Shifting Evangelicalism

Shifting Evangelicalism October 8, 2010

The most recent Christianity Today may be the most significant number published in a long, long time. Why? Because the central story, written admirably by Molly Worthen, is about Al Mohler. He’s called “The Reformer.” Well, I’d reserve that term for two or three people, max: Luther, Calvin, and the Anabaptist leaders in Switzerland, Germany and the low countries. But no one should underestimate Mohler’s influence in American evangelicalism today.

Some are annoyingly rankled about Mohler and his cover story; others are fuming; while yet others feel it’s about time that CT give some bright ink to Mohler, who has literally built an empire in the Southern Baptist Convention. That empire is noted by Calvinism, complementarianism, cultural conservativism, young earth creationism, and by a zeal for theological correctness and biblicism. The SBC is not entirely agreed on the Calvinism especially, but the shift toward Calvinism is unmistakable and confident.

What does this CT cover say about evangelicalism? What does it say about the unity of evangelicalism? the future of evangelicalism?

As for me, having Mohler on the front cover illustrates what’s happening in evangelicalism. We might as well be honest about it.

What this article shows is the shifting in American evangelicalism, including the inclusion now of Southern Baptists. Mohler grew up SBC and he speaks for its former insularity from evangelicalism when he said the cultural wars were remote and evangelical was a “Yankee word.” When he was in seminary the SBC kept its distance from evangelicalism. But those days have changed; for many today the word “evangelical” is identified with “SBC.”

This “New Kind of Baptist” has theological education at its core. One or two decades more of Southern Seminary’s theological education will create a critical mass for the SBC that will make it more or less a Calvinist SBC. The road from Westminster to Southern will be traveled more and more.

Here’s my big point:Evangelicalism is changing. What used to be called “fundamentalist” is now occupied by the word “evangelical” and we have in the case of Mohler a genuine fundamentalist — and I’m using this word analytically and not derisively — who is reshaping evangelicalism because he’s reshaping the SBC. A number of folks in this article call Mohler a fundamentalist. The term fits. Big deal, it’s a part of evangelicalism and I embrace them as my brothers and sisters, even if we squabble every evening at dinner.

But fundamentalism isn’t the whole of evangelicalism nor is it the heart of evangelicalism. But it is the desire of folks like Mohler to bend evangelicalism toward its fundamentalist history. Not toward some Elmer Gantry history. No, they want it to be bent toward Calvin and Edwards and Hodge and Schaeffer and Carl Henry. What we see at Southern and in Mohler is informed, educated, and intellectually serious.

What we also are witnessing is the end of generous evangelicalism, what I often call Big Tent Evangelicalism that has been noted by a coalition of gospel-oriented people.

But Mohler lives out and preaches a different evangelical story: the evangelical world and America are falling apart at the moral seams, and only a commitment to the old-fashioned story can sew those seams back together and save evangelicalism and America. I don’t think it would be unfair to Mohler to see his approach at times to be apocalyptic.

In my estimation, Mohler’s “story” of who we are and where we’ve been and where we’re headed is compelling, and it’s compelling enough to convince many of the younger leaders to such a degree that they don’t even know that there’s no longer room for John Stott and barely room for JI Packer. In other words, the Story they tell skips the Neo-evangelical era from Billy Graham to the years immediately following Reagan — who helped create the culture wars that have influenced evangelicalism so dramatically in the last generation.

This new story of evangelicalism is sad for people like me who have always believed Evangelicalism was a Big Tent coalition of those committed to the basics of the gospel but more than willing to tolerate differences on all kinds of levels. Evangelicalism for many of us has been a generous evangelicalism. As I said above the numbers are on the side of the older Big Tent coalition, but there is a major, major problem: the old guard coalition is not composed of fighters. They’ve only known peace and cooperation. What is perhaps the secret here is that many of us became evangelicals to escape fundamentalism.  For us, there’s no turning back, which means we may find ourselves disenfranchised from evangelicalism.

Today’s scene is not what it was. It’s a new era. When Al Mohler is on the cover of CT, when he represents the shrewd and powerful takeover of a former liberal-to-moderate seminary, when he has publicly claimed any form of evolution is inconsistent with the gospel, and when he is seen as the voice of American evangelicalism, a new world stands before the American evangelical. It’s actually an old world.

The question is Who will speak for the Big Tent coalition? Count me in.

By the way, George Marsden’s book is the place to begin: Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism.


Blog Moving to Christianity Today
"No, just expressing (unclearly) that I had checked on CT and found that I could ..."

Blog Moving to Christianity Today
"I guess your statement of "honesty" is subjective. Could it be deliberate?I am not assuming ..."

Can Egalitarians and Complementarians Find Unity?
"Are you suggesting you could not read the posts in a normal way while on ..."

Blog Moving to Christianity Today

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Joshua

    I’d imagine there are a fair number of Churches out there that would fit in the Big Tent Coalition. Wesleyan, Nazarene, Restoration Movement, Church of God/Anderson, MennoniteUSA, Brethren. As far as I’m aware, not many of these are calvinistic.

  • Rick

    “What is perhaps the secret here is that many of us became evangelicals to escape fundamentalism.”

    Why did we keep that as a secret?

  • Jason Lee

    I feel as though someone has slipped into my home while I was out and changed all the locks.

  • Jason Lee

    We desperately need to disseminate directions to the big tent or the exodus of the disenfranchised from the small tent will think it has nowhere to go but away from church altogether.

  • The 2000s started with a shift from hardcore conservatism to moderate theology, and ended with a shift from moderate theology back to conservatism. Maybe everyone got tired of conversations.

    God help us!

  • As I was poring over this post, I noticed that “rankled” has one “w” too many. 🙂

  • scotmcknight

    Thanks Mark.

  • MatthewS

    literally built an empire

    Am I mistaken or is this a misuse of the word “literal”? It seems to me that he built a metaphorical empire, necessarily implying that he did not literally build an empire.

  • scotmcknight

    MatthewS, odd … a secondary meaning of the term is to give emphasis.

  • DRT

    Scot, I hear you calling him a brother, but what is it that he teaches that is in the same ballpark as you? To be more specific, do you feel that the actions he motivates in others (their fruit) is the same fruit you hope to produce.

  • Scot:

    I wonder if a commitment to the authority of the scriptures (I chose authority over inerrancy) is amore unifying factor than the label evangelical. As a Messianic Jewish rabbi, I do not think the label evangelical fits me (though I believe in proclamation of the gospel in principle). But what you and I share, what Mohler and I share, is a profound attachment to the authority of the Bible.

    In some other posts, correct me if I’m wrong, you suggested that affirmation of the earliest creeds might be the unifying factor between us (the mere in mere Christian).

    Any thoughts on biblical authority and/or creeds vs. evangelicalism as the more proper locus of our unity?

    Derek Leman

  • scotmcknight

    DRT and Derek,

    He’s my brother because of Jesus Christ — the apostolic faith is that we are one in Christ. We are family in Christ. That’s enough for me.

  • Maybe we could form a coalition between SBC and the Tea Party movement. This would really draw all people to Christ.

    [Note the small hint of jest.]

  • Josh

    Is it really any surprise that fundamentalists, in response to the demonization of their label, would seek out and adopt a new one?

    I see this as a move to make fundamental Christian values/theology/politics/etc less scary to their culture by moving away from the word “fundamentalist,” which has become almost synonymous with “evil” in popular american vocabulary.

    The most interesting assertion is the SBC movement toward Calvin.

  • rjs


    I do note the small hint of jest, but I would also like to observe that, despite my disagreements with Mohler on the three little c’s (creationism, calvinism, and complementarianism), I do think that the SBC, and Dr. Mohler is a significant part of this, is also drawing people to Christ – Big C. God uses all of us.

  • Two worlds colliding: Fundamentalist evangelical has met Big Tent evangelical. If he walks through CT’s cover,he will kill Big Tent evangelical,which is the evangelical we all know and love best.

  • Aaron

    Ya this calvinistic movement scares me.

  • James Petticrew

    This may be controversial but I think Calvinism whenever it gains controls has something intrinsic too which causes it ever more minutely define what orthodoxy is and therefore who is in and out. This tendency inevitbaly leads to schism.

    In some ways this is the history of the Church of Scotland. Even now there is the Free Church of Scotland, The Free Church of Scotland Continuing, The Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland and the Associated Presbyterian Church all 5 point Calvinistic Churches which worship in the same way and yet have split from one another.

    I think therefore if Calvinism rises to prominence in evangelicalism it will be inevitable that they will want to define some people out of the movement. I know you quoted Packer positively but I remember him writing an article about curing the “sickness” of Arminianism. I think that remark revealed the basic Calvinistic perspective that all other theological systems are defective and its their mission to put them right.

  • Taylor G

    John Ortberg, Bill Hybels, Dallas Willard, Rick Warren

  • pds


    If you think it is fair to call Mohler a “fundamentlist,” then I think it is fair to call you a “liberal.” You are at the very least an Evangelical who is happy to gather liberals under your big tent.

    I think it is more accurate to call Mohler a conservative Evangelical and to call you a liberal Evangelical.

    I have read Marsden. Mohler is more evangelical than fundamentalist in most respects.

    Every one has a tent. Yours is just to the left of Mohler’s tent. Mine is between both of yours.

    Perhaps we are heading for the same kind of split that happened in the 1920’s.

  • Let’s get Together for the Gospel.

  • DRT

    What is Christ?

    To us, is Christ the Christ we know, or the one that exists? When I read Mohler I have a difficult time seeing the Christ that I know. Is Christ the Christ of pds who claims the average or median of the two? Is participating in the KoG the assertion that there is a son of God that existed independent of his vector for living?

    You all are moderating me somewhat toward Mohler, and I promised myself that I would not be overly negative toward him. But, I have these questions.

  • Scott Eaton

    “What does this CT cover say about evangelicalism? What does it say about the unity of evangelicalism? the future of evangelicalism?”

    I think it says that those of us who are not fundamentalists, do not believe in young earth creationism, value women in ministry, do not wear the label “Reformed,” believe the Bible is inspired and true but not necessarily inerrant and permit folks to openly think about a variety of issues will be branded as liberals or non-evangelicals (I already experience this). Then the tent floor will be swept and we will be put out with the trash. Suddenly the “big tent” will have become very small with many of us on the outside looking in wondering where to go.

  • Scot,

    I think Marsden’s definition of fundamentalism after 1960 is a little bit different from yours. Marsden says that the old fundamentalism of the 1920’s splintered into two factions: the neo-evangelicals (represented by Ockenga, Henry, Graham, etc.) and the fundamentalists (represented by John R. Rice, Bob Jones, etc.). The former were marked by a tenacious commitment to conservative, Protestant orthodoxy while the latter were marked by separatism.

    Your definition of “fundamentalism” is too broad. It would include anybody who has firm convictions about conservative, Protestant doctrine. Ockenga and Henry would be fundamentalists on your definition. I don’t think that quite squares with Marsden at all. Marsden says it this way:

    “After 1960 ‘fundamentalism’ in America could be used to distinguish this separatist sub-group from the broader ‘evangelicalism’, which included ex-fundamentalists and Bible-believing Christians from many traditions” (Marsden, New Dictionary of Theology, p. 268).

    So I think your definition of fundamentalist is wrong in both denotation and connotation. Denotatively, it’s just wrong to apply the label to evangelicals who do not hold to secondary or tertiary separation. Connotatively, the term is commonly used as a pejorative. I just don’t think the label fits here.


  • Scot,

    Count me in as well! As the late Stanley Grenz wrote in his book “Renewing the Center”, Evangelicals must no longer be boundary-set, but centered-set in our approach to theology and praxis. It’s not about who is in and out, but what holds us together. While we will always have theological diversity in the Big Tent of evangelicalism, what matters more is our collective relationship/union with God in Christ; what Grenz referred to as convertive-piety. While fundamentalism is included in this diversity, it should not be permitted to dominate the discussion or believe itself to be THE voice of evangelicals. To me the beauty of evangelicalism is found in its diversity, centered around the common bond of a belief in and experience of conversion and practice. Try as we might, no one expression of evangelicalism will permanently trump the diversity inherent in the movement. We may move to the left and right from time to time, but will eventually find ourselves moving back to a more centered-set approach.


  • Scott Eaton

    PDS (#20),

    To call Scot a “liberal evangelical” is laughable. You have obviously never been exposed to a genuine liberal theologian.

  • Scott Eaton

    I spent eight years in the “new” SBC. Trust me, it is about as fundamentalist as you can get (with perhaps the exception of the KJV-only, no rock music crowd).

  • John Wesley once made this statement, “Dost thou love and serve God? It is enough. I give thee the right hand of fellowship.” More food for thought.

  • jayflm

    I’m an SBC pastor, trained at Southwestern Seminary in the mid-80’s. I have a book, co-authored by one of my professors, entitled “Are Southern Baptists Evangelicals?” Yes, that question was very much in debate even before the conservative takeover of the denomination.

  • Pat

    @Joshua #1, while you’re right that there are a number of churches that would fit in the Big Tent coalition, even in those churches you will find those who find portions of fundamentalism attractive. Just like many in some of those churches are drawn to social conservatism and what has been recently been described as Americolatry. I find many evangelical churches to be a strange mix–evangelical yet fundamental, social justice-minded yet socially conservative. Mainlines may fair better in being able to have clearer identities.

  • Scot,

    Forgive my idiocy here, please. You commented that many young evangelicals know there is no longer room for Stott and barely room for Packer. Can you help a brother (who is a fan of both guys) out and explain that comment? Does it relate to the Evangelicals and Catholics Together statement or because of their denominational/church alliances?


  • Tim


    Great post! I think what I’d really like to see would be the non-fundamentalist Evangelicals start to get a little more vocal. I’ve gleaned over a number of your posts that your natural inclination is toward minimizing differences and highlighting similarities in an effort to keep Evangelicalism “big tent.” The problem is, the fundamentalists aren’t returning the favor. They are very vocal about what they think Evangelicalism should be, and in my view they are winning the war.

    To give you a for instance – myself, my brother Nick, and his wife Becky all attended (a) course(s) taught by you at North Park. We all remember the view you expressed concerning Job being a story (which I now consider to be obvious), but we never walked away with any impression that you substantially disagreed with a fundamentalist hermeneutic. In fact, my sister-in-law Becky received her theology degree from North Park, and she never received the impression from any of her professors that they held non-fundamentalist biblical ideas. I found this so curious, that I looked over syllabus posted online for biblical courses at North Park and realized that you would never really get exposure to challenging material unless you attended Seminary.

    But I also had a brother who attended Moody, and I can tell you they had no reservation whatsoever about taking the gloves off. Fundamentalist theology and hermeneutics were highlighted in every course, and “liberal” biblical approaches criticized and even ridiculed.

    So my question is, if good non-fundamentalist universities such as North Park, where you teach, largely avoid challenging fundamentalist approaches with non-fundamentalist alternatives at the baccalaureate level, but other colleges such as Moody basically make “liberal” theologies the devil, how do you not loose the culture war being waged inside Evangelicalism right now?

  • Mohler hysteria and fundiphobia have entered the “Big Tent,” and the “us” versus “them” mentality has come to the fore. Self-appointed gatekeepers fear losing their franchise and the end of “generous” evangelicalism. Ironic.

