September 17, 2012

What REALLY Matters Most: Where the Lines are Drawn

In recent articles we have been considering a number of disconcerting issues with Northland International University (NIU).  Pastor Don Johnson made significant contributions to this issue from his personal blog an oxgoad, eh and with Questions for Matt Olson & NIU at the FBFI’s Proclaim & Defend blog. We began this new series What REALLY Matters Most on Friday to discuss the shifting sands and new trajectory of the former Northland Baptist Bible College. Dr. Matt Olson has been reacting, in article form, from his personal blog. Very little in precise terms has been forthcoming in answer to the questions many people have regarding the changes at NIU. We do, however, have some items to consider from Dr. Olson’s What Matter Most series part three How We Draw the Lines.

We recognize that Matt Olson is a sincere servant of the Lord, but we believe he is wrong for introducing and we cannot accept the new philosophy, practices and trajectory he has introduced to Northland International University (NIU). In previous articles we have discussed NIU president Dr. Matt Olson lauding a Charismatic church.1 We recently posed a series of questions for Dr. Olson. Included were the following:

Will NIU move away from a Dispensational hermeneutic and embrace a Covenant hermeneutic? 
Will NIU open its chapel music to the kind of music featured at the Resolved conference? 
Will NIU change its Handbook doctrinal statements and Articles of Faith to allow for open acceptance of the Charismatic churches and pastors?
It appears Dr. Olson has answered these as fully as we can expect. From part three, How We Draw the Lines he wrote,
The mode of baptism, timing of the rapture, cessationist or non-cessationist positions, dispensational or covenant positions, church polity, style of music, philosophy of ministry—are NOT fundamentals of the faith.”
IMO, that sentence is as close to a complete answer to a specific question as anyone should expect. It suggests that the theology and practice of the modern Charismatic movement will no longer be a point of debate or departure for NIU. In Part 3 Dr. Olson also wrote,
I can visit a church on Sunday morning, fellowship with believers, love what I am seeing, encourage fellow believers in what they are doing—and still choose not to join that particular local assembly.”
When Matt Olson wrote Confidence in the Next Generation he was heaping lavish praise on the ministry of a church, whose theology is contrary to the university’s official doctrinal position.  With that created confusion, a colossal conflict of interest and many questions have been raised as a result.

If Matt Olson had simply attended a service because some graduates were there, and he happened to be in the vicinity, there would be no problem whatsoever. I suspect some of us have been to the homes of family and we went along with them to a church that we might have some reservation with over doctrine or styles of worship. Following the service, however, I don’t think we would post a glowing report of that church and its ministry on our FaceBook page.

Dr. Olson, furthermore, says he will, “encourage fellow believers in what they are doing.” What they are doing at the Grace Bible Church includes teaching that the 1st century miraculous sign gifts are active and should be sought after today. When Brother Olson enthusiastically praised this SGM affiliated Charismatic church he went way beyond encouraging fellow believers. In light of NIU’s published doctrinal statements on the Charismatic movement the college president should not be making statements such as those for the SGM Grace Bible Church.

Dr. Olson says he can, “choose NOT to join that particular local assembly.” Where Matt Olson happens to attend church on a given Sunday is not necessarily, in and of itself, an issue for grave concern. When he attends and lauds a church that believes, preaches and defends a doctrine that is opposed and rejected by NIU that IS a problem and IS the crux of this particular controversy. Furthermore, an NIU staff member, Greg Dietrich has joined that particular Charismatic local assembly and according to Matt Olson the university will be paying him a salary. If I were to have been to and lauded a Charismatic church, who’s been affected or influenced? You take a university president lauding a Charismatic ministry and you have pastors, parents and students confused and conflicted! Especially confused when they can read the following statements in official NIU publications.

