The Gospel Coalition is involved in all sorts of interesting activities right now. If you are unaware of the recent withdrawal of Tullian Tchividjian from the organization you can read some interesting and frankly important information here where Kevin DeYoung does a nice job giving a synopsis (maybe) of the issues. They are not little ones and they center around the nature of how a Christian deals with sin and the commands of the Scripture. Tchividjian essentially makes any serious obedience unnecessary because we are under grace. Though I appreciate his love of grace in all that I read of him I find that he misses the point almost completely on how grace now frees us and empowers us to obey our Lord. Secondly, I see him having an inappropriate understanding of the relationship between Law and Grace which makes any movement forward in this whole thing essentially a waste of time.
The following are a few useful articles for you to read if this little post piques your interest (honestly, just following the links on DeYoung’s article will keep you busy):
- Todd Pruitt He has several more excellent links and some very useful comments after them.
- Tullian Tchividjian We see here some of his ideas. “Are we free to fail?” “Are we free to be ordinary?” Of course we are, Jesus did it all. And therein lies the problem. Note how this article is filled with skin-tingling thoughts but really light on clear biblical exposition to support it. Here he gets irritated with the claim that he is pushing a view that celebrates failure though he doesn’t really address it in reality.
- Jen Wilkin This is the article that seemed to irritate Tullian.
- Jared Oliphant Responds to Tullian’s response.
- Carl Trueman Asks some very, very, very, very practical questions. The kind that tend to not get asked but should in debates like these. I have to invite him to preach at our church some day.
If you are interested, here is a three part series I did on the doctrine of sanctification. If you listen to them you will see the great chasm between myself (along with others) and Tchividjian. Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.
Regarding Josh Harris and CJ Mahaney stepping down, I am glad they did. Many troubling things over several years have caused me to take a big step backward to wait until more comes to light. Pretty shocking and sobering to read that a pastor and brother-in-law of Mahaney now admits under oath that he knew of the molestation and never contacted the authorities. One wonders if this is truly the very first time he admitted it to anyone. My mind is boggled.
I am no fan, even sorta-kinda-maybe, of Andy Stanley and I am a big fan of Carl Trueman (even though we would disagree on several points of theology). So I have now made my full disclosure so let me point you to a fantastic article where Dr. Trueman weighs in on Stanley’s book on church strategy and growth.
Stanley is much like many mega-church pastors today. The presumption that big equals God’s blessing. Aside from the utter nonsense that is behind that thought comes a lot of deadly advice that flows into the ears of many aspiring mega-church pastors’ ears. It is something that has become more and more blatant as these men seem (note the acknowledgment that I may be wrong here) to think that because they are large and self-funded they don’t “need” the rest of the church. I think of Driscoll and McDonald and their E2 fiasco. Or Furtick and Hillsong conference sideshow in biblical narcissism. Truth is not the driving issues anymore, though all of these men would challenge that in one way or another. Stanley is simply saying what so many others have already believed and embraced.
With that I want to give my favorite part of Trueman’s analysis to whet your appetite for the whole thing,
And that is ultimately the saddest aspect of the Andy Stanleys of this world. It is not their patronizing attitude to others. It is not their arrogant assumption that they represent the culture or that they have the right to tell the rest of us how we should think. It is not the sloppy way they bandy words like ‘culture’ and even ‘happiness’ around without ever offering a definition of what they think they mean. It is not their crass prioritization of raw numbers. It is not their complete lack of imagination regarding the moral possibilities of ‘culture.’ Rather, it is the fact that what they confidently present as radical insights are really nothing but lazy, insipid, prosaic, and predictable capitulations to the values of the spirit of the age. In short, they are simply dressing up their society’s tastes as absolute truth. Unimaginative, respectable, lazy and lethal. The discreet charm of the bourgeoisie, is it not?
Awhile back I blogged about an article by Carl Trueman where he questioned the rationale behind the Gospel Coalition’s stand on complementarianism. You can read about it here, but the gist of it was how complementarianism became a core, gospel issue. In other words, the folks at GC decided that this issue was not open for alternative views within their coalition.
