23 January 2013

To Use Scandal

by Frank Turk

Why yes: since it came up in Christianity Today yesterday, I do actually have some more to say about Louie Giglio.

Before we get to the torches and pitchforks, let me say this: in the last 20 years, Louie Giglio has been a very nice guy.  He has even been, from time to time, a preacher with some flair -- the right kind of flair and not just metaphorical or photoshoptical lens flair.  If we should give a man a little grace because of his lifetime of work, I give it here to him for that.  Overall: nice work.

That said, this showed up on my FB timeline yesterday:

Of course it's the caption that caught my eye there, which was supplied by the culture vultures* over at Christianity Today.  Giglio got something right, according to Mark Galli.  Here's what he says:
Giglio noted his priorities when he said, "Clearly, speaking on this issue [homosexuality] has not been in the range of my priorities in the past fifteen years. Instead, my aim has been to call people to ultimate significance as we make much of Jesus Christ." Giglio is exactly right. Unfortunately, in a desire to reach the world for Christ, some inadvertently reverse Giglio's priorities and make much about our ultimate significance. Jesus becomes merely the means by which we feel better about our place in the universe. Need purpose and meaning? Follow Jesus, that will do the trick. In this subtle shift, we become the first and the last, the Alpha and the Omega.
Wow -- So close! So close!  What you would hope, as he says this, is that Galli would have someplace else come up with the Gospel to somehow season Giglio's idiosyncratic post-Piper rhetoric into something which does make this exactly right.  For example, maybe Galli would talk about the dire state of our sinful culture -- how sinfulness is actually the signature of this world, and that Christ's death is the only action possible to overcome it.

Well, "sin" apparently doesn't come into it -- not in this essay, anyway.  And when referring to "sinners," Galli -- a Fuller grad -- has this to say:
In the long run, we cannot gain a hearing for the gospel through our admirable ethics or social justice because in the end, we are still sinners, with hearts, as the prophet Jeremiah put it, that remain desperately wicked (Jer. 17:9). When we do live well or accomplish a social good, we will be admired for our moral success, not because Jesus died to save a rebellious world. And when we fail to live up to our values—and we invariably will--well, we will look like every other sinner on the planet. Not much of a witness there, except to our humanity.
See: the problem of being a sinner is the church's problem, not the world's problem -- though credit where credit is due that he does reprimand the social gospel as somewhat impotent.  The other mention of our problem is equally notable:
Looking at how this message scandalized the ancient world opens a window into our preaching today. When the culture takes issue with the church today, it carps about our oppressive sexual ethics (especially our opposition to homosexual behavior) and our various prosperity gospels (from the most egregious health-and-wealth messages to the more subtle but equally dangerous sermons on how faith in Christ can improve your marriage, your business, and your self-esteem). And then there is the regular complaint about our self-righteousness—our incessant habit of pronouncing judgment on our culture, which is grounded in the assumption that sinners are found mostly in that culture, outside the church walls. Thus all the sermons about how we need to reform and stand against the culture, as if the "we" is in no need of fundamental reform, or that the Lord does not have a controversy with his people.
That is: somehow the message that there is sin to be repented of (homosexuality being his example) is conflated with the prosperity gospel as co-equal absurdities, co-perpetrators of violence against either the culture or the Gospel -- or maybe both.  And just to make sure he isn't misunderstood, Galli tells us this:
The most needful and difficult task of the church today is to again preach the message of the Cross, and to do so in a way that alarms, surprises, scandalizes, challenges, invigorates, and inspires a 21st century world. What that would look like exactly is hard to say; our theologians and pastors need to help us here. In the most general terms, it has to be about Christ first and last. It has to be about the Christ who came into the world not to improve generally good people, but to resurrect the dead, not to bolster our self-esteem but to forgive us, not to make people successful but to make them loving, not to win the culture but to establish a kingdom without end. Even more scandalously, the message of the Cross is about a universe saturated with grace, where nothing we have done or can do earns us the right to participate in this stunning new reality; all has been done for us. The best we can do is acknowledge the reality (faith) and begin to live as if it is reality (repent). [empasis added]
Wow.  He sure told us.  He even told us with my key point from theNines 3 years ago.  And to be utterly fair: he does say that Christ forgives -- but forgives what?  And is repentance and faith really best described as merely "acknowledgment and living"?

In that view of things, for once mentioning that sin is actually offensive to God, no wonder Louie Giglio's resignation is the right thing to do: Giglio was actually wrong 2 decades ago.  He was part of the problem -- and now that it's exposed, he should just walk away.

