24 April 2013

The Actual Agenda

by Frank Turk

When I sat down this weekend to come up with a stunning post for today, I had maybe a dozen ideas, including lampooning this utterly-awful post from Mark Driscoll which, in my view, demonstrates what sort of fellow he is -- and not in a good way. Maybe we'll get back to it eventually because it would be worth thinking about what sort of fellow writes that post when he's got so much to actively and publicly apologize for to the other fellow who helped him go mainstream.

However: do not let that derail the comments to this post.

This post is a bit from 2005 which I have slightly reworked for one purpose only: it still needs to be said.


In my experience, it always comes back to this question: "Does Orthodoxy matter in the life of the Christian?" "It", in this case, is any discussion in which the name of Jesus Christ is used to advance an agenda.

Let's clear something up before I go on: having an "agenda" is not a bad thing. Anyone who has ever been in a meeting knows that an agenda keeps the meeting from lasting forever and also keeps the meeting facing some goal. Listen: I know that a lot of people frequently use the word "agenda" to mean "an underlying often ideological plan or program", and intend it to imply some evil motive. I don't intend it that way. When I say that someone has an agenda, simply read it to mean that I think this person does what they are doing intentionally. That is to say, they have thought about what they are doing and choose to do it for specific reasons.

God willing, we should all have an agenda. God willing, we all have the right agenda. Don't get all squirrelly because I say someone has an agenda.

So in any discussion where someone is using an agenda and part of that agenda is "Jesus Christ" -- either as an end or as a means -- I wonder if anyone considers the complex matter of Orthodoxy? I ask this because when this matter comes up, it seems like it always causes a wicked stir. For example, someone might say, "I admire Pope John Paul II as a Christian leader of historic proportions," and someone else might ask, "I am unaware that praying to Mary 'Possess my soul, Take over my entire personality and life, replace it with Yourself, Incline me to constant adoration, Pray in me and through me, Let me live in you and keep me in this union always,’ was actually 'Christian'. What do you mean by 'Christian'?"

Now think on this: the second person not saying that this Pope did nothing of any geopolitical "good". The question being posed is one of orthodoxy, in the same way, for example, that the men at Nicea posed the question of orthodoxy to Arius. The question is not a matter of political usefulness or even humanitarian usefulness. The question is whether the Gospel is being preached when the spiritual things otherwise hidden were brought to light.

What seems to come up quite often is this: apparently, that question is irrelevant -- or perhaps it is actually the wrong question to ask at all because of other mitigating factors. Some people advocate that there is no right way to determine orthodoxy because of the state of the church; others advocate that the demand for orthodoxy is itself a flawed pursuit because it is abstracted from the good works in evidence. In that, we should be able to call John Paul II, or Bono, or Mother Theresa, or Johnny Cash, or TD Jakes, or Oprah, or the Apostle Paul all "heroes of the faith" because their work was done in some orbit around the center-bound name of Jesus.

Yet it never fails to upset the advocates of this position when one asks anyway, "well, I happen to personally know a fellow who spent 2 years in South America as a missionary building hospitals and teaching school to children -- but he was a missionary for the Latter Day Saints. Is he a Christian hero also?" If you're lucky, after you sort through all the hyperbolic rhetoric that comes back, you might find the retort, "oh heavens -- he's not even a Trinitarian. That's a stupid example." If you're not as lucky, you'll find a respected Seminary President who gives your question the high-brow pish-tosh, as if Joseph Smith never renounced all of Christendom as abhorrent to God, declaring himself and his golden tablets the only true prophetic utterance.

Somehow those who will reply in that way simply cannot see the matters of orthodoxy at stake. I would actually agree that being non-Trinitarian (like a Oneness advocate, or a Mormon) excludes one from Orthodoxy -- which is my point in asking the question. What it underscores, however, is the larger issue that the Trinity is not the only matter of orthodoxy. If one is outside the faith for rejecting the Trinity, can't one be outside the faith for adding Mary, de facto via prayers to her that ask her to do the work of the Holy Spirit, to the Trinity? What about worshiping the Eucharist as God? Or for that matter, what about changing Jesus' declaration "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except by me," to mean that anyone who says he worships the God of Abraham must by implication be brought there through Christ -- even if he explicitly rejects Christ? What if someone was doing all of the above?

Or worse: what if someone has made the work of the Cross merely into a means of making money, or making himself important or popular?