  • scotmcknight


    I’m not so sure you aren’t sidetracking here. I didn’t say my view is Marsden’s, nor am I sure what Marsden thinks of the rise of folks like Mohler. I said the place to “begin” —

    Furthermore, Denny, I think it was three different people in the article — accurately I think — say Mohler is a part of fundamentalism. My contention is that fundamentalism did split into neo-evangelicalism and fundamentalism, and this new shift is the rise of a neo-fundamentalism. The whole thing of separation is part of the old paradigm, but it is not absent from the neo-fundamentalism in their severe strictures of who speaks where, and more could be said … but that’s not an issue for me at all and I didn’t say a word about it.

    By the way, Denny, where are you on the young earth creation position strongly advocated by Mohler?

  • “young earth creationism, and by a zeal for theological correctness” doesn’t compute. There is nothing in the Bible that says that the earth is young.

    Why does Albert Mohler’s ” commitment to the old-fashioned story” have to include Young Earth Creationism? Why do leaders like Albert Mohler and John MacArthur (50 conseuctive blogs on YEC earlier this year) feel so compelled to take a secondary issue like the age of the earth and make it a primary issue that will only turn off many seekers, not to mention our own young people?

  • Chaze

    Doesn’t the exclusivism cut both ways? Is there room in the ‘big tent’ for people who still believe in young earth and appreciate the word ‘inerrant’ in its full historical meaning?

  • scotmcknight

    Chaze, there already is room for YECs and inerrantists.

  • scotmcknight

    Tim, good question.

    I can’t speak for others, but I think I can say that in our Dept fundamentalism isn’t an issue to be fighting about in classes. I can’t say that we have any kind of opponent-orientation like that. Of course, there are polemics in courses but it tends to be more point-specific.

    But your point is an important one: moderate evangelicals, and those mostly committed to the Big Tent, are not into finding opponents but into building connections.

  • Taylor G

    Think we should finally also admit that this “split” is as much a personality clash (maybe even more so) than it is a theological clash. Yes, there are huge theogolical differences but….

  • scotmcknight

    Taylor G,

    I’m hesitant to say “personality.” I’d prefer to say those leaders in this movement — Piper, Mohler, etc — are indeed charismatic and powerful speakers and leaders. They have become trustworthy leaders; those who listen to them trust them and follow their wisdom and theology.

  • Aaron

    Can someone help me? I don’t understand where people get such confidence to narrow the boundaries and exclude other christians. Where do these people get such confidence to boldly proclaim others wrong and they right especially when what they argue for has been negotiable at best throughout christian history? Where does that confidence come from? I sure don’t have it. I just have never understood that?

  • DRT

    This is like watching a loud talker and soft talker conversing. The loud talker talks even louder so the soft talker will speak up. The soft talker talks even more quietly so the loud person will get the idea that they are shouting.

    The fundamentalists (and repubs) are talking loud and louder. As a result the non-fundis are talking more quietly and trying to be more accepting, but that is missing the point. The non-fundi’s need to speak up or they will be taken over.

  • Great post, Scot. I’m going to give it to my soc of religion students who are, understandably, confused about the distinction between the two.


  • pds

    Scott Eaton #27,

    By “liberal evangelical,” I mean Scot is toward the liberal side of evangelicalism. That you would contest that is laughable.

    Scot once praised Walter Rauschenbusch as a model for modern Christians. I could go on.

  • John I.

    It is not “Mohler hysteria and fundiphobia” to point out that Mohler is a fundamentalist and to disagree with fundamentalists and with where they would take the evangelical movement. To use those words is to be pejorative from the get go and to silence discussion.

    One defining difference between evangelicalism and fundamentalism is the separationism. In fundamentalism there are two ways, its way and the highway. In evangelicalism there is agreement on essentials (deity of Christ, the early creeds, etc.) and agreement to disagree on the rest. That means one can be an evangelical and a YEC, or an evolutionist, or a day ager, etc. Evangelicalism never has excluded these variant views nor has it questioned the orthodoxy of those who do. For Mohler to do so squarely puts him outside the traditional evangelical movement.

    The fact that, as a fundamentalist, he is both happy to self identify as an evangelical and to take political and administrative steps to enforce fundamentalism, is legitimate cause for concern and discussion. What we are seeing is a replay of the intentional fundamentalist takeover of the SBC, but being replayed in a broader arena.

    John I.

  • Tim

    Scot (#38),

    I didn’t mean necessarily aggressive or oppositional approaches. What I wanted to suggest was simply the presentation of views as an alternative. As in, here’s one hermeneutical approach to scripture (say the fundamentalist approach), and here’s another (say the professors favored approach), and then let the students converse on that and decide for themselves.

  • scotmcknight

    Wow, pds, I don’t know I did that. I read his biography and saw things in him that are a great challenge — to combine the social and the salvific — but I have always said later in life he moved to far to the former.

    But, he is a great example of the challenge.

    pds, the Faculty at NPU find what you say of me laughable, believe me.

  • Taylor G

    Aaron, I’m pretty sure Mohler would respond with a “scripture alone!” response.

  • Dr Mike

    What pds said. Apparently, we read the same sort of books.

    It is sadly ironic that this – what shall I call it? – veiled vilification of Mohler has produced in the comments an attitude that, while there is sufficient room in the so-called “Big Tent,” not everyone is to be welcomed with open arms. Mohler and his ilk, it would seem, are to allowed in under an aura of suspicion. And must be watched closely lest they spread their “fundamentalist” beliefs.

    We all (self included) would do well to heed more often the wisdom of Gamaliel, who cautioned his colleagues,

    “So in the present case, I say to you, stay away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or action is of men, it will be overthrown; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them; or else you may even be found fighting against God.” – Ac 5.38-39

  • Jeremy

    I’ve found the term “evangelical” pretty unhelpful for years. In my experience, it is a movement that young people have been abandoning in droves due to its association with certain movements. Maybe it’s time to abandon the categories when we’re trying to be big tent. They’re largely meaningless anyway.

    If it’s going to take a war to save the word, then the word really isn’t worth keeping. I mean, what does “evangelical” even mean anyway? It’s definition really just creates a monolith out of a very, VERY theologically varied group of Christianity…The tent seems to cover people that don’t look anything alike.

  • This is jarring news Scott. Thanks for bringing it up. This convinces me that we need to know our history, both the broader Christian history (a la Justo Gonzalez’s Story of Christianity) and the history of Evangelicalism (a la Knoll and Bebbington’s series). If we don’t know where we came from, who knows where we’ll end up.

  • John C

    How realistic are Mohler’s prospects of redefining Evangelical boundaries? What works in the SBC, won’t work as easily elsewhere in the US, let alone in the UK, Canada, Australia etc. If you insist on YEC as a marker of biblical soundness you cut out Packer, Keller and other respected leaders in the conservative Reformed camp, not to mention practically all of the leading scientists, philosophers and biblical scholars who count themselves as Evangelical Christians. In other words, you effectively renounce (and denounce) the Evangelical intelligentsia. I guess that’s why the CT article hinted at Mohler’s pseudo-intellectualism.

  • Garrick

    More reasons for me to stay in the PCUSA. You can be Calvinist, moderate, holistic in your approach to the gospel, and openly generous to all.

    The think is I am not so sure that Mohler speaks for the vast majority of Baptists. For those who want easy answers… yes. For the rest, not so much, anyway I hope so.

    Still thinking about abandoning the term “evangelical” lock, stock, and two smoking barrels.

  • pds

    Denny Burk #24,

    Your comment is spot on.


    Count me in to a Tent that is not defined by “bigness” or “smallness” but is defined by the size of orthodoxy. In our Tent we don’t use pejorative labels like “fundamentalist” to describe people who do not use those labels to describe themselves.

  • Taylor G

    PDS – You are a hugely uninformed observer of Scot’s theology. I for one would like to hear you go on and on with all your examples of his supposed liberal theology.

  • Snore! I read through the post and all the comments. . . here’s my two cents, and your welcome. CT is out of touch. Mohler is out of touch. This need to track and label every divergent pulse of Jesus followers is snorable. Mohler shoots himself in the foot with his attachment “young earth”. That alone should allow you to rest well at night. I’m not following Jesus to win any wars, in fact by following Jesus I may just have to lose any war I might want to get into. Tents by their nature are not meant to be permanent structures, so quit trying to make yours bigger and just move it to another place, or build a permanent structure and let the rest of us enjoy the great outdoors the way it was intended to be enjoyed.

    In the words of that great spiritual sung by one of my favorite’s, The Holmes Brothers. “I want Jesus to Walk with me, I want Jesus to walk with me, All along my pilgrim journey, I want Jesus to walk with me. Coffee TIME.

  • Tim

    Scot (#38),

    *Second Thoughts*

    After mulling over your response to my post #32, I can’t help escape the feeling that your response was in a way dismissive and imbued with almost a sense of ridicule.

    At first I thought that perhaps I didn’t convey my message clearly and perhaps was misunderstood. However, after re-reading my post, I think that there was no warrant to use terms such as:




    as you did in your reply. I also think that by taking my suggestion of vocally providing “alternatives”, which North Park DOES do in seminary, and equating it with some polemical attack on fundamentalism completely marginalizes my entire post.

    I don’t understand why you did this. Was it an honest mis-reading of my post? Is there something about my message that rubs you the wrong way? I don’t understand so I’m asking.

  • Scot,
    Just because CT says that Al Mohler (whose theology I for the most part agree with, but whose narrowness in viewing those who differ from him worries me) is the voice for Evangelicalism dosen’t make it so! Maybe the voice for Evangelicalism is Scot McKnight! There are many within the Evangelical world who agree with Al’s theology, but who wince when he starts on his diatribe on separation from those who disagree. I think there are many voices that represent the many brothers and sisters in our family. In the congregation I shepherd, there are a thousand people who have no idea who Al even is, let’s not overreact else we will be commiting the same error on the other side!
    BTW, thanks for your kindess to my son Art, He appreciates you so much (as do I)
    Bill Boulet

  • Percival

    “Who will speak for the big tent coalition?”

    I think the answer is fewer and fewer people will speak for the big tent. There will be more separation between the smaller tents until some outside ‘threat’ comes to unify them. Until then it it more politic to identify ourselves as ‘not like those guys’. Big tent evangelicalism came about because of the threat of unrestrained liberalism taking over religious institutions. Suddenly, moderate and conservative mainline people and moderating fundamentalists saw how much they had in common in comparison.

    I think big tent movements are rare historically speaking. When they do come together, it starts with trying to get something done – usually outreach or compassion ministries. In post WW2 Evangelicalism, it was the rise of parachurch ministries that bypassed denominational bureaucracies in order to do what those bureaucracies no longer did well. I know that’s a simplification.

    The problem I see with big tent advocates now is that we don’t have a vision for what we want to do other than bring the richness of our insight and tradition to the body. This is naturally unappreciated by believers who are afraid of the future. The fundamentalists are mounting a crusade. We are standing by the side of the road trying to warn them about their misplaced zeal. Hardly a compelling vision.

  • Richard

    @ Jeff Doles, pds, Dr. Mike, et al.

    The whole tone and point of Scot’s post and the vast majority of the comments (please run the numbers if you doubt my claim) has been “I may not agree with Mohler and I think this has serious implications for the future of evangelicalism BUT he’s my brother in Christ and I accept him as such even though we disagree on many things”

    I can’t tell if you don’t see this because you don’t want to or you’re assuming that this blog really has it out for conservative fundamentalists like Mohler. Let me state it clearly, we want it to be a big tent that includes Mohler and my baptist brother and pastor down the street down the street. The concern is that as the new stream of Calvinist, fundamentalist leaders gains influence in evangelicalism, they may push others out of the tent.

  • scotmcknight

    Tim, how odd, I thought I was mostly agreeing with you!

    But I”m really confused what you are now saying … I was saying our Dept at NPU (I don’t speak for NPTS) isn’t polemical. … so come back and tell me what you are saying again.

  • Richard

    Scot said:
    “This new story of evangelicalism is sad for people like me who have always believed Evangelicalism was a Big Tent coalition of those committed to the basics of the gospel but more than willing to tolerate differences on all kinds of levels. Evangelicalism for many of us has been a generous evangelicalism.”

    This quote opens my eyes in ways none of my studies have done about the generational differences and perceptions of evangelicalism. Having been born in the early 80s and started church life in the mid-90s, I’ve never known an evangelical Christianity like what Scot describes as being the case pre-culture wars and Reagan. Eye opening and humbling.

  • Hi Scot,

    Let me say thank you for being willing to take a stand. Younger moderate Evangelicals like myself are feeling disenfranchised by what looks like a fundamentalist takeover. Someone needs to say something otherwise there will probably be an exodus to the mainline. We would like to be welcome, but don’t always feel so.

  • Gerhard

    In addition to “Calvinism, complementarianism, cultural conservativism, young earth creationism, and a zeal for theological correctness and biblicism,” the CT article and Scot’s post leave out another SBC line in the sand: “biblical counseling.” “Biblical counseling” is also becoming another distinguishing trait of neo-neo-fundamentalism.

  • Tim


    Maybe this is just a simple case of miscommunication 🙂

    For me polemic often has a very negative connotation. When your opponent is deemed worthy of an attack, then polemics can be fine and good I suppose. But when your opponent is another Christian community, polemics sounds, I don’t know, too aggressive. I probably feel a little hypocritical saying this, as some of my own posts can be very polemical, but I’m not a university department and I don’t think a confrontational environment is good for affording students a healthy dynamic to learn and engage in the conversation.

    So, based on my own (admittedly underdeveloped) notion of polemics, I would say that I’ve never viewed North Park as polemical and would never want to see it become that way. I do view Moody Bible Institute as heavily polemical, but for me that is a big negative and I am very critical of that.

    Perhaps under your understanding of polemics (perhaps a very academic definition) polemics might be more appropriate and welcome. I would very much like to hear you articulate that view, and how polemics can be incorporated productively into an academic environment.

  • DRT

    John Palmer @56 – I would like to give you one example that makes this important for me. I live in rural VA where the influence of these people is pronounced. My oldest son (17) is now an atheist because he does not want to be associated with the Jesus people in the county. They are driving some away from even being a Christian. That hurts.

  • Tim

    …to add to the above:

    Realized I didn’t address your question of re-stating what it was I was saying again 🙂

    Simply, I would like to see more non-fundamentalist Evangelical universities such as North Park incorporate more strongly alternative approaches to Biblical interpretation than those simply congruent, more or less, with fundamentalism. Simply breaking the fundamentalist mind bubble should be enough. Most fundamentalists only hear from respected authority figures ridicule and denigration of “liberal” (read non-fundamentalist) theology and scholarship if they hear anything at all. I think Evangelical institutions of higher learning such as North Park could do a lot more at the baccalaureate level to broaden that marketplace of ideas. The students will do the rest on their own in the way of challenging and revising their thinking.

  • Luke

    Dr. Mike,

    Nobody is saying Mohler and his ilk should not be included in the tent. We more than welcome Mohler, Piper, et al and want to fellowship with them, listen to them, dialogue with them, serve with them, and be transformed alongside of them. We have our arms wide open for Mohler and the others.

