07 October 2011

Some Thoughts on This Week's Tempest

by Phil Johnson

'm on the road for much of October. I have a few weeks of vacation to burn and some conferences to participate in (including the Psalm 119 Conference in Keller, TX, which begins today. Get down here.) Earlier this week I was at the Midwest Regional FIRE conference in Greenfield, IN.

So I missed most of the hurly-burly over this week's open letter. I've been asked by people on all sides to give my feedback, and I'm going to try my best to be evenhanded, forthright, and charitable—even though every time I attempt that, the result is that everyone gets angry with me.

In this case, however, I do see valid points on all sides. Ultimately, of course, my sympathies lie predominantly with the perspective Tom Chantry posted on Wednesday. But let's acknowledge that Tom's argument was based to a large degree on anecdotal evidence. Moreover, his complaint could quite validly be leveled at evangelicals in general; what he described is by no means unique to Harvest Bible Chapel—nor is Harvest's youth ministry even close to being the most egregious example of fun-n-games run amok.

I can certainly see why people born and raised in mainstream evangelicalism during the movement's 30-year-long fascination with extreme pragmatism might think Tom's observations are overblown or inaccurate, or complain that it's unfair to single out Harvest. Far from being the worst example of pragmatic showtime religion, Harvest has often been contrasted with Willow Creek as the place to go in the Chicago area if you want to hear verse-by-verse Bible teaching rather than merely being entertained. In many ways, Harvest stands apart from the hard-core pragmatism of more stylish seeker-sensitive churches. That's obviously something we want to encourage and applaud.

Still, I share the concerns Tom Chantry raised. I think what he had to say on Wednesday needs to be heard and carefully pondered. And I want to explain why.

First, let me note a few facts and make some concessions to our critics:
  • Open letters are not my preferred style of discourse. (As far as I can recall, I've never written one.) The Open Letter Project at TeamPyro is Frank's campaign. (I wanted to underline that, because I've lost count of the number of people who have referred to them as "Phil's open letters.") I've enjoyed Frank's insights; I can't say I have enjoyed the reaction the open letters get. He has done a fine job of salting the series with humor and goodwill—and I have agreed with the gist of all the open letters. But because open letters are so often used as a bludgeon, the format itself is more provocative than a simple blogpost written in third person saying all the same things. That is evident from the response to this whole series. I think if Frank wrote an open letter to the grandmothers of the world saying how much they are loved, someone would get angry about it.
  • Of course, Wednesday's entry was one of those letters that was clearly provocative from the get-go. I don't vet blogposts at TeamPyro before they go up, but since this was a guest post, I did get to read an early draft. My response was short. (I was rushed.) I said: "If I were writing an open letter to James MacDonald this week, children's church and youth ministry are not what I would deal with." In retrospect, I think that judgment was sound for several reasons, all cited by various comments under Wednesday's post: it gave the impression we were looking for as many reasons as possible to be critical, trying to start a dogpile. Also, while I see and agree with the connection Tom Chantry made between the Jakes matter and gospel-centrism in youth ministry, it's not an immediately obvious point, and not everyone saw it. So the open letter did distract unnecessarily from the concern of the moment, which has to do with the aims and the framework of the Elephant Room.
  • I deeply respect the spirit and attitude of almost everyone who defended Harvest. Most if not all of them employed rational arguments, dispassionate language, and magnanimity in making their case. I appreciate their loyalty, commitment, and brotherly kindness. We count them as brothers and sisters, not adversaries.
  • By contrast, I was irritated by the way some of our regular commenters responded with vinegar. Not every disagreement calls for sharp rebuke or sarcasm. I hate when our regulars confront first-time commenters with instant pique or dripping sarcasm. I apologize for it.
  • I'll also be the first to confess that one of the great frustrations in any ministry is that fallen people are naturally slow to hear and hard of heart. Jesus rebuked his own disciples repeatedly for being slow learners, and he was still rebuking them for that even after the Resurrection (Luke 24:25-26). People who have sat under my teaching for years sometimes ask astonishingly naive questions. It's fair to note that any ministry you might investigate probably has produced some disciples whose dullness is equal to that of the students whose gospel ignorance raised Tom Chantry's concerns.
Having said all that, permit me to explain why I still agree with the main thrust of Chantry's post. By the way, some readers clearly missed the main thrust of the post. For example, a person from Harvest with whom I talked by phone complained that Tom had cited too thin evidence to substantiate the rather serious accusation that Harvest doesn't care about the gospel.

Let's be clear: No one is saying that Harvest "doesn't care about the gospel." Tom's argument, to put it as simply as possible, is that the current evangelical style of youth ministry isn't doing enough to highlight and reinforce gospel truth over against some of the horseplay that is deemed necessary to attract young people in the first place. There's a great deal of talk and enthusiasm about gospel-centered ministry in conservative evangelical circles at the moment, but still the gospel is often lost in the goulash of church-related youth activities. In the turmoil of so many pie-fights, rock performances, and gross-out contests we tend not to think deeply—nor do we teach our students to think deeply—about essential gospel doctrines.

In short, some of us may not care about the gospel as much as we think we care about it.

And let's face it: that's actually one of the more charitable explanations for why James MacDonald would be trying to draw into the circle of evangelical fellowship a celebrity religious figure who is notorious for preaching a twisted gospel and who has been teaching anti-Trinitarian doctrine for years.

Instead of taking the Elephant-Room approach of seeking consensus with people outside the borders of evangelical conviction, we think what's actually needed in the conservative wing of the evangelical movement is a sharper focus on the gospel, and yes: less horseplay. The Elephant Room approach has a tendency to blur boundaries and make more and more important things seem non-essential. In the end, it's just a group hug, and Isn't it nice that we all love Jesus? Core gospel truths quickly get buried and forgotten, and soon we don't even notice that the gospel is being taken for granted, rarely articulated, little understood, and sometimes even twisted. Testimonies become stories about what we're doing for God or how much we love Him instead of the story of what Christ did for sinners and how He loves us.

When commenters were disputing the accuracy of Tom Chantry's perception the other day, I decided to do some investigation of my own. And the very first thing I found was this video where several Harvest students are giving testimonies of how their lives were changed at winter camp. I'm sure these are sweet kids; they certainly come across as likable. I trust they are still growing and learning. But do their testimonies reflect a clear understanding of the gospel, or do they substantiate Chantry's concern? In my judgment, it's the latter:

That is (in all candor) stunning for its lack of any reference to actual gospel truth. The students say nothing clear about guilt and repentance; nothing at all about the historical facts of the gospel; no mention of either the death or resurrection of Christ; nothing about Christ's lordship or the kingdom of God or the need for atonement. In fact, there are only a few oblique mentions of Christ's name. The focus, instead, is completely on how we live and how we think.

Yes, one student mentions that God has forgiven him, but there's nothing about what forgiveness cost or how it was obtained—nothing to differentiate the idea of biblical forgiveness from the Hindu or Rastafarian concept. Quite simply, the gospel is missing from those testimonies. It is not clear that the students grasp the basics of the gospel.

I transcribed some samples, in case you have trouble streaming:

  • I usually just wait for the Lord to tug on my heart--to change my life and to get back on track with Him. This year it was different. I didn't wait for that moment; I went in fired up for God. And what He really just taught me this time was not to change my life, but to leave my past behind. I had some stuff in my past that I still was not letting go . . .
  • I've never experienced God so close to me.
  • I let go of a lot of things from my past and I decided that, you know, God needed to be my first priority and I needed to have a relationship with him.
  • And I realized that homework was starting to become an idol for me. I just really needed to surrender it all to Him.
  • Winterfest for me was a chance to let go of a lot of my anger and forgiving my dad and my sister and my family members. I've learned that I need to take responsibility for my Christianity.
  • I think the biggest thing that I learned at Winterfest is that it's not about me anymore. That there's other people that have struggles and difficulties. That God can help you get through anything.
  • I just really want to change and live my life for God.
So I think Tom Chantry's concerns are not far-fetched or trumped up. I realize those are typical of the testimonies you might hear in any contemporary evangelical context. The average evangelical today will think it's picayune and overly fussy to criticize them. That's only because they don't realize how far evangelicalism has moved from true gospel-centrism and how pervasive (and how grave) this problem is. Our obsession with things like personal experience, self-esteem, relationships, and angst obscures a clear view of objective gospel truth.

That's Tom Chantry's point, for those who might still be missing it.

To be completely fair, I think we're all guilty at times of doing and saying things that undermine the clarity and centrality of the gospel. Since the church where I minister has a seminary on campus, my sermons frequently get critiqued by students who remark on ways I might have made the gospel more clear and prominent. Of course it makes me wince to get that kind of criticism, but I welcome the feedback and I have profited from it. It is usually sound and helpful, and it certainly keeps me more focused.

But some church leaders are more careless in their handling of the gospel (or their neglect of it) than others. And some have been egregiously careless of late. There seem to be two competing strands in contemporary evangelicalism. On the one hand, we declare our common commitment to the gospel and remind one another that this is what binds us together, so we need to protect it at all costs, emphasize it more, understand it better, and proclaim it more openly. On the other hand, there is a relentless push for the status quo in popular approaches to pragmatic ministry, the elevation of rock-star pastors, and the quest to be cool.

Some Christians seem to have one foot in both camps. We think that's a terrible stance, and we can't help saying so. We're sorry to ruffle feathers, but if you can get past the clumsiness with which we sometimes make our case, it's a fairly important point we are trying to make.

Phil's signature


~Mark said...