That is: unless the Gospel is supposed to truly offend those for whom it is meant.

See: Galli tosses around the word "scandalize" and its apparent synonyms in his essay as if its meaning is self-evident, and we should simply nod solemnly and humbly at it because he used one of the safe words of the New Testament against the Apologetics and Expository classes of the English-speaking world.  But in fact it's not the kind of word he's looking for.

Now, I could tell you why by breaking open the dictionary or the thesaurus, but instead I'm going to do something else.  I'm going to use "scandal" in the way it was originally used in reference to the Gospel:

For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block (μὲν σκάνδαλον) to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

There, the idea of something being a "scandal" does not make it "fresh" or "invigorating."  It doesn't make the Gospel a rush.  Indeed, when Paul talks of the "scandal" of the cross to the Galatians, he makes it transparently clear that he is suffering, and is persecuted, because the Gospel offends.

Now, look: I have gotten your hate mail about the griping Dan and I do and have done about the popular side of the internet lunchroom, and I receive it.  But the cool kids over at CT here are, frankly, jumping out of the apple cart and into the ditch when they say that when persecution comes, we should simply bow in apology and make much of Christ by not making a peep -- turn the other cheek and so on. Should we really see it that way?

Paul didn't see it that way.  He certainly didn't behave that way.  When the persecution came, and the chains, and being run off from the city for turning the world upside down, he didn't shut up and sit down -- or worse, tell people that they have nothing to worry about since the universe is saturated in Grace.  He preached harder. He preached in such a way that Bereans were converted -- and in such a way that the Greeks mocked him.

But: he preached -- a judgment on the living and the dead by one who was shown worthy by his resurrection.  That was the way Paul made much of Christ.

If we have forgotten that, even God will not help us.  Our lampstand is already out.

*Yes, I know that a "culture vulture" is supposed to be a person who is overly-fond of high-brow culture.  Savor the irony and the sarcasm with me.


DJP said...

"...the right kind of flair and not just metaphorical or photoshoptical lens flair."

Awesome. They do not teach this in college.

DJP said...

"a Fuller grad" — three little words, but they say so much.

LanternBright said...

Looks like we've also figured out that our friend the One-Star Hater is a big fan of photoshop...

Johnny Dialectic said...

What stuck out to me in the Galli piece was this: "The most needful and difficult task of the church today is to again preach the message of the Cross. . . . What that would look like exactly is hard to say."

Why is that so hard to say? The Book of Acts is, in great part, a handbook on public preaching. Just following along with the outline of the Athens address would be an effective default setting.

Frank Turk said...

Yeah, I almost wrote my entire blog post on that sentence Johnny. Seriously.

Robert said...

"The most needful and difficult task of the church today is to again preach the message of the Cross, and to do so in a way that alarms, surprises, scandalizes, challenges, invigorates, and inspires a 21st century world."

So we're back to relevance, huh? So man being sinful, thus separated from God and facing eternal torment in hell isn't relevant? And God humbling Himself to take on flesh and live as a man, tempted in everything, yet never sinning (thought or deed) isn't relevant? The King and Creator of the universe living a life in a family of modest means, enduring mocking, beating, and execution for a crime He didn't commit isn't relevant? Taking the wrath of God in our place as only He can because He is eternal isn't relevant? Rising again to conquer death so that we might live in eternity with the God that we had been separated from because of our own sinful nature and desires isn't relevant?

If that isn't relevant, I don't know what is...and trying to soften the message so that people don't see a bit of the depths of their sinfulness (because who can really understand the true depth) doesn't make it relevant. Jesus confronted the Samaritan woman at the well with her sinfulness and she saw her need for a Savior. Peter preached that the Jews had killed their Messiah and they saw their need for a Savior. Paul preached that Jews needed to repent and believe in the Messiah instead of counting on their traditions...and people saw their need for a Savior.

In the end, either we stand on the truth of Scripture and preach it loud and clear or we try to come up with our own way of doing things to please man. And last time I looked, Paul had plenty to say about the fact that he was not seeking to please man. Shouldn't we be following the examples laid out for us in Scripture instead of trying to reinvent the wheel?

DJP said...

Hey, he's (A) from Fuller, and (B) writing in Christianity Today.

You don't expect full-on Bibley, do you?

Robert said...


Sadly, those are the credentials he and others would likely point to and tell us we just need to shut up and listen because we're being divisive.

We're just not cultured enough, I guess.

Bill said...

