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The Best and the Brightest - Handling Questions

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

As I mentioned in my post, The Best and the Brightest - Redux, there were essentially three areas that were brought up in the comments by Michael regarding the article entitled The Best and the Brightest.

My response to the first area is on the article entitled, The Best and The Brightest - Criteria for Evaluation.

This post is concerned with the second point that was addressed in the comments, namely, the idea that it is not so much that the sharp young guys are leaving as much as it is they are being pushed out, written off and told to "walk the plank." The heart of this aspect of the issue, in my opinion, is the question - how are we to deal with those who are questioning?

Specifically, Michael C. makes the following comments:

Finally, there is the question of how they could be the best and brightest if they are leaving fundamentalism. I think there are several possible answers. One is that many of our best and brightest don't leave, they are told to walk the plank (to use a popular phrase right now).

I believe that there is a legitimate concern here, although I am not sure that the perception matches the reality. The perception that Michael has indicated is that The Best and the Brightest are being "pushed out" from Fundamentalism or told to "walk the plank."

Some of the latest punching bags for this perception have been Dr. Rolland McCune of Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary and Pastor Don Johnson, BWM Missionary in Canada. For Dr. McCune, the attacks were directed at some comments that he had made at the American Council of Christian Churches Convention in October in Ohio. Pastor Johnson's claim to fame in this regard is his now famous statement (made in the Sharper Iron discussion of McCune's comments) that certain individuals should be made to "walk the plank."

I am not here to defend either of these men. On the one hand, I am sure they can defend themselves much better than I ever could (see further comments by Dr. McCune on this over at Every Thought, Every Word) and on the other hand, I am not sure they need to be defended when understood in context.

The bigger question at stake, however, is not the nature of these men's comments, but how are we to deal with the questions of the younger guys - are they really being "pushed out" for asking questions?

I believe that those of us who are "strict separationists" (I can't bring myself to call me an "old fundamentalist" yet) need to be careful to answer the legitimate questions of those who are sincerely searching and trying to figure out a Biblical response to the situations that face Fundamentalism. I believe that there is an ongoing attempt to do this - as evidenced by those very conferences and meetings that were mentioned by Michael in his comments.

I have personally taken time to answer questions in this area, as have other men of much greater stature (such as Dr. Minnick). When the questions are asked properly and with a desire to learn, I have found most of the Fundamentalists that I know are more than willing to sit down and have the discussions in these areas. I will gladly sit down and walk with someone through the Biblical reasons we need to separate from X or why we should do this or that. I know that I am not alone on this. Even though I am a nobody and I don't have the type of bold personality of someone like David DiCanio, I have found many of the men whom I view as leaders of Fundamentalism are very approachable and willing to answer questions - even if I have at times not liked the answers I received.

The problem that sometimes comes up, however, is that some who are asking the questions are not interested in the answers unless the answers are what they want to hear. If, for instance, they are wanting justification for having fellowship with MacArthur (since he seems to come up often in these discussions) and they ask and the principles are laid out, this type of questioner typically falls back to a "well, that Fundamentalist did X" as though that counters the argument. The reality is that it does not counter the argument any more than my 9-year old's claim that his little sister stuck her tongue out at him counters the reality that hitting his sister is a legitimate cause for punishment. The fact is that this person's questions were addressed, just not with the answer that the person wanted to hear.

This, by the way, is part of the problem that both Dr. McCune and Pastor Johnson were addressing in their comments that got so much heat. There are a number of guys who have already decided that they want nothing to do with Fundamentalism except for the name. (Why they would want the name without holding to the principles is beyond me.) The comment to "walk the plank" was directed towards those types of individuals - and while I may not have worded it the same way, I would agree with that concept - if a person has determined that some of the key principles of Fundamentalism (usually the concept of "separation from disobedient brothers" in most instances that I have seen) are not in line with what he believes, then the honest thing for that person to do is to indeed leave and leave the name "Fundamentalism" when he leaves. A failure to do so is on par with the Mormons who try to pass themselves off as "Christians."

