A Chapter Theses for Clouds Without Water: The Biblical Counseling Movement; It’s True History and Doctrine
In the Beginning, Plato, and then Augustine.
During the first century, the upstart assemblies of the risen Christ suffered a viral affront from Gnostic sects. The first century church was made up of people from all socioeconomic strata, and the Gnostics infiltrated Christianity for that purpose. Those in the first century church well-endowed with money were a valuable resource, and this is who the Gnostic sects primarily targeted with their false doctrine.
Gnosticism has always been about elitism, power, and money. If you want to see an immaculate mural of the American church, read Philip J. Lee’s “Against the Protestant Gnostics.”
Gnosticism finds its roots in the philosophy of Plato. Every American born into the world should be thoroughly apprised of Plato the man and his philosophy. To understand Plato is to understand Western culture politically and spiritually. All the philosophers agree on this point. From there, the math is easy: Augustine was the father of Reformation doctrine, and a rabid follower of Plato. Augustine had little use for the Bible without Platonist insight, and considered Plato a Pre-Christianity Christian.
Of course, the favorite red herring is that Plato is not agreed with on every point, but the fact remains that his primary construct founded Reformed theology: the incompetence of man, and the need for a select few (the enlightened) to rule over the masses. Those with gnosis know how society best functions, and they know how the masses can find individual peace from the desires that rule over them.
The Age of Enlightenment (circa 1630) produced men who were the first to confront Plato’s construct successfully. The most formidable product of that movement was the American experiment which obviously turned out quite well. It was founded on the competence of the individual. The competition was the Platonist Puritans who unfortunately survived the voyage from Europe and wreaked havoc on the East coast. But fortunately, their worldview kept them from settling further inland. “Go west young man!” is hardly the motivational words of competence found among the purer forms of Reformed thought.
Let there be no doubt about it, the idea of merging church and state is grounded in the religion of man’s incompetence. The masses need the state to take care of them. Plato’s philosopher kings contrive orthodoxy, and the soldiers enforce it. This concept did not find its way into the Westminster Confession by accident. Even those who think the state should be separate from the church think a utopia would arise if the church ran the state. “Separation of church and state” doesn’t mean no theocracy, theocracy would be a good thing, supposedly. The state has always had an interest in ruling over religion because ideas are dangerous, and the church has always been a willing participant if the state agrees to enforce their orthodoxy. The battle between the two for the upper hand of control is the political intrigue that is European history in a nutshell. And that is how the world as we know it will end: the zenith of church statecraft as described in the book of Revelation.
This is Western history, and the children of the enlightenment would have no part of it on American soil. Ten years after the Declaration of Independence, James Madison successfully stopped a European style push for a church state in A Memorial in Remonstance Against Religious Assessments. For all practical purposes, it was an indictment against the fruits of European Reformed doctrine.
The Reformation’s Historical Cycle of Social Death and Resurgence
The Reformers, being children of Plato, didn’t interpret reality with a normative epistemology. Plato’s Achilles’ heel has always been the application of Eastern mysticism. Instead of reality being interpreted empirically, and a course of action being determined by discovery, conclusions are drawn by using interpretive gateways to the “pure” form of reality that is hopefully good. Plato thought it was good, but his interpretive gateway to reality rejected the five senses out of hand. Gnosis was the key.
The Reformers merely replaced gnosis with the personhood of Christ as a sort of stargate to reality. That reality was predicated on the difference between the unchangeable pure form of Christ, and the inherent evil of man dwelling in a world that constantly changes. Plato equated the pure forms with immutable objectivity, and evil matter with mutable subjectivity. Hence, today’s Platonist Reformers speak of the “objective gospel experienced subjectively.” This is clearly Plato’s metaphysical construct based on the incompetence of man in regard to interpreting reality. Like Plato, the Reformers of old and new alike bemoan man’s attempt to understand reality “in the shadows” of all matters that “eclipse Christ.” While donning the persona of Biblicism, pastors like Steve Lawson call for pastors to “come out from the shadows.”
This is the theme of books like “Uneclipsing the Son” by John MacArthur confidant Rick Holland. In his book, he hints at why purest Reformed theology gets lost in the minds of Christians from time to time and therefore needs periodic resurgences and rediscoveries. He notes in his book that good grammar makes bad theology. The mystic heretic Paul David Tripp makes the same assertion in “How People Change,” noting that a literal interpretation of Scripture circumvents the personhood of Christ and His saving work. What’s in an interpretation method? According to Tripp—your salvation.
This is the paramount point at hand: the Reformers did not interpret the Bible grammatically, objectively, exegetically, or literally at any point; they interpreted the Bible through the dual prism of “reality” seen in God’s holiness and our evil. The only objective truth is the person of Christ leading to a mere subjective experience of His power and grace manifestations. Hence, many Reformed purists in our day embodied in the New Calvinist movement speak of, “spiritual growth in seeing our own evil as set against the holiness of God.” Therefore, commands in the Bible become part of the narrative that helps us see what we are unable to do rather than commands to be obeyed. We merely seek to see, and wait for the subjective experience of “vivification.” The seeing is the “mortification.” Reformed theologians like Michael Horton explain this as a continual re-experience of our original baptism as we perpetually revisit the same gospel that saved us “afresh.”
This reduces the Christian life to experiences of perpetual rebirth found in Eastern concepts Plato borrowed for “practical life application.” This is the foundation of Historical Redemptive hermeneutics born of Reformed purism. This is also the interpretive method that is all of the rage in our day through programs like BibleMesh.
This is not the natural bent towards interpreting truth. We are wired to interpret truth objectively, and grammatically—tools like allegory and parables notwithstanding. This is why Reformed purism dies a social death from time to time throughout history. Thus, this metaphysical anomaly experiences “rediscovery” and “resurgence” movements. Be certain of the following: this is the New Calvinist movement in our day, and in essence, a return to the exact same viral Gnosticism that plagued the New Testament church with this caveat added: we by no means possess the doctrinal intestinal fortitude of the first century church.
Ground Zero: The 1970 Resurgence
1970 is ground zero for the present landscape of American Christianity. In that year, two movements emerged. Since colonial times, the third resurgence of Reformed purism was born through a project called the Australian Forum. In that same year, Dr. Jay E. Adams, a hybrid of Calvinism and Historical Grammatical interpretation, launched the biblical counseling movement. His movement was predicated on the competence of enabled congregants to counsel each other through the deepest of human problems. Adams also recognized the simple concept of anthropology and its relationship to helping people. Because all humans are created by God, what works well for the unsaved should work even better for the saved. If unsaved people who don’t violate their consciences are happier, this should also aid Christians in their walk with God. Bad ideas are simply bad for everyone, the ultimate need for eternal salvation notwithstanding. But that doesn’t mean you throw out the unsaved baby with the bath water of practicality. And in addition, does practicality show forth the wisdom of God and thereby point people to God? Should God not know what makes people tick? Moreover, what is the authority for interpreting human existence? Philosophy, or the Bible?
Adams’ biblical construct produced astounding conclusions, especially in areas where a medical model covered for escape mechanisms that create another reality for realties one may not like. If Bob is in big trouble, he merely becomes Ted, or maybe even Jane. This is a bad idea for Christians. Adams created a dichotomy between salvation and the Christian life. He believed in the utter incompetence of man to save himself, but abundant competence in colaboring with God for a victorious life over sin. With Adams, it is about CHANGE for the glory of God and the happiness of His people.
Thus, with the resurgence of Reformed purism at the same time, the battle lines were drawn, and a confusion of conflict emerged in the biblical counseling movement. The one predicated on the utter incompetence of man whether saved or unsaved, and the other predicated on the competence of the Spirit-filled Christian. The one predicated on Christians only being righteous positionally, and the other predicated on the idea that Christians are also practically righteous. The one predicated on contemplationism, the other predicated on obedience. This is the civil war that has raged in the biblical counseling movement from its conception until this day. It is for the most part a civil war of servility, lest two different gospels be separate, and careerism maimed.
The Forum doctrine quickly found footing at Westminster Seminary in Pennsylvania where Adams was a professor. The initial vestige of relevant infection was found in Dr. John “Jack” Miller, also a professor at Westminster Seminary. True, Westminster was founded by Reformed purists that believed the many acts of Christ’s righteousness were part of the atonement, not just His one act of death on the cross, but for the most part, the Reformation’s metaphysical anomalies had reduced Westminster to moderate Reformed ideology. If you will, a hybrid Calvinism that interpreted reality grammatically.
Miller changed that. While the doctrine was in the process of suffering a brutal death in Reformed Baptist circles by moderate Calvinists, being labeled as antinomianism, it found resurgent life at Westminster in Miller’s Sonship Theology incubator. The forerunner of this doctrine in Reformed Baptist circles, Jon Zens, discovered the doctrine in the early years of the Forum while he was a student at Westminster. He actually became heavily involved with the Forum in the 70’s, convincing them that everyday Covenant Theology would be a hindrance to infecting Christianity with the newly rediscovered disease. From that conversation came the birth of New Covenant Theology circa 1981. It was a significant addition to the present repertoire of elements that confuse the real crux of the issue. Till this day, few moderate Calvinists make this historical connection between New Covenant Theology and New Calvinism.
But it was a particular mentoree of Miller’s that saw Adam’s construct as a threat to the successful spread of the Forum’s rediscovery: Dr. David Powlison. Powlison, working closely with Miller, developed the Dynamics of Biblical Change which is a counseling construct based on Reformation purism. This became the counseling model for Westminster’s biblical counseling wing known as The Christian Counseling & Education Foundation (CCEF). Later, there was a proposal for an organization that would certify counselors for CCEF. Adams was opposed to it as it smacked of the kind of elitism that he was trying to avoid. Remember, Adams was all about the competence of the average congregant to counsel. But Purist Reformed ideology is all about elitism because Gnosticism is all about elitism; the two go hand in glove.
Show Me the Money
Gnosticism rejects the average man’s ability to understand reality. So, assimilation for purposes of functionality is the main concern; ie., that the masses are controlled by indoctrination that is not necessarily understood, but invokes behavioral goals. But another primary goal is the spiritual caste system that provides millions of dollars for elitist educators. In essence, these are the professional Sophists produced by Platonism. This is why Gnosticism always dwells in the upper socioeconomic strata, as Phillip J. Lee notes in the aforementioned book, Gnosticism is a rich man’s game. CCEF certified counselors are extremely rare in zip codes of average incomes less than $80,000 per year, and nowhere to found in zip codes of $50,000 or less. This of course, is very telling. Their conferences require registration fees of $300.00 per person or more.
Meanwhile, NANC Happens
Powlison followed a classic mode of Gnostic deception by seeking to be identified with the persona of Adams’ successful counseling construct while despising the doctrine as a supposed false gospel. To be more specific, he wanted to gain ground by being identified with Adams’ success, and with a deliberate long-term goal of destroying the historical grammatical approach to biblical counseling.
Unfortunately, and to the chagrin of Adams, the National Association of Nouthetic Counselors was born (NANC). “Nouthetic” counseling was a Greek term introduced by Adams and often associated with him. Therefore, Powlison et al were able to be identified with the tsunami like personal transformations of the Adams reformation as a jump start for their own construct, and with a long-term goal of destroying the competition. They did this so effectively that Adams was often thought of as the founder of NANC, which was never true.
Consequently, Adams experienced an increased persecution from within the contemporary biblical counseling movement that he founded. His counseling was dubbed “first generation” biblical counseling and referred to as nothing more than “producing better Pharisees.” I believe this will go down in church history as one of the most grotesque betrayals ever perpetrated on a man in the name of friendship and the gospel.
The fallout in our day is indicative of the spiritual carnage that has always been left in the path of Gnosticism. While the spiritual peasantry cries out in hopes that the elite will police their own, the Nicolaitans of our day laugh all the way to the bank. After all, subjective reality is messy business and peasants just don’t understand. The biblical counseling community has founded organizations who seek to keep them out of court and prevent the obscuring of cash flow. The New Calvinism movement is intrinsically connected by a complicated and massive network of associations—in many cases disagreeing with each other on “secondary issues.” A prime example is the G.R.A.C.E mediatory organization headed by Boz Tchividjian. While playing the part of advocates for the spiritually abused, they are professionally networked with serial abusers of the worst sort.
The biblical counseling movement embodied in New Calvinism is nothing more or less than a return to the exact same Gnosticism that plagued the first century church. The fact that Eastern mysticism is often the application can be seen by what happened at a Passion Conference where the who’s who of New Calvinism led the audience in a form of Transcendental Meditation. Tim Keller, a co-mentoree of Miller along with David Powlison in the early days, is a staunch advocate of Eastern mysticism as a practical application for Christian living.
CCEF, and NANC are the epitome of false advertising. They advertise the gospel and change, but believe in neither. Like the father of their faith, St. Augustine, it is Plato they trust. The banner over them is not love, but a sense of elitist entitlement to be paid and supported by the unenlightened masses for their own good. Sheep that don’t get it are more than expendable; the one in 99 is expendable for the 99 who know their place and pay the Shamans their tax deductible dues.
They invent and sell orthodoxy, the layman’s manual for experiencing perpetual rebirth. On the one hand, there is a Christianity that posits the living water that is received once, the onetime washing, and the moving on to maturity from the beginning principles of baptisms, and then there is the gospel of our day that posits the perpetual rebirth of Eastern mysticism.
But this is not a mere disagreement about how to live the Christian life. How we see the Christian life reveals the gospel that we really believe. When our salvation is not a finished work, something must be done by us to finish it—even if that means doing nothing with intentionality. NOT living by a list of do’s and don’ts is the work that keeps us saved. It is playing it safe by hiding our talents in the ground and giving the Lord back what He originally gave.
Christians would do well to choose which gospel they will live by in our day. At this point, that conversation has not arrived yet. And to be sure, many do not want the conversation to be clarified to that point. The gospel itself has become the elephant in the room.
Mass appeal, rarely commendable in the Bible, is an earmark of New Calvinism. But why? As cited in another post, this quote from a New Calvinist organization reveals one primary reason:
What, then, is the subjective power of this message? Firstly, we find that there is real, objective freedom, the kind that, yes, can be experienced subjectively. We are freed from having to worry about the legitimacy of experiences; our claims of self-improvement are no longer seen as a basis of our witness or faith. In other words, we are freed from ourselves, from the tumultuous ebb and flow of our inner lives and the outward circumstances; anyone in Christ will be saved despite those things. We can observe our own turmoil without identifying with it. We might even find that we have compassion for others who function similarly. These fluctuations, violent as they might be, do not ultimately define us. If anything, they tell us about our need for a savior (David Zahl and Jacob Smith: Mockingbird blog).
This enables New Calvinists to boast an objective, factual gospel, while claiming that the objective gospel functions subjectively. In other words, the gospel (Christ and His works) is factual, but obtaining a deeper and deeper knowledge of those facts imputes those objective facts to our lives subjectively. This enables us to live our Christian lives by faith alone, while leaving the subjective results to God. Our primary goal is to contemplate the two things that saved us (the gospel): God’s holiness and our sinfulness (faith and repentance), and then as we go about living our lives, we don’t have to take anything that happens too seriously because it is all preordained by God.
Tragedy is a good thing because it testifies to our need for Christ; good works give us joy as we “experience” them, but we really don’t know whether they are in “our own efforts” or conducted by God. It’s subjective. According to Martin Luther, if we believe that we did the good work, that’s works salvation. If we attend our good works (as Christians) with fear that it could be us who did it and not God, that’s venial sin and not mortal sin. Hence, part of the New Calvinist daily repentance regiment is asking forgiveness for good works that we have done just in case it was us who did them. All in all, it insulates from responsibility for sin, and enables us to detach ourselves from negative emotions. Joy is a result of God’s goodness and good works. Tragedy reminds us of what we deserve and what God has saved us from—it’s just more good news!
Further appeal can be seen in a recent post by Dr. Ed Welch of CCEF. He starts off with the usual metaphysical curve-ball that seems to come in straight with the idea that our faith is objective truth. Then when he gets us swinging at that pitch, it curves with….
Faith is a way of seeing
Scripture is also fond of describing faith as the way to see God’s realities. ( By: Ed Welch Topics: Faith Published: July 17, 2013 http://www.ccef.org/blog/what-faith).
Welch continues to expound on how the subjective facts of the gospel leads to subjective “reality”:
With the naked eye we can see the physical world, but faith—which comes by hearing the word of God—allows us to “see” the Creator of the physical world (Heb. 11:3). Faith allows us to see that Jesus is the Word, the Son of God, the Rescuer of the world.
With a twisting of 2Corinthians 4:18, Welch, like all New Calvinists, attempts to make the case that the physical world isn’t what really needs to be “seen” because the physical can be seen and therefore is not of faith. Hence, the Bible is to be used to see the Savior only, leading to a faith that enables us to see beyond the physical. In other words, borrowing his terminology, the Bible enables us to “see” beyond creation to the Creator Himself. Of course, this is merely hanging Bible verses on Plato’s Theory of Forms.
Welch then explains, in the same post, a technique that can be added to Bible induced gospel contemplationism:
One way to use this perspective on faith is to pray with another, “Lord, open our eyes. Help us to see what is really happening.” And then ask at the end of your time together, “What did we see?”
Here at the Potter’s House, what we study, what we read, is what you get. To the contrary, in this technique also promoted by John Piper and many other New Calvinists, the Bible speaks to you, presumably through the Spirit, subjectively, following a gospel-centered contemplation of the Scriptures. The plain sense of Scripture can now be traded for subjective experience. Apparently emboldened by the mindlessness of American Christians, Welch further explains this approach with the following:
Another way to use this is to encourage others to live with their eyes closed. Let me explain. The world that is available to our physical senses can dominate our spiritual sight. Physical trials, fiscal uncertainty, the safety of those we love, the intrusion of hard pasts—this whirlwind can blind us to the spiritual realities that are deeper and longer lasting. So in a sense, we need to close our eyes to the circumstances of life, so we can open them to hope. It might happen like this:
“What do you see?” ‘I see the rejection of my spouse.’ “Close your eyes, and keep looking. Look around with eyes of faith. Now what do you see?” ‘I see the rejection of my spouse.’ “Okay, keep your eyes closed and look at the world through the lenses of Ephesians 1, now what do you see?” ‘I see . . . nothing.’ “No problem, we just need help. Let’s pray, which, in itself, is an expression of how we see by faith.”
The important point is that you are closing your eyes—not as a form of denial—but as a way to see more.
Welch then completely mocks discernment by suggesting that people are saved by reading Christian mystics like CS Lewis:
Back to the story, my friend became cynical toward his friend’s beliefs, but he was still a seeker. Soon after he graduated from high school, a co-worker gave him Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis. On the very first page he began to “see.” After taking the next eight hours to read through the book, he knew he wanted to follow Jesus, though he didn’t know what that meant, and he did not know one other Christian he could ask.
So what is the appeal of New Calvinism? Basically, five things:
1. It enables people to deflect the negative emotions of life and trade them for joy by disconnecting from the physical world. This idea is sanctified by eradicating all value of earthly things (and people) for Christ.
2. It gives a simplistic answer for everything. All events in life are to either glorify God or show us our worthlessness.
3. Escape from responsibility and accountability. “I sinned? Well duh, that’s what sinners do.”
4. We already know what every verse in the Scripture is about, and by meditating on that, we can have a subjective result of our own choosing.
5. It eliminates the hard work of studying and wrestling with truth. Every verse is about Jesus, and the results are automatic. Also, hard work in spiritual matters is works salvation. As Calvin and Luther believed, sanctification is represented by the Sabbath rest. If you work, you die; hence, no work is more good news!
6. The Reformed, “power of the keys.” This is the idea that whatever Reformed elders bind on earth will be bound in heaven whether right or wrong. Hence, by merely staying in the good graces of your local neighborhood elders, you’re guaranteed to be in the graces of God. You’re in because the elders say you’re in.
“For one, they know that people come to counseling with the expectation of gaining knowledge that will lead to change. The brain trust of this movement believes no such thing.”
“The outright deception of the movement is best expressed in Paul David Tripp’s ’How People Change.’ The title states that people change, but on pages 64 and 65 of the 2006 edition he plainly states that people don’t change. On those pages he calls Christians ‘enemies of God’ and ‘dead in trespasses and sins.’”
Biblical counseling is now widely available in the American church. The three primary organizations that encompass this massive movement are The National Association of Nouthetic Counselors (NANC), The Christian Counseling and Education Foundation (CCEF), and the upstart Biblical Counseling Coalition (BCC). These three are really different divisions of the same movement. CCEF is the think tank, NANC is the training and certification wing, and BCC is the promotional engine. These three organizations represent 90% of what constitutes formal counseling in the present-day church.
The movement operates in upper-middle class zip codes and above with few (if any) exceptions, which is one of the earmarks pointing to the fact that this is one of the biggest scams ever perpetrated on the American church. For one, they know that people come to counseling with the expectation of gaining knowledge that will lead to change. The brain trust of this movement believes no such thing. Like the Christian psychologists they claim to refute, they teach people how to cope with their totally depraved selves. Except in this case, they offer something better: how to experience joy in your totally depraved state. And apparently business is booming; the leadership of these organizations rate with the premier charlatans to ever walk upon the earth.
New Calvinism and the Biblical Counseling Movement
I was recently sent a transcript of an interview with John MacArthur Jr. in which he stated plainly that the present-day New Calvinist movement is a return to authentic Reformed doctrine. He would be absolutely correct about that. Authentic Calvinism hijacked the aggressive discipleship movement of Jay Adams in the early 70’s. Even though many in the present-day biblical counseling movement experienced the Spirit’s power of individual change in that movement, it was infiltrated and hijacked for the purpose of “real and lasting” change. That’s because we are not really changing, we merely experience the joy of “vivification” subjectively while the “lasting” change is the manifestation of Christ’s objective gospel outside of us. The counseling focuses on “mortification” which leads to perpetual rebirths that we “experience.” This was the crux of Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation.
The outright deception of the movement is best expressed in Paul David Tripp’s “How People Change.” The title states that people change, but on pages 64 and 65 of the 2006 edition he plainly states that people don’t change. On those pages he calls Christians “enemies of God” and “dead in trespasses and sins.”
Recently, I attended a funeral of an old friend who was deeply involved in the movement. He was one of the good guys who I think never understood the real crux of the issue. But telling was what was said by the NANC brain trust who spoke at his funeral. You see, my friend never really did anything that pleased God, all of his good works were really “shadows of Christ.” Also, God took him “so that we can see Christ better.” He also deserves “no honor” for anything he did lest it steal any of Christ’s glory. It was even stated that he was a “wicked sinner.”
These statements are clear contradictions to the plain sense of Scripture and the milieu of life. This is a resurgence of Luther’s stoic Gnosticism that strives to completely empty self in order to observe reality outside of us and detach ourselves from it. And again, these movements always abide exclusively among the affluent while producing a league of elitist, cold-hearted, spiritual snobs who are wreaking havoc on the church.
And their counseling is helping no one. They point to their stoic joy in the midst of trials as if Gnosticism is commendable. I have heard pastoral proponents of this movement ridicule those who grieve because their grief “eclipses the glory of Christ.” How dare them value anything on this earth more than Christ! In one particular instance, a pastor was indignant that his terminally ill mother-in-law mourned the fact that she would not be able to see her grandchildren grow up. Hence, she supposedly loved her grandchildren more than Christ. A “mature” Christian would have been rejoicing for the opportunity to leave this despicable life and everyone in it.
But I guess that is “real and lasting change.” Question is, what kind of Change?
New Calvinists, firmly in control of Christian counseling in our day, have started a 12-step program for Christians addicted to righteousness. According to David Powlison’s research and development team at CCEF, the addiction begins with a literal translation of the Bible. Apparently, the addiction is most prevalent among lower income Christians who can’t afford CCEF and NANC materials that keep Christians updated in regard to the latest Christocentric metaphysical interpretations. This marks a new focus by CCEF towards the ignorant laity.
Powlison joins colleague Paul David Tripp in this new program that targets the longstanding problem among Christians of not interpreting the Bible in its “gospel context.” Consequently, the writings of the apostle Paul are interpreted literally in regard to his assertion that Christians are “enslaved” to righteousness (ROM 6:17,18) and able to please God by obeying Scripture. Particularly troublesome is Paul’s message to those who are obeying: do it “more and more” (1THESS 4:1). While Powlison acknowledges that the enemies of the “vertical church” have been sufficiently neutralized, there is an unfortunate remnant suffering in the shadows caused by obedience in our “own efforts” that eclipse the Son.
As Paul David Tripp explains on page of 64 and 65 of How People Manifest the Saving Works of Christ in the Spirit Realm, Christians are still enemies of God, spiritually dead, alienated from God, suppress the truth in unrighteousness, and “enslaved.” The problem, asserts Tripp, is that many well-meaning Christians confuse that Christocentric reality with the apostle Paul’s description of the unregenerate throughout the New Testament.
PPT has obtained a tape of a weekly meeting associated with this new program:
Group leader: “We have a new visitor with us tonight. Jake, would you like to introduce yourself?”
Jake: “Uh, uh, I, uh, Hi, uh, my name is Jake, uh, I, I, I, I am righteous.”
Group: “Hi Jake.”
Group leader: “Is there anybody here who might encourage Jake?”
Group member: “Hi Jake, I’m Kippy, and I have been righteousness-free for five years now. You can do it Jake! Like us, you can stop trying to be the gospel and instead let Jesus show forth His righteousness in your realm.”
Applause from group.
PPT has also obtained the 12 steps associated with this new program:
1. Admit that you are righteous. Overcoming denial is the first step.
2. Begin using the Bible to plunge the depths of understanding in regard to your wickedness.
3. Burn all to-do lists at home, work, and at church.
4. Buy and read all new releases by John Piper.
5. Join a gospel-centered church.
6. Obey the elders for weekly absolution.
7. Tattle on anyone seen frowning during a sermon.
8. Stop hanging on to anything that gives you joy other than Christ. Most New Calvinist churches have covenants that allow you to sign all of these things over to the church.
9. Avoid all persons who are addicted to righteousness as you once were. Remember, bad company corrupts good orthodoxy.
10. Refute challenges with a list of quotations from 45 Reformed dead guys. This list can be obtained from your local New Calvinist elder.
11. Ignore guilt associated with unrighteousness, this is the flesh tempting you to focus on something you may do rather than what Jesus has done.
12. Preach the gospel to yourself daily. As you then partake in deep repentance, the works of Jesus are offered to the Father and you are once again justified.
2013 TANC Conference Update: Conference Will Explore New Calvinism’s Relationship to Biblical Counseling
New Calvinism will die again. For the fifth time in church history. There has been five resurgences and four deaths. That is why the primary agenda of TANC is to educate the church concerning every nuance. Lack of information is what enables this evil beast to come back into the church from time to time. The goal is to educate as many Christians as possible who will hopefully see this coming the next time. The following is an excerpt from the upcoming 2013 TANC Conference. In this first session, the five reasons New Calvinism will die are stated.
Perpetual Death and Resurgence of the Authentic Reformation Gospel
As we have noted, as the Reformation moved forward in history, many did not realize that it spoke from its own reality. As Christians read their Bibles from the normative reality, the true gist of the Reformation gospel is lost over time. The Reformers were mostly responsible for the printing of English Bibles, but how they wanted the Bible to be read was mostly misunderstood despite their massive commentaries.
The natural tendency is to read literally and take the meaning of verbs, nouns, and prepositions at face value. This will draw one away from the Reformed gospel in general, but will retain the Reformation’s lack of emphasis on aggressive sanctification. Let me give you an example of this. In the book, “How People Change” by New Calvinist Paul David Tripp, he discusses the issue of Christians endeavoring to change their thinking to biblical thinking. This is a pretty passive consideration as far as human activity goes. In fact, changing the way we think is probably the most passive human activity we can think of. Yet, note what Tripp states on page 27 of said book:
….and the Bible does call us to change the way we think about things. But this approach again omits the person and work of Christ as Savior.
~ Paul David Tripp: How People Change Punch Press 2006, p. 27
This statement encapsulates the totality of Reformed metaphysics perfectly. First, we see the clear indication of what we will dissect in my second session; the Reformed gospel of progressive justification. Christians NEED the ongoing work of Christ AS SAVIOR in our lives. To not do Christianity in a certain way OMITS that saving work in sanctification. This statement by Tripp is a damning indictment of Calvinism.
Secondly, we see that although the Bible calls us to change the way we think, to read that in a normative reality is to misinterpret the “true” meaning, and unless those passages are understood via Reformed epistemology, the ongoing salvific work of Christ in our Christian lives will be circumvented. Elsewhere in the same book, Tripp states that biblical commands must be seen in their “Christ-centered gospel context” (Ibid p. 26). Throughout this same book, and like all Calvinists, Tripp speaks of “heart change,” but as we shall see in my second session, this is a term that DOES NOT mean that we change. The title of the book is a Calvinist lie. It is condoned by Gnostic arrogance that doesn’t think the common Christian is “ready” for the hard truth of the authentic Reformed gospel. John Piper made this specific notation in an interview:
I think Rome and Protestantism [the Protestantism that fell away from Reformed metaphysics] are not yet ready. I don’t think the Reformation is over (Online source: http://youtu.be/lQvtAd7WEOY).
The second reason that the authentic Reformed gospel dies a social death from time to time is because it is simply boring. It is driven by a narrow concept; everything is about the gospel. This was the major complaint that Dr. Jay E. Adams received while he was writing Biblical Sonship: An Evaluation of the Sonship Discipleship Course (Timeless Texts 1999). Concerned Christians told Adams that they were hearing the same things from the pulpit every week and the doctrine seemed “vague.” Susan and I have visited churches recently that were very exuberant about New Calvinism a couple of years ago, but follow-up visits reveal a marked decrease in enthusiasm. To be more specific, in protest regarding the possibility that we would ever return to one of the churches, our teenage son remarked, “That place isn’t very interesting.” Susan and I were also overwhelmed with the sense of deadness that was present.
A third reason is the fact that this doctrine does not produce spiritual growth which results in a plethora of negative issues that arise from spiritual immaturity.
A fourth reason is the spiritual tyranny that is ALWAYS part and parcel with this doctrine. Remember, it is basically a spiritual cast system that puts a high premium on control.
A fifth reason is the fact that God’s people eventually figure out that it is a false doctrine.
These are the five reasons why these resurgences die out. The hybrids that emerge are still predicated on weak sanctification which lays the ground work for the next resurgence. The following illustration shows how authentic Calvinism has oscillated between tyranny and weak sanctification throughout church history.
John Piper once stated in an interview that Protestants are not ready for the hard truth of the Reformed authentic gospel. And what is that truth? It is the “truth” that salvation doesn’t change us. They say, “We are transformed into Christ’s image, and “We are sanctified” etc., but they believe no such thing and for our sake lie about it because we are not “ready” for the “hard truth.” This is why the present-day Reformed counseling culture led by the likes of David Powlison is the biggest scam ever perpetrated on Christianity. Christians go to counseling because they think we can change with God’s help and for His glory, and the anticipation of happiness. Powlison has built an empire on allowing Christians to believe that initially like we allow our children to believe in Santa Clause. That way, he can draw them in and “help” them with his superior spiritual knowledge.
What is that knowledge? It is the “centrality of the objective gospel outside of us.” John Piper states it plainly: if any work of grace happens in us at all, it makes sanctification the ground of our justification. I document all of this in much detail in chapter four of The Truth About New Calvinism. Below is a picture that illustrates this. It was published by a Reformed think tank that Graeme Goldsworthy was involved in. Like the following pictures, you can click on it for a larger picture:
Let’s look at other Reformed illustrations that show clearly that they deliberately deceive by pretending they believe that Christians change. REMEMBER, these are their illustrations, NOT mine:
In the first chart, we only grow by the same two things that saved us: knowledge of our sin, and knowledge of God’s holiness. This is why we must “preach the gospel to ourselves every day.” But, in this chart, what is growing? Us? No, the cross. We don’t grow, the cross grows. Besides, if we grow, that circumvents the “growth” process right? If we get better, the other half of Reformed epistemology does not keep going down but becomes more level—making the cross smaller. No?
Look at the other chart that is really the same concept turned up instead of sideways. In the heart shape it claims transformation, but again, a second thought tells us that this couldn’t be what they are really thinking. If we get better, it destroys the Reformed metaphysical centrality of the objective gospel outside of us which is predicated on a deeper and deeper knowledge of how evil we are.
Furthermore, a good demonstration of the deliberate deception afoot is Paul David Tripp’s book, “How People Change.” They don’t believe we change, that’s a lie. Calvin’s total depravity also applies to the saints in Reformed theology. I document this in False Reformation. An illustration from Tripp’s book is integrated into the other illustrations by me to demonstrate this:
So then, what do these guys really believe about change? Well, it starts with gospel contemplationism which leads to “manifestations” of “the true and the good.” See the man in the first picture? See how he is meditating on all of the stuff outside of him? Through contemplationism, it is kinda like standing in the rain. The world sees the gospel, which in this illustration is the rain as a gospel “manifestation,” and as Christians we experience and feel the rain, but it has nothing to do with us or anything going on inside of us. For all practical purposes (in his general session address at the 2013 Shepherds’ Conference), John MacArthur likened it to a manifestation of the wind. You feel it and see its effects, but it is a force that is completely outside of us. He attributed Nicodemus’ later obedience after conversion to a mere blowing of the wind and not anything that Nicodemus could be credited with. We are talking MANEFESTATIONS here and not anything we do. It is similar to the concept of birthing the spiritual realm into the material realm.
In other words, when it gets right down to it—it’s Eastern mysticism. It began with the ancient paganism that saturated early civilization and morphed into Hinduism. Then Plato integrated the philosophy of Socrates with Hinduism. From there, it became Gnosticism which has all of the caste elements of Hinduism, and not by accident. The Reformed connections to Eastern mysticism are really no big secret and well-known among church historians.
Cults all come from the cradle of society and its spiritual caste. That’s why cults are innumerable and predicated on CONTROL. A characteristic not absent from Calvinism by any stretch of the imagination. The Gnostic Nicolaitans wreaked havoc on the first century church and the word means “conquerors of the lay people.” The name Nicodemus comes from Nicolaitans, so before his conversion, Nicodemus was probably guilty of what MacArthur said he wasn’t guilty of,
being a Calvinist.
Those of you who have been a part of PPT since its beginning in 2009 are aware of who X-Ray the Idol Hunter is. She is kind of the Big Foot of New Calvinism. Her possible existence surfaced in 2010 during John Piper’s sabbatical. Piper said he was taking the sabbatical because he had observed several “species of pride” in his soul. According to other statements he made, he had consulted Tim Keller and Paul David Tripp on how to peel away several different levels of idolatry in order to find these “species.” Piper never identified the different species with biblical nomenclature.
Piper shared these things prior to beginning his sabbatical which had a predetermined length of eight months. The question soon became the following: how did Piper know that the eradication of these “species,” and all of the peeling away of many levels of idolatry in the soul, would take exactly eight months? If the species where wreaking enough havoc on his soul to cause him to step down for eight months, one must assume that eliminating these creatures would be efficacious.
Well, sure enough, Piper returned to the ministry eight months later. That’s when the rumors started. Obviously, Piper had an ace in the hole. It is doubtful that Sonship theology, the primary doctrine that promotes idol hunting in the heart would have been enough to guarantee such a victory. The doctrine was concocted by Dr. John “Jack” Miller in the 80’s and articulated by David Powlison and Paul David Tripp. David Powlison oversees a research and development team at Westminster Seminary that endeavors to come up with better and better ways to hunt down idols in the heart. Miller was able to identify twenty-five species of idols to get the ball rolling.
Powlison and Tripp devised what they call “X-Ray questions” that help people detect these idols which manifest themselves in our desires. All and all, Powlison has devised around 135 such questions. The questions reveal desires, and the desire leads to the species.
But after the return of Piper, people started asking questions, and strange manifestations began to be noticed at New Calvinist conferences where Piper, Powlison, Keller, and Tripp appeared. Powlison and Keller are self-proclaimed mentorees of John Miller. One such manifestation was seen on a conference website and appears below:
Furthermore, the following spears were found at yet another conference:
Putting it in a way that David Powlison would, X-Ray is kinda, perhaps, like a parody, but then again, kinda not to demonstrate the mindless New Calvinist following of mysticism on the issue of change. As Jay E. Adams well noted in his treatise against Sonship theology, idol hunting seems to be a kissing cousin to species of demons that supposedly cause Christians to sin. Hence, a different demon for each sin, and as Piper noted just prior to his last sabbatical, Tim Keller informs us that some levels of idol hunting are only obtained by fasting and prayer. Yet, someone had to know that the extraction of the “species” that were hounding Piper would only take exactly eight months to extract. PPT was sent a top secret picture of X-Ray, and we neither vouch for this picture nor deny it. Like Big Foot, the jury is kinda still out:
With Powlison, Keller, Tripp, and Piper all coming to this year’s Gospel Coalition conference in Orlando, a manifestation of X-Ray is very possible. As Powlison brings the latest findings from Westminster’s research and development team on idol hunting, it only makes sense that X-Ray would want to be briefed.
“You must be born again.”
~ The Lord Jesus Christ
Cultists are all the same. First, they believe they understand a higher knowledge that most Christians are not “ready for.” Example: in an interview with John Piper conducted by someone who asked him what he would say to the Pope if he had two minutes with him, Piper stated in no uncertain terms that most Christians are not ready for the true Reformation gospel of justification by faith alone [in sanctification]. Secondly, this mentality allows them to condone the hijacking of familiar Christian terms/phrases and use them to deceive. Example: when they use the term progressive sanctification they really mean progressive justification and they know it grade-A well. It’s deliberate deception.
“Cult” is a loosely used term and it should be. Cults are defined as any group that seeks to control others through deception. They are also defined by being sectarian; in other words, their false doctrine divides relationships of various kinds. New Calvinism has its roots in ancient spiritual caste systems that are defined by those characteristics. Much of today’s religion finds its origins in those ancient philosophies. So “cult” is going to be a term often used, and rightfully so.
This post was instigated by an email I received from a reader regarding a recent article by David Powlison in the revamped The Journal of Biblical Counseling. I believe Powlison to be, for many documented reasons, an unrepentant, habitual liar. The article that was referred to me, as you can tell, has ruffled my feathers. I’m just fed up with all of the deception. The link was a review written by John Piper puppet Justin Taylor. What is the jest of the article? Powlison is going to explain why being sanctified by justification is only one small part of the full counsel of God that he pretends to proffer. In one promotion for the article we read,
David Powlison challenges the popular views on sanctification that take one strand in Scripture and present it as the be all and end all of Christian growth. He specifically engages the strengths and weaknesses of the view that asserts, “You are sanctified by remembering that you are justified.”
Um, excuse me, but first of all, the idea that Christian growth comes from preaching the gospel to ourselves every day or revisiting the gospel isn’t even “one strand” of Scripture to begin with. That strand isn’t there period. It’s a lie directly from the pit of hell itself. According to Taylor, Powlison will address the following in part 2 of the article:
In an article planned for the next issue of the journal, Powlison plans to look at several related questions:
Is sanctification essentially the activity of remembering and rebelieving that Jesus died for your sins? Is self-justification by your own performance the chief problem that sanctification must deal with? When the Bible says to “make every effort,” is the hard work chiefly the struggle to remember and believe again that we are saved by the achievement of our Savior? “In each case,” he writes, “I will say No, and will seek to widen both our personal approach to sanctification and the scope of ministry to others.”
Powlison chooses his words carefully. He is going to “teach” us how to “widen” our “approach to sanctification.” But the “approach” is still singular, and as this blog has exhaustively documented, his approach is exclusively Christocentric. Powlison’s language is also continually saturated with nuance such as, “I will say no.” Why not just say NO and be done with it? Because the answer is not really “no,” that’s why. That’s the usual Powlison speak for, “It’s kinda ‘no’ but then again it’s kinda ‘yes’”
Let me make my point with this excerpt from Taylor’s blog:
Is self-justification by your own performance the chief problem that sanctification must deal with?
Um, excuse me, but if you are a Christian, self-justification in sanctification is a complete impossibility. But notice that it is conceded that such is a possibility by referring to it as a question of being the “chief problem.” Also note that the concern isn’t those who attempt to be saved by their works which then cannot be called sanctification to begin with, but that self-justification in and of itself is possible in sanctification. The very question verifies what Powlison really believes. Works justification CANNOT take place in sanctification. Where works justification is present, sanctification cannot exist. The very framing of the question shows that Powlison doesn’t believe that the two are mutually exclusive. Moreover, we need them to guide us through the very tricky business of figuring out what is our “own performance” in sanctification resulting in “self-justification” verses what isn’t our own efforts in sanctification. Again, their very premise is a biblical impossibility, but reveals what they really believe.
Powlison is a cultist extraordinaire. That’s what he is. Like all New Calvinists.
“If you haven’t received ‘proper training’ don’t try to counsel; you will do more harm than good.” Really? And many laymen buy it: “I don’t try to counsel people; if I told them the wrong thing I could do more harm than good.” How? Have you looked around at the mess called American Christianity in this country? After more than thirty years of an unprecedented biblical counseling movement spearheaded by David Powlison’s “research and development” center at Westminster Seminary, the American church has never been more unimpressive and disrespected. It’s so bad that there are at least three organizations that try to broker reconciliation in order to keep churches out of civil and criminal courts, and it is my understanding that business is booming. The country is saturated with “trained” biblical counselors and training centers, albeit mostly in upper income areas—to the tune of just under 100% according to our research. NANC and CCEF counselors are virtually nonexistent in lower income areas.
Moreover, NANC and CCEF (these two organizations comprise 90% of contemporary biblical counseling) are predicated on progressive justification. This is a gospel that posits the idea that people don’t change. In 1970, the father of the biblical counseling movement, Dr. Jay E. Adams, founded the movement on the idea that Christians can change and are competent to counsel each other. Though the results where dramatic, heretic David Powlison hijacked the movement with Westminster’s version of progressive justification, Sonship Theology. It is perplexing to me that many counselors who saw the results of Adams’ revival now refer to the movement in its present form as a “second generation” biblical counseling that is more “mature.” But where are the results? We now “need” Peacemaker Ministries and G.R.AC.E more than ever.
An example of that is Powlison comrade Pastor Mark Driscoll who claims to see visions regarding those that he counsels. Trust me, we can do better. And the time is ripe because we cannot possibly do worse. Granted, not all are inept, but where ineptness lacks, cowardliness and cronyism fills the void. Said another way; for the most part, they are either heretics or cowards. While the cowards don’t hold to the false gospel of progressive justification, they stand by silent as thousands of people are referred to these counselors daily. Plainly, the gospel really doesn’t matter. Plainly, they lack a deep love for the truth. While they sell their souls to the god of peer acceptance, they preach to others about not having idols in their heart.
Since the Scriptures teach that the average parishioner is competent to counsel, and the clergy have had their chance and completely blown it, the laity needs to get back to “encouraging one another unto good works.” Let’s start there. We are able. Here is what the apostle Paul said about our ability to counsel one another:
Romans 15:14 – I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another.
In contrast, the spiritual brain trust of our day teach that we are still totally depraved, and for some reason, people are perplexed that the totally depraved are acting like they are totally depraved. This has been pounded in the heads of American Christians for almost forty years now. The present-day biblical counseling movement is completely indifferent to this reality because, “It’s not about us being better, it’s about what Jesus has done—not anything we do.” Contrary to this, Paul stated that we are “full of goodness” and able to instruct on one another. It’s all there, when you were saved, you didn’t get a portion of the Holy Spirit—you got all of Him. You have His mind. You have His wisdom. You have His love. You have His goodness. You must appropriate it. That’s our role: learn and apply.
