December 17, 2017

Convergence: FrontLine Sept/Oct 2016


FrontLine — September/October 2016 | VOLUME 26 | NUMBER 5


John Vaughn

In early 2010 an article by Ben Wright appeared on the website titled, “An Evangelical Fundamentalist Convergence?” Pastor Wright saw hope in such a convergence, but we use it here with little optimism. After all, “convergence” is the antonym of separation. The antonym is needed now to avoid the confusion resulting from the lack of a clear term when striving to understand what is likely a new movement. For example, some just call the Convergents “Calvinists,” as if their recent identification with Calvinism were the root of all choices that separatists find objectionable. Others use the unhelpful phrase “these young guys,” as though younger Convergents consistently move away from separatism just because they are young.

Nevertheless, something is going on—something that looks very much like the self-styled “Neo- Evangelicalism” of sixty years ago; something that in its efforts to engage the culture seems to be, again, embracing the culture. Therein lies the danger of the pursuit of relevance as an end in itself. In seeking to stay in touch with the ever-changing culture, churches can think themselves separate from it while moving away from their moorings. They can soon occupy the space that belonged to the world not long ago, no longer secure on the foundations on which they were built.

This issue of FrontLine offers an appeal for wisdom, discernment, and caution in this regard. It is not addressed just to those who have rejected separatism in favor of convergence nor to those who have never been separatists so much as to separatists seeking answers—those who are resisting pressure to conform their ministries to this movement. However, if anything in this issue comes as a rebuke to those who are dividing their churches over changes they promised not to make when they were called, or to those who have brought their churches to the brink of ruin with premature change, we pray it will be taken as a loving rebuke to be considered carefully.

The following articles are offered to encourage readers in their understanding of the specific topics addressed. Some deal with the positions the Convergents themselves held to without apology until recently. The first article, by Dr. Mike Harding, reviews the fact that “The Scriptures Are the Final Authority for Belief and Behavior.” Behavior is the tip of the iceberg, but the “dignity of its movement,” as one author put it, is due to what is under the surface: belief and biblical truth. Dr. Harding explains that biblical applications for life are not inherently legalistic. The claim that we should not teach what is not specifically stated in the Bible, is not specifically stated in the Bible. In contrast, Dr. Harding reviews the principles on which we base biblical decisions for all of life.

The second article is presented as a questionand- answer interview gleaned from personal conversations and correspondence with the Editor initiated by students, singles, young couples, and senior citizens who have felt driven from their churches by Convergents. As with all authors writing for FrontLine, the Editor takes full responsibility for the content of articles appearing over his name.

Next, a provocative article by Pastor Daniel Unruh addresses the dilemma of those who are trying to explain “Why I Left my Fundamental Church.” This pointed article is included not only to provide wise counsel for vulnerable, trusting believers but also to those who have had to leave their churches because of Convergence. Then, the ever important question of music is addressed again by FrontLine as veteran music pastor Dr. Tim Fisher and FrontLine editor Dr. John Vaughn revisit their well-known principles and personal observations published elsewhere over the last twenty years. Their article, “Approving Things That Are Excellent,” adds unapologetic opinion on the controversial and divisive topic of Sovereign Grace Music, increasingly used by Fundamentalists—almost militantly so by Convergents.

An important article by Dr. Kevin Schaal on “Leading a Congregation Ethically through Change” offers transparent and humble encouragement on the right way for pastors and other leaders to achieve ministry progress without driving a church prematurely into progressive positions and practices against their will or understanding. And the closing article is taken with permission from Dr. Randy Jaeggli’s book on beverage alcohol, Christians and Alcohol—A Scriptural Case for Abstinence. Specifically, we are reprinting the Preface by Dr. Steve Hankins and the Introduction by Dr. Jaeggli. We encourage every reader to obtain and study this book.

John Vaughn is the President of the Fundamental Baptist Fellowship International.


