Monday, April 16, 2007

Martin Marty on Evangelical Doctrinal Wanderings

Sam Hodges has authored a helpful article giving Martin Marty's views on the growing Evangelical willingness to ignore biblical teaching about divorce (see here). I don't always agree with Martin Marty, but I'm always careful about disagreeing with him. In this case, he is spot-on. Anyone who would reduce the Southern Baptist Convention to mere evangelicalism ought to peruse Marty's article and ask whether Evangelicalism really rests on any foundation other than market forces.

33 comments:

volfan007 said...

i think martin is hitting the nail on the head as well. what's so bad is that many churches and many pastors are compromising, or seeing things differently, about a lot of things as society changes. it's not just divorce and sunday closings anymore, but the views of many pastors have changed on many things that society....and the people in thier churches....want or dont want. i've been saying this for a long time. many pastors are afraid to take a stand on some issues.

on the other hand, there were some legalistic things that pastors and churches needed to change. for example, women wearing dresses only to church, and men having to wear ties and suits. thank the Lord that's changing with society.

david

Tim Rogers said...

Brother Bart,

Would you agree that pragmatism is becoming the evangelical rule of sufficiency of the scripture?

Blessings,
Tim

R. L. Vaughn said...

Sometimes we might explain such things as having never been challenged on them and thus having never studied them in depth. IMO, it would be hard to make that case on the divorce issue and much easier to see the problem as caving to culture. Perhaps Bro. Rogers is right -- sola pragmatica is replacing sola scriptura!?

joerstewart said...

Spot on! How about this the emerging church is just pragmatism in a different dress?

Anonymous said...

Dr. Barber,

Your query regarding Evangelicalism resting on nothing more than market forces is intriguing. Darryl Hart has some interesting thoughts along the same lines in his book, Deconstructing Evangelicalism. Darryl's concern is for preserving truth, including ecclesiological truth. Although starting with a different ecclesiology, Hart's concern seems fundamentally correct.

Rev. Rogers,

Your query regarding the replacement of Scripture's sufficiency with pragmatism in modern Evangelicalism seems fundamentally correct, too.

Dr. Steve Lemke warned a number of years ago about the increasing problem with Southern Baptists identifying themselves with Evangelicals. I am glad to see others echoing his concerns.
In Christ,
Malcolm

Grosey's Messages said...

Would it be true malcolm, that when Baptists are strong (representing more than 10% of a community, and with bigger churches than the rest)we can set the agenda, but when we are smaller we feel we need to have the "approval" of the majority share holders in evangelicalism so as to establish our "reason for being". And that this mindset is actually just worldliness.. 1 John 2:15 "the pride of life.."
Steve

David Rogers said...

I think it is a red herring to make this out as having anything to do with Baptst sectarianism as over against Evangelical ecumenism. No doubt, Marty could have written and inserted the word Baptist for Evangelical, and come up with the same conclusions. Do you really see a direct correlation between one's view on baptism and ecclesiology and their practice on divorce? I could perhaps make an argument about the practice of church discipline and practice regarding divorce. But I don't think we as Baptists have cornered the market on biblical church disicipline.

To me, the real issue is our view of the essential unity of the Body of Christ, not the term "evangelical." Inasmuch as the term "evangelical" helps to describe those who claim the name of Christ, hold to a soteriology that will truly lead to born-again disciples of Jesus, and submit to the authority of Scripture, well and fine. If some other name better describes this reality, well and fine as well.

Bart Barber said...

David,

Although I agree that some changes are positive, I do not know that societal forces are a good reason to have changed them.

Bart Barber said...

Tim,

I agree—evangelicalism is infused with pragmatism. That's a better, more academic description of what I meant by "market forces."

Bart Barber said...

R. L.,

Sola pragmatica! I'll add that to my personal theological lexicon (although not to my personal theology!).

Bart Barber said...

Dr. Yarnell?? I will presume that our commentator is not Malcolm III of Scotland. :-)

Thanks for stopping by. There are many people who share this concern, I am coming to discover.

Bart Barber said...

Steve,

Normally, we agree 100%, but I do not believe that history supports your thesis. When Baptist were a small, persecuted English sect, they would not sacrifice a single precious point of doctrine upon the altar of "pleasing men."

