Note: This is the transcript of Mark Minnick - The SharperIron Interview | Part 2 - “The Pastor and Separation,” posted June 5, 2006.
MALE SPEAKER: Welcome to the broadcast of SharperIron. This broadcast features news and ideas designed to convey a Christian worldview.
JASON: I get the idea, of listening to you preach, that you read books nonstop. Is that true?
MARK: Well, my family would probably say that.
JASON: I guess, it’s, to me the, you know, I’ve heard you preach several times, and you reference a Puritan, maybe a personal illustration from their life. Is that like an instant recall thing with you? Or is that…
MARK: Boy, don’t I wish.
JASON: Or do you have an intricate filing system, or does that just happen to be the book that you’re reading as you’re preparing that sermon?
MARK: Yes, yes that’s, that’s a good question. Jason I, you know, I think, I think this would be true of a lot of men, that they just are voracious readers. Not true of everybody, but it’s true of a lot of fellows.
And yes, I mean, I have books everywhere. I, the last thing I do at night, after my wife and I always hold hands and we pray at night. That’s one of the last things we do. Pray for our kids. And then my wife shuts off. Boy, like you’ve turned off a light switch, she’s out.
Every single night of my life, I’m picking a book off the night stand and I’m reading a little bit before I go to sleep. I’m not driving myself to do it. I want to do it, and I’m hungry for it.
MARK: And I have books everywhere. I have books up by all my chairs and books in the bathroom, you know, everywhere. So, yes, I read all the time.
JASON: What is a good reading habit for a pastor? If you just say, here’s a good standard to set, how many books in a month?
MARK: Yes, and that’s going to depend so much on how fast a man reads. It’s going to depend on his time. It’s going to depend on whether–it’s going to depend on whether he’s a reader or whether he has to make himself read. There’s a huge difference there. And it’s going to depend on the nature of the book.
MARK: Some books, wow, that’s a two-hour deal. I would just say this to anybody, do not let your conscience bind you to have to finish books. Don’t let your conscience say to you, there’s something wrong with you. You never finish anything. Very few books are good enough to warrant your finishing them.
JASON: You got to tell that to my seminary professors.
MARK: Yes, yes, really that’s–
JASON: And read all 500 pages.
MARK: No, it really is the case. A lot of books, the best thing about the book was the title. If you got the title and you read the introduction, that’s all you needed out of that book.
There are other books where the guy had a great idea. He basically got the thing explained, illustrated in his first chapter, or his first couple chapters. But the publisher wanted a 200-page book, and the guy had to keep spinning.
So I read books. Now that’s not to say you can’t get bogged down in a book, but if you kept going, you know, it’d come back up to the surface.
But I think Mortimer Adler’s book, How to Read a Book, is something everybody ought to at least have some interaction with, and Adler is very good. He just tells you about how to approach a book. And you don’t approach a book by opening up to the first page and diving in.
You approach a book by surveying a book, finding out what it offers, and then taking the parts of it that you want to read. And that means–that may mean you only read chapter seven.
JASON: Yes, Spurgeon comically talks of Paul when he says, “He’s seen the Lord and yet he wants books. He’s been caught up in the third heaven and heard things which is unlawful for a man to utter.”
JASON: Yet he wants books. He’d written the major part of the New Testament, yet he wants books.
MARK: God gave him a sabbatical.
MARK: A big, long sabbatical. Three to four years.
MARK: The first in prison, maybe. Who knows how many months in the second one, and he loves it. He’s reading.
JASON: Oh yes, Spurgeon said of reading that we are–we are quite persuaded. The very best way for you to spend your leisure is to be either reading or praying. When I read that in your article, I was convicted. Have we lost a large measure of the piety of these great men? That they would see their leisure time as time to pray and read?
MARK: Yes, yes. What do we do with our leisure time?
JASON: Yes, it’s, it’s…
MARK: What are we looking, I mean here in our Western culture and maybe in particularly, America. What, when we look ahead, let’s say to a weekend, what are we just really excited about doing?
JASON: And even pastors, I mean…
MARK: That’s my–that’s my point.