The Believer’s Certainty That the Scriptures Are the Final Authority for Belief and Behavior
Michael W. Harding

In the current church-growth movement and mission techniques, scriptural methods and principles are being displaced by pragmatic considerations.

An Interview with Dr. Vaughn on Current Trends in Fundamentalism

What is happening to our churches, our schools—to Fundamentalism?

“Why I Left My Fundamental Baptist Church”
Dan Unruh

Long-established churches are being changed through the hidden agenda of Convergent leadership.

Approving Things That Are Excellent: Discernment in Music
Tim Fisher and John C. Vaughn

The great need is for abounding love that approves things that are excellent. Discernment is, indeed, the missing gift.

Leading a Congregation Ethically through Change
Kevin Schaal

Several years ago I led our church into a crisis. Yes, I made a mess.

Christians and Alcohol: A Scriptural Case for Abstinence
Randy Jaeggli

Drinking alcohol is the single greatest substance-abuse epidemic in American society

Pastor’s Insert

First Partaker: Differentiating Holiness from Legalism — Mark Minnick

Bring … the Books: The Crook in the Lot by Thomas Boston — review by Gordon Dickson

Straight Cuts: Knowing God’s Will—Colossians 1:9 — Keith Gephart

Windows: Seeing God — Mark Love

  • Mail Bag
  • On the Home Front
  • Wit & Wisdom
    David Atkinson
  • At a Glance The Story of David, Part 8
    Layton Talbert
  • Newsworthy
    Robert Condict
  • On Language & Scripture
    Mark L. Ward Jr.
  • Regional Report
  • God Is Big on Personal Responsibility
    Jerry Sivnksty

Our sincere thanks to Dr. John Vaughn for coordinating this issue of FrontLine magazine.

Click here to subscribe to the magazine.


  1. John says in his article:

    “Nevertheless, something is going on—something that looks very much like the self-styled “Neo- Evangelicalism” of sixty years ago; something that in its efforts to engage the culture seems to be, again, embracing the culture. Therein lies the danger of the pursuit of relevance as an end in itself. In seeking to stay in touch with the ever-changing culture, churches can think themselves separate from it while moving away from their moorings. They can soon occupy the space that belonged to the world not long ago, no longer secure on the foundations on which they were built.”

    I find this interesting, coming from a fellowship comprised of so many graduates of BJU. Part of the Fundamentalist heritage and practice of the past–even after Billy Graham–included networking and loose coalitions between Baptists, Presbyterians, Evangelical Methodists, non-denominational Bible churches, and the like. Today’s so-called “Convergents” are not so much gravitating toward the parallels to yesterday’s Billy Graham–the Rick Warrens and Andy Stanleys of the world–but more to the expositiors, the reforming (not just a Calvinist reference)… people whose feet are pointed in a different direction than the predecessors of 60 years ago referenced by John.

    I am not saying the past is irrelevant… but at the same time, we must look at more than just one small sample of the past. The “Convergence” being read may involve some measure of movement… but I do not think it is accurate to make undeveloped comparisons to the past. For better or worse, the issues aren’t quite the same. Our Fundamentalist predecessors prioritized interdenominationalism of some sort much differently than we do today–see organizations and events of the past such as the ACCC or the World Congress of Fundamentalists.

    The past speaks to us, and we should learn from it. But it isn’t always going to dictate precisely our behavior, because the circumstances aren’t always the same. There still may be things to consider, and cautions may need to be communicated. But the broad generalizations aren’t helpful.

  2. Bert Perry says:

    Regarding the 9 Marks article, it’s worth noting that the author does not really spell out what is objectionable about this convergence. Are conservative evangelicals compromising the Solas, the Fundamentals (theological ones), or the Trinity? From what, exactly, are we to separate? To paraphrase the opening paragraph, convergence with the people of God is generally speaking a good thing.

