25 May 2018

The Root of the Matter

by Phil Johnson



The issue underlying practically every popular evangelical trend we have ever decried here on PyroManiacs is the same moral defect that was the besetting sin of the Pharisees—namely, a craving for human applause. The current ranks of evangelical leadership are filled with men who care far too much about what the world thinks of them. The intellectually sophisticated among our Top Men tend to covet academic esteem, especially from unbelieving scholars. Those who are less—um, cerebrally endowed—just yearn to be admired for being über-cool. Between those two extremes are a legion of evangelical movers and shakers who think they can achieve both goals. Lately, they have sought to do this by cultivating a noisome air of political correctness.

Scripture could not be more clear about the value of this world's approval. Jesus said, "Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets" (Luke 6:26). And, "If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you" (John 15:18-19). And, "you will be hated by all for my name's sake" (Matthew 10:22). And, "Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets" (Luke 6:22-23).

It's a theme that runs throughout Scripture, starting with Cain's murderous contempt for his own brother's righteous offering, and finally summed up in 1 John 3:13 with this admonition from the Apostle of Love: "Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you."

Christians are expressly forbidden to embrace the world's values or seek its approval: "Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world--the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions--is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever" (1 John 2:15-17).

The world is of course our mission field, so we're commanded to love people (including our enemies) as God does (Matthew 5:44-45). But worldly values, entertainments, and ideologies are full of spiritual poison. The current evangelical infatuation with such things is tantamount to treason against God. That's what James was saying when he wrote, "You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God" (James 4:4).

The notion that we must win the world's esteem before the gospel can do its work is, I'm convinced, a spiritually crippling error. But it's also the presupposition underlying most of the trends currently vying for widespread acceptance within the so-called evangelical movement. In reality, for three decades or longer the broad movement has been softening its commitment to (and in many cases totally abandoning) the two most important evangelical convictions—sola Scriptura and sola fide. Those cardinal biblical doctrines are now being replaced by secular dogmas: "wokeness," "social justice" (a liberal counterfeit, not biblical justice), critical race theory, gender fluidity, and an ever-increasing number of ideologies bred and popularized in secular academic circles.

That now includes the normalization of LGTBQ perversions by evangelicals who argue that illicit desires in and of themselves aren't really sin; they are morally neutral expressions of one's "sexual orientation." (More on this subject in the days to come.)

The "gospel-centered" movement that many of us were so enthusiastic for just one decade ago has gone with the drift. The Gospel Coalition has for some time now shown a pattern of embracing whatever new moral issue or political cause is currently popular in Western culture by arguing that this, too, is a legitimate "gospel issue." They are by no means alone in this. Everything from the latest Marvel movie to gun control legislation has been deemed a "gospel issue" by some savvy evangelical writer at one or more of the most heavily trafficked evangelical websites. But if everything is supposedly a gospel issue, the expression "gospel-centered" is rendered meaningless.

As I said in a Tweet earlier today, we must not abandon the focused simplicity of Luke 24:46-47 in favor of a social gospel that encompasses a large complex of racial, economic, and political issues. Every denomination, every educational institution, and every church that has ever made that error has seen a quick demise. I for one don't intend to watch in silence while the current generation repeats that mistake.

Phil's signature

49 comments:

shad said...

PREACH THE GOSPEL. NOT REFORM PEOPLE PREACH THE GOSPEL

Andrew Lindsey said...

I'm sure that you agree that the gospel-- the message of Christ's death, burial, and resurrection on behalf of sinners-- should radically inform every aspect of our lives: including our perception of the latest Marvel movie or calls for gun control legislation.

How would you differentiate from striving to have a properly biblical (and therefore gospel-centered) worldview on the one hand, and improperly 'making everything a gospel issue'?

PJ Tibayan said...

I say yes and amen to most of this blog post. Let us not seek the approval of the godless world that makes sin seem normal and righteousness seems strange (David Wells, "Losing Our Virtue" 3).

You wrote: "Those cardinal biblical doctrines are now being replaced by secular dogmas: "wokeness," "social justice" (a liberal counterfeit, not biblical justice), critical race theory, gender fluidity, and an ever-increasing number of ideologies bred and popularized in secular academic circles."

What some "gospel-centered" parachurch organizations do is maintain, defend, and preach faith alone and Scripture alone rather than replace them. If they are indeed replacing them then it is to their shame and must be called out. But a false dichotomy is assumed that "wokeness" or "social justice" is antithetical the formal and material principles of the reformation. That is not necessarily true. The "social gospel" is antithetical, and indeed some forms of "wokeness" and "social justice" is really just the social gospel. If that is what you're saying, then yes and amen. But I fear that some who reject and repudiate the social gospel, hold to sola scriptura and sola fide, and fight to "wake" people up to the (not-so-obvious-to-some-like-me) oppression of their neighbors are being confused with social gospel people.

The debate seems to be: is their really oppression of our neighbors from minority ethnic people groups or not? If not, then those who call for "waking up" and "social justice" are mistakenly calling for something false and imaginary. If there is actual oppression, then those who reject their calls to wake up and realize the oppression may actually be hindering Christians from discerning and loving their neighbors as they would themselves (Mark 12.31) if they were in that situation.

Phil Johnson said...

PJ Tibayan: You're more or less obliged not to agree publicly with criticisms of TGC, and I understand that.

But try this simple test: count the past three months' articles on TGC's website (including the blogs) where their writers are expressly teaching or defending justification by faith. Then count the articles in that same time period whose main theme is social justice. If you can then confidently state that the latter topic has not significantly edged out the former, post the actual statistics here. If on the other hand you find those topics are prioritized in the way I have suggested, I hope you'll suggest privately to the powers that be in TGC that I'm making a legitimate point.

Phil Johnson said...

PS: If you find any posts written to teach or defend the authority and/or sufficiency of Scripture, feel free to count those as well.

