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Archive for the ‘Movements’ Category

Lately I’ve been doing some thinking about what is sometimes called Gospel-Driven Sanctification (or some similar terminology.*) This has come after reading the recent back and forth on the Gospel Coalition site between Tullian Tchividjian and Kevin DeYoung (among other posts) on the subject of effort in the Christian life.  This issue was also alluded to in Frank Turk’s Open Letter to Michael Horton earlier this year. Jay E. Adams has recently made several posts on the issue as well. By no means have I studied the issue exhaustively, but I’ve been somewhat troubled by some of what I’ve heard and read so far. (To my recollection, what caused me to focus on this question to begin with was this post, which raised so many questions in my mind that it would likely require an entire post in response.)

Today, I was directed to this article by William B. Evans on the Reformation 21 blog.   It is the best recent presentation I have seen of the Biblical teaching on this issue and the current controversy in Reformed and Calvinistic circles over it. To a considerable degree, it seems to be a continuation of the controversy over the Sonship teaching of Jack Miller of World Harvest Mission a few decades ago. In other cases, it appears to be the result of a sharp distinction being made between law and grace, which is a feature of Lutheranism as well as dispensationalism.  The emphasis on “Gospel driven” with reference to sanctification often seems to indicate a kind of passivity (or a passive or quietistic tendency) with regard to growing in grace. Some have summarized the issue as being a question of whether sanctification is monergistic or synergistic. (All of those in the debate acknowledge that justification is monergistic.)

When reading the material I noted in the first paragraph, perhaps expecially the blog comments that have followed, I’ve witnessed what appears to be a visceral reaction against the idea of any kind of Biblical imperative, even though the Scriptures, including the New Testament, are filled with them. In particular, it is a disagreement with the idea that we should strive to obey these imperatives (or commands.)

The pattern of Gospel indicatives followed by imperatives is perhaps most clearly seen in Paul’s epistles. The Gospel is expounded upon in the first part of letters like Romans, Galatians and Ephesians, with the implications of the Gospel (including numerous commands) typically making up the last several chapters. If all we have to do is “preach the Gospel to ourselves” and meditate upon Christ, then why would Paul and the other apostles have seen the need to include these commands?

Dr. Evans’ mention of post-fundamentalism may be spot on. I too have wondered how many people who are attracted to this teaching have come from some kind of legalistic background. Similarly, it’s not uncommon to encounter folks who have been under some kind of unbiblical overbearing “shepherding” ministry who overreact to the point of rejecting practically any pastoral shepherding or oversight whatsoever.

It’s quite ironic (and perhaps troubling) to see some of the “Gospel-driven” types  link approvingly to the kind of posts that are questioned in Dr. Evans’ article, only to turn around the next day and tout J.C. Ryle’s Holiness on their blog or Twitter.  Ryle’s Holiness is a classic work which basically teaches the polar opposite! One wonders what thought process would lead someone to promote works from such opposing perspectives and evidently not see the contradiction. Confusion and overreaction to false teaching may be at the root.

For example, the other day I saw a woman quote Horatius Bonar’s God’s Way of Holiness in an attempt to rebut criticism of “Gospel-driven” views of sanctification by those who had cited Bonar as opposing that kind of teaching. This was despite the fact that Bonar, like Ryle, has a strong emphasis on striving for holiness. Maybe the fact that Bonar clearly and powerfully taught justification by grace alone by faith alone through Christ alone leads some who haven’t read him closely to assume that he must also agree with those who appear to emphasize nothing but the indicatives of the Gospel message. This may particularly be the case for those who were fed a steady diet of moralism prior to coming to their current understanding.  It may be that some automatically equate any reference to effort or striving for holiness with legalism or moralism.

I am thankful for the Gospel-driven movement to the extent to which it has helped to deliver people from the bondage of real legalism and moralism. But at this point I’m not convinced that it accurately represents biblical teaching as a whole.

One thing is for sure, if the Lord tarries, this is an issue that is not going away any time soon.

