Voddie Baucham and the NCFIC Hermeneutics

Voddie Baucham has written a piece critiquing Doug Brown, and once again, I am amazed at how the field of pragmatics can be completely ignored in these discussions. Especially when it comes to speech-act theory as a means of relating things to scripture, the NCFIC seems to be totally blind. I will be reviewing Baucham’s responses to the Hermeneutical objections, but, for those who don’t know of speech act theory who may have stumbled upon this blog for the first time, I will do a basic review of speech act theory before getting into criticisms of Baucham’s arguments.

Speech act theory was a response to logical positivism. Logical positivism took many forms but the two most popular were the verification principle and the falsification principle. The basic tenant of this view of language [aka the descriptive fallacy] is that a statement can only be meaningful if it can be empirically verified or falsified. However, that makes it impossible to explain a statement such as:

How are you doing today?

Clearly, the statement is meaningful, and yet, it cannot be empirically verified or falsified. The reason, as J.L. Austin explained, is that language can be used to do more than simply inform or make statements about reality. It can, in fact, do many things. It can request information; it can command something; it can insult someone; it can give information. Language has all kinds of functions. The issue of meaning in language, therefore, has to do with what a text is intending to accomplish, not whether or not it is empirically verifiable or falsifiable.

This then led to the threefold distinction in the elements of a speech act: the locution [what the text says and means], the illocution [what the text intends to accomplish], and the perlocution [what the text actually accomplishes]. These distinctions are crucial because, although these facets are related, they are distinct.

For example, my pastor gave this illustration. Let us suppose that two hunters are out in the woods hunting. Hunter one is looking out for game, while hunter two is manning the gun ready to shoot. Hunter one sees game to the left, and points over there, and then whispers, “Shoot over there” to hunter two. Hunter two then shoots in that direction but misses, and the game runs off to the right. However, hunter two continues to shoot in the exact same place to the left. After he runs out of bullets, hunter one takes off his cap, and bops him on the head and says, “What are you doing? Didn’t you see that the game ran off to the right?” To which hunter two responds, “Ya, but you told me to shoot to the left, and I was simply obeying what you said.”

While the statement “shoot to the left” was related to the illocutionary force of the command [shoot at the game], they are very clearly distinct. It is this relationship that allows us to deal with some of the things, for example, that Scott Brown has said:

If we accept the premise that we are only obligated to obey the Word of God when there is an express command, then we are forced to grapple with a number of other issues. For example, there is no command against polygamy, but Christians believe polygamy is wrong because of the patterns and commands of Scripture that define marriage, not because of a direct command against it. Gambling and the smoking of marijuana are not condemned in the Bible, yet there are principles of Scripture that make it clear that these are sinful. There is also no direct command against cannibalism (though there are principles and examples against it), yet it is sinful to engage in this practice.

Actually if we reword this as, “Anything that does not go against the illocutionary force of scripture is allowable” then, obviously it avoids these problems. First, polygamy would be wrong because of the fact that the scriptures in Genesis define marriage as a man and a woman. When you have the illouctionary force of definition, you are seeking to rule out anything that is not a part of that definition. Hence, polygamy would be wrong. Gambling would, by definition, entail not being a good steward with your money, and thus would defeat the illocutionary force of all the Proverbs which seek to get us to be good stewards of our money. Marajuana not only defeats the illocutionary force of Romans 13 which is seeking to get us to obey governments so long as they do not contradict the word of God, but it also ignores the commands which seek to get us to take care of our bodies as the temple of the Holy Spirit.

Also, Scott Brown’s excessive reliance on patterns and principles simply doesn’t work. As I have said, there are patterns in scripture which even he doesn’t hold to [the Lord’s Supper being an entire meal, drawing water with buckets rather than pipes, etc.]. Not only that, principles, in the very nature of the case, apply at certain times, but not at others. How does Scott Brown know when they apply and when they do not? Again, if you allow that both the patterns of scripture as well as the principles have this illocutionary force, it is easy to explain how it is that some patterns are meant to be nominative, and others or not; it is easy to explain why principles apply in some instances and not in other instances.