Tom's argument, to put it as simply as possible, is that the current evangelical style of youth ministry isn't doing enough to highlight and reinforce gospel truth over against some of the horseplay that is deemed necessary to attract young people in the first place.

~That was the point I got from it, and tried to share with others via Facebook and at school. I can see the point you're making though, about this time being perhaps better spent discussing the Elephant Room situation.

By the way, I'd NEVER heard of the Elephant Room until this eruption!

Jugulum said...


You are a true elder in Christ, and I love you for it. I hope in God to grow in grace toward the maturity and thoughtfulness with which you spoke in this post. And I hope that everyone who reads it will appreciate the spirit in which you wrote it, regardless of their stance one the issues being discussed. There is no reason these interactions should be anything other than iron sharpening iron.

I have a question for you, about the transcribed youth testimonies.

Would you say that you are concerned that the youth said the things they did, at all? Or is it more that their comments were missing something? That they said them without explicitly grounding them in an understanding of gospel grace, for instance?

Does your answer vary for any of the testimonies you quoted?

timb said...

I think it goes a long way towards disarming that often unfair criticism that TeamPyro is only ever about stirring up controversy, 'dividing the body,' and picking fights for the sake of fighting.

The post was a good balancing of keeping the issue on the table, acknowledging the valid points of others and even *gasp* critiquing some of the loyalists.

Mathew said...

Well said Phil. Very grateful for your hardline stance on gospel truth. We need more contending less mushy, gushy let's hug each other Christians.

Grace & Peace

Robert Warren said...


Your post should be even more disturbing (in a healthy way) to those who took exception to Pastor Chantry's.

How many of us old guys look at the young people in the video and see ourselves back in the 70s, when we thought we were saved?

FX Turk said...

Juggy --

Last night, for her AWANA project, my daughter did a "live" news report (which we video'd for future use) of Jesus' sermon on the mount -- a passage I would say is utterly fraught with theological potholes which a lot of pastors fall into. I was expecting from her, who is AWANA aged, to innocently and accidentally fall into any or all of them because she hasn't been to seminary or listened to any WHI episodes.

I'm looking forward to eventually putting that video on-line, and I look forward to answering your question then.

Anonymous said...

"If I were writing an open letter to James MacDonald this week, children's church and youth ministry are not what I would deal with."

You've captured my thoughts from Wednesday, and I think this week should signal the end of the Open Letters.

Phil Johnson said...

By the way, I want to point out that Tom Chantry wrote Wednesday's post with a pastor's heart, from a pastoral perspective, motivated by pastoral concerns, and with a pastoral tone of tenderness--all reflecting his own firsthand pastoral experience. He wasn't merely trying to pick a fight or be hypercritical. And he stands by what he wrote.

I'm grateful for his passion and courage. He's one of the best commenters we have ever had, and we've asked him more than once to become a permanent member of TeamPyro (an invitation I don't think we have ever made to any other commenter). But after this foray into blogging, he seems to be holding off saying yes.

He too is on the road today and without Internet connectivity, so don't mistake his silence today for a lack of interest in this discussion.

Phil Johnson said...


I'm hesitant to analyze and compare the students' individual testimonies. My point is more about the cumulative statement they make. It's heavy on the typical evangelical cliches that hint at gospel subjects, and phrases like "relationship with God," but missing any meaningful stress on the work of Christ, which is the meat of the gospel.

The Bible Christian said...

"Tom's argument, to put it as simply as possible, is that the current evangelical style of youth ministry isn't doing enough to highlight and reinforce gospel truth over against some of the horseplay that is deemed necessary to attract young people in the first place."


I think its a lot worse than that, I believe a lot of kids leave youth groups believing they are saved... While parents and youth leaders just want a prayer prayed from these kids without the gospel truth, with a superficial knowledge of who Christ is and His atoning work on the cross... No repentance and real confessing of sin, just God loves you, Christ died for you, Now! its up to you!

Some how they find security knowing that there with a bunch of other Christians doing what everybody else is doing and they're all saved.

That is until they get into college and their whole world turns upside down and then they're called prodigals. I don't know, maybe I'm wrong!

Frank Rue said...

Having been in a contemporary evangelical church with similar ideals as the one contested, I can, from eye witness account, state that these types of testimonies are a frightening indicator of a *possible* lack of understanding on the kids' parts.

Working in a youth group as a leader, and playing a part in caring for the younger folks of the flock, I got to see how, when I employed these pithy statements: "You have to work on your walk," and, "You're not putting your relationship with Christ first," but then attached no practical, biblical truth (Gospel) to them, it resulted in the same thing: great testimonies for our current cultural climate, but NO LONG-LASTING sanctification.

I lost count of how many lives, after recording a video testimony like the one cited, were trashed again in 6 months and needed another "recommitment". And when I say "trashed", I mean that the kids went back to double the self-mutilation, drugs, drinking, promiscuous lifestyles, etc.

We changed our programs numerous times JUST TO ATTEMPT TO FIX this problem, but, all the while, never heeding the simplest and most profound weapon in our arsenal: THE GOSPEL.

This is no surprise to me, alas, and I weep for it, because I know where it will most likely go (or has already gone).

It would be nice if a church would do "follow-up" videos 1 year after videos like the above. Where are they now? Are they still "sold out to Christ"? Or have they moved on to something else?

Great post, Phil. And great original post, Tom Chantry. I stand behind this call-to-action and critique of modern church because I've seen it up-close and personal, and it's awful.

In Christ,

Robert said...


I loved this post and feel that I was one of the commentors who might have posted a comment (in defense of Tom) a little too quickly. I apologize if I said anything offensive, but I just sensed that people were getting a bit too defensive and not taking Tom seriously (and also inadvertantly calling his discernment into question). I think we all have the same goal in mind...bringing the gospel to lost sinners (including youth and children).

I will say that what disturbed me about what I heard is that it seems like the gospel is assumed by these kids. It is like they were Christians, but they just weren't doing it right...or their old habits aren't what a Christian is. Which brings us back to not hearing the gospel spoken about.

The thing is, we're still wretched sinners after salvation...we're still not doing it right. God performs a work in our hearts to where we can at least choose to follow Him more closely, but that is all His work. God still shows us our sin and convicts us...we are saved by grace through faith so that we can do good works that He predetermined for us.

I don't want to point to how much better my life is now, but rather to the fact that my Lord and Savior lived a perfect life, was killed and faced the wrath of God in my place, and rose again so that sinners like me might be redeemed and have eternal life in the presence of the holy, holy, holy God if they repent of their sins, put their trust in Jesus, and follow Him by the power He provides. And I want others to have their hearts and minds opened to this wonderful truth so that they may too have eternal joy and have the hope of all the saints for the return of Jesus Christ to rid the world of sin and bring the new heaven and earth.

Dave said...

I appreciated Wednesday's post, and for over 20 years I have attempted to articulate the same message. It has been difficult watching senior saints leave the Churches that they have been members of for many years because of a new philosophy of doing "ministry" to reach the next generation(e.g mosh pits...). I believe that parents need to be taken to task as well - it is not the responsibility of the Church to raise my children.

I also agree that perhaps the post should not have strayed very far from the issue of the so called Elephant Room - which I had never heard of previously. James MacDonald, if you are reading this - what happened to those messages about repentance?

Anonymous said...

Phil, with charity, I ask: when you lament that you "hate when our regulars confront first-time commenters with instant pique or dripping sarcasm. I apologize for it." Would you consider DJP's comment at 4:12: "So Kaj, Marc and other newcomers who have just created a profile and posted your first comments today: your point is to wave a hand at Tom Chantry, who's built up credibility over years of transparent participation here, and say "These aren't the droids you're looking for"? to be an example of a regular responding to those first-time contributors with dripping sarcasm?

lukemac said...

hi Phil.

As James son and a former student at the school Chantry taught at and a current youth pastor at Harvest Bible Chapel and the director of The Elephant Room,

I have started about 20 comments on this website in the last two weeks without managing to write something worth posting.

This post today contains what has been missing from much in this discussion about the E-Room and in online Christian discourse in general, namely the benefit of the doubt and grace.

While I feel differently than you do about the effectiveness of our youth ministry, I just forwarded this blog to our entire youth staff as it contains a great challenge for us.

How could anyone be angry about a challenge to present the gospel with more clarity and urgency?

God's Blessings.

Tyler Wallick said...

It is the type of response that lukemac gave that gives me hope for addressing the real issues. If only most (myself included) could respond to a critique with such graceful eloquence. Bravo, lukemac

Kaj Ballantyne said...

I just want echo Luke's comment. Thanks Phil for a great post. May we all seek to bring the clear message of the Gospel to kids, youth and adults in our Churches, families and communities


Brian said...

This has definately been a heavy-hitting, mind-challenging topic. I am glad it came up. I am also thankful for these kids lives and am confident that when asked "how were you forgiven?" they could clearly explain Christ's death on the cross. I just think they were more focused on the "what" change of their life than the "how". But this does remind me of Graeme Goldsworhty's statement in one of his books (can't remember which one) that our testimonies need to be more and more told from the third person (He- as in Christ) than the first (I). My life has been changed because of what He has done on the Cross, purchasing my justification, sanctification and glorification. He is my Salvation from the beginning to the end. On another note, I am sure nobody here means that teens should not have fun at a church event. Afterall, in addition to Gospel preaching, MacArthur's church looks like they have some fun too! Check out the second video on this page http://www.regencamp.com/video/

FX Turk said...

I'm glad it's Friday and I'm re-reading DJP's book this weekend, and then writing a review.

FX Turk said...

Alex --

Sure: Phil's point today was to throw DJP under the bus.