MARK: That is, and when you say we lost something, absolutely. Who could quarrel with it? Who could quarrel with the fact, yes we. You know, Spurgeon, as a boy, started a little journal. There’s an entry in there that is so convicting. He is talking about the day, and he said, “First day of the races.” Next line: “Oh God, thou makest me to differ. Had a good prayer meeting.”
MARK: That was as a boy.
MARK: Yes, we’ve lost it.
JASON: We’ve lost it. I feel like…
MARK: And, and, if you start getting after people about that, they trump you with the legalism card. You legalist, wham, down goest the card, end of discussion.
JASON: You get the idea though; I don’t get the idea that it was a duty.
JASON: It was a delight. It wasn’t…
MARK: No, but when you preach this to people, you obviously are…
JASON: Putting a weight on their shoulders.
MARK: Trying to compel and say you have a responsibility to live for something. Not to say a ball game’s wrong or something. But in terms of what, what you said. What people, what we really find to delight in and gravitate to, when we have time. What’s the default when we have time?
JASON: Television, or…
JASON: McShane [spelling?] said, “Beware of the atmosphere of the classics.” He said, “It’s pernicious indeed, and you need much of the south wind breathing over the scriptures to counteract it.”
JASON: How much of the preachers stay abreast of the classics, or maybe even contemporary writings, maybe even secular contemporary writings, you know, versus the men who’ve gone to be with the Lord already?
MARK: Um hum.
JASON: Who’ve left us a treasure trove.
JASON: Is there a balance with…
MARK: I heard, interesting, this is an interview. I heard an interview that Ian Murray gave. I think he gave this to Mark Dever.
MARK: I think it’s on that Nine Marks…
JASON: Oh sure.
MARK: Ministry site, and someone asked him that very question. What about reading good novels and classics? And Murray was just kind of stymied for a moment and he just, he was almost embarrassed by the question. And he just said, there’s so many good things to read. There’s so many really important things that we don’t even have time to get to. And it was like he was totally uncomprehending.
And I, I guess I would really sympathize with that. There are a lot of things, you know, I’ll go out on a limb here. There’s some great, let’s say, mystery writers that I could enjoy. I read all the Sherlock Holmes stuff several times, you know, and there are some contemporary mystery writers I could enjoy.
One reason I don’t, that I don’t personally get involved in them is because I, I don’t care for the language. You know, I just don’t want to read things that have swearing in them if I don’t have to read them. Or some that have seedy subplots. But nevertheless, they’re great writers.
But any time I’m even tempted, I just think, oh man, and I’ll right away think of another title back in my library that I really want to read. So, you know. Well, well, I give very little attention, I guess, to the secular.
JASON: Let’s move into to the, just the Christian then. If, what percent of the contemporary authors versus, as my, one of my professors says, the old dead guys. Is there a balance there?
MARK: Yes, yes. Well don’t read so much the books of your age as the books of the ages. You know, the timeless things have to have priority. And if they don’t, you know, if you try to just live with and keep up with your age, then you will be shallow.
It’s the things that have struck a note with the people of God, generation after generation, that evidently had some timeless depth to them.
JASON: I want to move into the last part of the interview which is about separation and the fundamental church.
You preach a sermon on 2 Thessalonians 3 at the Guarding the Gospel Conference in Detroit, and then you preach it for your home church, and that’s the one that I listen to.
And you opened up by sharing a story of sitting on the plane with a professor from Notre Dame. And he referenced the fact that Billy Graham was one of the core reasons why there was much talk of reproachment going on in Christian circles.
In your opinion, how harmful was Billy Graham in the fight for maintaining a pure Gospel?
MARK: That was, Jason, that was just one of the most interesting experiences I have ever had, was seated next to that Roman Catholic theologian.
And the way he put it was that Graham opened the door. If you just think of, you know, you and I just, even before this interview, were discussing Warren Wiersbe’s autobiography. And the fact that Wiersbe says in there that when he went into the ministry in the early 1950’s, that there were only two camps, liberals and fundamentalists.
Then he goes on to say, today the situation’s very confused. And in his explanation of how that happens, he puts all the [unintelligible] on fundamentalists.