I will return to Scott Brown’s comments, but, before I do, I would like to address Voddie Baucham’s comments, and show how speech act theory enables us to answer many of the problems he brings up. For example:

Brown’s first objection is that “FIC advocates protest vigorously that since there are no explicit Biblical directives or examples for age-segregated programs, they are unbiblical.” One would expect that Brown would proceed to cite book, chapter and verse to prove that there are “biblical directives or examples for age-segregated programs…” Instead, he continues:

At this point one must ask, “Are we talking about the book, chapter, and verse’s locutionary force, illocutionary force, or perlocutionary force?” It is very easy to make this kind of argument when you consider locution alone. However, as I pointed out elsewhere, when you consider all three facets of speech acts, it is a slam dunk case that there are “biblical directives or examples for age-segregated programs.” Still, we will continue with Doug Brown’s comments and Voddie Baucham’s critique:

However, this kind of hermeneutical approach is flawed. Using this reasoning, things like church buildings, pews, musical instruments, and technological advancements, along with church officers such as clerks and treasurers, would have to be deemed unbiblical as well. FIC adherents press the Regulative Principle too far. This Reformation principle was intended to regulate corporate worship at Sunday services, not the outworking of the Great Commission in other activities.

I understand the point Brown is trying to make. However, the way he is trying to make it is dangerous. Is one to assume that the Bible is not to be consulted when we make decisions about things like church buildings, musical instruments (or how we structure our discipleship ministries).? Certainly, there are some things that are adiaphora from an ethical perspective (chicken vs. fish for dinner). However, there is absolutely no warrant for assuming that the Bible has nothing to say about the way we structure discipleship in the church (a point Brown himself makes later).

Again, speech act theory solves all of these problems. The issue is not whether the scriptures are to be consulted, but whether the intent of scripture is to bind our conscience in the specific way the NCFIC would like to. Also, it is a total strawman to claim that the Bible has nothing to say about the way we structure discipleship in the church. The issue is over whether the illocutionary force of the text is specifically to bind *age integration* to the conscience of God’s people whenever they engage in discipleship. If that is not scripture’s intent, then, by the sufficiency of scripture, age specific discipleship is allowed, since the scriptures do not view as crucial the ages of those involved in discipleship.

And while it is true that the Regulative Principle “was intended to regulate corporate worship,” the principle itself is an application of the doctrine of Sola Scriptura to matter of public worship. Consequently, there is every reason to be guided by the ‘spirit’ of that principle in this matter as well, since the doctrine of Sola Scripture must be applied. The Bible has much to say about the discipleship of children (Deut. 6; Ps. 78; Eph. 6:1-4, etc.), and the structure of the church. As such, it is absolutely essential that we pursue discipleship methodologies that are rooted and grounded in Scripture, and use extreme caution when attempting to apply them in establishing various ministries.

Again, when we consider speech acts, this is not a problem. The answer to Baucham that we must give is that scripture is sufficient, not just in its locutionary force, but in its illocutionary force as well. When you don’t take both into account, it is not the scriptures that are insufficient, it is your hermeneutics that are insufficient. While it is true that the scriptures have much to say about the discipleship of children, it is not just what they say that is important, but what they intend to do with those commands. For example, while it is true that the Bible talks about parents teaching their children, the intent of such a command is not to bind age integrated discipleship as a norm for all times and places. Most of these things are in the context of the Christian life. For example, Deuteronomy 6 is in the context of the words of God being on your heart [v.6], talking about them when you sit, walk, and lie down [v.7], and binding them on your hand and forehead [v.8], and even writing them on your doorposts [v.9]. Hence, the context is the Christian life itself, not some universal command binding age integration to anyone who does discipleship at any time. The same thing could be said of Ephesians 6, as the text is dealing with the ethical conduct of individual members of a household to one another. Psalm 78, again, is in the context of the disobedience of the forefathers. The intent of these statements has nothing to do with binding age integration to anyone who does discipleship at anytime, but, rather, it is to prevent the children from going down the same path as their parents [v.6-7]. Age integration seems to be the farthest thing from the Psalmist’s mind, and it is utter and total eisegesis to even begin to argue that the illocutionary force of this passage is a universally binding age integration.