    However, a problem arises when the people we accept and consider brothers and sisters start trying to kick us out and redefine our movement to exclude us. Criticizing their revisionism and resurgence does not preclude us having open arms and welcoming them. We want them in our tent, but they don’t want us. I think Scot and others are just trying to call attention to this. I’ll use a quick analogy:

    Baseball teams consist of people who play a variety of positions: pitchers, catchers, infielders, outfielders, head coach, hitting coach, designated hitters, pinch runners, etc. Even though they all play different positions, they’re still on the same team. They have different talents, roles, and backgrounds but together make up the unit. Sometimes it appears that Mohler and others imply that to be on team “evangelical,” everyone has to be an infielder because only infielders have the necessary skills to be on this team. What Scot, Olson, and others are saying is, “Hey, don’t say that because our team has always consisted of outfielders, pitchers, catchers, and coaches too! We need you on our team b/c we are incomplete without infielders, but stop trying to exclude us because we have always loved being on this team!”

    While the relationship between the players would be strained as a result of the message of the infielders, and some of the other players will be a bit sour and bitter toward them, everyone still wants to keep the team together and play ball.

    Maybe not the best analogy, but I hope I made my point.

  • Percival

    Jeff Doles #33

    Let me give you some emotional insight into what some of us are going through. I sense that you are probably less than 50 years old so you may not remember what things were like in the early days of post WW2 Evangelicalism.

    I’m going through a mourning process for the death of Big Tent Evangelicalism and I guess I am at the stage of blame. People like Mohler seem easy to blame, but it could just be historical and social forces bring about the natural death of something I (and my Methodist father before me) loved. I feel like a theological pilgrim again whose tent has been blown away.

  • RJS –

    Yes, maybe my comment back in #13 that you responded to was not helpful. I don’t want to be disrespectful to my true brother.

    I guess I think about this and wonder if those 35 years and younger would be drawn much into what Mohler is proclaiming as what is truly following Christ (i.e., the 3 c’s). It closes off a major percentage of people. And that is just in the US. Now try and bring the 3 c’s over here in western Europe.

  • scotmcknight

    I agree: NPU is not polemical and we don’t want it to be.

  • Denny,

    Adding a bit to Scot’s query (#34), I am curious whether the faculty at Southern and Boyce have to subscribe to YEC.


  • Can, and will this ” funda-evangelicalism ” grow. Or is this digging trenches to save what’s left.

  • Percival

    Follow up to #70,
    Sorry, Jeff. I see that you are actually older than me! I shouldn’t presume to teach my elders to suck eggs – whatever that means 😉

  • pds

    Scot #47,

    Who or what do you see in the “center” of evangelicalism? Do you see yourself to the right of that? Where do you put the emerging church?

    As for Rauschenbusch, here is the post I read:

    Rauschenbusch put almost all the emphasis on social action. He is not an example of balance, but of the kind of imbalance that led to the split of the 1920’s.

    Taylor G. #55,

    “I for one would like to hear you go on and on with all your examples of his supposed liberal theology.”

    You seem intent on misreading my comments.

    Where do you think Scot falls? On the conservative side of evangelicalism?

  • Ben Wheaton


    I think that you are slandering Mohler. He is not separatistic like fundamentalists are, he engages with people and works with people with whom he disagrees. Have you read his article on “theological triage?” Very evangelical. The fact that he engages cheerfully with such groups as the Gospel Coalition, which is Tim Keller’s and Don Carson’s organization, neither of whom are young-earthers, gives the lie to your claim.

    I think that you and those like you mis-read Mohler’s speech on Young-eartherism. He was blunt, sure, but he was not saying that it was necessary for salvation. When Roger Olson criticizes Calvinism he sounds similar, but from a different perspective. Yet you don’t claim he thinks Calvinists are damned. So it is with Mohler.

    Understand that those who called Mohler fundamentalists are those who have a score against him. Bill Leonard? Liberal baptist. There’s a lot of hatred there, so take it with a grain of salt.

  • Agreed that evangelicalism is changing and I’m with you in the ‘big tent evangelicalism’ i.e we need to be as open and inclusive as possible.

    To your point about the fighters, that is true. However, I don’t think we need to be fighters. Let Mohler and his constituency fight all they way.

    We should be lovers not fighters. After all the greatest commandment is to love God not fight for Him.

    That being said, I have faith that there is a core of people who care more about the bigger things (God’s love, helping others, caring for the poor, children, etc..) than the smaller things (age of the earth, denominational particularism, etc…)

    If the word “evangelical” gets abandoned in the process so be it, I suppose.


  • Tim

    Scot (#72),

    Thanks. What about the rest of the suggestions though? Namely, a greater emphasis on introducing with respect and support non-fundamentalist alternatives? Most fundamentalists never have these alternatives presented to them in a supported and articulated manner, so they habitually just discard them carte blanch if they are even aware of them to start with. Do you see NPU as potentially playing a role in this? Do you also find it a little concerning that students can graduate from NPU and not have any real clue that there are non-fundamentalist alternatives that receive faculty support?

  • Jeremy

    PDS: This may be a stupid question, but do you know there’s a difference between liberal christianity and liberal christians? The disconnect may be that people hear you saying Scot is a Jesus Seminar sort when you mean he’s a Democrat.

    Or you could mean liberal theology, in which case, I guess it’s a matter of perspective, so I’m not surprised you’re misunderstood.

  • Dr Mike


    I went back and read your review of McLaren’s A New Kind of Christianity in CT earlier this year. I was struck by the contrast between your treatment of McLaren – which was appropriately critical – and the present review of Mohler.

    Unless I am completely unable to read nuances and between-the-lines, it seems that your alarmist discussion of Mohler is lacking the generosity (no pun intended) extended to McLaren. I don’t understand why there is such a difference.


    At no time did I say Scot would not welcome Mohler into the tent; in fact, I said the opposite.

  • A very interesting post and comments. Two observations:

    1. I really think it is troubling when there is no longer any room for John R.W. Stott or J.I. Packer or any number of men/women whose voices and whose service is dismissed or no longer valued when they have clearly modeled the best that evangelicalism offered in their day.

    2. “Big Tent coalition” should not be heard as liberal vs. conservative. The article as well as the history involved reflects more than a view of Scripture but also includes power issues, strong personalities, and sectarianism. .

  • The questions we need to be asking at the moment are, “What makes one an evangelical?”, and “What beliefs are essential to evangelical identity?” The answers should not only be consistent with past evangelical identity, but also take into consideration all the challenges posed by modernity and post-modernity.

  • Taylor G

    PDS – In comment 44 you stated “I could go on” you were trying to state that you could provide more examples beyond praise of Rauschenbusch that Scot is toward the liberal side of evangelicalism. So, I would love to hear more of these examples.

    I put Scot right in the middle or possibly just a bit right of center. In my estimation he is a moderate evangelical to the likes of John Ortberg, and Rick Warren.

  • jordan

    ScottL (#71)

    I think the younger folks like myself (<35) are a big part of Mohler's shift in the SBC. The "New Calvanism" is spreading significantly across the internet and it gets quite a few of the younger folks I know fired up. I see a major bifurcation going on in the younger Christians between the New Calvanism (Driscoll, Piper, Mohler?) and the Emergent church. Either way, the big tent of Evangelicalism seems to be having some kind of like a wedding underneath where all the bride's family sit at their own tables and the groom's family sit at their own tables. Everybody's glad there's cake but are sure that the other side is eating more than their fair share.

  • pds

    Jeremy #79,

    I clarified above in #44, and will do it again:

    By “liberal evangelical,” I mean Scot is toward the liberal side of evangelicalism.

    I do not think Scot is a liberal, or has “liberal theology.”

  • Taylor G

    Ben (77) For goodness sakes, do you really mean to use the word slander. Come on. It’s getting hard to even respond to you when you go that far with the rhetoric.

  • pds

    Taylor G. #84,

    I am not sure it is worth it at this point, but see comment #80.

    I would point you to Scot’s writings defending the emerging church folks like Tony Jones and Brian McLaren. His generally positive review of McLaren’s Secret Message of Jesus. He seems to have put more distance between him and them more recently.

  • DRT

    Dr. Mike and others. Scot is noting the evangelicism is changing. Mohler seems to me so be a fundamentalist. And the problem, it seems, is that Mohler rejects others for not believing his expanded doctrine.

    John I @45 I think said it well:

    It is not “Mohler hysteria and fundiphobia” to point out that Mohler is a fundamentalist and to disagree with fundamentalists and with where they would take the evangelical movement. To use those words is to be pejorative from the get go and to silence discussion.

    One defining difference between evangelicalism and fundamentalism is the separationism. In fundamentalism there are two ways, its way and the highway. In evangelicalism there is agreement on essentials (deity of Christ, the early creeds, etc.) and agreement to disagree on the rest. That means one can be an evangelical and a YEC, or an evolutionist, or a day ager, etc. Evangelicalism never has excluded these variant views nor has it questioned the orthodoxy of those who do. For Mohler to do so squarely puts him outside the traditional evangelical movement.

    The fact that, as a fundamentalist, he is both happy to self identify as an evangelical and to take political and administrative steps to enforce fundamentalism, is legitimate cause for concern and discussion. What we are seeing is a replay of the intentional fundamentalist takeover of the SBC, but being replayed in a broader arena.

  • pds

    Jordan #85,

    LOL. Great observation. I fit in neither camp, by the way.

  • What we also are witnessing is the end of generous evangelicalism, what I often call Big Tent Evangelicalism that has been noted by a coalition of gospel-oriented people.

    Southern Baptist Theological Seminary will have its influences, but so long as Fuller Theological Seminary (still the largest seminary in North America) continues to exist, the above statement will never be completely true.

  • Daniel

    Scot @#47, why don’t you like to be called “liberal” (or “progressive” if you prefer)? Isn’t this a badge of honor? Or is the concern that one might confuse POLITICAL with THEOLOGICAL liberalism? Not trying to be combative here, just curious. (And just because your colleagues would laugh that someone calls one “liberal” actually might say more about them than you)

  • Bob

    What’s with all the “Calvinists are skeery!” comments? A bit over the top, folks.

  • Ben Wheaton


    Anytime someone uses the word “fundamentalist” of their foes they are making it very difficult for me to respond to them reasonably.

  • Dan Arnold

    The understanding of fundamentalist here seems to largely ignore the massive shift in fundamentalism brought on in the 70s and 80s. Through the example of Jerry Falwell, (neo) Fundamentalists largely left the separatism that Marsden and Noll used as defining the movement in the first half of the 20th century. But departure from separatism by no means lessened the commitment of Fundamentalists to the “fundamentals” as exemplified in the series of essays of that same name published starting around 1910. But Fundamentalism and its counter, Protestant Liberalism, both attempt to place a modernist grid on the Bible and therefore often fail to understand Scripture being rooted in historical context. Therefore, I would suggest that Mohler is not just reacting against evolution, but to the collapse of modernism in which his theological paradigm is rooted.

  • In my opinion what we have here is a problem of Calvinist soteriology being separated from its Covenantal underpinnings. The names that keep being bandied about: Moehler, Piper, Driscoll, etc…force out guys like Stott and Packer because they are very different.

    I think that we need to take an important look at why the soteriology of Calvin is what it is, it’s due to his covenantal understanding of who God is and how God works. When you remove calvinistic soteriology from its covenantal context you are left with heavy handed polemics.

    However, when it is in it’s correct place then you get gracious, kind, and gentle leaders calling the people of God to repentance, sanctification, and revival (Sinclair Ferguson, Bryan Chapell, Tim Keller, and so on).

  • Richard@60,

    Yes, Scot allows Al Mohler into the “Big Tent,” but under a cloud of suspicion and fear, as one who needs to be carefully monitored. There is a attitude of condescension. Yes, some fundamentalists are allowed in, but fundamentalism is treated almost as something that needs to be quarantined, if not eradicated.

    There is a hysteria about Mohler and other fundamentalists, a fear that they will “take over” and “younger moderate evangelicals” will be “disenfranchised” by them (thank you, Marcus@63, for demonstrating my point). Even Scot expresses the fear of being disenfranchised, and the passing of the “old guard” and the end of “generous” evangelicalism.

    Roger Olson, presumably another Big Tenter, felt the need to post on his blog, “for the record,” that Al Mohler does not speak for him ~ as if there was any danger of that mistake being made. Many commenters there chimed in with agreement with him. But one commenter put his finger on it when he compared such responses with the prayer of the Pharisee, “God, I thank Thee that I am not as this publican.”

    I do not come as a Calvinist or a complementarian, but I do come as a YEC, and there is a lot of contempt for that position in the “Big Tent.” Not exactly a warm welcome for YEC’ers ~ more like barely tolerated. And the condescension has pretty apparent.

    I am happy for everyone to share the richness of their insight and tradition with the body, but it is condescending to think that, if I do not embrace the insight or find the tradition compelling, it is because I am afraid of the future.

    So, Richard, though Scot and others here may be trying to be as “generous” as they can, there seems to me to be an air of condescension in their words.

    I was glad when I first heard about “Big Tent Evangelicalism,” but have been disappointed to discover that the picture on the box is much larger than the contents in the package. Inside the tent, there is still the “us” and the “them,” the A-, B-, C- and D-listers.
    “I am of Paul,” “Well, I am of Peter,” “Oh, but I am of Christ.” And of course, the fact that it is called “Big Tent Evangelicalism” creates an “us” and “them” with the non-Evangelical Church, the most worrisome “them” being the fundamentalists (those who are not allowed to come in and stand in the margins of the tent).

    So I am starting to think that “Big Tent Evangelicalism” is a chimera. If the tent has “blown away,” I think it was merely the illusion of a tent that has dissipated. The larger tent of the Church remains.

  • Rick

    Daniel #96-

    “The names that keep being bandied about: Moehler, Piper, Driscoll, etc…force out guys like Stott and Packer because they are very different.”

    That is not correct. Driscoll, for example, greatly respects Packer and has regularly referred to his work, as well as interviewed him.

    Some of the people commenting need to slow down a bit and think about what they are saying.

  • rjs

    Jeff (#97)

    I don’t think Dr. Mohler is accepted but under suspicion and carefully monitored – rather accepted as a brother, one whose ideas are to be engaged with and occasionally challenged and who is no more than an equal among peers.

    I approach Scot in the same way as it happens – and you on the blog.

    But taking someone as a brother on those grounds does mean engaging the tough questions not calling it out of order on some questionable ground or a soft “tolerance”.

  • TJJ

    Mohler is not the voice of American Evanglicalism. Not even close. He is voice, on the right (far right?) end of the Evangelical continuum. He has grown in influence in recent years by virtue of his position at SBS.

    I don’t think he represents the majority of evangelicals. The majority are moving in the direction of greater inclusion, greater emphasis on grace, compassion, forgiveness, mercy, social justice, and away from judgmentalism, strict/wooden literalistic biblicism, theological infighting, etc.

    I don’t think the cover story even reflects any change editorially at CT. I think it is just a story about a leader of growing influence in the SBC and some segments of the Evangelical church. The Evangelical movement as a whole, is going in a significantly different direction. He may be trying to change that, and in that effort he is clearly influencing some, but not most.

  • Tom

    I wonder if this has anything to do with broader social influences? Mohler has been around awhile, and his influence has waxed and waned (although I will agree it seems to be trending upward over the past decades). Might the way people are currently gravitating towards narrowness in the theological/religious realm be caused by the same influences that are pushing people towards narrowness in the political? Just a thought.

