Showing posts with label The Elephant Room. Show all posts
Showing posts with label The Elephant Room. Show all posts

19 March 2013

Et tu, Chuck? (Swindoll hosts singing elephants? What?)

by Dan Phillips

Before James MacDonald's disastrous and still unaddressed decision to host T. D. Jakes as a "Christian leader," I didn't know MacD from Adam. So I wasn't as shocked as others who had known and previously thought well of him — simply because I had no baseline.

When I wrote on it, therefore, it was simply a concern over the issues. I think my first weighing-in was 9/2011. But my two most substantial contributions were this and this. The latter two were the more important, and the third was, in my judgment, the most important.

That third post was proactive and put up in plenty of time to do some good. Had (for instance) any TGC or otherwise high-profile bloggers — even one! — taken up my specific call centering around the Biblical concept of repentance, and made it an inescapable issue, MacDonald and Driscoll might have been unable to avoid it. It might have made a difference. The trainwreck that resulted might have been avoided.

But history's history; so we now know that TGC bloggers and other high-visibility bloggers did not echo that call, and many high-profile leaders remained silent until it was too late, and bad things happened. You know what they say— of all sad words on tongue or pen, the saddest these: "it might have been."

And now here we are yet again, with a different but similar situation.

It's different in that I do know Chuck Swindoll. Well, not personally, though I did sit next to him in Talbot Chapel once. But I've heard Swindoll, read him, enjoyed him a lot in years past. He's earned a good reputation in many ways, at least as being sound and stable on the fundamentals. He has been and remains associated with Dallas Theological Seminary, which itself at least soundly affirms basic theological doctrines.

So whyever would Swindoll's church host singers who are (to say it as charitably as possible) unclear on the core doctrine of the Trinity?

My attention was first drawn to this by Mark Lamprecht, whose Open Letter to Chuck Swindoll and Stonebriar Church on Phillips, Craig & Dean does a fantastic job documenting the concerns any Christian should instantly have on hearing this absolutely baffling news. At last notice, Mark has received no response.

Look: Neither of these matters is new.

I refer first to the Biblical doctrine of the Trinity. This isn't a doctrine that's been recently detected in the text of Scripture. Christians have not only recently turned their attention to studying what Scripture says about the nature of God. The truth of the trinity of persons in the one God been seen and expounded with increasing clarity from the very earliest days of the church. To my mind, Scripture is absolutely crystal-clear and emphatic in its revelation of the Triune God — the God who, one as to essence, has eternally existed in three distinct Persons.

It isn't a newly-identified subject, nor a newly-expounded truth.

And it isn't that the heresy of modalism raised new and baffling questions last Tuesday, questions which haven't been answered finally, thunderously  and decisively since the first time they were posed many centuries ago.

And it isn't as if those answers are little-known or difficult to obtain; or as if the issue is not vital and foundational. And it isn't as if it's impossibly difficult (A) to express the basic truths of the doctrine, or (B) to sniff and (C) ferret out when false teachers are squidging or fudging or dodging those truths.

Second, I refer to serious and (as far as I know) utterly unanswered concerns expressed about Phillips, Craig and Dean's view of God. These are long-standing, easily-located, and all over the place. James White has spoken up, Eric Nielsen has a lengthy treatment at White's site. Neither of these is recent nor difficult to find.

The Wikipedia quotations are typical of PCD's "responses," and can serve as representatives of all the others I've seen. While they might work for the "top men" who gave T. D. Jakes a thumbs-up (and in Bryan Loritts' case as much as said that only racist "middle-aged white guys" weren't satisfied), these pathetic dodges wouldn't work for most Biblically and theologically prepared Christians.

So, all that said, here I am again.
  1. What possible excuse or explanation can there be for Chuck Swindoll to promote anyone who isn't crystal-clear on the Biblical doctrine of the Trinity?
  2. ...and if anyone wants to say "they've changed," then I refer you right back to this and this.

That is, I asked how a man can held up as a Christian leader in any sense when he is not crystal-clear on such fundamentals as the Gospel and the nature of God. And so I now am asking again: how can singers lead in worship if they are in any way unclear as to their understanding of the nature of God and the Gospel? Hello? what does "worship" mean? Does it matter what god we're worshiping, whether we are worshiping the same god as the worship-leaders? Does it matter what we are conceiving of as the basis of that relationship that underlies our worship?

Chuck Swindoll has always identified himself with the school of thought that affirms what should be obvious: these things matter. And now, this? What possible sense does this make?

In fact, may I be forgiven a "See, I Told You So" moment? I have tried again and again to raise the issue of what a shame it was that high-visibility leaders and bloggers feigned unawareness of Pyromaniacs, or inability to read what we right write right in writing. Every time I've tried, I have either been ignored (at best), or snarkily criticized for not letting that issue die (at worst).

Well, here's why I didn't. I was already thinking of the next time. Since the last time was mishandled so tragically, it was a "lock" that there'd be a next time. Would anything different be done, that time? Were any lessons learned?

And here we are. It's the next time. And I'm sounding the same issues, the same two issues, the same two questions that were ignored last time:
Wouldn't it be nice if, this time, high-profile leaders didn't ignore warnings such as mine this time, and idly watch a brother make a huge mistake?

I sure think so. We'll see.

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07 May 2012

Then There's This:

A Bridge too Far
by Phil Johnson


his year's Standpoint Conference is an online video event only, and my contribution was posted today at the Sharper Iron blog.

I don't like talking into a video camera rather than speaking to an actual congregation. The timing and inflection seems stilted; my eye-contact is slightly askew (I keep looking at the computer screen in front of me rather than the actual camera lens); on playback, it feels like I'm yelling at the camera; and I miss the choruses of "amen" and "preach it, brother," that I usually get when preaching. (Just kidding about the amens. In fact, one of the good things about preaching to a video camera is that there's no one to walk out on the sermon.)

Anyway, here it is. I'm talking about bridge-building, boundary-guarding, brotherhood, belief, and the problem of how to cultivate all of those things without compromise. In the process, I'll touch on The Gospel Coalition, The Elephant Room, and some other topics that will be familiar to our regular readers:



I'm closing comments, because I don't want to detract from the discussion at Sharper Iron. If you want to comment, head over there. You'll have to sign up, and I think you have to meet a minimal standard of evangelical orthodoxy in order to comment there, but I'm pretty sure most of our regular commenters will qualify. If you have never perused Sharper Iron, look around. There's lots there to profit from.

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27 April 2012

This is where I am today

by Phil Johnson



ook the redeye from LAX to Boston last night. (I'm sure you'll be able to tell that when this video is complete. I'll be the character asleep in the corner.) The video promises to be intriguing: a free-ranging conversation among three very intelligent men and one jet-lagged blogger. I proposed calling it "Band of Curmudgeons" or "The Emergency Room." Abendroth didn't go for my suggestions.

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08 February 2012

The Eddie Haskell of Pastoral Trouble-Making

by Frank Turk

Before we get full-on blog here today, my friends Steve Hays and Jason Engwer are waging the war against popular old-school atheism.  By that I mean they are actually engaging the old-school atheists and basically beating them down in a manner suitable to the means presented by the lot of them.  I mention it because Steve and Jason have written a response to the latest tome from the John Loftus school of inbred atheism, and it's called The End of Infidelity.  The e-book is available at this link, and I commend it to you if you care at all about atheist apologetics.

