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Seminar 4 - Phil Johnson - Dead Right Part II

Phil, evidently enjoying a conversation, showed up late for this seminar. It took a tap on the shoulder from his wife to get him down to this basement room. Phil, it turns out, likes to talk. Who knew?

This session is called “Dead Right Part 2.” Part 1 was a seminar from last year’s conference and Phil gave what he felt was a good critique of the fundamentalist movement. It turned out that it was not very well-received in some circles and generated a great deal of controversy. So this is a whole new seminar and not only a reworked version of last year’s material.

He will begin with a review on the discussion so far. But first, a few definitions:

  • Fundamentalist: “An Evangelical who is willing to contend earnestly for the essential truth of the gospel and is unwilling to enter into an alliance with anyone who denies an essential truth of the gospel.” The term has been co-opted and now has primarily negative connotations for the vast majority of believers and even unbelievers. Phil will use the word in a positive sense because it speaks of positive beliefs. Because they are unwilling to compromise, they are inherently militant, but in a good, biblical way. Fundamentalist recognizes that a degree of militancy is legitimate and even what Scripture requires of us. This is, though, not a physical violence requiring deadly force. We would die for our faith but would never kill or harm others to achieve our goals.
  • Evangelical: “Someone who truly affirms both the formal and material principles of the Reformation.” The formal principle is sola scriptura and the formal principle is sola fide and all that flow naturally and inevitably from them.
  • Neo-Evangelical: Someone who identifies with Evangelicals and affirms an essentially Evangelical confession of faith but who formally and emphatically rejects both the militancy and separatism of fundamentalism. The essential philosophy behind this was wrong from the beginning as it is premised on compromise. This view has gained almost complete control of the visible Evangelical movement in our day. Most people today think that this is what historic Evangelicalism is all about.

Phil finds that both movements, fundamentalism and Evangelicalism, consign him to the other. He is an outsider to both of them. Evangelicalism is much larger and popular than fundamentalism today. Phil loves true fundamentalists and the principles of true fundamentalism. Last year Phil suggested that the fundamentalist movement has been a great and spectacular failure. It began with respectable men, began to be dominated by characters, and produced a menagerie of scoundrels. It has ceased to have any significant influence as a movement.

Phil recognizes that there are certain, grave dangers in being too independent as Christians. The kind of dependency he calls for embraces a particular kind of accountability. Our primarily accountability ought to be to our own church and our own conscience as influenced by the Word of God. We cannot allow ourselves to blindly follow the leaders of any movement.

That ends the summary of last year’s seminar. And this is where I began to get really confused. As you may have realized by now, it turns out that this seminar was, in many ways, premised on an ongoing discussion which I have not been privy to and which was begun right here at last year’s Shepherd’s Conference. I had heard a little bit about the controversy about Phil’s last seminar that was fought at the blog SharperIron.org, but I had never taken the time to trace it back. There were lots of laughs that rippled across the room that I did not understand. So I am guessing I gained less from this seminar than many of the other attendees. If you are interested in reading more about this, you can find a complete transcript of today’s seminar posted here.

And that takes us to today’s dinner break. I am not entirely sure what I am doing or who I am doing it with, but I’m sure I’ll have a good time. And following dinner, I am looking forward to Al Mohler’s upcoming speech which will begin at 7.