The Bible Christian said...


I just downloaded it free on Kindle and I plan reading Dan's book for the first time, I bet I'll see a lot of gospel truth in there!

Jugulum said...


Thanks. That's what I thought--I wanted to help head off an incredulous "Phil Johnson has a problem with students saying they want to live their lives for God?" kind of reaction to your post. (And I see your point about parsing the individual students' replies. I asked that to acknowledge that you might have different concerns for "living our lives for God" language, vs "relationship" language, vs "experience" language.)


That's excellent. I'll look forward to the video.

Anonymous said...

Hi Frank, Grace and Peace. I never did suggest that the point of Phil's piece was such. I was simply asking Phil for clarification about one portion of his piece - not surmising the point of the entire piece. Thanks!

Tom said...

Phil, Frank, et al.,

I would add that just saying the appropriate "gospel-y" words in one's testimony doesn't necessarily mean a student understands the gospel...

I guess if we get all our teens to memorize the Westminster shorter catechism, they could respond with all the right biblical answers, but that doesn't mean they're anymore gospel-centered than the teens at Harvest.

Just a thought...


Eric said...

I've not seen anyone on this blog advocate for "just saying the appropriate "gospel-y" words". And committing catechism to memory in no way precludes applying the knowledge of doctrine to our lives. Doxis and praxis are friends, not enemies.

Tom said...

Eric writes: I've not seen anyone on this blog advocate for "just saying the appropriate "gospel-y" words".

Except for the fact that Phil referenced teens testimonies and specifically called out what they said (or didn't say) as an indication of their understanding of the gospel...

Dallas Jenkins said...

As disturbing as it is for people to stress style over substance and to water down the gospel in exchange for platitudes and fun-n-games, it's equally disturbing when judgements are made or serious questions are raised based on such indirect examples. The analysis of the video is a prime example of a scary trend.


1. It's a highlight video. It's 4+ minutes long and covered the experiences of 7+ people. It can't get into everything.

2. I'm guessing it was something played in the church service or for the youth group, both places where the gospel is already preached. The video already has the necessary context. Does every service element have to cover all the ground at once?

3. It's very dangerous to focus on what's missing from a statement as opposed to what's contradictory to truth. Think of where that leads. Did you find a statement in the video that was contradictory to the gospel? Are you honestly saying that the comments highlighted aren't reflective of the Christian journey?

Focusing on what's NOT there and assuming that a speaker is claiming that whatever comment they're making represents the whole of truth opens up a massive can of worms. If I made a movie about Moses, would you ask, "But where's the gospel?" If I read you the Book of Esther, would you ask why there's no mention of God? If you found a video of a church singing "How Great Thou Art," would you say, "I'm concerned they don't mention sin?"

4. It's a highlight video. Sounds like you're saying, "That Sportscenter recap only showed 4 of Michael Jordan's 40 points? Where's the other 36?"

Eric said...

I appreciate the response of lukemac, but would hasten to add that the language of Tom Chantry on this blog (both in his recent post and his many comments) is an exemplary standard of extending the "benefit of the doubt and grace". It would be hard to find a commenter here that interacts as cordially or winsomely as Mr. Chantry does on a regular basis. That is not said to denigrate anyone else or raise Mr. Chantry to an elevated position - it is merely my observation.

Eric said...


Can I understand you to be saying that Phil is advocating for kids to be "just saying the appropriate "gospel-y" words". Are you really accusing Phil of seeking a mere Pharisaical white-washed tomb status for kids? Does language and testimony reflect nothing of what is known of the truth and what lies in the heart?

Jugulum said...


Agreed that we can't conclude from the students' replies that they don't have a good understanding of the gospel, underlying their words.

The transcribed replies do, however, fail to suggest that they have a good understanding of the gospel underlying their words.

A takeaway: In addition to making sure that we present the gospel, we need to teach people to connect the dots between the gospel and the kinds of things that the youth were talking about. People need to know how to think & talk about such connections. (Regardless of whether Harvest Bible Chapel was doing that or not, it's good to be reminded that we need to.)

Tom said...

Eric writes: Can I understand you to be saying that Phil is advocating for kids to be "just saying the appropriate "gospel-y" words". Are you really accusing Phil of seeking a mere Pharisaical white-washed tomb status for kids?

Would Phil have used the video as an example of the lack of gospel-centeredness at Harvest had the teens said the "right words" in the video? His only criteria to evaluate these teens' understanding of the gospel was their brief statements.

Does language and testimony reflect nothing of what is known of the truth and what lies in the heart?

Yes and no. I'm glad Frank's daughter can exegete Matthew 5-7 flawlessly, and can probably quote most of the new testament... The Pharisees could probably quote most of the Old Testament, and they sounded pretty bible-ly too. Were they saved?

Eric said...


Since you didn't answer my question directly, I'll have to infer from what you wrote, and you seem to answering "yes". Wow.

Anonymous said...

I really don't think you can make an accurate assessment of the effectiveness of a youth ministry, or any ministry for that matter, based up on a 5 minute video clip.

Neither can you make an accurate assessment based on limited classroom interaction with what I'm speculating was a small handful of students.

Pastor Chantry made a considerable leap from, "These kids from Harvest can't articulate the Gospel," to "The youth ministry program at Harvest is poor." That appears to have justifiably drawn the ire of those who minister at Harvest.

Robert said...


I will say this as a parent of two young boys...if I were watching a video that was supposed to present what my children will gain from attending a church camp or conference, I would want to hear them acknowledge that they learned about how sinful they are and how God changed their hearts. What I hear here is some people saying they weren't being good Christians. Personally, I have yet to meet a "good Christian". I've met plenty of wretched sinners saved by the grace of God. Jesus said that only the spiritually bankrupt will receive the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:3). Some or all of them might be saved, but I didn't really hear any explanation of that in the video. And when you talk about your life changing, it can either be God changing us or us trying to better ourselves. The latter of those is simply moralism.

I think your comparison lacks a lot of weight. I would say it would be more like (although WAY short of what is missing here) Michael Jordan having the best dunk ever in a game and not showing that in the highlights on Sportscenter. Or not showing the pivotal play in the highlight of the Super Bowl. Like I said, these still fall WAY short, though.

Phil Johnson said...


Leaving the gospel out of a testimony isn't analogous to leaving 36 of Jordan's 40 points off the highlight reel. It would be more like reporting on Super Bowl XXIII and failing to mention the Montana-to-Taylor TD pass in the final seconds.

BTW, your dad is one of my favorite people in the world, and I owe him a lot. Tell him hi for me.

Tom said...

Eric writes: Since you didn't answer my question directly, I'll have to infer from what you wrote, and you seem to answering "yes". Wow.

Eric, unfortunately, that is what using these types of "see, they aren't saying or doing the right things" examples imply. Had they done or said the "right" things, they wouldn't have been used as examples.

Do I think Phil believes this? No. But, that is what is often communicated when using these types of examples. These types of examples are used all the time in fundamentalism to demonstrate how everyone except your group is wrong.

Eric said...

Jules, you said: "I really don't think you can make an accurate assessment of the effectiveness of a youth ministry, or any ministry for that matter, based up on a 5 minute video clip."

I think you've hung around these parts long enough to know that Phil is drawing on a lot more to reach concern about youth ministry than the lone example that he gave providing some illustration.

Robert said...


I am sure Tom will probably be able to clarify this more when he hsa a chance, but it was clear to me from some of his comments in the meta that some of these students were actually arguing with him after preaching/teaching in the chapel. It seems like that was more than just having a problem articulating the Gospel, but they were saying that their youth leaders had said something in conflict with what Tom had said. I'm not trying to be a Tom fanboy (we've actually had a good back and forth on an issue on here before...good meaning we disagreed, but were both respectful), but I just think he showed that he wasn't making quite the enormous leap that some may be making it out to be.

Anonymous said...

Jules, I agree with you. Let's say you had a very rich Bible study where the gospel was articulated, the sinfulness of man was demonstrated, the wrath of God was displayed, the cross of Christ was magnified and the need for faith and repentance was emphasized. Afterward, the youth group had ice cream Sundays and played some fun games. It would not surprise me to hear a young person come away from such a night saying "That was fun - we had ice cream and played games." Does that mean that the youth group leaders failed? Not at all!

In watching the videos of HBC's youth retreats I was blessed to see so many images of young men and women with their faces buried in the Bible.

Eric said...


I'll have to heartily disagree that anything Phil said or illustrated, taken in context, can be reduced to anything remotely resembling "just saying the appropriate "gospel-y" words". You have created a fundamentalist strawman out of Phils thoughtful interaction.

Dallas Jenkins said...

Yes, Phil, one shouldn't leave the gospel out of one's testimony. But this wasn't the testimony. This was a highlight video discussing life change. It was a service element, part of a larger whole.

My Dad loves you, too! I'm iffy. :)

Anonymous said...

Could be, Robert. I'll await clarification, but I am curious to know the number of Harvest students Pastor Chantry interacted with over the four year period.

Tom said...

Eric writes: I'll have to heartily disagree that anything Phil said or illustrated, taken in context, can be reduced to anything remotely resembling "just saying the appropriate "gospel-y" words".

I would agree with you, had he not highlighted this video of Harvest teens and their brief statements as proof of the lack of gospel-centered teaching at Harvest and the lack of gospel-centered understanding of the teens.

Eric, you can't have your cake and eat it too, my friend.

Robert said...


