle going on, meaning everybody has this prideful issue where we have allowed what seems to be a genuinely honorable subject—standing for the gospel—to become used often in dishonorable ways.
Bauder: And we do that with other subjects too.
Doran: Right, right.
Bauder: Within fundamentalism there have been times where separatism, the notion of separation, has been used as a club to beat other fundamentalists bloody.
We are grateful for your time, and it’s getting close to supper. What’s the best way to move a conversation like this forward?
Bauder: You just said it—go to dinner!
Jordan: Keep talking, keep talking.
Doran: The one thing I would say in regard to the conversation moving forward—and I know this might sound harsh—I have no particular desire for there to be convergence between fundamentalism and conservative evangelicalism, because I honestly don’t think that we’re clear enough about what either of those words mean. I think “the conversation” is about the believer’s proper response, and the local church’s proper response, to false teaching and false teachers. Every believer who is serious about what the Scriptures say needs to think through that issue. We have a paradigm that no longer comports to the world in which we live. It’s like we’re traveling around with a map of Africa from 1925, noticing that the political configuration of Africa doesn’t match our map anymore.
Dever: You know, I’m somebody who is, in part, a product of new evangelicalism: InterVarsity, Gordon-Conwell. The only reason I can even converse as well as I do is because Dave Doran has talked to me, Kevin Bauder has talked to me, others have talked to me, we have people on our staff who are from fundamentalist colleges. I have been schooled in the language, as if I speak a little Spanish, so I can in a childlike way enter into conversation about the convictions some of these brothers have spent a lifetime thinking about. But if you don’t know the people, if you don’t happen to find them, they’re not coming to your orbit particularly, you know.
Bauder: It is more true of some branches of fundamentalism than others, to say that we built the wall and never crossed it. I grew up in the Regular Baptist movement, and in the Regular Baptist movement that wall was crossed very regularly. And sometimes perhaps, even too regularly! On the campus of the school I attended (a Regular Baptist institution) it was not at all unheard of to hear conservative evangelical speakers, individuals who at the time would have been the equivalent of conservative evangelicalism today. Lots and lots of us have been to evangelical schools. Lots and lots of us have sat through Don Carson’s classes.
Dever: Well then, Kevin Bauder would be an example of an accomplished fundamentalist traveler inside of evangelicalism. I would be an example of a not-very-accomplished evangelical novice in fundamentalism. And there might be a lot of me out there.
Doran [to the photographer]: I think you should put that under Dever’s picture.
Bauder: A fellow traveler!
Kevin Mungons is managing editor of the Baptist Bulletin. Darrell Goemaat is director of photography.
Kevin Bauder is president of Central Baptist Theological Seminary.
Mark Dever is pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church, Washington, D.C.
Dave Doran is pastor of Inter-City Baptist Church and president of Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary.
Sam Harbin is president of Calvary Baptist Seminary, Lansdale, Pa.
Tim Jordan is pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, Lansdale, Pa.