Theological Triage

There are 23 Comments

TylerR's picture

Editor

John Samson would have been better to leave Mohler to own his own phrase and his own article. Fundamentalism is not characterized by a belief that all doctrines are first-order. It's always nice to hear somebody caricature a position they don't understand. 

His opinions about the doctrines which are fundamental are far too broad to be of any practical use. For example, he quotes from an article where the author says "theology proper" is a first order doctrine. I could be wrong, but I'm not sure it's actually possible to be more vague than that. Perhaps, instead of trying (badly) to re-invent the wheel on this one, he should look at what fundamentalists wrote about this issue 100 years ago. Or, barring that, he could just look at what fundamentalists are writing now . . .

I love reading what evangelicals write about separation. It's like hearing my sweet boy 5 year-old read a Clifford book. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Unfortunately, while using the term "true fundamentalism," he has described the later, confused derivatives. I thought maybe, that by "true" he meant "by the now popularly accepted definition"... which is a term you use for religious nuts of the sort who think they should blow themselves up in market places, etc. But even that doesn't fit. There's a huge chasm between believing "all doctrines are first order" and believing "everybody who disagrees should be destroyed." And I don't think he has that in mind. So I don't know what why he would think what he has described would be the "true" form...    Any one of Marsden's histories even would clear that up (let alone histories by fundamentalists themselves)

(Tyler, thanks for the Clifford reference...  not my favorite kids' books, but still some great memories of reading several of those to the youngin's. If you haven't seen them yet, see if you can hunt down Poppleton the pig and Mercy the pig... I don't know what is about pigs.)

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

TylerR's picture

Editor

I think what is happening is that evangelicals are realizing, in these dark theological times which try men's souls, they (gasp!) need to "re-discover" the concept of ecclesiastical separation. They haven't practiced it before, and they don't know what it is. It's like uncharted territory for them. They don't know where to turn for resources or guidance.

They've heard of the concept, but until now, they've kept it in the shelf in their back closet, alongside the old Scrabble boardgame and 8th grade yearbooks. Now, they realize they need the doctrine because their big tent is burning down - which suggests that they've known about the doctrine all the time; they just didn't want to deal with the implications.

In this context, reading John Sampson's re-posting of two separate articles (which he combined into one single post), it's like watching a little child just learning to read. You think, "How precious! One day, he'll grow up and read big boy books!" 

Perhaps it's time to start marketing Ernest Pickering's Biblical Separation or Fred Moritz's Be Ye Holy to evangelicals. They seem to need some good advice in this area. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government.

JohnBrian's picture

TylerR wrote:

John Samson would have been better to leave Mohler to own his own phrase and his own article.

Samson quoted Mohler's article and Riccardi's article, so your argument is with Riccardi not Samson. Riccardi is "...the Pastor of Local Outreach Ministries at Grace Community Church in Los Angeles. He also teaches Evangelism at The Master's Seminary."

CanJAmerican - my blog
CanJAmerican - my twitter
whitejumaycan - my youtube

TylerR's picture

Editor

Yes, I noticed that later, but didn't go back to correct the first sentence. I still think both articles are basically so vague so as to be worthless. Riccardi's article is much worse than Mohler's. It is telling that evangelicals instinctively turn to Mohler's 10-yr old short article when they want guidance on the doctrine of separation. They really don't have any other resources to turn to. 

I wonder what Mohler thinks of the SBC president speaking at a charismatic event where a Roman Catholic will be leading "worship." How will he triage that one? I don't ask out of malice, but out of genuine curiosity. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government.

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

While it may be true that main-stream Christian Fundamentalism doesn't treat all doctrines as first order, there are definitely plenty of offshoots (some of which do not even call themselves fundamentalists, because they think the fundamentalists are just a more conservative branch of evangelicalism, and still wrong) that do.  Even though those groups may not characterize fundamentalism as it's known from the inside, they make enough noise that they do, in fact, represent what much of those on the outside think about fundamentalism, at least when they are not thinking about those willing to kill or terrorize for their faith.

That is why many who participate here, myself included, don't use or claim the term except in very specific contexts inside our circles where it is understood, and even then, only with qualifications.

Dave Barnhart

Bert Perry's picture

I dearly hope and pray that Tyler is 100% correct that fundamentalism is not all about majoring on the minors, but Dave has a great point that all too often, too many of us to a great job of conveying that impression.  For example, the KJVO faction, the Trail of Blood faction, and the IBLP faction come to mind.