    Also, it is almost too easy to point out the way which a narrow fundamentalism (like Mohler’s) will have deleterious consequences for evangelicals (i.e. in influence in science, the academy, and other cultural centers). (As an aside, it is true that Mohler is not fundamentalist in association, as he does not question the salvation of those within the big tent, or seek for radical separateness. He “merely” suggests that they are fundamentally unorthodox and deeply off course. Oh, is that all? Can we all agree that Mohler has spoken extremely serious words about those who don’t affirm things like YEC? Can we all agree that often the next step after saying that someone’s theological method and conclusions are dangerously wrong is to extensively distance oneself from those people? Are “big-tent” evangelicals really so off base in being sensitive to these things? It doesn’t seem so to me.)

    But I wonder if some soul-searching among more progressive evangelicals (myself included) might also be in order. Have we been able to develop a different articulation of the gospel that speaks to both people’s hopes and their fears? Fears like secularization and the challenge of living faithfully in a pluralistic culture? I know that in my own theological journey, I have far more often been able to point out problems in traditional articulations of the faith than actually been able to actually offer new alternatives. Maybe we (“big-tent”-ers?) could take the resurgence of fundamentalism as a challenge to develop more theologically and biblically rigorous articulation of what an orthodox, but non-fundamentalist Christian faith looks like in 21st century America, and more broadly, the West? (I think often that this blog plays a small part in that!) Seeing fundamentalism as a helpful challenge and encouragement might also help us see how God might be using our fellow fundamentalist brothers and sisters to build up the body of Christ, rather than simply viewing them as an embarrassment (as I am so often tempted to reducing them to).


  • Brandon

    It seems, then, that the only question before Dr. Mohler is the traditional question posed by all good Calvinists … “Am I willling to be damned for the glory of God?”

  • RJS,

    Yes, Mohler is fully accepted into the “Big Tent.” That must be why Scot expresses the fear of evangelicalism being bent in a fundamentalist direction, that the “old guard” (that peaceful and cooperative bunch ~ I can only assume this is to contrast with that new bunch of fundamentalists who are coming in) are not “fighters” and that the end of “generous” evangelicalism has come. Seriously, that does not speak of a warm welcome to Mohler and other fundamentalists evangelicals. The “Big Tent” appears to be bigger for some than for others.

  • Richard

    @97 Jeff

    I won’t deny that some are condescending toward YEC, just in the same way that some YECs are condescending towards others, etc. But I do take exception to broad brushstrokes misapplied and I see a lot of that being done on this thread right now.

    As far as the “fear and hysteria,” when someone goes to the ETS to try and kick Mohler out and begins a campaign to push YECs from the Big Tent, then I’ll agree with you. For people to be concerned about a system of thought and theology that has historically defined itself narrower and narrower, I think some cause for concern (without slandering, etc) and continued observation is valid.

  • dopderbeck

    Wow — got to this party late!

    I am dismayed that CT did this big spread on Mohler. What does it say about CT? Yet another reason I’m letting my subscription lapse. CT panders to the right. I’ll read Christian Century and Commonweal instead.

    Let’s clarify terms: if by “Bit Tent” we mean “the body of Christ,” then of course that includes people as diverse as Al Mohler and Jim Wallis (and lots of others). If by “Big Tent” we mean “people who can work and worship together in a local church body to address local needs,” then of course it includes YECists and evolutionary creationists and so on together. Amen and Amen!

    But if “Big Tent” means an identifiable movement, I think it is past time for “moderate” evangelicals to part ways with the likes of Mohler. The “movement” of Christianity is about the Truth. YECism, Christian America — these are not Truth. Sorry, but they’re just not. I won’t get into arguments about these things with brothers and sisters in my local church when those arguments would impede our work in the community, but public claims about public truth are a different matter. Al Mohler does not speak for me.

  • Percival

    This comment may upset some people, but here goes.

    I think what is upsetting to some of us is that we thought we owned the term Evangelical and we attached it to those who shared our ideals. The word seemed to have good associations with it. Even some mainliners to our left started using it for themselves when they saw it as useful to retain members. Being evangelical was seen as a good thing. We were proud of it.

    Fundamentalism also used to be a badge of pride. It wasn’t a bad word. It was a self-chosen label. But the terms were certainly not synonymous. Today, they are. NPR had a story recently where they called Fred Phelps an Evangelical!

    How did this confusion occur? I think what happened was that the behavior of Fundamentalists brought disrepute onto their own name brand so they decided being called Evangelical would put them in a better light. Now their bad reputation has spread to Evangelicals, and we resent it.

    When you think about it, though, this is a good joke on us. This is the price we all pay for pridefully labeling ourselves. It serves us right, I suppose.

  • Josh Mueller

    The SBC’s trend described in the article reminded me a lot of Jim Somerville’s metaphor of the attempt to save the “sand castle” church by shoring up foundations, digging moats and building flood walls while the tide of culture is coming in (Dr. Jim Somerville – “As the Sand Castle Crumbles” – free online read).

    The motivation behind the purging efforts – an effort fundamentalism always feels compelled to initiate and maintain to safeguard its exclusive claim to truth – is fear. And the “airtight” refuge and foundation is usually sought and found in a very narrow understanding of “inerrancy” that tends to completely ignore the historical character and cultural framework of scripture.

    The tendency to combat certain views of women’s ordination, homosexuality, and the compatibility of creation and evolution, comes tragically at a time when people are leaving the church in droves because of the ensuing perception of narrowmindedness, judgmentalism and anti-intellectualism.

    “Internetmonk” Michael Spencer’s predictions of the demise of American evangelicalism may very well come true (at least for the SBC and those who buy into this approach) if this trend continues. Some may say “good riddens!” but I’d much rather see us rooting for true reform rather than churches closing down because of a wrong approach.

  • Dopderbeck wants to vote Mohler and those like him out of BTE. Apparently, YEC’ers have no place in his tent either. Same for “Christian America,” whatever that means. They are not “Truth,” you see. No need to even engage them as Evangelical equals. Only “moderate” evangelicals need apply for membership. But, gosh, there is no fear and hysteria here, as I had earlier suggested.

    So much for “Big Tent Evangelicalism.” Thanks, Dop, for demonstrating my point again.

  • rjs


    There are issues discussed in various posts on this blog on which you and I agree, a few that surprised me because I had stereotyped you quite wrongly (we live and learn) – and issues on which we disagree quite significantly.

    What does it mean to engage with a brother or sister within the big tent in such a case?

    One thing it means is that neither of us speaks for the whole. If you take a stand and purport to speak for the whole I’ll object, as I expect you would in the reverse situation.

    But how do we actually engage?

  • BradK

    Dan @95,

    I think you are correct to raise “The Fundamentals” series of essays. The main reason people are talking past each other here is that there doesn’t seem to be a coherent, commonly accepted definition of fundamentalist, or of evangelical for that matter. Perhaps folks should define their terms.

    At least some of the roots of fundamentalism in this country would seem to me to rise out of the series of essays you mention. And key issues for those folks and others who self-identified as fundamentalists in the early parts of the 20th century in the U.S. were the inerrancy of scriptures, a “literal” understanding of scripture (particularly of Genesis and miracles), the virgin birth, bodily resurrection, substitutionary atonement, revivalism, a focus on theology and Bible study, and dispensationalism. Mohler seems to fall pretty well in line with all of these except the last. He even fits Marsden’s description of fundamentalism as opposition to modernism in theology and culture. I’m not sure why people object to Mohler being called a fundamentalist. Does he object to this description?

    Apparently he also opposes yoga…

  • Percival

    Tom #101
    Third paragraph – absolutely agree.

    “Have we been able to develop a different articulation of the gospel that speaks to both people’s hopes and their fears?”
    Alpha courses come to mind as a truly evangelical approach that arose as a way to reach a new generation.

  • dopderbeck

    Jeff (#107) — brother, you need to read more carefully.

    It has nothing to do with fear or hysteria, and nothing to do with unity in service in the local church — as I made plain. Those are different questions. It has to do with public Truth, with what our leaders advocate in the public square.

    Ideas that are plainly untrue do not merit an “equal” place under the tent of a movement that is supposed to be about Truth. If this is “intolerant,” then tolerance is overrated.

    In short: forget “BTE” as a public movement. We are Christians, lovers of the Truth. Where things are being advocated in the name of Christ that plainly are untrue, we need to distance ourselves from such things.

  • Percival

    Jeff #107
    I think you missed Dopderbeck’s point in #104.
    His point seems to be that he does not believe in the big tent anymore. He is not trying to preserve it in any way. He is walking out of it and inviting others to join him. I guess he thinks the B.O. in there is getting a bit ripe.

    Hold on Dopderbeck! I’m right behind you, and I won’t let the tent flap hit me on the butt on the way out! However, I think we will face similar problems if we erect another tent.

  • Richard

    @ 106 Jeff

    It seems to me that when Dopderbeck is using the word, “Truth” (as opposed to “truth”), in other posts, he’s emphasizing the centrality of Jesus and the gospel as opposed to the centrality of YEC or Christian America or social justice or whatever that many of us from different backgrounds are susceptible to. Dopderbeck, is that accurate to what you meant there?

    It also seems a bit ungracious to act like he’s kicking him out of the tent when in 2/3 scenarios he presented in that post would have Dopderbeck welcoming him in the Big Tent as a brother in Christ. Dopderbeck seems to be attempting to clarify what we mean when we talk about the Big Tent of Evangelicalism…

  • RJS, of course there is going to be a lot of disagreement in a “Big Tent,” with people coming from many different traditions and perspectives and insights. And we should be able to talk about them honestly and engage them openly. That is what I have tried to do, and I believe you have too, though we have certainly disagreed.

    I am not arguing for some homogenized evangelicalism of the lowest common denominator. But I think it is premature to write the obituary for “generous” evangelicalism because CT did a cover story on Al Mohler or because fundamentalists are trending a bit to the upside. I don’t think we can honestly engage with each other if we view each other with suspicion and fear, or if we are afraid, as someone said earlier, that “they” are getting a bigger piece of the cake.

  • Mark Gore

    As Dr. Tim Keller put it, there’s nothing wrong with being fundamentalist, as long as you have the right fundamentals.

    Liberal and fundamentalist are both labels often used to shut down meaningful dialogue. When it comes to theological discussion, you can also add the word “heretic” or “false prophet/teacher”.

  • DRT

    Jeff, I have no problem with whatever any individual thinks and discusses. that is not the point. The point is what an insitution dedicated to the pursuit of Jesusyness does! I love YECs. But if someone tells me that YEC is the only way to believe I feel they are engaging in brain washing.

  • Percival


    Be merciful toward CT magazine. They are in an impossible position. They may not always reflect the views you hold, but it is trying to be fair to all sides. Just the other day a conservative friend of mine said he could barely stand to read CT these days because it had drifted to the left so far! Whatever the middle means these days, I’m afraid it is shrinking.

  • dopderbeck

    @Percival and Richard — right. But Richard, I also do mean simply that which is “true.” And Percival, I suppose I’d still like to take the term “evangelical” with me.

    If someone, like Mohler, advocates untruth in public, and declares that anyone who is not with him is against him, then at some level I have to be against him. Since we both confess Christ as Lord, we are of course united at the deepest level, regardless of what he might think of me or I of him. But our public witness no longer has a unified center because he insists that I accept something that I strongly believe to be untrue and that is not as basic as Christ himself.

    To put this in another light: I am not a Roman Catholic. I have great respect for many aspects of Catholic teaching. But, I don’t accept the authority of the Roman church. I am united with my Catholic friends in Christ, but we are not united in our public witness about the Church and the authority of the Roman Bishop. We can’t both call ourselves “Roman Catholic.” In this case, it would be silly for me to insist that I am “Roman Catholic.”

  • dopderbeck

    @Percival (#119) — yes, I hear you. But isn’t that the problem? Pick a side. Have an identifiable voice. CT reminds me, frustratingly, of the typical middle-of-the-road evangelical church, in which you can’t even talk about some subjects except in distant and vanilla ways. Some things are true and some aren’t, or at least, some things are clearly wrong.

  • Jesus Loves Me

    If Mohler is the face of Evangelicalism, then I’m not an Evangelical. So-called “Evangelicalism” (read Deconstructing Evangelicalism by D. G. Hart) was already held together by a creaky doctrine of inerrancy (which needed a case of duct tape to make the real Bible adhere to it), and if its perimeters and parameters are now being boxed in to Al Mohlerism/”New” Calvinism/SBC, then it’s time to say the last rites and put it into the ground. Mohler and his friends’ vision has no more chance of staying afloat during the next 30 years than the Titanic had after it hit and then pulled away from the iceberg.

    I suspect ETS conferences in the next few years are going to be factious. Glad I won’t be there.

  • pds

    dopderbeck #104,

    You said,

    “I am dismayed that CT did this big spread on Mohler. What does it say about CT? Yet another reason I’m letting my subscription lapse. CT panders to the right. I’ll read Christian Century and Commonweal instead.”

    Canceling CT and reading Christian Century? Dude, you just came out of the closet as a mainline liberal Protestant! Good to know. I still love you.

    Here is your reading list of the “Essential theology books of the past 25 years”:

    Your Mohler-bashing is sounding pretty separatist there too. Perhaps we need a new category of “mainline liberal protestant separatist fundamentalist”?

  • DRT

    I support dopderbeck. If a side of Christianity is going further and further astray it does no good to try and be even more accomodating. I fully recognize that this proposition is reflective in that it can be said the other side is going further astray. But I urge confidence in rationality. Giving in to an abusive family member does not help.

  • DRT

    BTW, I don’t assume that dopderbeck supports what I am saying.

  • Richard

    Can we define “bashing” and “slandering.” To paraphrase Princess Bride, some of us keep using these words and I don’t think we know what they mean.

  • DRT

    Richard, “bashing and slandering” have been used extemely infrequently on this thread and do not think it is a major point of this discussion, which I think has been remarkably civil.

  • Rick #99 You’re right, people do need to slow down. I was simply commenting on Scot’s statement that the neo-Calvinists are forcing out Packer/Stott types. But, also note, just because someone like Driscoll respects Packer (which I saw his interviews and they are a treasure for the church) his rhetoric doesn’t fit with what Packer those who follow in his footsteps would hold to.

    I would encourage you to take another read through my comment. I was not directing any comments in particular towards people but to a theological move made by the neo-Calvinists that creates the kind of issues that Scot points to in this post.

  • Ben Wheaton

    Well, DRT, I think that Mohler and company would use the exact same argument that you and David are; why should we support those who are saying falsehoods? Why should we seek to include those who are theologically abusive?

  • dopderbeck

    pds (#122) — why only that one “liberal” list from that issue of Christian Century? Why not also the list provided by Kevin Vanhoozer (a blisteringly good list, BTW, particularly Wolterstorff’s book on scripture): ( Amos Yong or George Hunsinger or Stanley Hauerwas?

    Here’s a good exercise: can you really keep Al Mohler, Kevin Vanhoozer, and Amos Yong under the same “movement” tent?

  • dopderbeck

    Ben (#128) — you’re probably right. So, why should we pretend we are part of the same movement? If we can each agree that the other is genuinely a Christian, albeit a terribly mistaken Christian, that should be enough.

