Why I Do Not Join Popular Gospel-Only Organizations, Part Two

NickImageRead the series so far.

Even among evangelicals, the gospel constantly faces the danger of being obscured. It is obscured when gospel believers embrace gospel deniers in cooperative ministry. It is obscured when new doctrinal constructs redefine gospel essentials. It is obscured when Christians embrace values or practices that are contrary to gospel living.

Since such obfuscations abound, Christians ought to give themselves to the task of clarifying and defending the gospel. Organizations that support this task should be welcomed as helpers in a day of theological confusion. The common perception is that groups like The Gospel Coalition (TGC) and Together for the Gospel (T4G) have been created specifically to perform this task. Many people believe that these organizations exist only for the clarification and defense of the gospel.

To be sure, both TGC and T4G are strong defenders of the gospel. Insofar as that is the case, I support their efforts. Nevertheless, I find that I cannot bring myself into too-close association or identification with groups of this sort. I cannot “join” them.

As I explained in a previous essay, The Gospel Coalition displays a curious mixture of doctrinal diversity and specificity. Because it is The Gospel Coalition, it includes leaders who differ in their denominational commitments, in their understanding of the present role of miraculous gifts, and in their teachings about the literalness of the biblical creation accounts (but who are “not quite” theistic evolutionists). This range of views represents considerable theological and practical diversity. Consequently, it is surprising to discover that TGC has adopted doctrinal standards that de facto rule out most traditional dispensationalists. Its leadership appears to include no one who objects to Calvinism or to a fairly strongly-worded version of Lordship salvation. Given the breadth that it displays on some issues, the specificity of these other commitments is startling. Evidently, The Gospel Coalition intends to stand for something more than the gospel.

By itself, that is not a problem. It does, however, raise the matter of truth in advertising. If a farmer purchases a bag labeled Oats, he does not expect to find that it is half full of black-eyed peas. Christians who hear about The Gospel Coalition have no reason to suspect that they will find the bag half full of inaugurated eschatology and Reformed soteriology. At least some of them are bound to be pretty disappointed.

Like The Gospel Coalition, Together for the Gospel is often thought of as an organization that focuses upon the gospel alone. This thinking is reinforced by the opening words of the “Affirmations and Denials” that constitute the T4G confession: “We are brothers in Christ united in one great cause—to stand together for the Gospel.” In some ways, these “Affirmations and Denials” are less specific and idiosyncratic than the TGC confessional statement. Consequently, T4G evidences approximately as much breadth as TGC. For example, its platform brings together representatives who hold different understandings of church order and of miraculous gifts. I have heard a leader in T4G comment that this level of diversity is acceptable exactly because the organizers and speakers are together for the gospel.

Nevertheless, the “Affirmations and Denials” do rule out certain traditional evangelicals. Article V states, “We deny that the God of the Bible is in any way limited in terms of knowledge or power or any other perfection or attribute, or that God has in any way limited his own perfections.” One effect of this denial is to exclude certain versions of moderately Arminian and Wesleyan theology. Traditional Arminians and Wesleyans very often argue that God voluntarily limits his power in order to preserve libertarian freedom for humans. For example, H. C. Thiessen states, “Nor does omnipotence exclude but rather imply [sic] the power of self-limitation. God has limited Himself to some extent by the free will of His rational creatures.” (Lectures in Systematic Theology, Eerdmans 1949, 126). One can disagree with this perspective while recognizing that some Arminians (people like A. W. Tozer) have been earnest believers in and proclaimers of the gospel. Why would people who hold a moderately Arminian theology not be embraced by a gathering that was together for the gospel?

At the practical level, T4G appears to be committed to almost the same doctrinal system as TGC. Speakers at the biennial conferences include many who are known for their defense of Calvinism and Lordship salvation, but few if any who are visible critics of these positions. The circle of prominent speakers has featured one person who characterizes himself as a “leaky dispensationalist,” but other (and less “leaky”) representatives of dispensational theology are difficult to spot. While the leaders of T4G are indeed together for the gospel, it does not seem to be the only thing they are together for.

Either organizations like T4G and TGC mean to be gospel-only organizations or else they do not. If they do, then it seems wrong-headed not to embrace dispensationalists or moderate Arminians who are committed to the gospel. If they do not mean to be gospel-only organizations, then their labels promise something that the organizations really do not intend to deliver. More than that, the rationale for their considerable theological diversity becomes much more suspect. If these organizations intend to stand for more than the gospel, then why should they make an issue of Calvinistic theology but not of cessationism? The answer is not obvious.