  3. Don Johnson says:

    Congratulations to Greg and Bert as the first two commenters at P&D. We have long had a plan to enable comments, but were frustrated by an obscure setting and not enough time to search it out. An update a couple of weeks ago brought it to light and comments are now enabled.

    As to the content of your comments, my only counter is to note that you are commenting on the opening editorial of the magazine, one that by its nature is a generalization of the contents. I hope you and all other readers will purchase the magazine (or better yet subscribe) and read the contents for the specifics you are asking for.

    I am not sure about the relevance of Greg’s comment about BJU. The FBFI is not BJU. We are Baptists first, and we are a Baptist fellowship. I am not sure that we should be faulted for that. Furthermore, we are not so exclusive that we never have contact with men outside our circles, so I fail to see how the objection carries much weight on the present discussion.

    Finally, I’d like to say to all that our comments policy going forward is that we will post comments that we deem constructive and move the conversation forward. We will not post comments that generate heat rather than light. We expect the comments to be becoming of a Christian testimony. We also should note that this is a volunteer effort and we are limited by time constraints. Comments may not appear as quickly as could be desired as a consequence.

    And when I say “we” in the paragraph above, it mostly means me. Although there are others with “moderator power,” it is mostly me that manages the website. Thus commentors will have to bear with me and my judgements. I hope to provide an opportunity for open discussion and do not have a problem with disagreement. If I find the topic becoming too emotional/heated I will probably impose my own cooling off period before making responses myself. I would appreciate the prayers of the brethren with respect to these duties.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

    • Don,

      I have in fact purchases an online subscription, and have as well a hard copy of this issue sent by a mutual friend from NYC. :)

      As to the relevance of BJU… yes, the FBFI is a Baptist fellowship. But have the people you are targeting ceased to be Baptist? How would one distinguish between full-fledged “Convergence” and what you have called “contact with men outside our circles”? Certainly, in days past, our predecessors might have had contact with and even admired leading figures of the day without adopting all of their peculiarities and positions. They even had venues where those things were given more attention and priority than they appear to be in our day, at least in “this circle.” Fundamentalist leaders of past generations were involved early on in organizations such as the NAE… and even after that was seen as problematic, new organizations and venues were formed to encourage broader interaction (ACCC, various Fundamentalist and Baptist Congresses, and so on).

      Is perhaps part of what is contributing to this “Convergence” that the authors find so alarming is that we have failed to have the kind of priority on broader camaraderie that our predecessors seemed to have valued? Those predecessors had more specifically defined parameters for their churches and identities (Baptists and Presbyterians fellowshipped, but went back to serve in their respective churches distinguished by distinctive beliefs), yet were able to encourage and benefit from one another, and even maintain close friendships. One such example: My wife and her family grew up at Wealthy Street Baptist Church under David Otis Fuller. Fuller was a close friend of J. Gresham Machen, who served as Fuller’s best man at his wedding,. Machen wrote a letter of greeting to the fledgling GARBC that emerged out of the ashes of the Baptist Bible Union, published in one of the early editions of the _Baptist Bulletin_. It’s difficult to imagine such a thing happening today in “our circles”–such an attempt might be seen as an inappropriate “Convergence.”

      I understand the issues were different back then. I also understand that even then, people took time to arrive at their positions and conclusions. BJ Jr was with the NAE for several years. The aforementioned Fuller was on the board at Wheaton until the 1970s. There are other examples that could be cited.

      The point is, I don’t think it’s fair to characterize today’s “Convergents” as being the same as yesterdays “neo-evangelicals” or even being what Barack Obama is to the USA (as Dan Unruh so unhelpfully makes the comparison as he concludes his article), certainly without at least being more specific than this issue is wont to do. There may be issues for concern amongst these “Convergents,” but it seems to come from those who will not acknowledge the possibility of concerns amongst the ranks of those criticizing… especially when the ones being criticized were often trained and discipled by the ones being critical.