1. You are able.
2. You must learn and apply.
You must trust God’s word as being sufficient. You must never waver from that:
Psalm 1:1 – Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; 2 but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. 3 He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. 4 The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
We have two kinds of counsel here and the results. Where is the third option? Where is the pure milk cut with something as good as Scripture? (1Peter 2:2). Where is the alternative foundation in Matthew 7:24-27? Why is the word “alone” in Matthew 4:4? What great counselor of the day did Jesus cite apart from Scripture? If you have resolute confidence in the word of God—you can help people.
4. You won’t have all of the answers readily available in the beginning. It’s a process. You will lay the foundation, and then work together in the new way. This is discipleship. This is a vessel for building deep friendships. Here is what James stated in regard to this:
James 1:5 – If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. 6 But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
There can be no thought that there is another way other than God’s word. This is double mindedness. This is hedging your bets. As you pray together, there must be confidence that God shows the way, and that it is the only acceptable way. No answer to prayer for wisdom in the situation should be expected without complete confidence in God’s word. All the other ways are instability in “all his [different] ways.” There are not alternate paths to God’s way.
5. You must know that the trial will end:
James 4:4 – And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing…. 12 Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.
6. You must know that your friend will benefit from the trial, or be separated from the faith. Here is where formal counseling is a great evil in our day. An appointment is made with the uppity pastor’s “counseling secretary.” Your session will be an hour, and then you are sent home till next week’s appointment. Few in the congregation, if any, will be involved in the situation. They aren’t “experts.” They aren’t “trained.” But by and large, the “experts” don’t really take God’s word seriously.
Any Christian who is in a trial is in grave danger of being separated from the faith. While God wants to use the trial to mature you (James 1:3 – for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness), the kingdom of darkness wants to use it to separate you from the faith: “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him” (James 1:12). This doesn’t mean we can lose our salvation, but it means that we could end up on a path with an uncertain eternal future:
2Peter 1:9 – For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. 10 Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. 11 For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Our goal is a rich entry, not one shrouded with doubt and fear concerning an uncertain eternity. This will cripple us in our faith. Before Peter’s trial of denying Christ after He was taken into custody, Christ told him that Satan had sought permission from God to separate Peter from the faith (a Job-like event). Trials will either make you a stronger Christian, or separate you from the faith. The words “trial” and “temptation” are therefore used interchangeably in the Scriptures. Hence, one should not be confused by what James stated in context:
James 1:13 – Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. 14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.
7. You must know that your friend will desire to get out of the trial quickly, and even though God’s wisdom often ends a trial quickly, and circumvents some trials altogether, the world’s way of ending a trial will be crouching at the door:
“…. let steadfastness have its full effect” (James 1:4).
You must stand with your friend against the world’s shortcuts in the midst. Why does it take an expert to understand these things? The last thing a Christian in trial needs is a professional motif with an uppity secretary, a bunch of formal paperwork, and contemporary décor. They need real friends full of goodness. They need real friends who know what’s at stake. This is where true discipleship is set on fire. This is where the rubber of love meets the road.
8. You must not be surprised at the trial type. Christians can find themselves in any kind of trial:
“….when you meet trials of various kinds” (James 1:2).
1Peter 4:12 – Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.
9. You must not doubt God. The most astounding trials must not be allowed to shake our confidence in God’s purposes and trust in His wisdom to resolve the trial. We must consider doubt an affront to God’s power, promises, and purposes. We must not have a form of godliness while denying the power thereof.
10. You must joyfully anticipate the deepening of relationship between all involved and God:
“….Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds” (Ibid).
Go. Go to your friend. Work together with them in encouragement. Discuss what you know, and pray together for wisdom in the rest. Wait on God together. Obey together. Cry together. Trust together, and defend God’s sufficiency together. Study the word together. Make a friendship deeper, and look forward to the day when you can comfort others with the comfort you have been comforted by. These are deep waters. This is where Christ comes in power. This is no place for outsiders.
This is no place for bloviated academics propagating a false gospel.
As the resurgence of the Authentic Calvinism pandemic spreads across this country, the absurdity becomes easier to write about every day. In the name of faith, the way Christians are being led into turning off their minds is astounding. But it is a rheostat modus operandi, so those who are being gradually assimilated into this philosophy don’t see it happening. Unfortunately, the lost world and Christian producers are perplexed by all of this.
CCEF is the counseling education wing of Westminster Seminary. Dr. David Powlison, Paul David Tripp, and Dr. Ed Welch, among others, have effectively spread this philosophy throughout the rest of the biblical counseling world. An indifferent attitude toward humanity in general is the result. Different world philosophies will perceive humanity differently. But more and more, Christianity is in league with nihilism which is a kissing cousin to authentic Reformed theology.
It has its roots in Gnosticism which has always been an elitist philosophy among the upper class. Philip J. Lee classifies Gnosticism as an upper socioeconomic phenomenon in his book, Against the Protestant Gnostics. It is no accident that New Calvinism is primarily an upper class phenomenon. Those who have to live in the real world to survive are perplexed by the logic; i.e., those who have to maintain a real job (or three jobs) in a horrible economy to survive. They have to trust Christian academia to deliver up the deeper things of God’s truth that they don’t have time to study, and pay good hard-earned money for it. Perhaps in all of church history, this sacred trust has never been violated in a greater way than in our day. Lee also classifies it as driven by hopelessness with the solution being an escape from realty. At the crux of Reformed theology is the idea that all reality is perceived from understanding how worthless we are as the way to understand God’s holiness. This enables us to abandon the pain and reality of the present world. Happiness is replaced by resurrection experiences that bring joy in understanding our utter worthlessness because we are completely free from the consequences. Hence, as one New Calvinist stated it:
What, then, is the subjective power of this message? Firstly, we find that there is real, objective freedom, the kind that, yes, can be experienced subjectively. We are freed from having to worry about the legitimacy of experiences; our claims of self-improvement are no longer seen as a basis of our witness or faith. In other words, we are freed from ourselves, from the tumultuous ebb and flow of our inner lives and the outward circumstances; anyone in Christ will be saved despite those things. We can observe our own turmoil without identifying with it.
This is really the primarily appeal of Reformed theology: sanctified escapism through worm theology. Dr. Welch recently posted Being a Loser and the Freedom to Fail on CCEF’s blog. It begins this way:
After accepting a CEO position at a non-profit, in which he could make or break the organization’s future, he said, “I believe that one of the great comforts of the gospel is the freedom to fail.” I heard this echoed recently by a friend when he made a somewhat risky vocational decision. Though he struggles with the opinions of others, he was able to say: “the worst I can do is fail.” He smiled as he said it, and I rejoiced in his spiritual maturity, which clearly surpasses my own.
There are so many benefits available in the death and resurrection of Jesus. The freedom to fail is a fine one, given how most of us feel like a failure.
The metaphysical stupidity of this is revealed in the following rhetorical question: Who would like to have a gospel-centered heart surgeon scheduled to perform your quadruple bypass? As you’re being wheeled into the operating room, he looks at you with a smile on his face as says: “I believe that one of the great comforts of the gospel is the freedom to fail.”
This philosophy is wreaking havoc on the church en masse, and then Christians are going to these guys to fix the problem! It’s like going to Dr. Kevorkian for the following presentation problem: “I’m suicidal.” The brilliant Dr. Welch continues:
Then listen to Scripture. You’ll find a number of divine responses. Here are just two.
The brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride in his high position. But the one who is rich should take pride in his low position, because he will pass away like a wild flower. (James 1:9-10)
Consider how you, as a brother in humble circumstances, have been singled out from the beginning of time to belong to God and, as you throw your lot in with Jesus, you have all of Christ’s inheritance. Your stature, indeed, is quite high.
I appreciate those words, and sometimes they are helpful, but I find more comfort— and some humor—in these:
For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. (1 Cor.1:26-29)
In context, the apostle Paul is actually speaking to the problem of false teachers like Ed Welch that intimidate Christians of the lower uneducated socioeconomic class with vain philosophy. Paul’s point is that God uses those of the lower class to refute puffed-up intellectuals with His wisdom. Welch uses these same verses to make the case that we should glory in our ineptness. Not so. The opposite is true.
I am presently in a deep study concerning God’s wilderness Tabernacle. He had specific plans concerning the Tabernacles construction, but also left much of the project to the creativity of the Israelites. He also demanded a skillful performance. All that was instructed was to be performed, “skillfully.” And our sanctification is no different. We are to make the best of the talents we have been given. Christ had no comforting words for those who do not approach our duties in sanctification with all zeal. The Tabernacle wasn’t built by spiritual slackers. Drawing from Welch’s last paragraph, these are NOT the words that I will be speaking to Susan as they are wheeling her in for surgery next month:
(Speaking softly, while stroking her hair softly): now Susan, I have chosen a gospel-centered surgeon for you. He has freedom in Christ, so he is not judged by the world’s standards—he has the freedom to fail. And you know sweety, we all fail every day. He also told me that like most of us, he feels like a failure. So my dear, let’s give this man the freedom to be human—after all, it’s not about what we do, but what Jesus has done. There are more important things in life than boasting about a successful surgery.
Though we may find humor in what is ridiculous, these are the chief surgeons of the biblical counseling movement in our day. And that’s not funny—it’s terrifying.
10. David Platt
9. Paul Washer
8. Ligon Duncan
7. David Powlison
6. Albert Mohler
5. Mark Dever and 4. CJ Mahaney
3. Elyse Fitzpatrick
2. Tim Keller
1. John Piper
“Don’t misunderstand: the problem of ‘victim mentality’ is not even on the radar screen—they have removed the word “victim” from their metaphysical dictionary.”
“Justice necessarily implies victim. Victim necessarily implies worth. All three are conspirators with the glory story.”
Martin Luther had more on his mind than silly Popes when he nailed his 95 Theses to the front door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg, Germany. That protest launched the Reformation, but six months later Luther presented the systematic theology of the Reformation to the Augustinian Order in Heidelberg. Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation laid the foundation, and John Calvin later articulated and applied its basic principles to the full spectrum of life in his Institutes of the Christian Religion.
The Cross Story and the Glory Story
Luther’s cross story, or theology of the cross is the crux of the Heidelberg Disputation and introduced in the first sentence of the Calvin Institutes:
Our wisdom, insofar as it ought to be deemed true and solid wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.
That’s Luther’s theology of the cross: a deeper and deeper knowledge of our putrid humanity as set against God’s holiness. And NOTHING in-between. All of creation, all events, and all reality contribute to deeper knowledge of one of these two, and then both as a deeper knowledge of each gives more understanding to the other; knowledge of both, and the experience of both. Hence, every blessing, including our good works which are done by the Holy Spirit to begin with, lends more understanding of God’s glory. Every evil event, sin, and tragedy lends deeper understanding in regard to our total depravity and worthlessness. But of course your mother is dying of cancer; I am amazed that God would give anyone as many years as He has given her. Who are we to think we deserve even one year of life? And what a wonderful opportunity for her to suffer the way Jesus suffered for us!
This is the cross story. See the illustration below. This is a contemporary depiction from that camp—this is their assessment:
Anything else at all that gives any credit to humanity—Christian or non-Christian is the “glory story.” That would be our glory specifically, and not Christ’s. To the degree that humanity is considered, the glory of Christ is “ECLIPSED.” This is the theses of a book written by John MacArthur associate Rick Holland: Uneclipsing The Son. Everything is perceived as speaking through one of these two perspectives. ANYTHING coming from what is perceived as the “glory story” is summarily dismissed. Be sure of it: this is how Calvinists think. This is their worldview.
In one of the former Resolved Conferences sponsored by John MacArthur and Holland, in one of his messages, Holland extols a letter written to Puritan Christopher Love by his wife as he awaited execution. Holland forgot to mention to those listening that Love was executed for espionage against the English government while letting the audience assume he was executed for loftier spiritual-like reasons. The following is excerpts from the letter:
O that the Lord would keep thee from having one troubled thought for thy relations. I desire freely to give thee up into thy Father’s hands, and not only look upon it as a crown of glory for thee to die for Christ, but as an honor to me that I should have a husband to leave for Christ…. I dare not speak to thee, nor have a thought within my own heart of my own unspeakable loss, but wholly keep my eye fixed upon thy inexpressible and inconceivable gain. Thou leavest but a sinful, mortal wife to be everlastingly married to the Lord of glory…. Thou dost but leave earth for heaven and changest a prison for a palace. And if natural affections should begin to arise, I hope that the spirit of grace that is within thee will quell them, knowing that all things here below are but dung and dross in comparison of those things that are above. I know thou keepest thine eye fixed on the hope of glory, which makes thy feet trample on the loss of earth.
Justice? That implies that humanity has some sort of value. That implies that life itself has some sort of value. That implies that humanity should be protected through threat of punishment. That’s the glory story. Therefore, Calvin stated the following:
Those who, as in the presence of God, inquire seriously into the true standard of righteousness, will certainly find that all the works of men, if estimated by their own worth, are nothing but vileness and pollution, that what is commonly deemed justice is with God mere iniquity; what is deemed integrity is pollution; what is deemed glory is ignominy (CI 3.12.4).
Death by Biblical Counseling
The church must face up to a sobering reality in our day. The vast majority of biblical counseling that goes on in our day is based on this construct—you will be counseled from the perspective of the cross story, and anything that smacks of the glory story will be snubbed. You are not a victim. There is no such thing as a victim. Christ was the only true victim in all of history. Don’t misunderstand: the problem of “victim mentality” is not even on the radar screen—they have removed the word “victim” from their metaphysical dictionary. “Victim” is part of the glory story; Christ as the only victim is the cross story. I am not a victim. That’s impossible because my sin nailed Christ to the cross. Thank you oh Lord that I was raped. Thank you for this opportunity to suffer for you. Thank you for the strength to forgive the one who raped me in the same way you forgave me. What a wonderful opportunity to show forth your gospel!
Hence, when the leaders of a Reformed church came to inform parents that a young man in that church had molested their toddler, this was the opening statement:
Today, we have before us an opportunity to forgive.
The parents were then counseled to not contact the authorities. Those who do are often brought up on church discipline. Justice necessarily implies victim. Victim necessarily implies worth. All three are conspirators with the glory story. And be not deceived: this is the logic that drives Reformed organizations that are supposed to be mediators in the church; specifically, Peacemaker Ministries and G.R.A.C.E. A major player in the Biblical Counseling Movement is Paul David Tripp. In 2006, he wrote a book that articulates the horizontal application of Luther’s theology of the cross: “How people Change.” Of course, the title is a lie; if he really believed people change, that would be the glory story. Notice also that it is, “How People Change” and not, “How Christians Change.” That’s because this bunch see no difference in the transforming power of the new birth and ordinary Christ-rejecting people.
In the book, Tripp, like all who propagate Luther’s theology of the cross, posits the Bible as a “big picture” narrative of our redemptive life. The Bible is a mere tool for one thing only: leading us more and more into the cross story and away from the glory story. This is accomplished by using the Bible to enter into the cross narrative and thereby seeing our preordained part in the “big picture” narrative of redemptive history. Though Tripp is not forthright about it in the book, this is known as the Redemptive Historical Hermeneutic. By seeing our life through the cross story, we are empowered to live life for God’s glory. This is done by seeing ALL circumstances in life (Heat) as preordained in order to show our sinfulness (Thorns) and God’s goodness (Fruit) for the purposes of having a deeper understanding of both resulting in spiritual wellbeing. In other words, all of life’s circumstances are designed to give us a deeper understanding of the cross story: God’s holiness, and our sinfulness. I have taken his primary visual illustration from the book and drawn lines to the cross story illustration to demonstrate the relationship (click on image to enlarge):
Understanding this lends insight to Tripp citations on the Peacekeepers Ministries website:
Paul Trip wrote a great post over at The Gospel Coalition blog all about the need for pastors to pursue a culture of forgiveness in their ministry. Pastors (and anyone serving Christ) have a choice:
“You can choose for disappointment to become distance, for affection to become dislike, and for a ministry partnership to morph into a search for an escape. You can taste the sad harvest of relational détente that so many church staffs live in, or you can plant better seeds and celebrate a much better harvest. The harvest of forgiveness, rooted in God’s forgiveness of you, is the kind of ministry relationship everyone wants.”
Then he describes three ways forgiveness can shape your ministry. I’ve listed them, but you can read how he explains them in detail.
“1. Forgiveness stimulates appreciation and affection.
2. Forgiveness produces patience.
3. Forgiveness is the fertile soil in which unity in relationships grows.”
He closes with this exhortation:
“So we learn to make war, but no longer with one another. Together we battle the one Enemy who is after us and our ministries. As we do this, we all become thankful that grace has freed us from the war with one another that we used to be so good at making.”
And concerning another author, they also stated:
Last week, Steve Cornell at The Gospel Coalition blog posted some really great insight into the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation. They also offered up some excellent and biblically sound steps in dealing with a situation where an offending party is hesitant to reconcile.
Here he summarizes a key distinction:
“It’s possible to forgive someone without offering immediate reconciliation. It’s possible for forgiveness to occur in the context of one’s relationship with God apart from contact with her offender. But reconciliation is focused on restoring broken relationships. And where trust is deeply broken, restoration is a process—sometimes, a lengthy one”…. His ten guidelines for those hesitant to reconcile are rooted in scripture and, I think, incredibly helpful.
1. Be honest about your motives.
2. Be humble in your attitude.
3. Be prayerful about the one who hurt you.
4. Be willing to admit ways you might have contributed to the problem.
5. Be honest with the offender.
6. Be objective about your hesitancy.
7. Be clear about the guidelines for restoration.
8. Be alert to Satan’s schemes.
9. Be mindful of God’s control.
10. Be realistic about the process.
Notice the overall blurring of distinction between the offended and offender with the subject of forgiveness.
The Cross-centered Anti-justice Pandemic is No longer Exclusively a Reformed Thing
Apart from Calvinism, the redemptive historical cross-centered approach is crossing denominational lines en masse. We at TANC see doctrines that were born of Luther’s theology of the cross in non-Reformed circles constantly; specifically, heart theology (deep repentance), exclusive interpretation of the Scriptures through a redemptive prism, Gospel Sanctification, and John Piper’s Christian hedonism. And we also see the same results. It is not beyond the pale for a pastor who has raped a parishioner to be the one counseling the victim sinner. You know, the “sinner saved by grace.”
God is a God of justice, and throughout the Scriptures He demands that we be people of justice. He demands that we come to the defense of the victim. I close with fitting words from church historian John Immel:
And this is the challenge. This is the challenge that I have as a man who is passionate about thinking: to inspire people to engage in complex ideas that drive tyranny. So here’s my challenge to those who are listening.
Do not be seduced into believing that righteousness is retreat from the world.
Do not be seduced into believing that spirituality is defined by weakness and that timid caution for fear of committing potential error is a reason to be quiet.
Do not be intimidated by vague, hazy threats of failure.
Do not let yourself believe that faith is a license to irrationality. I’m going to say that again to you. This is good. Do not let yourself believe that faith is a license to irrationality.
Do not mistake the simple nature of God’s love for a justification for simple-mindedness.
Do not deceive yourself with the polite notion that you are above the fray, that your right to believe is sufficient to the cause of righteousness. There is no more stunning conceit.
Do not pretend that your unwillingness to argue is the validation of truth.
Know this: Virtue in a vacuum is like the proverbial sound in the forest–irrelevant without a witness. Character is no private deed. To retreat is nothing more than a man closing his eyes and shutting his mouth to injustice.
Virtues are not estimates to be lofted gently against evil.
Virtues are not to be withheld from view in the name of grace.
Virtues are not to be politely swallowed in humble realization that we are all just sinners anyway.
Love is not a moral blank check against the endless tide of indulgent action.
Love is not blind to the cause and effect of reality.
Love is not indifference to plunder and injustice and servitude.
The time is now, you men of private virtue, to emerge from your fortress of solitude and demonstrate that you are worthy of a life that bears your name. The time is now, you men of private virtue, to answer Mick Jagger and all the nihilists that insist we are living on the edge and we cannot help but fall. It is time for you men of private virtue to take up the cause of human existence and think.
~TANC 2012 Conference on Gospel Discernment and Spiritual Tyranny: John Immel; session 1, “Assumptions + Logic = Action.”
“In that Disputation, Luther postulates Pope Gregory’s take on the gospel which is the exact same calling card of present-day New Calvinism.”
“Powlison points to Pope Gregory and Augustine as the pioneers of biblical counseling using a ‘Christ-centered,’ ‘full gospel’ approach. And what was that approach?”
Let’s just take one contemporary example: a Presbyterian church that is now a mere shell of what it was; the remains of a war over the arrival of a New Calvinist pastor who exhibited outrageous behavior and leadership style. Today, some parishioners stand dumbfounded that the Presbytery took positive steps to keep said pastor in place.
As TANC, our newly formed think tank that researches Reformed theology continues to journey into church history for answers, the reasons for present-day tyranny in the church become clearer every day. First, it is driven by the gospel that founded the Reformation. Simply put, it is a gospel that does not believe that people change, but are rather called to contemplate the saving works of Christ in order for His righteousness to be manifested in one of two realms. Whether Baptist, Methodist, or whatever, this Reformed seed, the idea that people really don’t change is at the core of their function though they would deny it verbally. The Western church as a whole buys into this basic concept.
Secondly, the basic concept of spiritual elitists ruling over the totally depraved. You know, the they really can’t change crowd. The Reformation clarion call of total depravity—what’s our second clue if we need one? The spiritual is accessed through the chief contemplationists, and since they have the dope directly from God, they should rule over the totally depraved. Look, I have been a Baptist since 1983, and this is how it works. Again, we wouldn’t verbalize that, but to some degree it is true of all Western denominations because we are the children of the Protestant Reformation. What were we protesting? Naughty philosopher kings; past that, not much.
If we don’t change, the church doesn’t either. Think about that. And we wonder why things are a mess. Apparent growth in numbers is being driven by something else other than a true gospel. And the Reformers deny that while pontificating total depravity. It is testimony to the depth of which this Protestant construct has dumbed down the average parishioner; i.e., the totally depraved change. And nobody blinks. The assumption is that total depravity only pertains to the unregenerate, but that’s not the case according to the Reformed gospel and its time for people to start doing the math on that. The “Nones” and the massive exodus from the evangelical church is taking place for a reason.
I’m not ready to declare Pope Gregory the Great the father of the Reformation and present-day New Calvinism just yet, but recent discoveries reveal some things that should be fairly obvious. We aren’t stupid, just trusting, and that needs to end. Christians need to take advantage of the information age and start studying for themselves as the Christian academics of our day refuse to be forthcoming. They didn’t forget to mention that sola fide is also for sanctification. They didn’t forget to mention the total depravity of mankind AND the saints. They didn’t forget to mention that the new birth is a realm and not something that happens in us—it’s deliberate deception because the Reformed gospel is “scandalous.” The totally depraved are not “ready” for what the enlightened class of philosopher kings understand. By the way, many seminary students will testify to the fact that they are told as much by their seminary professors. Seminaries are where you go to be certified for the purpose of ruling over the totally depraved in order to, in Al Mohler’s words, “save them from ignorance.” Sorry, I prefer to let the Bible and Google save me from ignorance. Thank goodness for the Gootenberg press.
Monks. That’s what we are missing here. Martin Luther. Ever heard of him? He was a monk. What is the very premise on monkism? It’s the idea that the spiritual is obtained by contemplationism. And monkism is not unique to the Catholic Church—it is the link from the Catholic Church to the ancient concept of mystic dualism. Though it pans out in various different ways, it’s the idea that matter is evil and spirit is good. In other cases, it holds to the idea that both good and evil are necessary to understand true reality. Good defines evil, and evil defines good. The more you understand both, the more “balance” you have in the universe. Then there is the goal to birth the spiritual into the physical through meditation/contemplationism. Like I said, there are many takes on the basic approach.
Monks believe that the physical or world realm is a distraction from the spiritual realm. In some cases, they believe that all matter is merely a form of the perfect, or spiritual. Hence, monasteries. Traditionally, monasteries have been clearing houses for the dope from God through contemplationism. And since they have the dope, they should rule the totally depraved for their own good. In some spiritual caste systems, the monks rule directly, in others like the Catholic Church, the monks are the Scribes and Prophets for the rulers; i.e., the Popes.
The fact that monkism would be part and parcel to any doctrine formulated by Martin Luther is a no-brainer. Mysticism is simply going to be a significant factor, and so it is with Protestantism. This becomes more apparent when you consider the core four of the Protestant Reformation: Martin Luther, John Calvin, St. Augustine, and Pope Gregory the Great. Luther’s 95 Theses was a protest against naughty Popes, but he was completely onboard with the Catholic caste system. When his 95 Theses resulted in the unexpected societal eruption that took place, he presented a doctrinal disputation to the Augustinian Order in Heidelberg. And don’t miss this:
In that Disputation, Luther postulates Pope Gregory’s take on the gospel which is the exact same calling card of present-day New Calvinism. In theses 27 of his Disputation, Luther states the following:
Thus deeds of mercy are aroused by the works through which he has saved us, as St. Gregory says: »Every act of Christ is instruction for us, indeed, a stimulant.« If his action is in us it lives through faith, for it is exceedingly attractive according to the verse, »Draw me after you, let us make haste« (Song of Sol. 1:4) toward the fragrance »of your anointing oils« (Song of Sol. 1:3), that is, »your works.«
There could not be a more concise statement in regard to the New Calvinist gospel. Deeds in the Christian life come from the same acts in which Christ saved us. Secondly, they are not our acts, but the acts of Christ applied to our Christian lives by faith alone. Thirdly, when the works of Christ are applied to our Christian lives by faith alone, it will always be experienced by the exhilarating emotions of first love—this is the mark of Christ’s active obedience being manifested in the spiritual realm through the totally depraved. We “reflect” the works of Christ by faith alone. Even John MacArthur has bought into this nonsense, claiming that obedience to the Lord is “always sweet, never bitter.” Francis Chan states that it always “feels like love.” And of course, poke John Piper’s rhetoric anywhere and this same monkish mysticism comes oozing out.
Moreover, Luther states this same concept from many different angles in his Disputation, and theses 28 is clearly the premise for John Piper’s Christian Hedonism.
No wonder then that New Calvinists of our day sing the praises of Pope Gregory. Here is what heretic David Powlison stated in an interview with Mark Dever’s 9Marks ministry:
Caring for the soul, which we try [try?] to do in biblical counseling, is not new. Two of the great pioneers in church history would be Augustine and Gregory the Great. Even secular people will credit Augustine’s Confessions as pioneering the idea that there is an inner life. Augustine did an unsurpassed job of tearing apart the various ways in which people’s desires become disordered. Gregory wrote the earliest textbook on pastoral care. He pioneered diverse ways of dealing with a fearful person, a brash and impulsive person, an angry person, an overly passive person. He broke out these different struggles and sought to apply explicitly biblical, Christ-centered medicine—full of Christ, full of grace, full of gospel, and full of the hard call of God’s Word to the challenges of life.
Powlison points to Pope Gregory and Augustine as the pioneers of biblical counseling using a “Christ-centered,” “full gospel” approach. And what was that approach? It was primarily contemplationism and dualism. In fact, Gregory practically saw “doing” as a necessary evil. In Roland Paul Cox’s Masters dissertation, Gregory the Great and His Book Pastoral Care as a Counseling Theory, Cox states the following:
The overall theme in Gregory’s dichotomies is balance. It is possible that this comes from Gregory’s own struggles in balancing his desire for the contemplative life of a monk versus his reluctant, but active, service as ambassador to Constantinople and pope.“The Regula Pastoralis was in large part devoted to describing how to reconcile the two types of life. He came to the conclusion eventually that while the contemplative life was the better and more desirable of the two, the active life was unavoidable, and indeed necessary in order to serve one’s fellow man.…There could be no better exemplar of the two lives than Gregory himself, but he would have been less than human had he not from time to time mourned the fact that so much of his time must be given over to the active at the expense of the contemplative” [Jeffrey Richards, Consul of God : The Life and Times of Gregory the Great (London ; Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1980), 57.].
Powlison, in true Reformed tradition, invokes the either/or hermeneutic, or the either cross story or glory story hermeneutic of Luther’s Disputation by suggesting that any denial of this “Christ-Centered” approach is a wholesale denial of an “inner life.” In other words, suggesting that doing something should be emphasized as much as contemplationism is paramount to denying that there is an inner life. Such statements by Powlison are indicative of his utter lack of integrity.
In addition, Gregory’s penchant for mystic dualism is seen in the same dissertation:
Gregory’s view of health revolved around balance. In Pastoral Care 34 dichotomies are given. For each one Gregory discusses how either extreme is detrimental. The following are a few examples of Gregory’s dichotomies: poor/rich, joyful/sad, subject/superiors, wise/dull, impudent/timid, impatient/patient, kindly/envious, humble/haughty, obstinate/fickly, and gluttonous/abstemious. Further, Gregory explains how certain traits although they appear to be virtues are in reality a vice. For example, in describing the dichotomy of impatient and patient, Gregory says the following about the patient: “…those who are patient are to be admonished not to grieve in their hearts over what they suffer outwardly. A sacrifice of such great worth which they outwardly offer unimpaired, must not be spoilt by the infection of interior malice. Besides, while their sin of grieving is not observed by man, it is visible under the divine scrutiny, and will become the worse, in proportion as they claim a show of virtue in the sight of men. The patient must, therefore, be told to aim diligently at loving those whom they needs must put up with lest, if love does not wait on patient” [Pastoral Care: pp. 109, 110].
In other words, self-control is a vice. Unless cross-centered love is mystically applied according to Luther’s Disputation (theses 28), the latter evil of self-control is worse than the former sin of being offended since such offences serve to humble us (LHD theses 21).
What goes hand in metaphysical hand in all of this is good ole’ ancient spiritual caste tyranny. As Cox further observes,
Shortly after becoming pope, Gregory wrote Pastoral Care. In addition as pope, he reorganized the administration of the papal states, he maintained papal authority in the face of encroachments from the Patriarch of Constantinople, he established links with the Frankish Kingdoms, and most importantly (for these English writers), he sent a party of monks, led by Augustine, to convert the Anglo-Saxons.
Gregory was very influenced by the Rule of St. Benedict and Benedictine monks who came to Rome after the monastery that St. Benedict founded was burnt. In some letters, Gregory calls his work Pastoral Rule. “There is every reason to assume that Gregory in conceiving the plan for Liber Regulae Pastoralis [Pastoral Rule] intended to provide the secular clergy with a counterpart to this Regula [the Rule of St. Benedict].
….This culture of rulers and emperors also helps explain why Gregory saw Pastoral Care and Pastoral Rule as one in the same. By modern day standards, Gregory would be considered overly authoritarian.
A culture of “rulers and emperors” had precious little to do with it, but rather ancient spiritual caste systems that answered the supposed preordained call of God to control the totally depraved. With the sword if necessary. While many of these systems were based on mythology prior to the 6th century, Plato systematized the idea and gave it scientific dignity. But his trifold theory of soul consisting of king, soldier, and producer called for a sociological counterpart that was a mirror image to fit the need. Sir Karl Raimund Popper, considered the greatest philosopher of the 20th century, fingered Platonism as the primary catalyst for religious and secular tyranny in Western culture. And Plato’s mystic dualism (shadows and forms) added not just a little to the MO of the Reformers. According to church historian John Immel:
Calvin’s Institutes (1530) is the formal systematic institutionalization of Platonist/Augustinian syncretism that refined and conformed to Lutheran thinking and became the doctrinal blueprint for the Reformed Tradition [Blight in the Vineyard: Prestige Publishing 2011].
Christ promised us that He would build His Church and the gates of hell would not prevail against it. The idea that the Reformers rescued His church from the gates of the Roman Catholic Church is both laughable and the biggest hoax ever perpetrated on mankind. The idea that Christ needed, and continues to need the services of Plato’s philosopher kings is arrogance on steroids. Somewhere, God’s church moves forward. Let us shed the Reformed load that hinders and find our place in that true church.
Just a few questions:
1. If you accept the idea that “flesh” and “spirit” refer to parts of regenerate believers rather than to spheres in which people live and by which we are controlled, where does sanctification take place, in the flesh or in the spirit? The same question applies in terms of “old man”/ “new man.” Which of those grows in sanctification?
Answer: This question reflects the fact that the Reformed crowd doesn’t openly discuss what they really believe about this issue, and I commend you accordingly. Authentic Reformed doctrine holds to the idea that the active obedience of Christ is manifested in the “Spirit realm” as a result of what we see in the Bible being imputed to us by faith alone in sanctification (see Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation, theses 27). We don’t change. The “Spirit realm” and the “flesh realm” are two forces that put pressure on us, and at any given time, we “yield” to one or the other. This is the position of the elders who are over the NANC training center in Springboro, Ohio according to an email I received from them when they thought I was onboard with their doctrine.
Of course, the take on this varies among those in the Reformed tradition. Another example would be the idea that we are still dead spiritually, and the living Christ within us is the one obeying. What is consistent is the idea that this obedience is experienced in a certain way: joy and a willing spirit (see LHD, theses 27); that’s how we know Jesus is doing it and not us. At any rate, the crux of Reformed theology is that all good works take place outside of the believer; i.e., Luther’s “alien righteousness” for not only justification, but for sanctification as well. Your question is at the very core of debates that took place between heretic Dr. Ed Welch of CCEF and the commendable Dr. Jay Adams.
Jay Adams oversees INS as he was pretty much run out of NANC and CCEF—largely due to the fact that NANC and CCEF are both bastions of evil. I find it utterly intolerable that thousands are sent to these organizations daily with the hope of change when these Reformed organizations in fact don’t believe that God changes them. There are no words for my loathing of such hideous deception while these organizations also take people’s hard-earned money to boot. And some don’t go along with these ideas, but they stand silent and therefore are just as guilty. And my “whole life” is contending against this? Perhaps, but better that than one’s whole life buying acceptance with silence. Moreover, people praise CJ Mahaney and co. for their tireless night and day service to the “gospel” which is really the work of the kingdom of darkness against the kingdom of light. A pity that I would counter that with my own life.
Unfortunately, Adams, who is much more advanced in patience than I am—associates with them, and in my estimation thereby causes confusion regarding the kind of counseling that will change people. Also, the possibility that the only biblical counseling organization left on the face of the earth that is not infected with Trippism and Powlisonism is also a major concern. Nevertheless, Adams and his associate, Donn Arms, are the only ones who have taken a stand against the heretical onslaught taking place in biblical counseling circles which is fraught with mindless followers, lackeys, lovers of filthy lucre, shameless cowards, and lying integrationists. The idea that these people care about any marriage or the wellbeing of any saint is laughable.
But to answer your question completely, I believe the Scriptures are clear that the old self was put to death and no longer has the ability to enslave us to sin. The old self was “under the law” which means that the law provoked him to sin and a final judgment according to the law. As long as we are alive, our mortality has influence over us in regard to the old ways of being under the law, but the enslavement is broken. We are in fact born again, and have a regenerated “law of our mind.” Hence, “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” The warfare takes place inside of the believer between the law of his mind and the “law of sin.” The apostle makes it absolutely clear: this warfare takes place between my “inner being” and “in my members.” What is clearer? Unless the Bible is a Reformed gospel narrative that isn’t meant to inform our colaboring with God in sanctification. But it is, because we are no longer “under” it for justification, but are informed by it for sanctification. Because the Reformers believe we are still under it, we must continue to live by the gospel that saved us from the law. We are still under it, but Jesus keeps it for us. How this is applied to the Christian life by the Reformers is outright Gnosticism to the core.
Furthermore, the “law of my mind” part of the believer that “delights in the law” in our “inner being” is what grows. Something in us is in fact growing: a host of passages that include 1Peter 2:1-3 make this certain. Really? Jesus isn’t really talking to us when he states, “Well done faithful servant”?
2. Do you believe sanctification occurs completely apart from faith? Do we have everything we need at the point of regeneration, so that further dependence on the Holy Spirit is no longer necessary? It sounds as if that is what you are saying.
Answer: Your question is framed within the confines of the Reformed either/or hermeneutic. Reality is either interpreted through the “glory story,” or the “cross story.” This is the interpretive foundation of Reformed theology as stated in LHD. Because sanctification includes us, it must be by faith alone like salvation or it includes our glory as well. Therefore, where faith is, it must be by faith alone because faith is of God who will not share His glory with another. Therefore, if our doing is involved with sanctification, it must occur completely apart from faith. It must be the glory story, or the cross story. Reformed proponent Gerhard Forde states this in no uncertain terms.
Biblicists reject that metaphysical presupposition with prejudice. We stand with our beloved brother James, whom Luther rejected for obvious reasons, in saying that faith and works are together in sanctification while faith is alone in justification. Luther, and his Reformed minions believe that grace is fused with works apart from our faith when it is faith in the works of Christ alone in sanctification (LHD theses 25).
Also, “Do we have everything we need at the point of regeneration, so that further dependence on the Holy Spirit is no longer necessary?” Again, we see Reformed metaphysics. If any part of our story is in the narrative, it’s semi-Pelagianism and not the cross story. This is a rather simple concept. All of the power that raised Christ from the dead is credited to our account in salvation. The Holy Spirit, our “HELPER” (ESV) “helps” us (that’s what a “helper” does, they “help”) in appropriating the blessings of salvation. He aids us (that’s what a “helper” does, he “aids”). And those blessings are appropriated “IN” (that’s a preposition) the DOING (James 1:25).
3. Do you believe Jesus’ actions are ever to be considered not only as instructional as a pattern for our obedience, but as motivation to imitate him?
Answer: As many have forcefully argued in several articles, especially Presbyterian Pastor Terry Johnson, God uses many different incentives to motivate us other than gratitude and meditating on the salvific works of Christ. This was also Adams’ primary contention against Sonship Theology.
4. Do you see any difference between God’s work in a believer that replaces his need to obey and God’s work in believers motivating them to obey?
Answer: The very question suggests a “need” to “replace (s)” the “need” of a believer to “obey” in sanctification? Of course, a clear distinction is not made regarding….in sanctification or justification? But, NO SUCH NEED EXISTS for sanctification. Our work in sanctification has NO bearing on our justification. The premise of the question is based on faulty Reformed presuppositions.
5. How do you see the Reformed doctrine as teaching that sanctification completes justification?
Answer: They call it a “CHAIN” (The golden chain of salvation-Romans 8:29,30). What’s a “chain”? What happens if you remove the middle links of a “chain” ? It’s not completed—this would seem apparent.
Bob is on his way to Jerry’s house for dinner. Bob is the chairman of their church’s elder board. Jerry is being considered for eldership and Bob will be dinning at his house for a pre-interview en lieu of further discussion. Pizza is the cuisine. And apparently, not just on this night—Bob notes that every trashcan in the house is stuffed with pizza boxes. Dishes full of M & Ms also adorn many of the table tops. Bob is taken to the kitchen by Jerry to meet his wife, and Bob perceives no less than twenty-five bags of potato chips staked about in various places. One corner of the kitchen is occupied with a tall stack of Coca-Cola 12packs. Big on taste—small in nutrition.
Precious few will disagree that Bob’s family is headed for serious health problems if they do not change their ways. But yet, Bob is a picture of how the vast majority of Christian husbands oversee the spiritual diets of their families. However, the “Bob” motif falls woefully short of making the point; at least Bob knows what his family is eating for better or worse. Christian husbands of our day don’t even know the difference between Redemptive Historical hermeneutics and Grammatical Historical hermeneutics. In fact, when the subject comes up, a rolling of the eyes follows.
That’s because the preaching/teaching is awesome where they go to church. Uncompromising, and God glorifying. As one pastor exhorted me when inquiring about what hermeneutic he used in his preaching: “Come and see if it tastes good, and if you still want to, we will talk about theology.” But I never doubt it will taste good. Who doesn’t love pizza for dinner, potato chips as a side, Coke to drink, and M&Ms for desert?
Fact is, nearly 90% of preaching/teaching in today’s American church is fundamentally based on Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation. This document is the very heart of the Reformation and the engine that drives the present-day New Calvinist movement. Its premise was based on the idea that all spiritual reality, wisdom, and truth comes from the combination of two perspectives, and only these two: the holiness of God, and the wretchedness of all men whether they are Christians or not. Luther called this perspective the “theology of the cross.” It has come to be known as Gospel-Centered preaching/teaching. It is also the foundation of the Calvin Institutes. Everything in the Calvin Institutes, in some way, points to the glory of God “as set against our sinfulness.”
This has become job one: as described in the Heidelberg Disputation; this way of teaching is the “cross story,” and all other spiritual wisdom is the “glory story.” Hence, the contemporary clarion call of the Reformation derived from Luther’s Disputation is, the centrality of the objective gospel outside of us. Anything at all that has anything to do with us is “subjective,” and part of the “glory story.” Unless it concerns our wretchedness. Therefore, the Disputation ridiculed a negative attitude towards suffering as well for this serves to further reveal our woeful state in life which magnifies the redemptive work of Christ and our utter worthlessness. The whole motif can be visualized by the following Reformed chart:
Yes, you can preach wonderful sermons on those two dimensions. They are both abundantly true. Charles Spurgeon is known as the “prince of preachers.” All of his sermons are based on the “cross story.” All, I repeat “all” of John Piper’s sermons and the (seems like) 600 books he has written are based on nothing but, I repeat, nothing but the “cross story.” Amen, pass the potato chips. In circa 1994, John MacArthur abandoned the “glory story” aspects of his preaching and now focuses on the “cross story.” Amen, pass the M&Ms. And those babies slide down nice with a big swig of Coca-Cola.
“But Paul, what’s so sweet about focusing on our own wickedness?” My dear friend, haven’t you seen any Staples commercials? It’s easy. You totally stink. Nothing is expected of you: “Hey honey! Good news! We don’t change! Our marriage isn’t about a bunch of do’s and don’ts! Our failures make us wiser!” That was easy. In fact, teachers like Michael Horton and John Piper continually espouse the idea that expectations are just, “more bad news.” And regarding leaders? “Alright, time to prepare my message for tomorrow, and all I have to do is look for two things, and two things only in the text: how great God is, and how bad we are.” That was easy. In fact, we find the following on a well-known Reformed blog regarding instruction on how to prepare a Bible lesson:
At this time, resist the temptation to utilize subsequent passages to validate the meaning or to move out from the immediate context. Remembering that all exegesis must finally be a Christocentric exegesis.
Look for Christ even if He isn’t there directly. It is better to see Christ in a text even if He isn’t, than to miss Him where He is.
But as the apostle asked rhetorically, “What saith the Scriptures?” Is there another story other than the “cross story”? Anybody interested in the House on a Rock story?
Matthew 7:24 -“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. 26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”
Learn and do. That’s how we have a life built on a rock. It is the very definition of a disciple:
Matthew 19 – Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
So, here is my suggestion. When you go to church this Sunday, and other days following that involve sitting under the teachings of your leaders, take a legal pad with you. Draw a line at a downward angle on the bottom labeled, “our sin.” Draw a line at the top with an upward angle, and label it “Christ.” Then draw a line in the middle and label it, “What? Why? And How?” Or, “Not only what Jesus did, but what did He SAY?” Or simply, “Life built on a rock.” If there isn’t a three-dimensional balance—get out of there. You either love your family or you don’t. You will be judged by Christ accordingly.
I was approached by my wife Susan this morning. My son by marriage had approached her asking questions about demonology. Apparently, he had questions concerning some things he had heard about the subject in the secular realm. I was astonished; though both of them have been in church for a combined total of 72 years, they didn’t even know the basics regarding this subject. My wife wanted to know the answers to his questions—other than the usual answers: “Jesus” and “gospel.”
And if we don’t know, the world will gladly inform our children accordingly. Knowledge equals authority.
Men, wake up.
He is supposedly the Master who does all the work for us lest He be robbed of any glory. Somehow, if we actually do any of the work as born again slaves, that doesn’t honor the Master, but yet, he insists on being known as a master. It seems like God would want to be known by something else other than, “Lord.”
Using language that referred to the slave culture of that day, the apostle Paul said we were “bought with a price.” We were purchased as slaves with the blood of Christ, but the gospel that is all the rage of our day denies this very purchase and the lordship of Christ; it’s replaced with a supposed purchase of parasites.
