Why Are Non-Christians Tgc15 Panelists?

"Not everyone on the panel is an ally—that is, a born-again Christian with whom we can go 'a long way down the road.' All, though, are co-belligerents—that is, people committed to promoting justice in our neighborhoods..." TGC

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dmyers's picture

Seems to me to be a thoughtful (and correct) defense to the inevitable complaints about the makeup of their two racial reconciliation panels.

And the rest of the quote above regarding the purpose of the panels in question is:  "building trust between law enforcement and our communities, and finding a place for local churches to play a role in racial reconciliation efforts.  In Orlando, we hope to come together for a lively conversation about how local church leaders can best engage their communities for the common good and human flourishing when it comes to justice, mercy, and racial reconciliation."

Bert Perry's picture

It strikes me that instead of panels and a grand forum, maybe.....just maybe....quietly start to build relationships in neighborhoods not your own?  Quietly approach pastors in the area and ask what might be done?  Quietly approach the police and see what might help?

Maybe I'm way off base here, but it does seem to me that a lot of times, Christians are addicted to the press, and ironically do things "to get press" that actually reduce the amount of good press we could get.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Jay's picture

I get the idea of working towards racial reconciliation.  I get the idea of dealing with difficult issues in a realistic, Scriptural way.

What I don't understand are the questions that I have:

  • "As allies, TGC Council Members come together to accomplish the same fundamental goal—to keep the gospel central in preaching, teaching, and living" (from the article) - how can we keep the gospel central when we are are making alliances with nonbelievers because of the 'doctrine of cobelligerency'.
  • What exactly is the 'doctrine of cobelligerency', aside from their hat tip to Francis Schaffer?  Where is it taught in the Bible?
  • Why are they pushing aside valuable time spent on the gospel (which is kind of the whole point of their existence) for this topic now? 
  • Why did they select these non-believers to speak?  What criteria were used?  Who approved of them?
  • Did the TGC Council members agree on this idea before it was launched?  Was it a universal and unanimous decision?
  • Why race issues and not, say, abortion? Is this the beginning of a trend - eg 'co-belligerency for religious freedom' with LDS and Catholics at next year's conference?

I don't understand this.  If I didn't know better, I'd say they are pandering.  But if I'm spending money and time to belong to a Coalition about the Gospel, then I want it to be about The Gospel, not social issues.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Larry Nelson's picture


You raised some valid questions, which got me to Googling.  Not saying this expresses my thoughts or conclusions, but here is one opinion piece I found that takes a stab at some of the answers:



Bert Perry's picture

... and if course I think I do it every day.  As a conservative, I work with other conservatives--evangelicals, Mormons, atheists, Catholics, you name it--because I think that this brand of politics is closest to what the Bible commends to us.  But I do it as part of the "Tea Party", the GOP, and the like--not as part of the Gospel Coalition.

And that's the big thing that grates on me, along with a general love of symposia that increasingly seems to pervade our society.  If it's about the Gospel openly, great.  If it's an outflowing of the Gospel in interaction with nonbelievers, fine, but let's not put it under the banner of "Gospel".  This reminds me a bit of "Elephant Room 2".

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Joel Shaffer's picture

Jay and others,

I think that Larry's link is a good start, but this workshop would be a huge benefit to me, if I were able to go because I minister in a drug-infested, gang-riddled, neighborhood where the relationship is strained between the police and the community.  And I know that there is a growing segment of the gospel coalition that is working in violent urban areas with much racial strife.   Because the gospel has social implications, I believe this session is totally appropriate....that it isn't at all pushing aside the gospel to talk about these issues.  When we proclaim the gospel, we don't do it in a vacuum.   If we are to love the community that we serve, we better know the in and outs of it and its systems in order to navigate it.  

As for Co-Billegerence, maybe a better tem that Mohler uses and one that we might be more familiar with is common grace.  I am guessing that since there is a large PCA group within the gospel coalition, Francis Schaefer and the term co-belligerence is known.  But there is a way to do it without compromising one's mission and theology.  For years as an urban missionary, I've worked with non-Christian socialist community organizers, the police, and the schools to rid my block of several drug houses.  We joined together for the good of the neighborhood and were able to shut down these crack and weed houses using our combined assets and resources that we all brought to the table.  In the mean time, I was able to connect with non-Christian social workers, educators, community organizers, law enforcement, politicians, and concerned neighbors.  Also, I was able to have many many conversations about Jesus with several of these people that I wouldn't have ever rubbed shoulders with.       