All of these questions are matters of orthodoxy -- that is, matters of what is and is not "the Gospel", what is and is not the Good News of Jesus Christ. So if someone finds the cure for cancer and gives it away for free, and dies a beggar for doing so, he may have done something historically, ethically exceptional. If someone takes a high-profile stand that flies in the face of both Capitalism and Socialism but it is actually the right moral stand, Amen. But let's not confuse that with Christianity -- which is discipleship to Christ for the sake of the cross and the Gospel.

To be a disciple of Christ for the sake of the Cross and the Gospel means that we are actually referring to "Christ", "Cross", and "Gospel." That is: we are referring to that real person and those real things which are the ones which do all the unbelievable things we say they do. If we say "cross" and we mean a piece of jewelry, or "Gospel" and we mean a kind of campy folk music, we are not talking about truth but rather mere fashion. But when we are talking about truth, Orthodoxy -- that is, conformity to the faith delivered once for all time to the saints -- has to matter.  Conformity to that cannot merely be on the agenda: it has to be the the actual agenda, the singular objective and only check-box.

Especially, since it needs to be said, when we're talking about the men who lead the church both by proxy and by example.


ryangeer said...

I'm sure you won't believe me when I say that I'm no Driscoll fan. However, reading your snarky aside about a pretty vanilla little post from what I recall was your favorite whipping boy— I was brought back to my senses as to why I took a long layoff from Pyromaniacs to begin with.

I wonder how the kingdom might be served if you stopped bludgeoning the dead horse that is Mark Driscoll's many, many shortcomings and instead turned your whit and mental might toward the positive furthering of the Gospel. I wonder but alas you are sooooo good with the snark. You should probably stick to what you do best.

Joel Knight said...

But you just displayed the same attitude toward Frank that you accused him of displaying toward Driscoll? ... confused.

As for the 'vanilla' post, I suspect Frank's problems with it come from the fact it's so vanilla, so inane, so lacking in any actual substance. As a tribute to someone whom you owe a great deal it's more than a little lacking.

Tom Chantry said...

So, we're just going to ignore the "don't derail" request?

Frank, do you happen to be following Lorenzo de Chirico’s “Vatican Files” over at Ref21? The latest speaks of the Catholic hijacking of the term “evangelical” - exactly the sort of thing to which we open ourselves when we un-define or even under-define orthodoxy.

FX Turk said...

Ryan - are you looking for a fight, an apology, or a reasonable discussion about your complaint?

You'll lose badly on the first two, but for the third: isn't ignoring Driscoll what he has bet on for his whole career?

FX Turk said...

Tom - there's only one Web site besides aomin.org that is actively and actually Protestant in the affirmative sense, and that's Ref21.

Robert said...

Reading this reminds me of a thought I had this week while listening to a sermon by Alistair Begg. He was speaking of how some people in his past complained about the fact that the time and attention paid to the Eucharist was so short and that the homily was so long. Not sure of the term homily is recognized by most, but for most with backgrounds in the RCC it should seem familiar. Anyways, I had never thought about it before hearing Begg speak about it, but a good 1/3 to 1/2 of mass is centered around the Eucharist. And the homily (what most Protestants would call a sermon) might account for 1/6 of the service...quite a disparity. I know this is just one of many problems with the RCC, but one that I think seems to be overlooked by most. I'm glad that you mentioned "worship of the Eucharist as God" because the amount of time in mass dedicated towards the Eucharist is just a manifestation of that worship.

In whole, I think it is quite important for us to be concerned with orthodoxy. I mean, if somebody taught our kids part truth and part lies, what kind of teacher would they say they are? Would we want them teaching our kids? Yet, when it comes to pastors and evangelists, many seem to be willing to overlook major problems in their theology. And I have no problem saying that what the pastor says is far more important than what the teacher says.

Sometimes I wonder if people really think about the implications of walking by faith and not by sight...or friendship with the world as being enmity with God. I say this because most people make exceptions based on what they see as fruit (numbers of people) and how worldly people think of the pastors. We should have faith that preaching the Word and holding to a Biblical standard will produce fruit instead of just looking for it. And we shouldn't be worried about the appeal of the church to the world. Isn't the church where believers come together to worship God? And shouldn't that involve holiness (which is actually being separate from the world)?

Anonymous said...

One of the interesting things I've found about orthodoxy is that many Christians have defined the hierarchy of truths that are most important, and those that are least important. Having the right belief about the Trinity is of utmost importance. A literal view of creation somewhat less so. And things like infant baptism are less important still. I've always wondered what standard they appeal to when deciding which parts of the Bible are most important and which are less important.