A couple of days ago Trueman posted a new article that addresses the same issue but with a new twist. Now he compares two of the leaders in this coalition regarding their views on creation, Genesis 1, and evolution. Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, is a staunch defender of the traditional view of creation. Tim Keller is Pastor of Redeemer Fellowship in New York and argues for a form of theistic evolution.
The question raised is important. Why is complementarianism central to fidelity with the gospel, but theistic evolution is not? What is the big deal you ask? Well, simply put, GC argues that complementarianism flows out of creation theology. The fact that Adam was created first helps define, biblically, certain roles and relationships between man and woman. It also comes to bear on the nature of subordination within the Trinity. These tend to be big deals if you work them out carefully. With regard to creation, your view of Genesis 1 and 2 invariably affects your understanding of humanity, salvation, and sin. These are not little things and they, too, are central to the gospel.
The bible portrays Adam as a historical person, not some idealized idea. Humanity is seen as a special creation by God, one that involves the imputation of God’s image and establishing man and woman as caretakers and overseers of all creation. It also makes it clear that sin entered the world through this one man, Adam and that all of creation is under the curse of sin as a result. Then, we see the Jesus Christ is the second Adam, and through this one Man, sin and its curse is resolved.
So, how does this all work out if there is the gradual, billions of years kind of gradual, evolution of man from other animals? When did the image of God come about? When did “man” actually become “man” and not “almost man-but-not-quite-there-yet-so-he-doesn’t-bear-God’s-image?” And that sin, when did it occur and if the story of Genesis 1-2 is not as it is portrayed, then is Genesis 3 treated in the same manner?
So the question is a valid one. Why does GC forbid/reject one issue but not the other? There are plenty of egalitarians who believe the gospel. Tons of them! Tim Keller loves the gospel, that is clear. But why does he get a pass on creation? What is the essential difference.
I am sure I would be told that it is a nuanced point that is hard to see. And perhaps that is correct. But this again is a key reason why the coalitions and gatherings are so problematic to me. The Gospel Coalition is filled with great guys but they are not truly representative of the genuine Christian community who believes and loves the gospel. They are a narrow group of teachers and pastors that represents a narrow group of Christians. But being narrow doesn’t keep them from being squiggly in that narrowness.
So I go back to my conviction that doctrine matters (not that they would disagree) and that all doctrine is necessarily connected to one another making it very hard to separate. If you want a coalition of gospel lovers, then you necessarily have to define exactly what the parameters of the gospel are. And that is where the nasties begin to arise. Apparently for GC an egalitarian position (which I am against) is contrary to the gospel, but a theistic view of evolution is up to snuff. I remain unconvinced and unimpressed–like anyone really cares what impresses me.
One of my favorite writers is Carl Trueman. I have not read a book by him yet that disappointed me. I may have been confused at times due to his ridiculous vocabulary, but never disappointed. In fact, let me once again plug his gloriously titled book, Fools Rush in Where Monkeys Fear to Tread. Regardless, he wrote a recent piece over at the blog to which he contributes that reveals the problem with organizations such as The Gospel Coalition. As usual, it is clever and subtle, yet hits you with a brick up side the head.
When you read his post you can easily think it is about the issue of complementarianism vs egalitarianism, but it is not. It is really about the challenge of who is “in” and who is “out” in a Christian organization. He uses the Baptist for his model and it is a good one to use. In many Baptist churches a man who holds to infant baptism may be allowed to preach there, but not take communion; although you will find that many Baptist churches would not let him preach either. But if that Baptist church is complementarian then they would never allow a woman to preach from their pulpit but she if she held to ‘believer’s baptism’ then she could take communion.
Confused? That is the point. Whenever you have a group of Christians who decide to form a parachurch organization that is centered on the core principles like the gospel there is always problems that will arise. This is because doctrine actually matters to Christians. And biblical doctrine is not like a friend of mine’s plate of food, where every food type is kept separate from all the others. Doctrine flows effortlessly between other doctrines, where they inform, define, and enlarge each other along the way. And that is the struggle for The Gospel Coalition. It is a decidedly complementarian group of contributors (of which I would be in full agreement) and so that is becoming a line drawn in the proverbially sand. But meanwhile you have Charismatics, Presbyterians, Baptists and the like all happily writing for the site without any other significant line drawings going on.