I'll still stand by my earlier comment to Dallas. This is clearly a video that is supposed to demonstrate how the youth have changed by going to the camp and being involved in the youth ministy at Harvest. And the gospel should be at the core of that change. It should be more about how God changed their hearts and what God is doing in their lives. Same as we should all say the same about whatever spiritual growth is occuring in our lives. I guess the question is whether or notwe are looking for and willing to accept criticism from other believers. Proverbs has a lot to say about that subject 9receiving counsel and instruction) and I am humbled by how often I find myself on the foolish end of the wisdom offered there.

APM said...

I totally take issue with Phil's tone in this post.

Tom said...

Robert writes: This is clearly a video that is supposed to demonstrate how the youth have changed by going to the camp and being involved in the youth ministy at Harvest. And the gospel should be at the core of that change. It should be more about how God changed their hearts and what God is doing in their lives.

I completely agree with you. But, I also want to give these teens the benefit of the doubt and not assume that just because they didn't use that right phraseology or didn't start quoting Jonathan Edwards that they don't understand the gospel or aren't taught the gospel. In other words, it is dangerous to pass judgment on these teens or on an entire youth ministry based on whether they said what we wanted them to say.

So, again, I agree with Phil, Eric, and you on this, but I just wanted to raise a word of caution...


Robert said...


Caution accepted...I don't want to be legalistic about it. Thank you for the warning.

James Scott Bell said...

A well thought out post, Phil. Good balance. And good gentle reminder to all who comment here.

Jamie said...

To any at Harvest who may know Julie,

Phil’s post today touched me on several levels. It reminds me that it is my job to be clearly understood by those to whom I attempt to communicate truth. I am not to be overly critical to honest inquiry but am to patiently present the reason for the hope (or positional belief) that is within me. I am not to reward an honest rebuttal or challenge with vitriol, sarcasm, or unkind response. It was I who “confront first-time commenters with instant pique or dripping sarcasm” and for that I am deeply ashamed.

Phil’s rebuke cut me and caused me to reconsider my post to you, Julie, and were it possible I would retract my post and answer you with brotherly care rather than the flippant sarcasm that I displayed. His apology is fine as far as it goes, but it is not quite enough. My post to you demonstrated a lack of concern for your obvious heartfelt passion for your church, its pastoral staff, and youth outreach. You deserved better than what I gave you. For this I sincerely apologize and ask your forgiveness. Please do not let my inappropriate comments deter you from engaging again here at Pyro.



Eric said...


I certainly agree that "saying the right things" or inacluding certain words is not adequate and we certainly should guard against empty recitation. I think your initial caution would have been easier to stomach had you not insinuated that desiring to hear actual gospel content in testimony from young people was essentially akin to merely desiring outward conformance. Mere outward conformance is a danger for all of us, but the antedote is not to remove desire to teach the gospel and hear it reflected in testimony of Christians (young or old). What comes out of our mouths means something, and often does reflect quite well what we have learned. The elements of gospel language that Phil was hoping to hear are not fringe elements, but core.

Thanks for the interaction.

DWA said...

Can we call Tom Chantry to repentance for slander against James MacDonald and the associated Harvest Bible Chapels? His open letter was filled with wrong information, and he has used a public platform to proclaim it. Had Tom made one personal visit to a Harvest campus to evaluate the youth ministry he would have seen how wrong his conclusions and assumptions are. His open letter was not written from a pastor's heart. A true shepherd would have considered his platform, the consequences, and the potential for offending weaker brothers. And the vinegar from the pious self-righteous regulars on this sight has left a very bad taste in my mouth. Sad.

Staci Eastin said...

It's fair to note that any ministry you might investigate probably has produced some disciples whose dullness is equal to that of the students whose gospel ignorance raised Tom Chantry's concerns.

Thanks for pointing that out. I'm very glad the faithfulness of my youth pastor's ministry was not measured by statements I made as a teenager.

Mary Elizabeth Tyler said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

DWA - I don't necessarily agree with your conclusion, but you have a right to the opinion you hold. There is one thing I take exception to:

"His open letter was not written from a pastor's heart."

How can we know that? I think I would rather take him at his word that he came to the conclusions he did with much hesitation and leave it at that. I cannot know the motive of his heart. In the time I have observed his interaction on this blog in general, I think that's a safe bet.


David A. Carlson said...

First, thank you for posting the video. I appreciate the opportunity to actually see/read/hear the issue.

Having watched it, I think that video was all about the gospel - what the gospel brings to a believer.

Following Jesus is all about changed lives. That once sealed by the Holy Spirit, we are no longer the person we were. And that is what those kids were sharing on the video - that who they were is in the past and they are a new creation. One talked about a thirst for his word. One about being more selfless. Sounds like change to me. Sounds like the Holy Spirit at work.

Were they the most erudite presenters? No. Could of the Harvest videographers done a better job? Sure.

But that video showed the gospel in action in their lives.

Thats my take. Your mileage may vary.

FX Turk said...


since Tom did no such thing, no.

DWA said...

Frank, what would you call it?

Phil Johnson said...

DWA: "His open letter was not written from a pastor's heart"

That is an ironic statement given how you began your comment with a request to call someone else to account for slander. Your profile is hidden so I have no way of knowing who you are. But I do know Tom Chantry; I've observed him for several years now; and you are not judging him fairly.

FX Turk said...

I'd call your post a glib drive-by and and Tom's 3-times revised post an open letter based on 4 years experience.

if you'd like something more wordy e-mail me.

FX Turk said...

dac -

what did they say that the Mormon kids down the block wouldn't say?

can't wait to show my AWANA video.

David A. Carlson said...


What must every five minute video contain in order to pass your muster? What content is required to prove their bona fides? What is the sine qua non that you desire?

Kaj Ballantyne said...


The 3 videos you posted the previous blog were given as examples of "fun-n-games" with a little Bible tacked on type of Youth ministry. Did I misread your comment or misread the videos?

Not meant as a contentious question ... more of a "what do you see as the better way?" (Hear me that I am all about becoming better at preaching and teaching and discipling ... and making the Gospel clear ... not picking a fight ... some of you guys seem to own some big medieval swords so I wouldn't wanna fight ya anyway)

The videos seemed to put a pretty good focus on youth in the Word, worshipping, guys preaching from the Word ... (full disclosure: I preached at a Fuze Retreat for the Jr. Highs a couple of years ago ... and the focus of the preaching that weekend was, funny enough - The Cross).


DWA said...

Tom has not judged James or Harvest fairly.

I don't have a problem with the overall content of his post, just that he unfairly pins it on Harvest.

Mary Elizabeth Tyler said...

After having listened to the Harvest youth leaders give their side to the story, I have come to a better understanding of their dedication.

Tom also has real concerns, as he has a heart for gospel “clarity” and for the souls of young people; and I have no doubt that he did witness what he did first hand. I think Tom's concerns have lit a fire under all of us to speak with MORE clarity when it comes to the gospel. That’s a good thing! Who can complain!

AND, if you read James MacDonald's article today “Humble Pie-A Hearty Meal” you will see that he, too, is into re-thinking the language used in his original ER statement, and again this is done for the sake of “clarity.”

Sounds like this article by Tom has been very significant, and turned out to be a win, win all the way around!!!

Barbara said...

I got no dog in this hunt, but as a mother of two college-age kids, reading and cringing through so much of this, it seems to me that something very important has been missed here - the seemingly vast underestimation of the capacity of young people (including the kids in the video and the videographers who presumably were seeking to cast a faithful light here) to know the Gospel in words and in experience and to draw upon it for their very lives. HOW, pray tell, can you expect kids to share the faith if you can't expect them to articulate it?

The bar is just set so low overall and we do neither the younger people nor ourselves any favors by justifying it and leaving it there. I have on my bookshelf all six volumes of Park Street Pulpit, powerful sermons preached by a very young CH Spurgeon (He was 19 when he started there). Just a couple of weekends ago I had the privilege of attending a parenting conference presented by Lou Priolo, in which he humbly admitted having to receive biblical correction given to him by his 3-year-old! If a 3 year old child is capable of correctly applying what Scripture she knows and understands to a present situation and lovingly rebuke her own father with that Scripture, it seems to me that it falls horribly short to expect that young adults (and I count adolescents in that category) who claim to have saving faith that is bearing spiritual fruit in their lives to be incapable of even having it register in their testimonies. It's Jesus! It's all of Jesus, it's all from Jesus, and it's all FOR Jesus! That's what's missing from that testimony video: The person and work of Jesus - it doesn't take a lot of big words to express that, it only takes a few - even such as these:

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost but now I'm found
Was blind but now I see.

And can it be, that I should gain
An interest in the Savior's blood?
Died He for me, who caused His pain?
For me, who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be that Thou, my God, would die for me?

I stand amazed in the presence of Jesus the Nazarene
And wonder how He could love me - a sinner, condemned, unclean!

Is that really too much to ask or expect out of kids who are of age to strategize their video game moves, recite contemporary music lyrics, and stage Shakesperean plays? Really?

Tom Chantry said...

I have been unable to be present for any discussion today, and perhaps that is a good thing. I will post this and be done.

Honestly, while perhaps few will believe this, it was never my intent to become a perpetual critic of Harvest Bible Chapel. I have a perspective on its ministry which I believe is valid, which I think relates to the Elephant Room controversy, and which I hoped would be heard. The large number of Harvest leaders who created accounts on Wednesday just to respond tells me that my perspective was at least heard, and for that I am grateful.

No number of testimonies to the biblical intent of the youth ministries at Harvest can obscure two firm impressions I gained in my years of teaching:

First, the dozens of students in my classroom from Harvest demonstrated a tragic lack of awareness of the gospel. By their own testimony they had rarely if ever been in worship, and their experience of church was of games and songs. They needed Jesus, and they knew very little of Him.