  • Taylor G

    PDS- Initially moderate evangelicals (like Scot) took a glance at McLaren and agreed with some of what he was saying about the church. As McLaren began to unearth more of his theology Scot came out and stated quite clearly that McLaren’s version Christianity was a re-working gone to far.

  • Richard

    “What we also are witnessing is the end of generous evangelicalism, what I often call Big Tent Evangelicalism that has been noted by a coalition of gospel-oriented people.

    But Mohler lives out and preaches a different evangelical story: the evangelical world and America are falling apart at the moral seams, and only a commitment to the old-fashioned story can sew those seams back together and save evangelicalism and America. I don’t think it would be unfair to Mohler to see his approach at times to be apocalyptic.”

    This comment in Scot’s original entry makes me think of someone commenting on NT Wright in the past that he’s out re-forming the Reformed camp. Is it possible that maybe getting more fundamental than the new fundamentalist/evangelical camp is the key? Just coming back to the gospel of the KOG in Jesus Christ and hammering that home in personal and corporate transformation. Is that a big tent we can break bread under privately and publicly?

  • So was part of the reason “evangelical” was hijacked was for more moderate or liberal fundamentalists (I know, an oxymoron)to move in and take over a more socially acceptable term?

    Some of the more liberal evangelicals of times past have been distancing themselves from this term aleady. The more moderate to conservative evangelicals may be the “meek” who will no longer “inherit” this identity as they tend to be less aggressive and more civil in their approach. I am ambivalent at best about labels but it is part of how we relate agree/disagree, and identify with each other. However, I’m not sure how invested I am in preserving the term “evangelical”, than continuing to embody what it has meant in the BTE sense. I hate that Jn 17 is so hard for us to practice and we feel it sometimes necessary to use labels that can lead to greater dis-unity.

  • cas

    Excellent post Scot. Thanks!

  • pds

    Dop #130,

    Sure, add that one too. It’s your magazine. It’s your tent and movement.

    I don’t know KV an AY enough to answer your question.

    Perhaps you should write an updated version of Harry Emerson Fosdick’s “Shall the Fundamentalists Win?” This post and many of the comments echo his thinking.

  • dopderbeck

    pds (#136) — See, but if you don’t know who Kevin Vanhoozer is, and if you’re going to compare him to Fosdick, then you really shouldn’t comment on what “Big Tent” evangelicalism might or might not mean. He’s a long time TEDS prof., now at Wheaton.

  • Russ

    The claim that calvinism is synonymous with, or inevitably leads to, fundamentalism (in the comments, not in Scot’s post) is mistaken. Historically, Neo-Evangelicalism (as a rejection of fundamentalism) in its origin was heavily shaped by a variety of calvinists, from the more strict sort of Buswell, Schaeffer, Henry, Lloyd-Jones and Packer to the more moderate sort of Ockenga, the early faculty of Fuller, etc. There’s been a resurgence of fundamentalism within calvinistic circles just as there has been in evangelicalism broadly, but reformed evangelicals like Wolterstorff, Bloesch, Mouw, etc. can hardly be called fundamentalists.

  • Taylor G

    Ben (95) If the label “fundamentalist” doesn’t apply to Mohler who is an example of someone that it would? Just urious. When I was at covenant theological sem. (st. louis) in the late 90’s we studied the term and the movement and a few classmates after learning what the label stood for decided that maybe the hat fit.

  • pds

    dop #137,

    Why is everyone misreading me today? I did not compare Vanhoozer to Fosdick. I did not say that I did not know who he is. I said I did not know him and Yong enough to answer your “movement” question. I said it mainly because “movement” is too vague, and I did not find the question interesting.

    Despite this, you twist my words and suggest I am too ignorant to comment.

    You are the one boldly canceling CT and reading Christian Century. You are the one who sounds somewhat like Fosdick.

  • Perhaps I missed it, but how and when have Stott and Packer been “forced out” of the evangelical tent?

  • Rick

    Daniel #128-

    “I was not directing any comments in particular towards people but to a theological move made by the neo-Calvinists that creates the kind of issues that Scot points to in this post.”

    Fair enough. I just think including names with potential ramifications can be misleading. Some in that camp may take that “theological move” to that extent, but that does not mean all, or even most, will.

  • Taylor G

    Jeff (141) Stott believes in annihilation and Packer tries to make coalitions with Roman Catholics. These positions make fundamentalists nervous. Obviously there hasn’t been any sort of official council that “forced out” these two.

  • dopderbeck

    pds (#140) — c’mon man. You cherry picked the book list of one liberal from one issue of CC, you ignored the book list of two evangelicals in the same issue and, and then you equated me with Fosdick for preferring the 2010 version of Christian Century to Christianity Today. In other words, you threw an ad hominem at me without even doing the homework to back it up. And then, when I show that in fact the very issue of CC that you’re holding up as Fosdickian has book lists by two evangelicals, you punt and ad hominem me again!

    My personal take is that CC tends toward post-liberal or moderately evangelical stuff that I agree with, while CT tends towards very conservative to fundamentalist stuff that I don’t agree with. I don’t really care what label that thought police want to attach to me as a result.

  • The poster known as dopderbeck is a closet liberal that we need to keep an eye on.

  • pds

    dop #144,

    Well, I learned today how much Christian Century has changed over the years. Evangelicalism is the dominant form of Christianity in America, and I guess they could not completely ignore it.

    I don’t see how I threw an ad hominem at you.

    I did not “equate” you with Fosdick. I was careful not to. But do you not see how this whole thread could have the title “Shall the Fundamentalists Win?”

    If you like Christian Century, and reject Mohler, what problem do you have with Fosdick?

    Who would be in your movement- Fosdick or Mohler? Fosdick or Machen?

  • Ben Wheaton

    Taylor G,

    Well, for starters let’s go with the late Jerry Falwell, Bob Jones, Jr., and perhaps for a British spin Peter Masters. Some would put John MacArthur in this camp, too, although I’m not sure I would.

    And Stott is still highly regarded amongst the Young Calvinists for his book on the Cross of Christ. Carson spoke very favourably of him when he was distinguishing between types of annihilationism (which, contrary to your comment, is a doctrine that makes many evangelicals nervous too). As for Packer–you know he was one of the voices behind the ESV, right?

  • Woohoo! I just bought

    Thanks dop!

  • Taylor G

    Ben (146) Sorry for nitpicking, but the two you men you mention have passed. For the sake of clarity could you name someone contemporary since you can’t even muster the strength to put MacArthur in that camp?

  • Scot,

    I think the most natural reading of Genesis indicates a six-day creation. I think it’s important, however, to distinguish (as Mohler does) between arguments about the age of the earth and arguments about evolution. If you listen to the Ligonier talk from last summer, Mohler is primarily concerned with the latter.


  • dopderbeck

    pds — I’m not going to play the silly, anachronistic and irrelevant game of “Fosdick or Machen” or “Fosdick or Mohler.”

    Vanhoozer or Mohler? Vanhoozer. (Not that I agree with every last thing Vanhoozer has ever said.)

    And you Thought Police guys are so damn funny. Write me a ticket! I said damn! I must be a liberal!

  • Taylor G

    Oh my gosh! Dopderbeck just said damn. He is soooo liberal mainline prostestant.

  • Taylor@143, has anyone said that Stott is no longer an evangelical because of his view on annihilation? Or that Packer is no longer an evangelical because he wants a make nice with the Roman Catholics? Is there a rising chorus to oust them? It seems a bit shrill to speak of them being forced out when they have not been forced out and there seems to be no movement afoot to do so.

  • dopderbeck

    Jeff (#153) — LOTS of folks have raised alarms about John Stott:

  • Disagree with Dopderbeck and, why, you must be the “thought police.” Not that anybody is getting hysterical here, though. A deep cleansing breath would not go amiss, Dop.

  • rjs

    I agree Jeff, More or less everyone needs the deep cleansing breath …

  • pds

    dop #151,

    Ironic that you are crying “thought police” when this started with Scot complaining about CT publishing an article on Mohler! The thought police post was a joke.

    I didn’t like your movement game either, so I don’t blame you.

    But you accused me of “ad hominem.” Can you explain that?

    If you like Christian Century, and reject Mohler, what problem do you have with Fosdick?

  • tjc

    deep cleansing breath? sounds a little too much like yoga to me. can’t be a good thing.

  • Dop@154, In the article you linked to, nobody questioned whether Stott is an evangelical. In fact, there are a couple of affirmations that he is an evangelical. That was eleven years ago (have you been sitting on this article that long, or did you hunt it up for this occasion?). And today he still appears to be considered as in the evangelical fold. So does Packer. So I still don’t know why people here treat their ouster as immanent ~ or anywhere on the horizon.

  • Deep cleansing breaths? That sounds like some kind of new age thing. Next, you’ll be asking us to chant something!

  • DRT

    tjc@158, “deep cleansing breath? sounds a little too much like yoga to me. can’t be a good thing.”


  • tjc@148, if you don’t assume any … um, unusual posts, you should be okay 🙂

  • pds

    I see Stott as smack dab in the center of Evangelical.

    So are deep cleansing breaths. Well, maybe not smack dab.

  • dopderbeck

    Jeff — they certainly do — that is precisely why the Covenant and WTS people had to step up and defend him, even though WTS “deliberately did not have him preach when he spoke on campus,” as the article reports. You could find lots, lots more if you run some Google searches. Answers in Genesis has dinged him a couple of times — no time to look for links now though.

    pds — why associate me with Fosdick, the arch-foil of the Fundamentalists during the fundamentalist-modernist controversy, if not for an ad hominem?

    Ok brothers and sisters — I’m going to take my cleansing breath, eat a hamburger, and go to a high school football game. On the whole, I think we’ve had a decent discussion, much better than in most places that talk about this stuff. There is no home for a moderate.

  • Aaron

    Dopterbeck thanks for weighing in. I always appreciate your posts.

  • pds

    dop #164,


    1. Christian Century is the flagship publication of mainstream Protestant liberalism.

    2. Your comments had the same flavor as Fosdick’s sermon.

    I am surprised you think CC is good and Fosdick is bad. Read the history of Christian Century.

  • Taylor G

    Jeff Doles (153) I was just trying to point out that Stott and Packer’s two views make the fundies nervous. I am aware that there is no push to squeeze them out.

  • DRT

    What does Al think about in vitro? It would be timely to have a thread on that.

  • dopderbeck

    pds (#166) — so what about the history of CC? It has a long an venerable history.

    The fascinating thing to me is that strong evangelicals such as Vanhoozer are contributing to CC, along with “postliberal” voices such as Robert Jenson and Nicholas Wolterstorff. And, yes, true liberals as well.

    What this says to me is that the fundamentalist-modernist controversy is over. The best minds in protestant Christianity today have moved beyond that controversy. That’s the space I want to occupy — neither “fundamentalist” nor “liberal” nor any other label than a follower of Jesus committed to truth. We could name all kinds of protestants who occupy this space who might call themselves “evangelical” — Scot McKnight, NT Wright, Bruce McCormack, Richard Hays, Miroslav Volf, and so on — who may disagree with each other on many things but who still fill in that centrist, “mere Christianity” space. Praise God, I say!

    In my view, then, Al Mohler is trying to keep alive a controversy from a bygone era that evangelicals should and to a large extent have matured past. The same could be said of hard left liberals such as the John Shelby Spongs of the world.

    What distresses me is that CT also perpetuates the old categories by paying so much homage to the likes of Mohler. I’d be just as upset if CT had a cover story on the “reformer” John Shelby Spong. And if there were a magazine that was more centrist than the left-leaning CC, I’d take that over CC as well.

  • EricG

    Hold on – I read the CT article as somewhat negative toward Mohler. Am I missing something? When I first saw the cover story I assumed it was pandering to the more fundamentalist types within Calvinism (which I agree that CT has been doing over the past couple years). This article seemed like a new leaf to me – more of a fair handed critical approach, without being disrepectful.

    Agreed that CC today is not the liberal rag some evangelicals assume.

  • Douglas E

    Some responses to a few of the comments:

    For me, the most “natural” reading of the Creation Stories is that they are theology and not science.

    Over 1600 years ago, Augustine warned about expounders such as Mohler and Ham and the adverse effect they would have on sharing the Gospel [the root of evangelical].

    It would be interesting to see the data re how Mohler’s version of what it means to be a Christian grows the body of Christ. My limited observations are virtually all identical to DRT’s story @ 66 – the Mohlers and the Hams are forcing young people out of the church, alienating a large group of followers of Jesus who do not fit their definitions, and inviting ridicule from aggressive non-believers such as the Gnu Athiests.

    Regardless of the size of your tent, there will always be folks inside and folks outside – Ham has declared folks like me to be Compromised Christians because we accept what science tells us about the age of the earth and about biological evolution. And Mohler has convinced me that I had better not be doing any yoga! Maybe it’s time to change the metaphor – I never liked tents/boundaries, so the idea of a journey, a sojourn, works much better for me; no one on the inside, no one the outside, perhaps not all on idential paths, but at least all headed in the same direction.

  • Ben Wheaton

    The lesson from this thread? Evangelicalism is splitting up, and not just because of theological fights. No-one can agree on definitions, and everyone is therefore talking past each other.

    Enjoy your own little theological world, dopderdeck. You’ve certainly created one in your own image.

  • Luke


    You completely side-stepped Scot’s question to you. The question was where are you on the young earth creation position strongly advocated by Mohler? It’s not a matter of how many days it took, but how old the earth is.

    Also, asked by one of the other readers, does Southern require their faculty to adhere to young earth creationism? Do you have to sign a statement about believing in YEC or being against evolution? It’s an honest question. Is there any room for the faculty to be diverse regarding views of creation?

  • I feel like this is needlessly alarmist. Only Baptist Calvinists are fundamentalists. Yes, reformed theology is gaining influence, but the Presbyterians and Christian Reformed, and evangelical Anglicans are NOT like the Baptists. They are much more moderate, open, and ecumenical, I believe. Let’s not demonize the wrong enemy. Calvinism does not hurt people, fundamentalism does. Believing in predestination doesn’t cause problems. Beating people up with your theological opinion does.

  • Derek DeVries

    All these comments — being demonstrative of the confused and dizzying array of this or that view and the constant barrage of “movements,” categories, pigeon-holing, ideological caviling in the world of Protestantism (and its own rejection within)– is precisely what is turning off so many young Christians, and why so many them, who are now even becoming weary of their flirtation of the more “liberal” side of evangelicalism after graduating from their respective Christian colleges, are now wondering what the hell to believe, what the hell to actually do.

  • Goodness gracious! That CT article seemed not much more to me than what the SBC is going through. My heart is not there. I’m having a hard time caring. I’d much rather be known simply as a Christian, anyhow.

    Yet this is capturing many, particularly the younger, so we have to pay attention.

    We have to live out a strong alternative, rooted in Jesus and the gospel of God’s grace and kingdom come in him. And solid in the tradition of the Christian orthodox faith. Yet imaginative as to what that means for our current day.

    And we need diversity, all the diversity within the Christian camp. Those who insist on learning nothing from other Christians except all they believe simply to critique them, lose something of Christ’s mind, heart and working within, for and through the Body for the world.

  • What about the Big Tent of Scripture as metanarrative?