      If this is truly meant to be a heartfelt plea and rebuke motivated by love, it might also be wise for things like some acknowledgement of personal fault, some kind of acknowledgement of praise for those who have left that have shown some kind of discernment, though perhaps misdirected in the assessment of the ones providing criticism. As it stands, my concern is that what has been provided in this latest issue that John V. is introducing will have less of a corrective effect and more of a polarizing one.

      • Don Johnson says:

        I don’t think the connections you use to illustrate are real parallels (Fuller, Machen, etc). We have had and continue to have connections with some Presbyterians and other non-Baptists. Our energy is primarily devoted to our own ministries, however.

        As far as the Convergents are concerned, there clearly is a desire on the part of some to adopt some evangelical philosophies while also attempting to retain the fundamentalist label. I think that is the point of the criticism.

  4. I understand that there has been some measure of interaction. However, I think it is also fair to say that interaction is not what it once was. My point in raising it is to suggest it might be at least a contributing factor to the situation this issue attempts to address, and what those you are criticizing might sense being deprived of to some degree. I also sense that what does happen is something that even members don’t feel comfortable acknowledging, lest they be castigated by fellow FBF-ers. in 2007, I attended a 9 Marks Weekender at Mark Dever’s church. I was surprised (but encouraged) to see two FBFI board members in attendance, too. However, they almost begged me not to identify them or post any photos of them, because they knew their presence would have repercussions they didn’t want to deal with.

    As far as your second paragraph, what philosophies would those be? Music is something there has always been some variety on. The music of the Moody and Sankey campaigns was not the same as was typical of the orthodox churches of the day, at least across the board. Those musical differences were not a criteria that Christians of that day concluded made one less orthodox… it was a difference, but not a fully limiting one when it came to matters of fellowship. Even in churches led by FBFI members, there is hardly unanimity on the issue addressed in the Fisher article. I have had several FBFI pastors acknowledge that Getty type songs are a regular part of their congregational repertoire. That’s not to say that there shouldn’t ever be discussion, but if there isn’t unity in practice amongst the ranks of the members, why must the broader divergence that exists be treated such a clear line of demarcation?

    The alcohol is another one where there hasn’t always been unanimity on across Christianity. While there may be room for tighter parameters within the FBFI, it is clear that not all Christians have been teetotalers. And in the end, it is a matter where there is more agreement than disagreement… neither side of this debate advocates drunkenness, so there is more unity than is being acknowledged. I am not one who argues for consumption, by the way… but I know for a fact that missionaries sent from churches in our circles who labor in settings other than our American ones handle this issue with far less rigidity than is typical among us.

    But when it gets to the substantive issues…such as addressed by Harding’s article, there is much less contrast here with the general group being rebuked. As I mentioned earlier, it’s not as if the typical “Convergent” is being drawn to Rick Warren or Andy Stanley. Their attention is drawn to people who have a high view of Scripture, who preach expositionally… and typically, even if they deviate in areas like music, they are finding people who are committed to doctrinally rich lyrics and avoiding the excesses of performances and celebrity culture and such. In other words, they aren’t being drawn to Hillsong United or TobyMac. That may not be “good enough,” but it’s something that should at least be noted.

    In the end, the actual differences between the FBF and “Convergents” are probably fewer than this issue presents it. It seems a shame to treat brothers who have so much in common as if they are the liberal theologians who were denying inerrancy, the deity of Christ, miracles, and so on that the earliest Fundamentalist separated from. They aren’t even the kinds of people weakening and diluting the gospel like Billy Graham and ecumenical evangelists that our more immediate predecessors confronted.That isn’t to say these are matters that never deserve to be addressed, but from where I sit, we should handle these less as enemies lobbing shots at each other, and more as family discussions in the spirit of 1 Timothy 5:1-2.