Michael goes on to comment:
If a student graduates from a fundamentalist institution then chooses to go to a conservative evangelical seminary, he will likely be written off (assuming he is preparing to be pastor, not a professor at a fundamentalist seminary).

Regarding the situation with guys being "written off" for going to non-Fundamentalist seminaries, maybe it is just the circles that I have been involved with, but I don't agree that a person is generally "written off" in this situation, but I do agree that this person is usually (at least in the minds of many) moved into a "watch and see" category. Why is that? Perhaps because years of experience have revealed that most of the guys who come out of those seminaries adopt the philosophy of those seminaries. Another reason why guys that like are placed in a "watch and see" category probably deals with motivation - why did that future Pastor think it necessary to go to the new evangelical seminary rather than going to a fundamental seminary? Is this choice indicative of his belief that the philosophy of that seminary (including its lack of Biblical separation) is somehow to be preferred to what one would receive in a Fundamental seminary?

Just my thoughts,


File under Popular_, Fundamentalism_, Christianity_, Hot_Issues


Don said...

Hi again Frank

I think you have summed up my views exactly. I have no problem with those who are truly searching out the answers and trying to grow in understanding. I do have a problem with those who are constantly criticising and talking about all the so-called problems in fundamentalism. I especially have a problem when these men come from fundamentalist homes and churches and seem to be spitting on their heritage.

I grew up in evangelicalism. I did not want to go to the schools of my evangelical denomination because of their loose moral standards and sloppy doctrine. I understood why when I was exposed to fundamentalist teaching.

I do think that many of us in fundamentalism have assumed that our young people will "get it" by osmosis or something. The fact that a young person grows up in a fundamentalist church should mean that they are exposed to solid teaching about separation and all the other essential doctrines. Unfortunately we appear to have fallen down here. It is like the third generation in Judges ... there are still battles to be fought, but the third generation didn't get why they were fighting.

So when I say, "walk the plank", I mean that I am not inclined to be associated with people loudly trying to tear down what little of a fundamentalist movement we have left. If someone is planning to leave, then just leave. They are not helping by being a complainer in the midst.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Andy Rupert said...

Exactly. I have faced this in my limited years of experience. When someone comes to me asking for an explanation, I am willing to give it. But when someone already has an agenda, there is little point in addressing the question.

I'm sure this is true in fundamental churches as well. Some stay because (1) they have been there so long, (2) they like the preaching, or (3) can't find anything better. Unfortunately, their remaining in the church doesn't make sense as they are not interested in the biblical principles on which it was built.

Ben said...

Frank Sansone:
"Regarding the situation with guys being 'written off' for going to non-Fundamentalist seminaries, maybe it is just the circles that I have been involved with, but I don't agree that a person is generally 'written off' in this situation, but I do agree that this person is usually (at least in the minds of many) moved into a 'watch and see' category."

Rolland McCune at the ACCC Panel Discussion:
"As far as I'm concerned, any student that goes out from a university to Southern Seminary in Louisville has just kissed Fundamentalism goodbye. And they'll never make it back into our ranks, at least I would never touch such a person at all for a position in the seminary nor for the pastorate of a local church."

Mark Perry said...

paleoevangelical, McCune did make a distinction between an entry-level degree and an advanced degree (hence the "goes out from a university" line). The context of this sentence may be helpful in understanding its intent, since this is one line snipped out of several paragraphs of explanation.

He is referring to those who have turned their backs on good Fundamentalist seminaries, and in so doing, on Fundamentalism. I could list off several guys with whom I went to college who headed to SBTS with the clear intent of leaving Fundamentalism.

Ben said...

Well, I would certainly encourage everyone to listen to the full context. It was quite informative.

Honestly, though, I don't know how to interact with you on this one, Mark. I'm sure I'm missing something, but I don't see where you are addressing the distinction between Sansone and McCune. I think they are talking about the same group of people but assessing them in a different way.

Mark Perry said...

I guess I was thinking that the difference between the two groups is knowledge vs. ignorance. Maybe I misread something.