Bart Barber said...

David,

Could Marty have inserted the word "Baptist"? Absolutely. And the tremendous influence of Evangelical pragmatism upon Baptists is a strong factor in that state of affairs.

Do I see a correlation on views of baptism or ecclesiology and divorce? No, not at the level of subject matter. But I do see a correlation in the way we arrive at our views on all of those issues.

And indeed, divorce in and of itself is not the subject of the Original Post. Rather, the OP deals with the market-driven rather than scripture-driven nature of Evangelicalism. Most striking and convicing I find Marty's point that the biblical material against divorce is as strong as the biblical case against homosexuality. He is exactly right.

Regarding divorce and church discipline, you've hit a topic about which I am passionate. But the subject on the floor is not so much whether church discipline ought to be exercised as whether, even if Evangelicals were quite ready to exercise church discipline against homosexuals or other sinners, they would dare to practice it against divorced people who would presume to remarry.

Marty's observations resonated with me because it exemplifies the entire track record of modern ecumenism. It is tautological—for the past five hundred years, ecumenism=fundamental doctrinal compromise. Yesterday I was teaching about the history of the Northern Baptists from 1865 through the present. Enamored with ecumenism, they became…well…everything that the ABC is today. Everyone who wishes to go there via the path of Evangelical ecumenism is welcome to the trip; I just hope you'll all understand why I have no desire to make the journey myself.

Strider said...

First, I agree with the premise of the post. Too many in the church- baptist or otherwise- are 'adjusting' their theology based on pragmatism. We must not do that! However, I believe in the case of divorce the pragmatic view is symptomatic of real problem with our theology. In other words, changes are happening for the wrong reasons but changes must nonetheless be made. For too long Baptist have held up divorce as the unforgivable sin. This is untrue. Divorce is a terrible sin as any divorced person can tell you. But it is JUST a sin. Sin is dealt with at the cross. The point of your post was not to go into the divorce issue so I will stop here but I just wanted to point out that while pragmatism is not a good enough reason to alter our views, reality nevertheless can pull our ivory tower out of focus views back down to the Bible where they belong.
Having just reread this I know exactly what I mean. Does anyone else?

David Rogers said...

Market-driven rather than Scripture-driven Evangelicalism is certainly a bad thing, just as Market-driven rather than Scripture-driven Baptistity (is that a word?) is a bad thing.

Ecumenism that seeks organizational church union and compromises on 1st-tier doctrines also seems to me to be a very bad thing.

However, none of the above seem to me to be the same thing as passionately defending the biblical teaching of the essential unity of the Body of Christ, and "making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace."

Perhaps the term "evangelical" has outlived its usefulness. If so, it would be a shame, in my book, because I'm having a hard time coming up with a better term. For that matter, though, perhaps the term "Baptist" has outlived its usefulness. There are certainly a lot of so-called "Baptists" out there that I don't identify with, either.

Tim Rogers said...

Brother Bart,

Leave it to you to engage our M's again and once again... anyway, it is a great dialog.

Brother Dr. Malcom Yarnell,

Please, just call me Tim. I do appreciate the respect shown, but you can ask my wife, there is nothing reverend about me. :>)

Brother Strider,

After reading your comment, I believe you and I may agree on something. Divorce is not the unpardonable sin. Stop the presses!!!:>) However, let's now speak about consequences of sin. Would you not agree that one who lived a life before salvation which included pornography would be limited in certain aspects of ministry? Let's take someone that was an embezzler before salvation, would you allow that person free access to the churches finances? While there is nothing in the Scripture that relates to those last two sins, pragmatically speaking would it not be realistic to insist on some restrictions? The Bible speaks about divorce and gives some guidelines. Many interpret those guidelines differently. However, would you not agree that many have changed their stance on those guidelines once divorce affected them personally? This is what I refer to as allowing pragmatism to exegete Scripture.

Brother David,

I should have known you were bring back the tiers.>:) While I have followed your detailed approach to the tiers, I think I missed this one thing. Would you place "unity" as a first, second, or third tier doctrine? If it is first tier would that not breed pragmatism into sufficiency?

Strider said...