    The august metanarrative of Scripture has the potential to temper the seriousness of academia, melding and forming it into something which can create discussion, glean perspective and, of course, leave unsolved answers — like good literature always does. Scripture is the best piece of literature out there, and yet we often treat it like a proof-text for exacting our academic theologies and political leanings. Liberal and Conservative agendas aside, Scripture identifies, in the truest sense, who we are as a people through the complexities of story.

    — But they still spark debate:

    What do we make of Christ appointing Mary as the first to tell others about his resurrection? Isn’t this bearer of the good news an apostolic action? Was Mary the first apostle? If so, then what does this say about complimentarianism?

    What do we make of Christ’s complaint and lamentation in the Gethsemane? Here, in this interlude between life and death, in this small, dark abbey, Christ was questioning the core of his very purpose and vocation. What does this say about our own complaints and lamentations to God? And how about the last and greatest lament in all of Scripture — “father, father, why have you forsaken me!?” I think all too often evangelicals try and internalize anger, afraid that it will offend God. Christ is mad, angry and frustrated here, and he directs his anger at God, unabashedly. But anger doesn’t get the last word; through anger and dark interims of struggle, comes, ultimately, loving reconciliation, but only if that anger is honestly expressed.

    If such a movement toward a serious, sober rendering of theology is happening in the evangelical circle, led by Mohler and co., then perhaps more ink ought to be devoted to the Gospels, rather than always scraping Paul’s theological plate clean (which Paul himself even intimated, I am not all that good at this argument stuff!). This dialectic with schematic, Pauline theology may nuance the argument a bit more for Christians as a whole, and get chairs at the debate table to scoot in a bit more, engaged. After all, we love to tell stories and read/interpret them, right? Why should Scripture be any different?

    — Are there any good Matthean, Lukean scholars ought there right now that anybody knows of??

  • scotmcknight

    David Opderbeck represents a trend among younger evangelical theologians who want to get beyond the pettiness of the evangelical debates, who want to read the best theologians (like Moltmann, Volf vs. just same-old same-old evangelical textbooks), and who want to practice gospel on the front line of cultural issues. Please observe in the comments of David to whom he refers — he’s doing good work (and it’s second career for him, friends).

    Ben and pds, sadly, want to label him in order to categorize and therefore “know” him as he really is through a typology. It won’t work. Third Way thinking is not yet capable of receiving a label.

  • scotmcknight

    Now to Stott and Packer…

    I’ve not heard as much dismissiveness on Packer as I have on Stott, but someone above observed that Packer took plenty of hits for his work in Catholic-evangelical dialogue, and I see none of the neo-fundamentalist, neo-Reformed types who care to engage that discussion. But Stott has taken all kinds of hits for his famous, balanced connection of gospel preaching and social justice action. His book Christian Mission in the Modern World was a landmark book of expository excellence and theoogical/pastoral perception.

    Whatever you think of this, here is something to consider:

    When a major leader suggests one of these folks is wrong, their “fans” and followers take what they say and extend it and even exaggerate it — and I see this with Stott.

    Never forget the power criticism plays among the followers of these folks. Never forget the power approval plays either.

    When John Piper tweeted — no more than that from what I recall — that John Sailhamer’s book was awesome, the numbers skyrocketed on the book. How many people actually read that book?

  • Rick


    Good reminders, including those on D. Opderbeck. However, I am a little concerned about the Third Way when he contrasts Mohler with Spong. Mohler holds to the essentials of the Christian faith, so he is in the tent. Spong is nowhere near it.

  • scotmcknight

    Rick, it seems to me that he was taking an extreme example — that’s all.

  • rjs

    Derek #175,

    I think you are right to an extent – but when the questions are complex the answers will not be simple. They will always take work and time. Looking to someone for quick clear answers simply won’t work. This is what I see troublesome with a “fundamentalist” approach – it looks for quick clear answers to complex questions.

    That said – most people can get along just fine most of the time, many all of the time, without worrying about the complex questions. Faith and everyday life can work just fine.

  • Tim


    I don’t know if you saw it, but comment #79 got buried back by about 100 posts ago and was a follow-up to our previous conversation concerning NPU. If you’d like to take a stab at answering it, that’d be great. Otherwise I understand you’re a busy man 🙂

  • dopderbeck

    I guess all I’d say is don’t take my word for it — read some of the books. To most of you I’m just some guy commenting on a blog, after all. Take the books on Vanhoozer’s CC list and give one a shot. And of course dig deep into the scriptures. Read, study, discuss, pray, live; read, study, discuss, pray, live; read, study, discuss, pray, live. It seems to me this is the God-supplied pattern for renewal (Rom. 12:2).

  • This is sadly reminiscent of the reaction of many of the Truly Reformed when the evil Dispensationalists pushed them out of the limelight for awhile. Decades of whining, caustic criticism, and blatant misrepresentation resulted.

    Resentment? Jealousy? Fear? I don’t know but it sure is unappealing.

    Just when the TR vs D seemed to be quieting down a bit, here we go again. “Same song, second verse; whole lot louder, whole lot worse.”

  • Scot, going by what Dopderbeck has expressed here, I’m not sure it is a “third way,” and it is certainly not the Big Tent Evangelicalism you espouse ~ he votes too many evangelicals off the island for that. Rather, it looks like a narrow slice in the middle that he calls “moderate” evangelicalism. Certainly Mohler and the YECs don’t belong with that group, according to him, but even the likes of Christianity Today have no place in that little tent in his middle ground and must be unsubscribed.

    I understand that he does not mean that those outside of his tent are not Christians and cannot enjoy worship together with him, but my understanding of “third way” evangelicalism is not that it puts out by the side of the road those who are to the left or the right of it. Something more cooperative is what I had in mind.

    Your concern about Mohler and the fundamentalists is that they would oust people like Stott and Packer from the evangelical tent. I don’t see how Dopderbeck’s “third way” differs from that ~ he wants to oust from his evangelical tent those who don’t see eye to eye with him.

    The question you asked in the opening post was, Who will speak up for the Big Tent Coalition? So I am not sure how your endorsement of the “third way” narrow slice of “moderate” evangelicalism that Dopderbeck expresses fits in with that. It seems contradictory to endorse both Big Tent Evangelicalism and Dop’s middle slice evangelicalism. You can’t gee and haw at the same time.

  • Susan N.

    Thank you, Scot, for your voice on behalf of the “Big Tent coalition”. Reading your blog and books has helped me hang onto my sanity and my faith in Christ, even as I grieve the fundamentalist shift in evangelicalism. There’s no going back for me; but you give me hope that there is a way forward, in faith, following Christ. I waffle between feeling fighting mad about the state of affairs in the Church and in matters of state, and feeling so deeply grieved and lonely in my faith that I could just don my sackcloth and sit in the ashes and wail my guts out. Anyway, I’m not a scholar or even a particularly exemplary Christian, in my own humble opinion, but I’m hanging on by a thread and appreciate your “voice” of encouragement. So, thank you, and please keep on writing.

  • pds

    Scot #178,

    You said,

    “Ben and pds, sadly, want to label him in order to categorize and therefore “know” him as he really is through a typology. It won’t work. Third Way thinking is not yet capable of receiving a label.”

    I think you are being fairly hypocritical here. Much of your post and many of the comments related to your labeling Mohler a “fundamentalist.” If Mohler does not call himself a fundamentalist, then you are “labeling” him in a manner that does not further the discussion.

    My original comment here was a rejection of your labeling of Mohler:

    “If you think it is fair to call Mohler a “fundamentlist,” then I think it is fair to call you a “liberal.” You are at the very least an Evangelical who is happy to gather liberals under your big tent.

    I think it is more accurate to call Mohler a conservative Evangelical and to call you a liberal Evangelical.”

    Some labeling is inevitable, but we need to do it charitably. If you don’t think you are on the liberal side of Evangelicalism, please explain why.

    David Opderbeck also used labels in his comments, and boldly announced that he was no longer a “Christianity Today reading” Christian, but rather a “Christian Century reading” Christian. He is labeling himself by clear implication. We all label ourselves when we make bold statements.

    I have actually learned from David in this dialogue as I have done in the past. It is interesting to me to see how Christian Century has broadened over time.

    I have had many discussions with RJS and David here, and I had plenty of dialogue with you, Scot, when you were my professor many years ago. As a result, I care about you as people and I care deeply about the church and its future.

    I hope to write more later, especially on David’s most recent comments.

  • RDH

    Wow, more than 180 posts about Al Mohler. What a tempest Christianity Today has brewed up on the Jesus Screed!

    Some of the people I work with or associate with would be baffled by that, for they think it foolish to argue about (what they see as man-made constructs such as) Creation, Redemption, Resurrection and Judgment. Arguing over nuances regarding the person and work of Jesus is silly and a waste of time for there’s no proof he even existed (they tell me).

    Others in my circle of associations care only that Christians believe in Jesus Christ as God in the flesh, sacrificed on the cross to shed his blood to save us from the penalty of sin, which is eternity in hell. I am a member of a small Southern Baptist church in the Ozarks. We’re conservative, I think, but I don’t know if our pastor is a Mohlerite or a McKightite; I doubt if any other members know, either. I also doubt if any of us could give a thorough explanation of Reformed Theology, Calvinism, Dort, or other concepts. My friends at church accept my Roman Catholic wife as a fellow Christian. She goes to early mass and then goes to the Baptist church with me where the members welcome her and love her.

    Should I explain to my fellow members that without a true understanding of the Big Tent they have no hope of salvation?

  • For all the “Big Tent” ballyhoo, when we get down to it, it appears we want “Big Tent Evangelicalism” to look much more like “us” and very little like “them.”

  • rjs

    Jeff #190,

    I think we want big tent evangelicalism to have room for both “us” and “them” and to look, as a consequence, like neither “us” nor “them”.

  • rjs

    Jeff (#190)

    I’ll take it a step further – I struggle with Dr. Mohler and his positions, but not on creationism or calvinism. I disagree with him here, but both of these are worth much discussion in our church, including in big-tent evangelicalism.

    I struggle more deeply on the issue of complementarianism and the way it works out in so much of our church because this is personal. He leaves, quite frankly, no place for me and my style of thinking and interacting within the tent on any level.

  • scotmcknight


    By your own categories I’m not a liberal because I don’t call myself one.

    And I’m not sure the category is all that helpful since reality is measured by self-categorization.

    I’m sorry you don’t care for dopderbeck because I value his thoughtful comments.

    I didn’t know a pds in class so now I’m wondering your name.

  • rjs

    But Scot, if we take evangelicalism as a whole – you are probably on the more liberal side, not the conservative side.

    On the other hand, within American Christianity – we are both much more conservative than liberal… but that is within a different pool (or tent).

    And I think pds said he valued dopderbeck’s comments – even when he doesn’t agree with him.

  • scotmcknight

    RJS, I call myself a moderate when asked. I’m speaking to his self-labeling point.

  • RJS, complementarianism is not limited to Mohler and those who would formerly have been known as fundamentalists. There are a lot of mainstream evangelicals who hold to it.

    There is no formal membership structure called Evangelicalism. No one authorized to be the gatekeeper, to allow some in and forbid entry to others. Evangelicals are mostly a bunch of people who identify themselves as evangelical. They associate with various other self-identified evangelicals and other Christians according to their convictions. So, if a large number of those who would once have been identified as fundamentalists now feel more at home identifying themselves as evangelicals ~ so what? An alarm has been raised in some evangelical camps because Al Mohler has been identified by others as an influential evangelical. But, so what? If a certain number of formerly-known-as-fundamentalists and other complementarians identify themselves as evangelicals ~ so what? ~ will you cease to hold your beliefs as an evangelical? These same ones also first identify themselves as Christians.

  • pds


    RJS in #194 got me right. I very much value Dopderbeck’s comments, and I feel grateful to him for the times he has supported me in the past when I have been attacked here.

    I agree with RJS on her other comments too. My point on labeling is that we need to do it charitably. It is not uncharitable to say that you are on the liberal side of American Evangelicalism. I think I am too, actually, but I am to the right of you. On some issues, I probably cross to the more conservative side. I may be to the left of you on some specific issues.

    What’s the center of evangelicalism? How about if we take the faculty of TEDS and Gordon Conwell and average them all out? Or take the faculties of TEDS, Gordon Conwell, Fuller and Westminster and average them out?

    I use initials because I comment a lot on ID and evolution topics, and having seen how Michael Behe and others have been treated (and labeled), I would rather avoid that.

  • Scot, I’m with you, but I think “Big Tent” is an inadequate analogy. I much prefer C.S. Lewis’s “hallway and rooms,” a concept imitated by Michael Horton when he speaks of “the village green and the churches.”

    There must be traditions in which we hold and promote our specific convictions in covenant with others. But there should also be a “public space” where believers of all stripes can converse with civility and acceptance, and work together in common mission.

  • scotmcknight

    Mike, I like the village green analogy too. Thanks brother.

  • Aaron

    Susan @ 187 – I echo your thoughts almost completely!

  • rjs

    Jeff #196,

    Dr. Mohler is far from the only evangelical leader who holds such a view. I respect Tim Keller, especially his style of thinking and his approach, and agree with much that he says – but he too is complementarian, and couples it with gospel faithfulness.

    What they say on this issue won’t change my approach or how I hold my views as evangelical – but then again I’ve spent my whole life (more-or-less) keeping my head down and keeping on despite the nay-sayers.

    None of this changes the fact that it is the issue I struggle with most seriously within evangelicalism – because it isn’t an academic debate, or a theological debate. It is fundamentally very personal.

  • Percival

    Dr. Roger Olson about a month ago had a good post on this.

    This is not a flap about tents (pun intended). This is really a problem. When we have become afraid to share our views in our own churches and schools, something is seriously amiss.

  • @ everybody – #s 1 – 202

    It seems to me that this discussion has capitalized far too often on ambiguity. Scot has raised the concern that Mohler is attempting to define evangelicalism rather narrowly so that it includes only those who hold to young earth creationism, Calvinism, and complementarianism. Naturally, that is a concern to Scot and others (including myself) because it would exclude us on at least three counts. However, notice that the concern is with Mohler’s exclusionary methodology and not particularly with his espoused positions. Herein lies the ambiguity.

    Scot is happy to have Calvinists, young earth creationists, and even complementarians “under the tent.” His concern is not so much with the positions Mohler espouses, though he disagrees with them, but rather with Mohler’s further insistence that said positions are essential to evangelicalism, thus forcing others out of the tent.

    In contrast, a number of commenters have argued that Scot is committing an equal and opposite error by trying to force out Mohler and other young earth creationists, Calvinists, and complementarians. Thus it is argued, Scot also ends up shrinking the tent.

    But notice, Scot has never argued that Mohler should be out of the tent in virtue of the positions he holds. In fact, he has explicitly stated precisely the opposite. Rather, the concern with Mohler is that he wants make his positions necessary for evangelical membership. In Scot’s vision of the “big tent,” Calvinists and Arminians, young earth creationists and theistic evolutionists, complementarians and egalitarians alike would peacefully coexist within evangelicalism. They wouldn’t agree with each other, but they would have the humility to acknowledge that equally intelligent, equally Bible-believing, equally sincere evangelicals have come to conclusions different than their own based on equally open readings of Scripture. Once such an acknowledgement is made, then comes the fun of openly conversing with those who disagree in order to point out their errors in exegesis or logic, or to find (to one’s surprise) that the error in exegesis or logic is one’s own. From following this blog for a number of years, I take it that this is what Scot has attempted to create at Jesus Creed.