    • Don Johnson says:

      Hi Greg, I’ll answer two points in your comment.
      1. You say it “isn’t to say these are matters that never deserve to be addressed,” but the thing is if anyone raises these matters, the hue and cry erupts. The convergents attempt to shout you down as a legalist, as unhelpful, as a dying breed, etc. You see the mockery and derision on the SI thread. If one raises any of these issues or expresses any concerns about these matters, there is always a chorus of opposition. We think the issues have to be raised, but haven’t been. We think that there has been too much silence, not too little. So we speak out.

      2. I think you have touched on two key areas of concern in the music and the alcohol. It is true that on music there isn’t absolute unanimity among Fundamentalists, but it is an area where we have never had the discussion. Those who wanted it brought it in and those who didn’t sort of muttered to themselves on the outside, but nothing was really said about it. Consequently some changes have made their way into the ranks by stealth, and now to speak up is again criticized and shouted down. On the alcohol issue, our opposition to it is well known, look up the tag on P&D, we keep speaking to this issue. Someday it will break the hearts of many people who are converging with lower standards on alcohol. Those two issues would illustrate convergence in the area of personal separation. There are other issues as well, in the area of cooperating with and promoting men whose philosophy will lead to further dilution of clear testimonies in the future. I suspect this is harder to see as it takes time for such things to work themselves out. But I think time will show that convergence in ecclesiastical areas will bear bitter fruit.

      Believing these things, shouldn’t we speak out?

      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

      • It’s not that you shouldn’t speak out… but when accompanied by charges of conspiracy and unhelpful comparisons to Barack Obama? You’re killing whatever “loving” perception there might be about this rebuke when you publish things like that alongside genuinely thoughtful pieces like Harding, Schaal, and Minnick’s contributions.

        If you want my suggestion, there’s room for some point-counterpoint articles… There’s room for official acknowledgement that Fisher’s position on music is not indicative of every member’s church’s practice… There’s room to at least acknowledge that Christians may not be teetotalers and still be concerned about personal holiness (even though I think that tee-totaling is a good conclusion to reach practically, and I am one myself). Even Randy Jaeggli as I recall, had a less rigid presentation when his book came out in the first edition, which generated opposition from the ranks. Why such a backlash? Why can’t we give room for consideration and drawing conclusions, rather than appearing to harshly demand conformity?

        When your child becomes an adult, you have to extend some measure of grace, and give him room to develop his own conclusions and arrive at his own convictions. When your figure out that your aging father drew some wrong conclusion, it may not be appropriate to deliver harsh rebukes… though he might need to be reminded not to be so heavy handed to the grandkids…

        • Don Johnson says:

          We need to communicate as clearly as possible, I will grant that. But the convergents will not have themselves contradicted. Surely you see that – let one of us speak up on these issues and the howling commences.

          I don’t think there is any room for leeway on alcohol. I disagree that Jaeggli had a less rigid presentation. His presentation was misrepresented by the critics. I am not sure what they gained by that, and I think BJU did us a disservice in pulling his first book, although it did motivate a much more thorough and better book for version two. They’ve dropped the ball marketing it, though.

          As for when your child becomes an adult, it hasn’t been my experience. The authority relationship changes, but my kids still get straight talk from me, as I did from my dad. Although I can’t say my dad was ever harsh. Just firm. Very firm!

          Anyway, I do think we have pretty well hashed this point out, don’t you?

          • Perhaps it has. But in my experience, it has been immensely beneficial for those in my life to give me room to develop. That’s what I got early in life from men like Ron Bean… and while I may not be the most rigid in my demeanor, I think it’s clear to most who know me that I am a separatist and within the tradition of those who have identified as a Fundamentalist.

            Those you label as “Convergents” may howl. That may not always be the best response, I will grant you. But it at least needs to be considered that perhaps a change in the application and method of delivery might be in order. This is something I am learning with how we parented our biological children vs. the circumstances with our adopted ones. Each child has different personalities, yes… but our adopted children bring different intellectual capabilities, physical symptoms (two show evidence of being on the Fetal Alcohol syndrome spectrum), and so on. My wife and I could double down on the approach we used earlier in life that should still work now because it’s right, and charge the children with failing to be receptive… or we can look for ways to alter the delivery so that in the end, they learn to love the same truths we taught our biological offspring. But when the children howl constantly, we can either blame them, or look to what we have the immediate ability to change–in ourselves.

