Assignments have been done on my side, and immediately after I am done we have Frank Turk writing an open letter to Mike Horton regarding the latter's tendency towards promoting Antinomianism. If not for the fact that Turk has been wearing the Anti-discernment hat again, this time blaming the White Horse Inn (WHI) of creating this "monster", I guess I might have let it pass as I have many other things to do.
Turk's letter is an interesting piece to note, for it clarifies the difference between a Reformed and an Evangelical view of Law and Gospel. Perhaps in no other piece so far is the difference between the two views set out this clearly.
In this post, I will respond to Turk's open letter according to various topics, and show where Turk is in error.
Frank Turk and the "Discernment mafia"
The first thing we would want to look at the issue of the "discernment mafia". Since the publishing of Tim Challies' article attacking discernment ministries as doing evil as entertainment, Frank Turk has been on a crusade to attack "watchbloggers". Instead of discerning, Turk suggests that we should be involved in a local church and submit to the elders who are the ones who are to teach sound doctrine.
Now, of course there is nothing wrong with being involved in a local church. In fact, all believers should be in a local church. That is not the issue. The issue is whether discernment and blogging are to be done by non elders/pastors. Oh wait, the issue isn't even about that. After all, Pastor Ken Silva is a pastor.
The fact of the matter is that Frank Turk is a hypocrite. In that previous post, he says that "the focal point and center of discernment ought to be in the local church" (Emphasis his). Well, THAT particular post of his is NOT situated in the context of the local church. So much for consistency. So what exactly is wrong with "watchbloggers"? Well, I guess it is because the "watchbloggers" are not doing their discernment ministry Turk's way.
Fast forward to yesterday and Turk's open letter to Horton. What do we find in his open letter? In his open letter, Turk wrote:
What I am not talking about is people who are doing the legitimate work of elders who are accountable in their local churches, who are usually elders, and who display openness and transparency about their character and ministry by not hiding behind an alias or an internet nickname. What I am talking about is the avalanche of people who populate the internet via discussion boards, blogs, and social media who frequently demonstrate all the love and real compassion of a rock through one's window. They are people who, on paper, make a sound confession of faith, down to the mint and the cumin, and wouldn't know what to do if their Hindu neighbor invited them to a birthday party on Sunday morning — or how to turn the other cheek in order to make a foothold for the opportunity to share the Gospel. They usually don't attend church because they can't find one which is up to their doctrine snuff, and the reason is that they have made themselves into a private magisterium. They have never said or written anything for which they would apologize or reconsider because they have never been wrong.
So it seems that Turk's beef with the "discernment crowd" is that 1) they are not elders in their local church, 2) they do not display openness and transparency online, 3) they demonstrate all the love and real compassion of a rock through one's window.
In response to Turk's complaints, I agree with reason 2. Reason 3 is a blanket condemnation which is furthermore subjective. Furthermore, I don't think we need to look far to see Frank's own snarkiness, so that becomes a moot point. As for reason 1, is Turk an elder or pastor in any church, and if so, which church? That would be truly an interesting fact to know. After all, if Turk is not an elder or pastor, he frankly is a hypocrite in this regard. (No pun intended)
Almost comically, Turk then practically demanded that Horton rebuke the "discernment crowd" because they use the Reformed lingo of the Law Gospel distinction and are passionate about a new reformation. If that isn't Guilt by Association, nothing is. Presumably, Horton is held responsible for the conduct of people he hardly knows.
The worst part about this section of Turk's Open Letter is the insinuation that the Law Gospel Distinction is a distinctive WHI and Hortonite teaching. Nevermind that this is classic Reformed orthodoxy going back to the 16th century at least. Nevermind that there are other Reformed Christians who have no relation to Horton or WHI or even WSC who hold to these classical Reformed distinctives. Horton is the bogeyman for all the problems Evangelicalism has with the rise of the "discernment mafia". Before we go deeper into fantasy world, perhaps we should remind ourselves that Horton is a mere professor not a ruler who controls the actions of anyone who uses the language of classic Reformed orthodoxy.
The subjunctive mood?
Having had Greek classes, Turk's pontification on the subjunctive mood being a third mood distinct between the indicative (Gospel) and imperative (Law) left me speechless. Since he mentions the New Testament, it is a legitimate assumption that he is referring to the subjunctive mood in koine Greek as found in the Greek New Testament. Well, technically speaking of course he is right. There is also the mood called the optative as well, and who can forget the infinitive? And of course, we can count the participle as a separate "mood" as well I guess?