(never mind that Bill Gothard's definition of "grace" at least comes close to a rejection of Sola Gratia, in my opinion)

 For that matter, I think that most fundamental churches ought to spend more time emphasizing core doctrines like the Fundamentals, the Solas, the Trinity, and ecclesiastical separation--and then following it up by (hat tip to dispensationalism post) making sure that we live out these distinctives in practice and doing some serious self-examination.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

David R. Brumbelow's picture

Didn’t Fundamentalism begin solely around the Fundamental Doctrines of the Christian Faith?
Separation was not originally included in those Fundamentals was it?

Seems to me the early Fundamentalists were a “stay in” movement, rather than a “get out” or “separate” movement. And a movement to keep denominations from drifting toward, or further toward, liberalism.

Is Separation one of the Fundamentals of the Faith?

By the way, I’ve heard through the years these designations:
1. Fundamental Doctrines of the Christian Faith.
2. Baptist Distinctives.
3. Secondary Doctrines.

http://gulfcoastpastor.blogspot.com/2012/04/basic-baptist-doctrines-beli...

Anyway, Happy Thanksgiving.
David R. Brumbelow

Bert Perry's picture

Think about it a minute; if the Fundamentals delineated who was, or was not, in the faith, how can we arrive at a point where we are simultaneously (a) concluding our fellow church members are not believers but (b) we do not cease ecclesiastical fellowship with them?  Separation can be mis-applied, under-applied, or over-applied, but it's a natural conclusion when we decide that someone is not in the faith, no?

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Greg Long's picture

I think both articles reproduced in this blog post (he could have done a better job helping us see that he was reproducing the articles in their entirety) are very insightful, and I've found the idea of "theological triage" or "first/second/third order doctrines" a helpful one. And really, Mohler and Riccardi didn't come up with the idea--Paul did when he called the Gospel of "first importance." Obviously this means that not every teaching in Scripture is of "first importance," or the description becomes meaningless. When everything is of first importance, then nothing is.

I do believe the tendency of Fundamentalism is to make every doctrine a first order doctrine. Note that I said the "tendency" of fundamentalism, not the sina qua non of fundamentalism or that every fundamentalist does this.

-------
Greg Long, Ed.D. (SBTS)

Pastor of Adult Ministries
Grace Church, Des Moines, IA

Adjunct Instructor
School of Divinity
Liberty University

TylerR's picture

Editor

I see that The Master's Seminary has seen fit to re-run Mike Riccardi's article on separation. He begins the piece with this bit of humor:

More than ten years ago, Al Mohler wrote a seminal blog post outlining what he called “theological triage.” Borrowing the term from the emergency room, Mohler discussed the need for Christians to prioritize certain doctrinal issues over others.

It is apparently standard practice in the evangelical world to turn to Al Mohler's short article to understand the doctrine of separation. I mentioned before that I think it's sad they have so little historical theology to cling to when it comes to this doctrine. They all turn, instinctively and reflexively, to Mohler's little article. They have nothing else. 

As evangelicalism sees their coalition collapsing from the weight of it's own inconsistencies and degenerating into warm theological JELL-O, perhaps our brethren should turn to another group of Christians (many of them independent Baptists) who have been practicing and writing about the need for personal and ecclesiastical separation for a while now . . .

I close with this striking insight:

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government.

Greg Long's picture

Yes, Al Mohler and someone who teaches at the Master's Seminary have no understanding of historical theology. *eye roll*

Still not sure exactly what you find wrong with Mohler's grid (it's not just a "ten-year-old article," it's a system or grid or way of categorizing doctrines, which shouldn't expire after 10 years).

-------
Greg Long, Ed.D. (SBTS)

Pastor of Adult Ministries
Grace Church, Des Moines, IA

Adjunct Instructor
School of Divinity
Liberty University

TylerR's picture

Editor

I didn't say they don't understand historical theology. I'm saying that evangelicalism has no tradition of teaching or practicing actual ecclesiastical separation. They have no resources to turn to. They all seem to instinctively turn to Mohler's little article. It's all they have. If they had more, somebody else "important" would have written on this issue since then. They haven't. That's why Mohler's article is so "seminal" for them. It's a lost doctrine out there in the evangelical world. Most people have never heard of it. 

Mohler's triage concept is interesting, but Riccardi's attempt to flesh that out is so vague so as to be worthless. What, exactly, does it mean that Christology is a first-order doctrine. What in particular about Christology is critical?

  • Does it matter what you think of the kenosis?
  • What about eternal Sonship?
  • What about impeccability?

