Friday, April 23, 2010

CT on Warrengate, Horton's response and mine

Over at the Christianity Today (CT) Liveblog, editor Colin Hansen, author of the book Young, Restless, Reformed has written a post on the Warrengate fiasco. Consistent with CT's founding philosophy, Hansen has taken the New Evangelical stand on this topic, which we shall see and examine later.

Back when I first started reading up on the New Calvinist phenomenon after Hansen published his book detailing the movement, I came to notice that there are no essential differences between the ministry philosophy of the original New Evangelicals and the mainstream of the "New Calvinists". With this, I have coined the term "New Evangelical Calvinism" to refer to this movement. Since then, and especially with the Warrengate incident, further observations have confirmed my at-then fledgling suspicion of the New Evangelical philosophy and mood behind the "New Calvinism", with the "New Calvinism" thus manifesting itself as nothing more than New Evangelicalism version 2.0 . Why anyone wants to re-try a failed philosophy after seeing the failure of the original vision 50+ years later is anyone's guess.

In Hansen's article, the prevailing zeitgeist of being "nice" was amply represented there, as Hansen in the beginning described Michael Horton's perceptive yet extremely mild critique of Piper's invitation to Warren as "biting". Yes, you read it right. Pointing out where Warren does not conform to biblical principles in his conduct in an irenic tone is considered "biting". How far are we indeed from what is clearly taught in the text of Scripture?

Pastor John MacArthur in his book The Jesus you can't Ignore shows from the Gospel narratives how Jesus reacted to the false teaches of his day — the Pharisees, Scribes and Sadducees. As MacArthur states:

The Great Shepherd Himself was never far from open controversy with the most conspicuously religious inhabitants in all of Israel. Almost every chapter of the Gospels makes some reference to His running battle with the chief hypocrites of His day, and He made no effort whatsoever to be winsome in His encounters with them. He did not invite them to dialogue or engage in a friendly exchange of ideas.

As we are going to see, Jesus’ public ministry was barely underway when He invaded what they thought was their turf—the temple grounds in Jerusalem—and went on a righteous rampage against their mercenary control of Israel’s worship. He did the same things again during the final week before His crucifixion, immediately after His triumphal entry into the city. One of His last major public discourses was the solemn pronunciation of seven woes against the scribes and Pharisees. These were formal curses against them. That sermon was the farthest thing from a friendly dialogue. ...

That is a perfect summary of Jesus’ dealings with the Pharisees. It is blistering denunciation—a candid diatribe about the seriousness of their error. There is no conversation, no collegiality, no dialogue, and no cooperation. Only confrontation, condemnation, and (as Matthew records) curses against them.

Jesus’ compassion is certainly evident in two facts that bracket this declamation. First, Luke says that as He drew near the city and observed its full panorama for this final time, He paused and wept over it (Luke 19:41-44). And second, Matthew records a similar lament at the end of the seven woes (23:37). So we can be absolutely certain that as Jesus delivered this diatribe, His heart was full of compassion.

Yet that compassion is directed at the victims of the false teaching, not the false teachers themselves. There is no hint of sympathy, no proposal of clemency, no trace of kindness, no effort on Jesus’ part to be “nice” toward the Pharisees. Indeed, with these words Jesus formally and resoundingly pronounced their doom and then held them up publicly as a warning to others.

This is the polar opposite of any invitation to dialogue. He doesn’t say, “They’re basically good guys. They have pious intentions. They have some valid spiritual insights. Let’s have a conversation with them.” Instead, He says, “Keep your distance. Be on guard against their lifestyle and their influence. Follow them, and you are headed for the same condemnation they are.”

This approach would surely have earned Jesus a resounding outpouring of loud disapproval from today’s guardians of evangelical protocol. In fact, His approach to the Pharisees utterly debunks the cardinal points of conventional wisdom among modern and post-modern evangelicals—the neoevangelical fondness for eternal collegiality, and the Emerging infatuation with engaging all points of view in endless conversation. By today’s standards, Jesus’ words about the Pharisees and His treatment of them are breathtakingly severe. (pp. 19-21)

The infatuation with positivity that I have previously noticed is also criticized by MacArthur as follows:

Contemporary evangelicalism in general seems to have no taste whatsoever for any kind of doctrinal friction — much less open conflict with spiritual wolves. The Evangelical Manifesto ... expressing many more works of concern about evangelical pubic relations than it ever does for evangelical doctrinal soundness. The document confidently asserts that "the Evangelical message, 'good news' by definition, is overwhelmingly positive, and always position before it is negative." That's a considerable overstatement — especially given the fact that Paul's systematic outline of the gospel in Romans begins with the words, "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven" (Romans 1:18) and then goes on for almost three full chapters expounding on the depth and universality of human "ungodliness" and unrighteousness," which is what unleashed God's wrath in the first place. Only after he has made the bad news inescapable does Paul introduce the gospel's good news. ...