Bobby Grow said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Michael Coughlin said...

Good post.

Brad Lemler said...

It can take a long time for simple things to make sense to me. Economics (the study of people and the choices they make) and theology (why people choose as they do) helped me see the following: 1) People that are lovers of darkness, and therefore, haters of light, see, understand, value and behave in one pattern. 2) People that are lovers of light, and therefore, haters of darkness, see, understand, value and behave in a radically different pattern. 3) Only the effective work of the Holy Spirit (work accomplished through human presentations of the gospel) can move a specific person from membership in group 1 to membership in group 2.

Once I understood those three things, so many other things became clear. For example, I most effectively advance the pro-life cause by presenting the gospel to individual persons. Should the Holy Spirit choose to work through that presentation to change that person's group membership, one more person has been added to the pro life cause. In other words, people - their beliefs, values and desires - lead and policies and social structures follow. Not the other way around. This same logic applies to all policies and social structures that we might want to change.

If I want to change the world, I need to be the most effective conduit possible through which the Holy Spirit might effectively work. If I desire the approval of some group of humans, I need to proceed in a different manner.

Hohn C said...

PJ Tibayan wrote:
“The "social gospel" is antithetical, and indeed some forms of "wokeness" and "social justice" is really just the social gospel. If that is what you're saying, then yes and amen.”

I appreciate your acknowledgment of that. And I would certainly acknowledge that there are some evangelicals emphasizing “social justice” who remain faithful to the true Gospel.

“The debate seems to be: is their really oppression of our neighbors from minority ethnic people groups or not?”

Respectfully, I don’t think that’s the debate; the answer is obviously yes. There is and always will be oppression and poor treatment of any number of people for any number of reasons, because of the reality of sin (and racism is indeed sin) and the Fall. And there always will be until Jesus returns and makes all things right.

“If there is actual oppression, then those who reject their calls to wake up and realize the oppression may actually be hindering Christians from discerning and loving their neighbors as they would themselves (Mark 12.31) if they were in that situation.”

And here is where I believe we part ways. Loving your neighbor — without partiality per James 2:1-9, I would add — is a command... but it is an incredibly broad one. The unborn are our neighbors, and completely unable to fend or stick up for themselves; truly the least of these! Abused and trafficked women are our neighbors. Bullied kids are our neighbors. The mentally ill and disabled and homeless are our neighbors. And yes, one’s (relatively privileged, let’s even hypothesize) next-door neighbor is our neighbor.

How each Christian prioritizes his or her finite time, money, energy, resources, in attending to various commands and obligations in life (e.g., even before we reach more distant neighbors, providing for one’s own family and the household of faith are both among the highest priorities per 1 Tim. 5:8 and Gal. 6:10), is a matter subject to that individual Christian’s stewardship, conscience, and calling.

And that’s one major problem I have with the increasing focus — almost fixation, at times — on race-centric issues. Because for Christians, it is just one issue among so many, and the emphasis has grown to such an extent that it is seeming to go far beyond, “Hey, please prayerfully consider this issue as you search your own heart,” to “If you aren’t prioritizing race-centric issues, you are in sin/not a good Christian/not my friend (or ally, to use a popular word these days).” And to say it plainly, that latter attitude is presumptuous, even arrogant. It is sinful, conscience-binding legalism.

The other major problem I have with this race-centric attitude is the one Phil highlights, the more one emphasizes race-centric (or similar) issues, the less one is emphasizing the Gospel. It is the very essence of “mission drift” (to quote Thabiti Anyabwile’s 2010 T4G sermon). And the level of emphasis we’ve been seeing on race-centric issues right now reminds me of an expositor going to the very same application points week after week. It’s unbalanced, it’s unhelpful, and at the end of the day, being distracted by non-Gospel issues like these has historically resulted in Gospel compromise over the long-term, in pretty much every case I’m aware of.

Just some thoughts I’ve had on this topic for a while. Thanks for your post, and much grace to you.

Morris Brooks said...

Paul states it most succinctly in Galatians 1:10 For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ.

Brandon Miller said...

In past decades us white Christians didn't really get confronted on racism. I have seen this in older generations of white Christians. I harbored racist thoughts for a while. I have witnessed Christians angry against multiracial romantic relationships on more than one occasion. I'm glad it is getting confronted now.

I have seen some bizarre teaching about race out there from pastors. One white pastor posted in a Facebook post that racism isn't a sin. Yet all throughout the Bible we see that God's people should take care of foreigners and other afflicted people.

I am currently staying in Korea and I have a friend from Nigeria. He has an incredibly hard time finding work here. He has been told by a company that they don't want an African worker. Most English schools here don't want black teachers, only white ones, and I hear the black ones make less money.

America has made some progress but I can see that people still have unequal footing depending on race.

I do not see the Gospel Coalition or the SBC proclaiming a false "social gospel." But there are times when focused teaching is needed. Now it is needed on homosexuality and race. The verse in Luke you quote mentions "repentance." So having a right view on race doesn't justify you, faith in Christ does. But Christians need clear teaching on what exactly we must repent from. We must tell people (and be told) to repent from racism. The pushback against this teaching on social justice proves that the teaching is needed, hence the focus on it.

Also if a preacher is preaching the majority of his sermons on the topic of race, that would be a problem. But TGC is a parachurch organization, not a preacher

Tim Winn said...

Really good! I think I'll read here more often. I have noticed some peculiarities in TGC that I found disturbing, and it stirred my convictions. I'm not quite the intellectual you all are, so I kept quiet about it, and just sought God in scripture and prayer... But, I guess that's why He leads me to places like this. This isn't the first time, either. There's been several times that I've found no one who shared my convictions on certain things, that I didn't find in scripture. However, I then run across people like you, Dr. MacArthur, Justin Peters, and many others.. And, it's like a breath of fresh air to see that I'm not alone in these convictions and discernments. I really admire Tim Keller and D A Carson but frankly, some of the stuff I've seen from TGC lately is concerning, to say the least, and it's been bothering me. I wish I was familiar enough with scripture to point these things out.. But, until I know more, I just have to wait on Him, and keep reading and praying. I know enough to know it isn't quite right. However, I can't always pin it (or pen it) down quite as well as you all. So, thank you for looking to Him first.