This strange interplay of breadth and specificity creates a problem for people who do not hold the entire TGC or T4G bundle. Where do we stand with these organizations? Of course, we know that they would like us to show up at their meetings and encourage others to do the same. How enthusiastic can our endorsement be, however, when it seems that these groups are committed, not simply to defending the gospel (with which we heartily agree), but also to propagating a doctrinal system that treats some of us as second-class Christians?

This is part of my reason for not “joining” (i.e., bringing myself into too-close identification) with these popular, gospel-only organizations. While I am by no means an opponent of these organizations, and while I do want them to succeed in much of what they do, I do not see them as gospel-only. Furthermore, I am not sure that they truly see themselves as gospel-only. If they intend to represent more than the gospel, then a more specific set of standards has to be applied. On my view, they fail that standard partly by what they include. They also fail by what they neglect. That topic will be addressed in the next essay.

Hymn XI: God, the Offended God Most High
Charles Wesley (1707–1788)

God, the offended God most high,
Ambassadors to rebels sends;
His messengers his place supply,
And Jesus begs us to be friends.

Us, in the stead of Christ, they pray,
Us, in the stead of God, intreat,
To cast our arms, our sins, away,
And find forgiveness at his feet.

Our God in Christ! thine embassy,
And proffered mercy, we embrace;
And gladly reconciled to thee,
Thy condescending goodness praise.

Poor debtors, by our Lord’s request
A full acquittance we receive!
And criminals, with pardon blest,
We, at our Judge’s instance, live!

[node:bio/kevin-t-bauder body]

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G. N. Barkman's picture

Is there a bit of irony here?  T4G seems to want to exclude Dispensationalists.   Fundamental Baptists seem to want to exclude non-Dispensationalists.  Maybe the most significant issue regarding separation is the Dispensational/Covenant Theology divide?

Dr. Bauder's article serves to buttress my argument that one should not use "bait and switch" tactics with Fundamentalist organizations.  I agree that if an organization promotes itself as Gospel-centered, it should not raise Dispenationalism as a problem.  Dispensationalism is not an enemy of the Gospel.

Likewise, if an organization promotes itself as Fundamental, it should not raise Covenant Theology as a problem.  CT is no enemy of Fundamentalism. 

Fundamentalism is a militant defense of the fundamentals of the faith.  Although Dispensationalism has no doubt been the majority position among Fundamentalists from the beginning of the movement, it has not been the exclusive position.   To treat Covenant Theology as a threat to Fundamentalism is to tighten the circle, and remove by a re-written definition of terms, those who have historically championed the Fundamentalist cause.
 

 

 

 

G. N. Barkman

Chip Van Emmerik's picture

G. N. Barkman wrote:
To treat Covenant Theology as a threat to Fundamentalism is to tighten the circle, and remove by a re-written definition of terms, those who have historically championed the Fundamentalist cause.
(emphasis added)

I fear that post-modernism has affected Christians much more than they are comfortable admitting. Another example: what passes as Arminianism today is far removed from the historic position and relies entirely on re-definition of terms as well in order to combat Calvinism. This creates an unnecessary divide that was not present historically but is mandated (on both sides) by the new definitions employed.

Why is it that my voice always seems to be loudest when I am saying the dumbest things?

Steve Davis's picture

I have never been to a T4G or TGC conference although one day I'd like to attend. I don't recall having ever "joined" either group and/or wasn't aware of joining opportunities for individuals. TGC's preamble states that it is a "fellowship of evangelical churches." I benefit immensely from what these coalitions do/write and in looking at the TGC web site their council members seem fairly diverse. I'm not sure they would characterize themselves as "gospel-only." And if dispensationalists feel excluded, Dallas Theological Semimary doesn't mind advertising full ride scholarships on the TGC home page. 

JNoël's picture

Perhaps some dispensationalists balk at fellowshipping with covenantists because it might make them look like compromisers or ecumenicists, like when there are continuationists in the mix.

And perhaps some covenantists balk at fellowshipping with dispensationalists because it might make them look like they are approving of sectarianism or hyper-separation, like when there are translationists in the mix.

And the comparisons could go on and on.

 

Americanism might have one thing going for it - the idea that we can, in fact, accept certain differences and still join hands with a clear conscience.  Is it time for a 21st century taxonomy defining biblical tests of Christian fellowship?

 

V/r

Ashamed of Jesus! of that Friend On whom for heaven my hopes depend! It must not be! be this my shame, That I no more revere His name. -Joseph Grigg (1720-1768)

G. N. Barkman's picture

At least T4G and the Gospel Coalition haven't held any conference sessions on the dangers of Dispensationalism to Conservative Evangelicalism, as far as I know.  Now That would be genuinely hostile and exclusionary.