As we are going to see, Jesus Himself was not always positive before being negative. Some of His longest discourses, including all of Matthew 23, were entirely negative. (p. 15)

In times of greater doctrinal purity during the Reformation, the Reformers used strong language in denunciation of error. Luther for example called the Pope the Antichrist, and Lucas Cranach (the Elder) painted in a book a picture of Christ going to heaven on one page, with the opposing page showing the Pope descending to hell, an interesting work which I have the privilege of seeing (under a glass case) in 2005 when I visited Luther's home turned museum in Lutherstadt Wittenberg.

The Liberal/Modernist and now Post-Modernist zeitgeist has infiltrated the Church, and nowhere is this seen more clearly than in the New Evangelical and New Evangelical Calvinist movement. It is extremely revealing that Hansen called Horton's article "biting". One would have thought that the person of Jesus as biblically described was a raving Fundamentalist in Hansen's eyes as He does not conform to the "meek and mild" Jesus figurine with long brown hair and fuzzy eyes more likely to be seen in a dog begging its master for a favor.

Professor R. Scott Clark has chipped in on this issue on his Heidelbog with his perceptive thoughts here. He concludes with a question:

What becomes of Christian truth telling in an age when even the most gentle criticisms are regarded by evangelical leaders as “biting”?

What then indeed? Which is why I ignore the prevailing zeitgeist. Pandering to it and attempting to win the friendship of God and the world if consistently two-headed would do neither. The world always will be offended by the truth, and it seems Evangelicalism being soaked in the world's mentality thinks likewise. Since I am going to offend them anyway or risk offending God, why not just call a spade a spade, and follow the injunctions of Scripture on this matter instead of toning down biblically mandated polemics?

Hansen further states in his blog post, following Piper, what he thinks the issue is about:

... At the same time, reaction to Warren's invitation reveals something that demands reflection. Negative campaigning may be the shortest path to successful movement building. But it eventually leads to a fork in the road, offering the choice of constructive responsibility or destructive cynicism. By inviting Warren, Piper has challenged his followers to choose which path they will take.

While certainly pure negativity is destructive, Hansen misconstrues the issue as if criticism and obeying the doctrine of separation are forms of "destructive cynicism", rather than obedience to God's Word. It is sad that New Evangelicals are so saturated with the zeitgeist that they cannot lift themselves out of it, instead following the world in viewing any form of contending for the faith (cf Jude 1:3) as the unChristian thing to do. Instead, in their view, all forms of "Christianity" whether true or false must be allowed to the dialogue table it seems, whereby no criticism is ever allowed (only disagreement) much less the hurling of anathemas against unrepentant heretics as made by the Apostle Paul in Gal. 1:8-10. Well, I think that the New Evangelicals have found their first "destructive cynic" - the Apostle Paul himself in the book of Galatians! Fancy condemning a group of "Christians" to hell merely because they teach others that circumcision was a good thing to do. How unloving!

The last gaffe made by Hansen is his insistence that

... [New Evangelicalism was the] middle course between isolationist fundamentalism and ecumenical Protestantism

If not for the fact that the New Evangelicals truly believe that, it would have been laughable, but now it is just sad. Where were the Reformed churches during that time? Were they "isolationist fundamentalists" or "ecumenical Protestants"? There IS a third way even back then without the need for the New Evangelical compromise. Speaking of which, the New Evangelicalism IS from its inception ecumenical and now even more so with the signing of the ECT (Evangelical and Catholics Together) accords and the recent Manhatten Declaration. So did this third wave between "isolationist fundamentalism" and "ecumenical Protestantism" actually materialize? Or is it rather just the fusion of Liberal ministry philosophy with Evangelical theology, with that theology disappearing over the years as the Church becomes ever more and more pragmatic?

Prof. Mike Horton has responded tangentially to Hansen's blog article with a post on the White Horse Inn blog here. While he does raise certain excellent points, an issue of concern with his article is the Christians' responsibility to the others in the "hallway". Granted that there are issues which Christians can legitimately disagree on and still fellowship with each other, but shouldn't we treat the "hallway" conversations as more than mere conversations especially when seeing brethren who are straying or compromising on the Gospel (as in the case of Waren)? While certainly it is in the context of the Church and not a movement whereby discipline can be properly done, it is IMO not loving at all not to point out errors in another Christian even if they are seen in the "hallway" and not living within the same "room".

As it is now becoming sadly evident, the New Evangelical Calvinism is showing itself to be just New Evangelicalism version 2.0.


Anonymous said...

It is unfortunate that so many other reformed believers actually love something else (could it be the applause of men?) more than they love the gospel of Christ. I want to see Christ lifted up, and I want His gospel to be proclaimed in all its glory to everyone we can share it with, and it angers me that others would rather be "nice" and "friendly" with error than to ensure that Christ is exalted and His gospel preached.

PuritanReformed said...


I do not know to what extent the zeitgeist has actually infiltrated the Reformed churches, but historically it wasn't like that. Whatever my disagreement with Van Till, he was a man of principle. It is regretful that the Reformed churches and WTS-P at that time chose to focus on training pastors at the exclusion of reaching out to other Christians, instead of doing a "both-and".

Joel Tay said...

Completely agree with you!

Really enjoyed this particular book by MacArthur.

PuritanReformed said...