I have no doubt that some have made uninformed or ill-informed decisions that they may have regretted later. Perhaps they have made a decision that seems out of character with their past patterns. To those, we might adopt a "wait-and-see" approach.

The group that McCune is describing made a deliberate choice to break with Fundamentalism. There is no need for "wait-and-see"; The waiting is over.

Maybe Frank can help us: are you describing young men, who grew up in Fundamentalism and went to a Fundamentalist Bible college, and then decided to go to SBTS (against the advice of their pastors, Bible teachers, college profs, etc.) or something else?

Frank Sansone said...

Mark and Paleo,

Sorry it has taken me so long to jump back in here. We are in the process of trying to buy some property so that our church can have its own building and I have been pre-occupied with that and with the day to day aspects of ministry.

Before writing this, I have re-read Michael's comments and my response to Michael's comments, as well as the quote from Dr. McCune that Paleo posted.

I will state, first of all, that I said "in my circles" and until this year, I had never heard of Dr. McCune and until October at the ACCC Convention I had never met Dr. McCune.

However, I will agree with Paleo that my comments do not agree with what Dr. McCune has said. I would also say, given the choice, I would probably agree with Dr. McCune's comments more than Frank Sansone's comments - after all, what can you expect from that guy :).

To be fair to myself, I do want to explain some of my thinking as I responded to that comment. Michael had made a comment about "writing people off" because they went to a non-separatist seminary. While I have serious concerns about a guy going to non-separatist seminaries (as my response notes - clearly, I think), I also thought of situations where guys that I had known went to non-separatist seminaries and did so for specific reasons and did so with the full understanding that they were going to a situation that they differed philosophically with the school that they were going to be attending. In particular, I thought of a couple of types of situations.

1. I thought of guys that I knew from BJU who went to non-separatist seminaries yet remained committed Fundamentalists. As I indicated in my response, a lot of the view of this was dependent upon the reasoning for the choice to go to the non-separatist seminary. For instance, if you were interested in being a chaplain, your seminary training needed to be at an accredited seminary and that generally meant you were going to a non-separatist seminary. (This would have been in the late 1980s - early 1990s. I am not sure if DBTS or Calvary were accredited then or not, but a lot of us had not heard very much of them back then if they were.)

2. I thought of guys like Dr. Bob, Jr. and Pastor Ashbrook who went to non-Fundamental institutions.

However, upon re-reading the comments, Michael did specifically mention "Pastors" (not "Chaplains") as opposed to those interested in education. So, while I may be able to conceive of some situations where a person would not be "written off" for attending a non-separatist seminary, I will agree that those situations are so rare in this day and age as to make them practically non-existent.

I hope this clears the air.

Frank Sansone said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Ben said...

Thanks, guys.

My take on McCune's comments is based on his use of the term "any student." That didn't seem to leave much wiggle room. Mark, I understand your distinctions, but I think McCune is saying that anyone who goes to a non-fundamentalist seminary out of a fundamentalist institution is making a deliberate break with fundamentalism. I don't see where he is allowing for legitimate exceptions. Maybe that's your point. I don't think it's legitimate, but maybe that's because I see my own situation as one that proves even by Frank's and your criteria that a blanket "writing off" of the informed is inappropriate.

I don't know that there is any purpose in reviewing the details, but suffice it to say that when I enrolled at Southeastern Seminary I was not uninformed or lacking advice from those in a position to provide fundamentalistic spiritual leadership to me (fundamentalist pastor, fundamentalist profs, fundamentalists employers, etc.). Someone, I don't remember whether it was one of these, did suggest that attending SEBTS might cause me to be written off. My thinking was and is that anyone who would look at my reasoning for attending SEBTS and write me off is not someone with whom I would want to be involved in ministry. I see it as a "canary in a coal mine" scenario. If folks react negatively to me attending SEBTS, that will be a healthy indicator to both of us that a ministry relationship between us would not be desirable. So if McCune's perspective does apply to me, I'm not going to be shedding any tears. It's what I asked for.

