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Convergents and Separatism

December 6, 2016

In Pastor Don Johnson’s description of “Convergent” evangelicals, the first item is “Anti-separatism (or at least non-separatism).” This descriptor is so vague as to be nearly incomprehensible, and to the degree that it can be comprehended it is misleading. To know what Pastor Johnson means by “anti-separatism,” we would first have to know exactly what he means by separatism. Presumably he is thinking in terms of some version of ecclesiastical separation, though exactly what his theory of ecclesiastical separation is, I have never quite been able to understand. At any rate, assuming that he is accusing “Convergents” of rejecting (or at least not implementing) ecclesiastical separation, the accusation is terribly unfair.

Even the Neoevangelicals were not completely anti-separatistic. They never argued for engaging in Christian fellowship with Hindus, Buddhists, Taoists, Shintoists, Jainists, Sikhs, Bahaists, Theosophists, Spiritists, Atheists, Satanists, Seventh-Day Adventists, Millennial Dawnists, or Mormons. They clearly understood that no Christian fellowship was possible with adherents of these gospel-denying systems.

Even their cooperation with Protestant Liberals and, later, Roman Catholics was targeted and limited. It was typically driven by one of two concerns: either a commitment to citywide evangelism (represented chiefly by Graham) or a wish to recapture the leadership of mainline denominations (represented more by Ockenga and Carnell). It is fair to say that the New Evangelicals rejected separatism within certain spheres and for certain purposes.

It is worth remembering that Neoevangelicalism did not represent the evangelical mainstream. It was initially a cadre of young intellectuals. Only during the late 1950s and early 1960s did mainstream evangelicals begin to have to choose between separatist fundamentalism and New Evangelicalism. When they chose to side with the Neoevangelicals rather than the fundamentalists, they were not rejecting separatism tout court. They were rejecting the fundamentalist stance that faithful Christians should separate (at some levels) from Neoevangelicals.

While it is still not clear just who Pastor Johnson thinks the Convergents are, they do not seem to occupy the position of the old New Evangelicals. Rather, they are either the people who now occupy the old Moderate Evangelical slot (today’s Conservative Evangelicals), or else the (former?) fundamentalists who are trying to move to a middle ground between separatist fundamentalism and Conservative Evangelicalism. In any event, it is not correct to say that they are either anti-separatist or non-separatist. It would be better to say that they lack a full and robust implementation of biblical separatism.

To make that statement, however, requires a clear, coherent, workable, and fully-articulated theory of Christian fellowship and separation, particularly secondary separation—and that is something that Pastor Johnson and his friends have not yet given us.

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