Second, when I was able to discuss the gospel with older students - a frequent occurrence due to my position in the chapel - those from Harvest regularly spoke against plain gospel statements and insisted that they had learned a better, happier form of Christianity from their youth leaders. What they heard in church was that they were wonderful, special kids who just needed to be on fire and serve others. The idea that we are all sinners in need of God’s grace each day was not only foreign to them but offensive.


Tom Chantry said...

I understand and even respect the commitment which many of you have to your church. Nevertheless I cannot believe that these facts do not represent a serious problem. Our school had an average enrollment of about 900 students, several hundred of which were from Harvest. I understand that is not as large a number to Harvest as to the rest of us, but I cannot believe that it is an insignificant cross section. I cannot believe that those parents who made the sacrifice to pay for Christian education all represented the newly-converted margins of the Harvest congregation. I doubt anyone who spent time at CLA could entertain the argument that a handful of Harvest parents dealing with rebellious children had succeeded in turning our school into a reform institution for wayward kids.

In other words, I remain convinced that I have a valid and valuable perspective on the ministries at Harvest. The desire of so many of you to defend your church is understandable, even admirable. Now that you have done so, let me urge you to take stock of the ministry and to ask where your true mission field lies. Is it your calling to build unity in the body of Christ by the public embrace of questionable ministries and the attempt to be "sharpened" by false teaching? Or is the unity of the body built up when gospel truth is clearly and lovingly passed on to another generation? You think you can do both. From where I stand, it seems that much more consistent gospel ministry is needed in your own midst.

Above all, please do not write off my words as those coming from hatred. I do not hate Harvest Bible Chapel. Let me repeat what I said Wednesday: I loved the children of your church when I worked among them, I still worry about them today, and I pray that I will fellowship with them in heaven.

John said...

Over at God's Politics (www.blog.sojo.net), there has been a discussion about what it means to be an evangelical over the past week or so. Charles Finney (!) seems to be the hero over there. In any event, today Lynn Hybels weighs in and I quote her post

So for months — for years actually — I just read Jesus. And slowly but surely, Jesus reshaped my understanding of what it meant to be a Christian.

First, in Jesus I found the Lover of my Soul.

I found a Living Presence who says, “If you’re weary, come to me and I’ll give you rest. If you’re empty, come to me and I’ll fill you. If you’re lonely, come to me and I’ll be with you.” I realized that I could bring my very weary self to Jesus and find the deep rest I needed.

I found a God/man who tenderly welcomed children. Even when other people wanted to send them away, Jesus picked the children up, sat them on his lap and wrapped his arms around them. I realized that even when I feel as weak and vulnerable as a child, Jesus will welcome me.

I met Someone who honored and lifted up women who felt invisible, devalued and misunderstood in a culture that considered them little more than a piece of property. I realized that anytime I feel invisible or devalued or misunderstood, I can go to Jesus and be seen in a way that no one else sees me.

I met a Forgiver who extends his hand to all manner of sinners and says, “Go and sin no more.” I realized there was nothing I had done or could do that would put me beyond the reach of Divine Forgiveness.

At that point in my life I desperately needed to be welcomed, valued, understood, seen and forgiven. I desperately needed to sit in that Presence of ultimate and unconditional love. I needed to know — and I still need to know, every day — that I am loved despite my failures, tha I am loved for the uniqueness of my true self, and that I am loved as I sit quietly doing absolutely nothing to earn, or buy, or chase that love.

I cannot wrap my brain around what I just wrote. I don’t know how Jesus allows me to experience his Presence and his Love. But he does. Whenever I lean fully into the reality of my loneliness, my insecurity, my fear, or my brokenness, I find Jesus there loving me.

That has become a Mystery I cannot live without.

In Jesus I also found a radical call to compassionate action in the world. At Jesus’ first public appearance he said, “I have come to set the captives free and to preach good news to the poor.” Then, through his teaching and life of servanthood, he slowly and methodically turned the values of the powerful Roman Empire upside down.

He threw the moneychangers out of the temple because they were exploiting the poor. He said that when we feed the hungry or clothe the naked it’s like we’re doing it to him. He said to love our enemies, to do good to those who hate us.

Jesus changed the rules and ushered in an upside-down Kingdom.

John said...

And the point I was trying to make there is that I think there is a very broad problem among those who call themselves evangelical which I think is that Tom Chantry and Phil were saying.

Link to her whole post (http://blog.sojo.net/2011/10/07/lynne-hybels-answers-what-is-an-evangelical/)

APM said...

What should we look for in the lives of children/teens that shows true spiritual fruit?

Is it that they show up to our services, like our personalities, love our music, and zealously support our programs?

Any pastor's heart is excited to see large numbers of youth excited about corporate worship and gatherings.

However- we simply cannot stop there.

I believe that the shepherd's of ANY church would benefit by reading Jonathan Edwards' "Religious Affections". Or many other older Puritan writers who labored to teach about genuine conversion and true fruit.

If we judge the fruit of our youth by their excitement, their knowledge of 'catch phrases', their physical expressions during music, their emotional state during a 3-day retreat to the wilderness, or by their loyalty to out local congregation- we have made the most tragic mistake any pastor or parent could ever make.

Please do not be too quick to dismiss the exhortation of a pastor pleading for the souls of youth.

Thanks to Mr. Chantry for the courage to express your concerns.

To the shepherd's at Harvest: I believe you truly love the souls of those under your care- please be as zealous to labor for true spiritual fruitfulness in the lives of your sheep as you are zealous to defend your labors in the public eye.

DJP said...

I'm mostly out of range today. The demand that Tom Chantry "repent" is why I stand by this comment, given that "repent" would have to mean "say that what happened didn't happen."

Anonymous said...

Tell me if this analogy works. Let's say someone hosts a blog which heralds Biblical Christianity. Let's say that someone visits that blog and reads the first post and finds not a hint of the gospel. Then the second post - again not a hint of the gospel. Then the third post - no gospel there either and so on.

Then let's say that this reader publicly insinuates that the host of said blog is not as committed to the gospel as he claims to be because of the absence of the gospel in at least the first half-dozen entries on said blog - which claims to herald Biblical Christianity.

Would it be a fair criticism or an unfair one?

Granted - the blog is not the church. BUT the blog is claiming to herald Biblical Christianity and yet no gospel in sight. What should the reader conclude?

Barbara said...


I would direct the reader to the sidebar which contains various Biblical resources, post tags that conveniently divide up the postings by topic for your convenience, and the wonderful link found there that takes you to the answer to the question, "How Can I Know God?"

For starters.

Anonymous said...


Are you truly sayng that Tom Chantry's credibility is based on his four years of commenting on a blog?

Barbara said...

....not to mention that big, prominent image of a book on the World-Tilting Gospel: Embracing a Biblical Worldview and Holding On Tight authored by the writer of just such a blog on Biblical Christianity, and which (I just checked) as of this moment is still available free for Kindle download at Amazon. Personally, I recommend it.

Aaron said...

First, I'm not a big fan of these open letter posts. I respect both Frank and Tom Chantry greatly but with these posts I often feel like I've stepped into a quarrel that I would otherwise know nothing about. I find this to be the case again. I knew nothing of Harvest or the Elephant Room before Chantry's post.

However, my first thought after reading Chantry's post wasn't to gasp and join the chorus of criticism of Harvest. My immediate concern was my own children. They're still very young. Do they understand the gospel? Do I teach it well enough or will my kid one day be featured in a video as vacuous as the one Phil posted?

With all due respect to the commenters both new and regular, I see very little self-reflection. My worst fear is that my daughters will not know Christ and these posts have served as a great reminder that I need to be more proactive in making sure my own daughters and those kids I teach at church understand the gospel. It disturbs me that few others have articulated the same conviction here.

Phil Johnson said...

Just Jules: "Are you truly sayng that Tom Chantry's credibility is based on his four years of commenting on a blog?"

Well, that's hardly the foundation of his credibility, but I'd say four years of powerfully insightful and biblically sound comments without a single stupid question or crackpot assertion bears ample testimony to his credibility. Not many people here have that kind of capital in the credibility bank.

In other words, there's a very good reason the onslaught of first-timers who have done little more than attack Tom Chantry's credibility aren't getting a whole lot of traction with the regulars, and it's not just that we're dumb or stubborn.

Charlene said...

As someone who was a member of Harvest Bible Chapel for 8 years, and someone who knows something of CLA, I think Tom Chantry was right on target. What a lot of Chantry's critics are missing is the fact that he is NOT picking on Harvest or singling them out as the only church where this is happening. Clearly this is what's happening in a lot of places. But he spoke of Harvest specifically because he had personal experience and knowledge of the youth there. That's all. Don't deny the man his own eyewitness and experience! If you disagree, that's fine. I agree wholeheartedly with his assessment. And I think a pastor would want to know how effectively he is communicating the gospel to everyone under his care. I take it as a personal admonishment as well, to be sure that I, as a parent, am communicating the gospel effectively to my children on a daily basis. And personally, I like the open letters.

Anonymous said...

Hi Barbara, grace and peace to you. Am I correct then to assume that I should not critique someone on one portion or snippet of what they have said but that I should try to read or hear as much as what they have written or said as possible before leveling a criticism?

Am I also correct to assume that if I do not find what I think I ought to find, then it is good advice to sear a little harder?

I ask these questions because I think that they are both relevant and pertinent to how one approaches the anecdotes provided in these discussions.