By the way, I don't want to make it sound like I think going to a non-fundamentalist seminary is wrong. I briefly considered Masters and Southern before choosing Central in Minneapolis (geographical factors eventually drove me to SEBTS). I know a very few other guys who decided to go to Masters, Southern, or Southeastern, and I haven't written them off. To be honest, I respect their courage. Perhaps McCune has observed guys with chips on their shoulders towards fundamentalism. That's certainly not the spirit of the ones I know.

Michael C. said...

I hadn't seen some of the discussion here until just now, so I don't have as much to add. I do think McCune represents most of fundamentalism when he explains his view of non-fundamentalist seminaries. In my understanding the foundational premise of that view is that attending a non-fundamental seminary is wrong because it is a violation of the principles of separation.

McCune anticipates the natural objection. What about the professors in fundamentalist seminaries (including McCune's DBTS) that have degrees from non-fundamentalist seminaries? Thus, he distinguishes between entry-level and advanced degrees. The problem is that if attending a non-fundamental seminary is wrong, it is wrong at any academic level.

I feel that we have confused the younger generation (and ourselves) by these sorts of distinctions. If we are going to separate from a person we must be willing to call that person a disobedient brother or false teacher.

If I have separated from a person on these grounds, it would be very unlikely that I would use his textbooks in a class I taught or listen to him preach on the radio. Yet, fundamentalists often do this. We say that someone isn't a fundamentalist and should be separated from. Then we recommend his resources on counseling, missions, theology, etc. Students don't understand why we would recommend someone as the best Christian thinker in a given realm, but then tell them they can't go hear him preach when he is in town.

I think the realization of this problem is setting in. Perhaps McCune is headed towards a clearer articulation of the idea. Pastor Sansone, your comments also seem to realize this consideration. Perhaps most profitably, Dr. Bauder has articulated the concept of levels of cooperation to address this difficulty. I hope that we can do a better job of communicating who we are separating from as opposed to who we have limited cooperation with.

Grace and peace.

Frank Sansone said...


Sorry this set here for awhile. I did not really notice what was said here perviously.

I, of course, can't speak for McCune regarding this, but I don't think that you are correct in your representation of his reasoning behind the statement that he made that Paleo quotes.

I don't believe McCune's objection to the attending of a non-fundamentalist seminary is that doing so is a violation of the principle of separation, otherwise he would not in the same context say that it is okay in doing so for other degrees.

I believe that he is probably indicating that someone who makes the choice to attend a non-separatist seminary when there are perfectly good Fundamental seminaries is revealing a mind-set that is problematic.

Maybe Mark (or Dr. McCune?) could comment on that, but I don't think he would base his reasoning in this area on the principle of separation - at least not in the sense that going to the schools is itself a violation of the principle of separation.

Mark Perry said...

Thanks for the interaction, guys. I will not presume to speak for anyone else, but I think there is a difference between someone "leaving Fundamentalism" to go to SBTS and someone who is maintaining his Fundamentalist stance and attending a school with his eyes open (as you described your situation, paleo).

Joel Tetreau said...

I'm not sure Dr. McCune's statement really has much wiggle room here. He states what he believes.

He would not be able to put his stamp of approval on a graduate (at the M.Div level or lower) of what he would call a "non-separatist" school for either a teaching position or the pastorate.

For him it's an automatic. I'm not sure how anyone can really be that surprised. If you read his book, the one thing you have to admit is that Doc McCune is consistent - on everything! Being a former student who loves Dr. McCune - one of the fun things about his theology and ecclesiology is how tight his system is. Even if you don't agree with this or that, it's clear that he believes what he does because it is part of that consistent system that is Dr. McCune. By the way his motivation for this is he really believes it honors God the most by having the position. I fear some of the younger guys have gotten the wrong impression about Dr. McCune because of the statement. I know I'm repeating myself - but if you understood Dr. McCune's system - you would understand why he says what he does here.