Note to Steve and Jason & the rest of the Triabloguers: The reason I say "old school atheists" above is that the hard-core post-modernist bent has set in, and the old rationalist, materialist, neo-positivist atheism is, frankly, running on empty.  Nobody wants all that philosophical baggage any more these days, and the next generation of atheists will be in the same vein as a young fellow named Chris Stedman, who is on staff at the (now get this) Humanist Chaplain at Harvard University.  He's the face of nice atheism, and has a book coming out called (F)a(i)theist.  In 10 years, John Loftus will be a homeless person muttering to himself about his self-published archive that banished Theism into the outer darkness of people he wouldn't associate with anyway, but Stedman and his lite version of interfaith collegiality between unbelief and belief will be alive and well among those who think superficial "nice" is the most important virtue.  Let's find a way to preach the Gospel to that, and stay ahead of the curve.



OK -- so you're all over the Elephant Room 2 fiasco, right? There's nothing left to say, it's been said, and we need to just move on.  Carson and Keller have offered the penultimate careful evaluation (the ultimate to take place behind closed doors with no chance that anyone will see how this gets resolved), James MacDonald has stopped posting videos extolling his own humility (at least through the moment at which I am typing this), and we're done.

Um, no.

Mark Driscoll has, with his usual panache, escaped all scrutiny.  He's the Eddie Haskell of pastoral trouble-making, usually getting someone else on the hook for his own impishness, and getting away with most of it because he's really such a nice boy according to Mrs. Cleaver.  And this is a very troubling issue as his tribe of manly men for Jesus (the Acts29 network) are not usually this quiet -- unless Pastor Driscoll has put his foot in it (again).


Now, what I am very excited about is that not everyone has let what he has done here go unnoticed.  To their credit, Carson and Keller said this much in their pronouncement from Mount Caritas:
Here is where the distinction becomes interesting. Neither the terminology of "manifestations" preferred by Oneness Pentecostals and other modalists nor the terminology of "persons" supported by historic creeds is directly used in Scripture. Where does it come from? It comes from thinkers two or three centuries after the New Testament was written who were doing their best to summarize large tracks of biblical themes and texts in faithful, accurate summaries, even if the terminology was not directly dependent on the terminology of a specific verse or two. History has shown, for the reasons briefly set forth in our first pairing, that the terminology of "manifestations" was soundly trounced and declared heretical: it simply could not be squared with what the Bible says. The "persons" terminology prevailed (along with words like "subsistence") not because it derived directly from usage in the biblical documents themselves, but because it could be shown that this terminology did a great job of summarizing what the Bible actually says.
And then again:
To attempt theological interpretation without reference to such developments is part and parcel of Biblicism One; to attempt theological interpretation that is self-consciously aware of such developments and takes them into account is part and parcel of Biblicism Two. We hasten to add that both Biblicism One and Biblicism Two insist that final authority rests with the Bible. All the theological syntheses are in principle revisible. Yet the best of these creeds and confessions have been grounded in such widespread study, discussion, debate, and testing against Scripture that to ignore them tends to cut oneself off from the entire history of Christian confessionalism. The Bible remains theoretically authoritative (Biblicism One), but in fact it is being manipulated and pummeled by private interpretations cut off from the common heritage of all Christians.
Statements with which I whole-heartedly agree -- but which Pastor Driscoll has tacitly denied in his interaction with Jakes (and has openly denied as demonstrated here).  So on the one hand, the clever person can see the distancing of TGC from Driscoll's new friendship and new alliance with a man TGC does not hold in such high esteem, and at the same time we can also see the basis for a rebuke for what has happened.

But what's going on with Acts29?  Not a statement?  Not a mention?  Not a notice that they have seen it and therefore rebuke the twittering pajamahadijn for making such a big thing of this?

Listen y'all: this is a big thing.  Driscoll himself has rebuked Osteen-ism from his own pulpit, and wants you rubes to man up and shoot the wolves.  But here he is with the only other fellow in the English-speaking world who has the scope of influence of Osteen and the self-same lousy Gospel and theology, and the same worn out lines which Christianity Today can't recognize from 2000 even tough they printed them, and he's shaking hands with this fellow in a way which even Keller and Carson find dubious.

See: I get it when you guys are offended that Phil or John MacArthur wag a finger at you and yours -- because it feels like your father wagging his finger at you for forgetting to fill up the car when you just drove home from saving all the orphans from a house fire.  You guys see yourselves reaching a generation for Christ, and the (from your perspective) indignation over holiness (which looks, from your perspective, a little stilted) seems to be unwarranted parental umbrage.  So if they tell you that you ought to say something about Mark or to Mark, they can just go mind their own business.  You're busy with something else, like ministry.

But you have to ask yourselves: is it right that the President of your Church Planting Network (they called those "conventions" back when your pappy was a deacon; they called them "associations" in the 1980's) can embrace a guy that the rest of you know is not someone you would bring into the fold?  You know you wouldn't let Jakes preach from your pulpit - shouldn't you at least ask what is now expected from you and your tribe after Mark gave him the Big Hug and the "welcome to the Family" speech?

Apparently all the right people are on the bus ...

The Gospel Coalition has made it very clear about where they stand on this.  I am grateful for what they have said, even if it's too little, too late.  But you guys are silent?

Well, maybe that's how it goes.  Maybe there's a bro-code I don't know because I'm not a bro, and you guys can accept that Mark Driscoll can lead you into associations with people you know will be harmful to your local church's theological and missional well-being with no consequences because he's "fruitful" and "humble". Lumpy never ratted out Eddie, after all.

But let's be honest: that's showing something which, in the final account, we might be able to call "fellowship" or "perseverance" or some such Bible word that puts a good face on it. But that's not being a leader by any means.  That's not showing leadership.  And in the end, you're supposed to be pastors and not merely a hipster mutual appreciation society.


UPDATED: Wow. As I was writing this post, it turns out Acts29 was making an announcement which shows they are "excited about the future of Acts 29". You can read the whole thing here, but as it turns out Pastor Mark's performance at the Elephant Room will not only have no effect on his status inside A29: he actually is going back to being the leader of the pack. (cue motorcycle music)

And before things go completely south from that announcement, let's remember that when those guys are using the terms "Prophet," "Priest," and "King," they are using Bible terms to identify organizational functions, not theocratic anointings.  That Driscoll is now the leader of their "Prophet board" does not mean anything more than he's the leader of their board of directors.  That they feel like they have to call themselves a "Prophet board" rather than "board of directors" is funny enough; let's not escalate the hilarity by trying to figure out which visions Driscoll will see now ...

ANOTHER UPDATE: Oh brother.  Apparently James MacDonald is now repeating his side of the story -- with some addenda (like the private repudiation of the Prosperity Gospel Jakes made to him).  The round up of that activity is best found here.










03 February 2012

The Gospel as Performance Art

by Phil Johnson



f you subscribe to my Twitter feed, you already know that I flew back from Ukraine yesterday. It's great to be home, of course, but it was a remarkable privilege to teach pastors and seminarians at Irpin Biblical Seminary. It was an even greater thrill to spend a day with the saints in Grace Bible Church, Kiev. Last Sunday was one of the truly great and joyous highlights of my life—rich worship followed by a full afternoon of fellowship with the people of that church. It's a day I will never forget. The only thing that would have made it better would have been if Darlene could be there.