This is why I tend to shy from these groups, because I cannot avoid doctrine. And I believe that doctrine matters (and yes, so do the folks at the coalition) and we cannot just ignore it while we focus on the gospel. The gospel is inextricable tied to all other doctrines in one way or another. And Trueman did a great job showing that in his post. He concludes his post powerfully:
This is not the only awkward question one might ask: for example, which is more unacceptable to a Baptist – a woman preaching credobaptism or a man preaching paedobaptism? But that is for another day. In the meantime, do not misunderstand me: I do write as a convinced complementarian and a member of a church where no elders or deacons are – or can be — women, though none of them are – or can be – Lutherans, Baptists or Dispensationalists either. It is thus not complementarianism in itself to which I object; I am simply not sure why it is such a big issue in organisations whose stated purpose is basic co-operation for the propagation of the gospel and where other matters of more historic, theological and ecclesiastical moment are routinely set aside. If you want simply to unite around the gospel, then why not simply unite around the gospel? Because as soon as you decide that issues such as baptism are not part of your centre-bounded set but complementarianism is, you will find yourself vulnerable to criticism — from both right and left — that you are allowing a little bit of the culture war or your own pet concerns and tastes to intrude into what you deem to be the most basic biblical priorities.
I really do. And I think the following quote from the blog he contributes to will make my point:
Before my video interview with Dr. Packer last May, the two of us sat in a room at Regent discussing one of the passions which we both share – no, not bashing chinless upper class English schoolboys but rather our appreciation of the English Puritans – in relation to recent and contemporary evangelical history.
Below you will find two excellent quotes from Martin Luther. Read them, then read them again. I cannot take credit for finding them, one of my favorite authors did that for me. Carl Trueman, in his fun and challenging book Fools Rush in Where Monkeys Fear To Tread (worth the price of the book just for that title) writes a very helpful essay entitled, “Am I Bovvered?” about words and how we like to attach our sense of reality to what another person said, usually complaining that they hurt us.
In all of this he makes the key distinction between our words and God’s and he does it through these two quotes. The first is that when God speaks He generates reality. The second quote is about the Cross, where we must accept God’s words as the reality of what the Cross is, not what man says it means. Good stuff.
Here attention must also be called to this, but the words “let there be light” are the words of God, not of Moses; this means that they are realities. For God calls into existence the things that do not exist (Romans 4:17). He does not speak grammatical words; he speaks true and existent realities. Accordingly, that which among us has the sound of the word is a reality with God. Thus Sun, Moon, heaven, earth, Peter, Paul, I, you, etc. – we are all words of God, in fact only one single syllable or letter by comparison with the entire creation. We, too, speak, but only according to the rules of language; that is, we assign names to objects which have already been created. But the divine role of language is different, namely: when he says: “Sun, shine,” the Sun is there at once and shines. Thus the words of God are realities, not bare words.
(Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, vol. I, Lectures on Genesis: Chapters 1-5 (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999), 21-22.
The theologian of glory calls evil good and good evil. A theologian of the Cross calls the thing what it actually is.
This is clear: he who does not know Christ does not know God hidden in suffering. Therefore he prefers works to suffering, glow to the cross, strength to weakness, wisdom to folly, and, in general, good to evil. These are the people whom the apostle calls “enemies of the cross of Christ” [Philippians 3:18], for they hate the cross in suffering and love works and the glory of works. Thus they call the good of the cross evil and the evil of a deed good. God can be found only in suffering and the cross, as has already been said. Therefore the friends of the cross say that the cross is good and works are evil, for through the cross works are destroyed and the old Adam, who is especially edified by works, is crucified. It is impossible for a person not to be puffed up by his good works unless he has first been deflated in destroyed by suffering and evil until he knows that he is worthless and that his works are not his but God’s.
(Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, vol. 31, Career of the Reformer I (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 53.