Jay's picture


Thank you for your input on this thread.  I think that there is a place and time for these kinds of seminars and campaigns, but I'm not sure that I would want the Gospel Coalition to make it a heavy focus of the National Conference. I'm not sure that one panel discussion would be sufficient to even begin to untangle the tapestry of race relations here in the US.  If they are serious about helping, then record it and post it online for anyone (not just national conference attendees) to watch and mediate on.  That way, you aren't limited to just an hour or two for a panel.  Make it a week long thing.

I'm really concerned that the people who are invited to speak about this will give poor advice because they are not going to approach bigotry, anger, bitterness, envy, and true justice (not the kind of 'justice' that means vengeance) from a Biblical position.  I'm in agreement with this quote from Alta-Forma:

This Facebook Comment nailed it:

Doug Hibbard:

“Right, because the solution to the problems being discussed will be found without the Gospel. We’re not talking about a fixing a busted well here in town, which is a short-term issue with a clear solution. We’re talking about issues that need deep-seated, longterm fixes related to the nature of humanity and the problems that accompany that nature.

In short, problems that are only fixable on one side of the Gospel, because they are fixed by becoming more obedient to the Word of God. Any other solution that will work, even temporally, requires using the force of law to coerce non-believers to act in accordance with the Word of God. And that never ends well.”

In other words, what TGC is doing is short-sighted, and I would go so far as to say it is anti-Gospel. Social / Political efforts like this are like using bandaids to cure cancer.

and this:

JD Hall says:

Interestingly, none of the non-believers on that panel will agree with the fundamental, underlying problem… sin. Likewise, none of those non-believers on the panel will agree with the solution… the Gospel.

Oh, there may be good thoughts. But they won’t be Gospel thoughts. We watched with great sadness as Russell Moore and Thabiti Anyabwile, in the days following the Ferguson verdict, championed legal mandates for officers to wear Go-Pro cameras. A good suggestion that might be, but it’s not a Gospel solution to a sin problem. And frankly, that’s what the problems laced in the socially-progressive terms of “racial reconciliation” and “social justice” need – the Gospel. You know…from the Gospel Coalition.

This new development brings several questions to mind:

Does this expose TGC for what its always actually been? Does TGC believe the Gospel of Jesus is powerful enough to change lives and bring healing to the real wounds caused by social atrocities, or does it need some “help” from the world to get the job done?

As David Alves says:

“Does anyone find it both painful and ironic that the Gospel Coalition is looking to enemies of the Gospel to provide answers to an issue that only the Gospel can fix?”

Is there not a Gospel-believing human out there that can share wisdom on race relations? If so, why did they choose unregenerate people to speak on these issues instead?

I've been worried about TGC for a while now - the way that they have blocked anyone who questioned them or their positions, the deafening silence on Mark Driscoll's very public flameout after his involvement with them...and now it seems like they're getting pulled in a direction when the rudder is being skewed by someone (or someones - I don't know who or for sure) with an agenda that pushes the Gospel aside in favor of their agenda.  And if they start making since they have already started making that course alteration with this conference, my alarm is growing rapidly. TGC is what, ten years old?  They should still be firmly committed to the Gospel as their primary toolset.  And they say that they are. We just need to talk with  "people committed to promoting justice in our neighborhoods, building trust between law enforcement and our communities, and finding a place for local churches to play a role in racial reconciliation efforts."

They say that "we hope to come together for a lively conversation about how local church leaders can best engage their communities for the common good and human flourishing when it comes to justice, mercy, and racial reconciliation". But given the way that they 'come together for a lively conversation' with existing supporters that disagree, I've got a feeling that this presentation will be very lopsided.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Joel Shaffer's picture


I have a "wait and see" approach to see how this is all handled. We don't know what is going to be said.   The comments on facebook are assuming the worst case scenario and have also created a major false dilemma between the gospel and social justice.    Again, the gospel has major social implications.  The apostle Paul demonstrates this in the book of Galatians when he confronts Peter with his racial prejudice for not acting in line with the truth of gospel (Gal. 2:14)   Preaching the gospel does not occur in a social vacuum.  The tension of loving our neighbors while we preach the gospel sometimes means dealing with certain systems within government, law enforcement, the justice system, and etc....  