The problem here is that when the Law-Gospel distinction is expressed in term of the indicative versus the imperative, we are not talking about verbal moods (or tenses). We are rather grouping everything into "do" and "done". Subjunctive as such can function both ways, depending on the context. A hina plus a subjunctive for example can be a mere factual statement (purpose/result clause or content), but a hortatory subjunctive ("Let us __") has a volitional force of "Do".
Turk is therefore in error at this point.
Gospel as transformative or declarative?
The core problem with Turk is his view of the Gospel. Classical Reformed orthodoxy teaches that the Gospel is good news period. The Gospel is proclaimed to sinners of what Christ has done for them. Over and over, the Scriptures starts with proclaiming the Gospel, and then proclaim the law (in its third use) as how we ought to live in light of the Gospel. In epistles like Romans, the model is Law (first use), then Gospel, then Law (third use).
According to Turk, the Gospel must be seen as something that God has done for us which results in "the advantages of declared righteousness". Therefore, the Gospel itself is transformative. Whereas the Reformed position is that the Gospel is declarative, Turk and I suspect many Evangelicals think of the Gospel as transformative. Therefore, it is the Gospel that must transform lives, which brings us to the next point.
Confusion of Justification and Regeneration
Turk's view of the Gospel confuses justification and regeneration. Justification is a forensic declaration by God that a sinner is considered right before God. In justification, there is no actual change in the sinner, which is after all why it is called forensic! To say that the Gospel is transformative is to say that justification as a process creates sanctification. But that is the error of Rome and all Semi-Pelagianism. Justification does not create sanctification. Justification is a separate process altogether apart from works, so how can we smuggle works into the backdoor?
The problems lies in the confusion of justification and regeneration. In regeneration, the Spirit of God starts the process of sanctification in the believer's life. In Reformed orthodoxy, regeneration is the basis for both sanctification and faith. Faith logically results in Justification. Yet regeneration is neither justification or sanctification. Sanctification follows justification temporally not because the "Gospel transforms sinners", but because the same Spirit that gives faith unto justification also is in the process of sanctifying sinners. The Gospel is God's instrument to evoke justifying faith, but justifying faith and sanctification are two different things, much less the Gospel and sanctification.
Turk's failure to understand this probably comes because of the problems inherent in both sides of the Lordship Controversy. As Dr. R. Scott Clark remarks:
It is not surprising that there is a backlash from some non-confessional evangelical quarters regarding the use of the law. It’s been this way since at least the start of the so-called “Lordship Controversy” in the late 1980s. One of the features of that controversy was its disconnection from the Reformation. Both sides appealed to the Protestants but both sides ignored the Protestant confessions where all of this is worked out exquisitely and briefly.
Turk is thus in error as he reveals that he does not understand the relation between the Gospel, faith, justification, regeneration and sanctification.
Means of Grace versus Spiritual Disciplines
The last point is a relatively minor point in the dispute, but we can see in here a problem with modern Evangelicalism with its failure to understand the means of grace. Turk shows this in his denigration of the sacraments as "the Gospel is made the centerpiece alone on the table". Besides the failure to understand the Gospel as declarative not transformative, it is illuminating that Turk and fellow Evangelicals do not think highly of the sacraments. Yet, we know that the whole spiritual discipline movement a la Richard Foster and Dallas Willard have been gaining steam. So to come and receive from the Lord what He has ordained to be tokens of His love for our comfort (the means of grace) is not looked on as being important. Yet, to do unbiblical "disciplines" such as lectio divina, contemplative prayer etc. somehow is very "spiritual". I think the Bible does talk about such an attitude:
Now the rabble that was among them had a strong craving. And the people of Israel also wept again and said, “Oh that we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. But now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.” (Num. 11:4-6)
Just as God gave the Israelite manna from heaven, yet the Israelites were not content with what God had provided and lusted after the food of Egypt, so too modern Evangelicals are not content with the provision of God's grace through His appointed means, but crave after "spiritual experiences" and follow their spiritual lusts to indulge in "spiritual disciplines", of which God has not thought fit to inform us of.
Is it no wonder that God is not in any of these "disciplines"?
In conclusion, Frank Turk is in error in his view of the Law and the Gospel. We should reject his advice as being not in line with Scripture, and his attack on "watchbloggers" as being extremely hypocritical. While I am sure he has good motives, he is blind to his own faults and we will see if he takes correction. Since he claims that the "watchbloggers" have "never said or written anything for which they would apologize or reconsider because they have never been wrong," we will see if he lives consistent with his position, or live otherwise. Amen.
It seems that Frank Turk's bone of contention is with Horton's "pastoral theology", not his "confessed theology". Go figure!