(2 Timothy 2:15)In pointing out these things to the brethren, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following
(1 Timothy 4:6)
I am a pastor of a medium, ordinary church. Nothing exciting, nothing earth-shattering, just a church filled with people who love Jesus and seek to grow in their faith. Along with those Christians there are also those who do not know Jesus yet as Lord. They know it, we know it, and we are thankful for their presence and their desire to hear, consider and by God’s grace, believe.
As a pastor I have many things that pull at me, less now that I have an Associate Pastor who lifts a major load off of my shoulders, but there are still many pressures that are part of the office of ‘pastor.’ The challenge from the very beginning was what was the non-negotiable things that would control my time? Would it be administration? How about vision-casting? Counseling is always a great choice for many need it and desire that face time with the pastor. Then there is visitation, old-school style. Why not leadership development? I could also teach theology classes or there is the ever present need for evangelism. I could also be the guy in town who specializes in marriages and funerals to pad my paycheck, it just needs a few well-placed phone calls around town. The list could go on and on, but this is a small glimpse into what a pastor has before him in the way of choices on how he uses his time. Notice that there is no mention of my wife, nor the four children in my home when I started this pastoral journey.
What was my decision? It was real simple. It did not come from a leadership book, no conference revealed it to me, and I didn’t pray for God’s guidance on it. Simple put, God told me what was my primary focus as a pastor, it was the studying and preaching and teaching of the Word of God. Not real earth-shattering, but it is the simple will of God that a pastor first and foremost attend himself to the study and proclamation of the holy scripture: “I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires; 4 and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths.” (2 Timothy 4:1-4)
All of this introductory material to speak briefly about an organization that is real big in parts of the Evangelical community. It is called Docent group and it exists to give you a ‘research assistant.’ Mark Driscoll is a big fan of this group and he was the guy who introduced me to them about five years ago. They do all sorts of stuff for the busy pastor. They will do that nasty work that takes up the time of pastors, like researching a book of the bible, doing your exegetical research or coming up with pithy, relevant illustrations. Need to read a book but no time for it? No problem, just pay them and they will read it for you and provide the summary of the book.
So what is the problem? Simple, busy pastors need to decide that their busyness cannot detract from the central, God-given task of study and sermon preparation. What stands out for me is that the ones who tend to use this is not the little church pastor who has to do everything, but the large church pastor. The one who has a large staff that is supposed to free him from all of those problems. What Docent really reveals is that big church pastors are not necessarily busy with the study and presentation of the Bible to their people, but rather something else, like making the church even bigger.
Carl Trueman wrote a very compelling article on this a short time ago that is worthy your read if you are a pastor or want to be one. Here is a taste of what he writes:
Finally, once again I find myself worrying about the normative, aspirational model of ministry which this is projecting to men in seminary, looking for a call or in their first charge.
Underlying it all, of course, is American conservative evangelicalism’s dirty little secret: the movement, such as it is, embraces mutually incompatible views of the ministerial calling which presumably must rest on mutually incompatible theologies of ministry. There are those who think ministry is, above all else, about preaching the word in the local congregation and that that is to be the pastor’s top priority bar none, from the choice of passage to its final delivery. And there are those for whom ministry is – well, to be honest, I do not really know what exactly they think it is. I cannot describe it because websites such as this are just more evidence that, whatever it is, I do not have the categories to explain it sympathetically to others.
And while I do not expect major discussion of this by the great and the good on the major webpages in the evangelical world, even if such does take place, I doubt that will come to any decisive or clear conclusion. Too many feudal ties and too much at stake for big tent movements to speak with prophetic or even common-sense voices on this one. My guess is that, if it is mentioned in some quarters at all, it will be another of those things that people agree to differ on in order to keep the big ticket names on board. It will have that ‘Hey, we can face the hard questions but still maintain alliances’ feel. Asking hard questions is ironically not as hard as it is often cut out to be; giving hard answers usually proves to be quite another thing entirely.
As I see things like this, I remember Dr. Packer’s comments of a few weeks back in giving advice to young ministers: dig deep, dwell deep.
Of course, why bother with all of this deep digging and such when others are happy to do it for you?