Anyway, this past week I've been thinking a lot about my first visit to Kiev, with John MacArthur, more than 20 years ago. I remember those days clearly. It was late September and early October 1991, exactly 50 years after the Nazis slaughtered 33,771 Jews at a Kiev ravine called Babi Yarand less than two months after the collapse of the Soviet Union. People were hungry—starved—for the gospel.

Since then I have been to some 35 countries on five continents, and I've never seen any culture more eager to listen to the gospel than Ukraine (and the rest of the former Soviet Union) in 1991. The churches I visited were all crowded. A steady stream of recent converts gave their testimonies in every service I attended. Each new believer was brought to the front of the church and encouraged to "repent." And they did—confessing their sins with heartfelt remorse, and verbally professing their newfound faith in Christ with overflowing joy and enthusiasm. It was amazing and uplifting and deeply convicting to someone like me, who had become somewhat sluggish spiritually with the comforts and refinements (and superficiality) of Western evangelicalism.

Anyway, one of my most vivid memories of Kiev in 1991 was a day we were walking across a public square in downtown Kiev with a bundle of Russian gospel tracts and Scripture booklets. Ukrainian people crowded around us, clamoring to get one. I was caught quite off guard by the suddenness and enthusiasm of people's response. The moment was unforgettable.

But we weren't the only Western Christians in the square that day. There was a group of "gospel clowns" and mimes from some American church, and we inadvertently interrupted their performance, because even the people who had been watching them suddenly ran over to get gospel literature from us as we approached the center of the square. One of the mimes glared at me. And then, breaking character, he said something to me in English. He wanted us to move on so that they could get on with the task of pantomiming the gospel.

To this day it amazes and appalls me that anyone confronted with the openness of Eastern Europeans in the wake of the Soviet collapse would think wordless "performance art" is a better medium for declaring the gospel than straightforward preaching, simple one-on-one witnessing, and plain-language gospel literature. It's like anti-contextualization—culturally insensitive, incomprehensible to the target culture, and tainted with the scent of spiritual jingoism—but I'm certain those mimes believed their method was the very epitome of innovative "relevance."



And it occurs to me: That reflects precisely how multitudes of American evangelicals still think. They are more enthralled with their clever methodologies and ingenious "contextualizations" than they are with the gospel itself. Honestly, they seem at times to love their own flamboyance far more than they care about lost souls.

At least Rob Bell was honest about what he was trying to do. He openly called himself a "performance artist." But let's face it: the typical Noble/Furtick/EdYoungJr-style shtick is nothing more than bad performance art, too. The recent Code Orange Revival was promoted by garish floor gymnastics that looked like a poor imitation of something from Cirque du Soleil. Virtually all Mark Driscoll's major gaffes are products of a mind that has been overexposed to movies, rock concerts, cage fighting, Chris Rock, and whatnot. Even the Elephant Room, heavily promoted as a rare moment of candor and tough questions, turned out to be carefully scripted and strictly controlled so that no opinions were harmed during its filming.

A lot of what's called ministry these days is mere spectacle. Authentic apostolic-style gospel ministry is nothing like performance art.

When evangelical megachurches gave up the pulpit for a stage; traded psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs for AC/DC tracks; hired vaudevillians instead of pastors; and turned away their ears from the truth to follow fables, they chose a path of apostasy.

The only way back starts with repentance.

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01 February 2012

Elephantiasis

James MacDonald Plays the Race Card
by Phil Johnson



I know it's not my day to post, but this:



is probably the most blatantly racist presentation I have ever witnessed from an ostensibly "mainstream" evangelical source.

The take-away message is this: If you're an old white guy with any hint of Reformed theology in your confessional statement and you don't think T. D. Jakes's equivocations at Elephant Room 2 were sufficient to erase decades of concern about his Oneness leanings and his relentless proclamation of a false Prosperity Gospel—then you must be a racist. And even if you don't think you're a racist, you should shut up anyway. Because in the black community relationships are more important than any doctrine, including the gospel and the Trinity. We all should strive to subjugate doctrine to relationships anyway.

If on the other hand you are a young black man with Reformed convictions—or any black person who just has a keen interest in doctrinal and biblical accuracy—you are a sellout and a reproach to your own community. The only possible explanation is that you are guilty of "White Idolatry." You secretly wish to earn favor with Whitey. You should not only shut up, you should be ashamed. As far as the importance of relationships is concerned, we don't really care to have one with you.

End of discussion.

So much for open dialogue and not hiding behind walls of disagreement. The Elephant Room experiment clearly wasn't really about that in the first place. It wasn't about real unity or truth, either.

How does 2000 years of Christian consensus on the doctrine of the Godhead get sent to the back of the bus so blithely in the name of unity and racial reconciliation?

And why the deafening silence from so many men and ministries who supposedly are committed to standing for the defense and proclamation of core gospel truths? If you can be intimidated into silence by the race card when a greed-mongering prosperity-gospel Sabellian-sympathizer is being hailed by once-sound evangelicals as someone to be emulated, what doctrine will you defend openly and publicly?

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Addendum 1[Added by Frank]: Chantry dropped a link to an article by Thabiti Anyabwile over at the TGC web site about this sort of thing, published the day before the Elephant Room.  There are probably a dozen money quotes in that essay, but here's the one that stands out like a watchman on the wall:
I also want my non-African-American brothers to realize the harmful dynamic of pitting one African American against another. When two white brothers disagree publicly over a theological issue, there’s likely not a community “back home” trying to decide which brother is “black” and therefore which brother to follow. Historically, some white leaders have intentionally played one African American leader against another with the aim of dividing and weakening the community. That’s a history well-known and a strategy much hated in African-American communities. So, when a conflict between two African American religious leaders takes place publicly, care must be taken not to walk into this troubled narrative and trap. Inevitably, pitting two African-American leaders against one another is going to result in (1) one of those leaders losing “black” authenticity in their community, (2) one or both of those leaders being marginalized for their cooperation with “outsiders” to the community, and (3) the White brothers who do the pitting being seen as unconcerned about the Black community and unrighteously attempting to anoint the next Black leader. No one wins. if you’re from outside the African-American community, think very long, hard, and carefully about ever calling some African Americans to take your position in defense against other African Americans. It’s disastrous for everyone, and, frankly, you won’t begin to pay the deeper costs over the longer period that your African American friend will.
Read the Whole Thing.  For the record: I mean you, A29 pastors & leaders (specifically people who were heckling Chad Vegas' blog post on quitting A29 over this event), HBC pastors, and specifically the staff of the mothership at HBC on James MacDonald's staff.


27 January 2012

Coupla-Five Additional Thoughts on the Events of the Week

by Frank Turk



Before your weekend, you might need a few of these thoughts:

1. I repudiate all attempts to assign motives to the activities witnessed this week as reported/commented on in this blog space.  Gazing into the hearts of people in order to make sense of their actions is for politicians with bad motives, self-promoting charlatans, and gossip-mongers.  It is not anyone's place to discern what is in another person's heart.  However, that does not forbid us from discerning what actually happened and framing our objections to that.

2. That cuts both ways, btw: when someone receives criticism, and they offer, "those people are just jealous," as one among several of the best excuses not to answer that criticism, that's just poisoning the well -- and not even a very clever application of it.  It's sort of like poisoning the well while someone behind you is playing ominous music on a portable sound system and you're perfecting your evil Dr. Horrible laugh.