As the heretic Paul David Tripp states it: we “rest and feed” on Christ. Got that? We are the slaves, He is the Lord, but we “rest and feed.” Really? And how valid is any profession of faith that doesn’t understand this relationship? How valid is a profession that accepts Christ as Savior only and denies the purchase?
Contemporary Reformed leaders of our day are now cashing in on this false gospel two-fold. The judgement they are heaping upon themselves for present-day cash is not enough—they are getting their wives in on the action. The organization True Woman .com is only one of many massive organizations saturating Christian culture with New Calvinism’s fusion of justification and sanctification.
The organization is led by several wives of the who’s who of neo-Calvinism—following their husbands in heresy. And I am not the only one saying so. Even those of the “Reformed tradition” label the neo-Calvinist active obedience of Christ (Christ obeys for us) as, “heresy,” “works salvation” by not working in sanctification, “easy believism,” and antinomianism.
When justification and sanctification are fused together, justification is not a finished work. The doctrine makes two justifications: one finished and one progressive. They deceptively refer to this as “progressive sanctification.” Hence, “progressive sanctification” is really finishing justification. That’s a huge problem because we are in the sanctification process and what we do can therefore effect our “just standing with God.” It requires a maintaining of antinomianism to keep our just standing before God; ie., sanctification by faith alone. But living by faith alone in sanctification becomes a way to maintain our just standing before God—for all practical purposes, works salvation by antinomianism.
It’s not an oxymoron; when justification and sanctification are fused together, everything we do in sanctification points back to, or effects our justification because at least one aspect of it is not finished. As one respected Reformed pastor noted: it is the same Catholic salvation that those of Reformed thought claim to refute.
Furthermore, the primary catalyst for the doctrine’s present success was its Sonship theology package hatched at Westminster Seminary by Dr. John “Jack” Miller. A self-proclaimed understudy of Miller’s, David Powlison, then made the doctrine the foundation of Westminster’s biblical counseling curriculum via CCEF. In a book written by Dr. Jay E. Adams, he clearly states that the doctrine promotes a view that sanctification is powered by justification. Clearly, even in the Reformed community, there is a dispute in regard to the very reason we are supposed to be here: the gospel.
But does the Reformed tradition trump gospel truth? The answer is a resounding, “yes,” especially in the biblical counseling community. The two primary queens of that movement are Elyse Fitzpatrick and Martha Peace. Fitzpatrick has openly denied that there is any such thing as an antinomian because man is helplessly legalistic. Like all good neo-Calvinists, the poo-pooing of specific biblical truth is done without a blinking of the eye. In this case, the biblical word “anomia” is completely dismissed. And apparently, Satan came to Eve in the garden as a legalist.
Peace is a hardcore New Calvinist proponent of the active obedience of Christ and sanctification by faith alone. But yet, these two women are the toast of the biblical counseling community—even by those who refute the neo-Calvinist take on double imputation (the active and passive obedience of Christ imputed to our sanctification).
Why? Because it’s really not about the gospel. That’s why. And as far as counseling, people can’t be helped with a false gospel. No way.
No doubt, PAM reveals many problems with the biblical counseling movement that one may expect when it is based on a false gospel. But John Street’s real sin is his participation in a mass propagation of a false gospel.
Dr. John Street, founder of Clearcreek Chapel in Springboro, Ohio has finally made it big in the biblical counseling movement. This is evident from the fact that he has become a target of PAM (PsychoHeresy Awarness Ministries). PAM is directed by Martin and Deidre Bobgan who without a doubt are the most formidable critics of the “biblical” counseling movement.
John Street is an elder at John MacArthur’s Grace Community Church in California, and the Chair of the graduate program for biblical counseling at the seminary associated with MacArthur’s church. Also, last time I checked, Street is the president of the National Association of Nouthetic Counselors (NANC).
In the most recent PAM newsletters (http://www.psychoheresy-aware.org/street_tmc&s.html and http://www.psychoheresy-aware.org/street_tmc&s_2.html) Street is barbecued for practicing counseling methods that the Bobgans deem unbiblical. PAM primarily decries the biblical counseling movement’s “problem-centered counseling” verses “Christ-centered Ministry” (http://www.psychoheresy-aware.org/e-books/CCMpcc-ebk.pdf ).
I am not sure what PAM means by “Christ-centered ministry,” but it seems to be a passive approach regarding the disciple’s role in sanctification:
This is why we say that those who minister to one another need to get in the way and out of the way. They need to be available, but they need to let God work rather than push their own agenda.
The idea of pushing our own agenda could mean “let go and let God” instead of pushing an agenda that just so happens to be God’s agenda. The wording is unsettling. Elsewhere the Bobgans write the following:
Christ-centered ministry encourages spiritual growth and depends on the Lord to do the work in each individual through His Word and Spirit. Therefore, one can confidently assure believers that this ministry is more effective, long-lasting, and spiritually rewarding than problem-centered counseling for those who are willing to go this way.
Depend on the Lord to do the work? At the very least, the Bobgans need to clarify their position more thoroughly because by and large, gospel contemplationism is the primary thrust of NANC counseling. One wonders if PAM is accusing NANC of what they are guilty of: an overly passive approach to sanctification.
And, NANC, when they were (past tense) helping many people, encouraged an aggressive role in sanctification by the counselee. Christians are called to “study to show thyself approved,” and then aggressively apply that truth to their lives in order to have a life built on a rock (Matthew 7:24).
This was NANC’s approach in the past, and it did result in massive professions of faith, and real lasting change. I know; I was there; I am a firsthand witness. This was before David Powlison via CCEF and company infiltrated NANC with the gangrene of progressive justification. Unbelievably, in broad daylight, Powlison admitted (during a lecture at John Piper’s church while Piper was on sabbatical searching for different “species of idols” in his heart) that NANC’s “first generation” counseling was in contention with “second generation counseling” over the very definition of the gospel!
And this is my point: PAM is focused on the supposed evil of “problem-centered” counseling (is the gospel itself not problem-centered? The gospel did not come to solve a problem?) while the real issue is that NANC and CCEF both propagate a blatant false gospel. The counseling is based on the fusion of justification and sanctification with gospel contemplationism as its practical application.
CCEF’s counseling is based on Sonship theology. Dr. Jay E. Adams nailed that doctrine specifically as the fusion of justification and sanctification in his book, “Biblical Sonship” published in 1999. Adams, in the book, decried Sonship’s position that regeneration is powered by the finished work of justification. CCEF then effectively infiltrated NANC and took it over with the same doctrine. I use over 200 pages to document all of this in “The Truth About New Calvinism” (thetruthaboutnewcalvinism.com).
Hence, we must assume that NANC counseling yields many ill results, and I will say this: PAM points them out though they are missing the much larger issue. Case in point:
The truth is that counselors and especially counselors with an agenda (their particular approach) too often take credit for successes and attribute failures to the counselees. The trumping truth is that success is primarily in the hands of the counselees….
And worse yet, The counselee’s “failure” ends up in church discipline!
Problem-centered counseling is typically a one-to-one relationship. Sometimes couples and families are involved, but the relationship is generally artificial and restrictive. The counseling relationship itself usually does not extend outside the counseling room. The relationship lasts as long as counseling is being provided and normally does not extend to other involvement, even in most biblical counseling centers. Problem-centered counselors commonly do not involve themselves with counselees outside the counseling room. That is why both psychological and biblical counselors sometimes use intake forms requesting a great deal of personal information. Because this relationship is generally isolated, the counselor and counselee can be selective as to what they want to reveal about themselves. In fact, as we mentioned earlier, research shows that counselees often lie to their counselors and protect themselves by concealing important information.
The great advantage of Christ-centered ministry is that it is not limited to an artificial one-to-one relationship where one has the problem and the other supposedly has the solution. In the Body of Christ all are growing together. there are many opportunities to know one another and to interact in genuine relationships. When a believer is experiencing problems, more than one person may be involved in ministering to that individual. One may be teaching. One may be reminding. Another may simply be extending support and fellowship. Another may be helping in practical ways. Another may be exhorting. Another may be admonishing. And, in a few cases, some may be exercising the responsibility of disciplining a fellow believer for the sake of restoration. But, all can be praying and encouraging the individual in the direction of the Lord. And, through all this, all are growing together and the relationships may deepen with one another as well as with the Lord.
No doubt, PAM reveals many problems with the biblical counseling movement that one may expect when it is based on a false gospel. But John Street’s real sin is his participation in a mass propagation of a false gospel. It reminds me of Eric Clapton’s ode to one who objects to being accused of shooting a deputy when he really shot the sheriff.
….the following transcript of a sermon delivered at a conservative Baptist church that is in the process of being taken over by New Calvinists. Read the “Four Groups” post first, and then read the following manuscript from the aforementioned sermon. This sermon is also predicated on the philosophical (Gnostic/Marxist) ideas that drive camp #2. It is also interesting to note the following fact regarding a Gnostic group that plagued the first century church: “Nico means ‘conquer’ in Greek, and laitan refers to lay people, or laity; hence, the word may be taken to mean ‘lay conquerors’ or ‘conquerors of the lay people’” (On line source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicolaism).
Hi. Good morning. Let me just add my welcome to those of you who are coming back here for the first time. For those who are coming back, welcome back. For those of you who are leaving, goodbye. No. We’ll be praying for you as you kind of move in new transitions in life.
We are in a transition here at Shawnee Hills. I mean, it’s fairly obvious because I’m up here. And if you’ve been coming the last several weeks/months, we’ve had a lot of other people who have come here and challenged us. And I don’t know about you, but we’ve heard some really great messages over the last several months. And I’ve really appreciated the people who have come from the outside to kind of challenge us and encourage us in this kind of time of transition. But I’m coming to you as one of us. I am a member of this group. And so when I was asked to share this morning, it’s like okay, what can I say to my brothers and sisters in this local body that would be an encouragement to them and how can I do that in a kind of a one-shot type of deal? Which is always sort of difficult ’cause I really like teaching Sunday school because if I’m working through a book, I know exactly what I’m supposed to do. It kind of goes in line. But if I have to pick something one shot, I mean, here I am.
So that’s what I’m gonna try to do this morning, is we’re gonna talk about the concept of worldly wisdom versus godly wisdom. You know, we got this report from the pulpit committee. They have sixty resumes. Wow. Now I’m glad I’m not on the pulpit committee because, you know, I have trouble – when I go to like Olive Garden or Cheesecake Factory and there’s so many good things on the menus, like I don’t know how to choose. How many of you have this kind of same issue here? Okay. So I’m glad it’s you guys and not me that’s doing that.
But this morning as we kind of talk about this issue of godly wisdom, worldly wisdom, in the end the pulpit committee is gonna go through these resumes. They’re going to sort people out. They’re gonna do that, and then they’re gonna present someone to us. Ultimately, we make the decision. Ultimately, we call a pastor. It’s not the pulpit committee that calls the pastor. And so as we kind of go into this decision-making process about thinking who will be the next senior pastor of Shawnee Hills, it kind of gives us a chance to reflect on how are we going to choose somebody. And not just as we think about issues of choosing a pastor, how do we choose anything? What is the decision-making process? What is the kind of standard or goal that we sort of use to know whether we’re making wise decisions or not? And so this is really what I kind of wanna address today.
And I also want you to know that in a sense, even though when we’re looking at James chapter 3 in quite a bit of detail this morning, in essence I’m preaching him as well to you. I’m gonna sing that hymn at the end of the service and hopefully, the words of the message, and we’re kind of going through this concept of earthly versus – or worldly versus godly wisdom will kind of resonate when we sing the hymn at the end. Hopefully, you can see the connections between the two.
All right. Now if you think about going to a restaurant, making a big decision, or making a decision off the menu, going to a restaurant I hope is not a big decision for you, but oftentimes we tend to choose things that make us comfortable. If you’ve been to, you know, if we go out to eat, oftentimes depending on where we go, I can predict what Therese is gonna order off the menu. Because there’s certain things she likes, she feels comfortable with, and so she’s gonna choose those things. And so if we go to Los Mariachis, it’s gonna be the Mariachi chicken. It’s like that’s just the way it’s going to be even though there’s a lot of good things on the menu.
So we tend to choose things or we tend to kind of go with things that we’re comfortable with. Now that’s okay when you’re dealing with the Mariachi chicken, I guess, at Los Mariachis. But in a time of transition, it really gives us a chance to kind of think about what are the standards that we’re going to use to choose a pastor or anything else. And a couple of weeks ago, we were kind of given the results of a survey that we took to kind of see what we were looking for in a pastor. And, I don’t know, it’s always good to kind of quantify, I guess, what the attitude of the group is, and it’s good to see whether your intuitions of things kind of match everybody else’s, but I don’t know that there was anything particularly really surprising here. When I looked at this, this is what I thought. We would pretty much pick as – it was good to have that quantified for me, but it kind of begs the question. If that’s what we are saying that we want, is it maybe something that we’re comfortable with? And if we’re comfortable with that, may it also cause us to sometimes miss certain other things that we should be looking for?
And so what I want to do today is look at what are God’s standards for how we should be making decisions of any type, whether it’s a pastor or anything else. And to use the pastor issue just as kind of an example, if you think about what a pastor is for a congregation, oftentimes the pastor is our representative. He embodies what we think we should be as believers. So on our list we wanted someone who preaches well, and we wanted someone who has been to seminary and can discern the Word. And we wanted somebody who is married because we think that’s a good thing, or most of us thought that was a pretty good thing. And so the pastor sort of becomes the embodiment of who we think he should be. He embodies our values. So pastors are representatives.
But pastors are also shepherd. It’s another kind of way of looking at this. And when we think about a pastor as a shepherd, he is to be who Christ wants him to be, and he is help mold us into what Christ wants us to be. And so when we need chastening, the pastor needs to chasten us. And when we need encouraging, he needs to encourage us. And hopefully, those two things are the same. Our values, pastor as our representative, God’s values, pastor as our shepherd. If those things are together, that’s great. Now I’m not suggesting to us that in our case that those are necessarily far apart. But they can have a tendency because our values versus God values, they can have a tendency to separate. And I think many a person has been pushed from the ministry because they could not be all things to all people, because they had to try to embrace everyone’s different image of who they were supposed to be. So as we kind of get into this – we’re in this time of transition, I think it’s a good time for us to kind of examine how do we go about making decisions. And so that’s what I’d like to do here today. Because if you don’t, the result can be a lot of division and a lot of quarreling and a lot of fighting. And churches end up splitting over issues like this. And I’m not suggesting that this is gonna happen to us at all, but I think it’s a good time for us to kind of step back and look at the whole issue.
So we’re gonna deal with this issue of wisdom here today. And normally when we think about wisdom, where do we normally start? The book of Proverbs, don’t we? So turn up to Proverbs chapter 9 because that’s usually where people wanna go when we think about wisdom. And Proverbs is a good place, because in Proverbs there’s the contrast between Lady Wisdom and Lady Folly. And as the first several chapters of Proverbs go, the writer keeps contrasting these two views for us. But note, we have this kind of encapsulating statement in Proverbs 9:10. And many of you can quote it, or at least you can quote the first part of the verse. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” And knowledge – I lost it. “And knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.”
So when we think about this idea of wisdom, wisdom starts with what? It starts with reverence. It starts with awe. It’s the fear of the Lord. Now if you think – and then look at what the writer says here. “And knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” In essence, knowledge is preceded by what? Wisdom. Normally, when we – and this is kind of counterintuitive for most of us. Most of us, when we think about wisdom, wisdom is knowledgeable people taking what they know and applying it well. But know what the author of Proverbs is telling us, that wisdom is really – precedes knowledge. Because if you have wisdom, if you have the fear of the Lord, it is going to guide even what you think is worth knowing. It guides the process of what you choose to learn. If I think that learning to be a triathlete is a good thing, it’s gonna drive my understanding. It’s gonna drive me to look at certain types of magazines and certain television shows and things like that. So my standard of what is good precedes even my understanding of what is good knowledge.
And that really is counterintuitive to us because most of the time we think that wisdom is knowledge applied. Well, what I really wanna suggest that what wisdom really is is knowledge well applied. Well, what does that mean? It means that whenever we approach this idea of wisdom, wisdom must have a target. Wisdom must have a goal. You’re choosing to learn something so that you can progress toward a certain goal or vision of that which is good. So we send people to school, for example, to become more knowledgeable. But what we choose to teach them, or we could teach them anything. But we choose to teach them certain subjects. Why do we teach them those subjects? Because we think that those are the types of subjects that will allow them to get along well in the world. So we have a vision of what is good that drives what we even choose to learn or teach people.
So when we think about this idea of wisdom, we have to start with this idea of wisdom as a vision of the good and not simply that wisdom comes out of knowing something. In fact, if you think about it, we know lots of intelligent people, I mean, very bright people who don’t start with this fear knowledge of the Lord. And what do they do with their intelligence and knowledge? They oftentimes will use it as a tool to sort of continue in their unbelief. They defend their bad ideas or their irreverent ideas or their idea that God doesn’t exist by using their intelligence or knowledge. They have a vision that starts and it guides how they look at knowledge and information.
So when we begin to think about this idea of wisdom, we first have to start with a fear, reverence, awe of God. Now the passage in James, it’s kind of interesting. When you look at the Old Testament, if you particularly look at Proverbs, we’re contrasting Lady Wisdom, Lady Folly. If you look at, let’s say, Ecclesiastes, in Ecclesiastes, the author of Ecclesiastes kind of goes through and talks about all the things that he’s done and all the things that he’s pursued. And in the end he comes to the conclusion that everything was vanity, or everything was folly. And so he then says, “Everything that I try to pursue was not very good. I should have remembered my Creator in the days when I was young.” And he says, “I should have had a different vision for life.”
James on the other hand is gonna be a little bit more nuanced for us. What James is telling us is that there are two types of wisdom. James has kind of laid out that who’s wise among you. And then he talks about the idea that there’s worldly wisdom, and he’s talking about that there is Godly wisdom. Now remember, wisdom is a vision of what is right or what is good. So what James is really telling us is that there are two visions of what is right or what is good. And we choose to pursue one of those visions. You can pursue a vision of worldly good. And the world defines good in a certain way. Or you can choose to pursue godly wisdom or the godly standard of the good. But what we’ll see is you cannot pursue both. So James kind of lays out for us that there really are two types of visions of the good, two competing ideas of virtue, and says that you need to choose between one of them. And he kind of lays out the differences for us. We’ll come back and look at this here in a minute.
But the kind of thing, the interesting thing to note here for me, I think, is that when we begin to think about this idea of virtue and good, we need to kind of understand that there’s a difference between moral ideas and ethical ideas. Normally, we understand those as sort of synonymous. In fact, we use them synonymously, and that’s technically not right. You act morally as an individual, okay? When you act and you do an action, whether it’s a good or bad action, that is an exercise in your morality. But generally, when you do that, you will do it from some sort of ethical standard, which is corporate. So if you are a good member of Shawnee Hills Baptist Church, how do you know you’re a good member? Because there’s sort of a corporate sort of understanding of what it means to be good here. And you live within that corporate idea of goodness. And if you act that way, we kind of applaud you and pat you on the back and say, “Yes, you’re a good Christian. Way to go.” And if you’re kind of outside of that, we sort of have our little ways of letting you know, “No, you’re not quite in there, right? Okay. And hopefully, if you still wanna be part of us, you kind of mold your attitudes back to get within the good.” Makes sense?
Now the same thing operates if you think about the larger society. There is a concept of what it means to be a good American. And if you’re a good American, you hold to certain ideas and you hold to certain values, and we’ll let you know that you’re a good American if in fact you live according to those values and act to the virtues and you pursue life that way. And most of us, because we live within that environment, we sort of tend to respond to that because we are communal beings. And so if we begin to understand that these ideas of ethics are really waters that we swim in, and because they’re waters that we swim in, they do affect us. And so when we go out there and we are in the bigger ethics of the culture, there’s certain attitudes and values that are pressing on us that say you are a good American if you do this. And the tendency could be that we could bring those attitudes, values, concepts of the good and bring them into here where they may not quite align with what God wants us to be and think and act and do. So we begin to kind of – think about James telling us, “Look, there are two types of virtue; there are two types of wisdom; and you need to choose the right one,” he’s really kind of saying choose as a group, as a community, you need to kind of choose the right ethical vision from which to follow.
Now I want you to think about the vision of the good that is out there for a minute. What does our society, what does our world try to tell us? If you think about it, there are competing messages that we get. For example, fairness is more important than justice in our society. And fairness is, “I need to get mine. It needs to be me.” Justice related more toward what’s good for the community. We are much more – we seem as a society, we’re much more interested in things like consuming goods, which is I consume them as compared to creating goods, which would be for the benefit of everyone. We seem to be much more interested in things like fame. Fame is pretty important to us rather than really truly accomplishing something. I mean, why in the world is Ryan Seacrest so famous? What has he done? I mean, he’s got the best job in the world. He gets to be on TV for the simple reason that he’s famous. What have you done? I don’t know but I’m famous. Okay, we’ll put you on. What a great gig to have. Glamour and beauty seem to be more important than character. Image is more important than holiness. There was a tagline for Sprite once: Image is everything.
Just as kind of an example, think about how people get their news now. Most people tend to get their news from sources that agree with their own opinion. We’ve sort of substituted opinion for true knowledge. And what that ends up doing in the end, again, all these, me versus the group, me versus the group, me versus the group, in the end, this becomes very divisive. It tends to pull apart at us. In the end we start treating other people as competitors. It divides us. We see people as the enemy. In many ways we turn – objectify people. Oh, he’s just an idiot for believing that. And what doesn’t happen is we don’t have unity. We tend to end up with division.
Now this is sort of exactly what James predicts. So if you kind of turn to James chapter 3, the passage that we read this morning, note that James really does kind of lay out certain characteristics of what happens if you follow this worldly vision. What are the results of this? And he notes that the first one is bitter jealousy. What he means here is that we seek our own benefit. We’re not willing to share with others. James as he uses this term, he uses it in a sort of a religious context. It kind of leads to a type of religious zeal or zealotry. And if you can think about the history of religion throughout the centuries, there’s been an awful lot of times where religion has been used, whether we’re talking Christianity or other religions, have been used to sort of promote a particular agenda, an us versus them kind of mentality. And he notes that this is one of the characteristics of worldly wisdom.
We are prone to selfish ambitions. We seek to promote our own ends. And we tend to do that at the exclusion of other people. So we start to use people if we can. In fact, I will try to pursue certain ways of gaining power so that I can pursue my agenda over your agenda. And that might need acquiring wealth because wealth gives me power. It might mean gaining position because position could give me power. It might mean cultivating beauty because beauty and sex appeal may give me power over people. But there’s lots of ways that we can go to cultivate power. And all of those kind of come out of this idea of selfish ambition because this is what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to seek our own end.
Arrogance. Note that James tells us that worldly wisdom leads to a type of arrogance. What it means is that you believe in yourself. You believe in your own vision. James is kind of laying out it’s your sovereignty. It’s your desire for autonomy that comes out, and it makes you arrogant. Now suddenly, your vision of the world becomes the vision for the world. And everyone has this sort of get in line with what you think is the right thing to do.
Self-deception. Notice that sometimes we become unwilling and unable to learn from others. We become unteachable at a certain level. Part of that is because of this arrogance that is cultivated. But part of it is that we are now are unwilling to see things at the way they really are.
In the end all of this leads to division. As worldly wisdom continues to grow and as worldly wisdom sort of becomes the wisdom for a group of people, the end result will always be, as James says, division. It will lead to quarreling. It will lead to fighting. It will lead to everyone – well, it leads to, as Jesus said, a house divided, which will not stand because everyone is now doing, as the author of Judges says, everyone is doing what is right in their own eyes. So in the end, worldly wisdom James kind of points out has this divisive, this corrosive, this kind of effect that pulls people apart because now everyone wants to pursue their own end.
Now obviously, when we present this characteristic of worldly wisdom, it doesn’t look too attractive, does it? It’s like, no, I don’t want to be that. In fact, I’m not that anyway. I am more godly in this regard because you can lay out this way, worldly, godly, okay, these people don’t look very nice. And you don’t really wanna be around people like this, which begs the question, might we be people like this? We certainly don’t want to think that we are.
Now James, you have to understand James is probably the first book of the New Testament that was written. And James is sort of – if anything else about James, he’s really a good psychologist. James understands the human heart. He understands what our – in our sin nature what our natural inclinations, what our natural affections tend to lead us. And he’s sort of warning us that be careful of this. Because if you do this, this is what’s going to happen. And so he’s kind of letting us know that there is this type of wisdom that can be corrosive if you let it take hold of you.
Now it’s kind of interesting that James writes this and then several decades later, we find this whole issue coming to fruition in another church. And another writer of a New Testament book, the Apostle Paul, finds that he has to address it. And he has to address it in the book of 1 Corinthians, because the Church in Corinth is actually exhibiting the very things that James warned of in his book. So when we get to 1 Corinthians, we have a church that is highly divided. And if you kind of read through the first chapter of 1 Corinthians, we have the issue of all kinds of things. One of the things that comes out is they’re divided over pastors, or who were their pastors and who they are pledging allegiance to in an essence. Some say well, I follow Apollos and I follow Paul and I follow Cephas or Peter. And there’s this other group, probably the holier than thou group, well, we follow Christ. So there’s all these kinds of factions in the Church. And Paul is now kind of writing to go through this, ’cause there’s lots of quarreling that’s going on here.
Now if you go through the book, you’ll see that there are issues of division, whose teachings are they gonna follow. There’s lack of community around the Lord’s Table because there’s division there. There’s strife in the Church because people are suing one another. There are people who are priding themselves on their liberty in Christ. So there’s moral laxity going on in the Church. There are issues of people pursuing their own ends. Paul has to address the issue of women taking leadership positions. He has to address the issue of people striving for certain spiritual gifts because those gifts are considered of higher status in the church and therefore will give people more power over what’s going on there. So there’s all kinds of divisions, strife, and things, all things that if you notice were things that James talked about in James chapter 3. So this is the church as really into it. They have embraced a sense of kind of worldly wisdom. And Paul, like James, is gonna have to note this kind of stuff because they’re all kind of pursuing the ends that James had said.
Now let me just kind of point out something about Corinth to you. ‘Cause normally, I think sometimes when we think of Corinth, the equivalent that we have of Corinth is Las Vegas. What happens in Corinth stays in Corinth. And that would be kind of a wrong view of Corinth, I think. Corinth was not some sort of Roman or Greek cultural backwater. Corinth was not some place that you went to sort of blow off hedonistic steam. If you think about Athens and Rome as the cultural and political centers, and our equivalent would be let’s say New York and Washington, Corinth would be like Chicago. Corinth had a striving big commercial center. It was a center for the arts. It was a center for culture and intellectual pursuits. Certainly, there was that hedonistic element that went on in Corinth. But if we think about Corinth only in terms of it was like Las Vegas, we’re gonna sort of miss sort of what it meant to be a Corinthian. ‘Cause what it meant to be Corinthian was that you are sort of a cosmopolitan person. A good Corinthian was someone who understood the arts and understood intellectual pursuits. And it’s kinda like, you know, we’re good New Yorkers because these are all kinds of values of living in the city. If you were a good Corinthian, you kind of embraced this intellectual and cultural and artistic and commercial kind of sense of what it meant to be living in the city.
So now when Paul addresses them and he says to them, he turned to 1 Corinthians chapter 3, know what he says to them. He says, brothers – and note, throughout the book he addresses them as believers. He addresses them as their brothers, as his brothers. He acknowledges they’re saved. But he says to them, note, “Brothers, I wish I could speak to you as spiritual men, but I can’t because you are men of flesh; you are babes in Christ.” Now it kind of begs the question then, what does he mean when he says that they are men of flesh? If you have NIV, it probably says worldly or something like that. What does he mean by this idea of worldly? Well, let’s kind of see if we can find out. What does it mean in fact to be worldly? And depending on the translation you have, you may have something like carnal, which I think is in the King James, kind of a Latin word for meat or flesh. If you have the ESV, I think it says something like men of flesh. The NASB says fleshly. I mean, that’s obvious. We are people of flesh and bone, right? But that’s not what he’s getting at. He’s getting at, okay, I’d like to address you as spiritual people, people who have a spiritual vision of the good. But I can’t because your vision of the good is worldly. Your affections are placed in the world, whereas I’d really like to talk to you as if your affections were placed on godly concerns, so that James’ division between worldly wisdom and godly wisdom.
All right. So he says to them, “Look, I’d like to talk to you this way, but I can’t because you seem to be worldly.” So what does it mean to be worldly? Normally, when we think about the term “worldly,” it’s kind of this idea of moral decadence. He’s just a worldly guy. But that’s really not what Paul is kind of addressing here, particularly if you can understand this idea of being a good cosmopolitan person as being a good Corinthian. To be worldly is to be practical or shrewd. It’s to have an understanding of human affairs. It’s here’s a vision of what is good in the world, and I know that as I make certain decisions, it brings me closer to that vision. I do things that will bring me close to the vision of the good. So for example, a wise decision is one that helps me achieve a certain end. And unwise decision is one that’s not gonna get me there. It’s actually gonna pull me away from it.
So as Paul is addressing them, he says, “Look, your concerns are worldly. You have a worldly vision. And so when you make decisions, what do you do? You make decisions that will help you to pursue this kind of worldly end.” And know what’s been happening in this church. There’s strife, there’s division, there’s quarrelling, all because they are pursuing an agenda of achieving their own ends. Now in this respect, for example, I would consider my father as a wise person. Now my father is not a believer, and he’s not particularly well educated. But when he gives me advice, he understands this is what you really need to do if you wanna accomplish these goals or these ends. And so he’s pretty good at stuff like that. But it’s not a vision of the good that would be considered necessarily a godly vision. But he’s wise in a worldly sense.
So to be ethical in this regard is to be devoted to in pursuing worldly ends. And so when he says to them, “Look, you guys are worldly because you are pursuing worldly ends,” that’s really what’s going on. Now what that really means, because worldly ends almost always focus on me, note that oftentimes in the Scripture, we get these very black and white contrasting statements. I mean, think about in 1 John where you get some of the best ones. If you love the world, you can’t love God. The love of the Father cannot be in you. You cannot serve two masters. You’ll either love the one or hate the other. We see lots of statements like this in the Scripture. Now why do we see these statements? Because what got is telling us in his Word is that there are very different competing visions of the good. And you need to choose which one you’re going to pursue because they are sort of at ends with each other. Now what we’re gonna see is that sometimes we try to do the really dysfunctional thing of trying to combine the two together, which becomes really weird.
So if we cannot follow this as an idea, one of the things that I think is really interesting is the paradox of worldly wisdom. Now if you think about being worldly, sometimes we, for example, when we travel overseas, that helps us to become worldly because you get a bigger vision of the world. You kind of get out from your little provincial, parochial kind of understanding of the world and then you see things in a bigger way. Hopefully, we send you to school so that you get a broader understanding of the world, so that you can become more sophisticated in that regard. The opposite of being worldly is to be, I don’t know, a hick, a bumpkin, a rube, a yokel, a hillbilly, a hoosier, no, not a hoosier. Sorry, dear. But all those other things. So we when we send you – we don’t wanna be those things, right? So we kind of want you to expand your vision of the world.
The odd thing, the irony, I think, of worldly wisdom is the more you pursue it, actually, the more provincial you become. Worldly wisdom is associated only with this world; whereas godly wisdom broadens out from this world to the spiritual. Worldly wisdom only thinks about a particular time; whereas godly wisdom will always think about things in terms of eternity. So the lie of worldly wisdom, the deception of worldly wisdom is, “Oh yes, I’m more sophisticated. I’m more suave. I’m more cosmopolitan,” but in the end it’s really not. What it really causes you is to become even more provincial because you become focused more and more solely on self.
Now why does this happen to us? What is the heart of this worldly wisdom? Turn back to James chapter 3. ‘Cause James says the reason that it leads to arrogance and jealousy and strife and division and all these things is that there are three characteristics of worldly wisdom. The first one is that it is earthly. And when we think of earthly, all James is really saying here is our heart, our affections are tied to things of this world. We’re not seeing beyond this world. We’re seeing only what we can see in this world.
Which leads to the second one, worldly wisdom is sensual or natural. Depending on your translation, the word will be a little bit different there. And I used the word “sensual” here to kind of underscore the idea that it’s tied to the senses. Normally, when we think of sensual, we think of sexual pleasure or something like that; that’s not what James means. All he’s saying is that it’s sort of tied to the senses or to pursuing certain ends. Most of the time it would be things like pursuing pleasure as a good and avoiding pain. Those seem kind of good. I like pleasure. I like to avoid pain. That seems to be kind of natural to us. Hence, it’s natural. Those kind of end up being the goals. You can put them up there.
And the last one is that it is demonic. And what he means by demonic is that the source of worldly wisdom is the exact same thing that cause Satan to rebel. Satan wanted autonomy. Satan wanted sovereignty over God. Because worldly wisdom is self-oriented, the source of worldly wisdom is autonomy and sovereignty. It’s the exact same thing. And so James says the source of worldly wisdom is always in the end going to be demonic in this regard.
Now this is abnormal. This is an abnormal condition for us. God did not create us to be sovereign, independent beings. He did not create us to declare our independence of him, and He always wanted us to be dependent on him. So this condition of autonomy is one that, if we acknowledge that we’re abnormal, then we have to acknowledge why we’re abnormal. And that would bring us back to God. Well, the world doesn’t wanna do that. So what will the world do? The world is gonna try and take this abnormal, self-focused vision of what’s good and try to normalize it, try to make it sound like this is the only really true vision of how things should be.
So what happens? We have things like, oh I don’t know. Autonomy starts to become things like independence and self-sufficiency. Those sound sort of virtuous kind of ideas. Selfishness becomes ambition and goal-orientation. If we wanna quote from that classic 1987 movie, Wall Street, “Greed is good. Greed clarifies. Greed is,” to continue in the speech where Gordon Gekko is making it in the movie, he says, “Greed has always marked the upward surge of mankind. And that greed will save even this dysfunctional corporation known as the United States of America.” Gekko kind of presents this idea of greed as such a virtuous vision that as I practice it individually. And if we all practice it corporately, what will it lead to? Kind of a good outcome for all of us. So the world really does have kind of a vested interest in normalizing this. And so we get books on the virtues of selfishness. We have books saying that selfishness is a genetic thing. And we have little baby girls that say, “You can’t have any of my dolls.”
All right. Now James contrasts this for us. James contrasts worldly wisdom with godly wisdom. And I want you to note that James does not give us sort of the core of godly wisdom like he did with worldly wisdom. He doesn’t tell us, you know, we said with worldly wisdom, “Look, it’s natural. It’s earthly.” He doesn’t do that with godly wisdom. Because he assumes that we understand that the source of godly wisdom is God, that it’s the character of God. Look at James 1:5 from that. If anyone lacks wisdom, what should he do? He should ask of who? God, not your professors, hopefully, they know, but not of knowledgeable people. But the source of real wisdom is going to be God. So he kind of assumes that we know that ’cause he kind of laid that out early in the book. He says, “If you pursue godly wisdom, this is what happens.”
Now I want you to, as we go through this list, if you’re an astute observer, one of the things that you’re going to note is that the list looks an awful lot like the beatitudes of Matthew chapter 5. And what is Christ laying out in the beatitudes? The characteristics of citizens of the Kingdom. If you’re gonna be a good citizen of the Kingdom, this is how you will act. Here are the moral actions within an ethical vision of community. This is how you’re supposed to respond. So what are they? The first one is they were pure, that we are single-minded. We keep ourselves unstained from the world, but we also work to do the will of God toward others.
Look at James 1:27 for a minute. This is pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father, to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world. Personal piety, while it’s a good thing, if religion is simply defined by personal piety, me keeping my nose clean, that is not godly. It comes from a worldly vision. Because godly wisdom says, “Yes, I will keep myself from sin, but I also work for the benefit of other people.” And we sometimes deceive ourselves when we think personal piety is what being holy is all about. It’s only half of the equation. If it’s only half, it’s not the whole thing. It becomes worldly.
Second one is it is peaceable. It seeks to reconcile others to Christ and to other people. Godly wisdom seeks shalom. It seeks restoration. It seeks to be a peacemaker. And blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the Sons of God. So there is that part of the vision. They are gentle. Godly wisdom respects the feelings of others. It is not imposing. It does not force people to believe things. It is not bullying in this regard. And sometimes even in our desire, in our zeal, our religious zeal to get people to live a certain way, we can be forcible, we can be bullying in how we go about this. And while we think the goal is good, we are using a worldly way of understanding to try to bring that about, because godly wisdom is gentle in this regard.
It is reasonable, which means that you’re teachable. You’re not arrogant. You’re willing to submit to the teaching and leading of other people. But it also means that as you try to teach others, you try to show them the reasonableness, why position is good for them, good for others, why it fits into the whole community of faith.
It’s merciful and leads to good fruit. This is the only kind of double one in the group, which I think is kind of interesting. It is compassionate. Godly wisdom is compassionate to those people who are in need of practical help. It deals with needs rather than the source of the problem. Now, for example, we sometimes think, “Oh, well. Look at the situation he’s in. If only he had done this…” That would be a statement that comes out of worldly wisdom because we’re saying, “Look, he is experiencing the natural consequences of what he has done. And therefore, we should just kind of let him in that.” Or if you’d only done this … again, that would be a worldly wisdom type of statement. Godly wisdom understands that you know what, people make mistakes. And sometimes people are affected by the mistakes of others that they didn’t even have to make, and we deal with the consequences of need. Why? Because God was merciful to us. If God dealt with us, well, if the natural effect of your sin is you’re going to hell, we’ll all be in hell. So this idea of merciful and good fruit kind of goes together.
It is unwavering. It is not, as James said, double-minded. To be unwavering means that you have a single-minded vision of what the good is, and it’s this godly one. And you don’t keep flipping back and forth between godly and worldly. Because if you keep flipping back and forth, you are double-minded which means that you will be unstable in all of your ways. So James kind of points out we need to have this kind of unwavering view, and it’s not hypocritical, which means it’s not self-seeking. Sometimes, you know, doing the right thing leads to a good outcome. And so I do it for my benefit. It leads to a good outcome for me. That’s why I’m doing it. True godly wisdom is really motivated by love for others and not love for self.
Now the end of all of this, James says, is that it will lead to peace and righteousness. Now I’m sort of running out of time, so I gotta hurry up here. But I wanna kind of point out the parable of the prodigal son here for a minute. Because there’s one way of reading this parable that really can be a parable of sort of two wisdoms. And we can have a look at godly wisdom and worldly wisdom being kind of played out in the parable of the prodigal son. Because remember we said that wisdom, godly wisdom, is the spiritual, mental, and emotional ability to relate rightly to God, rightly to others, and rightly to the culture. If I have a godly vision of things, I am actually in a position to step back and critique the culture and understand whether the culture is moving toward a right goal or not. And we can do that corporately as a body.
Now think about the parable of the prodigal son here for a minute. If you think about the parable of the prodigal son, both of the sons in the beginning of the parable are acting in a worldly fashion. They both have the exact same motivation. The younger son, who’s normally the focus of the parable, says to his father, “Basically, you’re dead to me. I am so self-focused that in my eyes you are dead, and so you might as well just give me the inheritance now because I don’t even consider that you’re alive to me anymore.” And as the story goes, the father does that. And the younger son goes off and does what with it. He lives decadently. He lives riotously. He splurges. And most of the time we think he has lived a worldly life. And he’s now getting the results of his worldliness because he finds himself lying in a pigsty eating pig pods and wishing he was back with his father because his father is rich. And so he comes to his senses and what does he do? He goes back home. And in humility he says to his father, “I’m not even worthy to be considered your son. Just make me a servant.” But the father kind of welcomes him and brings him back into the household. Okay, we know that part of the story.
Let’s consider for a minute the older son, because the older son is also acting from a sense of worldly wisdom. Now granted, he is much more conservative in his lifestyle. He is the good son. He does everything that a good Jewish boy is expected to do. He listens to his father. He works for his father. He does everything that everybody in this little Jewish community would say you are a good kid. And in fact, everybody in the community probably is patting him on his back, “You’re the good son.” And especially as the tales of the riotous living of his brother get back to the village and say, “Look, he’s such a bad kid. You are a good kid.” In the end, what does he begin to think about himself? I’m in fact the good kid. I’m a good person. But why is he doing all of this? His hard issue really comes back when his brother returns. ‘Cause when his brother returns, father welcomes him to the house, has a party for him, the oldest son finds out what’s going on, he won’t even go into the house. The oldest son, he’s angry. He’s angry. He’s jealous. He’s self-justifying. The father comes out to him and he says to him, “All these years, I have worked. I’ve done everything that you’ve told me to do. I have been the good son. Ask anybody in town.” I’m pretty sure that the other people in the village just don’t understand the father. “Your son called you dead. You’re nuts for bringing him back into your house.” And they’re probably telling the good older son, “You know what? You’re right to be angry with your brother. He’s an idiot. You’ve done everything that you’re supposed to do.” And by the standards of the community, by the standards of the world, he has been the good son. And he becomes justified in his own mind. Yes, in fact, I am the good son. Why? Because I’ve done everything that the world tells me to do. So we have to understand that there’s a type of righteousness in the older son. The world gives us a type of righteousness. There’s a way of living in the world that seems right, seems virtuous, but it can be a normalizing of the sin nature. And the Bible talks about this. There is a type of righteousness, but in the end it is nothing but filthy rags. But we can still be convinced it’s righteous.
So the question for us as a congregation, I think, in this time of transition that we have is do we share God’s values? Do we share God’s heart? Do we want to see His will done at Shawnee Hills Baptist as it is in heaven? And we need to somehow avoid becoming like the Corinthians where the values and attitudes and ideas of what’s virtuous in the world somehow work their way into our vision of what’s right and good and virtuous here in this congregation. ‘Cause at the point that we do that, we will become spiritually very schizophrenic. We will become pretty dysfunctional at that point. And so I think it really kind of behooves us to kind of look at these two visions of virtue, of right wisdom, and act in accordance.
Let’s pray. Father, you have said in your Word that if we lack wisdom, we should ask. And we really do desire to avoid this kind of schizophrenic response since it’s our natural tendency. We saw it in our brothers and sisters at the Church of Corinth. And so we don’t want it to produce a type of Christianity that will make us lukewarm, because we know what your response to lukewarm Christianity is. And so we ask Father that as we come before you and as we search our own hearts and go through the process of calling a new pastor, that we would do so with your heart and your mind and that you would bless this endeavor. We ask in thy Son’s name. Amen.
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Humanity in Western culture can be split up into four different groups from two different camps. Think it simplistic if you will, but it explains many things in Christianity that has perplexed me for years.
Camp one believes man is capable, and should be self-dependent as much as possible. The following are the two groups in that camp:
1. Regenerate thinkers. These are saved people who deem themselves capable of knowing truth individually, and are uncomfortable with predominate centrality of control without accountability. They note the fact that we are the only creatures God created upon the earth that can reason, so it stands to reason that God wants us to utilize that capability to the fullest extent in order to improve our environment and help others.
2. Unregenerate thinkers. Like regenerate thinkers, they think man is capable. Their convictions, at least in America, are probably going to be expressed through patriotism and a respect for ideas produced by the Enlightenment era. They are going to be unwilling to trade freedom for supposed guarantees. They are individualistic. Like the regenerate thinkers, they believe strong individuals are better able to help those who really need it.
Camp two believes man is incapable, and should have implicit faith in some sort of elite group or institution. Thinking and reasoning are greatly devalued in this group. The “group” is paramount, and individualism is deemed to be the root of all evil. Following the brain trust of the group is vital for unity and peace. This gives opportunity for the individual to plunge the depths of selflessness—emptying oneself for the sake of the group.