Barbara said...


To answer you, I would refer you back to my initial 4:30pm comment above. The fact that the Gospel is available for the asking all over Dan's blog site no matter what post you're on at the moment essentially negates that entire analogy. Meanwhile, I echo the concerns about the fruit evidenced by the video that have been expressed by others here, and in the above mentioned post I add one more concern of my own.

Grace and Peace to you, and goodnight (I'm on the east coast and it's waaaay past my bedtime) :)

Rachael Starke said...

I was helped, by Tom's initial post (and the discussion), and also today's follow up one. Phil does make a point that the scope of this piece was broader than the initial issue around the Elephant Room. But I, like Tom, can't help see the connection in the abstract, regardless of whether it's possible to confirm or deny the connection in this particular church's ministry.

As for the role being able to articulate the gospel plays in actually being saved, the story of my own conversion might add something not previously considered. Short version - I was raised in a legalistic Reformed Baptist pastor's home - in church every time the doors were open. I wanted nothing to do with God, but outwardly conformed to the point of willingly enrolling at TMC (thinking I'd stay and then transfer to UCLA). I attended Grace Community my first week of school, loaded for bear to shoot down the sermon for theological sponginess, but I couldn't. Week after week, I heard the truth, with no holes. So I stayed. I even got involved in the college dept., going street witnessing with my Bible study group, because I didn't want to out myself as a closet pagan.

My knowledge and articulation of the gospel was such that not even my BIble study leader suspected my true heart (he told me later that had a big impact on him as he headed into full time ministry).

But my knowledge of the gospel is also what God used to save me, several months into my first semester, by keeping me away from churches where the gospel was only assumed. Instead, He drew me to one where it was forcefully proclaimed, week after week, until God overruled my own heart and saved me.

Rachael Starke said...

Sorry for the double comment, but one more things

Sir Aaron echoed my own sentiments about being most convicted about my faithfulness to teaching my own children. Because of my own story, I see even more clearly how important it is to simply be faithful to teach the importance of repentance of sin, and settled faith in Jesus. Which, providentially, my 8 y.o. daughter talked about tonight on the way home from a Mom date. She said "Mom, you have to have both. You can't have repentance without faith, and you can't have faith without repentance." Not remembering having described it in quite that way, I asked her where she'd heard that. "My Sunday School teacher, Miss Debbie. She says that all the time."

God grant all of our churches teachers who teach that way, and children with ears to hear it.

Barbara said...

Oh, one more thing and then I'm out -

In active ministry, should not Jesus be front and center of everything you do? When making video testimonies, should not Jesus be front and center and the hero of each and every story? And should not those leading and discipling young Christians make it a priority in their work to teach these young Christians how to express that faithfully and biblically - especially if they're going to be giving testimony before man and camera? Redemption is never just a story of a changed life or changed habits. Any religion can give you that - for awhile. But they can't bring the dead to life. There is only one risen Savior and He was not front and center of that video.

Stefan Ewing said...

I generally refrain from commenting on the open letters, for reasons that were already given by Sir Aaron. There's enough said one way or another for any of these open letters, that adding my own opinion wouldn't add anything appreciable to the Gospel witness, and might even detract from it.

I don't know the parties personally, except for a couple of emails Tom and I exchanged years ago, when I was still newly reborn in Christ, and I learned of his father's evangelistic outreach to the offspring of Abraham (of whom I am one). I have no reason to doubt his faith or his intention, except maybe his eschatological hermeneutic. :)

I'm a nobody who knows nothing about HBC or the Church in Chicago generally, and I also have no reason to doubt the faith or intentions of the many pastors, elders, staff, or volunteers who labour at Harvest in Chicago or other Harvest churches elsewhere, especially after their testimony here.

Having never had any formal interaction with youth ministry, I'm sure nevertheless that the challenges are many, and I'm quite sure that there are many who grow up in the church (as opposed to those of us who come into it as adults) who in spite of good instruction, will still not fully "get it" until they are regenerated by the Holy Spirit, at whatever point that might occur in their lives.

That being said, I do thank God for the baptism testimonies of the youth in our own church when they reach that point in their lives when they've repented for their sins and are making a public proclamation of their faith. It's a beautiful thing to hear of how Jesus Christ and the Gospel became personally meaningful for them, and I would pray that there are many similar testimonies at Harvest.

I just have to add one more comment, concerning what John posted at 4:45 to 4:49 p.m. Quite honestly, that was a very beautiful and moving passage, recounting a evangelical's growing understanding and knowledge of Christ—no matter who she is, or what church or organization she's a part of.

It is right and proper to be able to articulate the Gospel of Jesus Christ—that He died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures—but reading through the New Testament (especially the Gospels and Hebrews), one sees the very heart and character of God the Son, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, expressed through His incarnation, life, teaching, miracles, suffering, death, and resurrection. He sits at God's right hand and will return to judge the living and the dead, but He is also our Passover Lamb and Great High Priest who has suffered as we suffer, and bled for our sins on the Cross, bearing God's wrath in our place, so that we may have forgiveness of sins and eternal life.

May He be a living reality for all of us every day—something I need to remember, too, in my frailty and sinfulness.

Soli Deo gloria!

Kaj Ballantyne said...

Thanks Tom for your last two comments.

Although I may argue the specifics and the use of open letters, the warnings you give are spot on and any pastor should take them to heart. The statistics of youth walking away from the faith in College should cause us all to stand up and take notice ... and take action.

Here's my take away from your last comments: There is a danger in ministry to miss the tension of reaching out beyond your flock to the lost and deceived while also remaining committed to teaching and discipling those within your flock.

You rightly highlighted the potential err to the one side of reaching out and perhaps neglecting to pour into those within your church.

So at the extremes we can then have big and growing churches critiquing small churches who have seen no real gospel growth in decades ... and small churches critiquing the mega church that is a mile wide and an inch deep.

Hearing critique is never easy but even if the shoe doesn't entirely fit, the warnings are always good to hear. I pray that I never lose sight of both calls of the great commission ... to go AND to teach. And that as we continue to pour our energy into the DEPTH of our church we then see God increase the BREADTH.

Tim said...

Phil, thanks for taking time from a busy schedule to post.

Do you have a response to Dallas' statement below?

We already know that he's capable of being reckless, simply by the fact that instead of following Matthew 18 principles and going to a youth leader at Harvest and expressing his concern, he went to a public forum.

Nash Equilibrium said...

This is a good article, Phil. Now I'm glad I stayed out of the combox kerfuffle that day.
I often make oblique references to the gospel in my spiritual sharing as well, in group settings, and I don't have the excuse that I'm a teen! The reason isn't that I don't know the gospel or believe it, the reason is that my relationship with the Lord and what I think about are very intimate, private matters to me and I am not the type to just spill them out to a group of people I may not know too well. I suspect that is the case for many people, including this group of teens.
By the way, you may think at times that "everyone" is angry with you at times, but I can honestly say that you are one of the few people I read who NEVER makes me angry, because of your evenhanded and gracious manner. Those of us who aren't angry with you just tend to keep quiet, that's all!
Well done.

Coram Deo said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
David A. Carlson said...


I was going to drop out of this comment thread, but after a nights sleep I decided I could not.

You said:

what did they say that the Mormon kids down the block wouldn't say?

Really? That's what your going to double down with? Telling the world that a bunch of teenagers that, what is likely their first time to step out in front of not only their church but the world, there public confession is no different than what a Mormon kid would say? That will make a fun Sunday at Church - Hey Jimmy, I didn't know your a Mormon!

You don't know the church, the youth group or those kids. Your basing this on a five minute video which contains clips of their comments, surely not everything you said and that was edited by someone else. But it doesn't stop you from making a truly uncharitable comment.

You don't like how the Elephant Room is being run? Absolutely fair game - its a public internet "ministry" and as such deserves to come under scrutiny, derision or praise on the internet. Have concerns about the leadership of it? Fire away.

But to attack it through some edited comments of a couple of 15 year olds? kids you don't know, you don't know their youth group or their church?


DJP said...

So your response to Frank is neither "That's not true!" or "It's true, but it doesn't matter," but rather "I didn't like you saying that! It made me feel bad! It might make other people feel bad! It isn't nice!"

I would think that's a person as thoughtful as you can be (judging by your contributions to the other thread earlier this week) might have, think over, then reconsider. Instead you thought... and then said it. Goodness.

Coram Deo said...

It seems that my comment was removed by a blog administrator. If so, would the responsible blog administrator care to explain why?

Just wondering.

In Christ,

Phil Johnson said...

dac: "Your basing this on a five minute video which contains clips of their comments, surely not everything you said and that was edited by someone else."

Someone else made a similar comment above. Let me respond:

No one is criticizing these kids. I think we have made that abundantly clear.

Furthermore, I fully realize these are edited testimonies, and I'm happy to grant that it's entirely possible that in their original, unabridged versions they highlighted gospel facts and exalted Christ.

If so, that's great. But even if the original testimonies might have stood on their own as graduate-level treatises on biblical soteriology, the fact remains that someone in leadership edited the video and expunged that material. And thus the point I am making stands: the message conveyed by the video is not a good example of gospel-centered, Christ-exalting ministry.

Phil Johnson said...

Coram Deo: "It seems that my comment was removed by a blog administrator. If so, would the responsible blog administrator care to explain why"

I did that. I thought your comment was inappropriate.

Coram Deo said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
DJP said...

I deleted that one.

You are not going to use my words to be a jerk at Phil Johnson.

Grow the heck up.

Solameanie said...