He seems to be groping his way towards some kind of list, some kind of category distinction, that has already been formulated and discussed for decades. He, and the other evangelicals, seem to be completely unaware of the body of literature at their disposal. That's why I likened these articles to a 5 yr-old reading a Clifford book. It's a good start, but they're re-inventing the wheel out of necessity. The sad thing is that they don't seem to realize that they're re-inventing anything. They don't seem to realize that other Christians have been serious about personal and ecclesiastical separation for a long time.  

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government.

Greg Long's picture

In his article he gave some specific examples. I wouldn't think a blog post would be intended to be a comprehensive development of every aspect of how to flesh out the concept.

I've read much of the fundamentalist literature on separation (Ernest Pickering was actually my pastor up until I moved to Iowa at age 10) and I find much in it to commend. I'm also aware of the lack of discernment on the part of many in the evangelical world. That all being said, at this point I still lean towards a conservative evangelical understanding of the whole issue, as I find their emphasis on the Gospel "as of first importance" to be more biblical GENERALLY SPEAKING than much of what I see in many (not all) parts of fundamentalism.

So, while it does say everything that needs to be said about the subject, I find Mohler's system to be very helpful as a lens or grid through which to view separation issues.

-------
Greg Long, Ed.D. (SBTS)

Pastor of Adult Ministries
Grace Church, Des Moines, IA

Adjunct Instructor
School of Divinity
Liberty University

Bert Perry's picture

Perhaps it's worth noting that a lot of the evangelical denominations did in fact separate from other churches--the CBs came out of the American Baptists after the GARBC, the OPC and other evangelical presbyterians came out of the PCUSA (or Southern Presbyterians), etc..   So I would somewhat disagree with the claim that evangelicals have no experience of separation--you'll hear about it when you talk to the gray heads in established congregations, really.  

What is going on, though, is that a lot of evangelical congregations serve as refuges for people dissatisfied with liberalism and fundamentalism--I remember discussing this with a friend at an EFCA church I attended, and we agreed that the big challenge of the EFCA (and that church in particular) was to transition from being a refuge to simply being a great church.  

As a result of this, it's no surprise that a lot of people have something of an emotional response to the idea that they ought to further separate.  Combine that with the (sad and) well-known phenomenon of a church split being a "glorious Spirit led church plant" in too many fundamental contexts, and it's easy to confuse how each side practices separation.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

josh p's picture

I find myself agreeing with Tyler that evangelicalism does not have a prolific history of teaching separation. After all by the definition of a "Fundamentalist" that SI uses, it is one who believes the fundamentals and is willing to  separate from apostasy. So while there have been many evangelicals, or at least those who would decry the label "fundamentalist", who have separated (Machen, Lloyd Jones, etc.) they really don't identify with the SI definition at least. In practice they may do so but its not something that a lot of evangelicals would articulate, at least in my experience. This is probably another one of those times where labels don't do much. It's also probably one of the, admittedly few, times that evangelicals could benefit by actually interacting with fundamentalism. 

TylerR's picture

Editor

All kidding aside (I did like the meme, myself), I would tentatively propose that doctrines are nonnegotiable when they are explicitly or implicitly taught in Scripture. This is from Dr. Oats at Maranatha, and I think it's probably the best and most Biblical approach. That would move us away from a mere "list" of doctrines, and force us to go back to the Scriptures to examine matters. As Doug McLachlan wrote a while ago, "If there is no clear cut, ‘Thus saith the Lord,’ we shouldn’t judge and neither should we separate (Rom 14:10-13),” (Reclaiming Authentic Fundamentalism, 122-123). 

Nobody will ever agree on what these explicit or implicit teachings are, but people who are committed to Bible exposition and interpretation should come to a consensus on most of them. Ultimately, each local church has to figure this out for themselves. 

The problem, of course, is that evangelicalism has historically been about building coalitions. Coalitions have a tendency to lower the bar for orthodoxy and doctrine so the tent is big enough for the largest amount of people. The fundamentalist movement fractured over implementation of separation. This is why this movement has such trouble building coalitions. I am encouraged by the recent efforts which resulted in the Baptist Congress. There's nothing wrong with loose coalitions. I do wonder how long this effort will go on, or what the end goal is.

Ultimately, I don't believe any evangelical coalition in today's age of theological madness and apostasy can hope to survive without significant compromise. You have to choose the coalition or the local church. I don't see Al Mohler leaving the SBC over his President's foolish move. He'll choose to be political, and no doubt hope for reform. I understand his point, but I believe that is choosing the coalition over the local church. At that point, why bother talking about separation at all? Put it back on the back shelf, between the old Monopoly game and the photo album. You're not serious about it anyway. 