I agree with the comments so far. What I would add is that there is a difference in living in a Jewish culture and living in a Greek culture. Welcome to Greece.

threegirldad said...

I regularly kick myself for not starting years ago to capture Pyro catchphrases for posterity. Ah, well...not time like the present.

First two entries:

"photoshoptical lens flair"

"full-on Bibley"

Anonymous said...

Scandalous...indeed it is. The heart of the gospel as well! Thanks! Let me humbly share this short blog as well. http://charitisesomenoi.wordpress.com/2012/04/05/one-cross-3-options/

To quote Phil Johnson...(inaccurately, I'm sure) - "It's a sin to remove the offense of the Gospel.{

Tom Chantry said...

Thoroughly and whole-heartedly agree with all that is here.

Thought Question: Is there only one scandal of the gospel, or are there several? Or is there one with several dimensions?

Frank Turk said...

Tom --

You know, in Athens, the scandal was that a man could bodily come back from the dead, and that material things are not inherently vile or base. In Thessalonica, the scandal was that Jews no longer had an excuse for worshipping any god but YHVH because the Messiah had come. In Rome, the scandal was that there was actually sin in the world, and that man had to repent because there was a judgment coming.

In America, we have all of these scandals in the Gospel, and probably at least one more: God demands something of us.

yankeegospelgirl said...

Wait, wait, you mean somebody still takes CT seriously?

Anyway, Frank is right, as usual. I just make like Miracle Max and start going "Lalalalalalalala" when I hear squishy center-righters gloating about how what goes around comes around, and we hyper evangelicals are just reaping what we sow when we get pushed out of the public square, etc., etc., etc. It's so predictable, so shallow, and above all so mind-numbingly BORING that I don't know why I devote any time or energy to thinking about their opinions at all.

I think my linear algebra homework is calling me.

Tom Chantry said...

I think you're right, Frank. But let me play Devil's Advocate with your post for a moment:

But Frank, you make it sound as though God expects something of us in order to be saved. The scandal of the cross isn't our suffering, it's His. The stumbling block is that a perfect God-man could die for imperfect sinners. Jesus has already done that, and now it's just up to us to proclaim what he has done. Saying God expects something of us - whether it is some righteous work or our own act of suffering, is missing the gospel entirely and making our salvation a matter of works.

Or something like that. Because underneath this argument I think what you are (quite rightly) opposing is a form of functional antinomianism. Galli seems to think that Giglio has acted brilliantly here by completely ignoring the law in favor of the gospel.

Frank Turk said...

I hit publish too soon.

You know, the reason we use the word "scandal" to refer to the Gospel is, as I said in the post, because Paul did it first. The Gospel is a scandal -- a pitfall, a trap, a place where people will get hung up and -lost- by what God is doing. But we don;t understand what kind of scandal it is until we understand why God doing things is a scandal and not simply a wonderful snuggle-bunny of grace.

See: the problem here is that the Old Testament informs Paul's understanding of the Gospel in a way a lot of people can't get their arms around. Paul, as a pharisee among the Pharisees, gets it that the problem in the world is that mankind -- starting with the Jews, but also with the Gentiles -- is exiled from God. Man is in this awful place -- but it's a place of man's own choosing and man's own making. Man, it turns out, has done what seems right in his own eyes, and has unleashed upon himself every curse, every hardship, every bruise and wound thanks to his own dependence upon himself.

And then, God does something about that which man cannot do for himself. See: the offense lies in the God-ness of the whole thing. God's creation, God's holiness, God's laws, God's wrath, God's love, God's Son, God's mercy, God's people, God's redemption of all things. Man just turns out as a counterpoint to the whole thing, the problem who needs a solution.

Bill said...

The fact that many/most so-called evangelicals believe that the sinner's prayer is the Gospel could be the biggest scandal.

Frank Turk said...

You see: it's amazing that Chantry and I can say exactly the same thing with different words.

Nash Equilibrium said...

I would bet that eventually the world will realize that Paul's message is true, even without it being repackaged or re-engineered. I wonder if CT will ever figure this out?

Solameanie said...

Well done, Frank. Five stars.

BTW, I am assuming you've heard the "Vulture Culture" CD by the Alan Parsons Project. ;)

Solameanie said...

If I can add a second comment, this post—along with several others here—has me really trying to study up on evangelism, proclamation of the Gospel the right way, and above all, the issue of "decisionism," which I hadn't really heard much about until recent years. (Yes, Virginia, some of us supposedly well-read, up to speed people manage to miss some pretty important stuff). I sometimes wonder how much witnessing in the past I've messed up because I didn't properly proclaim the Gospel and emphasized someone making a "decision" for Christ. I want to get this subject, and I do mean get it.