3. We all want to be on the receiving end of irenic discussions, but very few of us deserve them -- or even know how to participate in them.  You know: I don't blog like this because you get more flies with vinegar than you do with honey.  I blog like this because in the real world where we live, people wandering off the beaten path (specifically: of our faith) don't see gentle rebuke as rebuke at all.  They see it as the infamous "agree-to-disagree" cover they need to do exactly what they intended to do in the first place.  That doesn't mean we dispense with all the niceties.  Those thinking I just tossed out red meat yesterday to drive traffic to our little blog here have a pretty short memory.  Being clear about objections doesn't mean we weren't nice, but obviously the "nice" has gotten no one anywhere -- except to be branded "jealous" and "unfruitful" by those we have criticized.  Somebody who wants an irenic discussion of their experiments in broader ecumenism ought to, at least, not be threatening critics with arrest when they show up at the front door.

4. I'm still looking forward to Acts29 telling us what Mark Driscoll's embrace of TD Jakes as a full-fledged brother in Christ means to them as a network of affiliated churches and church planters.  It will be instructive.

5. You know: yesterday, when I was talking to Paul Edwards about this kerfuffle (a word introduced to this topic, btw, by D.A. Carson when he lined out what it means to be part of the Gospel Coalition back in October 2011), I mentioned that if you pressed, me, I might be willing to say that T.D. Jakes is possibly a brother in Christ.  I'm sure that rattles a lot of cages, so let me line out what I mean by that and then you can blog all weekend to remove me from polite company.
Well, it walks like a Duck ...
  • For starters, I promise you my kids cannot pass an ordination exam regarding the nuances of Trinitarian theology -- and they are pretty sharp kids.  That doesn't mean they aren't Christians: it means they have an incomplete theology which is growing in wisdom, in stature and in the favor of men (if I can say it that way and not also be drummed out of polite company).  A person doesn't need to have a completely-complete systematic theology to be saved by Christ.  Jakes might have the same lousy theological education that most adults in America have, and still have faith in Christ.
  • That said, that does not excuse him in the least for being a person who, for decades, has taught what is undeniably-modalist theology, and has trained others to do so.  It doesn't release him from the requirement to repent and recant his false teaching, and to make it right by, at the very least, revising and remaking his remarks on this subject.  He's a leader and not just Jack in the Pew: he has more responsibility than the average blogger, not less, when it comes to an item like this.
  • And this goes directly to the question of his Christian status as a brother in Christ.  When I say something that's false or misleading, or I do something which fumbles the ball in some way,  of course I should do the right thing and repent.  When I do that, I prove I am an actual brother in Christ and not a faker or someone who is either self-deceived or intentionally deceptive.  If he's my brother in Christ, saying, "I'm on a journey," and "It's actually too mysterious for words," and "well, I use 'manifestations' when you use 'persons' but we just mean the same darn thing," and so on is actually the opposite of humility and the opposite of brotherly love: it's self-justification.  It says that all errors are actually par for the course, and that I have no culpability in them.  That's not Christian faith speaking: that's something else, and it's ugly.  You want me to treat you like a brother (much less: a leader and teacher) in Christ?  Act like it.  Do what we do.  Real fruitfulness is repentance whenever we do something wrong, and not justifying our mistakes is a very corny, aw-shucks way.
And with that, I'm done for the week.  The comments are shut down.  When you read this, remember to be in the Lord's house on the Lord's day with the Lord's people, and have some faith in the real man Christ Jesus, who humbled himself before he was born to actually condescend to be born and then die for the sake of the rest of us who are daily mucking things up.  It's a game-changer.







26 January 2012

After the Circus Parade

by Frank Turk

Yes, part 3 of my conference notes are already posted, so you can see them below.  However, yesterday T.D. Jakes (apparently) came clean as a fully-throated Trinitarian, and suffered a round of brotherly acceptance from James MacDonald and Mark Driscoll, so the whole matter is settled and now you people seem to owe everybody an apology for your godless, cessationist carping about orthodoxy and such things.

Right?

Oh wait: James MacDonald resigned from the leadership of The Gospel Coalition just days before Bishop Jakes' revelation that "manifestations" and "persons" are, pretty much, the same thing as long as you make sure your footnotes are properly added (you know: there are things the Father does which the Son did not do, and so on).  And the question of whether or not the Prosperity Gospel is in any way problematic with regards to the preaching of Christ, and Him crucified, (especially when it comes to the consequences of giving and, in the actions of a pastor, taking) just didn't come up.

So here's the deal: Phil is in deepest, darkest Eastern Europe this week, and I gave Dan the week off so I could post my conference notes here and link to the audio.  That means I get to post the first response to the Elephant Room 2 content.

Ready?

Ahem.



1. Someone needs to check the date for Mark Driscoll's shelf life as a reliable person.  In the past month, he utterly disgraced himself on the "Unbelievable" podcast by interrogating this host, Justin Brierly, and accusing him and the whole British Christian church of being a flop because they also don't have a Mark Driscoll, and they have a few women pastors.  But, when the other shoe drops and he has Bishop Jakes sitting before him in a place where there are supposed to be hard conversations, Bishop Jakes gets the velvet gloves -- including a complete whiff at the issue of egalitarianism in Jakes' own theology and church.  Of course, Jakes was not criticizing Driscoll's book, so the question of whether he's a good egalitarian or a bad one seems to fade in the distance.

2. The Gospel Coalition's response to MacDonald's resignation is par for the course for an organization that, frankly, values unity above the means to achieve unity (which is: sharpening each other with the truth).  The dodge that they are a "center-bounded" organization also needs to be checked for its shelf-life date as this kerfuffle demonstrates exactly what it means to be "center-bounded" -- you can hang out with us as long as you don't embarrass us, and when you do embarrass us, you just have to excuse yourself and we'll smile and wave.  If what happened yesterday was that Bishop Jakes exonerated himself from the charges of, as they say, bloggers, then credible people should embrace his clarifications (they certainly weren't any kind of recanting), and we happen to know of a group who are qualified to do just that.  If Jakes' chat with Mark Driscoll does not finally clear things up, then what's the best way for the council of TGC to handle Mark Driscoll's (non-resigned council member) endorsement of Jakes' orthodoxy?  I don't have any suggestions, but I think ignoring it is the way old-school Fundamentalists acted when their leaders did stupid things, and we know that TGC is not a group of Fundies, right?

3. TGC is not the only organization that has bacon in the fire after yesterday.  Acts29 is full of men who, if you ask me, are serious and sober guys with theological convictions that the Gospel matters -- which is why they bring it to the least of these, wherever they are.  I know Acts29 guys.  I know they abhor the Prosperity Gospel, anti-trinitarianism, The Oprah/Osteen axis of feel-good pep talks (which passes directly through the center of Jakes' church), using the Bible like a fortune cookie generator, and phony expressions of anything, including unity.  I'm looking forward to them helping us understand what happened yesterday because they, too, are not old-school Fundies who support their leaders no matter what, and the "matter what" has presented itself as if the circus parade has just come down Main Street.

So there you go -- you're going to miss a great post on what the Gospel means to marriage and the church today because you're going to get totally absorbed by this post.  Good thing nothing ever disappears on the internet.