And, if you take his paradigm, two camps in the 1950’s, with a clear line of demarcation between liberals and fundamentalists, and those are the terms he uses to label the two camps. You put a clear line there, put a wall there between liberalism and orthodoxy.
All right, what the priest was saying to me, what the Jesuit scholar was saying to me, Dr. Dally, is, Graham opened the door. What did he open the door in? That wall.
So if you ask my view, there are lots of ways I can answer that. But, what if I just answer in light of one of my most recent experiences, and just quote a professor of theology at Notre Dame University and let him say, Graham opened a door. How much weight does that have? In my view, that is more weight than my giving my estimation.
JASON: Sure. In your sermon, you mention men of your generation and my generation, who are questioning separation. Are people questioning separation from apostasy within Fundamentalism? Or is it, is it the stages beyond that? Do you think there is a danger of lack of separation from apostasy?
MARK: No I, in fact, what’s very interesting is that within conservative Evangelicalism, there is now, today, the recognition that we ought not fellowship with false teachers.
What concerns me is that there is that recognition without, at the same time, the concession that 30 years ago they were not acknowledging that.
MARK: All right, they were not acknowledging that 30 years ago. And that was where the argument was between them and where we are. Now today, they are acknowledging it. My suspicion is that they are acknowledging it because the fruit of the compromise has come home.
JASON: Absolutely right.
MARK: And as a result, their institutions, and their professional societies, and their publishing houses are so infiltrated with the unorthodox. And they end up having to give a lot of their attention to refuting things like, for instance, the new perspective on Paul.
Now this came up two years ago in a discussion with a, with an evangelical man, a good conservative evangelical man, but a man on the opposite side of the separation issue from us. And he just wanted to know why fundamentalists don’t address some of these really, really, very important doctrinal issues. And my first response back to him was, because we’re not, those are not, we’re not having those battles.
And the reason we’re not having those battles is because we won’t keep those people in our schools, and we don’t associate. The reason you are having, you feel such an urgency to have to address these things, is because you’ve got them on your faculties. You have those people in your classrooms.
JASON: Good, so, so we’re not, we’re not, we seem pretty clear on that one. And then we have the separation from Christian brothers. Your message seemed to emphasize the word brother. That, trying to prove that there is legitimate biblical proof for separation from a brother. Is that the confusion, or is there also confusion on the meaning of “disorderly”? Not necessarily in confusion with idleness, but really, how far are we going to take this orderliness? Is that the true confusion?
JASON: Or is there, or do you see that there is a lack of men within Fundamentalism, of my generation and yours, that don’t see the need to separate from brothers in any context?
MARK: Yes, well I would say first of all this. Every, I think almost every true Christian sees the need to separate from some other professing Christians.
And the fact is, even the men who are on the other side of this debate, in their own ministerial practice, do separate from professing Christians. They don’t, they just don’t separate because of the particular issue that you and I are discussing, which is, does the Bible direct us to separate from a brother who won’t separate?
But they separate from people who are professing Christians for other reasons. They got into immorality, they’re arrested for drunk driving, and they don’t repent.
They do believe in the principle for separating from professing Christians. That the particular nub of the issue here, between us and some conservative evangelical men, is whether there is anything in the Bible that would direct us as to how we ought to respond to a Billy Graham, who opens the door to the other camp, the unorthodox and the unbelieving. How do we respond to him? Is there anything in the Scripture that helps us with that?
And fundamentalists went looking to see. I’m talking historically. And it’s felt, historically, that a passage like 2 Thessalonians 3, is a key passage. Not because of the specific application was made to the lazy, but, because in addressing that specific situation in Thessalonica, God does give to us a paradigm that is legitimately applied to other parallel situations, which would be someone deliberately, and after being confronted, reasoned with scripturally, they deliberately are violating some clear, scriptural directive.
JASON: Okay, it says in that 2 Thessalonians passage that to admonish these men as brothers. And, I think, in the Phil Johnson debate with Dave Doran, one of his primary complaints against us was the idea of due process.
Can you kind of expand on that? Is there a need for due process? And is there a need for, maybe, a little bit more aggressive admonishment from, we would say, our side of the fence?
MARK: Good, I think that’s a really important question, Jason. I would just say this; for basically 50 years, you have had, if I can just really broad-brush this.