Jo Hunt said...

I must admit as an Australian (descendant of 19th century convicts) I am quite puzzled at how American Christians have allowed yourselves to become so divided about sins of generations past.

Australia has its own negative history RE white people (English convict settlers) versus black people (aborignals, original inhabitants). I have never seen aboriginal Christians demand white Christians apologise for land invasion, murder, forced infant removal by white people (often well-meaning missionaries) et.al.

Here Christians haven't been blamed for aboriginals' many losses, white settlers have. Our society seems way more secular than USA.

Did any American Christians/churches mistreat African-Americans *in the name of Christ*, or use the bible to justify doing so? Those who did so should definitely seek to make amends. Otherwise I do not understand why "innocent" white Americans are willing to take any blame.Otherwise you are going to become stuck in the cycle of guilt-trips.

I will be blunt here. I can understand why African American non-believers can get stuck in bitterness and unforgiveness,as I have heard similar tragedies from aboriginal neighbours. However seeing the same attitudes and behaviours being demonstrated by Christian LEADERS (and then being encouraged in these sins by white Christians) amazes me. So any comments to help me understand more would be appreciated!

Bobby Grow said...

I deleted my first comment because I wanted to re-reply. I have been a critic of TGC, for theological reasons, for many years. As I reflect on the concerns about their apparent hat-tipping to 'social justice' issues, and if this actually is a compromise vis-a-vis the Gospel, I think PJ's points are well taken. In other words, I wonder if simply quantifying the amount of blog posts that TGC has posted over the last several months is actually a good barometer for getting at whether or not they have in fact slid from their own commitments to the Gospel as that is understood and articulated in the confessionally Reformed faith? As I look at who they have writing for them---even knowing many of them more personally (at least from an electronic vantage point), I can't imagine finding folks more committed to the Reformed understanding of the Gospel--particularly in its Federal or Covenantal form--than you'll find in and among these authors. I think of Scott Swain, Michael Allen, Derek Rishmawy, Fred Sanders, Tim Keller, DA Carson et al. These guys, if you know them and their theologies, are as hard-core committed to the classically construed Protestant and Reformed Gospel than anyone I know or have critiqued over the years; in fact I critique them on this very issue, and they critique back. In other words, if you follow individual contributors to TGC, most of the ones I know of are staunchly committed to the Reformed Confessions and Catechisms, and of course see those as faithful grammarizations of the biblical teaching and reality itself. From what I can see, particularly when it comes to race issues, TGC is simply attempting to do what the SBC is doing right now when it comes to the same issue plus issues orbiting around Christian women in the church (remaining faithful to complementarianism, but in such a way that recognizes that God has indeed gifted women in significant ways for the edification of the church just the same). I know theological-liberals; I hung around many of them for many years, and what I see happening in TGC, while scary it seems to some in the conservative evangelical world, is not even close, not even a seedling in comparison to what is actually happening in and among theological liberals and progressives. And from what I can see I don't see TGC, as far as its theological commitments go, in formal ways, moving anywhere. They might be attempting to reach a variant demographic than they used to, and so they might well be writing on pop-cultural issues that they think millennials and younger are being faced with; but as I really reflect on TGC I don't see them waning from their understanding of the Gospel in really significant ways. Then again, maybe they are sliding, but just knowing who the leadership is that's hard to imagine at this point. On the spectrum they are still highly conservative, evangelical, and Reformed.

Daniel Hallmeyer said...

Good reminders, Phil. Thank you.

Brandon Barnes said...

I would not argue that TGC is confessionally or formally moving away from orthodoxy, but TGC does have a decidedly social justice tilt to their articles and blogs (I think this is undeniable and has been the case for several years now). So, what’s the problem? After all, who today has any real issue with pointing out that racism is sinful, overt or latent? The problem is not that TGC points out that racism is sinful, nor that racist, bigoted people should repent of their sins, nor is the issue that we should guard against latent bigoted thinking. I think all of that is warranted. From my perspective, the problem is that when they adopt the concepts and language of critical theory (e.g. critical concepts of oppression, white privilege, structural racism, etc.), assume that they are self-evidently true, and then bake them into their overall philosophy of ministry, they become a point of unbiblical division in the church. By its very nature, with its classes of oppressed and oppressors, this perspective is divisive and is, in my view, actively wreaking havoc. Because adherents of these concepts believe that they are self-evidently true, they are beyond debate. Challenging the concepts themselves becomes a defect in the challenger that needs to be repented of. It’s not enough that you believe that racism is sinful, but you must acknowledge the existence of institutional structures of racism and oppression, work to resolve those structures, and if you don’t, you’re part of the problem. It isn’t up for debate. The irony is that these very same concepts and methods are used to argue against the Christian faith in the public sphere, which is why I’m dumbfounded as to how they’ve infiltrated the thinking of so many, especially in otherwise confessionally Reformed thinkers.

To be clear, I don’t think that all of the council members at TGC buy into this way of thinking, and I do not suggest that even some of the more ardent SJWs at TGC (for that matter at ERLC too) are full on CRTers - how’s that for a steady stream of acronyms!, but this kind of thinking has undoubtedly become more prevalent and it needs to be challenged. I can’t think of a better guy who has the intellect and wit to do so than Phil Johnson. Glad you’re back, Phil.

Hohn C said...