Tom said...

If I may, this article, while not written by an evangelical, offers some insight into A. the Giglio mess and B. why Galli is wrong.


He doesn't completely get the root cause, but I think he's correctly identified the symptoms.

DJP said...

Isn't that what Frank just did? Are you going over there to link to Frank's post, so that author (whoever) can learn from Frank?

Marla said...

Seems a Fuller degree enables one to use lots of words in order to obfuscate the truth.

Also -- agree with the others; the most telling sentence is

"The most needful and difficult task of the church today is to again preach the message of the Cross. . . . What that would look like exactly is hard to say."

Hard to say? Isn't that what seminary is for?

Nash Equilibrium said...

I think Peter Berger and Frank now ought to be forced to have coffee together and learn from each other. While monitored by the Tone Police, of course.

Tom Chantry said...

@ Nash,

Just make sure they do it with a spirit of charity. And missionally, it's got to be done missionally. And in an incarnational manner.

Nash Equilibrium said...

Tom, thanks - can't believe I forgot those! D'oh!

donsands said...

"And when we fail to live up to our values—and we invariably will--well, we will look like every other sinner on the planet. Not much of a witness there, except to our humanity."

My greatest value is Christ. I love Him, especially for becoming the holy Lamb of God, who took away all my sin. What a Savior! I am very different from what I used to be, after our Father dragged me to His Son, the good news for sinners, and I was shown grace and mercy, so that i could repent and trust in Jesus, and that was back in 1984-85 somehwere.

I wish our pastors like Giglio and others would simply get back to the Word, the heart of the Word, and whole Word as well.

Seems there's this "I don't want to offend" thing going on along with God loves unconditionally, like David Jerimaih said: "God has always loved you, and He always will. You need to accept Him."

Lou is a good brother in the Lord, and I pray he will be edified and more courageous to speak the truth in love in his future. Amen.

Any of us can become weak, and even timid in our faith, that's for sure.

Jesus says: "For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”-Mark 8

Have a blessed day in our Savior's grace and sovereign love.

Solameanie said...

Tom and Nash, if you were on Twitter, I think Frank would reply, "#blocked." ;)

Frank Turk said...

Chantry got blocked long ago for being a Santa infidel.

Merrilee Stevenson said...

I suppose this comment thread is as good as any of the last few to say thank you, Frank, for linking to Chris Roseborogh's website, Fighting for the Faith. I've been listening to his podcasts since you started writing about Passion2013, and they've been very helpful in terms of learning to listen carefully to what the actual message is that is being preached. While I don't quite share his sense of humor to its fullest, I appreciate how he teaches biblical discernment. His coverage of Passion and Giglio as well as Rick Warren and Oprah have been very helpful.

Nash Equilibrium said...

In that case Chantry has to sit and have coffee with a Santa impersonator. And the cycle starts all over again...

Aaron Snell said...

Hmm. There were actually parts of Galli's article that seemed like the train was going down the right track, like this:

For people like us, who imagine we're not so much dead as suffering a cold, and that if we take our vitamin C and will ourselves out of bed, we can make a go of it—well, this verdict can sound unnerving. Worse, to be told we can do nothing to revive ourselves, that we are left completely at the mercy of this Other—well, this doesn't sit well in any culture, let alone in a culture that prizes individual initiative and heroic effort.

Or this:

Need-driven preaching—even of the highest order, that is, our search for significance—communicates that Jesus is just another way to solve our problems. It is no wonder that the culture looks at us, pats us on the head, and says, "But we've found other, equally valid ways to solve our problems, thank you." We tend to think that postmoderns have brought relativism down upon us, but it seems, we Christians have been the culprits the more we make our message about meeting people's needs.

I mean, that could have been written by any number of Gospel-centered-life-type folks we read on a regular basis. But the wheels seem to jitter a bit on lines like this:

When the Cross is preached, it is often preached in a way that falls on deaf ears. It's seen as a theme for theologians to wax eloquent about with strange words like propitiation and justification, or something comforting to guilt-ridden religious types—but meaningless to regular human beings.

Or the parts Johnny and Tom already noted about how hard it is to say what the preaching of the Cross should look like today, or the possible underlying antinomianism behind his description of a grace-saturated universe.