    Such a “big tent” offers a “third way” not because it is precisely centrist on every theological or political position imaginable. Rather, it is third way because it refuses to define every position in terms of a right/left dichotomy. Instead it asks what the biblical truth of the matter is and let’s the labeling sort itself out. So, to give political examples, a third way Christian might be a pro-life pacifist who has reservations with capitalist economics but is also uncomfortable with big government. Of course, in terms of right/left dichotomies, these positions together seem like an incoherent mess, but from a third way, kingdom perspective, so much the worse for right/left dichotomies!

    So is the third way its own small, isolated tent as some here have alleged? If so, I’m afraid that’s the unfortunate result of the majority’s insistence on maintaining the status-quo right/left dichotomies.

    Finally, when Scot characterized Mohler as a fundamentalist, he went out of his way to clarify that he meant this in a non-pejorative, historical-definitional way. However, given that it is nearly impossible to separate the term from its connotations (which Denny noted far above), it was probably unwise to use the term in the first place. On the other hand, it is interesting that some commenters who are most vexed at Scot’s use of the term are the same one’s insisting on guilt-by-association (“second degree” separation), namely, “If you prefer to read a certain magazine or author of such-and-such persuasion, that means you too must have such-and-such persuasion.”

  • Jeremy

    RDH (189) – That’s not what’s being said at all. If anything, what is being said is that some need to recognize that those that disagree with them are still Christians in right standing with God. The people that show up here and periodically espouse such narrowly exclusivist views typically find themselves on the receiving end from all sides.

    This is obviously a forum for discussion, so we get to quibble about a lot on non-essential things. I wouldn’t get too distressed over it.

  • scotmcknight


    On the term:: it was used by several in the article. I see a rise of neo-fundamentalism and I have solid evidence some in this group are happy with the term.

    I realize the term is loaded.

  • dopderbeck

    I come back to the perplexing question of exactly which “tent” or “village green” or “hallway” we’re talking about.

    If we’re talking about “mere Christianity” I don’t think anybody disagrees — from Mohler to Jim Wallis to Francis Collins, the tent is more than big enough.

    If we’re talking about “evangelical,” then IMHO the tent is more than big enough as well. I choose to define “evangelical” to mean “passionately committed to proclaiming and living the good news of the incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.”

    If we’re talking about “Evangelical” in a historical sense, then that term and that identity are hotly contested. Maybe Mohler is right to suggest that someone like me is not “Evangelical” in this sense. But then that would mean a large swathe of people who think they are Evangelical, including most of the faculty at many Evangelical colleges and seminaries, are not “Evangelical.” I’m pretty sure I’d be thought of as moderate-to-conservative if I were on the faculty at many of these places.

    And its at this point of defining capital-E “Evangelical” that I have to just shrug my shoulders after a certain point. That debate has been around for a long time — look at how the Calvinists of the 18th C. spoke of Wesley and vice-versa. We are meek little lambs in comparison to their rhetoric.

    Who cares? It’s more important to seek fidelity to the Kingdom of God in our time than to identify with one historical current or another.

  • An evangelical announces the gospel, or
    the inauguration of the new heavens and new earth.
    That was what Paul hung his hat on.
    Paul was not a schematic theologian —
    he even intimated his own reservation
    regrading speech and argument!
    Like Moses, Paul knew well the vast
    of the Spirit.
    Evangelicals announce/proclaim/herald
    the gospel, therefore,
    because the gospel does not need to be
    beaten into us like some external, foreign thing,
    it only serves to jog our memories.
    The gospel is more of an
    art than anything else.

  • scotmcknight

    OK, I’ll bit on this one: Who defines “evangelical”?

    Two possible answers that really can matter: the scholars (Bebbington and Noll — they are the world’s two best scholars of evangelicalism, and that means the quadrilateral of scripture, conversion, cross and activism). I take their view as determinative in this whole issue.

    But the only other alternative, as I see things, is Christianity Today, and it is more or less on board with Noll and Bebbington. CT is about the only institution big enough and weighty enough to count. I support CT’s decision to put Mohler on the cover as a significant voice in American evangelicalism.

  • I’m not a fan of Al Mohler, do not follow his ministry and am not a Southern Baptist, so I don’t know ~ but has he said that anybody who does not believe in Calvinism, YEC and complementarianism is not Evangelical?

  • DRT

    I had to drive across three states and back this morning….glad to see this is going.

    Village Green – Yes, but are there locked gates going into the churches?

    Class Discrimination – The (trying to think of a semi-ok word), the violence that Mohler does to various people due to some non-elective class to which they belong (gay, women, etc) is quite distasteful in my view. I think it should be A REQUIREMENT of big tent to admit all to the table. I think it is fine to say that there is conflicting teaching regarding this, but please do not take an individual and subject them to such horrific abuse.

    Evangelical – d opderbeck captured what I think it should mean. Matt, Mark, Luke and John are called Evangelicals, right? Mohler, who is necessarily an exclusivist, must not be. But he really does not need to change his theology at all to be included. All he needs to do is give people a bit of a break. He is trying to make blind followers, imo.

    Commentary – I drove through 3 states this morning listening to Orwell’s 1984 since I bought a relevant domain yesterday. The Mohler trick is old. If you make wild claims and get people to buy into them then the small claims are insignificant. To think we should exclude based on his claims is outrageous. He wants followers. Blind followers. He and those like him have 20 years of brain washing done, all he needs is the next 20 and nearly 40 years of wandering will culminate in a new promised land. It is coming. And that is not cynicism.

  • Jeremy

    DRT: While I come from a similar place as you and sense that you and I are pretty close politically and theologically, I find your constant demonization and attribution of malice of the Right to be a bit saddening. It’s a huge leap from Mohler’s hardline views to evil trickery and brainwashing. I HIGHLY doubt Mohler wants blind followers. Few men, unless thoroughly evil, desire that sort of thing.

  • Wow, DRT, after driving across three states and back … perhaps you need a nice cup of tea and a nap. You sound unhinged.

  • DRT

    Well, I was listening to 1984 the whole way.

    I am not saying that Mohler is consciously doing this. But I do believe that it will be done given its present course. There are real and concrete strategic issues with the approach that is being taken here. It may sound alarmist, but look at what has happened so far. It is quoted in the CT article and is also in a wikipedia article:

    If I were to see a moderation of the strategy then I might want to start down scaling the alarm. But, instead of it abating it is growing. The SBC was taken over through a coherent strategic plan over the course of about 30 years. That is fact.

    The next most obvious things going on include a broadening of the rhetoric to include evangelicals. The SBC’s in my state will go into an independent church, force a vote to join them, if they do not join they open another church nearby and siphon off members. Sounds Machiavellian, but it seems to happen.

    Sure it sounds extreme. It is extreme.

    Read the wiki article. Just because I’m crazy does not mean they aren’t after me.

  • Not that anybody is getting hysterical here.

  • Now, if you want to see a real infestation, take a look at this. Not for the squeamish, though:

  • DRT

    I guess it would not do a lot of good to trot out the caution since we are talking about a strategic issue over the next couple of decades. But let me say this. I love right wingers. There are some great ones even in my family. But, if the left could get a coherent united agenda they too could be dangerous. But it does not look like they have a united agenda, or are in any danger of getting one….

  • DRT

    FWIW, my October edition of the Baptist Banner (online here has these 5 articles (and much more!):

    A – 7 characteristics of evangelistic Christians
    1. 1 hour a day prayer
    2. Theology that compels to evangelize. “anyone without Christ is doomed for a literal hell”.
    3. Spend time in the word to recognize those who are lost.
    4. Compassionate, but then they again say they love the word.
    5. Immersed in their communities where they let Christ shine.
    6. They actively go out and evangelize.
    7. They make sure someone in the church is watching and making sure they go out and evangelize.

    B – The secret of Evangelistic Churches
    Go out and evangelize!

    C – Research reveals value of event evangelism
    You can be an A church or a B church. Convert your neighbors at the block party and you too could be an A church!

    D – God’s love: an urgent message for Muslims
    This one is priceless. A whole article full of the horrible things Muslims do and how we need to convert them to Christianity.

    E – Guess who’s close-minded?
    Another priceless article wholly dedicated to bashing liberals.

    F – Revolution via Education, a review
    I love this quote “In these essays I have tried to show how our country has been in the throes of an ongoing socialist revolution since the turn of the last century”

    Please tell me. What are they trying to do? Does this look benign?

  • Looks like they have a point of view and they want to evangelize. But thanks for being so open-minded, DRT.

  • Jeremy

    DRT: I’ve looked that site over and I can’t find anywhere that indicates it’s the official mouthpiece of anyone of note. Also, considering it’s based in Alexandria, I have to wonder just how much influence it actually has. The DC area isn’t exactly considered a hot bed of ultra-conservative Christianity the last I checked.

  • DRT

    Jeremy – you are right. It is not the official mouthpiece of anyone of note.

    Let’s see the SBC denounce them then.

  • DRT

    Jeff, thanks for the infestation, that is great.

  • Daniel

    DRT @216, I thought you were going to say “Some of my best friends are ‘right-wingers'”. LOL. You always make me smile.

  • DRT

    Daniel, they would have saw through my ruse..:)

  • Taylor G

    I’d like to echo Susan N @187 and thank both Scot and Dopderbeck for helping navigate this 3rd way. Seriously, I was in a church where women couldn’t vote in congregational meetings, and where we were told that Catholics might be bearing up arms to invade our land. The need for sanity is so real. Yet the liberal mainline is not such a great alternative for those of us actually interested in a classical Christian expression of faith. So thanks for giving us the 3rd way albeit a slightly lonely one.

  • dopderbeck

    Scot (#208) — Bebbington and Noll are incredibly great historians. And their historical description surely is accurate, as far as it goes.

    But how far does it really go?

    What Christian denomination / movement is not about “scripture, conversion, cross and activism”? Serious Catholics are about this; so are serious Orthodox. Now, if you want to say “Biblical inerrancy, soteriological exclusivism, penal substitution, and moralism” — is that really a more refined historical descriptor? (Before anyone jumps on me, I am not intending these terms to be pejorative, just more precise). See, even the meaning of these historical descriptors can be contested. The offer a nice heuristic, but the really interesting stuff is in the interstices of meaning.

    I think the question we should be asking is, “what does ‘evangelical’ mean in the 2010’s and beyond?” No historian gets to determine this. We determine it.

    Re: CT putting Mohler on the cover — I don’t “support” this if CT somehow is supposed to speak for what “evangelical” should mean or where evangelical Christians should go. But if CT is a for-profit glossy magazine and not anything like the official organ of an established Church, my “support” or lack thereof is irrelevant. Al Mohler on the cover sells magazines. It produces comments all over the blogosphere and generates buzz. That’s CT’s bottom line.

    Again, I think at the end of the day we should shrug and say, “who cares was CT does or doesn’t do?” CT doesn’t speak for me (nor does CC, or Commonweal, or Sojourners, or any other magazine, scholarly journal, or blog). If I want a Magesterium, I’ll become Catholic — at least their official documents have weight and depth.

  • dopderbeck

    Jeff (#212) said: “Wow, DRT, after driving across three states and back … perhaps you need a nice cup of tea and a nap.”

    I respond: can we please avoid this sort of snark here? It’s tiring, not funny, and detracts from the conversation.

  • Dopderbeck, Christianity Today is not a denominational magazine but one aimed at Evangelicals in general. For the 30 or so years I have been subscribing to it, it has had a pretty broad and diverse Evangelical readership, and even outside of Evangelicalism. Al Mohler on the cover would be no special draw for most of its readers.

    Thank you for your response regarding post #212. But when someone’s rhetoric has become so highly charged, they need to lighten up. And when they have become unhinged, the conversation needs a distraction before there is a total meltdown.

  • scotmcknight


    Because evangelicalism doesn’t have a magisterium, and because both Bebbington and Noll are such good historians and define those terms clearly enough to distinguish evangelicalism from mainliners and RCC and EO, CT does help us dramatically in creating the core and suggesting the boundaries of what evangelicalism is.

    CT has to make money, but I’m very confident they didn’t choose to do this article for bottom line considerations because asking Molly Worthen to write it, to see what she did write, and to see that the blogosphere is not all that happy, means to me that they weren’t courting favor with the SBC. I know Mark Galli and David Neff, and I trust them deeply.

    CT doesn’t speak for you or for me; but it does have considerable weight in creating public opinion.

  • Scot,

    A little off topic (maybe), but have you read Donald Dayton’s work on evangelical historiography, esp. his critiques of Marsden, Noll, et. al? I think Dayton’s onto something, though he hasn’t gained near the traction of the other group of historians.

    Just wondering.

  • Scot – I have naively lumped evangelical into the Mohler camp because that is what I have been most exposed to. Sad that I just discovered people like you who have a different and more historically grounded claim to the tradition.

    Still trying to figure out if the Big Tent is my tent but if Mohler were invited in, I am sure I would be asked to leave. Someone said they feel like they had their “tent blown away”…I kind of feel that way. Someone recently said to me “You are searching for a tribe” and I guess I am but it sounds like all the tribes are under attack.

  • scotmcknight

    Yes, I’ve read Dayton, who contends we have to see evangelicalism through the eyes of the Finney revivals, etc., which were much more Arminian.

  • dopderbeck

    Scot – historical descriptions are not necessarily “boundaries.” To use MacIntyre’s phrase, living traditions become “extended” over time. Description isn’t proscription.

  • EricG

    I agree that it does not look like CT is publishing this article out of profit motive. I suspect they knew it would anger some of the more conservative subscribers and advertisers (how could they not?) I view it as a fairly bold move.

    I don’t follow how CT is essential to a future big tent, as Scot suggests. How many evangelical leaders under 40 read it? Compared to, say, how many read this blog?

  • EricW

    From the CT article:

    Some faculty were cautiously optimistic. They had known Mohler when he was a student at Southern, where he wrote his dissertation on evangelical responses to Karl Barth, worked as Honeycutt’s personal assistant, and was firmly in the moderate fold. He led student protests in support of women in ministry, and in 1984 lent his signature to a full-page ad in the Louisville Courier-Journal protesting the SBC’s recent resolution condemning female ordination. However, those who had followed Mohler’s career since then—and read the editorials he wrote as editor of the Georgia Baptist Convention’s Christian Index—understood that Mohler had since become an “unquestioned fundamentalist,” Jack Harwell, editor of the moderate monthly Baptists Today, told The Courier-Journal.

    Mohler admits that his thinking changed. When he arrived at Southern, he adopted his professors’ views because he was “raised with a predisposition to trust anything with a Southern Baptist label,” he says. He embraced an egalitarian view of gender roles because “I’d never come across a complementarian argument. That was not presented in class.”

    One day, toward the end of his studies, the Student Evangelical Fellowship invited Carl F. H. Henry to campus. In Mohler’s recollection, the faculty disdained Henry as a “northern evangelical”—a term they rarely distinguished from “fundamentalist”—and treated him rudely, making no arrangements for hospitality. They left Henry, a Southern Baptist and a trained theologian with a Ph.D. from Boston University, in Mohler’s care.