Bobby Grow wrote:
“From what I can see, particularly when it comes to race issues, TGC is simply attempting to do what the SBC is doing right now when it comes to the same issue plus issues orbiting around Christian women in the church (remaining faithful to complementarianism, but in such a way that recognizes that God has indeed gifted women in significant ways for the edification of the church just the same).“

Honestly, there are large differences between the race-centric discussion (largely involving sins and crimes long past; where current alleged wrongs are often either vague and unspecified, or disputed multivariate analyses; and with poorly described — if at all — remedies of questionable wisdom) and the discussion relating to abuse of women (sadly a very current issue; typically with very specific and detailed allegations of wrong, and often with targeted remedies; relating to a category of people who Scripture explicitly calls men to protect).

And I don’t doubt that the Reformed leaders at TGC and elsewhere who are beating the race-centric drum think they’re doing a fine thing. But I strongly question the soundness of their thinking and the results of their actions, and again note that the historical results of emphasizing anything other than the Gospel (“mission drift”) have uniformly led to Gospel compromise.

Hohn C said...

Brandon Miller wrote:
“America has made some progress but I can see that people still have unequal footing depending on race.”

Some progress? The US has made enormous progress on the issue of race. Here is one statistic that I believe is among the most important factors relating to race, interracial marriage approval.

http://news.gallup.com/poll/163697/approve-marriage-blacks-whites.aspx

I’d be surprised if any other country in the world has as dramatic improvement in this area. And you can find other very encouraging statistics on HumanProgress.org .

And yes, of course there is still progress to be made, but one needs to make sure not to conflate equality of opportunity with equality of outcome, and also remember practically that the reality of sin means there will never be perfection this side of glory.

PJ Tibayan said...

Hohn C wrote: And that’s one major problem I have with the increasing focus — almost fixation, at times — on race-centric issues. Because for Christians, it is just one issue among so many, and the emphasis has grown to such an extent that it is seeming to go far beyond, “Hey, please prayerfully consider this issue as you search your own heart,” to “If you aren’t prioritizing race-centric issues, you are in sin/not a good Christian/not my friend (or ally, to use a popular word these days).” And to say it plainly, that latter attitude is presumptuous, even arrogant. It is sinful, conscience-binding legalism.

This is a major problem if they are saying one must prioritize the ethnic harmony issue above other issues. Yes and amen. But I do see the need to assert the issue if it is being denied by fellow (otherwise) faithful Christians. If many evangelicals were denying the sin of abortion I would not fault a group of Christians focusing on trying to help their brothers/sisters see the issue and have their consciences bound, even in the midst of "many" other issues.

Grace and peace to you, Hohn C.

PJ Tibayan said...

Phil, thank you for writing the post and responding to my comment. I have considered (and will continue to consider) your point.

Regarding my relationship with TGC, I don't have the access to the powers that be in TGC but am a lowly member of a regional chapter. I pray that I can wisely and courageously speak against the organization when necessary to serve our Lord, like when they missed the opportunity to clearly communicate what seemed to me to be a severing of formal ties with some of the council members. I pray my TMS/TMU brothers and sisters and other Christians will reprove and correct me when necessary. I also pray I'd have the humility and faith to repent and grow in being trained in righteousness (2 Tim 3.16-17).

Regarding your simple test, without counting, I will grant that there are up to 20 times more posts on social justice than sola fide and sola scriptura in the last 3 months. I will grant that those topics have been "prioritized" (your word).

But your article says they have "replaced" social justice and wokeness for sola fide and sola scriptura. Am I reading you wrong? As I typed that last sentence, I realized perhaps I am. To read you in the most generous light, I think I'd read you now to be saying, "Some self-proclaimed gospel-centered organizations have REPLACED THEIR PRIORITY on sola fide and sola scriptura with social justice and wokeness." Is that what you mean? A replacement of emphasis and priority in the last 3 months? If so, I could agree with you on that fact. But does that last-3-month-prioritizing on a parachurch blog and website necessarily indicate an effort to secure the world's applause? Are they sinning and being unfaithful to Jesus and Scripture for that prioritizing?

If they are "replacing" sola fide and sola scriptura with worldly values (1 John 2.15-17, Rom 12.2) for worldly applause (James 4.4) then I will join you in your critique and efforts to reprove those I can. But article-counting from a brief period of time that includes the 50-year anniversary of MLK's assassination is an unsound method for proving some of TGC are seeking worldly applause and "replacing" cardinal doctrines with worldly/satanic (my word) ones. Therefore, I still think at this point that your article incorrectly categorizes them. If you are to be faithful to our Lord and his Word you should correct your article.

But perhaps I'm still missing something or not understanding what you're saying. Am I?

Hohn C said...

"This is a major problem if they are saying one must prioritize the ethnic harmony issue above other issues. Yes and amen."

But PJ, this was the implicit (and at times explicit) message of the the MLK conference, as well as many recent posts on TGC. I can post specific quotes from specific people, if you would find that helpful?

"But I do see the need to assert the issue if it is being denied by fellow (otherwise) faithful Christians. If many evangelicals were denying the sin of abortion..."

But who in the world is denying racism is sin? I haven't seen anyone do that, anyone with even a shred of credibility, anyway. That's part of the problem with this issue, the commonality of broad and sweeping generalizations that are not easy (or even possible, sometimes) to substantiate. And yes, to be clear, I WOULD be helped if you could post quotes.

The most I've seen is Christians debating how prevalent the issue of racism is, and that is a fair debate to have, especially in light of the immense progress we've made and the multivariate nature of the analysis, as I stated earlier. And add to that the fair debate over what the role of the church is to change the society outside of Gospel proclamation.

Within the church itself, much of the criticism I've seen tends to be of the implicit bias or "microaggression" (which is another issue I feel strongly about, perhaps I'll submit a proposed blog article to Phil) category, which I hardly feel is appropriate for an extreme level of attention or emphasis.

"I would not fault a group of Christians focusing on trying to help their brothers/sisters see the issue and have their consciences bound, even in the midst of "many" other issues."