1. Regenerate groupies. This group puts all of its trust in the religious institution or the “Divines.” What they can understand about God and His will is limited. They therefore depend on things like “Daily Bread” short devotionals and creeds. They follow the “polity” (government) of the church to insure they are in good standing with God. Ultimately, God will hold the Divines responsible and not the group—the group is only responsible for following and obeying God’s anointed. The anointed are responsible for determining the deep things of God and presenting them to the group in a way that can be understood. Hence, “orthodoxy” (the authoritative interpretation of the Scriptures by the Divines determined by councils and the confessions that come from them), and creeds.
2. Unregenerate groupies. This group concurs with the governing elite that they are owned by the government. Dependence on the government is paramount, and contribution to its strength the highest form of morality. It is predicated on the basic ineptness of mankind. No big surprise then that after a speech by a politician, political commentators tell us what he/she just said. Again, loyalty to the group is paramount; hence, the group is voted for regardless of many factors because of the fundamental agreement about who owns mankind.
These factors answer questions that I have had for years. Why is church so intellectually unchallenging? Why is it that seminary students don’t teach what they learn in seminary to congregants? Why is empty headed praise music and contemplationism all the rage in today’s church? Why do Christians vote for liberal democrats? Why is the sin of church leaders swept under the rug? Why are people happy to pay taxes? Why are people who ask questions in church feared and ostracized? (they threaten the well-being of the group). What’s up with cults? And why do cult-like denominations and other groups get a pass on being called cults? (Because they manifest the same underlying presuppositions about man in more subtle ways).
This is a paradigm that I plan to develop and expand on, but I believe everyone fits into one of these groups, whether they are aware of it or not. And by the way, which camp were the Reformers in? I will give you a clue:
The following quotes concerning the evil of human reason are from the father of Christian Protestantism, Martin Luther:
Die verfluchte Huhre, Vernunft. (The damned whore, Reason).
Reason is the Devil’s greatest whore; by nature and manner of being she is a noxious whore; she is a prostitute, the Devil’s appointed whore; whore eaten by scab and leprosy who ought to be trodden under foot and destroyed, she and her wisdom … Throw dung in her face to make her ugly. She is and she ought to be drowned in baptism… She would deserve, the wretch, to be banished to the filthiest place in the house, to the closets.
Martin Luther, Erlangen Edition v. 16, pp. 142-148
Reason is the greatest enemy that faith has; it never comes to the aid of spiritual things, but — more frequently than not — struggles against the divine Word, treating with contempt all that emanates from God.
Reason must be deluded, blinded, and destroyed. Faith must trample underfoot all reason, sense, and understanding, and whatever it sees must be put out of sight and … know nothing but the word of God.
There is on earth among all dangers no more dangerous thing than a richly endowed and adroit reason… Reason must be deluded, blinded, and destroyed.
Martin Luther, quoted by Walter Kaufmann, The Faith of a Heretic, (Garden City, NY, Doubleday, 1963), p. 75
Reason should be destroyed in all Christians.
Whoever wants to be a Christian should tear the eyes out of his Reason.
To be a Christian, you must “pluck out the eye of reason.”
People gave ear to an upstart astrologer [Copernicus] who strove to show that the earth revolves, not the heavens or the firmament, the sun and the moon. Whoever wishes to appear clever must devise some new system, which of all systems is of course the very best. This fool wishes to reverse the entire science of astronomy; but sacred scripture tells us [Joshua 10:13] that Joshua commanded the sun to stand still, and not the earth.
Martin Luther, “Works,” Volume 22, c. 1543
“Not only that, Prince et al are kinder, gentler Calvinists who wouldn’t dream of endorsing a serial sheep abuser like CJ Mahaney.”
I have seen something for some time that I just haven’t had time to write on: Joseph Prince, the charismatic prince of Singapore, knows the Reformation gospel to a “T” and does a phenomenal job of articulating it from the pulpit. Really, the big boys, Piper et al, can’t touch this guy when he talks about the Reformation gospel of progressive justification from the pulpit. Check out the video series from when Prince preached at Joel Osteen’s church. It is the Reformed Justification by Faith Alone [for sanctification also] par excellent bar none.
Yes, yes, Prince has a different application of that gospel in some areas of life. He uses progressive justification to promote prosperity. It is not true that Prince promotes a “prosperity gospel”—that’s a red herring to throw folks off the scent—his gospel is the Reformed gospel of Justification by Faith Alone [for sanctification also] to a “T.” In fact, Prince’s application of the gospel is actually less harmful than the New Calvinist spiritual despots. And there are no charges of spiritual abuse or control issues coming from Prince’s camp as yet. Indeed, the prosperity Gospel Sanctification camp seems to be a kinder, gentler Reformed theology (by golly, that’s a tweet).
I was given the opportunity to squeeze this post into my schedule via a Facebook conversation I stumbled into yesterday. Jo Bowyer of The Reformed Traveler blog stated the following on her FB page:
The Resurgence [I am assuming the New Calvinist Resurgence blog] now quoting Joseph Prince? Seriously?????!!!! The quote they used is this:
“The law justified no one and condemned the best of us, but grace saves even the worst of us.” – Joseph Prince
I wasn’t the least bit surprised. It’s the same gospel. The New Calvinist crowd then picks and chooses who they will associate with according to the application thereof and other criteria. Certain biblical anomalies are acceptable because such and such “has the gospel right and the other issue is secondary” while some have “secondary” applications that they deem unacceptable. This not only explains the strong ecumenical flavor of New Calvinism, but exposes it for its pervasive hypocrisy.
What better example than John MacArthur who continually rags on Joel Osteen and the likes of Prince while he believes the same gospel. Gag, his hypocrisy makes me sick! Not only that, Prince et al are kinder, gentler Calvinists who wouldn’t dream of endorsing a serial sheep abuser like CJ Mahaney. Like MacArthur does.
Yes, the internet is a wonderful gift from God. While the European oppression of the Scriptures was cured by Gutenberg’s press, the deep deception of Reformed theology is exposed by Google. As Joseph Prince would say, “Thank you Jesus.” I said to self: “Self, I am very busy, what’s the best infogoog for this?” So I typed in, “Joseph Prince John Piper” and came up with a jewel.
It was a post by some Reformed guy objecting to the fact that many people think Justification by Faith Alone “for the baptized as well as the unsaved” is all of Joseph Prince’s idea. He makes the case that the Reformers had the idea first, and posted two videos by John Piper and RC Sproul to prove it. Too rich.
Now look, I am really busy and must move on, but you bloggers out there, with the help Gootenberg, can have a lot of fun with this. Trust me, the infogoog on this is vast.
“No Steve. Let me repeat that. ‘No Steve’: the issue isn’t the ‘simplistic’ verses the wider field of knowledge, the issue is which gospel are we going to use to minister to other Christians; progressive justification or progressive sanctification? And who is competent to counsel? Please do not be a part of the big lie in our present day.”
Thanks for the response because I am a busy person and our conversation provides an easy framework to post something that needs to be said. My response is primarily provoked by your comment following and will be the subject of a post on my own blog:
Jay Adams and nouthetic counseling are familiar to me. Jay has contributed much to biblical counseling, but his perspective is only one in a field containing hother highly-reputable Christians such as Larry Crabb and Dan Allender. I have found Jay’s approach simplistic and—when used by someone without proper training or grace—combative and even abusive.
“Nouthetic” means “admonishing,” which, though a biblical term, can often devolve into simply berating someone with a Bible verse and telling them to deal with their sin. While scripture is always the grid to evaluate truth claims in this world, not all truth is found in the Bible. Rather, God has given some truth to the realms of science, engineering, medicine, psychology, and others, for the benefit of all people everywhere. Christians must think critically about any truth claim, compare it with scriptural principles, and then proceed accordingly. I prefer an integrated approach to Christian counseling.
First of all, Jay Adams doesn’t need me to defend him, but your portrayal of contemporary history concerning the biblical counseling movement is very much in vogue and happens to be a lie first propagated by David Powlison, and furthered by the insufferably arrogant likes of Heath Lambert.
People like Lambert who is a prototype of many in our day accept any proposition espoused by the men they mindlessly follow as truth. And the truth is my concern here, not necessarily a defense of Jay Adams. However, though I enjoy defending Jay, he would probably prefer that many of his “friends” in Christian academia would defend him, but unfortunately, most of them are cowards and only pretend to love the truth for monetary gain and notoriety. I despise both, and have way too many Facebook friends (62). Therefore, the following is the true historical/biblical facts of the matter:
In circa 1970, American Christianity was feeling the pain of a skewed attitude and understanding of sanctification. The previous twenty years had been an easy believeism/hyper-grace approach. The focus was getting people saved, and not “making disciples.” There were several reasons for this, but suffice to say that “the gospel” was grossly overemphasized. As I type that, I can now hear the shrill cat-cries: “IT’S IMPOSSIBLE TO OVEREMPHASIZE THE GOSPEL!” Right.
However, in order to fill the void, a variety of biblical generalities were thrown around (along with let go and let God theologies) as damage control, plus pastors farmed sanctification out to psychologists. Deeper problems of life were labeled “sickness,” and the idea of pastors sending their parishioners to mind/spiritual doctors was sanctified with “Christian Psychology.” Your everyday pastor was who you went to if you got bubble gum in your hair, but the really deep problems of life needed a “Christian Psychologist.”
Adams was the first in our day to say “NO” to this assertion. The theme of his sanctification reformation was “Competent to Counsel,” and was based on Romans 15:14. Moreover, this one verse powerfully destroys much of the errant philosophy of our day.
But something else was happening at the same time. Another reformation. This other reformation that was emerging at the same time that Adams began to challenge the church is the dirty little secret that is the foundation of your whole proposition that Adams is a mere contributor to a wider field of counseling wisdom. In fact, in a rare episode of truth-telling by David Powlison while lecturing at John Piper’s “church,” he specifically stated the difference between Adams’ biblical construct and the present-day “wider field of knowledge.” Two gospels. That’s right. A wider field of knowledge is not the issue, which gospel that you are going to use to minister to the saints is the issue—so stated the most prominent one in the “wider field.” Powlison dropped his usual nuanced verbiage as it is no longer necessary among the vast majority of Christians who are utterly unable to think for themselves. He stated the following:
This might be quite a controversy, but I think it’s worth putting in. Adams had a tendency to make the cross be for conversion. And the Holy Spirit was for sanctification. And actually even came out and attacked my mentor, Jack Miller, my pastor that I’ve been speaking of through the day, for saying that Christians should preach the gospel to themselves.
I cover this in more detail in chapter 9 of “The Truth About New Calvinism,” but this statement by Powlison while lecturing at Piper’s church is the crux. Even in that rare episode of truth-telling by Powlison, he left out the following detail concerning Adams’ “attack” against his “mentor” for telling people to preach the gospel to themselves every day: the “attack” was in the form of a book and devastating treatise against Sonship Theology. Adams’ thesis was that the power for sanctification comes from regeneration and not justification.
No Steve. Let me repeat that. “No Steve”: the issue isn’t the “simplistic” verses the wider field of knowledge, the issue is which gospel are we going to use to minister to other Christians; progressive justification or progressive sanctification? And, who is competent to counsel? All who are “full of goodness,” or just the Christian experts? Again, I hear the alley cats screaming in the night’s full moon: “Progressive justification? Nonsense! Miller didn’t teach that!” Oh really? Have we become so postmodern that “preaching the gospel to ourselves” as a way to be empowered in sanctification is not progressive sanctification? Have Christians really become that mindless?
What is the source of our power for change, and who can counsel? The answer to those questions is the difference between light and darkness. Here is the reality and the line in the sand: choose which gospel you will follow according to truth or according to what man butters your bread.
The key to discussing what significant movement emerged at the same time as Adams’ biblical construct is Powlison’s mention of Dr. John “Jack” Miller. Miller was a professor at Westminster approximate to the time that the theological journal Present Truth was all the rage. The journal, in magazine form was published by the Australian Forum theological think tank headed by SDA theologian Robert Brinsmead. Much to Adams’ consternation, Brinsmead and company were invited to Westminster to chat with the theological big boys. Brinsmead had rediscovered the authentic Reformation gospel that launched the SDA Awakening movement and led to a concerted effort to get Progressive Adventism recognized as a valid denomination.
The Australian Forum argued that the true Reformation gospel was monergistic substitutionary sanctification, or in essence, progressive justification. From that, Miller contrived his Sonship Theology scheme. Tim Keller and David Powlison were rabid followers of Miller, and Powlison used Miller’s Sonship Theology to develop his Dynamics of Biblical Change counseling program that is the foundation of CCEF’s counseling model. Like the father that gave birth to Sonship Theology and CCEF ( the Australian Forum), Miller, Powlison, and Keller felt called to save America from this present Dark Age that supposedly resulted from the lost Reformation gospel. Powlison was then compelled to take over NANC with said doctrine, which he has effectively done.
Hence, Adams was obviously a threat and had to be neutralized. The failings of the movement that Adams came to fix were pinned on Adams; ie, all of the things that filled the void: living by biblical generalizations; legalism; and, “Take a Bible verse and call me in the morning”; etc. Meanwhile, the new gospel of progressive justification was guilty of the same thing that the previous hyper-grace movement was guilty of: devaluing aggressive sanctification and the new birth. The so called second generation “biblical” counseling construct made sanctification the same thing as justification rather than merely devaluing it.
But again, this necessitated a replacement for the real article, and I think the replacement is well articulated by the Powlison understudy Paul David Tripp in How People Change which is really not about biblical change at all. Progressive justification advocates the manifestation of realms, not real change within the individual Christian. Tripp makes this absolutely clear on pages 64 and 65 of HPC by describing Christians as still being enslaved to sin and enemies of God.
Therefore, Powlison is guilty of thwarting the real model for real change in our day. He has marketed the contra product well, so many follow and trade the truth that sanctifies for a bowl of soup; ie, invitations to conferences, recognition, book promotions, friends, etc.
While thinking of themselves as on the cutting edge of change, which doesn’t include changing people, but rather making the cross bigger, they do not even realize that God doesn’t approve of lying.
So Steve, I would recommend that you not promote the fictitious storyline concerning first generation biblical counseling. It’s a lie, and God doesn’t approve, even if it somehow supposedly makes the cross bigger—which trust me—it doesn’t.
Note: Click on illustrations to make bigger.
Let me state something right out of the gate: the church has never been in a Dark Age. Christ said, “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Matthew 16:18). Imagine that. Peter wasn’t anybody—he was an everyday Joe—a blue-collar guy in that culture. Then one day God shows up personally and informs everybody that He would oikodomhsw “be building His church,” or some translators, “I shall be home building”….mou (of me)….the ekklhsian (out-called, not “church” which is not a biblical word) on Peter. You can trust me on this one: Jesus has been home building His out-called, and the construction project has never slowed down or stopped. The building project has always been on schedule and within budget—funded by the Blood. And Christ didn’t choose a John MacArthur Jr. of that day—He chose an ordinary Joe.
Right here, two pillars of the Reformation myth are found wanting. There has never been an out-called Dark Age, and Christ doesn’t primarily use renowned scholars like Martin Luther to get things done. Today’s “Reformed” “church” is built on the foundation of lofty creeds and confessions written by men of fleshly renown. The very name, “Reformed” is fundamentally false—our Lord’s building project has never needed a “reformation”—especially at the hands of murdering mystic despots.
But two days ago, Susan and I had the rare privilege of sitting down with four men who exemplify what Christ is using to build His out-called. We held siege at the restaurant for three hours. These men so encouraged me that it is a wonder that the local police were not called accompanied by men in white attire. They bore four marks of God’s true out-called:
1. Ordinary men.
2. Thinkers who constantly wrestle with understanding.
3. Wholly devoted to truth.
4. Sold-out to the sufficiency of the Scriptures as their only authority.
Somewhere in the world since the day Christ showed up and walked into the everyday lives of twelve men, He has been slowly building His out-called. He has been building with those who possess the same spirit of Noah and is in-fact a fifth mark: they will stand alone if they have to. In the present day neo-Reformed blitzkrieg, it is, and will be two or three families who come out from among them, weeping with sorry, often leaving the only church they have ever known while the door is held open for them by the young, petulant Reformers of our day that despise the sweat and blood that built the work that they have covertly sieged. As our brother Jude said of these brute beasts, they slip in “unawares” (v.4).
Basically, the problem is the same as when Christ showed up to found His out-called. The religion of the day was founded on the authority and institutions of self-important men. People where amazed that Christ didn’t check in with the academics before He launched His ministry, nor quoted the spiritual brainiacs of that day. Likewise, if Christ came today, John MacArthur, Al Mohler, and the insufferable likes of obnoxious men like Steve Lawson and Paul Washer would watch with incredulities as Christ would ignore them and make a b-line for the ghettos—choosing His workers and confidants from among them.
So how should I view an article sent to me by a reader that was written by John MacArthur regarding the Reformation motif of “Justification by faith.” First, as I am presently teaching my family, ALL ideas presented by men, and I believe that MacArthur fits into that category, will entail a litany of propositions that lead to a conclusion. Therefore, let us examine and wrestle with the propositions presented by MacArthur in this article (Justification by Faith: online source: http://goo.gl/xJyFO).
Proposition 1: “The Reformation doctrine of justification by faith is, and has always been, the number one target of the enemy’s attack.”
The “Reformation doctrine”? Excuse me Mr. MacArthur (hereafter, JM), but we get our doctrine from the Bible, not the Reformers, who, as I have noted, are an oxymoron to begin with. In the first sentence of this article, JM sets up an authority between the out-called priests (that’s us) and the word of God. Therefore, his article is predicated on a proposition by men who are not original authors chosen by God— buyers beware. Hence, if we are discerning, JM has raised the propositional ante to a considerable level. By citing the preapproved authors of the Bible, additional consideration could have been avoided.
JM goes on to state that this doctrine, “….provides the foundation of the bridge that reconciles God and man — without that key doctrine, Christianity falls.” This should now incite interpretive questions for the proposition:
1. Could the Reformers have been wrong?
2. Even if they were right, is there a danger in making Reformed epistemology a standard of truth?
3. Is the claim that the church stands or falls on this doctrine establishing Reformation doctrine as a significant authority? And if so, is this wise?
Proposition 2: “Social and political concerns have brought evangelicals and Catholics together in recent years to unite against the forces of secularism. Under the influence of ecumenism, it’s difficult for either group to remember what it was that divided them in the first place.
The pragmatists and ecumenicists are aided in their forgetfulness by new theological movements that redefine justification in more Catholic terms. Under the influence of liberalism and postmodernism, proponents of the New Perspective on Paul, the Emergent Church, and others have so confused and redefined the doctrine of justification that it has become shrouded in darkness once again
The Christian church today is in danger of returning to the Dark Ages. The seeker movement has Christianity turning in its Bibles; the ecumenical movement urges Christians to use worldly means to accomplish temporal ends; and current theological movements look through the lens of philosophy — Enlightenment rationalism and postmodern subjectivism — rather than Scripture. The departure from sola scriptura has led to the departure from sola fide — justification by faith alone.”
JM asserts that the Reformation was a marked contrast between Catholicism and the Reformers. Catholic influence is dragging the “church” back into a “Dark Age.” Regardless of the nomenclature of which he frames this proposition, he begins to articulate the Reformation motif in a way that is traditional, and packaged for fairly easy digestion—if you understand the premise of the motif, and we soon will.
The key here is this part of JM’s proposition: “….and current theological movements look through the lens of philosophy — Enlightenment rationalism and postmodern subjectivism — rather than Scripture.” First, throughout his post, JM uses the term “Reformation doctrine” and “Scripture” interchangeably. Hence, he is proposing that the two are synonymous—he is asking that you accept this proposition as fact. But what we want to focus on here as a gateway of understanding is the word “subjectivism” in his proposition. This is key to understanding my counter proposition:
1. There was no difference in Reformation doctrine and Catholic doctrine.
2. Subjective verses objective is key to understanding the Reformed denial of the new birth that predicates its false gospel.
MacArthur begins to propagate the traditional Reformed dogma of subjective verses objective; that is, as I have previously stated, the crux of their doctrine.
And is that biblical? Is Reformed doctrine biblical doctrine? Is the Reformed gospel the biblical gospel?
The History of the Reformation Motif / Myth
We will take an interlude on the way to our understanding to examine the very significant contemporary contribution to understanding Reformation doctrine by its own proponents and advocates. It is true that Reformation doctrine has experienced times of low recognition followed by “rediscovery,” “resurgence,” and “revival” since the Sixteenth century. The last resurgence began in 1970. It was a rediscovery of authentic Reformed theology that launched the SDA Awakening Movement. Until then, the doctrine had never been framed in a subjective verses objective model of understanding. “Subjectivism” was fingered as the root of all evil verses the, and here it is: objective gospel outside of us. More specifically, “The Centrality of the Objective Gospel Outside of Us.” Hereafter, COGOUS.
This apt method of framing Reformation doctrine was the brainchild of SDA theologian Robert Brinsmead, who was joined by Anglican theologians Geoffrey Paxton and Graeme Goldsworthy, and later by Reformed Baptist Jon Zens. They attributed all contra Reformation beliefs and movements such as the Enlightenment era to “subjectivism.” JM shows his kinship to this contemporary understanding of Reformation theology via his propositions in said article, of which the sender asked, “Does this muddy the waters?” Answer: no, in-fact, it clarifies MacArthur’s participation in the endeavor to save the church from a supposed “Evangelical Dark Age.”
The theological think tank formed by this “core four” was known as the Australian Forum and their theological journal was Present Truth Magazine which was the most publicized theological journal in English speaking countries during the Seventies. They compiled a vast amount of documentation that clearly shows that the Reformation gospel of Luther and Calvin was the Centrality of the Objective Gospel Outside of Us. It contends that if the power of God is infused into the believer, it will enable him/her to, as the truism states, “know enough to be dangerous.”
Because the Reformers saw justification and sanctification as the same thing, they argued that any enablement infused into the believer would automatically contribute to the justification process which they saw as progressive. Please note: this is exactly what JM et al accuse the Catholics of, but as we shall see, they are both guilty of this same thing: the fusion of justification and sanctification together.
Hence, in contemporary lingo, the outcry of the Reformers against Rome was the “infusion of grace into the believer—making sanctification the ground of his/her justification.” In other words, all enablement and spiritual life must remain outside of the believer. All of the power of grace must remain ‘objective” by staying outside of the believer. This Reformed paradigm was brilliantly illustrated by the Australian Four, hereafter A4, by the following pictorial illustration:
Also let me demonstrate by another A4 pictorial that they believed justification was progressive:
I will later explain the application of the two-man chart in this post. I can most certainly read your mind as you look at it: “How in the world does that work in real life?”
We will now further my contra proposition by substantiating some of my sub-propositions. Let’s first establish that one of the elder statesmen of the neo-Reformed movement, John Piper, and a close confidant of JM, agree with the AF’s contemporarily framed assessment of authentic Reformed doctrine, hereafter, ARD. Graeme Goldsworthy, one of the original A4, recently lectured at Southern Seminary on the Reformation. John Piper wrote an article on Goldsworthy’s lecture (Goldsworthy on Why the Reformation Was Necessary: Desiring God blog, June 25, 2009). Piper’s assessment of Goldsworthy’s lecture is a major smoking gun in regard to agreement on ARD:
In it [Goldsworthy’s lecture at Southern] it gave one of the clearest statements of why the Reformation was needed and what the problem was in the way the Roman Catholic church had conceived of the gospel….I would add that this ‘upside down’ gospel has not gone away—neither from Catholicism nor from Protestants….
This meant the reversal of the relationship of sanctification to justification. Infused grace, beginning with baptismal regeneration, internalized the Gospel and made sanctification the basis of justification. This is an upside down Gospel….
When the ground of justification moves from Christ outside of us to the work of Christ inside of us, the gospel (and the human soul) is imperiled. It is an upside down gospel [emphasis Piper’s—not this author].
Note, if you think about it, it is impossible to “reverse” justification and sanctification unless they are on the same plane. Nor can you turn a two-part object upside down unless both parts are attached—making either one the “ground” or otherwise. Hence, a careful observation of Piper’s use of words betrays his subtleness in regard to believing in the fusion of justification and sanctification together. Furthermore, Piper’s beef with Catholicism is not the fusion of justification and sanctification together per se, but rather the infusion of grace into the believer. The AF two-man illustration depicts Piper’s contention to a “T.” Note the exact same issue: Christ within, or Christ without. Just grasp that for now, and put the absurdity of it on the back burner—it will come together for you later.
Basically, if God’s grace/goodness is placed within the believer, he/she becomes enabled enough to become dangerous leading to all of the terrible things inside of the guy looking down. Everything must remain outside of the believer, leading to all of the good things listed on the right side of the chart which are listed outside of him. Don’t miss that. Today’s church owes Robert Brinsmead a tremendous debt of gratitude for publishing this chart.
A Major Key to Understanding: John H. Armstrong and SUBJECTIVISM
Now, let’s take yet another sub interlude to further my contra proposition. The following illustration shows how the AF made the objective/subjective / Christ within / Christ without the major crux of ARD:
A theologian named John H. Armstrong eludes to this exact survey in Present Truth to make a point in an article that he wrote (The Highway blog: Article of the Month; Sola Fide: Does It really Matter?). Armstrong was the general editor of a combined work called The Coming Evangelical Crisis (1996 by Moody Bible Institute) that included the who’s who of the neo-Reformed movement: R. Kent Houghs; John MacArthur; RC Sproul; and heretics Michael S. Horton and Albert Mohler Jr. Armstrong stated the following in the aforementioned article:
The sixteenth-century rediscovery of Paul’s objective message of justification by faith [and sanctification also because justification is supposedly progressive] came upon the religious scene of that time with a force and passion that totally altered the course of human history. It ignited the greatest reformation and revival known since Pentecost.
Now, if the Fathers of the early church, so nearly removed in time from Paul, lost touch with the Pauline message, how much more is this true in succeeding generations? The powerful truth of righteousness by faith needs to be restated plainly, and understood clearly, by every new generation.
In our time we are awash in a “Sea of Subjectivism,” as one magazine put it over twenty years ago. Let me explain. In 1972 a publication known as Present Truth published the results of a survey with a five-point questionnaire which dealt with the most basic issues between the medieval church and the Reformation. Polling showed 95 per cent of the “Jesus People” were decidedly medieval and anti-Reformation in their doctrinal thinking about the gospel. Among church-going Protestants they found ratings nearly as high….
I do not believe that the importance of the doctrine of justification by faith can be overstated. We are once again in desperate need of recovery. Darkness has descended upon the evangelical world in North America and beyond, much as it had upon the established sixteenth-century church.
As JM said in our observation of the article at hand:
….the doctrine of justification….has become shrouded in darkness once again. The Christian church today is in danger of returning to the Dark Ages.
Enlightenment rationalism and postmodern subjectivism — rather than Scripture. The departure from sola scriptura has led to the departure from sola fide — justification by faith alone.
JM, John Piper, Armstrong, Graeme Goldsworthy, and what they call the “Justification by faith” doctrine—all the same camp, and the same belief: The Centrality of the Objective Gospel Outside of Us.
How in the World Does COGOUS Work in Real Life?
As far as how this doctrine functions, there are two camps. But in both camps, the believer remains unchanged and totally depraved. The crux of COGOUS is that sanctification is a total work of God because it finishes justification. The doctrine then frames man’s role in regard to Gnostic ideas. In fact, the very first sentence of the Calvin Institutes is a Gnostic idea. Calvin claims therein that all knowledge is contained in the knowledge of ourselves and knowledge of God. Since we already know that Calvin believed in the total depravity of man, this is the knowledge of good and evil.
Calvin, right out of the gate, states that this is the core of all true wisdom. So, what you begin to see when reading the works of various Reformers of old and new, is the idea that change begins with wisdom, and as we see our own depravity in deeper and deeper ways, and the holiness of God in deeper and deeper ways (which the former facilitates as well), a transformation takes place. Not in us, of course, we are totally depraved—we therefore cannot change—we rather manifest a realm. As it was explained to me by a fairly well known Calvinist, there is a Spirit realm, and a flesh realm (not an old nature within us), and both put pressure on us if we are saved, and we either “yield” to one or the other realms at any given time. But again, we don’t change, we merely manifest a realm. Out of this comes terms like, “Pastor of Spiritual Formation,” and “heart formation,” or “spiritual transformation.” Notice that the “spiritual” is being transformed, not us. I am presently doing research to get a more refined understanding in regard to “what this looks like.” Apparently, an exercise of our own will to obey is creating our own reality instead of “His preordained story.”
A rough sketch follows: all reality points to Christ’s glory, and all reality is wrapped up in the gospel and interpreted by it (the first tenet of New Covenant Theology). All history is “redemptive.” Therefore, all historical events, and events period, are preordained by God to show us wisdom; ie, the knowledge of the good (Christ), and the knowledge of the evil (our own depravity), and both point to God’s glory and “show forth the gospel.” So, all events in life are preordained by God to show us our own depravity, and His holiness. That’s the first way we gain wisdom of ourselves and God, and when we see it, our manifestation results in part of the grand gospel narrative preordained by God.
The second way that we manifest the gospel is through seeing historic events in the Bible that represent the same kind of events that happen in redemptive history. The Bible, in the same way that redemptive history does, gives us wisdom in regard to our own evil and God’s holiness, again resulting in redemptive historical manifestations. If we respond improperly to the redemptive historical event (whether good or bad), we reap “bad fruit” (ie., a bad manifestation) which lends further opportunity for deeper understanding of our own depravity and more glory for God. If we participate properly in the gospel story, we are assured peace and joy regardless of our circumstances (because we are in essence detached from reality in my view). Many Reformed thinkers such as David Powlison and Paul David Tripp call this,
The big picture model is the story of every believer. God invites us to enter into the plot! (Paul D. Tripp: How People Change, p.94).
As I said before, there are two camps: one rejects any kind of work at all by Christ in us, but Tripp is of the other camp that teaches that we remain totally depraved, but Christ does do a work in us, albeit His work in totality. Tripp states that as we gain deeper understanding of our own evil (deep repentance), our hearts are emptied of idols which then results in a filling of Christ resulting in spiritual formations or manifestations (Ibid, p. 28). Others believe that whatever we see in the Bible ( like a circumstance of Christ’s love) is imputed to us as we see it and understand it. Many of Reformed thought call this “such and such ( love or whatever) by proxy.” It is also known as the “active obedience of Christ” or progressive imputation. Following is an illustration of some of these ideas presented here (Ibid, p.100):
But you can also see some of these concepts if you refer back to the two-man chart. The gospel man meditates on “Grace, Justification, Perfection, Security, immortality, Law,” but these things remain outside of him as manifestations of the objective gospel. But the Christ within man has these things inside of him because that is where his focus is (subjective). Following is another Reformed illustration of what we are talking about. Notice that the cross gets bigger—not us. We don’t grow—the cross does. The cross represents grace outside of us; so, the cross is seen as bigger (ie, God is glorified) while we don’t change. These manifestations make God look bigger while not being connected to anything recognized as us being new and improved. Michael Horton refers to this as “preaching the gospel instead of being the gospel.”
MacArthur often conveys ideas that do nothing in regard to separating himself from this absurd mysticism. In writing the Forward to the Gnostic masterpiece, Uneclipsing the Son by former associate Rick Holland, JM states the following:
As believers gaze at the glory of their Lord—looking clearly, enduringly, and deeply into the majesty of His person and work—true sanctification takes place as the Holy Spirit takes that believer whose heart is fixed on Christ and elevates him from one level of glory to the next. This is the ever-increasing reality of progressive sanctification; it happens not because believers wish it or want it or work for it in their own energy, but because the glory of Christ captures their hearts and minds. We are transformed by that glory and we begin to reflect it more and more brightly the more clearly we see it. That’s why the true heart and soul of every pastor’s duty is pointing the flock to Christ, the Great Shepherd.
Let’s now return to the article at hand and address the more relevant parts. In the section entitled, “Back to the Beginning,” JM sates the following:
In the 1500s a fastidious monk, who by his own testimony “hated God,” was studying Paul’s epistle to the Romans. He couldn’t get past the first half of Romans 1:17: “[In the gospel] is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith” (KJV).
One simple, biblical truth changed that monk’s life — and ignited the Protestant Reformation. It was the realization that God’s righteousness could become the sinner’s righteousness — and that could happen through the means of faith alone. Martin Luther found the truth in the same verse he had stumbled over, Romans 1:17: “Therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, the just shall live by faith” (KJV, emphasis added).
JM then fails to mention that Luther believed that this justification passage also applies to sanctification. Then JM sates the following under the next heading, Declared Righteous: What Actually Changes?:
In its theological sense, justification is a forensic, or purely legal, term. It describes what God declares about the believer, not what He does to change the believer. In fact, justification effects no actual change whatsoever in the sinner’s nature or character. Justification is a divine judicial edict. It changes our status only, but it carries ramifications that guarantee other changes will follow. Forensic decrees like this are fairly common in everyday life….
Similarly, when a jury foreman reads the verdict, the defendant is no longer “the accused.” Legally and officially he instantly becomes either guilty or innocent — depending on the verdict. Nothing in his actual nature changes, but if he is found not guilty he will walk out of court a free person in the eyes of the law, fully justified.
In biblical terms, justification is a divine verdict of “not guilty — fully righteous.” It is the reversal of God’s attitude toward the sinner. Whereas He formerly condemned, He now vindicates. Although the sinner once lived under God’s wrath, as a believer he or she is now under God’s blessing.
This all looks to be very solid theologically, but I want you to notice that JM fails to mention that Justification is a finished work. That’s key. And it’s key because of what he states next:
Justification is more than simple pardon; pardon alone would still leave the sinner without merit before God. So when God justifies He imputes divine righteousness to the sinner (Romans 4:22-25). Christ’s own infinite merit thus becomes the ground on which the believer stands before God (Romans 5:19; 1 Corinthians 1:30; Philippians 3:9). So justification elevates the believer to a realm of full acceptance and divine privilege in Jesus Christ.
The problem here is the implication that a pardon is not enough, and that our “standing” must be maintained lest we find ourselves “without merit”…. “before God.” This is problematic because any kind of standard that would maintain merit before God for justification is voided (Romans 7;1-4). There is simply no merit or standard left for a Christian to be judged by in regard to justification.
But the smoking gun that convicts MacArthur in fusing justification and sanctification together in this same article follows under “How Justification and Sanctification Differ.” JM starts out well with this statement:
Justification is distinct from sanctification because in justification God does not make the sinner righteous; He declares that person righteous (Romans 3:28; Galatians 2:16). Notice how justification and sanctification are distinct from one another:
After stating this, JM, evokes the classic neo-Reformed double-speak sleight of hand for fusing justification and sanctification together without appearing to do so:
Those two must be distinguished but can never be separated. God does not justify whom He does not sanctify, and He does not sanctify whom He does not justify. Both are essential elements of salvation.
JM also clearly states that progressive sanctification is part of the same “salvation” process that justification is also a part of ; hence, they supposedly can’t be separated. But the Bible authors only speak of sanctification as salvation in a manner of speaking because there are three sanctifications: positional (1Cor. 6:11), progressive/practical (2 Cor. 7:11, 2 Peter ch. 1), and complete (1 Cor. 6:11[those who are sanctified positionally are glorified as well]), but only one justification that is a onetime legal declaration (Romans 8:30).
Furthermore, JM’s use of the distinct but never separate sleight of hand is the exact same mantra constantly used by many in the neo-Reformed crowd:
Though justification and sanctification cannot be separated they must be distinguished.
~ Ernest Reisinger
It would also stand to reason therefore that MacArthur, like all of the neo-Reformed, would not see any role for the believer in sanctification other than gospel contemplationism. This can be confirmed by reviewing the previous excerpt from Holland’s book.
Classic Reformed Kettles Calling the Pot Black
We now observe a trait by JM that was never true about him before he went over to the dark side—blatant contradictions that assume the utter stupidity of his followers. He follows the neo-Reformed protocol for drawing the line of distinction between the Reformers and Rome in this way:
Roman Catholicism blends its doctrines of sanctification and justification.
So, the two cannot be “separate,” but they can be blended? But what JM states next brings us full circle to what we observed in John Piper’s article on the Goldsworthy lecture at Southern:
Catholic theology views justification as an infusion of grace that makes the sinner righteous. In Catholic theology, then, the ground of justification is something made good within the sinner — not the imputed righteousness of Christ.
Please note JM’s either/or interpretive prism, (a neo-Reformed distinctive) that eliminates the possibility that the believer is empowered by the Spirit internally for something that is separate from justification; namely, kingdom living. Notice that the issue is specifically “something good” inside the believer verses the “imputed righteousness of Christ.” Obviously, JM rejects the idea that it can be both, and whatever it is, it must point back to justification if it is something “good” inside of the believer.
Rome’s motive for fusing the two together is beside the point, both the Reformers and Rome believe the two cannot be separated. Hence, for Rome it was easy: Christ forgives all of your past sins, but now you must do certain things to complete your justification because salvation is linear with both justification and sanctification on the same plane. Likewise, the Reformers believe in the same linear gospel, but pardon it by making everything that needs to be done to complete justification—totally of Christ alone. This requires us to remain totally depraved in the process and utilizes Gnosticism for whatever application can be surmised. Frankly, this is the first time that I have seen writings from JM that totally remove all doubt that he has bought into this doctrine , hook, line, and sinker.
If sanctification is included in justification, the justification is a process, not an event. That makes justification progressive, not complete. Our standing before God is then based on subjective experience, not secured by an objective declaration. Justification can therefore be experienced and then lost. Assurance of salvation in this life becomes practically impossible because security can’t be guaranteed. The ground of justification ultimately is the sinner’s own continuing present virtue, not Christ’s perfect righteousness and His atoning work.
The contradictions here are mindboggling. Again, “If sanctification is included in justification….” Is somehow different from, “… . but can never be separated.” Like all in this camp, JM complains about those who combine the two, while at the same time stating that they cannot be separated.
But perhaps the whole issue should be narrowed down to the most glaring contradiction in all of this. While MacArthur states that justification and sanctification cannot be separated, but are distinct, like all neo-Calvinists, he then complains that Rome “blends” the two. According to the standard New Calvinist MO, the cardinal sin in regard to this blending is “progressive justification.” Note once again the following excerpt in this post by JM:
If sanctification is included in justification, then justification is a process, not an event. That makes justification progressive, not complete.
But MacArthur is a Calvinist, and progressive justification is exactly what John Calvin propagated. Again, they accuse Rome of exactly what they are guilty of themselves. In fact, Calvin entitled chapter 14 of the the third book of the Calvin Institutes, “The Beginning of Justification. In What Sense Progressive.” Calvin then makes the same case throughout the rest of the chapter that all New Calvinists constantly make–that a believer must continually return to justification for their sanctification. Seeing these kinds of blatant neo-Reformed contradictions in his teaching is truly sad to watch.
What is it going to take to overcome this kind of error in the church? Christians who think, and love truth enough to wrestle with it long and hard. That’s going to be a small percentage of Christians as thinking is also not in vogue.
Nevertheless, they are out there—Christ said they would be in increasing numbers as He continues to build His out-called ones.
“In the first sentence of the Institutes, Calvin completely circumvents one of the primary purposes of God’s word for the believer.”
Note: You can click on charts to make them bigger.
It’s really not rocket science. The much touted idiom for Reformed thought is, the objective gospel outside of us. What does this mean? It means that all truth, wisdom, knowledge, and reality is contained in the knowledge of God which =’s “the gospel” which =’s the “personhood and works of Christ.” The dirty little Reformed secret is that the effects of the knowledge of God continues to remain outside of us even after salvation. Recently, New Calvinists have had to come clean on this to some extent by admitting that total depravity also applies to believers, and much to the consternation of Sanctified Calvinists who don’t know that they have been sanctified from Reformed soteriology. TANC is in the process of producing a 12 step program for recovering Sanctified Calvinists. The first step is to admit that Calvin was a Gnostic: “Hi, my name is Bob, I unwittingly promoted a Gnostic for ______years.” Hi Bob. The second step is vital for rebuilding self-esteem: “Hi my name is Bob, I have never been a Gnostic, and I am not totally depraved.” Hi Bob.
Obviously, if you are totally depraved, you can’t know anything that actually becomes a part of you and changes your behavior. Sanctified Calvinists must come to grips with the logical conclusions that follow the idea that GRACE remains completely outside of the believer. Reformed thought eventually referred to the antithesis of the “true gospel” as “infused grace.” In other words, the new birth does not change the individual by making grace a part of him, and thus making change possible via the new creaturehood. If words mean things, and they do, total depravity does not = change. Hence, grace does not enable individuals to perform works.
This line of thought educes statements from the likes of Tullian Tchividjian who boasts that he has never done one work that pleased God and looks to this as the assurance of his salvation. These fanatical concepts are running amuck and unfettered in today’s church because they came from Calvin, and nobody wants to take on Calvin. This is because too many have not paid attention for too long and now don’t want to look stupid. Basically, instead of thinking for themselves, and studying for themselves, they followed others.
John Piper teaches that the crux of the Reformation was the idea that grace remains outside of us after salvation. In other words, grace changes our position, but not us. And he is exactly correct in his assessment. He, like the Reformers, attributes infused grace to the very root of all evil as demonstrated by the following chart published by a Reformed think tank (I discuss Piper’s Reformed view of this in detail: chapter 4 of The Truth About New Calvinism):
I have a lot of work to do in order to nail all of this down specifically, but the basics are pretty simple: if you note the chart above carefully, and think about it, the only place to go from there is Gnosticism—Gnosticism makes it work—Gnosticism is the practical application—nothing else works. By the way, a primary contributor to the above chart was Graeme Goldsworthy. Think about that one for a while. Graeme Goldsworthy was also a contributor to an article entitled, “The False Gospel of the New Birth.” In the article, the new birth is explained away by the Gnostic concept of “emphasis.”
Plato, the father of Gnosticism, believed that matter was a form or shadow of the true, good, and beautiful. The forms were certainly TRUE in regard to being a reality, but man’s basic problem was that he/she EMPHASIZES the shadows over the true form. Likewise, the new birth is true, but is merely a form of the true gospel. Focusing on the new birth (ie., our responsibility to exercise our redeemed will to obey God), “eclipses” the true Sun (a play on words). The life-giving ray of the Sun that manipulates dead matter and gives it form is a constant theme throughout the Calvin institutes and literature like Pilgrims Progress. We are frozen blocks of ice until the Sun shines its light on us and changes the form of the block gradually, but obviously, the block of ice has no participation in the process.
Calvin presents this Gnostic epistemology in the very first sentence of his Institutes. He states:
Our wisdom insofar as it ought to be deemed true and solid wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts; the knowledge of God and of ourselves. But as these are connected together by many ties, it is not easy to determine which of the two proceeds and gives birth to the other. For in the first place, no man can survey himself without forthwith turning his thoughts toward the God in whom he lives and moves; because it is perfectly obvious, that the endowments which we possess cannot possibly be from ourselves; no, that are very being is nothing else than subsistence in God alone.
So, ALL wisdom concerns knowledge of ourselves and God, but the knowledge of ourselves must come first through God. And, since God is the good, and we are the evil, God is the knowledge of the good and we are the knowledge of the evil. All of the Calvin Institutes are framed within this prism—the knowledge of good and evil. I have made a chart below to illustrate this:
As we delve deeper and deeper into the knowledge of both, the glory of God is manifested. As illustrated by the following chart that is a viral illustration in Reformed circles. The knowledge of the good coupled with the knowledge of the evil makes the cross bigger; or in other words, the glory of God:
Of course, this is eerily similar to the lie in the garden. I wouldn’t drive a theological stake on this, but it seems that God called His creation good (including Adam and Eve), and the serpent came along and told Eve that there was also a knowledge of the evil that God was keeping from them. They rest is history. So, God redeems us, and once again His creation is good (as in the new birth made possible by Jesus Christ), and here comes the Reformed crowd with the knowledge of God’s goodness and the news that we are still evil, and the knowledge thereof. Creepy, if you think about it. And I suggest that you do. Go ahead, it’s safe for you to do so—Calvin and Luther are both dead.