I read the earlier post and comments with interest, and now this one. For the record, I thought Tom Chantry's comments and intent were very clear, and the concerns he expressed are well founded. Unfortunately, when you tie a specific name to a particular concern, the concern gets drowned out because of the kerfuffle over the name you mentioned. It's happened to me a lot.

Another brief observation as I have tried off and on through the years to communicate Gospel truth to younger folks. As time goes on, this generation seems to have a very difficult time understanding and receiving even simple biblical truths, even leaving the horseplay out of youth meetings. There's a reason that the term "whatever" has become so onerous to me. There really is a strong strain of nihilism in some groups of young people, and it's heartbreaking to see.

Having said that, I think our encouragement has to be the fact that the Holy Spirit will act through the proclamation of His Word as (and when) He wills, even in hearts that seem dead and ears that seem dull. Our job is to proclaim the Gospel without bells and whistles, and to trust God to do what only He can do. The reason so many youth groups (and churches for that matter) get in trouble is this mistaken idea that one has to entertain people into the kingdom.

donsands said...

"In short, some of us may not care about the gospel as much as we think we care about it."-Phil

It can be difficult at times to share the Gospel. But if our heart's deep desire is to do so, then this is a good thing. And there will times when you are able to speak the truth of God's gracious kindness and wrath with others, as the Spirit flows though your belly, and rivers of living water run forth.

Have a terrific Lord's Day!

ps And when you see Pastor MacArthur again tell him for me, that he was a huge gift from the Lord in my early days of being a regenerated Christian, back in the late 80's, when i listened to him on radio. And I still do at times.

David A. Carlson said...


When, and if, Frank posts his daughters video, he can be assured of several things - I won't use it as an opportunity to chastise Frank, Awana, or his church. Nor will I attack her. In fact, even if I do disagree (which I doubt I will) I would still eat the comments and not state them. She, just like those teenagers, did not ask to be in the crossfire. Nor would I judge her because some undefined standards for five minute of video.

In the immortal words of Mal Reynolds, If I ever kill you, you'll be awake. You'll be facing me. And you'll be armed.

(that is a metaphor people, not a threat. Look it up before you slag me)

Not happy over the elephant room? fine, attack that. Up front, to Pastor M's face (so to speak. On the internet is fine, I don't think this issue is Mathew 18 relevant at all and have no issue with it being a blog post or even series).

If you think that is unthoughtful, then you and I have different ideas of how children should be treated by people who don't know them.

And with that, I have some ministry to do. There is dirty laundry, the sink is full of dishes and the litter box needs to be cleaned. Feel free to interpret that as you will.

Solameanie said...

Good grief.

Sir Brass said...


You're still missing the point.


I know what you mean, but I had a thought as I read your latest response: If you leave out names when in reality you have some specific ones in mind, it is most likely that the very people you're trying to tactfully address and admonish will be the very people who will think, "Oh, that's not us." There is time to be tactful and not mention names, and then there's times to name the names.

Coram Deo said...

Wow! Two comments deleted by two Pyromaniacs in the same meta!

Message received loud and clear...

In Him,

donsands said...

"There really is a strong strain of nihilism in some groups of young people, and it's heartbreaking to see."-'meanie


Always enjoy your input Sola. You have a depth our Lord has granted you. Keep on. Have a great Lord's day in His awesome presence of joy, love, and truth.

Kaj Ballantyne said...

Alright, call me a noob but I still can't get my head wrapped around the concept of this "open letter." I am still thinking through a biblical basis for open letters in general but this one in particular ... it's tough to defend biblically.

I don't want to derail where you wanted to go in this blog entry (discussing the Elephant Room) and I'm putting aside the opinions based on experience that Tom had (it's what he saw and I'm not going to doubt his discernment as he interacted with these students). Phil, Frank and DJP have defended the type of character that Tom has and the pastoral heart that was behind the open letter. I don't doubt his motives or his heart but I do call into question the wisdom of the action.

If I awoke monday morning to a letter to the editor from another local evangelical pastor in my town who was questioning my ministry based on his interaction 2 years ago with youth from my church, I would get on the phone to say, "Dude, why didn't you call me? We could've grabbed a coffe and chatted and dealt with it 2 years ago."

HBC was a local church in Tom's town ... Tom had an issue with the fruit of this local church and the students God had placed under his care. I can't help but see this open letter as not only a missed opportunity but as gossip.

This isn't coming out as a Harvest pastor defending his own ... if it had been Willow Creek or Grace Evangelical Free Church, or any other local church in Tom's area I would still have to question the use of an open letter.

As you can read from my previous comments I am not trying to sidestep the issue that was discussed about the youth ... but would love to hear a biblical defence of the use of open letters in general and this one in particular.

Kaj Ballantyne said...

And yep ... I get the irony of my public questioning of an open letter ... I don't think EVERY critique calls for a private conversation.

Mary Elizabeth Tyler said...

If anyone is still moderating this blog, can someone tell all of us if the Psalms 119 Conference videos will be available for public viewing. I hope so!


FX Turk said...

wow. Missed much by sleeping well last night and resting with my family during the day.

Dac: yes, that is what I'll double down with. When the spiritual disciplines of our churches produce kids identical to the mormons, we have a problem.

Anonymous said...

Kaj, I fully agree with your thoughts. You've handled yourself well and have spoken with both truth and grace. Thanks for displaying the heart of pastor in this conversation.

Coram Deo said...


Would you delete this comment please, just so I can hit the Team Pyro trifecta today? Pretty please?

I sense a fleeting scrapbook moment here...

Help me iturk, you're my only hope!


In Christ,

donsands said...

"..a biblical defence of the use of open letters in general"-Kaj

Have you read Frank's other open letters?

I have seen them as a good way for the Body of Christ to see what's going on within the Body of Christ, and in the world. Open Letters are biblical as far as I can see.

Have a good Lord's tomorrow.

Brian said...

I think the big issue with this open letter was the fact that there was a connection being made between JM's questionable invitation to TD Jakes at the moment and the problems with understanding of the Gospel by HBC students in the past (6, 7 years ago?). A more appropriate connection would have been to connect it with current HBC ministry, not something years ago which may or may not be the case now. Then, Phil brings in the videos of the testimonies (current, I assume) to confirm the thesis of Tom. It would have been better for Tom at the beginning to make the connection that Phil did for him. That probably would have saved a lot of back and forth. But not all.

James S said...

Concerning the 'Open Letter To' concept,
Just because it's called an open letter doesn't really make it a whole lot different than any other post made that isnt called an 'open letter to'.

I realize usually it is open letter "to" someone. But isn't that what any post is? (And any reply as well?) It is "to" the person(s) responsible and/or people affected by whatever the post is discussing.

It just seems to me like 'open letter to' is merely a kind of a marketing trademark for posts made by Frank Turk on this blog.
But if I go to any blog anywhere, I will see similar posts that aren't called "open letter to" but do all the same things. ie. comment on something or someone with a hope that the person responsible or persons affected by the topic will read it and be edified by it, and even reply concerning it, and invite the public to weigh in with their own thoughts on the matter.

Maybe its just me.

Solameanie said...

Sir B,

Oh, I agree with you! The Apostle Paul wasn't shy about naming names when necessary, and neither was the Apostle John. Contextually, of course, both were dealing with false teachers and countering their errors publicly. I think that's all the more needed when the errors are disseminated publicly.

In this particular case (i.e. Frank's original and Phil's follow-up), my point was that I think Tom Chantry's points might have been missed by some who only seemed to focus on the fact that he mentioned a church by name rather than on the substance of what he was saying. Tom was not saying that the church itself was guilty of false teaching. I think that got lost in the weeds.

Solameanie said...

Sorry. I meant Tom C's original. Frank just wrote the introduction.

Cindy Stokes said...

Phil, I think this is a good response to the letter. I feel like I'm reading about my own church on a larger scale sort of. I happen to go to a church where it happens to be the only church for miles where the pastor teaches expositionally, verse by verse. So I suppose you've got to give him credit for that. But I come out shaking my head every Sunday because he's so militantly arminian. He preached Matthew 3 today and made the whole thing about how we have a choice every day whether to choose the way of self or of God. He keeps referring to us as followers of Jesus and I haven't heard about the cross once! And the youth program is quite similar to what he's describing, except this church has historically tried to keep things so that the youth and children attend the service with their parents.

But I agree with you that we're creating a mess by trying to keep our feet in multiple camps at once for the sake of "unity". I heard a church historian say that a key question church's must ask themselves is whether heresy or schism is worse. I am Southern Baptist and I'm working on a blog post pointing out the "feet in both camps" nature of the Southern Baptist "statement of faith" and that even though they claim to give a statement for "doctrinal accountability", they also insist that no one has the right to enforce doctrine. Where is the accountability then? especially striking is their stance on the doctrine of God's grace and election, that they give a statement that sounds like Calvinism but throw in a sentence saying that the beliefs they state leave room for a belief in man's free agency. They claim to believe in a doctrine that leaves "no room for boasting". In their FAQ they say the members of the SBC are across the 'spectrum" between Arminian and Calvinist and that's okay. There's another fellow who says that Baptists are neither Calvinist nor remotely Arminian and act like that's no big deal.

How can it not be a big deal to not take a stance on core doctrines such as God's sovereignty and the means by which salvation comes? As far as I can tell, they not only think schizm is worse than heresy, I have to wonder what it is that they thing would rise to the level of heresy??