If committed Christians would begin to think seriously about which doctrines in Scripture are explicit and implicit, and then ponder the implications for their personal and ecclesiastical life, then we would see some serious changes. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government.

Greg Long's picture

It just makes me smile to read that Al Mohler is "not serious" about separation. Have you heard or read anything about his tenure at SBTS? How as a man in his early 30s he was hired to clean house and change the SBC's flagship seminary from liberal to conservative? How his inaugural convocation address, "Don't Just Do Something, Stand There" emphasized the need for every faculty member to stand on, adhere to, and teach the "fundamental principles of grace" upon which the seminary was founded? (I would encourage you to read it, as he goes point by point through the EXACT doctrines upon which he was calling everyone at SBTS to stand, including the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture and every point of the Gospel, and called out as "heterodox" liberal theology.) How he and his family were subject to harsh criticism and even demonstrations from faculty, students, and the Louisville community?

So basically a man who risked his academic career rooting out liberals at SBTS is "not serious" about separation. He may not draw the lines of separation where you do, Tyler, but please.

-------
Greg Long, Ed.D. (SBTS)

Pastor of Adult Ministries
Grace Church, Des Moines, IA

Adjunct Instructor
School of Divinity
Liberty University

TylerR's picture

Editor

It makes me smile to know that you're smiling. 

I saw the documentary last year. I am aware what he and Patterson, and others, achieved with the conservative resurgence. How will he triage what is happening to his denomination today? If he doesn't publicly speak out about what his President is doing, then he's not consistent. I will be waiting to hear. 

I'm not speaking like a smug critic. He did a wonderful thing at Southern Seminary. I'm interested to see how he triages what his President is doing. I suspect that he won't say anything, but if he does, I'll be very grateful. 

Our loyalties shouldn't be to a system or group - they should be to the Word. Some fundamentalists separate from everybody. Some fundamentalists, perhaps in the interests of coalition building, will not call out heresy within their ranks. Evangelicals are far worse, but the problem is the same. There is some bizarre sense of loyalty to a organizational structure beyond your local church, and leaders (fundamental and evangelical) are often reluctant to criticize those structures because of fear, politics, etc. 

If so-called "theological triage" were actually applied and implemented in denominations, or in para-church organizations, they would simply collapse. They would implode. They're willing to talk about orthodoxy at the local church level, but where are those principles at the denominational level? At the para-church level? That is why I don't believe evangelicals are serious about separation. That is also why, in the end, I think the NT clearly teaches that local churches should be autonomous. I don't need to worry about the compromise and apostasy of an organizational structure above me.  

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government.

Greg Long's picture

To refer to "evangelicalism" is to be so broad as to be meaningless. Of course there are evangelicals that no nothing of separation. But then again MacArthur is an evangelical, too. Or do you consider him not to be "serious" about separation either?

Of course Mohler's actions 20 years ago do not earn him a free pass from any current criticism. But again, to say he's "not serious" about separation is just a ridiculous statement when he actually stood before a body of liberal seminary professors, declared war on them for the sake of the Gospel and the Word of God, fought the battle, endured harassment, and risked his career.

Obviously he doesn't need me to defend him, but I think this deserves a little more respect than a wave of the hand, a dismissive comment about seriousness, and an analogy that he's like a child reading a Clifford book. (Because he's OBVIOUSLY never read ANYTHING about separation. Again...*eye roll*)

-------
Greg Long, Ed.D. (SBTS)

Pastor of Adult Ministries
Grace Church, Des Moines, IA

Adjunct Instructor
School of Divinity
Liberty University

TylerR's picture

Editor

Greg:

  • MacArthur isn't tied into a denominational structure, and good for him
  • The article by Riccardi too vague to be of much use. It outlines the outer limits of what it means to be a Christian - nothing else. 
  • I'm waiting to see what Mohler says about what the SBC President is doing. This is the pitfall of being part of a very large denominational structure
  • I'm sorry you didn't like the Clifford reference - I thought it was pretty good. I don't like Diego, but I was tempted to use it.

Have a lovely Thanksgiving.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government.

Steve Newman's picture

Tyler, 

You mentioned Dr. Oats' statements. Is there more published on this viewpoint (which I would also favor)?

While a local church is ultimately the curator of their own views on the subject, it must be one that is based on Bible exposition, as you stated. I'm living through a congregation choosing the coalition (driven by a church with mega-designs) rather than the local church. As a pastor, it eats at you. It is a battle for hearts and minds and many value what is said in Christian media over what is said in their local church.