Even though we do not really change according to Reformed thought, what does change? Before I address that, let me first answer the cat-cries that I presently hear. Notice in the very popular Reformed illustration above that we don’t change, the cross does. It gets bigger. We get worse in our own minds which also makes the cross bigger. We are the knowledge of the evil and are totally depraved accordingly. If you believe that going to a Reformed “biblical” counselor is about change, I have some oceanfront property in Xenia, Ohio that I would like to sell you. Come now, let us reason together, how do the totally depraved change?
According to Reformed thought, we don’t change; we manifest God’s glory; ie, “spiritual formation” or “transformation” or “reorientation of the heart.” Regardless of how change-like their terms sound; once again, ask yourself how the totally depraved change, and remember—we don’t change, only the manifestation of God’s glory does. This transformation takes place by “knowing.” We are transformed into the image of what we know. This is also a Gnostic concept. In fact, Calvin quotes Plato accordingly in book 1, chapter 3, section 3:
This did not escape the observation even of philosophers. For it is the very thing which Plato meant (in Phoed. et Theact.) when he taught, as he often does, that the chief good of the soul consists in resemblance to God, i.e., when by means of knowing him she is wholly transformed into him.
As an aside that I am not going to address deeply here, Reformed thought holds to the idea that anything more than obtaining the knowledge of the good while letting any result thereof happen naturally—is works salvation. As some in that camp state it: “You can’t just leap from the command to obedience.” Right. You have to know that the command is a command that we can’t keep, and see it as a work that Christ has already accomplished for us—anything more than that is works salvation. What we know about the command will create a manifestation of God’s glory. “Ya, like, we will then obey, right?” No, no, and no. Again, how do the totally depraved obey? Again, how do we obey if only the cross grows, but not us? By the way, the cross illustration above also illustrates Luther’s Gnostic concept of law/gospel. The law is meant to drive us to despair of self-righteousness (knowledge of the evil via the good) which drives us back to the foot of the cross. See illustration below:
This is only true of unbelievers, but for the born again believer, the Bible is God’s full philosophical statement for life and godliness (Matthew 4:4, 2Tim. 3:16). In the first sentence of the Institutes, Calvin completely circumvents one of the primary purposes of God’s word for the believer.
Much more research is needed, but one gets a hint of how this all supposedly works in real life as Calvin refers to the ideas of Socrates and Aristotle as well in book 1, chapter 5, section 3:
Hence, certain of the philosophers have not improperly called man a microcosm (miniature world) as being a rare specimen of divine power, wisdom, and goodness in containing within himself wonders sufficient to occupy our minds [emphasis mine] if we are willing to employ them.
This seems to indicate that God is satisfied with man contemplating Him in their minds only, while what happens in the outside world is totally in God’s control. The fact that Reformed thought holds to the idea that all occurrences in human history point to God’s glory in one way or the other—is no big secret. Therefore, since God is not the creator of evil, but preordains it for his glory, all human occurrences should be seen as either a manifestation of the good or a manifestation of the evil, or the knowledge of good and evil as well, but with both purposed for glorifying God accordingly. So, a bad event is knowledge of evil which glorifies the good by contrast, while good things that happen are obviously knowledge of the good as well. What is true of the “believer” in his mind, is also true in the metaphysical world. When we contemplate the goodness of God in our mind, the cross is bigger. When we see our own depravity—the cross is bigger; likewise, good and bad events in the world make the cross bigger as well. This explains the Reformed infatuation with tragedy. Do I think this philosophy is at the core of why there is so much indifference in the church to spiritual tyranny and abuse? YES.
Moreover, it explains why there is no concern over the fact that Reformed theology’s European legacy is aflame with the Witch Wars (in some villages, the female population was completely eradicated), the Inquisition, the Peasant Wars, the Thirty-Year War, the First English Civil War, the Second English Civil War, the Third English Civil War, and the Levellers’ rebellion against Puritan tyranny. These were all religious wars involving theocracies—mostly of the Reformed stripe.
Because the Church of England wasn’t lopping of enough heads to satisfy the Puritans, they tried to bring their show to America, but the founding fathers shut them down. There is a reason why America has never had a religious war. Nevertheless, their very first theocracy resulted in the very same European behavior: the Salem witch trials. As a memorial to the glorifying knowledge of the evil, New Calvinists signed the Danvers Statement on Puritan Manhood and Womanhood at the same location.
The restrained tyranny is now manifesting itself in New Calvinist “churches.” Abuse and tyranny will always follow the philosophy.
And of course, for the glory of God.
There are a lot of Presbyterian pastors that I have much respect for. And I understand their dilemma: Lutheran = Luther, Methodist = Wesley, etc., and Presbyterian = John Calvin. I mean, this is tough: “Hi, my name is Fred. I have been a Presbyterian all of my life, which is a denomination founded on a murdering mystic despot.” Geez, I feel for them—I really do.
Nevertheless, it is interesting to see the tacit admissions that Calvinism has a history that makes some Calvinists, “uncomfortable.” This is where New Calvinism is like a distinguished family getting a visitation from a long lost relative with a long dark past. It’s like already having several dinner parties planned in a small town where a past relative is new in town, and meaner than a junkyard dog, and starts blabbing about family roots. That’s when you cancel the dinner parties or preplan your responses: “Well, many of our relatives are uncomfortable with that part of our family tree.” It is then hoped the guests will be polite and not mention that it is the root of the tree.
As will be thoroughly documented in The Truth About New Calvinism: Volume 2, New Calvinism has the history, doctrine, and character of authentic Calvinism down pat—they are the incarnation of the original article to a “T.” This is a simple thing; the present-day church being awash in spiritual abuse is merely Calvin’s Geneva: act 2. It is what it is. And thanks to the Australian Forum, all of the heavy lifting in regard to the research has been done.
These thoughts bring me to an article that was sent to me by a reader. It was from The Aquila Report which is “Your independent source for news and commentary from and about conservative, orthodox evangelicals in the Reformed and Presbyterian family of churches.” Recently, Aquila reported on a family forum held (I think) in Dallas TX where the Reformed family tried to get some understanding between them and the part of the family tree that showed up again in 1970—wreaking havoc on the rest of the family in the form of Sonship Theology and New Calvinism. Unfortunately, in regard to Powlison, Keller, and Duncan, et al, these are your daddy’s Presbyterians. Presbyterians that have truly grown in grace, but kept the name, are in a quandary to say the least.
The article was reposted on The Aquila Report by Matt Tuininga , a blogger of the United Reformed stripe. It is a commentary on an article written by sociologist Phillip Jenkins who, in the original article written by him, states uncanny parallels between early Reformed clans and Islam. Tuininga begins his post this way:
In a fascinating column in RealClearReligion the famous sociologist of religion Philip Jenkins compares the radical Islam of figures like Sayyid Qutb (author of Milestones and an intellectual father of modern day Islamism) with 16th Century Calvinism.
Well, that’s not good!
But then Tuininga adds this:
Jenkins’s overall point is to demonstrate that a religion often evolves in positive ways only by first passing through dark times.
I’m not sure that’s Jenkins’ overall point, but hey, let’s roll with it. This would then indicate that the “dark” side of the family tree is back with a vengeance in the form of New Calvinism. And be sure of this: the only difference between the behaviors is the filter of American jurisprudence. I have dealt with New Calvinists first hand (some well-known), and trust me, they would light me up with the green wood in a heartbeat if they could get away with it. What they actually did wasn’t much less.
Incredibly, Tuininga then makes the exact same point that author John Immel has been making for years and propagated on Spiritual Tyranny .com and in his book, Blight In The Vineyard. Tuininga quotes Jenkins with conspicuous undisagreement:
In the case of the West, he suggests, the Enlightenment followed the radicalism and iconoclasm of the Reformation; Protestants had to destroy much of what came before them in medieval Christianity in order to forge new ways to the future.
The fact that America’s founding fathers were children of the Enlightenment which was a pushback against European spiritual despotism was a major theme of our 2012 TANC conference. Immel presented the thesis brilliantly, and left little room for denial in regard to the fact that the Reformers were separated from Rome on doctrine (both false, by the way), but not the underlying philosophy that leads to spiritual tyranny. Overall, knowing beforehand that people are not lining up to hear this proposition, we are happy with how the conference turned out and are looking forward to next year.
Hence, “Protestants had to destroy much of what came before them in medieval Christianity in order to forge new ways to the future” focuses on iconic superstition and conveniently leaves out superstitions like the truth test to determine if someone was a witch: if you can swim, you get hung or burned at the stake; if you can’t swim—you drown. Suspicion equaled certain death, so I imagine woman of that era were particularly well behaved. The present-day replacement is the Patriarchy Movement.
In the process of making this argument Jenkins accurately portrays a side of 17th Century Calvinism that most present-day Calvinists would find troubling. Speaking of the Dutch Reformed iconoclasts of the 1560s, he writes,
“Beyond smashing images, the insurgents had other ideas that look strikingly familiar to anyone familiar with radical Islam today, with thinkers like Sayyid Qutb and Maulana Mawdudi.
The Calvinists of the 1560s sought to remodel society on the basis of theocratic Old Testament law strictly interpreted, with the role of the sovereign measured by how far he or she submitted to God’s will. Some thinkers devised a pioneering theory of tyrannicide, justifying the removal of any allegedly Christian ruler who betrayed Christ’s true church. Protestant radicals pursued a harsh policy of reading rival believers out of the faith, defining the followers of images as utterly anti-Christian, deadly enemies of God.…
In the English-speaking world, the heirs of 1566 were the Puritans, the radicals who dreamed of an austere New England. When Puritans seized power in England itself in the 1640s, their agents toured the country, smashing statues and windows in every parish church they could find. By the 1640s, at the height of Europe’s death struggle between Protestants and Catholics, Calvinist ideas that to us seem intolerably theocratic dominated not just the Netherlands, but also New England, Switzerland and Scotland, and were struggling for ascendancy in the whole British Isles. Religious zeal often expressed itself through witchcraft persecutions.”
….To be sure, what Jenkins describes here was not true of all Calvinists. John Calvin himself, living in an earlier century, explicitly rejected the sort of strict allegiance to the Old Testament civil law that Jenkins here describes, and he absolutely rejected the theories of tyrannicide and rebellion articulated by some of his followers. But Jenkins nevertheless accurately describes a strand of Calvinism, and his description of the violence and disorder that was sparked by radical Calvinist notions of what allegiance to God in the public square demanded is truthful, if not representative of the whole tradition.
In regard to Calvin himself, this is blatant denial in the face of historical fact that is not even difficult to find, but he finishes with this head-scratcher:
But Jenkins nevertheless accurately describes a strand of Calvinism, and his description of the violence and disorder that was sparked by radical Calvinist notions of what allegiance to God in the public square demanded is truthful, if not representative of the whole tradition.
The “whole tradition”? Is it a “strand” or the “whole tradition”?
THE DINNER PARTY
….One question we might ask here is to what extent was this old militant Calvinism different from the Islamism with which our nation is in conflict today. If Calvinists today were advocating theories of resistance and revolution, or if they were suggesting that the current U.S. government of Barack Obama is illegitimate such that Christians do not owe it allegiance, would the state have to launch a campaign against them as well? What if they were defending tyrannicide, based on the belief that Barack Obama is a tyrant?
Actually, this is not so theoretical. If there is one thing I have learned since starting this blog, it is that there are a number of Calvinists out there today who would espouse virtually all of these views (perhaps even tyrannicide? I’m not sure …). I don’t think most Reformed Christians give the time of day to these thinkers, but there is a minority that is with them all the way…. But I would like to ask those who find these arguments persuasive, do you really want to go back to the heyday of Calvinist revolution and theocracy? Is it the American project that you reject – with its commitment to religious liberty and the separation of church and state? And if so, how do you distinguish your own cause from that of the Islamists, especially the more respectable groups like the Muslim Brotherhood, or the intellectual followers of Sayyid Qutb? To those who, like me, find this brand of Calvinism profoundly troubling, how do you reject it without some sort of distinction between the two kingdoms, between the kingdom of Jesus, and the political institutions of this age?
Well, obviously, Tuininga has no intentions of cancelling his dinner parties. And hopefully, the guests won’t bring up the new family in town who claim kinship: while the children of other families build snowmen and sandcastles, the children of the new family in town build guillotines and gallows. And the New Calvinist’s constant haranguing of the “American dream” has become a constant drumbeat. The particular video of a New Calvinist stating that “every corner of the Earth belongs to us” is also particularity chilling. Just two weeks ago, Susan and I sat under the teaching of a well-known college professor at a Christian University (who is a New Calvinist). His message was absolutely nothing short of a Communist manifesto. Recently, I have received emails from people who attend a Southern Baptist church that is strongly influenced by David Platt. His social socialist gospel is beginning to give people the creeps big-time.
John Immel is way ahead of the curve on this stuff. I recently heard John Piper say that he didn’t believe in a marriage between church and state; I DON’T BELIEVE HIM. In fact, I am going to attempt to meet with people who have information on this for my upcoming book project. More and more, a formula is emerging that seems to explain everything: a united front of denominations (think: John MacArthur hanging with CJ Mahaney etc) who can all agree on a central theme/doctrine: the total depravity of all mankind including Christians, and the need for philosopher kings to save humanity from themselves with the use of the sword if necessary. And by the way, agreement with a knowing nod from Communists and Muslims lingers not far behind. This formula begins to make sense of perplexing love affairs; such as, MacArthur/Mahaney, Horton/ Warren, Piper/Warren, Piper/Wilson, Obama/Warren, Mohler/United Nations, Dever/United Nations, etc., etc., ect., add cold chills.
A SORTOF ADMISSION
But lastly, to bolster this point, Tuininga’s conclusion is to die for:
Jenkins appreciates the fact that the violence and revolution associated with early Calvinism was an important part of the story of how the democratic liberties and political structures that we take for granted came to exist. Calvinism had its own growing pains, and the best political theological insights from its earlier years need to be extracted from a number of assumptions and applications that were inconsistent with the teaching of Scripture. But not every Calvinist views things this way. That’s why we need to keep making the point.
Can we say, I-m-m-e-l? John has shared something with me that I agree with: in my own words; America’s founding fathers were humming Willy Nelson’s “You Were Always on My Mind” while framing the Constitution, and the “you” pertained to John Calvin in particular. While I think that Tuininga would give tacit merit to that assertion….
The Dinner Party:
….Calvinism had its own growing pains, and the best political theological insights from its earlier years need to be extracted from a number of assumptions and applications that were inconsistent with the teaching of Scripture. But not every Calvinist views things this way. That’s why we need to keep making the point.
Guest: Polite silence.
“Ok, I am really, really busy, so I am just going to let one Bible verse speak for me: Romans 15:14. Regardless of how the key word is translated, “comfort, instruct, or counsel,” it all points back to counseling. As I state clearly in chapter 9 of my book, Jay E. Adams has done all of the heavy lifting on this subject and that is why he was, and continues to be persecuted by the New Calvinists. They, for the most part have won so far, and hence, 90% of the counseling out there in the church is based on Reformation Gnosticism. There is NO abundance of reputable counselors out there.
There should be, but David Powlison and others took care of that and replaced the Adams’ biblical counseling revolution with gospel contemplationism. Bottom line: I have seen the radically changed lives that resulted from Adams’ biblical counseling construct.
It is time for Christians to tell the philosopher kings to get real jobs, pick up a copy of God’s comprehensive philosophical treatise for life: THE BIBLE, Barackman’s systematic theology of practical Christian living PRIOR TO THE 1990 EDITION, all of the Adams stuff you can buy for discipleship, and start our own churches.
God has not left His children without remedy. ” Comment made here.
It’s time to get a grip. Susan and I have been visiting many churches and reading a mass of recommended sermons on, “forgiveness,” “judging others,” “humbleness,” and “pursuing peace” that are saturating the internet. These sermons, like the ones we are hearing Sunday, after Sunday, are geared to control people via the following principles; albeit ever so subtle, and of course, by proof texting:
1. In comparison to Christ, everything on Earth, including life in general, is a pile of dung. So, all the bad things that happen are irrelevant. I mean, what do you expect? God allows these things to happen to draw us closer to Him and wean us from our desires for things on Earth. Oh that we would have no desires whatsoever other than “Christ and Him crucified!” That is our goal. No desires at all other than Christ is the ideal.
2. “Justice?” [add sarcastic smirk that begs the question: are you really that clueless?]. “You want justice? If we all got what we deserved, we would all be in hell!” “In regard to everything in life, remember the Puritan who looked upon a marcel of meat that was his only meal for that day and said, ‘What? Christ?? And this also???!’” Being interpreted: any dissatisfaction with life at all directly relates to your unthankfullness for being one of the chosen ones. Yes, I had a sinful thought the other day: I was thinking about how nice it would be to take Susan on a cruise. Just the two of us out on some boat in the middle of God’s vast ocean. How dare me! Those thoughts could have been better expended on the excellency of Christ!
3. The saints are incapable of righteous indignation because of our total depravity. Righteous indignation is arrogance. All anger is sin. We are always angry because we didn’t get our own way.
4. A sense of accomplishment is pride. Jesus does it all for us. We are totally depraved and every good work we do was preordained by God for His glory, and the rest of our life is left to us to muddle through to teach us not to depend on any of our fleshly “strengths” or “abilities.” It’s all good—both what God has predetermined and our own sins point us back to Christ and His works only, “not anything we would do.” “It’s not our doing—it’s Christ’s doing and dying.”
5. The preordained elders of the church must use the law to control the totally depraved zombie sheep. However, remember, every verse must be seen in the context of the historical Christ event, and this takes a special anointing given to those who have been preordained to lead the zombie sheep to heavenly safety despite themselves. “I’m sorry, you who question the elders, it just so happens that your marriage doesn’t ‘look like the gospel’ so we must tell your wife to divorce you. Yes, I know it seems like a contradiction to the plain sense of Scripture, but you don’t have the special anointing that enables you to see the ‘higher law of Christ’ that we can see.”
6. And remember, even though they are God’s chosen and specially anointed, they are still totally depraved like us. See, this is a huge problem—this whole problem with evangelicals wanting Reformed elders to “be the gospel, rather than preaching the gospel.” In other words, trying to manifest our own behavior, rather than manifesting the gospel; ie., Christ’s “active obedience” that is continually imputed to us in sanctification.
7. Conclusion: Keep your stinking mouth shut, buy the books that translate the Bible into “Chrsitocentric gospel truth,” tithe 10% or else, sit under elder preaching as the only way to manifest the historic Christ event, rejoice that all evil in the church makes the cross bigger, and report people who ask questions.
Certainly, the wholesale brainwashing of the saints in this country, and in our day, may be unprecedented. I see it daily in this ministry through correspondence from battered sheep: “Are my elders wrong in their wrongdoing?” How would we know? They supposedly can see things we can’t see. The rest of the congregation is told to “trust the elders who are close to the situation and know all the facts.” Saints stand perplexed and ask, “How can they do that when it is plainly against the Bible?” The answer is simple: they don’t read their Bibles the same way we do. The “gospel” is an objective truth (by the one word only) that is an unknowable eternal truth that the “knowers” can only know.
The Reformers bought into all this stuff, and it is nothing more than a Gnostic perspective that despises life. The statements that vouch for this are everywhere in the Calvin Institutes and Luther’s commentaries, as well as things spoken by contemporary Neo-Calvinists, but we simply don’t want to believe that they are saying what they are saying. Could they be wrong in their wrong? Could they be erroneous in their error? Is their hatred really hatred? Is their law-breaking really a violation of the law? Where do I even begin here? I had a Reformed elder call and tell me that another elder told him that God will bind in heaven whatever elders bind on earth—even if they are wrong. He then added that he didn’t really believe the guy said it. He was standing there, did he say it or not? And if he did, do they really believe that? Hhhheeeellllooo, yes they do!
This is just all a repeat of history. It all boils down to whether men own men by proxy, or whether God owns man. And if God owns man, to what point does He want us to be responsible for ourselves? To what point does our participation in life matter? How are we to think about the full philosophical spectrum of life? Bottom line: we are letting spiritual despots determine these questions and not our Creator. And yes, what God wants to be accomplished in His kingdom is being affected. The world is watching, and they are not impressed, and the answer is not “keeping it all in the family.” And, “What happens in the church, stays in the church because the world doesn’t understand the ‘historic Christ event.’”
“Deb,” or “Dee,” I forget which, over at, I forget, “The Whatburg blog”? or something like that, got it right: the internet is the modern-day Gutenberg press. Yes, there is a lot of pain out there, but there will be a lot more if what is done in darkness is not exposed to the light. This is exactly what God’s word instructs us to do when professing Christians refuse to repent of serious offences against each other: “TELL IT TO THE CHURCH.” Then what? Those who are aware of it are to “stay aloof” from them. It is a fellowship issue. And the willingness of MacArthur et al to fellowship with serial sheep abusers shows what their true love for biblical truth is: not much, if any.
Do you think I am being extreme? Then explain the following to me:
1. The rampant cover-ups by “respected” church leaders.
2. The utter indifference to abuse by the leaders of our day.
3. The blanket acceptance of ridiculous ideas by the who’s who of national religious leaders; such as, John Piper’s “Scream of the Damned.”
4. The wholesale fellowship of leaders with blatant mystics like Tim Keller.
5. Rape and pedophilia swept under the rug and ignored—an atrocity that was once identified primarily with the Catholic Church.
Whether Rome or Reformed, the behavior is the same because the underlying presupposition is the same: the totally depraved must be enslaved to “enlightened” leaders; supposedly, by God’s approved proxy. And there are a hundred different doctrines that seek to reach that goal—we argue over the correctness of each doctrinal nuance, but the goal of all of them is the same: CONTROL. As author John Immel aptly states, these men speak for God, but the problem is….God is not standing there to personally object. Immel states this as a manner of speaking—God is standing there to object, if the mental sluggards of our day would open the Bible and listen for themselves.
But nevertheless, this is way Reformed theologians want to make the Bible a mystical gospel narrative rather than a full philosophical statement on metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, and interpersonal application to be understood and interpreted by the individual born again believer with the help of elders—not the dictation thereof. The latter is for purposes of control—job one for most churches in this country.
The state’s worst fear is an uncontrolled populous, and religions have always come knocking on their doors offering a belief system that will produce a docile mass, and by the way, “if they won’t believe what we tell them to, you can kill them for us.” Do some historical googling on your own—Rome nor the Reformers have ever been any different on this wise. Oh, and you can add the Puritans to that list as well. They called their place of landing “New England.” New location—same England, complete with witch hunts and persecution of those who disagreed with them. Uh, do you think it is coincidence that their only Bible was the Geneva Bible? Now research the city council archives from Geneva during the time Calvin ruled there. Yes, it really happened. And yes, Rome would do what they have always done if the Enlightenment had not put them in their place. Historically, whether Reformed, or Romish, their tyranny has gone underground when they are contended against. A good illustration of this is the book. “House Of Death and Gate Of Hell” by Pastor L.J. King. Pushed back by the Enlightenment, the Catholic Church merely went underground with the Inquisition. Therefore, all of the whining about the evils of the Enlightenment among the Reformed is no accident. The freedom of ideas has always been the tyrants worst enemy.
“Oh now Paul, you can’t just paint the whole movement with one big brush.” Why not? That’s how Jesus painted the Pharisees. When did Jesus ever say, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, but they aren’t all bad. I can’t just paint the whole movement with a big brush. Some of those guys are ok. We have to take from the shelf what is good and leave the rest where we found it.” See my point on how the Bible is a comprehensive statement on how to live and think for the individual? We can’t use it for that if it is a mystical gospel narrative. And that’s the point: control, by removing our ability to think for ourselves. When we read that Luther despised reason, we don’t think he really meant it just because he wrote it. Oh really?
So, in case you aren’t keeping track, that’s reason number three why discernment bloggers need to keep up the blogging: it’s a call to come out from among them. That’s the biblical model: ducks swim with the ducks and birds fly with the birds. Congregations that support abusive ministries need to be confronted about it, and most certainly, others need to be warned that they shouldn’t support those ministries either. Statistics show that 80% of all parishioners who visit a church will google it—exactly, why should the other side of the story not be told? Because abusive churches are masters of deceit, and centralist doctrine is slowly assimilated into the minds of people like the proverbial frog in boiling water, many people are simply in too deep before they realize what is going on. I deal with people who are simply too spiritually weak (through indoctrination designed to do just that) to do what they have to do to leave a given church. Let me state something in regard to what John Immel calls “private virtue.” If warning a sleeping family that their house is on fire is not a private virtue, which Immel rightly fingers as an oxymoron, neither is blogging about abusive churches. Far from it. There is no place for private virtue in our duty to stand against spiritually abusive leaders.
Another reason that the bogosphere must continue to take a hard stand is because the Bible specifically states that we are to do just that. Consider 2 Corinthians 10:4,5;
The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.
Christians have a duty to contend against EVERY “thought” that is contrary to God’s truth, and they are to use truth to do that. I don’t think much needs to be added to this point.
Like our belief that the Popes of our day wouldn’t repeat the horrors of the inquisition, even though they clearly did up until the early 50’s after being forced underground by the Enlightenment, we imagine that the Neo-Calvinists of our day would never repeat the behavior of the Reformers and Puritans. We are sadly mistaken. The spiritual abuse tsunami that we are seeing in our day is Reformation light. The gallows and the stake stoked with green wood has been replaced by bogus church discipline with excommunication following, character assignation, commanding people to divorce their spouses, ruining people’s careers, and false incrimination. It is now protocol for many New Calvinist church leaders to make a concerted effort to get in tight with local law enforcement in case they would need a “favor.” In my contention with Clearcreek Chapel in Springboro, Ohio, I received a very inappropriate phone call from a police detective who ordered me to do certain things that were clearly outside of his authority. I immediately contacted an attorney and started compiling data because I didn’t know what was coming next. My life was also threatened via email. Whatever the present abuse might escalate to, I think it prudent to do all we can to end it where it is at.
The present-day Neo-Calvinists are absolutely correct: they have “rediscovered” the true Reformation gospel. Ministry themes like “Resurgence,” “Modern Reformation,” and “Resolved” are absolutely correct in their assertion that the true Reformation gospel has been recently rediscovered (circa 1970). But where did it go? “The Enlightenment and Existentialism suppressed It.” Hardly. The Enlightenment and Existentialist movements were a pushback against the tyranny that is part and parcel with the Reformation gospel. The Reformation gospel dies a social death every 100-150 years because of the following:
1. The idea of the plenary inability of man leads to a significant decrease in quality of life.
2. The saints eventually discover that said philosophy imposed an interpretation on the Bible regarding the gospel, instead of a gospel understood from exegesis. Another way of stating it: The Reformation gospel is false, fuses justification and sanctification together so that all works are of God only, denies the new birth, is Gnostic, and is accompanied by bad fruit accordingly.
3. The tranny that cannot help but be a part of this doctrine eventually peaks; ie., the saints finally get fed-up.
4. The Gnostic concept of continually recycling a narrow concept that is supposedly the gateway to higher knowledge eventually gets boring. In this case; gospel this, gospel that, gospel the other, gospel driven marriage, gospel driven music, gospel driven child rearing, gospel driven drivers education, gospel driven weight loss programs, and 52 different versions of the gospel a year parsed out on each Sunday. People also get tired of 7/11 music: seven verses about Jesus repeated 11 times.
5. A narrow sanctification dynamic begins to wreak havoc on the saints; ie., ruined lives become the norm.
6. An air of indifference becomes evident. Everybody starts acting like Dr. Spock.
7. Like its kissing cousin, Communism, it just eventually sucks the life out of people, and they start looking for something else. The doctrine simply does not deliver in the long run.
8. The light bulb finally turns on: when the doctor says: “there is nothing we can do,” that =’s no hope. The saints begin to wonder why the Christian life is any different.
And that’s what we are seeing right now. Big time. And regardless of the various stripes of those who are in the fight—we are united on the following: the tyranny and abuse must stop. And what will stop it is the same thing that has always stopped it: the truth proclaimed from the housetops. An incessant, relentless, tenacious proclaiming of the truth hastens the rightful death of tyranny.
It is true, “the keyboard is mightier than the sword.”
“This Reformation myth—the epic battle for truth between Rome and a lowly monk, is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on mankind.”
Like “legalism,” “gospel,” “grace,” and “Christian,” “cult” is a loosely used term thrown around in our day. Like “legalism” in particular, I don’t think there is any such thing as a “cult.”
The word is very unhelpful, inaccurate, and enables spiritual abuse and tyranny of the worst sort. And, bibliology, or doctrine, has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not an organization is something that doesn’t exist; namely, a cult.
Have you noticed? People still attend and vigorously support what some call the big C. Why is that? Why do they also cover up big C behavior? Why the blind faith? Why do upright law abiding citizens support certain organizations in the face of damning evidence? Why are the victims blamed for the actions of their abusers? What’s going on?
Observation begins to supply clues. Some years ago, I had a ministry to Jehovah Witnesses. JW’s are commonly accepted as being a cult. But in case you haven’t noticed, they aren’t going away anytime soon. Why is that? I will answer that question later, but for now, let me state a procedure that JW’s use to neutralize those who contend against them: they set out to end your marriage. I was called into a situation where an individual was meeting with a group of JW elders from a kingdom hall that his wife was a member of. They had been recently married. He wanted to follow God, and considered the Bible to be the authority, and wanted me to attend the meeting to present another perspective on Scripture for him to consider.
But I did something surprising. I wouldn’t discuss doctrine with them. Instead, I brought copies of old Watch Tower theological journals (some dating back to the 1920’s) that clearly showed how JW’s have changed their positions on major theological issues over the years. Until the 70’s (if I remember correctly), JW’s disallowed blood transfusions (based on obscure Old Testament law) which led to the untimely deaths of many of their followers—especially children. Some of the younger elders present were unaware of this fact and didn’t buy the idea suggested at the meeting that I had photo-shopped the copies.
The next morning, three ladies from the same kingdom hall came to visit my wife after I left for work. They offered to come to our home during the day and have Bible studies with her. Despite my outrage, they were so persistent that I had to consider the obtaining of a restraining order from the local police.
Now enter Calvinist churches that are in contention with individuals. They do the EXACT same thing. The first thing that is going to happen when, and if you are in a contention with Calvinist elders in a local church—they are going to set the wheels in motion to drive a wedge between you and your spouse. I don’t condone it, but in cases that have been brought to our attention, the stalking of wives was only halted when Reformed elders were threatened with physical violence, or confrontation in the middle of Sunday morning services. The latter we do indorse, and many Reformed churches have security teams in place to thwart such confrontation which by the way is biblical. In other articles, I have outlined fourteen cult elements that are aped by Reformed churches. According to “cult” experts, the primary motivating factor is CONTROL. The process aimed at getting control and keeping it is known as centralism.
Now, try to solve the Reformed bully problem by labeling them a cult. Ya, good luck with that one. So, herein is now the problem: by labeling some “cults” and others not cults, the others get a free ticket to act like a cult without being one when the fact of the matter is that they are all CONTROLISTS.
Labeling them all “control freaks” (centralism, or controlism) is much better, and more accurate than “cult,” but still way short of being solution oriented. Why would so many people be concerned with controlling others? People do what they do for a reason. They do what they do because of what they believe or want. “Oh, you mean ‘doctrine,” right?” Wrong. Doctrine is the tool that makes control possible. Something comes before the doctrine. We are going to discuss the primary crux of this issue and lay all of the residual issues aside. This is the big picture.
Philosophy is the theory of being or existence, how we know what we know, ramifications of knowledge, and how we communicate it to others. Western culture is predicated on the idea that philosophers are an elite class that should rule the world. And depending on the philosophy’s doctrine, they are mediators between the masses and the cosmos, nature, various invisible forces, gods, or thee God.
Prior to the sixth century, Western culture primarily functioned on mythology. The fifth century saw a movement towards science, but the study of human existence and how truth related to life (philosophy) did not emerge till circa 400 BC. The epicenter was the Academy in Athens Greece. This is where the philosophical wheel of Western culture was invented. The primary premise mentioned above, Plato’s philosopher kings, moved out from Athens into history by two roads: secular, and religious. In the religious realm, doctrines and church polity were geared for the ultimate goal necessary to implement the core philosophy: CONTROL. Though religious wars have raged throughout Europe till this day under the auspices of doctrinal disagreements (going to war over doctrine is not doctrinally sound to begin with), what the issue has always been is that of control.
Even in regard to the doctrinal contentions between the Reformers and Rome, both doctrines were designed to control the saintly masses. That is why the results have always been the same whether Reformed or Catholic: heavy-handed leadership, abuse, and cover-ups. Why are there so many different denominations, doctrines, and beliefs? Really there isn’t; these are just different theological systems that approach control in different ways. The doctrine assimilated into the minds of both groups lead to the behavior. Why do pastors feel entitled to abuse? Philosophical indoctrination via biblical proof texting. Why do pastors cover for each other and refuse to confront other pastors? Same reason. Why are victims told that it is their fault? Same reason. Why do parishioners look the other way and pretend it didn’t happen? Same reason. Want to see this in action? Watch the following video:
And this article: http://martybraemer.wordpress.com/2012/08/07/jack-schaap-my-friend/
The primary crux of Centralism in both Reformed doctrine and Catholicism is the emphasis on saintly ineptness. The Reformers relegated the saints to total depravity and a total inability to please God in any way. If you can convince people that they are worthless, it goes without saying that they become docile followers who are hesitant to question anything. Likewise, on the Catholic side, if you can’t interpret the Scriptures on your own and absolution can only be found through the Catholic Church—few are willing to rock the boat. Today’s Baptists of all strips are either one or the other, or a combination of both. While supposedly rejecting both, determinism and weekly absolution can be found at the altar weekly. After all, we are “all just sinners living by the same grace that saved us.” Sermons are about “forgiving the way we have been forgiven,” and how “complaining is always sin.”
As obedience to the local pastor king is slowly assimilated into the minds of parishioners through various doctrines, followers will ultimately drink the Kool-Aid if they are told to. The infamous Jack Hyles (Independent Fundamental Baptist) demonstrated this to a fellow pastor by saying to one of his deacons: “stand up”; and he did. “Sit down”; and he did, and much to the astonishment of the other pastor. Hyles’ daughter once stated that she was certain that her father’s 50,000 followers would drink the Kool-Aid if he told them to and prefaced the statement with, “I’m not kidding!” Therefore, in her estimation, when it got right down to it, the (at one time) largest Baptist church in the world was no different from Jonestown, and I concur. Hyles and Jim Jones simply had different flavors of doctrine that were geared to obtain the same results.
When Christ came upon the scene proclaiming His good news of the kingdom of God, His message was a head-on collision with Greco-Roman philosophy that had been integrated into Judaism. Christ proclaimed the Scriptures, for all practical purposes, to be the comprehensive metaphysical, epistemological, ethical, political, philosophical statement directly from God, and placed it in the hands of the saints to interpret it for themselves, and supplied everything necessary to do so. The priesthood of believers is the extreme antithesis to philosopher kings. And Christ looked to none of the theologians of that day for credibility—He didn’t cite any of them. He picked twelve uneducated blue-collar workers to build the greatest kingdom of the ages, and made every citizen a priest unto God. He purchased us with His own blood, and we are owned by no other man.
Hence, there are only two types of churches in our day: those that promote bondage to pastor kings, and those that promote the priesthood of believers—with the latter being an anomaly in our day. Susan and I are visiting churches right now, and we know this: any given church will be geared to control the members through doctrine, polity, and ministry, or will be geared to equip priestly saints full of goodness and competence in spiritual matters—able to minister to each other and the world with all knowledge. There is no in-between; every church will fit into one of these two criteria.
Where Truth Still Matters
Christians are under the illusion that truth matters, and doctrinal disagreements in our day are driven by such. Hardly. Truth is irrelevant; the real crux of the matter is what doctrine best suits to effectively control the masses. Truth is not the epicenter of God’s comprehensive philosophical statement on life and godliness in our day. The prior question (which doctrine best controls) has always led to the marriage of church and state throughout history. The state has always sought to unite with a “unifying belief system,” ie., religion; the state has a vested interest in a docile populous, while religion has an interest in using the state to control the totally depraved zombie sheep from destroying themselves. Rome and the Reformers were in agreement on the marriage of church and state; their disagreement concerned the gospel of centralism under the guise that gospel truth really matters. This Reformation myth, the epic battle for truth between Rome and a lowly monk, is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on mankind. And, read the book of Revelation and the book of Daniel for yourselves, the marriage of the anti-Christ statesman with the one world religion of the latter days is hardly a mere preface in the scheme of things. The anti-Christ is Plato’s magnum opus of philosopher kings.
1. Exhort with sound doctrine and truth.
But there are still plenty of saints around that care about real truth, and they must be convinced with sound doctrine and sound doctrinal apologetics. This is the first piece of the puzzle that answers the ministry riddle of our day.
2. Save the honestly deceived.
There are saints who love the truth, and have no agenda, but have unwittingly resigned their priesthood to pastor kings, and are owned by them instead of Jesus Christ. They must be convinced with the truth they love, and thereby rescued from throwing away their high calling and casting their pearls before swine.
3. Do not invest in “saints” with itching ears.
Don’t waste time with those who value what they receive from pastor kings more than truth. Pastor kings offer easy believeism, and ease is a universal temptation. Whether, this is easy because to do anything in sanctification is works, and not grace; or, obedience is optional—at least we are saved; or, we are totally depraved pieces of crap that couldn’t please God even if we tried, so what could be easier?; or, any effort in sanctification is works salvation because the two are the same; or, the same gospel that saved us also sanctifies us—no need to move on to anything else that might be harder than that; or, no need to delve deep into the Scriptures and study hard because the Bible is a gospel narrative only; or, whatever else is the reason—something that people want that they are receiving from the pastor kings is more important than truth. Truth is often hard.
This is why they are willing to compromise and lay almost everything at the altar of the pastor kings. It’s easy. And, victims are a big-time inconvenience. Hence, ignorance is bliss and cover-ups are the first order of the day. Doctrine will condone this in various and sundry ways. Occasionally, these saints with itching ears will contend against truth bearers that threaten their comfort. Be careful to not invest time in them—invest in the honest doubters.
Saints must be educated and warned not to squander their priesthood under the auspices of the pastor kings, whether of the Reformed stripe, the Arminian stripe, or the misnomer of cultism.
“One can clearly see here where Powlison wants to take the plain sense of Scripture and apply the Socratic dialectic; ie, start asking questions about the obvious because truth couldn’t be that easy, and if it is, any Spirit indwelled Christian can do truth at home which is a huge problem for the philosopher kings. Empirical Objectivism puts the power of understanding in the hands of the common people. It is enemy number one for the Platonic New Calvinists.”
1. Background: No New Arrogance Under the Sun
This whole philosopher king idea is really getting traction in my mind and begs for a discussion on Calvin’s total depravity. As I read more and more Socrates and Plato, I keep looking at the cover of the book to make sure it wasn’t really written by some New Calvinist: “Er, did I pick up the wrong book from the stack?” Socrates didn’t like to be questioned with challenging questions. Most of his dialogue was through questions because he believed that was how truth was rediscovered in the mind—through interpretive questions. Socrates didn’t mind inquisitive questions, they were efficacious to the process, but challenging questions in regard to his positions offended him. He had a specific response when he was challenged accordingly: he would sarcastically reverse the roles of teacher and student, and ask questions as the student while making the student the teacher. Sometimes he was very subtle about it to the point that the student was not aware it was going on; apparently, to amuse the gods.
2. Background: No New Interpretation Methods Under The Sun
Before we get to our subject of total depravity, I might mention that this exact same interpretive dialogue schema to determine truth is used by such New Calvinists like Paul David Tripp to discover what our heart idols are. He got the idea from mystic heretic David Powlison who dubs the method, “x-ray questions.” Much of “How People Change” is devoted to this Socratic method. It is also an important part of Neuro Linguistic Programming (used by motivational speaker Tony Robbins) which is a practical modeling application of Neuropsychology (Ed Welch of Powlison’s CCEF holds a Ph.D. in Neuropsychology). Socratism is also the bases of many schools of thought in psychotherapy—especially that of Carl Rogers. As an unbeliever, I was counseled by a Rogerian psychologist and the dialogue was very much like what it would have been with Socrates and one of his students 2500 years ago. This is known as the Socratic dialectic.
3. Background: No New Need For CONTROL Under The Sun
Socrates, and his understudy Plato, taught the governing/aristocratic philosophical class of Athens Greece which was only 10% of the population. Some historians estimate the slave class in that culture as being around 90% of the population. So, the last thing you want is 90% of the population thinking for themselves and coming up with their own ideas. Ideas have a lot of power, and people are inclined to act on them if they think their ideas are really good, or true. Unfortunately, this is the effect that the rulers of Athens were afraid Socrates would have on their society, so they executed him when he refused to go into exile. In case you are curious, executions during that time were boring—they merely brought a cup of Kool-Aid to your jail cell and you drank it.
Later, when Plato founded the first institution of learning in western culture, the Academy in Athens, he made it clear that the philosopher kings were the only ones who had knowledge, and that they should rule over the masses. This was much more acceptable than what Socrates claimed—that the ruling class didn’t know anything because they thought they did. Leveling the playing field to those who simply admit that truth is not definitive, while dissing the ruling class for not knowing anything, was just really a bad idea. There was no middle class to buffer the tipping of the scales.
3A: The Doctrine of Incompetence Necessary for Control
And like the true God, truth was a trinity: beautiful; good; true. However, to claim to know everything about truth would be the same as knowing everything about God. Both Plato and Socrates taught that truth was subjective at best and unknowable in the worst case:
I know not how I may seem to others, but to myself I am but a small child wandering upon the vast shores of knowledge, every now and then finding a small bright pebble to content myself with.
I’m trying to think, don’t confuse me with facts [thinking leads to truth apart from observable criteria].
How can you prove whether at this moment we are sleeping, and all our thoughts are a dream; or whether we are awake, and talking to one another in the waking state?
What truth that the philosopher kings can muster up is societies best shot. Overall, Plato believed that man was inept and should be ruled by philosopher kings who are a little better off because they at least know that truth can’t be known, and if we can ascertain truth at all—it’s not through what can be experienced through the five senses. That leaves the subjective intuition of the mind that is helped in the process (as much as it is one) through the Socratic dialectic. Later, Augustine took these concepts and integrated them with theology. One result of this integration was the idea that man is totally depraved. And that includes saved men as well. Now, by contrast, Plato and Socrates believed man, given a crystal ball, would always choose what’s best, and that his downfall was IGNORANCE (Plato: “Ignorance, the root and stem of every evil.”). Whether a man was good or evil was irrelevant to their school of thought. BUT, the crux of the issue was transferred: the inability/incompetence of man.
3B: Intuitive Subjectivism Verses Empirical Objectivism
Why do the saints of our day buy into such doctrines as total depravity when Scripture plainly teaches otherwise? Because a literal interpretation of Scripture is the same as trying to obtain truth through what can be observed—that’s why. To the Platonist, the idea that objective truth can be obtained at all, much less by evaluating the verbs, nouns, subjects, direct objects, etc. in a sentence, is absurd, and will incite sneers every time. And, this same idea can be found throughout New Calvinist teachings in this present day. In the book, How People Change, Paul David Tripp decries a literal interpretation of biblical imperatives that should rather be seen in their “gospel context.” Even in regard to following the biblical imperative to change our thinking (in the same book), Tripp objects by complaining that Jesus comes to us as a person, not a “cognitive concept” that we apply to our lives as a “formula.” Today’s Reformed philosopher kings have access to the higher knowledge of seeing the gospel and the personhood of Jesus in every verse.
