A Rejoinder from Bauder
Your response to my essay has been received and noted. It is certainly the most unusual reply that I’ve received—not to mention the most provocative and thoughtful!
By way of rejoinder, let’s start with what we clearly agree upon. For example, we agree that the gospel is supremely important. It is the most important thing in the world. Its importance does not lie in the fact that it works to our benefit, as if it were permissible to love God only for His gifts rather than for Himself. No, it is important because it is inseparable from God’s own person and from God’s quest for His own glory. The gospel is precisely what reveals God to us as He is.
We also agree that the gospel is assumed in all of Christianity. We further agree that the gospel is supremely worthy of proclamation to those who need it, and supremely worthy of defense against those who attack it. We agree that we need more of the gospel, not less. So far, so good.
Where, then, do we disagree? The short answer is that we do not! Any putative disagreement between us should be ascribed to the short-sightedness of those who delight in false dilemmas and who wish to pit us against each other.
One major root of that short-sightedness is a shallow definition of evangelism. When we evangelize, we proclaim the gospel to those who need it. Many fundamentalists (including many of the younger variety) understand this to mean sharing the plan of salvation with lost people.
Certainly evangelism does include announcing salvation to the lost, but it is much more than simply that. The Great Commission assumes witness to the lost, but it specifically commands baptism and teaching. It is quite possible for a saved person to need the gospel, and therefore it is quite possible for a saved person to need to be evangelized. After all, to “evangelize” is simply to confront someone with the gospel.
Think of a believer who has been defeated by sin. This believer hates what he is doing and what his sin is doing to him, but he seems powerless to change. He is on the brink of despair.
What this believer most needs is the message of the gospel. He needs to understand that the gospel is not simply about being freed from the penalty of sin, but about being freed from sin’s authority. He needs to understand that he now has a different master and that he is no longer under the dominion of sin. He needs to be told about the power of the gospel to transform his life.
In short, what this brother needs is the preaching of the gospel. He needs to be confronted with the full truth of the gospel. He needs to be evangelized!
In the very process of doing this evangelizing, however, the evangelist will necessarily go beyond the gospel itself. To be sure, the gospel is the mainspring and foundation of the Christian life. Those who grasp the notion of gospel freedom will want to know more. They will want to know how that freedom is applied, how it works out in life, and what it looks like when it is fully developed. The process of learning these things will carry them out of the gospel and into the rest of the life of faith. No true Christian will be able to stop with a knowledge of the gospel alone, no matter how full that knowledge is.
The gospel needs to be preached to the unsaved. Then it needs to be preached to the saved—not by simply repeating the invitation to salvation, but by proclaiming the gospel in the fullness of its transforming power. The gospel itself, however, obligates us to proclaim the whole counsel of God—the fullness of all that God wishes Christians to think, love, and do.
Consider the treatment of the gospel in the epistles. Why do the apostles take the trouble to explain the gospel to people who are already saved? There are really two answers.
First, the apostles refocused upon the gospel when it was under attack. Some of the fullest expositions and explanations of the gospel occur in the face of heretical denials. The entire epistle to the Galatians is a response to a denial of the gospel. The opening chapters of Colossians respond to a different denial. The most precise definition of the gospel (1 Cor. 15) also occurs in a context of response to gospel-denial. Such passages support my thesis that we focus upon the gospel when it requires defending.
Second, the apostles proclaim the gospel when they perceive deficiencies in the knowledge and experience of the saints. Perhaps the most extended exposition of the gospel occurs in Romans 1-5. Arguably, Romans 6-8 continues to expound the gospel as it transforms the lives of believers. Romans 9-11 disposes of a possible objection, but then Romans 12-16 shows how the gospel leads beyond itself into the whole life of faith.
Whether the gospel is proclaimed or defended, it is like a stone cast into a still pond. Just as the stone creates ripples that cannot be stopped, the gospel compellingly leads beyond itself into truths of incredible magnificence. To try to terminate a discussion of the gospel within the gospel itself is like expecting to cast a stone into a pond while leaving the surface undisturbed.
That is why it becomes so difficult to limit Christian fellowship to the gospel alone. While the gospel is our most fundamental form of fellowship (fellowship consists in something held in common, and what all Christians hold in common is the gospel), it presses us inexorably beyond itself. As believers, we can certainly rejoice over the gospel and challenge each other in the gospel, but before we do that very long we shall find ourselves moving into territory that the gospel itself does not cover.
That is where the trouble begins. We do not have fellowship in whatever we do not hold in common. Many aspects of the whole counsel of God are not affirmed equally by all believers. Real limitations upon our fellowship do exist.
You raise some subordinate questions. Let me deal with a couple of those.
First, do I limit conservative evangelicalism to the T4G-GC crowd? No, of course not. What we now call conservative evangelicalism has always been with us. It has always been a middle position between fundamentalism and neo-evangelicalism. Some of the older conservative evangelicals were people like Lewis Sperry Chafer, John Walvoord, Lehman Strauss, and J. Vernon McGee. Such people were never neo-evangelical, but they were deeply suspicious of the excesses of some fundamentalists. They were more afraid of fundamentalists than of the alternative.