Tim, not sure what you are getting at here. Maybe I should just let the fact that we agree stand and not mess with it? Nah.
Rom 8:1
2Cor 5:17
These are the reslts of the cross. The results of sin can not undo this. The divorced among us will never find forgiveness and healing if we do not offer it and quite frankly most of us have not offered it. I am not talking about cheap grace here. I am talking about the cross. Baptist preachers- of whom I have been one- have pounded the pulpit about divorce and have failed to offer the good news of salvation to the divorced. Consequences? If Jesus death is not consequence enough for you then nothing will be.

David Rogers said...

Tim,

The early church, as evidenced by the Apostles Creed, seem to think that "the holy catholic church" and "the communion of saints" were indeed "1st-tier" issues. For me personally, the unity of the Body of Christ is also what I would call a "core value." However, I realize that many people define and understand Christian unity differently. In that sense, I am certainly not ready to relegate to "anathema" status those that understand and apply unity differently than me. Also, I think there is perhaps a sense in which unity transcends the "tiers" inasmuch as the "tiers" determine our stance on unity itself, and its application. It would perhaps be a bit convoluted to base our unity on our stance on unity itself.

David Rogers said...

Tim,

Oh yeah, one more thing. I'm not sure exactly what you mean by "breeding pragmatism into sufficiency."

Tim Rogers said...

Brother David,

You said; "It would perhaps be a bit convoluted to base our unity on our stance on unity itself." I think what you are saying is that being united is not our chief goal. I too would not relegate to anamatha someone who disagrees with where we are to be united. However, because I refuse to work with someone does not mean that I have relegated that person is a heretic. What I mean by "breeding pragmatism into sufficiency" has to do with the thesis of this post. Many people have taken stands against certain doctrinal issues only to change those stands after those issues affected them personally. Or they changed based on popularity of the issue. Some took stands on women in ministry only to change when it was no longer popular. (I am not referring to Dr. Page, he has adequately explained his dissertation) To me when that happens, it is breeding pragmatism into sufficiency. The Scripture is sufficient to handle this issue even when it changes. How many 3 point Calvinist will become 5 pointers if the Founders Ministries ever get into leadership in the convention? That is breeding pragmatism into sufficiency.

Brother Strider,

We just could not leave well enough alone could we? :>)

Remember Romans 8:1 follows 7:1-2. Are you saying there would be no consequences to any sin? I have not placed consequences on divorce. The Bible does. When Jesus met the woman at the well, did he say go and marry the man with whom you are living? No, he said "go and sin no more."

Blessings,
Tim

David Rogers said...

Tim,

If I am understanding you correctly, my answer would be:

I do not see unity as a "pragmatic" issue, but rather as an issue of obedience to Scripture.

As such, I don't see an emphasis on unity (whether it be considered "1st-tier" or otherwise) as "breeding pragmatism into sufficiency."

Bart Barber said...

Strider,

I agree with all that you have penned regarding divorce; however, I could say just the same thing about homosexuality. Marty's point regards the difference between the way Evangelicals handle the two, and the fact that the difference cannot be justified out of the Bible.

Marty's next point, I presume, would be to suggest that Evangelicals ought to tone down their rhetoric about homosexuality. Mine would be that Evangelicals ought to deal seriously with divorce (without making it "the unpardonable sin"). Our point of agreement is that we ought to be consistent.

Bart Barber said...

BTW,

Strider's first comment apparently was nuked somehow by my spam filter here at the church (i.e., the email I should have received notifying me of his comment). I wonder how many comments I have missed altogether in this manner? My apologies to anyone whom I may have slighted.

Bart Barber said...

David,

Regarding the terminology situation, I can sympathize. I concur with your observations about the word Baptist and I imagine the situation invokes in my some of the same emotions that you describe about losing the word Evangelical.

Bart Barber said...

Ahhh, David, but the people who developed the creeds had a concept of church unity that involved forcing everyone to toe the denominational line or booting them out into perdition, sometimes helping them to get there sooner by means of the sword! They were the combination of you and me (fierce denominational sectarianism and fierce commitment to Christian unity), which turns out to be a very ugly hybrid.

Uhhh...maybe that was the wrong metaphor to employ. Now somebody with Photoshop will be developing pictures of what the hybrid of you and me would look like! :-(

David Rogers said...