What a sad day it is for Christians if they are, when looking for a church home, needing to find the one that's not quite as heretical as all the rest! Regarding the doctrine of the trinity, I recently learned that Phillips, Craig and Dean are Oneness Pentecostals and were asked to sing at the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting. When a representative of the convention was asked whether this didn't concern him, that they allowed worship to be led by deniers of the Trinity, and the representative said he didn't think that was enough to make a big deal over. If you don't hold to the proper doctrine of the Trinity, are you not then an idol worshiper? How is that not a big deal? (I apologize for the vagueness of this anecdote. I heard this told by James White who was, himself, vague.)

Cindy Stokes

Cindy Stokes said...

Oh, and I should mention. The SBC has had a few conferences in recent years debating Calvinism. So the conversation is ongoing in the ranks of the leaders and educators. But doctrine is little discussed among lay people. Catechesis is definitely not a strong point for Southern Baptists. This is how I believe the discussion of James McDonald's youth group is definitely relevant. If are not teaching doctrine to the children or even to adults, then they will be twisting int he wind, blown about by every fad, since their only doctrinal diet usually consists off of what is on the shelves of the "Christian" book store.

Jonesy said...

I was on "Phil's Bookmarks" looking for material I had not read when I noticed for the first time (recent post?) the comment about the Monergism website that said:

"Don't miss the insightful original articles by Greg Fields arguing against what Fields labels Neo-gnostic 'Calvinism'—a novel and extremely intolerant brand of hyper-Calvinism."

I've just read Greg's articles and can't help but think they apply to what has transpired on this blog this week.

I hope the following quotes (sorry for their length!) will help bring some measure of clarity to all of us.

The first is one from Greg's letter entitled, "True Calvinsim versus Neo-gnostic Calvinism". N. B. Greg is quoting Alexander Carson.

"If there is a progress in the Christian's knowledge of the Gospel itself, every step in that progress, he must get rid of a proportional degree of ignorance and error. This proves, then , that perfect uniformity of view, much less of language, even with respect to the gospel itself; is not to be expected among Christians. According to their respective progress, there will be a difference, whether expressed or not. As far as Christians are taught of God they will agree. But even in the Gospel they are not all equally taught of God. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Nothing, then, is farther from my wish then to be understood as dooming to damnation all who are not prepared to adopt the whole of my views. . . . . . . . . . . that arrogance that makes a god and saviour of its clear views, that confines salvation to a mode of expressing faith, that looks with contempt on the body of Christians, as a sort of pious infidels, that seems to delight in the fewness of the saved, finds no sanction from the Scriptures, and originates in the pride of human nature, not in godly zeal for the truth. When a man seems anxious to find out something in the faith of professing Christians at which to cavil, when he strains their language to condemn them, there is no ground to suppose that he is influenced by love. Keeping clear, therefore, of a censorious spirit, I would wish to impress Christians with the importance of my views of the subject. They have no sectarian tendency, but address themselves to the candor. . . . . of all Christians. The strength, the beauty, the glory of Christianity will appear in proportion as it is viewed in this light. "

It seems to me that Carson is onto something here. If so, then can we really expect the average newly minted Christian, child or adult, to have enough of the right words to suit anyone who has been gripped by the depths of the truth of the Gospel?


Jonesy said...

Let's not loose sight of the fact that the issue is not the words and the knowledge, but trust, in particular entrusting one's self to Christ as his Saviour.

I like how John Murray put these thoughts together(cf Greg's article, "Further Reflections on Neo-Gnostic Calvinism"):

"Saving faith is not simply assent to propositions of truth respecting Christ, and defining the person that he is, nor simply assent to a proposition respecting his sufficiency to meet and satisfy our deepest needs. Faith must rise to trust, and trust that consists in entrustment to him. In faith there is the engagement of person to person in the inner movement of the whole man to receive and rest upon Christ alone for salvation. It means the abandonment of confidence in our own or any human resources in a totality act of self-commitment to Christ.
This fiducial character, consisting in entrustment to Christ for salvation, serves to correct misapprehensions. Faith is not belief that we have been saved, nor belief that Christ has saved us, nor even belief that Christ died for us. It is necessary to appreciate the point of distinction. Faith is in its essence commitment to Christ that we may be saved. The premise of that commitment is that we are unsaved and we believe on Christ in order that we may be saved. . . It is to lost sinners that Christ is offered, and the demand of that overture is simply and solely that we commit ourselves to him in order that we may be saved.
Faith is a whole-souled movement of intelligent, consenting, and confiding self-commitment, and all these elements or ingredients coalesce to make faith what it is. Intellect, feeling and will converge upon Christ in those exercises which belong properly to these distinct though inseparable aspects of psychial activity" (Collected Writings of John Murray (Edinburgh: Banner, 1977), Volume 2, pp. 257-260).

If we're enamored more with the words we or others say about Christ than about Christ Himself what does that say about us?

(By the way, I can't help but wonder if I haven't fallen for this pernicious neo-gnostic nonesense by even posting these quotes. Hopefully you won't!)

Nonetheless, I'm Under His Mercy

Cindy Stokes said...

Jonesy, I would say that John Murray challenges the limits of my logic to follow his. I'm hesitant to affirm anyone who makes a statement that we have to be "Whole-souled" in our response to Christ, because that would be the law: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart."
Seems more along the lines of Keith Green's definition of a Christian as someone who is "Bananas for Jesus". If I'm understanding him right, he's promoting the the kind of teaching that comes out of Evangelical pulpits that has people convinced that they ought to be re-baptized because their continued struggle with sin has them believing they weren't saved in the first place. I hold the belief that we have been saved on the cross, are being saved in our sanctification and will be saved from the wrath to come.

That being said, there is something to be said for not expecting Christians of differing levels of maturity to be on the same page theologically. But... pastors ought to have matured to the point that their theology is solid. I heard it once said of Spurgeon that during his whole career of preaching, he did not waver on one point of doctrine that he held, because he had already nailed down what he believed and why he believed it.

I do appreciate Murray at least taking the time to define terms. This is my frustration, that Phil mentioned early in the comments, that pastors talk about "faith" and a "relationship with God" and following Jesus in these nebulous terms. No time is taken to describe the massive disaster our relationship with God is without Christ, sin is referred to generally and never defined (the law is never used lawfully), and we are told to have faith in Jesus. Faith in what? To do what? Many pastors send off their sheep with fortune cookie sermons that could be interpreted a hundred different ways like some strange version of biblical mad libs. Many blanks are left for us to fill in and most of us will not do it well. Shepherds must be held to a higher level of accountability than the sheep. And what are the sheep to think when the shepherds all teach something different and the historical faith is never held up as a standard. Instead we have these Oprah like panel discussions where much is said but no visible progress towards consensus is made.

Cindy Stokes said...

By the way, the comment about Murray's logic was tongue in cheek. My inability to completely follow him may have more to do with my post-Sunday nap brain than his inability to write clearly. I am not a professional theologian or scholar so he may just be writing over my head. :)

Peter said...

"I wanted to underline that, because I've lost count of the number of people who have referred to them as 'Phil's open letters'."

You mean there is more than one Pyromaniac?!

DJP said...

Don't tell Friel.

Phil Johnson said...


A couple of points to note:

"Neo-gnostic Calvinism" in that article is a reference to an ultra-extreme brand of hyper-Calvinism whose adherents believe that if you hold to an Arminian view of the atonement--indeed if you count among the brethren others who hold to a broad view of the extent of the atonement--then you are accursed, cut off from salvation, and not to be embraced as a brother.

That's a pretty far cry from lamenting the low level of understanding of gospel essentials in today's evangelical youth groups.

Furthermore, I'm making no judgment about the state of anyone's soul, nor have I even suggested that the faith of the young people in that video should be questioned. I'm simply pointing out what seems incontrovertible: all the truly distinctive principles of gospel truth and Christian soteriology are missing from the presentation in the way those testimonies have been edited together.

As much as I despise hyper-Calvinism, let it remain unchallenged if the reaction to Neo-gnostic Calvinism takes evangelical minds to the point where we can't even point out when the gospel is missing from our testimonies or our dialogues about evangelism.

Robert said...


I think the parallel between the ER/Jakes association and the youth ministry is that the kids in the youth program seemed to remember the distractions from the Gospel more than the Gospel itself. I personally think that games and goofing off can be done during a separate time if yout ministries want to provide a safe atmosphere for kids to get together, but times set aside for ministry need to be devoted to teaching. That way things don't get confused. Which is what will happen with TD Jakes at the Elephant Room Conference.

Jonesy said...


I believe I agree with all you have said.

May I venture a "However, in addition"?

Greg articles include what you said in your first paragraph, but he goes on to say things like,

"The focus of gnostic redemption is not on God, but ultimately upon the individual's self-understanding and the resulting freedom it provides. This accords accurately with the pretensions of the neo-gnostic Calvinists who a priori demand a comprehensively cognitive grasp of Calvinistic soteriology in order for potential converts to be saved. This cognitive grasp fails to take into account what is theologically dubbed 'the noetic effects of sin'." (Further Reflections on Neo-Gnostic Calvinism)

My take away from Greg's articles is that we can become extremely zealous for a set of specific words to be spoken about the Gospel and in particular how God saves us. Furthermore, our zealousness for these formulations can be so great that it overshadows the Gospel and causes it to be hidden.

Is this how you understand Greg's articles? If so, are his points not valid? Also, are they not pertinent to the context of your post?

Regarding your last point: I do believe we need to encourage all Christians (young or not, but especially pastors) to clearly present the Gospel with accuracy and completeness when they testify of God's grace so that all who hear them will be able to be "firmly attached to the truth which has been presented to you." (2 Pet 1:12, BDS)

Under His Mercy