18 November 2011

The (A) impossible (B) imperative: (A) speaking the truth (B) in love

by Dan Phillips

[Since I'm pretty sure Phil (who I'd rather read, also) won't have the time to write today, let me share something rattling about in my brainium. If he does post, he should just bump me.]

It's one of those things that we must do, and yet will never do perfectly. It's one of those things that everyone always probably errs a little bit this way or a little bit that way. Except Jesus.

You know what it is: it's Paul's little phrase usually translated "speaking the truth in love" (Eph. 4:15). The Greek is more literally "being truthful in love." It is essential for the growth of the whole body ("being truthful in love, let us grow unto Him..."). So: if we speak the truth, but without love, we won't grow. And if we love, but are not truthful, we won't grow. Both = FAIL. Erring either way seriously = FAIL. Refusing to do one out of supposed allegiance to the other = FAIL.

What brings this up? Well, everything; but two recent particulars.

This week, I've had two posts at Pyro (to wit: here and here) about the Jakes/MacDonald/Elephant Room deal, and one at my blog about the recent Wallis-Mohler debate.

In both, I tried to speak the truth in love. Love people, and love truth. Rough combo, sometimes, but imperative as a desideratum.

In both, people think I failed, which always concerns me. Some folks I respect didn't like the one at my blog; and I had to delete a couple of rants that didn't engage the substance of the Pyro posts, yet which complained over the whole concept and, of course, bascially called me and my like "haters."

Now, here's an interesting thing. The friends who faulted me respect and love me, I believe, but they disagreed with my posting my disagreement about one man I respect, and (indirectly) about one man I don't know but know to be respected by folks I respect.

Do you see the static there? They clearly think it was okay and loving to criticize me, publicly, for criticizing others publicly.

And I agree with them: it really is okay for them to disagree with something I did.

But what did I do? I disagreed with (or expressed concern about) something others did. How did I do it? Well, if you can read the Wallis-Mohler post and not see that I bent over backwards to say that, at the same time, I (A) think very highly indeed of Al Mohler, and (B) am disappointed at the way I perceive that he responded to Wallis, then I just must not know anything about this whole writing thingie.

Similarly with the Jakes/MacDonald fracas. I stuck strictly to what I know and see in the out-there world, and tried to bring Bibley thinking to bear, without peeking into their hearts. Because I can't! Mercy, much of the time it's a real project to understand my own heart — which I'm inside of — without trying to read others'.

Which is, I think, the whole point of Jesus' oft-quoted and seldom-understood "Judge not" prohibition (Matt. 7:1-5). Clearly He isn't saying not to judge actions and ideas to be bad, wrong, worthy of instant disapprobation and rejection... because He immediately enjoins just that (v. 6).

So in both posts, I tried at that balance. As to Wallis-Mohler, I saw some ideas (Wallis') which I perceive as poisonous and pernicious, and I saw them not properly decimated. That's what I talked about. Ditto Jakes/MacDonald: I focused on words and choices and implications. That's plenty, without trying to mind-read.

Now, think of where we have to go if that isn't all true. For instance, we who preach are perfectly okay that our wives or friends can come up and say, "You know, that wasn't your best sermon." Or "Did you not sleep well last night?" Or "Wow, what did that verse ever do to you?!" Okay, that last one is a bit mean. But friends can offer some criticism of something we did without our justly rounding on them and bellowing "What?! Why do you hate me?"

But some of the issues over those posts seem similar. If I can't say I wish Mohler had handled an encounter differently (as I do) and, at the same time, say I think he's a great guy and a heroic figure... then where are we heading? We're heading towards a world where nothing but unconditional approval of everything everybody does is the only "loving" choice.

But don't we know better than that, already, as Christians?

And if we scold others' actions in scolding others's actions, aren't we setting up a possible Bogotronic Anomaly that will surely lead to the implosion of the entire universe?

The alternative also involves tilting off into the trackless waste of subjectivism and ironic mindreading. I offer some truthful criticism of something Dr. X says or does, amid much also-truthful praise. You tell me it was unloving of me to do so. I tell you I love Dr. X. You tell me, Oh no you don't. I reply, Oh yes I do. And on it goes, with no end in sight.

And now we're talking about your judgment of my feelings, to which only God and I have access, instead of the objective facts of Dr. X's words and actions, in light of God's Word, to which all of us have access.

And where does all of that leave us? Nowhere good, according to my calculations.

So in sum: truthful, and loving. Rough balance. Probably impossible.

But the pursuit is imperative.

Dan Phillips's signature

17 November 2011

T. D. Jakes (and the like) Part Two: thinking clearly about repentance

by Dan Phillips

In part one (which I will assume you've read), I made bold to assert that there were two issues relating to the Elephant Room / T. D. Jakes kerfuffle which (A) I think are crucial, yet (B) haven't gotten the attention that we need to pay them. Interestingly, two Vertical Church posts to which I linked in the first post have since gone the way of an unwelcome Frank Turk comment. Wonder what might happen after today's focus on the second of my two issues?

Let's proceed as I did in the previous post. Let us hope and pray — and, to be clear, I truly do hope and pray — that Jakes comes to repentance on this foundational issue of the nature of God. What would that repentance mean, though? What would that look like, Biblically?

Remember, Luther well began his Top 95 Things Worth Arguing About list with:
When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said "Repent", He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance
"Repent" is a Bibley word, a Jesus-word. But what is repentance? It isn't a small topic; I work it out on page 150ff. of TWTG, and it takes some doing to understand.

Many feelings or activities or attitudes mimic repentance, but fall short of it. Feeling bad is not necessarily repentance. Feeling humiliated, or feeling bad about getting caught is not necessarily repentance.

What characterizes genuine repentance? The two most common Hebrew words means (A) to regret, or (B) to turn around, return, turn back. The most frequent Greek word means a mental paradigm-shift.

If we learn of repentance, then, from the Hebrew word shub, to repent involves turning around. You were heading in one direction, now you are heading in its opposite. You confess the rightness of God's judgment (Zech. 1:6). You turn from your wicked ways (Jer. 5:7) and, in the same act, turn to God (Isa. 10:21).

Or to take it from the Greek word metanoia, repentance involves looking at things quite differently. You are operating on a new paradigm. Formerly, your calculations rested on the axiom 2+2 = ; now, you're starting all over and re-calculating from 2+2=4. You were thinking and living as if God's coming kingdom was an irrelevant nothing; you begin thinking and living as if it were an impending certainty (Matt. 4:17).

But we mustn't confine ourselves to synonyms for "repentance" per se. Repentance involves dealing with sin and its fruits. What other language does the Bible use?

Of course, one big word is mortify. It means put to death or, in the vernacular, kill it dead. You don't want to leave it pining for the Fjords; you want it cold, stiff, out of the game. The opposite is presented in Romans 13:14. I discussed all this at length in another post, to which I now direct you, so that I may come directly to the point of this one.

Here are the facts of this situation to the very best of my knowledge:
  1. Jakes has an admitted past in, and a long history of identification with, modalism.
  2. MacDonald — and only MacDonald, to my knowledge — is now saying Jakes is a Trinitarian.
  3. The Bible reveals God as Triune; therefore
  4. Modalism is a heresy.
  5. Heresy is sin.
  6. If Jakes was a modalist, and is a Trinitarian, then he has changed from what is sinful to what is true and pleasing to God, if only in this one specific.
  7. The Biblical noun that describes such a change is repentance.
All that to say this: if T. D. Jakes is a Trinitarian today, then to get there he must have repented of the sin of modalism.