And I guess there's the rub for me: I could probably read all those bumpy spots more charitably, and even approve of the points being made, if the specific application to the Giglio imbroglio (ha!) wasn't being made.

If Galli is trying to say that the church makes things that aren't the First Thing into the First Thing, and hence Giglio's withdrawal was actually taking the high ground so as not to do the same, then it seems hard to escape Frank's critique - that to take the way of silence on a specific cultural sin is actually antithetical to a biblical preaching of the Gospel.

In which case, Galli seems to undermine his best point.

Kent McDonald said...

Thanks Frank, for once again providing a brilliant, insightful summation of the state of American Christianity. If only more of us were as attuned to the heart of Scripture, more waves would rock the sleepy boat of the modern church. Thank you for opening eyes...and hearts.

Tom said...

@DJP: I'll do that. And I should have clarified with a "more" or two.
My apologies.

Tom Chantry said...

I'm not having coffee with Santa; he probably only drinks peppermint mochas.

yankeegospelgirl said...

Gosh, I just read the whole Galli piece. Would "blathering" be an accurate description? Honestly, I got to the end of it and wasn't sure what exactly the guy trying to say. It almost seemed like he couldn't collect his thoughts coherently enough to be sure himself.

SamWise said...

A Study in Contrast

"We will be admired for our moral success"

"The person who believes that he can obtain grace by doing what is in him adds sin to sin so that he becomes doubly guilty."**

"Our incessant habit of pronouncing judgment on our culture, which is grounded in the assumption that sinners are found mostly in that culture, outside the church walls."

"A theology of glory calls evil good and good evil. A theology of the cross calls the thing what it actually is."**

"The best we can do is acknowledge the reality (faith) and begin to live as if it is reality (repent)."

"The law says, »do this«, and it is never done. Grace says, »believe in this«, and everything is already done."**

*Luther, Heidelberg Disputation

Kernel Kangaroo said...

Can you clarify?

Nonna said...

I read the article and I'm puzzled why everyone here is up in arms. Granted, I am not an Evangelical so perhaps I am missing something. However, I don't think he misunderstands the meaning of scandal in the Scriptural sense. It seems he recognizes that the gospel will offend which is why he is critical of many current methods of so called preaching.

However, if there is anything to critically assess,I'd say it's with one of his closing lines in the last paragraph. "A new focus on the Cross, articulated in a culturally intelligent way, is the only way forward." I think we have all the means at our disposal from very wise and articulate Christians throughout the ages. We don't need to come up with some new way of preaching the gospel because this current culture is not unique. It doesn't require some newfangled approach. Sin today is the same as it has always been and the remedy is the same as it was in the First Century. So I'd say the author of this piece undermined and diminished the good points he had previously made by this statement.

LanternBright said...


Frank actually explained, clearly and unambiguously, EXACTLY how Galli misunderstood the concept of scandal.

In fact, if you don't understand "why everyone here is up in arms," it suggests you haven't read what Frank has to say at all.

Would you care to actually read the post and try again?

Godspeed said...

CT to the Christian is kind of like CNN to the Conservative American. Both to be avoided except for a laugh or a sobering look at the state of whichever "journalistic outlet" you wish to sparingly view. But hey, unless you look once in while you'll never know what to avoid I guess because if they are praising it it's almost guaranteed to be bad for you.

In response to Mr. Chantry's question consider Jn 6:46-66. "And so, “After this many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him”. The scandal of the partaking in the flesh and blood of the savior is one instance that goes beyond the first cause of the goaspel.

trogdor said...

Galli's article reads like gospel reductionism. There's a lot that's good or oh-so-close, but ultimately it falls short, and maddeningly so. It could really stand to move on from the cross to the resurrection and ascension, and consider what we are to do in response to Jesus reigning over the universe and commanding all men everywhere to repent.

He correctly identifies the impotence of social gospels and other attempts to gain the world's favor. Unfortunately, he draws exactly the wrong conclusion. Instead of understanding that the world will hate us anyway so we might as well preach the full counsel of God, Galli suggests pulling back even further and preaching a minimalistic 'gospel' that promises forgiveness of... something?... and leaves the forgiven otherwise unchanged. Preach forgiveness and reconciliation exclusively - if you preach that Christ should have any other effect (like, say, repentance), you've overstepped the bounds of good taste and deserve to be shunned by society!

Crazy me, I think a pastor should be able to confess that Jesus is Lord without adding "as long as that doesn't offend you, of course - I wouldn't want to distract from forgiveness by suggesting you have something you need to be forgiven of".