Bart,

Are you suggesting that the composers of the Apostles Creed were misguided in including "the holy catholic church" and "the communion of the saints" among those things they affirmed?

Is the only alternative to the "ugly hybrid" you mention ("fierce denominational sectarianism and fierce commitment to Christian unity" not "Bart & David") our modern denominational system? Or, as you call it, Baptist sectarianism? That seems to me to be a pragmatic compromise, based on the assumption that true biblical unity is impractical. Maybe I am overly idealistic, but I can't help but thinking God's perfect will for us, as the Church, is something a bit different than the denominational system we have today.

Bart Barber said...

David,

I fault the composers of the creeds for not believing in religious liberty. That critique falls not against their desire for Christian unity, but against their conception of what such unity looks like.

Likewise, I believe that the difference between the two of us is not so much a difference between one person who affirms the need for Christian unity and one who does not affirm that need as it is a difference between two people who have different conceptions of what Christian unity actually is or ought to be.

David Rogers said...

Bart,

Fair enough. I do not disagree with your assessment on this. Also, although I have thought quite a bit about it, and reflected on what I understand Scripture to teach, I feel I am still learning on this subject. I am not totally sure where my learning curve will eventually lead me. But I do hope to remain true to my Lord and to His revealed will in Scripture in the process. I appreciate your part in helping me to think through these things.

Bart Barber said...

David,

You must have the most gracious spirit of any I know. Wait…that's not true. You come behind Karen Bullock and James Leo Garrett. But still, that's high praise.

Anonymous said...

Dear Steve,

In belated response, it does not matter what others believe so much as it matters what the Bible teaches. Theology should never be malleable to cultural influences. It must submit always and only to the Word of God.

Dear David,

The Apostles' Creed is not inspired by the Holy Spirit. In many ways, it is a nice compilation from the Scriptures, but those churches which privilege it and the Nicene Creed are usually woefully deficient with regard to New Testament ecclesiology. A true desire for spiritual unity in Christ should demand that unity be based only on the New Testament.

In Christ,
Malcolm

David Rogers said...

Malcolm,

I am aware the Apostles Creed was not inspired by the Holy Spirit. However, the Bible itself seems to me to be even more direct and forceful in its emphasis on unity than the Apostles Creed. My mentioning the Apostles Creed was only to point out to Tim Rogers, in response to his question to me, that early Christians appeared to rank Christian unity as a "1st tier" issue.

I would agree with you that our unity should be based on the New Testament. The problem is that many, many sincere and godly born again believers differ in their interpretation of secondary and tertiary New Testament teachings. If we only have fellowship and unity with those who interpret the New Testament just like we do on every issue, we are going to have a very narrowly-defined fellowship and unity. As I read the New Testament, the basis of our unity is a common relationship with God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1.3), not lock-step agreement on every minute point of doctrine.

Grosey's Messages said...

mmm Malcolm, Bart,
I agree with you that it takes guts to stand for Baptist principles in an inclusivist world: hence my comment that to not do so and to kow tow to others opinions means "that this mindset is actually just worldliness.. 1 John 2:15 "the pride of life.." "
What I am proposing is that many pastors cave to external pressures because their identity as baptists is weak. It is easier being a Baptist when the majority are with you than it is when the majority are agin you.
Steve

Nathan Andrew Finn said...

I want to add my "ditto" to Dr. Yarnell's (not of Scotland) first comment. While few would question that theologically conservative Baptists are evangelicals (i.e. "born again" type Christians), to say that Southern Baptists are part of "Evangelicalism" is problematic, both historically and theologically. Evangelicalism is fundamentally anti-ecclesiological, lowest-common-denominator, and market-driven. Again, Evangelicalism is these things by design, and always has been. All of these things, IMO, contradict our approach as Baptists. Another way to say that is I think our approach is biblical (lest I be accused of exalting history above Scripture--perish the thought).

I want to also echo the recommendation of Darryl Hart's "Deconstructing Evangelicalism," which I really wish had been written by a Southern Baptist, because 98.43% of what he writes could be describing the relationship that Southern Baptists have to the formal evangelical movement.

NAF