You think that binding Christians' consciences on matters which you seem to agree are issues of stewardship is a good thing? I would find that to be an astonishing statement. Would love for you to clarify, thanks.

PJ Tibayan said...

Hohn C, you wrote: "The most I've seen is Christians debating how prevalent the issue of racism is, and that is a fair debate to have."

Amen. That is the debate and it is just manifesting itself in different ways in our comments.

"You think that binding Christians' consciences on matters which you seem to agree are issues of stewardship is a good thing"

I'm not sure what you mean by "you seem to agree." But yes, I think we should try to bind Christian consciences according to God's Word and the right application of God's Word to cultural questions when applicable: like abortion, gender confusion, marriage confusion, or the prevalence of racism in our culture today. I hope that clarifies my understanding for you, Hohn.

For now I'll follow my convo with Phil to see where I can be corrected/sharpened/reproved, if he responds to me.

Though I won't have time today to follow up conversation with you, thank you for your interaction with me, Hohn C!

C. P. Kolstad said...

Welcome back! You've been missed.

Ben Hogan said...

Yes and amen! Thank you, Phil. I spoke to you sometime last year encouraging you to weigh in so it’s great to see you will be working through these issues!

Hohn C said...

PJ Tibayan wrote:
"Amen. That is the debate and it is just manifesting itself in different ways in our comments."

But I think you've moved the goalposts a bit from our original discussion, which was your allegation that otherwise faithful Christians were denying that racism (as with abortion) is sin. Given your inability to quickly cite even one example of a credible Christian doing this, I'll let that stand on its own, although I will still welcome any examples you might be able to cite in the future.

Obviously, there's a current debate on the extent and prevalence of racism, and from my view the ones trying to emphasize it are doing so in an unbalanced way, with a real paucity of hard data and evidence, a conflation of equality of opportunity vs. equality of result, and tons of heart-reading assumptions and experience-elevating generalizations which are unfair or uncharitable.

"But yes, I think we should try to bind Christian consciences according to God's Word and the right application of God's Word to cultural questions when applicable: like abortion, gender confusion, marriage confusion, or the prevalence of racism in our culture today. I hope that clarifies my understanding for you, Hohn."

I think it does, although not to any degree of comfort. It's one thing to teach abortion and racism are sins. Of course, they are.

But it's another thing entirely to try to bind Christians' consciences as to how they ought to prioritize their own stewardship and Christian liberty, which is the very type of conscience-binding legalism that I decried.

I view the worst of the race-centric crowd as little different from the AHA zealots who insist that every Christian needs to make fighting abortion their number one priority, and to do it in ways that the AHA zealots approve of. And it reminds me of the courtship-only and homeschool-only crowds.

Bobby Grow said...

Hohn C wrote: Honestly, there are large differences between the race-centric discussion (largely involving sins and crimes long past; where current alleged wrongs are often either vague and unspecified, or disputed multivariate analyses; and with poorly described — if at all — remedies of questionable wisdom) and the discussion relating to abuse of women ...

I wasn't conflating the two, instead if you reread what I wrote, I was noticing the similarity, in re to issues, that the SBC is dealing with and what has been dominating TGC's posts as of late; I wasn't equating the two---except to note that these are issues that are being addressed by both bodies, issues that are currently live in the pop-culture and among certain demographics to boot.

Hohn C ... But I strongly question the soundness of their thinking and the results of their actions, and again note that the historical results of emphasizing anything other than the Gospel (“mission drift”) have uniformly led to Gospel compromise.

Have you read Calvin? He addressed a multitude of issues that were extensively related to implications of the Gospel rather than just sola fide/sola gratia; same with Luther et al. I don't think this necessarily indicates 'mission drift' instead I'd imagine TGC believes that these issues are actually implicated by the reality of the Gospel (i.e. feeding the poor, ministering to the least of these etc). I do think that TGC is probably imprudent to simply use the grammar offered by movements like BLM, Christian anarchists, the LGBTQ community, even if they are appealing to that equivocally. Instead it would be more shrewd to invent a new grammar that is indeed explicitly and historically tied to the language of the church and the Gospel itself. So in this sense---a semantic sense---I do agree that they should not hook themselves into the entailments that attend to neo-Marxist/Liberationist theology. That said, it's always possible to do so in non-correlationist ways retexting the grammar under the pressure of the Gospel reality itself. But I think the more prudent way is to indeed recognize that the church itself has its own Kingdom grammar (like biblical) and to engage the culture at large from that semantic and grammatical domain.

Dennis Swanson said...

Phil's tactics are rather transparent. He will always set up false "AB Switch" situations. He will insist on lexical precision from his opponents, while playing fast and loose with facts and disclosure himself. He will also often find seemingly outrageous examples on the other side, insist that you renounce those people (usually this will be done if he needs to distract the conversation) and if you don't you will be lumped together with the fringe element. The silly notion of "counting" blog posts is another well worn tactic. As his slap/reply PJ also demonstrates he will pretend to "inside" knowledge which indicates he "knows" why you are responding in one way or another. It's all tabloidism which should have no place in proper discourse. Retirement from blogging had brought a level of peace and civility to theological discourse, I would encourage a return to that state.

Hohn C said...

Mr. Swanson, what an outrageous post. Your last sentence and its praise of “peace and civility” is so astonishing that I’m amazed you apparently lacked even the barest self-awareness to post it in the midst of your hostile attack.

Mr. Grow, thanks for your clarification. Please note that I wasn’t accusing you of conflation, rather, just as you noted similarities, I was noting differences. And yes, I have read Calvin, who was undoubtedly impacted significantly by his political entanglements and viewpoints. Regardless, I don’t think even he beat the drum quite like this on one issue, as we appear to have seen in the past few months. Finally, I agree with you on the terminology point... personally, I cringe whenever I see critical race theory language coming from the mouths of solid Christians.

Bobby Grow said...