Also, if we consider the illocutionary force of scripture, then, as I mentioned in my post on the Puritanboard, we can have age specific education that is rooted in scripture without having the exact words themselves because it matches the intent of scripture. Hence, it will still be “rooted in scripture,” but at the illocutionary not the locutionary level.

However, Brown’s objection is spot on; though not for the reason he thinks. The classic FICM argument is flawed in the way it is presented. It has chiefly been an argument ‘against’ something as opposed to an affirmative argument ‘for’ something. As a result, those entrenched in age-segregated ministries have been defensive and unyielding. Moreover, the argument against the FICM has consistently focused on this very point. The constant refrain of “They haven’t PROVEN that what we’re doing is unbiblical” is a cornerstone of every major critique.

Unfortunately, this gets us nowhere. Those of us in the FICM would do well to recognize the validity of this criticism as to the way our argument is framed. We should not identify ourselves primarily by what we “don’t do,” but by what we do (and why). An affirmative argument for age-integrated family discipleship forces those critiquing the movement to do more than argue that we haven’t “proven a negative.” In classical terms, this is expressed in the maxim, “If a person claims that X exists and is real then the burden is on that person to supply some support for that claim, some evidence or proof that others can and should examine before accepting it.”5

In other words, Brown has to prove that there is something in Scripture that would commend age-segregated ministry, and that those of us who don’t have it are failing to do what the Bible commands (or at least clearly promotes, suggests, or offers as a pattern). Of course, such an argument is impossible. Which is why NO CRITIC has ever proposed it, since doing so would mean arguing that the church has only been in compliance with this ‘biblical pattern’ for the past fifty to seventy-five years.

First of all, Shawn Mathis has blown apart the notion that age specific education has only existed in the last fifty to seventy-five years. I really do wish the NCFIC would stop promoting this falsehood. Secondly, Baucham is simply engaging in an either/or fallacy at this point. No one is claiming that those who do not have age specific ministries are failing to do what the Bible commands. What we are saying is that saying that a person must *not* have age specific ministries is binding the conscience of God’s people where the scriptures have not. I don’t have any problem if a church decides, for one reason or another, that it would be better for them to not have Sunday Schools or youth groups. However, once you start making it a binding command that everyone must follow, you had better be able to show how such a command matches the illocutionary force of scripture. If you cannot, you are adding to the word of God, and binding to the conscience of God’s people something not found in his word. For that, yes, you can expect criticism, because it is rightly deserved.

Also, as I have already said, there is something in scripture that commends age specific ministry, it is just at the illocutionary and perlocutionary level, not at the locutionary level. For Baucham, it is either something that must be done at all times, or not done at all. Would Baucham have us believe that, just because he uses a blog to teach people that, therefore, anyone who does not use a blog to teach is sinning? Or else, they must show that there is something in scripture that would commend teaching not done via a blog? Such is absurd. There are many actions that can be consistent with the illocutionary force of a text. There are many different things you can use in teaching, but it all goes back to the command to teach, and the perlocutionary force of that command.

In fact, it is this either/or dichotomy that really bothers me about this movement. For example, while Baucham would clearly not agree with Scott Brown on this, in the post I linked to above, Scott Brown, in arguing against the objection “The Bible contains no command against age segregated ministry” makes this disturbing comment:

This idea comes from the assumption that if the Bible does not expressly forbid something, it is therefore allowed. There are serious problems with making this the standard for determining the will of God. It denies the authority of principles, positive commands, and normative patterns established in Scripture. It also denies the principle that the Bible speaks to all areas of life and that it is sufficient to equip the man of God “for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17).