Obviously, this can’t be done empirically if the subject of the verse is not the gospel; unless of course, you are gifted with the correct Reformed metaphysics. Coming to conclusions by Interpreting verbs, nouns etc. are merely Platonist shadows of the real form and not the true reality. New Calvinist Paul Washer has complained that evangelicals propagate a reductionist gospel when the truth is supposedly that the gospel is eternal and unknowable. It’s all the same basic philosophy dressed up in biblical terminology.
Incredibly, this very same contention can be seen in David Powlison’s complaints about Jay Adams in our very day. While lecturing at the church of Reformed heretic John Piper, Powlison stated the following:
I think there’s been a huge growth in the movement in the understanding of the human heart, which is really a way of saying of the vertical dimension. And I had an interesting conversation with Jay Adams, probably 20 years ago when I said, why don’t you deal with the inner man? Where’s the conscience? Where’s the desires? Where’s the fears? Where’s the hopes? Why don’t you talk about those organizing, motivating patterns?
And his answer was actually quite interesting. He said, “when I started biblical counseling, I read every book I could from psychologists, liberals, liberal mainline pastoral theologians. There weren’t any conservatives to speak of who talked about counseling. And they all seemed so speculative about the area of motivation. I didn’t want to speculate, and so I didn’t want to say what I wasn’t sure was so.
One thing I knew, obviously there’s things going on inside people. What’s going on inside and what comes out are clearly connected cause it’s a whole person, so I focused on what I could see.”
In other words, Adams was asserting that since behavior is connected to the heart and motivations anyway, why not focus on what can be objectively observed and apply empirical biblical solutions? The invisible interworking’s of the heart is subjective at best, and risky in regard to being used to help people. Adams wanted to be sure of what he was telling people in regard to solutions for their life problems. But if you believe that objective truth is unknowable anyway, and man’s best hope is the new experimental drug that may or may not help because truth is so far above our knowing (but Plato’s “bright pebble[s]” can be found now and then) then you must find truth beyond observing how the nouns and verbs of Scripture work together empirically to an objective conclusion with solutions following.
So, Powlison answers the Adams’ approach by asserting that the verbs of Scripture have a deeper meaning than what appears objectively. Pretty clever: don’t discount verbs, but add the idea that verbs are also intuitive for the purposes of deeper knowledge:
And that notion that the active verbs with respect to God can do multiple duty for us, they not only call us to faith and love and refuge and hope, but they can turn on their heads and they become questions, what am I hoping in, where am I taking refuge, what am I loving that is not God, that that’s actually a hugely significant component, both of self-knowledge and then of repentance as well.
Emphasis on the positive side of the heart is the whole relationship with God. And I do think that’s a way where, in the first generation, it looks pretty behavioral, and the whole vividness of relationship with God.
One can clearly see here where Powlison wants to take the plain sense of Scripture and apply the Socratic dialectic; ie, start asking questions about the obvious because truth couldn’t be that easy, and if it is, any Spirit indwelled Christian can do truth at home which is a huge problem for the philosopher kings. Empirical Objectivism puts the power of understanding in the hands of the common people. It is enemy number one for the Platonic New Calvinists.
The proof is in the pudding. I have written extensively on the long, long, long list of New Calvinist ideas that blatantly contradict the plain sense of Scripture. How can they get away with this? And why do they do it? Well, first, because what can be plainly observed are shadows of real truth which must be obtained by loftier methods beyond empirical observation. Secondly, the philosopher kings are the supposed experts on that. It harkens back to the famous Jack Hyles quote: “Now shut your Bibles and listen to me.” Rather than to immediately drag this man from the pulpit and toss him into the street, why did the 10,000 plus in attendance that morning obey him without a whimper or batting of the eye?
Because he was a philosopher king—that’s why.
Interpreting “Total Depravity” at Home
But if one does interpret the Bible literally, and if God does speak to us individually through his word, the folly of total depravity is plainly seen. In fact, if Christians do have the freedom to interpret the Bible for themselves, a child can even see the foolishness of this concept. First, we only need to observe 2 Peter 2:7,8;
and if he rescued Lot, a righteous man, who was distressed by the filthy lives of lawless men (for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard)—if this is so, then the Lord knows how to rescue godly men from trials and to hold the unrighteous for the day of judgment, while continuing their punishment.
Peter calls Lot (not exactly the brightest bulb in the Christian bunch ) “righteous.” Not, “totally depraved.” If God wants to put forth the idea that Christians are totally depraved, many passages like this would only cause confusion. “But Paul, that’s talking about positional righteousness, not the actual righteousness of the person.” Oh really? The passage states that it was Lot’s righteous “soul” that was “vexed.” And how do you vex something that is already totally vexed? Nevertheless, we can also add the Apostle Paul’s commentary on the Christian’s righteousness and ability:
I myself am convinced, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, complete in knowledge and competent to instruct one another (Romans 15:14).
In case there is any question that Paul is not talking about us specifically and not just an attribute that we have in Christ alone, he doubles the personal pronoun for emphasis: “you yourselves.” In a further attempt to show that Christians are totally depraved and no different than unbelievers, Calvinists make the law the standard for justification. A New Calvinist recently challenged my contention that Christians do not sin as a lifestyle, and therefore shouldn’t be referred to as “sinners.” He challenged my contention with their classic rhetorical question that supposedly ends the argument: “Did you sin today?” Hence, if we sinned once, we are guilty of breaking the whole law (James 2:20 [a justification verse not applicable to sanctification]) which supposedly =’s total depravity.
But the law is no longer a standard by which Christians are judged; so therefore, the repentance is even different—it is a washing of the feet rather than a washing of the whole body (see John, chapter 13). Because we have the seed of God within us and this treasure in earthen vessels, we do sin, but not habitually because we are born again and the power of habitual sin is broken. The law is a standard for our kingdom living, but not our just standing—the whole book of 1John is about this and Romans references the same tenets throughout. Because Reformed theology starts with Platonist assumptions about truth and man’s relationship to it—they must rewrite Scripture in totality to make it work which necessarily dismisses a literal interpretation of the grammatical sort.
And I contend that the unregenerate are not even totally depraved. Romans, chapter 2 makes it clear that all people born into the world have the law of God written on their hearts and a conscience that mediates between their actions/thinking and the natural law of God. This, in my mind, thoroughly explains why unsaved people do good things, and pass judgment on what is “natural/good” and “unnatural/evil.” In most cases, extreme behavior (especially unnatural) is attributed to the mind being “ill.” “But Paul, Isaiah said that all of the righteous works of man are as filthy rags to him.” Right, when they are for the purpose of earning favor with God for salvation, or in other cases, hypocritical. I once knew a serial adulterer who volunteered at the community soup kitchen that fed the poor. Does God see that good work as filthy? Of course. But does He look upon the work of a person, who without thinking (because of the law written upon his/her heart), throws themself in front of a car that is about to run over a mother and her baby in the same way? I doubt it. Will that act earn heaven? No. But is the act filthy in God’s eyes? Hardly.
Furthermore, throughout the Scriptures, we learn that there are different degrees of punishment in hell. For the Reformed mind, that’s gotta hurt. That means that the unregenerate, in the negative sense, are given some merit for not being as depraved as they could be. Therefore, the life of an unbeliever does contain merit—not for salvation, but for responding positively to God’s natural law. In fact, at times, the unsaved put Christians to shame in regard to this because as a man thinks in his heart—so is he, and many Christians have been taught that they are totally depraved. This is one of the very reasons that the world is often not endeared to Christianity: it’s a contradiction to the natural law within unbelievers.
Moreover, we see further contradictions in Christ’s account of Lazarus and the rich man in Luke, chapter 16. What did the condemned man have to gain by exhorting Abraham to warn his living brethren about his eternal demise lest they end up the same way? I’m sorry, but how can this not be seen as a selfless exhortation for the benefit of others? Total depravity? How?
But there is a warning in this for the Reformed as well. Abraham told the rich man that if they would not listen to the Scriptures, neither would they listen to one who had been raised from the dead. So, does that mean to merely “listen” to a gospel story? Or, other biblical truth as well? Does the Bible use a myriad of other truths about God to lead others to the gospel, or just the gospel story itself? And who are the approved narrators? Is the true gospel a gospel story about a call to believe and contemplate the gospel only? Is that a true gospel? The Reformed philosopher kings of our day assure us that they know the answers to these questions, and to just trust them as God’s anointed.
No thanks, Christ told me to “consider carefully what you hear.” And sorry, I think “you” means, “me” as in, Paul Dohse. Plato said, “Those who tell the stories rule society.” And in our day, those who make the whole Bible a gospel story are ruling the church. Well, not in my house.
As for me and my house, we will heed our Lord’s advice and consider carefully what we hear. No matter who is telling the story, and we will pay closer attention in alarm to those looking for deeper meaning in simple verbs.
Of course, sanctified Calvinists like Jay Adams have always been pioneers in teaching Christians to think biblically. Adams was also the pioneer in advocating the competence of believers to counsel themselves and others from the Scriptures. Adams’ revolution began in 1970 and included themes that embraced the church’s greatest needs at that time and yet today, such as, “Competent to Counsel,” and “More Than Redemption.”
However, in that same year, Robert Brinsmead and the Australian Forum were systematizing the newly rediscovered Authentic Calvinism that dies a social death every hundred years or so. It dies a social death because it is vehemently opposed to major themes that are critical for the Christian life; namely, among many,competence, and the idea that the Christian life is more than “the gospel.”
Let there be no doubt: these two emerging movements clashed continually, and continue to do so today. The Forum doctrine, Authentic Calvinism, found life at Westminster Seminary in the form of Sonship theology. The father of it was Dr. John “Jack” Miller, and he had two understudies named Tim Keller and David Powlison. Powlison formulated the doctrine into a counseling construct known as “The Dynamics of Biblical Change” which is the foundation for Westminster’s counseling curriculum—otherwise known as CCEF.
Powlison himself, while lecturing at New Calvinist heretic John Piper’s church, stated precisely what the contention is between these two schools of thought:
This might be quite a controversy, but I think it’s worth putting in. Adams had a tendency to make the cross be for conversion. And the Holy Spirit was for sanctification. And actually even came out and attacked my mentor, Jack Miller, my pastor that I’ve been speaking of through the day, for saying that Christians should preach the gospel to themselves. I think Jay was wrong on that. I – it’s one of those places where I read Ephesians. I read Galatians. I read Romans. I read the gospels themselves. I read the Psalms. And the grace of God is just at every turn, and these are written for Christians. I think it’s a place where Jay’s fear of pietism, like his fear of speculation, psychologically actually kept him from tapping into just a rich sense of the vertical dimension. And I think Biblical Counseling as a movement, capital B, capital C, has been on a trajectory where the filling in of some of these neglected parts of the puzzle has led to an approach to counseling that is more mature, more balanced. It’s wiser. It has more continuity with the church historically in its wisest pastoral exemplars.
After the Forum got the ball rolling, Authentic Calvinism, dubbed, “The Centrality of the Objective Gospel Outside of Us,” became Sonship theology, and eventually exploded into the present-day New Calvinist movement. Interestingly enough, in the same lecture, Powlison also articulated further upon another difference in the two schools of thought:
I had an interesting conversation with Jay Adams, probably 20 years ago when I said, why don’t you deal with the inner man? Where’s the conscience? Where’s the desires? Where’s the fears? Where’s the hopes? Why don’t you talk about those organizing, motivating patterns?
And his answer was actually quite interesting. He said, “When I started biblical counseling, I read every book I could from psychologists, liberals, liberal mainline pastoral theologians. There weren’t any conservatives to speak of who talked about counseling. And they all seemed so speculative about the area of motivation. I didn’t want to speculate, and so I didn’t want to say what I wasn’t sure was so.
One thing I knew, obviously there’s things going on inside people. What’s going on inside and what comes out are clearly connected cause it’s a whole person, so I focused on what I could see.”
In other words, Adams insisted on drawing conclusions from what could be observed objectively and is uncomfortable with “helping” people with subjective truth/facts. And Powlison has a problem with that. Why? Because authentic Reformed doctrine contains two ideas that are the mega anti-thesis: the average Christian is not competent, and the Christian life is not more than the gospel. THINKING, and worse yet, objective thinking, is a dangerous stunt that shouldn’t be tried at home by the average parishioner. The parishioner has but two duties: See more Jesus and our own depravity, and follow the spiritually enlightened gospel experts. They are responsible for saving as many totally depraved numbskulls as possible—despite themselves. Their “knowledge” is the latest “breakthroughs” regarding the eternal depths of the “unknowable” gospel because it is the only “objective” source of reality. And reality is deep.
And this is messy business where there is no time to fiddle with totally depraved sheep who think they can know things, and worse yet, figure something out on their own. And of course, the unpardonable sin: critiquing the teachings of the spiritually enlightened with critical thinking. Calvin dealt with such by the sword and burning stake. His New Calvinist children are deprived of such tools, but substitute with character assassination (because what the totally depraved are really guilty of is much worse anyway), bogus church discipline, and the supposed power to bind someone eternally condemned by heavenly authority granted to the spiritually enlightened on earth. Luther himself said of Calvin’s Geneva, “All arguments are settled by sentence of death.”
This brings me to a comment that was posted here on PPT by a reader who uses the handle, “Lydia Seller of Purple.” It was in response to a Calvinist that had the audacity to suggest that Calvinism is an intellectual endeavor meant for the masses. Her superb observations:
Submitted on 2012/07/20 at 3:21 am
“Calvinism appeals to the intellect because the Word of God appeals to the intellect. ”
LOL!!! This is hysterical. Right. Jesus was really impressed with those learned intellectual Pharisees. That sermon on the mount was meant for the intellectual elite of Israel. Kinda embarrassing, Christianity appealed to so many ignorant peasants, too. But you Reformed guys took care of that for us by going along with the state church because they were so much smarter than the ignorant peasants. Yep, they understood the Word better which is why Reformed comes out of the state church tradition. .
“The proper order is intellect, then emotions, then will. Much of so called Christianity appeals to emotions first, then will and never intellect. God made us rational beings for a reason. He wants us to think. When we think properly about God’s truth, our emotions will invariably be affected if we have a heart for God. Such an emotional response will move us to make right choices. Paul put it this way working backwards from the will to the intellect, “You obeyed (the will), from the heart (emotions), that form of doctrine (intellect) unto which you have been handed over.””
But you are totally depraved and unable. That is not rational, Randy. )
The last paragraph is in quotations, so I assume Lydia uses her last statement to comment on that as being from the same guy, but I have some observations on it either way. The only thing that authentic Calvinists want us to think on is the gospel, and with “redemptive” outcomes only, and “redemptive” applications only. And, the emotions always preceding the will, and controlling it, is right out of John Piper’s Christian Hedonism; ie, gospel intellect (gospel contemplationism), then gospel treasure (delight), resulting in joyful obedience which is really a gospel manifestation or “Christ formation” that doesn’t really come from our actions directly. It is also Michael Horton’s Reformed paradigm of doctrine=gratitude=doxology=obedience. I believe my friend, and church historian John Immel has it right: Christian Hedonism was devised to soften the despair and hopelessness that always follows Authentic Reformed theology (leading to its social death) while maintaining Reformed fatalistic determinism.
Such is an insult on the most loving act of all cosmic history. Christ drew deep from truth to overcome his human emotions in obedience to the cross. He endured for the “joy that was set ahead.” His agony preceded obedience in depths that are incomprehensible. Christian Hedonism mocks the very passion of Christ prior to the cross. Hence, the insistence that the totally depraved sheep ignore common sense in exchange for the “gospel context” is the demand of today’s mystical despot abusers. It is also the major ministry theme of Powlison minion Paul David Tripp; this theme can be seen throughout his Gnostic masterpiece, “How People Change.”
I conclude with another apt observation by Lydia regarding the “Reformation”’s tyranny throughout history:
One has to wonder about the Dutch Reformed tradition that made them think making a fortune in the slave trade was Christian. Same with the Presbyterian trained pro slavery Calvinists who were part of the founding of the SBC. Then you have the Calvinist Boers in South Africa and Apartheid. Of course there were no Calvinist slave owners but history seems to show Calvinists have always thought themselves superior to others.
However, I somewhat disagree with the last sentence about Calvinistic slave owners. “The Reformation Myth” will examine the happy Presbyterian slave advocates of the Confederacy, and how their doctrine was an important part of the Confederate machine. And not to mention the roots of Patriarchy that came from the same era as well.
“The whole idea that Christians are unable to obey the law in a way that is acceptable to God is an absurd contradiction of a massive body of Scripture. But yet, this is widely accepted in Reformed circles and key to understanding their doctrine.”
“And moreover, according to Reformed theology, the law is still a standard that must be maintained to get justification home to glorification by driving on a road named Sanctification.”
“However, If you will stay your mind on the reality of the above illustration, and dogmatically assert that all Reformed theology in some way relates to this illustration, you will be given insight into the soul of Reformed theology. Do not let the Reformed academics move you away from this reality with rhetoric.”
“So, in Reformed theology, because the law remains a standard for progressive justification, perfect obedience to the law in sanctification must also be imputed to us.”
Let’s begin by revisiting the original question that prompted this two part post:
Paul, please explain in layman’s terms how Calvinism views justification and sanctification. I am trying to understand this. Does this have anything to do with the saint’s persevering?
What most people don’t understand is the fact that Reformed theology is all but a complete demolition of the truth. The election/free will debate is hardly the issue; this theology barely falls short of contradicting every basic theological point of Scripture.
This starts with the fusion of justification and sanctification….
….this fusion is the leaven that leavens the whole lump. Reformed theology thinks that sanctification links justification to glorification. It believes that sanctification is the growing part of salvation. But, salvation doesn’t grow, it’s a finished work. The chart below from a Calvinist organization should make my point (click to enlarge if necessary).
Also note: the believer doesn’t grow, the cross does. In fact, the believer gets worse! Or at least endeavors to increasingly realize how rotten he/she is. But what about the new birth? Reformed theology denies it regardless of the fact that Christ said, “You must be born again.” I can already hear the cat cries, but I will make my case. There isn’t a theology on earth that is more wrong than Reformed theology for many reasons including the denial of the new birth.
First of all, while denying that they fuse justification and sanctification together, the core element of Reformed theology is based on such. If justification and sanctification are fused together, we abide in the milieu that is between the two. That can make sanctification very tricky, unlike my biblical thesis in part one—we don’t abide in that realm that is a finished work. If we reside in a place where justification progresses to glorification, can we mess it up? According to Calvinists, “yes.” More on that later. But again, they clearly recognize this problem and base their core doctrine on it.
So, what doctrine is that? Well, there is only one way to prevent us from short circuiting justification on the way to glorification: cut us out of sanctification all together and make it a 100% work of God. And I agree, if our sanctification is the link between justification and glorification, we would need to be cut out of the equation all together. This is greatly magnified in Reformed theology by the idea that justification must be maintained by the keeping of the law. So, justification begins, but needs to be maintained until it arrives to glorification via the road of sanctification. This can be seen in a personal conversation I had with the well-known Calvinist Voddie Baucham:
paul: “Do you believe in this Gospel Sanctification stuff?”
Baucham: “I’m not sure what you mean.”
paul: “The same gospel that saved us also sanctifies us.”
Baucham: “Yes, absolutely!”
paul: “But Dr. Baucham, justification is a finished work, how can it sanctify us?”
Baucham: Nodding toward the window where we were standing; “That road out there is a finished work, but we still use it.”
Is that true? Are we sanctified by justification? Do we still “use” justification to get to glorification? At least in the Reformed view, the answer to all three of those questions is “yes,” and the perfect maintaining of the law to get justification home to glorification is the key. Justification must be maintained by the perfect keeping of the law, or else the legal declaration that we are justified is, “legal fiction” according to Reformed academics. This is the exact term they use to explain why sanctification must maintain justification by a perfect maintaining of a true legal declaration by perfect law-keeping. And moreover, according to Reformed theology, the law is still a standard that must be maintained to get justification home to glorification by driving on a road named Sanctification. As we discussed in part one, the law has been voided in regard to justification. Paving a road from justification to glorification, and naming it Sanctification, and using the law for the asphalt is a gargantuan theological misstep.
Well, that certainly excludes us! No? But don’t worry, Calvinists have a solution to this problem—it’s the doctrine of The Objective Gospel Outside of Us. The gospel gets justification home to glorification on the road named Sanctification, and we don’t have anything to do with it because the road is maintained by the perfect keeping of the law. How in the world does all of this work? I will explain, stay tuned. But first, let me establish that Calvinists believe that the law must be obeyed perfectly to maintain justification. This can be seen clearly in the writings of John Calvin himself. In context of sanctification, Calvin wrote that any attempt by a Christian to keep the law in sanctification was akin to an effort to keep the law….for justification. So, in Reformed theology, whatever is….for sanctification, IS ALSO….for justification because the two are the same. Calvinists use James 2:10, which is a statement….for justification, and apply it….for sanctification as one example, but they also routinely speak as if justification, and sanctification are the same thing with the same standard for keeping the law. Here is what Calvin said on this wise in his Institutes (Book 3; ch. 14, sec. 9,10):
Let the holy servant of God, I say, select from the whole course of his life the action which he deems most excellent, and let him ponder it in all its parts; he will doubtless find In it something that savors of the rottenness of the flesh, since our alacrity in well-doing is never what it ought to be, but our course is always retarded by much weakness. Although we see that the stains by which the works of the righteous are blemished, are by no means unapparent, still, granting that they are the minutest possible, will they give no offense to the eye of God, before which even the stars are not clean? We thus see, that even saints cannot perform one work which, if judged on its own merits, is not deserving of condemnation.
Even were it possible for us to perform works absolutely pure, yet one sin is sufficient to efface and extinguish all remembrance of former righteousness, as the prophet says (Ezek, 18:24). With this James agrees, “Whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, is guilty of all” (Jam 2:10).
Notice that there is nothing a Christian does that is considered good or righteous by God. The same is echoed by Calvinists in our day like Tullian Tchividjian (click to enlarge if necessary):
And also notice what the standard for that is: the law….for justification in sanctification. The whole idea that Christians are unable to obey the law in a way that is acceptable to God is an absurd contradiction of a massive body of Scripture. But yet, this is widely accepted in Reformed circles and key to understanding their doctrine. Obviously, the law is still the standard, which is a problem in and of itself if you read part 1. The road named Sanctification that links justification and glorification together is paved with the law, and the asphalt is kept in perfect condition by a perfect keeping of the law. As discussed in part one, the law is not available to progress justification forward. For purposes of progressing justification—the law is void—we are no longer UNDER it….for justification. Therefore, justification can’t progress. It doesn’t get bigger, and it doesn’t grow. But obviously, if we are still on that road, things get tricky.
Therefore, Reformed theology holds to the idea that salvation grows to perfection until glorification, but we must remain OUTSIDE of this process lest the growing process is messed up by our mortal imperfection. This is where the Centrality of the Objective Gospel Outside of Us comes into play. Reformed academics get a covert pass on this because listeners assume they are talking about justification only—BUT THEY ARE NOT—THEY ARE TALKING ABOUT BOTH JUSTIIFICATION AND SANCTIIFCATION. So, we must be cut out of the growing process of salvation because of our imperfection while being able to lay claim to it. But how? Here is how: THE GOSPEL GROWS, BUT WE DON’T. Remember the cross illustration above?
Ok, so, in Reformed theology, justification and sanctification are the same thing. Sanctification is the growing of justification until it reaches glorification, and in the process, justification must not be “legal fiction.” Therefore, sanctification maintains justification by the perfect keeping of the law until the day of glorification . We can lay claim to it, but because of our mortal imperfection, we can’t be part of justification progressing to glorification. So how does this work in Reformed theology? We will get to that, but first, let me further substantiate my claims thus far. Let me begin by quoting Calvin on the idea that justification is progressive. Really, our first clue should be the title of chapter 14 from the Calvin Institutes: “The Beginning of Justification. In What Sense Progressive.” Calvin states the following in that chapter:
Therefore, we must have this blessedness not once only, but must hold it fast during our whole lives. Moreover, the message of free reconciliation with God is not promulgated for one or two days, but is declared to be perpetual in the church (2 Cor 5:18, 19). Hence believers have not even to the end of life any other righteousness that that which is there described. Christ ever remains a Mediator to reconcile the Father to us, and there is a perpetual efficacy in his death, i.e., ablution, satisfaction, expiation; in short, perfect obedience, by which all our iniquities are covered. In the Epistle to the Ephesians, Paul says not that the beginning of salvation is of grace, but “by grace are ye saved,” “not of works, lest any man should boast” (Eph 2:8, 9).
Furthermore, a Reformed think tank that was highly regarded in the early seventies, the Australian Forum, published the following illustration that captures the general idea of the doctrine (click to enlarge):
Let me add an additional note:
Obviously, this illustration provokes multiple questions in regard to practical application which will be discussed later (how this supposedly works in sanctification). But the key reality must not leave your mind: Christians cannot really participate in sanctification according to Reformed theology with the exception of one concept, and unfortunately, as we shall see, that one concept can only be works salvation. Not only is our role limited and narrow, the specific role is efficacious to maintaining our own salvation. However, If you will stay your mind on the reality of the above illustration, and dogmatically assert that all Reformed theology in some way relates to this illustration, you will be given insight into the soul of Reformed theology. Do not let the Reformed academics move you away from this reality with rhetoric.
Let’s also illustrate that proponents of Reformed theology fuse justification and sanctification together and speak of the two as being the same thing. In their sermons and teachings, they do this by virtue of the missing transition of subject matter—that being the difference between sanctification and justification. In their messages, they transition between the two without noting any difference as if the two are the same thing—because that is what they believe. Furthermore, this is an excellent communication method for assimilating this idea into the minds of their parishioners victims without them realizing what is happening. Examples of this are strewn about everywhere, but I will cite the following example from The Truth About new Calvinism, page 18:
Regarding the same message in context of who the audience was, in the sermon notes, the top of the page had statements like, “Things Jesus wants us (“us” would presumably be Christians) to know about the law.” The top parts of the notes were also replete with “we” in regard to the law, but the bottom part had statements like: “We live in the Age of Grace; salvation is not of works,” but yet, the whole message clearly regarded the role of the law in the lives of Christians. Therefore, whether unawares or otherwise, the pastor extended the relationship of the law in regard to justification (salvation) into the realm of sanctification (our life as already saved Christians), by virtue of a missing transition in subject matter. Hence, the subject of the law’s relationship to the lost was spoken of as being the same thing as its relationship to those who are saved. Theologians call this a collapsing of sanctification into justification or the synthesizing of the law’s relationship to justification and sanctification. This is most definitely a hallmark of New Calvinist doctrine to keep in mind for later discussion. The communication technique of the missing transition is also a technique used often by New Calvinists.
Next, let’s establish the fact that in Reformed theology, the law must still be the standard for sanctification because sanctification is the growing process of justification; in other words, progressive justification. Again, if law is not the standard for sanctification which is supposedly the progression of justification, then justification (according to Reformed theology) is mere “legal fiction.” Well, justification does not grow, it is based on God’s declaration—not law (as discussed in part one), and there is a reason why sanctification need not be perfect as a kingdom life totally separate from the finished work of justification which will be addressed later. But without further ado, the aforementioned Reformed view can be seen in Calvin’s diatribe in which he thinks it of abundant importance for Christians to know that they cannot obey the law in order to please God:
For since perfection is altogether unattainable by us, so long as we are clothed with flesh, and the Law denounces death and judgment against all who have not yielded a perfect righteousness, there will always be ground to accuse and convict us unless the mercy of God interpose, and ever and anon absolve us the constant remission of sins. Wherefore the statement which we set out is always true. If we are estimated by our own worthiness, in everything that we think or devise, with all our studies and endeavors we deserve death and destruction.
We must strongly insist on these two things: that no believer ever performed one work which, if tested by the strict judgment of God, could escape condemnation (Calvin Institutes: book 3; ch.14, sec. 10,11).
So, though the apostle Paul states that the paramount goal of Christians is to please God (2Cor. 5:10); obviously, Reformed theologians state unequivocally that the law is not the standard for that. Again, it can’t be, because sanctification is growing justification which demands a perfect adherence to the law in order not to be “legal fiction.” Therefore, if not the law, what? This interpretive question is the juggernaut of the subject at hand. The answer: more salvation. According to Reformation theology, our only possible participation in progressive justification is the same thing that justified us to begin with: faith alone. But wait a minute, in Reformed theology, we are not justified per se. Remember the illustration that is the soul of Reformed theology that we cannot be removed from, and the reality thereof. All righteousness , Christ, grace, ect., must remain outside of us. Nothing of grace can be within. So, we have no righteousness that is our own….for sanctification. Like….for justification, it must remain outside of us. In fact, Reformed theologians believe that if grace, Christ, or any kind of valid righteousness is inside of us, that is infusing grace into us while in sanctification. And if we do that, we are making sanctification the ground of our justification. Get it? If sanctification is a road that takes justification to glorification, and it must be paved with perfection, and we are on that road, and grace is infused into us, then we are made part of the progressive justification process. Game over.
We must (according to Reformed theology) walk side by side with justification on the road named Sanctification that takes us to glorification without being a part of the process. Otherwise, our participation is legal fiction because we obviously still sin. An “aberration” that believes that we have righteousness inside of us is called “infused grace” by Reformed academics and is the primary offence to the soul of Reformed theology: The Objective Gospel Outside of Us. Again, reobserve the two-man Christ within/Christ without Reformed illustration that is the soul of this doctrine. All Righteousness must remain outside of us and we must walk the road named Sanctification the same way we were initially permitted to be on the road, by faith only. If we work, or obey the law, we are believing that there is a righteousness inside of us that can participate with progressive justification in arriving at glorification at the end of the road. This is infusing grace into us and making our ability to travel with justification the ground of our justification. At least partially, which is a horseshoe and hand grenade issue in regard to justification anyway. Now, let’s observe the “elder statesman” of New Calvinism reiterating what I have just written. Take note that John Piper’s comments following were in regard to a lecture by Graeme Goldsworthy at Southern Seminary. Goldsworthy was one of the key members of the aforementioned Reformed think tank, the Australian Forum. The following excerpts were taken from The Truth About new Calvinism, pages 41-43:
In the aforementioned article concerning Goldsworthy’s lecture at Southern, Piper agrees that the original Reformation sought to correct the reversal of sanctification and justification:
“This meant the reversal of the relationship of sanctification to justification. Infused grace, beginning with baptismal regeneration, internalized the Gospel and made sanctification the basis of justification. This is an upside down Gospel.”
In case one would think that Piper excludes evangelicals from this concern because of his mention of baptismal regeneration, consider what he said in the same article: “I would add that this ‘upside down’ gospel has not gone away— neither from Catholicism nor from Protestants….”
….Piper concurs with Goldsworthy that “infused grace” is the problem. The like complaint is that the completely outside of us gospel empowers us inwardly, subjects us to subjective distractions from the power of the historic Christ event, and makes the natural result of the gospel our power source (the fruit), instead of the outward power of the gospel, the real root. To infuse grace is to suggest that we are enabled to participate in being justified by our own efforts in bringing about the natural results of the gospel.
Nothing shows this kinship between the Forum and New Calvinism more than a Piper quote from this same article and a visual aid used by Robert Brinsmead to demonstrate how “infused grace” supposedly puts our souls in peril. First Piper’s quote:
“When the ground of justification moves from Christ outside of us to the work of Christ inside of us, the gospel (and the human soul) is imperiled. It is an upside down gospel [emphasis Piper’s—not this author].”
Now observe Brinsmead’s illustration on the next page: [the two-man Christ within/Christ without chart which was published by the Australian Forum].
This necessarily leads to the Reformed denial of the new birth. Obviously, the idea that Christ lives within us and works within us is part and parcel to the new birth—and a big problem for The Objective Gospel Outside of Us. Reformed theologians know that they cannot blatantly deny the new birth and retain credibility, so they have many cute ways of relegating it to insignificance in order to bolster their staple doctrine. I have addressed how they do this in many other articles including chapter 11 of The Truth About New Calvinism, and will not continue to do so here, but will at least note some interesting quotes that speak to my assertion:
It robs Christ of His glory by putting the Spirit’s work in the believer above and therefore against what Christ has done for the believer in His doing and dying.
~ Geoffrey Paxton (Australian Forum)
But to whom are we introducing people to, Christ or to ourselves? Is the “Good News” no longer Christ’s doing and dying, but our own “Spirit-filled” life?
~ Michael Horton
And the new-birth-oriented “Jesus-in-my-heart” gospel of evangelicals has destroyed the Old Testament just as effectively as has nineteenth-century liberalism. (footnoted to Paxton’s article with above quote).
~ Graeme Goldsworthy (Australian Forum)
One would therefore think that this theology would lead to a view that believers are no different from the unregenerate save belief in the gospel only. Practically, Christians remain totally depraved like the unregenerate. And you would be correct about that. Reformed theology holds to the idea that justification initially recons us righteous in Christ, and without Christ in us, and then continues to recon us clothed with Christ’s righteousness (and none of our own in sanctification) as long as we “live by faith” ALONE….for sanctification. Moreover, only the POSITION of a person is changed in salvation, not the character, personhood, or creaturehood. There is no better illustration of this than the following citation from Michael Horton’s Christless Christianity, p.62:
Where we land on these issues is perhaps the most significant factor in how we approach our own faith and practice and communicate it to the world. If not only the unregenerate but the regenerate are always dependent at every moment on the free grace of God disclosed in the gospel, then nothing can raise those who are spiritually dead or continually give life to Christ’s flock but the Spirit working through the gospel. When this happens (not just once, but every time we encounter the gospel afresh), the Spirit progressively transforms us into Christ’s image. Start with Christ (that is, the gospel) and you get sanctification in the bargain; begin with Christ and move on to something else, and you lose both.
The tail end of Horton’s quote brings me to the next point. Notice that Horton states that “we” can “lose,” as in l-o-s-e “both.” Both what? Obviously, justification and sanctification. Which equals = no salvation. “Paul, is he really saying that we can lose our salvation?” Sure he is—IF—we “move on to something else.” Which equals = moving on to something else but faith alone…for sanctification which is the same thing as moving on to something else….for justification. Progressive justification is not the only theological anomaly that Reformed theologians are content with, they must also add sanctification by faith alone. But all of this is necessary in order to stay consistent with their core doctrine: The Centrality of the Objective Gospel Outside of Us. Yes, let them squeal all night long; nevertheless, they teach that you can lose you salvation.
I will illustrate this further by revisiting the idea that Reformed theology fuses justification and sanctification together. Reformed theologians are big on the “Golden Chain of Salvation” concept based on Romans 8:30. We discussed Romans 8:30 in part one along with its ramifications for salvation. The Reformed take on this verse is the idea that sanctification is excluded because it is one and the same with justification. The opposite position was presented in part one to some extent. Note the following quotation by John Piper:
This is probably why in the golden chain of Romans 8:30 the term sanctification is missing: “And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called He also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” When Paul jumps directly from justification to glorification he is not passing over sanctification, because in his mind that process is synonymous with the first phase of glorification and begins at conversion. (God is the Gospel, footnote, p. 93).
Ok, notice that Piper calls justification (“conversion”) “the first phase of glorification.” So, again, we see that justification grows in glory and culminates at complete glorification and sanctification is part of that “process.” Not so. In regard to the fusion of justification and sanctification, what is a “chain”? Reformed theologians clearly refer to the justification “process” as a chain with justification on one end and glorification on the other end, and sanctification in the middle. Moreover, John Piper preached a sermon in which he warns that if we do not participate in the salvation “links” in the proper way, that we put ourselves in great danger—presumably in regard of losing our salvation. The following illustration with a golden chain and Piper’s quotes from the sermon should clearly make my point here (click to enlarge):
Which brings me to yet another point. If we can lose our salvation, what do we have to do to keep it? Whatever that is, it’s a work to maintain justification. And that is works salvation. In the case of Reformed theology, we have to keep our salvation by sanctification by faith alone. Hence: salvation by Christ + faith alone in sanctification. Think about that. To the Reformed, moving on to anything else but sanctification by faith alone will cause us to lose our salvation. Historically, the relaxing of the law in sanctification has always been deemed antinomianism. Is Reformed theology salvation by antinomianism? Yes, I think it is—the fusion of justification and sanctification can hardly end up anywhere else.
This entails the belief that Christ not only came to die for our sins, but He also came to live a perfect life of obedience to the law so that His perfect obedience in the life he lived on earth could be imputed to us in sanctification. So, in Reformed theology, because the law remains a standard for progressive justification, perfect obedience to the law in sanctification must also be imputed to us. In other words, Jesus obeys for us. How our justification must be maintained in our sanctification (according to Reformed theology) is well articulated by the Australian Forum Reformed think tank (The Truth About new Calvinism: p. 101, 102):
After a man hears the conditions of acceptance with God and eternal life, and is made sensible of his inability to meet those conditions, the Word of God comes to him in the gospel. He hears that Christ stood in his place and kept the law of God for him. By dying on the cross, Christ satisfied all the law’s demands. The Holy Spirit gives the sinner faith to accept the righteousness of Jesus. Standing now before the law which says, “I demand a life of perfect conformity to the commandments,” the believing sinner cries in triumph, “Mine are Christ’s living, doing, and speaking, His suffering and dying; mine as much as if I had lived, done, spoken, and suffered, and died as He did . . . ” (Luther). The law is well pleased with Jesus’ doing and dying, which the sinner brings in the hand of faith. Justice is fully satisfied, and God can truly say: “This man has fulfilled the law. He is justified.”
We say again, only those are justified who bring to God a life of perfect obedience to the law of God. This is what faith does—it brings to God the obedience of Jesus Christ. By faith the law is fulfilled and the sinner is justified.
On the other hand, the law is dishonored by the man who presumes to bring to it his own life of obedience. The fact that he thinks the law will be satisfied with his “rotten stubble and straw” (Luther) shows what a low estimate he has of the holiness of God and what a high estimate he has of his own righteousness. Only in Jesus Christ is there an obedience with which the law is well pleased. Because faith brings only what Jesus has done, it is the highest honor that can be paid to the law (Rom. 3:31).
A more contemporary example from the Journal of Biblical Counseling (David Powlison’s CCEF) can be observed in the following citation:
It is by virtue of Christ’s perfect life, death on the cross and resurrection-plus nothing-that we are justified (made and declared right with God) and sanctified (set apart, kept, and viewed as right with God) and sanctified (set apart, kept, and viewed as right in the Lord’s eyes by virtue of His obedience). Christ is our holiness. Christ is our sanctification.
Therefore, our walk with Christ must be a continual reoffering of the works of Christ to maintain our just standing. When we come to the last resurrection, we will be judged accordingly. If we lived sanctification in this way, the righteousness of Christ will be the ground of our justification and we will be glorified. See the following illustration from a John Piper video clip (click to enlarge):
Christians will stand in no such judgment. And via the new birth, we are new creatures that in fact are righteous. Our lack of imperfection, though displeasing to the Lord, has no bearing….for justification. We are new creatures that deplore the weakness of our mortality, but are indwelt and enabled to obey God through our new life in the Holy Spirit. We are declared righteous, and in fact are righteous. We are not colaboring with our flesh like the world, but we rather colabor with God (1Cor. 3:9, 1Thess. 3:2, 2Cor. 6:1). Therefore, Paul could say, “Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me (Romans 7:20). We will look at the supposed practical application of Reformed theology in part three, and compare it to the truth in light of assurance, spiritual growth, perseverance of the saints, and other sanctification issues.
“If the Platonist monster is hiding in the church’s big closet, there is no priesthood of believers and pastors/elders are the enlightened ones who must tell us who to marry, what to eat, and what to wear. They must also do whatever it takes to protect the totally depraved zombie sheep from themselves. And look around, we are almost there right now. The mega-church is behaving like Rome and Geneva’s theocracy more and more every day.”
“So now we have this core element of all righteousness remaining outside of the believer. Where do we go from here? What about the new birth? What’s ‘new’ about us if all righteousness remains outside of us?”
“Though New Calvinist elders talk of the new birth and Christ being ‘in’ us, you must understand they’re using earthly language that the totally depraved zombie sheep can understand. They do not believe Christ works in us (which can be clearly seen from the aforementioned Piper quote), or that we are born again enabled people.”
This post will demonstrate that Reformation theology called for grace/righteousness to remain completely outside of us. In fact, Reformation theology even rejects the idea that Jesus is doing ALL of the work IN US as Christians. The Reformers, primarily Luther and Calvin, taught that the primary difference between Romanism and true Christianity was this whole idea that Jesus did a sanctifying work INSIDE of us verses a sanctifying work OUTSIDE of us. They decried the former as an “infused grace” that enabled us to partake in the finishing or participation of our justification. Problem is, that’s why it is important that justification and sanctification are seen as being separate. Justification is a finished work, and sanctification doesn’t finish justification. Once that is established, the conversation gets interesting: “Where do we go from there?”
This Reformation concept and everything it leads to, also leads to a social death at various points in history. Other forms of Reformation theology sanctified by spiritual common sense carry the Reformation motif forward, while the pure Reformation gospel dies out. Jay Adams is a good example of a Sanctified Calvinist. But from time to time, a resurgence of the pure Reformation gospel comes about via rediscovery, and that is exactly what is going on with the New Calvinist Movement. Hence, Sanctified Calvinists are not the original article—that’s why so many of them oppose “New Calvinism.”
But why does the original article die a social death? Primarily because of the basic philosophy that led to the doctrine. Plato was a religious philosopher. He believed that man cannot know reality, and lives in a world that is a shadow of truth. He also believed that there are people who can endeavor to know truth and become enlightened, but in doing so, cannot be enslaved to what their senses can understand according to physical matter. Truth is something completely outside of the human realm. He then asserted that the enlightened needed to rule the unenlightened, and that the purpose of government should aid the philosopher king in controlling the unenlightened masses to protect them from themselves. Augustine was greatly influenced by these teachings, and Augustine’s development of these ideas were passed on to Luther and Calvin.
This is really no big secret if one does some research and stops listening to what others tell them. Plato was the father of Gnosticism, which embellishes the “practical application” of Reformed theology in its purest form. Hence, the spiritual tyranny that comes out of this philosophy causes it to be rejected socially from time to time. In other words, the fallout from the resurgence begins to manifest itself; or, the chickens come home to roost. That part dies out, while Calvinism by name, primarily (supposedly) representing the sovereignty of God issue (its sanctifying element) continues to live on until the next rediscovery movement. The New Calvinist Movement is now shining a light on what Calvin really believed. The Calvin Institutes are a brilliant systemizing of Augustinian theology, but Sanctified Calvinists don’t hold to the whole package which explains contradictions in their soteriology and eschatology.
But on the other hand, a need develops in the remaining theological systems that fuse justification and sanctification together. Since sanctification is said to finish justification, how can a person be found truly righteous at the one, final judgment? In theological systems where the two are separate; this isn’t a problem, we are declared righteous and our living in sanctification will show that, but has no bearing on the declaration and our guaranteed glorification. However, if the two are fused, that is, justification and sanctification, we must not only be positionally righteous, but must indeed be perfect in order for God’s declaration not to be “legal fiction.” So, the question becomes: “How can we be truly perfect in order to stand in the judgment?” In the theological system that separates justification and sanctification, the answer is: “I don’t have to be found righteous at a future judgment because I will not stand at any such judgment. I have already been declared righteous, and would be perfect if I wasn’t still in this mortal body. But in reality, I am a born again holy one hindered by this mortal, sinful flesh.”
This doesn’t bode well in the Platonist mindset, for now we have a whole race of enlightened ones who are capable of knowing truth on their own (and as I note in The Truth About New Calvinism, this denotes the idea that the law of God can be used to please Him and to live an abundant sanctified life with the help of the Spirit). Not only that, it makes us participants in the “Golden Chain of Salvation”; ie, we are “ENABLED” to participate in the finishing of our salvation/justification. This is a problem because the results are still imperfect, and thus God’s declaration is still “legal fiction.” If your mindset is that salvation is a continuous chain that links justification to glorification with sanctification being the middle links (an exact illustration used by John Piper), then the work must be all of God in order for it to be sufficient for us to stand in the future judgment. “Infused grace” only enables us enough to be dangerous and makes us participants in an imperfect endeavor which would make God a liar at the final judgment.