That is the foundation for what follows. And let me say once again with crystal clarity: we all hope T. D. Jakes has indeed repented of the heresy he's (at least) represented and allowed himself to be identified with, and has embraced the God and Gospel of Scripture. That would be wonderful. We would welcome that with joy.

But hoping for the best does not require turning off our brains or our memories.


So: if Jakes has repented of the sin of modalism, and given the Biblical definition and description above of repentance, we have the right (and, in my opinion, James MacDonald has the responsibility) to ask some questions. Among them:
  1. When was it that Jakes repented of the sin of modalism?
  2. What led Jakes to repent of the sin of modalism?
  3. Where are the public confessions of Jakes' repentance of this sin?
  4. If Jakes has come to see that modalism is a sin, and that his allowing himself to be identified with that heresy is a sin, how is it that nobody knew of this change of heart except James MacDonald?
  5. King Josiah had the Word of God around and did nothing about it. But when he really heard it (2 Kings 22), he took immediate and public action, tearing down altars and destroying idols and putting idolatrous priests out of business (2 Kings 23). What altars has Jakes torn down, what idols has Jakes destroyed, what false teachers has Jakes opposed, and why is the public completely ignorant of it? Or, to be specific:
  6. How can Jakes explain waiting months (years?) to make this revelation, and then only in a paid venue?
  7. What does Jakes think of the people who believed his teaching, accepted modalism because of it, and died holding to that false god, as he waited publicly to unveil his change of heart?
  8. What restitution has Jakes made, and what has Jakes done to correct all the people who either were indoctrinated in or made indifferent to the heresy of modalism through his teaching?
  9. What discipline did Jakes accept, and what did he do, when Jakes realized that he had been teaching (or tolerating) a heresy with his very public profile for so many years?
  10. Jakes previously specifically refused to disassociate himself from advocates and purveyors of the modalist heresy. Has Jakes now disassociated himself from them? Where did he say this or do this? Name some individuals and groups, so that people can be warned from them.
That last especially shouldn't be difficult. I'm not just blowing smoke on that, either. Look, you all know that I too was in a cult. I explained that at some length. I also explained how the Lord saved me out of that cult.

Now, wouldn't it have been weird if it had been known that I was associated with that cult, but for the last 38+ years I never once said that what they taught was flat-out error, and that anyone who believed it was lost and had no hope of eternal life? Wouldn't it be odd if I refused to disassociate myself from the advocates of Religious Science?

Nothing to do with hate, although it has everything to do with judging the false teaching. You could ask me if I have fond memories of the people, and I'd say I surely do. Do I care for them? Yes. Were they kind and patient with me? Very much so.

Have I parted ways with them? Absolutely, because what they believe and teach is a lie, is contrary to the Word of God, and will keep any adherent under the wrath of God without hope of pardon or life.

See? It isn't that hard. Even a fumbletongued pinhead like me can do it.

So... will MacDonald ask Jakes those questions, on that big bright international platform he's giving him?

Shouldn't he?

Shouldn't someone?

Hey, like our T4G 2008 T-shirts said: someone has to say these things.

Dan Phillips's signature

15 November 2011

T. D. Jakes (and the like) Part One: isn't "unclear leader" an oxymoron?

by Dan Phillips

Hard as it may be to believe, there are two issues relating to the Elephant Room / T. D. Jakes kerfuffle which (A) I think are crucial, yet (B) haven't gotten the attention that we need to pay them. I'm going to use this platform to feature each, hoping to force them into the spotlight. Today focuses on just one of those issues.

Jakes' history in Modalism and other false teaching is well-known, well-documented, and longterm.  He didn't recently dabble in it, toy with it, get some learned and gracious rebuke, and request some time (removed from teaching) to consider. Jakes has been spoken of and spoken to. He's achieved a big visible platform, which he's used and used. Jakes has never denounced, disowned, nor distanced. In fact, he specifically refuses to do so.

So now comes enabler James MacDonald, who — on the most charitable-yet-truthful read I can imagine — has been trying on various techniques for damage-control, like a sister in a shoe store. MacDonald first says Jakes is going to be a guest on this show which features great Christian leaders. All Heaven breaks loose. MacDonald, who has styled Reformed critics as "Nazis," eventually changes the ER purpose statement, and says he's eating "humble pie."

Selah.

Now MacDonald is back, thumping his chest and bellowing defiance at critics, calling Jakes a "brother" (later trimming the whiskers of the term "brother")... and being a bit coy.

How "coy"? First, MacDonald complains about the "inability of some to reserve judgement til the event." Reserve judgment? About what? one wonders. About the shifting mission of ER? About Jakes' position?

As to the former, it's hard to blame anyone for finding the situation unclear. About the latter, as we noted, Jakes' position has been well-known. Or is it? MacDonald seems to want to imply that it isn't. Is MacDonald unaware of all the work and effort that's been put into that particular project? It's hard to imagine how to excuse such ignorance, given the outpour since MacDonald's initial announcement.

Or is it that MacDonald thinks that everyone (except MacDonald) is wrong about Jakes' position? That would seem to be the case. First, against all known evidence (and citing nothing fresh), MacDonald says Jakes is not — which would have to mean no longer is — a Modalist. MacDonald further says: "I am looking forward to hearing him explain his position currently and how that may have changed from things he has said historically." So he hints that Jakes' position (A) "may have" changed, and (B) is in need of explanation.

What's more, though, MacDonald also now says "clearly I believe Bishop Jakes is trinitarian and will affirm such in ER2." Looks odd, laid against "may have," doesn't it?

Now, that is a statement meriting a lot of parsing on many levels, not least of them the fact that MacDonald apparently thinks that the hundreds (thousands? tens of thousands?) of Jakes' supporters who know no such thing can safely and responsibly be left in the dark, and conceivably die safely without that knowledge, worshiping what MacDonald himself has agreed is a false (Sabellian) god, until MacDonald's paid event brings enlightenment to those who can afford it.

But this whole post is about focusing on one issue, one question. Here it is. It's worth shouting.
If the world (except for James MacDonald) is unaware of T. D. Jakes' real position on a doctrine as central and foundational as the Trinity, then in what sense is Jakes any kind of a leader, let alone a Christian leader?
It feels surreal to have to explain this. But here we are, aren't we? So let's do this.

What is a pastor's chief "job," according to (hel-lo?) God? It is to labor in the Word and doctrine (1 Tim. 5:17). It is to preach the Word (2 Tim. 4:1-2). It is to preach the Word and truth so clearly as to expose and refute error (Titus 1:9). These are matters of communication, in which it is the very heart and definition of the role of the pastor to (A) communicate (B) truth (C) clearly and (D) convincingly. Obviously, the more important the topic, the more critical these essentials.

Well then: Is the nature of God important? (Again, even having to pose the question makes me feel we're in Bizzaroworld... but that's hardly Breaking News, is it?) Of course the nature of God is important. Living as we are thousands of years after the close of the Canon, and many hundreds of years after Nicea and Chalcedon, is the Biblical doctrine of the Trinity essential to understanding the nature of God? Indeed, one of  James MacDonald's mouths says that the doctrine of the "trinity is clearly a major – national boarder [sic] issue," and I agree with that mouth.