I am saddened by facebook commenter JD Hall's sadness of Russell Moore and Thabiti Anyabwile that he doesn't realize that the gospel has social implications.  Also, that he actually thinks that racial reconciliation and social justice are somehow socially progressive terms.   The term racial reconciliation as we know it was birthed from John Perkins, a black conservative evangelical civil rights activist that was beaten and tortured by white police in Mississippi in 1970 in a response to an economic boycott so that blacks could achieve voting rights without intimidation.  After he was beaten and tortured in the jail, he realized that the gospel that he was preaching must also reconcile people together (Eph. 2:11-22).    Perkins also established the CCDA, which is a loose affiliation of urban ministries that holistically ministers to the poor and racial reconciliation has always been one of its core values.  A decade later, Promise Keepers popularized the term by making Racial Reconciliation one of their marks of a promise keeper.    

As for the term social justice, it came from Catholic Social teaching.  Pope Pius XI, in his Quadragesimo Anno back in 1935, referred to social justice as the “norms of the common good.”  But even further back, Pope Leo XIII provided certain parameters for the common good with his “Rerum Novarum” which supported workers rights, yet fiercely rejected socialism.   Recently these terms have been hijacked by the left and now are being ignorantly paraded by certain conservatives as a liberal-progressive agenda that Christians should reject without much theological reflection. 

It makes me realize that many fundamentalists and conservatives would definitely benefit from a book that I intend to write sometime called "Social Justice without the Social Gospel." 

Jay's picture


Appreciate your input once again.  I see your point about JD Hall's comment and agree with you.  It is our (and I include myself here) shame that our churches remain largely segregated from 9 AM -12 PM on Sunday mornings, and it's something that I've found that I think about a lot lately.

The trick is to be anti-TGC drift, as I am, without coming across as a bigot or prejudiced white man that believes we're all good at status quo.  I don't want to wade into the Trayvon Martin or Eric Gardner mess because I don't know a lot about the details of those cases, but I should say that based on what I know, I support the cops in both cases.  I abhor the shameless politiciziation of both cases by groups headed by 'Rev.' Jesse Jackson and 'Rev.' Al Sharpton and their ilk.  I thought the President was stupid to wade into the waters of both cases during their trials because the President shouldn't be intervening in cases like that while they are being adjudicated.  But it does bother me that probably 90% of "our" churches are "whiter than white with white on top and who swim in a sea of white".  Many moons ago, I took a friend who was black to my church.  It was the first time I'd brought someone who was a friend to church, I think, and she told me when she walked in that everyone would know she was a visitor.  That memory and her remark still haunts me.

We need to see what they will say, for sure.  But I think it's legitimate to be concerned about the decisions made by the leadership at TGC and ask if they're really all about the Gospel, or if this is just a group of friends that just happen to hang out because Jesus is involved somehow.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Bert Perry's picture

Joel, I am torn over whether i ought to pray that you write that book, or that your ministry is so fruitful you don't get the chance.  :^)

And it's off topic, but one thing I love about the "minority" people who come to my church now is that they haven't been convinced that their feet need to be nailed to the floor with their spine firmly attached to a piece of rebar sunk into the foundation.  Met a family over Easter from Cleveland where the father said he'd track me down and send me a ticket to the Browns-Steelers game next fall.  Not quite sure whether he was joking or serious (those tickets have to be expensive, right?), but I'll be saving a couple of days of vacation in case he was serious, and I'll be praying to see his son and daughter (who attend college here) at church and looking out for them.

Not that the son totally needs looking after.  He's a defensive lineman for a local college, and when I looked up footage, let's just say that line play (as viewed from the offensive side) was busy around his position.  Not that big, but he was apparently getting it done at that level.  :^)

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Joel Shaffer's picture

I've interacted enough to realize that Sharper Iron regulars mean well and are not prejudiced bigots.  Because of my love for the church and because of my position as an urban missionary, I try to bring a unique perspective that maybe some people haven't considered in dealing with certain social and racial issues.   