But nevertheless, it is what it is and gives rise to a reintroduction/need of purest Reformed theology: since Christians function in the “Golden Chain of Salvation,” we must find a way to be in the sanctification links while making our perfection true reality. How is this done? Theological systems of all stripes that fuse justification and sanctification together are left to languish in this question on their own until the collective peacelessness of the people cry out for another way. An infused enablement (in the justification endeavor) and pseudo perfectionism doesn’t fill the bill.
This exact scenario gave rise to the present-day New Calvinist Movement. One of the languishing theological systems that views sanctification as the completer of justification is Seventh-Day Adventism. Since 1884, this movement, trapped in the context of the Golden Chain of Salvation, has struggled to answer the question of how one stands righteous in the judgment. In 1970, a SDA theologian named Robert Brinsmead blew the lid off of the whole debate. In The Truth About New Calvinism, I cite the writings of someone who was involved with Brinsmead’s movement at that time:
In 1971, Brinsmead scheduled a flurry of summer institutes to bring us his latest emphasis. There was more excitement than usual; the latest round of tapes had prepared us for something big. Bob had been studying the Reformation doctrine of justification by faith, comparing it to Roman Catholic doctrines. Reading Luther, he saw that justification is not just a means to the end of perfect sanctification. When we are justified by faith, not only does God impute Christ’s righteousness to us but we also possess Christ Himself—all His righteousness and all His perfection. Eternity flows from that fact….
“And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified” (Rom. 8:30).
The same ones he justified he also glorified. We began to realize we had inserted extra steps into Paul’s chain of salvation: sanctification and a final atonement brought about by blotting out sins. Those added steps, in fact, were the heart of the Awakening message—but we had ignored the heart of the real gospel: being justified by faith, we ‘rejoice in hope of the glory of God.’ Our righteousness is in heaven, said Brinsmead:
“The righteousness by which we become just in God’s sight, remain just in His sight and will one day be sealed as forever just in His sight, is an outside righteousness. It is not on earth, but only in heaven…only in Jesus Christ.”
True sanctification looks away from self and flows from the finished, objective work of Christ…. For many Christians, the glory of the crucified Christ is not their focus; instead they seek internal experiences that eclipse the cross. The Awakening rightly opposed the subjective, human-centered emphasis found among some groups within Christianity. Wrongly, they reacted with a cerebral, spiritless gospel. Brinsmead strongly opposed the Charismatic movement’s emphasis on experiences as a return to the theology of Rome. However, going to another extreme, Present Truth magazine decried “the false gospel of the new birth,” and offered a new birth that was merely a corporate, objective blessing, not an individual experience. (pp. 33, 34).
This concept that Brinsmead claimed he got directly from the Reformers launched the Awakening Movement and turned the SDA completely upside down. Because of the supposed fact that the true Reformation gospel of justification by faith alone had been all but lost in evangelical circles, Brinsmead, along with two Anglican theologians formed the Australian Forum think tank to systematize the theology into a contemporary understanding. And they were dead right: what they developed was in fact the true Reformation gospel; righteousness and grace remains completely outside of the believer—justification cannot be completed by an infused ability to participate in the completion of justification because our participation results in falling short of perfection. This rediscovery was perhaps the most significant rediscovery movement since Colonial Calvinism, and a book written by one of the Australian Forum 4, Geoffrey Paxton (“The Shaking of Adventism”), would lend merit to that idea. An illustration from the Forum’s theological journal captures the essence of the doctrine:
Freeze that thought. Don’t try to connect the dots yet. It is what it is. No righteousness can be inside of us (meaning Christians). In fact, Christ doesn’t even really do a work inside of us either. Yes, I know they use that terminology from time to time, but that’s not what they mean. It is critical that we establish that fact right now, and then we will build understanding. Let’s first demonstrate that one of the primary figures of the New Calvinist movement, John Piper, believes this exactly, and also believes that it was the crux of the Reformation. Piper wrote an article about a series of lectures that one of the Australian 4 conducted at Southern Seminary in Louisville, KY. The following is from my book, The Truth About New Calvinism:
In March, 2008, Graeme Goldsworthy of the Forum delivered a lecture at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary entitled Biblical Theology and its Pastoral Application. Part of the thesis concerned why the Reformation was needed. The purpose of Goldsworthy’s lecture was affirmed by pastor John Piper in an article he wrote on his Desiring God blog on June 25, 2009 entitled Goldsworthy on Why the Reformation Was Necessary. The lecture, and Piper’s response shows an uncanny kinship between the Forum and New Calvinism. Examples in the present Christian landscape are myriad , but this particular combination shows agreement on all of the Forum’s major, and unique tenets….In the aforementioned article concerning Goldsworthy’s lecture at Southern, Piper agrees that the original Reformation sought to correct the reversal of sanctification and justification:
This meant the reversal of the relationship of sanctification to justification. Infused grace, beginning with baptismal regeneration, internalized the Gospel and made sanctification the basis of justification. This is an upside down Gospel….When the ground of justification moves from Christ outside of us to the work of Christ inside of us, the gospel (and the human soul) is imperiled. It is an upside down gospel.
Note his words carefully. At issue is any kind of infusion of grace into the sanctification process. In case you think he is talking about wayward Catholicism, here is what he adds to these thoughts:
In it [Goldsworthy’s lecture at Southern] it gave one of the clearest statements of why the Reformation was needed and what the problem was in the way the Roman Catholic church had conceived of the gospel….I would add that this ‘upside down’ gospel has not gone away—neither from Catholicism nor from Protestants (pp. 41-43).
So whether or not the belief is infused grace for the new birth or some abhorrent variation of evangelicalism is not the point; the point is the infusion of grace within the believer for sanctification or any other reason. To do that is to supposedly make us a part of our own justification. But how in the world would this work in real life? This seemingly leaves us without any spiritual arms or legs—virtual paraplegics in a spiritual sense. How can a feasible role be introduced while staying faithful to Platonist ideal?
Enter Reformed theology. But before I do, let me reiterate that this everything good outside of us ideal is the calling card of the New Calvinist Movement and what they understand to be the crux of the Reformation. The following are several quotes from key figures in the New Calvinist movement. Keep in mind that these statements are in regard to Christians:
The blessings of the gospel come to us from outside of us and down to us.
~ John Fonville
We need help from outside ourselves—and he helps.
~ David Powlison
So what does this objective Gospel look like? Most importantly, it is outside of us.
~ Reblogged by Tullian Tchividjian
Thus, it will inevitably lead not to self-examination that leads us to despair of ourselves and seek Christ alone outside of us, but to a labyrinth of self-absorption.
~ Michael Horton
When the ground of justification moves from Christ outside of us to the work of Christ inside of us, the gospel (and the human soul) is imperiled. It is an upside down gospel
And from my interview with Robert Brinsmead:
Author: What do you think the unique theological findings of the Forum were in light of history? Robert Brinsmead: “Definitely the centrality and all sufficiency of the objective gospel understood as an historical rather than an experiential event, something wholly objective rather than subjective – an outside of me event and the efficacy of an outside-of-me righteousness.”
Brinsmead’s last statement is a powerful description of this doctrine: “…something wholly objective rather than subjective – an outside of me event and the efficacy of an outside-of-me righteousness.”
All righteousness being outside of the believer is in my estimation where the line is drawn in the sand between Reformed theology and the rest of Christianity—not the election/free will debate per se. If the argument is there, then at least debate it in regard to the born again Christian having no real spiritual life, and no free will. Let’s start there, and leave the free will to choose God in salvation fight for another day. If the Platonist monster is hiding in the church’s big closet, there is no priesthood of believers and pastors/elders are the enlightened ones who must tell us who to marry, what to eat, and what to wear. They must also do whatever it takes to protect the totally depraved zombie sheep from themselves. And look around, we are almost there right now. The mega-church is behaving like Rome and Geneva’s theocracy more and more every day.
Sure, when you corner them, they are going to deny this, but there is simply too much circumstantial evidence/theology to back this claim. How can the total depravity of the saints not add up to this “efficacy of an outside-of-me righteousness”? You say, “Now Paul, where have any of these guys said that we are ‘totally depraved’? Look, I am not going to play word games here. If Isaiah 64:6 applies to born again believers, as many in Reformed circles contend, then the accusation is fair and apt for illustration purposes. Besides, many are now using that term specifically to describe Christians. Moreover, Calvin himself stated the following:
There can be no doubt that Paul, when he treats of the Justification of man, confines himself to the one point—how man may ascertain that God is propitious to him? Here he does not remind us of a quality infused into us; on the contrary, making no mention of works, he tells us that righteousness must be sought without us; otherwise that certainty of faith, which he everywhere so strongly urges, could never stand; still less could there be ground for the contrast between the righteousness of faith and works which he draws in the tenth chapter to the Romans….( (From Kenneth A. Strand, ed., Reform Essentials of Luther and Calvin: A Source Collection [Ann Arbor: Braun-Brumfield, 1971], pp.219-222).
Please think about this: it is a debate concerning our very identity as Christians. If we don’t even know who and what we are: God help us. This total inability and all righteousness being outside of us profoundly effects the following hallmark elements of the Christian faith:
- The new birth.
- Use of the law in sanctification.
- The very definition of the gospel itself.
- The relationship and authority of elders to the saints.
- The relationship and authority of the church to the saints.
- The authority of the Word in relationship to saints/elders.
- The proper use of God’s word in counseling.
- The proper use of God’s word for preaching.
- The difference between justification and sanctification.
- The roles of justification and sanctification in the life of the saint.
- The difference between repentance for salvation and sanctification.
- The very definition of biblical obedience.
- Eschatological truth.
- Future judgment of mankind.
And frankly, the present-day church is showing symptoms of misunderstanding in these areas that approaches fallout in the realm of biblical proportions.
So now we have this core element of all righteousness remaining outside of the believer. Where do we go from here? What about the new birth? What’s “new” about us if all righteousness remains outside of us? Here is where Platonism, and its twin sibling, Gnosticism, partner with Reformed theology, at least the Plato—Augustine—Luther—Calvin strain. We don’t change; we are merely transported into a different realm (darkness/light) where we can determine which realm we manifest by what we contemplate or meditate on. New Calvinists have even developed a way to determine how that is experienced: John Piper’s Christian Hedonism. The Scriptures then serve the following primary purposes:
- A contemplation tool for the totally depraved zombie saints.
- A polity structure guide for Reformed elders.
- A book for preaching the gospel to the totally depraved.
- It makes Reformed elders the experts on seeing Christ in every verse of the Bible, and therefore relegating believers to a pope-like reliance on Reformed elders.
In speaking of the Bible’s function in the scheme of things, I am getting a little ahead of myself. Since all righteousness remains outside of the believer, the “practical application” of this theology is the continual resaving of the saint; or, a continual manifestation of a grace completely outside of us. The Bible then becomes the tool for doing that. Reading the Bible for learning and doing is strongly discouraged. Everything in the Bible is to show forth grace. The imperatives show us what we can’t do, but what Christ has done for us. It also shows us how other totally depraved zombie sheep have experienced grace manifestations throughout redemptive history. In the latest rediscovery movement (New Calvinism), this Platonist, metaphysical approach is not hard to see. Two of the most popular New Calvinist websites have Gnostic themes: “Between Two Worlds,” and “Between Two Spheres.” The number one tenet of New Covenant Theology (New Calvinism’s approach to law/gospel), as described by the Earth Stove Society (a NCT think tank) is:
New Covenant Theology insists on the priority of Jesus Christ over all things, including history, revelation, and redemption. New Covenant Theology presumes a Christocentricity to the understanding and meaning of all reality [ALL reality?].
Though New Calvinist elders talk of the new birth and Christ being “in” us, you must understand they’re using earthly language that the totally depraved zombie sheep can understand. They do not believe Christ works in us (which can be clearly seen from the aforementioned Piper quote), or that we are born again enabled people. Hence, they need to keep us away from the truth of the new birth in ways that can be understood by us. One may also note the lack of teaching on the new birth altogether in New Calvinist churches. Their only alternative is to come right out and say that we really don’t perform any works, but rather manifest works already accomplished by Christ from another realm. Good luck with that; the adolescent Sunday school gang will not even buy that when stated forthrightly.
So what do they teach? Answer: “EMPHASIS” as the only relevant truth. This is blatant Platonism. Plato taught that what we experience on Earth (what the senses can detect) are shadows of truth. Sure, shadows are real, but they aren’t truth/reality. Likewise, there is a sense in which the Holy Spirit does a work in us, but it’s not really relevant to the blazing truth of the objective gospel which deals with the works of Christ, and not subjective works by us via help from the Holy Spirit. Anything short of focusing on the “Sun” eclipses the Son and causes us to focus on the shadows of lesser, irrelevant truth. This is a primary theme of Rick Holland’s book, “Uneclipsing the Son.” The Australian Forum (the aforementioned rediscovery movement) published an article entitled “The False Gospel of the New Birth” which was based on the Platonist concept of emphasis (shadows verses what the sun revealed about the objects casting the shadows). This concept can be seen by them in quotes from the article, but also echoed by contemporary New Calvinists:
It robs Christ of His glory by putting the Spirit’s work in the believer above and therefore against what Christ has done for the believer in His doing and dying.
~ Geoffrey Paxton (Australian Forum)
But to whom are we introducing people to, Christ or to ourselves? Is the “Good News” no longer Christ’s doing and dying, but our own “Spirit-filled” life?
~ Michael Horton
And the new-birth-oriented “Jesus-in-my-heart” gospel of evangelicals has destroyed the Old Testament just as effectively as has nineteenth-century liberalism. (footnoted to Paxton’s article with above quote).
~ Graeme Goldsworthy (Australian Forum)
Did an overzealous attempt to give God all of the glory for all works create the fusion of Justification and sanctification with a need for Gnosticism to be the “practical application”? Or did Platonism create the theology which dealt redeemed mankind from the sanctification process? Hard to say, but it is clear that this is what the Augustinian line of Reformers believed. And for all practical purposes is a perpetual justification and daily resaving by faith alone to maintain a just standing before God. From the archives of the Australian Forum:
The present continuous nature of justification was the genius of Luther’s emphasis. In
“The Disputation Concerning Justification” (1536). He says:
. . . forgiveness of sins is not a matter of a passing work or action, but comes from baptism which is of perpetual duration, until we arise from the dead. — Luther’s Works(American ed.; Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press; St. Louis: concordia, 1955), vol. 34, p. 163.
. . . Forgiveness of sins is not a matter of a passing work or action, but of perpetual duration. For the forgiveness of sins begins in baptism and remains with us all the way to death, until we arise from the dead, and leads us into life eternal. So we live continually under the remission of sins. Christ. is truly and constantly the liberator from our sins, is called our Savior, and saves us by taking away our sins. If, however, he saves us always and continually, then we are constantly sinners. — Ibid., p.164.
On no condition is sin a passing phase, but we are justified daily by the unmerited forgiveness of sins and by the justification of God’s mercy. Sin remains, then, perpetually in this life, until the hour of the last judgment comes and then at last we shall be made perfectly righteous. — Ibid., p.167.
For the forgiveness of sins is a continuing divine work, until we die. Sin does not cease. Accordingly, Christ saves us perpetually. —Ibid., p.190.
Daily we sin, daily we are continually justified, just as a doctor is forced to heal sickness day by day until it is cured. — Ibid., p.191.
This quote can be added by Calvin as well:
Christ cannot be torn into parts, so these two which we perceive in him together and conjointly are inseparable—namely, righteousness and sanctification. Whomever, therefore, God receives into grace, on them he at the same time bestows the spirit of adoption [Romans 8:15], by whose power he remakes them to his own image. . . Yet Scripture, even though it joins them, still lists them separately in order that God’s manifold grace may better appear to us. — John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1960), Bk. 3, chap. 11, sec. 6).
Another way to think of this is: we are sanctified the same way we are saved—by faith and repentance only. Salvation and sanctification are both completely monergistic. As New Calvinists say, “The same gospel that saves you also sanctifies you,” and “We must preach the gospel to ourselves every day.” Hundreds of years later, the doctrine and its Gnostic applications are not even ambiguous.
David Powlison is the major figure representing the counseling wing of Westminster Theological Seminary: the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation (CCEF). Powlison was mentored by Dr. John Miller who was a professor at Westminster. Miller was the father of Sonship Theology which was his own twist on the rediscovery of the doctrine of perpetual justification (Gospel Sanctification) via the Australian Forum think tank formed in 1970.
Powlison took the concept of progressive justification and used it to develop his Dynamics of Biblical Change project which is the foundation of counseling education at Westminster. Two former students of his, Paul David Tripp, and Timothy Lane, wrote a book entitled “How People Change”(HPC) which is a treatise on the “practical application” of Gospel Sanctification (the doctrine of the present-day New Calvinist movement). The title of the book is a lie; as we shall see, New Calvinists do not really believe that people change.
This is most evident when one reads pages 64 and 65 of HPC. Tripp and Lane describe Christians as “powerless,” “enslaved,” and “dead.” They further elaborate by writing, “When you are dead, you can’t do anything” (p. 64, HPC). How do dead Christians change? Obviously, they don’t. Hence, this is why the vast majority of present-day biblical counseling controlled by the CCEF machine is a farce: the counseling is not about change.
So what’s going on? Basically, it starts with Plato and what was later known as Gnosticism. Some refer to Gnosticism as “Platonism for Dummies,” but the basics are easier to explain through fundamental Platonism. Plato believed man was unable to know reality. The following excerpt is a good explanation of Platonism 101:
Plato, the most creative and influential of Socrates’ disciples, wrote dialogues, in which he frequently used the figure of Socrates to espouse his own (Plato’s) full-fledged philosophy. In “The Republic,” Plato sums up his views in an image of ignorant humanity, trapped in the depths and not even aware of its own limited perspective. The rare individual escapes the limitations of that cave and, through a long, tortuous intellectual journey, discovers a higher realm, a true reality, with a final, almost mystical awareness of Goodness as the origin of everything that exists. Such a person is then the best equipped to govern in society, having a knowledge of what is ultimately most worthwhile in life and not just a knowledge of techniques; but that person will frequently be misunderstood by those ordinary folks back in the cave who haven’t shared in the intellectual insight….the Allegory also attacks people who rely upon or are slaves to their senses (Analysis of The Allegory of the Cave by Plato Online source:123helpme.com/view.asp?id=135077).
Because the common man is enslaved to his own senses and can only comprehend what he can sense from the material world which is merely shadows of reality, Plato devised what we now call a cybernetic loop. This is a process that evaluates the outcomes of experience/circumstances/data for the purposes of making adjustments or reaching goals. Since the common man is not enlightened, the next best thing is to devise a system that gives him guidance from the criteria that he can experience with his senses. The enlightened ones, who should lead and govern the common man, develop these cybernetic loops to help guide mankind in their world of dark shadows. Plato believed in a world ruled by philosopher kings. Below are some illustrations of cybernetic loops:
These loops can be complicated and may involve loops that evaluate other loops. Below is another illustration in regard to Plato’s philosophy:
Plato had a vast influence on Augustine who is primarily responsible for the total depravity of the saints tenet found in Reformed theology. This prism had a profound influence in the forming of the gospel of perpetual atonement, or the idea that the effects of Christ’s death on the cross wasn’t a finished work, but was progressive for the purpose of maintaining a righteous standing for the saints. See illustration below:
This is opposed to the gospel that rejects the total depravity of the saints and propagates an enablement through the new birth:
In the second model, the believer has the responsibility to learn and apply the word of God to their lives. But the first model, because it relies mostly on Platonist philosophy, also borrows the cybernetic loop for its “practical application.” Therefore, New Calvinists merge progressive justification into various cybernetic loops for “practical application.” Since the saints are supposedly unable to keep the law because they are still totally depraved, there has to be a way for the saints to continually partake in the same gospel that saved us. In order to come up with a way to do this, the New Calvinists went back to the basics: Plato. The first illustration of this is from CCEF’s The Journal of Biblical Counseling vol. 18, number 1, Fall 1999:
The following are illustrations from HPC and Powlison’s Dynamics of Biblical Change:
In the following excerpt from Dr. Devin Berry’s “How to Listen to a Sermon,” Berry uses a C-loop concept to explain the New Calvinist theory on how the saints receive the word of God. The illustration following the excerpt is mine:
Note this cycle: Paul, from the Word, delivers words. The Bereans, from Paul’s words, go to the Word. The Word cycles from God, through the preacher, to the people, back to the Word, and this, verse 12 tells us, produced belief in the God of the Word. An important thing to note is that this happened daily – suggesting a regular interaction between preaching, personal study, and the Word.
The goal of all of this is not change in the believer which is impossible anyway according to their theology because Christians are still totally depraved. The goal is to make the cross (or, the works of Christ) bigger by a deeper and deeper knowledge of how totally depraved we supposedly are. This is illustrated by the following chart produced by a New Calvinist organization:
As The Coalition Against New Calvinism is forming, one of my goals as a member is to publish a pdf report to be distributed among churches en mass. The first is almost complete and will be an introduction, but the second will address what is now apparent. David Powlison and the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation have perpetrated a huge fraud upon the church. In the early 70’s many evangelical leaders adopted the doctrine and motif of the Australian Forum, a project that systematized Progressive Adventism. The base doctrine was the centrality of the objective gospel outside of us, and its primary focus was a call to semper reformanda. This was the idea (and still is) that the Reformation didn’t end with Luther, and the Forum had rediscovered the lost gospel of the Reformation (documentation on this and what follows is now ample and convincing).
Church leaders bought into the frenzy wholesale, especially many at Westminster Seminary where the Forum’s theological journal was widely distributed. One of those leaders at Westminster was the mentor of David Powlison and Tim Keller (Dr. John Miller). The movement spawned a massive takeover mentality among its proponents which sought to “reform” the American church with this new rediscovered Reformation gospel. Powlison is on record saying that the fundamental difference between CCEF and NANC (National Association of Nouthetic Counselors) was a traditional view of sanctification verses John Miller’s theology (which he got from the Forum). Therefore, it is no surprise that CCEF sought to assimilate the semper reformanda into NANC, which they have been very successful in doing.
One of the major themes promoted by Jay Adams when he was involved with NANC was the idea that counseling was about biblical change. Though unclear at this time whether the following came directly from the Forum or was added later, a significant portion of the NANC/CCEF counseling culture believes no such thing. Rather, they believe that people do not change (but remain totally depraved whether believers or not), and that the primary goal of counseling is to teach Christians how to manifest one of two realms or spheres. We don’t change, but we can experience and manifest the realm of the Holy Spirit or the flesh/worldly/law realm. This prism enables them, as you can imagine, to use orthodox sounding verbiage to promote this doctrine. In fact, they do just that. Spiritual growth is now, “spiritual formation.” Repentance is now, “deep repentance,” etc.
CCEF has been a lost cause from the beginning, but it is unfortunate that the leadership of NANC shows no intestinal fortitude in dealing with this problem. In fact, they refer hundreds of people daily to these counselors with complete indifference. Daily, hundreds of troubled people seek to be helped by these counselors while totally unaware of what they believe.
It is the coalition’s duty to change that. The second newsletter will be aggressively circulated to churches worldwide. It is our goal to be servants of those who struggle with full disclosure.
Susan and I had a glorious fellowship with another Christian couple this afternoon. They are in a ministry of significant influence and will be unnamed. At some point, the conversation turned to New Calvinism. As Susan and I sat and listened to the husband’s testimony concerning what he valued in John Piper’s teachings, I was filled with an understanding in regard to why Piper’s teachings are so attractive. I might add that I was very impressed with his calm, articulate answer immediately following my comment that I believe Piper to be one of the premier heretics of our day.
What this brother described was the fact that serious Christians were looking for an alternative to the fallout from the first gospel wave in contemporary Christian History: raise your hand, sign a card, don’t drink, smoke, chew, or hang out with girls that do. Christianity had been reduced to living by a list of do’s and don’ts by people who didn’t have any life to show for it. Fair enough. Guilty as charged.
But the fact of the matter is that Jay Adams did offer a viable alternative. It was based on hearing the word of God and applying it to our lives according to the whole counsel of God’s wisdom and not just, “stop doing that.” I saw firsthand how this “first generation” biblical counseling movement changed lives in radical fashion, including my own. And the movement continues to do so today even though the fact of that matter is covered up by a whole lot of New Calvinist noise.
To me the crux of the matter is in this brother’s testimony. New Calvinists have effectively sold the idea that they are offering the only alternative to easy believeism in our day. That’s only true because they got rid of the other alternative through slander and persecution, and they know it. Jay Adams’ “first generation” biblical counseling was a threat to the emerging New Calvinist tsunami. Why? 1) Because it worked and God used it to change lives. 2) It was/is the antithesis of New Calvinism because the latter fuses justification and sanctification while first generation counseling doesn’t. Furthermore, this is what New Calvinist David Powlison said was the fundamental difference between the two while teaching at John Piper’s church:
This might be quite a controversy, but I think it’s worth putting in. Adams had a tendency to make the cross be for conversion. And the Holy Spirit was for sanctification. And actually even came out and attacked my mentor, Jack Miller, my pastor that I’ve been speaking of through the day, for saying that Christians should preach the gospel to themselves. I think Jay was wrong on that.
If we associate justification with “conversion,” and we do, Powlison’s statement can be reworded as follows for clarification:
Adams had a tendency to make the cross be for justification (justification cannot be separated from conversion). And the Holy Spirit was for sanctification.
Second generation counseling/New Calvinism is sanctification by justification, and that was also propagated by his mentor that he mentions. New Calvinists choose their words carefully. Imagine how far the movement would get if they didn’t replace “justification” with “gospel”:
The same finished work of justification that saved you also sanctifies you. Or, we must preach justification to ourselves every day. Or, sanctification is the finished work of justification in action.
I explained to the brother that the other alternative was relentlessly persecuted, and that’s why it would seem that there is only one alternative. He concurred that he perceives criticism of Adams taking place on a continual basis. Why? Because the truth he teaches is the competition. It’s a threat.
This is an approach that I have never used before: 1) Powlison admits a fundamental difference between first generation and second generation counseling; ie, sanctification by the cross (justification) verses sanctification by the Spirit apart from the finished work of justification. 2) An alternative is confirmed. 3) You only have the New Calvinists’ testimony that they are the only alternative. 4) Why not investigate and find out for yourself?
He agreed, and was sent off with a copy of The Truth About New Calvinism. Please pray for the situation. Christianity doesn’t need a second gospel wave. The first wave devalued sanctification by focusing on justification only; the second devalues it as well by making it the same thing as justification. Both are just as deadly, and when the novelty of New Calvinism wears off, the results will be worse.
Another New Calvinist Lie via Chad Bresson: We Aren’t Postmodern and the Emergent Church is Bad and We are Good
I guess it goes along with being antinomian; New Calvinists constantly lie about many things. In fact, I wonder if they ever tell the truth about anything. New Calvinism dominates the present evangelical landscape because their theological framework invented by a Seventh-Day Adventist (who is now an atheist) is a powerful concept that sells. Robert Brinsmead claimed that he discovered the lost gospel of the Reformation and Reformed folks saw what the supposed finding was doing to the SDA: reforming it. Brinsmead’s Awakening movement via his centrality of the objective gospel (COGOUS) doctrine was turning the SDA upside down. The results were therefore evident, and it had a Reformed label, so the masses have been jumping on the new reformation bandwagon ever since. Many of the elements that make this doctrine attractive to our present culture will be discussed in the second volume of The Truth About New Calvinism.
New Calvinists avoid historical dots that could connect them back to Brinsmead like the Bubonic Plague, and one way of doing that is pretending like you oppose certain dots. Therefore, The dots that they disparage the most are New Covenant Theology (NCT) and the Emergent Church (EU). New Calvinists such as DA Carson stay aloof from NCT, but support it behind the scenes. Brinsmead was a close friend with the father of NCT, Jon Zens, and Brinsmead contributed significantly to the formation of the doctrine. Therefore, pigs will fly before any NCT guys will be invited to one of the big New Calvinist dances, but Carson regularly speaks at NCT conferences.
Likewise, Sonship Theology which was founded on Brinsmead’s COGOUS intermarried with the EC family, so the EC, like Jon Zens, is only one step removed from Brinsmead and his theological think tank that launched present-day New Calvinism: the Australian Form. The Forum may have also influenced the EC which originated in Australia/UK in 1992 and arrived in the US around 1998. Even though New Calvinists such as John Piper associate with EC proponents like Mark Driscoll on a continual basis, and both groups function by the same doctrine (COGOUS, also known as Gospel Sanctification), New Calvinists continually fustigate the EC. The Piper/Driscoll relationship is condoned because Driscoll is supposedly a different kind of Emergent species (http://wp.me/pmd7S-16r).
One New Calvinist “church” that partakes in this deception at every opportunity is Clearcreek Chapel in Springboro, Ohio. A staff elder, Chad Bresson, wrote an article on his blog (a blog dedicated to NCT ) entitled, “The Word of God is an objective, propositional revelation because the resurrection is of such” (Vossed World blog: archives; July 19, 2006). Bresson begins the post with the following:
A supporter of the emergent church posted over at Steve Camp’s blog the following comments:
1. Revelation does not refer to the Bible, it is rather God’s activity in history.
2. Revelation is dynamic and personal, not static propositional.
3. Scripture is a meta-narrative, and by this nature is not a propositional document for us
to pin down all the rules to obey and doctrines to believe.
4. Passages are not always easily discerned for God’s desired message for the Church.
5. Texts may simply indicate direction, not neat and orderly systematic doctrine.
All of these points are either outright false or are only partly true. They represent what is of major concern to many who have observed the development of the emerging church.
These five tenets of EC interpretation, for all practical purposes, are the like hermeneutics of New Calvinism despite Bresson’s disingenuous harpings. Bresson, usually accustomed to linguistic drones of ten-thousand words or more, writes a paragraph or two for each proposition that disputes propositional truth, and I will rebut his deceptive rebuttal of his theological kissing-cousin’s comment. Bresson begins by addressing the first tenet:
God[‘s] activity in history through Christ *resulted in* the Bible. The Bible is God’s *written* revelation to man, and thus the sixty six books of the Bible given to us by the Holy Spirit constitute the plenary (inspired equally in all parts) Word of God (1 Corinthians 2:7-14; 2 Peter 1:20-21). The Word of God is an objective, propositional revelation (1 Thessalonians 2:13; 1 Corinthians 2:13), verbally inspired in every word (2 Timothy 3:16), absolutely inerrant in the original documents, infallible, and God breathed. They are fully self-authenticating, not relying on any external proof for their claims. Since all of Scripture is spoken by God, all of Scripture must be “unlying,” just as God himself is: there can be no untruthfulness in Scripture (2 Sam. 7:28; Titus 1:2; Hebrews 6:18). Because God is the Bible’s author, we are to accept its authority and submit ourselves to it in faith (2 Pet. 1:19,21, 2 Tim. 3:16, 1 John 5:9, 1 Thess. 2:13).
As I will demonstrate, New Calvinists end up in the same place as the EC on this issue. And remember, the staple doctrine of New Calvinism and the EU is one and the same: Gospel Sanctification. This is plainly irrefutable. The EU is most prevalent in American church culture through Acts 29 and World Harvest Missions which were both spawned by the father of Sonship Theology, Dr. John “Jack” Miller. Dr. Miller originally coined the New Calvinist slogans, “We must preach the gospel to ourselves every day,” and its accompaniment, “The same gospel that saves you also sanctifies you.” The former understudies of Dr. Miller and the gatekeepers of Sonship theology after Miller’s passing, David Powlison and Tim Keller, are major figures in the New Calvinist clan.
Regardless of how orthodox Bresson’s opening statement is, his fingers are crossed behind his back with the first ten words: “God[‘s] activity in history through Christ *resulted in* the Bible.” Though the more fringe elements of the EC may think specific revelation can be found outside of the Bible, note that Bresson also states that the Bible is primarily a historical document about Christ. Specifically, a meta-narrative about the gospel, and the gospel only for meditation purposes. All of the rest affirming the accuracy of the Bible is regarding its accuracy for that purpose only. The pastor/teacher of Clearcreek states the following on this point:
May we be transformed by seeing the glory of Christ all through the Bible. The transforming power of beholding Christ emerges from the pages of the whole Bible. We are transformed from glory to glory as we see Him there. Want to grow and change? Want to reflect Christ to others? Gaze on Him in the pages of your Bible (Russ Kennedy: The Fading Glory, 2Corinthians 2:14-3:18).
Furthermore, Bresson posted an excerpt from Robert Brinsmead on his blog to make the point that the Holy Spirit only illumines when the Scriptures are seen through the prism of the gospel and used for that purpose alone (Vossed World blog: archives; July 17, 2008).
Bresson continues to use orthodoxy to deceive:
God’s Word is sufficient for all things pertaining to life and godliness, because Christ, THE WORD, is sufficient (Eph. 1:3, 23; Deut. 8:3/Matthew 4:4/John 6:48-51; John 1:14,16). Because THE WORD is life himself (John 11:25, 14:6; Colossians 1:15-20), The Word is living and active in discerning and judging the actions and thoughts of men (Hebrews 4:12). Christ, as THE WORD, is Wisdom from God (1 Corinthians 1:30), which is *why* the word is sufficient for all of life (Psalm 119:105; Proverbs 2:6, 3:18; Colossians 3:16). Christ’s sufficiency for all of life is best summed up by the covenantal promise/fulfillment: Christ is our God and we are His people (Revelation 21:3,7). As THE WORD, Christ himself is the grace that is sufficient for us (2 Cor. 12:7-10; John 1:14, 16, 17).
After all of the unarguable truth and citation of Scriptures, Bresson once again has his fingers crossed behind his back with the last thirteen words: “As THE WORD, Christ himself is the grace that is sufficient for us.” Hence, Bresson parrots the same EC hermeneutic he claims to be refuting. Note tenet number two: “Revelation is dynamic and personal, not static propositional.” In fact, on the aforementioned post where he cites a long excerpt from a Brinsmead article, Bresson made the following comment:
John 1:1 tells us that Christ incarnated the very Word of God. Thus, the text… the Word… is both witness to and emanates from THE WORD. I should add that John 1:1 is also telling us that Christ *was* the very Word of God from the beginning. So… to draw a distinction between text and Person is a false dichotomy.
Exactly, and the EC crowd agrees, stating that the word is a person and not for the reason of determining propositional truth. I like to state it a different way for clarification; it’s about who Jesus is (or his “personhood”), and not about what He SAYS. Christ warned against such a mentality in Luke 11:26, 27. Clearcreek’s close relationship with Paul David Tripp should also be weighed in this discussion as well. Tripp, who has close ties to Clearcreek and speaks there often, stated the following on page 27 of How people Changed (2006):
Jesus comes to transform our entire being, not just our mind. He comes as a person, not as a cognitive concept that we insert into a new formula for life.
As noted in another post (http://wp.me/pmd7S-hc) here on PPT, Dr. Carol K. Tharp accuses Tripp of having a kinship to the emergent church because of his teachings in Broken Down House:
In these assertions, Tripp reveals his kinship with the emergent church. A belief held in common by emergent church leaders is their “eschatology of hope.” For example, Tony Jones says, “God’s promised future is good, and it awaits us, beckoning us forward … in a tractor beam of redemption and recreation … so we might as well cooperate.” Emergents Stanley Grenz and John R. Franke declare, “As God’s image bearers, we have a divinely given mandate to participate in God’s work of constructing a world in the present that reflects God’s own eschatological will for creation.”‘ Elsewhere, emergent church advocate Doug Pagitt claims, “When we employ creativity to make this world better, we participate with God in the re-creation of the world.”
In regard to tenet number three, Bresson embarks on the following diatribe:
All the words in Scripture are God’s words. To disbelieve or disobey any word of Scripture is to disbelieve or disobey God. The essence of the authority of Scripture is its ability to compel us to believe and to obey it and to make such belief and obedience equivalent to believing and obeying God himself. The word of God contained in the Holy Scriptures is the only rule of knowledge, faith, and obedience, concerning the worship of God, and is the only rule in which is contained the whole duty of man. The Scriptures have plainly recorded whatever is needful for us to know, believe, and practice. God’s word is the only rule of holiness and obedience for all saints, at all times, in all places to be observed (Col. 2:23; Matt 15:6,9; John 5:39, 2 Tim. 3:15,16,17; Isa. 8:20; Gal. 1:8,9; Acts 3:22,23).
In Bresson’s supposed rebuttal, he admits that the Scriptures are a meta-narrative, but argues that the narrative yields objective truth to be obeyed: see above and following:
While the scriptures inherently contain meta-narrative, the various narrative forms, using various Jewish literary genre, are themselves propositional in nature and scope…. And, because there is a common meta-narrative inherent to the whole of scripture (the redemptive story pointing forward to and fulfilled in Christ), it necessarily follows that there is a logical analogy to the whole of scripture which is to be exegeted and preached.
In other words, the concept is objective (the narrative is true and objective), but obviously yields subjective results because one has to interpret every verse of Scripture in a way that shows forth the gospel. But New Calvinists think that this approach is acceptable as long as the point made is a valid gospel outcome. The EC believes that both the narrative and the outcomes are subjective; New Calvinists claim that objective truth is possible while torturing every verse for a gospel outcome, which is highly doubtful. In other words, the results from both camps are the same: subjective.
In addition, the “obedience” Bresson refers to is New Calvinist “new obedience” (Christ obeys for us or obedience is the mere yielding to the evil realm or the gospel realm) which teaches against what Bresson seems to be saying. Where would I even begin to document New Calvinist teachers in regard to their devaluing of obedience as stated by tenet three? “Scripture is a meta-narrative, and by this nature is not a propositional document for us to pin down all the rules to obey and doctrines to believe.” Consider what the New Calvinists themselves write along these same lines:
DA Carson: “In this broken world, it is not easy to promote holiness without succumbing to mere moralism; it is not easy to fight worldliness without giving in to a life that is constrained by mere rules.”
John Piper: “So the key to living the Christian life – the key to bearing fruit for God – the key to a Christ-exalting life of love and sacrifice – is to die to the law and be joined not to a list of rules, but to a Person, to the risen Christ. The pathway to love is the path of a personal, Spirit-dependent, all-satisfying relationship with the risen Christ, not the resolve to keep the commandments.”
Tullian Tchividjian: “A taste of wild grace is the best catalyst for real work in our lives: not guilt, not fear, not another list of rules.”
Lastly, Bresson mentions another New Calvinist substitution for orthodox obedience that I haven’t fully put my mind around—this whole idea of Christians putting ourselves in, or participating in the gospel narrative: “These historical contexts presume an original audience with whom we participate in the same redemptive story.” Again, postmodern emergents (EC) take the same approach with a slightly different application. Note what John MacArthur writes in The Truth War: Quoting Brian McLaren, another proponent of the Emerging Church:
Getting it right’ is beside the point: the point is ‘being and doing good’ as followers of Jesus in our unique time and place, fitting in with the ongoing story of God’s saving love for planet Earth.’ All of that is an exemplary statement of the typical postmodern perspective. But the thing to notice here is that in McLaren’s system, orthodoxy is really all about practice, not about true beliefs (page 36).
So, on the one hand (New Calvinism), we supposedly put ourselves in the gospel narrative in a passive endeavor to manifest a redeemed realm. On the other hand (EU), we put ourselves in the subjective narrative as a form of obedience. What’s the difference? The bottom line: New Calvinists use an objective means of interpretation that leads to subjective, if not mystical results, though they lamely argue that the results are objective because only objective results can come from seeing the gospel in every verse of the Bible. The emergents are at least honest about the means and the results being subjective.
And honesty in and of itself is a good thing; those who follow you at least know what they are following. But the New Calvinist cartel will continue in pretending to be orthodox while confusing the issue by contending against other camps that really believe the same things.
10. Ligon Duncan
Heresy: Sonship Theology
9. Paul Washer
Heresy: Gospel Sanctification
Denomination: Southern Baptist
8. Al Mohler
Heresy: Gospel Sanctification
Denomination: Southern Baptist
7. CJ Mahaney
Heresy: Gospel Sanctification
Denomination: Reformed Charismatic
6. David Powlison
Heresy: Sonship Theology
5. Elyse Fitzpatrick
Heresy: Antinomianism, Gospel Sanctification
Denomination: Reformed Evangelical
4. Michael Horton
Heresy: Progressive Adventism, Antinomianism, Gospel Contemplationism
Denomination: United Reformed
3. John Piper
Heresy: Progressive Adventism, Antinomianism, Gospel Contemplationism
Denomination: Reformed Baptist
2. Tullian Tchividjian
Heresy: Hyper-Antinomianism, Gospel Sanctification, Gospel Contemplationism
1. Tim Keller
Heresy: Contemplative Spirituality, Spiritual Mysticism, Gospel Contemplationism, Sonship Theology
“This is the apostle Paul’s disparaged 3-verse system to fix a lack of peace. It is the wonderful hope that obedience to God’s word seizes upon His promises. And that’s why many NANC counselors strip their victims of hope.”
“The cited letter reflects the same things often taught by many board members of NANC and BCC. Because this doctrine combines justification and sanctification, it makes sanctification like a minefield because what we do in sanctification can affect the justification that supposedly powers it. This does not lay a healthy foundation for counseling”
The National Association of Nouthetic Counselors website states the following about your organization:
NANC exists to help pastors and those who would be ministers of the Word of God by providing help and encouragement. NANC is first and foremost a certifying organization. The certifying process is rigorous but attainable by even the busiest pastor. The process consists of the completion of an approved training course, the completion of a theological and a practical counseling test, several references, and a minimum of 50 hours of supervised counseling experience.
Furthermore, your organization refers hundreds of “counselors” certified by your organization. The purpose of this letter is to publically confront you in regard to the fact that NANC has board members, Fellows, and hoards of certified counselors who openly promote a blatant false gospel. I will first establish this fact, in case you are not aware of it, and then beseech you to tell me why this acceptable.
Much data could be provided as I have been sent several articles written by NANC Fellows that contain outrageous teachings; and apparently, NANC thinks nothing of sending troubled people to antinomian mystics. But I only need to quote one of your present board members, David Powlison. Powlison performed a lecture at John Piper’s church while Piper was on a sabbatical to eradicate “several species of heart idols” that he saw in his heart. Apparently, they were of the 8-month type because he was able to return to ministry at the pre-appointed time. Powlison stated the following at Piper’s church:
This might be quite a controversy, but I think it’s worth putting in. Adams had a tendency to make the cross be for conversion. And the Holy Spirit was for sanctification. And actually even came out and attacked my mentor, Jack Miller, my pastor that I’ve been speaking of through the day, for saying that Christians should preach the gospel to themselves. I think Jay was wrong on that.
Jack Miller was the father of Sonship Theology, a false gospel that is presently wreaking havoc on Presbyterian churches. It has also been known as Gospel Sanctification and is the primary catalyst for the present-day New Calvinist movement which has turned orthodoxy completely upside down. The doctrine is best explained by a theological journal that was its source:
Unless sanctification is rooted in justification and constantly returns to justification, it cannot escape the poisonous miasma of subjectivism, moralism or Pharisaism…. Since the life of holiness is fueled and fired by justification by faith, sanctification must constantly return to justification. Otherwise, the Christian cannot possibly escape arriving at a new self-righteousness. We cannot reach a point in sanctification where our fellowship with God does not rest completely on forgiveness of sins…. Christian existence is gospel existence. Sanctification is justification in action.