You basically had two large movements. Fundamentalism was a big, broad movement. And, let’s say, Evangelicalism, or if you want to term it New Evangelicalism, is a big broad movement.
And they have been developing their own institutions, concentrating on their own ministries, and, because of the line of separation had developed, in many cases, men in both of those movements never crossed paths. In some cases, have no awareness of each other, and, as a result of that, there’s no due process that, to be followed.
It’s that I grew up where I grew up. He grew up where he grew up. Never the twain have met. I may read his book. He may hear that a fundamentalist somewhere said something negative about somebody. But that’s about all anybody knows about each other.
Okay, now obviously, you’re dealing with millions of people. And there’s no way to carry out an individual due process with any of these folks.
But Phil’s point, I think, does have some validity in this regard; that if we are really wanting to carry out 2 Thessalonians 3, and there is a particular man on the other side of this divide that we’re concerned about. Yes, 2 Thessalonians 3 directs us and gives us liberty to engage him in conversation. And now, at this point in the history of this whole thing, and particularly where we do end up influencing each other, and largely perhaps because of the electronic media today. We are very aware of each other.
We’re aware of what is preached. We’re aware of positions taken. And we react to them, or we respond to them. If we’re going to react against them, I guess is what I’m saying, yes, I think we would do well now to engage those men in some conversation. And to realize that, in some cases, they don’t even know we exist.
That’s hard for us to believe because we’re the center of our universe. But they don’t even know we exist. And, in some cases, they’ve never had exposure to the concerns that we’re raising.
And I personally have had that experience with several of them. When I will have the opportunity or I will make the opportunity and we begin to discuss things, they are astounded at my concern about something they’re practicing or saying, and it opens the door for this kind of discussion.
JASON: Do you think they’re astonished because it doesn’t happen in Evangelicalism? There’s really not a lot of admonishing that goes on because, even the conservative of evangelicals they, in my interactions with them, they think they’re, they’re the separated ones, you know.
MARK: Sure, and that’s what I mean. They’re sometimes really surprised that we have a problem with them.
JASON: You said that there were some people we were separating from, that we probably shouldn’t be. And that there were others that we weren’t separated from, that we probably should be separated from. Are you comfortable with elaborating on that?
MARK: Well, I don’t know that I had anybody specific in mind there. It would, it would be real hard for me, just even sitting here right now, to just come up with a name. Or I would be thinking, you know, this fellow’s been on my mind, and would make a mistake regarding him.
I think I was just maybe enunciating the principle in general, that we’re talking millions of people. And that, certainly, in this whole sorting out of things, there’s no question that we’ve probably made some mistakes.
And what it means, I would say this Jason. I would say that it probably means that we need to be much more thoughtful. And maybe even discussing among ourselves before we just get up and whack away at somebody.
I’m as guilty of that as anybody, I’m sure. And I think most of our good, fundamental men would say the same thing if they were sitting here today. That we’ve made our mistakes. We’re going to make more. In the heat of the battle, yes, there’s friendly fire that take casualties.
JASON: So, some people have deplored the broadness of the movement. And that maybe it’s gone so far that there’s really nothing we can do to get, maybe some form of doctrinal cohesiveness.
What I’m talking about is, like evangelicals, and they have the alliance of confessing evangelicals, which has a very strong soteriological focus.
And it seems like a lot of criticism, when it comes to Fundamentalism is, that we tend to tolerate some widespread views, especially on soteriology. In that maybe, as our movement is riddled too with some error, is there a need for a closer association with those who would be very God-centered in their approach?
So as the tin can of maybe radical Arminiasm couldn’t be tied to our ankle all the time?
MARK: [Laughs] I can say this. I really wish that we could get together in some fashion, some of our really key leadership, and over the course of some time. And I’m talking here about allowing the time, if necessary, of numerous meetings and protracted discussion.
And when we could really hammer out, in general terms, what we are unified around, and, as well as, the issues that we are agreed, we have to allow men to hold, and we’re still in fellowship with them. Maybe that’s the more important of the two topics.