By the way - I said this somewhere else - For him it is so not personal - it is simply positional. I know for a fact that he has a real, deep, genuine love for several of his former students who don't agree 100% with his application here. I know for a fact that he and Dr. Petegrew at Master's have a real friendship - even though it means that Larry would not have an open door of ministry at DBTS.

And you guys need to know this - Larry is not offended by that sort of thing. He understands where his former teacher is coming from. That would be true of the other guys that have taught at Masters, and other institutions or churches that Dr. McCune would not approve of. Everyone loves Dr. McCune deeply. The Lord has used him in a special way to unfold God's nature and character to us. That in return has allowed us a deeper walk with Him.

So even though I personally do not hold the view that a graduate from a non-sep. school could not serve at either a fund seminary or church, you have to respect the reason why Doc McCune holds the view he does.

Straight Ahead!

Joel Tetreau

Frank Sansone said...

Pastor Tetreau,

(If it is indeed you - and since I did not find any spelling errors in the last post, it makes it highly suspect that someone is posting under Pastor Tetreau's name :))

You know Dr. McCune much better than I do, obviously, (as I said, I had not heard of him until SI and had not actually heard him speak until the ACCC Convention)so I will grant you that he does not leave nor intend to leave any wiggle room in this statement. Clearly he believes (and I do not disagree to much of a degree, although I would grant some room for exceptions) that the choice of a non-separatist seminary for an M. Div. is a departure from Fundamentalism.

My point/question that I tried to address in my last comment was that if/since this is the case, he must be making that decision on issues other than stictly separation, since he did leave open the possibility of pursuing advanced (e.g. Ph. D.) work at non-separatist institutions. Logically (at least it seems to me) if one is to say that it is always a violation of separation to attend a non-separatist school for an M. Div. then it follows it would be a violation of separation to attend that same school for any reason.

My belief, then, is that his "writing the guy off" is not based solely on the lack of separation in the institution of choice, but rather by something else (for instance, perhaps he feels that for someone to choose a non-separatist seminary when there are plenty of good Fundamental seminaries is an indication of the direction the individual is trying to go).

I hope that makes sense. Please help me see what I am missing if I am missing something (especially since you know him).

Joel Tetreau said...

Frank, please man - we are the same age - call me "Joel."

Pastor Tetreau sounds so formal - like I'm Presbyterian or something!

Sorry I missed your response over the last many weeks. That was funny on the spelling thing. I'm working hard on that - however, I'm sure I'll blow some adjective tonight because it's so late.

My guess is that Dr. McCune has seen so many guys who have grown up in separatism leave the movement and their first step in that process was exactly this - they choose a non-sep. seminary over and against a sep. one. It may be that in his mind - the very fact they would choose a Dallas, or Trinity or a Southern means that they are just too much of a risk for a separatist institution and church. So in one sense you're right - it is more than just the choice of school - it is the reason behind the choice of school.

I said I disagree with that today -It will not surprise me that if I see the same age as Dr. M, and if I ever make it close to the level of wisdom Dr. McCune has - Well, it will not surprise me if I'm not saying the same thing.

Based on the laws of averages, I'm sure that indeed that Dr. M's fear would be the case in the majority.

I suppose the only real reason I would disagree with the statment is the use of absolutes such as "always" and "never." The individual will "always" stay left - and I could "never" support him in a teaching or preaching position. Fundamentalist' History would disqualify a few of our champions in that case. I could name those later if anyone wants them. We have had guys from non-sep schools do a solid job in both the lecturn and the pulpit.

In fairness - the context however is today. Also in fairness the context is a young student who philosophically chooses an institution that is not separatist. That alone is a problem at this level in Dr. M thinking. In his thinking A simply demonstrates he's already crossed B.

Dr. M would not have a problem with the same student going on to the next level in a non-sept school because - the individual should be solid enough in his views that the non-sep theology and influence should not alter his sep. convitions.

Frank, that's the best I know how to represent Dr. M - You should write him - he'll answer his mail -He is very gracious! His wife Mrs. McCune is amazing! I love them both.