Phil Johnson: The Root of the Matter

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Joel Shaffer's picture

Phil Johnson  begins this article by stating that evangelicals are trying to get approval of the world in order to win the world where secular dogmas  are replacing Biblical dogmas  He gives some tangible examples, including a link to an evangelical conference whose purpose is "Supporting, encouraging, and empowering gay, lesbian, same-sex-attracted, and other LGBT Christians so they can experience the life-giving character of the historic Christian tradition."  So far so good.   

Then he connects those who are part of the gospel coalition are also drifting down this path as well.  He provides examples of TGC articles on gun control legislation and the latest Marvel movie to prove his point and then states that  "we must not abandon the focused simplicity of Luke 24:46-47 in favor of a social gospel that encompasses a large complex of racial, economic, and political issues. Every denomination, every educational institution, and every church that has ever made that error has seen a quick demise. I for one don't intend to watch in silence while the current generation repeats that mistake."   This is where he lost me.  First, I had to scour the TGC a long time to even find articles like these (I still haven't found one on Avengers Infinity War but I did find one on Black Panther) because they were so buried  among the many thousands of articles.  So then i checked out the articles that were considered "Popular" on the TGC website.   The overwhelming majority of articles/videos that are popular had titles such as "Be Encouraged About What the Spirit is Doing in the Church,"  "How to be Patient," "Teaching Ezekiel," The Revolutionary 'We': Rethinking Politics in a Divided Age," Why is Theology Important: Is Jesus Enough?" "Only Messy People Allowed: Towards a Culture of Grace," 7 Biblical Principles for Saving and Investing Your Money,"   "My Greatest Need as a College Student (which the author boiled down to church-based discipleship)"  I could go on and on but these topics seemed very much in line with what Sharper Iron would post. 

Is there merit to warn serious minded Bible-believing Christians of the dangers of secular ideologies replacing Biblical Doctrine?  Absolutely!  But to make serious accusations that those associated with TGC are somehow drifting from the true gospel into a social gospel based on several logical fallacies is irresponsible. 

By the way, here is a much better way to warn Bible-believing Christians when it comes to secular ideologies (such as identity politics)  in this article by John Ellis.  It is pure gold (make sure you work through the footnotes as well).



Aaron Blumer's picture


There is more validity to Phil's argument than may meet the eye. It lies in history. The slide into social causes as the focus of ministry has happened over and over and over and there are clear patterns to it. In the case of TGC, it was founded and is supposed to exist for the purpose of focus on the gospel of Christ. So getting involved in the hot social causes (which are the greatest current threat to that focus) is more significant than it would be for an entity that had a broader scope to begin with.

I haven't followed TGC's activities, so I'm not going to say Phil's right. But the bits I have seen suggest he may very well be right. It has happened so many times. I can't fault him for thinking he is seeing "same song, different verse."

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Joel Shaffer's picture

Yes there is a rather large history of Protestant Christians going down the slipper slope towards the social gospel, but it always was accompanied by abandoning the basic fundamentals of the faith.  I wrote about this 7 years ago.    I have done 27 years of Community Development (which some people would ascribe as social justice) as part of doing inner-city missions (We've also been very intentional in our evangelism)  I was warned for the first 15 years of our ministry that any social ministry was a distraction to the gospel (some are still very suspicious) But we've seen many, many come to faith in Christ and  It has never been a distraction to the gospel, but rather it has adorned the gospel.  We have raised up entrepreneurial-evangelists that used to be gang-members/drug-dealers whom we introduced to Christ that now use business as mission to disciple people in the inner-city.   Doing all the community development that we've done all these years has separated us in the eyes of my neighborhood from the prosperity gospel hucksters that take advantage of the poor in my neighborhood.   In my community, I don't have a choice in my discipleship of people of whether to address racial justice and poverty issues or not. If affects us daily.    I think that Phil Johnson and others that agree with him make ignorant critiques from a distance and frankly I'm very frustrated by it.  The hundreds of conservative evangelicals that I know of that are doing the same type of work that I am are in no danger of the social gospel because they embraced sound doctrine and they are passionately involved in making disciples that make disciples.   If there is one danger that I've seen, it has been more of a Kuyperian Transformationalist approach to culture that many seem to have embraced, but that is very, very different than the social gospel.     This is radically different than "same song, different verse."       

Andrew K's picture

Joel Shaffer wrote:

...If there is one danger that I've seen, it has been more of a Kuyperian Transformationalist approach to culture that many seem to have embraced, but that is very, very different than the social gospel."       

Side note: Kuyper wasn't as much of a transformationalist (Kuyperian) as most of his followers.

OK, continue.