So, to say it again patiently, if it is true (stretching charity well beyond the snapping-point) that Jakes has repented of his Modalism and now embraces a robust, Biblical doctrine of the Trinity, and yet nobody of the thousands who have heard and read him with the sole exception of James MacDonald knows that fact, aren't the very nicest conclusions we can draw about Jakes these two: that he is —
  1. An extremely poor communicator; and
  2. An extremely poor judge of what is important?
And if either of those things is true, then please, someone tell me — how is Jakes any kind of any leader, let alone a Christian leader, let alone a Christian leader who should be lifted up for analysis and emulation on an international platform?

See, I think that is a simple, discrete, fundamental, basic, vital, crucial question that doesn't involve the reading of minds, hearts or tea leaves. It should be absolutely basic. Yet I don't see that simple question asked much.

Really, think about it. Can you imagine Friel saying "We're going to have Phil Johnson on, and get to the heart of what he really believes about the sovereignty of God in salvation!" Or Janet Mefferd running the plug, "Tomorrow on the show, Frank Turk clarifies whether or not he really sees local church involvement as important in the Christian life!" Or Pirate Radio: "Friday on the show, Dan Phillips reveals whether or not he thinks it matters to root the Gospel in the entire Bible!"

You'd all laugh, right? It'd be a joke! Whatever our other many failings, I think we've probably gone on-record about those vital truths, right? And you could multiply it out to Ligon Duncan, John MacArthur, John Piper, or any other person who is justly viewed as a leader in any sense.

Yet somehow "Pay money to find out whether or not renowned Christian leader T. D. Jakes believes in the Trinity" makes sense — to say nothing else? On any level?

Yeah, I don't think so.

And I'm being pretty clear on that, right?

Dan Phillips's signature

11 November 2011

Not for the Stout of Heart, Either, Apparently

by Phil Johnson

(NOTE: Don't miss the clip from yesterday's "Wretched Radio" interview at the end of the post.)

here's a distinct change in volume, tone, and attitude between James MacDonald's "Humble Pie" blogpost and yesterday's "Not for the Faint of Heart" addendum.

In the earlier post, MacDonald acknowledged his own inconsistency: he knew he should not have "used strong language" to scold others for being harsh in their criticism of the Elephant Room strategy. But in yesterday's post and video, MacDonald casts off restraint and reverts to angry-sounding rhetoric.

Despite their starkly contrasting styles, both statements have one thing in common: MacDonald wishes those with concerns about what he is doing would just shut up. He says it euphemistically: "We are asking that those interested in what we are doing allow the conversations to take place before making final conclusions about their wisdom or helpfulness." But clearly, that plea applies to critics, not to MacDonald himself or to those who support his strategy.

There are multiple layers of irony in that. MacDonald purports to be championing fearless dialogue with people he says he doesn't necessarily agree with. But there's a distinct and clearly discernible direction to the drift of the "dialogue." It is painfully obvious that MacDonald is not so keen to listen and learn when someone more conservative than he wants to share a perspective.

But let's set all of that aside. What troubled me much more about the video MacDonald posted yesterday was his repeated insistence from beginning to end that the participants of Elephant Room 2 are a true Band of Spiritual Brothers:



In the earlier "Humble Pie" blogpost, MacDonald had expressed "regret that the purpose of the Elephant Room was not expanded and explained before including a greater breadth of participants." I took that as an admission that he had come to realize why so many people thought it inappropriate to invite a non-Trinitarian into a discussion that was being advertised as a conversation between brothers in Christ who are all committed to the same Christ and the same gospel.

See, when MacDonald announced the Jakes invitation, he wrote, "Getting brothers together who believe in salvation by grace alone through faith alone but normally don't interact, is what the Elephant Room is all about." That assertion was doubtless the main reason for the force of the backlash against Jakes's involvement. At the very least, concern over MacDonald's blithe embrace of a non-Trinitarian as a "brother" was the dominant theme in the criticisms posted on MacDonald's blog.

So the ER Purpose Statement was quickly modified to include the phrase "conversation among all kinds of leaders . . ." That, I assumed, was what MacDonald was talking about when he mentioned the expansion of the Purpose Statement to accommodate a "greater breadth of participants."

But in the above video, he repeatedly insists (in rather dogmatic terms and with an emphatic tone) that all ER participants are indeed his "brothers."

That, I think, is why MacDonald and the ER pose a major problem for the Gospel Coalition. He is a council member of TGC and an influential spokesman for the movement. And the first point in TGC's confessional statement is "The Tri-une God."

So is biblical and historic Trinitarianism an essential tenet of Gospel truth, or is it not? If yes, then TGC needs to hold its own council members to the implications of that. If not, one wonders what was the point of the organization in the first place.

Or to put it another way: The collective leadership of TGC are going to have to decide which is more important: the Gospel, or the Coalition.

Phil's signature



Bonus:



Here's a section of my interview yesterday with Todd Friel on Wretched Radio. In the final segment of hour 1, Todd brought up the "Elephant Room" controversy and asked me to comment on James MacDonald's video. What you will hear was my response upon listening to MacDonald's comments for the first time. Todd asked me to stop the soundtrack and comment each time MacDonald said something either noteworthy or objectionable. We didn't get very far into the video before time ran out, but this makes a nice supplement to today's blogpost anyway.

26 October 2011

Open Letter to D.A. Carson & Tim Keller

by Frank Turk



Dear Dr. Carson & Dr. Keller --

As I begin to write this, I do so with a personal sense of indebtedness to both of you.  I am not merely grateful for your books and lectures and sermons which have taught me so much: I am grateful for the spirit with which you have done it all.  That is to say: while I am well-known through a reputation of being quite a pill for the sake of the Gospel, you both are known as fatherly men who have a graciousness I am certain I lack, and it is that spirit from which I learn much all the time.

Recently, you have both penned a detailed statement about the nature of the Gospel Coalition, and about its duties or relationship to its readers and also its council members.  I found this essay instructive, and useful, and clarifying in the context it was coming from, but in my view, it misses the point of the concerns of almost all the critics of the dust-up over the Elephant Room.  I wanted to offer to you an outsider's perspective on what just happened and why it is not enough merely to say what you have said so far.

Let me start here: the internet is an astonishingly-big and astonishingly-tiny place.  For example, this blog gets more readers daily that most pastors have to preach to on a weekly basis.  We have the same reach on the internet as the Huffington Post (according to Technorati and Google, anyway) -- and yet I have only met a reader of this blog once in "real life" in a non-church setting.  The people I work with have no idea I'm internationally known for talking about Jesus -- they only know me as a guy who is serious about his family, his church and his work (in that order), and who thinks Jesus is a real person.  So when we think about what we are doing here, we have to keep it in the right perspective.  On the one hand, we may be highly influential to a certain cadre of readers; on the other hand, we are not hardly Glenn Beck or Piers Morgan.

But we do influence others -- other Christians.  It would be a particular sort of false humility to say that we didn't set out to do this in the first place.  Of course we set out to influence people -- hopefully, for the better.  The Gigabytes of resources on each of our sites speaks to this plainly -- your coalition, by assembling broadly like-minded influencers and authors and giving them an interconnected portal through which they can cross-pollinate and help others; our little gang of street fighters by speaking toward the prevailing church culture, against its excesses and foolishness, and with the love of Christ in its multifaceted brilliance -- in a way to cause offense, conviction, illumination, repentance, renewal, and finally joy.