Even today the majority of conservative evangelicalism is not identified with the T4G-GC crowd. That’s actually part of my point. Some conservative evangelicals are too church-growth oriented for that crowd. Some are not sufficiently Reformed. Some are too revivalistic. Even the followers of Zane Hodges would be classified (mostly) as conservative evangelicals, but they would be decidedly unwelcome in T4G-GC circles.
Together for the Gospel and The Gospel Coalition are, however, the most public face of conservative evangelicalism today. What is significant is that both of these organizations limit their leadership to people who agree on much more than just the gospel itself. What they are together for is a version of Christianity that includes more than simply the gospel.
Yet there is a double standard, and that is the relevance of mentioning Rick Warren. As far as I know, the T4G-GC crowd has not attempted to feature a single fundamentalist voice. They have not attempted to feature a single figure who is known for vigorous dispensationalism. They have not featured a single leader whose commitment to Reformed soteriology was suspect. Nevertheless they have been willing to tolerate continuationists. They have been able to swallow Mark Driscoll’s attempts to make Christianity hip. And, in at least one case, a prominent T4G-GC leader has been willing to feature Rick Warren, whose philosophy of ministry could not be more unlike the values of T4G-GC.
Of course, Warren was not invited to either Together for the Gospel or The Gospel Coalition. That does not affect my observation. Which would make more sense—to invite Warren to a meeting in which the participants were together only for the gospel, or to invite him to a meeting in which the participants were supposed to be together for something more?
Finally, you ask what I am trying to do. Thank you for raising that question. It is as if you could read my mind!
No, I am not trying to convince anybody to stay in fundamentalism, let alone any particular fundamentalist organization. Young leaders leave fundamentalism for one of two reasons. Either fundamentalist leaders have failed to communicate their values to their own sons, or else somebody else is doing a better job of incarnating those values. The only way to keep the worthwhile people in fundamentalism is to build a fundamentalism worth saving.
Within fundamentalism, we have too many ecclesiastical prosecutors whose goal is to indict their opponents—and these voices are not limited to a single camp or position. We need to think about questions from the perspective of our principles, and we need to apply our principles with care. That is what I am trying to do.
In this instance, all genuine Christians should be together for the gospel. We will have a very difficult time, however, trying to be together only for the gospel. Before long, the gospel itself will push us toward the rest of the system of faith. When that happens, we shall have to make choices about cooperation. Those choices will be based, not merely upon our common fellowship in the gospel, but upon our joint ownership of the whole counsel of God.
Kevin T. Bauder, D.Min., Ph.D.
Central Baptist Theological Seminary
George Herbert (1593-1633)
Oh King of grief! (a title strange, yet true,
To thee of all kings onely due)
Oh King of wounds! how shall I grieve for thee,
Who in all grief preventest me?
Shall I weep bloud? why, thou hast wept such store
That all thy body was one doore.
Shall I be scourged, floutted, boxed, sold?
‘Tis but to tell the tale is told.
My God, my God, why dost thou part from me?
Was such a grief as cannot be.
Shall I then sing, skipping thy doleful storie,
And side with thy triumphant glorie?
Shall thy stokes be my stroking? thorns, my flower?
Thy rod, my posie? crosse, my bower?
But how then shall I imitate thee, and
Copie thy fair, though bloudie hand?
Surely I will revenge me on thy love,
And trie who shall victorious prove.
If thou dost give me wealth, I will restore
All back unto thee by the poore.
If thou dost give me honour, men shall see,
The honour doth belong to thee.
I will not marry; or, if she be mine,
She and her children shall be thine.
My bosome friend, if he blaspheme thy Name,
I will tear thence his love and fame.
One half of me being gone, the rest I give
Unto some Chappell, die or live.
As for thy passion—But of that anon,
When with the other I have done.
For thy predestination I’le contrive,
That three yeares hence, if I survive,
I’le build a spittle,1 or mend common wayes,
And mend mine own without delayes.
Then I will use the works of thy creation,
As if I us’d them but for fashion.
The world and I will quarrell; and the yeare
Shall not perceive, that I am here.
My musick shall finde thee, and ev’ry string
Shall have his attribute to sing;
That all together may accord in thee,
And prove one God, one harmonie.
If thou shalt give me wit, it shall appeare,
If thou hast give’n it me, ‘tis here.
Nay, I will reade thy book, and never move
Till I have found therein thy love,
Thy art of love, which I’le turn back on thee:
O my deare Saviour, Victorie!
Then for thy passion—I will do for that—
Alas, my God, I know not what.
Dr. Kevin T. Bauder, president of Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Plymouth, MN). Not every professor, student, or alumnus of Central Seminary necessarily agrees with every opinion that it expresses.