G. N. Barkman

Greg Long's picture

I was at T4G 2008 (or was it TGC 2011? I cant remember) when D. A. Carson said several negative things about dispensationalism. I didn't take it personally. As Steve said, there is so much positive about these organizations that I am able to separate out the chaff (like Driscoll spewing forth his usual canards about cessationism at TGC 2011).

-------
Greg Long, Ed.D. (SBTS)

Pastor of Adult Ministries
Grace Church, Des Moines, IA

Adjunct Instructor
School of Divinity
Liberty University

Ken Woodard's picture

Am I still allowed to preach the gospel and witness to people without being part of some national organization? Are they the official union to join to be a card carrying "soul winner"? Do they have the exclusive copy right for the "Roman's Road"? What makes them the experts for me to fall in line with?

 

Instead of caring about TG4G Coalitions I think I'll just go over to the McDonald's (I've got a free sweet tea coupon). I'll spot a person to sit close to and strike up a conversation about Jesus. I probably won't talk with him about dispensations, covenants or Calvinism...just Jesus. Maybe he will get saved. Then I can organize a seminar about how I am the one doing it right. For $19.95 I'll teach you how to "do it right".

 

We don't have to be "Together"...for the Gospel. I can be for the gospel all by myself. My conference isn't so big...but the sweet tea is good...and when the guy at my conference gets saved there is just as much rejoicing by angels in heaven.

Ed Vasicek's picture

G. N. Barkman commented:

 

Likewise, if an organization promotes itself as Fundamental, it should not raise Covenant Theology as a problem.  CT is no enemy of Fundamentalism.

I agree that the term fundamentalism has been confiscated by independent Baptists, but the term Gospel used to be agreed upon by all or most fundamentalists and evangelicals.  I will say this, though:  fundamental dispensational Baptist do not cloak their dispensationalism.  There is something honest about that.

"The Midrash Detective"

Greg Long's picture

Ken Woodard wrote:

Am I still allowed to preach the gospel and witness to people without being part of some national organization? Are they the official union to join to be a card carrying "soul winner"? Do they have the exclusive copy right for the "Roman's Road"? What makes them the experts for me to fall in line with?

 

Instead of caring about TG4G Coalitions I think I'll just go over to the McDonald's (I've got a free sweet tea coupon). I'll spot a person to sit close to and strike up a conversation about Jesus. I probably won't talk with him about dispensations, covenants or Calvinism...just Jesus. Maybe he will get saved. Then I can organize a seminar about how I am the one doing it right. For $19.95 I'll teach you how to "do it right".

 

We don't have to be "Together"...for the Gospel. I can be for the gospel all by myself. My conference isn't so big...but the sweet tea is good...and when the guy at my conference gets saved there is just as much rejoicing by angels in heaven.

Ken, no one is saying anyone has to join the Gospel Coalition to win people to Christ. Obviously you are not very familiar with the organization.

The same arguments you used could be used against any cooperative fellowship of churches, or actually for individual Christians joining a church for that matter. I hope you do not have a Lone Ranger approach to Christianity, because that was certainly not the approach of the early Christians. That's not to say that all Christian fellowships, denominations, or organizations are equally valid or helpful, of course.

-------
Greg Long, Ed.D. (SBTS)

Pastor of Adult Ministries
Grace Church, Des Moines, IA

Adjunct Instructor
School of Divinity
Liberty University

Kevin T. Bauder's picture

Greg,

In this case, I don't share your heartburn over the FBFI featuring a discussion of dispensationalism. Granted, dispensationalism is not a fundamental. it is not even a mark of Fundamentalism. In an organization devoted to Fundamentalism simpliciter (perhaps the ACCC), a defense of dispensationalism would be out of place. But that is not where it is being offered.

This particular defense of dispensationalism is being offered at a meeting of the Fundamental Baptist Fellowship, International. By its name, the FBFI lets you know that it stands for more than just Fundamentalism. In its public, stated positions, it spells out in detail what else it stands for. That package includes dispensationalism (though that was not always the case).

For the FBFI to feature a defense of dispensationalism or a critique of covenant theology is not to elevate the issue to the level of the fundamentals. It is not to make dispensationalism a distinctive of Fundamentalism. Neither does an expression of concern that covenant theology is making inroads within Fundamentalism do these things. It is simply a statement that the FBFI prefers its own doctrinal system (the system that it believes is biblical) to flourish, within Fundamentalism as well as everywhere else. I really don't see why this should be a problem, and more than it should be a problem for the Free Presbyterians to express concern over the influence of dispensationalism within Fundamentalism.