To that end, I think it would only be through invincible ignorance that people reading this blog could not know where Dan, Phil and I stand on matters of first importance.  And while we are not uniformly identical in convictions (for example, I am a-mil with post-mil sympathies; Dan and Phil are pre-mil with not much sympathy) [/joke], we all bend the same way and don't really have a lot of internal disagreements.  But what we offer the blogosphere is a clarion call to what we believe -- and the open opportunity for any who disagree with us to disagree publicly, charitably, and for the sake of resolving the disconnect.  We have even been known to apologize when it turned out that we (and by "we" I mean "me") were wrong about something.

Some people find this too tawdry.  Many of them are people who, frankly, can't frame disagreement as anything except trying to destroy another person.  Their refrain is universally, "you would be better off doing something else, like ministry."  Others on that side think disagreements ought to only be private things and cite the Gospel of Matthew while ignoring the book of Acts, the letter to the Galatians, Paul's instructions to Titus and Timothy, Jesus' interactions with his detractors, and so on.  My fear is that you two fall into this camp, as implied by your recent essay.

See: that essay says a couple of things.  The first is the interesting distinction between "a boundary-bounded set and a center-bounded set."  This distinction is interesting as demonstrating kinds of unity, but I think this distinction always overlooks the problem that a center-bounded paradigm is never really center-bounded at all.  You know: your explanation uses oversimplified examples of boundary-bounded sets and then compares that to the robust example of TGC which (you say) is center-bounded.  But when you explain how the center-bounded criteria work out, it suspiciously looks more like a filter to keep out those with serious problems than it does like a center mass around which all of you orbit.

But you want to perceive yourselves and your organization as something which is, in the final account, attractional and not institutional or proscriptive -- so you describe yourself as center-bound.  Fair enough, I guess.

But here's the second thing: as an attractional vehicle, you have drawn people in who, frankly, need you.  They need the collected wisdom of your group, insofar as God has given it to you, to help them in their spiritual life.  And to maintain your self-perception as center-bounded, as essentially attractional, you abhor real conflict.  For example, in the video where Mark Dever briefly discusses the pitfalls of multisite with Mark Driscoll and James MacDonald, it strikes me that they only agree to disagree because, it seems, this doesn't really matter.  That is: the Bible is not very clear (apparently -- Driscoll's interrogative that "ecclesia" means "assembly" "according to who," as if someone said mother wears army boots, simply ridicules the idea that the NT speaks simply and clearly about the matter, denigrating the whole discussion with his characteristic application of humor) (Thx to Steve McCoy's insightful commentary on this video, btw) on what the local church is and is not as a community with any kind of polity.  The video ends with a classic "agree-to-disagree" and leaves the matter unsettled -- and worse, because Dever is a kind soul, he allows himself to be denigrated by the other two for his biblical convictions.

The result, then, is that there is no real conflict and no resolution.  To some, this is great -- because this is a secondary issue, these men of good faith do not have to convince each other, and the discussion is friendly, and we can see that somethings don't have to come to blows.  Selah.

But let's hang on a second: if I give this video all the benefit of the doubt, and concede (for the sake of the blog post) that it doesn't matter if your local church is local, what have I actually learned here?  Have I learned what to do when the actual essentials are at stake?  Have I learned what to do with and for a brother who is publicly coming undone?

The answer, I am sure you can see, is no -- no, this does not instruct me on how to be a real brother to someone.  It doesn't tell me how to live as if James 5 and Prov 27 are true.  And let's face it: the problem with the internet is that someone on it is wrong!


Not just in the "fields of ripe heresy" sense of wrong: the internet is also wrong because it is filled with people who, in spite of a good core intention to expose heresy and false doctrine, don't really love anybody.  They don't want good to come to those they think are getting it wrong.  They want to call down fire on folks rather than call them to repent, forgetting that Jesus is Lord and Christ both in the Acts 2 definition and the Philippians 2 definition.

This is so critical, gentlemen: most people reading the internet for spiritual guidance are desperate for help.  I think they really want to know better than they do.  And they will learn something from the internet -- for good or for ill.

So they find TeamPyro, or they find the Gospel Coalition, and they find other things, too.  And in the last 4 weeks, they have found James MacDonald endorsing T.D. Jakes as a brother in Christ.

Now, fair is fair: he has recanted a lot of stuff, and with respect to your joint essay, I grasp and accept your point that endorsing someone and merely interviewing them are two different things.  The White Horse Inn has interviewed skeptics and atheists and heretics, and nobody is calling for their resignation or expulsion from good company.  But in this case, if what we were trying to do is learn Calculus or Trigonometry, a lot of the work is missing.  We have a problem stated, and we have various statements that a solution was found, but getting from start to finish leaves the people who, attractionally, came to your site to learn about how this faith works, lost.

Now, here's what's not necessary: we don't need the reality TV version of whatever it is that has happened, is happening, and will happen between the various parties at TGC, including any trumped-up drama.  But when someone publicly makes an error of this size, the broad stokes of the public resolution are, frankly, necessary for the sake of those you started your internet site up for in the first place.

For example: After the controversy broke out, James & Company at the Elephant Room revised the mission statement.  No explanation, no comment that it was a good idea to reframe their approach.  Certainly no insight into why it's easier to rewrite the statement than to rethink the invitation to Jakes.  One day the mission statement was one thing, ad the next, it was significantly revised.  There is a step missing there -- namely, why is this action more wise than, for example, revising the guest list.  Mark Dever's name was removed from the list with no explanation -- is that relevant, or just a schedule conflict that can't be resolved?  Thabiti Anyawbile wrote a brilliant plea against allowing Jakes to attend -- and there was no public response to it from MacDonald & Company.  How does one process this?  All the public activities are completely disconnected except by theme.  There's no didactic or practical narrative to help the person you attracted in sort it all out.

For me, as an intermediate observer of the blogosphere and the internet, this is confusing at best.  Imagine what it looks like to the person who is a rudimentary reader of the internet, and a novice at understanding the political dynamics of a group of men who, let's face it, are all kings in their own castles who are also, they all say, servants of Christ more than they are great men.

What is missing here is how to seek resolution of tough issues -- and how to read through an issue like this and both exercise good judgment and call back a brother who is making a critical error.  And of all the people who are on the internet, it has to be said that you two are the best equipped and the best suited to help the rest of us out.


Saying what you might do is an interesting approach -- and it is the approach of the essay you have already written.  But showing the rest of us how to actually do it would be invaluable.  It would actually put into play something the Evangelical church lacks -- an education on how to exercise spiritual responsibility, and turn a brother away from wrong-doing and toward the right path, the right orbit in our center-bounded life which is around Christ.

So I ask you as a fan, and as your far-removed student, and as a Christian who is indebted to you: help us understand how to resolve this matter.  Please do not let the weak single tweet from James MacDonald that the parties #AgreeToDisagree stand as the milestone to this event.  That activity would be helpful to so many people for so many reasons that they cannot all be listed, but the one most important must be said: it will glorify Christ.

My thanks for reading this note, which is already too long.  May God richly bless you, and may your reward in him be great.