In spring of 2008, I wrote a series of posts on the relationship between fundamentalism and evangelicalism as it related to Together for the Gospel. In them, I pointed out how liberal fundamentalism and conservative evangelicalism, as movements, could learn much from each other. I saw Together for the Gospel as a perfect venue for this, and in many ways I still do.
In the intervening months, my opinion has changed somewhat. As I’ve reached the end of my undergrad studies, I’ve seen less value in the convergence of movements and more value in the protection and cultivation of the local church. As far as the convergence of two movements can facilitate this, I’m all for it. But if this perceived convergence only strengthens a movement and decentralizes the local church, I’m very much against it. As such, I want to write a few blog posts on what can be learned from such conferences about keeping the main thing the main thing: the Gospel.
But before doing so, there’s something in my soul that’s been bothering me. It’s my propensity to get excited about the speaker instead of the message… it’s something I hear often in my casual conversation with my friends. And I know I partake: we get excited about people, sometimes in such a way that it practically eclipses the message.
I see Advance 09 and the Acts 29 network as good forces in highlighting the resurgence of the local church, and Gospel Coalition is a great conference for maintaining the centrality of the Cross. However, some of the superstardom in evangelicalism seems to be imported with these conferences and movements… and it’s something I must be on guard against. Mark Dever said it himself at the opening of Together for the Gospel… they were using this stardom in evangelicalism as a tool to deliver a message. Is this not pragmatism? And if it is, what should we do to combat it?
While there will always be some people who are in the spotlight more often, it would behoove us to not get swept up in that mentality. It happens whenever what Piper says goes as Bible without thought, reading, and prayer. It happens whenever Driscoll is defended for turning people’s minds towards crudeness on his way to Biblical truth. It happens whenever I check out and am not a Berean simply because someone resonates with my theological position. In this way the local church can be hurt by following individuals instead of the message of the Gospel.
Fundamentalism seems to be less tied into superstardom. First, it’s not very theologically unified compared to the New Calvinism, which at least has a starting point. Second, the mentality in fundamentalism tends to cause cautiousness when leaders speak. This leads to the theological impreciseness found in the first point. Third, the movement is so fragmented that when one leader speaks, fewer listen. So for us, who are coming out of fundamentalism into conservative evangelicalism (or the “convergence”, if you prefer to see it that way), let’s be careful to not even come close to enshrining men. Instead, let us always point to the message of the Cross. What can we be doing to highlight the message instead of the messenger in America’s (and evangelicalism’s) star-centric mentality?