I seriously doubt that any one of us is just a Fundamentalist. All of us are other things as well: Baptists or Presbyterians, dispensationalists or covenant theologians, Calvinists or Arminians. We all represent overlapping circles of ideas. One of the worst things that could happen to Fundamentalism is to foster a kind of doctrinal reductionism in which we mistake the fundamentals for the system of faith. To do that is to mistake the Christianity's esse for its bene esse. I much prefer the kind of Fundamentalism in which each of us advocates vigorously and fully (but charitably!) the system of faith that he understands the Bible to teach.

For myself, I promise not to preach Baptist distinctives at any meeting of the ACCC. I promise not to teach dispensationalism from the pulpit of a Bible Presbyterian church. I promise not to deny limited atonement in the classroom at Geneva Reformed Seminary. There are occasions when it is indecorous to focus upon one's distinctives. I am not persuaded, however, that this meeting is one of those occasions.

Duane Scott's picture

If there were a like button, I'd push it. Instead I'll just have to comment. That made me chuckle.

 

(That was in response to G Barkman's post two above. I haven't posted in years so don't know what I'm doing!)

Duane

Greg Long's picture

Duane, there are like buttons! Just below the post it says "like this."

-------
Greg Long, Ed.D. (SBTS)

Pastor of Adult Ministries
Grace Church, Des Moines, IA

Adjunct Instructor
School of Divinity
Liberty University

Ken Woodard's picture

Greg, What I am against is the subtle prideful attitude of ones that because they have had what some would consider "success" promote themselves as the model to follow.

I'm also against people that hitch their wagon to the current celebrity pastor, evangelist or theologian. I've been misled, used and victimized by enough of the fad leaders of the day that I first, last and all through the middle of seeing them look for the zipper that lets them out of their sheep suit. 

Call me a lone ranger if you will. But I'm more like Tonto once he realized Keemosabe shoots indians. 

Would anyone like to buy my used copies of "The Prayer of Jabez", "The purpose driven..." series, "88 reasons why Jesus will come in 1988", "Hyles church Manuel", a square foot of Liberty Mountain or a time share at Heritage USA?

ELittle's picture

I was talking to Beach W and he thought you came as a member of Miller Rd in 1989 at end of Ben J Pastorate-I thought it was later when Kevin B was Pastor 1990 or 91.

The old discussion between Dr Doran and Phil Johnson (over Dead Right) tremendously influenced me then your articles were a lifeline-especially 2010 ethos and comments and recent one on Minn  Bap.   WOW I needed those insights. I've struggled so many years. 

Some of these discussions remind me so much of things years ago in the Southwide Baptist Fellowship (Gary Coleman, Bouler, others) I am so glad to have just read Revival and Revivalism -IMHO we desperately need what was happening before Finney and even 1859 NY the sovereign effusion of the blessed Holy Spirit producing what they called "catholicity". Like the Herculean task of cleansing the Agean Stables with a mere shovel-IMPOSSIBLE in only one day-but digging in the river rather than the manure flowed the mighty cleansing stream to clean them out. Oh it so easy for me to be implacable, schismatic, or go over to the other ditch of compromise-I desperately need what only He can give me.  

 

ELittle

Kevin T. Bauder's picture

Brother Little,

You are one of the last people I ever expected to hear from in this forum. I don't know why, but it just never occurred to me that you might follow this conversation.

I was a member at old Miller Road during 1991 and 1992. For others who read this exchange, we ought to clarify that Kevin B does not mean Kevin Bauder. Do I hear correctly that Pastor B has gone into the SBC? Also, people might wish to know that brother Little was also a pastor at Miller Road--when? During the 1970s?

Perhaps I ought to clarify for other readers that Miller Road was the church that Jack built before he built the one in Hammond. Also, it was the church to which Jack's son Dave was sent when he could no longer stay in Hammond. and the church in which Dave was finally exposed. Spending time as a member of this church was an education in itself. I learned more about some things during my time there than I ever could in college, seminary, or postgrad studies. They were tough lessons, but the Lord has used them to shape me.

Please, please, please greet Beach and Chloye for me. They made the pastorate a light burden and a sweet responsibility.