Hohn C,

I don't really get this sort of generalization by quantification over a relatively small amount of time. If we were to look at all of TGC's posts (remember these are blog posts were talking about) over the years, and use Phil's quantification theory as an indicator, there would be not argument or critique to make of TGC;other than some folks don't like that TGC is potentially getting too involved with issues oriented around pop-culture and the culture wars. Then again that same critique could be made of the Pyromaniacs themselves over the years; i.e. being too focused on pop-culture-war issues in various sectors of the church rather than developing theological themes that indeed have to do with the Gospel and its entailments itself. So there is some irony here, even the reasons for Phil's return are motivated by issues that are pop-cultural rather than simply for purposes of more positively offering explications that would magnify the Gospel reality itself. Much of blogging is indeed a watch-dog sort of thing for some, indeed this has been Pyromaniacs MO for many years. But Swanson put it out there in a way that I think is rather prescient, and this was what I was more softly attempting to highlight in previous comments; i.e. knowing many of the TGC people I don't see, not at all!, the type of "drift" that Phil et al seem to see. I realize they won't have a high opinion of what I think anyway. But be that as it may, I've hung around these sectors for many years myself, and I simply don't see TGC shifting like the apparent fear seems to indicate. I know some of the truly Federal/Covenantal Reformed have never like TGC (in the main!)---look at guys at the Davenant Institute for example---but there critique of TGC, as is mine from another direction, is oriented around theological issues, around basic issues that have to do with the Gospel and the theological systems themselves. This does not seem to be the critique that Phil is going to mount, and as such, again, is somewhat ironic since again the critique seems to be coming from a pop-culture-war direction.

As far as Swanson's comment: It is an interesting one given Dennis Swanson's former location and role at The Master's Seminary. I was actually surprised to see him make his comment in the terms that he did. Swanson, when I lived in CA, actually did some pulpit supply work at a church I attended, Bethel Grace Baptist Church, in Bellflower, CA. Anyway, I find his comment, again, given his former location at TMS, rather intriguing.

Hohn C said...

The critique of TGC for years has been its increasingly worldly slant. Whatever anyone’s critiques of Pyromaniacs might be, I don’t think slanting toward the world would make the list. Given those options, however, I’ll take the latter every time, especially in light of the verses Phil cited.

As for the rest, I’m a little disappointed you would find such a vitriolic comment so interesting and intriguing, but I suppose that’s on you. Be well.

Bobby Grow said...

Hohn C,

I think Swanson's comment is intriguing, as I explained, because of his former and rather pivotal role at The Master's Seminary. His comment is intriguing to me for that reason; i.e. because I don't exactly understand the whole context and backstory to it in regard to Swanson's genuinely true "inside" knowledge vis-a-vis Phil and the setting at TMS and GCC itself. In other words, I find whatever is motivating Swanson's comment to be intriguing because of where he came from and was situated for years (in the sphere that Johnson is presently ensconced within).

As far as TGC, "the worldly slant" critique could only be made from a hyper-fundamentalist perspective. It seems unaware of what actually is going on in and among actually progressive-Christians, and the bases for such critique seem pretty outlandish to me when it comes down to it.

Bobby Grow said...

And if the critique is only going to be based on the abstract without engaging with actual authors and contributors at TGC I don't see how this can be a fruitful endeavor. In other words to gloss TGC as a whole rather than paying attention to its parts on a continuum doesn't seem like something that will produce an actually critical critique that will in the end be meaningful or be taken seriously by anyone at TGC. But we'll have to wait and see how the actual critique is made through the various blog posts from Phil.

Clifford Kvidahl said...

This whole thing is silly to me. We have one side calling out the other for making things a "gospel issue" when the other side likes to use the same defense as well when it feels the need to justify their argument as a serious gospel issue. Sometimes, Sola Fide or Sola Scriptura, or any other Solas are insufficient answers for societal woes. Answering someone's questions regarding racism with a discussion on penal substitutionary atonement, justification by faith, or the like seems to be a nonstarter. I have a hard time believing that if one engages in a conversation about race, social justice, or any of these things without first solidifying one's belief in Sola Fide he has somehow turned toward liberalism.

The Gospel is more than the Solas, but not less.

Phil Johnson said...

PJTibayan: "But perhaps I'm still missing something or not understanding what you're saying. Am I?"

Perhaps. You've certainly put a finer and more sinister interpretation than I would have on the phrase "are being replaced." I normally avoid the passive voice because of its ambiguity, but in this case that was a deliberate choice, as was the verb tense. NOTE: I didn't say (as you suggested) that "they [i.e., TGC or anyone in particular] have 'replaced' social justice and wokeness for sola fide and sola scriptura." I said cardinal doctrines "are BEING replaced" by those concerns "within the so-called evangelical movement." Given so many young evangelicals' infatuation with ideas first touted by Sojourners, Shane Claiborne, Brian McLaren, Steve Chalke, and now the late James Cone, I'd have thought the truth of that statement obvious, but apparently it isn't as obvious to you.

(But wasn't it a TGC event where comments were recently made suggesting that MLK, who denied cardinal gospel truths, was a better model for Christian ministry than Jonathan Edwards and George whitefield?)

Two things in reply:

1. My point about TGC is best explained, I think, in that final paragraph. Namely, it seems they have begun to "abandon the focused simplicity of Luke 24:46-47 in favor of a social gospel that encompasses a large complex of racial, economic, and political issues." I'll expand on this in a later post, but it seems ironic that an organization whose stated purpose is to promote unity based on our common commitment to the gospel is now fueling division over issues that are not the gospel. It looks like a classic case of mission drift.