Miller adopted the theology and coined the phrase, “We must preach the gospel to ourselves every day.” “The same gospel that saved us also sanctifies us” is the New Calvinist mantra of our day. I receive many links to articles written by NANC Fellows who clearly hold to this doctrine. In fact, How People Change, written by Timothy Lane and Paul David Tripp (and based on Powlison’s Dynamics of Biblical Change) is a Sonship/Gospel Sanctification treatise. Tripp and Lane are also on the board of the upstart Biblical Counseling Coalition. That board is the who’s who of Sonship/GS/ NC, including hyper-antinomian Elyse Fitzpatrick.
On a church level, here is the fruit of this doctrine:
To the Ruling Elders of Southwood:
On September 4, 2011, our daughter and her family from Atlanta were here and we attended the Sunday worship at Southwood. After the service, our 13 year old granddaughter, who is well grounded in scripture, stated that she was very confused by the message. She had come away hearing that every good thing she does is wrong. Why would she believe that? We have gone back and listened again to that message, entitled “Duh,” and here is what we found:
The message is from Galatians 3:1-6. Paul is chastening the church for falling prey to the persuasion of the Judaizers, exhorting them again that God’s love for them was not by any of their own works but through the miraculous work of Christ and the Holy Spirit. Jean seems to take the written word beyond its intent. He subtly changes ‘God’s love’ to ‘God’s favor.’ He changes legalism to performance. He takes Jewish law and extends it to almost any action one does. Here are some paraphrased quotes from the sermon. “To keep God’s favor, the Galatians were believing they needed Christ and a dash of obedience which looks like those things called Christian disciplines. Christian walk Christianity is from the Devil. Faithfulness is feeling condemned for work you haven’t finished (as contrasted with faith: resting completely in Christ). Faith is a litmus test for teachers and leaders; the difference between faith in Christ alone and faithfulness is like the difference between truth and falsehood, between Heaven and Hell. Faith alone is all we will teach.” (Here Jean says this is what Paul is teaching but he gives no supporting scriptures to support his interpretation.) “Discern as false any book, sermon, or Bible study where you hear a dash of self justifying obedience. Self justifying obedience is from Satan.
Jean’s statements, combined with the tone and inflections in his delivery, imply that he is scornful of Christian disciplines, preachers, Christian writers, the Christian walk, obedience, faithfulness, good works, and an individual’s efforts. This message can lead to the conclusion that everything we do is evil and, by extension, that God and the Holy Spirit can do nothing through us. The message lacks balance and leaves sanctification out of the equation. A new believer under this teaching would be moribund after accepting Christ, hidebound in fear that he can do nothing right. While it is true none of us have all pure motives, it is also true that God commands us to go forward and that the Holy Spirit will be with us. God says we are His instruments for spreading the Truth. We cannot do this if we are strapped by guilt; we can do this if we seek partnership with the Holy Spirit.
From here Jean goes back to Paul saying “…since you were 100% depraved when you were brought into the Kingdom by the Holy spirit and by no works of your own, why are you trying to be perfected by your own human efforts? You are being deceived by the Devil.” I believe Jean is paralleling Paul in this. Jean then goes on to “We are like alcoholics ; we use Bible study, prayers, small groups, etc. as a crutch and the church rewards our ‘addiction’ with its approval. How would you know if you were addicted? Stop everything. If you feel anxiety, then you are afraid of leaving your ‘fix.’” So we ask: what does God have us do? Jean’s answer is “rest totally in Jesus.” So in turn we ask, what does Scripture say about resting totally in Jesus? But we hear no clear answer from the pulpit.
The cited letter reflects the same things often taught by many board members of NANC and BCC. Because this doctrine combines justification and sanctification, it makes sanctification like a minefield because what we do in sanctification can affect the justification that supposedly powers it. This does not lay a healthy foundation for counseling, and as Timothy F. Kauffman recently stated in the Trinity Review, when justification and sanctification are combined, anything we do in sanctification is works salvation—even doing nothing. It’s eerily reminiscent of Christ’s parable concerning the slothful servant. When such a parable is considered and compared to statements by Elyse Fitzpatrick and her spiritual big brother Tullian Tchividjian, it should make the hair stand up on a deceased person.
Moreover, the unfortunate results of counseling that comes from this doctrine can be seen in the following statement by a pastor who oversees a NANC counseling center:
We read this quote from Paul Tripp in last week’s Biblical Theology Study Center. Amazingly, part of the quote was used again the following evening during testimony time from someone not in our class…someone who resonated with the quote in the midst of personal crisis. For those who are involved in biblical counseling, it can be really easy (and tempting) for the Bible to become little more than a 12-verse system designed to fix a life. Tripp reminds us that the Bible isn’t a how-to manual, but a place where we find hope in a Person.
Compare that statement with what the apostle Paul said:
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
This is the apostle Paul’s disparaged 3-verse system to fix a lack of peace. It is the wonderful hope that obedience to God’s word seizes upon His promises. And that’s why many NANC counselors strip their victims of hope. That, and confusing children who love the Lord.
So tell me Dr. Street, why is this acceptable? Why not come out from among them? Besides, the evidence that this doctrine was concocted by a Seventh-Day Adventist who is now an atheist is overwhelming. The truth will come out, and will eventually be accepted as truth. Why stick around and look stupid? Or, you could fix the problem. I beseech you Dr. Street, stop sending troubled people to false teachers. This is something that none of us want on our resume.
525 A Street NE | Washington, DC 20002
I have contemplated [no pun intended] your email and have sorted through many thoughts in regard to it. I have also consulted the coalition. A decision has been made.
My first thought was Peter’s imperative to obey every ordinance of man; and the fact is, T4G has copyrighted an image of our Lord’s gospel and paid good money for it to maximize marketing effect. Since I am not a New Calvinist, I will go ahead and “leap from the imperative to the command” without contemplating the indicative first. I hope that’s ok with you.
Another consideration was the fact that you could sue me because after I gave my life to Christ, I moved beyond the cross and shared it with other people only, and have not preached the gospel to myself every day. And as your friend Michael Horton has said, if we are saved by the gospel, “and move on to something else” we lose sanctification and justification both (Christless Christianity p.62). So, it wouldn’t be like taking another believer to court, right? Or is that to be taken literally? Does that mean the same thing in its “gospel context”?
However, since New Calvinists believe that any sin is fodder for church discipline (like non-attendance x256), and have authority over anyone who says “that Jesus is the Christ,” it occurred to me that Capitol Hill’s elders could bring me up on church discipline for believing a false gospel. Is that why you guys call it “redemptive church discipline”? And with the authority to declare me an unbeliever whether I am or not, well geez, that’s really scary. I bet you guys have a tight ship around there.
Now Matt, is this the first step of church discipline? I’m repenting, but do I have to get elder approval on that? Let me know.
Earnestly contending for the faith once delivered to the saints,
Paul M. Dohse Sr.
Dear Sir, You have presumed much in your email like who my friends are and whether or not I have contemplated a lawsuit. I mentioned none of that and have simply asked you to stop using a design that you did not pay for and is trademark protected. Will you stop using it or not? I think that requires a simple answer, sir. I would appreciate a timely response. Sincerely, Matt Schmucker * * * * *Matt Schmucker** *Vice President, Together for the Gospel 525 A Street NE | Washington, DC 20002 ___________________________________________________________________________ Matt, You can call me "Paul." However, I commend you for respecting the elderly. You misunderstand, I said, "I'm repenting." I wasn't talking about "deep repentance" which would take a long time. Please interpret my email literally. We have changed the "logo." We have "repented." Not "deep repentance," I have no idea what "species of idol" caused me to do what I did. For crying out loud, it took John Piper eight months to find his. I have honored your request, but on the other hand, since I didn't do it the way David Powlison teaches, this change of heart may not be "real and lasting change." Maybe you could have him email me to give some advice on "reorienting the desires of my heart" [Matt, if you read this here, have him suggest which "X-Ray" questions I should ask myself as well]. Geez Matt, cut me a break, I'm tryin' to do the work here! I'm trying to "get used to my sanctification." paul
This Ministry has focused primarily on the fact that New Calvinism is blatantly unorthodox in salvific matters. Originally, the focus was on what was perceived as merely weakening Christians in their walk with God. Continued investigation reveals that New Calvinism also has the gospel wrong and distorts the very core of salvation: the doctrine of justification. Pastor Joel Taylor, a charter member of the long overdue Coalition Against New Calvinism makes this point well in the organizations inaugural post at http://tcanc.wordpress.com/
The clear picture that has emerged is a movement that leaves no aspect of orthodoxy turned upside down, including Bibliology. I have stumbled across and recognized their approach to Scripture before, but have had bigger fish to fry in this endeavor. Though the complete picture has not yet emerged, I have been spurred to touch on what I do know because of statements made by Cindy Kunsman in her review of The Truth About New Calvinism.
New Calvinism approaches Scripture as a historical gospel narrative in its totality of purpose. Therefore, whether or not there is error, or whether or not events like creation are literal or not, isn’t the point—what the historical narrative is showing about the gospel is the point. Undoubtedly, this is why John Piper has elders on his staff that are theistic evolutionist—whether or not God literally created the Earth in six days is not the point—what the creation event shows us about the gospel is the point.
How some of them integrate this approach with more orthodox forms of interpretation varies, but this element of interpretation has a profound effect on how they approach the Scriptures and use it to “feed” the sheep. One can ascertain what I am talking about if they listen and read carefully. Michael Horton continually speaks of the “divine drama.” In fact, Horton wrote a book entitled, “Covenant and Eschatology: the Divine Drama.”
And where is this coming from? We get a clue if we visit Vossed World blog authored by New Calvinist and NCT theologian Chad Bresson. He wrote a post bemoaning the use of Old Testament events for instruction purposes and practical application to the life of New Testament believers. Of course, such a concern is in contradiction to 1Corinthians 10:6, 10:11, and 11:1. A reader using the name “Kippy” instigated a follow-up post:
In the comments section of the “Abigail” post, Kippy has asked a good question that is asked pretty consistently of the redemptive-historical hermeneutic. Kippy wants to know if practical application is a “wrong approach” to a text such as 1 Samuel 25, especially in the area of counseling. These are good questions. I’ll answer the application question first and the counseling question last.
Actually, Bresson didn’t directly answer Kippy’s initial question, but smothered it in a 10,000 word post. Yet, his response is telling to some extent. Here is Kippy’s intitial question:
Wow, heavy stuff. I do have a question concerning “practical application”, you seem to diss it in the post (because it takes away from the central purpose?). I am presently counseling a depressed person and I’m using Phil 4:4-9. The passage seems to promises wonderful things for those who replace worry with right prayer and erroneous thoughts with true thoughts. Namely, that Christ will guard our hearts and minds. Is this approach an improper use of the Scriptures?—being practical application?
Thanks for your hard work.
Though Bresson never directly answers the question, New Calvinist Paul David Tripp does in How People Change, page 27. He states that changing the way we think to biblical thinking is insufficient, and “omits the person and work of Christ as Savior.” Why? Because it does not first see how a particular situation in our life fits into the historical gospel motif presented in Scripture. When we see our redemptive life story IN the biblical narrative, transformation takes place. Bresson’s post further elaborates on this point:
Few have spoken more clearly to the entire subject of “application” than brothers Charles, James, and William Dennison (the “Dennisons 3″). Dr. William Dennison writes, “Good Biblical preaching draws the congregation into the event…As Paul preaches to the Corinthians, his presentation of the saving event of God’s activity in Christ’s work precedes his interpretation of that work to the people. Event precedes interpretation, while interpretation draws the congregation into the event.” (Reformed Spirituality, ed. Joseph Pipa, pp. 148-150)
Why is this? This is true because the application (how we live out the imperatives of the text) is generated by a historical event, the Christ event, or more specifically the cross and resurrection. As Dennison says, “In the Biblical text, morality is grounded in history, or more precisely, the moral life of the believer is grounded in the redemptive-historical work of God in Christ’s death and resurrection.”
As Dennison points out, this has huge implications in terms of how we think about “practical application”. He says, “God engages His people as participants in the event of His activity; He places them in union with the event. Or, to put it another way, God draws His people into His redemptive-historical work as a participant in the event, not as a spectator of the event (One must not view the indicative-imperative grammatical construction in abstraction from its theological and revelational-historical content. The content is what gives the construction its rich supernatural relevance and meaning).”
How does the fact that the listeners are participants impact how we think about application? Dennison quotes his late brother Charles when he says, “The Biblical model is simply this: “’Good preaching does not apply the text to you, but good preaching applies you to the text.’ To put it another way, ‘The preacher does not take the word and apply it to you, but the preacher takes you and applies you to the word.’”
Then Bresson concludes on this point:
So, it’s not that anyone is dissing application. There is certainly application in the text, including the passage that prompted the question, 1 Samuel 25. The question isn’t whether there is application, but what kind of application. And the kind of application found in the text tends to be quite different than the kind of application that is popular today. The application found in the text revolves around an event and is itself an application tied to history. That kind of application has a direct bearing on the 24/7/365 of our “mundane” lives.
As Dennison notes, “The Biblical theologian sees application as that which truly comes from the text because he draws the believer into the redemptive-historical and eschatological drama of the Biblical text. The struggles you face in the Christian life are the same struggles that the church recorded in the Biblical text faced. You live between the two comings of God, just as the people of God in the Biblical text live between the two comings of God. Their history is your history. As their redemption and application was grounded in the promises and the accomplished work of Christ, so your redemption and application is grounded in the promises and accomplished work of Christ. You are living in the same life pattern that the church lived in the Biblical text, and thus, the Bible is God’s document of application.”
Kippy then poses the following statement in the comments section of the follow-up post:
It seems that our primary concern is focus on the glory of Christ and the knowledge of him. This will produce the imperatives naturally. Also, history is still moving toward the return of Christ, by putting ourselves INTO the text, we recognize that we are the ongoing redemptive work of Christ that didn’t end with the Scriptures. The Scriptures enable us to be part of that history. We are not making our own redemptive history, it is making us. We are between the beginning and the end, but all we need to identify with Christ is bound in the Scriptures.
To that, Bresson answered:
It looks like you’re understanding what I’ve said (a minor miracle, I know). I’ll get to your other questions shortly.
Bresson latter added:
If you’re interested in how we fit into the redemptive-historical drama :-), a couple of books that have interesting thoughts in this regard are Vanhoozer’s “Drama of Doctrine” and Horton’s “Covenant and Eschatology: The Divine Drama”.
I don’t agree with everything they have to say, but I did find what they had to say about “participation”, “drama”, and Christ’s Incarnation to be thought-provoking. There are thoughts there compatible with what we’ve said here.
(Wednesday, August 06, 2008
Abigail was “motivated” by a future eschatological hope that God would accomplish his purposes in a throne for David
Thursday, August 14, 2008
The application: We, like Abigail, rest in our Avenger).
Hence, this approach makes the Bible a perfect tool for Gospel Contemplationism. In the aforementioned book written by Tripp, four primary applications are given as aids in seeing our own gospel story in the historical gospel meta narrative: Heat; Thorns; Cross; Fruit. Tripp asserts that the sum of the Bible is composed by these four prisms that enable us to place our life story in God’s story as a way of transformation (p.96). On pages 102-105, Tripp attempts to show that the apostle Paul used Scripture in this way for transformation in his own life. On page 94, Tripp states, “This big picture model is the story of every believer. God invites us to enter into the plot!” Unbelievably, Tripp commits a first degree theological felony by admitting in the book that Jeremiah 17:5-10 is the only proof text that can be found to substantiate this hermeneutic, and his mentor David Powlison eludes to that same apology in the Forward. Despite Powlison’s glowing affirmation in the Forward and noting that the book follows after his own Dynamics of Biblical Change, Powlison disavows the book in private conversations because a testing of the book by CCEF in local churches didn’t reveal the fallout that is now rearing its ugly head. This kind of disingenuous communication has been a hallmark of Powlison’s ministry.
This now brings us to statements made by Cindy Kunsman in her review of The Truth About New Calvinism. In my present research for volume two, I am investigating the influence of neo-orthodoxy on SDA theology. My thesis so far is that SDA contributed the fusion of justification and sanctification in New Calvinist theology, and SDA theologian Robert Brinsmead added the centrality of the objective gospel outside of us. I then lean towards the idea that neo-orthodoxy filled in the blank spots to make it run, including the kind of hermeneutic which is the subject of this post. But hold the fort. Kunsman states the following in the review:
J. G. Vos became very interested in the significance of Christ’s history and participated a movement that encouraged people to find a message of redemption in every Bible passage, relating it to the history of Christ. Goldsworthy, an aberrant Anglican, developed a whole esoteric sounding theology about the “holy history of Christ,” he worked alongside Brinsmead, a Seventh Day Adventist (SDA), and it resulted in most of the errors and controversies we’ve seen among the Reformed in the past decade or two. Most of what Jon Zens teaches came from Brinsmead, and most of what Piper teaches sounds just like Goldsworthy. (See addendum note below.) Piper’s preaching quietism through his “beholding as a way of becoming,” a form of Christian mysticism enjoining passive contemplation and the beatific annihilation of the will…. In some shared disdain for Lutheran theology [Brinsmead and company], they explain how salvation really happens [linked to Present Truth volume 46, art. 2, part 4] in their old publication called “The Present Truth” which was once staggeringly popular at Westminster. (Take note that “the present truth” is a doctrine in SDA church, invented by the Whites [linked to several references regarding early SDA publications by the Whites]. It was also the name of their first SDA publication in the 19th Century.) In a discourse that switches back and forth from Catholic Theology into Protestant statements so many times that I gave me theological whiplash, they explain the process. First, the believer is “caught up in the holy history” of Christ and “replaces his history” with Christ’s. As a result of the change in the person who has been assimilated or has assimilated Jesus and is changed, it is then that God decides to bestow the grace of justification on a man because he’s suddenly become acceptable to God. Sorry, folks. This just became justification by works, and sanctification and justification become the same thing…. This is the more subtle reason why Piper and Keller and Bridges and Tchividjian and others preach the gospel to themselves every day which I personally consider to be different than morning devotions or contrition over sin as a New Creation in Christ. This is why Piper and Mahaney do all of their histrionic weeping over their poor, sinful state, because they are still subject to it, giving it power. New life in Christ for them is dependent on daily infused grace and justification…. Piper’s teachings argue against an inner transformation which bestows a believer with the Spirit’s power and discernment to resist sin.
Kunsman embeds several links that do not show up in my citations here, but I would like to focus on her citation of the Australian Forum’s theological journal, Present Truth vol.46,art.2, pt.4. I have reposted the whole article as an addendum to this post. All of Kunsman’s review can be read here: Kunsman’s review of TANC
Present Truth was the theological journal of the think tank known as the Australian Forum which was founded by Brinsmead, Geoffrey Paxton, and Graeme Goldsworthy. They were later joined by Jon Zens. The issue Kunsman cites is dripping with the present-day New Calvinist motif, including the SCANDALOUS GOSPEL sloganry.
Also, match Bresson’s cited post with Kunsmans citation—the theology/hermeneutic is identical, and accentuated with the same phraseology. This bolsters the conclusion that I have come to time and time again throughout my five years of research on this issue: Present Truth might as well be the theological journal of present-day New Calvinism, and it would be if Robert Brinsmead wasn’t a Seventh-day Adventist gone bad.
Then I would ask you to note Kunsman’s citation of the SDA doctrine that is actually named, “Present Truth.” She also notes that it was the name of SDA’a first publication. In my present preparation for volume two of The Truth About New Calvinism, I am reading The Shaking of Adventism by Geoffrey Paxton, one of the core four of the Australian Forum. He presents SDA as the gatekeepers of Reformation theology, and insinuates that the Australian Forum was the “Shaking” predicted by SDA theologians of days gone by.
So what is the point here for now? One, New Calvinists completely bastardize Scripture. Two, it’s looking more and more like New Calvinism is up to its ears in SDA theology.
ADDENDUM; Present Truth volume 46, article 2, part 4:
The Need for a Correct Biblical Framework
The centrality of justification by faith and its forensic character is the raison d’etre of the Lutheran Reformation. It is under massive attack today. Prominent Lutheran scholars are leading this assault on the Reformation faith. But that is not the only feature of the current crisis among Lutherans. Many of those trying to defend the old faith are not convincing. They appear to be losing ground in the struggle. They are repeating many of the old arguments (such as the meaning of words), but their theological framework is too abstract and rationalistic. This plays into the hands of those who advocate a theology of dynamic experience as an alternative to “dry old orthodoxy.”
The abstract scholastic dogmatics of the old Protestant orthodoxy is not adequate for the present crisis. What is needed is a theology with a truly biblical framework. The apostles preached the gospel of Christ out of the Old Testament background. Yet there has always been a tendency in the church to cut the Christian message loose from its Old Testament roots.
When this happens, the Christian message is placed in either a rationalistic or a mystical framework and is consequently distorted. What is needed is a return to biblical faith, which is not just Christian but Judeo-Christian. Biblical faith is historical, covenantal and eschatological.
The want of a theology which has a historical, covenantal and eschatological framework is the real issue behind the issues in the current justification-by-faith debate.
The Historical Framework
The first thing that must be said about biblical faith is that it is historical faith. “The uniqueness—the ‘scandal’—of biblical faith is revealed in its radically historical character.”1
The Bible has a historical framework. Man is essentially a historical being.
Biblical faith understands human existence and human destiny in irreducibly historical terms. If the question is asked, what is the real reality of man?—what is it the actualization of which constitutes the fullness of his being?—the heathen (turned philosopher) would say nature; the Greek metaphysician and the Oriental mystic would say that which is timeless and eternal to him; but the biblical thinker would say his history. History is the very stuff out of which human being is made: human existence is potential or implicit history; history is explicit or actualized existence. And it is not very different on the corporate level. In attempting to explain to someone who really does not know what it means to be an American, it would be futile to try to contrive some conceptual definition of “American-ness.” Would it not prove more appropriate to tell the story of America and rely upon that story to communicate the fullness of what it means to be an American? “The human person and man’s society,” Reinhold Niebuhr has profoundly observed, “are by nature historical. . . [and] the ultimate truth about life must be mediated historically (emphasis added) . . .
But he who understands the reality of human being in biblical terms will find no difficulty in understanding that the ultimate truth about human life and destiny, about man’s plight and man’s hope alike, is truly and inexpugnably historical, and can be expressed in no other way. (Hence the Bible is composed so largely of stories, recitals, histories.) The structure of faith is a historical structure, because being, living, and acting are, in the biblical conviction, radically historical in character.2
This means that true preaching about the sinner’s justification before God is not an abstract theory of imputed righteousness which sounds too much like salvation by celestial bookkeeping. Nor is it explaining the technique of moral transformation. It is the preaching of something historical. Alan Richardson has expressed this point beautifully:
Biblical faith, however, is not at all concerned with asking in what salvation consists or in recommending techniques, whether mystical or ethical, by which salvation may be attained. It is concerned rather with the proclamation of the fact of salvation, and thus it differs from all “religion” by being kerygmatic in character. The Bible is concerned with the fact that God actually has in concrete historical fact saved his people from destruction.3
The principle is the same in both Testaments. In the Old Testament God’s saving act took place in the Exodus-Sinai event, which becomes the type of God’s great saving act in the death resurrection event. Biblical preaching, however, is not preaching about some dead history which is past and gone. Though the event may have happened years or even centuries ago, it lives on as it is continually rehearsed by Word and sacraments.
For the Old Testament believer the Exodus was a history that was part of his existence. He may have lived long after the Exodus took place. But as the event was rehearsed by holy days, feast days and the story of the fathers, he was caught up in that history. He identified with it in such a way that it became his history. Therefore the Exodus was something which really happened to him as a member of the people for whom the redemption was wrought. When he made his confession of faith, he told the story of the Exodus using the first person, as if he had actually crossed the Red Sea with Moses. “‘My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down into Egypt. . . and the Lord heard our voice [note the first person pronoun] and saw our misery, toil and oppression. . . . So the Lord brought us out of Egypt’”(see Deut. 26:2-10).
So it is with the New Testament believer. In the gospel and the sacraments, the holy history of Jesus Christ is recited, rehearsed and represented. This is more than a memorial of a past event which is dead and gone. In the proclamation of the event in the power of the Spirit, the past is rendered present (Rom. 1:16, 17). The believer is caught up in this holy history—he identifies with it, participates in it, is baptized or incorporated into it. Just as the Old Testament believer embraced the Exodus as his own personal history, so the New Testament believer embraces the holy history of Christ as his own personal history. And like the Old Testament believer, he makes his confession of faith by speaking of this history in the first person. “I have been crucified with Christ” (Gal. 2:20). “Our old self was crucified with Him” (Rom. 6:6). Or as Luther said, “Christ died. I too. He rose from the dead. I too. “Let us now consider what light this historical faith throws on some of the disputes about justification:
1. Since the believing sinner is justified by the holy history of Christ and by that alone, justification must be forensic.
2. Justification is central in Christian teaching since it is wholly concerned with what is central—namely, the holy history of Christ. On the other hand, the presentation of an abstract theory of justification not vitally grounded in Christology will not be regarded as central.
3. If God justifies on the basis of this new history of Christ which is pleasing to Him, then forensic justification is no legal fiction. It is not a matter of God waving a wand over the sinner, declaring him righteous when he possesses no righteousness at all. The believer possesses righteousness good enough and big enough to stand before the tribunal of God. He is identified with the holy history of Christ. It has become his own history. This is no make-believe. This history is real. The believer stands with a good record. It justifies him before God.
Proponents of forensic justification have sometimes given occasion for the Reformation faith to be impugned because they have separated justification from history so that the imputation of righteousness sounds almost like an abstraction. This has happened because soteriology has not been seen in its vital relationship to Christology.
Osiander said that forensic justification makes God appear to be a liar because He calls a man righteous when he is not righteous at all. Osiander was not wrong when he said that God must make the sinner righteous before He can declare him righteous. But the believing sinner has already been made righteous in Christ (2 Cor. 5:21). Why should not the righteous Judge justify the man who stands before Him with the holy history of Christ?
Furthermore, when Christ identified Himself with our history, was He not cursed for our sake? (Gal. 3:12,13). Surely we are not going to say that His condemnation was based on what He was in Himself! So why should not God justify those who are identified with Christ’s history? This justification is no more “analytical” than Christ’s condemnation was analytical. The substitutionary atonement of Christ and justification by a forensic righteousness are merely two sides to one great truth.
Let us also look at Newman’s argument in the light of historical faith. He used the analogy of creation to prove that God makes what He declares (“‘Let there be light,’ and there was light”). By doing this, Newman made God’s creative act depend on justification. But God’s new creation took place in His redemptive act in the holy history of Christ. The faith which justifies does not bring the new creation into existence; it confesses its existence. The conception, birth, sinless life and resurrection of Jesus from the dead were the recapitulation of Genesis 1 and the fulfillment of those Old Testament prophecies which spoke of God making all things new. The justification of the sinner springs from this creative act of God and not the other way around, as Newman and the proponents of “effective” justification contend.
Furthermore, is it correct to take the analogy of creation (“‘Let there be light,’ and there was light”) and apply it to the matter of justification? Justification is an indicative verdict, not an imperative command, so the creation analogy is inappropriate. A better analogy would be God’s verdict, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” This declaration was not made in order to make Christ pleasing to God but because He was pleasing to God. So it is with the believer. He is declared righteous before God’s judgment seat because He has been made righteous in the holy history of Jesus Christ.
4. One of the most serious criticisms raised against forensic justification is that it leaves the sinner without moral renewal and therefore has antinomian tendencies. A doctrine of justification presented in the rationalistic framework which has characterized too much of the old Protestant orthodoxy cannot adequately meet this charge. It may correctly say that justification is distinguished from regeneration but is never separate. However, the critics are always suspicious that the link between justification and the new birth is too artificial—as if ethical renewal had to be attached to justification like an afterthought. Certainly the endless discussions on the ordo salutis in seventeenth-century Protestant scholasticism were too abstract and artificial.
However, when justification is preached in the framework of history, it appears in vital and inseparable relationship to the new birth. We have seen how the sinner is justified by participating in the holy history of Christ. The same inclusion into Christ’s history also means that the sinner is born again.
A person does not become born again by rummaging around in his psyche. The new birth is not preoccupation with one’s spiritual navel. Man is a historical being. I am the story of my life. My history determines who I am and what my destiny shall be. The only way I can become a new man is to have a new history.
In His discourse on the new birth, Jesus directed Nicodemus’ attention to the first Exodus under Moses (John 3:14). Nicodemus knew very well that it was the Exodus event which gave birth to the nation of Israel. But the prophets had also spoken of a new exodus under a new Moses at the end of the age. In this new redemptive act God would make all things new. There would be a new covenant with a new Israel. Nicodemus was not altogether ignorant of these things. The book of John presents Jesus as that new Moses of the new exodus. The imagery of the Exodus appears everywhere in the Gospel of John. Jesus tells Nicodemus—this representative of Israel—that his identification with the history of old Israel will not entitle him to enter the kingdom of the new age now being inaugurated. He must now look to the Son of Man and identify himself with the Son of Man’s new redemptive history (John 3:14, 15). Just as the first Exodus gave birth to the nation of Israel, so the new exodus at Calvary would give birth to the new Israel.
What we identify with historically has the most profound effect on our lives. For instance, in order to become an American in the deepest sense, I would need to know the story of the birth of this great nation and then to identify myself with that history so that it became part of my existence. I would thereby become caught up in the spirit of America. Its history would then govern the way I think and act. So it is when the Spirit of Christ comes to me clothed in the gospel of Christ. The Spirit incorporates me into the holy history of Christ. This brings about a change which is far more profound than a change of earthly citizenship and political philosophy. It means that my whole life has a new center. The holy history of Jesus Christ determines my entire existence—the way I think about everything as well as the way I act. “I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Gal. 2:20).
Incorporation into Christ’s new history will therefore give me both a new standing (Justification) and a new state (new birth). My new history changes God’s estimate of me and my estimate of God. Thus, the justification which is grounded in history is inseparable from the new birth, which is grounded in the same history. There is really no point to the artificial ordo salutis of Protestant scholasticism. If we say that justification comes first, it is not a temporal order but only a theological order. How I stand in God’s sight must always be given first consideration.
Moreover, the new birth is the sinner’s apprehension of forensic justification. To look away to a righteousness found wholly in Another and in what Another has done, to stake one’s all upon the history of Another, is the negation of human pride and self-centeredness. To exercise saving faith is surely an essential element of the new birth. Thus, John simply says, “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God” (1 John 5:1). True to the Hebraic rather than the Grecian way of thinking, the Bible describes the new-birth existence more by what it does than by what it is in itself. And true to Hebraic thinking, the biblical content of the new-birth doctrine is historical rather than rationalistic or existential.
The following is an email/comment sent to me by a New Calvinist that is of the New Covenant Theology species. His opinion about those who do not hold to sanctification by justification is evident. Also notice the either/or communication prism that they use to manipulate. It’s either all justification for purposes of sanctification, or all pride and disdain for Christ and His works.
Jesus Christ said the last days would be marked by antinomianism and that antinomianism would cause the hearts of many to be cold (Matthew 24:12; “because anomia will be increased”). And I can tell you, New Calvinists are among the most coldhearted people I have ever known, and I didn’t exactly grow up with the choir boys of society. Without further ado, here is the letter from one who is a part of the grace and mercy crowd:
Paul, you should just come out of the closet and write an article atriculating why you hate the Gospel and Jesus Christ so much. It is plain to all, based on your non-stop vitriol, that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is of no continuing value or worth to you in your “christian” life. In your mind, Christ and his Gospel only had one limited purpose – to bring legal justification. After that, no more purpose, no more daily power, no more continuing preciousness. The Gospel is behind you. The cross is behind you. The Son’s triumph is behind you. No need to return there to daily die with Him. You’ve ‘prayed the sinner’s prayer.’ Time to move on. You’re good now. You’re beyond the Gospel. And you show it.
Obedience is now all about you and your own determination to attain a sanctification that comes through your own legal efforts – sans the Gospel and Christ’s daily empowerment of grace. Repent Paul. You are in the gall of bitterness. To live for Christ is to live the crucified life, to daily die with Him – this is the Gospel centered life. And you are tragically missing it my friend. In fact, you are violently and proudly opposing it.
This note was sent in regard to the Dr. Devin Berry post. Being offended by that post is very telling—the idea that elder preaching is efficacious to spiritual growth and that our personal study only supplements it.
This is a repost on the New Calvinist concept of how to listen to a sermon. I used an example of a sermon preached by Dr. Devon Berry, an elder at Clearcreek Chapel in Springboro, Ohio. Berry is also an assistance professor of Psychiatry at the University of Cincinnati. This is creepy stuff, but nonetheless indicative of the kind of cultism being spawned across this country by New Calvinism.
How to listen to a sermon?
Not only is the GS / Sonship doctrine completely off the tracks theologically, it is inevitable that such doctrine will lead to many other things that followers “are not yet ready for.” However, as this hideous doctrine grows, for the most part, unchecked—proponents are now presenting teachings that would have been rejected out of hand a couple of years ago. In other words, probably surprised themselves by the lack of contention against their ridiculous doctrine—they are becoming more bold. For example, more and more, the GS concept of learning how to listen to a sermonis becoming more prevalent. Yesterday, a reader sent me two links.
First of all, the thesis itself is just plain creepy and should raise red flags all over the place. I became aware of it three years ago when I obtained a manuscript from a parishioner at Clearcreek Chapel in Springboro, Ohio, a bastion of GS / Sonship teachings and a NANC training center. As I carried the manuscript from place to place while I was slowly absorbing it, whether in the waiting room of my auto mechanic, or waiting for food at the local diner—the title caught the attention of many, and the following was usually the result: “Huh?” “That’s just really strange,” etc. In fact, one proponent wrote in one of the links sent to me, “I was first alerted to this issue by Christopher Ash’s leaflet entitled ‘Listen Up’. In it he claims that there’s been nothing written on the issue in the last 200 years.” Yep, I’m not really surprised by that. Nor was any reference given as to who supposedly wrote about it even then—go figure.
So what’s behind this creepy concept? I will use the manuscript from Clearcreek Chapel (hereafter: CCC) because it was one of the first independent sovereign grace churches in this country to adopt the Sonship doctrine. Not only that, CCC is a well respected and noted church in the movement. Paul David Tripp (speaks there often), David Powlison, and John Piper have close association with CCC, and the Pastor prides himself as a follower of John Piper—dressing like him and speaking like him as well. As far back as 1994 or 96, when the movement was barley fifteen years old, one or two respected Sonshippers (of course, nobody at CCC was aware of the doctrine) in the CCC congregation were instrumental in having the likes of Jerry Brides and DA Carson invited to speak there. I sat in the congregation myself and heard Jerry Bridges say: “We must preach the gospel to ourselves everyday.” The comment gave me pause, but I brushed it aside and continued to struggle to stay awake as I thought the guy would die standing there behind the pulpit at any moment. When the founding pastor moved to California, Russ Kennedy became pastor under false pretence—knowing grade-A-well that the vast majority of CCC parishioners would reject such a doctrine. In fact, Kennedy allowed me to be instrumental in his appointment while knowing that such a doctrine would cause me to jump in the river.
I will be writing a post in this series about CCC because it is a projected model of what churches will look like in the future who implement this doctrine. And it is also why I am using their model for this whole learning how to listen to a sermon concept which is eerily similar to Jack Hyle’s famous quote: “Now I want you to close your Bibles and listen to me.” Most of what I have written on this blog concerns the doctrine itself, but the subtle creepiness / cult-like elements of this movement is another story altogether. But without further ado, let us examine the GS / Sonship take on how to listen to a sermon. Actually, I have written on the crux of this concept before. What really drives this issue? Answer: elder authority. GS / Sonship has a very overemphasized view of elder authority and that is really at the heart of this concept. Devon Berry, the “elder” at CCC who delivered this message, is also one of the primary instructors for the NANC training center at CCC. The following is my critique of his message. I apologize for how difficult it is to unravel this clever twisting of God’s word. However, if you try to follow my argument thoughtfully, I think by the end it will come together for you. The title of his message was, How to Listen to a Sermon:
In the sermon, the elder strays away from the main point to strongly emphasis the idea that spiritual growth comes primarily from preaching and teaching, and is an absolute, paramount necessity accordingly:
“You think, perhaps, that [you] can fill up the other half of the plate with personal study, devotions, or quiet times, or a radio program. Beloved, you cannot. Scripture is relatively quiet on such practices. But on preaching, the case is clear and strong. Neglect preaching and neglect your soul. I know that some are kept from services for legitimate reasons which are out of their control, but I doubt that is the case for most. I beseech you, change your ways for the good of this people and for the good of your own selves. Give the Word its rightful place. As I have often said, there is no better place you could be than here, under the preaching of the Word.”
Actually, I believe “devotions,” “quiet times,” and “radio programs” are added in to mask the disturbing part of this statement: “personal study.” Nowhere , but nowhere, does the Scriptures ever say that personal study is expendable when compared to preaching or teaching. In fact, IF I wanted to make the case that preaching and teaching could be done without, I would cite the following:
1 John 2:27
”As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him.”
This verse clearly teaches that when it gets right down to it, the indwelling Holy Spirit is our teacher, and that human teachers are not an absolute necessity as this elder is clearly saying. At the very least, he is in grave error concerning the level of importance between the two.
But even more disturbing is the logical conclusion that must be drawn from this assertion. If personal study is expendable (please note; in his list of examples, he names devotions, quiet times, and radio programs in the same list. One can only assume that if they are in the same list to make his point, they share the same level of importance. Surely then, no one would deny that Christians could do without radio programs or devotionals), then how could it (personal study) be sufficiently empowered to discern the truthfulness of the sermon? The conclusion must necessarily be that personal interpretation is always at the mercy of preaching. Do you think my statement is a subjective conclusion in regard to what he is saying? Think again. He actually uses Acts 17:10,11 (a text that clearly states the importance of personal study to confirm truthfulness) to imply that preaching is a critical link in the learning process, with personal study being secondary:
“In addition to coming with anticipation, we must come to a sermon prepared. Coming to the hearing of the Word prepared is both a matter of our hearts and our behaviors. I think the example of the Bereans in Acts 17 is helpful. Verse 11 says, ‘Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.’ We can note from earlier in the chapter what exactly it was the Bereans were responding to – verses 2-3 tell us that Paul’s pattern was to reason with his hearers from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that Jesus was the Christ. What made the Jews in Berea more noble than the Jews in Thessalonica? Well for one, they did not run Paul out of town, and secondly, they took Paul’s preaching seriously enough to go to the Word to test it [he is not talking about a test in regard to the truth, but rather, a nebulous concept of testing the Christocentric interpretation in everyday life. He covers this idea in another part of the same sermon. Note that "it" in his statement refers to God's word, not Paul's preaching]. The text here implies that there was an interactive nature between three entities: The preacher, the hearers, and the Word. Note this cycle: Paul, from the Word, delivers words. The Bereans, from Paul’s words, go to the Word. The Word cycles from God, through the preacher, to the people, back to the Word, and this, verse 12 tells us, produced belief in the God of the Word. An important thing to note is that this happened daily – suggesting a regular interaction between preaching, personal study, and the Word. The Bereans eagerly prepared by paralleling their own Bible reading and study with Paul’s preaching. So a good preparation for the public preaching of the Word is the private consumption of the Word. It will be the seasoning that brings out the flavor – salt on your French fries, if you will.”
Where to begin in the unraveling of this hideous twisting of God’s word! First of all, I had to actually draw a diagram to unravel what he is saying in regard to this part of the quote:
“Note this cycle: Paul, from the Word, delivers words. The Bereans, from Paul’s words, go to the Word. The Word cycles from God, through the preacher, to the people, back to the Word, and this, verse 12 tells us, produced belief in the God of the Word.”
Read the quote carefully. Think about it. God’s word goes through the “preacher” first, before getting to the “people,” making the preacher’s words synonymous with God’s words. Also note that he cites 17:1,2:
“We can note from earlier in the chapter what exactly it was the Bereans were responding to – verses 2-3 tell us that Paul’s pattern was to reason with his hearers from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that Jesus was the Christ.”
Let me cut to the chase here: what he is saying is that all Christocentric and gospel-centered preaching is infallible. Hence, any preacher teaching from a Christocentric perspective is also infallible. He also emphasizes this in his conclusion (emphasis mine):
“On to our last point, then. It is simple. The lens set forth by Christ himself on the road to Emmaus, in Luke 24, is the lens through which we should hear every sermon. Here it is from the text: …everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled… You should always listen to a sermon looking for Christ and the redemptive plan that God has set out in history to accomplish through his Son. We must be Christ-centered listeners.”
In other words, when the Scriptures are being taught from the Christ / gospel perspective, error is impossible, and likewise, neither can the preacher teaching from that perspective be in error as well. If the mere intention is to present Christ from the text, the Holy Spirit then becomes involved, making error impossible. Another elder at the same church (Chad Bresson) projected this same idea in an article entitled “The Word of God is a Person.” He quotes Robert Brinsmead to make his point:
“That which makes the Bible the Bible is the gospel. That which makes the Bible the Word of God is its witness to Christ. When the Spirit bears witness to our hearts of the truth of the Bible, this is an internal witness concerning the truth of the gospel. We need to be apprehended by the Spirit, who lives in the gospel, and then judge all things by that Spirit even the letter of Scripture.”
Said another way, the Holy Spirit “lives in the gospel,” so when your doin’ gospel, your doin’ truth, end of discussion.
Going back now to the elder’s use of Acts 17 and the original sermon of interests here, he completely ignores any sort of basic grammatical rules at all to draw his conclusions. He gives the following reasons for the nobility of the Bereans:
“What made the Jews in Berea more noble than the Jews in Thessalonica? Well for one, they did not run Paul out of town, and secondly, they took Paul’s preaching seriously enough to go to the Word to test it.”
But the excerpt he speaks of is a compound sentence:
“Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.”
In a compound sentence the ideas must be related, this is a hard-fast rule. Therefore, the specific reason for their nobility is obviously in the second independent clause, which does not include anything mentioned by the elder. Furthermore, in the second clause, the proving of what Paul taught is obviously the (purpose) object of both verb phrases, both directly and indirectly. Clearly, the reason for their nobility was the fact that they proved what Paul was teaching to be true through personal study. Not only that, the elder also said the following:
“An important thing to note is that this happened daily – suggesting a regular interaction between preaching, personal study, and the Word.”
But this is clearly an improper correlation. “Daily” in this sentence refers to “examining the Scriptures” and not Paul’s preaching (which is not even in the compound sentence which begins with “now“—introducing a separate idea). The elder is suggesting an inseparable correlation (“cycle”) between preaching and personal study that cannot be separated from the word for proper understanding. Instead of personal study proving the truthfulness of preaching or teaching, he is making preaching an absolute necessity to understanding truth, with personal study supplying a mere “seasoning” to the preaching, instead of testing its truthfulness. Besides this, he also assumes that the Bereans knew what Paul was going to teach before he came:
“The Bereans eagerly prepared by paralleling their own Bible reading and study with Paul’s preaching.”
Not only is this an assumption, given the technology of the time, it is also highly unlikely. What tense in the text even remotely suggests that the Bereans “examined” the Scriptures before Paul preached? Clearly, the intent of this elder is to discourage a proving of truthfulness in regard to Chrisocentric preaching after the fact, but rather a prior, personal study that merely “flavors” the preaching instead of proving its truthfulness. At any rate, it is a complete bastardization of the biblical text.
I might also mention that another elder in this same church, and previously mentioned, preached a sermon entitled “Adam’s Insurrection, Man Jettisons God from the Educational Process,” in which he argues that the essence of Adam’s fall was a rejection of Christocentric teaching that was outside of himself (Adam). The theme of that sermon seems to be similar to the sermon that is the subject of this post; namely, and at the very least, it strongly discouraged a mentality that elevates personal discernment to the same level of teaching outside of ourselves.
So, it now begs the question that is the subject of this post; in regard to elders teaching from the Christocentric perspective, does Christocentric theology teach that they are infallible? I suspect that this belief is more than likely to be prominent among churches that hold to Sonship / GS theology.