I would really like to see, even in some of our publications, the opportunity for a counterpoint type discussion. Where, for instance, when it comes to one of the hot theological issues–you mentioned the matter of soteriology. You could be talking about a hermeneutical issue, say the issue of the kingdom of God.
You could be talking about the translation issue. You could be talking about music or some practical matter. And let fundamentalists who, I’m talking about men who have a proven track record of being with us. They’re not just agitators, and they’re not critics. They are standing where we stand.
But on this particular issue, they have a different view. And they hold it in all sincerity and earnestness before the Lord. Let them give their biblical voice to it, let the guy on the other side of the issue do it. If there’s a third view let him do it, and may the most scriptural man stand.
MARK: And just let it be shown, you know.
JASON: Yes, good. Well, I just want to close with a couple things on the church here. Just two things.
You quote John James in saying that there are concurrent confessions by the Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Baptists, and Methodists that there is deadness in all their churches. That revivals are rare, conversions few, and the power of godliness among professing Christians is low.
Do you feel that we have, maybe, the same problem within Fundamentalism? Are we struggling with those same issues?
MARK: I, Jason it wouldn’t, I think, I think most of our men would say yes, from top to bottom in our movement. We’re all aware of that.
And I would just say this. The Bible warns against grieving God’s spirit. It warns against quenching His enthusiasms. And you can do that as an individual. That can be done in a church. And that can be done in a Bible conference, at a pastor’s conference, in a Christian school, to where, yes, God withholds His powerful influence.
And basically, it’s almost as if God says, and we know that he did this with the children of Israel, “Okay, I’m going to let you paddle your own canoe. And I’ll show you what happens when you do.”
JASON: Just flush.
MARK: He just leaves you on your own and lets the… You know, God deals with people by letting their sin deal with them. This is a principle all through Scripture that you see.
And if we are not going to be earnest about our pursuit of lives that really reflect the transformation of yieldedness to the spirit of God, and letting Him deal with us about things and rebuke us about things and challenge us to a higher walk. If, you know, if we’re not going to walk in the high places with hind’s feet, then yes we’re going to end up in the slough of despond.
JASON: James said that the great need for pastors was blood earnestness, he said.
MARK: Great expression, isn’t it?
JASON: Yes, is that only blood earnestness in maybe our personal piety, but also in our ministries?
JASON: Just an all-out pursuit of souls and solid preaching and…
MARK: Yes, who can quarrel in that?
JASON: In regards to the church, in closing, Charles Bridge says, and you quote him, “The church is the mirror that reflects the whole ethulgence of the divine character. It is the grand scene in which the perfections of Jehovah are displayed in the universe.” And you make this comment.
MARK: What a great statement, isn’t that.
MARK: I mean it doesn’t get, you can’t say it anymore biblically better than that.
JASON: And if you can elaborate, in closing, you say this, “If men would linger long over those two sentences, and then rise up to obey the heavenly calling, that it might alter forever the character of their churches.” Can you explain?
MARK: Yes, well what Bridges has captured there is the explanation of the book of Ephesians. That the church exists to call attention to the perfections of God not only in the eyes of people but to the view of heavenly intelligences.
This is what Paul works out in the third chapter of Ephesians. He says that the wisdom of God might be displayed through the church to the authorities in the heavenliness. Beings we’ve never met and know nothing about.
You know, maybe, really, maybe it’s like our watching a ball game in a big stadium. That the players are down on the field, and that’s the church. And we’ve got a guidebook. And the Holy Spirit is our coach. But, that the spectators are the myriads of fallen and unfallen beings.
That’s, that really is the imagery we get. In fact, Paul uses that imagery in 1 Corinthians. He says we are made a spectacle (it’s the word “theater”), and we are made a theater to men and the angels, he says.
Now Bridges has captured that in that exquisite statement. And that is one of those elevating, mind-expanding, just soul-reviving kinds of thoughts that do. They just pull you up short and make you say, What am I doing? What is going on? How much am I motivated by those kinds of eternal verities, you know?
And when that becomes part of the fiber of your thinking, wow. You are, you’re not on the low lands anymore, boy.
MARK: You’re up there striding across the peak.
JASON: Well, thank you for your time. It’s been a blessing and it’s been…
MARK: It’s my, really thank you. This has been a privilege.