“The university’s position is not to cooperate with any organization or movement that is connected with apostasy or that places less than primary emphasis on the authority of the Word of God. Northland International University does not accept the philosophy, position, or practice of the National Council of Churches in America or the World Council of Churches. Furthermore, Northland is opposed to Liberalism, Neo-Orthodoxy, New Evangelicalism, Hyper-Calvinism, and the Charismatic Movement.” (Ecclesiastical Separation, p.9.) 
“We believe God has given spiritual gifts to Christians to serve in and through the local church. Every believer has at least one gift, and the use of the gifts is always for the ultimate purpose of bringing glory to God. Among the gifts listed in the Bible, we believe that sign gifts (miracles, speaking in tongues, interpretation of tongues, prophecy) were temporary in nature and given to the church in its infant state before the completion of the canon of Scripture. Therefore, we reject the modern Charismatic Movement and the confusion it has brought. (Romans 12:6–8; I Corinthians 12:1–11, 13:8; Ephesians 4:11–12)” (Articles of Faith, p. 12.) 
“Thus we cannot accept the position reflected in the Ecumenical Movement, Neo-Orthodoxy, New Evangelicalism, or the various branches of the Charismatic Movement.  We believe cooperation should be limited to those of like precious faith. (Romans 16:17; I Corinthians 6:19-20; II Corinthians 6:14-17; I Thessalonians 5:22; II Thessalonians 3:6, 14-15; I John 2:15, 17; II John 9, 10.) (Articles of Faith, p. 12.) 
Those statements have not been yet explained, edited or eliminated. Through four articles (to date) in Dr. Olson’s on-going series, What Matters Most what one finds conspicuous by its absence is any mention of NIU’s Articles of Faith or its doctrinal statements on the “modern Charismatic Movement.” Is it merely an oversight that the university president makes no reference whatsoever to NIU’s official position on the “modern Charismatic movement?”

Brother Matt Olson surely understands that what he says and any action he takes can influence a great many impressionable young people at NIU. Because of what he has said over the past 2+ years and what changes he has initiated at NIU some parents and pastors decided that they do not want their children under that kind of influence and removed them from the student body.

I will close with an extended commentary from Dr. Ernest Pickering (1928-2000). Prayerfully consider what this Fundamentalist pastor and theologian shared with the NT church.
I, with others, was involved in the original conflicts over ecumenical evangelism. Some of us raised the first cries against the principles of the “new evangelicalism.” We have labored for years to defend our young people, our churches and our educational institutions against the watered-down theology and middle-of-the-road philosophy held by many of those with whom you would have us unite. The arguments we hear now we recall very vividly hearing thirty years ago from those who wanted us to move beyond the “fundamentalist-modernist controversy” to a more “centrist” position. The new evangelical movement began years ago with what one astute observer aptly called a “mood.” Moods are difficult to define sometimes, but they nonetheless can be real and potent forces. Theirs was a mood of toleration, an acceptance of widely varying theological concepts - a mood of “broadmindedness.” We fear such moods since we have seen, within our lifetime, their final outcome - a full-blown movement steeped in compromise. We believe we sense such a mood abroad today among those who, in all sincerity no doubt, think we should broaden our bases and reshape our image.2
And that “mood of toleration, and acceptance of widely varying theological concepts” is back in vogue, back among us today at schools like NIU.3 Like others before them NIU’s final outcome [will be a] “full-blown movement steeped in compromise.” That is, of course, if NIU does not fold just as Pillsbury Baptist Bible College did for a similar mood swing that Matt Olson has NIU on today.4


Please continue with this series at Functional Distinctives

1) Is NIU Opposed to and Reject[ing of] the Modern Charismatic Movement?

2) Dr. Ernest Pickering: Should Fundamentalists & Evangelicals Unite? An evaluation of Edward Dobson’s book, In Search of Unity (emphasis added). And not long ago some of the men at SI had the nerve to suggest that the practice of separatism by Kevin Bauder, Dave Doran, Matt Olson and Tim Jordan is no different than that of Dr. Ernest Pickering. In fact those men, and a willing Internet conduit SI, are the primary forces behind the push for the new wave of “New” Evangelicalism making in-roads into once Baptistic, separatist churches and colleges.

3) The Calvary Baptist Seminary (Lansdale) chancellor Tim Jordan has already hosted Mark Dever and Haddon Robinson both of whom (among other issues) teach at the New Evangelical Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Next will be D. A Carson who is a founding council member of The Gospel Coalition. CBS is well down the path of full blown compromise. See, CBS to Host Haddon Robinson and Kevin Bauder and Dave Doran to Join Mark Dever at Lansdale: Is This a Fundamentalism Worth Saving?

4) The Closing of Pillsbury Baptist Bible College 

Suggested Related Reading:
Dr. Ernest Pickering, “A Mood of ‘Broadmindedness’:” The New “New” Evangelicalism


  1. Lou:

    The die is cast. Northland has lost its distinctiveness now and will end up as Pillsbury. It may take a few years, but it will happen. There are other colleges and universities that are moving in the same direction as Northland. Who will be next? The Light of the Word of God is terrible thing to tamper with. May God be merciful!