            Food for thought.

  5. Don Johnson says:

    Greg, Our software is set to only allow replies to 5 levels, so this is a reply to your last, but not in the ‘thread’.

    Granted different approaches are more effective with different personalities, but we are not talking about parental leadership here. You have been following my articles connected with the book Baptist Fundamentals I know, and the issues the fundamentalists faced then were similar politically in that there were conservative moderates who would join with them in a rally for truth but vote against them when it came to crunch time in the convention. They howled when the fundamentalists spoke too harshly (in their view), just as the convergents do today.

    I am thinking about an article on this phenomenon, it can be observed in secular politics as well. Moderates are not reliable allies for truth speakers.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  6. “… scriptural methods and principles are being displaced by pragmatic considerations.” – Table of Contents
    “churches are being changed through the hidden agenda of Convergent leadership.” – Table of Contents
    “But the convergents will not have themselves contradicted.” – Don


    Don, are ‘Convergents’ the enemy or are they brothers in Christ? While you and Dr. Vaughn would tell us that they are our brothers, from what the table of contents and some of these posts say, they are enemies of the gospel and should be treated as such. There is a very real sense that “Oceania [is] at war with Eurasia” going on here to the eyes of this outsider.

    Frankly, this is why I, and many, many others, gave up on the FBFI.

    • Don Johnson says:

      Jay, you are caricaturing my views at least. I don’t speak for Dr. Vaughn, but would think he would answer similarly.

      Convergents aren’t “the enemy” or “enemies of the gospel.” Those terms would imply they are not even believers. I don’t think that of them. But I do think they are making serious errors and leading people in the wrong direction. Since that is the case, I have a duty to speak up.

      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

      • Don, you’re never going to persuade people that you have a point and a duty to speak up as long as P&D treats convergents like people in gross error. You’ll just be tuned out, and your comments about needing to be firm and to ‘speak up’ about the errors/problems reinforce the perception that you’re interested in ‘fixing’ people and not in – helping – them grow.

        I will accept that you don’t intend to treat others as ‘enemies’, but the article headings/descriptions make it very clear that the FBFI more interested in standing in opposition to them. If you were serious about helping the convergents grow, treating them like they do some things right might actually pique some interest. From what I see, the FBFI is more interested in lecturing them on how to get right, a la Tim Jordans comments from the last MACP that I attended – “let’s hold a conference and yell at them some more.”

        This is the same issue that you had with ‘Young Fundamentalists’ and the FBFI. I haven’t been paying close attention to the FBFI for some time, but I’m pretty sure that didn’t work out for you guys. Do you really want to repeat that again?

        • Hi Jay,

          Well, all I can say is that I don’t agree with your characterization at all. I think you are projecting your perceptions onto reality.

          There are many issues in which church leadership is by and large is failing its people. I believe that the Scriptures back this up. The duty comes from the Scriptures and truth, not from a matter of conflict of opinions.

          Have you read the magazine? It doesn’t sound like you have. You might do better to read what is being said and interact with the arguments rather than simply point fingers without a substantive reply. We are failing human beings like anyone else, but nothing will come out of shouting matches where we keep repeating tired slanders and personal opinions. Until you can interact with the arguments we are presenting there is little more that can be said.

          Don Johnson
          Jer 33.3

Although Proclaim & Defend is the blog of the FBFI, the articles we post are not an expression of the views of the FBFI as a whole, they are the views of the author under whose name they are published. The FBFI speaks either through position statements by its board or through its president. Here at Proclaim & Defend, we publish articles as matters of interest or edification to the wider world of fundamentalist Baptists and any others who might be interested.

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