Monday, August 15, 2005

Clearing the Air With Bro. Phil

[The following blog post is by Jus Divinum]

Among many other comments here and elsewhere that I hope to get to, Phil Johnson says (12 August 2005):

"Yes, in your very first response to me, you dragged a tedious and utterly irrelevant defense of Al Mohler into a rather lengthy "comment" on my blog, and posted page after page of passionate defense on Mohler's behalf—as if I had actually attacked Mohler. As I tried to point out to you, I had made no criticism whatsoever of Mohler; I have no beef with Dr. Mohler; and nothing I said even remotely applied to him."

Phil continues to think that my referencing of Al Mohler in one of my earliest exchanges with Phil did point 5 of his original post an injustice. Allow me to disagree and explain why.

Phil originally posted "Shall we sell our birthright for a mess of faddage?" (26 July 2005). As I said in my reply on the same day:

"This is a great essay, Phil, as usual. I think I agree with 90% of what you say in this entire essay. I just don't think it applies to everything you talk about."

I went on to argue that Phil was making unwarranted generalizations about "the various political and ecumenical movements" (in particular, about political movements in which Christians are engaged). So let's be clear: it was Phil who was speaking in generalities, and I questioned some of these. I would ultimately post Mohler as a counterexample to Phil's general charges about political movements. But I get ahead of myself.

The next day Phil posted "Omnium gatherum redivivus" (27 July 2005), point 5 of which was a reply to me. Phil continued to make generalizations that I believed were unwarranted. In particular, he explained his earlier claim that "the various political and ecumenical movements... have been downright destructive to the core distinctives of evangelical doctrine," by saying that it is the evangelical distinctives which are destroyed by these, that is, "the evangelical commitment to certain biblical truths that are fundamental and essential." In particular, Phil said that when:

"evangelicals... count among their closest friends and allies religious leaders who deny essential doctrines—they have sacrificed evangelical distinctives for political expediency."

Notice that Phil is continuing to make sweeping generalizations, and again, it was those generalizations that I was targetting. In the same post above, Phil made another generalization:

"It depends, of course, on how much of your message or your testimony you have to stifle in order to "team up." If your allies are Jewish and you hold back from declaring the exclusivity of Christ in order to hold your coalition together; or if your allies are Roman Catholic and you carefully avoid any discussion of sola fide or sola Scriptura—then you are sacrificing your distinctives for a lesser cause than the proclamation of the gospel. It happens all the time."

That same day (27 July 2005), I replied to Phil's post, since point 5 of it was a direct reply to me. Now, the main reason why I brought up Al Mohler, and discussed him at length in my reply, was not to change the subject, but to provide a relevant counterexample to Phil's generalizations. Do I think some people are guilty of the things that Phil says? Of course. Indeed, I explicitly said in my reply that would abominate and rebuke those who, for the sake of political endeavors, would label as evangelicals those are are not in fact evangelicals. Nevertheless, Phil's generalizations are false, and for precisely the reason I gave: Al Mohler. My point in this connection was fairly modest: I'm all for warning about the 'dangers' of this and that; I'm not for unjust and uncharitable condemnations that would tar all with the same brush. The above citations from Phil do exactly that.

In his reply later that day, Phil accused me of applying his:

"statements about Dobson's "culture war" strategy to all forms of "evangelical co-belligerence" and dragged Al Mohler's name into it into it (while conveniently leaving Dobson's name out, I noticed)."

Phil went on to observe that he "in point of fact... made no criticism of (not even a reference to) Mohler." But here's the problem. Phil's statements were not merely about Dobson. They were general declarations about the various political movements in which Christians are engaged. They were general declarations that anyone who fell into category A was automatically in category B. Given Phil's reasoning as he himself stated it, one would be led to conclude that Mohler has "sacrificed evangelical distinctives for political expediency". Since not even Phil believes that, something has gone wrong with his reasoning. My vote is for the fallacy of hasty generalization.

I didn't intend this point to be so offensive to Phil. It certainly wasn't my intention. My intention was to get (what appeared to me to be) irresponsible rhetoric scaled back, so that a more profitable discussion could proceed.

The above, therefore, is my extended response to certain objections that Phil continues to make, as evidenced in my first-cited paragraph above.

BTW, none of the above should be new to Phil. I'm simply expanding on my original reply to Phil on this score (28 July 2005), where I said:

"Second, you were the one who was initially speaking in generalities, namely, that certain forms of 'doctrinal compromise' happen in virtue of the fact that evangelicals cooperate with various kinds of theological compromisers in the context of political activism. Again, I'm interested in defending ECB in principle, and it sure looked to me like you were saying that, _in principle_, Christian political activism was an objectionable 'fad,' for various reasons. I was simply presenting Dr. Mohler as a counterexample to your more general claims."

Phil never replied to the above, despite its sterling brevity as a one-paragraph defense on the point in question :-) I offer the above extended defense as an attempt to make my point clear. I continue to believe that my original one-paragraph reply to Phil on this point was sufficient, and that it is unworthy of Phil to keep harping on this point while refusing to interact with my specific reply to his point, a reply which was made two and a half weeks ago.

Finally, as long as we're on the topic of Mohler, if Phil is reading this, before I go on it seems to me that he is distinguishing between the following two positions:

[a] As a Christian, I cooperate with other people in political endeavors, and call them my brothers in Christ. [Unfortunately, these other people aren't real Christians].

[b] As a Christian, I cooperate with other people in political endeavors. Many of these other people aren't real Christians, but I don't call them my brothers in Christ.

... and then saying that he is opposing [a], but not necessarily [b]. That's why he condemns Colson, but he thinks that Mohler is OK. Both Colson and Mohler are involved in cooperating with non-Christians in cooperative political endeavors. However, Colson calls his Roman Catholic partners Christians, and so he is guilty of the ecumenism implicit in [a]. By way of contrast, Mohler is clear in "Standing Apart, Standing Together" that he doesn't need the ecumenism implicit in [a] in order to cooperate with those he regards as non-Christians, in cooperative political endeavors. Thus, he is not worthy of Phil's censure.

Sound about right?


  1. Dear Jus, I am a newbie. I've looked high and low on your blog for the expanded form of the acronym ECB but can't find it. What does ECB stand for?

  2. EBC is a Steve Camp coinage for Evangelical cobelligerence, by which he seems to mean Evangelicals cooperating with non-Evangelicals to form political alliances--although oftentimes his more fundamental objection appears to be to Christian political activism, period. He oscillates back and forth depending on the audience.