Sunday, December 07, 2014

Response to D.A. Carson's Themolios' YRR "reflections"

Themolios is currently the magazine of the Gospel Coalition. In volume 39 number 3 published this year (2014), Dr. D.A. Carson decided to write an editorial reflecting on the failures of the Young, Restless, Reformed (YRR) movement [D.A. Carson, "The Underbelly of Revival: Five Reflections on Various Failures in the Young, Restless, and Reformed Movement," Themolios 39:3 (2014): 405-10]. The editorial is remarkable both for what it does say and what it does not say. Positively, it, despite some nuancing from Carson, proves the point that the YRR movement, as a movement, is essentially dead, realizing my prediction made more than a year ago. Individual points about the need for greater watchfulness in a movement is likewise great advice, as well as the dangers in high growth ministries and the impact the failures of high profile ministers would have, especially of pastors that have not been adequately tested.

Negatively, what is more remarkable is what it does not say. In reflecting on the failures of the YRR movement, Carson's focus is on the generic concept of revivals and the dangers and pitfalls in them. But this presupposes that the YRR movement is indeed a "revival" in the same sense as the First Great Awakening. What's even worse is that the reflections is silent with regards to whether the men behind the YRR movement did not in any way contribute to the failures of the movement. Assuming the Edwardsian idea of revivals having boom and bust seasons does not mean that one can just point to cycles of revivals and exonerate the human failings within the movement.

Carson decided to reflect on the YRR movement by drawing analogies to what he had experienced in Quebec and the more well-known happenings in South Korea. Obviously, I do not know much about what had happened in Quebec. But let us grant Carson that what happened in Quebec was a true boom and bust cycle of revival. What has Quebec got to do with TGC? It is insufficient to point to surface similarities; one has to actually deal with the specific issues involved. Furthermore, Carson IS one of the founding members of TGC, whereas I doubt he had the same amount of influence in what had transpired in Quebec. Concerning the YRR movement, Carson has great influence over it, so surely whatever reflections he should be having should reflect on the role he himself play, or didn't play, concerning the failure of the YRR movement, or does he think he has done absolutely nothing wrong in his management of TGC?

In an illustration of why biblical theologians probably shouldn't be doing church history, Carson utilized the analogy of the South Korean experience, conveniently ignoring the fact that South Korea has problems with toleration of heretics like David Yonggi Cho in their midst. Last I know, God does not bless heresy or the toleration of heresy. Even worse is when Carson raised the issue of the Kentucky revivals in the early 19th century. Otherwise known as the Cane Ridge revivals, those "revival meetings" were chaotic and emotional and denounced by orthodox churchmen, and marked the beginning of revivalISM and the decay of orthodox Christianity in American Evangelical circles. One fruit of those "revivals" was Barton Stone (of Stone-Campbell fame) and his "Christian church" movement. Stone denied the Trinity, and was against denominataionlism in principle (which is why he just insists on being called "Christians.") Another fruit of the frontier revivals was the Cumberland Presbyterian church with its denial of God's sovereignty and synergism. It is astonishing to see Carson referenced the Kentucky revivals since that was mostly the work of Man with raw emotions running unchecked. The church historian Iain Murray in his book Revival and Revivalism, while bein pro-revival (in the Edwardsian sense) decried the Kentucky revivals as the corruption of true revivals and thus the beginning of revivalism. Does Carson really think that the Kentucky revivals should be appealed to to mitigate the failures of the YRR movement? I guess if Carson wants to yoke the YRR to a profoundly unbiblical, man-centered and false "revival," that is his prerogative.

As I have said, the silence is deafening on Carson's reflections on his own role in the failures of the YRR movement. And that to me is the crux of the problems with this editorial. Carson's editorial itself is not totally wrong. However, if that is all Carson can write about the failures of the YRR movement, it betrays a sentiment that none of the big shots in TGC even think that they have done any wrong to contribute to its failings. This is despite the overwhelming evidence for how people like John Piper had promoted Mark Driscoll, how TGC have totally mishandled the Elephant Room fiasco, and we can continue adding to the list with items like this. To put it simply, TGC has quite a lot of repenting to do, and it astonishes me that Carson can be so blind to the sins he is guilty of in his role as a TGC council member. Sin, as the Bible teaches, is not merely the commission of what is against God's Law, but also the failure to do what God's Law positively commands (cf WSC 14 "any want of conformity unto... the Law of God"). Carson might not have not positively violated God's Law per se on this issue, but he certainly failed to do what God's Law positively commands with regards to his role in TGC. And just as sin is an offense to a holy God, so the presence of sin at the highest levels of the YRR establishment will certainly mean the withdrawal of God's blessings from it.

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