2. To my knowledge, no evangelical institution or organization that ever apostatized began the process by repudiating its own doctrinal statement. The fact that many of today's leading evangelical social justice warriors are still willing to sign an orthodox confession is no proof that they aren't drifting. Open repudiation of cardinal doctrines invariably comes at the end of the downgrade, not the beginning. What happens in the beginning, is that cardinal truths are set aside ("de-prioritized," if you prefer), and the stress is put on other issues--usually matters of temporal, and seemingly urgent, concern. The selling point of the social gospel has ALWAYS been its appeal to justice and compassion. It never starts as an overt attack on core gospel doctrines. It actually pleads for a more "complete" or more "balanced" message than "repentance and forgiveness of sins"--and then proceeds to make "societal woes" the real focus of the message.

Hohn C said...

As a baseless smear, "hyper-fundamentalist" is an easy enough one to make, Mr. Grow, but again, that's on you. I actually know and know of tons and tons of people who have been concerned about TGC's increasingly worldly slant, and none of them are fundamentalists, much less hypers. (Quite a few of them are Presbyterians, actually.)

As for specifics, I'm short on time right now, but I could easily load you down with examples. Here's a recent one that I found to be particularly absurd.

https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/11-films-capture-themes-galatians/


Bobby Grow said...

Don't bother Hohn. It's not a baseless smear, it's that the critique as I reflect further upon it, is simply one that has no theological ground under it. Your linked example hardly illustrates that a fundamental theological shift is taking place, or has at TGC, it may well be they are seeking to engage with a variant demographic which happens to be enamored with pop-culture. Maybe TGC has the theological resource to use such hooks as ways to draw young people into deeper theological reflection and realization. The reason I said 'hyper-fundamentalist' because that's what MacArthuritism largely produces when it comes to cultural engagement; it represents a ghettoism within N American Christendom that operates out of an old 'Fundy-fear' rather than more thoughtfully and critically engaging with the culture in the types of accommodating ways that we find resource from in the analogy and particularization of the incarnation itself. Not accommodation in the sense that it is succumbing to cultural pressure, just the opposite, accommodating in the sense that they are taking the pressure that the Gospel exerts and using that to reverse the curse that the popular-culture often presents. My name is Bobby, btw.

Bobby Grow said...

Just to clarify, and then I won't comment anymore on this thread. I don't disagree with Phil that there is a massive problem confronting evangelicalism in regard to some of the issues he notes. What is causing me issues is his targeting of TGC; i.e. in the post he hyperlinks to "Revoice" and then in the next breath starts speaking about TGC as if they are similar movements. Those who I know involved in TGC, contributors, are no sliding anywhere close to what we see in Revoice etc. Again, I do agree that the homosexual agenda is making in-roads, as well as other agendas, into the evangelical world; I just do not see that in TGC. This is why I brought up the "hyper" perspective.

Phil Johnson said...

Bobby Grow:

1. I drew no connection between the "Revoice" conference and TGC. You did that all on your own. Notice the paragraph break. It comes right after a parenthetical statement promising to take up the subject of LBGTQ "orientation" at a later date. The immediate paragraph break signifies a change in topics.

2. As for your insinuation that I haven't made the case that TGC is slipping away from its original raison d'ĂȘtre, I've been so frequently critical of TGC's public offerings that Joe Carter scolded me last year, claiming all I ever say about TGC are negative things. That's not really true, but it is true that I frequently point out TGC articles that don't strike me as soundly evangelical (much less "gospel centered")--and I've done it so often that I don't fault Joe Carter for regarding me as a persistent critic. You follow me on Twitter, so surely you know better than to suggest that I'm suddenly being critical of TGC without laying any clear foundation for my criticisms.

3. (This final thought applies to you in particular because of my long track record with your style of commenting. But it's not for you alone; this is for all the propagandists on the evangelical fringe who seem think my return to blogging was a signal for them to come swarming out out from under the dumpster, or wherever):

The comments on my blog are as open as possible in order to provide a forum for conservative evangelicals to discuss whatever topic is raised in the post. Theological renegades who want to use my blog-comments as a soapbox in order to advance their own neo-orthodox agenda (or any other post-evangelical schema) will find themselves unceremoniously blocked from commenting further. Last warning.

Bobby Grow said...

Phil Johnson:

1. The irony to me is that I have been slammed for being way too conservative, indeed a grand exodus from me has taken place in the past half-year by any remaining vestiges of 'liberal' or 'progressive' Christian contacts I had; this for me being openly troubled by Karl Barth's relationship with Charlotte von Kirschbaum. But they were only connected to me for reasons of perception, I was never anything but a conservative-evangelical, and I continue as one (particularly when it comes to issues of morality). I'm considered a 'moralist' by many of those who I formerly had contact with. As far as the label of neoorthodox, that's simply a misnomer, and not an accurate representation of my approach (or Barth's for that matter).

2. As far as being on the 'evangelical-fringe' I'm pretty sure that's not me. Most of my friends in real life and online are theologically evangelical-conservative (as am I). I guess how we understand 'fringe' is different (and is a matter of perspective e.g. most of the evangelical conservative non-Barthians I know consider MacArthur&co fringe-evangelical). And believe it or not it's possible to move beyond past moments in someone's life. I started out blogging the same time you did, and I didn't know any better but to be a troll; I hadn't planned on continuing in that mode going forward (in fact I hadn't really planned on even commenting here hardly at all -- although it seemed like I should at least in your first real post back given that you helped give me a start to blogging in the first place i.e. realize it was a thing).

3. Yes, you did supply a paragraph break; noted. But the broader context still situated TGC within the same discussion with the same type of implications and critique. But, and with this I agree with you: I do believe evangelicalism (not just progressives) is on a slippery slope (particularly w/ regard to the issue of homosexuality), and that it is more than concerning to me! My concern has less to do with the probable demographic of your reading audience, and more to do with my kids' generation (ages 18 and 15). I am as troubled by this as you. I just demur when I look at TGC; I don't see them fitting this type of Christianity.