FX Turk said...

Paul Reed:


David A. Carlson said...

C Michael Patton has a series of good posts on this topic (with charts)

DJP said...

What did Patton say when you pointed him to Frank's post?

James Scott Bell said...

2005....wasn't that about when the "emergent" (how ironic) church began to espouse a "generous orthodoxy"? It feels so nostalgic all of a sudden.

FX Turk said...

I like Michael Patton. He's not a Pyro.

Webster Hunt (Parts Man) said...

In some conversations I've had with folks, there's some kind of belief that the only things that are "orthodox" are the things that are directly spelled out. The things you have to read in context, the things that are plainly understood when words mean things, those things are up for debate and could vary by interpretation. Lately the doctrine of the Trinity and the hypostatic union have been the ones I've heard falling in that category - and in concert with Mr. Paul Reed, a literal view of creation following closely after.

My question is, how do we convince these people who claim to be orthodox Christians but hold a loose view on what truths actually matter in Scripture that they are terribly wrong and are adding to the problem, in the hopes that they'll "aha" and repent?

Eric said...


Inasmuchas we are saved by faith and not by perfection of doctrine, those areas that go directly to the heart of who God is and how one is made right with Him can be said to be of primary importance. Secondarily we concern ourselves with being as Biblically faithful in every area of doctrine and life as we are able to on this earth.

Anonymous said...

Very timely post Frank both as a plan for my lesson for the high school youth this coming Sunday night, and as I consider some of the past (and probably future) discussions I've had with my sister about what it means to call someone a Christian.

Those discussions aren't about whether or not she is a Christian (she is), but about her fascination with the Pope and Ignatius of Loyola, both of whom she can't imagine not being Christians because they say/said "Jesus is Lord" and do/did lots of good stuff.

The issue, as you say, is orthodoxy. Kindness to others and serving ones fellow man are both important issues, but not an eternal one.

There's a serious difference between saying "Jesus is Lord" and believing what Jesus says we must believe.
If he's Lord, believe Him, if you don't, then you're lying when you say he is.

Webster Hunt (Parts Man) said...

Eric, although we're not saved by perfection of doctrine, doesn't it serve as an indicator of sanctification and therefore salvation that when someone is confronted with the truth of Scripture that they submit instead of reject and continue on in their own thinking? Honest question, no snark, not rhetorical.

Michael Coughlin said...

Frank, I thought it was a good post. It is always nice to read something you wrote years ago and still agree with it and think it applies. It is nice to grow, but sometimes nice to have simply been right before.

Paul - As far as the hierarchy of doctrines go, I have wondered myself how that works.

It seems that some doctrines, if denied, seriously change the "gospel" in which someone is believing. That being the case, I can see how those would be considered quite essential.

Then is seems there are other doctrines where, although the person can still maintain the same gospel, there is a sense that they are on a path where we believe that the logical conclusion of their belief will deny the gospel. Yet they believe these two seemingly cognitive dissonant things at the same time. These people confuse me, but their professions of faith and general appearance of sanctification is what I go by. Things like creationism and denial of God's sovereign election seem to be in this category.

Then the people who baptize babies or not, believe in rapture or not, or to use hymns or rap music in church - it seems there is a category where we hold to certain doctrines based on our hermeneutic and that we can all agree that, even though we've drawn a conclusion, we do see through a glass darkly. So we offer grace to those who do not agree with us on those issues, recognizing we've been wrong in the past and could be wrong again. So we love our brothers (which is also a very important doctrine) enough to be patient with them and humble about these things.

Then we start our own church. :)

Michael Coughlin said...

I believe the answer to your question, Webster, is Yes. And this is my test I use to determine if someone is in my mission field or is my brother who needs correction.

Robert said...

I'm also reminded of how much humanism started creeping into the church after the Middle Ages. I just started reading "How Shall We Then Live?" with my boys and last night we were reading about how Thomas Aquinas starting bringing a focus on the particulars into the church. At the end of the day, when we start looking at good works without orthodox beliefs instead of orthodox beliefs leading to good works, we are just following in the tracks laid by the humanism of the Renaissance.

If the good works are fine and dandy on their own, why is there any need to preach a gospel of repentance of sins and faith in the work of Jesus Christ? And why do we need all 66 books of the Bible laying out all kinds of truths about God and man and commands for believers? There is a reason for each of those books being included in the canon of Scripture. And Scripture tells us that "All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work." (2 Timothy 3:16-17, emphasis mine) Surely there are some implitcations involved there.

