There is a lot of talk about fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals these days, and that’s probably a good thing (depending on the kind of talk involved). I agree with Mark Minnick when he, following Iain Murray, puts attention on the central question of what an evangelical’s response to non-evangelicals is. In my mind, that is the crucial biblical question. I don’t think the answer to the question is always as clear as some on both sides contend. IOW, some fundamentalists downplay the steps that some evangelicals have taken to break from liberalism (either by putting it out or withdrawing from it) and some evangelicals downplay the softness toward heterodoxy that is sometimes (often?) on display among evangelicals. That last sentence probably needs more elaboration than I will give it, but just think of the long list of heterodox people who have been cut slack by evangelicals for one reason or another. Perhaps a very recent example will illustrate my point. Here’s a quote from a post by Owen Strachen about the celebration of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s 150th anniversary and the dedication of the new pavilion which commemorates this event:
Following Dr. Mohler’s message, the seminary honored seventh president Duke K. McCall by announcing the dedication of its new welcome pavilion in his honor. McCall then gave some remarks which showed his talent as an orator in the finest Southern fashion. While noting the “currents that carry us different ways”, an obvious nod to theological divergence between McCall and others, the former president registered his support for the school he loves and called for alumni–presumably those who have struggled to think well of SBTS in recent decades–to stand in support of the school. The assembly gave him a standing ovation, a moment that was both unexpected and poignant.
For those who are not familiar with Duke K. McCall, Strachen’s line about “theological divergence between McCall and others” is a polite way of saying that the influence and ministry of McCall was one of the reasons the Conservative Resurgence was needed and that he was one of its vocal opponents. McCall himself recounts how he very early in the process viewed the Conservative Resurgence as “potentially disastrous” and was concerned about how to prevent the “Pressler-Patterson Crusade” from loading up the SBTS board with a “flood of ‘anti-intellectual’ trustees.” This is what boggles my mind. Here you find a staunch theological conservative (Al Mohler), backed by other staunch conservatives (e.g., chairman of the SBTS board, Mark Dever), naming a pavilion in honor of a man whose service at SBTS produced the mess which Mohler is credited for reversing. Recognizing him at the event is one thing, but naming a pavilion after him? What biblical justification can there be for something like this?
Symbolic gestures are important. Naming schools after new evangelicals like Billy Graham and buildings after liberals like Duke McCall are symbolic gestures that mean something. And they mean something bad to many of us.
I just don’t get it.