(HT: Benjamin Glaser)

J.C. Ryle’s Holiness and Horatius Bonar’s God’s Way of Holiness are both available online:

Holiness 

God’s Way of Holiness (.pdf)

*Other terms include Christ-centered, Gospel-centered and other similar phrases. It seems to me that these terms are being repeated so often that there is a risk of a mantra being created, one that is basically a slogan that is repeated so often and used in reference to so many things that it essentially becomes devoid of meaning. 
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As regular readers of this blog will remember, early last year I made several posts in the midst of the controversy over Mark Driscoll that had ensued after Baptist Press published an article that was critical of certain aspects of Driscoll’s ministry.

With the exception of some admittedly overheated and perhaps hasty blog comments that I posted at the outset, for a number of reasons I have kept my distance from the current Caner controversy.  However, as I have observed it from afar, it seems to me that the way the Baptist Identity bloggers are defending Ergun Caner is quite similar to how the Southern Baptist “young leaders” and other bloggers defended Mark Driscoll early last year.

Here are some of the similarities:

1.  Those attacking our man have an agenda, are simply out to get him and are opposed to what we stand for. Questions and concerns are deflected by pointing out the perceived agenda and evil motives of the critics.  The substance of the concerns as well as the substantiating evidence are often never acknowledged at all.

2.  Our man has apologized, so shut up already. The other side notes that the apology was vague and insufficient.

Thus these two camps or movements, which have been sparring with each other in the blogosphere for several years, pretty much operate in the same way when one of their own is being criticized.  There is no doubt that at times such criticism is indeed agenda driven, but that doesn’t necessarily render it completely invalid.

Several years ago I heard an old preacher warn against being carried away by movements after having seen their effect on his ministry and that of others.  His main concern was that too often a ministry will ride a hobby horse and will focus on one narrow spectrum of truth to the exclusion of the whole counsel of God.  A related problem that we see in this case is that when a leader that is greatly admired by a particular group and is considered to be integral to (if not the embodiment of) the movement is accused of some wrongdoing, there is the tendency to react as I have enumerated above.

Yesterday Mark (hereiblog) posted the Vindication of popular ministers.  I commend the entire post to your reading, but I wish to quote some relevant excerpts here:

It seems we all must be careful in defending someone for their namesake instead of for Christ’s namesake. Men fall. This can be read all throughout the Bible. It can be seen through the past and in the present. When we defend our favorite preachers without question we may be doing them more harm than good if they are in unrepentant sin.

It can be difficult to objectively address the sin of people we respect or have some sort of relationship with. In the same manner it can be difficult to objectively address our own sin. We find excuses to let our own sin go such as pointing to someone else’s sin or even actions we don’t like. Someone may even sinfully point out our own sin, yet that does not give us a right to ignore personal repentance. Just as one popular minister does not get a pass on sin because another popular (or even unpopular) minister points it out in a manner some find unkind. In other words, one sin does not excuse another regardless of who you are.

Of course, the greater the popularity the greater responsibility. The more someone promotes and markets themselves the more scrutiny they will come under. When someone seeks attention and is successful they will surely get both positive and negative reactions. People often get back a bit of what they dish out too.

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I’ve been tied up with other issues offline (or IRL it used to be termed) and haven’t been able to blog much lately, although I do have several posts that I’m working on that I hope to publish soon.

Many who read this post may be aware that there has been a controversy brewing for some time over Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary President Ergun Caner.  Dr. Caner is a former Muslim, and at issue are claims he has made over the past decade about his background and activities prior to his conversion, namely that the claims seem to be at odds with the facts.  Liberty University has finally announced that they are opening an investigation into these matters.