The reason the emboldened section is so disturbing is because it seems as though Scott Brown is saying that, unless the Bible binds our conscience in a particular area of life, it is insufficient. I am concerned that this is going straight from antinomianism to legalistic living where you have a command for everything. Such thinking ignores the fact that the scriptures present a view of reality, and teach us to think of life according to that view of reality. There are going to be some things that are significant, and some things that are not significant [as Baucham said, chicken vs. fish for dinner]. The question is whether scripture can speak to an area, such as chicken vs. fish for dinner, by not viewing it as important or significant. The commands of scripture, even the commands of the Torah, must be understood in the context of the world the text itself constructs by its intentions, and what it views as significant and what it views as insignificant. This avoids the need for a command for everything, and yet, still allows the Bible to “speak to” every area of life.

The point is that, but not making proper distinctions that any pragmaticist would make in approaching the Biblical text, the NCFIC has put themselves under a self-imposed tyranny. My concern is that, rather than actually solving the problem of youth leaving the church, they will actually exacerbate the problem, because the children will never be taught to understand the intent of the text. Instead, things will be imposed on these children, simply without rhyme or reason, all in the name of “the sufficiency of scripture,” and the true heart of what scripture teaches, and why scripture commands certain things will never be addressed. That deeply concerns me. I do believe that the simple solution to this is going beyond the simple words of the text, to deal with things like illocutionary force, presupposition, implicature, and all of the other things addressed in pragmatics. I am finding more and more, when you ignore pragmatics, you miss the whole heart of the text, and that is what concerns me.

Addendum: Well, I guess this is why you should always read the footnotes. I do need to correct one thing. Baucham writes the following in note 7:

Systematically, that is… despite the straw man argument that FICM does not allow for any segregation at any time for any reason, I have used the term “Systematic Age-segregation” for years in order to be clear on this point. Nevertheless, even Brown, irenic and charitable as he is, states that “Advocates of family-integrated churches (FIC) believe that families should always worship and fellowship together in age-integrated (i.e., multigenerational) services and activities.” (emphasis mine) This is simply NOT TRUE. Especially when it comes to fellowship.

Fair enough, and duly noted. However, what I would point out is that this further removes us from the intention of the text. Is anyone going to seriously suggest that Deuteronomy 6, Psalm 78, or Ephesians 6 are talking about the systematization of discipleship? The category is artificial, and shows complete and total disregard for the intention of the text. All this shows to me is that the NCFIC is more concerned with what *they* deem as important rather than what the text deems as important. When you get to the pragmatic level of the text it is amazing how unbiblical this position which claims to be Biblical really is.


3 Responses to “Voddie Baucham and the NCFIC Hermeneutics”

  1. shawn Says:

    “Systematically, that is… despite the straw man argument that FICM does not allow for any segregation at any time for any reason, ”

    Yup, that’s why I have never painted their view that way. It’s more like Scott Brown who says “we never said you can *never* segregate youth but if you set them apart one-hour a week with a good teacher under good conditions that’s still to radical.”

    So if Baucham is saying the same thing then words have little meaning–for all purposes children should never be separated except for rare occasions.

  2. otrmin Says:


    Ya, the more I think about that quote from Baucham, the more I realize just how far removed these folks are from actually trying to see what the *text* intends. Saying that these texts forbid all forms of age specific education, although false, is closer to the intention of the text then the notion that we are talking about systematic age specific education. As if that has anything to do with the text at any level of speech acts!

    However, you are right, and that is why I said that I should have read the footnotes. We do need to be careful to represent these folks carefully. However, as I said in my addendum, not only does my criticism still apply, I am far more convinced than ever that these folks are simply not taking the field of pragmatics into consideration. It is like they don’t care about the intent of the author, and they, instead, read the text with their own intentions. It is simply amazing.

    God Bless,

  3. shawn Says:

    Adam: I don’t blame you for not catching their “nuance” because they themselves don’t shout it out loud (why put it in a footnote if it is pivotal?)

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