Monday, June 21, 2010

Ray Ortlund and the self-serving attack on "TRs"

I have been comparing the New Calvinists with the New Evangelicals, and the same sort of rotten attitude is common in these two movements. Nowhere is this more evident than this attack piece by Ray Ortlund at the Gospel Coalition blog space here. Darrel Hart has responded quite well here at his blog, and I am not going to re-invent the wheel. Rather, let's analyze the entire article to see the flaws in it.

I believe in the sovereignty of God, the Five Points of Calvinism, the Solas of the Reformation, I believe that grace precedes faith in regeneration. Theologically, I am Reformed. Sociologically, I am simply a Christian – or at least I want to be. The tricky thing about our hearts is that they can turn even a good thing into an engine of oppression. It happens when our theological distinctives make us aloof from other Christians. - Ortlund

The problem here is that Ortlund does not even define who and what makes a Christian. Of course it is true that there is a problem "when our theological distinctives make us aloof from other Christians", but who are these Christians? Can we regard those who deny the Deity of Christ for example "Christians"? How about those who deny the Trinity like T.D. Jakes? Doctrinal arminians and practical Semi-Palagians like Rick Warren? Certainly, there is latitude in so-called secondary doctrines upon which Christians may legitimately differ, but to say that "theological distinctives" itself make us aloof is itself a theological/philosophical distinctive that makes Ortlund aloof from the so-called TRs. Ortlund needs to heeds his own advice instead of attacking the brethren.

The Judaizers in Galatia did not see their distinctive – the rite of circumcision – as problematic. They could claim biblical authority for it in Genesis 17 and the Abrahamic covenant. But their distinctive functioned as an addition to the all-sufficiency of Jesus himself. - Ortlund

The problem with the Judaizers were that they distorted the Gospel. Is Ortlund saying that getting the Gospel right (which is what the TRs are trying to do) is an addition to the Gospel? So a right Gospel is an addition to the Gospel? Go figure.

But no matter how well argued our position is biblically, if it functions in our hearts as an addition to Jesus, it ends up as a form of legalistic divisiveness - Ortlund

Which "Jesus"? Can one define Jesus apart from what the Scriptures claim He is? As Prof R. Scott Clark mused, "one wonders whether Ortlund is telling us to be conformed to the Christ we confess or another confession of Christ".

But the “whiff test” that something was wrong in those Galatian churches was more subtle than theology alone. The problem was also sociological. ... By emphasizing their distinctive, they want you to feel excluded so that you will conform to them - Ortlund

Ortlund has yet to define "Gospel" and "Christian". We can perhaps more truthfully rephrase Ortlund's phrase as follows:

By emphasizing their Gospel distinctive, Christians want non-Christians to feel excluded so that you will conform to the Gospel.

I really do not see any problem with that.

But the gospel makes full inclusion in the church easy to attain. It re-sets everyone’s status in terms of God’s grace alone. God’s grace in Christ crucified, and nothing more. He alone makes us kosher. He himself. -Ortlund

Of course. But ONLY the true Gospel did that, not the "gospel" of the Judaizers for instance.

In other words, “When Christians, whatever the label or badge or shibboleth, start pressuring you to come into line with their distinctive, you know something’s wrong. - Ortlund

Of course what happens when the distinctive is the Gospel? Remember, Ortlund has yet to define "Gospel" and "Christian".

They want to enhance their own significance by your conformity to them: &c - Ortlund

Funny how Ortlund can be so sure of the psychological state of the TRs. One wonders why these New Calvinists always like to psycho-analyze others and judge them (cf Mt. 7:1).

Let Jesus alone stand forth in my theology, in my emotional well-being and in my relationships with other Christians! - Ortlund

Most certainly. The question however is: which "Jesus"? Can the Jesus of the Jehovah Witnesses for example qualify? If not, then aren't you positing at least one "theological distinctive" here?

This is the acid test of a truly Reformed ministry – that other believers need not be Reformed in order to be respected and included in our hearts. - Ortlund

Of course since few people (except the hyper-Calvinists) claim that only Reformed people are Christians, why is Ortlund creating straw-men here? We evaluate people according to the Gospel, which has lots of theological distinctives of its own. Classical Arminianism for example is contrary to the Gospel, as the Synod of Dordt ruled.

What unifies the church is the gospel. What defines the gospel is the Bible. What interprets the Bible correctly is a hermeneutic centered on Jesus Christ crucified, the all-sufficient Savior of sinners, who gives himself away on terms of radical grace to all alike. What proves that that gospel hermeneutic has captured our hearts is that we are not looking down on other believers but lifting them up, not seeing ourselves as better but grateful for their contribution to the cause, not standing aloof but embracing them freely, not wishing they would become like us but serving them in love. - Ortlund

Certainly what unifies the church is the Gospel, and what defines the Gospel is the Bible. But what is it exactly? That is the core problem with the so-called Gospel-centered movement! Show me one evangelical heresy which does not claim to be true to Scripture and the Gospel! The Oneness Pentecostal who deny the Trinity claim to be true to Scripture and the Gospel. The Rick Warrens, the Joel Osteens, even the blasphemous TBN (Trinity Broadcast Network) and the NAR (New Apostolic Reformation) all claim to be true to Scripture and the Gospel. These two sentences are thus tautologies and have zero cognitive value at all. Ortlund might as well say that "Gospel-believing Christians believe the Gospel" which is by definition always true and perfectly useless.

The last part where Ortlund claims that we should not wish that other Christians "become like us" is very vague. If by that, he means that we should not wish that other Christians embrace doctrines and practices which are more in line with Scripture, then the contention is certainly wrong.

Even if you disagree with them in some ways, do you learn from them? - Ortlund

Unqualified learning is wrong. You do not learn error from those in error, only what is true if there is any. It is an assumption that others always have something for us to learn. They very well may, but they may not have anything for us to learn of also.

Let this gracious doctrine make you a fun person to be around. The proof that we are Reformed will be all the wonderful Christians we discover around us who are not Reformed. Amazing people - Ortlund

Apparently, Reformed people will be so transformed by their doctrine that everyone would find us fun to be around. I seriously wonder: When was a fun personality included in the list of the fruits of the spirit?

In conclusion, we can see the problems in the doctrinal latitudinarianism advocated in this piece by Ray Ortlund. It is manifestly self-contradictory at places, and the slogan "Jesus alone" while true is used as a self-serving club to whack all other Christians who do not embrace their version of what Christianity and Christian conduct actually is. The irrationalism and implicit myscticsm/existentialism present in Ortlund's piece should be evident to all, as if one can actually know the right "Christ" and the right "Gospel" without so-called theological distinctives. It certainly sounds very pious to shout "Jesus alone", except that we are not so sure whether they are actually promoting "Jesus alone" or "the Arminian Jesus who doesn't actually save, alone", or "the Jesus who is Michael the Archangel, alone", or "the Jesus who is also the same one person as the Father and the Spirit, alone".

Lord, please save your church from such Latitudinarianism.

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