The legwork on this controversy has been done by several bloggers, most notably by Christian apologist James White.  It appears to have been perpetuated by a Muslim who claims that Ergun Caner and his brother Emir are “fake former Muslims,” a claim that does not appear to be the case.  Liberty initially stated that they don’t respond to allegations made by bloggers.  One wonders if this is because the bloggers were considered to be hostile to Liberty and toward Dr. Caner in particular due to their being either Muslim or Calvinist in most if not all cases.  But now that largely liberal and/or mainstream sources have picked up the story, usually simply recounting what the bloggers have reported, Liberty has decided to act.

While I haven’t read every pertinent blog post on this controversy, here are perhaps the best two series of posts on this issue that I’ve seen to date:

Pastor Tom Chantry on “Stephen Ambrose, Ergun Caner, and the Credibility of the Gospel.”  This is a long series, but it is worth it in that it puts the issue in context and highlights what is at stake.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

“The Squirrel,” Gene Clyatt, has posted a timeline today that will bring you up to speed on the discrepancies between statements that Ergun Caner has made about himself in the past and documented facts.  Squirrel links many other resources that go into more detail.

It saddens me that it has taken the mainstream media reporting on this story for Liberty to take action.  I hope Liberty (as well as the church where Ergun Caner holds membership, presumably Thomas Road Baptist Church) does a thorough investigation and then acts appropriately.  It is important not only for their academic integrity, but it is also important for the witness of the body of Christ as a whole.  Whatever one may think of Ergun Caner or Liberty University and Seminary, we must remember that the world looks at this as a Christian issue, and not merely as a Southern Baptist issue, a Liberty University issue or a Calvinist or non-Calvinist issue.

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Just over a year ago, I noted the parallels between the current contextual/missional/hipster/urban church planting movement inspired by Mark Driscoll and others and the Bill Hybels/Rick Warren inspired church growth movement of 10-20 years ago.  (Note that I did not say there was a 1:1 correspondence between the two, but simply noted a similar mentality that is evident in both movements.  I think the theology and general approach of Mark Driscoll and Tim Keller is much more preferable.)

While I rather doubt that I was the first one to connect those dots, I’m pretty sure that I spent more time on those posts and the related discussion across the blogosphere than I have on any other subject since I established this blog.  Depending on your point of view, that series of posts was either the most popular or the most infamous material I’ve ever posted in my short and generally undistinguished blogging career.  This was largely due to the context, which was the latest spat among Southern Baptist bloggers.  (For the few who may be keeping score, I am still an occasional blogger, but no longer a Southern Baptist.)

Earlier this evening, a post by Dean Bob Gonzales of Reformed Baptist Seminary tipped me off to an interesting post by Bill Streger, an Acts 29 church planter in Houston.  In my view, Dr. Gonzales accurately describes the original post in this fashion:  “An Acts 29 network pastor offers a caution to his colleagues and provides an example of a healthy and humble self critical posture.”

Pastor Streger cautions against a herd or movement mentality among younger leaders and church planters and warns against an uncritical emulation of prominent pastors and leaders as we saw with the church growth/seeker sensitive movement of the last generation.   Predictably it was this concluding sentence that provoked the strongest reaction:

“Or it could be that we’re simply following in the footsteps of the church growth movement that we’ve loved to publically criticize while privately trying to emulate – we’ve just replaced Bill Hybels and Rick Warren with Tim Keller and Mark Driscoll.”

The post in question clearly touched a nerve, as a furor ensued that appears to be almost worthy of the Southern Baptist blogosphere.  Indeed, the ensuing discussion resulted in a follow up post that some feel retracted more than was necessary.  As someone who has too often hastily posted things that were somewhat uncharitable, however true they may have been, I can to some small extent identify with Bro. Streger’s plight in perceiving that his initial post was not as carefully worded as it could have been.

The real news here may be the apparent inability or unwillingness of some who identify with Acts 29 (whether formally or not) to accept public criticism of their movement, especially from an insider.  Ironically, this bears no small resemblance to the reaction you might expect to see from some of the more rigid independent fundamentalists when one of their own dares to utter some criticism of their movement.  However, I was grateful to see that the criticism (which all things considered really seems to be rather mild) was taken in stride by many others.

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