    Strolling the campus grounds, Henry asked Mohler how he justified women’s ordination. After Mohler rehearsed the argument he had learned in class, “Dr. Henry looked at me with a look of intellectual shock and asked me how, if I held to the inerrancy of Scripture, I could possibly hold to the egalitarian position. I tried to defend it and discovered that I didn’t have much ammunition,” Mohler says. “He looked at me … and he said, ‘You will, one day, be embarrassed by this conversation.’ Well, I was embarrassed by the conversation right then! … In 24 hours, I came to the chilling conclusion that the hermeneutic required for an egalitarian position was incompatible with the inerrancy of Scripture.”

    “In 24 hours, I came to the chilling conclusion that the hermeneutic required for an egalitarian position was incompatible with the inerrancy of Scripture.”


  • EricW

    And a bit more:

    Within three years of Mohler’s inauguration, Southern Seminary’s faculty and administration had turned over almost completely. He asserted control over the seminary’s hiring and tenure processes, insisting that even inerrantist evangelicals hired as compromise candidates were unacceptable if they supported women’s ordination. “It was like John Grisham’s The Firm,” says Carey Newman, director of Baylor University Press, who joined Southern’s faculty in 1993 but left after five tense years. “Al recruited young lieutenants, students who were spies in the classes who would report back to him what was being said in every classroom.”

    The seminary’s Abstract of Principles did not address women’s ordination, but Mohler and the trustees believed that faculty should conform to what they considered the prevailing sentiment among Southern Baptist laypeople. Through a combination of forced resignations and “golden parachute” retirement packages, Mohler purged the School of Theology, closed the School of Social Work, and replaced moderates with inerrantist faculty who agreed with him on abortion, homosexuality, women’s ordination, and his brand of Reformed theology. (As proof of the seminary’s current “diversity,” some faculty protest that they are only four-point Calvinists.)

    – – –

    How supremely ironic that the CT piece on Mohler was written by a woman, thus possibly increasing his misogyny due to the somewhat negative and controversial depiction it gives of him while demonstrating the bankruptcy of complementarianism’s strange idea that women can only fill certain “roles” and not others.

  • Aaron

    “As proof of the seminary’s current “diversity,” some faculty protest that they are only four-point Calvinists.” – thats funny – like not affirming the “L” makes much difference in light of irresistible grace & unconditional election.

  • dopderbeck

    The saddest part of that story is how Henry confused his doctrine of inspiration with hermeneutics.

  • “If I want a Magesterium, I’ll become Catholic.”

    Because it’s what you want, whichever one you choose, will not be a Magesterium. Once you choose your paternity, it ceases to be your paternity.

  • DRT

    per EricW:

    How supremely ironic that the CT piece on Mohler was written by a woman, thus possibly increasing his misogyny due to the somewhat negative and controversial depiction it gives of him while demonstrating the bankruptcy of complementarianism’s strange idea that women can only fill certain “roles” and not others.

    I did not appreciate it…I don’t go there. I bet there are more than a few ruffled feathers..

  • cas

    I have an essay on forgiveness in this month’s CT. In it, quote a number of theologians and none of them are conservative, as far as I recall. Among them are Neibuhr, Volf, Bonhoeffer, and L. Gregory Jones. It’s not the cover, but it demonstrates a theological range in the issue.

  • dopderbeck

    @frank beckwith – don’t take my comment as catholic bashing. But I don’t understand your comment. Is it wrong to want a magesterium?

  • pds

    DRT #210 makes what I consider to be an outrageous and insulting comment suggesting that Mohler is part of an evil Orwellian conspiracy.

    Jeff #212 makes a lighthearted comment pointing out how outrageous that comment was.

    dopderbeck #226 ignores the outrageous comment by his tribe member and criticizes the lighthearted comment by the person from the other tribe.

    This says something about the size and nature of Dop’s tents. He may have a big tent of sorts. But when it comes to judging comments, his tent shrinks and shifts on the spectrum based on content.

    I say this in part to support Jeff, who is in the minority tribe on this blog. I know what it feels like.

    I say this also because we all have multiple “tents.” Some of them are not as big as others.

  • PDS,

    On the discussion of “tents,” and their relative size, see my comment 203 above.

  • dopderbeck

    pds(#242) — really? How odd that you would support snarkiness with an ad hominem on me!! Especially after you noted in #197 that “I very much value Dopderbeck’s comments, and I feel grateful to him for the times he has supported me in the past when I have been attacked here.” Are there two different pds’s?

    In any event, I have not been the one advancing the concept of a “Big Tent.” When it comes to fellowship with other Christians, the space is as large as the Creed, which is pretty spacious. When it comes to public Truth in the public square, some things are true and some are not, and I confess I lack tolerance for things that clearly are not true. So, I suppose as a realist and not a relativist, my tent is smaller. I’ve never claimed otherwise.

  • dopderbeck

    Oh, and while DRT and I agreed on some things on this thread, we’ve disagreed plenty and widely before — see the various threads on judgment and justice. But I don’t recall DRT attacking me personally on those threads.

  • pds

    Dop #242,

    My comment was not an “ad hominem.” I am not attacking you to win some other argument. You continue to misuse that term. Not all observations about others are “ad hominems.” Look it up.

    I am making an observation about you. I think it is accurate and charitable. Show me how it is not.

    Your “acceptable tone and style in comments” tent is smaller than mine. I didn’t feel the need to chastise anyone’s tone on this thread until I saw Jeff being unfairly criticized.

    You are more sensitive to Jeff’s comment than I am. Who is right? In my opinion, neither of us. Maybe that means you are more loving and kind than me. You care about DRT’s feelings more than I do. Maybe I care about Jeff’s feelings more than you do.

    My basic point, which I made before, but I guess I need to clarify is this: we all have multiple “tents.” Some of them are not as big as others.

    Scot has big tents and littler tents. It depends which tent you are talking about. His tent of “fundamentalists” is different than my tent. His includes Mohler; mine does not. I think my tent is more charitable.

    One thing that struck me about the emerging church is that they talked of big tents, but they were so critical of other evangelicals. One leader I heard speak was constantly ridiculing mainstream evangelicals and their styles of worship. His orthodoxy tent was larger than mine, but so was his “worthy of ridicule” tent.

  • Jeremy

    PDS: maybe you need to spend a little time reading your own comments with some critical distance. Maybe you don’t MEAN them to be ad hominem, but they sure as heck come across that way.

    While DRT’s comment was clearly somewhat…unhelpful, Jeff’s response came across as condescending and derisive. I guess David could have been fair and jumped on them both, but DRT was already getting it from multiple angles. DRT’s correction comes in the form of arguing back, while Jeff was clearly being snarky so a little push back isn’t unwarranted.

    Personally, I thought Jeff’s response was funny and uninsulting, but my sense of humor allows for that sort of snark. Not everyone sees it that way. *shrug*

    Also, I think Scot should start posting regularly about Mohler. Based on the reader response from the various times he’s popped up, Scot would make a killing on ad revenue. haha

  • dopderbeck

    At this point I’m waiting for two more comments so I can then jump in and be #250… 🙂

  • EricW


    Here’s one more comment so you can be #250.

    Al Mohler and Brian McLaren go into a bar.

    The bartender says, “What will you have, gentlemen?”

    Brian says to the bartender: “I’ll have a martini. As for my friend Al, give him a….” (you finish the joke)

  • Barry

    holy smokes, that’s a lot of comments!

  • DRT

    I understand that my comments can be controversial, but I do want to further point out that I will support them if questioned. I don’t believe that I am making any comments that cannot be extrapolated from the information we have.

    The large time frame strategic trajectories of our world are the most important element to determine the future. I am not saying these people are evil, not at all. They have shown that they are more than capable of thinking at a strategic level and then having the operational expertise to execute for a few *decades*. There is more than a little power in that.

    People participating is a long range strategic move like this do not have to be bad. As a matter of fact I believe that 100% of them think they are doing more than good. They feel they are doing God’s will. That makes it even more critical to think about the implications of their theology and practices. It’s simply practical.

    But seriously. Isn’t it disconcerting to you to have 16 million people who, despite all evidence and education to the contrary for more than a century, are taught that they have to set aside their reason and the reason of the best minds in the world so that they believe a group of people who took over a religious organization? That is what we have here. There is nothing fundamental in the SBC that says they have to believe such things. It is only because a group of like minded people decided to wage political war on the SBC and take it over. Now it is being taught that all 16 million people have to believe it.

    Is it bad of me to just be pointing out what really are facts so that people will think about it?

  • Isn’t it amazing that so many are upset because of fundamentalism and yet they are behaving in exactly the same way which made so many of you leave “fundamentalism” (and let’s cut the bull – the “neo-Reformed” are not fundamentalists. African Pentecostalism, like I grew up in – where haircut styles, clothing and TV ownership are tightly controlled from the pulpit – is fundamentalism.)

    One more thing – when evangelicalism, as a term, was first coined, what did that term actually mean? I believe it came out of the Reformation and as I recall, the idea of a “big tent” would provoke serious projectile vomiting from those who coined it…

  • scotmcknight


    I think you’d have a hard time convincing scholars that “evangelical” derives from the Lutheran “evangelisch.” It’s an 18th Century movement in the Western world that shaped that term, but origins don’t determine meaning completely.

    This term in the West is not just Edwards; it also includes Wesley and Finney and then into the 20th Century revivalism of Billy Sunday and Billy Graham, and then also John Stott.

    You can call whomever you like to be “fundamentalist” in Africa, but we’ve got our own brands over here too, brother.

  • pds

    Jeremy #247,

    “Ad hominem” is a form of argument. As I explained, I did not engage in it here. Maybe you can explain what you think it means, and why I am guilty of it here.

    Civil discourse is important to me. If you want to accuse me of something, please be specific and give examples.

    I am looking forward to reading the next 250 comments here.

  • I fear my point has been missed re. African Pentecostalism. I was simply pointing out that crying out “fundamentalist” to everything which is not “big tent” fails when you consider what the pejorative definition of fundamentalist is supposed to be, not that African pentecostalism alone is fundamentalists. (I live in London and have done since my birth. My parents are Ghanaian, however)

    No one is denying that neo-reformed doesn’t equal evangelicalism, however there is more agreement between the names you mentioned (with the possible exception of Finney) and Mohler and some of the folks who seem to be in the crosshairs of men like Mohler…

  • I mean, “…THAN some of the folks who seem to be in the crosshairs of men like Mohler.”

  • scotmcknight

    Douglas, I’m not sure “crying out fundamentalist” is what I did — did you see how often the term was used for Mohler in the article? Furthermore, it’s a fair, analytical term for many today. Question for you: Do you think Wesley would be invited to speak at Southern? at the Gospel Coalition? at Together for the gospel? But I would say that the term “evangelical” isn’t best defined by saying “Reformers” but by looking to the 18th Century to 20th Century movement. I like your emphasis on the agreement between the folks; that’s what we pray for.

  • Aaron

    What I don’t understand is the appeal that Fundamentalists have? What is drawing people that way? Is it personality driven? or does the economic state of the the US have anything to do with it? I mean what is the appeal?

  • Michael D

    Could it be that the term “evangelical” is one that has outlived its usefulness? I think it died some time ago, stinks to high heaven, and needs a proper burial. It is impossible to think of anything evangelical that is not entwined with some sort of American cultural values and biases. This always, to my mind, makes whatever is evangelical be about something other than Jesus the Christ and him crucified. Perhaps just as it the early evangelicals sought to distance themselves from their fundamentalist past, it is now time to distance ourselves from our evangelical past.

    I’ll offer up a term for whatever it is that is replacing evangelicalism. I’ve referred to myself (tongue in cheek) as a Mysterion for the past few years. Anything that is not Christ I have been trying to disentangle myself from. This is a continuing and never ending process. To be a Mysterion is to admit one doesn’t know very much, but desires more than anything to know Jesus as he is.

  • I am not a follower of Mohler, so I agree in part… but just to add some additional thoughts…

    It’s always tough to summarize an entire group of people. This isn’t to say that we should entirely avoid generalizations (because that would be impossible), but that we need to be careful when describing broad trends.

    I’m at an evangelical seminary, and on the whole, it wouldn’t fit this trend. Just as an example, I know many at my seminary that want to remove pre-millenialism from essential doctrinal statements and allow for amillenialism — which would be considered blasphemous for some. Of course, there are evangelicals who argue for other non-fundamentalist views, like John Stott who argues for annihilationism. (Maybe Stott isn’t as vocal as Mohler, but he was ranked by Time Magazine as one of their most influential people.)

    I think it’s important to specify the rifts within evangelicalism, as well as to recognize that CT does not represent everyone.

  • AM

    In regards to Christianity Today, I followed the reader comments responding to the Mohler article, and CT repeatedly deleted non-abusive comments that were critical of Mohler and/or Reformed theology. So, now they censor and shut out anyone who disagrees with them? Isn’t that what Mohler did at his seminary?

  • nathan

    it seems to me, for those of you who feel the need to carry water for Mohler, that the essence of the Big Tent is that secondary/tertiary issues are not elevated to litmus tests of Christian identity.

    YEC’ers and complementarians abound in the Big Tent, but the moment a YEC’er says that his view is essential to faithful Christian witness (i.e. Ken Ham) or the same about complementarianism (i.e. Grudem) then they have effectively poisoned the Big Tent. That’s not hysteria or bashing, that’s a concern for the integrity of the movement to be focused on what matters.

    It’s also something to worry about because nobody is going to go to hell because they believe in evolution or because they are an egalitarian…therefore, in the Big Tent, it shouldn’t be elevated to distinctives for Christian identity.

    My parents are YEC’ers and complementarians and they are consistently offended by Mohler.

    Just something to think about…

  • nathan

    one more thing…

    regardless of the academic/scholarly definitions of “fundamentalism” it seems to me in popular parlance it speaks of any one who elevates secondary/tertiary issues of opinion/preference to that of moral conviction and then pushes those opinions on people.

    Mohler fits the bill…

  • Bev

    An earlier commenter made the point that big-tent folks (in Christian and in secular society) are not fighters. This is true, practically inevitable, and will always leave the inclusive point of view at a disadvantage, in the purely human context. But, since when have Christians been called upon to use only human methods, especially soulish fighting of any kind? Creed-believing, Christ-following Christians have access to much better resources. However, it would probably be helpful to continually insist (without fighting about it) on a basic definition of evangelical, which truly does include our brothers and sisters on all continents. Something like “an evangelical is a follower of Christ who is always prepared to declare the Good News that Christ has come, has died for our sins, has risen as our Lord and, with the authority and power given to Him by God Almighty, stands ready to save (justify) fill, empower and send forth whosoever will”.

    This being said, what is in a word? If the postmodern viewpoint has taught us anything it’s that words are fungible (as the economists say of money). I looked up fungible in the OED to be sure that this was a reasonable use of the word and was delighted to find this quote from the 1964 Federal Reporter (U.S.) CCCXXXIV. 408/1 “During a segment of its becomes fungibly commingled in a common pipeline with gas destined for resale in interstate commerce.” Our words do have meaning, but our arguments over them can become so much vapour. Our arguments can also, all to easily, play into the hands of the enemy. There is also such a thing as preferring the argument to any potential solution.