September 3, 2019

Archival Series: Moderate Evangelicals, by Dr. Clay Nuttall

The following is a republication of an (2012) article by the late Dr. Clay Nuttall.  I draw special attention to his addressing Dispensationalism and Covenant Theology (CT).  Why? Because today, more than ever, CT is making inroads into some of our colleges and local churches.

Ecumenical evangelicalism is alive and thriving. Like a pack of wolves, the left leaners are devouring the stable theology of the right. There appears to be some kind of death wish on the part of those who feel driven to erase a theology that is biblical by merging it with all kinds of aberrations. This ecumenical activity is willing to set aside important doctrine in order to draw people together. Their argument is that only love, the gospel, unity, or any such singularity is all that matters, along with getting people together; as long as you have the central doctrines, whatever they are, you can trash the rest of the text. This is done by stealth and the redefining of such things as the gospel itself.

Defining the main players is easy; they regularly confess their participation in print. Placing them in categories is another matter altogether. There is no single category where everyone holds to the same views. Terms like atheist, agnostic, infidel, apostate, modernist, liberal, or neo-orthodox is one thing; dealing with evangelicalism, neo-evangelicalism, conservatism, and fundamentalism is something else altogether. Trying to sort them all out is like trying to pick up mercury. In general, each designation does have some major things in common; but none of these is equal to the others.

When individuals try to straddle the theological fence between liberal and conservative, they are most often referred to as moderates. This position of compromise gives credence to the views of both sides. It always means, however, that they have to give up something to the right of them. You cannot hold two contrasting views at the same time; one of them will have to be damaged or disrespected. Part of this problem comes from the desire to be tolerant. We ought to respect others in that they have a right to a view, but that does not mean they are right. The moderate, however, sees tolerance as allowing a broad range of theological positions with a focus on just a few things that are often unstable in themselves.

Recently, discussion has centered on a group called conservative evangelicals. The term alone admits that not all evangelicals are conservative, so this designation is an effort to build a bridge between two divergent positions. It is true that there will be some common ground between them, but they are two distinct views. In light of the forgoing discussion, those who stand in between the two views are really moderate evangelicals.


The moderate position has to surrender something. One cannot hold to a theology that is biblical and blink at the error of another. We don’t have to attack the persons who hold them, but we are obligated to state the contrast of biblical doctrine and to reject error. An example of this is what happened with the invention of progressive dispensationalism. Admittedly, it was an effort to build a bridge between standard dispensationalism and covenant theology, but that is impossible. The gulf between them is as wide as the Atlantic Ocean, and it is impossible to bridge the two. In this case, the moderates had to give up something. While they continued to claim to be dispensational, they departed from the true meaning of the word and developed something new. This, of course, leaves serious questions for them to answer; but this is the nature of the moderate position.

What brought them to this place? Why would anyone want to be caught in the middle? One of the reasons is an insatiable lust for intellectualism. The pseudo-intellectuals have painted fundamentalists and dispensationalists as being a little less than bright. The truth is that some of the finest minds we know are in the ranks of historical dispensationalists; many of these trusted scholars, however, have not felt the need to appease those on the left of the discussion. It is a serious flaw to “want to be like them” so much so that you would walk away from, or be embarrassed about, key doctrines of the faith, because you end up joining the moderates’ choir singing “the time of rapture is not something to separate over.”

I am frequently asked why so many of our young men are following the pied pipers of theological error. Immature students are apt to be fooled quite easily by intellectual gurus. They reveal their passion by repeating telltale buzzwords and questionable theological pretzels such as a “misguided kingdom theology.” Like their mentors, they are quick to discard such important parts of the theological puzzle such as cessationism and to adopt such things as the replacement theory. This not only identifies spiritual immaturity, but also shows that they have had poorly-taught biblical theology in their seminaries. The real bombshell, though, is the absence of the one biblical hermeneutic that would have prevented them from gulping their minds full of doctrinal error. This ministry tragedy can be placed at the feet of the moderates.


Every doctrinal error and theological diversion comes from an erroneous hermeneutic. This is the heart of the moderate problem. The one biblical hermeneutic is exact; it is mathematical. Letting the text speak for itself will bring us to common conclusions. This process would exclude any moderate. On the other hand, the hermeneutical system used by moderates actually lets them conclude anything they wish - and they do. So why would anyone who is committed to a theology that is biblical, established by a biblical hermeneutic, want to hold theological hands with the moderate?

It is one thing for the authors of the “theological error of the month” to ignore the one biblical hermeneutic. Their bad hermeneutical habits go way back to the Jewish rabbis, Origen, Clement of Alexander, Thomas Aquinas, and – surprise! - to Luther and Calvin. To argue that some of them were right some of the time is to argue for the value of a stopped clock. It is true that some of them claimed to own a literal hermeneutic, but their writings tell us otherwise.

The most disturbing thing about this subject is that there are so few people among us who really understand what the plain, normal, consistent, literal hermeneutic is and fewer yet who actually use it. Using the biblical system will not let you agree with the wayward theological ideas that are being fed to young minds these days by the moderate evangelicals.


The liberal mind infects the moderate mentality. It will focus on form instead of content and meaning. It loves complication that creates a smokescreen for the infusion of human reason into biblical text. Such thinking is so well practiced that it is hard to peel the layers off. This is where the biblical system of interpretation is so valuable. When you are following the biblical system, it is impossible to arrive at the many theological errors that exist and are even now being created. On the other hand, there is real joy in knowing that we are allowing the text to speak for itself. Leaning on the grammar, the context, and the historical setting of the text will produce that purity of doctrine that our Lord desires us to have.

SHEPHERD’S STAFF – September 2012

A communication service of Shepherd’s Basic Care, for those committed to the authority and sufficiency of the Bible. Shepherd's Basic Care is a ministry of information and encouragement to pastors, missionaries, and churches.

Shepherd’s Staff is prepared by Clay Nuttall, D.Min

Site Publisher’s Commentary:
Dr. Nuttall’s timely article is much appreciated.  Within the article we read a clear definition of a “moderate,” or as I have identified, new wave Evangelicalism of Matt Olson, Kevin Bauder, Dave Doran and Tim Jordan. 
“Erase a theology that is biblical by merging it with all kinds of aberrations…. Their argument is that only love, the gospel, unity, or any such singularity is all that matters…. Straddle the theological fence between liberal and conservative…. The desire to be tolerant…. An effort to build a bridge between two divergent positions.”
Over the last several years we have examples of how Bauder, Doran, Olson and Jordan and their followers (at sites like Sharper Iron) will tolerate, allow for, ignore and excuse the doctrinal aberrations, ecumenical compromise and cultural relativism of the so-called “conservative” evangelicals to have fellowship and cooperative ministry with them.

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