Friday, October 16, 2009

Gospel-Driven Separation

This past week (Oct 15-16) I attended the Mid-America Conference on Preaching, held annually by Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary. This year’s theme was on the subject of gospel-driven separation. I want in this blog post to summarize what I heard as the main points of the conference. I would welcome clarifications or corrections regarding my summary from anyone else who was there or who may have listened to the messages over the Internet.

1. Not all errors are separation issues

    A. Separation issues are those issues that impact in some way the message or truth of the gospel (thus gospel-driven).

    B. The gospel in this sense should not be narrowly defined as just Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection but also issues that impact the gospel such as the apostolic witness, the person of Christ, future judgment, and certain behaviors.

    C. Issues that do not undercut the gospel are not separation issues but:

        • May still be exposed as error, even significant error
        • May still be contended for, perhaps even vigorously
        • May still impact areas of cooperation, fellowship, or interaction

2. If the error warrants gospel-driven separation, then:

    A. Consistent separatists will not fellowship with those who practice this error (i.e., they will always separate) – 1st degree separation

    B. Consistent separatists will also withhold fellowship from those who do not separate over gospel-driven issues – 2nd degree separation

    C. Inconsistent separatists (are these the Bauder/Machen Indifferentists?) do not always (i.e., maybe never, maybe most of the time – there is a spectrum here) practice 2nd degree separation (as defined above) BUT do always practice 1st degree separation

3. It is a gospel-impacting wrong to not practice 2nd degree separation (i.e., to be an inconsistent separatist), thus warranting (3rd degree?) separation but it is not a gospel-impacting wrong to not practice this level of separation. Therefore, lack of (3rd degree?) separation may be:

    A. Cautioned against as an error in judgment/wisdom
    B. May impact areas of cooperation, fellowship, or interaction
    C. The response depends in some measure on the nature of the inconsistency

4. Examples of non-gospel-driven separation errors (although there may be manifestation of each of these errors that do cross the line to undercut the gospel):

    A. Music
    B. Non-Cessationism
    C. Mode of Baptism/Paedobaptism
    D. Non-Young Earth Creationism
    E. KJVOism
    F. Arminianism

I’m not sure I captured point 3 correctly. At the very least, there are probably some terminology issues. If I heard Dave Doran correctly, he said that he would separate from (or not fellowship with) those who do not practice 2nd degree separation but would not separate from those who don’t practice that same level of (3rd degree?) separation. I take that to mean that lack of 2nd degree separation falls into the “gospel-driven separation” category, thus necessitating separation as from a disobedient brother.

The benefits of this method of categorization are that (1) it prevents the absurd notion of nth degree separation – there is a natural, gospel-driven end point; and (2) it allows evaluation without the increasingly irrelevant labeling (due to the fracturing of both fundamentalism and evangelicalism) that historically guided our separation decisions.

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At 8:47 PM, Blogger Don Johnson said...

Hi Andy

Limiting this to "gospel-driven" is confusing. It is all well and good to say that the gospel means more than "death, burial, resurection", but it is unclear exactly how much more this means. It is also unclear whether this is simply code for "Calvinism".
There are also some fundamental issues that are somewhat tangential from the gospel, so it would be helpful to know if all these things are included in "gospel-driven". (e.g. inerrancy)

Secondly, I think the word "separation" is over used. When it comes to non-fundamentals, it is really a matter of restraining or restricting fellowship/cooperation/partnership than separation. I don't consider myself in close fellowship with the Conservative Evangelicals, but I do use some of their books etc to some degree.

My opinion, fWIW

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

At 9:02 PM, Blogger Andy Efting said...


I would say that "gospel-driven" was certainly not used as a code-word for Calvinism at all. I tried to capture in my summary the fact that "gospel-driven" does indeed include other fundamental issues. I listed some of those but Dorn spent quite a bit of time explaining the non-narrow implications of his terminology. Personally, I was very happy with how it was used and defined at the conference. Even if some people use it to limit what they separate over, I think it is a helpful concept. If it was just the gospel, or just Cavinism, then I too would not like the term, but that's not how they used it or how I would use it. I probably would include more issues of behaviour as contrary to, or not becoming to, or not consistant with the gospel as separation issues,than some people would.

At 1:53 AM, Blogger Don Johnson said...

Hi Andy,

That sounds better, but I don't think the term is all that helpful. You have to spend a lot of time defining it and showing that it is broader than a more narrow definition. And there is that tendency of some to make it equal the C word.

That's why I prefer the word "fundamentals" with respect to separation, and would define fundamentals as those doctrines you must accept in order to be a Christian.

I will have to get a copy of the mp3s when they are forthcoming.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3


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