Kevin

ELittle's picture

I was Pastor of Miller Rd 1971-1981 followed by Dave Hyles. Ordained by Lester Roloff, D D Hyles Anderson 1977, Completed Seminary Tenn Temple, Jack Hyles flew me to Chicago Ohare to meet him and Dave Gibbs urging I go full time President Christian Law Association-I visited Robert Sumner summer 1989 and was talking to Voyle Glover-went into Willow Creek Association (cool live band, preach Hybles sermons), searched in Southern Baptists turned Pentecostal-Jack Deere, Jack Taylor, Morris Sheets-then resume to 65 Southern Bap in DFW -finally reading MacArthur and others including Mike Horton, Larry DeBruyn, Bob DeWaay, Gary Gilley, then WOW David F Wells 5 books, finally Sharper Iron-read Doran debate Phil Johnson then all your posts Nick of Time and found  so much agreement with you! Did pulpit supply At Faith Baptist, Sachse, TX- you were first Pastor-ACE began Miller Rd 1970 and CLA allowed me to preach in up to 10 churches per week-every flavor-I did the same search you did for years to find Finney-by the way if Finney is the continental divide it must lie just East of Los Angeles with pragmatism ruling everything East of it.

THANK GOD FOR THESE DISCUSSIONS AND ESPECIALLY THE COMMENTS. I took 3 years of Greek and 2 Hebrew (last year of Hebrew II  I was the only student and the Professor was Jewish!) but that did little to get me ready for Miller Rd- I ought to write the story of "Miller Road the Inevitable Result of Charles Finney"-remember the title by Tom Chantry, Ergun Caner the inevitable result of Charles Finney (or something like that in his original title) 

I literally heard super Fundamentalists (as kid preacher) preach against onions, short sleeve shirts on men, eating out on Sunday and coffee

for a little more info see my web site ifbabuse.com and click on My IFB Story

ELittle

DanPhillips's picture

"it is surprising to discover that TGC has adopted doctrinal standards that de facto rule out most traditional dispensationalists. Its leadership appears to include no one who objects to Calvinism or to a fairly strongly-worded version of Lordship salvation"

 

What do those two sentences have to do with each other?

 

The notion that dispensationalism necessarily involves gutless-grace-ism, or necessarily excludes affirming the Biblical doctrine of the sovereignty of God, is part of what keeps many otherwise-Biblically-oriented Christians from considering it as seriously as they should.

Kevin T. Bauder's picture

Dan,

What they have to do with each other is that in both cases TGC has either erected formal barriers or else practiced informal ones that distance the organization from other gospel-believers.

There is, of course, no necessary connection between dispensationalism per se and a rejection of either Calvinism or Lordship Salvation per se.

In my own case, I'm a traditional dispensationalist, a moderate Calvinist (four-and-a-half points), and a mild opponent of some articulations of Lordship Salvation (if I can pick and choose what he says, I'll take Ryrie on his better days, though there are other things in Ryrie that leave me squeamish. Or I'll line up more-or-less with Darrell Bock on this issue. The worst position was the one that Zane Hodges was advocating during his later years. But, of course, the whole debate is a network of related issues, and taking a particular position on one issue doesn't always commit you to a particular position on another).

Hope that helps to clear things up.

Kevin

G. N. Barkman's picture

The last two posts touch on an important issue, namely that Reformed Theology and Covenant Theology are not synonyms.  Of course, in the minds of some they are, and it all hinges by what you mean when you use these terms.

Kenneth Good wrote a book, "Are Baptists Calvinists?"  His conclusion:  "yes."  He wrote another book, "Are Baptists Reformed?"  His conclusion:  "no."  Because Good equated "Reformed" with Covenant Theology, he concluded that Baptists are not Reformed.

Many Baptists today identify themselves as Reformed.  Many of them would also identify with Covenant Theology, but not all.  In other words, many use the word "Reformed" as a synonym for Calvinism without including CT.  Others insist that one must be CT to be considered Reformed.  Even among those who are not Dispensational, the degree of CT varies considerably, so much so that what SI readers would probably consider CT would not be accepted as CT by many who are TR.  (Totally Reformed)  And the band played on.

This is why it is probably better not to use terms like "Reformed/Covenant" to identify Calvinists who are not Dispensationalists.  It lumps into one category what, in truth, belongs in several smaller "lumps."

 

G. N. Barkman

DanPhillips's picture

Thanks very much, Kevin. If you ever read TWTG, I'll be interested to hear... well, anything you care to say! But particularly your thoughts on the extended sections on faith, repentance, and what I call "Gutless Gracers."

 

To your point re. the organizations, yes, I've always thought dispies and Calvinists should be best-buds and co-combatants. That it hasn't been so never has ceased to shock me, even though William Hendriksen upbraided me for trying to combine the two. Another witness is Bethlehem's "Evening on Eschatology," which featured all the major views... except for one very major American view.

 

You know the one.

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