Eric said...


That's a good question/observation, and I agree, with qualifications.

As is clear from a study of church history, not all doctrines are equally clear and discernable from the Scriptures. That is not to say that there isn't a correct understanding and an incorrect one, but rather to note that we do not see all things clearly. As such, it is not as simple as saying that someone isn't being sactified (and therefore not saved) if they don't fall in line doctrinally in all categories. As a Calvinist, I believe that the doctrines of grace represent the correct way to read and understand the Bible. I am not willing, however, to claim that any number of Arminian believers are unsaved because they have spurned those truths. In its essence, the Gospel is simple, and those who place their faith in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior are saved despite there shortcomings in life and doctrine. Hence it is my belief that the doctrines relating to the very essence of the identity of God and how we are saved can be said to be of primary importance.

David A. Carlson said...


I said nothing to CMP, because CMP has been all of this issue for years, and has multiple posts on the subject. Plus, CMP actually answers Paul's question in a very interesting, substantive way.

Any more questions to my motivation that I may answer for you?

FX Turk said...

OSH: Luv Ya!

DJP said...

DAC: "More questions" about your motivation? Where was the first?

On second thought: never mind. It would be just the second step of you doing what you virtually always do, which is take focus off of the post-that-is and try to go somewhere else. If Frank wants to put up with that, that's on him.

FX Turk said...

I'm dreaming of a bacon sandwich. With Chicken.

Did DAC say something?

Webster Hunt (Parts Man) said...

Any thoughts on this issue being related to our lack of discipleship in our day? Perhaps we're so caught up in seeing that men are saved, that we forget that we've been charged with discipling them?

I was thinking about how time is involved in sanctification, and how we can't expect a new believer to act as a mature one, but at the same time that new believer needs an ordinary means - a discipler, a mature man/woman in Christ - teaching them all that Jesus has said and why it matters that they believe these things in Scripture. Instead it seems that so long as they believe in "core doctrines" and are saved, then we can leave it up to the pastor and the "elite" guys in our culture to teach them the rest. Even a momma bird, when she pushes her chick out of the nest so that it can learn to fly, hovers nearby to be sure a predator doesn't snatch them up.

Our Master is not dependent on the ordinary means to grow His people, but that doesn't discount the fact that He has ordained and commanded those means be the ones by which He works.

FX Turk said...

Webster: You are crazy.





In a good way.

Webster Hunt (Parts Man) said...

Frank, I've been reading Pyro for 7 years now, I've got the books, got the twitter feed, all I need is the T-shirt... I'm sure I contracted "crazy" from all that.

Tom Chantry said...

...all I need is the T-shirt...

Ya'know, they got a on-line store for that!

(We Franked Dan's meta yesterday; may as well Frank Frank's today!)

trogdor said...

You can tell this is old, because it assumes non-Trinitarianism is unorthodox. Must be from way back before the 2nd Council of Pachydermia.

As said, orthodoxy is a really complex matter. There is the usual Bibley disclaimer that even demons know the orthodox facts, and it don't do them no good. But there are other forms of unorthodoxy that are also dangerous. For example, someone could formally affirm the language of scripture and confessions, while re-defining those terms to mean something else. Example: the Openness folks with foreknowledge, or any form of "this is sufficient, but you also need...". Or those who will affirm that Jesus saves, but preach nothing but moralism.

Instead of making disciples and teaching them to obey all that Jesus commanded, we try to figure out what is the least someone can possibly do to be counted as 'saved'. And we take the same view of our leaders, who just affirm a few core doctrines (or something close enough to them) and they're beyond reproach on all that other stuff that doesn't matter.

Maybe we shouldn't be so hasty in the laying on of hands, or of giving blanket approval to a man and his ministry. Maybe it's dangerous to even tell the world he's fine, there's just some minor issues we're working on behind the scenes. But I don't know if that gets into derailing territory.

DJP said...

...and, once again, with "2nd Council of Pachydermia," Trogdor wins the intrawebs.

Kerry James Allen said...

How about "pachydermatous," which is "callous, insensitive."

"It was somewhat pachydermatous of Tom Chantry to derail two metas in a row."

FX Turk said...

Trogdor --

No Mere Christianity, then? No standing about in the hallway like some kind of lost drunk in a joke with a punchline about why he's fumbling for his keys?


All right then: lead on.

Michael Coughlin said...

Not sure what is more amazing, Trogdor's ability to word truth in a way that no one else seems to be able to, or the fact that he's still a baby!