    Tod Brainard

    1. Ps. Brainard:

      It certainly appears the die is cast and the demise of NIU, just as Pillsbury went away, is in motion.


  2. Olson says, "The mode of baptism, timing of the rapture, cessationist or non-cessationist positions, dispensational or covenant positions, church polity, style of music, philosophy of ministry—are NOT fundamentals of the faith. They never have been. When we get to heaven I think there are going to be a lot of people feeling ashamed about how they fought over these things and neglected what matters most."

    Ok, so since when is anything other than baptism by immersion actually Biblical baptism? The timing of the rapture isn't totally inconsequential. As far as cessationist or non - both can't be right. It is the same thing for Covenant and Dispensational theology. Each brings with it its own conclusions that can be divergent in ways - especially as sometimes seen in the interpretation of the gospel. Church polity can affect church members for better or worse. Music styles and philosophies of ministry can get to the point where they either squelch the Spirit and spread of the gospel or draw people like a hook to a false gospel.

    I have to say that I liked Northland's positions better in the past. What does a broader constituency really get you anyway if you have to compromise on some of these things? People like Al Mohler and Thabiti Aayabwile, referred to by Olson in this series, will lead people astray into Lordship Salvation. I find it funny then that Olson states for point number one in part three that, "The Christian should expose and separate from a false Gospel (Galatians 1:8,9)."

    Someone please tell me how Olson is so concerned with the true gospel if he is cozying up to people like John MacArthur (Lordship proponent) and other mentioned above who are supporters of things like the Gospel coalition? Unless he thinks that this is indeed the true gospel.

    I believe Olson to be a believer himself but I wish he saw the danger of his stance. I think as well that there will also be those in heaven who were believers that missed out on opportunities because they either tolerated or promoted error.

    1. Jim:

      You wrote, “Someone please tell me how Olson is so concerned with the true gospel if he is cozying up to people like John MacArthur (Lordship proponent) and other mentioned above who are supporters of things like the Gospel coalition? Unless he thinks that this is indeed the true gospel.”

      In the previous article I noted that, “We must understand at least two things about this new phraseology, ‘It IS all about the gospel?’ First, When Matt Olson, Dave Doran, Kevin Bauder, et. al., speak of or write terms such as, ‘It’s all about the Gospel, Gospel-Driven separation, Gospel-centric fellowship,’ at the very core they refer to unity around Calvinistic soteriology in the form of the Lordship Salvation interpretation of the gospel.

      The Lordship Salvation interpretation of the gospel is the magnetic attraction and rallying point for a segment of men who still, even loosely identify with Fundamentalism and their Calvinistic counter-parts in the so-called “conservative” evangelicalism. Matt Olson is one of them.

      In my first article on the changing NIU was on Matt Olson (NIU) inviting John MacArthur’s Executive pastor, Rick Holland, to speak at NIU in chapel. That was one of the results of Olson along with Les Ollila, Sam Horn and Doug McLachlan having gone to meet MacArthur, Holland and Phil Johnson. The NIU men came away believing there was enough commonality and doctrinal agreement that they could offer the chapel to Ps. Holland. That was as clear a signal you will ever get that Matt Olson and NIU have determined that Lordship Salvation, as MacArthur defines it, is the gospel of Jesus Christ.

      The focal point of the sister conferences T4G and the Gospel Coalition is Lordship Salvation. See, Let’s Get “CRYSTAL” Clear on This: A Response to Kevin Bauder’s “Cannonball” Cogitations, “Foremost Defenders of the Gospel Today?”

      I encourage you and all readers to consider these articles:

      Summary of Lordship Salvation From a Single Page

      What is Lordship Salvation: And Why Does it Matter?

      An Example of Lordship’s Man-Centered Message


  3. Jim:

    Here is a link to another article I wrote that goes into more detail about how Lordship Salvation is the rallying point and magnetic attraction for the so-called “conservative” evangelicals and their new friends who still somewhat identify with fundamental circles like Dave Doran, Kevin Bauder, Matt Olson and Tim Jordan. Read,

    Let’s Get CRYSTAL Clear on This: Evangelicals, “The Foremost Defenders of the Gospel Today?”