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A Response to Criticisms: Preface

In the Nick of Time

Kevin T. Bauder

    Ten years ago I authored a chapter and three responses for  the book <em>Four Views on the Spectrum of Evangelicalism</em>, edited by Andy  Naselli and Collin Hansen. My job was both to help readers understand  fundamentalism and to respond to the positions represented by other evangelical  authors. My approach overall was to argue that fundamentalism is deeply  interested in the unity of the Church, but that the Church&rsquo;s unity is grounded  in the gospel. Wherever the gospel is denied, the unity of the church is  fractured: those who deny the gospel must not be reckoned as Christians or as  within the Church. In other words, a genuine concern with unity compels the  biblically obedient Christian to practice ecclesiastical separation.</p>
    <p>I also made the case that ecclesiastical separation must  extend further than only those who overtly deny the gospel. According to the  apostle John, those who make common cause with gospel deniers incur a share in  their evil deeds. That being so, at least some limitation of fellowship is  necessary toward gospel believers who extend Christian fellowship to gospel  deniers. This is a position that is sometimes called &ldquo;secondary separation,&rdquo;  and in one of my responses I argued that the willingness to pursue secondary  separation is what distinguishes fundamentalism from even the most conservative  evangelical alternative.</p>
    <p>When I published the chapter and responses I expected criticism,  and I fully anticipated that the harshest criticism would come from self-proclaimed  fundamentalists. I had two reasons for expecting this response. One is that  fundamentalists have been wrangling over the meaning of their position since at  least the 1970s. Pejoratives like <em>neo-fundamentalist</em>, <em>pseudo-fundamentalist</em>,  and <em>cultural fundamentalist</em> have been hurled back and forth as some who  wore the label attempted to deny its rightful use to others. Since I was  unavoidably taking a position in this long-standing debate, I could hardly hope  to be ignored (and I did not want to be—what author does?).</p>
    <p>Second, while fundamentalists have often manifested the  virtue of temperance when praising others, they have moderated their objections  less frequently. Fortunately, some noteworthy and happy exceptions to this rule  do exist. Nevertheless, one of the quickest ways to make a name within some  branches of fundamentalism—especially hyper-fundamentalism—is by attacking some  evil. Of course, the evil cannot be challenged in the abstract, but requires  castigation of the persons who are perceived as advancing it. If an ambitious  hyper-fundamentalist cannot find a genuine evil, then an invented evil just  might do the trick. </p>
    <p>It was well that I had anticipated such complaints, for they  were not long in coming. Even before publishing my chapter and responses I had  decided to ignore most of them. There is no use in providing a platform for  attention seekers and truth twisters, and that is what I anticipated that most  of the critics would be. They are like the comment stream on an Internet news  story—no good ever comes from reading it, let alone interacting with it.</p>
    <p>My determination to ignore the most unreasonable criticisms,  however, does not mean that I wanted to ignore all disagreement. I will be the  first to acknowledge that my work contains flaws, and I am eager to correct  them. The best way of finding out what they are is to converse with those who express  reasonable disagreement. That kind of disagreement can come from opponents, but  it can also come from friends. Indeed, one of the marks of a true friend is the  willingness to confront and disagree.</p>
    <p>Unfortunately, the shrillness of the unreasonable  disagreement tended to block the possibility of responding to the reasonable  ones. As the rhetorical temperature began to rise, I found that my  acquaintances imagined some obligation to express themselves as either  &ldquo;pro-Bauder&rdquo; or &ldquo;anti-Bauder.&rdquo; For a while, it seemed as if no middle ground  was possible within fundamentalism. Some fundamentalist organizations even  began to pass resolutions either for me or against me.</p>
    <p>In the midst of the uproar came a sharply critical  resolution from the American Council of Christian Churches. That surprised me  for three reasons. First, I was and am an individual member of the ACCC.  Second, the ACCC is my endorsing agency for military chaplaincy. Third, the  executive secretary of the ACCC, Ralph Colas, was a close personal friend.</p>
    <p>I called Dr. Colas about the resolution and asked why the  ACCC had found it necessary to speak so sharply about me. He told me that the  resolution was driven by a few of the younger men while he was away from the  meeting. Apparently, they had listened to some of my more extreme critics, then  allowed their fears about what I <em>might </em>be saying to override their  reading of what I actually <em>did</em> say. I assured Dr. Colas that my  commitment to separatism had not changed. Soon, the ACCC retracted that  resolution, issuing a revised resolution that expressed concern about certain  trends, but without naming me.</p>
    <p>Other than a brief clarification I chose not to pursue the  episode. As I say, I am a member of the ACCC. I believe what it believes. I  value what it does. I have no wish to hurt the organization and every desire to  encourage it. The ACCC is certainly not one of those hyper-fundamentalist  institutions to which I referred a moment ago.</p>
    <p>Ralph Colas was already dying of cancer when that incident  took place. After he stepped out of leadership, the ACCC published a &ldquo;whitepaper&rdquo;  entitled <em>The Bible Doctrine of Separation</em>. Again I found myself singled  out for disagreement, though it now took a much more reasonable and even charitable  tone. As soon as I saw the &ldquo;whitepaper,&rdquo; I knew that I should respond. It  advanced several ideas that are worthy of conversation. I hesitated, however,  because I still did not wish to be perceived as opposing the ACCC.</p>
    <p>About a year ago the ACCC decided to serialize the  &ldquo;whitepaper&rdquo; on its web site. The organization&rsquo;s leadership has a perfect right  to do that. By and large I believe that the document is a helpful one.  Nevertheless, it does involve a few misunderstandings that I believe could be balanced  out or even corrected.</p>
    <p>Beginning next week, that is my goal. I will be responding  to some of the criticisms in <em>The Bible Doctrine of Separation</em>, and I  will be engaging some of its principal ideas. From the outset I want it  understood that I am not trying to provoke a quarrel, but to clarify some of  the issues that the ACCC has seen fit to raise. I continue to hold the ACCC in  high regard. I intend to support the organization. After the lapse of nearly a  decade, however, I also think a reasonable conversation should be possible. My  aim is to conduct such a conversation.</p>


    <p>This essay is by Kevin T. Bauder, Research Professor of Systematic Theology at Central Baptist Theological Seminary. Not every one of the professors, students, or alumni of Central Seminary necessarily agrees with every opinion that it expresses.</p>
    <p align="center"><img src="" width="26" height="25" alt="divider" /></p>
    <h3>Hosanna, With a Cheerful Sound<br />
      <em>Isaac Watts (1674–1748)</em></h3>
     <p>Hosanna, with a cheerful sound,<br />
       To God's upholding hand;<br />
       Ten thousand snares attend us round,<br />
       And yet secure we stand.<br />

That was a most amazing pow’r
Which raised us with a word,
And every day, and every hour,
We lean upon the Lord.

The evening rests our weary head,
And angels guard the room;
We wake, and we admire the bed,
That was not made our tomb.

The rising morning can’t assure,
That we shall end the day;
For death stands ready at the door
To take our lives away.

Our breath is forfeited by sin
To God’s avenging law;
We own thy grace, immortal King,
In every gasp we draw.

God is our sun, whose daily light,
Our joy and safety brings;
Our feeble flesh lies safe at night
Beneath his shady wings.

About Kevin Bauder

Kevin T. Bauder is Research Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology at Central Baptist Theological Seminary. Not every one of the professors, students, or alumni of Central Seminary necessarily agrees with every opinion that this post expresses.