I have my issues with TGC, especially when it appeared to be more of a "good-ole-boy" club that seemed more about protecting C.J. Mahaney than getting at the truth of what happened when allegations of abuse cover up surfaced about Sovereign Grace ministries.  And I am not necessarily a big fan of its celebrity-driveness (which you are quite right with Mark Driscoll) yet my church does belong to TGC.  

As for Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, unfortunately they often make things worse as race-baiters and race-profiteers.   I really have enjoyed Thabiti Anyabwile's blog in the aftermath of the Ferguson race riots.  His posts are very thoughtful and definitely rise above the noise of the left and right, charting a pretty good path for dealing with these justice issues without compromising the gospel.  

I am always encouraged by the little steps of people from Sharper Iron (such as Bert Perry) when it comes to racial reconciliation.  There is definitely a place for the big seminars at TGC, but it will never be as effective as the development of friendships across racial lines..........

dcbii's picture


Joel Shaffer wrote:

I've interacted enough to realize that Sharper Iron regulars mean well and are not prejudiced bigots.

Thanks awfully.  High praise indeed.


Because of my love for the church and because of my position as an urban missionary, I try to bring a unique perspective that maybe some people haven't considered in dealing with certain social and racial issues.

As one of the moderators here, I really appreciate getting your perspective on ministry, even though I don't come to the same conclusions on some issues that you do.

Dave Barnhart

Bert Perry's picture

This is way off topic, but it strikes me that there are probably times that I do unintentionally come across as bigoted.  Joel, if you've got any pointers, I'm game.  No sense shooting down good ministry by inadvertent slights.  I'm guessing that picking a fight about Ferguson and the like are prime suspects.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Joel Shaffer's picture

Thanks for asking, but also I am the first to admit that I don't know all the answers.  I am still learning.  Also realize that my context is more among the urban poor, although I am also friends with many African-Americans that are my ministry colleagues, or schoo teachers, or social workers, and etc...throughout my city and throughout the Midwest.   

1.  Be a good listener.  This is one that I struggle with the most because I am very outgoing and love to tell stories, which means I often have to check myself in this area. Yet it is so crucial to establishing relationships.

2.  Be empathetic.  As I listen to their stories, sometimes I may not agree with a conclusion that some make (for instance, support for more government social policies and programs), but I will always empathize with the struggles and pain they've experienced when it comes to white privilege.  

3.  Be yourself/real.  There are many other examples that I could use, but let me share this concept within the context of music.  Even though I often defend Christian Hip-Hop here on Sharper Iron, it is not necessarily for the sake of relevance.  Hip-Hop culture values authenticity (as Larry WIlmore says, "keeping it 100") much more than someone that tries to be something that they're not.  I remember one time our lead pastor of our church giving a couple young adults (that were gang members) a ride home from a bible study and earlier he had been listening to Opera (Richard Wagner) in his CD player of his car.  Even though he also listens to Christian Hip-Hop at times, he purposely kept Opera music going in the car and these students really respected him for it because he was being himself/real.

4.  Be family.  In my impoverished neighborhood, most of the African-American families are fragmented  (however in middle-class/upper middle class black communities, there is much more family stability).  Either way, African-Americans value familial relationships and will extend it beyond blood.  My wife and I are considered "Mom and Pops" to several students that we mentored.  We are considered "a brother, a sister, or a cousin" with those who are our own age, and we have been adopted as their "white children" by grandmothers.   Hospitality is a two-way street.  My 4 children (ages 8-16) know several of my former students as "uncle" or "aunt" or as their big brother and sister.  As I look at it, what probably brought our family so close to so many African-Americans within our ministry was dealing with the violence and grieving together.  I've lost count (at least 25) as to how many students of mine that have been shot and killed.  

5.  Be blunt/direct.  If you are a good listener, you are empathetic, you are real, and they know that you love them like family, you can be quite blunt and direct to speak truth in their lives.  But know that bluntness and directness is a two-way street!  I also have been called out on several things.   By the way, recently I was blunt/direct with someone in our ministry that I didn't know very well and he didn't know that side of me and it blew up because he felt disrespected.  We worked it out, but it became a lesson to me that the relationship wasn't quite established enough to be blunt and direct.  The positive thing is that love covers a multitude of sins.  And we ended up growing closer through it.  

There are probably more, but I gotta get back to my work.......