4. As far as being an online propagandist: that is nice for rhetorical purposes, but all I'd say on that one is "look in the mirror." I have published volumes; articles; reviewed stuff etc. Anyway, I only note that to say what I write, particularly on my blog, is anything but "propaganda." And as I survey my comments on this thread I don't see me making any reference to Barth, neorthodoxy, Thomism, or any other ism; instead my comments were all directly related to the body of your blog post itself. I did start to withdraw back into a feisty mode when Hohn C came at me. But you already know what I think of the mood that MacArthur&co have set in general. But you're reading a lot into my comments from what you "think" you know of me theologically rather than simply focusing on what I actually wrote. But then again, I can't blame you for that; I do realize the past I present you with here on your blog.

Don't worry, I don't plan on commenting here much if at all in the future. Not even sure if I'll even visit your blog anymore. Pax Christi (I think I commented in this thread more out of nostalgia than anything else :)

Hohn C said...

If you think *my* posts were “coming at you” then I really don’t think vigorous discussion is for you, sir. And by the way, I’m sure my Presbyterian friends and acquaintances concerned about TGC will be shocked (and bemused) to learn they’re really closet MacArthur devotees.

Bobby Grow said...

Hohn C,

The "come at you" language was more rhetorical flourish. If you think comboxes on blogs reflect vigorous discussion ... well, I don't really know what to say to that. But be sure, Phil knows, engaging in what you consider "vigorous discussion" is not something I shrink back from. Anyway, just a rhetorical riff; don't read too much into "come at you" lang.

And no, I'm not suggesting there aren't others concerned with TGC---ie outside of MacArthur's family---usually the concern I hear from Pressies has more to do with theological issues (i.e. not confessional enough etc) rather than fear that TGC is sliding into libertinism. As far as your appeal to Pressies, at a certain point that quits working given the general nature of your reference; i.e. I could find just as many Pressie friends who aren't concerned w/ TGC and even contribute to its work in significant ways. So I'm not really sure how your reference, if you were attempting to do anything other than provide some sort of circumstantial illustration, gives us a premise for an argument.

Anyway, I'd better cease from commenting (you apparently aren't aware of my history here; Phil is)

Hohn C said...

Your original comment was, “As far as TGC, "the worldly slant" critique could only be made from a hyper-fundamentalist perspective (emphasis added).”

Then you redefined hyper-fundamentalist as MacArthurite. And now you admit to my original point, that it isn’t only hyper-fundamentalists OR MacArthurites concerned about TGC’s increasingly worldly slant.

That you can find Presbyterians who like TGC is completely irrelevant, because I never made an extreme, absurd claim that you couldn’t.

Bobby Grow said...

Hohn,

I'll make this my last comment.

My hyper-fundamentalist category has a broader context in consideration; in other words the definition is relative. My point was simply this: in the broader world of Christendom what TGC represents is itself a hyper-fundamentalist movement. On the continuum I'm thinking from, then, in order to suggest that TGC is moving towards 'the broader world of Christendom' would have to be made from an ultra-fundamentalist movement; so maybe my labeling is off, or it's instead coming from various points of contextualization which led me to label the critiquing position of TGC as hyper-fundamentalist, which I would see MacArthurites as a sub-set of indeed.

Yes, I was intimating that MacArthurties fit into what *I* would consider hyper-fundamentalist on the continuum I work and think from. In other words, from my perspective, juxtaposing various perspectives, it does require a hyper-fundamentalist perspective to arrive at the conclusion that TGC is sliding towards the broader world of progressive Christendom, even from my own conservative perspective. So I'm not admitting to anything you've asserted, I'm simply defining terms based upon my own usage defined by my own location on the conservative continuum.

You didn't have to make an extreme absurd claim about Pressies, all you had to do, through enthymeme is presuppose it; which you did in order to make some sort of liminal argument or suggestion towards an argument.

Okay. My last comment. Done. So long.

Hohn C said...

Since you’ve said three times now that you were making your last comment, I won’t hold my breath.

Regardless, I’m not presupposing anything. I personally know and personally know of a lot of Presbyterians who have concerns about TGC.

As for your own relative definitions and contexts, it might help your interactions (a lot) to either call them out in advance, or make less categorical statements when using them, or both. A sincere suggestion out of a desire to be helpful. Have a good night.

Steve Bradley said...

Great post. Glad to have you back.

PJ Tibayan said...

Phil,

Thank you for your reply and clarification, brother. It really helped me see the precision of your words. It wasn't obvious to me, apparently. I'm happy to grow in my reading according to your authorial intent!

Your second point is well taken. The fact that doctrine is not immediately denied but marginalized is a familiar danger. Your reminder made me feel the danger again.

On TGC beginning to embrace the social gospel and mission drift, I look forward to your future posts. May the Lord bless your analysis and writing.

More importantly, may he bless your pastoral ministry at Grace Church for the great commission.

In Christ,
PJ

Jim Pemberton said...

If you have to say it's a Gospel issue, it probably isn't.

trogdor said...

Welcome back. Excellent first salvo.

This morning I was pointed to an old RC Sproul essay on the Pelagian Captivity of the Church. I was struck by how much Pelagianism and this desire for worldly approval come together in the American church especially, creating a new form of the gospel where people are saved by liking us. Seeker-driven madness, celebritism, strains of emerg*, "friendship evangelism", the recent Public Displays of Woke, all seem to be driven by this toxic brew.

Isaak Allen said...

I am surprised to see that The Gospel Coalition has seemingly bought into the Friendship culture that Wesley Hill, Matthew Lee Anderson, and many others of like mind are proponents of. I always took TGC to be a stalwart representative of the conservative evangelical world; and, theologically, they still do maintain so many of the important doctrines of grace that the Reformed heritage has given the Protestant church. But I'm afraid this issue, the issue of homosexuality and confusion around human sexuality, has the capacity to undo all of these important traditional theological distinctives that TGC and so many of its contributors are known for. I hope this tide can be turned, but I'm afraid it has already slid the other way. :(