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A Response to Criticisms: The Gospel

In the Nick of Time

Kevin T. Bauder

    The American Council of Christian Churches published its  whitepaper entitled <em>The Biblical Doctrine of Separation</em> in 2014. This  work was motivated by a desire to restate the biblical principles behind  ecclesiastical separation in view of a shift that was taking place within  fundamentalism. Some younger fundamentalists were abandoning these ideals for  involvement in conservative evangelical organizations such as The Gospel  Coalition and Together for the Gospel. Others were attempting to keep one foot  in both camps. The ACCC rightly perceived a difference between itself and conservative  evangelicalism, and it sought to articulate that difference.</p>
    <p>This whitepaper is a helpful contribution that wrestles with  the question of drawing boundaries in ecclesiastical fellowship and separation.  It is not what opponents of fundamentalism might expect. It is not angry, it is  not a diatribe, and it does not misrepresent its opponents. I would commend the  publication to readers who wish to see an example of historic, mainstream,  balanced fundamentalism.</p>
    <p>This publication, however, singles me out by name for  disagreement, and I believe that I ought to reply for several reasons. First, I  don&rsquo;t think there really is a disagreement, or, if there is, it is much smaller  than the authors of the whitepaper appear to believe. Second, the assumption  that we disagree is based at least partly on the authors&rsquo; misreading of my  argument in <em>Four Views on the Spectrum of Evangelicalism</em>, and I would  like to correct that misreading. Third, whatever disagreement might actually  exist can be traced to the ACCC authors&rsquo; too-glib usage of one biblical  passage, and study of that passage may well eliminate all potential for difference.  The heart of the argument in the whitepaper, and the nub of the authors&rsquo;  supposed disagreement with me, is expressed in the following paragraph:</p>
    <blockquote>Some have emphasized the gospel as  the touchstone of orthodoxy. One author used this emphasis in a recent defense  of fundamentalism, &ldquo;The thing that is held in common by all Christians—the  thing that constitutes the church as one church—is the gospel itself.&rdquo; None  would deny the importance of the gospel to this question [ecclesiastical  separation from false teachers], but the gospel is only one-third of the  concerns raised by the apostle Paul in Corinth: &ldquo;For if he that cometh  preacheth another Jesus, who we have not preached, or if ye receive another  spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel, which ye have not  accepted, ye might well bear with him&rdquo; (2 Cor. 11:4).</blockquote>
    <p>The citation in the middle of this paragraph is footnoted  under my name to the volume <em>Four Views on the Spectrum of Evangelicalism</em>.  I should note that the ACCC erroneously lists me as an editor for that volume. I  was merely a contributor, and a kind of outside voice at that. The whitepaper  continues, </p>
    <blockquote>So where many fundamentalists today  are focused on a single category of theology, soteriology, the apostle Paul was  focused on at least three: Christology, revelation, and soteriology.  Consequently, the gospel-centric approach to ecclesiastical separation is an  inadequate summary of the Bible doctrine.</blockquote>
    <p>As I say, I wish to respond to these statements. My response  will consist of three parts. First, I describe the structure of 2 Corinthians  11:4, upon which the ACCC has based its case. Second, I will address the  question of how the purported three issues (another Jesus, another spirit, and  another gospel) are related. Third, I will deal with the significance  specifically of Paul&rsquo;s words, &ldquo;another spirit,&rdquo; in the structure of 2  Corinthians 11:4. The question on this last point is raised by the author of  the whitepaper (the names of the author or authors never appear), who assumes  that the mention of &ldquo;another spirit&rdquo; was meant to raise the issue of  revelation. I want to consider whether that is the most likely assumption.</p>
    <p>First, however, an introductory word is in order. Paul&rsquo;s  feelings are closer to the surface in 2 Corinthians than in any of his other  writings. Perhaps that is because he was dealing with personal rejection to a  greater degree than he encountered elsewhere. Not only was the church at  Corinth profoundly carnal (as can be seen in 1 Corinthians), but a cadre of  false teachers had come into the church. They were apparently good-looking men,  well-schooled, and highly articulate. They presented letters of commendation  from important individuals. In attacking Paul, they seem to have derided his  personal appearance, his lack of rhetorical polish, his menial employment, his  physical disability, and his frequent imprisonments. The danger was that some  Corinthians would turn away from the truth because they were turning away from  Paul. Consequently, the whole epistle becomes a double exercise for Paul: he  wishes to defend the gospel while at the same time defending his own  apostleship—all while trying not to appear arrogant or self-important.</p>
    <p>One of Paul&rsquo;s tools in offering this double-defense is a  refined sense of irony. Paul comes closer to full-blown sarcasm more frequently  in 2 Corinthians than in any of his other writings. He also engages in  considerable self-deprecation, especially when defending his apostleship. His  approach can be paraphrased as &ldquo;Only fools talk about themselves, and I&rsquo;m  talking about myself, so I&rsquo;m acting like a fool, but in my defense, you&rsquo;re  making me do it.&rdquo; Both the irony and the self-deprecation are punctuated by  protestations of Paul&rsquo;s intense love for the members of the church at Corinth. He  makes it clear that his hard words are not meant to be dismissive. Rather, he  speaks as he does because he cares about them so deeply.</p>
    <p>All of these features of Paul&rsquo;s argument are on display in  the opening verses of 2 Corinthians 11. He asks the readers to bear with him in  his foolishness. He expresses his deep concern that they are being led astray  from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ. Then in verse 4 he  unleashes biting sarcasm: &ldquo;For if he  that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or<em> if</em> ye receive another spirit, which ye  have not received, or another gospel, which ye have not accepted, ye might well  bear with<em> him</em>.&rdquo; It is to this verse  that we shall turn in the next issue of <em>In the Nick of Time</em>.</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>Psalm 66<br />
      <em>Isaac Watts (1674–1748)</em></h3>
     <p>Sing, all ye nations to the Lord,<br />
       Sing with a joyful noise;<br />
       With melody of sound record<br />
       His honors and your joys.</p>
     <p>Say to the Pow’r that shakes the sky,<br />
       “How terrible art Thou!<br />
       Sinners before Thy presence fly,<br />
       Or at Thy feet they bow.”</p>
     <p>O bless our God, and never cease,<br />
       Ye saints, fulfil His praise;<br />
       He keeps our life, maintains our peace,<br />
       And guides our doubtful ways.</p>
     <p>Lord, thou hast prov’d our suff’ring souls<br />
       To make our graces shine;<br />
       So silver bears the burning coals,<br />
       The metal to refine.</p>
     <p>Thro’ wat’ry deeps, and fiery ways<br />
       We march at Thy command;<br />
       Led to possess the promis’d place<br />
       By Thine unerring hand.

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.